Monday, February 22, 2010

Correlations Between Being a Great Teacher and Being a Great Nonprofit

This is a repost from John's 2/8 post at the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

When my colleagues discuss nonprofit organizations, often they use a variety of analogies and comparisons. Sometimes an analogy is made between a nonprofit and a hospital, often discussing the nonprofits challenges with words relating to “surgery” or at times “life support.” Sometimes they are compared to a car, comparing the various engine parts to the sections of a nonprofit. The comparison I like and most often use is comparing a nonprofit to an elementary school classroom. Having recently volunteered in my son’s Pre-K classroom I know that I could be simultaneously leading a reading group, cleaning up a mess and consoling a crying youngster. Nonprofit organizations, like a classroom, have many moving parts.

I was thinking about this after I read an interesting article in the January 2010 edition of The Atlantic. The article, by Amanda Ripley, asks the central question of “What makes a great teacher?” In getting to this question, Ripley was given access to years of data compiled by the nonprofit group, Teach for America (TFA). Through this analysis, TFA came to some central characteristics that make up a great teacher. They concluded that great teachers:

• Set big goals for their students.
• Continually look for ways to improve their effectiveness and constantly reevaluate their performance.
• Recruited students and their families into the process.
• Maintained focus, “ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning”.
• Planned “exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome”
• Worked “relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.”

When I looked at these characteristics I began thinking about the earlier classroom analogy between a great teacher and a great nonprofit. My thoughts on the comparisons, using additional analogies, are:

• Most nonprofit have lofty dreams. The difference between these nonprofits and great ones is that a great nonprofit’s mission and vision should remain lofty but its closely related goals are realistic and attainable. Many nonprofits often drive in circles toward what they believe is a goal, but really are endlessly driving around that lofty dream.

• Great nonprofits know that their march toward mission effectiveness is a constant working of a muscle, often adding a weight to the bar or altering a routine to reach their potential. Often times ambitious nonprofits approach effectiveness like an audit, performing a Jiffy Lube exercise of creating and monitoring checklists to reach “effectiveness”. Great nonprofits know their dashboard is on a moving trajectory that they are constantly working toward.

• Great nonprofits create an environment in which multiple players all have parts in their symphony, each one important. Many nonprofits have conditioned themselves to believe that real participation into their success is to involve clients and partners in an obligatory bit role, ranging in activities like providing a feedback box for staff or having client representation on an executive or board committee. Great nonprofits know that client and partner interaction needs to be intertwined into the operational fabric of the organization.

• Great organizations are experts at saying the word “No”. “No” to Requests for Proposals that don’t meet the mission, “No” to a board member’s ambition that could take the organization astray, “No” to staff working from their own agenda, “No” to partners wishing to collaborate solely to obtain a resource. While you may think that the word “No” creates an unmotivated environment, it’s actually the opposite in a great nonprofit. The loud roar of the “Yes” significantly drowns out the diminishing whisper of the “No”.

• An easy test I often use when looking at an organization is to see if the threads of planning at the top reach the day-to-day work in the middle or at the bottom. Successful nonprofit organizations are able to plan and create mechanisms to monitor planning throughout the organization. Try this exercise: Grab an organization’s strategic plan, the ED’s most recent report to the board, the job description of a middle manager and that middle manager’s latest performance review. Can you see some symmetry? Poor organizations have little, average organizations have some and great nonprofits have a lot.

• Great nonprofits also say “No” to barriers that prevent them from mission success. “No” to political roadblocks that may shut them out, “No” to technological forces that challenge them to connect and “No” to resource inflows that could be narrowing. Like great teachers, great nonprofits are “relentless” and “refuse to surrender”. This is what I like to call “Third Sector Grit” and is what makes the nonprofit world so great.

While I know that the classroom also has aspects that are different from a nonprofit, I do see a very close relationship to what TFA regards as a great teacher to what I regard as a great nonprofit.

“Flag on the Play” for a Multi-Million Dollar Nonprofit

This is a repost from John's 2/19 post at the Stanford Social Innovation Review:

Two February 7th Events – One nonprofit rose over $450 million dollars and the other worked toward a goal of $15,000. Which one is the true nonprofit organization?

On February 7th, the Courage Center held its 4th annual benefit for Camp Courage, which offers safe, accessible, natural environments for children with disabilities. Founded in Minnesota in 1928, the Courage Center is a nonprofit organization that set a goal of $15,000 dollars for its Dance with Courage event.

On the same day, the National Football League (NFL), a registered nonprofit organization, successfully raised an estimated $463 million dollars through its annual Super Bowl event, according to Sports Research Institute. The event was seen by over 100 million people and an estimated 112,000 people were in attendance. Some other interesting facts include:

* The highest donation category for the Camp Courage event was the “Mikhail Baryshnikov” level at $100. The Super Bowl sold 30-second commercial advertising space for approximately $2.6 million dollars a spot.
* The NFL’s CEO Roger Goodell is reportedly paid over $10 million dollars, which is approximately three times more than the top nonprofit CEO salary cited by Money Magazine, James Mongan of Partners HealthCare Systems in Massachusetts. Mr. Goodell makes nearly 44 times more than the CEO at the Courage Center according to 990 records.
* The NFL has 13 subsidiaries, seven of them tax exempt. The smallest of the seven tax exempt subsidiaries are those that are dedicated toward philanthropic causes, including NFL Charities and the NFL Youth Fund. Rick Cohen, in his Nonprofit Quarterly blog The Cohen Report (8/12/08), cited that in the 2005 990, the NFL gave away to charitable causes slightly under $10 million dollars. This is approximately one tenth of 1% of its annual revenue. Foundations are required by law to distribute annually at least 5 percent of their net assets.
* The NFL’s 2009 annual revenue is $7.6 Billion dollars, according to Forbes Magazine. That would make it over $2 billion more in revenue than the Mayo Foundation, the largest U.S. charity cited by Forbes. The league’s least valued team, the Oakland Raiders at $797 million dollars, is greater than many large for-profit companies.

Something is wrong with this scenario. I am not sure if the NFL truly complies with the nonprofit corporation definition of operating for educational, charitable, social, religious, civic or humanitarian purposes.

While the proceeds of the Camp Courage event will be dedicated toward advancing the lives of children and adults experiencing barriers to health and independence, the proceeds of the Super Bowl will go to the NFL’s mission of “promoting interests of its 32 member clubs”. The mission statement originally filed by the NFL is unknown. According to Josh Peter of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the “NFL said it has lost its copy of the application it filed with the IRS in 1942, and the IRS also said it was unable to find a copy of the application.”

I guess this is equal to the dog eating your homework and so I am sure advancing the interests of the Washington Redskins is equal to the missions of organizations like the Courage Center or smaller “folding-table organizations” that earn their non-profit status each and every day.

I am an avid football fan. I played throughout high school and college. I enjoy a Vikings or Jets game on Sundays. That said, there is something very wrong about the NFL being a tax exempt organization and my greatest challenge is how the nonprofit sector can be manipulated in this way. What is even more worrisome is how much more other tax exempt statuses are being manipulated in this fashion.