A New Resource for Nonprofit Leaders

Nonprofits are messy. You may have heard me say that before.

And if you’re a leader at a nonprofit, you know that it takes a village. It’s impossible to do it all on your own… even if you ARE kind of on your own. And so many nonprofit leaders I hear from do often feel alone, overwhelmed, and awfully frustrated in their jobs.

But I truly believe that if you stepped up and took a leadership position at a nonprofit, you’re a superhero. And like any superhero, you need your Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson. Your Justice League or Avengers… A group of fellow superheroes and supporters in your corner.

And that’s why I’m SO excited today to announce the launch of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab!

I created the Lab to help nonprofit leaders like you – both on the board and the staff – with the ongoing education, support, and community you need to thrive.

And if you could see my email inbox, you’d see how badly the sector needs this.


Rather than write a long blog post explaining what this is all about, I whipped up this fun animation. It’s just a few minutes long.


I hope to see you in the Lab!

I invite you to learn more and see if the Lab is right for you at http://nonprofitleadershiplab.com.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

get along

While I generally like sports, I don’t watch much basketball. Maybe the NCAA college tournament as it nears the end. Baseball is my game. Always has been.

My dad was a Little League coach and I was his dugout sidekick. And then I went to school at Fordham in the Bronx, a stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium. I know a lot about the game. And about statistics.

But it’s basketball that actually captures my favorite statistic. The assist.

Simply put, you get statistical credit for setting the shot up, for making sure the ball gets to the open player who is free to make the shot.

Why don’t nonprofit leaders incorporate this mindset into their work? After all, most of you are in the business of assisting.

‘Assisting’ is actually a rather big theme in my How To Build A Thriving Nonprofit online workshop.

The workshop just started, it’s free, and it’s intended to help any leader at a nonprofit – board or staff – that can use an assist or two. It would be wonderful if you’d participate.

Here are just a couple of the comments people have left so far about the workshop. There are a whole lot more like these:

If you’d like to join us, click here to register for the workshop.

Connected to the workshop, I also started a Facebook group. And it’s been AMAZING! The assist percentage in the group is OFF THE CHARTS.

An ED posted her new logo and 25 folks (and growing) offered terrific feedback – about the logo itself, about getting board buy in.

Another leader asked, “When is it ok to say ‘no’ to your board?” You can’t imagine the quantity and quality of those responses.

So let’s talk about what happens to your organization when you start to emphasize the ‘assist’. And I’m thinking about two kinds of assists… 1) inside your organization and 2) within your sector or community.

But first, let’s discuss the five kinds of folks you meet a nonprofits.Continue Reading

Dear Joan: HELP! Our Entire Staff Quit!

“Dear Joan” is an ongoing series where Joan responds to readers who send emails asking for nonprofit advice, practical solutions, or just general therapy (Joan tries not to make direct comments on a reader’s psychological state — that’s called practicing without a license.) You can send your questions to Joan by clicking here.

staff quit

As part of my upcoming free workshop called How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, I created a Facebook group where I’ll be running Q&As during the workshop. More than 3,000 people have already joined!

The quality of conversation in the group has been terrific. Members have already helped each other:

  • Find 501c3-friendly financial institutions and great VOIP phone systems
  • Improve each other’s elevator speeches
  • Find resources to help with strategic planning
  • Prepare for a new ED position
  • Overcome burnout
  • Create systems to stay on top of grant deadlines, and so much more

And that’s just some of what’s happened in the last 24 hours.

(If you’d like to participate in the free workshop and Facebook group, click here.)

So for “Dear Joan” this week, I want to answer some of the messier questions posed in the group.

Let’s get to it…Continue Reading

Should You Run Your Nonprofit More Like a Business?

corporate vs nonprofit leadership

Is Family Feud still on TV? Saturday Night Live does a regular spoof but otherwise I’m not sure.

You likely know how the show works. People are asked a question and they have to guess the top answer given in a survey of 100 people.

So for example: “Name something your parents still give you.” The #1 answer was “money.”

I would have answered, “A headache.”

But I digress. Let’s play Family Feud!

Here’s the question…

Name the #1 reason nonprofits are different from companies.

This is tougher than you might think. When I ask people this directly, I always get a different answer. There are so many differences, the #1 answer may not be clear.

But I feel very strongly about the answer. In a moment, I’ll let you know what I believe it is ­– and why. But first, let’s talk about how they are the same.Continue Reading

The 5 Pillars of a Thriving Nonprofit

thriving nonprofit

There’s a word I hear from nonprofit leaders more than any other.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s not inspired, lucky, or meaningful. I wish!

It’s also not frustrated or burned out. Thank goodness!

Here it is… the word I hear more than any other from nonprofit leaders….


Ok, that’s probably not a big surprise. Leading a nonprofit can feel completely overwhelming. And the biggest reason is that it can be hard for nonprofit leaders to wrap their heads around all the things they need to attend to.

One of the more popular posts I wrote in the last year was called “The 14 Attributes of a Thriving Nonprofit”.

Sure it was popular, but what was I thinking? Fourteen attributes? Really?

Fourteen feels like an awful lot of things to worry about. I’m not sure I helped anybody feel any less overwhelmed.

But here’s the truth. If you look a little bit closer you’ll see that in reality there are only five things… five pillars… that a healthy and thriving nonprofit handles really well.

Just five.

Get these five things right and your nonprofit will soar.

I’m going to dig into all five pillars in great depth during my upcoming free workshop called “How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit” which starts on May 10. If you’d like to join me in the workshop you can register here. I hope you will.

So are you ready to lighten your load? Feel some weight come off your shoulders?

Let’s dive into the five pillars of a thriving nonprofit.Continue Reading

Small Nonprofits Move the World

small nonprofitThis blog is intended to help nonprofits of all sizes – big, small, and in between.

But working at a small nonprofit can be especially challenging.

I get a lot of emails from people at smaller nonprofits with questions about how to overcome their challenges. Just in the last week, I got emails from:

  • An Executive Director who can’t possibly take a vacation – ever – because if she missed a week all the work would literally stop
  • A sole staff member that could have oh-so-much more impact if only there was remotely adequate funding
  • A new ED who feels undermined by the founder and is thinking about quitting but feels conflicted because he cares so deeply about the mission
  • A senior member of a board that has been spending the nonprofit’s money on a PR contract with the board chair’s wife with sub-par results

There are more. A lot more.

Now, these challenges can happen at bigger nonprofits too. But in many ways, smaller nonprofits have it tougher.

Why? Because larger, well-funded nonprofits have the capacity to get outside help. They can hire consultants, fundraising experts, have their board get expensive ongoing training, spend for professional development opportunities.

Small nonprofits? Not a chance.

It’s a huge problem. And I’m committed to doing something about it.

I urge you to read all the way through so you can see what I have in mind.

Continue Reading

The Best Way to Sabotage Your New Executive Director

sabotage new executive director

I hear a lot of crazy stories from readers, listeners and clients. A lot of them are about Executive Directors who feel undermined.

So riddle me this, Batmen and Batwomen…

Based on what people tell me, what’s the best way to sabotage the new Executive Director? You get 5 options…

  1. A board that micromanages the living daylights out of her
  2. A staff that can’t seem to get through a meeting without saying “Oh, we tried that before and it didn’t work”
  3. A board that makes poor choices about what to do with the former E.D.
  4. A staff that is still in love with the old boss and the new E.D. gets treated like the new evil stepmother
  5. A board that is quite clear that fundraising was never a priority before

Good list right? You can’t choose.

If you’re a board leader, maybe you read this and feel a touch defensive? And if you are an Executive Director you are wondering why I haven’t added (f) “all of the above.”

Sure. All of these items will indeed chip away at the motivation and/or credibility of an Executive Director.

But one thing is worse than all the others. And it shape shifts. It can look like a lot of different things and none of them – trust me – none of them are pretty. It creates nothing but mess. The last thing you need if you are trying to build a thriving nonprofit.

So what is the correct answer? Or should I say the very incorrect answer?Continue Reading

Stop Driving Your Board Chair Nuts!

board chair nuts

Why would anybody in her right mind want to be a board chair? You’ve got to be a little bit crazy, no?

Sure, I’d be delighted to take on a second full time job managing a bunch of very busy volunteers, some of whom actually show up for meetings, and simultaneously attempt to supervise AND partner with a Type A Executive Director who doesn’t always feel she needs a partner and certainly not a boss.”


Well, we all know that different folks are motivated to leadership positions for different reasons. Hopefully passion for the mission is at the top of this list. There’s also duty, ego, responsibility, strong leadership DNA….

Or maybe someone was voted in during an ill-timed trip to the restroom.

Whatever the motivation, this role is no walk in the park and anyone who is NOT a board chair should be grateful to that person who IS.

Note: I’m not focusing on the board leader who is toxic – we’ll save that for another post.

Today we focus on the good board chair. I want that board chair to feel valued and valuable. I want the experience to be rewarding and not torturous.

Strike that. I don’t want that. Your organization needs that to thrive.

And so I went out and spoke to some good board chairs.

My hope is that you will hear what drives them nuts and think about your organization can ensure that your board chair doesn’t go over the edge.Continue Reading

5 Signs It’s Time to Quit Your Job

quit your job

My wife Eileen once noted that she’d never heard a group of people talk more about wanting to leave their jobs than executive directors. Eileen does not suffer fools gladly. Her answer was simple. “Why don’t they all just get new jobs?”

Crazy, huh?

But why? Isn’t it a privilege to run a nonprofit organization? I always thought so. And I wasn’t a volunteer; I actually made a living. Of course I could always go find another job if I didn’t like the one I had.

Today I answer two questions: 1) Why is it that E.D’s might hate their jobs and 2) What are the tell tale signs that it might actually be time to do something about it?Continue Reading

Dear Joan: The Board Fired the CEO and Took Over!

“Dear Joan” is an ongoing series where Joan responds to readers who send emails asking for nonprofit advice, practical solutions, or just general therapy (Joan tries not to make direct comments on a reader’s psychological state — that’s called practicing without a license.) You can send your questions to Joan by clicking here.

board fired ceo

First off, thank you to the many folks who write with ideas for blog posts and who reach out with questions. The volume is quite overwhelming and I’m thinking a lot about how I can reach more people to offer the advice (and shot in the arm) they need. I’ll have more to say on that soon….

Today, I picked two different – but related – questions.

The first comes from the member of a senior staff who is concerned about the role of the board after a CEO is fired and the second comes from a CEO working through what appears to be dysfunctional relationship with her board chair.

What’s the common thread? It’s the relationship between the board and the staff. What it can look like if roles are not clear, if there is a lack of trust, if the board is not clear on its role, if the CEO does not lead.

One of the most important theories I have – as an author and a consultant – is that a thriving nonprofit should be like a twin-engine jet. Each engine – board and staff – must operate well independently and together.

Far too often, that is not the case. See Exhibits A and B below. Because I like to illustrate what the Board–CEO relationship does look like when it’s humming, I offer Exhibit C – a “tip o’ the hat” to a beloved board chair.



Dear Joan: Our Board of Directors has recently fired the CEO of our non-profit organization. There were legitimate reasons, and I do not fault them for doing so. However, there are now 2 Board members who have taken power and are overriding our COO and CFO (who is also the Interim CEO) in all decisions. The Board has secret meetings and is not transparent at all. We are all worried that the organization is not going to make it under this takeover. Can a board take over like this leaving the staff powerless?

– One of the Powerless

Continue Reading