Responding to Washington Post article on fraud in nonprofit organizations

You may have read about the Washington Post’s article on fraud in nonprofit organizations: Inside the hidden world of thefts, scams and phantom purchases at the nation’s nonprofits. This investigative article has stirred up the sector, and has had numerous responses from several nonprofit leaders, including Rick Cohen from Nonprofit QuarterlyDiana Aviv of Independent SectorGreg Cantori of Maryland NonprofitsTim Delaney of National Council of Nonprofits, and Diana Léon-Taylor of the Nonprofit Roundtable. (Thanks to the Nonprofit Roundtable for the links to all these responses!)

When reading through Tim Delaney’s response, I felt the need to respond to some of his feedback. You can read the text below, or go to the article to read my response (and any responses to my response. Ain’t this ability to converse online great!?)

What I wrote (with links to the external sources):

Bravo, Gary Snyder! “Maybe the outgrowth of the article is that there are over a million commendable charities that are not noted in the article.” This is what we should concentrate on more so than the tiny numbers of individuals who have caused this mess through their own selfishness. We should celebrate the excellently-managed nonprofits that are using their resources for the public good. And nonprofits across the country are working to educate the public and the media about the good work that is being done by the nonprofit sector.

I have been fortunate to work with Tim and others at two different state associations of nonprofits; one in New York City, and one in Maryland. The Maryland Association for Nonprofit Organizations (Maryland Nonprofits) created the Standards for Excellence accreditation program in 1998, in part, to change the focus of the media to the well-run organizations, and not the “bad apples.” This has been replicated throughout the country, with organizations like the Arc of the United States and the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management among other State Associations certifying nonprofits according to the Standards Code.

The Washington Post itself sponsors the Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management, with the Center for Nonprofit Advancement – the regional association in DC. It would have been helpful for the Post to have mentioned this in the original article. The Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York (NPCC), the regional association in NYC, where I also worked, replicated this Awards program for New York, called the New York Community Trust-New York Magazine Nonprofit Excellence Awards. Quoting NPCC’s Executive Director, Michael Clark, “this is a training and coaching program disguised as an awards program.”

These programs, and more, like Independent Sector’s Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice: A Guide for Charities and Foundations, help give guidelines for ethical practices among nonprofits. These are all great tools that nonprofits can and should use to enhance their good work. I’ll modify what Keith said, in that we need to celebrate these good organizations rather than shaming the few bad organizations. There are so many more great organizations doing good well than those that are not.

Fraud will still happen; there will always be unscrupulous individuals that will scam anyone and any organization for their personal gain (Alex Rodriguez, and even my favorite player, Ryan Braun). We as nonprofit board members, staff, volunteers, and donors, however, can do a great deal to minimize the risk by investing in sound management principles and practices that are taught throughout the country. Yes, these cost time and money, but it is well worth the investment to engender the trust that the public, and our clients have come to expect from nonprofit organizations.

Hashtag Tutorial

Today, I attended the Leadership Susquehanna Valley‘s workshop on Social Media for Nonprofits, Elijah-Jason Love, President of the Lewisburg Media Group, led an engaging discussion on how nonprofits are using social media to recruit volunteers  or to raise money. There were some great questions from the audience, and several people had some specific examples of how they were using social media.

A question that surprised me was “what are hashtags?” That alerted me to the fact that:

  1. there are people that are very new to social media, and
  2. they do not understand what hashtags are, and how they are useful.

So, I thought I’d write a tutorial (hopefully, in plain English), on hashtags, specifically for the beginner nonprofit.

A hashtag (using # before it) is the way group tweets together. For example, if I wanted to see what the Twittersphere is talking about for Giving Tuesday (the day after CyberMonday) I can search, within Twitter, on #givingtuesday to see what everyone is saying about it.

A hashtag can be anything – a word, a bunch of characters or numbers – but keep in mind that you want it to be short, as twitter only allows 140 characters, so a hashtag of #ThisIsTheMostAwesomeHashtagEver! is not optimal, as it takes up 33 characters. Which is why you’ll see a lot of abbreviations or truncated hashtags. Notice there are no spaces in the hashtag, and the capitalization does not matter; I put the caps in there to make it a bit easier to read.

Anyone can create a hashtag, and there’s no real “ownership” of a hashtag. If you are creating one, you want to search it first to see what’s there. Make sure that whatever content is there is relevant and appropriate to your organization. For example, SM, an abbreviation for Social Media, can also be an abbreviation used for an “activity” that could be found in Sodom and Gomorrah. Fortunately, I discovered this BEFORE we put that hashtag on any signage!

I’ve personally found hashtags to be excellent at conferences. I can see what others are taking from the speaker, as well as get nuggets of wisdom from other sessions that I did not attend. The organizer of the conference should let you know what the hashtag is, so everyone use the hashtag when tweeting. (So, if you are presenting and see people on their mobile devices, they could actually be interested in what you are saying and tweeting what you said. Not playing Candy Crush.) At NTEN’s Annual Conference, they have hashtags for each workshop at their conference.

Another great example for those that have a mix of social media mavens and luddites in the audience is to project the live feed of your hashtag somewhere in the room. Hook up a projector to a computer (with an active internet connection) that is logged on to your company’s Twitter account and search for the hashtag. Any tweets will post and update that feed. Encourage people to use this and see it, by asking for questions from the tweeters for the presenters, and give the tweeter the chance to ask the question in person. I had this happen to me at a workshop – It was really cool.

Finally, realize that Twitter and hashtags are not really good for conversations, as Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake demonstrated here. (Parental warning at the end). If you try to use it as such, it becomes silly.

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to comment with any other tips you have!

Other resources:

  1. Twitter’s own hashtag tutorial.
  2. Socialbrite’s page on Twitter.
  3. Beth Kanter’s blog post on ways nonprofits can use hashtags

A new chapter (again)

A long time ago, in a city far, far away… (apologies to George Lucas.)

In the past two months, there’ve been a lot of changes.

Image image from dailygalaxy.com

First, I was laid off from my job at Navigation Arts, making it two layoffs in about 6 months time. This one, however, was not a shock, as I saw it coming, because the client was unhappy with the overall work that they were paying for, and when the contract was cancelled, NavArts couldn’t find a place for me, despite my bosses’ best efforts. In all honesty, I was ok with it. And they were nice enough to not tell me this until after a vacation in the Finger Lakes with my brother, sister and their spouses.

I took some time off, driving down to Florida to spend some more time with my brother, his family, and my parents, since they offered to host me, so I could “get away.” While there, I applied for several jobs in and around the DC area, hoping to stay close by. I reluctantly left the nice weather in FL to come back in time for a slew of interviews, but no offers of employment, One particular job I was stoked for, but they ended up re-posting the job. I apparently did not impress them enough at my 2 interviews. Oh well.

Second, I found out that the house that I was renting was sold (I did know this was part of the deal). Boom! Unemployed and homeless. I cancelled my eHarmony account then. No reason to go on dates when I have little income and no place to go home to!

Fortunately, my sister has an extra room, so I’m now operating in central PA, continuing the job search, and keeping up-to-date with all the latest nonprofit happenings. I plan to blog about some issues that I’ve thought about recently, and hope to get some opinions from others in the field as well.

In the meantime, I hope you will read one of my previous posts which I will keep in mind as I progress onto the next step in my life.

Remotely working or working remote?

Outside my front door

OK, so today’s threat (promise?) of a gob of snow in the Baltimore area proved to be just rain. At least through 5:00 pm on Wednesday. See photo. (By the way, happy birthday to my car, which I bought 1 year and 1 week ago!)

The good thing is, with my new job at Navigation Arts, I was able to work remotely today. Given that my regular commute is about 45 miles, dealing with snow, slush, and traffic was not something that I was particularly fond of (it does, however, give me time to listen to the radio, or a book on CD!).

Last week’s announcement from Yahoo! about their CEO rescinding their telecommute policy made me pause.  I was surprised that a company that is internet based would force their employees to come back into an office, after such a long time of not having that requirement. I normally don’t like to work remotely, but today, I was glad for the opportunity. I have always been a fan of the impromptu meetings or the water cooler conversations  which was common, expected and encouraged (maybe that’s why Yahoo fell behind Google?). My new job, is more conducive to working remotely – but that’s the nature of the business. As a Project Manager-type of person, I don’t need to hover in someone’s cubicle to make sure the work is completed. We still have face-to-face meeting, which are critical to get everyone on the same page.

When I worked at Maryland Nonprofits, they instituted a telecommuting policy that some on staff struggled with. I personally, had no problem with it, as I’d experienced the good and bad of working remotely (one particular time was more of the “hardly working” than “working hard!”). The employee needs to be accountable for the work when working remotely. I understand that from the employer’s perspective. For the employee, it is a privilege.

It’s a fascinating look at the dynamics of working in the office or remotely. Both of which have their ups and downs. And both has a place in today’s workforce.

I hope that you were not adversely affected by Winter Storm Saturn, and that if you did work from home, you got all that you needed to do, done.

A New Chapter

I am at the precipice of a new career.

A month ago, I was let go from a job that I considered my passion. It was a little hard to take, honestly, but within the first week (really, it was a bit earlier) I laid the seeds of my new job and new career. I thank Jim Keeney, and AK Stout and those that attend the Baltimore Social Media meetup. It was there, that I heard about the new job that I am about to start tomorrow! Within a month of being let go, I am gainfully employed yet again.  For the second time in less than three years, I’ve been offered a job that I heard about through networking.

After the initial shock of being let go, I forced myself to stay active in the communities that I was involved with already. Originally attending to stay in the loop and continue my education on social media, I wasn’t expecting to be asking around for jobs, but this one opened up at that meetup. (Kudos and thanks to http://www.meetup.com; this is a good example of how that platform is helping to connect people!)

Over the next month, I interviewed with several people at this company (I haven’t started yet, so I’ll let you know later for whom I am working!), and last week was offered a position. It’s significant change for me, so there’s a combination of mixed feelings:

Nervousness: Who isn’t nervous about making a good first impression!

Sadness: I am leaving the nonprofit sector – for my full-time job. I plan to stay connected, and many former colleagues I consider my friends.

Excitement: I am going to be gaining some really good skills that could propel me ahead in my career.

 

I’m sure there are others too, but I’m physically worn out from re-finishing my dining room floor, so I’m not thinking too clearly.  Or maybe that’s the polyurethane permeating my brain!

Here’s to a new chapter!

Looking back and forward

A friend of mine posted this blog post. It speaks to his challenges from the past year, and is full of emotion. Brad was the person who suggested and inspired me to start my own blog. I commented on his post, but I think I want to share some of my thoughts here, too (after all that’s one of things that blogging is good for!)

It’s also been a rough past year for me: After 6 years of marriage, the divorce became final. Isolated in an area where I knew very few people, I thought I hit rock-bottom, and remember calling my parents sobbing at how alone I felt. But it wasn’t the end of the world. (My boss from my time in New York City and I joked that, really, the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world. Fortunately, the Mayans were wrong about 2012!)

In the summer things at work became rocky as a great colleague was dismissed for reasons that still bug me. Again, I and the company survived that transition.

Christmas was especially tough. I’m 39 and have no children of my own. I have a wonderful sister (not discounting my brother or my parents, mid you) that always welcomes me whenever I want to visit, and her in-laws are incredibly welcoming as well (another long story about how we started to know each other through another tragic situation!). This Christmas was the first in a long while that I was “alone” and it hurt. A lot.

Then in mid-January I unexpectedly was laid off from my job, along with three other colleagues. It was shocking, upsetting, and heart-breaking as I poured a lot of me into the job. Yes, I wasn’t entirely happy there, and had kept my open for other opportunities.

This has been the proverbial swift-kick-in-the-pants to get me into something different. What that is right now, I’m not sure. I’ve been fortunate to have gotten a few interview requests already. It may mean a big change for me.

In Brad’s blog post, someone said that “to be human is to suffer” and even in my weakest moments, I cannot believe that. I refuse to believe that. Yes, we do suffer at times. In my sister’s guest room, she has a plaque quoting Mother Teresa: “I know God will never give me more than I can handle, but sometimes I wish he doesn’t trust me so much.” I do believe this. There are times when it all seems to much, but we…and I…will survive. Somethings change, for the better, for the worse, but one constant that we all have is love. Love for each other, love from whatever God you believe in, love for our children, pets, Coca-cola, kisses, Facebook, snow, or our favorite baseball team that may drive us nuts!

Is it hokey? Sure, but J.K. Rowling had something when she used love in the Harry Potter series that conquers all evil.

At the end of Brad’s post, he proclaims that his goal is to “good” about 90% of the time. I think that is an admirable goal, and one that I will attempt to adopt myself. It allows us to have those temporary bad moments to reflect, re-energize and refocus.

Thank you Brad in Montana for sharing your struggles and your hopes in the past and coming year. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your support. And thank you for sparking thought into action.

Gender Inequity in Pay

Ironically that on the same day President Obama in his inauguration speech presses for equality in pay for women (See video clip here) saying “…our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.”, TCC Group releases this infographic on the inequity on women’s pay in the nonprofit sector that uses results from their Core Capacity Assesment Tool (CCAT). For more information on CCAT, visit their website.

Despite all our progress, the sector still treats women differently according to pay, yet, this infographic shows that women tend to be more effective at their jobs.

TCC Infographic

As you hire your next employee, think to yourself: will I pay the same amount for a woman as I would a man? Such a small thing, but certainly magnified in the nonprofit sector as many jobs are held by women. (Thank goodness to, if they are more effective!)

Aside from the pay scale difference discussion, CCAT is one very good way to measure the impact of your organization, especially those with complicated outcomes. If you are not already tracking outcomes at your nonprofit, perhaps CCAT is a way to start.

If CCAT is too complicated, then take it slow by answering some basic questions: What is it that you want to measure? How do you measure that? Are these results better or worse than before? What is it that your donors and constituents should know about your organization? How do you communicate that to them?

Many thanks to Mitch Nauffts and the Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest blog and to TCC Group for bringing this to our collective attention.

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