Category Archives: Social Enterprise Resources

Key questions to understanding a nonprofit.

People before profit

but both are important

In looking to quickly understand the nonprofits that I was meeting with at San Francisco Board Match, I found myself coming back to a few questions over and over. Before you make the big commitment to join a board, you need to understand the “bigger picture” of how the organization works, and how it fits into the broader community.

“Who do you work with and how do they find your organization?”

I was talking with Maria Nicolacoudis, the ED of TransAccess, a nonprofit that helps people with disabilities get training and employment. It would seem straightforward enough to understand who they work with, until I learned that the lion’s share of the people they work with have no physical disabilities. Then I really got curious about what disabilities they mostly work with and why.

In asking the “how do people find you?” question, I learned that they do a lot of proactive outreach in high schools, a key point I might have missed otherwise.

“What impact are you looking to have, and how do you measure your success at having that impact?”

Everyone in the nonprofit world is working with the impact question, and so it’s quite interesting to hear how different nonprofits think about it. For The Bread Project, job placement is a key statistic they track. Which naturally led me to ask “where are the jobs for your graduates?” which kicked off another great discussion of the many opportunities that are finding for their people.

“How do you actually create the impact you have?” which if you’re technical is similar to asking “What’s your theory of change?”

I talked with the Dagmar Schröder-Huse, ED of The Bread Project, a nonprofit that trains disadvantaged people in bakery skills. The actual skill of baking is relatively straightforward compared to skills like reliably showing up for work on time, working effectively as part of the team, and efficiently dealing with interpersonal conflict. And so it was very interesting to talk with Dagmar to find out how they actually create the change through hands-on learning and experience rather than through class-room learning.

“How are you funded? How cumbersome is it for you to receive that funding?”

I spoke with André Chapman, the very dynamic leader of the Unity Care Group, which provides a broad array of services for foster children. It turns out that much of their funding comes from a number of different government agencies. And that they have to be very efficient about how they comply with the paperwork and reporting requirements of those agencies, so that there’s as much money as possible to apply to programs!

Wondering how to find your place in the non-profit world?

Colored flags flying high outside the Moscone ...

Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite non-profit industry events of the year is just around the corner: San Francisco Board Match on Tuesday January 11, 2011 from 4pm to 7pm. Over 100 organizations set up tables in Moscone West to recruit board members.

I know you might be thinking, “Do I really want to join a board?” Don’t fret–this is an ideal event to survey what’s happening locally in the non-profit scene, talk to the leaders of many great organizations, and get a great sense for which organizations excite you.

I look at the board recruiting theme as just the raison d’être for the event. In the bigger picture you’re getting much of the local non-profit scene, all in one room, for free. And besides, you might be surprised at the orgs that catch your fancy, and where that might lead.

Last year I “fell in love” with an arts org (who, me?!) called Leap…Imagination in Learning and ended up not on their board, but as a volunteer classroom assistant to a number of artists doing programs at an elementary school near my place. It’s been a very joyful experience.

I also came upon a group called At the Crossroads that gives homeless folks support and encouragement; even though I haven’t volunteered with them, I’m still reading their emails a year later and will almost certainly contribute in some way soon. Even more importantly, following them helped me realize my deep passion for helping unlock potential in disadvantaged people. So much more  than I thought I’d get from Board Match!

And finally, I came across a startup nonprofit that organizes high school students towards green projects, started by a former eBay guy. I recall they had lots of energy, great ideas, drive, but at the time I wasn’t focused on that space. However, just the other day I got an idea for a way to make a meaningful reduction in the amount of junk mail that is sent to apartments and post-office boxes. And although I don’t have the bandwidth personally to drive this, now I know a great org which may just want to take my idea and run with it.

Here’s the point: amazing things can happen when a broad group of non-profit orgs are all placed in one big exhibition hall for several hours. You may be interested in board service, you may be looking for orgs to donate to, or you may just be generally called to explore the non-profit space. Whatever it is, just attend.

  • Board Match SF is free but advance registration is appreciated. You can also just drop-in on the day of.
  • Get there early. There are so many great orgs to talk to tha at you’ll need all the time you can get. I’ll be there when the doors open at 4PM.

Have a great Board Match 2011!

Free Resources from “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”

An updated version came out last year of this foundational book about how the power of business can better the lives of the poor.

If, like me, you haven’t yet read this book but would like to get a sense for it, you can read a free 70 page+ preview of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid for free on Look for the “Try it for free” box on the right. If you’re like me and you don’t have a Kindle, you can install the free Kindle application to your PC or your phone, and view the sample that way.

Of particular interest, even if you’ve read the first release of the book is the sample includes a new 24 page introduction to this updated version, which gives a very practical overview of the key ideas in the book..

In addition, on the publisher’s website there are several free videos and case studies that you can download for free from here:

If you find a video or case study that is particularly interesting, please post a comment and let us all know.

International Development — Where do you want to plug in?

While at SOCAP 10 I had the good fortune to meet a gentleman who specializes in scenario planning. Naturally I asked him about his favorite projections for population growth, and he mentioned the TED videos of Hans Rosling.

In the following video, Hans Rosling offers an intriguing way of visualizing the “bigger picture” of international development, using colored IKEA storage boxes to make his point.

I wanted to share this video because I saw two very different places for development efforts to plug-in.

On the one hand there is the “bottom billion” that he represents on the very left of the table. These are the places where levels of poverty are largely unchanged over the last 50 years of development efforts. I offer that there is important work to do here in building long-overdue momentum towards improvement.

On the other hand there are the countries in the middle, where there is already momentum and where improvement is happening. I offer here that the work is helping to develop even stronger infrastructure and governance so that these countries can grow in a healthy way.

Both of these challenges are very worthwhile, yet the challenges between them are very different. I think it’s worth asking ourselves as individuals “where do I want to fit in?”

An overview of the Microfranchise world from BYU

The folks at BYU have pulled together a nice overview of several Microfranchises in Where there are no jobs, Volume 4. They offer quick overviews of dozens of microfranchises, followed by more in depth information on a selection of those.

I found this volume to be a helpful orientation to the world of microfranchising, and would definitely recommend it.

Successful statebuilding? IBL

There is a fascinating chapter towards the end of  Roland Paris’s book At War’s End which talks about the Institutionalization Before Liberalization (IBL) peacebuilding strategy. Chapter 10 is particularly interesting because several of the elements are counter to what seems to be prevailing wisdom. It challenges common notions like “hold elections quickly, encourage free speech, privatize ASAP.”

To me this is a very productive and healthy dialog to have, especially given the mixed record of such policies in peacebuildling, as outlined in the cases cited in the book. It’s also of great interest to me that Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew embraced several (although clearly not all) of these ideas in successful economic development of Singapore, as described in From Third World to First.

Here are the main points of IBL as described by Paris, with my notes below.

1. Wait Until Conditions are Ripe for Elections

There’s often a rush to elections, but then the results aren’t meaningful because the process and buildup to the election has been under strained conditions.

2. Design Electoral Systems that Reward Moderation

There are certain ways of choosing a winner that require bipartisan support, so that a candidate can’t win by just playing up religious or racial differences.

3. Promote Good Civil Society

p. 195, counter to the idea of complete freedom to organize:
“Peacebuilders must also be prepared to shut down organizations that openly and repeatedly advocate violence against other groups in the society.”

4. Control Hate Speech

Total “freedom of the press” can be very harmful. Lee Kuan Yew has strenuously made this point in Singapore, and clearly in the early days it was important.

But in the case of a foreign intervention, who decides on what speech is allowed—the locals or the externals? One way is to have tight control at first, but then building up the local societal infrastructure to the point where they can regulate.

5. Adopt Conflict-Reducing Economic Policies

The classic policies have the effect of causing much pain to the common people, hurting small businesses, and leading to a consolidation of business interests in big hands. So in fact the “rich get richer,” further exacerbating the rich/poor divide.

In addition, “shock therapy” for an economy can be too shocking, and leave a lot of the “little people” bitter and out of work. Not a good start for a new way of doing things.

6. The Common Denominator: Rebuild Effective State Institutions

p. 205, counter to the idea of raw libertarianism:
“Democratic politics and capitalist economies are not self-organizing: they depend on public institutions to uphold basic rules, to maintain order, to resolve disputes impartially, and to regulate behavior incompatible with the preservation of market democracy itself.”