Problems Migrate: Lessons From SF’s Homeless Population Survey – NPQ Newswire

While San Francisco city officials are undoubtedly celebrating the drop in the homeless population from 6,455 in 2011 to 6,436 in 2013, which is largely attributed to the city government’s commitment to permanent supportive housing, the demographic questions included in the Biennial Homeless Count offer lessons for the rest of us.

For the first time ever, San Francisco collected demographic information about the sexual orientation of homeless individuals. The survey reported that almost a third (29%) of respondents self-identified as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning). This figure is most likely higher than the general population; Alfred Kinsey argued 10% of the population is gay or lesbian, and other studies have reported even smaller percentages.

It is no secret that San Francisco is an LGBTQ-friendly place, and it is not surprising the LGBTQ homeless count might be high. However, there is a deeper lesson for nonprofits across the country.

Note: This is part of a newswire I wrote for the Nonprofit Quarterly. To read the full post, please click here.

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Welcome to the World of Nonprofit Regulation

I’m dizzy. As I look at the myriad of regulatory bodies and try to make sense of the maze that is nonprofit accountability, I am stunned anyone would want to start a nonprofit.

Run. Run fast.

For those of you brave enough to stay, you’re in for a wild journey. Nonprofit management is not about the warm, fuzzy feelings of “doing good.” No way. The administrative expertise needed is becoming increasingly more complex and more professional every day. You may find yourself working with state sales tax issues one day, third party rating systems later that day, and fielding a late afternoon call from the TV station asking for a quote about the latest charity scandal.

The responsibility — and the power — of the nonprofit executive is in the ability to make sense of all of this, educate the Board, the public, and the staff, and, somehow, still make a difference in the lives of your clients.

It’s not for the faint of heart. Here is a broad overview of the major regulatory channels or levels.

Channels of Nonprofit Regulation

Mandatory Regulations: Nonprofits have a series of requirements they must fulfill at the federal and state levels. For example, incorporation, registration, tax accounting,  as well a myriad of policies including conflict of interest, whistleblower, document retention and destruction, gift acceptance policies, and more. Don’t forget the laws and regulations for employers (nonprofit and for-profit), sales permits/sales tax for those nonprofits who sell products. Plus, these laws can and do change. And, you also have to think about regulations  pertaining to your subsector and business activities. Deal with food? Don’t forget about the health code. Deal with medical patients or students? The law is very clear about privacy issues.

Voluntary Accountability: The Independent Sector has a wonderful compendium of standards, codes, and principles for nonprofit organizations. Many of these are opportunities for nonprofits to voluntarily hold themselves to a higher standard. Some, like the Maryland Standard of Excellence, come with certification. Others focus on subsector-specific concerns. Either way, it is a good idea to check in and make sure you’re up to par as a nonprofit and as a member of your subsector.  It would be wonderful if more nonprofits really understood and voluntarily committed to the highest ethical standards.

Third Party Standards: There are a host of third party bodies also known as “Charity Watch Dogs” that rate charities’ performance. These include the BBB, Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and more. There are many problems with these rating systems; however, they are a part of our lives and it appears they are here to stay.

See what I mean? Nonprofit executives are responsible for maintaining compliance (sometimes mandatory, sometimes voluntary) with more rules and regulations than we might have imagined.

Still committed to the nonprofit sector? Join the growing body of people committed to taking the sector to the next level of professionalism and accountability. Welcome.

 

African Artist Networks – NPQ Newswire

I was recently invited to write a guest newswire for the Nonprofit Quarterly’s daily newswire email. It was published yesterday and I thought I’d pass it along here.

http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/policysocial-context/22487-african-artist-networks-and-artistic-sovreignty.html

If you haven’t signed up for NPQ’s newswire, it’s a great daily digest of nonprofit relevant news. You can sign up on their website: http://www.nonprofitquarterly.org/

More Media Now: 4 Tips for Nonprofits

I’m often asked how a nonprofit can get more exposure in the media, especially when there is no money to pay additional staff.  It’s not as hard as it sounds. Just remember to be consistent, be friendly, and be flexible. Oh, and don’t forget to say thank you.

1) Be consistent. Set up and stick to a regular schedule for media pitches. Make sure that the media knows who you are and is reminded regularly that you are around. It’s like branding – you want to be top of mind.

Now, that being said, you don’t want to bombard them with stories they are not interested in writing. For example, a story on your new staff break room is not newsworthy. A client testimony on an issue of national concern (obesity, job development, etc.) is noteworthy.  Be strategic.

2) Be friendly. Get to know the reporters that cover your geographical area and the topics your nonprofit deals with. For example, if you deal with gang issues then you should get to know the crime reporter. If you deal with education, get to know the education/schools reporter. You can invite them over to tour your facility and meet a couple of clients. Then, when you send a press release to them or email a story idea, they have a personal experience with your mission.

3) Be flexible. Remember, reporters have a job too. They need to please their editor and their readers. They also have deadlines. You may get a call on Friday afternoon at 4pm asking if you have a client they can interview or if they can use your site for a picture for a story. Say yes. Helping out a reporter when they are in a jam is a sure-fire way to make friends.

4) Say thank you. Gratitude goes a long way. Always email or call to say thank you to a reporter who has covered your nonprofit. And, at the same time, you can ask a board member or donor write in as a citizen (and reader) to express their appreciation for the great story. Then, send these stories out via social media. This increases the publicity for your nonprofit and for the reporter (whose boss, more than likely, looks at the number of pageviews each story gets).

Additionally, if the reporter covers your mission (but not your organization), it is still appropriate to say thank you for highlighting these important issues. This simple act encourages future stories and develops your relatinship with the reporter.

These are simple hints but, in my experience, they go a long way. And most nonprofits don’t follow them.

What are your favorite media tips?

My Brain on Fiction

Let’s face it. There is a lot to do. And most if it won’t ever get done. Take the dishes, for example. Or the dust that settles behind the door in my office.DAYDM

We have to prioritize. I have to prioritize.

Lately I’ve been prioritizing nothing. Literally. Nothing. I’m scheduling time do nothing into my calendar. Before the hullabaloo of the week begins — and it always begins — I mark time in my calendar to do nothing.

Sometimes it’s in the morning. In fact, that’s a part of how I start most mornings. Sometimes it’s a lazy Friday afternoon (like this one). Other times it’s just a longer breakfast or lunch, looking out onto my herb/veggie/rose garden. It’s only about 5 foot by 3 feet but each day the green of the plants greet me and I’m happy.

Our brains need a break. They need to daydream. They need to think about something that is really interesting and, at the same time, doesn’t matter at all.

Fiction is a great brain break. Lately I’ve been trying to squeeze in just 15 minutes of non-research reading a day. I find that, like exercise, my brain does better on fiction.  I’m happier, more relaxed, and can think more clearly.

Last month I read A School for My Village by Twesigye Jackson Kaguri and am now (slowly) working on The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. In January I read the Journal of Best Practices by David Finch. That one made me laugh out loud. Often. In public.

Three books. It’s already April and I’ve already read three books. I think that might be three more than I read last year. Which is too bad, really. I’m a reader. While I was in the Dominican Republic as a Peace Corps Volunteer I read more than 130 books.

Reading, especially fiction, is deeply generative. It helps us to:

  • Make sense of the world
  • Connect with others’ perspectives
  • Step away from our own (petty? first world?) concerns
  • Rejuvenate the brain
  • Relax before going to bed

It’s kind of like singing in the shower. The best ideas come to me when I’m singing reading.

I like my brain on fiction. The next few years will be very busy for me. I’m sure you’re life is no different. I’m going to try to remember that just 15 minutes a day makes a huge difference. What about you?

Got any great book recommendations?

 

Social Enterprise Meets Flipping Boston?!

Unable to sleep this week, I’ve taken to watching Flipping Boston and Flipping Vegas. These shows chronicle the process of entrepreneurs who flip distressed houses. Over the course of a few weeks, the houses transform from dilapidated shacks to pristine palace-like homes. And, of course, the entrepreneurs make a nice profit.

As I watch this, I have to ask. . . Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

Is flipping houses a social enterprise?

In a nutshell, the criteria for social enterprise are:

  1. Profit motive
  2. Social mission
  3. Results/impact oriented

Technically, “House Flippers” would qualify. They have a profit motive (cha-ching!). They offer a social good (improved home prices, neighborhood beautification). And they have clear, measurable results (increased value of house and neighborhood).

But if we consider them social entrepreneurs, shouldn’t we consider all business as such? After all, the addition of any job to the economy is a welcome — and much needed — social benefit.

Yet many might take offense to thinking of “House Flippers” as social entrepreneurs. In some ways, so would I.

Something is clearly missing in our definition of social enterprise and it has to do with #2: Social Mission.

In the case of my late night TV shows, the social good is there. The neighborhood looks better. Property values increase for all residents.  The construction provides job opportunities. However, the social good is a byproduct of the profit motive. The entrepreneurs don’t (presumably) start out with the goal in mind to add value to anything other than their own pocket books.

I think we hold (or at least want to hold) social enterprise and social entrepreneurs to a higher standard. But how do we do this?

  • Should the social mission be more, less, or equally important to the profit motive?
  • Should the intended beneficiaries be consulted?
  • Should the entrepreneurs do market research regarding the need they attempt to fulfill?
  • Should the entrepreneurs do market research into other organizations attempting to meet the need both locally and across the country?

These are the kinds of questions I ask myself every day.

Our current definition of social enterprise needs to stretch enough to encompass the moral and ethical implications of doing good. Yet stretching the definition is not as easy as it looks.

3 Lessons from the Peace Corps

This week is National Peace Corps Week and many of the world’s Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) and returned volunteers (RPCVs) are sharing their stories. This past week was also a special week for my campus: USD hosted the international AshokaU conference for Changemakers. I had the opportunity to attend the TEDx event on Friday night where social entrepreneurs and education “futurists” shared their stories.  This woman sold chickens, killed and plucked on demand, out of her home.

In honor of both of these events, I thought I’d share the lessons I learned about changemaking from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic. I spent 2002 – 2004 as a Community Economic Development Volunteer in a little town called Sabaneta in the state of Santiago Rodriguez. My primary project was to create a business education training program for women with microfinance loans. I also worked with a local nonprofit organization to open a community-based preschool for low-income children.

During this time, I learned:

1) Go where you’re wanted, not just where you’re needed. Peace Corps only goes into countries and communities where they have been invited. Volunteers are matched with host country organizations that have invited the volunteer to help. The volunteers are placed in communities where the local leadership has agreed to and extended a welcome to the PCV.  As a result, the projects I worked on had unilateral and I also was assured that law enforcement would be friendly. (This was not necessarily true when I crossed into Haiti, for example.)

This simple lesson is profound. It’s about respect. As an educated person from the United States, I have no right to impose my views or ideas on people in other countries. That imperialism has happened far to often in our history. However, when invited, we can dialogue and work together in ways that are generative for both parties. The same lesson is true when I work with vulnerable populations in the United States.

2) Start with a cup of coffee. Even after being officially “blessed” at every level, it was important to start by getting to know those who lived and worked around me. For me, that meant three to six months of visiting the homes and businesses of the women I would work with. I sat on their front step and drank coffee. I helped them sell goods out of their colmado (small store). I watched them kill and pluck chickens for customers as they waited. As I did this, I was able to gain trust and come to understand valuable parts of the culture I would otherwise have missed. (But don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I still missed or misunderstood huge parts of the culture. To some extent, that is to be expected.)

This investment of time paid tremendous dividends when it came to designing a project that worked and that was embraced by the community.

3) Look deeply. I hit many bumps along the road. My microfinance project partner wasn’t as gung-ho as I wanted him to be. The teachers in the preschool kept playing with the toys. As much as I wanted to mange these problems and make them go away, they could only be solved by looking. The first class of kids for the preschool program. They are playing in a small sandbox outside.

I had to look deeply at my project partner’s life. He spent 8 – 10 hours a day on a motorcycle driving up and down bumpy, dusty dirt roads. His kid was sick and he only had enough money for diapers for special occasions. Of course he didn’t want an additional thing (me!) added to his plate. Of course he was defensive at first. I needed to back off and give him a greater sense of ownership in the project.

I looked deeply at the teachers in the newly founded preschool. I saw that, like the children they served, they had never seen toys like this. They had never painted or drawn as freely as we encouraged. They had never dug through a sandbox. Of course they were more interested in playing than teaching. Of course they had trouble adjusting to a fixed schedule. These things were foreign to them and I needed to adjust.

These are just a few of the lessons I learned during my two years in the Dominican Republic. They’ve guided my career as I work today with nonprofits.