Author Archives: Stanley

Big Egos in a Nonprofit

Some people have too big of an ego to be involved in managing the operations of a nonprofit. Egos are fine for businesses, agencies, and other organizations that are made up of paid staff. In a nonprofit, most of the people are volunteers and teamwork is essential to keeping people from running away.

I see the most harm done when egos exist on the board or in the nonprofit’s management. Board of Directors are responsible for identifying the mission, providing oversight, and raising funds. The Executive Director and other managers are responsible for fundraising, managing the paid staff, and day-to-day operations.

While the lines between the two are clear, they become blurred when big egos dominate. Board members become micromanagers on the staff or the executive director and staff work as if the board does not exist. Both ways damage the nonprofit’s ability to be successful.

Harm to the nonprofit appears in high turnover rates, loss of donor funding, and errors in meeting the mission goals. Even worse is when the egos reside on the board and management at the same time.

Unfortunately, there are no clear, easy solutions. There are mediators for nonprofits, yet someone has to initiate their involvement and pay them. Most nonprofits suffer through the turmoil. Board members serve two year terms and the executive director and staff with big egos usually burn themselves out and leave.

A grant writer should be prepared for this situation and stay away from it. I realize this is a poor solution, yet an honest one. The only people who can change the situation are other board members or staff who need to step in and confront the egos. However, it is sometimes easier to just leave.

Starting a Young Writer’s Group

I got peered pressured into being president of my writing club. We have about 60 members, run a contest in the spring, hold monthly luncheon meetings with guest speakers, and sometimes a one day writing course. I’m fortunate to have board members who are great at helping me with the presidency and making my job easy. So, I decided to try starting a young writer’s group.

This is probably not a smart move on my part. First, I don’t know how to start a young writer’s group. Second, it will consume more of my time and could interfere with my afternoon (or morning) napping. Third, I need volunteers.

Some of the research I’ve done recommended not starting a writing group. Instead, I should help one that is already established. Except there are no young writers’ groups anywhere in eastern NC. There’re barely any writing groups at all.

I’ll start slow and just keep working at it. First, I need to pick the age group such as middle school, high schoolers, or community college students. Then, there’s the purpose for the group.

I think it will be to encourage writing, provide critiques, help members get published, and promote progress and accomplishments. I also hope to attract authors as mentors.

We’ll need a name and a place to meet regularly where we can have speakers. Of course, there is the issue of money.

Getting people to join, volunteers to help, and support from the community will take motivation. I don’t know what’s motivating me. Maybe when I do get a group going, I’ll figure that out, too.

The difference between a nonprofit’s paid staff and volunteer board members

A nonprofit has two groups who work toward meeting the mission goals. The Executive Director (ED) and maybe some staff workers run the daily operations. All are paid employees of the nonprofit.

Overseeing them are a board of directors made up of a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. There could be other board members, too. All board members are volunteers with the board president being the ED’s boss.

Having a volunteer board overseeing a paid staff creates a unique relationship. People who volunteer to do a job and those who get paid for the job can have vastly different motivations for doing that job.

Both groups will have a sense of duty toward the success of the mission. Yet, they may see achieving that success based on what inspires them. Is it a personal feel-good of community service or a desire to pay the bills at home?

Both inspirations can be good or bad. They are just seeing the mission accomplishments in a way they believe based on why they are there.

I am a board member of a nonprofit. Although I see myself more of the grant writer than a board member. To write grants, I work with the Ed and paid staff. We all try to ignore that I’m a board member. Grant writers should avoid being a board member.

Instead, a grant writer should be aware of the different motivations between volunteering and being paid. This awareness is important when combined with people’s personalities and egos.

At a minimum, grant writers should meet regularly with the ED, talk to the board president, work with the nonprofit staff, and smile at the board members. Focus on the success of the mission. Everyone else is doing that, just maybe with a different purpose.

A Series or a Serial

I’m rewriting the ending of my book – again. I’m debating whether to end this book with a cliff hanger or not.

A cliff hanger means it has no ending and sets the stage for the next book, making them into serials. I will have to write follow-on books until I create an ending. No cliff hanger and I have an ending. If I write proceeding books, they become a series.

Sometimes, an author will break up a long book into smaller ones to make a serial and sell the books as a box set. It’s still one long book, it just gives the appearance of more manageable reading.

Other times, a writer cannot stop writing. One book leads to another and another as a serial. The never ending story. In both cases, a reader has to read all of the books in the correct order to understand the story and reach an ending, if there ever is one.

A series are stand-along books hosting the same characters within the same genre. Theoretically, these books can be read out of sequence, although I have rarely found this to be true. They build off each one, the characters change in some way, the environment they are in is altered somehow, or maybe minor characters become more prominent. Series are almost like a serial, just with an ending.

I don’t like serials, although some of the best books I’ve read were serials. Such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Another good series were the first three Star Wars movies (the best of all Star Wars).

I want to see an ending, which should make the decision for my book ending easy. Yet, the cliff hanger ending I came up with is much better than the ending I have.

Maybe I just don’t want to be committed to writing the next book. Although I’ve already started it.

Diversified Income

Nonprofits should receive money from as many different sources as possible. These sources include private donations, churches, other nonprofits, foundations, businesses, communities, fund raising events, and government agencies.

The more sources the better for a nonprofit since no source is a guaranteed income. However, it is not possible to work on all of these sources because each takes a certain amount of time and effort. Priority is needed.

Everything ends up being a choice of two methods. Getting a lot of money from a few sources or a little money from a lot of sources.

Getting a lot of money from a few sources means each request is generally long, complicated, and littered with traps. Competition is usually high with the funding organization wanting to trim out as many applications as possible using any excuse. Most of these sources are government agencies.

Using this method of few sources allows a nonprofit to focus more on these applications, giving them some upper level of chance. Yet, requesting a lot of money from a few places also means one denial can be catastrophic.

The other method of submitting to a lot of sources, means a lot more work. However, competition is usually lower and the submissions are not as cumbersome to complete.

This method requires being organized. There are more people to know and more time expended. However, one failure has a small impact. Also, getting a little from a lot means greater success since the source is not expending a large portion of their funds.

It all is a matter of personality. The first method is a greater risk with a higher payoff. The second method is less risk with a lower payoff.

Personally, I would always take the second method. It’s more work, but more assurance of success.

Writing Slow

I read about authors who write a 60-70K word book in a month or two. Some can turn out 10K words a day. While I certainly believe writers can achieve this, I think (from reading their novels) they do so by building simple characters, less scene details, lots of repetitive action, and uncomplicated plots.

There is a market and niche for this easy style of fiction. But, I find more enjoyment in a novel of some complication in plot and character. I want to have a connection to the time and place where the novel is placed.

In Anne R. Allen blog post “Are Slow Writers Doomed to Fail in the Digital Age?”, she is a slow writer in an industry demanding fast writers. Volume equals more money. She writes, “In fact, I believe working slowly and mindfully is the best way to build a career.”

Fast writing does not mean fast success. Some authors think so by publishing a multitude of novels over a short period of time. They believe the more books published, the more readers they’ll attract and the more money they’ll make. A few achieve this, but only because they have a team of ghost writers helping them.

So, are slow writers doomed since they produce a book a year instead of three or more in a year? On the other hand, an author can take years to write a book of gibberish or two months to do the same. Forget these possibilities of failure.

They can happen or not. Instead, focus on how much time put toward writing rather than the number of words produced in a day. You might feel better.

I’m a fan of slow writing because I’m biased. I write slow. I have tried writing the fast stuff and it can work, but I’m not satisfied with it. I think there is a more viable market and niche for stories with a few plot layers, slightly flawed characters, and places that seem real.

This takes time to write.

Funding and Hurricane Florence

Many people want to donate after a hurricane and it is certainly appreciated by nonprofits, churches, and organizations overwhelmed with those who need help. In a catastrophe like Florence, money can come from:

  • Politicians (don’t count on it)
  • Government agencies (fill out paperwork to populate their databases)
  • Businesses (sometimes for business purposes)
  • Foundations (what about next year’s funding)
  • Individuals (sincere giving)
  • Probably others I may have missed

Regardless where the money comes from, nonprofits should review the conditions for accepting any money. Most of the time, the conditions only require supporting those in need after the catastrophe. However, conditions can be more restrictive and bind the nonprofit to future initiatives that may not be in their best interest. If there are any concerns with the conditions, do not negotiate and reject the money.

This may be hard to do with someone trying to give money for a worthy cause, but it will be harder to later meet conditions that violate the nonprofit’s mission. If the money is accepted, the details should be recorded in a spreadsheet.

All money associated with the catastrophe should be kept separate from money for operations. It may be tempting to delay this recording of income and expenses with everything happening almost at once. But, take the time and don’t just dump everything into the general account.

More important than anything, a nonprofit should not get involved in recovery efforts beyond their mission or capabilities. This catastrophe should not be used as a means to expand into other areas of need, despite the pleas to do so. It will only lead the nonprofit off the side of a cliff with a guarantee of failure for all involved.

Many people want to give money after a catastrophe. Nonprofits should focus on what they are capable of doing, accept money that will temporarily increase their services, partner with other organizations, and then return to normal operations.

Editing Again?

I’m finishing another edit of my novel. Before I wrote the book, I had been thinking about the story for almost a year. When I finally started writing, it came out fast and easy. I liked what I wrote, until I read what I wrote.

I have gone through numerous, much needed edits. While the basic story remained the same, I made a lot of changes such as in the characters, how the story started, and the ending. All right, maybe more than I thought. After each edit, I thought I had written a bestseller until I read it again. It was a non-seller.

I tried different ways to edit such as starting with the last chapter and going backward chapter by chapter. I wouldn’t recommend this. It’s very confusing and I don’t think people were meant to read a story backward. At least not me.

On this, my final edit (I hope), I focused on each scene within a chapter. I questioned everything and whether the words belonged where they were placed. I was not kind to my words. I think some were hesitant about being written down since they had a good chance of being deleted. Some took the chance, anyway.

This process required many re-readings on the same chapter, yet it seemed to work better for me. I also joined a critique group who have been great at finding things wrong. Yet, we meet too infrequently.

My method is slow, but when I’m done with each chapter I feel better at what I had written. Until, I re-read what I wrote.

P.S. The picture is Harry, a friendly Sasquatch from the 1987 movie “Harry and the Hendersons” and my recent toy.

Florence

Nice name, not a nice storm.

This blog is about the hurricane since I live in New Bern, NC. My wife and I evacuated on Wednesday to Richmond, VA where we had family. We came home Sunday afternoon to no electricity and piles of rubble and debris everywhere. Flood waters were not far away.

The picture is an 80 foot pine about 35 feet from our house. If it had fallen the other way, it would have destroyed part of our house. While we were fortunate, I feel bad because several houses in our neighborhood were flooded and many homes had trees leaning on them or through them. Fortunately, no one got hurt because many in the neighborhood evacuated.

The big debate of whether to stay or go happened on Tuesday when Hurricane Florence was a category 3. Some did not evacuate, although they had money and places to go.

A thousand theses can be written on why people choose to stay during a hurricane. I have been in category 2 hurricanes and it is stressful when trees are coming down outside. I have sat in a dark house wondering if the next tree to fall will come through the house or some debris slam through a window.

New Bern and the surrounding area will recover thanks to people across the U.S. who came to volunteer and many others through their donations. An interesting note: This afternoon, the remnants of Florence brought tornadoes near Richmond. The hotel we were staying in became a shelter for those seeking safety.

Grant Reporting

When a nonprofit receives foundation money, it is critical they provide a report to the foundation on how they spent the money.

Almost all foundations require some type of report. What is required and the due date is usually explained in the acceptance letter that comes with the check. Not reporting back to the foundation means no more funding from future requests. Also, the foundation can notify other foundations of noncompliance in reporting.

But, let’s assume the positive and the nonprofit staff eagerly read and understand the reporting requirements. As much care should be taken in preparing the report as writing the grant. Many foundations use the reports they receive as a measure of the nonprofit’s ability to operate effectively.

Even if not requested, a nonprofit should provide at least one story of someone, a family, or a community being helped by the funding. The report’s data and information should relate to the story, which should be the highlight of the report.

If the foundation does not require a report, send one anyway. Even if it is a letter, the foundation should appreciate the feedback. Reports are beneficial to the nonprofit for many reasons:

—  They continue the communication between the nonprofit and foundation.
—  The report assures the foundation that the money was spent for what it was meant to do.
—  The foundation can use the information and stories to showcase that their grants were helping people. Showcasing the nonprofit, too.
—  A report gives the nonprofit added points for getting future money

A timely and accurate report helps to build a relationship between the nonprofit and the foundation. This relationship can sometimes mean more than the money received.