Blog Entries from June 2012 to April 2013

SOLES Caster Center State of Nonprofit logo.


May 2015 - June 2013

October 2011 - May 2012

Inaugural State of Nonprofits Annual Summit

Friday June 7th from  8:30am – 2:00pm

According to what we hear on the news, the overall economy is growing stronger day by day. But, what is the state of the local nonprofit economy, and what does an improved regional economy mean for San Diego nonprofits? Join us to hear and discuss the key findings from the first annual State of the Nonprofit Sector Report which is a compilation of the first full year of our State of Nonprofits Index and other nonprofit research. 

Special Guest Discussants:Photo of Jerry Sanders.

To help frame our opening discussion, the Caster Center is pleased to convene a dynamic panel including Nancy Sasaki, CEO of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation, Jerry Sanders, San Diego’s former Mayor and the newest President/CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Fred Galloway, Professor and lead methodologist for the State of Nonprofits Index.  They will provide their unique insights about the increasingly complex landscape of San Diego’s nonprofit sector.

The State of Nonprofits: Charting the Health of San Diego’s Nonprofit Sector

8:30am – 10:30am

For the first time, data about the economic health of San Diego area nonprofits is being collected regularly.  This part of the day includes the presentation of research findings from the 2012 State of Nonprofits Index followed by an interactive panel.  Together, we’ll look at the current economic trends and discuss ways to increase the sector’s impact.

Strengthening Your Nonprofit’s Economic Resilience

10:30am – 2:00pm

Are you trying to secure funding and stay competitive amid changing government and funder priorities? Do you know what strategies will increase your resiliency to economic challenges? USD nonprofit faculty and local nonprofit leaders will offer training sessions on issues highlighted in the report including:

  • Social Enterprise Strategies
  • Cross-Sectoral Collaboration
  • Advocacy
  • Media relations…and more!



April 16, 2013

How to Show Some Valentine’s Day Love to Nonprofits

Jennifer A. Jones, MA, Research Assistant ar the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research.

The nonprofit sector touches everyone, regardless of income levels. Whether we’re opera lovers, cancer survivors, or Girl Scout troop moms, our lives are better because nonprofits exist.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are a few ways to show your “love” to a nonprofit:Clip art of a wreath of flowers in the shape of a heart.

Join a Board. Board governance is an incredibly valuable albeit underappreciated service. As almost anyone who has been on a board of directors will tell you, it is a tremendous learning experience. Board members have the opportunity to develop skills in strategic planning, consensus building, and leadership, to name just a few.

Volunteer. Volunteering is one of the oldest and well known ways to contribute to a nonprofit. These days volunteering is getting even easier.  Did you know that you can volunteer in tiny blocks of time as short as just a few minutes? This is called micro-volunteering. Or did you know that you can volunteer from your own home (or the neighborhood coffee shop)? This is called virtual volunteering. There’s no excuse. With all of the new technology, anyone can volunteer!

Friend-Raise. With the advent of the internet and the explosion of social media anybody can help a nonprofit by talking about them on Facebook, Twitter, or other site. Just post a note about your favorite nonprofit, encouraging friends to donate or volunteer.

Vote. Just like businesses, nonprofits are governments at all levels. Many times, our elected officials don’t understand the many ways in which nonprofits contribute to our society.  It is important to educate our elected officials and to “Vote with Your Mission.”

Donate.  Giving money is the obvious – and one of the most helpful – ways to show your love. Even small amounts can add up and make a big difference. Most donors like to fund programs but operating expenses are also important. Remember, no organization – nonprofit, government or business – can keep the lights on without paying the electricity bill.  

Consider a charitable bequest. Have you thought about legacy giving? It’s not just for the wealthy. Anyone can leave part of their estate or life insurance plan to a nonprofit organization. Talk to your family today and decide, what will your legacy be?  

Watch where you shop. There are many companies now that have charitable foundations or that make significant contributions to nonprofit organizations. By shopping with these companies you can increase the social impact of your money. However, consumers beware: many cause marketing campaigns give very little to the nonprofit. It’s important to do your homework first.

Thank a staff member. Nonprofit staff members often work long hours for pay that is either below or barely competitive with the going market rate. A “thank you for your service” from a donor or volunteer can go a long way to brighten a staff member’s day.


These are just a few ideas. Of course there are many, many more ways to help. Nonprofits should be able to let you know what they need most. Perhaps they need volunteers for the next big event or donations to fund a special project.  Call today and find out.

What is your favorite way to contribute to nonprofits? Please share your ideas below!

February 14, 2013

What Gets Measured…Gets Done!

Douglas E. Luffborough, III is a doctoral student at the University of San Diego. He is also the Executive Director at Turning the Hearts Center.

Performance evaluation tools and designs

The onset of New Public Management (NPM), a term that refers to the restricting of public management using market-oriented strategies to “provide for social needs and increase effectiveness, efficiency, and responsiveness of public services” (Smith, 2011) has played a pivotal role in changing the size and role of the nonprofit sector.  NPM is also closely related to the devolution of public programs to community levels of government and society, a move that has led to a more prominent role for nonprofits which are seen to be closer to their communities.  This shift has led to a broader movement and conversation around improving the performance and effectiveness of government supported and funded nonprofit organizations.

The economic crisis of 2008 through 2010 has had profound effects on government and private funders.  This crisis has produced a wave of funding cutbacks, forcing many nonprofit organizations to reduce services, lay off staff, turn away clients, or in some cases have to close their doors altogether.  Today, more than ever, nonprofit organizations are forced to do more with less and face increasing demands for accountability, transparency, and improved performance (Smith, 2011, p.35).

Evaluation tools

There are several evaluation tools that nonprofit organizations can use but the first tool highlighted in the literature was the use of logic models.  Logic models were developed and required as a result of devolution under the NPM era.  Logic models provide a one page road map toward programmatic and organizational success which consists of the following items: problem statement, goals, objectives, activities, outputs, and outcome measures (short and long) (Kaplan, 2001).

The purpose of a logic model is to describe and articulate program theory.   There are many potential uses of the logic model tool in explicating program theory for a variety of purposes throughout the life span of programs: for assessing the feasibility of proposed programs and their readiness for evaluation, for program development, for developing performance monitoring systems, and for building knowledge (Savaya & Waysman, 2005).  The majority of government funded contracts require logic models as a part of the request for proposal process.  Therefore, understanding the theory and practice behind logic models helps nonprofit compete for shrinking federal grant awards.

The next evaluation tool used by nonprofits is the Balanced Scorecard.  The Balanced Scorecard was first introduced to the nonprofit sector in 1996, shortly after the founding of the Social Enterprise program at the Harvard Business School.  The program conducted a survey and learned that executives and board members of nonprofits consistently rated performance measurement as one of their top three management concerns (Kaplan, 2001, p. 357).

Kaplan (2001) shared that The Balanced Scorecard was initially developed for the private sector to overcome deficiencies in the financial accounting model, “which fails to signal changes in the company’s economic value as an organization makes substantial investments in tangible assets, such as the skills, motivation and capabilities of its employees, customer acquisition and retention, innovative products and services, and information technology” (p. 357).

 Since its inception, The Balanced Scorecard has helped organizations to implement new strategies rapidly and effectively, leading in some cases to dramatic performance improvements.  The nonprofit literature concurs with the need to articulate a multi-dimensional framework for measuring and managing nonprofit effectiveness and the evidence suggests that The Balanced Scorecard would seem to provide just such a framework (Kaplan, 2001).

The third and final evaluation tool is Efforts-To-Outcomes (ETO).  ETO is a case management data collection database used for storing demographic information, logging case notes and tracking qualitative and quantitative performance evaluation measures.  The company that created the ETO software is called Social Solutions based in Baltimore, Maryland.  Social Solutions is the leading provider of performance management software for human services, connecting efforts to outcomes, people to social services, and service providers and communities to funders (

When it comes to developing quality performance evaluation measures the ETO software is a nonprofit software solution designed to help you measure the incremental progress of your participants, understand the effectiveness of your programs, and demonstrate impact to funders and key stakeholders both quickly and efficiently.  Performance evaluation measures can be tailored made to match organizational mission and outcomes and the ETO software can track and evaluate the impact.  Most commonly used evaluation designs include posttest only and pre-and posttests, however, ETO has the capacity to track more quasi-experimental designs that ensure greater reliability and validity to performance outcomes.

Quality of evaluation design

An evaluation’s quality is related to the design employed.  The studies reviewed indicated that many nonprofit organizations have relatively weak evaluation designs in regards to rigor, reliability and validity (Hoefer, 2000, p. 172).  Some of the barriers mentioned earlier are possible causes to weak evaluation designs however not all inclusive.  In review of the research the post-test-only evaluation design, in which client results are measured only at one point in time after program completion is considered very weak in defending against threats to internal validity (p. 172).  Both smaller and newer nonprofit organizations elect to have a posttest evaluation design primarily because their funder required that they had one or because they are one of the easiest to design.  Generally, the questions reflect if clients were satisfied with the services implemented and do not necessarily address behavioral changes as a result of the services provided.

Developing a more rigorous approach would be to administer a pre-and post-test evaluation design.  Research shows that this is a more popular design that nearly half nonprofit organizations utilize.  In implementing this type of design, clients’ results are measured once before and once after the program to determine if there is any change as a result of the services provided (Hoefer, 2000).  Well designed pre-and post-test evaluations can be effective in showing positive and/or negative changes in behaviors, attitudes, and choices as a byproduct of services.  Nonprofit organizations that conduct this type of evaluation design will be able to better demonstrate overall organizational effectiveness than just having a posttest evaluation design.

A third design, known as time series, helps control for more types of internal validity threats than post-tests and pre-and post-test designs.  It is similar to the pre-and post-test design, but clients’ results are measured several times before and after the program.  However, one challenge with this type of evaluation design involves follow-up and acquiring information after clients have exited the program as well as a lack of funding available to conduct follow up services (Hoefer, 2000).

The fourth and final evaluation design is the most rigorous provided to clients.  The comparison group design controls for more threats to internal validity than any of the previous evaluation designs.  This design is also known as a quasi-experimental or semi-quasi-experimental evaluation that focuses on a treatment group (those that receive the proposed intervention) versus a controlled group (those that do not receive the proposed intervention).  The biggest challenge with this type of evaluation design often includes length of time for implementation and costs associated with the data collection and analysis process (Hoefer, 2000).

Hoefer (2000) concludes that “Evaluations are being conducted, but the level of methodological quality appears to be rather low” (p. 174-175).  Research shows that most nonprofit organizations create performance evaluations not because they want to but because of growing funder expectations regarding accountability.  In this case, conducting evaluations becomes a way “to confer legitimacy rather than a way to improve programs” (p. 175).


Chelimsky (1994) states, “Evaluation seems destined to play a major role both in the formulation of new programs and policies and in the assessment of their achievement” (p. 342).  From the research it is clear, program evaluation is not yet producing accountability; however, the “glass of evaluation may be considered half full, in that evaluations are being conducted” (Hoefer, 2000, p. 176) but the fidelity as it relates to reliability and validity remains to be seen throughout the nonprofit sector.


Alexander, J. (2000, Spring). Adaptive Strategies of Nonprofit Human Service Organizations in an Era of Devolution and New Public Management.  Nonprofit Management & Leadersip. 10(3). Jossey-Bass.

Chelimsky, E. (1994). Making Evaluation Units Effective. In J. S. Wholey, H. P. Hatry, and K.E. Newcomer (eds.), Handbook of Practical Program Evaluation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing.

Herman, R., & Renz, D. (1998, Fall). Nonprofit Organizational Effectiveness: Contrasts Between Especially Effective and Less Effective Organizations.  Nonprofit Management & Leadership. 9(1). Jossey-Bass.

Hoefer, R. (2000, Winter). Accountability in Action? Program Evaluation in Nonprofit Human Service Agencies. Nonprofit Management & Leadership.11(2). Jossey-Bass.

Kaplan, R. (2001, Spring).  Strategic Performance Measurement and Management in Nonprofit Organizations.  Nonprofit Management & Leadership. 11(3). Jossey-Bass.

Savaya, R. & Waysman, M. (2005).  The Logic Model.  Administration in Social Work.  29(85-103).  Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.

Scott, W. (1995).  Institutions and Organizations.  Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.

Smith, S. (2011). The Nonprofit Sector.  In M. Edwards (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society. Pages 29-38. New York: Oxford University Press.

January 9, 2013

Civil Society, NGO or Nonprofit Sector: Does terminology make a difference?

Rubina Feroze Bhatti, a Pakistani native, is a doctoral student at the University of San Diego. She focuses on nonprofit leadership.

The University of San Diego has long been recognized as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country because of its amazing architecture and superb landscapes, but another beauty of this campus is the presence of international students who come from all over the world with a wealth of information, different perspectives, ideas and approaches to life. During an interactive discussion about the nonprofit sector among U.S. and non-U.S. students, I noticed that people of different countries not only had different perceptions about the nonprofit sector but also used different terminology to define it.

It is a common fact that people have great expectations of the nonprofit sector everywhere in the world. People expect that nonprofits should take care of them by providing services and by advocating against all kinds of injustices, inequalities and violations of human rights. Consequently, in almost all societies nonprofits have been struggling to meet these expectations under the watchful eyes of donors, governments and communities. However, the sector is named differently in different societies.  For instance, the San Diego community widely uses the term “nonprofits,” while in Pakistan, we prefer the term “NGOs” (non-governmental organizations). There are lots of other terms such as CSO (civil society organization), BINGO (Big international NGO), GONGO (Government- operated NGO) and INGO (International NGO). The different terminologies pose important questions: do these terms mean the same thing in different contexts? If they do have different meanings, who chooses which term to use, and to what affect? The words we utilize when defining the nonprofit sector are interpreted differently according to cultural context, with consequences for how nonprofits interrelate with society and their ability to fulfill their missions. 

Why terminology matters

While the nonprofit sector had its roots in ancient societies, it became prominent after World War II. Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations (UN) guaranteed space for the civil society within the UN system, and 41 NGOs received consultative status within the UN through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC in 1946. Currently, 3400 organizations are playing a significant role in making and implementing policies at the international level. Consequently, influenced by the UN, the term NGO is widely used all over the world especially in developing countries for civil society. However, Powell and Steinberg (2006) argue that, “A different concept of nonprofit sector is most common in developing countries and tends to use the term NGO to depict the entities on which it focus. This concept begins from a conflict model of society and sees the nonprofit sector as the organized vehicle of citizens’ protest against dominant elites” (p.91). This rights perspective of the sector focuses more on NGOs’ role as experts and watchdogs to monitor human rights situations in their respective countries, pushes for state reforms, and campaigns against human rights violations. Non-governmental organizations, then, play a critical role in providing a ‘check’ to governments, especially in regions where governments have been historically abusive or corrupt.

Through discussions with my peers, I learned that in the U.S., the nonprofit sector is defined differently. Freed from the profit motive that dominates business and from the constraints of government, the nonprofit sector serves as a third sector of American society. Importantly, Americans do not see this sector as distinctly “non-governmental,” or serving the purpose of challenging the government. Instead, they perceive it as an independent sector to provide services and goods to people where for-profit and the states cannot deliver.  For them, the nonprofit sector is the collective name used to describe institutions and organizations in American society that are neither government nor business. From class discussions, I also learned that in the United States the sector may be called “nonprofit,” but that doesn’t mean that the organizations within it cannot or should not charge fees or generate revenue. Instead, it means that nonprofits, unlike businesses, do not exist to make money for owners or investors. However, Howell & Pearce (2001) have criticized development perspectives of the third sector as “the model neither problematizes the relationship of civil society to the market nor does it allow for civil society to have a role in defining what kind of state there should be” ( p. 2). Is the U.S. then missing something by not defining the “third” sector in a way that challenges business and government?

Are we “civil society”?

If the term “nonprofit” focuses more on development perspective, and NGOs on protecting rights, do we need to use a broader term for bridging the gap between contexts and concepts? Can we use the term “civil society” rather than NGO or nonprofit for providing a broader understanding of the sector? Do we need to move from a needs-based approach to an integrated approach of service delivery, policy change and advocacy? Which perspective is preferably embraced by donors and why? Can we promote a balance between forces because, “if state is strong, it crushes us and if it is weak, we perish” (Valery, 1984, p.38)?

The words we use signify how the third sector will interact with society. A non-governmental organization may fulfill some needs not met by government operations, but within the terminology used, an anti-government responsibility is also conveyed. A non-governmental organization has the right and responsibility to protect citizens even against government abuse. In the U.S., where “nonprofit” is more often used, government is not antagonized. However, each term serves particular purposes and prevents us to move forward as civil society for advancing our understanding of social and economic issues.

Let’s take a step back, revisit our terminology, and reflect on:

 “We choose which term to serve what purposes.”



Howell, J. and Pearce, J. (2001). Civil Society and Development: A Critical Exploration.Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Valéry, P. (1984).  Les Principes d’anarchie pure et appliquée. Paris: Editions de Minuit.

Powell, W.W., & Steinberg, R. (2006). The Non-Profit Sector: A Research Hand Book.Yale: Yale University Press.

December 18, 2012

Maximizing your charitable giving results

Mary McDonald is an Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at USD.

As year-end approaches, mailboxes everywhere are being overrun with greetings. There are catalogues selling just about anything, holiday cards sharing just about everything and, not to be missed, year-end solicitations for charitable contributions offering good feelings for one thing: money. We hear from shelters, meal sites, youth groups, frankly it is likely we hear from every type of nonprofit and faith-based organization this time of year. The reasons are obvious. For one thing, Americans donate a lot of money to charity, over 217 billion dollars in 2011 (Nonprofit Times, 2011) and for another, the rate of giving is spirited in the last quarter of the year particularly in December (Foundation Center, 2011).

The traffic in my mailbox reminds me of my days as the Executive Director of a center for women and children. From Black Friday to New Year’s Eve at 6pm, I meet the mail carrier at the door to receive donation envelopes.  The contents inside represented our success in the December marathon race for money. I wish that in my days as an executive director I had the advantage of knowing what I now know about who donates to nonprofits, why they do it and how. I believe this information would have helped me target and deliver my year-end campaign with creative strategies.

The purpose of this blog is two-fold; to share this useful information and to suggest concrete strategies for applying the information before December 31st.

Who gives, why do they give and how?

Here are some basic facts about individual charitable giving in the United States based on research data:

  • 65% of households give to charity. The average annual household contribution is $2,213 while the average (mean) is $870 (Giving USA, 2012).
  • Americans gave $298.3 billion in 2011. This reflects a 3.9% increase from 2010 (Foundation Center, 2011).

Research tells us a good deal about who gives. Consider the following as you profile your donor prospects:

  • Donors giving large amounts most often started donating for either a special event or an annual campaign with a minimal contribution.
  • Women of the Baby Boom and older generations give more to charity than their male counterparts and are more likely to give, when education, income and other factors affecting giving are equal (Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy, 2012).
  • Those who volunteer are likely to be donors.
  • Online giving is increasing popular and the use of online tools such as Charity Navigator and donation links are increasing.
  • Potential donors are motivated by tax advantages, which helps to make year-end important as many people are scrambling to for donations to be eligible for deductions under 2012 tax regulations.
  • People give money to the causes and the people they know. Often someone who is not directly connected to an organization can inform a potential donor in ways a staff or board member cannot. 

The question is, what can you do to use these facts to increase your year-end gifts? It is simple, really if you are guided by a simple adage: The smart man knows everything. The wise man, everybody. 

What can I do this year?

First, remember that people give money when they are asked by those they know and respect. Consider these ideas:

First: Be creative and develop a list of people who would make personal contacts for your organization.
Don’t think just about your board (although, do think of your board). Think about your volunteers and staff as well as your board and ask yourself, “who would help us connect”? These people have connections with potential donors. Make sure these “connector” people have a few simple reasons why giving to your organization is a good investment. Remind them that you are excellent stewards of charitable dollars and that when they recommend your organization to a potential donor they will look good. Ask them to consider their accountants, business associates, employees, bank trust officers or financial advisors. They could encourage a gift to your organization in lieu of a holiday gift to them. I recommend that you actually draw a picture of with your organization as a circle in the middle of a variety of groups that interact with you. Ask yourself, “would these people carry my message”? Push yourself to think.

These connectors know people who may not know your organization. Encourage the connectors to share either formally or informally with others about the advantages of supporting you. Activate your network of connectors to “carry the message” for you. Your job is to pick up the telephone and give to these people ideas for helping your organization that cost them nothing but help them help you. Suggest that they remember to mention your organization when their friends talk about year-end giving or holiday gifts for those folks who “have everything”. Remind them to talk about your work in informal conversations about the many things to celebrate. Trust officers and lawyers as well as tax accountants are especially important this time of year as people are calling them right now as they make decisions about charitable gifts. Remember you want to contact those who know and like your organization and, therefore will be willing to suggest your organization especially when they are reminded of your value to the community. 

Your “connectors” need information so make sure and create simple sentences about your organization and why you are the “best choice”. Select key volunteers to call those baby boomer women and close friends to ask them to make your organization a charity of choice in these last two weeks of holiday giving.

Second, make sure your organization looks professional and engaging online. Consider the following ideas:

  1. Review your donation system. Make sure the person that meets the mail carrier is processing the donations carefully and that you are responding quickly. Tag donors that increase their annual gifts and take the time to call them. If you are busy assign somebody else in the organization. Small gifts treated with respect become larger gifts over time.
  2. Check your status on Charity Navigator ( which hosts a special “Holiday giving guide”. People either know about this or other “watchdog” sites and are using them to “size-up” your organization (Chicago magazine, 2012).
  3. Make sure your website is up to date and as powerful as possible. Have compelling stories about your mission successes and a professional look.

Is it to late?

Remember, there are a good number of holiday parties and religious gatherings between now and December 31st.  I encourage you to consider the simple ideas put forward in this blog. I am sure you will increase your donations at year-end 2012 and in 2013 as well.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!


Chicago Magazine (2012). Guide to Charitable Giving in Chicago. Downloaded from, December 5, 2012.

Foundation Center (2011). Downloaded from, December 7, 2012.

Giving USA (2012). Downloaded from, December 6, 2012.

Nonprofit Times (2012). Downloaded from, December 6, 2012.

December 11, 2012

Nonprofits and Local Governments: How do we work together?

Svetlana Krasynska, M.A., Research Assistant at the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research

Now that the elections are over and the dust of partisan discourse has settled, it is time to regroup in moving forward with a renewed set of hopes and expectations for the day-to-day work ahead of us.  With this in mind, I would like to open a discussion on the relationships between nonprofits and local governments by reviewing some of the issues, offering practical recommendations, as well as soliciting your input on the subject. 

State of affairs

The most recent available National Study of Nonprofit-Government Contracting (2009), produced by the Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, indicates that 85% of California nonprofits contract with local governments.  This is the highest percentage of government contracting within the nonprofit sector, closely followed by state contracts involving 81%, as well as federal funding received by 66% of California nonprofits.  While the majority of local government contracts are provided in the area of housing and shelter (37%) and human services (40%), local governments are involved in a diversity of nonprofit services in our State, from employment and youth services to community development and agriculture. 

Interestingly, almost one-third of organizations surveyed by the Urban Institute reportworsening in government contracting experience compared to previous years.  Government grantees attribute these challenges to the following, in the order of importance: 

  • the fact that government contract payments do not cover full costs of contracted services; 
  • the reporting and application processes are complex and time-consuming; 
  • government contracts/grants frequently change; and 
  • payments can be late beyond contract specifications.

Throughout my career as a nonprofit practitioner, I was engaged with both, nonprofits providing essential services and instilling positive change in our community, and with local governments fostering varied nonprofit and community initiatives through financial and technical support.  My dual involvement provided some insights on the relationship dynamics between nonprofits and their local governmental agencies, suggesting that both nonprofits and local governments could benefit greatly from a more collegial and open relationship.  Such relationship could help minimize frequent mutual frustration, as well as maximize joint outcomes in serving essentially the same constituencies.  The enhanced dialogue between nonprofits and local government agencies is particularly critical in view of the persistently challenging economic environment and ongoing budget reductions we are facing at all levels of government.  

What can we learn from research?

What are some of the concrete challenges faced by nonprofits and local governments in working together?  What can we do to help enhance dialogue and nurture closer relationships between the two sectors?  In seeking answers to these questions from both the researcher and practitioner perspective, I have turned to academic literature to help identify links that can help bridge my practical experience and empirical knowledge.  In doing so, I have come across a breadth of engaging data produced by the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Institute of Government through its Project to Strengthen Nonprofit-Government Relationships (Project).  Bingo!  In one of the Project’s studies, which was described in Strengthening Relationships between Local Governments and Nonprofits by Lydian Altman-Sauer, Margaret Henderson and Gordon P. Whitaker in 2001, scholars interviewed over forty nonprofit and local government staff members in seven representative counties of North Carolina with the intention of  pinpointing challenges and opportunities related to enhancing local government-nonprofit relationships.  While we are far from North Carolina here, I find that North Carolinian experiences are rather universal, as they mirror those I have observed not only locally, but internationally as well. 

The study uncovered varied perceptions of how local governments and nonprofits interact, ranging from intimate collaboration, to no contact at all, to even adverse and harmful relationships.  In some cases, interactions were perceived so differently by nonprofits and local governmental agencies that it was difficult to believe the parties were actually speaking of the same relationship!   Through the study’s findings, researchers identified four overarching obstacles to effective partnership between nonprofits and local governments.  They include:

  • varied perceptions of what a collaborative relationship actually means in the context of their particular organizational systems; 
  • lack of understanding between how the other party operates and makes decisions;
  • discrepancies in cultural viewpoints among constituents, nonprofit staff and volunteers, as well as government representatives; and, last but not least,
  • the imbalance of power in relationships between the funding agencies and fund recipients, all of which limits the richness, earnestness and effectiveness of collaborative dialogue. 

Practical recommendations

While the authors of the article offer no single right way to address the above issues, they do infer that a positive relationship is a two-way street, and that both sectors have to actively engage  in minimizing gaps in communication.  The authors offer a list of suggestions geared toward improving collaborative relationships between nonprofits and local governments.

Nonprofits can help mitigate challenges by:

  • informing local governments regarding their progress throughout the year, not only through the required grant reporting;
  • being aware of how their activities complement the entire community, beyond agencies’ specific target populations;
  • being financially responsible and accountable;
  • maintaining a reliable, professional image; and
  • sustaining solid public relations by addressing rather than skewing unattractive issues that concern their organizations.

Government agencies, on their part, can:

  • share earnest information about budget-making and priority-setting processes to reduce mistrust and confusion experienced by nonprofits;
  • coordinate cross-sector funding outputs to minimize duplication of efforts and to facilitate communication between funders;
  • view disruptive issues from the viewpoint of entire community, rather scapegoat specific nonprofits; and, finally
  • recognize nonprofits as serious enterprises by supporting their strive for professionalism and capacity building. 

Nonprofits and governments also can work together on nurturing sustainable relationships by:  

  • mutually committing  to sharing information within and outside contractual obligations;
  • sharing internal resources whenever possible, from staff time and training opportunities to office space and equipment;
  • working jointly on crafting relationship boundaries and guidelines; and, finally,
  • acknowledging similarities and working together on mitigating differences.

We want your input!

While I have provided here only a very brief overview of some of the elements of nonprofit-local government relationships, focusing primarily on relational challenges and ways to moderate them, there is a plethora of information on the subject if you are interested in learning more.  I have listed below several articles that you might find helpful in your inquiry.  More importantly, however, we at the Caster Center would like to hear about your experiences in working with your local government agencies: What has worked for you?  What has been some of your major challenges?  What change would you like to see in your relationship with local governments?  Would a similar study to that undertaken in North Carolina be beneficial to our community?

References and further reading

Altman-Sauer, L.; Henderson, M.; Whitaker, G.P. (2001), Strengthening Relationships between Local Governments and Nonprofits, Popular Government: winter 2001, pp. 33-39; accessed at

National Study of Nonprofit-Government Contracting Survey Results (2009 Data), Urban Institute, Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy; pp. 17-18; accessed at:

Bluestein, F. S. & Brown-Graham A. R. (2001), Local Government Contracts with Nonprofit Organizations: Questions and Answers, Popular Government: fall 2001, pp. 32-44; accessed at

Feiock, R.C. & Andrew, S.A. (2006) Introduction: Understanding the Relationships Between Nonprofit Organizations and Local Governments, International Journal of Public Administration, Issue 29: pp. 759–767, accessed at:

Henderson, M., Whitaker, G.P. & Altman-Sauer, L. (2003) Establishing Mutual Accountability in Nonprofit-Government Relationships, Popular Government: fall 2003, pp. 18-29, accessed at

Whitaker, G.P. & Drennan, J.C. (2007) Local Government and Nonprofit Organizations, UNC—Chapel Hill School of Government, pp. 1-18, accessed at:

November 12, 2012

Making Good Decisions While Under Pressure: The Nonprofit Context

Taylor Peyton Roberts, M.S., Research Assistant at the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research

How can skilled nonprofit leaders remain cool, calm, and collected as they make decisions in high stress environments?

A recent study conducted by Laura Deitrick, Taylor Peyton Roberts, and Scott T. Campbell (2012) at the Caster Center explored useful considerations for nonprofit leaders who must make decisions while under severe stress.  We surveyed and interviewed nine leaders of International NGOs who were directly involved with humanitarian relief efforts immediately following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. 

Although the study’s findings do not apply to all situations,  the following five considerations were particularly relevant to many leaders making decisions throughout the challenging Haiti disaster context. Hopefully some of them will serve as useful points of reflection for nonprofit leaders who regularly make decisions in difficult circumstances.

Five beneficial questions are:

1)      Is this decision operational or strategic in nature?

2)      Do I have the information I need to make this decision?

3)      Who are the stakeholders involved?

4)      Do we have the capacity to see this decision through?

5)      Will this decision expand our organization beyond its mission?

Let’s explore each of these five questions in a little more depth, and illustrate why each of them matters.

1)      Stop before you start.  First ask yourself: Is this decision operational or strategic in nature?

Hart, Rosenthal and Kouzmin (1993) define strategic decisions as those choices that impact the long-term direction of the organization and its programs.  Strategic decisions outline the critical parameters and direction of organizational and programmatic intervention.  For example, a strategic decision might revolve around asking the following question: “Do we build Medical clinics or latrines?” Alternatively, operational decisions are described as more technical and “day to day” in nature (Hart et al., 1993, p. 230).  Operational decisions involve the choices pertaining to technical, daily details and issues to implement strategic decisions and program interventions.  For an operational decision, one might ask something like: “Do we build medical clinics one at a time or 100 at a time?”

Nonprofit leaders can often readily make the conscious distinction between strategic and operational decisions. However, during the stressful time period immediately following a major crisis, it may be difficult to make decisions that are anything but operational in nature.  Importantly, early operational decisions can sometimes unexpectedly influence organizational strategy later.

Because operational decisions may affect strategy down the road, it is important to be aware of the broader organizational and environmental systems within which such decision-making takes place. The following four questions for consideration begin to identify some potentially important elements of these complex systems.

2)      Check communication flow.  Ask: Do I have the information I need to make this decision?

Both strategic and operational decision making relies on knowledge relevant to the issue at hand, and the quality of information flow throughout the organization and external environment.  It may be difficult to communicate information and share knowledge throughout certain parts of your organization, or with some areas of the external environment.  Or perhaps, prior to making a decision, you need information from particular pockets of people outside of your organization.  Identifying communication issues and information gaps is the first step to solving them, and if they remain hidden throughout your decision-making process, your decisions may not have the desired outcome.

3)      Consider power and authority.  Ask: Who are the stakeholders involved?

For strategic decisions in particular, think about how power and authority come into play.  Buy-in from top leadership is often important to support decision implementation down the road.  Donor influence can also be a powerful driver, so be sure to recognize the degree to which donors’ wishes and demands may be steering strategic decision-making.  Consider which funding sources may or may not empower you to make good decisions for your organization, and strategize accordingly.

4)      Resources, resources, resources.  Ask: Do we have the capacity to see this decision through?

Think about whether or not you have adequate resources to implement a decision successfully, because outcomes of both operational and strategic decisions are affected by resources.  Down the road, the quality of a decision is often judged according to an organization’s ability to put the decision into action.  Funding is a critical, foundational resource needed to get things done.  But resources come in many forms such as appropriate infrastructure for operations, an adequate number of employees to rely on, staff that is trained and available to do the work, and help from outside firms (e.g., consulting firms helping with strategy, or collaborations with other nonprofits who have expertise in necessary operational functions).  Reflect on the kinds of resources your organization lacks in order to carry out the decision you wish to make.

5)      Remember your mission.  Ask: Will this decision expand our organization beyond its mission?

In some cases, it may be desirable to make a decision that inspires your organization to venture boldly into new territories.  In other cases, however, reaching outside of your established areas of expertise can be risky and might end up pulling the organization away from its core competencies.  If you are mulling over a strategic decision that has the potential to overextend current organizational capacity, make sure you have adequate resources to support the change so you don’t get stretched too thin and regret it later.

For more information about the study conducted by Deitrick, Roberts, & Campbell (2012), please contact Laura Deitrick at


Deitrick, L. D., Roberts, T. P., & Campbell, S. T. (2012). Leadership and decision-making in crisis. Oral presentation at the 10th annual meeting of the International Society for Third-Sector Research, Siena, Italy.

Hart, P., Rosenthal, U., &Kouzmin, A. (1993). Crisis decision-making: The centralization thesis revisited. Administration & Society, 25(1), 12-44.

October 1, 2012

Talking about taxes and nonprofits

Pat Libby, Director, Institute for Nonprofit Education and Research

Last week at lunch with friends – all of whom are professionally involved with nonprofits — I mentioned that I planned to write a blog about nonprofits and taxes.  The reaction I got to this statement spoke volumes. 

One friend admonished me to “be very careful” because people have strong views on both sides of this debate and are very polarized.  Her reaction surprised me since she is the executive director of a nonprofit that relies almost exclusively on state funds to provide services.

I thought, “Since when do we in the nonprofit sector stop talking about an important issue because we’re concerned that people might not agree?”  My other friends were completely silent on the issue.

As nonprofit leaders we need to be educated on the relationship of our sector to government and we need to be able to articulate that to others.  And, as a society we need to recognize that we need government. 

We need government to do all kinds of things like pave our roads, provide police and fire protection, pay our teachers, operate our judicial and penal systems, monitor our air and water, and, yes, provide social safety support for the elderly, children and people who are in poverty among many other functions.  The nonprofit sector works alongside government and in many instances acts as a service provider on behalf of government.

According to The Urban Institute, nonprofits in the U.S. receive 8% of their revenue from government grants and 24% of their revenue from “fees for services and goods from government” (for example, payments for providing services to people who are disabled, who visit community clinics for health care, who receive subsidized day care or afterschool programs, etc.).   With nearly one third of our sector’s budget coming from government, we have an obligation to stand up and be counted when it comes to defending the role of government and yes, that dirty word, taxes.

At the end of June, Governor Brown signed a $92 billion general fund budget with full knowledge that the citizens of California would have to endure $6 billion dollars in cuts to that budget unless voters approve tax increases in November.  If voters do not approve those increases, automatic cuts will take place.  These cuts will be across the board, predominantly affecting K-12 schools and community colleges, but also state universities, developmental services, city police, Cal-fire, flood control, water safety, fish and game, parks, and Dept. of Justice law enforcement programs.  

This November there are two separate state ballot initiatives that propose increase taxes.  Question 30 – proposed by the Governor, and Question 38 proposed by Molly Munger.  They propose different approaches to raising revenue.  If both win passage, the question with the most votes will become law and the conflicting provisions in the proposition with fewer votes will become invalid.  

My goal isn’t to tell you how to vote.  But it is to ask you not to stick your head in the sand and pretend that we, as nonprofit leaders, can step away from this important debate.  Nonprofits and government are intertwined. That’s a fact we cannot deny.

Nationally, our tax rate is below many developed countries around the world and currently less than  one-third of the highest income tax rate this nation has seen (it is 35% today and was 50% under Ronald Reagan).  According to Eduardo Porter, a well-respected writer for both The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, “tax revenue raised by governments in the developed world have risen to 34 percent of their gross domestic product from 25 percent on average.” “ Excluding Chile and Mexico, the United States raises less tax revenue as a share of the economy, than every other industrial country [24.8 percent].” (“America’s aversion to taxes,” NY Times, Aug. 14, 2012).

It is our responsibility as nonprofit leaders to be informed about these issues and to vote for our interests.  As you already know from my previous blog, we are able to endorse ballot questions without fear of losing our tax exempt status as 501 (c) (3) organizations.  So get going – get informed – and be an advocate for your interests.

September 21, 2012

Nonprofit HR & Advocacy: Build Your Skill Set

Jennifer A. Jones, M.A., Research Assistant ar the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research.

Nonprofit organizations often get busy with program development and management. This makes sense. After all, programs are how the sector carries out its various missions. However, if nonprofits focus solely on activities of the organization, they are apt to neglect two things which significantly impact their ability to achieve our mission: human resources and advocacy.

Human Resources: 
Programs depend upon people. It is the quality of staff, their attention to detail and to the humane elements of their jobs, which make the difference as to whether or not programs succeed or fail.

HR functions in nonprofits can be as small as a ½ person who contracts with an HR company or as large as a department with multiple full-time staff department. At USD’s 2011 Nonprofit Human Resources Symposium, we asked the audience if they had other primary job responsibilities besides HR. Most of the audience raised their hands.

Whether your organization has a ½ HR staff person or multiple full-time staff people, on-going training is always important.

Nonprofit organizations cannot be extracted from the political situation in which they are located. Federal and state level legislation and budget issues may influence program funding, add additional regulatory responsibilities, benefit or burden clients, and change how donors choose to spend their charitable dollars.

Studies have shown that many nonprofits are not aware of their rights to lobby. At USD, we would also add that lobbying isn’t just a right but a responsibility. Most 501(c) 3 charity nonprofits are here to make our world a better place and one key way to do that is through legislation. For example, nonprofits are largely credited with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a momentous act which has provided a more level playing field for millions of Americans with disabilities.

If your nonprofit is struggling to prioritize HR and/or advocacy, keep reading. USD is proud to host a special symposium to provide nonprofits with practical tools.

The 3rd annual Nonprofit Human Resources and Advocacy Symposium will take place on September 14th from 8am – 3:45pm for a day of practical tips, tools, and resources.  

About the Symposium:

PART 1: 8:00am – 10:00am
What’s at Risk: How to Make an Impact in this Election Year
The November elections will have a massive impact on nonprofits. Join us for a briefing on the state and federal legislation that impacts nonprofits. You’ll walk away with practical tools to help your nonprofit lobby. 

PART 2: 10:30am – 3:45pm
Compliance & Beyond: 3rd Annual Nonprofit Human Resources Symposium
Human resources play a valuable leadership role in nonprofit organizations. This symposium offers practical workshops with tips, tools, and techniques for maintaining legal compliance and leading staff. We’ll start with a plenary session which will address several of the key issues facing human resource staff and then move into two workshop sessions chocked with information you can implement on Monday.

It’s a two-for-one! You can join us for one or both sections. Or, you can send different staff members to each session. Either way, don’t miss out. Jan Masaoka, a nationally recognized nonprofit expert, will join us for this one day symposium to talk about her two favorite things: nonprofit advocacy and human resource

About Jan Masaoka:Photo of Jan Masaoka.

Jan Masaoka joined the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits) as CEO in January of 2012. CalNonprofits is a statewide membership organization that has just launched a Vote with Your Mission campaign with the goal of having 100% of eligible nonprofit staff and volunteers vote.

She is a leading writer and thinker on nonprofit organizations with particular emphasis on boards of directors, business planning, and the role of nonprofits in society.

Her books include Best of the Board Café (Fieldstone), Nonprofit Sustainability (Jossey Bass) and The Nonprofit’s Guide to HR (Nolo Press). Jan founded and edits Blue Avocado magazine, often described as the second-best read publication in the nonprofit sector.

Prior to Blue Avocado, Jan served 14 years as executive director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, a national consulting and training firm for nonprofits based in San Francisco. In that position she was named Nonprofit Executive of the Year 2003 by Nonprofit Times. She is an eight-time designee as one of the “Fifty Most Influential” people in the nonprofit sector nationwide. She is an active volunteer and board member in community activities, including current work on the creation of a federal credit unions for nonprofits. She lives in San Francisco and can be reached at

We hope you’ll join us!  

July 25, 2012

Summer Sizzle: Nonprofits Feeling the Heat

Jennifer A. Jones, M.A., Research Assistant ar the Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research.

It’s summer time and the weather is beginning to sizzle. Nonprofits are also feeling the heat of summer budget challenges, political campaigns, and school breaks.

Here are some of the hot challenges facing nonprofits today and some of the successes we celebrate despite it all.

1)  Government budget challenges weigh heavy.
For many nonprofits that depend upon government funding, July and August are typically difficult months. The California state budget process which is supposed to be complete by July 1st is often stalled through early fall. Funding for nonprofits is often put on hold. This creates a cash flow challenge for the many nonprofits that do not have a sufficient prudent reserve . . . Unfortunately, IOUs from the state are not legal tender. 

This stalemate also creates a planning challenge as nonprofit CEOs do not know if funding for their programs will be continued, discontinued, or changed in any significant way. Will they need to cut staff? If they continue to operate programs, will they be reimbursed?

Nonprofit can tighten their already tight belts but truly, at this point, many feel they must “hurry up and wait.”

2)  November elections are creating an added layer of “hurry up and wait.”

Beyond the normal budget stalemates, the election process is in full swing which means the rest of the world must . . . well, wait.

The CEO’s Desk portion of the most recent State of Nonprofits Quarterly Index indicates that political uncertainty weighs on the minds of San Diego’s nonprofit CEOs. As one CEO wrote, “The time continues to be marked by uncertainty and a lack of political leadership to support the nonprofit sector. We are continually expected to do more with less,” John de Miranda, Stepping Stone.

Campaign season may also have an effect on fundraising. “I see what few discretionary dollars people have being eaten up by local and national political campaigns,” says Cindy Stankowski of the San Diego Archeological Center.

One example of this waiting is the fact that there have been very few federal grants released lately.

Health care reform is another example of the political limbo nonprofits experience. A large proportion of nonprofits are health care providers whose fiscal future will depend on the outcomes of this partisan turf war. At the end of the day, it is the patients (the non-wealthy Americans) who suffer most as long as meaningful, lasting health care reform eludes us.

We’d be remiss at this point if we didn’t mention that nonprofits do have an opportunity to make their voices heard. Lobbying and advocacy is one of the top ways to influence the political process and nonprofits are natural (albeit sometimes reluctant) lobbyists. If you’d like more information, check out The Lobbying Strategy Handbook by our very own Pat Libby.

And in the meantime. . .

3)    School is out for summer.

Many of San Diego’s nonprofits are kicking things into high gear now that school is out for summer. Afterschool programs turn into all-day programs and youth field trips to college campuses turn into overnight camps. For the youth who depend upon the Free and Reduced school lunches, summer time can be a time of food uncertainty. Nonprofits are there to help.

Despite tremendous political and financial uncertainly, nonprofits are rising to the challenge and making a difference in our communities every day. Because of nonprofits and their funders, many elementary school children in San Diego will eat at least one good meal a day this summer. Many middle school children have a place to go while mom and dad are at work. Some lucky high school students will have a chance to see what college might be like. There are also numerous festivals, outdoor cleanups and concerts-in-the-park sponsored by nonprofits around San Diego.

Give ‘em a hand!

Despite the sizzling heat of brought on by these challengeschallenges, nonprofits step up each and every day. You can help by volunteering, donating, and by talking with your elected representatives about the nonprofits that  make a difference in your community.