What I learned at the BoardSource Leadership Forum 2011 – Day 1

This post by YNPN Detroit Board Member La’Leatha Spillers first appeared in her blog… Please check it out for more amazing insights into the nonprofit sector!

Hello from Atlanta! I’m writing to you from the BoardSource Leadership Forum, 2011 as a Judith O’Connor Memorial Scholar (JOC). BoardSource is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington D.C. that provides training and support to nonprofit boards across the county. Every year BoardSource honors the legacy of former BoardSource President and CEO, the late Judith O’Connor. This year marks the sixth year that the fund has offered scholarships to emerging nonprofit leaders and this year I was honored to be selected as one of the 20 recipients.

Since arriving in Atlanta I have met some amazing folks from all over the U.S.(including fellow YNPNers who are also JOC Scholars and five countries including Brazil. There is truly some amazing work taking place all for the better of communities around the world and I am thrilled to be here to listen, share and learn from all 600 attendees.

There is wealth of information being shared here over the next two days and there was no way I could share it all but I did want to give you a few highlights from the sessions I attended on Day 1. So here goes. (Pics to come when I return to Michigan 🙂

Opening Plenary

Linda C. Crompton, President and CEO, BoardSource

“This conference is about deepening the understanding and application of our role as board members. We’re here to also learn more about what is going in the world and our role in it. We have to ask ourselves, how are we going to reshape this sector to get the work done?”

In regards to the every changing economic landscape for nonprofits – “The more we convince ourselves that things are hopeless, the more we make it difficult to change or accomplish anything.”

Jeff Faux, Founding President and Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute

Mr. Faux spoke to NPOs and the new economy and what we can predict about America’s future. During his talk he shared some startling facts.

– Wages and Salaries are the single most important economic statistic. Between 1946-1978 wages and salaries were steadily going up but in 1979 it flattened and between 1979 – 2001, before the crash it continued to stay flat. This means that a young college-educated 30 something professional in 2007 is making the same as a professional from 1979. YIKES!
– How is it that that time looked so prosperous during the “hey day” of consumption if our wages stayed the same? How did we make up the gap? “Well, quite frankly,” he said “It was debt. Americans from the government on down to the individuals went deeper and deeper into debt to make up the gap.”

Other interesting statistics he shared:

– America has the highest long-term (6 months) unemployment statistic since 1966 when we started collecting this stat. Ouch! But not necessarily totally surprising given what we see in this sector.
– Over the next few years there will be slow to no growth. Projections indicate that we won’t be back to pre-2007 for 15 years. “We’re not gonna go back to the good ‘ol days,” Faux said.
– The poverty rate for those who are between the ages of 16-64 years is at the highest it’s ever been since we started collecting this statistic in America and 75% of those are working people who aren’t making enough to stay out of poverty.

But it’s not all doom and gloom…the good news is our sector is needed more than ever but the bad news is the government is cutting funds to help us do it and there is more competition for resources.

Faux stressed that he was not telling us this to bring us down but wanted us in the nonprofit sector to know that “Denial is not a strategy.” He asked us if our city has 2 or 3 or 4 orgs doing the same thing. As we adjust to the changing economy some will have to merge and consolidation can be painful he stressed but whatever we do, we can’t do it alone. “We need to return to mutual self-help,” stated Faux. He concluded by stating that an ideal situation would be resetting our priorities at the national level. “ We can’t build a future for young people by striping old people of Medicare and social security…We have to sell more to the rest of the world vs. buying more from the rest of the world…then we can reinvest in success for our children…we all have a common interest in success.”

Leadership Luncheon

The leadership luncheon and Judith O’Connor lecture, where JOC Scholars were highlighted, featured a pioneer in the social entrepreneur movement and the first Echoing Green Fellow to lead the global social venture Fund, Cheryl Dorsey, President, and Echoing Green.

What is a social entrepreneur?

– They pioneer innovations that benefit the community
– They always see what is possible.
– They are outcomes-oriented and are accountable to being judged by metrics and on their impact.
– They exude resource magnetism. They can draw folks to them and rally their support.
– They see assets, strengths and opportunities when others see the glass as half empty.
– They have core identity alignment – Their head and their heart are aligned in what they are uniquely suited to do to make an impact on the world

Some early recipients of Echoing Green funds and pioneer social entrepreneurs included Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach For America, SEED School, the first urban boarding school and Michelle (Robinson) now Obama who started the Chicago Alliance.

Money and Mission: Managing in a changing economic reality

Presented by David Greco, VP of Nonprofit Finance Fund

Adaptability to the “New Normal” requires Nonprofit Leaders to:

– Recognize and consider new business models, platforms and financial realities for your institution.
– Engage everyone – funders, boards, government – in the change strategy
– Distinguish capital from revenue in organizational plans and fundraising strategies
– Manage costs in the context of revenue and capital realities: Doing less in the short term may be critical to fulfilling your mission long term
– Focus on outcomes and results: enterprise health and effectiveness
– Embrace change and emerge stronger

Key Takeaways:

– Know what to look for: Having access to reliable, accurate and timely financial data over a multi-year period is a first step to understanding your financial story.
– Understand what it means: Even with good data, it is important to know what the numbers mean for your org in programmatic terms.
– Consider the implications for the future: Your financial data should be incorporated into your decision-making, both programmatically and strategically, in order to meet your goals, current and future.

I also was fortunate enough to be able to attend a session lead by Jan Masaoka, Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Blue Avocado and co-author of “Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions and Financial Viability,” who also spoke to aligning your orgs business model between impact and financial viability.

WHEW! I am beat and that’s just a small snippet of what I absorbed in my 12 hour first day of the BoardSource Leadership Forum. Goodnight for now. Day 2 awaits.

BoardSource Leadership Forum 2011

”Governing toward the Future”


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