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August 24, 2010

Uncharitable: Dan Pallotta at the DMA Nonprofit Conference

Just got back from the 2010 New York Nonprofit Conference of the DMA Nonprofit Federation, where I spoke on a panel about blogging with Katya Andresen, Jeff Brooks, Roger Craver and Karen Zapp. I got there in time to hear the keynote by Dan Pallotta, the founder of Pallotta Team Works and author of “Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential“.

Pallotta gives good keynote, and now I’m wishing I’d added his book to my summer reading list. I’ll order it today. His talk emphasized the challenges of working in a sector that plays by different rules than for-profit companies do. In particular, he waxed poetic about the disadvantages of paying nonprofit leaders less than their for-profit counterparts, our obsessive focus on keeping overhead costs low, and the lack of risk-taking. While his ideas might seem controversial to some, it was clearly music to the ears of the fundraisers in this crowd.

I often think that the nonprofit sector’s resistance to branding, or perhaps investing in effective communications in general, is penny-wise and pound foolish. After all, branding is the way you build an effective platform for communicating about your mission. It’s the foundation of the house- a critical starting point. Why start campaigning, eg, raising money for a new roof, when the fundamental structure is flawed?

Kim Klein’s new book, “Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times” raises of few of the same points Pallotta discussed. In particular, Klein worries that an organization that won’t invest in comfortable office space, appropriately paid staff, or other fundamental tools necessary to run a business essentially hamstring themselves.

While I wish Pallotta had spent a bit more time talking about solutions and less time preaching to the converted, I’m with him. And if you work in a nonprofit where you’re trying to convince leadership that investing in your own capacity is a good idea (regardless of how it impacts the percentage of your costs that go to overhead versus programs), I suggest you check these two books out.