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Nonprofit Knowledge Matters


Our lives are turbo-charged by technology and our in-boxes are filled with more information each day. How do uber-busy nonprofit leaders find the time to learn? For some, learning is “better together.” In this issue of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters we explore how to take full advantage of attending a conference so learning really sticks. For others, learning works best as a solo activity, so this issue also offers a blog and companion podcast you can tune into to learn: “What should I look for when I review a nonprofit’s IRS Form 990?” When we attend a conference or turn on a podcast we are intentionally seeking knowledge, but most of the time we learn simply by living. And life goes by so fast there just doesn’t seem to be the time, either alongside others, or in solitude, to reflect and make sense of what we are experiencing and how it relates to our work. That’s why, in every issue of Nonprofit Knowledge Matters, we strive to share what we’re learning with you, whether from trends we’re noticing, or recent research and sector reports, or from the experiences reported by our network of state associations of nonprofits. Drawing on all these sources, we’ve learned something that concerns us about nonprofit governance: Too often board members, especially those we ask to serve as the “chair” of the board, are unprepared for their roles. For stronger and more effective nonprofits – today and tomorrow – let’s help those who chair a nonprofit board of directors have the tools to learn about their new role. Perhaps some of the ideas we share in “How to be a Rockstar Board Chair” will resonate with you. What have you tried that works well in your organization? We look forward to hearing from you and learning alongside you. 

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What is the best nonprofit conference?

ideasWe are sometimes asked, “What’s the best nonprofit conference?” Of course, what you are looking for. There are several special-focus national conferences for board and staff of charitable nonprofits, such as (alphabetically), the BoardSource Board Leadership Forum (BLF), the Nonprofit Risk Management Center’s annual Risk Summit, and NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). If you are looking for solid grounding in best practices, hands-on peer learning and professional development experiences, timely topics that inspire, and ways to add personal contacts to your toolbox for collaborating with other nonprofits or funders in your community, look no further than the annual conference(s) hosted by your state association of nonprofits. State associations of nonprofits are experts at strengthening the charitable nonprofit community through just-in-time learning, and by bringing thought leaders into your community to enlighten and inspire. The annual conferences hosted by state associations of nonprofits also make learning fun by building learning communities that can support peer learning experiences long after the conference chairs have been folded and put away.


Our state association network gathered recently at our annual “Network Learning Confab” to hone skills, exchange information about what works (and as importantly, what doesn’t), and explore more deeply how adults learn, so that our network can host the most exciting, inspiring nonprofit conferences you’ll ever attend! Have you joined your state association of nonprofits? As a member, you’ll not only be adding your nonprofit’s voice to those of hundreds of other nonprofits at the statehouse and in the halls of Congress, but also your nonprofit will be able to tap into the powerful support our network provides to nonprofit leaders for their own learning journeys. Going to a conference? Here are ideas for how to make the learning last.

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How to Be a Rockstar Board Chair


You’ve just learned that you will be the next board chair of a nonprofit organization. Perhaps you’ve served on the nonprofit’s board of directors for several years or perhaps you’ve only recently joined the board. You may have served on the board of directors of another nonprofit(s), but even so, each nonprofit board is unique, and successfully moving into a leadership role usually requires some appreciation and understanding of the existing board (and nonprofit) culture. What common experiences help a volunteer board member become a successful board leader? We did a little research for you. Interestingly, board chairs report that consultants and coaches are not as important to their leadership journey as prior board chairs and/or advice from the CEO/executive director. That tells us that we need to make sure to create opportunities for incoming board chairs to learn from “in-house” experts about topics such as meeting flow, agenda prep, and group dynamics, as well as any nonprofit governance issues important to the nonprofit at the moment.


Whether your reaction to becoming the chair of the board is, “Ready, set, go!” or “Whoa! Not so fast. I need to do some homework first!” either way, join us on our blog this month to explore how to be a rockstar board chair



Best Practice Micro-Learning Module: Got 5 Minutes? What to look for when reviewing your nonprofit’s IRS Form 990 before it’s filed

IRS logoIf your nonprofit is following the state-specific best practices promoted by state associations of nonprofits, the organization’s IRS Form 990 is readily accessible to the public, perhaps posted on the organization’s website, and the full board of directors reviews the draft IRS Form 990 before the final version is filed with the IRS. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve been in a position to review the Form 990 prior to filing. Perhaps you are a new executive director and this is the first time you have been tasked with explaining to your board of directors why a review of the IRS Form 990 is on the agenda for the next board meeting. We’ve collected some resources to explain why it’s a “best practice” for the full board to review the IRS Form 990 prior to filing, and also what to look for to avoid common mistakes when filing the Form. Perhaps you’re just curious how the Form tells a nonprofit’s story! This post and the companion Micro-Learning Module podcast will provide useful background: What should board members look for when they review the form?



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