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Happy Veterans’ Day

November 11, 2010 · 0 comments

Today is a day I treat much like Memorial Day, with the difference that I’m not uncomfortable about receiving greetings today. (Memorial Day is for fallen servicemembers; I’m not in that category nor have I been in harm’s way. Many others have; think of them today.


This LinkedIn question asked about mission drift for non-profits. There are a couple different layers of answer, depending on what’s going on and who’s asking.

First, the fundamental concern: will the change of mission jeopardize nonprofit status (and that typically means jeopardize 501(c)(3) status, which means deductibility of donations by donors)? The answer depends on whether the new mission falls within the law’s requirements to qualify for 501(c)(3) status. Easy example: an organization dedicated to educating children about music switches to educating children about art: no problem. Hard example: an organization that switches from operating a homeless shelter to advocacy, lobbying, and litigation about homelessness issues. Maybe that change would institute a review by the IRS to determine whether the rules were all still being followed, but the inquiry is always going to be fact-specific unless the organization changes so dramatically that you already know the answer to the question. (Example: the homeless shelter converts to a bed and breakfast.)

The trap you should not fall into is confusing the mission (“charitable purpose” is the catchphrase) of the organization with its operating model, financial structure, or even “mindset” about the issues. Many nonprofits charge money to at least some of the people who benefit from their programs or services. I gave a talk at a conference this past weekend for AutismNJ, which charges parents, educators, and professional members for attendance. That alone has no determinative effect on their nonprofit status.

Second concern: does this change affect our donors’ view of the organization?

Third concern: does this change affect our employees’ and volunteers’ view of the organization?

These last two concerns are readily handled together because they are essential components of any strategic planning exercise: determining the effects of a proposed strategy on the ecosystem around the organization. This question arises for nonprofits and for-profits alike. The answer for any group is going to be different, based on the particular history, composition of these stakeholder groups, and the rationales for the proposed changes.

I take the original questioner’s point of view to be best expressed as “I don’t like the new changes and so I’m going to complain.” And then that person will probably leave, looking for a new organization with similar goals and models and operations to the old group before it changed.


Is branding a 1st Amendment right?

25 May 2010

This interesting Neuromarketing post on a proposed Australian law to eviscerate the branding value of cigarette packaging is a doozy. Separate from the inherent interest in the notion that the pack may be far more powerful than the cigarette (and I like both Why We Buy and Call of the Mall by Paco Underhill as […]

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Originalism outside of the law

25 February 2010

What would Supreme Court originalism look like in other disciplines? This delightful little post is sort of an originalist approach to geography.

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Value-sharing: knowledge leads to questions

27 October 2009

Today I was asked about my recent Five-minute lawyer series of posts. To me, these sorts of posts add lots of value for readers who have these questions at little real detriment to me; after all, I already know the answers to these general questions. Is sharing knowledge a good strategy? I obviously think so, […]

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Finding the line between leadership and management

19 August 2009

A manager recently asked how he could go about reconciling his implementation of cultural changes that enhanced the teamwork of his department in the face of corporate-level directives that didn’t support, if not detract from, his plans. This manager did not understand why this company did not want to support his ideas and why employees, […]

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How to improve team productivity with simple SOPs

27 March 2009

Gina Trapani, formerly of Lifehacker, recently posted this picture and the accompanying text. It’s a short set of rules that are, in effect, a simple team SOP (standard operating procedure). With even a small set of agreements about how they will operate, expectations and execution will more closely match up. When these rules are known […]

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Nontoxic must have two meanings…

24 February 2009

This boingboing post refers to two compounds as “powerful yet nontoxic” and “safe.” Luckily the commenters are smarter and note the fact that sodium hydroxide, conveniently labeled as NaOH for those who passed high school chemisty, is LYE. Ugh. Not recommended. Knowledge is not a dangerous thing. Stupidity is dangerous. Thinking you have knowledge is […]

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Cutting starting salaries will hurt young lawyers

17 February 2009

The WSJ Law Blog recently noted a suggestion by — that law firms reduce starting salaries for their lawyers in exchange for some sort of (read: unenforceable) promise to keep things together for some period of time. There are a range of problems that I see with this proposal, and here are some suggestions as […]

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Clean up your writing by eliminating deadwords

23 January 2009

Eliminate words no one uses from your writing to make it flow more smoothly.

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