Thursday, May 23, 2013

5 "Murphy's Law" Scenarios For Your Special Event

Murphy's Law dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Veteran special event planners swear by this rule, which is why they are always prepared for the worst possible scenario for their events. Paranoid? Maybe, but you can't argue they aren't being careful enough.

Special events inherently have an element of risk involved, explained Organic Events Founder Marika Holmgren in “Nonprofit Management 101.” While she wrote that there is no foolproof way to predict what issues will arise, that doesn't mean planners shouldn't prepare for every single scenario possible.

Holmgren identified five of the most impactful worst-case scenarios and suggested reviewing these and others to identify what needs to be done in each case and how to reduce the risk and liability of the organization:

  • Event income or registration does not meet your goals, financial or otherwise;
  • Natural disasters (hurricane, earthquake, etc.);
  • Hotel strikes and boycotts;
  • A key team member or event planner leaves the project; or,
  • A keynote speakers falls through.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ex-Nonprofit Director Sentenced

The ex-director of a nonprofit in Sanford, Maine was sentenced Tuesday to 2 1/2 years in prison for stealing more than $900,000 from the organization over six years. He was also ordered to pay $1.35 million in restitution and will report to prison on June 18.

According to a report in the Portland Press Herald, Thomas Nelson embezzled the money from York County Community Action (YCCA) from 2004 until his resignation in 2010. The organization provides services for low-income women and children.

Nelson's attorney, Jeffrey Silverstein, said that his client stole the money to fuel his gambling addiction, a habit he has since stopped. Nelson apologized for his actions in court, saying he let down YCCA.

"They trusted me, treated me well and I let them down."

Nelson transferred the money he stole from YCCA to a consulting firm outside Maine that returned part of the money in cash or payments toward his personal finances, according to court records. He continued to work for other nonprofits after he left YCCA in 2010, working as an executive director for Rockingham County Community Action in New Hampshire until, when faced with charges of embezzlement, he pleaded guilty in 2012.

The U.S. Attorney's Office recommended a reduced prison sentence for Nelson since he cooperated fully with investigators. Judge Nancy Torresen accepted this recommendation for this reason and because she wanted Nelson to return to the workforce quickly so he could repay his debt.

"From my point of view, you stole money from people who could least afford to lose it," Torresen told Nelson. "I consider this crime shameful."

In a written statement, Barbara Crider, YCCA's current executive director, thanked the U.S. Attorney's Office for their efforts and said that no program funds were taken as a result of Nelson's actions, and that services were not interrupted. The organization has also recovered a significant amount of the lost funds from its insurance bond.

You can read the full story in the Portland Press Herald.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Can You Fire A Volunteer?

Everyone knows a nonprofit can fire an employee for not doing a good job, but is it possible to fire a volunteer? According to Susan J. Ellis, a consultant specializing in volunteerism and a frequent contributor to The NonProfit Times, it is entirely appropriate given the right circumstances.

There is a belief among some nonprofit managers that they just can't fire a volunteer. According to Ellis, this stems from three mistaken attitudes:

  • Thinking that the threat of punishment is the best way of getting good work;
  • Thinking that available punishment guarantees prevention of unwanted behavior; and,
  • Failure to understand why volunteers work without salary.
While it is appropriate to fire an under-performing volunteer, it should not be the first option. Ellis recommended trying these positive steps before resorting to discipline or dismissal:
  • Careful screening of volunteers when they apply is essential, as it would be for employees. This includes clarification of expectations, on both sides, even if this means writing a letter spelling out the purpose of the volunteer work, anticipated outcomes or products, lengths of commitment and other key mutual decisions.
  • Both employees and volunteers deserve full instructions — training, on how to do their work the best way.
  • Motivate through approval. Managing through rewards and recognition of work well done is always more effective.
  • Finally, understand that it is possible to terminate a volunteer. This is actually not as difficult as many nonprofit managers think. Remember, the manager has a legal right to designate who will be an agent of the organization, paid or not.