Nonprofit Boot Camp – October 8, 2005

I attended the Craigslist Foundation Second Annual Nonprofit Boot Camp at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco yesterday.  It was quite an amazing event with over 1,300 attendees, 32 workshops organized in eight separate tracks, the inspiring Rev. Cecil Williams as one of the keynote speakers, and a networking reception and concert following the conference.  Moreover, Boot Camp registrants were invited to take advantage of monthly access to free lunches with experts in various nonprofit fields.  All for $50.

Darian Heyman, Executive Director of Craigslist Foundation, delivered the welcome speech while inspirational quotes appeared on the two giant screens on either side of the stage.  A quote attributed to George Bernard Shaw resonated with me:  "The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity."

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris introduced keynote speakers Janice Mirikitani and Rev. Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church.  Ms. Mirkitani, San Francisco’s Poet Laureate, delighted the audience with her poetry and a reminder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teaching that "true compassion is more than throwing a coin to a beggar; it demands of our humanity that if we live in a society that produces beggars, we are morally commanded to restructure that society."  Rev. Williams continued the theme of social responsibility by calling upon the audience to "wake up from your dread,"  "risk everything," and "make it count."  In addition, he described his definition of "nonprofit" as meaning that "the real profit goes to those who are hurting."


With the rousing wake up call, I headed off to my first workshop, "Strategic & Program Planning," led by David La Piana of La Piana Associates, a national consulting firm helping nonprofits to meet strategic challenges.  I was a former student of David’s in USF’s graduate program in nonprofit administration and knew I was in for an informative and entertaining hour.  The packed audience laughed as David related to the common position held by many leading or planning to lead a small nonprofit by describing his first day leading a charitable organization.  On that day, he was informed by a board member that he wasn’t the board’s first choice, he discovered that the administrative and programmatic staff were housed in different quarters because they weren’t speaking to each other, he discovered a blood pressure machine in the desk drawer of his predecessor who left the position suffering from stress anxiety, and the staff told him they didn’t have enough money to cover payroll.  The substance of David’s workshop, as well as the rest of the Boot Camp workshops, will be posted on the Craigslist Foundation website.


My next workshop was "The Big Picture," a free form discussion with the always compelling Jan Masaoka, Executive Director of CompassPoint Nonprofit Services.  Jan began the discussion by asking the audience how many of us were donors of nonprofits.  All of us raised our hands.  Next, she asked how many were beneficiaries of nonprofits.  This time, about half of us indicated we were.  Jan thought we should reconsider our answer to the second question in light of the fact of that nonprofits helped the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental protection; cared for many of our ill and elderly; and educated many of us and our children.  When asked again how many of us were beneficiaries, we all raised our hands.  Jan emphasized that "nonprofits are not about us helping them; nonprofits are about us helping us."  Jan then proceeded to answer questions from the audience while delivering her message of the importance and uniqueness of the nonprofit sector.  She talked about the myth perpetuated by many that there are too many nonprofits.  She emphasized that "there are not enough good ones."


It was time to visit some of the 50+ exhibitors at the conference.  First was a visit to my friends from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, a wonderful organization that supports the growth, learning and development of young and emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector.  I am fortunate enough to serve as counsel to the San Francisco Bay Chapter, which recently announced the launch of its membership program.  Charter memberships are only $25, and I strongly encourage aspiring and developing leaders of nonprofits to join!  Among the other exhibitors were:  Association of Fundraising Professionals, California Association of Nonprofits, Center for Volunteer & Nonprofit Leadership of Marin, CompassPoint, Foundation Center, Internet Securities, Media Alliance, Nolo, T.S. Wrobel and Associates (a fellow attorney), USF’s Institute for Nonprofit Organization Management and the Volunteer Legal Services Program of the Bar Association of San Francisco.

Kim Klein, publisher of the Grassroots Fundraising Journal, delivered the lunchtime keynote address.  As always, Ms. Klein is an entertaining speaker with much to share about fundraising.  Among the "Seven Things You Need to Know About Fundraising:"  know where the money comes from (individuals with whom your organization already has a relationship); make your message clear; understand that fundraising is not about raising money, it’s about building relationships (get donors, not donations); and keep in mind that fundraising is a volume business (you’ll get many rejections but keep doing your job of asking).


Recharged from lunch, I proceeded to my next session, "Ten Key Legal Issues Facing Nonprofits Today," presented by Robert Wexler of Silk, Adler & Colvin.  At lunch, Rob asked me why I was going as I would already know about the basic issues he was covering.  I replied that I always enjoy attending Rob’s programs and learn something from what he says.  As expected, that turned out to be the case again.  Rob possesses the rare ability to provide a large amount of complex information in an accessible format with a sense of humor.  He covered issues such as fiscal sponsorship, board duties, liability, unrelated business income and executive compensation.  In addition, he pointed out the recent revision of IRS Publication 1778, Charitable Contributions: Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements.


Unfortunately, I was committed to a prior engagement and had to leave the conference after the Third Session.  I will definitely plan to attend again and make sure I can attend the full day.  Great job by Craigslist Foundation, the Boot Camp Steering Committee and all the volunteers.  As I don’t want to be a total brown-noser, I will comment that I had difficulty concentrating on the lunch keynote address while attendees continued to visit the exhibitors in the same room, the workshop rooms were overcrowded, and the "boot camp" theme was not to my taste, particularly during these sensitive times.  But those are relatively small complaints about an outstanding event that wildly succeeded in being inclusive, educational and green.  Thanks all!