As part of the new lecture series, Conversations with …, the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative of Third Sector New England hosted a presentation by Dr. Michael Eric Dyson for the region’s nonprofit community. The professor, CNN commentator, author and pundit spoke of the central role diversity and inclusion play in building cohesive and effective organizations – and strong communities.

He shared his insights on issues such as the politics of inclusion; the privilege of invisibility; institutional perpetuation of racism; challenging other “isms”; stereotypes and forms of bigotry; and rethinking the paradigm of race, bias, and class prejudice vs. concentrated poverty.

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A recent Boston Globe article suggested that the nonprofit merger rate has increased due to the economic downturn. In a letter to the editor, TSNE’s Hez Norton, who oversees our new Organizational Transitions program, suggests that there are many other — and often more effective — ways for nonprofits to share resources to better serve constituents.

In “More nonprofits engage in mergers for survival” (April 15, 2009), The Boston Globe examines one way that nonprofit organizations are collaborating – through mergers. While this may be a viable alternative for organizations with compatible missions, it is important to understand that merger is just one of many ways nonprofits are collaborating across the sector.

Third Sector New England was privileged to play a role in the two merger situations profiled in the article. Through our Executive Transitions Program, we placed the interim executive director at Dorchester CARES, who supported that merger process. We also placed the interim executive director and helped lead the transition process with Concilio Hispano that led to merger.

It is critical that nonprofit organizations explore an array of options as they look to meet their mission and best service constituents, especially during these difficult economic times. These options include joint ventures, shared services, merger, shared administration, shared programs and fiscal sponsorship.

The bottom line: Nonprofits need always to be creative in serving their constituents effectively – while keeping mission front and center. Looking at new models of collaboration and partnership has always been important. Now it is more important than ever.

Hez Norton, manager
Executive and Organizational Transitions

Unless you’ve been circling the earth on the International Space Station for the past six months, you know that President Barack Obama signed the 407-page American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, better known as the Stimulus Plan, into law on February 17.

We all know about the huge cost of the act – $787 billion dollars in spending (16) and tax and related provisions (7), the political wrangling before and after its passage and signing, and the large number of funding opportunities (34).

Nonprofits Need to Act Now

All stimulus funding is scheduled to expire in fiscal year 2011 – as stimulus funds are, as the name suggests, intended to be temporary, one-time injections of cash aimed at reviving the economy as quickly and efficiently as possible. The funds have been allocated to help people through the current economic meltdown and are not intended to morph into ongoing governmental assistance programs.

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So, Larry King and company have proclaimed, “It’s in to be Black.”  He explained, laughingly (and that’s the part that really got me), on one of his recent shows that his eight-year-old son wants to be Black.

When did it become appropriate for people in the news business to joke about race like bad comedians on cable networks?

So, I guess I wasn’t in before?

First, King is suggesting that being Black was out until he decreed otherwise. As a Black American, I’ve always thought that being Black was in. I either felt sorry for or angry at those pathetic people who acted otherwise — the people that unwittingly helped to galvanize the Civil Rights movement and the centuries-long activism (most of it left out of the history books) that came before it.

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A Respected Brand Can Get You Through Tough Times

When friends, coworkers and even family members find out that I went to Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, they ask, What was it like? In their usually hushed voices, you hear one part awe, one part envy and two parts reverence. Even one of my husband’s friends, who mostly just nods when he sees me, asked to speak with me –  during their sacred weekly call about football – when he heard that I was on the National Mall for the swearing in.

Certainly, everyone from my mom to Rupert Murdoch and from the Guardian to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (and how often do they all agree?) have called Barack Obama a rock star. Even rival John McCain pejoratively referred to then-Senator Obama during the presidential campaign as a celebrity.

So of course, everyone assumes that my experience witnessing the inauguration in person must have been amazing. And it was.

But it was also cold and windy and amazingly frustrating. I walked for nearly two hours from one check point to another between nine city blocks, and then was subjected to a body search in the frigid weather, before I finally got onto the mall to witness the event. And I, a member of the ticket-less lumpen proletariat, did better than hundreds of ticket holders who never made it in at all due to some kind of security breach.

But in the midst of all of the confusion, all of the waiting, and all of the pushing and shoving in and out of the Metro station and on the streets, two million people kept smiling – broadly – and greeting each other with such a positive spirit. And that is a testament to President Obama and all that he stands for.

And it is also a result, for those of us who try to practice such things, of successful branding and effective social marketing.

Social Marketing and Building a Respected Brand

Now before you suggest that I’m reducing President Obama’s accomplishments to a good brand, hear me out. The Obama campaign can teach nonprofits a lot about branding, messaging and social marketing.

Few people believed just a year ago at the beginning of 2008, that then-Senator Obama had a chance at the U.S. presidency. Even his wife has admitted to questioning his belief that he could be U.S. Commander-in-Chief. In addition to being a black man, our current president was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and has a name that is anything but U.S.-traditional. His parents were not married when he was born, and his father was not American.

So how did he make it, and how can nonprofit organizations use some of the lessons from his campaign?

Six Steps to Borrow from Candidate Obama’s Brand Playbook

1) Be clear about purpose: First and foremost, candidate Obama was clear about what he wanted to achieve. Not only did he want to be the president for change, but he was clear about what that change would mean: transparent government, inclusive decision-making based on solid facts, citizen empowerment, progressive national and international policies, stewardship of our economy and ecology, and using technology to improve lives and strengthen communication.

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To help nonprofit managers navigate the choppy waters ahead, TSNE is offering a series of free workshops focused on quick – but essential – information that can help your organization sustain itself through the crisis.

We are putting the finishing touches on the series and will send an email notification as soon as registration opens. To receive details and registration information, sign up for the TSNe-Training Announcements list.