New Years is the traditional time to take stock of where we’ve been in the last twelve months, and to develop plans for the year ahead.

2018 was a good year for many of the nonprofits I work with. A couple of weeks ago Giving Compass published an informative 2018 Philanthropy Year-In-Review . Among the trends they spotted are advances in the collective impact of collaboration between individuals, organizations, corporations and grantmakers, as well as an increase in private sector engagement in social causes.

But it was a challenging year for many others. Last April I looked at the crisis at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (you can revisit that story on my blog). Both USA Gymnastics and the Boy Scouts of America are facing sexual abuse scandals, which has led to a bankruptcy filing for the gymnastics group. The Boy Scouts are reported also to be considering bankruptcy.

The Bay Area Open Space Council, based in Berkeley, CA, is a coalition of nonprofits and public agencies working to protect, steward, and connect people to the land. They revealed in November that funds have been depleted and that four out of five staff members had resigned. The six-person board of directors found out about this too late to take effective action.

Planning and communication can help prevent the kinds of problems we’ve been seeing. Heading into 2019 we need to be sure that our governance will be solid.

Some of you have read my short book about nonprofits Applied Wisdom for Nonprofits: Eight Practical Tools for Leadership. I’ve been getting great feedback. My goal was to create a succinct workbook of leadership tools and techniques and I’m pleased to know that it’s being used in nonprofits in California and beyond.

Here’s my recommendation for 2019: get the complimentary copy of the book and use it as a planning tool for your organization. The book is available on this website, without cost, in both print and ebook editions. If you’ve already got a copy, you can request additional complimentary copies to share with your staff and colleagues.

Inside the book, you’ll find eight of my key Morganisms, the ones that apply most directly to nonprofit groups, including chapters on planning, collaboration, and, of course, on respecting and trusting your people. Each 4-page chapter ends with a series of prompts for discussion, for senior management, emerging leaders and for board members, I’m told that these are proving to be valuable in starting conversations about change.

I’ve also created an audiobook of Applied Wisdom for Nonprofits. You can listen to it here.

Let me know what you think of Applied Wisdom for Nonprofits at And, just as importantly, help me spread the word.

Best wishes for 2019 to all of my readers.

To your success,
Jim Morgan


P.S. I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.

Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa are holding a ceremony tonight in observance of the anniversary of last year’s disastrous Sonoma fires, including a memorial bell ringing for the 24 people who died. Just 60 miles north of San Francisco, this community has pulled together over the last twelve months to understand the lessons of the fires and to chart a path forward.

2018 has been another terrible year for wildfires in California. And not just California. All summer long fires raged out of control in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, Colorado, and Oregon, and in Canada in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

This summer’s Ranch Fire in Northern California was the largest wildfire in California history—it burned over 400,000 acres. A firefighter who died there was the sixth fatality among California firefighters this year. As I write this newsletter in early October the wildfires appear mostly to be contained, which gives us a chance to reflect on what management thinking is useful in addressing this worsening crisis.

Clearly collaboration, planning, and implementation are critical—but how can these be achieved? I understand the challenge at the regional level because I have watched the impact of an organization, the California Stewardship Network, that my wife, former State Senator Becky Morgan, started over 10 years ago. It’s a nonprofit alliance that pulls together fifteen diverse regional organizations from across California. It has proven to be a good means to achieve sustainable solutions with all the stakeholders—public, private, and nonprofit—engaged early. Each stakeholder should have a role, deliverables, and a responsibility to make and manage the consequences of their decisions.

A locus for action in addition to the normal regional work is the annual California Economic Summit. It is co-sponsored by the California Stewardship Network and by California Forward, a nonprofit devoted to improving the performance of government in California via an increased emphasis on accountability and transparency.

The Sonoma fires hit just a few weeks before the 2017 Summit, which was held in San Diego. Sonoma sent a cohort of elected officials, community and business leaders to the Summit. On the first day, one leader stood up and gave an impassioned plea for help. The Summit set aside a room during the cocktail hour when any attendee could join in a conversation about what Sonoma County’s next steps as a region should be. The turnout was amazing—at least 80 people from around the state, including state senators, nonprofit leaders, educators and businesspeople—gathered and offered their wisdom about what Sonoma needed to do to get back on its feet: act quickly while FEMA was still on the ground, think about getting temporary exceptions to regulations in order to expedite re-building, at the same time re-thinking zoning, while protecting jobs and restoring open space. The meeting was a wonderful example of democracy in action. One person summarized it by calling out both the reality and the opportunity: California will have more wildfires, but Sonoma County could set an example. The Summit’s goal was to work with local leaders to establish a governance model that can be adopted by every California community—before disaster strikes.

California Forward then partnered with the California Economic Summit to document Sonoma County’s response to the 2017 wildfires—and to analyze in real time the lessons learned and the opportunities for change that are emerging as a result.

As an example, the City of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are working to improve their governance structures, seeking to integrate a variety of agencies and policies focused on common goals. This includes the creation of a new Office of Recovery and Resiliency structured around five critical functional areas—Community Preparedness and Infrastructure, Housing, Economy, Safety Net Services, and Natural Resources.

California Forward’s assessment focused on three areas where Sonoma has already made important progress—economic recovery, governance and fiscal sustainability. It also highlights several issues where California Forward believes local leaders need to focus next.

Other regions affected by wildfires can take a lesson from the way Sonoma pulled together across government, nonprofit and business lines, collaborating successfully to expedite recovery and chart a different course for how humans think about wildfires in the future.

This year’s Economic Summit will be held in Santa Rosa on November 15 & 16. Also inspired by Sonoma’s response to the fires, resiliency has become a major theme of the summit—the need for resiliency in every region—whether it is from natural disasters, climate change, or economic uncertainty.

Successful collaboration, planning, and implementation are possible when all stakeholders—public, private, and nonprofit—are engaged with goodwill, determined to achieve a collective solution.




To your success,
Jim Morgan

I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.


In mid-April the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a story by Marc Gunther profiling leadership problem

s at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). The story revealed that former staff of the foundation are accusing Mari Ellen Loijens, the foundation’s top fundraiser of “engaging in emotionally abusive and sexually inappropriate behavior.” This led to her immediate resignation.

Emmett Carson, SVCF’s chief executive posted on Twitter, “We are committed to a strong and healthy workplace for our staff and will not tolerate any inappropriate behavior.”

That could have been the end of the story. But attention soon shifted to Carson’s role in the affair. While his public statements indicated that he was unaware of any problems, reports from SVCF staff made it increasingly clear that he had been alerted to the issue on numerous occasions and chose to protect Loijens, presumably because of her enormous success in bringing donations to the foundation. On April 26 the board of SVCF voted to place Carson on paid administrative leave.

This is a major story about philanthropy, about Silicon Valley, and more specifically about philanthropy in Silicon Valley. SVCF was formed in 2007 from two highly respected locally-focused community foundations our family began supporting in the 1990s. Since then, the SVCF has become the largest community foundation in the world, with over $13.5 billion in assets under management. Donors include Mark Zuckerberg, whose two donations to the foundation are worth over a billion dollars today.

Applied Wisdom for Nonprofits

The story feels particularly timely for me. Last week I published a new book, Applied Wisdom for Nonprofits: Eight Practical Tools for Leadership. I looked closely at the dozens of Morganisms in my first book, Applied Wisdom, and chose eight that I thought were particularly important to the successful operation of a nonprofit organization.

My first book of Applied Wisdom was subtitled “Bad News Is Good News If You Do Something About It.” It’s clear now that the most senior management of the SVCF was aware of the bad news surrounding its top fundraiser, perhaps as far back as 2008. Equally clear is that they did nothing about it. It’s easy to imagine why they wouldn’t want to fire a top financial performer.

But I talk also of the need to respect and trust your people. That means all of your people, not just top managers.


I write also that “bad news is essential for successful boards.” The board of directors at SVCF have only now stepped up to the plate by placing the CEO on paid administrative leave and appointing an interim CEO. According to reports, the board knew nothing of the situation with Loijens. I find that hard to fathom.

In my book I ask the question: At board meetings, what process is in place to enable the executive director (or CEO) and senior staff to comfortably discuss bad news and seek out constructive advice?

How could the SVCF board not have heard of this serious situation? On Glassdoor, a well-known jobsite that features frank reviews from employees, there are reports going back to 2012 detailing “a culture of fear” and “rude, abusive leadership.”

In Applied Wisdom I talk about leaders who mimic the three monkeys over the shrine in Nikko, Japan, and “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” They rationalize a situation and hope it will go away. Could the board not have seen this problem, not have heard of its existence? Or did it hear and choose not to speak? Or did they choose to not stand for re-election and simply leave?


Chapter eight of my new book is called “Who Owns the Monkey?” To create a culture of accountability, management must reinforce individual ownership of problems. Staff should be empowered to make decisions, and also empowered to solve any problems that arise from those decisions. Numerous staff members of SVCF approached the nonprofit’s HR department as well as management to bring this serious problem to their attention. They hit a brick wall and were not empowered to take further action.

In chapter five of my new book I talk about facing the elevator door. When the elevator door opens management must be ready to face either crisis or opportunity. SVCF faces the largest crisis in its existence. The great challenge is to meet the crisis head on and find a way to turn it into opportunity. Obviously this won’t be easy.

I hope our community can help to get them back to the potential that families in Silicon Valley saw many years ago which encouraged our initial support.

I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.

Every time a federal or state administration shifts, nonprofits are among the most exposed, sometimes negatively (extra work, extra costs, or undoing needed protections) and other times positively (greater opportunities to fulfill their mission).The fast-changing political climate in Washington is creating a host of challenges for the nonprofit community.

  • Nonprofits focused on climate change and other environmental issues are facing repeal of agreements and regulations.
  • Nonprofits focused on reproductive health, rights, and justice face funding cuts and new regulations.
  • Tightened immigration policies, including deportations, disrupt communities and increase the demand for children’s services and for legal aid.
  • The repeal of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act will increase the need for charity-based healthcare.

The news is not all bad.

The Giving USA 2017 report published by the Giving USA Foundation, covering charitable giving in the 2016 election year, notes that all categories of recipient organizations saw an increase in 2016, with the largest being a 7.2% increase in giving to the environment and animal organizations.

People without a lot of disposable income gave in larger numbers than they would have in the recent past. When President Trump signed an executive order suspending refugee admissions from seven Muslim-majority countries the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised over $24 million from more than 350,000 individual online donations in a two-day period—six times the amount the ACLU normally handles in online donations in a year.

Planned Parenthood received more than 300,000 donations in the six weeks after the election, 40 times its normal rate.

A new nonprofit, We The Action, connects volunteer lawyers with nonprofit organizations, to “protect and defend nonprofit organizations who need it.”

The Tax Bill’s Impact

The tax bill passed in December provides generous tax cuts to businesses and individuals, but it appears likely that it will have a negative effect on nonprofit donations.

Of greatest concern is that increases in the standard deduction for taxpayers will discourage itemized deductions, and charitable gifts can only be claimed that way. Estimates vary, but somewhere between $16 billion and $24 billion (about 6-9%) could be lost each year.

The National Council of Nonprofits points out that the new $10,000 limit on the amount of state and local income taxes and property taxes that can be deducted federally is likely to pressure state and local governments to enact tax and spending cuts, leading to elimination of programs serving people in need and increasing the burden on charitable nonprofits and foundations to fill the gaps.

Doubling the exemption in the estate tax is expected to lower charitable giving by $4 billion per year because of the impact it will have on tax planning.

All of this is more troubling given the current financial health of the nonprofit sector. According to a new report, half of U.S. nonprofits had less than one month’s cash reserve. 30% had lost money over three years, and 7% were technically insolvent.

The potential for reduced funding due to tax cuts is likely to further impact the many nonprofit organizations that depend on government for half or more of their budgets.

But there’s no point in bemoaning what’s not possible. You’ve got to focus on strategy and action. You need to get into the mindset that there will always be change. Steps to be taken include increasing the sense of urgency of your whole organization including the Board for fundraising. Be sure you have prioritized your strategy so it is fundable.

Think about how you can message to your donor base (or new donor audiences) that you need their donations more than ever.

Are there cost reductions to make? Consider merging with similar organizations.


I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.


Non-Profits and Giving Fatigue

I’ve noted before that America has always been a country of givers. It was heartening to see five former presidents on the stage together in October calling for donations for hurricane relief. But this gratifying image doesn’t represent the state of non-profit funding in 2017. Things are getting tight.

“Giving fatigue” or “donor fatigue” is a phenomenon that many non-profits encounter in a year where multiple natural disasters have sapped people’s charitable budgets and their emotions. Charities often get the bulk of their donations at the end of the year, and so giving fatigue is a serious concern.

As I am writing this newsletter 200,000 people have been evacuated in Southern California while wildfires rage throughout the region, mirroring the disastrous wildfires in Northern California in mid-October. This latest catastrophe pushes the U.S. into the largest recorded number of billion dollar+ disasters in a single year, 17 in total, where 11 has been the average. It’s no wonder that donors are exhausted.

In my last newsletter, I looked at the Applied Materials Foundation which manages the charitable activity at Applied Materials.

Non-profits live in a cyclical environment. Their fortunes often are pegged to business growth and strong stock markets, which put cash in their donors’ pockets. By collecting and saving resources during strong financial cycles, during weaker cycles they, too, can be opportunistic in building the capacity to serve more people or preparing new campaigns to launch when the giving climate improves.

At Applied, we faced the elevator door in our corporate giving and planning: We contributed a portion of our pretax profits to community affairs, but established a constant level of funding by that department. In good times, we put amounts above that funding level in the Foundation. That way it could maintain a consistent level of giving to our communities even when we experienced short-term financial pressures. Odds were the community was facing similar short-term financial pressures, so our support was even more important,

How can non-profit organizations combat giving fatigue? For one thing, I think it’s important that non-profits directly acknowledge and thank their donors. I found some valuable suggestions in this article, 16 Fundraising Best Practices for Preventing Donor Fatigue.

The author makes the point that non-profits are good at “selling” the need for donations, but often fail to show donors how their contributions are actually making an impact. Stating that you reached your funding goal doesn’t explain how many people were helped or what actually will be accomplished. Donors need to understand that their contributions are making a difference.

At the Morgan Family Foundation, we have a belief that “Generosity is contagious and should be encouraged in others.” In challenging times we counsel that “the practice of giving” is even more valuable than the amount contributed. Don’t let donor fatigue distract you from the work that still has to be done.

I’d like to hear from you on this topic, please comment below.

How does your organization acknowledge and thank your donors and combat giving fatigue?

America has always been a country of givers. As waves of new immigrants came to this land, they built the schools, community centers, hospitals and vibrant arts organizations that now exist. Many people came to this country with very little, and yet they gave back.

I made charitable giving central to Applied Materials’ mission early in my career there.

The Applied board of directors authorized contributing a portion of our pretax profits to invest in local nonprofit organizations. We maintained the planned level of commitment in part by contributing to a company foundation in good times, setting aside funds that we could rely on during tough financial times when our communities were often under more stress.

I’m proud that Applied continues this commitment directly and through the Applied Materials Foundation. They’ve got a broad focus on giving in the areas of education, arts & culture, civic engagement and the environment. In 2016 the company and the Foundation made grants of over $9 million dollars to charities and nonprofit agencies in ten countries around the world. It’s one of the ten largest corporate philanthropists in Silicon Valley.

When I was at Applied last Friday I was reminded of all the good work that they do. Siobhan Kenney has worked in community affairs and with the Applied Materials Foundation for over fifteen years. “We’re a very engaged company,” she says. “We try to have a positive impact on the communities where our employees work and live.” She makes it clear that local is important, but that “local” also means all of the countries where Applied has a presence, including India and China.

The Foundation also runs Employee Matching Gift and Volunteer Time Grant Programs. “Generosity resonates with our employees,” Siobhan says. “Employees can choose their own charities and the countries where they wish to make donations.” More than 30 percent of U.S. employees participate in company giving programs – well above the 14 percent average for other corporations of the same size. In 2016, employees directed $4.1 million in donations and matching funds to charities and nonprofit agencies across the globe.

In addition, last year, among numerous other efforts, Applied employee volunteers and their families worked on conservation activities on Mt. Fuji in Japan, helped create a forest in the Tancheon Wetland in Korea, and replanted pine trees in fire-ravaged Bastrop State Park with the Nobelity Project in Austin, Texas.

As Siobhan says: “Giving is part of our identity.”

Since leaving Applied, I continue to be involved in the community and recognize the significant impact each of us can have on issues of personal importance. Environmental causes, education, and regional collaboration are in the mission of our family’s philanthropic efforts.

Please Comment Below

How does your organization support local communities? How else do you give back?

Sometimes impatient business people get involved with non-profits. The non-profit’s goals may seem remote, the results unachievable. But I’ve learned that patience and persistence can produce powerful results.

In 1997 I traveled with Applied’s diverse Asia-Pacific team down the Yangtze River to China’s Three Gorges Dam. Construction on the dam had begun in 1994. It is now the world’s largest power station, designed in part to help control the floods that had killed many people along the path of the Yangtze River through the centuries.

Unfortunately, as I learned, the consequences of the dam on the health of the river ecosystem had been substantial. The dam itself created a reservoir for sediment and organic and industrial waste that no longer continued downstream, destroying water quality. Also, the project displaced over a million people and flooded dozens of cities, towns and villages where no efforts to remove toxins from foundries and other activities were conducted prior to the flooding.

As I looked at the murky river, the deforested slopes, and the many villages black from decades of burning coal and wood, the problems China faced seemed insurmountable. I became convinced that I had to do my part to help the world begin to repair damage from large-scale projects and haphazard development. This wouldn’t be easy; I would have to be patient and persistent.

In 2003 Hank Paulson, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, asked me to join The Nature Conservancy (TNC) Asia Pacific Council of business leaders. He and Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Singapore, had created the council to advise TNC management in Asia. The council made a trip to Hong Kong and we discussed how TNC had the opportunity to work with the Chinese on a plan to protect large wilderness areas and improve the environment. Our work had begun.

TNC would continue to work with China to help it improve water management and dam-building strategies. This is very important since the Chinese will build most of the dams worldwide in the coming decades. A “Great Rivers Partnership” was formed around the Yangtze, the Mississippi, and the Pantanal in South America. This has led to improvements in dam building and freshwater river strategies in China, the U.S. and in Brazil and Colombia.

The conservation news from China these days is promising. I read recently that Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily says that China’s environmental conservation efforts are making a positive impact. “In the face of a deepening environmental crisis,” she says, “China has become very ambitious and innovative in its conservation science and policies and has implemented them on a breathtaking scale.”

While perhaps not as significant as the broader environmental programs, China’s conservation efforts have pulled the Giant panda off the endangered species list.

The Nature Conservancy remains extremely active in China, working to find solutions that allow China to develop and protect the full spectrum of its biodiversity, from pandas to people.

My experiences on TNC’s Asia Pacific Council gave me an entirely new and important perspective on conservation and environmental issues in Asia, and it allowed me to stay engaged in the rising importance of the region. It proved the value of patience and persistence.

In 1997, I traveled with Applied’s diverse Asia-Pacific team down the Yangtze River to China’s Three Gorges Dam.

Please Comment Below

How have you learned to be more patient and persistent in achieving your goals?

When I coach non-profit managers I often repeat some of my most fundamental management tips and processes. Most of them work for any organization, for-profit and not-for-profit.

As a leader, the character of your organization will never exceed your own. Make sure you exhibit every trait and quality you want your people to exhibit. A culture of trust and respect is vital. If you don’t trust and respect an employee, that person should not be working for you. That is your responsibility. If you set an example of taking responsibility for your own decisions instead of scapegoating, your people will do the same.

In Applied Wisdom I talk about some of the leadership challenges The Nature Conservancy (TNC) faced in the middle of the last decade. One of the proposed solutions was to hire a new CEO, and I was brought into the process.

I thought that TNC would be well-served at that time by a leader who had come from either the management consulting world or investment banking. In both those fields individuals have to parachute into complicated, often high-pressure situations and use an orderly process to analyze what is going on and discern what the options are. That pretty much defined what the next TNC president was going to have to do. Mark Tercek fit the bill and became TNC’s CEO in 2008.

In June of this year The Nature Conservancy announced that it was becoming a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), along with over two dozen corporations, non-profits and distinguished individuals.

The CLC is an international research and advocacy organization with a mission to convene global opinion leaders around new climate solutions based on carbon pricing and dividends. Founding members include former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, scientist Stephen Hawking, and economists N. Gregory Mankiw and Lawrence Summers. This is the kind of leadership that the TNC under Mark Tercek have become famous for.

Please Comment Below

Have you found ways to help your colleagues and staff to embody the principles of the organization?

Not every business practice translates to the nonprofit world, but here are some that do. I hope you’ll find them helpful.    – Jim Morgan

Focus on the Long Haul 
Most leaders are smart, knowledgeable about their business, and committed to their goals. What sets real leaders apart is their ability to maintain the pace. Social transformation, like running a Fortune 500 business, is a marathon –- not a 50-yard dash. Keep an eye on important things like taking care of your health and family. Take time to carefully plan your business and personal calendars, and make sure that you’re including time for physical exercise.  This keeps you competitive and available for the next challenge.

Own the Monkey  
Some organizations are particularly susceptible to paralysis by analysis. Take responsibility for your decisions  –- as we say, “Own the Monkey.” You can always change or adjust your decision later if you have built in concrete review points ahead of time. Remember that decisions build momentum. Look for the “driving forces” –- only one or at the most two items are the primary reasons for making a decision a certain way.

Even a well-analyzed decision is often not the most critical part of a decision process. It’s how you manage the consequences of the decision that matters. Practice determining what is the right thing to do for the organization, for your group, for your key stakeholders, and then for yourself.

Plan for 5%
Devote at least 5% of each week to planning. If you can focus your thinking out 3 to 12 months, you reduce the lack of control that builds up from being in a constant reactive mode. You begin to find patterns and to see possibilities and develop contingency plans. Then, review your best ideas at least weekly, prioritize them, and think about when they can be actionable: in a week, a month, 6 months, 12 months or 18 months. Determining when they will be actionable helps you evaluate the quality of the idea, the caliber of the talent, and the resources you have available (and provides a stimulation to get the missing capabilities in place). Then…

“Book It and Ship It”  
Success comes from the implementation of ideas. Time should be spent on organizing, strategizing and planning, but you need to complete the project, hire the person, get the donation, etc. Think about the “top three” priorities. You will have a long list of important things but try to make sure to get your focus on the top three. Think, “10% Strategy/90% Implementation.”

Collaborate Successfully
Leverage each other’s strengths. Enable others to build the capability required. The best management is simplified management by committed people willing to share the credit and be accountable.

Remember the “Six C’s”: 

  • Contact – Network for points of contact
  • Compromise – Make intelligent compromises
  • Contract – Agree to work together
  • Concrete – Ensure that objectives are measurable and concrete
  • Check – Streamline collaborative processes to avoid duplication
  • Close – Meet your commitments

To your success!

Please Comment Below

Have you learned lessons at your non-profit that you think have a much broader application?