New Organization Aims to Lead Nonprofit Sector into the Future from a DC P.O. Box

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On July 5th, flattering messages started hitting the spam filters of nonprofit email addresses throughout the country:

Good Morning [redacted] ,

I trust your summer is going well. You may have heard that Dr. Kathleen Robinson and I are co-chairing this year’s Nominations Committee for the Board of Governors of NANOE (National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives.) I’m pleased to share that your name, [redacted], was submitted for nomination because of your current (or past) work with [your organization name here].

For many people, it may have been initially gratifying to finally be recognized as the leaders they truly were. Still, it was slightly weird: out of the blue, and who is this “National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives,” anyway? 

It turns out that question is easily answered. NANOE, as it wants to be called, is brand new—registering in Washington D.C. as a general business in December 2015, launching its website in January 2016, and posting its first Facebook message just three weeks ago on June 14th—and so it has good reason to be under the radar.

Like many national organizations, NANOE is located in Washington, D.C.—but in its case, it’s in the strip mall at 3509 Connecticut Avenue. This location is a private mailbox rental inside Parcel Plus (the go-to resource for packing, shipping, printing, and business service needs of the residents and businesses of Washington, D.C.), tucked between Toe-Tally Nails and Paragon Thai Restaurant.

Neither NANOE’s newness nor its odd address should matter in these days of virtual organizing, but its approach is definitely…odd. The reference in the invitation to “this year’s Nominations Committee” can be read as kind of charming, determined, or just plain misleading, depending on your point of view.

The business model for NANOE is similarly notable (and maybe not in such a good way) in that it allows anyone to be a member of the board of governors for $100 per year. But wait! This also qualifies them to register ($198 for a Governors Pass) for the upcoming 2017 Board of Governors Convention Expo, to be held March 7–8, 2017, in Columbia, South Carolina. Keynote addresses on Day One will also come from Jimmy LaRose (president and CEO of the National Development Institute and architect of the Major Gifts Ramp-Up™ Donor Cultivation Model & Online Cloud) and the often-controversial Dan Pallotta (president and CEO of Advertising for Humanity), about whom NPQ has written far too often—most recently for his defense of the Wounded Warrior Project, which coincidentally almost fully bankrolled his own nonprofit creation, the Charity Defense Council.

Pallotta may be characterized as a man in search of a podium, but his CEO empowerment model shares much with NANOE’s new philosophy for the unshackling of nonprofit operations from collective accountability. His theory of practice, focusing on growing revenues and developing business partnerships with a de-emphasis on the role of the board of directors or community engagement, seems to be a falling star at this point, but we can still see its trail in this effort. This is not the first time Pallotta has tried to cast the entire nonprofit sector in his image, and he seems to lately be casting about for the right vehicle for his message.

At its website, NANOE argues:

Charity has been paralyzed by a set of failed “best practices” that turned the Nonprofit Sector into a Non-Growth Sector decades ago. Present-day systems were established in the late 1950s by industry associations that knowingly persist in methodologies detrimental to the general public. […]

NANOE, a 501(c)(3) corporation and Its Board of Governors have unveiled a new and growing set of capacity-building “best practices” that empower nonprofits in ways previously thought to be impossible. These approved techniques are based on field-tested university research and have been designed for nonprofit leaders who have a passion to grow their mission.

NANOE Practitioners, Organizations & Enterprise Members are eligible to receive the following credentials and/or certifications:

• Certified Nonprofit Executive

• Certified Development Executive

• Certified Nonprofit Consultant

• Official Best Practice Charity

• Official Capacity Building Enterprise

NANOE’s Credentialing Program Guide explains how credentialing works:

  1. Call NANOE to be assigned your personal Credentialing Specialist.
  2. Determine which credential(s) works best for you
  3. Join NANOE as a Practitioner, Organization or Enterprise Member
  4. Pay your one-time credentialing fees ($98, $148 or $198)
  5. Fill out your online candidate application form
  6. Complete your online Credentialing Exam
  7. Review your exam process with your Certification Specialist
  8. NANOE’s Credentialing Board will confer your certification within 2-3 weeks

Why Should You Secure Your NANOE Credential? Credentialing will improve your worth in the nonprofit marketplace. NANOE Credentialing can give you the “edge” when being considered by a nonprofit organization in need of leadership or counsel. NANOE Credentials clearly identify you as a professional who has demonstrated mastery of capacity-building and the principles that grow charitable enterprise.

NANOE’s philosophy is described in greater detail in its best practices guide, “New Guidelines for Tomorrow’s Nonprofit,” 57 pages with eleven guideline categories and 60 Key Practices. The point of view in the “Conclusion” comes from a place of frustration that nonprofit boards are somehow hamstringing CEOs, which keeps the nonprofit sector from eradicating the major social and environmental ills it was intended to address:

We more narrowly define the board’s role and give greater responsibilities and accountability to CEOs. We increase the attention to contributors and involve them more strategically in organizational capacity building. We advocate for greater entrepreneurial activities to drive in more revenues. We encourage all to achieve the scale required to truly alleviate the issues surrounding their cause. This will require leaders to address structural changes in society, as well as therapeutic and educational needs.

The NANOE approach is spelled out in the 60 “Key Practices,” such as these setting out the relationships among the CEO, board, donors and for-profit business partners:

  • Key Practice 2a: The board is restructured and re-purposed to primarily provide counsel to the CEO and to assist the CEO in building organizational capacity in a few key areas related to organizational development, legal and financial oversight. Fiduciary responsibilities are still maintained.
  • Key Practice 2e: The CEO has full authority to act on behalf of the organization on all matters and is held accountable by the board for results.
  • Key Practice 2g: The CEO sees individual donors and for-profit businesses as their primary customers and seeks to provide the kind of organization they desire to address the issues and situations surrounding the organization’s cause.

The New Guidelines were submitted to NANOE’s Board of Governors in May 2016, and written by Kathleen Robinson and edited by James LaRose. Kathleen Robinson is listed on GuideStar as NANOE’s CEO, on Facebook as NANOE’s “Nominations Committee Co-Chair,” and was one of the signers on the invitation letter. Robinson also serves as an adjunct research professor at Clemson University’s School of Medicine. Her Clemson bio states she is also an adjunct professor of community pediatrics at the University of South Carolina and is a “recognized leader in rural community development.”

The National Development Initative’s GuideStar listing shows that Kathleen Robinson, “Executive Director, Clemson University,” is on NDI’s board of directors, along with its founder, James LaRose. Robinson also serves as Credentialing Coordinator for NANOE; she will give the keynote address on Day Two of the Board of Governors Convention on “How the Nonprofit Sector Became a Non-Growth Sector.”

Returning to the invitation email, it turns out the solicitation is not so much to run the organization, but to review the New Guidelines:

NANOE is seating a Board of Governors comprised of executives like yourself to establish, organize and confirm a new set of governing guidelines that supercharge nonprofit capacity-building. You’ll be provided a special and private opportunity to review, expand, and/or redact these key practices to ensure that a new set of competencies emerge that dramatically increase charitable impact.

As you can imagine, this assignment will require contributions from a wide-array of industry professionals from all stations within the public, private and charitable sectors. Vendors, CEOs, staff members, administrators, donors, board members and clergy who work or volunteer in the human welfare, education, healthcare, arts, animals, environmental and/or public benefit sectors have been nominated.

You may also be pleased to know that NANOE’s Board of Governors is a working group only and is NOT a board of directors.

That last sentence may have relieved a lot of people’s anxiety about fiduciary duties they might be taking on by accepting this invitation, or made them suspect this was just a clever way to market the products of some entrepreneurial professional fundraisers. Given the “empowered CEO” model promoted by NANOE, it seems unlikely that the putative NANOE board members would even have to worry about having a full set of duties anyway.

Addendum: This article has been altered from its original form. It contained quoted material that could not be verifiably sourced, which has since been removed. Moreover, although the program included a welcome from South Carolina’s governor (and Clemson University graduate) Nikki R. Haley, Governor Haley will not be speaking at the convention and expo. Nonprofit Quarterly regrets any confusion caused. 

  • Phil Broyles

    Sounds like another marketing scheme to create an artificial market for an unecessary credential so people that put it on their resume so the person running it will get rich. No wonder everything goes to spam.

  • Industry Watchdog

    Out of a commitment to full disclosure the author of this article (Jon Pratt) nor NPQ contacted or interviewed any member(s) of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations and Executives. It should also be noted that Jon Pratt oversees a competing membership association that does not offer credentialing.

    • Christina

      Correction: The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits is not a competing association – they aren’t national, they don’t offer a credentialing program (as you noted), and they serve organizations and nonprofit staff in Minnesota with advocacy and infrastructure support. Also: who are you? Do you represent an “industry watchdog” group, or do you consider yourself an industry watchdog on your own? Finally: I agree that NANOE’s perspective should be included; perhaps if you know someone there you could encourage them to post a response?

  • NANOE appears to be Dan Pallotta’s latest effort. http://nanoe.org/

    • Ben Bullock

      Pallotta seems to have been roped in, but it’s actually the invention of a South Carolina-based fundraising consultant named Jimmy LaRose. Their conference is being held in the same city and at the same time as the SC Association of Nonprofit Organizations’ annual Nonprofit Summit.

    • Dan has written to me explaining that he is speaking at their event but he is not otherwise involved. My apologies to Dan and to any readers I have misled.

  • Savannah

    I received one of the “you’ve been nominated!” emails, so of course I google NANOE and their website had scam written all over it. If you click on any of their resources, the only thing that opens is a pop-up window asking if you want to accept your nomination. This article further proves my suspicions. Thank you!

  • Pam A.

    Thanks for posting this. I just got an email from them and was very confused by it.