It is a myth that nonprofit organizations don’t need to make a profit

It is a Myth that Nonprofit Organizations Don’t Need to Make a Profit

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

This essay is adapted from my video segment in the free online Nonprofit Management Essentials course developed by the Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University with the support of The Allstate Foundation.

If there is one idea you take away from this essay, this is it: the term “nonprofit” reflects tax code, not a way of doing business.

The Internal Revenue Service code number 501(c) describes many types of organizations that are exempt from paying taxes. What usually comes to mind when we think of the nonprofit sector are the educational, social-service, environmental, and cultural organizations and foundations we sometimes call “501(c)3’s.” The broader 501(c) code also includes a surprisingly wide variety of other types of organizations, including clubs and religious associations; in other words, nonprofits that exist to serve their members.

But just because a nonprofit doesn’t pay taxes, doesn’t mean it can lose money!

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Running: Losing myself with “The Boss” along on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail

Running: Steps I Took to Find “the Zone”

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

“There’s not much more I can do to help you,” my therapist said three years ago. “At this point, all I can suggest is that you run as hard as you can at least five days a week. The only clients I have who can really keep their anxiety in check are the ones who exercise—hard—regularly.”

This advice was not what I wanted to hear. Speaking on behalf of those of us who live with panic attacks, trust me: I thought this “wisdom” ranked up there with other useless attempts at calming words nice people say to us when our hearts are beating out of control and we are sweating through our clothes, suffocating, and picturing sudden death: “just relax,” “breathe,” “it’s going to be okay,” “It’s all in your head,” “be rational,” “don’t get hysterical,” or “let it go.”

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Gardening and Mental Health

Gardening and Mental Health

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

In honor of spring, I thought it would be fitting to re-post my 2015 essay about mental health and gardening that I wrote for Sibbaldia, the journal of botanic garden horticulture published by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, while I served as president & CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
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Succession planning and the founder’s dilemma

Five Succession Planning Steps to Overcome Founder’s Syndrome

Sophia Shaw
Managing Partner, Acorn Advisors LLC

What is your favorite neighborhood restaurant? Favorite local store? That great bed and breakfast you stayed in the last time you traveled? Chances are that the proprietor—the “founder” for the point of this post—is involved. Maybe he comes around and says hello to guests or she knows you by sight or name? In any case, that person’s vision and engagement is part of what makes the establishment special and successful. The same can also be said about founders of large companies in many markets (say, Apple, for example), and about leaders of nonprofits, including foundations. Given the importance of this visionary to the vitality of the organization, having a thoughtful succession plan in place will help the organization thrive both in the short- and long-term. But that’s easier said than done.
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Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden

Thank you, Chicago Botanic Garden

Sophia Shaw, Chicago Botanic Garden
Speech May 6, 2016

I gratefully accepted the Chicago Horticultural Society Medal at a farewell dinner in my honor hosted by the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Board Chair Bob Finke, and Board of Directors. Following is an edited version my remarks in which I first recognize colleagues and family and then explain some of the long-term leadership factors that make the Garden special. (more…)