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Interview with Penelope Cagney, consultant and author

I firstly met Penelope, who lives in Arizona, a few years ago. After a few months of mutual “discovery”, we decide to become professional partners – better: our companies, ENGAGEDin and The Cagney Company, are partners –  on global projects.

I asked Penelope to share some thoughts on “governance and fundraising” during one of the conversations that we regularly have on these issues.

Gaining new perspectives is a powerful way to learn and approach things differently.

Enjoy the reading!

 

Penelope, you authored a book – “Global Best practice for CSO, NGO and Other Nonprofit Boards: Lessons from around the world” – that is a compared reflection on the relationship between governance and fundraising. I read it once it was released and I found it interesting and extremely helpful in providing a global overview on this issue.
Which are the key points that mainly impressed you in comparing the American approach with the others?

No one country or culture “owns” good governance. Each fashions a system that makes sense in terms of their own cultural, political and economic situation. I think American non-profit boards can learn from their counterparts in other places, especially as America is becoming ever more diverse in its population. We need to understand and adjust to the multiple perspectives of various constituencies in order to provide effective governance.

 

Our respective firms partner in international consultancy projects and we already have the opportunity to co-present sessions, share best practices and practical experiences.
Generally speaking, something that seems remarkable in the Board of Directors in US is their active engagement, mainly aimed to instigate the “sense of emulation” among peers.
Which are, on the contrary, the critical traits that you face in your consultancies with US nonprofits?

Increasingly the “ultra rich” are driving the philanthropic agenda and this is a worrying trend. Because American nonprofits are very much dependent on funding from private sources, in some instances they have accepted funds from questionable sources. A recent case is the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab having accepted funds from Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire businessman who preyed on young women. Fortunately, this problem has recently attracted public attention and in some instances corrective action is being taken.

This year protest by artists led to the resignation of a board member at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Warren Kanders. Kander’s company, Safariland, produced a tear gas that been fired at migrants on the US-Mexico border. Other major museums—including Britain’s Tate Gallery, and the American Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum of Art, have stated that they will no longer accept money from the Sackler family, who have been linked to the opioid crisis.

 

Besides your consultancies, you are often invited as a speaker and trainer in Asian countries. That is an area that is personally unknown to me.
Is there something – with regards to the relationship between governance and fundraising – that impressed you, or that you brought in your daily work, from your Asian experiences?

There are many important cultural differences across Asia, so it is difficult to generalize about nonprofits in such a vast region. One of the things that impresses me about the Japanese is that the practice of servant leadership is deeply imbedded in their culture. I believe servant leadership is the best global model for governance. First described by Robert K. Greenleaf as a viable model for leaders of modern organizations, servant leaders share power and put the needs of people and communities first, helping people develop and perform as highly as possible. A great example from India is Mahatma Ghandhi. Africa’s Nelson Mendala gave us another shining example of servant leadership.

 

Last but not least, a question on a highly sensitive issue: paid Boards of Directors as an incentive to stimulate their performance as Board members.
It is a topic explored in your book, in the section dedicated to European governance authored by Valerio Melandri, and it also is one of those issues I frequently think at without gaining an unambiguous solution.
What is your opinion about that?
Do you think that economic incentives could be considered as levers to improve the engagement by the Boards towards the big issue of sustainability?

I think that it depends on the type of organization. Some nonprofits are closer to for-profits in their operations, like large health care operations. Having individuals on the board with business expertise may necessitate emulating the for-profit governance model in this respect. The situation is best dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

 

 

*Penelope Cagney, a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and a BoardSource Certified Governance Consultant, is Principal of The Cagney Company. She is rated among the Top 6 Fundraising Experts in the US by Philanthropy Media and has more than 30 years helping nonprofits succeed in fundraising, planning and governance. She and her associates have helped clients achieve significant financial (more than $USD500 million raised) and organizational objectives. She has taught fund development, strategic planning, governance, and communications at the School of the Art Institute and Columbia College in Chicago; at the Arizona State University Nonprofit Management Institute; and was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Penelope is editor of “Global Best Practices for CSO, NGO and Other Nonprofit Boards” (Wiley/BoardSource 2018/Shanghai University of Finance and Economic Press October 2019 – Chinese edition). She is the co-editor of the 2015 Skystone Partners Research Prize winner and cause planet.org Best Books of 2015 awardee “Global Fundraising: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropy” (AFP/Wiley 2013/Shanghai University of Finance and Economic Press 2018 – Chinese edition). She is also the author of “Nonprofit Consulting Essentials: What Every Nonprofit and Consultant Needs to Know” (Jossey-Bass/Alliance of Nonprofit Management 2010).
Penelope Cagney serves on the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Global US Foundation for Philanthropy and on the Wish Fund Committee for Make-A-Wish International which fulfills the wishes of sick children through 39 affiliates in more than 50 countries, as well as having served on the Selection Committee for the Asia Philanthropy Awards.

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About Simona Biancu

After a long experience in the field of HR and external relations within the University sector, she approached the world of fundraising. Specialized at the Fundraising school from Università di Bologna, she is author and contributor for many blogs about fundraising and member of the Italian Association of Fundraisers and the UK Institute of Fundraising.

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