Publications by Clara Miller

The following articles, written by Nonprofit Finance Fund's Founder, Clara Miller, during her tenure at NFF, describe the importance of building well capitalized, financially viable nonprofit organizations that are better positioned to carry out mission and programs.

  • Debt can be a good thing… if used the right way, and in balance with other sources of funding.
    (Alliance Magazine, June 1, 2010)

  • Clara Miller focuses on some of the "pretty bad best business model features" that caused both strong and more visibly vulnerable organizations to falter—or even collapse—under the recession’s financial pressures. From the enterprise point of view, these organizations had at least one, and sometimes four characteristics. We call these the "Four Horsemen of the Nonprofit Financial Apocalypse." Any one horseman can make an organization more vulnerable in an uncertain, changing economy. But when these horsemen ride together, they can be fatal.
    (The Nonprofit Quarterly, May 26, 2010)

  • (Tactical Philanthropy , April 14, 2010)

  • As one of the seven movers and shakers of the nonprofit sector, Clara Miller offers her predictions for 2010.
    (The Nonprofit Times, December 1, 2009)

  • Clara Miller responds to the New York Times' Feb. 17 op-ed that suggested banks now being bailed out with our tax dollars need to be held to strict public account and therefore should take a page from the nonprofit accounting manual.
    (Stanford Social Innovation Review BlogStanford Social Innovation Review Blog, March 20, 2009)

  • Clara Miller proposes a new way to think about financing nonprofits over the long haul.
    (The Chronicle of Philanthropy, January 15, 2009)

  • In this article, Clara Miller discusses the need and ways for the social equity holders - board members and donors - to summon their courage and embrace an "equity ethic" during the current financial crisis to help protect nonprofits from over-exploitation.
    (The Financial Times, December 9, 2008)

  • "Nonprofits, funders and donors facing the recession would do well to draw lessons from the challenging economic period that the sector went through in 2001, made worse by the terrorist attacks of September 11." Based on NFF's analysis of data, Clara Miller outlines 7 recommendations for nonprofits to manage the economic downturn.
    (Community Wealth Vanguard , December 1, 2008)

  • Does a diversified revenue base make for a more profitable-and therefore sustainable-nonprofit? Does government funding create big financial problems? Does owning a facility improve an organization's financial health? In a recent study, Nonprofit Finance Fund analyzed IRS Form 990s from 1,085 youth-serving organizations in five states with annual expenses of greater than $1 million. Unsurprisingly, the findings show that the conventional wisdom often falls short of describing reality and may lead organizations and funders to make strategic errors that undermine organizational effectiveness for decades.
    (The Nonprofit Quarterly, June 1, 2008)

  • For-profit businesses can efficiently and quickly raise large amounts of money to fund growth and innovation by tapping equity capital-money that people invest in a company in return for ownership and a share of profits. The nonprofit world has no corollary, making it difficult, costly, and time-consuming to raise money. In this article the author explores ways that nonprofits and funders can create their own version of equity capital, and, just as important, develop an equity approach to doing business.
    (Stanford Social Innovation Review, June 1, 2008)

  • This column is part of a series appearing in the Independent Sector's Memo to Members Newsletter in which leaders from our community examine the system for financing nonprofits. Here, in concert with two colleagues, Clara analyzes three problems that create trouble for the business operations of nonprofits.
    (Independent Sector - Memo to Members Newsletter, June 1, 2008)

  • On October 27, 2007, Community Wealth Ventures gathered together 40 philanthropic leaders for a day-long summit in Washington, D.C. with the goal of exploring how to make use of market strategies to fulfill the missions of nonprofit organizations. This report is a summary adaptation of the presentations and discussions of the day.
    (Achieving Impact and Sustainability through Market-Based Approaches: Discussion Highlights, March 1, 2008)

  • This column is a part of a series appearing in the Independent Sector's Memo to Members Newsletter in which leaders from our community examine the current social finance system. Here Clara describes three developments that may help nonprofits find more stable financial footing.
    (Independent Sector - Memo to Members Newsletter, January 1, 2008)

  • This article was researched and written as a collaborative effort between Clara Miller and the Bridgestar knowledge team including Melinda Tuan, Gail Fine, and Nan Stone. The questions in the quiz grew out of in-depth conversations and focus groups with 25 nonprofit CFOs and 15 executives from nonprofit organizations (including funders) that focus on the finance function, as well as the authors' collective experience in the nonprofit sector.
    (Leadership Matters, September 1, 2007)

  • This column is the second in a series appearing in the Independent Sector's Memo to Members Newsletter. Here Clara and Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Social Venture Partners, discuss examples of problems unwittingly created via widely accepted "best practices" -- and small steps people in the nonprofit community might take to improve upon them.
    (Independent Sector - Memo to Members Newsletter, September 1, 2007)

  • This column is the first in a series appearing in the Independent Sector's Memo to Members Newsletter, in which leaders from our community examine the current social finance system. Here Clara sheds light on some of the problems organizations currently face, particularly as a result of trying to follow "best practices."
    (Independent Sector - Memo to Members Newsletter, May 1, 2007)

  • Clara Miller outlines four major nonprofit/philanthropy trends to watch in 2007.
    (Philanthropy Journal , March 5, 2007)

  • If management is part mystery and part art, it is also part basic science and arithmetic. Obey the ordinary rules, and the ordinary results will follow. Flout them and no amount of vision or art will save you. But step into the nonprofit sector, and you enter a new and irrational world, where the rules, when they apply at all, are reversed, and the science turns topsy-turvy. This article examines seven time- honored business rules and explores how they fit (or do not fit) in the non-profit world. (Also featured in Common Good, Spring 2008).
    (The Nonprofit Quarterly, March 1, 2005)

  • Debate rages over the pros and cons, the wisdom and effectiveness, of providing general operating support to nonprofit organizations. What are some examples of the conditions, beliefs and omissions that fuel the controversy and confusion? And how might improved funding practices contribute to broader, more powerful system change? This article illustrates three counterintuitive (or rule of thumb-defying) business realities, which, if understood and acted upon, might lead us to different kinds of conversations with grantees and, ultimately, higher impact grants.
    (State of Philanthropy 2004, January 1, 2005)

  • In the nonprofit economy, financial contributions are a significant and influential form of currency. However, givers and receivers alike often have difficulty describing, much less producing, the right gift. This article describes the laws of "gift physics" that predict some of the intended and unintended effects of large gifts. In particular, it emphasizes that liquid and unrestricted gifts (such as cash for general operating purposes) provide nonprofit organizations with the most flexibility, the lowest cost, and hence the most predictable boost to mission.
    (The Nonprofit Quarterly, June 1, 2004)

  • Capital structure is the distribution of an organization's asset, liabilities and net assets. Every organization has one, so ignoring it can be risky. Published in the Spring 2003 edition of The Nonprofit Quarterly, this monograph highlights capital structure as a critical driver of mission and programs, as well as organizational capacity. It also illustrates how funders often inadvertently contribute to the undercapitalization of nonprofits and suggests ways of reversing poor funding practices.
    (The Nonprofit Quarterly, March 1, 2003)

  • Capital structure is central to the success or failure of a nonprofit enterprise. Understanding the impact of capital structure on program and organizational capacity can help nonprofit managers and their funders better plan for growth and change. This monograph is a work-in-progress illustrating how organizations, regardless of their mission, often have similar underlying businesses. It explores a few examples of typical capital structures driving these businesses.
    (NFF Study, January 1, 2002)

  • For every nonprofit organization, there is a tension between the pursuit of mission and the maintenance of financial viability. Any plan to change or expand activities needs a parallel capitalization strategy - a plan for how the organization's capital structure should be shaped to support the plan. This monograph describes a "holistic" approach to growth.