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Top 10 Organizational Black Holes


black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing – no particles or even electromagnetic radiation, such as light – can escape it.

Not to get too geeky, but when I ran across this NASA Data Sonification of a Black Hole through interstellar gas, it got me thinking.  You might want to read the rest of this post while listening to this out-of-this-world soundtrack.

Almost every organization I have worked with has a “black hole” that is so strong that the focus, efforts, and effectiveness of senior management and the advancement office are “sucked” in. Do you know where your organization’s black hole lurks?

Top 10

From my experience, here are the top 10 organizational black holes:

  1. A high maintenance board member or board chair.
  2. A misbehaving CEO who causes staff discontent and requires regular clean-up.
  3. A strategic plan that is a challenge to implement.
  4. A fundraising goal that is misaligned with investment in advancement operations.
  5. New programs that require assistance from overly stressed staff.
  6. A scandal by the national office, an employee, or board member.
  7. Start a multi-million-dollar campaign before the organization is ready.
  8. A very high-capacity donor requires much attention from many people, which may or may not bear fruit.
  9. Efforts to respond to a budget shortfall, including layoffs and other belt-tightening measures.
  10. Hasty implementation of burdensome DEI policies.

These issues often creep up on organizations before Board and staff recognize their gravity. By the time they see these problems, quick or easy fixes are no longer available.

What to Do

Here are suggestions to prevent your organization from being pulled into a dark place.

A.  Create a strong governance committee that can effectively monitor and address board and executive leadership issues. (There are tools for this.)

B.  Make sure each staff member understands their role and how their performance will be measured in implementing the organization’s strategic plan.

C.  Have a standing agenda item at team and executive meetings where each attendee contributes constructive feedback about someone else’s area of responsibility.

D.  Have an internal or external human resources function where employees can safely submit concerns knowing there will be an appropriate response and that the issue will be elevated to senior management if similar problems are filed.

E.  Conduct a campaign study before launching a multi-million dollar campaign to ensure most, if not all, conditions are present to ensure success.

F.  Have a high level of staff participation when constructing DEI policies to ensure broad endorsement and contribute to smooth implementation.

May the force be with you…


Copley Raff’s missionEvery interaction is to help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions by meeting ambitious goals, aligning their leadership, elevating fundraising, and activating the brilliance of their teams. It’s a bold promise but one that we know will serve you and your organization’s mission in a way that will deliver tangible and meaningful results – the kind of results that make a real difference!

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