Are the Professionals and Service Providers Serving Your Nonprofit (or The One You Fund) “Just Okay”?

Does the AT&T commercial that shows the surgeon described by the attending nurse as “just okay” bother you as much as it does me? It makes me cringe when the surgeon jokes “just got reinstated” to an offscreen character and then admits to the patient that he is “nervous too.”

I have seen the commercial literally hundreds of times in the last year and still cannot get myself to mute the sound. Simply brilliant storytelling. We can learn a lot.  

I love it because it brings to light the truth that “just okay is not okay.” I hate it because the commercial does not tell us how the story ends.

It reminds me of when I became president of an international nonprofit and learned quickly from the Board Chair that some of the professionals serving the organization were “just okay.” That made me cringe too.

The Law of Averages

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn nailed it when he said, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.” Like many mothers tell their children, you will become like the people you associate with.

As leaders, we are told to hire people who are smarter than us. In my experience, nonprofit leaders tolerate “just okay” more in their workforce and from their professionals and service providers than their for-profit counterparts.

I spent the first half of my work life as an entrepreneur and business executive before transitioning to a nonprofit leader. I learned early in my career that you are judged by the company you keep and that extends beyond your walls to your professional teams and service providers.

Later I opened a management consulting business and fortuitously invented something called “The Short List.”

The Short List

I originally created “The Short List” concept by accident. I had my assistant keep a list of professionals that I met, liked, worked with, and trusted for my clients. The list was pretty short, hence, “The Short List.” (Clever, huh? Always the marketer.)

I formalized my original list of four or five professionals on a single sheet of paper and initially made them available to clients who inquired. Later, I would take a more proactive role by introducing “The Short List” into client conversations, and if I found a star professional, I would recommend them to my client base whenever possible.

When I entered the nonprofit ecosystem, I found a very inefficient marketplace. My first role was as national director of an international agency overseeing major donor fundraisers. I needed recommendations for a couple of exceptional consultants and could not find anyone willing to refer.

Unfortunately, I experienced the same problem in three different executive roles and learned that I was not alone. Other nonprofit leaders were going through the same thing.

The Center was formed to bring efficiency to this area of the nonprofit marketplace. The Center for Nonprofit Excellence is an orchestrated network, like Airbnb® or Uber®, bringing together nonprofits, funders, and industry experts for the greatest impact.

Spoiler Alert: I am a co-founder of The Center and we offer nonprofit leaders and funders free referrals to trustworthy, vetted professionals and expert practitioners, called “Recognized Experts.” 

Recognized Expert Referrals

The Center provides best practice solutions to nonprofit leaders and their funders through referrals to trustworthy, vetted professionals and expert practitioners. 

These Recognized Experts are known and proven best-in-class providers who consistently demonstrate excellence, reliability, benevolence, and integrity with their clients and other professionals. 

The special designation of Recognized Expert is exclusively authorized, protected, and closely monitored by The Center. All new Recognized Experts must be personally vetted by The Center leadership or recommended by an existing Recognized Expert.

The Center enters into agreements with the Recognized Experts to provide their valuable expertise, products, and services to nonprofits and funders within the Recognized Expert’s specialty area of operational best practices.

The six best practice areas of nonprofit operations are:

  1. Program Management & Accountability
  2. Fundraising, Marketing & Communications
  3. Governance, Legal & Risk Management
  4. Accounting & Financial
  5. People & Organizational Development
  6. Business Systems, IT & Facilities

The Center gladly shares our trustworthy, vetted professionals and expert practitioners with nonprofit leaders and funders at their point of need. These needs are either uncovered by the nonprofit or its funders, or through OpX360 smart tools to measure and improve nonprofit operational competence.

Recognized Expert referrals are free of charge to nonprofits and funders.

If you are a nonprofit or a funder with an exceptional professional or service provider that you believe could qualify as a Recognized Expert, we would love to meet them. Message me or share this post with them and ask them to contact me personally.


Marc is Co-Founder and Principal Advisor of The Center. For the previous 12 years, Marc served full-time as executive and practitioner in three significant yet very different nonprofits, overseeing extensive domestic and international operations.