Publisher’s Note

Our mission at American Nonprofits, where the two of us serve on the board, is to strengthen the financial health of nonprofit organizations. Over the last twelve months, we have been working through changes in leadership and operating models and gathering information about what Blue Avocado means to you, our readers. Today we are pleased to begin offering the benefits of that work with a new issue of Blue Avocado, featuring two terrific new articles and some of our favorite pieces from the archives.

Every two months, a new issue will be published. We'll bring you new perspectives and interesting conversations about the issues facing our sector. Popular columns like "Ask Rita" are here to stay, but we hope you will keep us on our toes and tell us when we hit the right notes and when we don't. And we're on the hunt for writers. We can help you shape your idea and make your words shine. Email editor@blueavocado.org.

Ask Rita: Can I Just Hire Independent Contractors?

Dear Rita in HR: I am executive director of a very small nonprofit. Recently, I had to fire an employee for the first time. In retrospect, I probably made a bad hiring decision, but it was a real nightmare to go through. I would like to just hire independent contractors from now on. As I understand it, with contractors I just pay them a flat amount every month and at the end of the year they get a 1099 instead of a W-2. Sounds like a great solution to me! Are you going to rain on my parade?

Signed,

Found the Magic Wand

If Your Board Looked Like Your Community

Moving Board Diversity from a 'Problem to Solve' to 'Something to Practice.' Staff and Board Members Weigh in on Common Hurdles and How to Overcome Them.

This story is part of New Faces New Spaces, a series by the Irvine Foundation exploring how arts organizations are adapting to reflect the changing demographics of California, engage with their communities, and become more resilient organizations.

Treasurers of All-Volunteer Organizations: Eight Key Responsibilities

More than half of the nonprofits in the United States are estimated to be all-volunteer organizations. Here is a wonderful, succinct guide for the 600,000 + treasurers of such organizations:

My time as treasurer of a faith-based nonprofit was a labor of love. Starting out as an all-volunteer organization with a $20,000 budget, we developed financial systems, workable budgets, and demonstrated accountability. We served families affected by incarceration and there's no greater personal reward than seeing people realize they have real hope for a better life. In just three years the budget grew to over $330,000.

However, there was stress as well. As a CPA I found myself the recipient of unnerving deference at times. I frequently fell short in communicating financial information to board and staff. But the outcomes made it all worthwhile.

This experience helps me appreciate one of the many unsung heroes of our time: the treasurer of the all-volunteer organization (AVO). AVOs are among the most important and most invisible building blocks of our communities. Members of all-volunteer organizations read to children, care for the dying, get clean water legislation passed, serve as . . .

A Board Member's Guide to Nonprofit Insurance

Many board members don't think about the organization's insurance until something adverse happens. As one Blue Avocado reader commented: "Insurance isn't sexy, but it's as essential as a roof over your head." In these tight times, it's tempting to make insurance a low priority, but this strategy can be penny wise and pound foolish. Blue Avocado asked Pamela Davis, president and CEO of the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group (and a Blue Avocado Steering Committee member) to give us the low-down on liability.

Q: Pamela, what are the most common insurance claims against nonprofits? How much do they end up costing?

Pamela: Almost all of the claims -- 90 percent-- reported by nonprofit . . .

Crawling Out of the Psychological Depths

Most of us have had moments of despair. Marilyn Neece very generously shares her story with us:

It's hard to say this out loud. I lost my edge. I went from sharp-minded and insightful consultant to a tired and nearly burnt out executive director in just three short years.
I know the board is wondering if I'm all right. It's humiliating. They hired me to make the great turnaround. We started with such energy and focus. But then . . . life is very different from those case studies in Harvard Business Review.

It started out great

My organization is a small mental health counseling center that was founded 35 years ago by several churches. It's a neighborhood place. We still have Christian counseling for those who want it, but we are mainly secular, and we offer counseling in a number of languages.

I've been a successful executive director in the past. I know about boards, strategic plans. I was . . .

Ask Rita in HR: Do we really have to do performance evaluations?

Dear Rita: I just started as the first HR Manager for an environmental nonprofit that has grown to 65 employees, although at least 35 of them are summer staff. I was somewhat shocked to discover that there are no performance evaluations in the files! When I asked the ED about this, she said two things: a) seasonal employees don't need to get evaluations, and b) that regular employees work mostly in teams and that they've worked together for a long time. When I recommended a formal performance evaluation process the ED said she would only do it if legally required. So my question: are performance reviews legally required? Signed, New Kid on the Block.

Dear New Kid: First, there is no law that mandates . . .