A fast look at just four critical areas facing American society today: poverty, race, environment, and democracy:
1. What is the definition of "poor"? In the United States, for the government to consider a family officially poor, a household of four people must have total income of less than $22,050. Repeat for emphasis: a family of four must live on less than $22,050 or they aren't certifiably poor. And even with such a stringent guideline, one of every six children in America lives in poverty.
2. And in regards to America's other great crime zone -- race: One in every three young African American men is unemployed . . . more than three times the rate of adults in general. If this were happening in some country far away we would see it more clearly for what it is: structural abuse against a segment of our population.
3. Environmental health: did you know that one in every five visits to an emergency room by a child is asthma-related? Think about it: if we cleaned up our air and environment we would not only have healthier children, but imagine the money in health care that would be saved.
4. Democracy: The Supreme Court recently ruled (Citizens United) that unlimited corporate spending on elections is allowable. We nonprofits, meanwhile, are strictly prohibited from supporting candidates, ostensibly because of our tax-exempt status. But the federal government also spends $92 billion each year on "corporate welfare" (also known as corporate subsidies), while the nonprofit tax exemption reduces federal taxes by less: about $72 billion annually. Corporate spending and millionaire candidates are distorting our elections everywhere, yet the rules are getting even less democratic.
And we haven't even gotten to the prevalence of world hunger, or the absence of world peace.
These realities are what we in the nonprofit sector are working on: big, deep, societal issues that affect everyone in every community. And our goals are not more effective practices, not better logic models, not more detailed metrics. We are taking on the big stuff, and our goals are to change these big realities. We can't let ourselves be distracted by all the management advice we get, nor by the charges that we're trivial or frivolous. We are working on the big stuff: changing the world.
(Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CBS News, National Safety Council, SubsidyScope, and Urban Institute, in order.)
* This issue: The legendary Pablo Eisenberg has some advice for foundations; we offer advice on making your board resignation into a meaningful act; updates on recent controversial articles about sacred cows, and 5 things you should have in your desk right now.
This is our 50th issue of Blue Avocado . . . thanks again to our sponsors, advertisers, staff, Steering Committee, and our 60,000 subscribers! Think about forwarding this issue or one of its articles to a friend (use the little ShareThis icon just to the right at the end of articles) . . . thanks! --Jan Masaoka
I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood! (see music video here)
Like a mirage, we in the nonprofit community keep seeing a vision where everyone understands nonprofits. We think: if they only understood everything that we do, they would fund us, donate to us, appreciate us, respect us. We want not only to do good work, but to be recognized for it.
After all, we're human. This mirage beckons to many sectors: farmers think that if people only understood how important farming is, pro-agriculture policies would pass and we wouldn't complain about the price of peaches. Restaurants think that if people only understood how many jobs restaurants create, restaurants would be less regulated. Scientists think that if people only understood how much training and discipline their work requires, they would get paid more than bankers.
In short, we all want to be understood, and in a complex society none of us can expect ever to be understood. We ultimately hurt ourselves when -- in efforts to combat stereotypes -- we overemphasize professionalism and neglect to discuss volunteerism, and when we let those chips on our shoulders show.
When agribusiness speaks to Congress, they proudly conjure up the image of the family farm. Paradoxically, it is the nonprofit sector that is comprised of family farms -- small nonprofits -- yet we keep trying to portray ourselves as a gigantic industry with huge companies. Let's argue for the importance of a healthy, brilliantly tumultuous ecology in the nonprofit sector, and embrace the small nonprofits as residing at the heart of our community.
* If you are a nonprofit CFO, accountant, board treasurer or otherwise responsible for nonprofit finances, please take the American Nonprofits/Blue Avocado survey on nonprofit finance professionals! Click here.
* With 735 readers signed up for last week's Nonprofit Sustainability webinar, we're pleased that this issue has a summary "How to Create a Matrix Map" article from the book. We've also got HR advice on Obamacare, advice for executive directors who want to keep their boards under their thumbs, and a humor piece from Vu Le. Oh, and isn't spring wonderful? --Jan Masaoka
At Blue Avocado, it's April 1 and we're thinking about changing our name: help us decide! One possibility is the Blue Avocado Foundation, which would allow us to receive the sucking-up of hundreds of nonprofits every day. We would declare ourselves in strategic planning mode for three years, during which we could debate "outcome" vs. "impact," and "marginalized" vs. "disadvantaged." (As a regular nonprofit, we could never have considered suspending operations for long periods of time in order to plan.)
Alternatively, we're considering Church of the Blue Avocado, which would mean we can skip Form 990, report nothing to anyone about anything, and still keep our tax-exempt status. And design some gorgeous choir robes, too. Whaddya think, readers?
There's other great news in April for nonprofits. Read on. --Jan Masaoka
Obama Administration Hires Senior Official Not from the Gates Foundation
Submitted by Michael Edwards
In a move that sent shock waves through Washington and the Gates Foundation, President Obama has appointed 55-year-old Dolores Piñata to head a new blue-ribbon Commission on the Future of Philanthropy. Piñata, a 30-year veteran of community organizing in Arizona, was selected ahead of the favorite for the post, 19-year-old Josh McKinsey, an intern at the Gates Foundation.
Both houses of Congress passed the Charity Required Arms Protection (CRAP) Act, legislation which preserves nonprofit organizations' 501(c)3 tax-exempt status only as long as the CEO and all board members of the charity agree to carry handguns at all times. "Arming our charitable executives will go a long way to ensuring safety in our nation's workplace," said the bill’s sponsor, Citizens for CRAP, a bipartisan special interest group.
Flexible Straws for the Sick Sucks
Submitted by Lee Kaplan, Founder and Executive Director, ViewPoint Peer Counseling, Cameron Park, California
Flexible Straws for the Sick, a New York-based nonprofit has a serious problem. When the organization gave 2,000 flexible straws to people with the flu, they intended to serve all in need. The supply of chicken soup did not last. Now there are over 500 sick people with just flexible straws for relief.
Nonprofits Begin "Too Small to Fail" Movement
Submitted by Dan Lozier, Pastor, Mayflower, Sioux City, Iowa
Nonprofit advocates picketed the White House on Monday with 3x5 cards saying "Too Little to Fail". "Yes, there are big nonprofits as well as small ones," declared nonprofit leader Shelby Long. "We are too little to fail, especially the children's charities," added the ghost of Danny Thomas.
Conflict Resolution Nonprofit Finds New Revenue Stream
Sumibtted by Leanne Jaskowiak, Peacemaker Resources, Bemidji, Minnesota
The staff of Peacemaker Resources will be fanning out on April 1, 2013 to create conflicts in retail stores, restaurants, school offices, law enforcement agencies and elsewhere. All requests for mediation arising from conflicts created on April 1 will receive a 35% discount from the Peacemaker Resources.
Pope-A-Palooza and Tom’s Shoes
Submitted by Sara Sternberger, Executive Director, Bridging, Twin Cities, Minnesota
During the month of April, for every pair of red loafers purchased from Tom’s Shoes, another pair will be donated to the new Pope. "This is just another way that Pope Francis can reach out to the masses while supporting a good cause," said a Vatican spokesperson.
Supreme Court Bows to Facebook
"I was convinced by all those red equal signs on Facebook," said swing voter Supreme Court Justice Kennedy. "How could I vote against same-sex marriage given those?" he asked. The Court appeared deadlocked, though, on whether the national dance should be Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake.
Congratulations to Blue Avocado readers for submitting items for this special April Fool's Day issue: Penny Eardley, Cathy Enright, Michael Edwards, Leslie Garvin, Leanne Jaskowiak, Lee Kaplan, Dan Lozier, Sarah Martinez-Helfman and Sara Sternberger. Your books are on the way!
Who picked the winners, anyway? Thanks to our judges Siobhan Kelley of the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group (and part of the Ask Rita team), Blue Avocado humor columnist Vu Le, and Blue Avocado project manager Susan Sanow. They know April Fool’s Day funny when they see it!
NEXT ISSUE: Our next "regular" issue comes out next week . . . keep your eye out for What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Healthcare Reform, Have Your Cake and Restrict It Too, Matrix Map for Financial Sustainability, and more. JM
Hello from Susan Sanow at Blue Avocado and American Nonprofits! A great deal is always in season. This issue -- good for 4 days only -- we're got free webinars, free online learning courses (our most popular deal last bonus issue), and a fun(ny) Blue Avocado contest.
Webinar registrations are open only through March 15. The deal from Cornerstone is good for just one day: March 15 (see details below). The Blue Avocado April Fool’s Day Contest remains open until March 22 at 5:00 pm Pacific/8:00 pm Eastern. – Susan Sanow, Blue Avocado Project Manager
Wonder what all the hype is about around web analytics? Thanks to Blue Avocado and American Nonprofits, you can join this overview of Google Analytics, a free web analytics tool that shows you how visitors are using your site. We will start with how to capture data on visitors and then hit the highlights of using Google Analytics to improve your website. This overview is for beginners and executives that want to know the value of the tool but not necessarily how to operate it . . . Click here to register free . . . offer closes March 15, 2013.
Speakers: Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado and CEO of CalNonprofits, and Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services
Too often program goals are discussed separately from financial means, although we all know that both must be discussed together. Jan and Steve will present the methodology for doing so from the book they co-authored with Jeanne Bell: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability. This model can be used as an adjunct to or substitute for traditional strategic planning. Click here to register free. Offer ends March 15.
Speaker: Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado and CEO of CalNonprofits
Board recruitment discussions usually start with the tired question, "Who do we know?" Instead, let's start with "What are the three most important things for the board to accomplish this year, and what kind of board members do we need in order to do so?" Tested successfully with hundreds of nonprofits, we'll also tackle some difficult questions such as whether and how to recruit people of different races or educational backgrounds, whether to have clients or parents (or other direct beneficiaries) on the board, and whether to have fundraising or donation requirements. Based on the tested and popular Blue Ribbon Nominating Committee technique. Click here to register free . . . through March 15 only.
Free "Gift of Learning" online courses from Cornerstone
UPDATE: We've reached 300+ participants, so the offer is now closed. Winning organizations will be contacted by April 1.
This was such a hit in the last Bonus Issue, we’re pleased to offer this again. And we’re grateful to Cornerstone to offer this once more to Blue Avocado readers and American Nonprofit members!
The Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation established the “Gift of Learning” program to over 40 classes of downloadable e-learning content -- such as leadership training, effective communication, project management, and desktop product tutorials -- to nonprofit professionals at no cost.
The Foundation is offering this to five individuals per organization...and 300 organizations will be selelcted to receive the access to the Gift of Learning library. How do you become eligible? The first 300 Blue Avocado readers that respond on March 15, 2013 (starting 9 am Pacific/12 noon Eastern) are eligble. Send an email to Blue Avocado's Susan Sanow at [address removed] with the subject line "Gift of Learning” will be awarded the opportunity to access thousands of courses. Your e-mail must include the following information:
• Your organization's name
• Nonprofit tax ID number: you must have U.S. 501(c)(3) status to qualify
• Name of the contact person, and contact person's e-mail address and phone number
Once we reach 300 interested organizations, this offer will expire.
If your organization is chosen to participate, you will receive an introductory email directly from the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation no later than March 29, 2013. Selected nonprofits will have access to the Gift of Learning for a three month period (April 1, 2013-July 1, 2013.)
(And if you were awarded the "Gift of Learning" last fall, please step aside and let another organization benefit!)
April 1? No Foolin'… It’s a Blue Avocado Contest!
As April Fool's Day approaches, we wonder what our best April Fool's joke news headlines would be for the nonprofit community. So give it a try. Submit your headline with a 2-to-3 sentence opening paragraph. Here is a sample to get you started:
AmeriCorps to Exclusively Serve Businesses in 2014 The AmeriCorps program announced that beginning in 2014, AmeriCorps Volunteers will only be placed in small for-profit businesses. While historically placed with nonprofits, it is clear that nonprofits are better managed and there is a greater need to support the small business community.
Submit your April 1 headline and 2-3 opening sentences to email@example.com. Use the subject line April Fool's. Send in your entry by Friday, March 22, 2013. You may be featured in our special April Fool's Day issue! What's in it for our top 10 favorite/funniest entries? You'll win a copy of Jan Masaoka’s book, The Nonprofit’s Guide to Human Resources. Good luck!
P.S. Don't forget that if you're a Blue Avocado subscriber, now that Blue Avocado is part of American Nonprofits, you're also now an American Nonprofits member!
"Passion for the mission is a must" . . . so say many job announcements and board member requirement lists. Wait a minute. Let's examine this sacred cow cliche a little more.
First, is "passion for the mission" enough to make someone a good board member, good executive, good staffperson? Of course not. Someone may have a deep passion for children's health, yet not be interested in a particular pediatric clinic or a toxics prevention organization. So we know that passion isn't enough.
But is passion even necessary? Is it really an important first screen through which candidates must pass?
Actually, all of us have small embers glowing within us for many, many causes. We care about children's health, about the disappearance of small bookstores, about icecap melting, about human trafficking, about seed diversity, about freedom of the press. When the right breath blows on an ember, it flares into a burning passion.
But it's not exactly "passion for the mission." For most nonprofit staff and volunteers, it's closer to passion for the success of this organization and the work it does. In fact, as volunteers we are often surprised by how much we find ourselves caring about an organization and the people involved with it. We find we have joined a community of shared values and dreams, and we care tremendously about that community.
So let's skip the over-used "passion for the mission" and instead look for -- and recognize in ourselves -- caring about the work of the nonprofit we are involved with and the people who are affected by it. Let's look for board members are staff who have embers for the mission, and remember that it takes time and circumstance for an ember to burst into flame. And finally, let's remember that a passion flower can remind us of the passion of Christ, a clock (Middle East), or the Wheel of Fate (Turkey). Or it can simply be a beautiful flower that awakens affection and delight within us.
* With all the talk about leadership development, it's good to have in this issue a straightforward approach from Kirk Kramer. We've also got "The Founding Fathers Write a Grant Proposal," a discussion of "Ten Mistakes Boards and Executives Make," and a heart-felt First Person Nonprofit from an executive finding a stance towards life. Oh, and a 3-minute vacation to an Oscar-nominated, amazingly clever film featuring avocados. Enjoy. -- Jan Masaoka
Reading the nonprofit press or the barrage of nonprofit email these days, one gets the sense that of course -- of course! -- the key issue right now is preserving the current level of tax deduction that individuals get by donating to us. Petitions and letter-writing campaigns urge us to contact our Congressional reps with this message.
Can we at least acknowledge the irony that our main collective policy message appears to be: "Preserve Tax Deductions for the Wealthiest Americans who Itemize"?
Can we consider more integrated approaches to take?
While we must fight to keep the charitable deduction, we must also call for revenue solutions that can prevent cuts to the safety net. We must argue not only against cuts, but for a fairer tax structure that begins with allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire.
Our nonprofit community stands not just for charity, but for fairness, for a healthy planet, for tax policies that support the common good, for values. In fact, the nonprofit sector is where Americans come to express their values. Let's be sure that our policy messages express our values, not just our revenue streams.
* Query for a future American Nonprofits webinar: seeking a couple of nonprofit CFOs on experiences with choosing and instituting retirement plans for nonprofits; email stevez at spectrumnonprofit dot com.
* This issue we hear from an executive director about following a founder, from the Ask Rita in HR attorneys about background checks, from comic writer Vu Le about nonprofit meetings, and about "conflicts of loyalty" (rather than conflicts of interest) on boards. And of course, a 3-Minute Vacation.
* Have a great holiday season. -- Jan Masaoka and the Blue Avocado staff and Steering Committee
I'm not giving any more money to nonprofits this year. I'm not volunteering for nonprofits anymore this year. Instead, in this very, very crucial election year, I'm giving as much money as I can to candidates I support, and as much time as I have volunteering on political campaigns.
Because I believe that who wins the U.S. presidential election this year will have an enormous impact on the causes I believe in: freedom, prosperity, economic equity, civil rights, international fairness, environmental protection.
We in the nonprofit sector talk a lot about advocacy and representing our constituencies and our causes. We need to remember that advocating for our cause with someone who is predisposed to be on our side is 1000% more effective than advocating with someone who is dead set against us.
Most elections I make phone calls and go door-to-door for the candidates I support. Volunteering on a political campaign is an amazing way to work with people from a wide variety of economic, racial, ethnic and educational backgrounds -- more so than is often the case in a nonprofit advocacy effort.
We who work and volunteer in nonprofits do so because we have values about how the world should be. Whatever your values about taxes, immigration, public education, birth control, and sea otters, you should be working for the candidates who share your values. We owe it to our constituents, our causes and ourselves to throw ourselves into political activity this summer and fall.
My question to you: what are you doing to support your causes and candidates in the few weeks before this next election?
(And yes I'll probably end up doing more donating and volunteering for nonprofits before the year is out. But you get the point.)
* In this issue you'll enjoy a First Person Nonprofit humor article about foundation site visits, and Jeanne Bell's piece on the stance an executive director takes in strategic planning. We have a Board Cafe column on how a board can set up a new executive for success, an important announcement about Blue Avocado and of course, a 3-minute summer vacation.
How can my nonprofit get the line of credit or working capital loan that we deserve and need?
Where can I move my money away from Wall Street to a place that will help nonprofits?
Where can I get involved in discussions about nonprofit finance and strategy?
American Nonprofits -- a new, national membership organization -- has been created to answer these questions. American Nonprofits is comprised of nonprofit executives, finance directors, funders, consultants, researchers and others who want to engage issues around nonprofit finance, capital markets, and strategy.
And American Nonprofits will serve as the sponsor for a national credit union serving nonprofit organizations, staff, and volunteers.
Together with the remarkable Pamela Davis of the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group (NIA Group), I've been working on this project for a couple of years, and I'm very happy that we're making good progress. Together, these two organizations will be a network of nonprofit professionals working in the finance space, and a finance co-op owned and democratically managed by the nonprofit sector.
And note: Blue Avocado is becoming the magazine of American Nonprofits. As you know, we were founded by the NIA Group and CompassPoint, and their financial, administrative and content support has been crucial to Blue Avocado's success.
As a subscriber to Blue Avocado, American Nonprofits is providing you a membership -- at no cost to you --from now through the end of 2013. You don't have to do anything to keep getting Blue Avocado as you always have, and now you will also be able to access the benefits of membership in American Nonprofits. And importantly: Blue Avocado will stay free to you and to new subscribers.
To learn more about American Nonprofits, please click here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts. -- Jan Masaoka
Do you know an organization that is disorganized and crazy, but somehow manages to do important work? (Yes, we all do.)
And do you also know of an organization that is perfectly organized, could check off every box on the management audit, yet is accomplishing absolutely nothing? (Yes, we all know one of these, too.)
What does it tell us that both these two types of organizations exist? Answer: that strong management does not necessarily result in strong impact.
Most of us in nonprofits unconsciously make an assumption: that if we improve our organization's accounting, HR, planning, operations, or other processes, our mission impact will be stronger. But while better management can support impact, it doesn't necessarily do so. If it did, we wouldn't see either the disorganized-but-high-impact or the highly-professionalized do-nothing agency.
To strengthen the degree to which we change the world, we can't just see organizational improvement within a management framework. We have to tackle impact as a distinct matter, and address it with the courage to call our own impact into question. But wouldn't we rather be remembered for having amazingly accomplished something in the world rather than having always up-to-date personnel files and clean audits? (Um, yes.)
* This issue we welcome a new writer, Jeff Angus, writing on donor-advised funds. Let us know what you think.
* We also discover whether a person needs to show up for work, whether a board composition matrix is useful, whether nonprofit CEO salaries are too high, and of course, how to get away from your desk for a soaring, 3-minute vacation.
Enjoy your summer. Thank you for being understanding about our less-frequent publication schedule. And don't forget to pass Blue Avocado on to a friend or colleague. Take care, Jan Masaoka, Susan Sanow, and the Blue Avocado team
Now that we have all become experts on the Titanic, we all know that third-class (steerage) passengers died at substantially higher rates than first-class wealthier passengers. But did you know that nonprofits that serve poor people are failing at much higher rates than those that serve the general population?
In fact, nonprofits that provide "the most basic anti-poverty services for the poor and homeless failed at around twice the rate of more mainstream services," according to the UCLA Center for Civil Society in its recent report on nonprofits in Los Angeles County (and we have no reason to think that other areas are different). And even more telling is this: that among nonprofits serving the poor, those located in African American neighborhoods failed twice as often as anti-poverty organizations in other neighborhoods.
What a sad story this tells about our society in general, and about funders in particular. A sobering statistic is that in terms of foundations, fewer than 16% of grants are targeted to low income communities (National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy).
We suspect that one reason (of many) for the relative lower amounts of foundation funding is -- unexpectedly -- the focus on innovation, social enterprise, outcome metrics, and the coolness factor. Innovation: when serving the poorest in our communities, we know the answers; we just need more money. Social enterprise: in only very, very rare cases can a nonprofit make money by helping the poor. Outcome metrics: funder pressure for outcome metrics forces nonprofits to serve those who can most readily "improve" -- which means serving folks that are relatively better off. And the coolness factor: a start-up run by well educated, cool, high-energy young people is more fun to fund than a long-time provider run by community-embedded nonprofit staff.
Sometimes we need to choose nonprofits because they are doing the most important and pressing human work, not because they are the most innovative or have the best metrics, or because we know and like the leaders. I am guilty of this in my own personal giving, and I pledge to be different. -- Jan Masaoka
* This issue features a blockbuster article from Kim Klein, in which she discusses her Christian faith, an article on Real-Time Evaluation, and a Board Cafe article on how many people should be on a board. Plus: how to make mini-weapons of destruction (and fun) in your very own office.
* What a great response to our last issue with special 4-day discounts for Blue Avocado readers. More than 90 people took advantage of book discounts and more than 1,235 signed up for webinars. Terrific!