Taking On the Big Stuff

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

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Blue Avocado celebrates 100th issue . . . editor notes

Yup, this is the 100th issue of Blue Avocado. As you know, we're an online magazine -- where each issue has 5 - 8 articles -- rather than a blog with many short posts. We're very proud of our unique mix:

  • At least one thought-provoking (probably contrarian or investigative) article
  • At least one exceedingly practical, unconventionally wise "how to" article
  • At least one really fun article

We believe that our confidence in community nonprofits, our celebration of nonprofit values and culture, and our sassy, cranky voice sets us apart from some of the internet noise.

We are especially proud of our First Person Nonprofit series, which has included articles from board chairs who discovered embezzlement to founders who got fired to people who love their telemarketing jobs.

We are so grateful to:

  • All of you: 64,000 Blue Avocado subscribers
  • Advertisers, sponsors (especially Pamela Davis and the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group!), and reprinters
  • Hundreds of individual donors
  • Great writers such as Vu Le, Steve Zimmerman, Rick Cohen, Kim Klein, and the Ask Rita team
  • Readers who comment on so many aricles enriching the content for everyone.

Our behind-the-scenes team includes graphic designer and webmaster Patrick Santana, copy editor Cristina Chan, the fiscal sponsorship of the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group, and our jill-of-all-trades with a nonprofit heart as big as all outdoors, Susan Sanow.

Here's the news: Blue Avocado is taking a sabbatical. We'll be back in the spring with a new look and a new spring in our step. We've been going without a break since April 2008 and we need to take a nap. In a few weeks we'll replace this issue on the web with a list of our most read and highest impact articles in various categories.

But first! In this issue you'll find a First Person Nonprofit story: "From Black Panther to Nonprofit CFO," along with Ask Rita on outdated job descriptions, "Unraveling the Elements of 'Impact,'" humor from the esteemed Vu Le, and two Board Cafe articles: one on the "Very Good but Very Flawed Executive," and one a short humor piece.

See you in the spring! --Jan Masaoka (that's my photo from our first issue) & the Blue Avocado team

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97, 98 , 99 . . . Editor notes issue #99

Amazingly, this is the 99th issue of Blue Avocado. Hurrah! It's an honor to produce something that so many people enjoy . . . we can hardly believe there are 64,000 of you subscribers!

The most common question we get: where did the name come from? So as we approach our 100th issue, we'd like to tell you.

A long long time ago in 2008, we (the Blue Avocado Steering Committee and me) came up with two potential names for this new online magazine. We asked focus groups around the country to weigh in on them. Most of the focus groups split 50/50.

When this data was presented to the Steering Committee, I expected them to pick one of them. Instead, they said (very insightfully) that these results indicated that neither name was very good. We all wanted something that would stand out from the crowd. After a couple of hours of brainstorming and pondering, when Nelson Layag of CompassPoint suddenly shouted, "Blue Avocado!" it just felt right.

Then we retrofitted a "lore" . . . that blue avocados were a sacred fruit of the Maya, lost in the Conquest. But a few seeds were hidden . . . you get the idea. But too many people believed us and sent notes asking for seeds! So now you all know the true, odd story.

Blue Avocado is its own true, odd story of course, and one aspect of the nonprofit sector we celebrate is all of our true, odd stories. How does a group of people running around the forest become a tribe? By sitting around the campfire and telling our stories to one another.

But as you know, blue avocados don't grow on trees. We need your financial help. We're like public television: free to watch, but we ask for your support. In our next issue, we'd like to thank everyone in the next issue who makes a donation from $5 to $5,000 before then, and we'll publish as many anniversary messages as we can as well. Please consider joining our tribe by donating here and sending your message here.

* In this issue we have a First Person Nonprofit story by a consultant-turned ED who learns why consultants never fail, a comprehensive guide to the legal and accounting aspects of auctions, a Board Member's Guide to Nonprofit Overhead, and to lighten things up, a great piece by our humor columnist Vu Le. Enjoy! -- Jan Masaoka

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Hammer Factories, Carpenters, and Pigs . . . editor notes issue #97

These days there are so many people creating tools for nonprofit leaders and for activists. Foundations fund online tools, research studies, websites that analyze and present data, convenings on new tools, and so forth. We have a million factories making hammers.

But we don't have enough carpenters to use all these hammers. Every few months we have a dozen more foundation-funded studies on taxes, but almost no funding for nonprofits organizing for tax reform. We have thousands of whitepapers with recommendations for lawmakers, and almost no money for people organizing voters who will elect lawmakers who might take those recommendations.

In fact, if we had more carpenters, they would buy more hammers; they'd drive up demand. A carpenter-driven market would drive quality, usefulness and price in hammers. If only foundations would fund fewer new hammer factories, and instead fund a lot more carpenters, we might actually see more houses built.

And maybe pigs will fly to the stars.

* This issue: nonprofit yoga from Vu Le, a very practical guide to legacy giving, Ask Rita on how to figure out how many employees you have (yes, this is a very complicated question), and a Board Cafe piece on whether the board or the executive director is "the boss." And, excerpts from interviews with 28 nonprofit executives who followed founders or longtimers, along with a request for you to participate in a national study on the topic.

* Many of you know my "day job" is as CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits -- CalNonprofits. We're about to publish the first-ever economic impact study of California's nonprofit sector . . . along with great speakers Rick Cohen, Judy Belk, Robert Egger, Marqueece Harris-Dawson,  and more at our July 31 - August 1 convention in Los Angeles. I hope to meet up with you there!

Coming up . . . Blue Avocado's 100th issue. We're planning to celebrate with a chance to vote for your favorite article, a Blue Avocado contest, Blue Avocado e-books, and of course, a chance to make a donation to help us keep going for 100 more. Keep your eyes peeled!-- Jan Masaoka


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Overhead Rhymes with Garlic Bread . . . editor notes issue #96

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things:
"Of rent and desks and insurance -- and whether pigs have wings.
"Why no one wants to pay for overhead, and all the grief that brings."

Overhead is on the upswing as a discussion topic:

  • Oregon last year passed a law requiring nonprofits to stay under an overhead ceiling -- or lose their tax-exempt status, and several other states are considering similar laws
  • Dan Pallotta has raised the question of overhead in catchy, provocative ways
  • OMB (the federal Ofice of Management & Budget) has issued a new Guidance mandating a minumum of 10% overhead in government contracts with nonprofits
  • Guidestar, Charity Navigator and BBB have felt compelled to proclaim that overhead is limited as a measure of nonprofit effectiveness
  • At least four regional associations of grantmakers are holding discussion groups on the topic of overhead in grant budgets

So this issue we're pleased to have "A Funder Talks to Other Funders About Overhead" with grantmaker Unmi Song, and next issue we'll publish "A Board Member's Guide to Nonprofit Overhead."

* Also in this issue of Blue Avocado: HR and transgender employees, "I Followed a Founder," a new approach to board agendas, classic nonprofit jokes, and 40 Inspirational Speeches in Two Minutes. (I love this issue.)

* Please take a moment to look at the right column and bottom of this page and recognize our advertisers, who help keep Blue Avocado free to everyone.

* And don't forget: pass this issue along to your pals and co-workers! Oh . . . and funders! -- Jan Masaoka, Susan Sanow and the Blue Avocado team

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Four-Day Deals, a Contest and Ice Cream! Blue Avocado #94

I scream, you scream, we all scream for the Blue Avocado Bonus Issue! We have everything our readers want:

  • Deep discounts on books, magazines, tech training, T-shirts and accounting services
  • Webinars offered free and only to Blue Avocado readers
  • A Blue Avocado contest!
  • A recipe for avocado ice cream (summer is coming)

Here are the rules for these Blue Avocado opportunities: if you're reading this, you're eligible! All deals are good for only 4 days. That means look at the offers, pick what you want and act now. All deals close at 8 pm Eastern time/5 pm Pacific on Friday, March 14, 2014.

We're happy to provide this bonus issue to you. Our next regular issue will hit your inbox in late April where we'll have the first of the "I Followed A Founder" stories along with Ask Rita on transgender employees, and more.

-- Susan Sanow, Blue Avocado Project Manager

1. Blue Avocado Campfire Contest

Another April Fools' Day is ahead and could that mean another April Fools' Day issue of Blue Avocado? What fictitious news story would you like to see? Send us the headline and first 2-3 sentences of the story. Here is a sample to get you started:

Blue Avocado to Change Name to Orange Avocado; Blue Color Too Sad

With news too focused on negatives, Blue Avocado is rebranding to the new and improved Orange Avocado. An unidentified insider commented, "This has nothing to do with the rumor that we're about to get a big grant from Sunkist. Which isn't true anyway. Yeah."

Winners will be invited to the Blue Avocado Virtual Campfire. The Campfire, held on April 14, 2014 at 9-10 am Pacific time (noon - 1 Eastern ), is a conference call discussion for 20 led by Rick Cohen (NPQ) and Jan Masaoka (Blue Avocado). You can ask questions and share your thoughts about fundraising, boards, staff, the state of the nonprofit sector and the latest jargon. If your headline is chosen as one of the best, you will also receive a Blue Avocado flashdrive!

IMPORTANT: Submit your headline and opening paragraph by Friday, March 14 at 5 pm Pacific time to blueavocado at hotmail dot com, subject line: Campfire. And be sure to include your name and email address.

Three Webinars -- All Free!

2. Solving Nonprofit Employment Challenges with Ask Rita

Wednesday, March 26, 2014
9 – 10 am Pacific Time (Noon - 1 pm Eastern)
Speakers:  Blue Avocado's "Ask Ritas": Ellen Aldridge and Siobhan Kelley

Our two favorite labor/risk management attorneys . . . live and not just in print! The most frequent sources of employment-related liability for nonprofits will be addressed -- and Ellen and Siobhan know which they are because they answer questions for members at the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group (NIA Group). The webinar is packed with practical tips on hiring, firing, independent contractors, and more. Don’t miss this free opportunity to learn how to improve labor and employment compliance in your workplace.

To register, click here by Friday.

3. Going Deeper: The Nonprofit CFO Study

Tuesday, April 1, 2014
10 – 11 am Pacific Time (1:00 pm Eastern Time)
Speaker: Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services

You know about the survey of nonprofit finance folk that drew more than 900 responses. In this exclusive-to-Blue-Avocado webinar, co-researcher Steve Zimmerman CPA will recap the findings but go deeper with your questions and comments. He'll reveal some surprises about this crucial but often overlooked staff including educational backgrounds, workload, what they think of how their boards understand finance and whether they think their CEOs make fair salaries. 

To register, click here by Friday!

4. Google Analytics for the Enthusiastic Beginner

Thursday, April 3, 2014
11 am – 12 noon Pacific time (2 pm- 3 pm Eastern)
Speaker:  Bonnie Massa, Massa & Company

This webinar got so much good response from Blue Avocado readers last time that Bonnie agreed to do it free again (thanks, Bonnie!). 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. To register, click here by Friday!

Next: Two Special Tech Offers from Tech Soup . . .

5. Free Online Tech Training: Atomic Training Courses

Blue Avocado readers get an exclusive free pass to Atomic Training tech courses when you request any other tech donations at TechSoup. Choose from more than 100 software and 50 assistive-technology courses, online, on-demand, via your smartphone, tablet, or computer. Review the full list of classes here.  To begin, go here by March 14 at 5 pm Pacific. Use promo code ATOMICBLUEAVOCADO for Product G-48446.

6. T-shirts Tee Up Your Message

TechSoup's partner Teespring will give you a 50% discount on its t-shirt (what else?) fundraising program. You can use Teespring to make custom-branded clothing and other products combined with a web-based campaign that doesn't require any upfront costs. Cool.

To access the offer, visit here. Use promo code TEESPRINGBLUEAVOCADO. Offer good through Friday, March 14 at 5 pm Pacific.

Our thanks to our friends at TechSoup for the two great deals above. Register and qualify at TechSoup, and access donated and discounted products and services, including high-quality refurbished hardware and software from partners like Microsoft, Adobe, Cisco, Intuit, and Symantec. TechSoup is NOT a limited Blue Avocado offer. TechSoup provides great programs and services all the time!

7. Nonprofit Management Books from CharityChannel Press

CharityChannel Press offers Blue Avocado readers a 25% discount on its entire collection! We mean everything: it applies to any and all books, manuals, and workbooks, in any quantity, and may be re-used during the 4-day bonus issue period (Tuesday, March 11 through Friday, March 14).

Review the catalog, and when you're ready to order you'll see "Have a Coupon?"-- click Yes and use the code Blue in the coupon box to receive the discount.  (This offer may not be combined with any other offer except for additional discounts available for bulk purchases.)

To start shopping, the CharityChannel Press bookstore is here

8. Jitasa Nonprofit Accounting Support Center - Get a 30 day FREE trial

Jitasa knows that outsourcing isn't an option for everyone, so they created the Jitasa Nonprofit Accounting Support Center. It's a resource that puts the knowledge and expertise of Jitasa's nonprofit accountants a phone call or email away.

This offer, exclusive to Blue Avocado readers, means you’ll receive 30 days free unlimited access to nonprofit accounting expertise, best practice templates and other content to provide a staff bookkeeper or accountant the confidence that to handle bookkeeping and accounting correctly -- all at a fraction of the cost of having your own staff.

To take advantage of this 30-day free trial offer (no credit card required):

  1. Visit www.jitasa.is/support-center-trial
  2. Fill out the form by Friday, March 14 at 5 pm Pacific time (8 pm Eastern)
  3. Start calling and emailing with your nonprofit accounting questions!

It's that simple. Questions? Contact  SupportCenterSales@jitasa.is

9. $15 Off on The Nonprofit Quarterly

We at Blue Avocado are grateful that the Nonprofit Quarterly brings journalism and non-establishmentarian voices to their online and print discussions. Just for Blue Avocado readers, we're delighted they're offering a $15 discount on a one-year subscription to their print journal.

By using the discount, you'll also get a collection of Rick Cohen's classic articles available to download after checkout. To subscribe, click here. Offer good only through March 14th.  (And don't forget you can join Rick at the Virtual Campfire by submitting a winning April Fools' Day contrest entry.)

10. Let’s Scream For Avocado Ice Cream!

Avocados are so delicious plain, but just imagine (or even taste)...


  • 12 ounces avocado, approximately 3 small to medium
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream


Peel and pit the avocados. Add the avocados, lemon juice, milk, and sugar to a blender and puree. Transfer the mixture to a medium mixing bowl, add the heavy cream and whisk to combine. Place the mixture into the refrigerator and chill until it reaches 40 F or below, approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Process the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. However, this mixture sets up very fast, so count on it taking only 5 to 10 minutes to process. For soft ice cream, serve immediately. If desired, place in freezer for 3 to 4 hours for firmer texture. Thanks to Alton Brown and the Food Network for this recipe!

Or, go to Torico's in Jersey City which often has it. Jersey City! Who knew?

And finally . . .

If you enjoy Blue Avocado and/or appreciate these special offers, consider making a donation to our sponsor American Nonprofits (you can specify it is for Blue Avocado). And don't forget to pass along Blue Avocado to your friends, co-workers, co-board members and others. Thanks! -- Susan and Jan

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First World Problems, editor notes issue #92

Why is the web so damned slow today? Why is the printer jammed yet again? Where did I put the remote down? Why is everybody in front of me driving so slow?!

First World problems of course (one that is complained about only because there aren't more pressing concerns). This time of year we're simultaneously more bogged down with the issues in our own lives as well as more keenly aware of how desperately so many people live in our own areas and around the world. The federal poverty level in the U.S. for a family of four is $23,550, yet one in six American children lives in a family that poor or poorer. And around the world, using a definition of poverty as a person living with less than $456.25 per year, 43% of people live in poverty.

We nonprofits are taking on gigantic problems: poverty, environmental degradation, injustice, the resignation of the soul. These are the commandments we give ourselves this season:

  1. Show up.
  2. Pay attention.
  3. Do your best.
  4. Let go.

Here's to a peaceful, healthy and prosperous new year. And faster internet, too, please.

* This issue: a First Person Nonprofit interview with a major gifts officer -- and she'll answer questions you post this week! Also How to Staff a Volunteer Committee, Ask Rita on an employee with a mental health issue, and why unicorns are still in self-exile from our world. We always love to hear from you, too, write here -- Jan Masaoka, Susan Sanow and the Blue Avocado team

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How is a Potato Like a Nonprofit? editor notes issue #91

Take a good look at a potato. Imagine trying to understand a potato. You can examine it, read about it, read an evaluation of it, and yet fail to get even a glimpse into a potato. To understand a potato, you have to get your hands dirty (literally) and make it into french fries, mashed potatoes, latkes, potato chips, potato salad, or this editor's favorite, hash browns.

In other words, you can't understand a potato without getting inside it and changing it. And how did you learn to understand nonprofits?

This issue: report from the 900-respondent study of nonprofit CFOs, how to hold a meeting via conference call, contest winners, volunteer insurance, humor columnist Vu Le (yay!) and Nonprofit Conference Call Bingo. Have a great autumn. Oh, and Susan Sanow -- Blue Avocado's project manager -- and I love hearing from so many of you. --Jan Masaoka

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Crowdfunding is the New Donation . . . editor notes issue #89

One of the benefits of being a nonprofit, muses Jon Pratt, is that we have an unlimited supply of free advice from people in business, government, and philanthropy. Recently that advice has included many exhortations to raise money via Twitter and through crowdfunding.

Here's the amazing thing: we nonprofits are already experts at crowdsourcing! We've been doing it for decades! The sobering thing: we've been calling it fundraising.

As many of you know, my day job (actually my 24/6 job) is as CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits). A CalNonprofits member just suggested that we use crowdfunding to help us "raise hell." After an initial "love the idea!" lightbulb, I realized that everyone who is a CalNonprofits member is already participating in crowdfunding us to raise hell: that's exactly one of the collective benefits of membership.  And then I realized that annual campaigns, special events, direct mail, phone-a-thons, raffles, and candy bar sales are all types of crowdfunding . . . that is, ways for many people to contribute towards raising hell and making change.

Every generation re-invents the nonprofit sector, and renames everything. Let's embrace our changing sector, but remember how much we already know how to do well.

(Feel like crowdfunding Blue Avocado? Click here!)

* This issue: Extreme Board Makeover, Office Bullies, Advice on Managing Your Charity Navigator Rating, a Humor Column Point of Vu, and more. Stay cool, friends.

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Happy 88th Birthday, Blue Avocado! . . . editor notes issue #88

In Japanese and Chinese traditions, 88 is an important number signifying long life. So in this issue we are celebrating 88 issues of Blue Avocado. Kampai! Cheers!

Blue Avocado started as Board Cafe, a term we still use for our column about nonprofit boards. Board Cafe began at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services as a fax newsletter kept to a strict 2 pages. As subscriptions grew, we were eventually running the computer all night long for a week e-faxing the issue to a few thousand subscribers.

Today we have a website (just being invented when we started Board Cafe!) and more than 64,000 subscribers. Not only that, but not a single one of them receives Blue Avocado by fax. :)

We believe that nonprofits are more than providers of human services and arts performances. Nonprofits are instruments of democracy, and brokers of power for disadvantaged communities, and we have more to teach for-profits and government about efficiency and innovation than the other way around. This is a framework out of sync with the management and metrics approach to nonprofits, but it is 100% of what we are about.

In Japan, on one's 88th birthday a person gives mochi (rice cakes) to friends. To celebrate our 88th issue, we suggest you have rice and avocado in a California sushi roll! And to the right is a Japanese envelope especially made for giving money to people on their 88th birthdays . . . click on the envelope to make a donation to Blue Avocado?

* Also in this issue: a valuable free online course about fundraising from Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, an overview of the charity raters, the Matrix Map Part II, Ask Rita on performance reviews, and some unexpected tips on getting to 100% board giving. Enjoy! -- Jan Masaoka

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