Avocados Are Always In Season!

We considered offering up a Pumpkin Spice Avocado this month, but thought better of it. We'll leave peak Pumpkin Spice to the coffee and pastry purveyors of this world and focus on what we do best: practical provocative and fun food-for-thought for nonprofits.

Want to stage a show about office politics? We've got the characters to cast. Want to play your board like a crime procedural? We'll push the kibosh on that idea. Want to.. Well you get the idea. This issue is all original and all about terrific, from-the-trenches advice about the questions, big and small, we face working at nonprofits.

It sure is good to be back with all of you!

P.S. We're looking for contributors for the next issue. Want to write for Blue Avocado? Take a look at our contributor guidelines then drop us an email at editor@blueavocado.org!

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, the board has 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. Each issue will 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.

Avocados are Back -- Hi!

I don't know about you, but it's been a long time since we had some Blue Guacamole. Susan Sanow and I have had a lovely sabbatical and we're also very happy to be back. Break open that bag of chips and a couple of beers for us, too?  :)  This issue:

  • A Tiger Escaped Today . . . and I'm on the Zoo Board: First Person Nonprofit
  • Everything We've Been Taught About Major Gifts is Wrong by Jan Masaoka
  • Why Don't Foundations Build Capacity in Fundraising? by Aaron Dorman
  • Ask Rita: Can We Fire Someone for What They Said in Personal Email? by Pamela Fyfe
  • Nine Nonprofit Trends that Need to Die by Vu Le

 You might notice our new look, too. The changes are minor but they allow Blue Avocado to look better on those electronic devices that didn't exist when we started in 2008. And please: let us know what you're up to! -- Jan Masaoka

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

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

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

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

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

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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