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this issue you'll find a First Person Nonprofit story: "From Black Panther to Nonprofit CFO," along with Ask Rita on outdated job descriptions, "Unraveling the Elements of 'Impact,'" humor from the esteemed Vu Le, and two Board Cafe articles: one on the "Very Good but Very Flawed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

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.

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

We're Just Souls Whose Intentions are Good . . . editor notes issue #87

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


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