The Trouble with "Passion for the Mission" . . . editor notes issue #84

"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

And Now for Something Different on the Charitable Tax Deduction . . . editor notes issue #83

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

To comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable . . . Editor notes issue #82

This could be the motto for much of the nonprofit sector: to comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable. Originally said by Finley Dunne about the press, it's a good motto for us, too. Which are you doing today?

As you know, twice a year we do special issues with discounts that last just four days. The last issue was a hit: Blue Avocado readers love free stuff and great deals. Almost 500 people signed up for webinars and the response to the CornerstoneOnDemand offer almost crashed our servers: we got to the "first 100" in 14 minutes.

The one offer we're still waiting on is for our first reader to visit the Top Fun Aviation Toy Museum in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. If you go (free if you say "Blue Avocado") before the end of the year, send us your picture in front of the museum.

* Banking survey: thanks to so many of you who completed this survey sent by our new parent, American Nonprofits. The survey has some rough edges and many of the questions were included because they are required by the National Credit Union Association (which also required the survey). If you haven't taken the survey click here to take the survey for individuals and here for organizations. [As of November 5, 2012 this survey is now closed. Thank you, everyone!]

* Query: for an article on nepotism in nonprofits, let us know your stories.

* Steal a Blue Avocado: don't forget that all Blue Avocado articles are designed to be reprinted in your newsletters, blogs and websites; see our reprint policy here.

* This issue we've got humor columnist Vu Le, an unexpected reflection on the Marriage Equality movement, an upside-down take on Citizens United, a deconstruction of sustainability, and more.

Everywhere I go people tell me they read and enjoy Blue Avocado. Thank you so much, all 64,000 of you, for making our work meaningful. -- Jan Masaoka

Time to Get Political . . . editor notes issue #80

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.

* If you're in California, please join me at the California Nonprofit Policy Convention on September 13 in Los Angeles: more info here.

Next issue is a special discounts and free stuff issue . . . let us know if you have something you're willing to make available to Blue Avocado readers here. See you in September! -- Jan Masaoka

Blue Avocado Teams Up with American Nonprofits

Have you ever had one of these thoughts:

  • 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

Disconnect Between Management and Impact . . . editor notes issue #79

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

In the Titanic Recession, Which Nonprofits Get the Lifeboats? Editor notes issue #78

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!

Four Day Discounts for Blue Avocado Readers

Offers good only from Tuesday March 20 through Friday March 23, 2012 . . . issue #77

"The nonprofit sector never closes," researcher Paul Light says. We like that image: the nonprofit sector as a library open all night, a wood shop where you can use the tools for free, an inn for the weary that always has another room available. For all the librarians, toolmakers, and innkeepers: thank you for keeping us all going.

And it’s time for our special Four Days of Discounts from Blue Avocado! We do this just twice a year: unique offers and deep discounts that last only four days. Here’s the deal: We’ve lined up a variety of deals exclusive to Blue Avocado readers; you have from now until March 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm (Pacific) to make your move. Don’t delay or you will lose out on some great opportunities.


  • Ellen Aldridge photoTop 10 Nonprofit Employment Law Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them): free webinar, presented by half of Blue Avocado’s Ask Rita columnist, Ellen Aldridge. Based on Ellen's work at the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group (so she knows the real scoop!), the webinar is designed for executive directors, management team members, and board members. April 17, from 1 pm - 2 pm Pacific Time. Click here to register . . . don't forget it's free! Thanks to our sponsor, Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group.

  • Jan Masaoka photoNonprofit Sustainability: Understanding and Changing Your Business Model in 90 Minutes free webinar. Too often program goals are discussed separately from financial means, although we all know that both must be discussed together. Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman will present the methodology for doing so from the book they co-authored (with Jeanne Bell): Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial ViabilityMay 3, from 11:00am - 12:30pm Pacific Time. Take a fresh look at choosing the mix of programs, earned income, and donations that will be sustainable for your organization. This model can be used as an adjunct to or substitution for traditional strategic planning. Click here by March 23 to register free.


Two books signed to you (or whomever you choose) by the legendary Kim Klein:

  • Kim Klein photoFundraising for Social Change by Kim Klein, 6th edition, 2011: If you are only going to read one fundraising book in your entire life, this is the one. A classic recently updated, this 400-page guide is used both as a university textbook and a field handbook. A soup-to-nuts guide to raising money from individuals, particularly for smaller organizations and those working for social justice. Normally $45, you can get your signed copy for only $26 plus shipping and handling.

  • Fundraising for Social Change cover 35% off Kim Klein's Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable TimesThis 2010 winner of the McAdam Book Award details how organizations can survive scandals, move from reliance on grants to a broad base of individual donors, and keep going without burning out staff and board. Written in Kim Klein's accessible, humorous, and very practical style. Normally $35 (unsigned), you can get a signed copy for only $20 plus shipping and handling.

To order either of Kim's books, send a check (plus $5 each for postage and handling) payable to Klein and Roth Consulting, and send to same at 1904 Franklin St #517, Oakland, CA 94612. All books will be signed. Please specify if you want the book signed to a particular person or organization (what a cool gift!). Must be postmarked by Friday March 23, 2012.

  • Nonprofits Guide to HR book cover20% off The Nonprofit's Guide to Human Resources by Jan Masaoka. Nolo Press is offering our readers this book by Blue Avocado editor Jan for 20% off -- you can choose either the traditional book or eBook. This definitive guide offers sound, tested, legal information on everything HR, including nonprofit-specific topics such as the board of directors’ role in HR, nonprofit compensation, and the HR of volunteers. Designed for executive directors, program managers, and "Accidental HR" folks, this is "the essential how-to that should be on the desk of every manager," says Jon Pratt of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. To order at this special, 4-day rate, use the promo code BLUE when you click here.

  • $8 off on The Lobbying Strategy Handbook: In this textbook that's not just for students, Patricia Libby provides a 10-step framework that walks you through the elements of a lobbying campaign to change laws you think need changing. Case studies help illustrate the principles. And Pat (who's a professor at the University of San Diego) is letting Blue Avocado readers purchase the book for $33.60 plus S&H (that's 20% off the regular $42.00 price). To order, email or visit Be sure to use the N120309 code during checkout.

TECHNOLOGY: eTapestry, NTEN, flash drives

  • eTapestry graphic50% off a fundraising audit ($250 value) if you buy eTapestry Essential or Pro by March 23: eTapestry will partner you with one of their consultants for an in-depth review of your eTapestry database. To get started and for more info, click here. *Not valid with other offers.

  • NTEN conference graphicGo to a technology conference from your desk: Our friends at the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) are holding their great annual conference, and you can attend from your very own office. The Nonprofit Technology Conference on April 4-5 will be streamed live so you can set up a computer in your conference room and let your whole staff attend. Normally $300 for non-members, if you register by March 23 you can get the NTEN Member rate of just $150. Learn more here and enter the Blue Avocado discount code 12ONTC-7NMEMBA during checkout. An outstanding resource for Accidental Techies and Super Techies in your organization.

  • Special Blue Avocado Flash Drives are available to you! What makes them special? They are loaded with past Blue Avocado hot topics -- and you get to choose the topic! For $15 (plus $5 postage and handling), pick from one of five topics and our top five articles in that category (in pdfs on the drive) will be sent to you. Just make your choice:  boards, human resources, financial management, First Person Nonprofit, or Jan’s Top 10. To purchase, click here.


California signWe have a special offer from the California Association of Nonprofits. For just the next four days, you can get 15 months of membership for the price of just 12 months: a 25% discount. Click here to fill out the online membership application. Be sure to choose Blue Avocado as how you learned about this offer! Questions or want to sign up by phone? Contact Shannon Smith, CAN’s Membership Coordinator at or call toll free at 888-427-5224 x 1027.

Next issue of Blue Avocado -- Look for these upcoming articles in April:

  • Jeanne Bell on how EDs lead strategic planning processes

  • Kim Klein on Christianity

  • Jan Masaoka on "What's the Right Size for the Board?"

  • A 3-Minute Vacation wreaking havoc in your office

See you then! -- Jan Masaoka & Susan Sanow, Blue Avocado


Stuff People Say to Nonprofits . . . editor notes issue #76

The latest internet meme has been a lot of fun: S*** People Say to Native Americans and S*** New Yorkers Say, for instance. So we propose:

Stuff People Say When They Hear You Work for a Nonprofit:

  • So, do you get paid for that?
  • I work for a nonprofit too . . . United Airlines . . . ha ha!
  • The problem I have with nonprofits is that not everybody deserves to be helped.
  • You know I've always wondered: why do nonprofit people people get paid so much?
  • Are there any nonprofits here in Atlanta?
  • Yeah, you know, I volunteered once at a nonprofit, but they were really screwed up.
  • I have a great idea for a nonprofit I'm going to start someday!
  • The problem with nonprofits is that they don't run themselves like businesses . . . where do I work? Oh, at Exxon (or Bain Capital, or Solyndra, or . . . .)
  • I wish I had your job . . . I work too hard.
  • I have a friend who works for a nonprofit in San Diego! Maybe you know her!
  • So . . . do you get paid for that?
  • I could never ask anybody for money. Hey, can you help me move on Saturday?

Put up a sign in your organization and ask people to fill in: "Things people say when they hear you work for _______(your organization's name)" and see what they come up with!

(Thanks to Judy Hatcher, Susan Sanow, Nelson Layag, and their funny friends for help with above.)

* This issue Ask Rita wonders whether employees have to be paid for sleeping on the job, and we wonder why more nonprofits aren't using cell phone messaging for policy alerts, raising money, and special event news. In addition, a fresh look at a frequently-overlooked fundraising vehicle -- scrip gift cards -- and a discussion of how to organize the board to support the revenue strategy (and a 3-minute vacation of course).

* We're looking for one or two investigative reporters with backgrounds in nonprofits to write stories for Blue Avocado. Is that you? If so, please let us know about you here.

* It's going to take me awhile to learn how to balance my new role as CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits with my continuing role as editor and writer for Blue Avocado. Please be patient, and as always I and the Blue Avocado Steering Committee welcome your comments, questions, and advice (click here). --Jan Masaoka


subscribe (free)


Donate to American Nonprofits, sponsor of Blue Avocado