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 also 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 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.)

* 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

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As an ngo director my email and snail mail inboxes are always full with (marginally helpful at best) articles on nonprofit management. I have stopped reading these articles as  their conclusions are often self evident, naïve or just plain wrong at least when applied to the real world.

There is only one such publication I read on a regular basis – Blue Avocado. The articles by Jan Masaoka  are often counter intuitive and always thought provoking and useful.  Whether it is challenging such conventional truths as the need for a board matrix, lots of board committees, the advisability of nonprofits working together all the time, or the supposed inefficiency of all ngos, Jan is never afraid to take on these sacred cows.  I find myself literally saying “amen” when I read Jan’s articles.  Please keep up the good work.

Duane Silverstein
Executive Director, Seacology

Duane, thank you so much for this note. It is so meaningful for me and everyone on the Blue Avocado team to hear stuff like this! Thanks for making our day! Actually more like our month! Jan

I also read Blue Avocado regularly rather than deleting the emails without glancing at them. However, I am appalled that you would suggest to readers that it is appropriate to stop supporting their favorite non-profit organizations. You know that many readers will not complete reading the article to read your "disclaimer" near the end.

While I agree that being involved in the political process, I will NEVER abandon those non-profits in which I invest so much - not even for a few months during the election season. I will give up TV time, reading books, going to movies or going out to eat with friends to give extra time and resources to the political process. However, my support for non-profits will not be interrupted. Roger DeGroot Development Director Roseland Christian School, Chicago

With all due respect, I think this is an entirely wrong approach, completely opposite of what is best for serving the best interest of non-profit missions. Time and experience has taught that at the highest levels of politics, there is very little difference between the two "opposing" major parties and their candidates. They sure sound like they are worlds apart, but if you look at the real-world results, there is no significant difference. Look at the arc of long-term trends in foreign policy, economy, domestic policy, and the names at the top don't seem to make any substantial difference. For a specific example, just look at our current President, Mr. "hope and change." After almost four years, we still have frighteningly high deficits, Guantanamo Bay, warrantless wiretaps; every major initiative of the previous administration is still in place. And so it goes, every cycle for years on end. The major trends in our country have been supported by both major parties - globalism, increasing centralized authority, corporatism, cronyism, etc. Of course, at the local level, things are not so firmly entrenched. For school boards, city & county governments, and state legislatures, advocacy does indeed matter. And, it's worth supporting national office candidates who are truly outside the mainstream (think third parties, Dennis Kucinich, or Ron Paul). As a general rule, however, I disagree that political advocacy is a worthwhile use of time & money for people who care about NPO missions. Lobbying on a specific issue at state government is one thing. Stumping for candidates is just playing their game on their terms, and holds no public good, in my opinion. Far better to using the time & resources to make our own public benefits more public, to increase awareness of our mission and programs. That's my perspective.

I wish this person had included his/her name. I would like to express my gratitude for saying what so many of us are thinking. As for me, I admire just about anyone who seeks public office. Candidates wear asbestos underwear and enter the ring riding on the best of intentions. It's easy to go door-to-door to stump for someone, however, for a candidate seeking any public office, it must be terrifyingly difficult to be spit and shat on daily. Regardless of his/her political affiliation.

Although I definately agree that most candidates tend to stay fairly moderate and you can find more similarities than differences (because it's appealing to more individual voters, that tend to be more moderate than they would like to admit), I think the point in Jan's article is about taking a brief break from our Community Based Organizational issues to be more involved in the election. This is primarily important because it's a way to address some of the root causes that affect all of our CBO's, particularly in a climate where there are cities going bankrupt (the city I live in is on the verge) and the idea is to get people to vote in order to have a greater voice in the issues that concern them and their causes.

I definately see your point about all of the real-world results and the fact that every candidate says things that they cannot always live up to, but getting people from the CBO world to become more involved in voting is a great leap for real educational advocacy and promoting voting that can affect positive change for us all.

Please note, that I replied to your post anonymous, but it is after reading the post before yours as well, so this is to address previous posts before yours too.

I must also say that I am just excited and grateful that we have the opportunity to chat here about these issues and different perspectives! Thank you Jan and Blue Avocado for sharing this phenominal gift of connectedness!!


Systems Change Advocate

I empathize with where Jan's coming from. The problem with politics is not just the politicians; it is the electorate who do little or nothing except vote once a year or so. Unfortunately, non profits can do little to impact the decisions politicians make that affect the lives of those we try to serve. I'm conflicted, however, because without many of these non profits, things would be far worse for many people. In addition, there are national non profits that champion things important to me like the environment, human rights, economic fairness and other game-changing sides of issues. So I'm doing both--trying actively practice democracy and supporting non profits whose work is important to me.

Thank you, Jan. I have led non-profits, both service and advocacy in nature. And there are differences in candidates. I have even run a state agency, which worked closely with non-profits. And there are differences between candidates. And I admittedly am a former state elected official. I prefer public financing of elections. Until we have a better system of financing elections, I contribute to local, state and national candidates. When I have a candidate I support, I view it as an investment in a philosophy or set of principles. Yes, politics is imperfect. Most voters I know are imperfect as well.

Good for you! My wife and I are volunteering in the Obama campaign in Virginia. I think this is the most important election in at least twenty years, if not since 1968. The voter suppression tactics are reprehensible and in my opinion, the Justice Dept should intervene, and soon.

Regards and best wishes for you and all who you are supporting!

Jan – reading your piece made me want to be sure you saw this; there’s quite a few comments on the Chronicle site:

Good for you Jan!  You are absolutely right.  (As always)  We have to inspire people (Like one of my sons) that the Democrats as bad as they can be are NOT the same as Republicans and we cannot have Romney in office now whether you like Obama or not.

Go Girl, Judith

Jan, In the past few days I have been agonizing about what I can and will do for the upcoming election. I have no problem supporting causes I care about with donations, but I have been reluctant to truly get involved (making phone calls, knocking on doors, generally sticking my neck out). I've been thinking that this time I need to actually do something, because I really do care about the outcome. Thank you for the nudge!

Living in NH, politics is an on-going way of life.
I've done it all, including running for office, and serving my community.
I make phone calls, canvass, participate and organize events, driven the VP, spent the day with Gary Hart's wife, Lee. I cook, clean, organize and staff HQ's. I organize our volunteer meals for canvass days and election days. I've organized our election night events.
Love the primaries...love being first in the nation, and love being a Democrat in this small state.

Thanks, Lucy Bernholz, for a riff on this same topic:



"I'm not giving any more money to nonprofits this year... Instead, in this very, very crucial election year, I'm giving as much money as I can to candidates I support..." Yes, we who manage nonprofits face this attention-drift and subsequent dip in revenue from major donors in every election cycle. Our impact wanes, and occasionally we have to lay people off or drop key consultants (our lobbyists, our grant writers, our capacity builders, etc.). But election years are bad for advocacy organizations, anyway: progressive policymakers turn moderate, moderates turn unworkable, bad budgets slip right past our lobbyists (and everyone else), and nothing good makes it to a signature. Six months after the election, the charitable giving renaissance begins, and we can once again temporarily exercise some access and influence in advocacy. The game as it is played.

I am the founder of several non profits, work for a non profit, and am one of the founders of the Green Party. This year my summer has been devoted to petitioning to get Jill Stein on the ballot as the Green Party candidate for President. People are sick of both the D's and the R's. It has been the easiest presidential petitioning I have ever experienced. At meetings everyone of the board I work for and everyone at all the board meetings I have attended as a board member has signed the petition. I hope everyone considers stepping outside of the two party system, since neither of the two big money parties have the welfare of our constituents, or our planet, at heart.

Thanks Jan for affirming something I have practiced throughout my many years in the non profit world, keeping doing electoral politics as well.


Claymore Senior Center, Inc.
Donna  J. McPoland, Executive Director

Now it's time for me to NIX this publication. I don't give a crap about your views on "freedom, prosperity, economic equity, civil rights, international fairness, environmental protection." This is supppose to be about the non profit community. Keep your leftist views to yourself. I help people who are dying...none of the above, and certainly not Obamacare will save them. In fact, they will probably be told to DIE QUICKER because of Obamacare...it's do expensive and they can't be helped anyway. BTW...I define freedom as the government getting out of my way...not more of it. Sue Burstein-Kahn

Well then, Sue-- you'll just have to switch your reading and learning about nonprofits to the wide range of thoughtful, engaging, educational, inspiring writing produced by the non-leftists. Good luck with that. Karen Aitchison

Thanks Karen! My thought exactly!

Sue, just to clarify about this publication: it's meant to be about matters that are of interest to people who and volunteer in nonprofits. Such people have broader interests than simply about nonprofits. In a similar way, we don't expect a magazine for women to have only recipes and skin care tips; we see articles there about Antarctica wildlife, Hollywood, and schools in Africa.

And if you are uncomfortable with the content, just un-subscribe. Jan

P.S. If you "want government getting out of your way," does that mean you won't accept Medicare, you don't drive on government-built roads, you want unsafe cars and cribs that are prohibited by government regulation, and you don't want police or fire protection? :)


"This is supposed to be about the nonprofit community"...What is your definition of the non- profit community, Sue Burstein-Kahn?

Nonprofits make a difference, which oligarchical president we end up with does not make enough of a difference to worry about. Both will murder people from other countries for their resources, both will continue the transfer of wealth to the rich and the corporations, and neither will take the most pressing issue of the day seriously (human-caused climate change). Sure there are differences, but don't let the big-money media mislead you into thinking they are big.

Whom or what party ? Do you feel will help us help the needs of our community? Rep or Dem? I would like an opinion?

Steve Bassett
Bread of Life Rescue Mission
Oceanside, Ca

I will tell you my opinion, but I do want to stress that the important thing is for people who work and volunteer in nonprofits to vote. If all of voted with our values -- regardless of what those are -- I believe that we could be a voting bloc to which elected officials would pay attention.

I myself believe that the candidates of the Democratic Party -- despite its many flaws -- is much closer to my values than the Republican candidates. Jan

Hi Jan, I love your healthy refreshing piece “Time to Get Political.” Just let me know if you’d care to join me this fall door-knocking in Elk Grove for Ami Bera, MD, who has a very good chance.

LOVE your recent missive about giving to campaigns, not nonprofits. BOLD. Also love the credit union vision. I hope you'll consider helping.....we endorsed a candidate in Oakland and will be looking at the San D race as another spot where we will endorse / point np colleagues and their contributions.

Robert Egger


I always look forward to reading anything that Jan writes- it's always intelligent, thought-provoking and refreshingly irreverant. In 2 words- Jan rocks!

Excellent Jan. Thanks for the leadership on showing that 501(c)(3)'s can engage in the political process and how important it is, (though they can't endorse candidates).

Another great article Jan. Thank you for reminding us that we don't live in a silo in the nonprofit sector and we can't expect to change the world on our own. Rather, it takes all sectors - government, nonprofit and, yes, even the for profit sector - working together to truly create the communities we want to live in. Also love the discussion, connection and passion this has generated.

Maybe we should spend less time raising money, and more time raising hell. --Vincent Pan

Just saw this post about focusing on the presidential campaign between now and Nov. 6th, which I agree with 100%, particularly here in our swing state of NC.

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