Tracking volunteer time: sounds like another chore? Actually it can help you meet match requirements, improve your financial statement presentations, and reduce liability. In this article, CPA Dennis Walsh of North Carolina explains why and how to include volunteer time in your budgets and financials:
An all-volunteer suicide hotline was having a hard time raising funds. Its total budget was $45,000, which paid for a small office, telephone lines, and advertising. It asked for operating support, overhead and other funds in its fundraising proposals. Unfortunately, many foundations and donors are allergic to those terms. But when the hotline added up the time its volunteers spent answering phones, attending trainings and . . .
We usually don't publish First Person Nonprofit articles anonymously. But in this case we know the individual and corroborated the key points of her story, and we understand why she has asked that her name not be published.
Four weeks and five days ago from this moment -- at 4 pm on a May afternoon -- I was fired. That morning the board chair told me our afternoon meeting would not be a finance committee meeting after all, but, rather, "about your future with the organization." The meeting lasted, at the most, 6 minutes.
"We would like you to resign," the board chair said.
"I have already submitted my resignation," I replied. Three weeks ago I had told the board I would be leaving in November. We were about to embark on a strategic planning process, and our big conference -- the one I created 11 years ago -- would be in the fall. That seemed like a fitting exit point.
"It's not acceptable to wait until November," he said. "We are terminating you effective immediately. Please turn in your keys and key card right now."
As Program Officer for Arts and Culture at the San Francisco Foundation, I and philanthropic colleagues often bemoaned how fragile many culturally specific organizations were. One person would wonder why there were so few financially stable African American arts organizations. Then a multi-voiced litany of woes would commence about how many Asian and Latino arts nonprofits were floundering in just as weak a state.
How was this possible in a community that has no "majority culture," that has had a Hotel Tax Fund giving decades of operating grants to culturally specific arts organizations, and a Cultural Equity Program since 1993 created to redress inequities in funding?
And sadly, at the national level, arts organizations from disenfranchised communities are no more stable. Few African American, Latino, or Asian theater companies founded in the 1970s are still in existence, or if they are alive, they do not appear to be as artistically vibrant . . .
Recently several Blue Avocado readers have written to say their organizations are considering creating advisory boards or advisory committees of one kind or another. At the same time, others write to ask how to disband troublesome or obsolete advisory committees. Here are some guidelines for advisory committees, as well as a sample letter inviting an individual to join such a group:
The board of directors of a nonprofit organization is its legal, governing body. In contrast, an advisory board does not have any formal legal responsibilities. Rather, an advisory board is convened by the organization to give advice and support.
Probably the most common experience nonprofits have with advisory boards is that they invite people successfully onto such a board, and then fail to have that board accomplish much of anything. So it's worth a few minutes to consider the options for doing it right, and even whether to do it at all.
There are four common types of nonprofit advisory boards, illustrated in the following examples:
Fundraising: Organization W wants to invite prospective donors onto some kind of official body, but it doesn't think these individuals would be good board members. In some cases the individuals probably don't have the time or interest, and others are not seen as being appropriate (for a variety of reasons) for the board. By creating an advisory board, W hopes to . . .
Thanks to dozens of Blue Avocado readers who sent in examples of nonprofits in popular culture, here's a look at the mostly-fake world of nonprofits on the big and small screens.
Queen Latifah in "Life Support" is a refreshing exception to how nonprofits are typically portrayed in popular culture. As Ana in this 2007 film, she works her butt off at Life Support, an AIDS education nonprofit, but neglects her family and endangers her own health (sound just a little familiar?). Through Ana, we catch glimpses of what we know community nonprofits to be: fiercely committed,under-staffed, and essential life support to their clients and the community writ large.
In contrast, nonprofits are more usually invisible, stereoptyped, or off-camera employers of minor characters. For example, in "The West Wing," Mary Louise Parker played the director of a women's rights group deeply enmeshed in policy work. Several "Curb Your Enthusiasm" characters interact with NRDC, a nonprofit where producer Larry David's ex-wife is active in real life. References to the real-life Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center as well as to the fictional California Arts Center pop up in "The L Word."
Nonprofit issues . . . but not nonprofits
But mostly what we learn about nonprofits in popular culture -- and not just in mainstream culture -- is wrong twice over. First, while the issues that nonprofits . . .
Executive director Vu Le writes with verve and humor about that peculiar, nerve-wracking nonprofit ritual known as the foundation site visit:
This week, Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) had a site visit: We're always telling people how cool our programs are, but to have funders actually come down and visit is affirming. And terrifying. It's a weird contradiction, like it’s your birthday -- yay! -- but you're also getting a colonoscopy.
Before a visit, we try to prep as much as we can. Making a good impression is important. This includes tidying up the place and putting away our fold-out cot, which staff use for naps during particularly long days -- and some weekends. I also gather up all the papers on my desk and shove them into the overhead bin.
The staff's personal appearance is also taken into consideration. The more funding is at stake, the better we dress:
< $10,000: we dress a little better than our usual shabby
$10,000 to $19,000: we wear button-down shirts and tuck them into our jeans
$20,000 to $49,000: we wear slacks and a nice shirt, maybe a tie
$50,000 or over: I might require some of the staff to get Botox
Uh oh. We are all afraid of getting audited by the IRS, but we don't really know what would happen in one. Here is the True Life story of an environmental organization's audit, how they survived, and their tips for the rest of us.
It's the phone call everyone dreads: "Hello, your organization has been selected for an IRS audit." The call came to Karl Dickson (pictured left), board treasurer of an environmental nonprofit in Milwaukee, and his caller ID showed that the call came from an unidentified cell phone. Karl's instincts were to suspect a scam.
Karl questioned the caller who told him (not very believably) that "most IRS agents don't have an office" and therefore use cell phones. She also told him they had been selected . . .
Not all nonprofit organizations need or have paid staff. But in those that do, a frequently thorny issue is that of direct contact between staff and board members:
Should board members have contact with staff independent of the executive director? For many executive directors, this issue raises blood pressure faster than almost any other (the other one is the board in executive session without them).
Opinion is sharply divided about whether and how other staff should interact with board members. Executive directors often feel that independent board-staff contact undermines their authority and creates the potential for staff to give misleading and undermining information to the board.
Board members want to respect the authority of their executive director, but they also know that . . .
Dear Rita: We've never paid too much attention to our personnel files, but we've just entered a contract with the county and we think it's time for us to get our act together on this. I know we need a personnel file for each employee –- but what should be in it? Signed, An Accidental HR Manager
Dear Accidental: It's great that you are asking this question now! Good personnel files are important not just for your county contract but because documentation of various employment matters is required by many state and federal employment laws and most employee-specific documentation is best retained in a personnel file.
For example, to comply with the Fair Credit Report Act (FCRA) when doing a background check, you’ve got to give specific written notices and get a written authorization if a third party conducts the records check. The proof that you've complied with FCRA should be kept in each individual’s personnel file.
The file should also contain performance evaluations and any documentation that evidences the employee’s employment status (a signed offer letter, an Employee Change Form reflecting things such as job title, wage rate, promotions, benefit coverage, and leaves of absence). The personnel file should read like the rings of a tree, giving evidence of an employee’s history with your agency.
The rest of this article provides an overview of how to manage your organization's personnel files and a checklist of documents to include in a personnel file. First, let’s talk about what should not be in a personnel file, which is just as important from a legal perspective.
The very mention of bylaws at a board meeting is usually met with dread. It typically means either that a conflict has risen to the point where the bylaws must be consulted, or it means that someone is pointing out an area of noncompliance that has gone unnoticed for years. This Checklist points out the necessary elements in bylaws.
Because regulations about nonprofit bylaws are done individually by state (rather than the federal government) there is quite a bit of variation. For example, in Ohio and New York, nonprofit boards must have a minimum of three members, but in California the minimum is one. It's important to obtain the applicable state laws and make sure that the bylaws are in compliance. In addition, some cities have further regulations for nonprofits. Ask your city attorney's office for guidance. For example, some states and cities have different rules for nonprofit organizations for which the board automatically includes an elected official or government employee as a result of that individual's election or employment.
Three overall guiding principles for nonprofit bylaws:
A. Don't put too much in the bylaws. If you specify the . .
Hello from Susan Sanow at Blue Avocado and American Nonprofits! A great deal is always in season. This issue -- good for 4 days only -- we're got free webinars, free online learning courses (our most popular deal last bonus issue), and a fun(ny) Blue Avocado contest.
Webinar registrations are open only through March 15. The deal from Cornerstone is good for just one day: March 15 (see details below). The Blue Avocado April Fool’s Day Contest remains open until March 22 at 5:00 pm Pacific/8:00 pm Eastern. – Susan Sanow, Blue Avocado Project Manager
Wonder what all the hype is about around web analytics? Thanks to Blue Avocado and American Nonprofits, you can 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 . . . Click here to register free . . . offer closes March 15, 2013.
Speakers: Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado and CEO of CalNonprofits, and Steve Zimmerman, Spectrum Nonprofit Services
Too often program goals are discussed separately from financial means, although we all know that both must be discussed together. Jan and Steve will present the methodology for doing so from the book they co-authored with Jeanne Bell: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability. This model can be used as an adjunct to or substitute for traditional strategic planning. Click here to register free. Offer ends March 15.
Speaker: Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado and CEO of CalNonprofits
Board recruitment discussions usually start with the tired question, "Who do we know?" Instead, let's start with "What are the three most important things for the board to accomplish this year, and what kind of board members do we need in order to do so?" Tested successfully with hundreds of nonprofits, we'll also tackle some difficult questions such as whether and how to recruit people of different races or educational backgrounds, whether to have clients or parents (or other direct beneficiaries) on the board, and whether to have fundraising or donation requirements. Based on the tested and popular Blue Ribbon Nominating Committee technique. Click here to register free . . . through March 15 only.
Free "Gift of Learning" online courses from Cornerstone
UPDATE: We've reached 300+ participants, so the offer is now closed. Winning organizations will be contacted by April 1.
This was such a hit in the last Bonus Issue, we’re pleased to offer this again. And we’re grateful to Cornerstone to offer this once more to Blue Avocado readers and American Nonprofit members!
The Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation established the “Gift of Learning” program to over 40 classes of downloadable e-learning content -- such as leadership training, effective communication, project management, and desktop product tutorials -- to nonprofit professionals at no cost.
The Foundation is offering this to five individuals per organization...and 300 organizations will be selelcted to receive the access to the Gift of Learning library. How do you become eligible? The first 300 Blue Avocado readers that respond on March 15, 2013 (starting 9 am Pacific/12 noon Eastern) are eligble. Send an email to Blue Avocado's Susan Sanow at [address removed] with the subject line "Gift of Learning” will be awarded the opportunity to access thousands of courses. Your e-mail must include the following information:
• Your organization's name
• Nonprofit tax ID number: you must have U.S. 501(c)(3) status to qualify
• Name of the contact person, and contact person's e-mail address and phone number
Once we reach 300 interested organizations, this offer will expire.
If your organization is chosen to participate, you will receive an introductory email directly from the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation no later than March 29, 2013. Selected nonprofits will have access to the Gift of Learning for a three month period (April 1, 2013-July 1, 2013.)
(And if you were awarded the "Gift of Learning" last fall, please step aside and let another organization benefit!)
April 1? No Foolin'… It’s a Blue Avocado Contest!
As April Fool's Day approaches, we wonder what our best April Fool's joke news headlines would be for the nonprofit community. So give it a try. Submit your headline with a 2-to-3 sentence opening paragraph. Here is a sample to get you started:
AmeriCorps to Exclusively Serve Businesses in 2014 The AmeriCorps program announced that beginning in 2014, AmeriCorps Volunteers will only be placed in small for-profit businesses. While historically placed with nonprofits, it is clear that nonprofits are better managed and there is a greater need to support the small business community.
Submit your April 1 headline and 2-3 opening sentences to email@example.com. Use the subject line April Fool's. Send in your entry by Friday, March 22, 2013. You may be featured in our special April Fool's Day issue! What's in it for our top 10 favorite/funniest entries? You'll win a copy of Jan Masaoka’s book, The Nonprofit’s Guide to Human Resources. Good luck!
P.S. Don't forget that if you're a Blue Avocado subscriber, now that Blue Avocado is part of American Nonprofits, you're also now an American Nonprofits member!
There are true stories that wealthy people tell about housekeepers that have stolen from them, lied to them, and so on. And there are stories that housekeepers tell about employers who have cheated them, blamed them unfairly, and so on. Both kinds of stories are true but each carries a different sensibility. This article has a few stories from the domestic help, as it were. Unlike urban myths that 'happened to a friend of a friend,' every one of these happened directly to me.
There are three levels of exchange in the grantor-grantee relationship. First is the one-to-one interaction between two individuals, and that's the level this article addresses. More importantly, at another level are grantmaking practices, such as restrictions on proposals or the processes for applications. And the third is the relationship between the funding market as a whole, and the fund-seeking market as a whole. This article looks at the least important of these: the one-to-one interactions. We don't mean to suggest that these are less important than the other two levels. In fact, if these were the worst of grantseeking, it wouldn't be the subject of sore complaints. In any case, stories like the ones here are of the sort that are constantly swapped over drinks after nonprofit events; this article takes one person's experience and shares them more broadly:
1. The head of corporate grantmaking at a bank phoned me to let me know she had received our application for funding and to tell me the timeline for their response. She went on to tell me about a local chamber music group where she is on the board, and asked me to . . .
Jon Pratt of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits uses a tongue-in-cheek version of the familiar Salary Calculator model to comment trenchantly on the indiscriminate -- and not so indiscriminate –differences in how nonprofit staff get paid:
How much should you be paid for your nonprofit job?
What . . . you want to get PAID? You mean an actual salary, not just a stipend, and for a nonprofit job that is not solely volunteer? Don’t forget to factor in all of the psychic income you get knowing you are making the world a better place! After all, you are doing the Lord’s work, so your reward may not be in this life but in the next. Plus, there is the prestige and halo effect – that has to be worth something!
Even after taking these not inconsiderable intrinsic rewards into account, you might still wonder whether you are getting paid the right amount of actual money (probably not) or whether one of your co-workers is getting paid the right amount (probably too much). The following fourteen data points provide a "scientific" formula (created by someone with two advanced degrees, neither of them in a scientific field) that you can use to check your salary against cruel reality:
1. Start by entering your organization's total budget here: ____________
Then enter the . . .
Everyone talks about the weather, but how many of us actually know what a lenticular cloud is or what the dew point means? In the nonprofit sector we throw around tax opinions, but here's a chance to learn something (uh oh). We loved working with Kim Klein of "Talking About Taxes" on this fun quiz.
We advise you to take this 17-question quiz with your friends or co-workers before looking at the answer sheet. (Hint: it's easiest if you print out the Quiz.) At the end of this article is a link to a print-friendly pdf of the quiz, the answer sheet, and the scoring guide.
1. If you give a nonprofit 501(c)(3) $10,000, how much less will you pay in federal taxes (assuming you itemize and are in the highest tax bracket)?
d. $10,000, but only if you . . .
Whether kids sell cookies or help clean up a park, they are welcome volunteers. Just be sure you know the basics of how to protect them and your organization when it comes to liabilities (at the end of this article is a link to a sample waiver):
As a kid, I sorted food donations for Lithuanian refugees because my mother was a leader in the Seattle Lithuanian Community. I sold Camp Fire Girls' mints because, well, I had to. I interned at the Seattle Aquarium where I wore a badge that said, "Ask me! I know everything!" And I interned at Children’s Hospital because I hoped it would make my college applications look better.
But somewhere along the way, something must have clicked, because by the time I finished law school, I asked my corporate law firm employer, "Could you wait six months while I intern at Amnesty International?" And a few years later when I quit corporate law, the first thing I did was a volunteer internship at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.
If my experience is a guide, a childhood experience as a volunteer can lead to a lifelong commitment to giving back. And if kids are among your clients or constituents, then getting them involved is a natural. But you'll want to be sure you've got basic protections in place (I guess I haven’t completely shed my lawyer hat!).
We in nonprofits are good at taking on myths and sacred cows. But perhaps the least examined of these myths is the one about "going to scale." This OpEd takes a closer but brief look at the conventional wisdom in this area:
Myth #1: Nonprofits don't go to scale (get a lot bigger) because they lack the vision or the ambition
The reality here is that the dominant capital markets for nonprofits -- government and foundations -- actively work against nonprofit growth.
Regarding foundations, the common funding policy of "one smallish grant per organization per year" means increased volume doesn't lead to larger foundation grants. In fact, when nonprofits grow, many foundations become less interested in them. A commonly stated reason is "we want to feel where our size grant can really make a difference" . . . which often translates to: "we feel better funding organizations where we are one of their most important funders."
Government -- overall the biggest funder of nonprofits -- is not only the biggest engine for growth but also the biggest barrier to growth. Most community nonprofits . . .
More than half of the nonprofits in the United States are estimated to be all-volunteer organizations. Here is a wonderful, succinct guide for the 600,000 + treasurers of such organizations:
My time as treasurer of a faith-based nonprofit was a labor of love. Starting out as an all-volunteer organization with a $20,000 budget, we developed financial systems, workable budgets, and demonstrated accountability. We served families affected by incarceration and there's no greater personal reward than seeing people realize they have real hope for a better life. In just three years the budget grew to over $330,000.
However, there was stress as well. As a CPA I found myself the recipient of unnerving deference at times. I frequently fell short in communicating financial information to board and staff. But the outcomes made it all worthwhile.
This experience helps me appreciate one of the many unsung heroes of our time: the treasurer of the all-volunteer organization (AVO). AVOs are among the most important and most invisible building blocks of our communities. Members of all-volunteer organizations read to children, care for the dying, get clean water legislation passed, serve as . . .
Nonprofit board members are often puzzled when it comes to setting the salary of the executive director. On one hand, we want to keep our talented staff; on the other hand, we know the budget is tight. Some legal and practical guidelines:
It's maddening and ironic that the press focuses on the extremely rare cases of high salaries for nonprofit executives, when salaries in nonprofits are typically 20% - 40% less than their counterparts in foundations, local government, and the business sector. Mistaken public perception that nonprofit salaries are high has even led to New Jersey now limiting the amount of state funds that can be spent on nonprofit executive salaries.
But despite the press, community nonprofit boards are more frequently worried that they are paying their executives too little, a feeling shared by many executive directors themselves.
Unfortunately, survey data is often of little use, because of small sample sizes, samples weighted towards universities, and the reality that all surveys show enormous variation in salaries for nonprofits of the same fields and sizes. An example of the inconsistency of data: one recent national survey showed average executive director salary to be $60,000 while another reported $158,000.
"Under $50,000, people aren't going to move," says...