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this issue you'll find a First Person Nonprofit story: "From Black Panther to Nonprofit CFO," along with Ask Rita on outdated job descriptions, "Unraveling the Elements of 'Impact,'" humor from the esteemed Vu Le, and two Board Cafe articles: one on the "Very Good but Very Flawed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

From Black Panther to Nonprofit CFO

Norma Mtume is my hero. As a college student she joined the Black Panther Party and went on to serve as director of the Alprentice Bunchy Carter and the George Jackson People's Free Medical Clinics. She also co-founded a nonprofit in a broken-down trailer in Los Angeles -- SHIELDS for Families -- and as CFO/COO for 24 years helped grow it into a $28 million, multi-service nonprofit rooted in an African American and Latino community of South Los Angeles. We are very lucky that she has shared her inspiring history and story with all of us:

Norma, how did you wind your way towards becoming a nonprofit CFO?

Well, just a week after I graduated from high school I started at Cal State LA as a physical education major with a minor in mathematics, and was working on a teaching credential. As a South Central L.A. girl, I was going to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and didn't realize until later that I didn't have any boots! I attended classes there for two years before I dropped out, got married and had kids, and, later, decided I wanted to be a revolutionary . . .

The Definitive Nonprofit Board Book: Index (humor)

While the complete manuscript of this book on nonprofit boards were lost in a swamp, the title and index were salvaged for posterity:

Book title: Strategic, Transformative Expertise-based Roles Emerging Out of Thoughtful Year-round Paradigm Evolution (STEREOTYPE)


Advice to nonprofit boards, list of published books, 825 - 940
Agriculture, slash-and-burn, similarity to board agendas, 715
Blue Avocado, as best resource for nonprofits in world history, 1
Boardsource, "oil spill incident," 145
Carver, John, why boards shouldn't fundraise, 115 - 119
Carver, John, changing mind to boards should fundraise, 120
Deadwood on boards, compared to driftwood and petrified wood, 224
Diversity, see "Ways to Avoid Mentioning Race," 741
Executive directors' complaints about boards, 43 - 119, 875
Executive directors' complaints about funders, 18 - 65, 94 -123
Executive directors' complaints about staff, 119 - 260, 340
Foundations, how much to pay foundation board members, 415 - 417
Furniture, how "board president" became "board chair," xiv
Gum, Wrigley's vs. Orbit, 76
Major donor, see "Crazy Board Member You Can't Get Rid Of"
Minutes, the Corinthian Logic Model Approach, 675
Nominating Committee, research on why this committee is the most likely not to have done anything since the last board meeting, 15
One hundred percent board giving and other myths, 91
Qualifications for becoming consultant to nonprofit boards [Editor's note to indexer: why isn't there anything in this chapter?]
Reasons given by executives why board members should pay more attention to oversight of the executive, 21 (actually only one paragraph on page 21)
Sample RFPs for hiring consultant to tell board to raise money, 433 - 501
Seconding the motion, most popular board member action, 178
Vodka, second in popularity as beverage preferred by executive directors after board meetings, 903
Zzzzzzz, frequency of being heard in board meetings, 84

Untangling the Elements of Impact

"Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed to be undecided about them," said Laurence Peter. Sometimes nonprofit "impact" can feel like one of these complex issues. Blue Avocado columnist Steve Zimmerman helps us out with an excerpt adapted from his new book, The Sustainability Mindset: Using the Matrix Map to Make Strategic Decisions. (co-authored with Jeanne Bell):

Nonprofit sustainability lies in making ongoing strategic decisions that account for both mission impact and financial viability. In Blue Avocado we've written about using the Matrix Map to visually illustrate how an organization’s programs work together to meet this dual bottom line. But coming to a shared understanding of "impact" is difficult, and assessing impact requires candid conversations that happen too rarely but can be very powerful.

In this article we untangle -- or unpack -- the various strands of meaning that combine into impact. In particular, it's useful to distinguish between impact assessment and program evaluation . . .

The Very Good but Seriously Flawed Executive Director

No executive director has all gifts, and many are brilliant. But what about the nonprofit CEO who is terrific in some ways but whose strengths are matched with some troubling flaws as well?

It's uncomfortable to be a board member when you have such a CEO. On one hand, it's exciting to be around her vision and her energy, and it's inspiring to see the work that is getting done. On the other hand, maybe the CEO has a blindspot for finance, and you're worried that financial problems may be leading up to a crisis. Or perhaps the executive is wonderful with staff, but he doesn't seem to be building connections with partners and funders.

Sometimes there's nothing really wrong with an executive director, but nothing really right, either . . .

Outdated Job Description May be Getting Us in Trouble

Dear Rita: Help! I'm the executive director of a nonprofit with 35 employees. Recently, one of our employees said he can't drive anymore due to vision problems. It's his job to drive to different client sites to provide training . . . we serve a rural community without much public transit. I looked at his job description -- which is outdated -- and it says nothing about driving! I can't believe it isn't listed there, but it's clearly part of his job and necessary to reach our clients. I know the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) says that employees must be able to do the essential functions of the job, but we never put driving into his job description. Now what do we do? Signed, Wish I Had a Time Machine

Dear Wish I Had a Time Machine: This sounds like a frustrating learning opportunity. Like you, many employers would often do things differently if they could go back in time, since managing employee disabilities is a huge area of risk, yet rarely clear-cut.

First let's talk about what you can do so that in the future you won't have a thorny situation in front of us as you do now. Then we'll talk about what to do given the old job description in place . . .

Mediocrity Starts with ME (humor)

After being in this sector for over a decade, I can say that nonprofit professionals are some of the most awesome people on earth. We are smart, talented, dedicated, passionate, caring, humble, witty, cool, and hilarious. Also, we are really good-looking and are great dressers. Let's see someone from the corporate sector rock that $6.99 button-down shirt from Ross, Dress for Less (originally $13.99).

But we are burning out, you guys. Our natural good looks are obscured by stress-induced wrinkles, grey hair, and maybe one eye that twitches uncontrollably during staff meetings. The work never stops; our organizations are understaffed, and people's lives depend on our actions and decisions. We work in the evenings, on the weekends, and skip vacations. And when we're on vacation, we check our emails because we know if we ignore them they will start multiplying like hipsters.

It is a brutal cycle that leads to many of us leaving the sector to make jewelry that is then sold at farmers' markets. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, despite the fact that the world needs more necklaces made out of beach glass and . . .