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
Dear Rita: I am the executive director of a nonprofit with 15 employees. We have never been able to afford to provide health insurance benefits for our staff. I'm confused about our obligations under the Affordable Healthcare Act. I heard that employers have to pay a "penalty" if they do not provide healthcare to their employees, but frankly I don’t think we can afford it. Signed, Sick with Worry
Dear Sick with Worry: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, Obamacare, or the "Act") has several provisions designed to help small businesses afford healthcare coverage for their employees. The Act does not mandate or require all companies to provide insurance, but . . .
You may have heard of the Dual Bottom Line: the idea that strategic choices must serve both mission impact and financial viability. But how do you turn this idea into a quantitative decision-making tool? Blue Avocado columnist Steve Zimmerman summarizes the Matrix Map approach in part one of this two-part article adapted from the book he co-wrote with Jeanne Bell and Jan Masaoka: Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Choices for Financial Viability.
It's easy to embrace the concept of the Dual Bottom Line, but harder to apply it in a real-world board setting. For example, board members -- and many staff -- are seldom familiar with all of the programs and activities of the organization. While there may be a strong sense that "all our programs are great," there may not have been any discussion about which programs are, in fact, those with the greatest or most important impacts. Even people with financial expertise may feel uncertain about how to make decisions that are more nuanced than "stick to the budget and at least break even."
Board meetings unintentionally support this kind of fragmentation. They take each subject on its own: first the financial report, then the program report, and then the fundraising report. The Matrix Map aims to change that.
The Matrix Map is a visual tool that plots all . . .
When nonprofit executive directors say they want their boards to be more "engaged," they often really mean they want the board to have a lively discussion followed by a vote to agree with the executive director. If you're a CEO and want a weak, compliant board, try these tips:
1. Give board members too much information. One board member we know just received a board packet 1,400 pages long: almost three reams of paper! Bonus: you can complain that they never read the packet and if at any time someone claims they weren't informed of something, you can say in a very tired voice, "It was in the board materials last year."
2. Give board members very nice presents and perks. One new CEO was annoyed by the board's rambunctiousness . . .
American Nonprofits and Blue Avocado want to learn more about the backgrounds, experiences, joys and frustrations of being in nonprofit finance. If you have responsibilities for the accounting and finance of a nonprofit -- regardless of your position -- please take a few minutes and help with this survey.
Pass this along to your finance friends (CFOs, accountants, board treasurer, and so forth) . . . and stay tuned for the study results! Click here to start the survey. Thank you!
Blue Avocado's humor columnist Vu Le dreams about restricted funding for cakes:
For the past few months one of our staff has an eye that's been twitching. "It's this grant!" she says. "It's for our after-school program. It pays for instructors' teaching time, but not their planning time! How can they teach when they can't plan?! How? How?!"
"Psst," I whispered, "Let's talk in the conference room. "Since the staff is so dedicated, they will plan anyway even without getting paid,” -- I paused, looking around -- "Why don't you just increase their hourly wages?"
"This grant capped the hourly wage, so I can't pay them more. The other grant might pay for planning time, but they don't pay for employer taxes!" She started pulling at her hair, and both of us collapsed on the floor, weeping and beating our chests in anguish and . . .
Sure, timing is everything! Feeling stressed and wondering what you've done the last few hours? Take a couple of minutes and enjoy these fun photos where the photographer happened to catch exactly the right moment on film. This is proof. Spend the next three minutes looking at those that got it just right. You could use a smile and a moment of amazement.