How is a Potato Like a Nonprofit? editor notes issue #91

Take a good look at a potato. Imagine trying to understand a potato. You can examine it, read about it, read an evaluation of it, and yet fail to get even a glimpse into a potato. To understand a potato, you have to get your hands dirty (literally) and make it into french fries, mashed potatoes, latkes, potato chips, potato salad, or this editor's favorite, hash browns.

In other words, you can't understand a potato without getting inside it and changing it. And how did you learn to understand nonprofits?

This issue: report from the 900-respondent study of nonprofit CFOs, how to hold a meeting via conference call, contest winners, volunteer insurance, humor columnist Vu Le (yay!) and Nonprofit Conference Call Bingo. Have a great autumn. Oh, and Susan Sanow -- Blue Avocado's project manager -- and I love hearing from so many of you. --Jan Masaoka

Crowdfunding is the New Donation . . . editor notes issue #89

One of the benefits of being a nonprofit, muses Jon Pratt, is that we have an unlimited supply of free advice from people in business, government, and philanthropy. Recently that advice has included many exhortations to raise money via Twitter and through crowdfunding.

Here's the amazing thing: we nonprofits are already experts at crowdsourcing! We've been doing it for decades! The sobering thing: we've been calling it fundraising.

As many of you know, my day job (actually my 24/6 job) is as CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits (CalNonprofits). A CalNonprofits member just suggested that we use crowdfunding to help us "raise hell." After an initial "love the idea!" lightbulb, I realized that everyone who is a CalNonprofits member is already participating in crowdfunding us to raise hell: that's exactly one of the collective benefits of membership. And then I realized that annual campaigns, special events, direct mail, phone-a-thons, raffles, and candy bar sales are all types of crowdfunding . . . that is, ways for many people to contribute towards raising hell and making change.

Every generation re-invents the nonprofit sector, and renames everything. Let's embrace our changing sector, but remember how much we already know how to do well.

(Feel like crowdfunding Blue Avocado? Click here!)

* This issue: Extreme Board Makeover, Office Bullies, Advice on Managing Your Charity Navigator Rating, a Humor Column Point of Vu, and more. Stay cool, friends.

Happy 88th Birthday, Blue Avocado! . . . editor notes issue #88

In Japanese and Chinese traditions, 88 is an important number signifying long life. So in this issue we are celebrating 88 issues of Blue Avocado. Kampai! Cheers!

Blue Avocado started as Board Cafe, a term we still use for our column about nonprofit boards. Board Cafe began at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services as a fax newsletter kept to a strict 2 pages. As subscriptions grew, we were eventually running the computer all night long for a week e-faxing the issue to a few thousand subscribers.

Today we have a website (just being invented when we started Board Cafe!) and more than 64,000 subscribers. Not only that, but not a single one of them receives Blue Avocado by fax. :)

We believe that nonprofits are more than providers of human services and arts performances. Nonprofits are instruments of democracy, and brokers of power for disadvantaged communities, and we have more to teach for-profits and government about efficiency and innovation than the other way around. This is a framework out of sync with the management and metrics approach to nonprofits, but it is 100% of what we are about.

In Japan, on one's 88th birthday a person gives mochi (rice cakes) to friends. To celebrate our 88th issue, we suggest you have rice and avocado in a California sushi roll! And to the right is a Japanese envelope especially made for giving money to people on their 88th birthdays . . . click on the envelope to make a donation to Blue Avocado?

* Also in this issue: a valuable free online course about fundraising from Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation, an overview of the charity raters, the Matrix Map Part II, Ask Rita on performance reviews, and some unexpected tips on getting to 100% board giving. Enjoy! -- Jan Masaoka

We're Just Souls Whose Intentions are Good . . . editor notes issue #87

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

Is it April 1 Yet? Blue Avocado #86

At Blue Avocado, it's April 1 and we're thinking about changing our name: help us decide! One possibility is the Blue Avocado Foundation, which would allow us to receive the sucking-up of hundreds of nonprofits every day. We would declare ourselves in strategic planning mode for three years, during which we could debate "outcome" vs. "impact," and "marginalized" vs. "disadvantaged." (As a regular nonprofit, we could never have considered suspending operations for long periods of time in order to plan.)

Alternatively, we're considering Church of the Blue Avocado, which would mean we can skip Form 990, report nothing to anyone about anything, and still keep our tax-exempt status. And design some gorgeous choir robes, too. Whaddya think, readers?

There's other great news in April for nonprofits. Read on. --Jan Masaoka

Obama Administration Hires Senior Official Not from the Gates Foundation
Submitted by Michael Edwards

In a move that sent shock waves

through Washington and the Gates Foundation, President Obama has appointed 55-year-old Dolores Pinata to head a new blue-ribbon Commission on the Future of Philanthropy. Pinata, a 30-year veteran of community organizing in Arizona, was selected ahead of the favorite for the post, 19-year-old Josh McKinsey, an intern at the Gates Foundation.

New Law To Require Nonprofit CEOs to Carry Handguns
Submitted by Penny Eardley, Executive Director, San Francisco Public Health Foundation

Both houses of Congress passed the Charity Required Arms Protection (CRAP) Act, legislation which preserves nonprofit organizations' 501(c)3 tax-exempt status only as long as the CEO and all board members of the charity agree to carry handguns at all times. "Arming our charitable executives will go a long way to ensuring safety in our nation's workplace," said the bill's sponsor, Citizens for CRAP, a bipartisan special interest group.

Flexible Straws for the Sick Sucks
Submitted by Lee Kaplan, Founder and Executive Director, ViewPoint Peer Counseling, Cameron Park, California

Flexible Straws for the Sick, a New York-based nonprofit has a serious problem. When the organization gave 2,000 flexible straws to people with the flu, they intended to serve all in need. The supply of chicken soup did not last. Now there are over 500 sick people with just flexible straws for relief.

Nonprofits Begin "Too Small to Fail" Movement
Submitted by Dan Lozier, Pastor, Mayflower, Sioux City, Iowa

Nonprofit advocates picketed the White House on Monday with 3x5 cards saying "Too Little to Fail". "Yes, there are big nonprofits as well as small ones," declared nonprofit leader Shelby Long. "We are too little to fail, especially the children's charities," added the ghost of Danny Thomas.

Conflict Resolution Nonprofit Finds New Revenue Stream
Sumibtted by Leanne Jaskowiak, Peacemaker Resources, Bemidji, Minnesota

The staff of Peacemaker Resources will be fanning out on April 1, 2013 to create conflicts in retail stores, restaurants, school offices, law enforcement agencies and elsewhere. All requests for mediation arising from conflicts created on April 1 will receive a 35% discount from the Peacemaker Resources.

Pope-A-Palooza and Tom's Shoes
Submitted by Sara Sternberger, Executive Director, Bridging, Twin Cities, Minnesota

During the month of April, for every pair of red loafers purchased from Tom's Shoes, another pair will be donated to the new Pope. "This is just another way that Pope Francis can reach out to the masses while supporting a good cause," said a Vatican spokesperson.

Supreme Court Bows to Facebook

"I was convinced by all those red equal signs on Facebook," said swing voter Supreme Court Justice Kennedy. "How could I vote against same-sex marriage given those?" he asked. The Court appeared deadlocked, though, on whether the national dance should be Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake.

***********

Congratulations to Blue Avocado readers for submitting items for this special April Fool's Day issue: Penny Eardley, Cathy Enright, Michael Edwards, Leslie Garvin, Leanne Jaskowiak, Lee Kaplan, Dan Lozier, Sarah Martinez-Helfman and Sara Sternberger. Your books are on the way!

Who picked the winners, anyway? Thanks to our judges Siobhan Kelley of the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group (and part of the Ask Rita team), Blue Avocado humor columnist Vu Le, and Blue Avocado project manager Susan Sanow. They know April Fool's Day funny when they see it!

NEXT ISSUE: Our next "regular" issue comes out next week . . . keep your eye out for What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Healthcare Reform, Have Your Cake and Restrict It Too, Matrix Map for Financial Sustainability, and more. JM

At Blue Avocado, it's April 1 and we're thinking about changing our name: help us decide! One possibility is the Blue Avocado Foundation, which would allow us to receive the sucking-up of hundreds of nonprofits every day. We would declare ourselves in strategic planning mode for three years, during which we could debate "outcome" vs. "impact," and "marginalized" vs. "disadvantaged." (As a regular nonprofit, we could never have considered suspending operations for long periods of time in order to plan.)

Alternatively, we're considering Church of the Blue Avocado, which would mean we can skip Form 990, report nothing to anyone about anything, and still keep our tax-exempt status. And design some gorgeous choir robes, too. Whaddya think, readers?

There's other great news in April for nonprofits. Read on. --Jan Masaoka

Obama Administration Hires Senior Official Not from the Gates Foundation
Submitted by Michael Edwards

In a move that sent shock waves through Washington and the Gates Foundation, President Obama has appointed 55-year-old Dolores Pinata to head a new blue-ribbon Commission on the Future of Philanthropy. Pinata, a 30-year veteran of community organizing in Arizona, was selected ahead of the favorite for the post, 19-year-old Josh McKinsey, an intern at the Gates Foundation.

New Law To Require Nonprofit CEOs to Carry Handguns
Submitted by Penny Eardley, Executive Director, San Francisco Public Health Foundation

Both houses of Congress passed the Charity Required Arms Protection (CRAP) Act, legislation which preserves nonprofit organizations' 501(c)3 tax-exempt status only as long as the CEO and all board members of the charity agree to carry handguns at all times. "Arming our charitable executives will go a long way to ensuring safety in our nation's workplace," said the bill's sponsors, Citizens for CRAP, a bipartisan special interest group.

Flexible Straws for the Sick Sucks
Submitted by Lee Kaplan, Founder and Executive Director, ViewPoint Peer Counseling, Cameron Park, California

Flexible Straws for the Sick, a New York-based nonprofit, has a serious problem. When the organization gave 2,000 flexible straws to people with the flu, they intended to serve all in need. The supply of chicken soup did not last. Now there are over 500 sick people with just flexible straws for relief.

Nonprofits Begin "Too Small to Fail" Movement
Submitted by Dan Lozier, Pastor, Mayflower, Sioux City, Iowa

Nonprofit advocates picketed the White House on Monday with 3x5 cards saying "Too Little to Fail". "Yes, there are big nonprofits as well as small ones," declared nonprofit leader Shelby Long. "We are too little to fail, especially the children's charities," added the ghost of Danny Thomas.

Conflict Resolution Nonprofit Finds New Revenue Stream
Sumibtted by Leanne Jaskowiak, Peacemaker Resources, Bemidji, Minnesota

The staff of Peacemaker Resources will be fanning out on April 1, 2013 to create conflicts in retail stores, restaurants, school offices, law enforcement agencies and elsewhere. All requests for mediation arising from conflicts created on April 1 will receive a 35% discount from the Peacemaker Resources.

Pope-A-Palooza and Tom's Shoes
Submitted by Sara Sternberger, Executive Director, Bridging, Twin Cities, Minnesota

During the month of April, for every pair of red loafers purchased from Tom's Shoes, another pair will be donated to the new Pope. "This is just another way that Pope Francis can reach out to the masses while supporting a good cause," said a Vatican spokesperson.

Supreme Court bows to Facebook

"I was convinced by all those red equal signs on Facebook," said swing voter Supreme Court Justice Kennedy. "How could I vote against same-sex marriage given those?" he asked. The Court appeared deadlocked, though, on whether the national dance should be Gangnam Style or Harlem Shake.

***********

Congratulations to Blue Avocado readers for submitting the winning items for this special April Fool's Day issue: Penny Eardley, Cathy Enright, Michael Edwards, Leslie Garvin, Leanne Jaskowiak, Lee Kaplan, Dan Lozier, Sarah Martinez-Helfman and Sara Sternberger. Your books are on the way! And for the dozens of others who submitted . . . better luck next contest.

Who picked the winners, anyway? Thanks to our judges Siobhan Kelley of the Nonprofit Insurance Alliance Group (and part of the Ask Rita team), Blue Avocado humor columnist Vu Le and Blue Avocado project manager Susan Sanow. They know April Fool's Day funny when they see it!

NEXT ISSUE: Our next "regular" issue comes out next week . . . keep your eye out for What Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Healthcare Reform, Have Your Cake and Restrict It Too, Matrix Map for Financial Sustainability, and more. JM

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.

Why?

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

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