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Rockefeller Foundation and NY Times Win "Just Awards"

Other industries have their "Worst Dressed" awards, the "Golden Fleece" awards for public waste, and the Ig Nobel Prizes for dubious science-related achievements that "first make people laugh, then make them think." Until now, the nonprofit sector has lacked its own such award program. The new Just Awards have announced the "winners" for the first year's awards: one for Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector, and the other for Narcissism in Philanthropy.

Award for Abominable Press Coverage

For Abominable Press Coverage of the Nonprofit Sector, The Just Awards panel of judges chose Stephanie Strom's November, 2009 article in the New York Times: "Charities Rise, Costing U.S. Billions in Tax Breaks."

The article reported that the I.R.S. approved 99% of applications for charity status last year, and picked some easy targets to suggest that there are too many nonprofits, and that many or most of them are frivolous. The article asserts that the U.S. government lost $50 billion in taxes due to the amounts given to nonprofits . . . making the false assumptions that a) donations to the nonprofit sector would remain the same without the tax exemption, and b) the government could ignore the enormous financial impact of demand for services (such as emergency room visits) that would inevitably follow from fewer nonprofit programs. A better headline: "Charities Rise, Saving U.S. Billions." Furthermore, the article neglected to provide, as a basis for comparison, information on the many billions more in tax breaks provided to the private sector. The article can be found here.

In making the Award, the judges did praise the New York Times for covering the nonprofit sector, and Stephanie Strom as "generally a very good reporter." But judges felt this story was the "worst story of the year" and that its lack of research led to "bad journalism".

Award for Narcissism in Philanthropy

For the much-anticipated Narcissism in Philanthropy Award, the Just Awards panel of judges chose . . .

Eight Strategic Mistakes with Memberships

If you have members (whether those members fit the legal definition of member or not), chances are you're making at least one of these strategic mistakes identified by Ellis Robinson. With striking clarity she points the way not only to building your membership rolls, but to understanding your membership as your constituency:

There's always someone who says, "We need to increase our membership from 5,000 to 10,000 in the next three years." But too often nobody really knows what our target membership should be, and nobody really knows how to do "smart growth" in membership. Here are the eight strategic errors I see all the time in clients and the organizations to which I myself belong:

Strategic Mistake #1: Encouraging people to become members. This is a mistake because it's based on the idea that people . . .

Merging Nonprofit Voices into a Political Force

Robert Egger is mad [and so are we!] about the Supreme Court decision allowing corporations and unions -- but not nonprofits -- to spend unlimited monies on political campaigns. And he has some ideas about what to do about it:

For the last four years, I've been wondering what it would take to unite the nonprofit sector in America.

In 2007, at the start of the first Presidential election in almost 80 years in which there was no incumbent in the race, nonprofits could have used this competitive climate to develop a strategy that compelled all candidates to earn our collective votes. By pushing for a plan for America that included a defined role for our 1.4 million nonprofits, we could have repositioned the sector as a deep well of previously untapped, economic energy. We did not.

In 2008, when 29 states posted over $45 billion in deficits and legislators began to make deep budget cuts, the opportunity was again present. As funding for once sacrosanct programs -- from senior healthcare to education -- was slashed, nonprofits could have joined forces to ensure that vital services and critical needs were met. We remained divided.

And in 2009, when state budget deficits exploded by over 300% and lawmakers began to explore taxing the property of nonprofits or imposing other cash generating fees, I eagerly awaited the moment when enlightened self-interest would spur a sorely-needed, strategic dialogue among organizations in every community. It never came.

And now this: two weeks ago, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, which granted political free-speech rights to corporations and unions, but excluded groups granted 501 (c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service. This means . . .

Nonprofit Research that Gets to the Heart

We often suspect there's more useful nonprofit research than we can stand reading. For Valentine's Day the research librarians at IssueLab compare love and nonprofit research, finding unusually seductive research reports and blowing kisses where deserved:

Think about it: the folks producing nonprofit research aren't just talking about social problems, these are folks who are working to solve social problems! Their research is up-close, on-the-ground, and written expressly to move our collective thinking forward on some of the toughest social issues. No wonder "we heart nonprofit research" all year long, not just on Valentine's Day.

Sure, the nonprofit sector produces its fair share of incomprehensible and rarefied white papers -- but is there any research out there that can be truly loved?

Here we dangle in front of you a selection of work from the IssueLab collection to tempt you to dig deeper into the heart-shaped box of research on our site:

Certificates of merit for explaining a complex issue in a single glance:

Teach for America: Icon with Feet of Clay?

Why does Teach for America (TFA) attract so much adulatory praise, so much vitriolic criticism, so much government and foundation money, and so much jealousy/resentment from other nonprofits? And did we mention so much money? Held up as the exemplar of social innovation and civic engagement, the TFA model merits closer attention as to what it really means for public education, to the nonprofit sector, and to society at large. TFA's positive press is so well known that this article focuses on the less-heard concerns and questions about the model:

It's hard to imagine a nonprofit entity that encapsulates the emerging definition of social innovation more than the Teach for America juggernaut. Founded in 1990 by young Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp, TFA now needs no introduction; it has nearly the same brand recognition enjoyed by nonprofits like the United Way and American Red Cross. But as the nation moves toward defining social innovation and handing over the federal Social Innovation Program to private foundations, it cannot hurt to recognize TFA and other vaunted models for what they are:

Nonprofit Self-Esteem Crisis

Jonathan Spack is mad. He's mad about fallacies that he sees the nonprofit sector as having internalized -- fallacies that contribute both to poor management and to poor self-esteem. Here is his First Person Nonprofit Rant.

Our sector suffers from a chronic self-esteem deficiency. For most Americans, personal wealth is the primary measure of social status. If you've had financial success it must be because you're smart. This social Darwinism carries over to nonprofit organizations, too, morphing into a kind of sectoral Darwinism. As a result, many people-- both inside and outside the nonprofit world - see our sector as being of secondary value and importance compared to the (for-profit) business sector.

The pervasiveness of this sectoral inferiority complex leads to some widely-held beliefs and practices that I consider harmful to our work, and self-destructive when they are inwardly focused. Here are a few that really get me going:

1. "It's a lot easier to run a nonprofit than a regular business."

The reality is that nonprofit leaders must . . .

Diversity & the Nonprofit Ecosystem: Part 2 in the 3-Part Diversity Series

In the last issue of Blue Avocado, we discussed four key arguments for diversity on nonprofit boards -- reasons of mission, business, corporate responsibility and definition. This article -- Part 2 of 3 on nonprofit diversity -- looks more broadly at how diversity is understood for the nonprofit sector as a whole. Here we speak especially to foundations, consultants, capacity builders, and observers of the nonprofit sector.

At a recent session on diversity at a national conference, most of the discussion circled around the issue of the relatively few people of color on the staff and boards of mainstream nonprofit organizations and foundations. But despite the worthy goals of the participants to diversify such organizations, one important outlook was notably absent.

Disappointingly, conference participants lacked a vision of diversity in the nonprofit sector as a whole, rather than simply within a given organization. The nonprofit sector is a highly interdependent system and demands a whole-sector approach to . . .

Amaze Your Friends with these Nonprofit Factoids

When we believe something to be true but don't have the data to support that idea, what happens when we do find the hard evidence? Two things: either we find out we were wrong after all or . . . we were right and now we have the facts to put into a grant proposal.

Rick Cohen mined metric tons of data to bring us some newly published, meaningful facts about the nonprofit sector that we should be aware of . . . and use.

1. It's official: we're underpaid.

Nonprofit managers make $34.24/hour on average, compared with $36.18 in comparable state government positions, $39.75 in federal government, and $41.86 in private sector positions, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Compensation Survey. Office and administrative support staff in the nonprofit sector also come up short: average hourly earnings of $15.46 compared to $15.53 in the for-profit sector, $15.92 in state government, and $16.76 in local government. On the other hand, the relative gap among positions is smaller in our sector. So . . . should we be demanding more from our funders -- not because we're greedy but for the sustainability of our work?

2. Maybe I should look for a job in local government: Nonprofit human services workers are paid about the same as in the for-profit sector, but considerably less than in government. So . . . With so much of nonprofit human services supported by government money, why don't government contracts . . .


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