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The rich deliciousness of Blue Avocado . . . in-depth stories that give you the inside scoop.

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 . . .

Six Ways to Know If It's Time to Leave

Are you tired, a bit listless? Maybe the demands of the job seem ever more burdensome, or the board seems increasingly dissatisfied, or the retirement clock is ticking. Do you need more than a megavitamin? Even better is this advice from Tim Wolfred, a pioneer and leader in the field of nonprofit executive transitions, as he helps executives weigh both the organization's needs, and the needs of their own heart:

Executive directors don't have term limits. Although some executives are fired or forced out by boards, most executives make the determination themselves of when and how to leave. Like other life decisions, it takes awhile to come to the decision to leave, or arrive at the decsion to stay.

So how can you tell if it's time to leave? Based on research and consulting with hundreds of nonprofit executives struggling with this question, we've developed six indicators -- each with some follow-up steps -- to help you with your thinking process.

Do one or more of these statements resonate with you?

1. I keep returning to this thought: the organization needs to go in a new direction (or to a new level) and I'm not the right person for it.

This is the most common reason given by executive directors who have . . .

Alcoholics Anonymous vs. Best Practices

This article about Alcoholics Anonymous is not about how they help alcoholics, but reviews their unusual management and organizational practices, which fly in the face of much conventional wisdom about what good nonprofit management looks like. As part of our Blue Avocado philosophy of challenging assumptions, let this article stimulate your thinking about your own assumptions.

What U.S. nonprofit do you know that has more than one million members, more than 55,000 local chapters, elects its leaders, and does no advertising or fundraising?

Answer: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA may be the largest and least visible nonprofit organization serving your community. Within just a few miles of Silicon Valley where this writer lives, there are 115 meetings per week. In Humboldt County -- a rural area of California with a population of only 130,000 -- there are 174 weekly meetings! And these numbers are replicated across the globe.

AA's twelve-step philosophy and meeting structures are well known to much of the public. This article touches briefly on some of the lesser-known organizational aspects of . . .

Top Ten Questions from Jobseekers . . . Answered!

Search consultant and volunteer leader Sally Carlson does executive-level searches for both nonprofit and for-profit companies. Sally is known for her straight shooting style: no fluff, no coddling. We asked her to tell us something different about how to find a nonprofit job right now:

Question #1: Are there any jobs out there for someone with my background?

Sally: As a search consultant, I speak to a lot of people looking for jobs; this is one of the most common questions from people seeking both for-profit jobs and nonprofit jobs. The answer is: Yes. And there are people currently in them.

So in this economic environment, your opportunity will be based on . . .

A Nonprofit Dashboard and Signal Light for Boards

(If you have trouble seeing the graphics in this article, you can download a PDF free here.)

The dashboard in a car gives an instant update on many important factors: speed, gas left in the tank, engine temperature, whether the air conditioner is on. If your dashboard isn't working, it's unnerving and upsetting. But at the same time, when it IS working, you glance at it from time to time but you don't look at it constantly.

A nonprofit dashboard is similar: it gives important information to decision makers such as executives and boards in a quick-read way. But a dashboard has limitations: it doesn't tell you if you're taking the right road to Chicago, or more importantly, whether you should be going to Chicago at all!

The idea of making data -- especially financial data -- easily readable for board members is not a new one. Building on that basic idea, we've added two critical features: