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

Too Many Nonprofits? Yes! Clueless in Seattle

Elizabeth (Liz) Heath founded and directs the Nonprofit Center in Tacoma, Washington, which serves the South Puget Sound region, and is membership co-chair for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, a national professional organization. Last year Liz hosted and produced "Reaching Out," a community television program featuring local nonprofits.

On the way to work this morning I saw a liquidation sale sign in the window of one of my neighborhood coffee shops. This triggered my thinking about the impact of the economic challenges on the nonprofit sector.

This coffee shop has been there for about three years. When they opened I wondered what kind of business planning they had done. A block away is a Starbucks with fantastic staff members who make a point of connecting with their customers. And one more block to the south is an upscale, locally owned market with a great coffee shop. They also have a loyal following.

I live south of Seattle, so three coffee shops in a two-block area might seem to . . .

The Car Donation Controversy and the Right Way to Donate Your Car

Why is there a slightly sleazy vibe around car donations? Could it be the tacky, misleading-sounding billboards posted around town? As one example to the left, the "Outreach Center" (see news report) is reportedly a for-profit car liquidation firm (registered as a church) that receives thousands of cars a month, sells them (often for scrap), and gives a fraction of what it earns to nonprofits.

Five years ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) set forth helpful new regulations to guide car donations after Congress grew concerned about abuses of this practice. Let's take a quick look at abuses and the new regulations, with some tips on how you can donate your old car, and how to solicit and make use of a few great car donations a year.

Why regulators are watching

Right now my 1998 Honda Odyssey sits in front of my house with 167,000 miles on it and about that many nicks, still running great. The dealership where I was shopping for a new car offered an insulting $100 for it. Before 2005, if I had . . .

The 411 on Starting a Car Donation Program

Does your radio station advertise for car donations? Blue Avocado reader Eric Haynes knows all about it - his Kansas City nonprofit accepts car donations and he's here with the inside story and how - surprisingly - to make it work on a modest scale for you:

Do you remember your first car? As I approached my 16th birthday, I daydreamed about the hot rod that would rocket me to the top of the high school social order, and rock my nights with its hi-fi stereo system.

My dad, on the other hand, had no consideration for my social status - he found me a rusting station wagon! I nearly gagged at the sight of the oversized nerdmobile.

Families greet their teenager's first car with excitement and trepidation; nonprofit people receiving their group's first donated car often feel much the same way.

While there are the large, national organizations that liquidate thousands of

Will Obamaniacs Change Nonprofits?

We nonprofit people run the gamut from those who follow every nuance of every policy battle to those who shun the world of politics, preferring to concentrate on the immediate tasks presented by the organizations we serve.

Torie Osborn of Los Angeles, with a decades-long history of working in community groups, is all about applying the energy and skills developed in the Obama campaign to breathe new life into nonprofits. Below you'll hear a different perspective from Carol Stone in George W. Bush's Legacy: A Dramatic Increase in Volunteer Spirit.

We're excited to share these two First Person Nonprofit perspectives with Blue Avocado readers, and look forward to your comments on both. First, here's Torie:

Our new Community-Organizer-in-Chief-elect has big plans for me and the 789,999 other California Obama volunteers from his campaign. First we got that short, sweet email signed simply "Barack," thanking us for our active duty in the Obama army for change. (PRINT!). Then, he asked us to help retire the Democratic National Committee debt (DELETE!), and, then, to help fight the terrifying fires that were

Too Many Nonprofits? No -- There Aren't Enough Good Nonprofits

While Jan Masaoka was executive director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, the organization completed two mergers, rejected four merger offers, and was rejected by the other party in two other merger explorations. In addition to consulting to many nonprofit mergers, she co-authored The M Word: A Board Member's Guide to Nonprofit Mergers, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Blue Avocado.

My response to the rhetorical question, "Are there too many nonprofits?" is: Actually, there are not enough good nonprofits.

Some people in our sector are indignant that there are too many nonprofits. They sound like an established Italian restaurant owner complaining that there are too many new Italian restaurants, or a plumber complaining that it's too easy to become a plumber nowadays. The frustration with competition is completely understandable, but we need to be careful that we don't inadvertently feed bad practices as a result.

Certainly nonprofit mergers often make sense in the right situations. At the same

Succeeding With - or Maybe in Spite of - Evidence-Based Practices

We understand the reasoning that allows funding only for proven, evidence-based practices. But too often this requirement has become a club battering community nonprofits. Evaluator Clare Nolan explains how to do your best work in the evidence-based minefield:

Safer sex can be a life and death issue. And many nonprofits make safer sex education the centerpiece of their work. But how do they know whether what they're teaching is working - that lives are being saved?

A San Francisco Tenderloin neighborhood had a safer sex education program modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). But their own expertise with their population led them to want to change the model. That's why they asked me to design a program evaluation -- to see if the model could be changed.

Their education approach was modeled after a "proven" intervention being promoted by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). As part of my background research, I was surprised to learn that the intervention was first shown to be effective among a primarily gay white population in a small Southern city. Would this intervention really be successful at reducing HIV risk behaviors among residents of a diverse urban neighborhood struggling with poverty, homelessness and crime?

This situation reflects a broader trend in the nonprofit sector in which funders encourage and sometimes require nonprofits to use "evidence-based" practices and models. Evidence-based practices (EBPs) are strategies that have been shown through rigorous research to be effective. The premise sounds great. If there's strong evidence that something works, nonprofits should use it, right?

Not so fast. Models and practices with positive track records are a potentially

A Steep Road Ahead for Immigration Volunteers?

In 2006, millions of protesters - many of them young people - poured into the streets of small and large cities to call for immigration reform. The huge mass actions, however, seem to have faded as quickly as they erupted.

But the issues that prompted the 2006 protests remain: federal policies stand unchanged. And the national debate about immigration has become a largely unmentioned elephant in the race for president. In this report, we discover what groups are now doing and thinking about immigration.

In Postville, Iowa, scores of volunteers coordinated by a local church tried to tend to emergency needs when hundreds of immigrant workers were detained in May. What may have been the largest immigration raid in Iowa

Community Nonprofits: Katrina's Unsung Heroes Still on the Job

Three years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, we hear about changes and challenges in New Orleans, but know little of the aftermath of Katrina in Mississippi even though the storm touched virtually the entire state.

Mississippi community nonprofits have seized this improbable moment to rebuild a more engaged and equitable state. Anne Pasmanick spoke to nonprofit leaders along the coast to bring Blue Avocado readers the largely hidden story of their efforts to use the region's recovery as a stepping stone to lasting social change.

"This disaster has woken us up in Mississippi," says Derrick Johnson, state president of the NAACP. "This is our one chance to sit down with all the decision makers and say what our needs and dreams are."

Profound challenges will dog the region for years to come. But in the aftermath of both the natural and the man-made devastation, the Mississippi Gulf Coast may be witnessing the beginning of the end of generations of marginalization. With the adoption of fruitful approaches to community work

Gas Rates, Volunteers, and Justice: Reader OpEd

Many people don't realize that on their personal tax returns volunteers can
deduct mileage expenses incurred as part of
volunteering. For example, if a volunteer drives 30 miles to volunteer at an art school or drive a patient to chemotherapy, the volunteer can deduct $4.20 on her next tax return. Even fewer people realize that in contrast, if this same person drives 30 miles for her business, she can deduct $17.55!

Clearly we need to help volunteers claim the deductions they can. And in this Blue Avocado Reader OpEd, activist Susan Ellis talks both about how we can change the law, and steps we can take now to supportvolunteerism in an era of high gas prices:

You may know that the IRS just raised the rate for the business-related mileage
deduction to 58.5 cents. But did you know that the charitable driving deduction
remains at only 14 cents a mile? So volunteers, who often use their cars to provide
life-or-death services to people in need, are deriving less tax benefits as their driving expenses rise.

This issue is particularly important since, as the cost of gasoline soars, Americans are trying to drive less. The high cost of driving is already . . .