Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TAX-EXEMPTION IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Tax Exemption is in the Eye of the Beholder
by Pam Ashlund


What is the life cycle of a nonprofit organization? What can we expect as we move from visionaries, to implementers, to administrators? Organizational Development professionals have come up with some very valuable takes on the life cycle of nonprofits; and our funding sources have started to rely on that research in their funding selection process.

Seems there are some pretty predictable things that happen as we evolve and therefore we can learn from those we follow. Going through an assessment process can be quite the value-added exercise.

But today I happened upon a different kind of nonprofit life cycle (on the IRS website).

The IRS has a peculiar take on the nonprofit "life cycle"; or maybe not. It is true that life has a beginning, a middle and an end. And that is how the IRS frames it. But their view doesn't just have an ending, it assumes it. Here's how it goes: a nonprofit starts up, then it ages and deals with keeping records over time and keeping up with the current laws (especially those of the IRS); then it goes through what the IRS names "Significant Events". And what is among these significant events? The nonprofit cracks up, does something that blows it, violates a significant law. The IRS calls this "termination of exempt organization". "Boom" that's it.

Now please (especially eager IRS agents) do not take this as an attack on this venerable organization. Just a tiny observation. Perhaps, when looking through the lens of an agency who's job is to collect taxes, this all makes sense.

But let's look at it through another set of eyes. How about these stages of development (often used by foundations to categorize nonprofits):

  • Infancy (start-up or start-over)
  • Juvenile (growth period)
  • Adolescence (growth and decline spurts
  • Maturity (established)

Note that the story isn't: start, comply, don't comply, close.



Hmmmm


Other resources on nonprofit stages:


Judy Simon's book:
The Five Life Stages of Nonprofit Organizations: Where You Are, Where You're Going, and What to Expect When You Get There

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Monday, November 27, 2006

OMB, CFR, TITLE 2 AND MORE NONPROFIT EXCITING STUFF

OMB, CFR, Title 2 and More Exciting Nonprofit Stuff
by Pam Ashlund


For two decades nonprofits have been guided by three OMB circulars: OMB A-133, A-122, and A-110. As of September, 06, two of these three fixtures of the nonprofit world are being phased out and then coming back to life in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Title 2 of the Code of Federal Regulations–(A-122 becomes Part 230 and A-110 becomes Part 215) to be exact. The rules won't change as far as I can figure. Only the names have been changed. Apparently there were some contradictions between the OMB's and the CFR's. The change will streamline and thereby resolve the conflicts.

Sounds like implementation won't happen until later in 2007 and nonprofits won't really have to comply until government funding sources update their contract language; but it is coming soon.

FYI, I wouldn't worry about compliance or implementation, since we're already bound to follow these OMB circulars.

Read the actual text in the Federal Register, 8/31/2005 (Vol. 70, # 168) or the text of the new and improved Title 2 (in pdf format).


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Friday, November 24, 2006

DYSFUNCTION & NONPROFIT BURNOUT OR A BALANCED LIFE?

Dysfunction & NonProfit Burnout or a Balanced Life?
Part III in Burnout Series

by pam ashlund


Choices, choices. Back in a September, '06 post, I started a conversation about fraud prevention in Nonprofit Hall of Shame. A colleague wrote that a significant factor contributing to fraud would be burn-out. This has led me to give a lot of thought to the idea of balance. Not just having a massage or taking a day off, but creating work-home-family-finance-health kind of balance.

In response to my speculations on the causes of fraud, Ken Goldstein proposed a new movement (in his post "Fraud, Burnout and Getting What We Deserve"): "The Nonprofit Selfishness Movement":



We all need to set aside certain times and days to something entirely selfish (and legal). A little "me time" to guiltlessly get away from the stress of constantly being other-focused. Time for our own families, time to take a vacation, and time to recognize our own worth without resorting to embezzling.

With the exception of the adjective "selfish", I whole heartedly agree. Well, one more exception. I used to think we workers (in the "helping" professions) were more inclined to stress than the rest of the business world...but now...I don't think so.

Seems like the general issues of existing in a workplace apply no matter what sector you inhabit.

Today's reading recommendation: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable
by Patrick M. Lencioni

The dysfunctions are not what I would have expected:



"Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare."


Lencioni defines the "five dysfunctions" as: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results.

These human fallibles...might just cause a little bit of stress.


Follow the "Burnout" Series. Want to catch up? Check out these posts:

Part I: Nonprofit Hall of Shame

Part II: Nonprofit Burnout




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Saturday, November 18, 2006

THE LIMITATIONS OF ELECTRONIC DASHBOARDS

The Limitations of Dashboards
By Pam Ashlund


I first heard the concept of an electronic dashboard introduced in March 24, 1999. There it was, within the 496 pages of Bill Gates’ book Business at the Speed of Thought. It was so exciting to me that I ran back to the office determined to implement. I attended a Microsoft’s Dashboard training and found out that I was sold on an idea that didn’t technically exist. The back-end programming was available, but there wasn’t a commercial product; there wasn’t even a commercial engine to customize. So I waited.

It was 2001, with this visionary Dashboard in mind, that I converted from Fundware to Financial Edge. There were other features that met our conversion requirements, but it was the promise of the Dashboard feature that was number one (two and three were: Integrating FE and RE; and Integrated Assets Software).

But when we launched, there was a problem. An electronic dashboard may be live, but accounting isn’t—it’s accrued after the fact. Maybe 10 days after, maybe 15, maybe more. Until the monthly close, what does the data mean? And if you have to wait for the close, then what kind of early information does your dashboard give you?

After two years of dreaming, the reality was flat. Clever graphics, not a finger on the pulse.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE GIVING: NONPROFIT CHARITABLE GIVING CONTRIBUTIONS AND MORE

‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE GIVING:
NONPROFIT CHARITABLE GIVING CONTRIBUTIONS & MORE
by Pam Ashlund


Collecting donations for your nonprofit? As a financial manager (and those that imagine incorrectly that I’m a tax accountant or a CPA) I can’t tell you how often I’m asked about documentation for donors. Some want to know about receipts for cash gifts, the others how to value an in-kind gift. The first has concrete answers, the second has a few gray areas. But for all answers it’s one-stop shopping and must come from one source and only one source: the IRS.

So what follows are quotes from the IRS site, and links to the IRS site, not my personal opinion (because if you want my personal opinions then enjoy them, but don’t use them as a substitute for a tax specialist or a lawyer’s).

The IRS has a great round-up of nonprofit topics. From there you can drill down to: Tax Information for Contributors


For donors wanting to know how to claim a deduction for their contribution, you want: Publication 526; For charities wanting to know the requirements for charitable contributions substation and disclosure, look to: Publication 1771 (Rev. 7-2005) Charitable Contributions Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements


From Publication 1771:

There are two general rules that organizations need to be aware of to meet substantiation and disclosure requirements for federal income tax return reporting purposes:

  • a donor is responsible for obtaining a written acknowledgment from a charity for any single contribution of $250 or more before the donor can claim a charitable contribution on his/her federal income tax return
  • a charitable organization is required to provide a written disclosure to a donor who receives goods or services in exchange for a single payment in excess of $75

More on written acknowledgments and written disclosures is addressed in this publication.



NOT FOR CARS, PLANES OR AUTOMOBILES

On this topic, I will venture one opinion, exercise caution in this area, as the rules are very recent, very specific, and red-flag items for the IRS. The rules in this publication do not apply to a donated motor vehicle, boat, or airplane if the claimed value exceeds $500. For information on vehicle donations, see IRS Publication 4302 (Rev. 5-2006) (for rules that apply to the donee) and IRS Publication 4303 (2-2006) (for rules that apply to the donor).

For assistance about valuing donated property, see Publication 561.

AND NOW A WORD FOR A GOOD CAUSE
(Click ChipIn to help Beth raise money as a joint effort, a blog experiment and a fundraiser!)



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DO I DARE DISTURB THE UNIVERSE?

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?
by Pam Ashlund

Tuesday I wrote about tagging, but it didn't answer one question: what is all that tagging supposed to achieve? Presumably it’s about categorization (for yourself and for the public), but more significantly it’s about attracting attention (pro’s call that “publicity”).

OK, I admit it, I was perturbed by my Technorati ranking of 170,000, but today I read that they rank 57 million blogs, so maybe anything over a 1 million ain’t bad. LOL

Amy Gahran in her blog “Contentious” has a great article deconstructing Technorati’s ranking methodology. Did I just use deconstructing and methodology in the same sentence? Maybe I need to lay off the coffee!

Seriously folks, I’ll be here all weekend. Try the veal!

But back to Amy…she asks: is “more” better?

Using variables like “posting frequency”, “regional popularity” and “in-bound links” to measure popularity, authority and influence has it’s limitations. In high school, popularity had nothing to do with quality, but that was sad comfort to those of us unpopular kids!

Amy points out that sophisticated bloggers know how to game the system. Therefore linking to other blogs may just be a veiled attempt at self-promotion! No-o-o-o! What kind of low-life would use a devious strategy like that?

Amy advocates for offerings like BuzzLogic which have “a better grasp of what really constitutes influence in conversational media”. But, she adds “Buzzlogic isn’t free, and Technorati is.. " and thinks in the end “you get what you pay for”.

Well, time to sign off before I quote away all of Amy’s posting!


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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

TAG YOU'RE IT: NONPROFIT TAG SYSTEMS

Tag You're It - Nonprofit Tag Systems
by pam ashlund


I have a nonprofit tech item today. Tag's seem to be a reality of the Web 2.0 world; but I find them so difficult to use. Some widget's exist to make this easier, but even widget's might be a challenge to install for someone who just wants to throw some tags in their blog. Want to know more about widget's? follow Beth Kantor's thread on "Widget's" on Beth's Blog.

As Marnie Webb from Ext337 says:

Sure, tagging and badges already make all this possible, but possible isn’t easy. And it isn’t easy. It’s possible in an early adopter kind of way.

While I was enthusiastic about the "sharable" nature of Technorati's tags at first...I now find it cumbersome to add them. It's also odd that they're in the form of a hyperlink, meaning: 1) that I have to make a decision each time about where the link should go; and 2) a link re-directs from my site and my blog platform doesn't allow me specify "open in a new window".

Then I came across Deli.cio.us, which at least lets me tag a page with one click. I've set up a family of nonprofit related tags as follows:

to be continued...


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

LIFE, THE UNIVERSE & EVERYTHING: NONPROFIT PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT

NonProfit Performance Measurement
by pam ashlund

I am fascinated by how quickly legislators determine our agenda. The latest example? Evaluations and Performance Objectives.

Anyone remember the way the introduction of the Performance Objective was heralded in to the non-profit world? "This will make you more effective", they told us. "This will validate our work". Blah Blah Blah. I, for one, drank the kool aid.

Then came the truth, somewhere between the ideal and the reality, the stats didn't change anything. Now a huge amount of staff time (not to mention trees sacrificed) is devoted to counting numbers, which go nowhere. Consider the following three problems:
  • There was no funding for a decent evaluation;
  • Evaluations take good research design;
  • Nonprofit administrators learned how to game the system by ever reducing their goals so that they might be achieved (after all you WILL get penalized if you don't meet those goals).

If that wasn't enough to drive a stake into the heart of performance objectives...how about asking some hard questions:

Example Goal: Ex: Reduce Poverty in Lincoln Heights

  • How much paperwork will it take to state and measure your goals?
  • How will the results you gather further your goal?
  • How will you pay for the evaluation?
  • How will you determine your research is valid (sample size, bias, etc.)?
  • Are your goals really goals or are you counting heads?


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Saturday, November 11, 2006

CHANGING OF THE GUARD: NONPROFIT TRANSITION

Changing of the Guard: Nonprofit Transition
by Pam Ashlund

My head is spinning tonight. At the CA Association of Nonprofits conference last month I heard the news: founder, Flo Green, is retiring. It came as a shock to me because Flo and CAN are synonymous to me. We don't know each other at all, and therefore are not on a first name basis, but I think of her as Flo. That says something about her charisma. Upon hearing her talk, people leave thinking of her as a friend. And she has been a friend, to the nonprofit community and to me by way of inspiration.

At that same conference I was introduced to the ideas of Fundraising speaker Kim Klein. She delivered a keynote I covered in NonProfit Confidence Problem. And, as with Flo, I was inspired and I left feeling like I had another friend.

And now I hear (thru the Chronical of Philanthropy's article) that Kim is also retiring.

Just yesterday I was talking to a friend over lunch about the whole changing of the guard phenomena. People I've worked for, looked up to, learned from, etc. are either retiring or dying or both. And I've had to face that I'm only two generations away from them. So even though I'm still sharpening my skills and expanding my mind...I can see the change coming. A whole new crop of 25 year olds are coming to work at nonprofit's and they will be taking over.

Some think the focus should be on retaining our Executive Directors (because some large percent say they will leave the profession in the next 10 years), but I think we should be using those years to mentor and teach and inspire the new comers, because (among other things) it is our responsibility.

I'm overwhelmed because I don't feel up to it, but I'm resolved because it's a whole lot better than the alternative!


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NONPROFIT OPEN SOURCE

Nonprofit Open Source
by pam ashlund


I didn't know what "Open Source" was until I left the nonprofit world. In the for-profit technology world "open source" is almost a religion. In the nonprofit world it's almost unknown.

If you wanted to understand it at a deep level you could get comprehensive coverage at the Open Source Initiative (OSI) website ... but IF, like me, you just want to cut to the chase... it's been around for almost 25 years, but wasn't known by the name "open source" until 1998. Known as free software before '98 it suffered a public relations problem. The analogy used on the GNU website is: "free” as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”. You can see where there might have been some misunderstandings. "Open Source" communicates the function without confusing newbies.


Like most ideas, the concept evolved over time. Fueled by a desire to:

  • do anything to destroy Bill Gates and/or Microsoft; and
  • prove that if you shared your knowledge that it would end up benefiting everyone.

Now, I know #2 might sound like Communism, but the "open source" philosophy didn't propose spreading the wealth, just the knowledge, it doesn't exclude business or capitalistic motives at all...theoretically.

Want to know more? See the OSI site, GNU or Wikipedia.

The idea now has a wide following, one example being that (almost) everybody has heard of Linux now-a-days (even if they don't know what it is), and most people know that the PC took off after the architecture "became" open (albiet not voluntarily). Thus the "PC clone" began to flourish. Maybe IBM isn't the best example of the success of open source, because in the short run it almost destroyed the IBM empire (or was that when the silicon chip replaced the "Selectric"? There would be no Dell or Gateway without IBM's idea. But MUCH more to the point, the open architecture allowed a huge software development industry (and still does).

Most people behind the scenes knew that the Mac was infinitely superior, but it lost the market race because it wasn't open source. OK, that's a biased comment, but...the point stands.

You may wonder where I'm going with all this...so here it is (again my introductory paragraph comes in the middle of the blog darn it!):

What happens when the Nonprofit world meets the Open Source world? Maybe it will be Blackbaud's Infinity project (but probably not); maybe it is eRider's (a group of open source folks helping Non-Profit's with technology); maybe it's just a local non-profit using a Linux Server instead of a Microsoft Server.

It was listening to the pitch for Blackbaud's new Infinity platform that get me thinking about all this, because there was a lot of lip service given to open source (or API or SOAP, but I still have no idea what THOSE are). It was almost as if the idea of open source has become cool and they wanted to jump on the band wagon...OR maybe it was a the voice of the programmers filtered through corporate and marketing that I heard. Maybe it was like Horton hears a who, with us, the Blackbaud Users audience saying "wait, I heard it, I know I heard it!".

WANT TO FOLLOW THE INFINITY SERIES?

Start with From Here to Eternity and then move to the NonProfit TechBlog and read Allan's three excellent posts:

Blackbaud SMACKDOWN
Blackbaud Infinity Plus 1
Part Infinity of Infinity


SIDEBAR:

The Open Source Philosophy have the following criteria (cribbed from open source web site):

  • Free Redistribution
  • Source Code Included or Available
  • Derived Works and Modifications Allowed
  • Maintains the Integrity of The Author's Source Code
  • No Discrimination Against Persons or Groups
  • No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
  • Distribution of License
  • License Must Not Be Specific to a Product
  • License Must Not Restrict Other Software
  • License Must Be Technology-Neutral



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Friday, November 10, 2006

FROM HERE TO INFINITY - BLACKBAUD & COMPUTER METAPHOR

Language with a Chip on Its Shoulder: From Here to Blackbaud's Infinity
by Pam Ashlund


Don't have time to read the whole thing? Jump to the funny part!

Background: This week I attended the 2006 Blackbaud Conference in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Well, at the convention center (in the not so beautiful airport area). There was over 850 attendees, representing nonprofits, educational institutions, churches, etc. Arrangements were made with six hotels, which booked to capacity (even overbooked at the Embassy Suites). They also arranged for shuttles from these six hotels. See No Room at the Inn for my midnight adventures. Needless to say, I was running, hiking, taking local transportation etc. and still running late for everything. To make a breakfast at 7:30 am (which would be 4:30 am California time), I would have had to wake up at 5:30 am (2:30 am my time), leave by 6:00 am, run the mile to the Holiday Inn where the shuttle for the convention center departed, to make breakfast. Do I need to say that I missed breakfast the first two days? Or that I am not a very happy person without breakfast? Or that there were no snacks to purchase at the hotel or at the convention center?

The Internet Session: So, when I arrived at the conference (late, hungry and tired), I ran to the breakfast area (which was a barren table with tumbleweeds blowing around)...then ran back to registration to find out where my session was held, and then ran back the way I had come to the session room, having burned 250 calories, etc. etc. I was ready for the sneak preview of...the new product in development: Code Name: !

Actual Topic of this Article: I won't be revealing any of the proprietary secrets about the new product (of course neither did the presenters!). Instead, I want to talk about the lingo they used. Years ago I was struck by the war metaphors used by computer professionals (capture the printer port, etc.).

The trainer covered the “slices” and the “blades”. Said the “platform” wouldn't "bulk-load the database“; that it “lives” with” Linux applications. The trainer apologized that he would have to to “drive thru” the training (meaning run the slide-projector when he talks). He told us that application really “morphs” into something (I forget what). He told us that if we were a "heads-down" data entry person, we might be working in editing mode) and they wouldn't have to worry about record locking). He told us that they were going to "run" with this...

He told us the new product would be based on Open Standards: XML (SOAP Web Service API, an Extensiblity catalog system, and RSS” . He told us that the application will be changing from a “client installation footprint” and will be 100% web deployed .

He told us about Smart Query opposed to "Ad Hoc", and that it can be “grammarized". Apparently he liked to "ize" things because he said the product would “parameterize” with two prompts. The new product would “Unite the query results with the page”!

Apparently the application “chooses” to use (insert some efficient product here). He assured us that the client is “stateless”. "We are completely stateless" he raved. He agreed with a participant that Web Aps can be a “Fat” platform. He lauded the new Toast “Pop-ups”

When we shifted to theory he asked permission to go “off script”. He agreed that some product or application was “tilted” toward the big bang? That they had taken steps to "handle phase integration". He demonstrated, stalling while the application was "spinning up”.

Another presenter told us that we no longer have one API, we have API’s at every layer of our stack(!) and that we also consider Web Services an API. Last, he wound up with how to “mash this up” with other applications.

Don't believe it? Blackbaud didn't post a pod cast of Paul's podcast (maybe it would be giving an "edge" to the competitors), but you can find Sean Sullivan's podcast of the session on emerging technology at Blackbaud's Conference Central (you'll have to scroll down to the middle of the page since they didn't direct-link to the section.

By then I was ready to go out to breakfast and go back to bed!

To read more on the topic of geek lingo and metaphor, see LA StreetBeat posting.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I BLOG THEREFORE I AM

I BLOG THEREFORE I AM
by pam ashlund


Anybody using accounting software out there? If you do, then you've probably seen the dreaded existential question, you click post...and then..you receive a message:

Are you sure you want to do that?

Fortunately all accountants have nerves of steel. Either that or we're just wild risk-takers (insert rim shot here). Software designers could have come up with something less unnerving, say for example "please verify your selection". Yet the best I've come across so far is a simple "are you sure?".

Since I face that "are you sure" question every time I post an entry, I've had years to get used to it, but I still crack a smile sometimes.

Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water, I did a search on Technorati and got this result:

There are blogs, and then there's whatever you just typed in. If it's a blog, we don't know about it. Maybe you made a typo. Or maybe it's a blog that doesn't exist. Maybe you don't exist. (In which case, please ignore this.)

Maybe Descartes got a job at technorati?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

WHAT'S IN A NAME?
by pam ashlund



What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word
would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

Let me begin with a declaration: No one should be allowed to self-declare themselves a “wave” (the third wave, the first wave, the new wave); It’s okay for historians to name these movements retroactively, but naming them yourself, in real time, is a no-no.

So many have called for a new name to replace "non-profit"; the objection being that it is defining ourselves by what we are not.

Try out a few commonly in use:

CBO - Community Based Organizations
NPO or Non-Profit Organization?
NGO or Non-Governmental Organization
"Civil Society"
The "Third Sector" (Church and State being first and second)

Pondering these, I came across a website called ForBenefit.Net where a new name (and model) is proposed: For-Benefit.

Touted as "a new paradigm in organizational design" and "a new class of organization", the For-Benefits are: "driven by a social purpose... economically self-sustaining, and...seek to be socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible".


For-Benefits seek to maximize benefit to all stakeholders, and 100% of the economic profits" they generate are invested to advance social purposes. They strive to be democratic, inclusive, open, transparent, accountable, effective, efficient, cooperative, and holistic...they aim to link two concepts which are held as a false dichotomy in other models: private interest and public benefit.

Where to start? where to start? First, I love the expression "false dichotomy", second, with the exception of the "self-sustaining" part, this model sounds identical to the current non-profit model, third it violates my rule "no naming yourself the new wave", this includes calling yourself a fourth sector.

Let me offer a corollary to that rule: no self-declarations of "new paradigm" status. Nine times out of ten you won't be using the term correctly. Over twenty-five years after Thomas Kuhn coined the term, the power has gone out of the word, having been both over and misused.

Kuhn coined the term (Paradigm Shift) in 1962 in his “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. The term had a very specific set of criteria.


when enough significant anomalies have accrued against a current paradigm, the scientific discipline is thrown into a state of crisis… During this crisis, new ideas, perhaps ones previously discarded, are tried. Eventually a new paradigm is formed, which gains its own new followers, and an intellectual "battle" takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old paradigm. Wikipedia

To actively try to change a dominant paradigm usually requires all of the members of the current regime to die before a new paradigm can take hold.

In the end this whole identity crisis will sort itself out (eventually). A name change may be a lot like a face lift, it might make us look better, but it won't make us any younger! Although a name change may be on the superficial side of the scale, let me end by offering a tiny ray of hope: social change will happen, we just might not live to to see it.

This article is the fourth in a continuing series on the Nonprofit Identity Crisis. If you missed the previous postings they can be found at:



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Saturday, November 04, 2006

HISTORICAL MEMORY, SOCIAL CHANGE, AND THE LIMITATIONS OF THE HUMAN PSYCHE: CHALLENGES FACING NON-PROFITS AND SOCIETY AS A WHOLE

Historical Memory, Social Change and the Limitations of the Human Psyche Challenges Facing Nonprofits and Society as a Whole
by pam ashlund


Two problems are troubling me tonight: 1) Progress is so slow (in every arena, but it's social change that I have in mind here); and 2) For whatever reason, human thought falls victim to the most base errors; preventing us from seeing and thinking clearly.

Progress is slow: The challenging part of any academic endeavor is that we have to start over again with every generation. Unlike physical genes, these non-physical meme thingy’s are not transferred by DNA through reproduction (or any other physical mechanism).

Fortunately, there is some overlap of generations to achieve a modicum of historical memory. The invention of the printing press didn't hurt either (should I be saying silicon chip?).
Still this darn transmission process is SO fragile. The dark ages almost wiped out all of human knowledge were it not for a couple of cloistered monks tucked away here and there. It all came down to copying manuscripts by HAND. This whole image was burned into my memory by the fabulous PBS history populizer (author/host of The Day the Universe Changed), James Burke, and has haunted me ever since.

By way of illustration, in 1993 when the Clinton Administration launched the AmeriCorps program, a cadre of young and enthusiastic Clinton staffers charged in to create a government agency and program that would be new and different.

I'm sure they didn't know what they were in for. The staff created a model where "volunteers" were paid a monthly living allowance. Nothing wrong with that (idealistic, efficient, etc.); except that State Law contradicted that form of pay (violating wage and labor law). It took five long years to resolve that, where all of the nonprofit agencies geared up and paid living allowances, then reverted to an hourly wage, and then (when a specific exception for the AmeriCorps program was established), went back to the living allowance model (first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is?).

Clinton created the first new federal agency in 20 years (which unlike Health & Human Services or the Department of Labor), had an unusual name, the "Corporation for National Service". Even the Federal Department name being called a "Corporation" challenged the status quo.

In other words, the new (enthusiastic, motivated) generation learned quite a few lessons the hard way. By the time "Year Ten" of the AmeriCorps program had rolled around, I'm afraid it had succumbed to governmental bueracracy.

Obviously we stand on the shoulders of everyone who has come before us, and even if we cannot rise above the tide of history, a knowledge of the lessons of the past can't hurt.

It's a cliche and a truism, nonetheless, I recommend using this quote as a daily mantra and tool for self and organizational analysis:

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, 1863-1952
Human thought, flawed by base errors, hinders clear thinking:

Social Psychology's perspectives on personality traits and human motivations and limitations, are as an important factor as heeding the lessons of history.

Recall the philosopher, Thomas Hobbes describing life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"? Well how about this quote from the critical thinking website:

much of our thinking...is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced.
Why do some people have no trouble acknowledging that limitation while it seems an insurmountable hurdle to others? Psychological research offers a few answers, one being a personality trait dubbed "self-monitoring". Posited by Snyder in 1979 and substatiated by volumes of data since, high self-monitoring individuals have better work performance and are better leaders than their low self-monitoring counterparts. Oddly, low self-monitoring individuals are dominated by a quality of "being true to themselves". I wouldn't be surprised if more of the folks drawn to work in the nonprofit sector (or helping professions in general) might be of the low-self monitoring variety.

Research on the behavior and psychology of "groups" offer similar insight. Tyler Cowen, blogging in Marginal Revolution: Small Steps to a Much Better World writes:

Time and again research has shown that people think of more new ideas on their own than they do in a group. The false belief that people are more creative in groups has been dubbed by psychologists the ‘illusion of group of productivity.

But why does this illusion persist?”Check out his blog to see Tyler’s answers.


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DEVELOPMENT & FINANCE: A BROKEN MARRIAGE?

Development and Finance: A Broken Marriage?
by pam ashlund


This article is the start of a conversation on classic rifts that exist in nonprofit organizations.

Today I'm blogging about the odd way that conflicts in Blackbaud's software products mirror departmental and emotional conflicts.

Development and Finance - One department brings in the money ("develops" the funds) and the other counts the money. You'd think that would be a marriage made in heaven...but for some reason...not so much.

This was evident, on two levels, at Blackbaud's 2006 Conference for Nonprofits.

First, and most fundamental, at the software level:

I attended the session on integrating two software products (Blackbaud's fundraising product the "Raisers Edge" and its accounting product "Financial Edge"). You'd have to figure that two products from the same company would already be integrated (and certainly not require a class), anymore than one would think you'd have to "integrate" accounts payable and payroll with the general ledger.

The problem originates in the history of the software's development. The Raisers Edge was developed first and established market dominance in the Fundraising arena. I first heard it described as the "Cadillac" of fundraising software.

The Financial Edge, on the other hand, was born as "Accounting for Nonprofits" with a smaller client base and later reborn as the "Financial Edge" to coordinate with the Raisers Edge. The two products (RE and FE) were sold separately (and presumably to different target markets).

Second, the emotional level:

I noticed (and the workshop trainers joked and commented on this phenomena often) the sheer intensity of the animosity between the accounting people and the fundraising/ development people. “What does the accounting department need to know about our appeals?” one attendee spit out with obvious venom.

Obviously we need a conversation (at a higher level (public) and an organizational level (private)). But I have to ask: can we have this conversation? And what could we do to make that productive?

To be continued...

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