Monday, December 31, 2007


New Feature! Nonprofit Trend of the Week

Nonprofit Innovations

disclaimer: this is NOT a plug - please read to end of article for pro's and con's!

A friend introduced me to a for-profit product that dovetails well with nonprofit values. Produced by , the product itself is called the "Healthcare Gift Card". There are pros and cons (discussed below), but first, what is it? Givewell bills itself as:

...a new way to help employees cover health and wellness costs. It is designed to encourage healthy living and staying well.

Employees can use it to cover a variety of healthcare costs including co-pays at doctor’s offices and pharmacies or for vision care, dental care, health club memberships and elective procedures at businesses that accept Visa debit cards.


Giftwell tells us that

Because the Healthcare Gift Card is targeted to work only with health and wellness providers, you can be assured your gift card will be used as a “gift of health.”

Better than giving someone cash and worrying that they'll use it on something less necessary? Hmmm...this may also be a "Con". Is a massage more necessary than gas or groceries? Can individuals not be trusted to use cash (or cash equivalents) for something they need? Is the glass half empty or half full here?


It's worrisome that a card like this can only exist in a country that doesn't provide adequate health care in the first place. Might it not be like saying "here, I know you're poor and can't afford to go to the dentist, so here's a little reminder of that"?

More worrisome is a hidden charge. After nine months if the card hasn't been used, the purchased starts incurring a monthly charge. That's kind of insane, I wouldn't want to give out a card unless I was darn sure it was going to be fully used!

The real evil here is that the stats show most folks don't use (or fully use) the gift cards they receive, perhaps Givewell's business model is based on this premise (not on the actual sale of the cards)...

But before we throw the baby out with the bathwater...there is some intriguing kernel of information here. Could you sell the card (at a markup) as a fundraiser? Could you set up to accept these cards (fee for service?) and have your donors decide who to give them to?

I think there's something here, but as always, let the buyer beware.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Saturday, December 22, 2007


You've been waiting for it (dreading it?) and now it's here. Get ready, the IRS has announced the release of the revised Form 990 (complete with schedules A - R)! How many years have we been hearing the rumblings about excessive compensation? about professional fundraisers? about risk management? about enhanced transparency? Well, the pavement has met the road folks. Read the IRS announcement here.
Effective for the 2008 tax year (returns filed in 2009), the revised form will be phased in over a three year period for smaller organizations.
The revision reflects many changes since the draft was released (the IRS received more than 650 public comments!!!)

For the 2008 tax year (returns filed in 2009), organizations with gross receipts over $1.0 million or total assets over $2.5 million will be required to file the Form 990. For the 2009 tax year (returns filed in 2010), organizations with gross receipts over $500,000 or total assets over $1.25 million will be required to file the Form 990... Also, starting with the 2010 tax year, the IRS will increase the filing threshold for organizations required to file Form 990-N (the e-postcard) from $25,000 to $50,000.

You can find the 2008 Form 990, comments, etc. on the IRS Charities and Nonprofits web site.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, December 21, 2007


I came across this item in OMB's comments to the IRS (in response to the revised 990):
Federal agencies provide over $450 billion in government grants annually; a substantial portion of which goes to nonprofit organizations.

No deep thoughts today, just this: That's BILLIONS not millions. That's a lot of change. Let's use it to make a difference!

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

28 DAYS FOR CHARITABLE GIVING (Oh...and Merry Christmas)

Leave it to a nonprofit accountant to write about tax-time instead of Christmas Cheer and Silver Bells! Seems like only yesterday I was writing about holiday fundraising appeals, but it turns out another year has flown by!

Here's a re-cap on tax-exempt giving:

The Nonprofit Eye on IRS Regs, Tis The Season to Be Giving

sixtyPercent on the great Tax Advantages of Giving Gifts of Stock

Beth Kanter's posts on Fundraising Widgets and on Donor Documentation

and let's not forget the IRS's own roundup of Tax-Exempt Giving

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, December 03, 2007


Following the old adage "write about what you know", today's focus is job hunting!

One great part of working in the nonprofit sector is how many industry specific job rags there are to choose from. If you asked me where to look I'd say (in no particular order): "Opportunity Nocs, Nonprofit Oyster, Idealist, Chronicle of Philanthropy".

But there is so much more: A project of Action Without Borders, global clearinghouse of nonprofit resources, including jobs, internships, mailing lists, and nonprofit resources by state & country.
Opportunity NOCS
A resource for nonprofit jobs and employment opportunities.
Nonprofit Oyster
Offers job postings for meaningful career opportunities, and the ability for job seekers to post their profiles online for employers to access. They donate 5% of their profits to support nonprofits whose missions are particularly close to their hearts.
Craig's List, Nonprofit Jobs
Bay Area based community bulletin board, that posts nonprofit job openings by city and/or country from all over the world now.
Social Work and Social Services Jobs Online
jobs in social work, counseling, psychology, sociology, mental health, case management, employee assistance, volunteer management, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence, community development, mentoring, youth development, child welfare, developmental disabilities and all other areas of social services

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Career Centre Job listings are geared toward professionals in the beginning of their nonprofit careers. Focus on San Francisco's Bay Area.
Nonprofit Jobs Nonprofit jobs and executive employment listings. Special e-mail lists for New York City, Washington DC, Los Angeles Boston, and San Francisco

Deep Sweep
a large selection of nonprofit jobs listed in one place for free. Resource linking nonprofit professionals to outstanding career opportunities.
Foundation Center/Philanthropy News Digest Job Corner
30-50 new jobs added weekly, mostly development positions, but other nonprofit jobs are posted as well. EJob Alert available.
Nonprofit Career Network
Provides job and volunteer listings, resume posting, and nonprofit directory.
Nonprofit Jobs Cooperative
A collaboration of nonprofit management centers from across the United States . One-stop source for nonprofit jobs from coast to coast. CA jobs tend to be mainly in Southern CA .
Young Nonprofit Professionals Network
Posts jobs with Bay Area nonprofit organizations, searchables by job title, position type, organization type, and/or Bay Area region. An employment resource for the non-profit world, featuring job openings at foundations and non-profit organizations.
Access: Networking In The Public Interest-Employment opportunities in Nonprofit Organizations around the US. Updated daily. Includes Full time, Volunteer and Internship Opportunities. Nonprofit Career Fairs and Expos.

Human Services Career Network - United States-focused service matching professionals and employers in the social service sector. Databases of resumes and positions are available.
Nonprofit Career Network - Resource center for individuals seeking jobs in the nonprofit sector. Post your resume on-line and search a database of job listings and job fairs.

Professionals for Nonprofits - A staffing company that specializes in providing permanent and temporary staff to nonprofits. Extensive job listings.

Nonprofit Jobs & Executive Search - Nonprofit executive, senior management and fundraising jobs and executive searches conducted by recruiters, headhunters, and employers in the nonprofit, government, health, higher education, human rights, social services, advocacy and public sectors.
LifeWorth- Online information service about careers in progressive business, global candidate search and selection service, and seminars, workshops and publications on professional development. Only useful if looking for international jobs (UK, Dubai, Canada)
Check out the latest additions to the job search list.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Friday, November 30, 2007


One thing that's great about my recent unemployment? Time to read. And reading means exposure to new ideas. And new ideas mean inspiration. Hurray.

Take two articles, the first David Brook's article "The Organization Kid", from way back in April, 2001 (remember when that was the science fiction future?) and another, Andrew Keen's article "Web 2.0 The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It's worse than you think." from February, 2006. Isn't it great when information converges over time?

First, credit where credit's due. These came to my attention from two blogs I read regularly (thanks to RSS!), the penny for your thoughts blog "1cent talk on nptech" and "Urban Community". They are two great reasons to keep browsing the blogosphere!

"The Organization Kid" paints a frightening picture of a new generation so conformist and content that they have become complacent, obedient even bland. Compared to the generation before who questioned authority, the organization kid isn't disturbed by authority. The key? An underlying belief that life is just.

They are responsible. They are generous. They are bright. They are good-natured. ...Evil is seen as something that can be cured with better education, or therapy, or Prozac. Instead of virtue (they) about accomplishment.
I find this fascinating because so much of my life has been devoted to a pursuit of justice. In other words, I have a belief that life is not just. I always figured it to be part of a gloomy personality type and that if only I had been blessed with a more cheerful basic life view, that I'd find the world more just. Hmmm. That's a whole 'nother can of worms.

What I'm thinking is that, hey, maybe a bit of skepticism ain't a bad thing after all.

Brooks gave us this outline of a new type back in 2001, and even though he was studying the completely non representative group of Princeton students, his portrait rings true. War protests (and other forms of social protest) seem more the territory of the 60's generation than todays college students and "under 30's".

Now, on the other hand, take Andrew Keen's article "Web 2.0: The second generation of the Internet has arrived. It's worse than you think." Keen keenly observes (sorry couldn't resist):

Buzzwords from the old era--like "cool," "eyeballs," or "burn-rate"--have been replaced in Web 2.0 by language which is simultaneously more militant and absurd: Empowering citizen media, radically democratize, smash elitism, content redistribution, authentic community . . . . This sociological jargon, once the preserve of the hippie counterculture, has now become the lexicon of new media capitalism.
So, is there a rebirth of the new conformist? or the hippie counterculture? Let's make up our minds. Want the truth? Think twice, it's scary. The truth (according to Pam) is that the young hip marketing folks must have discovered how sexy and marketable "radical" is. I haven't heard anything about the "radical chic" since my old dog-eared copy of Tom Wolfe's "Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers". It's not what he was talking about exactly, but same principle.

You know all the talk about the impending "leadership crisis" in nonprofits. OK, so if you don't, the basic idea is that the boomers will all being retiring and then who will run today's nonprofits? I don't think there will even be blip, those jobs will be filled chop-chop. All I can say is this... let's hope the sexiness of radicalism rubs off on our new conformists.

An Aside:

Keene's article really held a quite different premise, that:

(in)the Web 2.0 world ... the nightmare is not the scarcity, but the over-abundance of authors. Since everyone will use digital media to express themselves, the only decisive act will be to not mark the paper. Not writing as rebellion sounds bizarre--like a piece of fiction authored by Franz Kafka. But one of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 future may well be that everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience.
The threat doesn't give me pause. I say the more the merrier. After all, where would I have had the chance to read these two articles written six years apart, and then brought to me via nonprofit bloggers, were it not for all this information overload?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Monday, November 05, 2007


Reprint: originally titled "The Dearth of Nonprofit Thought" posted on NetSquared

It's time to strike up a conversation backed by sound research, philosophy and experience. How is it we don't have our own "Wall Street Journal" by now? So much of the real estate space in nonprofit rags is devoted to a) our own salaries; b) how to raise money; or c) what nifty new accounting software we should buy.

I launched the Nonprofit Eye to do my part - kickoff some discussion on real stuff, like revenue recognition, the meaning of charity, the hazards of promising too much, the oxymoron of performance outcomes, etc. etc.

Join in, viva la revolution!

Technorati Tags: ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007


The short answer? Yes (now you don't have to read the rest of the article!).

In search of the holy grail of blogging (search engine optimization), I employed techniques suggested by the experts and, voila! I:
  • Decreased my bounce rate
  • Increased my stickiness
  • Increased my unique page visits
  • Achieved a better goal conversation rate (more on that later since I'm not converting anything to sales)
  • Got more subscribers
  • Got a higher Google Page ranking
  • moved up in the Google search results
In essence, everyone who's questing after SEO's dream.

So what's the problem?

Sigh. I killed my joy of writing, I left my own goals (not Googles) in the dust.

First, I narrowed my focus. My analysis showed most visitors were coming to read technical articles on accounting and compliance. I added more paths:
  • from these frequently visited pages to other similar articles
  • from the home page to a directory of similar articles
  • from the home page to specific follow-up pieces
These efforts immediately shifted my writing priorities from the joie de writing to the capturing of "eyeballs".

Second, I changed my headlines. I saw this coming back in April 2006 (ironically the month I wrote my first post) when I read a New York Times article "This Boring Article is Written for Google". As a writer (or wannabe), the crafting of a punchy headline is half of the fun or writing the story. SEO killed that. The NYT article defined the difference as witty vs. literal. Who wants to read literal? For that matter, who wants to write literal. Witty was always my writing goal, but no more. What was the title I wanted to use? "What if you gave a blog and nobody came?".

Apparently the heading wasn't enough, the search engines scan the first line for similar keywords, to avoid false leads. Thus my unaesthetic "double headline". The more the keywords appeared in the subsequent text the better. Enter redundancy. For example it would be good to mention here that SEO is killing my nonprofit blogging (sigh).

Oh, what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to...

Third, links were a problem. external links send readers away. I can't have that! Remove the links to your favs? Enter the exchange of friendship and community for self-interest. I changed my links from my friends in the blogosphere to internal links to my own posts. Whoo hooo. Way to encourage a dialog.

Then again, how do you have a dialog if you have no readers?

Conclusion? The jury's still out. The challenge is clear. We can't let little bots of code define our agenda, we can't let the limitations of programming reduce our writing to the lowest common denominator... We can't. But what's the alternative?

Read more on frustrations with SEO: I will not blog about blogging

Technorati Tags: , , ,,

Sunday, October 21, 2007


Working in the nonprofit sector it's easy to forget about the resources in the for-profit world. So today, I'm going to recommend poking our heads out into the sun once in a while. I sat down to read a copy of CFO magazine. I figured it wouldn't have a lot to relate to, but was I wrong. Keep in mind no endorsement received, I love this rag!

One article in particular, Finance in History: Here's to the Bean Counters: A slur to finance folks and accountants, the term has a noble past byR.G. Voorhees captured my imagination.

I won't quote it away, but just give you the opening paragraph (emphasis mine):

"Bean counting" has long been an insulting term for what finance professionals and accountants do. Often, it's been used to tar CFOs as transaction processors—a role largely relegated to the back office. What's more, people like to use the phrase to ratchet up the pedestrian aspects of finance by tagging practitioners as "mere" bean counters or "little-more-than" bean counters or "simply" bean counters.

It is not a surprise that this should relate to my last post on IT (and Allan's comment on relegating IT to the backoffice), Giving: Donation or Investment? You decide

The movement toward integration (and mutual respect) is on! I'd love to think I was the first to spot the trend, but I think the CRM's (and even Microsoft) have their eye on convincing us of this new wave. Does that mean we should view it with skepticism? I'm sure. Does it mean it isn't valid? Not at all.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Last week, in MISSION WITHOUT I.T. IS LIKE A DAY WITHOUT SUNSHINE I set out to write  ROI, but before I'd finished my first paragraph, I had revealed my own flawed organizational paradigm.

Allan Benamer contributed a critically important comment:

IT is actually responsible for all the other departments you mentioned (accounting, marketing, etc.) in the best nonprofits?

You really can't do accounting, marketing or fundraising without IT. could try but you'd have a heck of a hard time scaling. Think of IT as an umbrella that keeps all the other departments from getting wet. In the best nonprofits, it should be integrated into every department and not be a standalone.

The only way to effectively address complaints about ineffective organization? Offer a solution. How about this: replace our world of the three overlapping sets: communications/ operations/accounting--with a new world---mission/community/investment.

The catches? If your giving is an investment not a donation, it presupposes that you’ll have a return on your investment (probably more than just the satisfaction it gives you); and that you’ll expect accountability (not just delivery of services).

So, let's shift that paradigm, but brace yourself for the shockwave.

credits: the idea above does not originate with me, I heard some of this in a talk, but I can't find the reference. Anybody know the source? Organizational theory? Drop me a line.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Just read Andrew Taylor's post An Unpleasant Argument. In his post he struggles with donor challenges about how to prioritize the recipients of charitable gifts:
Why should people give to your organization rather than support the poor, the hungry, or the destitute? And why should your donors get a tax break on their gifts?

It reminded me of something that happened during the Katrina disaster. Rescuers enforced triage rules and refused to allow people to bring their pets. Of all of the horrors that occurred during the bungled emergency response, this gave me the most pause. It was a double punch, first you've just lost your home and you've been sitting on a roof fearing for your life and then, forced to leave your family cat or dog to a certain death (drowning or starvation).

I knew, with every shred of logic I have, that the triage strategy was correct. People first, pets second. And there were people everywhere, stranded and dying and desperate. There's no time in that picture to go back for kitty. But...I also knew if I were on that helicopter, I'd get that family pet on the ride. I'd no more take the mother and leave the child.

And I get it, in early response decisions have to be made, and it's ultimately about saving those with the best chance of survival. The given is that everybody isn't going to make it. On that scale of decision making pets don't even make the scale. But...

All of this brings me back to why I started this explore nonprofit identity. Why do we get a tax-deduction? Do we not get it if our charity isn't deemed noble enough? Do we not get it if we are large like a hospital? If we're financially successful should we stop getting donations?

Would we be human if we gave to the poor but never gave to the arts? Are we inhuman for giving to the arts when there is a hungry child anywhere? Could I leave a puppy behind? There are cold hard truths here, but maybe not the ones that seem most obvious.

It really isn't so simple as to rank priorities. Here are a few anecdotal thoughts: are artists rich (or starving?), does art create hope? does hope inspire us to give? is Michelangelo more important than Mother Teresa (or vice versa)?

I hope when we are asked the tough questions that we do have a strong enough sense of our industry identity, to say art has a critical place in society, or to ask how much of it would come to the public at all without financial support; or to say (and maybe this is the hardest) that even if we gave everything right now, it wouldn't end social problems, it wouldn't end world starvation, it wouldn't heal all of the sick.

Perhaps once in a long while, we have to stop and read a sonnet, or listen to a canon, or even (and don't let this once take you too far aback) have a good laugh, or a little fun.

I say whatever it takes to get help to everyone who needs it, but not at the expense of our humanity.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 07, 2007


How did I make sense of the nonprofit universe before I discovered the Urban Institute (a Nonpartisian Economic and Public Policy Research Organization)?

There are 11 policy centers under the umbrella of the Urban Institute. The one that rocks my boat is, of course, the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy (CNP).

The mission of CNP is to promote understanding of civil society and improve nonprofit sector performance through rigorous research, clear analysis and informed policy.

Even more enticing is one of CNP's programs: the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS) - the national clearinghouse of data on the nonprofit sector in the United States.
Current NCCS Projects include:
  • The "Form 990 Wiki" (a collaborative website) for helping the nonprofit research and practitioner communities reason together about the draft IRS Form 990 released in June 2007 by the IRS. The goal is to develop a set of practical recommendations that have been carefully vetted to minimize their costs and maximize their potential benefit for researchers, regulators and practitioners.
  • Improving the quality of data on nonprofit organizations:
    • The Nonprofit Overhead Cost Study aims to to understand and improve the measurement and reporting of fundraising and administrative expenses.
    • The Quality 990 website focuses on improving the quality of IRS form 990 reporting by nonprofit organizations.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Friday, October 05, 2007


How do you achieve your mission without infrastructure? What is your mission? Help underserved youth get jobs? To get to that mission you'll need to:
  • Tell others about your story? Marketing
  • Ask for help (especially money)? Fundraising
  • Keep your government funding? Accounting
  • Answer an email? IT
Congratulations, now you need $100,000 to carry out your mission (not counting your salary of course).

Will the purpose, the appeal, the grant request and the communication advance your mission? Sure, but it has to make more than $100,000.
Enter the business measurement: Return on Investment or ROI. This is a measure that profit making companies use to determine how much money they make from how much money they used. In other words, if you invest $100,000 and make $500,000, that would be a pretty good return on your investment.

Now, what place does ROI have in the nonprofit sector?
DeShele Dorsey, Senior Director/Philanthropy Division, Changing Our World, in her article "Measuring Return on Investment: The Value of Nonprofit Partners", offers the following:

Measuring the value and benefits of good corporate citizenship is nothing like demonstrating the return on investment (ROI) of a media spot during the National Football League's playoff games

But it's easy to say what it can't do. My point tonight is that if we don't know what return we get on our investment, how are we going to tell our donors that? I see it all the time "Your $1500 helps: feed a child for a year or care for a tree or get a kid to college or buys meals for a senior..." Somewhere along the line we need to be analyzing the numbers, but to do that we have to know what to ask. If you raise $100,000 to put $100,000 into marketing and fundraising in order to raise another $100,000 to give to the kids and then take 15% off the top to manage the money and run the place...what exactly is happening?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, August 30, 2007


How many nonprofits are there in the U.S.?

According to the Nonprofit Quarterly, there are 1.4 million nonprofits in the U.S.

299,000 of which were 501(c) 3's over $25K and 545,000 were non-filing under $25K.

That is 845,000, NOT 1.4 million. What are the missing 568,000?

Turns out they are "other nonprofits" meaning not 501 (c) 3's.

104,000 were private foundations - 501(c) 4's and the remaining 465,000 was the 501's that weren't "3's" and "4's).

Now I was down to 299,000 nonprofits in the U.S. (the kind I usually think of as nonprofits--the human services, the charities, the arts, the education, etc. etc.)

But we're not done yet. Of the 299,000, 39,000 of them are the hospitals & health groups I was originally looking for. That leaves us with 260,000 nonprofits - not 1.4 million.

Those 39,000 hospitals (only 13% of the 299,000) spend 47% of the billions of budget dollars.

Here's the data:

Type # of nonprofits

Hospital & Health 38,633 13% 3%
Education Related 53,074 18% 4%
Social Services, Culture, all other 207,326 69% 15%
Active Filers: 299,033 100% 21%

Non-reporting (under $25K) 546,200
Total 501 (c ) 3's: 845,233

501 (c ) 4's - Private Foundations 103,880
Other nonprofits 464,595


Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Nonprofit Salary Due Diligence: Comparing Nonprofit Compensation to our "for-profit" cousins

How did I wander into this strange land where nonprofit executive salaries over $200,000 may be considered excessive?

In 2004, the median nonprofit CEO salary was $291,356[1] (keep in mind that these were in the mid-range salaries):

As nonprofit leaders we must perform our due diligence and consider the reasonableness of these for-profit sector salaries. Hmmmm. Let's start with a peak at the AFL-CIO’s “Executive Pay Watch”:

  • Alan G. Lafley, of Procter & Gamble earned $ 24,620,600;
  • Kenneth I. Chenault American Express earned $ 23,619,693;
  • Charles O. Prince of Citigroup Inc. $ 22,994,729;
  • William B. Harrison of JPMorgan Chase & Co. earned $ 22,338,815;
  • Kenneth D. Lewis of Bank of America earned $ 22,027,984.

Compare these to your salary!

[1] Chronicle of Philanthropy, September 30, 2004 Executive Pay Rises Modestly “Trend could continue as IRS increases scrutiny” by Ben Gose

Technorati Tags: , ,

Sunday, August 26, 2007


Deloitte & Touche and the Points of Light Volunteer Foundation conducted a study that challenges nonprofits to consider whether time is, in fact, money. They make an observation:
(that) while a majority of nonprofit leaders think the greatest contribution companies can make to them is financial, corporate contributions represent only about one percent of the total operating budgets of nonprofits, indicating an extremely limited resource

and then asked 200 non-profit leaders and 750 white-collar workers about the value of workplace skills to nonprofits.

What do you need to run your company? The universal answer: money. The challenge: Aren't skilled management professional volunteers just as important (or more important) than money? What if (and this will be a shocker) there isn't enough money to go around?

They concluded that "Despite the fact that nonprofits and volunteers both place a very high value on workplace skills, neither are capitalizing on them to make an even greater impact on society."

Now the ball is in our court. We want the for-profit world and the public to regard us as well-run businesses (efficient use of charitable funds, forthright and transparent accountability, demonstrated ability to achieve performance goals, etc. etc.)... But, can we break through our own bias and see the new volunteer as an incredible resource? Or will we hold tight to the image of a volunteer as someone who would be getting paid if they really had any talent? Are our volunteers staffing phones or food closets, folding fliers, and cleaning hospitals??? Could they be (instead) setting up our computer networks, offering management advice, helping us with our public reporting, training our own management in leadership models?

Can we morph the image of the Candy Stripe-er into a "Suit"?
Read the Executive Summary below for a full summary and analysis of their key research findings:

Volunteer IMPACT Study (277 KB)
2006 Deloitte/Points of Light Volunteer IMPACT Study


The nonprofit sector still has a public relations issue. Why on earth is the public still wondering if we are businesses? Even Deloitte & Touche, a company who to all appearances is committed to allocating some of its valuable staff resources to nonprofit management, frames the question this way:

Although nonprofits are not in business to turn a financial profit, they are indeed businesses and they encounter many of the same resource constraints and operational and management challenges as any for profit enterprise.

Holy Cow, stop the presses. We are indeed businesses? Who would have thunk?

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 12, 2007


What words strike fear into the hearts of nonprofit accountants? Here is my list so far:

Matching Costs
In-kind Donations
Cost Allocation

If auditors want to play "gotcha" all they have to do is utter these 4-letter words. No matter how properly a nonprofit handles these, they will always be open to question. Auditors know this, and so, when they have no findings, they seem to always pull these out of the hat.

Matching Costs: How did you calculate these costs? How do you ensure you haven't used the same funds to match multiple grants?

Depreciation: Why haven't you depreciated your capital improvements? Because you won't let us own the building!

In-kind donations: How did you value these? Did you reflect them on your general ledger?

Cost Allocations: What is your basis? Do they fluctuate over the year? Did you allocate based on budgets (g-d forbid!)

Overhead: You can't charge this here, it's unallowable. Then who is going to pay for it?

Learn more about how auditors assess risk

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, August 06, 2007


Many a nonprofit staffer has looked around and not liked what they saw. We've all heard the complaints, perhaps we've been the one making them. The techie's complain that our leaders "don't understand today's technology"; the accountants complain that "they're kidding themselves about the fundraiser being a success"; the program staff complain that "the performance measures are BOTH impossible to meet AND meaningless"; the staff complain that "they aren't paid enough" AND "that they don't have an adequate budget to run an effective program". We all complain that we don't have the government and public support we require.
The stats say the baby boomers are about to retire. Who will take the reigns? How will be meet the challenge our leaders leave us?

There really is no other answer, we'll have to put our money where our mouth is.

The challenge is not then, but now. Why wait? Let's learn what we need to learn, teach and share it, and lead from within. If we don't we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

My focus? Confronting my own demons. Tonight I put it out to the universe: I will bring my best to the table and know that change can occur, truth prevails, knowledge brings light. Trite? Maybe. Essential? Yes
Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Saturday, August 04, 2007


Do nonprofits need an act to prove our integrity? The whole notion irritates me. It irritated California Association of Nonprofits (CAN) too. After the bills passage, CAN issued a statement including this message:
In addition to the fiscal burdens highlighted in the Governor’s message, we remain concerned that SB 1262 sets a dangerous precedent, detailing the composition and operations of nonprofit boards of directors, dictating the contents of contracts, and establishing government mandates for practices that are best left to the discretion of individual organizations.

We urge that future legislation intended to improve nonprofit integrity not be conceived without extensive consultation with all stakeholders and be based on a comprehensive examination of the issues rather than reactions to specific incidents. In addition, CAN looks forward to improvements in nonprofit oversight growing out of the California Performance Review and to joining with the Governor to strengthen the work of nonprofits and to promote involvement in nonprofit community service.

The Governator acknowledged his concern with by issuing a message accompanying the act encouraging the Legislature to re-visit the bill if it turns out to impose unnecessary burdens on nonprofits.

Does your state have a "nonprofit integrity act"? So far at least five states do: Connecticut (SB 946/HB 6515), California (Nonprofit Integrity Act of 2004 SB 1262), Massachusetts (Act to Promote the Financial Integrity of Public Charities), New Hampshire (HB 1408), and Connecticut (passed SB 946/HB 6515).

Most "integrity legislations" covers the same bases.

California's Nonprofit Integrity Act, for example, applies to nonprofits with gross revenues over $2 million, not counting funds for which a governmental entity requires an accounting, must comply with these requirements:

  1. Annual CPA-audited financial statements using generally accepted accounting principles
  2. Independent auditor-The financial statements must be audited by an independent auditor
  3. Public Disclosure - The audited financial statements must be available to members of the public on the same basis as its Form 990
  4. Audit committee- A charity that has a finance committee must have a separate audit committee, the chairman of the audit committee may not be a member of the finance committee, and members of the finance committee must be a minority on the audit committee
  5. CEO/CFO Compensation The Board of Directors must review and approve the compensation, including benefits, of the corporation’s President or CEO, and its Treasurer or CFO, "to assure that it is just and reasonable."

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


I took a break from blogging for the past few months. It was not really a summer vacation. It was just that I got the blogging blues. Because I was getting wrapped up in the Wiki-RSS-SecondLife-Web 2.0-Social Media maelstrom. I was afraid my philosophical musings couldn't compete. In short, I lost my way.

What is my way? I’m here to provide a philosophical examination of the issues underlying our nonprofit ways. Sometimes it’s accounting or compliance and yes sometimes technology or meta-tech. Unfortunately, I’m a generalist lost between the hot topics with the great "take aways". My message isn’t clear (or clear enough) and I only reach 39 unique visitors. Yes I’m RSS-able and search optimized and post regularly (at least I did for 14 consecutive months.

So why bother? Because there are things that I need to say and I’m compelled to say them. In addition, because I have found myself among a community--one that I never had before. A group of nonprofit bloggers I’m proud to be a part of.

Without further adieu here are the five bloggers with a philosophical bent that I love the most

  1. Andrew Taylor’s TheArtfulmanager
  2. The Agitator (IF that is Roger Craver and Tom Belford, does this count as two? Then I’d have to have the top 6 but that wouldn’t qualify for the “top five” carnival!)
  3. Ken Goldstein’s The Nonprofit Consultant
  4. Phil Cubeta’s Gift Hub
  5. Bao Vang’s Minnesota Council of Nonprofits blog

Technorati Tags: , ,

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

BUZZ WORD IS A BUZZ WORD (HELP!) or: Why I stopped blogging (until today)

I don’t want to be a buzz-kill, but I hate buzz words. I hate take-aways. I love take-out (at least I did before I moved to LA which doesn’t have great take-out). I hate social networking. I’m anti-social. So sue me! I hate anything with “tube” in the name. I hate Face Book as much as I hate Flckr. I hate information overload. I love information. As long as it is not about the latest buzz words.

Where am I going with this? Remember the Rolodex? the Day Timer? Anybody? Buhler? Buhler?[1] I had some sweet Rolodex shareware. How about the Palm Pilot? And when am I going to get my flying car darn it!

Carving in stone gets you close to eternity, even paper has a shot if it stays cool and dry. But where is anybody going to get a 5 ½ inch floppy drive in 2010? For that matter where is anyone going to get one today?

I have one! But I don’t have a cable to connect it and I don’t have a suitable port on my teeny computer (they don’t call them PC’s anymore do they?) Does anyone say “Hyperlink” anymore? A link is just a link now. But I am Hyper. Hyper fed up that is.

On the other hand…the following youtube video triggered this rant, so I’ll have to find the love and “embed” this “youtube” in my “blog”. Arrrrrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhh

Now shall I calm down enough to get to what’s really bothering me? Yes? Okay then. I took a break from blogging for the past few months. Not really a summer vacation. I just got the blogging blues? Why? Because I was getting wrapped up in the Wiki-RSS-SecondLife-Web 2.0-Social Media maelstrom. I lost my way. What is my way? I’m here to provide a philosophical examination of the issues underlying our nonprofit ways. Sometimes it’s accounting or compliance and yes sometimes technology or meta-tech.[2] I know, I know, I’m a generalist lost between the hot topics with the great take-aways. My message isn’t clear or clear enough and I only reach 29 unique visitors. Yes I’m RSS-able and search optimized and post regularly (at least I did for 14 consecutive months).

So why bother? Because there are things that I need to say and I’m compelled to do so. Before I get too fired up (I know, too late) I must acknowledge that I’ve found myself among a community. One that I never had before. A group of nonprofit bloggers I’m proud to be a part of. And god knows we need the techno bloggers (who alternately intimidate and impress my socks off). And in this community there are so many on the path ahead of me. I don’t have to plug Beth’s Blog, because she is a delicious technorati authority rated, plugged in, flikerd, wiki’d RSS lovin’ blogger, in other words, one wired chica (I love u Beth). So without further adieu here are the five bloggers with a philosophical bent that I love the most) – and if they occasionally write about technology, god love ‘em.

  1. Andrew Taylor’s TheArtfulmanager
  2. The Agitator (IF that is Roger Craver and Tom Belford does this count as two, in which case I’d have to have the top 6 but that wouldn’t qualify for the “top five” carnival!
  3. Ken Goldstein’s The Nonprofit Consultant
  4. Phil Cubeta’s Gift Hub
  5. Bao Vang’s Minnesota Council of Nonprofits blog

[1] Reference to Ferris Buhler’s Day Off. Ferris has cut school and his teacher calls roll, the image of the teacher droning on: Buhler? Buhler? Has become iconic, representing the youth of America thumbing it’s nose at authority. Ah youth.
[2] If I’m going to get into Meta, then I’ll have to write about my favorite book Godel, Escher & Bach, and if I’m going to do that, then you’ll have to listen to me sing the praises of recursion and self-referential comments. And I just can’t do that tonight. I can not. Okay twist my arm. Comeon…

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Sunday, July 29, 2007


I'm just a bill/Yes, I'm only a bill
And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill
Well, it's a long, long journey
To the capital city
It's a long, long wait
While I'm sitting in committee
But I know I'll be a law someday
At least I hope and pray that I will
But today I am still just a bill. --SchoolHouse Rock, 1970

I went on my first "hill visit" last month. I was very excited about educating our congressman on the challenges nonprofits face. I didn't know how naive I was until I sat in his office.

First, although we had an appointment, we were greeted by an "aide" with a notepad. No actual congressman face time. Second, there was no spark of interest until we described (in detail) what work we were doing in HIS district. So what about city-wide services, just tell me about mine!; Third, the aide did not write anything on the notepad (although she held her pen at the ready) UNTIL we mentioned a specific piece of legislation in committee. She eagerly wrote down the numbers of the bills in question.

As I left I realized that she hadn't heard a word of our "message" and didn't have any better understanding of the challenges facing our nonprofit, than before our visit.

Disheartened at first, I realize now that there was an important moral to that story. Want change? Work with legislature to put it into a bill. If it becomes a law...then have legal validation of your work (and maybe funding as well).

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, June 04, 2007


an exploration of anti-meeting sentiment in the blogosphere

Happiness runs in a circular motion/ thought is just a little boat upon the sea/ everybody is a part of everything anyway/ you can have it all if you let yourself be. Donovan, 1969

Happiness. Work Meetings. What do these two have in common? If you answered "nothing", you are not alone. To find like-minded individuals, Google "I hate meetings" for 12,000 hits (make sure to type the "quotes" or you'll get ten zillion hits)!

With that, it's time to announce my latest tag: IHateMeetings

Matt Raible in his April, 2006 post "Tips for Productivity and Happiness and Work" offers the following advice:
Avoid meetings at all costs. Find a way to walk out of meetings that are unproductive, don't concern you, or spiral into two co-workers bitching at each other. While meetings in general are a waste of time, some are worse than others. Establish your policy of walking out early on and folks will respect you have stuff to do. Of course, if you aren't a noticeably productive individual,walking out of a meeting can be perceived as being simply "not a team player", which isn't a good idea.

Among Matt's pearls of wisdom (sure to freak out nonprofit managers): work with a beer on your desk. Now there's an idea!

Or you may stick around and mutter “What’s the point? What’s the point?” or “My time is worth money!” Not likely to have any effect, so far I have yet to see a corporation who functions without these monstrosities we call meetings.
Ever want to get out of meeting? When is it time to bail? Writing under a pseudonym, blogger "Rands"has a hilarious post called Agenda Detection.

Rands blogs on the struggle to identify whether or not a meeting has “suck potential”, identifying the “players and the pawns” and figuring out when to “bail”.

I'll file Tyler Cohen's post Against Brainstorming here as well. In his blog Marginal Revolution, Tyler explores the "illusion of group of productivity”.

So much to say, so little time, but I've got a meeting to go to!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, April 23, 2007


"I don’t understand these fundraisers, …they waste all this money…why don't they just give the money to …the sick people?"

"…you know what? They don’t! They throw a party so rich people like me can spend $10,000 on a table and then they give it to the sick people!" ...that’s how it’s done! Joan Cusack to Jennifer Aniston in "Friends with Money"

Alright, let's get this over with folks: Fundraisers are a Lie! Yes that's right you heard me.

A few months back, I attended a luncheon to raise funds for a school for the deaf. Yes, it was luncheon and a fashion show and a fundraiser all in one. First there was the obligatory silent auction, then (during lunch) the not-so-silent auction, and then after lunch when the plates were taken away, we were asked if we would like to purchase the Orchid Centerpieces! Hadn't they got enough from us? Let me think-No! Easy as it is to lampoon a fundraiser, that is not where I am going today.

One of the ladies who lunch (our table mate) told me that she had been involved in planning the event for months. As a volunteer and parent she had besieged her local stores to donate goods to "sell" at the silent auction. This yuppie begging was stressful, but "worth it" she told me. She had been up early in the morning today, blowing up balloons and setting tables. She was very excited and pleased to hear that the event had "raised" $200,000 for the school. How much did the event cost I asked, "I don't know" she told me. I asked if she had a financial statement or even last years audit. She said it would be awkward to ask as they might construe it as nosy or even (gasp) accusatory. I reassured her and promised to tell her what the numbers showed.

When she sent me the audit report I quickly turned to the fundraising expenses page. There I found that their event coordinator was paid $60,000 per year, that the event had cost $100,000, that the lunch and hotel had cost another $40,000. In other words...the event had netted...Nothing. When I shared this information with the parent, she was devastated. "Why did I do all this work?" "Why did we do this event?"

Because, I told makes people feel better.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Last November, in a post called "The Limitations of Dashboards" I wrote about my disappointment with the promise of electronic "dashboards".

But when I was about to waive the white flag, I found him. Who? The Dashboard Spy, that's who. And who is this spy guy? Nobody knows, and nobody has to really care either (see spy bio at the end of this article if you really want the scoop). The point is, he introduced me to some very inspiring applications of what a dashboard can do for a nonprofit (or the community in general).

Let's get down to specifics. Whatcom County's Community Dashboard uses red-yellow-green gauges as indicators of everything from Annual voter turnout, to Suicide Rates. They have gauges for women owned firms, violent crime, domestic violence incidence rate, rental affordability, releases of carcinogens into the air. And more! A girl who loves data might find her match here.

The site does offer the raw data, and drills down to great explanatory commentary. It also offers the following advice:

Caution: (These) gauges merely compare Whatcom County to other places. An arrow pointing to the green only means that we are doing better on a particular issue than other communities, it does NOT necessarily mean that we should be comfortable with how we are doing.

Still, I suddenly see (to mix my metaphors) what a power tool a dashboard can be. These icons convey information in an easy to understand context. Who is really going to study the raw data? Me? Yes. The general public? not so much. These gauges will give you a sense of community "at a glance"! And you don't have to be a statistics major to get it.

The only point of this article is that I have to pull the dashboard notion out of the trash bin and re-examine its application (and implications) for the nonprofit sector.

There is an air of mystery about "Dash". This is probably due to the fact that some early executive dashboard screenshots were “borrowed” for display on this site. Before this resource became popular and dashboard project members started to freely contribute samples of their dashboard work, some sneaking around was required to grab the screenshots. In fact, in a few enterprise dashboard samples, you’ll find names censored and logos removed.

Who is The Dashboard Spy? We can't tell you who he is, but we'll tell you a little about him. The editor of this site is an industry insider who has seen many IT projects and worked with many analysts, designers, programmers and business users on dashboard projects. He leads an Interactive Services department and has lots of ideas and opinions on User Experience-related matters.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Monday, March 12, 2007


Thinking Clearly
by pam ashlund

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

"much of our biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced." Critical Thinking Website

I'm thinking about nonprofit effectiveness today (again). Why is it one of my favorite topics? Because...IF WE AREN'T EFFECTIVE WHY ARE WE BOTHERING???? It seems even Bill Gates Senior is asking this question. I have to paraphrase him here (from a talk at a small gathering). The essence of his statement was this: Historically most efforts to cure social problems had little or no effect or (this is the frightening part) only made them worse.

What a disturbing claim; even more so because of how it resonates.

In a February post I wrote about the counterintuitive nature of social problems. That article (more than many) has influenced (haunted?) my thinking ever since. After reading that article (way back in the 80's!) I've looked at "our work" askance. For example, when someone tells me about how their services help the community, I ask myself "but how do you know?"; "what was your research methodology?"; "what was the size of the group?" Even more so, yes it sounds logically like it will work, but why do you think that "you think so" has anything to do with what the actual outcome will be??

Here's where our psychology comes into play. How open are you to an idea that you initially don't agree with? Can you even pause and ponder it? Most of us can not. Hear the opposing view and the door closes.

Years ago in the early days of computer micro-processing, a wise professor (Barry Godolphin) introduced a discussion on programming thusly: "if the computer doesn't give you the right results it is always right and you are always wrong". There was something profound there akin to Ronnie Reagan's quip "Trust, but verify". In fact, the advice, which is that we are so darn vulnerable to bias, that we ought discard our opinions and revisit the data...was a pivotal point in my higher education.

Now, if we can only get there in nonprofit micro-processing!

Technorati Tags: , , ,


It was back in April, 06 that I first got "blog-itis". Finally a technology that conformed to my need. I don't know why, but I've always "choked" when I try to write; but a blog post let me capture an insight without overwhelm (after all, you can always write another post).
I started out with a copycat approach. I used my friends blog as a template. I took the easy road with Blogger. And then the fun began. I covered this journey in Birth of a Blog way back when. So today I just want to give props to the bloggers that gave me that critical guidance, resources and inspiration to get me going:

Beth Kanter's Beth's Blog
Allen Benamer's Non-Profit Tech: Confessions of an IT Director
Michelle Murrain's Zen and the Art of Nonprofit Technology Blog
Michael Stein's Non-Profit Technology Blog

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Saturday, March 03, 2007


"Since untruths can be unintentional, the truth must be intentional" Arline Belton

The greatest obstacles to truth telling are: "time is limited" and fear that "truth will hurt us, or someone or something we care about." Arline Belton
I'd never heard of an "Organizational Healer" before. That is, until I read Erline Belton's article Truth or Consequences? in the NonProfit Quarterly.

I offer an executive summary of the article, but highly recommend reading the real thing.

Arline is the CEO of the Lyceum Group in Boston. She has been identified by clients as an organization healer, and feels honored to be of service as she practices organization development from her heart and head.

It seems like honesty would be a given in the nonprofit sector; afterall we're the good guys right? Yes and No. Arline identifies barriers to telling the truth:

  • Groupthink (you are a team player AREN'T YOU?)
  • Imaginary Conflicts
  • Hidden Agendas
Why would anyone lie? Reading the "Conditions that support untruths" makes it all too clear:
  • Exaggerating or underplaying the truth: This is often done for one’s own benefit, for that of the team, or for a teammate. These lies usually reflect (or exceed) desired expected outcomes.
  • Shading the truth (it's noble to protect yourself and your team right?)
  • Beating around the bush - the "smoke screen" (can't say no? delay it!)
  • Pretending certainty or expertise: (Don't want anybody to think you're not on top of it do you?)
  • Not letting others know your true position: (Anyone heard of a CYA memo?)
  • Consciously withholding relevant info: (Don't want to loose your power? Keep important info to yourself)
  • Perceptions of powerlessness: (I have a strong leader, I must not know what I'm talking about, must be my imagination!)
  • Perceptions of invulnerability: (I'm “in the know”, after all I have a unique advantage over others who are outside the average circle; i'd never get careless and let facts slide by without diligent examination and discussion!)
  • Misplaced loyalty: (Oh heck, I've known him a long time, I can still be objective about performance and job competence!)
  • Self-deception (probably the worst and the easiest path of least resistance, I can't fall prey to this one!)
After reading that list it's a miracle we just don't lie all the time; fortunately here are conditions that support truth, that just might be a check and balance to the daunting challenges listed above:
  • Individual examination/accountability: The critical role of the leader: through consent that is informed, uncompelled, and mutual.
  • Visible commitment to truth telling: Explaining thoughts, acknowledging the power of our words, and being accountable to one another for our actions will demonstrate that concept.
  • Collective truths and collective responsibility: It's all about ownership! Hint: it involves personal risk, courage and time, darn it!
  • The Whole Truth: Access to reliable, solid, and truthful information is the one commodity every person, regardless of role or position, needs in order to succeed.
Arline identifies four critical components to the whole truth: "information must be complete, timely, accurate, and true."
  • Information Flow: "All available facts and information (including personal stories, feelings, and visible and invisible reactions) are on the table in an accurate and accessible way;" Now, who's crazy enough to do that?
  • Free choice, sustained environmental spirit, safety: There can't even be "a hint of social, political, or economic coercion." How do you know when it is “safe” to tell the truth? Actions speak louder than words: "there must be visible examples of situations where the truth was told, acknowledged, and acted on—and the consequences were not punitive."

Now go read the whole thing, it's amazing! And buy some copies for everyone at your place!

This article was so on-point that I feel compelled to plug NPQ. For only $29 bucks a year you get four issues of seriously high-quality articles. OK, voluntary commercial message over!

Note: no payment was received for this endorsement.

Technorati Tags: , ,, , , , , , , ,

Friday, March 02, 2007


Last week I wrote a "hate" post and created a tag "IhateMeetings"; Today I offer an antidote: a new tag: "Icouldn'tsayitbetter"

I've tagged articles (and blog posts) that are so well put that I'm left humbled. These authors write what I've felt for so long, but could not articulate.

When you're feeling overwhelmed by the insanity in the nonprofit world, here are some ideas that will help you find your way back to sanity (some already becoming "classics"):

1) Clara Miller talks about why the "normal" rules of accounting get very weird when applied to nonprofits in: The Looking-Glass World of Nonprofit Money: Managing in For-Profits' Shadow

Clara steps "through the looking glass" asking (and answering) the following true/false questions:

Rule 1: The consumer buys the product.
Rule 2: Price covers cost and eventually produces profits, or the business folds.
Rule 3: Cash is liquid.
Rule 4: Price is determined by producers' supply and consumers' ability/willingness to pay.
Rule 5: Any profits will drop to the bottom line and are then available for enlarging or improving the business.
Rule 6: Investment in infrastructure during growth is necessary for efficiency and profitability.
Rule 7: Overhead is a regular cost of doing business, and varies with business type and stage of development.

2) Erline Belton, an Organizational Healer, blows the roof off of corporate B.S. in: Truth or Consequences: The Organizational Importance of Honesty

3) Ever look around and see a lot of "dead weight" and why someone hasn't evaluated them out of there??? For a real breath of fresh air, read a post in my latest favorite blog, The Agitator: When a Nonprofit Isn't Good Enough

4) Kim Klein's keynote at a 2006 CAN conference was called Transparency, Integrity and the Nonprofit Sector. With that title I might have overlooked her revolutionary exposition on the shadow-side of nonprofits. Read Kim's article as she examines both sides of our longest held nonprofit myths.

Related Nonprofit Eye posts:

The challenge of working for (and staying in) a Nonprofit Job

Nonprofit Confidence Problem: Kim Klein Names the Shadow Side of Nonprofits

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,