Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Whistle-Blowing - Keep it in Perspective
by pam ashlund

I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' Then we'll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it! -- Howard Beale during his nervous breakdown, Network, 1976

I've blogged about whistleblowing, about fraud detection, about Enron, about Sarbanes Oxley...for gods sake I've blogged about blogging! I've pondered the subject from many an angle and then...I lost interest.

Why? Because there's only so much to say. Hey, somebody does something wrong, somebody else tells on them. Then? Well, either the wrong doer gets their just desserts...or? they kill the messenger. Time to start looking for a new job tattle tale!

I guess the whole topic bores me because so much is just lip service. It is so easy to get everybody to sign a code of ethics or post an 800# whistleblower line. What ISN'T easy is to actually be ethical...and no amount of policy is going to make that happen.

Everyone knows that with a little collusion all manners of fraud go undetected. So what are corporate leaders to do? Hire a bunch of narcs?

Oh who knows if my years of experience amount to anything, but something a wise friend told me makes a lot of sense. He said you don't learn ethics you're born with it. And he said there are some people (like me) who really can't choose, they HAVE to do what's right.

I don't know exactly what comes first, values, honor, sense of duty, ethics, honesty, responsibility. I don't know how you get them, how you learn them. But I do know alot about how to teach them. You just look someone in the eye and you tell them you value them, and then you tell them what you expect of them. It's some kind of miracle, but it never fails. People just have to live up the bar you set for them. On the other hand, if you are shifty eyed and you say it with a wink or a smirk, or you set a hypocritical bar, they'll see through you faster than you can say "liar".

That is why (you knew all this was going to lead SOMEWHERE right?)...That is why, coming across the "whistleblower" hotline on "Mayor Sams" blog was SUCH a breath of fresh air.

Here's the accompanying text:

Do you have insider information to share? Call us or email your gossip, rumors
and stories of shady government corruption. Anonymity guaranteed.
Wow, it is all so clear now. With all the shackles of having to prove your allegation removed...poof! you can report whatever you want. Gossip! Rumors! Stories! What freedom!

Alright, all I can say is this: at least I amuse myself!


The blogs namesake is the late Mayor Sam Yorty. The actual authors write behind a cloak of anonymity.

The real (late) Sam, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1909. Moved to LA to study law after high school. Worked with the DWP, later served in the State Legislature, was in World War II, served as a lawyer, went back to the Assembly, then Congress. Ran for many seats and lost but eventually became Mayor of LA in 1961. Served until 1973 when beat by Tom Bradley. Hosted a TV show, a radio show, appeared in movies and TV shows - even once with Lucille Ball! Ran for governor, US President and one more time for Mayor in 1981. Died in 1998 at his home in Studio City. Not a bad run. Not bad at all.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Government Funding for Nonprofits: Don't Eat Your Young
by pam ashlund

It's like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder
How I keep from going under -- Grand Master Flash

I have a bad feeling. The same bad feeling I had when I heard about the Homeland Security Act, or the infamous "weapons of mass destruction" speech. My spidey-sense is screaming "Something is going horribly wrong with Nonprofit Accountability".

I'm not usually a trend watcher, but me thinks I smell a trend. Seems the fall-out from Enron and Sarbanes-Oxley has finally hit the nonprofit sector. Visits from individual government funding sources are on the rise.

OMB A-133 was supposed to protect nonprofit agencies with multiple funding sources from being drowned in a wave of audits. One "Single Agency-wide Audit" would keep everybody happy. Ha!

Government agencies found a loop-hole. "We aren't doing an audit, we're just doing a fiscal review".

At last count one organization I know had twenty-five separate funding source's pay a visit to perform "fiscal reviews". All this in one year.

Another disturbing trend? Those same government agencies began to insist on subsidiary schedules in the annual audit. At whose expense? The nonprofits of course.

I have been a strong advocate for accountability in nonprofits (it's right up there with personal integrity), but I have a bad feeling that the Enron aftershocks have Government agencies eating their young.

What is OMB A-133?
Entities that receive federal funds are subject to audit requirements that are commonly referred to as "single audits". The Single Audit Act is intended to promote sound financial management, including effective internal control, with respect to federal awards administered by Nonprofit Organizations (NPO)s.

Want to read the circular?

OMB Circular A-133 - Audits of States, Local Governments, and Non-Profit Organizations (06/24/1997, includes revisions published in Federal Register 06/27/03) HTML or PDF (127k)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Friday, January 26, 2007


Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery? or Great Minds Think Alike?
by pam ashlund

Karl Jung had a theory about why people all seem to have the same myths and dreams, even people and cultures that have no contact with each other. He called it the collective unconscious. It still gets called psuedo-science by some. Today I'm wondering....

In my spare time I write another blog about life in my neighborhood in North East LA. I've had a series of surreal experiences there lately. One: a coyote sighting in front of my apartment and another: coming across a red flashing sign advertising the LA Coroners office.

Three weeks after writing about my experience I noticed two other nonprofit bloggers writing about the same thing. I jumped to the conclusion that this was a case of copycat-itis. That was, until...a friend said "I think I read that somewhere else". I looked around and low and behold, one of the most popular blogs (if not THE most popular blog) Boing Boing had a post about the LA Coroners office. I wrote about my close encounter on January 8th, and Boing Boing's was January 4th. The problem? My friend doesn't read Boing Boing! So then what?

Check out my two posts at the end of this post (January 8th), and then compare them to the Boing Boing post and the two posted on my fellow nonprofit bloggers (January 23rd & 26th respectively).

Pam's Blogs: Posted on Lofty Thoughts and on the Nonprofit Eye

Boing Boings post

Then the following from two of my fellow bloggers:

Selfish Giving
The Nonprofit Consultant

Technorati Tags: , ,

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Faith in Social Change?
by pam ashlund

Let's face it, so much of the nonprofit world has its foundation in activism. Not counting such venerable institutions as the Red Cross and the YMCA, so many nonprofits were born in the '60's & '70's.

It's always struck me as odd that the very reasons people are motivated to create change, are the same reasons that make them vulnerable to attack. I presume that were government funding not involved, none of this would have been an issue. Where did we get this idea that neutrality of ideas was a prerequisite for the use of public monies?

Ironically, this notion was successfully challenged by faith-based organizations. It's gone in and out of vogue, but in some years pushing a religious agenda, requiring a prayer for service, would exclude an organization from the use of federal funds. Politics found a way to justify this.

At the same time that the faith-based organization was placed squarely on the legitimate table, nonprofits with a political agenda were challenged and found their funding on the chopping block.

Now here's the twist: now we found churches under attack...for pushing political agendas!

Would somebody please make up their mind.

In the end it seems that faith-based and social change organizations are natural partners. Who would have thunk?

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Where in the (nonprofit) World Are You: What Google Analytics Tells Us
by pam ashlund

Willkommen, Velkommen, Welkom, Bienvenue, Beinvenidos, Benvenuto, Bonvenon, Kalosorisate, Vitame Vas,Vitejte, Woezor, Akwaaba, Kalos ilthate, E komo mai
Swaa-gat hai, Selamat Datang, Cead Mile Failte, Failte romhat, Kia Ora, DzieƱ dobry, Bem Vinda, Muito Bem Vindo, Multumesc, Greuzi, Mabuhay, Akwaaba, Laskavo prosymo, Hush kelibsiz, Dobrodosli

Where in the world are readers of the Nonprofit Eye visiting from? Here are the stats:

  • US 1771 93%
  • Canada 52 3%
  • UK 35 2%
  • India 12 1%
  • Australia 8
  • Ireland 8
  • Spain 7
  • Singapore 7
  • Malaysia 7

Technorati Tags: ,

Thursday, January 11, 2007


We've talked about the scary repercussions of trying to reach unrealistically high performance measures before....

I just came across an article that's apparently been around since 2003, How I Cooked the Books and Why. Written under the pseudonym "Phil Anthrop" (which is funny by itself), Phil tells the harrowing tale of good values going horribly wrong.

I highly recommend this article to anyone managing nonprofit service contracts. Maybe when our funders ask us to meet some unreasonable metrics we should all just quote Nancy Reagan and "just say no." After all the same contracts require compliance with the Drug Free Workplace Act (product from the same administration).

The article comes from a back issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly (which I am obliged to plug once again). Please be assured that no payment has been received for this nod (and I have no financial interest, etc)! I just love and admire that rag.

Further reading from the "Eye":

On Performance Measures:
Life, the Universe and Everything: Nonprofit Objectives Measurement

On Drug-Free WorkPlace & Self-Imposed Censorship:
Pushing the Envelope: Nonprofit Censorship

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Council on Foundations Call for Comments
message brought to you by pam ashlund

This just in:

The Council on Foundations and 2007 conference partner, Philanthropy Northwest, invite you to participate in their second Call for Comments. Share your thoughts on four big issues:
  • Combating Poverty
  • Ensuring Public Health
  • Protecting the Environment
  • Preparing for and Responding to Disasters
Foundation leaders and other experts are working to assemble content-rich programming that will examine these challenges and identify solutions and promising practices.

This Call for Comments will allow you to learn as well as contribute information that can be shared with others. You're invited to learn more about these issues and join the conversation.

Register for the 58th Annual Conference, April 29 - May 1, 2007 in Seattle, Washington. Attend Pre-conference events planned specifically for foundation leaders and trustees. Also special programming that will take place on April 28th and May 2nd, so if your schedule permits, please come early and stay late - Seattle and the Pacific Northwest await you.

Council on Foundations and Philanthropy Northwest

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Monday, January 08, 2007


Does the LA Coroner Need Money?
by Pam Ashlund

Back in December I wrote a post on Earned Income Strategies for Nonprofits addressing the topic from a philosophical point of view; but looking back it seems too abstract. It's time to talk hands-on people!

Sometimes it's hard to get your mind around the idea of nonprofits running money making enterprises. In the first place, we aren't in business to make money; in the second place, how could we make money and still fulfill our mission?

It all sounds like one of those loopholes that is too good to be true. Make money and fullfill your mission? Since income that is unrelated to your purpose is taxable, it follows that there must be the concept of "related" income.

If we can't make money on our own, are we doomed to live at the whim of government funding or continue begging for change from our ever more impatient patrons?

How many foundations offer funding to start up or build capacity? Many. How many offer funding to run normal ongoing operations? Zilch.

So what is an entrepenurial nonprofit manager to do? Enter the marriage of "Money" and "Mission".

What better example than the income generating strategy created by the LA Coroner's office. Selling items with a tongue-in-cheek take, lie a "toe-tag key chain". Take a closer look at the tag and find a message: "this could be you . . . Please don't drink and drive."

All of their products aren't educational, but even still, all the profits go to Youthful Drunk Driving Visitation Program (YDDVP).

Want to read the rest of the story? Check out Lofty Thoughts (another Blog brought to you by Pam.)

Technorati Tags: , , ,,