Category Archives: Finance

Star Trek and the Future of the Nonprofit Sector

[Image description: A cartoonish action figure of Spock, from Star Trek, with his hand outstretched in the Vulcan salute. The figure is standing on what looks like a wooden fence post, with a blurred background of plants]

Thank you Nonprofit Quarterly for publishing my piece last week on the future of the nonprofit sector. Except for the post on the misuse of the word “literally,” this is probably one of the most important things I’ve written about in the past four years. Due to a few people not having read it, I am reposting the entire piece here. If you haven’t read and thought about it, please take some time to do so. We can, and must, move our sector into the future.

Let’s face it, the last few months have been brutal. Dealing with the constant threats to communities and to democracy itself has been exhausting and heartbreaking, and many of us have been questioning whether we nonprofits are equipped to respond to current and future challenges. During these dark times, there has been at least one bright light: A new Star Trek show!

When hatred and xenophobia are on the rise, it’s nice to see a universe where diversity is a norm. From the two episodes I’ve seen, the new show, Star Trek: Discovery, is awesome. It’s not without flaws, of course, but this show, and Star Trek itself, paints a hopeful picture that we nonprofits should observe closely. And the Starfleet model in particular is something we should study

In Star Trek, there are various starships. Each has a different captain and a different mission. However, they are bound together by Starfleet, an organization that supports and coordinates the work of all the ships. Starfleet is big, with multiple departments. There’s Starfleet Academy, which trains officers; Starfleet Command, which provides governance; Starfleet Shipyard, which builds the ships; Starfleet Judge Advocate General, which serves as the judiciary branch, etc. Continue reading

New tax “reform” bill could seriously screw nonprofits and the people we serve

[Image description: A cute little brown bunny on a fluffy white carpet, in front of a light blue wall. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we launch into today’s exciting topic, check out the pilot episode of this hilarious show called “The Humanitarians.” It’s set at an organization called Stuff We Don’t Want (SWEDOW), and had me cracking up at clever one-liners like “Have we assessed the actual need for winter coats in Sub-Saharan Africa?” Check it out. We need to support more shows about nonprofit work.

Unfortunately, the rest of this post is about tax “reform.” I know, I know, I don’t really want to talk about it either. But, like taking out the compost or putting on deodorant or remembering our partner’s birthdays, we have to do it, or else bad things happen. To reward you for reading, though, and for me to actually write this, I’m putting in pictures of bunnies throughout this post. The bunnies have nothing to do with taxes.   Continue reading

23 quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit

[Image description: A grey-scale drawing of Muhammad Ali’s face. He is looking to his left. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I was on vacation this week, so did not have the mental energy to write a serious post. So here are quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit. Check out the previous installments and write yours in the comment section. Continue reading

Imagine if Apple had to run like a nonprofit

We nonprofits deal with unique challenges that our for-profit colleagues never have to think about. If you ever sat in the dark for hours listening to REM and eating Otter Pops and wondering what it would like for a large for-profit like Apple to have to run like a nonprofit, wonder no more! I’ve done it for you this week! (What, like your vacation is so much more interesting). And I asked NAF’s web designer and artist, Stacy Nguyen, to draw up some comics.

At the retail store

Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy this latest iPhone. How much is it?

Apple employee: $700 dollars.

Customer: Here you go. But I want most of this money to be spent on direct costs. No more than $70 should be going to indirect costs like rent, insurance, etc. I also don’t want any of this $700 to go toward advertisement or staff salaries.

Apple employee: We’ll designate these restrictions in our systems.

Customer: At the end of the year, I’d like a report on what you spent this money on.

Apple employee: We provide quarterly financial reports, and would be glad—

Customer: No no no. I don’t want the financial reports on your entire company. I only want a report on what my $700 specifically was spent on. Only my $700.

Apple employee: OK…Would you like to be added to our e-newsletter list? Continue reading

So, you think nonprofits should be taxed

[Image description: A stack of nine shiny gold coins on grey background. Image obtained from Pixabay.com. Wait, on second look, these might actually be chocolate coins!]

Every once a while, I encounter people who think nonprofits are getting it easy and should be paying taxes. “Rabble rabble,” they rabble, “why should only businesses pay taxes! Especially when most charities are scams, with the majority of their money going to their fat-cat CEOs’ pockets. Rabble!”

Here’s a comment someone made on one of my posts: “If nonprofit is an industry sector, then it is time to start taxing it.” (They also added, in response for my call for the sector to pay our people better: “If you own your own company, and you control the finances, go ahead, pay people more just because. On the other hand in the real world, you sound like a fool on this point.”)

From the tiresome memes and ignorant, bizsplainy blog posts and comments out there, I think some members of the public have this image of nonprofit folks as mustache-twirling con artists sitting at our desks counting piles of gold coins while starving children with trembling eyes beg us in fear for more gruel. “Mooooore?!! Only 2 cents of every dollar is available to purchase gruel, and we’ve spent it all this month!” Continue reading