Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kitchen Table Budget Principles for Minnesota

An interesting budgeting idea from the Minnesota Budget Project (of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits) and Organizing Apprenticeship Project:
The state government has forecast a shortfall of $4.8 billion for the next biennium, July 2009 to June 2011. In the next few months, state policymakers will decide how to balance the budget.

We are all facing tough economic times. The unemployment rate is nearly 7 percent, and may well climb higher. Paychecks are downsizing. The value of our stocks and retirement portfolios is evaporating. Each night, tens of thousands of us are being turned away from shelters. Thousands of our homes have been lost to predatory sub-prime lending. Rent is rising. Food prices are going up. Bellies are growling with hunger. Thousands are without health care. College tuition is moving out of reach for more and more of us.

During these tough times, many of us are sitting down with our families around kitchen tables, talking about how we are going to make it through this downturn. We are figuring out what we can cut back on and what we can’t, trying to decide what is necessary.
More at

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another interesting take on the inauguration

Sam Singh (was ED of Michigan Nonprofit Association) is traveling around the world. He was in a small town in South Africa for Obama's inauguration. Here is his observations:
Singh around the World. And here are some more of his observations

Open Letter to Republicans

Dear Gov. Pawlenty, Republicans in the MN Legislature, and Republicans in the US Congress.

We've tried tax cuts to stimulate the economy.

Most recently, in the spring of 2008, we had the Bush tax rebate to stimulate the economy. It didn't work! Everyone agrees it didn't work. Please quite asking for more tax cuts in the Obama stimulous package. Your complaints are a distraction at best.

In Minnesota, we had the Ventura/Pawlenty tax cuts about eight years ago. It didn't work! Minnesota's economy has tanked since then. Once you could count on Minnesota's economy out performing the national average and all the other rust belt states. No more. Once we had great public schools. No more. Once we had a quality highway system. No more (try driving I-35 south of Owatonna for an example--or, remember that bridge?). Since that tax cut, we've had one state budget disaster after another. Governor Pawlenty, please fix the Minnesota tax system. restore those poorly considered tax cuts.


a taxpayer

Monday, January 26, 2009

Really kewl technology

A 1.5 mega-pixel panoramic picture of the inauguration. By photographer David Bergman. You can zoom into President Bush to check his expression. You can check out the people looking out the windows of the Capitol. Have your kid try to find someone picking their nose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

For-profit managers in the nonprofit world

We're in a recession--a really bad recession. That means there will be a bunch of managers from the for-profit world deciding to "make a life change" or "do something meaningful." They want to work for (in some cases only volunteer for) nonprofit organizations. They want to show nonprofits how to be highly efficient organizations. They want to fix the management of nonprofits. They want to fix our failing social infrastructure. (They want to pad their resume with what they expect to be an easy win.)

It is my prediction that we are going to see a number of very good nonprofit organizations run into the ground by these for-profit geniuses. The nonprofit world is different.
  • Most employees work for the love of their jobs--not for high salaries (although getting paid what they are worth would be a welcome change).
  • Try managing volunteers if you want a challenge.
  • You think investors and banks are hard to deal with? Try working with corporate and family foundations as well as banks and large private donors (we do probably share the same horror stories about government contracts/funding).
  • There are dual bottom lines--the financial side and the mission side.
  • Financial accounting standards and tax laws are different (not better or worse--just different)
  • You probably can't raise your fees--your clients usually have no money. (and in the case of theaters and museums--do you really want to price out the people who can't afford it?).
  • We all work long hours for little pay (and no bonuses) (and no personal assistant or free gym memberships)
  • We don't worship MBAs. We don't even worship people with masters degrees in nonprofit management--but they at least know something about the industry.
I'm not going to go on because I just saw a great article about this in main stream (well, sort of) business magazine--Fast Company. Nancy Lablin of Dress for Success and Do Something has a great column--"No Vacancy: Job-seeking refugees from the for-profit world shouldn't go running to the not-for-profit sector." (And she isn't quite as cynical as I am)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama's inauguration

There is way too much to say about Obama's inauguration and a lot of people have said it better than I can. So here are some links to analysis and commentary I found interesting:

One man's reaction to President Obama's speech By Eric Black, Published Tue, Jan 20 2009 2:13 pm,

A couple excerpts:
....Mentioning Muslims and Hindus is a small act of courage. But what other recent president-elect or presidential candidate would have gone out of his way to acknowledge the agnostics and atheists?....

There wasn't a lot of trash talk about the mistakes of his predecessor. Obama thanks former President Bush for his service and his graciousness during the transition. But the digs were there, delivered with understatement. What else could it mean to restore science to its rightful place,...
Obama’s hard words by Scott Rosenberg's in Scott Rosenberg's wordyard
...In telling us to it was time to “put away childish things,” he may have been referring to the bitter divisions of the past decade, the political squabbling that has diverted so much precious energy and time...

Right now, I’m left with the picture of Malia, the president’s older daughter, pulling out her own digital camera to take a picture right as the TV camera was trained on her. It was a little pointer to the future, a gesture for a new generation that will be taking charge of its media in ways we can’t yet imagine....

Friday, January 02, 2009

Rural Broadband Hearing

On December 29, 2008, US Senator for Minnesota Amy Klobuchar held a hearing on the need for better better rural access to broadband. This blog entry is going to be my (somewhat random) thoughts that were sparked by the hearing. If you want details about the hearing itself, go to the great summary by Ann Treacy on the Blandin on Broadband blog.

The audience was a round up of all the usual suspects:
  • Telcom industry lobbyists, consultants and association folks;
  • People working for Blandin Foundation's broadband project;
  • Members of the MN Ultra High-Speed Broadband Taskforce;
  • Reporters;
  • An employee of the FCC who happened to be in town on vacation (but she usually works on Digitial TV issues);
  • At least one librarian.
There were a few members of the public in attendance.

Senator Klobuchar's opening comments included her desire that the Obama economic stimulous package include incentives/funding for expanding rural broadband. She noted how the US had dropped behind other developed counties in broadband access and that Minnesota had dropped to 44th out of the 50 states in Internet access speed. She compared the need for funding to the Rural Electrification Administration in the depression of the 1930s.

The panel presenting testimony (organized by Klobuchar staff) had the type of people you'd expect considering the goal of pointing out the need for rural access to broadband:
  • A rural state senator;
  • A school technology director (for a largely rural district);
  • a manager of a rural telephone cooperative;
  • A manager for a (primarily rural) health provider;
  • A small town/rural economic development director;
  • A person who works with Blandin Foundation.
The one surprise was the president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) (the union that mainly respresents Qwest workers).

All the rural panelsits talked about the need for broadband access. They had the typical examples and the typical horror stories. It seemed like everyone thought just getting access to broadband would solve the problem. There was little or no discussion about the need for access to hardware and software for the low income residents. There was no talk about the need to help people learn that there are reasons they want to be on broadband. There was no talk about the need to have content that was meaningful for all their residents (most seemed to be only considering the middle class in their analaysis).

The presentation by the rural telephone coop manager (West Central Telephone) was interesting. He talked about providing fiber to the home in his rural area--that they were able to do it because:
  • Federal loans for rural telecomunications provided relatively low cost finance;
  • They were a monopoly--that no one else wants to serve the low density area they serve;
  • They are owned by their clients;
  • Because they only grow if the economy of their service area grows.
They are using units that combine small solar and wind generation equipment to power the electronics needed to run a fiber system across such a large area.

The president of the CWA seemed to mainly parrot the basic line of Qwest: That competion in telecommunications is bad. He was even going back to ancient (in telecom terms) history of the 1954 decision by the FCC that ATT could not provide cable service. I wasn't surprised this, to me, CWA has always seemed to be a captive of the telephone companies (ATT, Northwestern Bell, US West, and Qwest in our area).

No one brought up the issue that the economic self interest of telecommunicaitons companies depends on their size and total service areas.
  • West Central Telephone for example is willing to invest in their area because they will only grow if the economy of their service area grows.
  • A municipal owned telecom provider (privately or cooperatively owned) will similarly invest in providing broadband service to their community because that is the only way they will grow.
  • Qwest will not invest in broadband in rural areas or small towns because they view their growth comming from the metropolitan areas they serve (and even in those areas, they seem more interested in milking the investments made 30 to 50 years ago than in making new investments.
The one interesting idea that was presented (besides the rural telephone cooperative example) was the idea of one highspeed broadband connection to the home, regulated as a common carrier with different companies providing different (and competing) applications over the same wire.

At the beginning of the public comment period, Rick King, the chair of the MN Ultra High-Speed Broadband Taskforce made some good but generic comments about the need for broadband service across the state. He mentioned that the final report of the taskforce will be available in the fall of 2009.

Why is it taking the taskforce until fall 2009 to come out with their recommendations. They started meeting on August 15, 2008. Even for a government task force, that seems to be like a long time! Especially considering that it would be great to have a report for this legislative session and for the new Obama administration. MN state government--always a step behind.

I didn't stay for the rest of the public comment period (my parking meter was expiring) but based on Ann's blog post, nothing exciting happened.