Jan Masaoka, CEO for the California Association of Non Profits, was interviewed on Coyote Radio Tuesday, Oct 3, during the segment “Conversations on Culture and Community.”
Q: Jan, could you tell us about your work with the California Association of non-profits?
A: We say Cal non-profits for short. It is kind of a chamber of commerce but for non-profits rather than for businesses. We have 10,000 members here in California. We mostly focus on policy work and creating a business climate that is going to help non-profits succeed at the work that they do. That is kind of our core point. I am very happy to be coming to San Bernardino to speak at the conference of the Inland Empire collaborative reaching out and talking to non-profits across the state and finding out what their concerns are so that we can represent them in Sacramento.
Q: What are the most important things great non-profits do for a community like ours?
A: Well, pretty much everything. When you think about it, we are breathing cleaner air because of the work environmental activists have done. A lot of us will have a daughter in girl scouts, or a father in an Alzheimers day care center. I have a hearing aid that has a technology that was developed in a non-profit research laboratory, or we may have gone to a private or Catholic University, for example. Everybody knows the church they go to, and they know the college they went to. They know all these things, but they may not have put them all together and realized they are all a part of the non-profit community.
Q: We’ve alluded that Inland Empire non-profits are finding unprecedented success now, due to their efforts to collaborate. Could you comment on that?
A: Non-profits collaborate a lot. I think we just collaborate so much sometimes that it’s exhausting, to tell you the truth. I think the best collaborations are actually not the ones where we collaborate with like people, but with the most unlike. The most important part is bringing money in to the partners. It doesn’t make sense to have to bring money into the partnership. Those are the ones that actually make real sense. That’s not the conventional wisdom.
Q: Can a great collaborative generate more funding for the individual partners?
A: There’s a saying that says one vase is worth a hundred grant proposal, and let me give you one example. Because people are not smoking as much, the early childhood programs across our state, preschools and such are not getting as much money as they used to because that is the money stream that comes directly from the taxes on cigarettes and so one approach to say if you are a child care agency you might think of is maybe we should get together and hold a walk-a-thon to raise the money that way, or put together a collaborative funding proposal for a foundation.
Q: There have been times in history when the community non-profits have held a town together after a tragedy or economic disturbance. Do you believe that with the growth and success of our local collaborative, we can begin to build something exciting here?
A: I would say that this is how people sometimes talk. They say, “non-profits make changes or non-profits hold a community together” and these kinds of things. I think that another way to think about it is that people make changes and non-profits are the vehicles that they choose to do that with.
Q: So tell us about these collaboratives. Does it matter what groups band together or should there be a matchmaker of some sort?
A: Oh gosh. I know there are people who have been successful on match.com. At least right now there shouldn’t be a designated matchmaker. You identify people that seem like a good match and you have the opportunity to go ahead and set something up.
Q: What has been the greatest success story concerning a non-profit that you’ve seen?
A: I think if you look at things like the idea that people of color go to universities, and the idea that people who are disabled don’t have to stay shut in their homes and the idea that the earth is important and we should take care of it. All those ideas were incubated and successful in the non-profit sectors.
Q: What is the greatest need in California that our non-profits are addressing?
A: I would say what we know from research is that in times of prosperity, non-profits need innovation and in financially hard times, non-profits turn more to basic services. So I think when we see the increase of what is called the Barbell economy: a lot of rich people and a lot of poor people in a relatively small middle class. Non-profits are turning into core services because there are so many people who are in much worse situations.
Q- Why is this work so important to you?
A: That is kind of a funny question. I guess how can we see injustice in the world and not want to do something about it? We can give, volunteer, we can vote for and against, and we may choose to do all the above, but I don’t see how we can not feel compelled to act.