Goodbye Ops Blog, Hello Ed Blog

Goodbye: Closing out the Ops Blog (all 5 entries of it, oops) with a few final thoughts on what I’ve taken away from doing nonprofit operations (or a small slice of it, anyway). As part of my transition process, I wrote out a financial procedures manual for the incoming Finance person. I tried to boil down the big picture/higher level stuff and came up with the following points:

  • Document well. Make backups anyway. In case something gets lost, having a second (or third) copy and a second (or third) plan keeps things running without dropping the ball. Multiple systems also provide multiple angles as a system of checks.
  • Create checks and balances. Our finance system is designed to prevent theft from happening as a worst case scenario. We always have someone approve something before a financial transaction and no one should ever pay anything they approve. Likewise, if there are any problems as we innovate with the finance system, a system of checks and balances helps catch problems and blindspots as they arise.
  • Keep it as simple as necessary and no simpler (Albert Einstein. Our Communications person is also fond of this saying). While we aim to have lean, efficient systems, we don’t want to remove anything that is necessary. Likewise, we realize there are no shortcuts, especially with documenting finances.

Hello: Tomorrow, I begin coursework for a Master’s in Secondary Education. To say I’m scared is probably a bit of an understatement. Today, I planned to start homework (2 pages on my relationship with math, which I am super excited to start writing), but was sidetracked (severely) by this amazing post on “Letters to a First Year Teacher“. So much good stuff. I wish I could print and memorize it all, but most of the teachers actually advise against that sort of thing. I think it would be awesome to write a Letter from a First Year Teacher at the end of the year. Note: that post, and this one from Dan Meyer, are lighting the fires of bloggerdom (what?!) within me. Make it happen, self.


The dramatic part of me is in a serious dilemma. The last few weeks at work, I’ve been revamping our finance plan (side note: it’s actually a procedures manual, but “finance plan” sounds so much more actionable. Did I really just say that?).

You’d think I’d be confused about how to delegate roles to create the optimal checks and balances system. Or how to scale this plan with more teaching assistants and more schools. Or how to shore up any number of financial blind spots that my non-finance trained self may have inadvertantly created.

Nope. I can’t decide which image to put on the cover.

Image A: 

Image B: 

(Note: Both would have the caption “Don’t give me none of that goody-goody bullsh*t”*)

Inappropriate? Perhaps…but a finance manager does have to know when to lay the smack down.

Sometimes, I think I have too much time on my hands. Sometimes, I think that Peace Corps doesn’t really suck away all your pop culture knowledge. Then again, I suspect that only our finance team (anywhere from 1-3 people) will be reading it, so I might as well enjoy it.

Another question, to that end:

  1. Have you seen Back To The Future?
  2. Have you seen Star Wars?
  3. Who plays Marlene McFly in Back To The Future II? (no fair IMDB’ing it)

Check out my friend Rob’s blog. It’s Strictly Autobiographical.

Things I Did Today:

  • Write onboarding plans for new employees
  • Draft text (complete with pop culture references) and tinker with images (rather, help our designer tinker with images) for an email that goes out tomorrow
  • Ask around about benefits (specifically pre-tax dependent benefits). Lots of phone tag.

*If you sync up “Wizard of Oz” and “Dark Side of the Moon”, Glinda enters right when Pink Floyd sings this lyric. Too obscure? Probably…

Five Paragraph Essay

These days, I’m fascinated with David Coleman, and not just because he shares a name with a dear friend from Peace Corps. Ed policy wonks can read more here (hat tip to journalist Dana Goldstein, whose writing I just can’t get enough of). The short story is that he helped write the Common Core and was recently named to head up the College Board.

The quote that most sticks with me is one he retracted (it was that good, I guess): “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Very little of the writing I learned in high school (5 paragraphs, although/because thesis to some extent, concession paragraph, and a concluding paragraph that I still don’t know how to write) comes into play today (to be fair, I work in nonprofit operations). I’ve learned (through ever-patient college newspaper editors and a line-editing boss) to trim my writing down to drive the main point home. No narrative at all, really. Quick, effective writing and supplementary formatting/bolding.

That being said, quite a bit of the work we do externally involves narrative. Our blogs, our emails, our speeches all involve telling stories about what we do and the people we do it with/for. People don’t relate to numbers, they relate to other people. This is especially true (I think) when teaching students – if you don’t engage them, they might not care enough to learn. The takeaway for me is that you need to master both the facts and how to tell them. What’s that saying about silver bullets?

Speaking of narrative, check out “The Experiment” about schools in New Orleans (decidedly pro-charter, but most of the schools in New Orleans are charters these days, apparently).

Things I Did Today:

  • Return phone calls (no one there)
  • Draft emails (short, sweet, to the point)
  • Draft memo on our current evaluation process
  • Do massive revision of financial procedures (almost done)



Is that, like a Yogurt Thing?

What, praytell, is company culture?

Some Human Resources resources tell you not to mention “company culture” in interviews. It’s ambiguous. It (like everything else) can be construed as discriminatory (“young”, “fun”…what about everyone else?). It confuses the hell out of people.

D, a friend from college, mentioned, in an off-hand comment (3 months ago, over a half-hour Game of Thrones board game) that the company culture in the division where he works (in an organization that is known for excellent company culture) is bad. I haven’t been able to follow up, but his comment sticks with me. Partly because I’m not 100% sure what it means, partly because I know (without knowing specifics) that I wish it were stronger.

On a related vein, A (one of my co-workers) and I got to talking about “How I Met Your Mother” (HIMYM) back when we were interviewing applicants to become Blue Engine Teaching Assistants.

“That show? It’s LEGEN (wait for it) DARY!”, A had said (something along those lines).

“You know it’s based on a bar in Manhattan, right?” I had asked (also paraphrased, but less so).

In a rare concession to New York tourism, we decided to watch HIMYM on Mondays (when it airs) AND to watch it at McGee’s, the bar that MacLaren’s (the bar in the show) is based on (SPOILER: the only thing that’s the same is the downstairs mural that no one notices until they’re upstairs and wondering what the 2 bars have in common. Still an amazing bar, though.).

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this attempt at company culture is the things that didn’t go as expected.

The 1st time we went, there was a hockey game playing instead of “HIMYM”. Oops. But people showed up. We ate curry fries (One of McGee’s specialties, per Foursquare).

The 2nd time, HIMYM was on a break. Oops. Only A and I showed up (“You’re still coming…right?” A had texted me 45 minutes before). We ate curry fries and caught up on spring break, things at school, and the coming school year.

Today, we made sure to check schedules. Twice. I got there early (in a rare display of “planning ahead”). Tables were full. We stood the whole time. I forgot my credit card. McGee’s accidentally put on a hockey game 30 seconds into the show. The tourists next to me kept trying to steal our seats. We didn’t find “that door”.

But people showed up. We got to catch up with co-workers (new sites, student reaction to this article on diversity in the NYC public school system). We ate curry fries (Have mentioned that I only do what Foursquare tells me to do?).

Will this develop into something more? Not sure. The season is over. Schools are ramping up to end-of-year testing. A and I have other things to worry about next year. 

But for now, we’ll have the experience of trying to make something happen. Oh, and the curry fries.

Things I did today:

  • Pulled numbers for a grant
  • Drafted the new bio page for our next year of BETAs (!)
  • Stalked the Facebook group for next year’s BETAs (can’t believe it’s already time to prepare for next year)
  • Did horribly on the Parris Foundation’s Math Monday.
  • Started drafting a Twitter training plan (which I will make into a blog someday)
  • Read articles about diversity (see link above) and how many, many college grads graduate into debt. Yikes.

Intention of the Week: Write More

A friend (who should have a blog, but doesn’t) starts off the week with an intention of the week. Mine (which I, um, didn’t do yesterday) is to write more. Write in this blog. Write things down at work. Write more in general. So far, not doing well. (But it guilt tripped me in to writing this, so…)

Things I did today (oops yesterday):

  • Did more reconciling of books
  • Talked about professional development with another organization in our space
  • Helped deal with timesheets
  • Got distracted when I found out Maurice Sendak passed 😦 (rough week for Brooklyn)

Love this article on the Beastie Boy’s Adam Yauch, for everything that your average fan (myself included) doesn’t see about the band (Brooklyn, growth, children).

And this article on Blue Engine CEO/Founder Nick Ehrmann and the successes and challenges that Blue Engine has gone through in its first few years.

Am now realizing that it’s Wednesday and I am announcing this intention halfway through the week.

People and Stories

I am failing at blogging.


1. Spent time on the phone calling the bank.

2. Went to the bank in person.

3. Ordered practice tests.

4. Reconciled finances (again)

We also spent a notable amount of time reading this website, which talks about how the best way to engage people through nonprofit video is to focus on people and stories, not just the organization. Side note: is that why I never read any successful nonprofit operations blogs?

Times, They are a Changin’ (or: BaKiNg tHe CaKe)

Spent a good portion of last week in a workshop to revise our Theory of Change. I had never heard of a Theory of Change until I came to Blue Engine, but I wish more people talked about them. Our Portfolio Manager (who is leaving us for an even more kick-ass position with the Innocence Project; we’ll miss her) describes a Theory of Change as a recipe for baking a cake (this gets weird when you talk about adding students and teachers to “your cake”. But I digress).

In more technical terms, a Theory of Change maps:

  • inputs (the staff and resources you put into your program)
  • activities (what you do)


  • short-term outcomes (the changes you hope to see during your program)
  • intermediate outcomes (the change you hope to see on the last day of your program)
  • long-term outcomes (the lasting change you hope to see)

The idea (as I understand it) is that the Theory of Change helps you focus your energy on resources on what actually drives your program and also helps you manage all the parts that go into an organization. We publish our theory of change on our website and I think it’s a great idea for organizations to publish them for accountability and to promote the very idea of strategic thinking rather than mere good intentions. Like I said, I had never heard of a Theory of Change until 2 years ago and yet, this is the thing that drives our entire organization.

Ours is still very much in process (I’m typing up the notes today, along with reconciling this month’s bank accounts – separate story), but I’m quite excited to see how it comes out (lemon filling with vanilla frosting?) and even more excited to see it implemented.


The La Entrada Diaries

Back in my third year of Peace Corps (the one with internet and an office), I started making daily lists of what I did each day. Mostly to try and convince one of my clustermates (who lived in a tiny, tiny town called La Entrada) to take a similar office position so we could hang out in the office and do random Ecuadorian things (he didn’t. Boo). In retrospect, it was also a nice catalog of what I did on a day-to-day basis. At the time, my routine seemed so clear to me, but I don’t remember much of it now (a mere 2 years later).

A sample:

  • Spent the morning at my counterpart organization (did visits with ladies in the market place, got regalar’d bananas)
  • Had lunch at same organization with lots of Germans and one Brit (I kind of want to learn German now, we’ll see)
  • Went to El Recreo (big shopping mall near where I work – not as good as El Paseo) and almost bought ginger, a belt, barley and a battery but changed my mind (because I didn’t have a $20 bill that I wanted to change) and just bought the battery.
  • Came back to work…at 3pm
  • Talked to a volunteer and her husband and chatted with my housemate from California while theoretically discussing the program newsletter we put out
  • Walked said volunteers out of the office, picked up money for rent, tried (unsuccessfully) to pay landlord (at 4pm)
  • Bought a bag of uvillas for $1. ONE DOLLAR! Mmmm…uvillas

That being said, I’m trying once again to catalog my daily doings at work. No one I know really seems to know what I do at work (Hell, I barely know what I do at work), let alone what the general nonprofit operations field does, so I figure now’s as good as any to start documenting.

Yesterday (because I forgot):

  • Troubleshot application forms
  • Called/emailed career centers
  • Programmed recruitment email


  • Worked on Twitter analytics.
  • Ran playroll
  • Started to balance our books

From the least political person EVER

I spent about ten minutes last night trying to decide if I actually wanted to watch the State of the Union. The part of me that wants to be more civically engaged wanted to see the whole thing through (with subtitles and all) to “be there” “while the experience was happening” (I also wanted to see the education part). The part of me that’s trying to be more productive and fit 30 hours into 24 said to turn the SOTU on in the living room, work in the bedroom (I did the same thing with the Niners game on Sunday. They lost), read the speech online afterwards and catch the highlights on YouTube.

I caved and watched the State of the Union. Was it worth it? As much as any speech can be, yeah. I liked the line about spilled milk. I think that we need to do a better job engaging students before we can demand that they stay in school until age 18 (if someone’s disengaged at 15, good luck getting them to stick around ’til 18. Journalist Dana Goldstein lays it out here). I think there were a lot of good calls to action and now we (the Royal We? The Collective We? Yeah.) need to make that happen.

Cool SOTU infographics here (Twitter) and here (keywords).

PS I’m not quite sure what this post says about me or my generation, but, hey, I never promised you a policy wonk blog, did I?

Things I Did At Work Today (To Be Explained in a Blog Later):

  • Added a table of comments and did madcap formatting to our employee handbook
  • Sat in on a bookkeeping call so that we can (finally) get our books in order
  • Called career centers to promote our Blue Engine Teaching Assistant position
  • Started running Twitter analytics