Should governments operate more like nonprofits?

Posted March 5, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government, Taxes

Tags: , ,

Last year, my then 11-year old son and I were watching a TV news story about a fundraiser for a girl with cancer at a Hawaii elementary school. He burst out, “Why don’t they do a fundraiser for rail?”


He suggested that government could find kids who would ride rail and tell their stories, like a girl who can’t get to school without rail.


“Sometimes kids have better ideas than government,” he said seriously.


I didn’t have the HART to tell him that when governments engage in fundraising, it’s called “taxation.”


And then I thought: why can’t governments hold fundraisers?


Governments are often admonished to act more like businesses, by providing better products (government services), good customer service, and lower prices (to avoid raising taxes).


Maybe governments should try to operate more like nonprofit organizations.


Nonprofits are usually recognized for their passion for a cause, their commitment to service, and their shoe-string budgets. They don’t have any taxing power, so they rely on donations, volunteers, and in-kind gifts.


Instead of raising taxes for everyone, maybe state and city governments could hold annual fundraising campaigns. The people and organizations could donate money to support specific departments or initiatives.


Government-nonprofit operations are proven to work; consider the annual school carnivals and Friends of the Library of Hawaii. Schools and libraries are government organizations that really do operate like nonprofits, and are supported by nonprofit fundraising.


And possibly the biggest effect on taxpayers: receiving thank you letters instead of tax bills.


At the time, I told my son to write a letter to the newspaper outlining his idea and offered to send it in for him. He wasn’t interested, and went back to his homework. But I wanted to share his idea with you.


What would motivate you to donate money to government?


“Start With Why” by Simon Sinek

Posted March 2, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , ,

Many companies are doing business backwards, challenges leadership and organization consultant Simon Sinek. They’re telling us WHAT they do – what the product does, what services are available, what’s new – but what’s really important is WHY they are doing what they do.

And many leaders are leading companies backwards, too – stressing WHAT companies do best, instead of WHY employees should work there.

“Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” (2009) reveals how we can be great leaders both personally and as businesses. The central idea is that great leaders and great companies are able to inspire people who want to take action – whether it’s buying a product or working for a company.

Great leaders give people a sense of purpose or belonging, understanding the value in the things we cannot see.

Articulating WHY. “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” If we start with WHY, we will understand how to do business and what to do. Sinek discusses how businesses manipulate our buying behavior, but these tactics are only effective for individual transactions; they do not create brand loyalty. “Repeat business is when people do business with you multiple times. Loyalty is when people are willing to turn down a better product or a better price to continue doing business with you,” Sinek clarifies. And to create brand loyalty, you need to communicate why you’re in business.

Sinek offers some examples of WHY. Apple empowers the individual spirit. Disney promotes good, clean family fun. Martin Luther King Jr. believed in equality and how we treat people.

Hiring for WHY. “Great companies don’t hire skilled people and motivate them, they hire already motivated people and inspire them.” Sinek voices something we don’t usually put into words: We want to do business with people who believe what we believe. “We are drawn to leaders and organizations that are good at communicating what they believe.”

Staying true to WHY. “The single greatest challenge any organization will face is… success.” It’s easy to lose focus of WHY and start focusing on WHAT. We need to measure success in a way that is true to our WHY, not just products sold or contracts signed. For example, Christina Harbridge founded collection agency Bridgeport Financial based on treating people with compassion, and bonuses are given based not on collections, but on how many “thank you” cards agents send to clients.

Trust matters. When we trust the culture or organization, we are willing to take risks to advance the culture or organization as a whole.  Clarity of purpose makes people take action for themselves. “With a WHY clearly stated in an organization, anyone within the organization can make a decision as clearly and as accurately as the founder.”

The importance of WHY we do things and finding our purpose resonates with me. I want to do work that is meaningful and work with people who believe in the same values. And I want to invite others to share in that purpose.

What is your WHY at work? Does your company’s purpose inspire you to take action? What is your WHY in life?

The architecture of democracy and aloha

Posted February 26, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Government

Tags: , ,

The more I visit the Hawaii State Capitol Building, the more I admire it.

When my son was in elementary school, they did a walking tour of the Capitol District. They walked into the courtyard among the tall columns and were met by a legislator, who took them to the Senate Chambers. They went into the Governor’s “public” office and took photos beneath the Hawaii seal. Everyone expected the students to be courteous and well-behaved, and they were.

I really appreciate having a State Capitol where democracy and aloha are built into the very architecture of the building.

The two large, open entryways welcome everyone. We are free to talk to a legislator or testify at a hearing. Entering the building is like stepping onto your cousin’s porch before a family gathering. When you are trusted family, you don’t need to knock on the door.

The tall, concrete columns show us that democracy and a code of laws are strong and stable in Hawaii. Walking through the courtyard creates a sense that we can trust that the code of laws will be upheld and our rights will be protected.

The ceiling is the sky, open to the sun, the winds, and the rain. It reminds us that we are interconnected with nature – and each other. Standing in the courtyard or at the railings on the upper floors, we can wave to each other like neighbors.

There are no gates, no metal detectors, no guard stations, and no excessive security.

So how can we keep legislators, staff, and visitors safe without losing this welcoming feeling of democracy and aloha?

Start with information desks. We could open staffed information desks at the State Capitol Building and the entrance from the underground parking lot. “Aloha Aides” could guide visitors and act as a first line of security. Suspicious activity could be reported to a uniformed security guard or the police.

Prioritize openness and aloha. The Capitol Building has welcomed us for fifty years, since it opened in 1969. Let’s not give up our freedom and feeling of welcome for an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion.

When we step onto the Hawaii State Capitol grounds, we are expected to be courteous and well-behaved, and we are.

How often do you visit the Hawaii State Capitol? How do you feel when you step onto the Capitol grounds?


Photo courtesy of Hawaii State Legislature website at

What do you love doing most?

Posted February 19, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business

Tags: , , ,

A few months ago, I was struggling with an unexpected job offer – one with more responsibilities and more risk. But something was holding me back.

I was reading Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil” (2014) and he wrote about starting every conversation with potential volunteers by asking the question, “What do you love doing most?”

The question, asked at just the right time, made me realize that this new job would challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone. It could take me away from doing what I really enjoy or it could be an opportunity to see what else I might enjoy doing.

I looked back at all the jobs I’ve had and all the volunteering I’ve done, and I can see how I’ve gravitated to the parts of the job that fill me with enthusiasm.

Just out of school, I stumbled into marketing, which let me put my love of writing to good use in brochures, manuals, and press releases. I followed that path into direct mail, sales presentations, and trade shows. Each move game me the freedom to be more creative.

We don’t always have the luxury of doing what we love, but I try to make sure that what I do fits with what I value most in life. Values stay with me much longer than a job title or an employer.

Valuing family and home, I moved back to Hawaii, though I had a creative and rewarding job. And living in Hawaii has made me open to other creative and rewarding opportunities.

Valuing art, creativity, and education, I volunteered for a children’s art project, school fundraisers, and after-school classes.

Valuing kindness and compassion, I now work for a nonprofit counseling center, changing career paths entirely.

While I don’t enjoy paperwork, operations, and administration, I’m good at it. I do it so that I can do what I love: writing something new, designing something compelling, and being part of something that makes a difference.

Did I take the new job? Yes! I accepted the job on an interim basis. I’m still figuring out how to keep the parts that I enjoy, and delegate or contract out the parts that need to be done (not necessarily by me).

But I’m glad I took that risk. I think that I’m right where I need to be.

What one thing do you love most about job? What work would you do even if you didn’t get paid to do it?

Kindness starts with one

Posted February 12, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Community, Family

Tags: , ,

I’ve been immersing myself in happiness over the past few months, learning from the Greater Good Science Center, and figuring out how to make happiness practices part of everyday life.

We can become happier in many different ways, from encouraging empathy and nurturing friendships to fostering gratitude and cultivating a sense of awe. But one of the simplest ways to become happier and spread happiness is to be kind.

Being kind makes us happy, and being happy makes us kind.

Kindness is easy, and it starts with ONE. One person. One cup of coffee, one compliment, one “I love you,” one note-to-self.

On February 17, 2019, we’re celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Day, and it starts with YOU. You can be the one to write a positive note at school or work, thank someone who isn’t usually acknowledged, or volunteer to do a five-minute favor. No one else has to know about it. But you’ll know.

Kindness starts with one, but let’s aim for five. Studies have shown that doing five acts of kindness in one day can make you happier than doing single acts of kindness spread out over time.

Being kind can have a lasting impact, too. You can get a happiness boost by remembering a time when you were kind or helpful or generous… or by remembering a time when someone was kind to you.

I tried a happiness practice called “Three Good Things,” in which you write down three good things that happen to you each day. The goal is to focus on positive thoughts and feelings. I found that it really helped to put my day in perspective, and lessen any worry or stress I felt.

I’m starting to take it a step further and pay attention to whether good things happen to me (like receiving a compliment) or because of me (like giving a compliment).

What will you do on Random Acts of Kindness Day? How will you spread kindness?

Sudden good fortune

Posted February 5, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Business, Money

Tags: ,

For a long time, my company, like many nonprofits, was struggling to make ends meet. Our budget was as lean as it could be, while still making sure that operations ran smoothly (if not quite quickly). We were working our way to financial stability.

And one day, with a letter and a phone call, things changed. We received a modest, unexpected bequest that did more than pay our bills for the month. Instead of juggling payments and hoping for donations, we had some breathing room to plan for the future.

What would we do with this unanticipated gift? Spend it? Save it? A little of both?

Sudden good fortune, like winning a lottery or jackpot, is one of the most dangerous things to happen to an organization – or an individual.

There’s that’s rush of euphoria, sense of freedom, and perilous impulsiveness. There are arguments about what to do with good fortune. There are other people who want to share in your good fortune. And there is the temptation to spend that good fortune quickly – and unwisely.

Having learned from a past gift that was unwisely spent, board leaders wanted to designate the entire amount toward our fledgling endowment.

Working with the day to day expenses and limitations of a small company, staff wanted to designate a small amount for operations.

As a nonprofit, we asked ourselves three basic questions:

1. Could we continue to function well if we didn’t have this gift? Specifically, how would our clients and staff be affected if we didn’t have this gift?

2. Will there still be a strong need for our services over the next 20, 30, and 40 years?

3. Are we committed to serving our future clients who need our services?

This unexpected gift spurred me to commit to our mission, not just in the short term, but for generations to come. It changed my perspective from today’s clients to future beneficiaries.

In the end, the answer wasn’t difficult. We decided to designate the entire gift toward the endowment, but also slightly increase our budget for staff and operations in the next year.

What would you do with sudden good fortune?

“Victoria Ward and Her Family” by Frank Ward Hustace III

Posted February 2, 2019 by Rachelle Chang
Categories: Book Reviews

Tags: , , , ,

I only knew it as the Neil Blaisdell Center, with its arching ceiling, wide green lawn, and ponds filled with constantly-moving fish. But before it was a concert hall and arena, it was Old Plantation, or Ku‘u home (our beloved home).

In 1881, Old Plantation was a family estate, a natural wilderness with coconut trees and a large loko ku‘i (inland fishpond) fed by icy artesian springs, stocked with ‘ama‘ama, āholehole, and mullet, and ‘auwai from the ocean. It was lined with a row of royal palm trees that welcomed guests and led the way home.

Old Plantation is a strong presence her biography, “Victoria Ward and Her Family: Memories of Old Plantation” (2000), written by Frank Ward Hustace III. Old Plantation really comes to life as a member of the Ward family and a symbol of abundance and hospitality.

Victoria Ward (1846-1935) was the second daughter of James Robinson and Rebecca Kaikilani Previer. She was a private person, independent, and spirited. There are few anecdotes or stories about her in the book, and her personal papers were destroyed after her death, according to kanaka maoli custom. We know that she had a “unique marriage and business partnership” with her husband, Curtis Perry Ward, and we can see her strength, practicality, and business-savvy through her actions.

A widow at age 36, Ward raised seven daughters, managed her own business affairs, and invested in the stock market. She was active in politics, a life-long supporter and friend of kings and queens, and signed the Hui Aloha Aina petition against annexation. She turned Old Plantation into a self-sufficient, income-producing operation. And she had the foresight to create the Victoria Ward Ltd in 1930, which now manages 66 acres of prime real estate.

We don’t learn much about Ward’s siblings, such as her sister Mary Foster, who bequeathed her property to the City as Foster Botanical Gardens; or much about her children, among them Lucy Ward, who championed the Hawaiian Humane Society.

The City of Honolulu purchased Old Plantation in 1958, and Victoria Ward is better known for her legacy of retail, commercial, and residential development.

As I came to the end of the biography, I realized that Old Plantation is a reflection of Hawaii: once natural and bountiful, feeding the body and spirit; today, a place of music and theater named in honor of a Honolulu mayor who advocated construction projects.

What stories do you have of Old Plantation and Neil Blaisdell Center? Where is your ku’u home?