The word “profit” comes from the Latin noun profectus for “progress”. Thus the term “nonprofit” literally means “no progress”.
When I changed jobs from working for an investment bank to working for a non-profit foundation, one friend in the philanthropic world, who knew me well, and whom I respect, highly recommended that I read this book -- Uncharitable -- before I started the new job.

A few nights ago, a heated discussion at the dinner table with friends prompted me to write about this book. An acquaintance of mine was telling the table of how he would love to buy this specific $10,000 Rolex. I suggested that he instead donate the money to help fund disadvantaged girls in Vietnam to finish middle school. We talked about the (im)possibility of giving up the watch for charity. But seriously, it costs only $250 to send one girl to middle school in Vietnam for a full year.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the importance of luxury goods and the role they play in society and in the business world. I am not so naïve and stubborn as to think that we should give up all material goods and donate all possessions to the third world. But the advantages that for-profit businesses such as Rolex have for everyone’s disposable income over charities is unfair (just look at the above advertisement). Why is it that the not-for-profits are not given the tools and capital to convince people to donate to worthy causes?

Uncharitable discusses these issues, and delves further by pointing out how certain restraints on nonprofits actually undermine, and even destroys their potential. One restraint that I feel strongly about is the compensation structure.

Two years ago, I was hired by an investment bank with a large sign-on bonus, half a year before I graduated from business school. The company wanted to make sure I wouldn’t take their competitor’s offer and I would not leave the firm until I have worked for them for at least one year. During the time I was there, I was reminded, every month, in writing, how much money the firm has spent on me, and how much revenue I have produced for our shareholders.

Four months ago, when I interviewed for my current job at a non-profit foundation, the HR manager told me that there is no sign-on bonus, and I can leave whenever I want to. When I was negotiating for the salary, I knew very well that I would not get paid more than the value-add I can bring to the organization, so I asked if there was a performance-tied pay structure. To my surprise, the HR manager told me it is considered “unethical” to pay someone based on the funds he/she raises in the non-profit world. I then tried to be creative and suggested to negotiate for a higher salary, but to donate 1/5 of it back to the foundation. The HR person looked at me as if I was crazy.

My personal experience and belief lead me to agree with the author, Dan Pallotta, in the compensation structure argument. He has asked the questions that we need to be asking, and delivered the answers that very few had the courage to say.

Do you think that all those working at nonprofits need to sacrifice financially and rather do it out of the goodness of their heart?
Do you think it is wrong to pay high salaries to attract talent in the nonprofit sector?

If financial sacrifice* is the price of the choice, we have to ask – how many talented people chose not to sacrifice? At the end of the day, the recipients of the charities do not care about the salary structure of employees, but rather they care about survival, clean water, food, basic education, etc. By denying higher-quality candidates, those that could have been further helped are the ones being sacrificed.

Goodness of heart is only one of the many things that motivate people. When we demand that it be the only one, we are actually hurting the people who need help. I think after a careful cost-benefit analysis, paying competitive salaries to hire the right people is definitely the right thing to do.

As a donor, observer, worker, or beneficiaries of the charitable world, if you still say yes to those two questions. Read this book and think again.

* The book provides a study to show what kind of financial sacrifice we are talking about. Here is what I roughly remember -- In 2006, the average annual salary plus bonus of the MBAs from the top 30 schools was about $100,000. Their average age upon graduation was 28. The study also sampled about 1500 MBAs who graduated 10 years ago from the top schools and their average annual salary was about $300,000. (at age 38)
In 2004, the average salary of the non-profit senior executives in America was about $110,000 and the average age was well over 38.


Nerdy Beauty-Product-Junkie – all time favorites

“If beauty hides the truth, or the lack of truth, I'd rather be ugly but influential.” -- This is how I ended my earlier post about Ha Jin’s book.

Here I am, talking about beauty products that basically serve the objective to hide or prevent the appearance of the ugliness of my real face. The irony is that beauty is powerful. In order to be influential, you need to have “face validity” – as we say in statistical research terminology.

An American makeup artist, Bobbi Brown, has a famous saying -- Beauty isn’t about perfect. It’s about celebrating your individuality. Bobbi believes that "makeup is a way for a woman to look and feel like herself, only prettier and more confident." I totally agree with her. Occasionally, if you enjoy doing it, you do it for fun and can be very creative and bold. Most of the time, I need my basic makeup to look fresh, awake, refined, and sometimes just not to scare people.

Skincare is in a different category from makeup. It is personal and depends on the skin type and the weather condition, so I will only share with you my all time favorite top 5 makeup products here.

Make Up Forever Face & Body Liquid Foundation – This foundation and I go way back. When I was in New York, Make Up Forever had their studio in SOHO. To me, picking the right color is 80% of the job. The coolest thing about this was that they custom blended this foundation for me from two different colors. I now have 2 of them and I blend it myself. In the winter, I add more lighter color; in the summer, I add more darker tone. This goes on smoothly, like water; and is light, waterproof, and can be layered for more coverage.

NARS The Multiple Highlighter – Color: Maldives for East Asian skin tone – This thing is expensive, but it lasts 5 years even if you use it everyday. I put it under the arch of my eyebrows, and above my cheekbones. It takes one second to deliver this very subtle glowing effect. My real secret is now out!

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner + Brush -- Beautiful colors, super long wearing, and very versatile. Takes some practice, but it’s worth the time. Be sure to get the brush, as it makes a difference. My favorite color is Violet Ink.

Clinique High Impact Curling Mascara – I don’t care that it creates high impact curls or not, this thing stays on FOREVER!! My eyelashes are long and honestly look good without any mascara. I have never used mascara in the past, because nothing stays on my lashes. I have tried all the waterproof ones you can think of but only this one (and very few others that use that new “tubing” technology) stays. Clinigue makes many mascaras, so make sure you get the right one. (Their Lash Power Mascara Long Wearing Formula is very good too, but is more natural.)

Clinique Almost Lipstick Black Honey – This is clinique’s most famous item and color. It really universally flatters every skin tone, and the texture is between lipstick and lip gloss. It goes on smoothly and looks so natural. Don’t be fooled by how dark it looks in the tube, you have to try it on to know what everyone is talking about.

Lastly, my recommendations are worth listening to, not because I am gorgeous, but because I am not. Why get makeup tips from someone who is naturally beautiful? They always look nice. But on my face, you can tell which products really do work or not!


Nerdy Beauty-Product-Junkie -- splurge or save?

Photo from Real Simple Magazine

Those who know me in person (=everyone who reads this blog), know I can get very nerdy when it comes to calculating numbers. Those who have had the fortune to go shopping with me, know that I am a bit of a beauty product junkie. So, if you put these two together, I am actually a nerdy beauty-product-junkie.

Just like investments or charitable donations, I believe people need to take a portfolio approach toward spending money on beauty products. Some are worth larger allocations, while some are not worth the high price tags. Some are long-term, buy-and-hold blue chip purchases, while some are short-term trading oriented items.

If the department store one is only 10% better than the drugstore one, why pay double the price for it? Inspired by this very good article Splurge or Save? The Smartest Beauty Buys by Elizabeth Schatz Passarella at one of my favorite magazines -- Real Simple, I opened my makeup bag and medicine cabinet and created an excel spreadsheet to calculate how much money was spent on my face.

Here is how to read my list:
Item - save with drugstore brand or splurge on department store brand-- $ price and length of usage -- $ amount spend per month

Skin Care
Eye makeup remover – save -- $6 for 6 months -- $1/month
Face makeup remover – save -- $12 for 6 months -- $2/month
Face wash – save -- $16 for 12 months -- $1.3/month
Toner – save -- $10 for 3 months -- $3.3/month
Eye cream/gel – splurge -- $54 for 9 months -- $6/month
Night cream/lotion – splurge -- $30 for 9 months + $30 for 6 months -- $8.3/month
Day cream/lotion – splurge -- $42 for 6 months -- $7/month
Exfoliater – save -- $24 for 2 years -- $2/month
Cleaning mask – splurge -- $18 for 3 years -- $0.5/month
Moisturizing mask – save -- $1.5/mask, twice per month -- $3/month

Photo from Real Simple Magazine

Foundation – splurge -- $40 for 9 months -- $4.5/month
Concealer – save -- $24 for 2 years -- $1/month
Blush – splurge -- $30 for 4 years *
Lip balm – save -- $5 for 2 years -- ignore
Lip pencil – splurge -- $15 for 2 years -- $0.5/month
Lip stick or gloss – save -- $24 for 12 months -- $2/month
Eye liner – splurge -- $20 for 4 years *
Eye shadow – splurge -- $40 for 4 years *
Mascara – save -- $15 for 12 months -- $1/month
Face powder – save -- $24 for 2 years -- $2/month

Tools – splurge (tweezers, eyelash curler, brushes) $100 forever *
Hair products – save -- $9 for 9 months -- $1/month

*Total fixed cost (4 years or more of usage): $190
Total monthly variable cost: $46.5

I spend about $1.55 per day on my basic skin care and beauty products.
“Basic” is the keyword here. Please know that a non-disclosed amount of money is spent on non-basic products. Compared to $12 a day of parking I pay for my car, I feel bad for my face now.

Added on 8/21/09: I know. I know. I am spending way too much time on this completely unproductive thing. But I also discovered that I spend 68% on Skin care and $22% on makeup. Only 2% on hair, and 8% on tools, etc.

In the near future, I will write about why I decide to spend big or small amounts on these things. I will also share with you my “all time favorite + will buy again and again” top recommendations of beauty products. A lot of tuition was paid to discover these goodies, so please stay tuned!


A Free Life

What does it mean to have a free life? When you have the freedom to fly, you have also given up the power of gravity to keep you grounded.

One of the most famous contemporary Chinese-American writer, Ha Jin 哈金, came to the United States 15 years ago and began to write only in English. His book Waiting , which I also like, won him the prestigious National Book Award. (By the way, Ha Jin's real Chinese name -- 金雪飛, means "Golden Flying Snow"-- sounds just like a kung fu novel character. )

I recently read both the English and the translated Chinese version of his novel "A Free Life". It is about a family that immigrated to the US and how the father spent years trying to make a living, but consequently did not follow his dream to become a poet. As an immigrant who has just started to blog in English, I find so much comfort, mixed with sadness, in his words.

First Generation Immigrants

This book vividly tells the story of how first generation immigrants struggle to feed and shelter themselves and their families. Often times, toward the end of their lives, they might own a house or a business. Their children, having grown on the foundation the parents had built, would have different kinds of dreams and ambitions.

This book made me understand why my parent's generation thinks or behaves the way they do with a deeper level of understanding. Since reading this book, I further appreciate my freedom to be ambitious and am proud of where I came from.

Freedom to Follow Your Dreams

The main character in the story had always wanted to "do something moneyed people cannot do", which was to write poetry. Instead, he spent years working like a brainless machine to make money. After he achieved some financial freedom, his unhappiness led him to realize that he needed something more fundamental and important -- the courage to face failure.

Below is the most touching paragraph in the book that I would like to share with you: Many things previously unclear to him had become transparent. The notion of the American dream had bewildered him for a good decade; now he knew that to him, such a dream was not something to be realized, but something to be pursued only... To be a free individual, he had to go his own way, had to endure loneliness and isolation, and had to give up the illusion of success in order to accept his diminished state as a new immigrant and as a learner of this alphabet. More than that, he had to take the risk of wasting his life without getting anywhere and of becoming a joke in others' eyes. Finally, he had to be brave enough to devote himself not to making money but to writing poetry, willing to face failure.

Nine years ago, I moved to Boston with two suitcases and nothing else. Everything I owned back home sometimes made me strong, and sometimes made me weak. Ha Jin pinpointed exactly what any immigrant must go through consciously, or subconsciously. Back in Taiwan, I tutored English and made $20 USD per hour. In Boston, I was lucky to find a helpdesk operator job to practice English and get paid minimum wage. Was I lonely, isolated, feeling like I was wasting my time, and becoming a joke in others' eyes? Yes, and I have the courage to admit this.

Life In A Second Language

Reading the English version of this book, you would constantly be reminded of the gap between the main character's fluent thoughts and his broken speech. I have my own personal share of this struggle. When I moved to Boston in 2000, it took me a good 5 years to be able to say almost everything on my (Chinese) mind, in English, in a way that people can actually understand. But in certain rare circumstances, I still find myself speechless with not enough vocabulary to translate what's on my mind, for example, when I was furious about someone who was rude to me, or when I got pulled over by a police car for speeding...

The main character in the story finally made up his mind to start writing. But he needed to decide whether to write in Chinese or in English. Writing in English leads him into the future; writing in Chinese secures him to everything he owns from the past. In the end, he chose English, and he wanted to write something "that could speak directly to the readers' hearts regardless of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Above all, his work should possess more strength than beauty, which he believed often belied truth."

I absolutely LOVE this. Who cares if the words or speeches are beautiful or not?!! If beauty hides the truth, or the lack of truth, I'd rather be ugly but influential.


Happy BaBa Day!

I was probably 5 in this picture with my dad. A significant number of years have passed since then. Everything about me is now different, except for the hairstyle. However, the hairstyle is the most obvious change that happened to my dad.

When I was in elementary school, I was never shy about telling my dad to stay away from my school. I only wanted my mom to come to school when needed, because I was ashamed of his lack of hair. None of my classmates' dads were bald. He never got mad at me for being embarassed of him, instead, we had a talk about it that I still remember very clearly.

"Alice, do you think I want to be bald?"
"Of course not!"
"Is there anything I can do to not be bald?"
"Not really, I don't think so."
"Don't you think it is not nice to laugh at people about things they have no control over?"
"Hmm I think you are right."

From that day on, I started to realize that many people laugh at others, or are made fun of by others, over things that they have no control of. I also became more accepting of him meeting my friends... as long as he promised to wear a hat. : )

Notice how my dad's shirt has a front breast pocket in the picture? That is his signature look. Almost everything he wears, it has to have a pocket at the front. My dad has many pocketless shirts given to him as gifts that he never wears. In fact, pockets mean so much to him that he once even cut off the cloth at the bottom of a very long shirt, and he made a pocket with it to sew onto the front.

What does he keep in the pocket? Very simple answer -- pen and papers. He needs to be able to take notes at all times. I'm not very sure of why, but I think he writes things down to capture random thoughts or good ideas.

When my dad retired from the university he taught at for almost 30 years, his colleagues gave him a very nice, personally engraved Mont Blanc pen. He kept it in the drawer in his study and rarely took it out. One day, our home in Taiwan got broken into and the Mont Blanc pen was among the items that were stolen from the house. I called him the following day to tell him how angry I was that the theives would steal such a personalized, memento. In response to me, he laughed and said "Not a big deal at all. It is just something you use to write with. I have plenty of pens." Knowing that he was not upset about this was all I needed.

My dad is patient, kind, understanding, and most important of all, he always tries to see the natural core value of things. Compared to him (and the general public), I am impatient, mean, stubborn, and superficial. Having a daughter like me, he probably has no choice but to be patient, kind, and understanding......

It is now August 8th in Taiwan. The number 8, is pronounced "Ba", which sounds very similar to Dad in Chinese. Therefore, 8/8, pronounced as "BaBa", is Father's Day in Taiwan. Last year I gave him a Mont Blanc pen that he actually carries with him in those pockets. This year my gift is this article to the whole world (potentially) to thank him for being the perfect daddy to me, and to wish him a happy and healthy everyday!


Annisa, Here I come!

These days, I seem to have too many guilty pleasures. To follow up on the posting about The Fashion Show on Bravo TV, I would like to introduce another show to you -- Top Chef Masters .
In the show, 24 top chefs from around the country compete for $100,000 to donate to his or her favorite charity. In last weeks episode, the 6 winners from the previous 6 episodes competed against one another in an elimination challange. This Wednesday night, the 5 remaining top chefs will have to cook their hearts out to stay in the top 4. The chef I will be cheering for is Anita Lo.

Anita Lo is a second-generation Chinese American. She went to Columbia University, majoring in French. In her junior year in college, she went to Paris to study cooking and discovered her true calling. After briefly working at a restaurant, Chef Lo decided to return to Paris and earned a degree in cooking at the Ritz-Escoffier school. She graduated first in her class with honors.

Anito Lo's"Illusion" -- a braised daikon with kombu caviar & steak tartare that gave the illusion of a scallop

Reading about her background, seeing how she competes in the show, and how her personality contrasts that of the other media-friendly, outgoing, and famous chefs; I naturally became a fan of hers. She seems to not care much about what other people think of her, but she is obscessed with what people think of her food. She is so modest of her skills as a chef, that many of her competitors seem to overlook her as a strong contender. In the show, she says very few words, but the dishes she prepares do all the talking for her. As she was announced as the winner in last week's show, Anita barely cracked a smile, looked down in embarassment, and uttered a "thank you". One judge said of her dish, "One word. Genius."
I'm not quite sure of the exact reason, but Chinese students tend to not talk about how much they study before exams. They often lie or not admit to staying up all night to prepare for tests. I have this feeling that the night before last week's elimination challenge, Chef Lo spent the entire night thinking about, visualizing, and mentally preparing for the next day. Of course Chef Lo did not admit this to the camera, and so people may think it was all effortlessly done, purely with talent. I just know that she may certainly be a genius, but her work ethic and dedication was probably what distanced her from her competitors.

Anyways, I cannot believe I have never been to her restaurant when I lived in Manhattan. Next time when I am in town,"annisa" here I come!