7 game-changing things nonprofits can learn from for-profits

[Image description: A grey koalas peeking out from behind a tree trunk, staring directly at the camera. This koalas has nothing to do with this post. Or does it. Guess you better read the rest of the post to find out. Image from Pixabay.com. By the way, koalas look cute and cuddly, but I hear they’re kind of vicious. They’d not unlike some board members, ha!]

A while ago, I read about Juicero, a wifi-connected juicing machine. It was originally $700, and you had to subscribe to these proprietary packets of cut-up fruit and veggies for $7 each. You put a packet into the machine and turn it on—with an app on your phone, I guess—and it squeezes out one glass of refreshing juice! It was, at the time, the apex of human achievement. Alas, this tale of innovation and disruption did not have a happy ending. Bloomberg did an investigation and found out that you can squeeze the packets by hand and get the same amount of juice. They wrote a story about it, and the price for the Juicero dropped to $400 before the company tanked completely, and now people have to squeeze juice using non-wi-fied juicers, like common peasants.  

Why the heck am I telling you this? Simple: I keep encountering people who say that nonprofits should act more like for-profits. You probably do too. And of course, many of us bristle at the bizsplaining and the condescension. There are many blog posts out there, and many of them are incredibly insulting and make you want to roll your eyes: “Make sure you have what people in the business sector call a ‘bizz-nezz puh-lan.’ It lays out these things called ‘go-als.’ Businesses also do what is known as ‘ac-count-ing’ ” Continue reading

Brett Kavanaugh, and why we must stop intellectualizing and take more actions

[Image description: Brown-tinted picture of about a dozen round light bulbs lying on a flat surface. One bulb in the center is light up, others are dark. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. A quick announcement before this week’s post. My colleague and occasional drinking buddy Joan Garry has a free workshop being released starting next week that I strongly encourage you to check out. This series of videos covers strategies for running a successful nonprofit – stuff like how to build a great board, how to increase donations, how to inspire volunteers, etc. The workshop is helpful for new as well as experienced leaders. At the end of the workshop, Joan will introduce the Nonprofit Leadership Lab. I’ve been lurking in the Lab for a while and can vouch that it’s a great resource and support community at an affordable monthly rate. I never promote things like this, and in full disclosure, Joan is giving me a cut for any new members I end up sending her way, which will help defray the costs of running NonprofitAF. But I would not endorse anything that I don’t believe in. I have seen how useful the Lab is for its members. So sign up to check out the videos. They’re free and helpful even if you decide not to join the Lab.

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I am in a crappy mood, so my apologies in advance for the tone of this post. I am distraught and disheartened over the Supreme Court, and I know many of you are too. I want to provide some encouraging words, but I don’t really have any at the moment. This is horrible, and no amount of “we-are-in-this-together-and-remember-that-the-arc-bends-towards-justice-and-rainbows-and-unicorns” bromides is going to be enough this time. Continue reading

The game of nonprofit is flawed. Learn to play it so you can change it. 

[Image description: A raccoon, grayish brown, peeking over a thick tree branch, staring directly at the camera with its piercing dark eyes. Image from Pixabay.com]

Every once a while, an up-and-coming nonprofit professional would ask me, “What advice would you give us folks who are just starting in the sector?” This is how you know that you yourself are no longer an up-and-coming nonprofit professional. I am trying to embrace my status as one of the grizzled old-timers with the battle scars:

“When I entered the sector years ago, we had to walk five miles—in the snow!—to deliver a grant proposal. Back then, paperclips weren’t invented, and funders wanted the attachments to be clipped just right. We had to make paperclips out of pine needles. But, there were only eight pine trees west of the Mississippi, and they were fiercely guarded by vicious raccoons. I can still see their beady eyes, glowing red like those sticky dots people used to vote with during community meetings. Of course, back then, the sticky dots weren’t just something you bought at the store. They were gum drops we had to slice by hand. Problem with using those gum drop slices though was that they attracted the raccoons. We spent as much time battling raccoons as we spent running programs.” Continue reading

Popularity-based grants are irritating, harmful, and need to end

[Image description: It’s a little pug, starting directly into the camera, with its big eyes and wrinkled face, so cute! This pug wants all corporate partners to stop having popularity-based funding opportunities. Image from Pixabay.com]

Popularity-based grants (PBG) are funding opportunities where nonprofits compete to get the most votes or “likes” in order to win some money or services from a corporate partner. They have been popping up a lot lately, with the increase in social media engagement. If you are with a company that conducts these types of grants, I am begging you, please shut them down and never have another one again. I know intentions are good; you may be thinking that nonprofits get some resources, and the companies get some exposure, so it’s a “win-win.” In actuality, popularity-based grants are awful, irritating, insulting, inequitable, and hurt nonprofits and the people we serve. Here are several reasons why: Continue reading

Want effective capacity building? Get rid of the incubation mentality

[Image description: It’s a sweet, tiny, fluffy little baby chicken, relaxing in the grass. It’s kind of light beige. It looks so fluffy. It’s so cute! I want one. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, I’m going to rant on the exciting topic of capacity building for this post, since I haven’t done that in a while. But before we do that, if you’re in the regions affected by Hurricane Florence or Typhoon Mangkhut, I hope you and your family are safe. For those of us who would like to help, here are a few nonprofits to donate to for Florence, and for Mangkhut.

Also, my organization Rainier Valley Corps (RVC) just moved into a new building, so we’re having an open house on September 27th from 4:30pm to 7pm. Swing by if you’re in the Seattle area. I’ll be there under the inflated unicorn head. Details and RSVP

For the past year RVC has been growing our Operations Support program. We now have 12 incredible partner organizations under our fiscal sponsorship. RVC handles back-office functions such as payroll, HR, financial management, legal compliance, contract monitoring, etc. In addition, when it makes sense, we also provide fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and other forms of support, as well as send in one or two fellows to work full-time at organizations for two years at a time. By taking on the critical-but-time-consuming operations tasks, we help partner organizations focus on the urgent and vital work that only they can do. RVC at this point only supports organizations led by communities of color in the Seattle area.  Continue reading