OMG, can we please stop saying “there’s only so much funding to go around”?!

Hi everyone. I just finished reading Edgar Villanueva’s important and illuminating book, Decolonizing Wealth. It highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the colonization of Native land, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from communities of color. The book also presents a hopeful path forward. I highly recommend it, and will be discussing it more in depth in one or more future posts, so please check it out.

[Image description: An adorable little brown weasel with a white underbelly. It’s crawling out from under what looks like a wooden porch. This weasel has nothing to do with this post. And jokes about its resemblance to the author are not appreciated. I probably should have used a squirrel. Pixabay.com]

I’m slightly grumpy right now due to the news, and also my two beautiful small children who threw tantrums this evening over something ridiculous. The five-year-old because he had to trace all of four words for his kindergarten homework, something he literally could have done in 30 seconds if he hadn’t spent 30 minutes crying about how much work it was; the two-year-old because his banana had a single bruise spot on it. So keep this in mind as you read. The ornery tone of this post, it’s not you. It’s me. But it’s also possibly you.

A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote, and during the Q&A, someone got up to ask a question:

“I really appreciate how you are trying to move us away from scarcity and martyrdom, but…”—I knew what was coming next— “how do we do that when there’s only so much funding to go around?”

Well slather me in hummus and call me Randall, there’s only so much funding to go around?! Continue reading

The Wheel of Disillusionment: What it is and how it destroys relationships and creates toxic cultures

[Image description: Three cute fluffy yellow ducklings. One is on the ground, while the two other ducklings are standing looking at the duckling on the ground. They all seem to be friends. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This week’s post is long and a little serious (despite the picture of ducklings). But before that, a couple of quick announcements. First, PLEASE VOTE!!!

Second, I’m doing a Facebook Live this Tuesday, November 6th, 12:30 to 1:30pm PST, to update you all on what’s been going on with my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, and to answer any questions you may have. I think people sometimes forget that I am an executive director of a capacity-building-focused social justice organization, so I’m going to try to host these conversations quarterly. They might even inspire me to comb my hair more often.

A few years ago, an ED colleague called me up, upset and frustrated. Her team had started mobilizing against her. What had started as a misalignment in priorities spiraled out of control, and now staff were having clandestine meetings. The once-friendly office was cold, to the point where staff would no longer say hi when she entered. When she tried to ask for feedback, the attempts were rebuffed, leaving her hurt and confused. Morale was at an all-time low, and she thought about quitting daily.

Another leader, in another city, was in a similar situation, but with a particular member of his team. A firing of a problematic staff member who had been close to this team member started a chain of events. Now all his actions and motives were suspect. Even the simplest thing—closing the office door to accept a phone call—was interpreted as a sign of malice. Other staff who had no issues with him were now being pulled into the drama, and a narrative was building that he was prejudiced against certain ethnic groups, which was deeply unsettling to a leader of color at a social justice organization. A faction that agreed with him on the firing formed to support him, and the tension between the two groups threatened the mission.

Continue reading

The Tree of Life shooting and how we as a sector must respond

[Image description: Several lit votive candles on a dark surface, against a black background. Image from Pixabay.com]

I’ve been thinking about the horrifying act of evil, racism, and anti-Semitism committed by a white nationalist at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, which killed 11 people and injured many more while they were peacefully observing their faith. I don’t really know what to say here that would be in any way helpful. HIAS, The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, whose work prompted the wrath of the shooter, has helped thousands of refugees and immigrants, including those from Vietnam, where I was born. The synagogue is also located in Mr. Rogers’s old neighborhood, Squirrel Hill. It is heartbreaking that a community that has created so much good in the world is repaid with so much hatred, grief, and pain. To my Jewish friends and colleagues and the Pittsburgh community, I am thinking of you, though I know that does not do anything to lessen the horror you are enduring. Continue reading

An awesome solution for diversifying the environmental movement

[Image description: An adorable little polar bear cub, resting on a tree trunk, black background. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, an announcement before we get into today’s post: Joan Garry’s Nonprofit Leadership Lab is open for enrollment for the next four days (10/22 to 10/25). I was recently on Joan’s podcast, where we discussed how awesome nonprofit folks are, and how we can prevent ourselves from burning out. And something about Marshmallow Peeps. Or at least that’s what I think we talked about. I have a weird phobia about hearing my own voice, so I am not sure what I actually said, and I will never find out! But anyway, the Lab is awesome, providing so many resources and a wonderful supportive community. As I mentioned earlier, NAF gets a share of membership fees for helping to promote the lab, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was worth your time. So check it out. 

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This week, we need to talk about diversifying environmental organizations. As you know, the environmental movement has a serious diversity issue. It is very white. According to the Green 2.0 report by Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor:

“The percentage of ethnic minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16%. Once hired in environmental organizations, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks. As a result, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12% of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations. […] Yet ethnic minorities and people of multi-racial backgrounds comprise about 38% of the U.S. population.”

This lack of diversity is a critical issue, given that people of color are disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. And we’re getting tired of it! Continue reading

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