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

Hey people with privilege, you need to be OK with making mistakes and being called out

[Image description: A little grey kitten with black stripes and big, soulful eyes, lying down surrounded by some small green leaves. This kitten has nothing to do with this blog post. Or does it. Image obtained from Pixabay, which is actually a pretty awesome website where you can get all sorts of cool creative commons pictures for free.]

Hi everyone, before we begin this week’s post, a quick announcement: If you’re in Seattle, the community-centric fundraising summit originally scheduled for September 27th has been postponed until likely Spring 2019 so we can incorporate the lessons gained from the amazing pre-summit gathering of fundraisers of color last month where we discussed the intersection of fundraising and social justice. If you want to be kept informed as the team plans the summit, please fill out this quick form. Meanwhile, we are finalizing the “Fundraising Perception Survey,” which will be released soon, and would love your participation when it’s live.

Last week, I wrote a blog post called “Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?” The post resonated with many people, and I received lots of positive feedback from colleagues who felt seen and heard. However, there were also some disconcerting reactions as well. A few people from the opposite end of the political spectrum were gleeful—“Ha ha, the libs are attacking one another! Get the popcorn!”—which is to be expected.

More alarming were a few colleagues who dismissed the nuance and basically used the article to rationalize their fragility—“See, y’all were just meanies when you said I was centering myself as a white person! Stop using the term mansplaining!”—or stereotype whole groups of people—“POCs are always piling on white folks!” Continue reading

Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?

[Image description: Two cute little baby chickens who look like they just hatched. They are dark yellow with a patch of black on their heads. They’re in a wooden box or drawer, surrounded by some white eggs and some brown eggs. Image from Pixabay.com.]

Hi everyone. This might be another one of those serious posts, so please take a few deep breaths and eat some dark chocolate. While perusing an online group, I witnessed a conversation between several colleagues, and it was disheartening. A difference of perspectives led to assumptions, which led to attacks, which led to accusations of privilege and power, which led to defensive stances regarding oppressed identities, and then there were terse sign-offs and sarcastic hashtags. It was so demoralizing to see nonprofit colleagues talking to one another in this way that I had to take a pause and read the news to cheer myself up.

A while ago, activist Frances Lee wrote “Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice,” a thought-provoking article that led to a lot of needed discussions. Lee wrote:

“Activists are some of the judgiest people I’ve ever met, myself included. We work hard to expose injustice and oppression in the world. But among us, grace and forgiveness are hard to come by. It is a terrible thing to fear my own community members, and know they’re probably just as afraid of me.” Continue reading

20 ways majority-white nonprofits can build authentic partnerships with organizations led by communities of color

[Image description: A tiny, very yellow, and extremely fluffy duckling sitting on the ground. It is seriously very fluffy, like it just went down one of those plastic slides and charged itself up into a little yellow ball of static electricity. What does this duckling have to do with this post? Nothing. I was searching for a more relevant picture but ended up distracted by pictures of ducklings. From pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we begin today’s topic, please take time to fill out this new survey, which seeks to identify ideas and practices for investing in intersectional racial equity in the nonprofit workforce. It’s part of a larger initiative from our friends at Fund the People. They’ve partnered with the Center for Urban and Racial Equity to help funders and nonprofits “lower barriers and increase support for diverse people to gain entry to nonprofit work, sustain ourselves and advance in nonprofit careers, and ascend to management and leadership.” In particular, they are currently seeking more responses from people of color.

Since they used the Oxford Comma, I think we should help them out. Thanks for taking the survey today. It’s due September 7th.

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Despite the pervasiveness of the Nonprofit Hunger Games, we nonprofits are way more effective when we work together. However, partnerships can be challenging when there are clearly differences in culture, resources, and power. As someone who works with a lot of leaders and communities of color, I often get asked by thoughtful colleagues who work at majority-white nonprofits how they can support and work with organizations that are led by communities of color without causing inconvenience, or annoyance, or actual harm to those communities.

So here is some general advice, divided into four categories. This list is not comprehensive; please feel free to add to it in the comments. Special thanks to my friend Allison Carney, who also gifted the sector with the term Bizsplaining, for pushing me to write about this and for adding her thoughts. (Also, although this post is focused on partnership with communities-of-color-led nonprofits, it also applies to partnerships with organizations led by marginalized communities, such as communities of disabilities, as our colleague Julie Reiskin points out in the comment section).  Continue reading

Philanthropy and the Destructive Illusion of “Leveling the Playing Field”

[Image description: Closeup of a person kneeling on a race track, as if in preparation to run in a race. They are wearing shorts and holding a baton. Image from Pixabay.com]

A few months ago a program officer and I were talking about the lack of funding that goes to communities-of-color-led nonprofits (only about 10% of philanthropic dollars go to organizations of color). He shook his head in sympathy and frustration, sipping on his coffee. “There has to be a way to level the playing field,” he said. This was probably the third time that quarter I had heard that phrase uttered by a funder. 

This concept of “Leveling the Playing Field” is very present in our sector in our society, like cats or skinny jeans, and we don’t really question it at all. We assume that it is a good thing. If we just make it so that competitions are “fair,” then the people/groups with the most merit, the best ideas and proposals, will win. If we can just make the field more even, then everyone will be able to play the game and everything is good. 

This philosophy has led some thoughtful funders to accept applications in Spanish or other languages, accept handwritten applications, or accept non-written formats such as videos or photos (Although, how effective is this last one when my one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Capacity Building, has never resulted in funding?). 

Those practices are great, but can they level the playing field? Can the funding field ever be “level”? Continue reading