Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders

[Image description: Closeup of a raccoon, resting on a branch, its head on one arm, staring directly at the camera. Cute little creature. Not sure if this adorable raccoon has anything to do with the content of this post, but come on, look at those big eyes. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we start, if you haven’t written a review of a foundation on GrantAdvisor.org, or asked your grantees to review you, please take a moment to do so. GrantAdvisor was launched a few months ago to address a pervasive problem in our sector. No, not the mice problem, although that too is pervasive (#NonprofitMiceProblem). I’m talking about the imbalance of power between funders and nonprofits, which leads to a lot of no-good, very bad things such as the lack of honest communication and feedback between funders and nonprofits.

One area where this shows up is on grant applications. It’s not that we nonprofits lie when writing proposals, it’s just that…we’ve been trained to tell funders exactly what we think y’all want to hear, sugarcoating everything in jargon and BS. 

A while ago, a colleague imagined what our answers would be like on grant proposals if we nonprofits were allowed to be completely and brutally honest. Here are some of these honest responses, with credit to colleagues across the field, most of whom understandably prefer to remain anonymous; anything in quotes is someone else’s direct words. Apologies in advance for the sarcastic, possibly biting tone; the entire sector has been on edge lately: Continue reading

#metoo and the nonprofit sector

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Hi everyone. I haven’t talked about the #metoo movement, even though it’s been on my mind. This is mainly because as I identify as a man, I should be listening and not mansplaining. Also, others have discussed this intersection of #metoo and nonprofit a lot more authoritatively, and I’m afraid to screw up in whatever I might have to say, if I had anything worth saying at all.

However, this movement is a discussion all of us need to have in the sector, and making mistakes and learning is a part of it, especially those of us who have positional authority due to our titles.

In the past few months, I’ve been reading up on others’ stories and thoughts. This blog post is a reflection on a few things our sector must do, prompted by various articles written by other professionals in the field. As such, it might not be very eloquent or comprehensive. But I hope one or more of these points might help to facilitate some discussions and actions. Continue reading

Book preview: “Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build Epic Partnerships”

[Image description: A diagram from the book, featuring drawings of cartoon unicorns holding bullhorns, illustrating the cycle of distrust between foundations and nonprofits]

Hi everyone. About a year ago, I mentioned I was co-authoring a book with two brilliant colleagues, Jessamyn Shams-Lau of the Peery Foundation and Jane Leu of Smarter Good. Many of you backed our Kickstarter project, and guess what? We actually wrote the book! OK, Jessamyn and Jane wrote the book, while I tagged along and tried to offer helpful suggestions like “instead of writing this book, how about we take the money and invest it in this awesome tech start-up I just heard about called Juicero, then get rich and start our own foundation but have headquarters in Oaxaca?”

Anyway, the book is called “Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build Epic Partnerships” and will be available this Spring, with pre-orders being taken on April 9th, 2018, which is coincidentally World Unicorn Day. Now, you may have some questions, so I’ve anticipated and answered them here: Continue reading

We need to change our unhealthy attitude about email before civilization collapses

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If you are like me, your email inbox is an overflowing compost pile of festering guilt and existential despair. I get between 150 to 200 emails per day. Sure, half of them are stupid (although, can we really call a discussion thread focused on Netflix’ breathtaking animated series Castlevania stupid?) But that still leaves 75 to 100 messages that actually need a response or some type of action. It’s impossible to get through all of them. Then they multiply, including the “Did you get my last email?” and “Hey, just following up on the email I sent last week” and “The team noticed you’ve been tearing out your hair and cussing a lot lately when opening your laptop. Are you OK?”

No, I’m not OK. You’re not OK! None of us are OK, OK?! Email is out of control! It’s horrible yet addictive yet efficient yet awful! All of us are looking for ways to manage the murky cesspool that is our emails. If you google “email overwhelm,” it’ll come up with 481,000 hits, including hundreds of articles with advice like “only check your emails at designated time” and “create filters to automatically file many messages” and “do what Jeff Bezos does” (Start a multi-billion dollar tech company and hire people to answer your emails). Continue reading

10 creative tips for staying healthy while working at a nonprofit

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Hi everyone. Before we tackle today’s topic, here’s some NAF logo merchandize! Apologies for taking so long. Now you can get a t-shirt or hoodie or mug and declare yourself #nonprofitAF. They make great gifts for nonprofit people, or whimsically confusing gifts for everyone else. 

It is the New Year, which means many of us are thinking of ways to improve ourselves. However, that can be challenging when all of us are so busy doing important stuff to make the world better. Stuff like binge-watching season 4 of Grace and Frankie on Netflix while eating an entire family-sized bag of wavy potato chips (Look, you have your way of making the world better, and I have mine).

So here are a few creative tips to help us be healthier while we do nonprofit work. Special thanks to the NAF Facebook community for all the inspiring suggestions, many of which I’ve combined into the ones here: Continue reading