Author Archives: Vu

Funders, your “wait and see” approach is killing nonprofits during leadership transitions

[Image description: A gray mouse with a long tail, its head bowed, its paws covering its eyes and nose, on a white background. What does this image have to do with this post? Who knows, maybe it is a profound metaphor for funding dynamics. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

This week, I read the Road Block Analysis Report by the Open Road Alliance that shows that the biggest barrier nonprofits face is…our very own funders. In fact, according to the executive summary:

“Funder-Created Obstacles make up 46% of the roadblock dataset and include specific obstacles such as a Delay of Disbursement, a Change in Funder Strategy, and Funder Policy Inflexibility. With only a few exceptions, Funder-Created Obstacles are the most frequent roadblocks across all sectors, funder types, project types, geographic focus, and organization size. Thus, funders are frequently – if unintentionally – contributing to disruptions to project implementation and, in doing so, threatening the impact of their own investments.” [Bolded-line emphasis mine]

I know we are all thinking the same thing: Where is Septa Unella, the severe nun from Game of Thrones, when we need her? This is the perfect time for her to walk around ringing a bell and chanting “Shame! Shame!” every three or four steps. Continue reading

Paradoxical commandments for the nonprofit professional

[Image description: Two hummingbirds drinking nectar from a red flower, with a blurry green background. The bird on the left is grayish-brown, and the one on the right is blue and green. Both are trying to find general operating nectar. Image by James Wainscoat of unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s blog post, a couple of things. First, please go write a review of a foundation on grantadvisor.org (it’s like a Trip Advisor where you can anonymously review foundations). Second, if you’re an Executive Director or CEO of color, there is a Facebook support group for you, full of amazing colleagues: EDOC—ED Unicorns of Color, which stemmed from ED Happy Hour, which is open to all current and retired EDs/CEOs.

Speaking of amazing colleagues, one of the reasons I love our sector so much is the quality of the people we have. However, I’ve been encountering more and more professionals who have become increasingly jaded and cynical about the work.  It’s gotten worse since the election. This is understandable, as the last couple of years have been especially rough on all of us, and the current challenges have really highlighted just how awful and inequitable the systems—grantmaking, public policy, hiring practices, etc.—we work within are. Continue reading

Why it would be better for the world if we were all less mission-driven

[Image description: Three adorable baby ducklings floating in the water. There’s a yellow one, a white one, and a black one. This relates to a related post I wrote earlier called “I’m a duck, you’re a duck, we are all ducks.” Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I am in Oxford, England for the Skoll World Forum, where I’m speaking on a panel. I’m super excited because this is the home of the Oxford Comma! (I think) I just got to my hotel ten minutes ago and am jetlagged and possibly hallucinating a bit. Yes, Paddington, I would love for you to join my board! Anyway, I’m not sure how lucid this post is going to be.

Before we start, though, today April 9th is International Unicorn Day. If you haven’t done so, get your official nonprofit unicorn name and title. Even better, I’m excited to announce that the book Jessamyn Shams-Lau of the Peery Foundation, Jane Leu of Smarter Good, and I are writing is done and will be ready soon! Pre-orders are available on Amazon, for May 15th release, but in the meantime, you can learn more about the book through this Medium article. For bulk orders, please email bulk@redpress.co.uk. Thank you so much to everyone who supported this project.

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The concept of mission-driven has been well-beaten into all of us. It seems that nothing is more important to our work than our mission. This idea has been baked into everything we do: fundraise, communicate, run programs. Concepts like “mission creep” (which sounds like the name of a really boring super-villain) are designed to instill in us this sense that our individual mission is pure and sacred, and that all of us must have as our highest imperative the unwavering devotion to it.

I’m going to say something kind of blasphemous, so hold on to your suspenders. I think we all need to be less mission-driven. “What? No! Oooh, he didn’t just say that!” Continue reading

19 irritating jargon phrases, and awesome new sayings you should use instead

[Image description: A little reddish-brown squirrel, hovering behind a mossy tree stump, looking to the right. It seems attentive and thoughtful, both ears perking up. This is clearly a reference to Number 16 in this post, where a proposed suggestion is “there’s no squirrel in the scuttle.” In this image, there is a squirrel, but no scuttle. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we get into this week’s post, a quick announcement. Remember back in grade school when we would have field days at the end of the school year, a day when we had a bunch of games outdoors? We need more fun in the nonprofit sector, considering how serious the work is. So I am declaring July 18th to be the first annual Nonprofit Field Day! This is inspired by Ahead of the Curve, a consortium of capacity builders in New York, who plans to go big this year, possibly involving a potato sack race. If capacity builders can have fun, then so can everyone!

You have plenty of stuff to worry about already, so use Nonprofit Field Day as an excuse to invite other nonprofits on a picnic, canoe outing, outdoor karaoke, ice cream social at the beach, whatever. We need more activities that bring different nonprofits together. Let me know how it goes.

Last week’s blog post was a bit serious, so to lighten things up, here is part 4 of the Jargon series, where we examine clichés and irritating jargon and propose alternatives. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3 (#OxfordCommaForever!) Continue reading

The Ethical Argument for General Operating Funds

[Image description: An adorable little kitten, inside a pink play tube thing. It’s staring off into the upper left corner. It wants funders to provide general operating funds. Unrestricted funds will make this kitten very happy, and you want this kitten to be happy, don’t you? I thought so. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin, thank you to all the colleagues who donated to my organization on my birthday last week. It helps our mission of developing more leaders of color and strengthening organizations led by communities of color. If you haven’t donated, it’s not too late

This blog post is going to be a little more serious than usual. I’m going to say things that may be very difficult for many people to hear. Especially if you work for a foundation that provides restricted funding, please take a deep breath. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but we need to have this conversation. Next week’s post will be lighter. Unless something else comes up.

An exasperated colleague in an ED group I belong to quoted a rejection letter she got from a foundation: Continue reading