Author Archives: Vu

10 things progressive funders must learn from conservative ones, or we are all screwed

[Image description: A black-and-white close-up shot of the head of the Statue of Liberty and part of her arm. Image by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone, this post is going to be very serious. Before we begin, though, RVC is hiring a Director for our Operations Support program; if you love the intersection of equity and operations and want to work with an incredible team, this job may be for you. Please forward it widely. 

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The last few weeks have been difficult. The images of women and kids being tear-gassed at the border haunt me. It makes me think about how effective we nonprofits and foundations are, and what’s keeping us from being able to stop these horrible things from happening.  

I know many of us are having similar thoughts. Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Edgar Villanueva, the brilliant author of Decolonizing Wealth, a critical book that highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the genocide of Native peoples, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from marginalized communities. I highly recommend the book. And it is an encouraging sign that foundations have been at least willing to engage with the topics that Decolonizing Wealth, along with Anand Giridharada’s Winners Take All, have been courageously bringing up.

But there is a potential challenge that I can see: The public embrace by foundations of these two books—and other forms of criticisms—is at danger of being another form of intellectualizing, with the reflection generated by these important books serving as a self-congratulatory proxy for actions, as has happened over and over. How many more books need to be written? When will we see fundamental changes to how philanthropy operates? Continue reading

Our default organizational decision-making model is flawed. Here’s an awesome alternative!

[Image description: A tired orange-striped cat with its eyes closed, on a black background. This kitty is probably tired making decisions in our flawed, top-down decision-making model. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we launch into today’s post, my friend Oz recorded my Guided Meditation for Nonprofit Professionals. Check out Oz’s soothing voice as he guides you to the Land of Sustainability in this free 12-minute relaxation exercise. “Breathe in and out […] Your desk is completely clutter-free and not a coffee-stained dumpster fire of chaos and broken promises.” (Original written meditation here)

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One of the things EDs and CEOs have noticed is that we get “decision fatigue,” and one way it manifests is in our frustration at having to make even small decisions when we’re at home. The other day, for example, my partner (who also directs a nonprofit) was hungry and asked which of two packages of ramen I recommended she eat. I was unable to answer. “I’m torn!” she said, “Just make the decision for me!” I stared at her for several more seconds before hissing like a cat and scampering into the living room to hide behind the couch.

Decision fatigue is real, y’all, and it has sometimes led to fights and arguments in our household over the most ridiculous things. (“Which movie should we see?” “Hisssss!”) It is also symptomatic of the weakness in our society’s default decision-making philosophy. This philosophy is basically top-down and hierarchical, where the people who have the most power have the most decision-making authority, even in areas where they have the least amount of knowledge and experience. The ED/CEO makes the final decisions on everything. Staff who challenge the decisions get into trouble. And the board sometimes vetoes the staff’s decisions. Continue reading

Meat Me Halfway: Veganism and the Nonprofit Sector (aka, Worst. NAF Post. Ever)

[Image description: An adorable little baby pig. It’s pink with black/gray patches. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I’ve been bringing up a whole bunch of controversial things on this blog, but this may be the one that makes people rush to my office and kick down my unicorn shrine. Yes, there is a unicorn shrine at my office; let’s not criticize one another’s Feng-Shui-based fundraising strategies, OK?

But put on some calming Kenny Loggins music and hear me out for a second. This post is not going to shame you for eating meat, and it’s not trying to get you to become vegan. It will, however, attempt to get us all to recognize the challenges and dissonance posed by meat in our work fighting for a better world, and maybe persuade you to cut down a little bit on that delicious meat and scrumptious cheese as you are able. That’s all. Please put down the broken bottles of gala wine. Continue reading

Being thankful is not enough. Here are 21 tips to help you do a better job thanking people

[Image description: A little rottweiler puppy, lying on the ground, resting on its paws, looking to our left. This puppy is clearly just click-bait for this post. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s post, please take a moment to help people affected by the wildfires in California. Your donations and support in other ways make a difference.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and all of us in the US will likely be reflecting on things for which we are each thankful. That’s great. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to lead to all sorts of benefits, from reducing stress, to improving sleep, to making people around us less likely to poison our hummus.

What we kind of suck at is expressing gratitude to other people. Heck, 33% of workers have not been recognized in the past six months, and 21% have never ever been recognized ever, which is really sad. If I had a nickel for every time I learn that someone feels underappreciated—an ED by their board, staff by the leadership, volunteers by the staff, grantees by their funders, etc.—I would have…approximately 65 cents. That’s still a lot in nonprofit. Continue reading

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