Category Archives: Capacity Building

Star Trek and the Future of the Nonprofit Sector

[Image description: A cartoonish action figure of Spock, from Star Trek, with his hand outstretched in the Vulcan salute. The figure is standing on what looks like a wooden fence post, with a blurred background of plants]

Thank you Nonprofit Quarterly for publishing my piece last week on the future of the nonprofit sector. Except for the post on the misuse of the word “literally,” this is probably one of the most important things I’ve written about in the past four years. Due to a few people not having read it, I am reposting the entire piece here. If you haven’t read and thought about it, please take some time to do so. We can, and must, move our sector into the future.

Let’s face it, the last few months have been brutal. Dealing with the constant threats to communities and to democracy itself has been exhausting and heartbreaking, and many of us have been questioning whether we nonprofits are equipped to respond to current and future challenges. During these dark times, there has been at least one bright light: A new Star Trek show!

When hatred and xenophobia are on the rise, it’s nice to see a universe where diversity is a norm. From the two episodes I’ve seen, the new show, Star Trek: Discovery, is awesome. It’s not without flaws, of course, but this show, and Star Trek itself, paints a hopeful picture that we nonprofits should observe closely. And the Starfleet model in particular is something we should study

In Star Trek, there are various starships. Each has a different captain and a different mission. However, they are bound together by Starfleet, an organization that supports and coordinates the work of all the ships. Starfleet is big, with multiple departments. There’s Starfleet Academy, which trains officers; Starfleet Command, which provides governance; Starfleet Shipyard, which builds the ships; Starfleet Judge Advocate General, which serves as the judiciary branch, etc. Continue reading

Winter is here, and we must build the power of organizations and communities of color

[Image description: Nine hands of diverse skin colors, overlapping in a circle, as in a show of unity. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Last month, I attended a luncheon where one of the speakers, a colleague of mine, mentioned doing a home visit to check in on a little girl and her mom. The small apartment was completely dark. As my colleague’s eyes adjusted, she noticed there were papers with strings of numbers taped to the walls. Seeing her curious look, the mom said, “These are phone numbers. I want her to memorize these numbers…in case they take me away.”

Stories like these are now more and more common. In Seattle we’ve seen flyers posted all over the South Park neighborhood encouraging people to call ICE “for fast deportation of illegal immigrants.” We’ve heard about the tragedy in Portland of the men who were murdered on a train for defending two Muslim women against the abuse of a bigot. These stories of fear and hatred are enough for many of us to lose faith in humanity. But I have been encouraged by the parallel stories of compassion and solidarity, of neighbors looking out for one another.

All of this makes me wonder about one of the most important roles of our sector, which is the building of community power. When the voices of the community members most affected by injustice are strong, when they have the resources and power to help change the systems—by voting, by shaping policies—our society is strengthened and all of us benefit. As our world spirals into divisiveness and intolerance, building the voice and power of the most marginalized is our best defense against the rise in racist nationalism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, violence, and injustice. Continue reading

10 ways the nonprofit sector must adapt to the new reality

butterfly-1716535_1280Hi everyone. Two quick announcements: First, my organization is hiring an on-staff capacity building coach. This is a high-level position focused on supporting grassroots organizations led by communities of color. If you believe in strengthening communities of color to advance social justice, and you love organizational capacity building and working with small grassroots organization, please apply. It is more urgent than ever for us to support our community-based organizations to be civically engaged, so this position is critical. But no pressure or anything! (Make sure you like unicorns and Oxford Commas, though…)

Second, please read my article in Chronicle of Philanthropy on what funders must do in light of the new political reality. It’s hilarious, and I added pictures of bunnies and puppies. OK, it’s deadly serious, and there are no pictures of baby animals at all. Given the urgency of the work, we can no longer afford to continue the same destructive funding philosophies and processes that have been hampering nonprofits’ abilities to carry out our missions.

While funders discuss how to adapt, we nonprofits need to do things differently too. Here are my thoughts on a few areas that we need to consider. This is by no means comprehensive. Or particularly groundbreaking. Some of these are ideas I have written about before, and some I will expand on in future posts: Continue reading

Why Budget Testing is a terrible way for foundations to determine funding allocation

spiral-1081904_960_720A while ago, I wrote “When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.” The post highlights the importance of salary transparency from the beginning of the hiring process. It also talks about one of the dumbest and most damaging hiring practices we have: Using salary history to determine the starting pay of new hires. This practice ensures that people who have been underpaid—primarily women and people of color—continue to be underpaid. We, the sector fighting for equity and social justice, must end this archaic and destructive practice immediately.

As I’ve been thinking more about how we treat individuals in the sector, I’ve been noticing that there is a parallel to how we treat organizations and even whole communities. A parallel to using salary history at the organizational level is something I’m going to call “Budget Testing.” This is when funders have rules regarding how much funding an organization can apply for based on its budget size. Many foundations, for example, will not fund an organization for more than 10% of its budget. Others have set limits, such as organizations with budgets less than $1M can only apply for $25,000, and those over $1M can apply for $100,000. Continue reading

Common nonprofit terms and concepts and what they actually mean

giraffes-627031_960_720Hi everyone, a colleague asked me to write a translation of nonprofit terminologies and concepts, which may be helpful to those who are thinking of going into nonprofit work. Since I was pressed for time this week (look, Narcos is not going to binge-watch itself on Netflix), I outsourced the task to the NWB Facebook Community, which is full of brilliant and hilarious people who don’t take themselves too seriously. Here are several of the suggestions, mainly copied verbatim. (Go to the Facebook page for the whole list). This is by no means comprehensive, so please add your own in the comment section:

Hiring

Salary commensurate with experience: We’re ashamed to actually say what it is, but it’s probably nowhere near commensurate with your experience level

Comprehensive benefits: You can take home leftover crackers AND half-drunk bottles of wine after donor receptions.

Welcomes diversity/seeks diverse leadership: You will be the first and/or only person of color on our board/staff/whatever

A dynamic work environment: We are really disorganized

Able to prioritize: You’ll have to decide whether it’s riskier to delay payment on the electric bill or the water bill

There were so many duties we decided to split the job: Your predecessor still works here, but is angry she was demoted, and won’t train you

We are embarking on a new phase: Everything else we’ve tried has been an epic failure, and you will now save us.

A fast-paced environment: We are overwhelmed, overworked and afflicted with this curse called a ‘vocation’, and the Board just keep piling it on.

Looking for someone passionate about the field: Applicants should be willing to accept being paid peanuts

Lots of opportunity: It literally could not get any worse. Continue reading