Category Archives: leadership

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

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

The Wheel of Disillusionment: What it is and how it destroys relationships and creates toxic cultures

[Image description: Three cute fluffy yellow ducklings. One is on the ground, while the two other ducklings are standing looking at the duckling on the ground. They all seem to be friends. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This week’s post is long and a little serious (despite the picture of ducklings). But before that, a couple of quick announcements. First, PLEASE VOTE!!!

Second, I’m doing a Facebook Live this Tuesday, November 6th, 12:30 to 1:30pm PST, to update you all on what’s been going on with my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, and to answer any questions you may have. I think people sometimes forget that I am an executive director of a capacity-building-focused social justice organization, so I’m going to try to host these conversations quarterly. They might even inspire me to comb my hair more often.

A few years ago, an ED colleague called me up, upset and frustrated. Her team had started mobilizing against her. What had started as a misalignment in priorities spiraled out of control, and now staff were having clandestine meetings. The once-friendly office was cold, to the point where staff would no longer say hi when she entered. When she tried to ask for feedback, the attempts were rebuffed, leaving her hurt and confused. Morale was at an all-time low, and she thought about quitting daily.

Another leader, in another city, was in a similar situation, but with a particular member of his team. A firing of a problematic staff member who had been close to this team member started a chain of events. Now all his actions and motives were suspect. Even the simplest thing—closing the office door to accept a phone call—was interpreted as a sign of malice. Other staff who had no issues with him were now being pulled into the drama, and a narrative was building that he was prejudiced against certain ethnic groups, which was deeply unsettling to a leader of color at a social justice organization. A faction that agreed with him on the firing formed to support him, and the tension between the two groups threatened the mission.

Continue reading

The Tree of Life shooting and how we as a sector must respond

[Image description: Several lit votive candles on a dark surface, against a black background. Image from Pixabay.com]

I’ve been thinking about the horrifying act of evil, racism, and anti-Semitism committed by a white nationalist at the Tree of Life Synagogue on Saturday, which killed 11 people and injured many more while they were peacefully observing their faith. I don’t really know what to say here that would be in any way helpful. HIAS, The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, whose work prompted the wrath of the shooter, has helped thousands of refugees and immigrants, including those from Vietnam, where I was born. The synagogue is also located in Mr. Rogers’s old neighborhood, Squirrel Hill. It is heartbreaking that a community that has created so much good in the world is repaid with so much hatred, grief, and pain. To my Jewish friends and colleagues and the Pittsburgh community, I am thinking of you, though I know that does not do anything to lessen the horror you are enduring. Continue reading

An awesome solution for diversifying the environmental movement

[Image description: An adorable little polar bear cub, resting on a tree trunk, black background. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, an announcement before we get into today’s post: Joan Garry’s Nonprofit Leadership Lab is open for enrollment for the next four days (10/22 to 10/25). I was recently on Joan’s podcast, where we discussed how awesome nonprofit folks are, and how we can prevent ourselves from burning out. And something about Marshmallow Peeps. Or at least that’s what I think we talked about. I have a weird phobia about hearing my own voice, so I am not sure what I actually said, and I will never find out! But anyway, the Lab is awesome, providing so many resources and a wonderful supportive community. As I mentioned earlier, NAF gets a share of membership fees for helping to promote the lab, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t think it was worth your time. So check it out. 

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This week, we need to talk about diversifying environmental organizations. As you know, the environmental movement has a serious diversity issue. It is very white. According to the Green 2.0 report by Dr. Dorceta E. Taylor:

“The percentage of ethnic minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16%. Once hired in environmental organizations, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks. As a result, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12% of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations. […] Yet ethnic minorities and people of multi-racial backgrounds comprise about 38% of the U.S. population.”

This lack of diversity is a critical issue, given that people of color are disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. And we’re getting tired of it! Continue reading