Category Archives: leadership

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

How I used leadership and organizational development skills to survive four nights at a haunted hotel

[Image description: Closeup of a brown puppy, snuggled in a checked grey-white-pink-black blanket. The puppy has nothing to do with this post. I just didn’t want to look at pictures of scary things to find a relevant image. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Right away, I could tell that the hotel was haunted. Or just really old. The elevator would occasionally bring me to the basement when I pushed the button for the third floor. Sometimes, it would stop on the second floor, and the door would open, but no one would be there. On the first night, the light outside the bathroom turned on at 5am. Since it was motion-activated, I didn’t think much of it, because these sensors can often be overly sensitive. On the second night, it did it again.

I was in Oakland for the Art of Transformational Consulting, a training led by the legendary Robert Gass of the Social Transformation Project. (Thank you, Haas Jr. Fund for sponsoring my participation). It was an intense one-week program, where the days often went from 9am to 9pm. During these hours, I and 29 other participants, mostly consultants or nonprofit leaders, learned from Robert and from one another. We examined the deepest corners of ourselves, we analyzed case studies, we worked in pairs and triads and groups and sat in large circles. I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, encouraged to do things that I never thought I was capable of: Meditate, communicate without words, exercise. Continue reading

Marginalized Communities and the Audacity of Ambition

[Image description: A cute little brown squirrel, sitting up in the grass, staring straight at the camera. This squirrel has nothing to do with the content of this post. Or maybe it is a metaphor. Maybe all of us are this squirrel. Image by Vincent van Zalinge of unsplash.com]

A few years ago, I called up a colleague to ask for his advice on fundraising. It was my organization’s first year, and I was still stealing office supplies from other nonprofits (as we all do during the start-up phase and sometimes years after, am I right?). He is a well-respected leader in the field, and I needed some guidance on getting significant resources for my organization’s mission of developing leaders of color for the sector. What he said, paraphrased here, was one of the most honest and shocking things anyone has ever said to me:

“Well,” he said, “as a white guy who has done this for a while, my advice for you is to be more like a white guy.” I nearly choked on the bar of raspberries dark chocolate I was eating for lunch. “What do you mean?” I asked. Continue reading

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