Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday. A while ago, I wrote a post called “The Myth of Indispensability,” which deals with the loss of my mother and how all of us need to spend more time with the people we love, because we never know how many more days we have left with them.
Since that post though, I haven’t really been following my own words. Working for a nonprofit is all-consuming. I know you know what that is like. Our work is often not confined to a 9-to-5. It is often in the evenings, on the weekends, sometimes in the bathroom on the phone (hey, whatever it takes to get that online grant application submitted). Even when we aren’t at the office, we are thinking about work, worrying about clients and payroll and programs and reports. And we never feel that we are doing enough, that we ourselves are enough.
And while we work, the people we love change. Kids grow older, our parents grayer, our friends don’t call or drop by as much anymore. I had to contain my emotions one day when my then-four-year-old held on to my leg as I was leaving for the airport. “Daddy, I don’t want you to go on a work trip.” I didn’t know how it happened that my tiny, sweet little baby who was only eight pounds was now speaking full sentences. It reminded me of what a colleague once said years ago, but whose words I never absorbed until that moment: “Your projects will always be there. But your children will only grow up one time.” That was a difficult ride to the airport. Continue reading
“Imagine if you had three kids and three sandwiches. Equality would be that you give each kid a sandwich. That seems fair. But many of you work with kids whose families are low-income, whose only meal that day may be through school or through your program. Imagine if one of the kids has not eaten for three days, and one kid just came from a birthday party and is stuffed. Equity is understanding these circumstances and giving the kid who is really hungry two sandwiches, and maybe the kid who just ate gets none.” Continue reading
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much to everyone who supported this project.
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