Category Archives: nonprofit field

The game of nonprofit is flawed. Learn to play it so you can change it. 

[Image description: A raccoon, grayish brown, peeking over a thick tree branch, staring directly at the camera with its piercing dark eyes. Image from Pixabay.com]

Every once a while, an up-and-coming nonprofit professional would ask me, “What advice would you give us folks who are just starting in the sector?” This is how you know that you yourself are no longer an up-and-coming nonprofit professional. I am trying to embrace my status as one of the grizzled old-timers with the battle scars:

“When I entered the sector years ago, we had to walk five miles—in the snow!—to deliver a grant proposal. Back then, paperclips weren’t invented, and funders wanted the attachments to be clipped just right. We had to make paperclips out of pine needles. But, there were only eight pine trees west of the Mississippi, and they were fiercely guarded by vicious raccoons. I can still see their beady eyes, glowing red like those sticky dots people used to vote with during community meetings. Of course, back then, the sticky dots weren’t just something you bought at the store. They were gum drops we had to slice by hand. Problem with using those gum drop slices though was that they attracted the raccoons. We spent as much time battling raccoons as we spent running programs.” Continue reading

Hey people with privilege, you need to be OK with making mistakes and being called out

[Image description: A little grey kitten with black stripes and big, soulful eyes, lying down surrounded by some small green leaves. This kitten has nothing to do with this blog post. Or does it. Image obtained from Pixabay, which is actually a pretty awesome website where you can get all sorts of cool creative commons pictures for free.]

Hi everyone, before we begin this week’s post, a quick announcement: If you’re in Seattle, the community-centric fundraising summit originally scheduled for September 27th has been postponed until likely Spring 2019 so we can incorporate the lessons gained from the amazing pre-summit gathering of fundraisers of color last month where we discussed the intersection of fundraising and social justice. If you want to be kept informed as the team plans the summit, please fill out this quick form. Meanwhile, we are finalizing the “Fundraising Perception Survey,” which will be released soon, and would love your participation when it’s live.

Last week, I wrote a blog post called “Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?” The post resonated with many people, and I received lots of positive feedback from colleagues who felt seen and heard. However, there were also some disconcerting reactions as well. A few people from the opposite end of the political spectrum were gleeful—“Ha ha, the libs are attacking one another! Get the popcorn!”—which is to be expected.

More alarming were a few colleagues who dismissed the nuance and basically used the article to rationalize their fragility—“See, y’all were just meanies when you said I was centering myself as a white person! Stop using the term mansplaining!”—or stereotype whole groups of people—“POCs are always piling on white folks!” Continue reading

20 ways majority-white nonprofits can build authentic partnerships with organizations led by communities of color

[Image description: A tiny, very yellow, and extremely fluffy duckling sitting on the ground. It is seriously very fluffy, like it just went down one of those plastic slides and charged itself up into a little yellow ball of static electricity. What does this duckling have to do with this post? Nothing. I was searching for a more relevant picture but ended up distracted by pictures of ducklings. From pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we begin today’s topic, please take time to fill out this new survey, which seeks to identify ideas and practices for investing in intersectional racial equity in the nonprofit workforce. It’s part of a larger initiative from our friends at Fund the People. They’ve partnered with the Center for Urban and Racial Equity to help funders and nonprofits “lower barriers and increase support for diverse people to gain entry to nonprofit work, sustain ourselves and advance in nonprofit careers, and ascend to management and leadership.” In particular, they are currently seeking more responses from people of color.

Since they used the Oxford Comma, I think we should help them out. Thanks for taking the survey today. It’s due September 7th.

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Despite the pervasiveness of the Nonprofit Hunger Games, we nonprofits are way more effective when we work together. However, partnerships can be challenging when there are clearly differences in culture, resources, and power. As someone who works with a lot of leaders and communities of color, I often get asked by thoughtful colleagues who work at majority-white nonprofits how they can support and work with organizations that are led by communities of color without causing inconvenience, or annoyance, or actual harm to those communities.

So here is some general advice, divided into four categories. This list is not comprehensive; please feel free to add to it in the comments. Special thanks to my friend Allison Carney, who also gifted the sector with the term Bizsplaining, for pushing me to write about this and for adding her thoughts. (Also, although this post is focused on partnership with communities-of-color-led nonprofits, it also applies to partnerships with organizations led by marginalized communities, such as communities of disabilities, as our colleague Julie Reiskin points out in the comment section).  Continue reading

When you host an unpaid internship, a unicorn is very, very sad*

[Image description: Two hands resting on a laptop keyboard, as if they’re typing. The laptop is on a wooden table. The laptop screen displays a list of file and what looks like an open chat screen. There is a phone on the left of the laptop and a black to-go coffee cup on the right. Around the table are blurred torsos and hands of other people. Gosh, this is so much less interesting than trying to describe a baby animal. I miss baby animals. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. There has been a lot of conversation lately about unpaid internships, and colleagues have asked me to weigh in. OK, I guess I will have to save “10 Summery Cocktails Inspired by Nonprofit Work” for another week, because this is an important topic.

While our sector works to end inequity, we still adopt many practices, often from the for-profit sector, that perpetuate the very injustice we are fighting. Whenever we engage in these things that run counter to our values, it makes unicorns, the symbol of our sector, sad, and bad things happen to them. When we don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, for example, they lose their wings. And when we use the horrible and unethical practice of basing pay on salary history, they lose their horn. Continue reading

These 10 adorable bunnies want you to read this blog post about fiscal sponsorship and equity

[Image description: Two ridiculously adorable little bunnies. One is black and white, one is brown and white. They are munching on some little wild daisies (or maybe they are doing a bunny tango and one bunny is holding a daisy in its mouth). They both have the tiniest little bunny ears ever! I love these bunnies! Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we begin, I’m on a webinar hosted by the Whitman Institute this Wednesday, 8/1, at 10am PDT, with other leaders, to discuss funding dynamics and how we need more trust between foundations and nonprofits. It’s free. Register here (or RSVP at whitmaninstitute@gmail.com if you have trouble registering).

Sorry about this click-bait title, but let’s just say that fiscal sponsorship, as a topic, is not the most exciting to many people. I, however, am VERY excited about it and think it is one of the most-important-yet-underused tools in our sector. So I am filling this post with pictures of bunnies to encourage you to read it. Please make sure you read the entire post, and not just glance at the pictures of the baby bunnies. It’s an honor system. I trust you. Don’t let me and the bunnies down!

Recently, Josh Sattely of TSNE MissionWorks and I wrote an open letter to tech companies

[Image description: A cute little grey and white bunny on some wood chips, holding what looks like a basil leaf in its mouth. I know my herbs. That’s probably basil. Or maybe spinach. Image from Pixabay.com]

asking them to provide donations to organizations that are fiscally sponsored. Right now, these organizations cannot get access to very useful tools like Google for Nonprofits, Microsoft Office, Slack, and a bunch of other stuff on Techsoup.org. They must have a 501c status, which leaves behind some incredibly effective orgs that are fiscally sponsored, while also allowing a few documented hate groups access to these tools simply because they do have status.

Thank you Nonprofit Quarterly for publishing our letter. I encourage everyone to please read it

[Image description: a jet-black bunny, on the ground, staring off into the distance. It has a majestic, noble profile, looking very regal. Image from Pixabay.com]

and more importantly, put pressure on the tech giants to extend their donations to groups that are fiscally sponsored. Please email Techsoup at beyondc3@techsoup.org. The National Network of Fiscal Sponsors is actively working with TechSoup to evolve its platform to support fiscally sponsored programs. TechSoup encourages everyone to send them your stories, frustrations, and words of encouragement, which they will share with senior management and partner companies to further advocate for needed changes. Please email Techsoup and CC fiscalsponsors@gmail.com so NNFS has a record of your advocacy efforts.

This brings up a similar issue: Some funders still refuse to fund organizations that are fiscally sponsored. This practice is inequitable and prevents our sector from advancing. If you are at one of these foundations, I—and all these adorable bunnies—implore you to reconsider. Here are several things to think about:

Nonprofits led by marginalized communities are more likely to be fiscally sponsored: Organizations led by communities of color, LGBTQ, communities of disabilities, and rural communities tend to be smaller, and smaller organizations are often the ones seeking fiscal sponsorship. By not funding fiscally sponsored organizations, you punish these communities and continue the inequitable distribution of resources that has been a challenge for our sector over decades. Less than 10% of philanthropic dollars go to communities-of-color-led nonprofits, for example, and this only-fund-501cs policy helps to ensure that the communities most affected by injustice continue to get the smallest amount of resources to do the most urgent work.

501c tax status is not a good indication of integrity or effectiveness. In the US, there is a false belief among many funders (and tech companies) that having 501c3 status means that an org is “legit.” But let’s be honest, it is usually not hard to get 501c3 status, which is why thousands of new ones are created every year. Anyone and their cousin can get status. Heck, I could probably found a nonprofit called “Unicycles for Puppies”—Mission: To empower our canine friends to reach their full potential through the circus arts—and get status within a few months. You might be thinking, “If it’s so easy, then why is this an issue?” Getting status is easy, but it leads to a host of challenges, which is why many groups choose to go the fiscal sponsorship route. Read on, below. 

Fiscal sponsorship allows nonprofit staff to focus their time on programs and services:

[Image description: The sweetest little baby bunny ever! It’s black and white and snuggled up in some tiny succulent groundcover. Image from Pixabay.com. OMG, it’s so fluffy I could die]

Since some funders refuse to fund fiscally-sponsored organizations, many nonprofits have been seeking out 501c3s. While this is the right step for some, for many it is a time-consuming task to set up systems and apply for status. And then after they get their 501c status, they now must spend time finding staff or consultants to run HR, financial management, insurance, payroll, etc. These are highly specialized skills, requiring time and energy to do well. But because small nonprofits often don’t have funding for operations staff, the duties often fall on staff who are running programs and services.

Fiscal sponsorship encourages nonprofits to collaborate and benefit from economy of

[Image description: A little light brown bunny in the grass next to a nest with three pastel-colored eggs. Wait, is this a bunny? It’s ears are so small. Not sure. It’s fluffy and cute, though. Image from Pixabay.com]

scale: One of the reasons why fiscal sponsorships are effective is because it allows nonprofits to capitalize on economies of scales around a host of areas. Things like financial management, health insurance, and general liabilities insurance becomes cheaper for everyone when purchased under one umbrella. Forcing nonprofits to be their own legal entities prevents this economy of scale and increases costs, and again, organizations led by marginalized communities have even less funding to spend.

Fiscal sponsorship lets boards focus on mission and community-building work: Many small

[Image description: OMG, is this a bunny that wants to be a lion?! It’s tan and has a mane like it’s going to a bunny costume party and dressed as a lion. Image from Pixabay.com]

organizations, especially ones led by marginalized communities, recruit brilliant leaders from their communities to serve on their boards. Unfortunately, because many of these organizations have to form 501cs to get funding, their boards suddenly become mired in myriad complex operations. This means they have less time to focus on fundraising, strategic planning, community mobilizing, and other duties that organizations need their boards to do to effectively carry out their critical missions. And as the roles blur, it often leads to staff/board tension and burnout.

Fiscal sponsorship helps nonprofits get out of the Capacity Paradox: The Capacity

[Image description: Aw, it’s a little soft tan bunny nestled in fluffy white carpet, staring directly at the camera, with a light blue wall in the background. What a sweet bunny with perfect pointy ears. Image from Pixabay.com]

Paradox is when nonprofits cannot get significant funding until they build capacity, but they can’t build their capacity until they get significant funding. Fiscally sponsored organizations can bypass this paradox and get high-quality capacity infrastructure in place almost instantly, allowing them to get significant funding and carry out their important work right away. By not accepting organizations unless they have a 501c3, you force them deeper into this paradox that is very difficult for many organizations led by marginalized communities to escape.

Fiscal sponsorship increases the quality of operations in each organization: By pooling

[Image desription: A grey and white bunny, asleep in the grass, with shadows from what looks like a cage falling on its soft bunny form. Image from Pixabay.com]

funds together under a fiscal sponsorship model, not only are organizations saving funds, but the quality of operations often drastically increases. Payrolls and financial reports are more timely and accurate. HR functions are more comprehensive. Legal crises are dealt with more effectively as they arise. Forcing each organization into a piecemeal approach, where they have little resources to spend on a host of complex operations tasks, risks each task being less dependable and accurate.

As our communities face increasing challenges, the way that we have been used to doing things needs to change. Fiscal sponsorship allows nonprofits to be more collaborative, effective, efficient, and helps to channel more funding into organizations led by and serving communities of color and other marginalized communities.

If you are with a foundation that has a hard policy against funding fiscally sponsored

[Image description: A little grayish-brown bunny being held against someone’s chest, probably, their fingers gently guarding the bunny. Awwww. This bunny is so cute. Image from Pixabay.com]

organizations, please bring these arguments up to your team for discussion. And if you are a foundation that funds fiscally sponsored organizations and know foundations that do not, please use your influence to ask them to reconsider.

Everyone else, please email Techsoup at beyondc3@techsoup.org, and encourage foundations that don’t fund orgs unless they have 501c3 status to discuss this issue. 

The many amazing fiscally-sponsored organizations, many of which are led by communities most affected by injustice, must be provided the tools and support they need to do their critical work. We all benefit that way. 

These bunnies all agree.

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