Category Archives: Uncategorized

All right, “color-blind” colleagues, we need to have a talk

[Image description: Sharpened coloring pencils of various colors. From left to right: Dark green, light green, light blue, purple, red, orange, yellow. They are all lined up in close proximity and facing the same direction, and they appear to be on a mirror, hovering over their reflections. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

In my work and travels I’ve met some really incredible people doing amazing stuff. Every meeting, every trip restores my faith in our sector, as well as replenishes my office’s supply of pens and chapsticks from various exhibitors at conferences.

But once a while, I encounter people who are “color-blind,” who say things like:

  • “Vu, I love what you say about nonprofits needing to be more inclusive. You know, I have a grown son who has diverse friends. And he has never once referred to his friends by their skin color characteristics. Not once. I think it’s wonderful that he just doesn’t see color.”
  • “XYZ foundation decided to focus on organizations doing work with minorities. That’s great for organizations like yours, but what about the rest of us? I just don’t understand. I just don’t get why we need to keep focusing on race.”
  • “Can we talk about income? We keep talking about race, when really it’s about income. It’s not about race. Poor people are of all colors.”
  • “Why do you keep using the term ‘people of color’? Isn’t that just dividing us further? Where did that term even come from?”
  • “Why does it matter that they [leaders of organizations focused on specific diverse communities] be from those communities? Shouldn’t the most important factor be whether they have the qualifications to run the organization?”
  • “Maybe you should release a statement saying that you prioritize skills and experience above everything. That may help calm people down.” This was said by a board development consultant after I said my organization has been trying to be thoughtful about ensuring we have a diverse board that’s representative of the communities we serve, but that it was complex and we were getting pushback on the fact that though our board is 90% people of color, we still are not representative.

These are just a sample of things I’ve heard, and when I hear them, it makes me sad. So I do what I sometimes do under stress: Listen to the soulful ballads of Kenny Loggins. Especially “Return to Pooh Corner,” which recalls the innocence of childhood, counting bees and chasing clouds with a yellow bear whose nose is stuck in a jar of honey (Kenny Loggins, you sexy mulletted genius, you!). Continue reading

Excerpts from romance novels set in the nonprofit sector

[Image description: A red-framed glass window or door with two red hearts drawn on the glass. One heart is big, and the other one is smaller. There are also the initials MC, but they are backward, as if someone had drawn the hearts and initials on the other side of the glass.]

Hi everyone. It’s Valentine’s Day, so time to revive #nonprofitpickuplines (One of my favorites, from a colleague: “Did you forget to file your Form 990? Cause you got FINE written all over you.”)

Recently, I discovered that a couple of my ED friends write romance novels on the side. It made me realize that we have so few books set in the nonprofit sector, and certainly romance is no exception. Our sector, with all its volatility and interesting characters, would make an excellent setting for steamy tales. Here are excerpts from a few potential stories. Thanks to the EDs who came to last week’s EDHH-Seattle meeting for all the great ideas, some of which we could not put down in print.

Disclaimer: The following excerpts are steamy. You have been warned. Do not read further if you don’t want to get all worked up and unable to concentrate the rest of the day.   Continue reading

Love, power, and the nonprofit sector

[Image description: A green sprout breaking through the grey concrete ground. The sprout is bending to the left. It has a white bud, and two leaves. There are black crack lines radiating from where it springs up.]

Hi everyone, Valentine’s Day is coming up, so let’s turn down the lights, play some soft music, uncork a medium-priced bottle of white zinfandel, and gaze deep into one another’s eyes as we reflect on the intersection of love and power and how the nonprofit sector must embrace this duality to effectively fight injustice during this current political turmoil. Hold on, I’m going to slip into something a little more…comfortable.

(What, like your Valentine’s Day plans are so much hotter).

The last few weeks have seen terrible policies springing up on a daily basis. My organization works with many immigrant and refugee communities, and my family and I escaped poverty and violence under an oppressive regime, so it’s been hitting me a little hard thinking of all the banned people whose hopes now are dashed, and innocent adults and children doomed to suffering and death. Layered on that is everything else—the war on truth, on the press, on the environment, on public education, on the arts and humanities, on kindness and compassion. There is a profound sadness of seeing the country I love, flawed as it’s always been, but nevertheless a shining beacon of hope and freedom to my family and to so many others, drift further and further into darkness and hatred. Continue reading

Capacity Building 9.1: Give someone a fish, let them focus on carpentry

kitten-1582384_1280My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, just finished our first program year (yay!). In case you didn’t know, RVC’s flagship program is a fellowship where we find talented leaders of color, provide them with training and support, and have them work full-time at small, grassroots organizations led by communities of color. The fellows help the organizations build capacity and run programs while gaining critical leadership and nonprofit management skills.

This year, our ten brilliant fellows have:

 

  • coordinated protests against unfair labor laws;
  • furthered the work to create an economic zone that provides employment and entrepreneurial support to people of color;
  • organized discussions on racial equity and dynamics in light of the national tragedies;
  • planned and implemented extended-learning programs for low-income youth;
  • surveyed over 650 parents of color regarding their views and needs on education
  • wrote successful grant proposals, coordinated board retreats, planned events, managed community centers, did a million other things,
  • sang a lot of karaoke,
  • and generally made our community better, safer, and way more awesome

Continue reading

We need to stop treating nonprofits the way society treats poor people

brown-shoes-1150071_960_720During a drink with one of my favorite program officers, I brought up some feedback about how onerous their grant reporting process was. Even though the foundation is really flexible on how the funds can be used, they still ask for exactly how much of each line item the foundation pays for. And their line items don’t line up with ours, so we have to spend significant time translating our budget into theirs. And once the report is submitted, it affects what we report to other foundations, leading to a funding Sudoku that wastes endless hours of my and my team’s time. 

Her response, half-joking and half-serious, was “When you entered the sector, what were you expecting, cake and ice cream?” At that moment, all I wanted to do was weep quietly into my raspberry mojito while Foreigner songs play in my head: “In my liiiiife, there’s been heartache and pain. I don’t knooow, if I can faaaaaaace it again…” Continue reading