The downsides of linear thinking, and why we need to embrace failure

[Image description: An abstract image made by computer, probably using mathematical equations to generate fractals. There grey and white and patterned spheres, sheets, columns, all bending and connecting and confusing. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

The world is complex. Therefore, to put order to things, we try to become more organized and linear in many aspects of life and existence: In battle: first we send the scouts to check out lay of the land and our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses, then we send in the infantry. In marriage: First, we date, then we have the parents meet, then we get married. In going to IKEA: First we spend 30 minutes finding parking, then we get panic attacks in the lamps aisle, then we get into fights with our partner.

In the nonprofit sector, this linear sort of thinking is pervasive, seeping into every aspect of our work, manifesting in things such as: Continue reading

You deserve a break, nonprofit Jedi Unicorn

[image description: Dandelion stem, with a few seeds left, unfocused background. Image obtained from pics at.com]

My friends in the nonprofit sector. I am writing this to you with mashed blueberries and oatmeal in my hair because my partner is in Boston for work for several days, leaving me alone with our boys. I have not slept very much. And didn’t shower today. The walls are covered with food stains. There are Cheerios everywhere. And everything is sticky. The kids are both asleep now, but who knows how long that will last. I was writing a long post on a different topic, but given that I’m hallucinating again—“Yes, Your Holiness, I’m glad you agree it’s ridiculous to expect 10% or even 20% indirect rates. Please pass the garlic potatoes.”—I’m going to take a break to implore you to take a break. Continue reading

Imagine if Apple had to run like a nonprofit

We nonprofits deal with unique challenges that our for-profit colleagues never have to think about. If you ever sat in the dark for hours listening to REM and eating Otter Pops and wondering what it would like for a large for-profit like Apple to have to run like a nonprofit, wonder no more! I’ve done it for you this week! (What, like your vacation is so much more interesting). And I asked NAF’s web designer and artist, Stacy Nguyen, to draw up some comics.

At the retail store

Customer: Hi, I’d like to buy this latest iPhone. How much is it?

Apple employee: $700 dollars.

Customer: Here you go. But I want most of this money to be spent on direct costs. No more than $70 should be going to indirect costs like rent, insurance, etc. I also don’t want any of this $700 to go toward advertisement or staff salaries.

Apple employee: We’ll designate these restrictions in our systems.

Customer: At the end of the year, I’d like a report on what you spent this money on.

Apple employee: We provide quarterly financial reports, and would be glad—

Customer: No no no. I don’t want the financial reports on your entire company. I only want a report on what my $700 specifically was spent on. Only my $700.

Apple employee: OK…Would you like to be added to our e-newsletter list? Continue reading

The Stigma Against Fiscal Sponsorship Needs To End

[Image description: A hedgehog standing on a table, staring at the camera. It seems to have grey and white spines, brown nose, and tiny little feet. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Sunday was Father’s Day, so I spent all day with my two kids, 4-year-old Viet and 1-year-old Kiet, to remind me of the reason I do this work every day. And that reason is—I have to earn money to pay for the exorbitant childcare. Just kidding. (Kind of). I pulled them around the neighborhood on a little red wagon. We picked strawberries and raspberries and played hide-and-seek and read books about bunnies and little blue trucks. It was an amazing day, and it made me grateful for the wonderful community we’re building together as a sector. Continue reading

So, you think nonprofits should be taxed

[Image description: A stack of nine shiny gold coins on grey background. Image obtained from Pixabay.com. Wait, on second look, these might actually be chocolate coins!]

Every once a while, I encounter people who think nonprofits are getting it easy and should be paying taxes. “Rabble rabble,” they rabble, “why should only businesses pay taxes! Especially when most charities are scams, with the majority of their money going to their fat-cat CEOs’ pockets. Rabble!”

Here’s a comment someone made on one of my posts: “If nonprofit is an industry sector, then it is time to start taxing it.” (They also added, in response for my call for the sector to pay our people better: “If you own your own company, and you control the finances, go ahead, pay people more just because. On the other hand in the real world, you sound like a fool on this point.”)

From the tiresome memes and ignorant, bizsplainy blog posts and comments out there, I think some members of the public have this image of nonprofit folks as mustache-twirling con artists sitting at our desks counting piles of gold coins while starving children with trembling eyes beg us in fear for more gruel. “Mooooore?!! Only 2 cents of every dollar is available to purchase gruel, and we’ve spent it all this month!” Continue reading