Tag Archives: capacity building

Someone wants to start a nonprofit? Quick, grab the torches and pitchforks!

[Image description: Two hands holding up an orange square with an angry face on it. The background is of a brick wall. Image by Andre Hunter of unsplash.com]

OK, everyone, sit down, we need to have a talk. Every once a while, someone—usually from outside the sector—mentions their goal of forming their own nonprofit. “It has been my life-long dream to quit the rat race and start a possum therapy organization. It’s kind of like one of those equine therapy programs, but with possums instead of horses.”

From the online discussions I’ve seen, the response from us is often, “Hiss! How dare they want to start a nonprofit! Let’s burn their barn down! Let’s pour salt in their field so it shall remain fallow for seven generations! Let’s mix up the labels on their spinning spice rack so that nothing they make will taste good again!” Continue reading

Winter is here, and we must build the power of organizations and communities of color

[Image description: Nine hands of diverse skin colors, overlapping in a circle, as in a show of unity. Image obtained from pixabay.com]

Last month, I attended a luncheon where one of the speakers, a colleague of mine, mentioned doing a home visit to check in on a little girl and her mom. The small apartment was completely dark. As my colleague’s eyes adjusted, she noticed there were papers with strings of numbers taped to the walls. Seeing her curious look, the mom said, “These are phone numbers. I want her to memorize these numbers…in case they take me away.”

Stories like these are now more and more common. In Seattle we’ve seen flyers posted all over the South Park neighborhood encouraging people to call ICE “for fast deportation of illegal immigrants.” We’ve heard about the tragedy in Portland of the men who were murdered on a train for defending two Muslim women against the abuse of a bigot. These stories of fear and hatred are enough for many of us to lose faith in humanity. But I have been encouraged by the parallel stories of compassion and solidarity, of neighbors looking out for one another.

All of this makes me wonder about one of the most important roles of our sector, which is the building of community power. When the voices of the community members most affected by injustice are strong, when they have the resources and power to help change the systems—by voting, by shaping policies—our society is strengthened and all of us benefit. As our world spirals into divisiveness and intolerance, building the voice and power of the most marginalized is our best defense against the rise in racist nationalism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, violence, and injustice. 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

Is your organization or foundation unknowingly setting Capacity Traps?

butternut-squash-399415_640Happy Fall, everyone. Time for pumpkin spice in everything. And butternut squash, which I have never gained a liking for. It’s in or on all sorts of stuff: ravioli, pizza, bread, ice cream. I just don’t get butternut squash!

Anyway, today’s topic. My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, develops the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits by sending in leaders of color whom we train to work full-time at these organizations. Through our work so far, we have been learning some important lessons, many through failures, which I want to share on NWB from time to time.

A huge lesson we have learned, for example, is the importance of providing fair compensation for organizations of color to be involved in research and planning. For some wacky reason, many of us in the field are OK with budgeting for consultants, and then kind of expecting organizations of color to do work for free or little funding, a serious problem I wrote about in “Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement? Continue reading

Letter to RVC’s first cohort of nonprofit leaders of color

IMG_2905Hi everyone, RVC’s first ever cohort of ten leaders of color start their work today after spending most of last week in an intense orientation retreat designed to introduce them to the nonprofit sector: “And this, you may know, is hummus. It is present at 90% of nonprofit meetings in Seattle. Traditionally it is eaten with pita wedges, but recently we’ve been seeing an increase in raw broccoli and baby carrots, especially at community forums.”

I’ve spent most of last week with the Fellows, and since today is such a historic moment for my organization and for our first cohort of leaders, I want to spend this post writing a letter to them. It will likely be long and sappy and sentimental, much like this letter I wrote my son just in case I died early. If you feel like skipping this week’s post, I’ll understand. Next week we will get back to a normal, less sentimental post. Continue reading