Funding and the flawed notion of nonprofit “readiness”

[Image description: A little baby deer (a fawn), their head bent down, nibbling on a leaf they found on the grass. Image by NickyPe on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, you may have heard about MacKenzie Scott’s new funding initiative, Yield Giving, which will be giving out 250 million in $1M grants. The catch is that organizations are only eligible if they are between $1M to 5M in budget size for two or more of the past five years.

Scott has done some cool stuff, cutting through the BS and giving away billions of dollars with few hoops to many great orgs. So this eligibility criterion in her new grant is disappointing. As many colleagues have pointed out, the vast majority of nonprofits are less than a million in budget size, and organizations led by and serving marginalized communities are more likely to fall within this category. Having this budget threshold as an eligibility requirement ensures many vital organizations led by and serving people of color, rural communities, disabled people, etc., will be left out of accessing this fund.

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Why do so many nice people become assholes when they join a board?

[Image description: A golden retriever puppy looking directly at the camera, with a mournful expression. Maybe they’re just tired. Image by birgl on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, if you get this in time, Edgar Villanueva and I are having one of our “Decolonizing AF” conversations at 10:30am PT on Instagram today, May 23rd. I think if you go to either of our Instagram pages (@villanuevaedgar or @nonprofitAF) at that time, it should let you know that we’re speaking live. Have low expectations; we’re just winging it.

Also, the time is coming up for our annual sector-wide Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy (PEEP), a time around the Summer Solstice when funders and nonprofit leaders get together to hang out informally, with the hope of building relationships and breaking down power dynamics. If your geographic area is hosting something, let me know in the comment section so I can compile it. In Seattle, there’s likely going to be an event on Thursday June 15th from 3 to 5pm somewhere in the Central District; more details coming soon.

18 years ago, I remember being excited that I finally got this really great community leader to join my nonprofit’s board. I will call him “Minh.” I was excited to have Minh and his skills, especially around the logistics of running a board, which at the time was full of well-meaning but inexperienced leaders. Maybe Minh would get the board into shape. And he seemed like a nice guy who truly wanted to help the community.

Minh turned out to be a nightmare. Among his many offenses, he butted into operations, including insisting on designing the flyer for the annual gala. When it turned out horrible and the staff gave him feedback (“this looks like we’re throwing a Halloween party”), he was offended and demanded staff meeting minutes for some reason. Then he tried to start a mutiny to remove the board chair, which then caused a rumor that I was trying to remove the board chair, and then the board chair tried to get me fired as the ED. Even now, 18 years later, I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat, Minh’s cursed words ringing in my ears: “I have graphic design experience!”

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Join the movement to end Crappy Funding Practices!

[Image description: Three adorable piglets sleeping, snuggled up in a row. Two are orange with dark patches, and one is gray with dark patches. Image by ChiemSeherin on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started, next week, May 23rd, at 10:30am Pacific Time, Edgar Villanueva (my brother from another mother and also another father) and I will once again be having a session of “Decolonizing AF.” It’s an informal Instagram Live conversation where we talk about nonprofit, philanthropy, and whatever else is on our minds, with much cussing. Captions auto-generated by Instagram. See you there.

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been using the hashtag #CrappyFundingPractices to publicly call out funders who were doing ridiculous and/or harmful things. Well, several years have passed, and it seems some funders are still doing crappy things. In fact, there are several innovative new shenanigans! Thank you to all the funders who are awesome. However, we still have many funders whose unreasonable and clueless requirements are jeopardizing nonprofits’ work and thus harming people.

Here is a list of #CrappyFundingPractices that have been called out under the hashtag. If you are at a foundation, please check that you’re not doing these things below, because your foundation may be called out by name:  

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14 ways to make fundraising events more community-centric

[Image description: A fancy table setting that includes wine glasses and a bottle of wine in the center. Image by rdlaw on Pixabay]

Hey everyone, before we begin, here’s a cute and short video about foundations and their investments, which is a topic I’ll likely rant about later (after “Ask Vu: Love, Dating, Romance, and Relationship Advice for Nonprofit Professionals, Part 2,” which tens of people have been asking for. Here’s part 1).

I usually don’t write much about fundraising events. There’s been a general agreement that auctions, luncheons, golf tournaments, and their ilk are soul-crushingly awful and would make good deterrents for crimes: “You have been found guilty of armed robbery. I sentence you to be the event planner of four consecutive fundraising galas!”

As our colleague Paul Nazareth commented on Twitter: “The dislike I have for what was just weak fundraising strategy of charity galas; the garish glee of dress up, worshipping of wealth and culture of white supremacy, is evolving into disgust.”  

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We need to talk about suicide among nonprofit professionals and social justice activists

Two hands cradling a lit wax candle in the dark. Image by janwardenback on unsplash.

Hi everyone, this post will be more personal and serious than usual. Content warning: I will be talking about suicide, trauma, and grief. Please take care of yourself, and skip this post if you need to.

Over the past two months I have been struggling with the suicide death of a friend. She was a nonprofit professional and social justice activist. She was 30 and had been battling depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation for most of her life. A traumatic childhood led her to cutting ties with her family at a young age and being homeless for several years. Despite various challenges, she got a master’s degree, became an educator, and dedicated years of her life to advancing social justice through her nonprofit and community work, affecting the lives of many people, especially the numerous kids she taught and mentored.

Grief does a number on you, and grief when someone dies of suicide brings different feelings of guilt and regret. I run through various scenarios of what I could have said and done. Maybe if I hadn’t stayed up so late the previous night, I wouldn’t have slept through the last time she tried to call me. Maybe if I had invited her over for Christmas, she wouldn’t have spent it alone, and things might have been different. Until recently, I sometimes woke up, and unable to sleep, scanned through our text threads. Some of the messages were happy: trading vegan recipes, discussing TV shows. Others involved us arguing over various things. The later ones were of me begging her to get professional help. She had bought a gun, and I and her other friends couldn’t convince her to get rid of it. The last text she sent me was “I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

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