14 things in our sector I’m thankful for

[Image description: A sunflower, facing left, with a blurred background that includes a spot of light that could possibly be the sun. Image by Gary Yost on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, it’s Thanksgiving this week. I know this holiday is fraught for many people, especially Native colleagues, due to the legacy of colonization and stolen Indigenous land. And now, with this Rittenhouse verdict, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t have the energy right now to think about it without spiraling into despair.

There are so many ways the world has been shitty, and these last few years have been some of the shittiest ever. And our sector sometimes helps to maintain this awfulness through its archaic, inequitable practices, which I and others frequently call out.

However, there are also wonderful things happening, big and small, and amazing folks working to make our world better, and we should acknowledge this. It is so easy to see how messed up everything is, that we forget that there is also really great stuff happening. I am particularly prone to this lately, I’ve realized. So here are some things in our sector that I am grateful for, in no order of importance, and definitely not comprehensive:

  1. Colleagues embracing Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF): The movement to ground fundraising in racial equity and economic justice has challenged many of our existing fundraising philosophies and practices and made a lot of people very uncomfortable. I am so grateful for the colleagues who are organizing, asking difficult questions, exploring new ways of doing fundraising, and sharing lessons. We don’t have all the answers yet, but this is the future of fundraising, and it is a bright one.
  2. Funders understanding urgency and increasing their payout: Thank you to the foundations that recognize that if there’s ever a time to spend out more money, it’s now, when we are dealing with a pandemic, an economic crisis, existential threats to democracy, and climate catastrophe. Your releasing more funds, and quickly and efficiently without all the usual BS, has been very helpful to many organizations and communities. 
  3. Organizing efforts around legislation like the ACE Act: For those foundations and donors who still exist in a bubble and are hoarding money for a future that may not exist for anyone except rich white men at this rate, I am thankful for legislative efforts to force them to change. These fights, such as to get the ACE Act passed, are uphill all the way. But we’ve been asking nicely, and it hasn’t worked.
  4. Colleagues exploring new board models: Our standard traditional board models are often archaic and toxic, centered around a white, corporate structure that leaves many behind or is just very annoying and nonsensical. Luckily, we have organizations working to try some new structures and sharing what they learn so the rest of the sector can benefit.
  5. Organizations embracing and pushing for salary transparency on job postings: More and more organizations are disclosing salary ranges on job posts. And more job boards are requiring job listings to include salary ranges. This is great. I’ve had to call out fewer orgs on Twitter for this annoying, inequitable practice.
  6. Nonprofits lifting up other nonprofits: I’ve been hearing more and more inspiring stories of nonprofits being really thoughtful and supportive of other orgs, including introducing donors to other missions, publicly encouraging donations to them, and even declining funding so partner orgs that more urgently need the funds could get it. It makes a huge impact, especially to small orgs led by marginalized communities.
  7. Corporate partners willing to stand up for equity: Many corporate partners use their Corporate Social Responsibility work as a form of marketing, which diminishes the point of CSR. Thankfully, others recognize that for-profits too must join in the fight against racism and injustice. They take bold stances, which often pisses off racists and bigots.
  8. Donors recognizing their privilege and actively fighting for a just world: I’m talking about donors who are not content to just give nonprofits some money and feel all warm of fuzzy because we’ve been trained to tell them they’re awesome, but who take the time to do the uncomfortable work of examining their wealth and privileges and play a role in dismantling these unjust systems.
  9. Colleagues taking time to educate people on various issues around equity: I know it is exhausting to always have to educate people about various issues, from ableism to transphobia to racism to misogyny. The emotional toll of doing this all the time is high. It does make the world better when you write and speak up and draw from your own painful experiences, but also please do take breaks when you can.
  10. People getting called out and taking it graciously: We all make mistakes. Sometimes we get called out. I’m always appreciative when people get called out and they use it as a learning opportunity. It models for us all a glimpse of what grace and change can look like.
  11. Foundation staff pushing within their own orgs, facing challenges: I criticize foundations a lot, and I know there are lots of colleagues who are working at foundations who are pushing for change. Oftentimes, it is a frustrating, futile-seeming effort. Thank you for continuing to do that.
  12. Conference and event organizers willing to offend people: I’ve been seeing more event organizers intentionally coordinating content that are more direct and honest than what we had seen in the past. This is great, because we cannot address all these issues we’re working on if we beat around the bush regarding white supremacy, racism, slavery, colonization, reparation, and other things.
  13. People reminding us of what is possible: Things have gotten so dire. Sometimes I just want to build a bunker and ride it out for the next several years. I’m thankful for the folks who help us remember that a better world is not only possible, it is achievable. They acknowledge reality, but they do not let this be the reality we’re stuck with.  
  14. You, getting up every day to fight for a better world: And to achieve that better, more just, more equitable reality, it takes people willing to contribute to making it happen. You do that every day, running programs, raising funds, conducting research, filling out paperwork, organizing, advocating, attending so many meetings, supporting people in need while dealing with the myriad challenges that come with our sector and our world.

There are lots of others that I didn’t include. Please add to the list in the comment section. This Thanksgiving, I hope you find rest and a chance to breathe. I am thankful for you.