Greek Myths if They Were Set in the Nonprofit Sector, Part 2

[Image description: A statue of a man being attacked by an eagle, while another person tries to fend off the eagle. Sculpture of Prometheus by Eduard Müller (1872/79) at Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin. Picture by Christian Paul Stobbe on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, a couple of announcements. Starting next week, Nonprofit AF posts will be published on TUESDAYS. I know, many of you have told me how you appreciate these posts to help you start the week. But publishing on Mondays over the past decade meant that I lost many hours of my weekends to writing, editing, and weeping softly over a bowl of ice cream at midnight. As my kids grow up, I want to spend as much time as I can with them, so thank you for your understanding.

Also, a reminder that I will be moderating a conversation on Artificial Intelligence and what it means for our sector next week on March 14th. On the panel will be Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, the co-authors of The Smart Nonprofit, as well as Philip Deng, founder and owner of AI-supported grantwriting platform Grantable. It’s free, and automatic captions will be available. If you can’t make it, register so you can get access to the recording.

On to today’s post. A few months ago, we had Greek myths if there were set in the nonprofit sector, including the story of Sisyphus and how he was forced to write one-year grants forever, Cassandra and her prophecies about equity and diversity never being believed, how Echo became a consultant, etc. Here is part 2 in the series.

Prometheus’s Gift to Humankind

Prometheus was a titan with a soft heart for humans, seeing how they suffered through their short miserable lives of applying for funding through burdensome one-year grants that were highly restricted and with nonsensical accounting requirements. One day, he snuck into the palace of the Olympian gods and stole the concept of Multi-Year General Operating Drachma (MYGOD), which he gifted to humankind. MYGOD, even though many funders rejected it, provided hope and warmth and a rallying cry. This act of compassion, however, angered Zeus. He had Prometheus chained to a rock. Every day a giant eagle would appear and forced Prometheus to submit an organizational budget and several financial reports in various ridiculous formats.

Orpheus and Eurydice

Orpheus was an Executive Director who was blessed with charisma. He founded a music nonprofit. One day, he had an opening and hired the amazing Eurydice onto his staff. She was brilliant and was instrumental to the organization’s success. However, she was underpaid and became more and more dissatisfied. She asked for a raise many times and was always turned down by Orpheus with one excuse or another. So she quit.

Devastated, Orpheus prayed to Hades, the God of Termination and Resignations. Hades said that he spoke to Eurydice and for her to agree to come back, Orpheus had to give her the raise she had asked for. Orpheus was overjoyed that he had another chance to bring back his superstar team member.

Alas, at the very last moment, he waffled once again on giving her the raise, and she was fed up and left for good. He tried to hire her replacement, but no one would apply at Eurydice’s salary, so he had to increase it by a lot. He finally hired someone who was great but not nearly as great as Eurydice, though this person was paid significantly more than Eurydice, and Orpheus felt like crap for the rest of his career.

Pandora’s Box:

Pandora was the first woman. The god Hephaestus made her out of clay, and the other gods bestowed upon her various gifts. Zeus gave her a beautiful box and told her to never open it. Of course, she got curious and one day opened the box, which unleashed all sorts of evil upon the world: Scarcity Mindset, Toxic Intellectualizing, Both-Siding, all the isms, Annoying Icebreakers, White Savior Complex, Anti-Oxford Comma Sentiments, and Reimbursement-Based Grants. However, she was able to close the box in time to retain one precious thing, a bright light for when the night is longest: The recipe for hummus. That’s why there’s so much hummus in nonprofit and philanthropy. 

King Midas and the Goalen Touch

King Midas was a greedy king who one day helped a satyr, knowing that this satyr was the mentor of Dionysus, the God of Fundraising. When Dionysus found out about Midas’s hospitality, he granted Midas a wish. Midas wished for everything he touched to turn to gold. Unfortunately, Dionysus heard “goals” and granted the wish accordingly. For the next several days, everything Midas laid his hands on became extremely driven by goals, outcomes, metrics etc. When he started eating a delicious meal, the chef popped out and said, “This meal will improve your health and reduce your likelihood of ending up in the emergency room, which saves taxpayers money.”

At first, Midas was confused, but then he was delighted that everything had a purpose and tangible objectives. However, after a while, he lost track of the intrinsic value of art, poetry, human connection, and helping others, and became obsessed with easily defined and measurable goals at the cost of vital but more complex things. When he hugged his daughter, she announced “that hug decreased my probability of becoming a delinquent youth.” Horrified, Midas asked Dionysus to remove this curse. But it was too late. Midas spent the rest of his life obsessing over minor goals, while missing more important ones. He eventually joined an influential consulting firm.  

Pygmalion and Galatea

Pygmalion was a brilliant sculptor. One year, he was inspired to put on an event. Basically a party, but with the purpose of raising money for an organization he loved. He called it “Galatea,” which meant “white as milk,” because everyone dressed in white togas. The event was so successful that first year that Pygmalion became obsessed with it. It was a lot of work, especially the live auction of donated, hand-painted amphoras. However, it caught on, and eventually other organizations had their own galatea. They shortened it to “gala.” And that’s why we have galas today. And even though no one wears togas anymore, these events are still usually “white as milk.”

Atalanta and the Bright Shiny Objects

Atalanta was a brave and skilled warrior and athlete favored by Artemis, the Goddess of Logic Models. Because of her exemplary skills in hunting, fighting, and athleticisms, she was able to build up a great deal of wealth. After a time, like with other wealthy people, she started a foundation. However, she was extremely picky about who she funded, declaring that any nonprofit leader who wanted funding had to be able to beat her in a foot race, which sounded ridiculous, but she was a funder, so people had to go along with it.

As it happened, there was a poor, bedraggled executive director named Hippomenes. His organization did amazing and much-needed work. He knew he could never beat the accomplished Atalanta in a foot race, especially since Hippomenes, like other nonprofit professionals, had terrible eating habits, always skipping meals, so was rather weak. But people needed the services his organization provided. So he prayed to the Goddess of Grains and Grants, Demeter, and the two came up with a plan.

The race started, and immediately Atalanta was ahead. Hippomenes, with Demeter’s guidance, yelled out “Our services are innovative, replicable, and scalable!” That intrigued Atalanta, and she stopped to discuss it with Hippomenes. But then the race resumed, and she was ahead again. “We have innovative triple-bottom line sustainability strategies!” he yelled. Once again, she stopped. At another point, Hippomenes threw a white paper on the path, titled “Building Resilient Communities While Not Jeopardizing Endowment Fund Corpus.” Atalanta stopped to read, and Hippomenes was able to win the race. He got 5,000 drachmas, which allowed his organization to stay afloat two weeks.

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