What is a codpiece, and should everyone at your organization wear one?

[Image description: A painting of Henry VIII in an ornate outfit with long puffy sleeves, a dagger, and a prominent codpiece. Image by 12019 on Pixabay]

This week, we talk about fashion in nonprofit and philanthropy. As a sartorial icon and expert on style, I must say, we need to step up our game. That includes bringing back the codpiece, which has a fascinating history. Basically, according to several minutes of research, the codpiece was invented as a practical solution for preserving people’s modesty as well as to protect armored knights’ nether regions. It then became very fashionable, with Henry the VIII wearing these flamboyant accessories. For a while, you couldn’t step outside without seeing people wearing codpieces, including ones with intricate designs and possibly hidden compartments for keys and maybe a dram of arsenic.

After a while, like many fashion trends such as hoop skirts and giant wigs and bell bottoms, the wearing of codpieces was ridiculed, and the people wearing them were driven into the woods, where they lived a life of shame and contemplation for their horrendous fashion choices. And now, hundreds of years later, no one wears them except maybe at Renaissance fairs and possibly, I imagine, at gyms (I’ve never been to a gym, so I don’t know what people wear there).  

Why am I talking about codpieces? First, because “codpiece” is fun to say, and one can’t have too much knowledge about medieval fashion. But more importantly, the codpiece serves as a great metaphor for our sector and its many practices that were once prominent and even practical, but now should be reconsidered because they are archaic, plain silly, or harmful to our work. Here are a few of them, and if you or your organization or foundation still do any of these things, you might as well have all your board and staff wear codpieces as part of your formal work attire, because you already look ridiculous:

1.Asking the sustainability question: “How will you sustain this program when this grant we give you ends?” I thought this question had been phased out completely because it’s so nonsensical, but apparently not. Last week, the Crappy Funding Practices (CFP) team had to call out a foundation for asking it on their grant application. Funders, if you’re still asking this question, you are as silly as an inebriated goose and should wear a codpiece. For everyone else, if you ever encounter this question, report it to CFP, and then just copy and paste one of these standardized responses I’ve come up with (Seriously, several colleagues have copied and pasted one of the more serious responses, and received funding!)

2.Not disclosing salary range on your job posting: We’ve made tremendous gain in this area, and I hardly ever see a job posting that doesn’t have salary information on it. This is an amazing accomplishment we achieved by speaking up and giving feedback to organizations over the years, so go us! But it does make it more glaring on the occasion when we do see a job listing without the salary. It’s jolting to see a nonprofit or foundation, especially if it professes to believe in equity, to still be engaged in this very backward practice. If you still don’t disclose the salary info in your job postings, everyone at your org should wear a codpiece. And if you also ask for job candidates’ salary history, wear a large powdered wig each because you are acting extra goofy and clueless.

3.Having unpaid internships: Unpaid internships are inequitable, for many reasons. These include punishing people from marginalized backgrounds, rewarding people who are privileged such as having their family support them so they can work for free, harming the career of the unpaid interns, and helping perpetuate the underpaying of nonprofit professionals. They were common in the past, but now they’ve been tapering off, thank goodness. But I just last week encountered an org that was offering them. If you’re still offering unpaid internships, make plans to convert them into paid ones. And immediately pay your interns, including back pay for all the work they’ve already done. Otherwise, wear a codpiece.

4.Not having captions in your videos and image descriptions in your pictures: There are lots of things we can do to be more disability-inclusive. And two of those things are so obvious that if you’re not doing them consistently, you should wear a codpiece. When you have a video, or you’re running a webinar, make sure captions are available for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. And for all the pictures you have on your website, event invitations, social media posts, etc., have image descriptions so people who are using screen readers can access them. Otherwise, have everyone wear a codpiece, take a picture, and I’ll write the image description for you.

5.Your board being all or almost entirely white: With all of our talks on DEI for years, and all the trainings and white papers and articles, it is very weird that some boards of directors are still predominantly white. I know, some organizations are in communities that are very white, and boards often reflect that demographic (although, we may need to examine the factors that lead to these communities being so white in the first place). But if that’s not your situation, then something is seriously amiss. Whether you are a nonprofit or a foundation, if your geographic area is diverse but your board is mostly white, you should wear a codpiece. Have it tailored in glaringly white satin.

6.Still having a 5% payout rate: If your foundation believes in Santa, flat earth, or perpetuity, you should all wear a codpiece. Not just because this is a silly and archaic philosophy, but your reticence in increasing your endowment payout rate to tackle inequity and injustice perpetuates or worsens these issues, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. You would make horrible firefighters: “Yeah, we know the fire is spreading rapidly all over the city, but we are only using 5% of the water we have to put it out, so that we have water to put out future fires.” Get thee to a codpiece!

7.Using “he/she” gender binary languages: “We treat every person who comes to us with respect, whether he/she is enrolled in our programs.” This is not the 80s or 90s, when we got yelled at by our teachers for not using correct grammar. The rules have changed. The singular they/them is not only acceptable according to APA style, it should be common usage by now, not just because it sounds more natural, but it’s also more inclusive of nonbinary colleagues. Change all your “he/she,” “s/he,” or just using “he” for communication purposes, and just use “they/them,” OK? Or, I guess, wear a codpiece.

8.Shutting down grantmaking for a year to do a strategic plan: Many moons ago, it wasn’t uncommon for funders to just pause giving out money for a year or two so they could take that time to develop a strategic plan for their giving. This practice faded out as people realized how indulgent, out-of-touch, and privileged it is for funders to do that. After all, few nonprofits ever suspend all the programs and services so they could do a strat plan. If your foundation is doing that, please make sure to include in your new plan “have every board member and staff wear a codpiece.”

9.Still perpetuating the harmful myth of overhead: Remember those years when everyone was focused on making sure overhead was low? Charity watchdog organizations gave low ratings to nonprofits that had high overhead rates. Funders and donors fainted upon seeing an indirect rate above 15% and had to be revived with smelling salts? I thought those days are over because we all wisely recognized overhead as critical for nonprofit effectiveness, but apparently some people didn’t get the message. If your organization still boasts about how low your overhead is, or that 100% of donations go to programming, everyone at your org should wear a codpiece. And if your foundation still imposes strict limits on what your grantees can spend on overhead, you should also wear a codpiece, but preferably over your face, because that makes about as much sense as your policies do.

10.Asking your staff to donate to your organization: This is probably the one that will generate the most pushback. Over the years, we’ve had this intense debate about whether it’s ok for employers to ask their employees to donate back to the org. After much serious consideration of all angles, I am even more renewed in my perspective that it is an archaic, inequitable, and unethical practice, rife with unavoidable power asymmetry and hidden racial, gender, and socioeconomic dynamics. And besides all those things, it is also bizarre. I mean, having an employee giving campaign so you can proclaim “100% of our staff gave back a portion of the money we (under)pay them,” a statistic that no one cares (or should care) about. If employees donate, then great. But asking them puts you into codpiece territory.

Let me know other ancient, silly practices that we need to call out. Meanwhile, if you’re doing any of the above, please immediately knock it off. Otherwise, start wearing a codpiece, possibly with a powdered wig and long pointy shoes, because if you’re insisting on following old-fashioned, out-of-date, laughable, and harmful practices, at least also look the part so people know to avoid you.

Please continue speaking up and calling for a permanent ceasefire