Greek myths if they were set in the nonprofit sector, Part 3

[Image description: A statue of two figures, one holding a sword, the other holding a large round shield. It looks like it could be Athena holding the shield, guiding Perseus, who has the sword. Image by Couleur on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get into today’s blog post, a couple of things. If you’re free this Thursday March 28th at 11am Pacific Time, join me and Nonprofit VOTE for Rally the Sector: Nonprofits and Election 2024. We’ll be talking about nonprofits and the role we play in getting people to vote. It’ll be fun! Register here. It’s free, and automated captions will be available.

Also, please let me know that you got (or didn’t get) email notification of this blog post. It’s been weeks of tech issues, with no one getting notifications for two months, and I hope it’s finally resolved now.

This week, we have more Greek myths if they were set in nonprofit and philanthropy. Make sure to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Jason and the Golden Fleas

Jason was an Executive Director of a nonprofit who, of course, needed funding for his organization’s work. He was told he needed to go on a long and arduous quest to find the Golden Fleas, which are small grants that are burdensome and time-wasting, like a grant for 10,000 drachmas that required an LOI and full proposal with bespoke budget. Across many long years, he collected a handful of these Golden Fleas. They sustained his organization’s work (barely), but they were unpredictable and each usually died after a year, forcing Jason to search for other Golden Fleas forever, the end.   


Medusa was a nonprofit leader who spent years running various organizations. One day, she realized that while programs and services were vital, they were not enough to address the systemic issues that caused these programs and services to be needed in the first place. She believed her organization, and the entire sector, needed to do more advocacy work. So she set out to meet with funders, hoping to convince them to fund systems change.  

And a horrifying thing happened. Everyone she met with froze, as if they had been turned to stone. Funders who had been friendly before now became cold and unreadable. They averted their eyes and ran away screaming; the ones who weren’t fast enough when Medusa approached mumbled about legalities and general counsels and mission drift and not having enough funding in the budget. Despondent, Medusa retreated to her lair. Few visited her. Eventually she became a real estate agent.

Theseus and the MINOTAUUR

There was a funder named Minos. He was powerful and yet exceptionally cruel. He built the Labyrinth, which was what he called his horrible and confusing grant process. All potential grantees had to go through the Labyrinth. Most failed. The ones who made it through the Labyrinth had to face the MINOTAUUR, or Maximally Infuriating Nonsensically Onerous Thoroughly Aggravating User-Unfriendly Register. It was a hideous grant portal that all grantees were required to use.

One fiscal year, Theseus, a local nonprofit leader, vowed to take down the MINOTAUUR. He was helped by Ariadne, one of the program officers working for Minos. He went into the Labyrinth and had to go through a ridiculous process that required him to blah blah. Luckily Adriadne helped him out: “Make sure you check your spam inbox for confirmation of your login, but it does take 48 hours to be approved.” Finally, Theseus got to the MINOTAUUR and planted a virus, which blew up the whole system. Theseus and Ariadne celebrated with leftover community-event hummus.

The next week, Minos installed a new grant portal, called the Belabored Unnecessary Lousy and Ludicrous System for Holding Information and Timelines.


Phaethon was a leader of a successful olive oil manufacturing and distribution company. One day he thought, “You know what, because I am good at making and selling olive oil, it obviously means I should also be good at running nonprofits, for nonprofits are easy, and the good, simple folks there will be appreciative of my skills and experience.” So he applied to be the leader of a large organization, and the board, enamored with someone with business experience, hired him, despite the staff’s warnings that the dude had no idea what he was doing. The staff had to mentor him on his job. After a year, he drove the organization into the ground and was hated by everyone. Phaethon left, but not before causing significant damage. The board then hired another person, sure that this one’s retail success in custom amphoras would make her an amazing leader.

Athena and Arachne

Athena, the Goddess of Outcomes and Impact, was widely respected for her strategic thinking and cleverness, which no one could equal. However, there was a girl named Arachne, who went to a very fancy and prestigious school, who boasted that her brilliance could rival that of Athena’s. Eventually word got to the Goddess, who got pissed off and demanded they do a Theory-of-Change Off, which is a very nerdy battle to see who could write a better theory of change. Athena used all her skills and came up with an incredibly detailed TOC, one that was highly competent.

Arachne, however, had better design skills, and her TOC used lots of images and was easy to understand; those who looked upon her TOC wept with joy. Clearly Arachne had the better theory of change. Enraged, Athena took Arachne’s TOC and ripped it to shreds. Offended to have been bested by a mere mortal, she cursed Arachne, forcing her to spend the rest of eternity in an intellectual web, unable to escape. Arachne eventually founded a very influential and lucrative consulting firm that got paid a lot of money to create white papers, theories of change, logic models, summits, think tanks, evaluations, etc., often weaving the illusion of impact while nothing substantive changes.