Why more and more executive directors of color are leaving their positions, and what we need to do about it

[Image description: Three baby pandas (pandae?), lying on a wooden floor. They are very cute, and they seem exhausted. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post will be longer than normal, so to keep your attention, I’ve added pictures of pandas. The pandas have nothing to do with the content of this post. They are just pandas.

Some of you may know, if you are on our mailing list, that I am stepping down as Executive Director of my organization Rainier Valley Corps by this December. RVC is in a great place, thanks to our team, board, partners, and supporters, so it is a good time for me to take a break from being an ED. It’s been 12 consecutive years of that; I need to rest and recharge and spend more time with my family and Netflix.

I am not sure what I’ll be doing exactly when I am no longer an ED. This blog will continue as scheduled (heck, with more time on my hand, the spelling and grammar might even improve!). Likely I’ll focus on writing and speaking, maybe work on another book. Possibly develop Nonprofit The Musical in earnest instead of just joking about it. Or maybe I will found a business or apply for to be CEO of a major corporation. I mean, if colleagues from the for-profit sector naturally assume they can run nonprofits, I don’t know why I shouldn’t be hired to run a Fortune 500 company.

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If progressives want change, we must play the game differently. Here are five things we must do.

[Image description: A young person holding up a large lantern, getting ready to release it into the sky. In the background are four other lanterns that have been released and are floating upward. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, apologies in advance, this post will be more serious and political than usual and I am sure will be polarizing. The Virginia Beach mass shooting has been on my mind. I am thinking of how New Zealand was able to pass gun-control bills within a matter of days after the horrific Christchurch shooting, while we Americans remain the laughingstock of the entire world. Mass shootings have become so common and taken for granted that The Onion publishes the same satirical but damning article each time more innocent people are murdered (“‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens”).

Last week’s post (“We need fewer Theories of Change and more community organizing”) resonated with a lot of people. However, there were a few colleagues, especially researchers and evaluators, who bristled at my call for us to intellectualize less and organize more. As I mentioned several times in the post, strategies and actions are both important, but the BALANCE has been off. Just like food and air are both necessary for survival, but if all we do is breathe, we won’t last. I hope we can come to that agreement, because we have other important things to discuss.

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We need fewer theories of change and more community organizing

[Image description: Some type of monkey, maybe a tamarin? They are grey with pointy ears and has a light brown paw. They are staring at something off camera, looking like they’re deciding where to put their sticky dots. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick disclaimer. I am still bitter and annoyed over the Game of Thrones finale, which I am sure many of you can relate, so this blog post may be affected with occasional spoiler-free snarkiness that may not make any sense if you haven’t kept up with Game of Thrones. Also, a quick reminder: This is the last week for filling out the Fundraising Perception Survey, so please do so if you haven’t. It’ll take 10 minutes and the data will be valuable for our sector.

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A while ago I read Jan Masaoka’s thought-provoking article “Aspirin and Democracy,” where she discusses the effects of the professionalization of the nonprofit sector. One such effect, according to Jan, is that:

“new executive directors can write personnel policies and grant proposals while practicing self-care, but they don’t know how to get 5,000 people to a protest demonstration or 50 parents to a city council meeting.”

This article and sentence have stuck with me. Our sector, and progressives in general, has a problem with excessive intellectualization. We’ve become really good at it. There’s nothing we love more than summits, white papers, theories of change, data, coming up with new terminologies (*cough, solutions privilege), and voting with sticky dots. We’ve basically become more like Bran, less like Sansa or Arya.

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The Mycelium Model for capacity builders, professional associations, funders, and other support organizations

[Image description: Two velvet foot mushrooms, one tall one and one short one, growing from a log. They are both bright orange and standing on a cylindrical stem. The big one has gills. The mycelium is not shown. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, if you haven’t filled out the Fundraising Perception Survey, please do so. It’ll take 10 minutes and I will send you a baby bunny. (OK, I was just told by our lead evaluator that bribing people with adorable pets would bias the results, so strike that).

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Every year, I look forward to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Wild Mushrooms Show, where hundreds of types of mushrooms are on display. All are critical to the ecosystem. Some are edible and delicious; others are poisonous; a few phosphoresce in the dark; several gradually melt into a sticky mess. In other words, mushrooms are very much like nonprofits.

All jokes aside, there is much that mushrooms can teach us. We can liken direct service organizations to mushrooms, as they provide sustenance to a variety of plants and animals. They are vital because they feed the community. However, for mushrooms to flourish, the mycelium must be strong. This is the vast but mostly underground network of root-like tendrils. Mycelium is like an invisible tree, and the mushrooms you see are the visible fruit. The mycelium does many important things: Brings nourishment, clears out toxins, connects mushrooms to one another, creates symbiosis with other species, and decomposes and recycles nutrients, among other things.

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The roles of foundation board trustees and foundation staff must radically change

[Image description: Three kittens are being picked up or put down onto the ground by two hands. Two of the kittens are orange with stripes and the middle one is grey. They are very cute, these kittens, very fluffy-appearing. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Thank you so much to all of you who have filled out the Fundraising Perception Survey, which is a quick scan of how folks (fundraisers and non-fundraisers) are feeling about the way we do fundraising in general. This is critical information, so please take 10 minutes to fill it out if you haven’t, and ask your networks to do so as well. Thank you for helping advance our sector.

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In the past few months, there have been some critical feedback for philanthropy. The criticisms are not new. Over the years have been many articles, often written by former program officers, with the same heavy criticisms pointed out by Edgar Villanueva’s Decolonizing Wealth and Anand Giridharadas’s Winners Take All. The difference this time is that it seems philanthropy, to its credit, is taking things more seriously. The issues are brought to plenary level at philanthropic summits, whereas in the past they may have been a poorly-attended workshop at best.

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