It’s time to completely reimagine the role of foundation program officers

[Image description: A fluffy white puppy is hugged and kissed a fluffy white kitten with a graying tail and ears. They are both very fluffy and cute. The kitten has their arms around the puppy’s neck. While normally this image would have nothing to do with the content of the post, this time the kitten and puppy hugging is a great symbol for a closer partnership between nonprofit leaders and foundation program officers. Pixabay.com]

Over a decade—and a million white hairs—ago I ran an after-school program serving low-income kids. The program went well, until one day when two-third of the kids didn’t show up. This was demoralizing. The program had started gradually decreasing in attendance, but this was the worst it had been. I literally slid down a wall and sat on the floor after the day ended, feeling like a complete loser. Strangely enough, the first person I thought about calling was one of our funders. So I called her. “Muriel,” I said, “most of the kids didn’t show up today! We are terrible human beings! Maybe you should just take the money back and give it to a program that isn’t garbage!” 

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Younger professionals, here’s how to increase your influence and effect change at your org

[Image description: Three fluffy adorable little kittens in a basket. Two are white with blue eyes, and the one in the center has orange stripes. They are all looking up, probably at the photographer dangling something. At least that’s what I imagine. Maybe some yarn. I don’t know. I’ve never had a cat. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, after six years on Twitter, I have finally figured out how to use it (apparently, tweeting only once a week was not a “best practice;” weird, because blogging once a week has been working fine). Anyway, follow me @nonprofitAF, but be warned, I am a lot more political and swear a ton more on Twitter. But there are occasional tweets with pictures of baby animals.

On to today’s topic. In my work and speaking engagements, I meet a lot of young people who are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of power they have at their organizations. One colleague, for example, told me her ED shut down her suggestion to include personal pronouns in email signatures. I get asked this question a lot: “How can I make change as a younger professional when I don’t have positional power?”

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Toxic Self-Marginalization: How our unconscious addiction to being underdogs harms our work

[Image description: Two super cute little dark brown or black chihuahua puppies, or possibly three. One is facing the camera. The other one is resting their head on top of the first one. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are three now. The other one is also resting their head on the first puppy. They’re adorable and were chose to help you remain calm as we tackle a difficult topic. Hope it’s working. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post is long and will deal with a serious topic that may rile you up.

Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more of us who are supposed to be on the same “side” attack one another. “We progressives are eating our own” is a refrain I hear often. I wrote about this earlier, in a post called “Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?” This was followed up with a post to balance things out, called “Hey people with privilege, you need to be OK with making mistakes and being called out.”

The last four years have been rough on many of us. There is generalized anxiety caused by the relentless cruelty, racism, and inhumanity of this administration. My mental health professional friends have been getting more business than they can handle. All of us to a degree feel helpless against the overwhelming forces of hatred that we read about on a daily basis. Our dedication to the fight, though, means that we often channel this energy toward targets that are easier and closer in proximity. And thus, we sometimes turn on one another. As one colleague said to me, “People need closer targets, and ones they can successfully take down.”

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Walk through this spooky nonprofit-themed haunted house…if you dare

[Image description: A silhouette of a hand, directly facing the camera. In the background is a blurry figure. It’s like someone is holding up a hand. It is so spooky. Just looking at this picture so I can write the image description is giving me the creeps. Why do I write blogs at 1am? Oh man, I am getting creeped out. Pixabay.com

Hi everyone. Quick announcement: This Wednesday, 9/18, from 1pm to 2:30pm EST, the co-authors of Unicorns Unite and I are having a conversation about how all of us can work together more effectively as a sector. Join virtually (or in person in San Francisco). It’s free.

It may seem too early to write a Halloween-inspired post, but Halloween is awesome, so it’s never too early to get into the spirit. Also, next week’s post will likely be extremely serious and possibly get a whole bunch of you mad at me, so might as well butter you up with a lighter piece this week.

A few years ago, my partner took me to a haunted house. It was dark and spooky, with grisly lights and decorations and there was fog everywhere and people dressed up like zombies and serial killers and sometimes they would chase you while holding chainsaws and screaming. So basically very much like our sector!

This gave me an idea. We need a nonprofit-themed haunted house! Here is what one might look like. Thanks to everyone on the NAF Facebook page who contributed ideas; and apologies that not all were incorporated and that individuals couldn’t be credited. Make sure you don’t read this by yourself at night, because it is terrifying. Add your thoughts in the comment section, and on Twitter with #NonprofitHauntedHouse

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Foundations, it’s time to stop using grant applications to distribute funding

[image description: a happy and very tiny little brown mouse, being held in someone’s thumb and maybe two other fingers. Their head is scarcely bigger than the person’s thumb. Their eyes are closed, and they seem to be smiling contentedly. Aw, what a cute little mouse. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Today’s post will be long and serious. But before we get into it, here are ways you can help victims of Hurricane Dorian. Also, my org RVC is growing and hiring a Capacity Building Lead. It’s an amazing position that combines capacity building and equity. Don’t take my word for it, here is a quick video from the team.

Our sector talks a lot about grants. Out of 380 posts on this blog, the most popular post of all time is “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders.” On GrantAdvisor (a Yelp-like website where you can provide anonymous review of foundations) the top complaints are about grant processes. I came up with the FLAIL Scale a while ago, a 61-point checklist for funders to measure how aggravating their grants are, followed up with the GRAVE Gauge, to determine the level of annoyingness of grantseekers. There are endless articles and workshops on how to increase your chances to get grants. And many foundations, to their credit, have been working to streamline their grant applications.

But maybe we are not having the right conversations. Maybe the question is not “how do we improve grant applications” but rather “are grant applications the best way for funders to determine who should be funded? Have they ever been? Is this tool broken or even harmful, and if so, can we afford to keep using it?”

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