When Wombats Go Wild: Cultural Competency at the Mezzo and Macro Levels

wombatinaboxLast week I delivered my keynote speech in front of 300 or 400 people at the Northwest Development Officers Association (NDOA)’s spring conference. I think it went pretty well, except that my light jokes at the expense of hipsters may have offended some people. A young man came up to me after the speech and said, “Maybe next time, you might want to refrain from making fun of some people. I mean, I’m not a hipster, but if there were any in the audience, they may not have liked to be made fun of.”

Look, nonprofit work is plenty serious and very stressful, and if we can’t make gentle fun of hipsters and their asymmetrical hair, skinny jeans, and ridiculous glasses at a conference for fundraisers, then there is no hope for humanity.

Anyway, the speech was about cultural competency and community engagement. It was 35 minutes long and I swear only about 3 minutes total were spent ribbing on hipsters and their Pabst Blue Ribbon and weird, weather-inappropriate scarves. (29 seconds were spent making fun of “gluten-free” people who don’t have Celiac disease).

Since the speech was so long, I thought I would summarize the main point. Basically, “cultural competency” is a term we throw around a lot in the field, usually with metaphors like “Cultural Competency is not a destination, it’s a journey” and “Culture is like the engine of a car: You don’t see it, but it is integral to and greatly influences the car” and “In many cultures, staff are expected to make the Executive Director lemonade on demand, so get to it!”

What I’ve been seeing is that the discussion of cultural competency usually stays at the micro level, the differentiated interactions between individuals: Take off your shoes when you enter an Asian person’s house; hugging is not big in some cultures, so don’t hug everyone you meet; it’s not “Chinese New Year” it’s “Lunar New Year” since many Asian countries celebrate it besides China; label food, especially when you serve pork; just because a person doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t mean they’re trying to be disrespectful; etc.

With so many cultures in existence, it is impossible to understand and be fluent in all of them. When we mean well, but because of our gap in knowledge we screw up, I call that being a cultural competency wombat, because wombats are cute and cuddly and they probably don’t mean any harm. I have been the recipient of wombat interactions, and I have been a wombat on numerous occasions. All of us are wombats from time to time, and it is OK, as long as we learn and don’t make the same mistakes.

But cultural competency extends beyond the micro level. At these higher levels—organizational, systemic—where our inherent wombattiness can cause some serious damage. Or at least, be extremely annoying.

When Wombats Go Wild, Mezzo Level

wombats 3When you have some color in your background, you’re a person of color. This is easy to understand. In the same vein, when an organization is led by communities of color and serves communities of color, it’s basically an organization of color. And when a school is 95% kids of color (and we have several in Southeast Seattle), it’s basically a school of color. We have to understand that it’s no longer just an issue of people of color, but whole organizations and schools and neighborhoods of color, and the challenges faced by an individual of color is replicated at these higher levels too, and cultural competency must extend to these levels.

One challenge, for example, is that organizations of color become that one kid in the class that has to teach everyone about his culture. Or that Spanish speaking kid that has to help other kids with their Spanish homework.

Seattle has a strong emphasis on inclusion. We LOVE getting input from everyone on everything, and we know it is essential to get the communities of color’s input (even if we do absolutely nothing with it). Which is why my organization, the Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA), gets hit up for everything. Each week we get at least two or three requests to recruit our Vietnamese clients for some focus groups—on education, safety, transportation, sewage overflow, you name it—usually without a single thought that we may require funds to do the work.

Inclusion is commendable, but if it doesn’t come with resources, it becomes a burden on organizations of color. I was on a committee that was in charge of allocating a bunch of money. We were reviewing a list of requirements to put in the RFP. Among the requirements were “Applicants must get input from communities and families of color.” That sounds great. But what happens, at least in Seattle, is that mainstream organizations cannot reach the communities of color. So then they contact organizations like VFA and Horn of Africa and Filipino Community of Seattle and East African Community Services to get help. These sort of well-intentioned “inclusiveness” opens the floodgate. It’s like if you’re a teacher and you’re teaching a lesson on Latin American countries and you said, “Pick a Latin American country and write a report. But before you turn in your report, check in with your classmate Pedro to make sure it’s accurate.” So now all the kids descend on Pedro. It’s not that Pedro does not want to help, but he has his own challenges and his own report to write.

The funding for “inclusiveness” is usually never equitable. In fact, most of the time, it’s never even a consideration. Two weeks ago someone called me to ask us to help recruit Vietnamese clients for a focus group. They hired an outreach staff, but she had no luck getting people to sign up for the focus group, so they called me. I said, “So…basically, you got some money to hire a staff, but that didn’t work, so now you’re asking my organization to do this for you for free?”

Some requests are as ridiculous as some hipsters’ hair. One time a mainstream organization contacted me asking for help. “Can you spread the word about this community event?” the rep asked, “Also can you look these documents over to make sure they’re translated correctly into Vietnamese? It’s due in two days, so if you can get back to me by tomorrow, that would be great.” (I sent her a link to a translation company). We nonprofits of color do not have magical unicorn outreach power. Engagement of communities of color takes five times as much effort, since we’re dealing with language, transportation, socioeconomic, and other barriers. Even for VFA’s own workshops and community meetings, it takes calling our clients multiple times before they show up. Most don’t have emails and Google calendar. They have to be reminded a week ahead, three days ahead, one day ahead, the day of, and then relationship building follow-up the week after. This sort of work, if it is valued, must be funded. Just like people of color face challenges, nonprofits of color face challenges. Schools of color, neighborhoods of color face challenges. Often, it’s in the form of “Well, we can’t fund them because they don’t have much capacity. But we still want them to be involved. That will make them feel good to be asked to be involved.”

At this level, funders should try to distribute funds equitably, and try to contract directly with organizations of color if that is what the work entails. Mainstream organizations, if you need help with outreach, build sufficient funds into your project budget to compensate nonprofits of color for their time and expertise.

When Wombats Go Wild, Macro Level

Awombats go wildt the systems level, that’s when we see how critical cultural competency is. For the past couple of years, I have been chairing the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a collaboration of nonprofits of color, schools, families, and community members working together to improve schools in SE Seattle, the most diverse quadrant of the City. 8% of SE Seattle is White, compared to 43% district-wide. 72% of the students are free and reduced lunch, compared to 43% also. 22% are English Language Learners, compared to 10%. We have awesome restaurants down here, and also the most struggling schools. Seattle Public Schools grade their schools from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest in performance. In SE Seattle, with some of the most amazing educators, only a single school is graded above a level 3. That would be Mercer Middle School, Level 5. Over 50% of kids of color will fail to graduate from high school.

It’s been like this for decades. And the lack of cultural competency at this level is pretty glaring. For example, I was attending a meeting on SE Seattle a while ago, and we talked about these issues, and a school board member was there. Everyone was upset by the disparities in SE Seattle. The school board member stood up, the sun dappled on her hair, and a hush fell over the room (I’m trying make this story more interesting, since this blog post is pretty long). “These numbers are unacceptable,” she said, “I need all you guys to send in letters and emails and bring your community members to show up at board meetings, because without an army behind me, there’s nothing I can do. Parents at other schools organize and send 50 emails, and they get what they want, so we have to do the same.” People murmured their agreement, vowing to rally the troops.

That was totally wombat, because the intention was good, and at first it makes sense. A man stood up, his face gaunt with time and planning too many annual dinners, his back hunched from too many meetings. “We can try to do that,” he said, “because our parents must make their voices known. At the same time, many of our parents don’t speak much English. Some have never touched a computer, much less know how to send an email. They work several jobs, so they might not be able to join meetings. How fair is this system then? While we build the capacity of our families, we MUST also change this system.” This system that exists, where the loudest voices win, is culturally incompetent and has been perpetuating inequity in education and other areas for decades.

We see this lack of cultural competency play out again and again at the macro level. The Families and Education Levy, for example, is supposed to help schools like the ones in SE Seattle. But the grant application is ridiculously complicated and burdensome, which is fine if every school had the same resources to write it. But the schools that have the least capacity to write these grants are the ones that most need the grants, as usually they’re the ones with the most kids of color and low-income kids. I was helping a school with this grant. This school has 97% kids of color. The principal and I locked ourselves in her office for several days to write this thing, and by the time we were done, the narrative was 28 pages long. It was the most ridiculous grant I had ever written, and it was like giving birth. (I know all about the pains of giving birth now that I have witnessed it first-hand). Another school, with even more needs, did not apply.

Cultural competency is extremely critical, especially when the injustices that we are trying to address usually disproportionately affect communities of color. The concept has been tossed around a lot and beaten into all of us, but usually only at the micro level. What we have at all levels are often well-meaning people who are trying to help, but all of us naturally impose our own perspectives on to things and people. If VFA has time to recruit people for their workshops, why can’t they recruit the same people for my focus group? If I can access social media, other people should be able to. If I can write a 28-page grant, why can’t these school principals? If some parents can write emails and testify at school board meetings and write op-eds, why can’t other parents? These wombat assumptions are annoying, but at the higher levels, they can be deadly, silently perpetuating the cycle of inequity while all of us are talking about whether it is culturally appropriate to shake hands with some clients or not, or whether we should take off our shoes.

10 Steps for Writing a Kick-Ass Nonprofit Organizational Budget

planets-light-380x235Every year, at about this time, I start having night terrors. A lot of this is due to watching Game of Thrones and seeing all my favorite characters killed to death in gruesome ways. But it is also because my org’s fiscal year ends in June, and we must go through the annual budgeting process, which is about as much fun as juggling baby porcupines.

Actually, no, baby porcupines are cute. Budgeting is about as much fun as juggling open jars of spicy chipotle mayonnaise. It’s messy and painful.

So I thought I would write down the steps to developing an awesome budget for a small to medium organization. This is not a guide for those who are starting a nonprofit, but rather for new EDs or board members of organizations that have been in operation for at least a year and will need to develop next year’s budget, or anyone who needs a refresher. Follow these steps below, and you will have a kick-ass budget that you can proudly show to your friends and family.

Step 1: Rally your team. This may be your finance committee. If you don’t have a finance committee, assemble a Budgeting Task Force. Make sure you call it “Task Force,” since Task Force sounds cool, like a team of superheroes who are called into action when the organization sends a distress signal (and at the end of every fiscal year, we are all sending distress signals). Include your board Treasurer, your Accountant/bookkeeper/finance person, one or two key staff, and an astrologer.

Step 2: Have your finance person provide data on up-to-date spending actuals for each program, as well as administrative and fundraising expenses. It is important to know how much you’ve been spending in each category this year, so that you can ignore all of it while you develop next year’s budget.

Step 3: Talk to your key staff to figure out the programming expenses for the next fiscal year. Ideally you will have a strategic plan on which to base next year’s staffing and programming (I’ll write later on how to develop a kick-ass strategic plan). If you don’t, it is important to get an idea from your staff what it is they need to make their programs successful next year. They are in the trenches, so they know best about programming stuff. Be aware that putting all staff into a room together to discuss their needs for the next year may lead to what I call “Mad Max-Budget Thunderdome.”

Step 4: Unfortunately, many requests can only be fulfilled in a mythical magical world with sufficient unrestricted funds, so you must bargain with your staff and be creative to reach middle ground. For example, a staff may say, “I need a unicorn in order to effectively do my work,” then you say, “we can’t afford a unicorn,” and your staff will say, “without a unicorn, I can’t do so and so and I am burning out,” so then you say, “how about a work-study unicorn instead?”

Step 5: Personnel expenses are the biggest and most critical category in your budget, since it takes staff to make things happen. It is important that your staff are paid a fair and decent wage that are increasing with cost of living. Go borrow the United Way’s Wage and Benefit Survey from one of your nonprofit friends (or order it online if you’re one of those big nonprofits who can afford it). Look up all the positions you plan to keep or develop, and it’ll tell you what on average those positions are paid in organizations your size.

Step 6: Put your computer on hibernate, close your door, and gently weep for five or ten minutes, thinking about all your wonderful staff and how horribly underpaid they are, according to the Wages and Benefit Survey, and about all the stuff you could do if you only had more resources. Then dry your eyes, open your door, and if any staff happens to ask what’s wrong, just give them a hug and tell them you’re proud of them and that the work they do is so important and that they’re making the world better, then go on a walk to clear your head.

Step 7: Now that you have all your projected expenses down, you must look at the potential revenues. Review all the funders who supported you this fiscal year, and categorize each of them by “will not renew since it was a one-year grant,” “possibly renewable, but is so restricted that it may actually cost the organization more to administer than the grant is worth,” “long-shot,” and “no clue, since they’re in the middle of a strategic planning process and we’re not sure what their priorities will be next fiscal year.”

Step 8: It is now time to put your astrologer to use. Have them create a chart of where the planets are this year in relation to your organization, as that is the best way to predict where the rest of your funds will be coming from. Mercury (representing foundations), Venus (representing individual donors), and Saturn (representing government funding) are in rare alignment right now, which may mean that it is time to focus more fundraising energy on those areas. The tiny and distant Pluto, representing general operating funds, is no longer a planet, but it still greatly impacts nonprofits, so make sure your astrologer includes its trajectory in the charts.

Step 9: It is unlikely that you will have enough projected revenues to meet projected expenses, so start cutting things and finding creative ways to obtain resources. For example, can you ask for donations of food for programs from local restaurants? Can the children in your programs spend one or two hours a day making products such as shoes or backpacks that could then be sold? And do staff REALLY need dental and vision insurance?

Step 10: Once your Task Force agrees on the draft budget, voila, you’re pretty much done! Forward it to the rest of the board to review and approve. They’ll likely be shocked at how much they’ll have to help raise through individual donations and the annual dinner and will likely ask you to cut down expenses even further. Resist the urge to break down weeping. Just smile, give an inspiring speech about working together, and reassure your board that you won’t be submitting any grants on any day when Mercury is in retrograde.

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Feng Shui for Nonprofits, Part 2: The 7 Basic Meeting Formations

meetingWhen I was growing up, my mother always told me to study hard. “Study hard,” she said, “so that you can work in an office one day and go to meetings and push paper, and not have to do manual labor like me and your dad.” Then she would add: “And eat some food. You look like a pale exhausted monkey and are the second least attractive member of our extended family.” (Thank God for cousin Nghi and her one twitching eye).

Anyway, Mom got her wish, because I do work in an office and I go to a lot of meetings, and sometimes those meetings are even useful. Our field does a lot of meetings, and yet we don’t stop to think much about them. Today, we’ll talk a little about the layout of the room and how it impacts the dynamics between participants. We barely notice, but simple things like where tables and chairs are placed and where the meeting participants are sitting in relation to one another makes a huge difference in power dynamics, and thus, the outcomes of the meeting.

First, let’s talk about large meetings with multiple people. The results of the meeting can be determined before anyone even walks into the room by how the tables and chairs are arranged.

The Power Formation. The front of the room is the seat of power, and people in the front are perceived to be more powerful than everyone else. This is why we naturally place politicians, panel speakers, and other experts and authority figures in the front of the room. This can be tricky, though, because sometimes you do not want them to be perceived as more powerful than you. One time, I was attending a community meeting designed to hold some higher-ups in Seattle Public Schools accountable for the inequity among our schools. This meeting was organized by the community. I entered the room and saw 8 seats in the front, facing the audience of 15. While the intent was to place the officials in the “hot seat,” the reality was that they now seemed like authority figures towering over the rest of us.  By the end of the meeting, they got us to promise that we’ll work harder to close the achievement gap.

The Circle Formation. Having everyone sit in a circle (or square) conveys a sense of democracy and community. It is also is the appropriate diffuser of power, forcing authority figures to recognize unconsciously that they are just like everyone else, the toiling, unwashed masses. This is what we should have done instead of the Power Formation in the situation above. Plus, the Circle Formation is the most efficient formation for snack distribution.

The U Formation. Arranging tables in a U shape conveys a sense of regalness. The person placed at the head of the table cannot have a diametric opposite, meaning this person has ultimate power. This formation best used when there is a very special guest of honor present, such as the Queen or an Iron Chef, in which case, break out the fine linens and hire some butlers. Otherwise, this formation is pretty stupid and should be avoided at all times.

The Small Groups Formation. Having people sit in small groups fosters both teamwork and competitiveness. It reminds people of high school, when they had to sit in small groups and do projects together, occasionally teasing that one lanky vegan kid who with the bad haircut because his dad always cut his hair. Well, oh yeah, David? Look who’s a nonprofit executive director now while all you got is a “JD”?! What is that anyway, some sort of degree you made up?!

Sorry, I got distracted. This formation is a great way to get people to know one another, especially if you throw in a competitive game or two. It is also an effective diffuser of power. When you have multiple authority figures, scatter them across different groups. When more than one is present, their power combined is not additive, but exponential, along with how annoying they are, being all chummy with one another and saying stuff like, “Yes, let’s get lunch soon” and “Vu, why isn’t the draft of next fiscal year’s budget done? The board must approve it at the next meeting.”

Many of our meetings are one-on-one. For those meetings, it is important to analyze with whom you are meeting and for what purpose. Then determine the appropriate formation to take:

The Adversarial Formation (aka The Interrogation Formation). Sitting directly across a table from someone sends the message that you want to be formal. We use this position when we are playing competitive board games, like Chess. This is a good position when you want to keep your distance or seem imposing. Sometimes it becomes the Interrogation Formation, where a panel of people sits across the table from one person, usually to glare at them while asking interview questions and looking cryptic. Generally I avoid sitting directly across a table from anyone in a one-on-one meeting, as it is unconsciously intimidating. It is useful though when you’re dealing with unsolicited visitors, people you’re meeting for the first time, staff who want to meet with you to complain about their health insurance not kicking in even though it’s been eight months or some other ridiculous reason. Or you are just trying to hide a fifth of whiskey. The bigger the table, the more formality is conveyed. If the table is small, though, such as at cafes, the effects are greatly minimized.

The Intimate Formation. Sitting on the same side of the table as someone sends the message “We’re on the same team” and is really creepy. Unless you know someone well, never ever sit on the same side as they are sitting. It’s like giving an awkward hug, but for an hour, or however long the meeting lasts. Exceptions can be made if you need to look at some documents together, or if for some reason the two of you are on the porch with a cold beer each, sharing war stories or something.

The Corner Formation. Sitting across from someone in such a way that there is one corner of the table between the two of you is a great middle ground between the intimidating Adversarial Formation and the creepy Intimate Formation. I like to use this position as the default when I am meeting with people one-on-one. It makes me seem approachable, but there is still a buffer between me and the other person, allowing them to feel a sense of security. This is a great formation to use when interviewing people for jobs, as it allows them to feel relaxed in a formal setting. It’s also great to use when you have to give bad news or feedback.

Those are the 7 main meeting formations. Learn them well and you’ll be able to greatly affect the outcomes of any meeting. But there are other formations, for more advanced meeting goers. For example the Flanking Formation, where two people from the same organization will flank someone from a different organization, causing disorientation and intimidation. Then there’s the Wagon Wheel Formation, the Intervention Formation, the Fish Bowl Formation (aka the Thunder Dome Formation), and the Lemmings Formation.

But we’ll discuss those later in a future post. We’ll also discuss the different snacks and how they affect power dynamics. Hint: Hummus is an effective tool when deployed strategically.

Cultural compentency wombats: My keynote speech at the NDOA conference on June 7th

wombatHi everyone. Sorry I’ve been absent for two weeks. I am going to try to consistently publish each Monday morning from now on, rain or shine. With such a schedule, the quality of the posts may be lacking, but at least they’ll be consistent. Like someone once said: “Consistent adequacy always trumps inconsistent excellence,” a motto that I want to pass down to my son in one of those idyllic father-son moments. With the setting sun painting the skies crimson and amber in front of us as we sit on our porch, the last remnants of summer fading to the mournful song of the cicadas, I’d turn to him and say, “Son, excellence is hard to achieve, and consistent excellence next to impossible. Aim for reliable mediocrity…”

With so many profound life lessons to share, I am glad the Northwest Development Officers Association (NDOA) invited me to be their keynote speaker on June 7th at their Spring conference. This decision to invite me just proves that NDOA is run by highly-intelligent, innovative, and good-looking people. Public speaking is scary, though, and I want to be very honest and say that I am freaking out more than a little and have thought once or twice about running off into the wilderness, far far away from civilization…like maybe Federal Way, Washington.

Still, it is a great honor, and a great chance to avoid my staff for several hours, so I will work hard to ensure that I don’t suck at my speech in front of three or four hundred development professionals.

So, what am I going to talk about? Cultural competency, community engagement, and wombats. I have been writing about these topics for several years now, including a post called “Are You a Cultural Competency Wombat? Take this Quiz to Find Out.” Of course, this was a while ago, so only 7 or 8 people actually read that post (and only because I threatened to cut their health insurance), so I am going to just repost an excerpt here:

Are You a Cultural Competency Wombat? Take this Quiz to Find Out.”

The term “cultural competency” has been thrown around a lot. For instance: “We must be more culturally competent in our outreach efforts in order to synergistically shift the paradigm for collective impact.” And also: “Stop being so culturally incompetent! In many cultures, staff are expected to make the Executive Director a mango lemonade while he naps!”

We all agree that Cultural Competency is a good thing, but do any of us really understand what it is? I mean, sure, there are tons of research papers and books and stuff on the subject, but who actually reads them when we all have so much work to do and Season 3 of Downton Abbey just started? [Note, this post was written in February, when references to Downton Abbey were still relevant and very cool].

Cultural Competency is complex, and we can delve deep into it for hours. But for this post, I just want to spend a few minutes discussing cultural competency and how it manifests in the basic logistics of community engagement. Let’s begin by checking to see how culturally competent you currently are.

Question 1: You are leading a committee to talk about community safety and you want to ensure participation from residents of color. Where should you have the meeting? A. At my office downtown; it’ll make it easy for everyone, since downtown is a central location. B. At the local bar, since it’s an informal place where people can be free to express their opinions. C. Maybe a library, or a community center, some place with easy parking.

Question 2: You are thinking of having food at this meeting. What should you order? A. Prosciutto finger sandwiches, baked brie and dried pears, crudités and olives, accompanied by a nice pinot noir. B. Grilled pork banh mi’s (Vietnamese sandwiches), spring rolls C. Pita and hummus, chicken skewers, fruit.

Question 3: You want communities of color to be well-represented at this meeting. How should you go about outreaching? A. Send out flyers, emails, and Facebook messages. B. Call up the various ethnic organizations and ask them send out word to their community members. C. Have information translated and placed in ethnic media such as newspapers and radios, send staff to physically visit various places with translated materials.

Scoring: Give yourself 0 points for every A answer, 17 points for every B, and 900 points for every C. If you got 0 to 900 points, you are a cultural competency goblin. If you have 901 to 1816 points, you are a cultural competency wombat. If you have 1817 to 2700 points, you are a cultural competency platypus.

***End of excerpt. Read the rest of the post here.***

Most of us are wombats. Wombats are cuddly and cute in their clumsiness. But in order for us to be effective, to bring about change, to successfully fight for social justice, we must strive to be a cultural competency platypus. I will be talking about experiences I’ve had and observations I’ve made about wombat-like behaviors that I’ve seen, both at the micro and the macro level (we’ll also discuss the mezzo level, which everyone ignores, because “mezzo” just sounds silly). We will brainstorm tips to be more cultural competent, within our own individual work, in partnerships with other organizations, and in systems that have been impacting our field and our clients. We will touch on community engagement, a crucial element of nonprofit work, one that many of us screw up on all the time, and how we can avoid sucking at that (Hint: stop asking ethnic nonprofits to recruit their clients for focus groups without sufficient funding).

We’ll discuss all those issues and others, and if we have time, I want to run by the group my idea for a Broadway show about nonprofit work: “501c3: The Musical!”

I hope to see you at the conference.

Ask a Nonprofit Director, Episode 2: Advice on child rearing, family dynamics, and halitosis

Welcome to another episode of Ask a Nonprofit Director. As we all know, EDs are excellent problem solvers. That’s why we are paid so well. But why stick to just nonprofit problems? We would make kick-ass advice columnists for everyday dilemmas! (Check out Episode 1)

chickensDear Nonprofit Director: We recently moved to Seattle from Texas, and my 14-year-old son has been having challenges adjusting. He has no friends, spends all his time in his room, and just looks sad and miserable all the time. It breaks my heart to see him like this, as he was always an outgoing and cheerful boy. What can I do? Beginning to Lose All Hope

Dear BLAH: Huge changes can severely affect the morale of any team. Take your son to lunch to express your concerns and listen to his side. Oftentimes, just knowing that you care can do a lot to raise his spirit. Work with him to figure out a strategy to ensure he has a meaningful and productive experience while in Seattle. For example, perhaps he can join a gluten-free baking club, an artisanal urban farming chicken raising class, or an organic biking meet-up group. If things do not improve, you may want to consider counseling. In any case, express to your son your expectations that he meet the outcomes you and he agreed to when he joined your family.

Dear Nonprofit Director: My four siblings and I live in the same city. We used to be very close until last year, when our oldest brother decided to spend Thanksgiving with his partner’s family out of town. So then my younger sister figured it would only be fair for her to spend Christmas skiing with her friends, which led to my other brother deciding to go to Vegas. My mother was very hurt, and now no one is looking forward to this year’s holidays. I’m trying to be the bridge-builder but I’m getting tired. Stuck in the Middle

Dear Middle: Your family may benefit from a weekend teambuilding retreat to reenergize and develop a strategic plan for how you spend the holidays. Determine your objectives and budget, then draft up an RFQ to hire a facilitator. During this retreat, make sure you do some trust falls and other team dynamics activities involving blindfolds. Do not leave the retreat without a one-year action plan as to who will spend which holiday where, along with specific metrics and evaluation instruments to determine if each holiday was successfully enjoyed.

Dear Nonprofit Director: I am thinking of giving my seven-year-old a small weekly allowance to teach him financial responsibility. My husband is reluctant, insisting that kids should just be kids. Who is right in this situation?  No Clever Acronym

Dear NCA: A team cannot function if each of its members does not have clear roles, responsibilities, and autonomy to make decisions. Giving your son an allowance and a clear line-item budget along with an orientation on which items he has full control over will increase his skills in financial management, develop his sense of ownership and investment, and relieve some of the burdens on you and your husband to take care of certain lesser purchases, such as food and clothing. Make sure your son documents all his spending with receipts so that you can do final accounting at the end of the fiscal year.

Dear Nonprofit Director: My daughter seems to favor her 10-year-old son “Billy” over her 12-year-old daughter “Abby.” It is sadly obvious. Abby gets into trouble all the time for the littlest things, while Billy can get away with anything and is rather spoiled. Abby confided to me that her mother is unfairly biased toward Billy and asked me to intervene in her behalf. I told my daughter this, but she became resentful and said I was intruding on her rights as a parent. What should I do? Concerned Grandma

Dear Grandma: The children are your daughter’s direct reports, so she does have the right to supervise them without intrusion, within reason. You made the mistake of intervening in your granddaughter’s behalf, which now creates tension between your daughter and granddaughter. What you should have done, and should do next time, is to encourage Abby to give feedback directly to her mother. This helps to increase respect between the two and helps Abby learn to problem-solve. If this does not work out, you may have to consider if your daughter is the right driver for this bus.

bad_breath-300x300Dear Nonprofit Director: My boss has severe halitosis, smelling of a toxic combination of rotting garlic, sardines, and compost. Plus, he’s a “close-talker.” I dread any one-on-one meetings with him. How do I politely tell him without hurting his feelings or putting my job in jeopardy? Hate It Down in Ellensburg

Dear HIDE: Most people do not know that they have bad breath, which may be a sign of dental or even heart problems. They tend to appreciate the feedback, since very few people are courageous enough to deliver it. Let your boss know in private, and also tell him that he’s too close when he talks. If you feel that being direct might put your job in danger, it may be helpful to bring in a consultant to survey all the staff about the work environment and write up a report. Oftentimes, you can say something for months and get nowhere, but a consultant comes in, says the exact same thing using a report with some colorful graphs, and your boss will think it’s pure genius.

“Ask a Nonprofit Director” is the premiere syndicated advice column on life issues from the perspective of an Executive Director. Send your questions to askanonprofitdirector@gmail.com and it may be published in Episode 3. Also, check out Episode 1 of “Ask a Nonprofit Director” for even more awesome advice.