Author Archives: Vu

“Does this board member spark joy?” How to tidy your organization using the KonMari method

[Image description: Two little white mice with grey ears peeking their heads out of a round hole carved in a brown log. The one on the left is cute with their wittle ears and pink nose and whiskers. The one on the right…probably has a great personality. Pixabay.com]

Have you noticed how we in this sector tend to hoard stuff? There are several reasons for this. First, we are trained to be thrappy, which is a combination of “thrifty” and “scrappy,” to keep our “overhead” low. Second, because we are empathetic, even to inanimate objects, and just the thought of these poor gala program booklets and rickety chairs being abandoned makes us sad. And third, because we’re busy making the world better and stuff, OK?  

Recently, my colleague April Nishimura, RVC’s awesome Director of Capacity Building, got hyped on Marie Kondo’s tidying method. She made me clean out my box of crap, which I had not done for four years. It was therapeutic. I found a forgotten bar of Theo-brand dark chocolate that had been gnawed on by what looked like rats (or possibly a volunteer with very small incisors).

Inspired by this experience, I decided to learn the KonMari method by watching Kondo’s show on Netflix. After four episodes, I was able to grasp the basics, which are grounded in the question of whether something “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, thank it for its service, and then let it go. These methods can be applied to our organizations. So here are some lessons, directly taken from or inspired by Marie Kondo, in case you and your team are thinking of tidying up your org using the KonMari method:

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The urgency of making big funding bets on organizations led by marginalized communities

[Image descriptions: Four stacks of coins of ascending height in a straight line from left to right, with a large filled with coins at the end of the line. Each stack of coins as well as the jar has a green plant with multiple leaves growing out of it, the size of the plants also increasing with the height of the stack of coins or jar. They appear to be outdoors, with an out-of-focus outdoorsy background. Image by Pixabay. Description, as always, by Vu].

Last week, SSIR published a case study I co-authored with David Bley of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailing Gates’s significant investment in my organization, Rainier Valley Corps (RVC). Our partnership started with 1.1 million over four years to launch RVC’s fellowship program to bring more leaders of color into the nonprofit sector. These brilliant leaders would run programs, fundraise, set up systems, mobilize community members, and do whatever else the organization needs to be effective. About half the fellows are hired full-time at their host organizations during or after their fellowship, a critical outcome when only 18% of nonprofit professionals are people of color.

After running our successful fellowship program for a year, RVC learned several significant lessons, including the fact that the philosophy that grounds organizational development does not work for organizations led by communities of color. This philosophy, as I’ve pointed out before, is basically to force all organizations to be generalists, so that even small grassroots organizations must scramble to do HR, finance, payroll, evaluation, communications, legal compliance, contract monitoring, etc. And the ones that cannot do all these highly complex tasks simultaneously and with a degree of quality are punished.

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People of color, we need to address our own anti-Blackness and how we may be perpetuating injustice

[Image description: A fence on the beach with colorful posts in alternating blue, green, yellow, and red, connected by a single rope at the top of each post. The fence is overlooking a greyish-blue ocean. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this post is going to be serious. I know that Black History was last month, but I am hoping that by running this in March, it serves as a small reminder that we need to have these conversations throughout the year. This post today will talk about how we people of color can consciously and unconsciously perpetuate the injustice we are hoping to address, and how we need to examine our privileges and biases, especially our anti-Blackness.

Honestly, I’ve been a little hesitant to write on this topic. Normally I talk about communities of color and the challenges we face navigating a white-dominant culture. I am hesitant to point out dynamics among communities of color, and I know other leaders of color are too, because oftentimes, people in power look at these types of conversations as a sign of weakness and use them to rationalize things like withholding funding: “If these people can’t even get along with one another, how can we invest in them?” (I’ll address this in a future post tentatively called “The Racism of Expecting Communities of Color to Just Get Along.”)

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Can we stop assuming that people with corporate or academic backgrounds can run nonprofits and foundations better than nonprofit folks?

[Image description: A white sheep sticking their head out of a wire fence. They have an annoyed expression. This is basically what I look like when thinking about how many people who have little to no experience working in nonprofit but who still have significant power on nonprofits. Pixabay.comm]

Recently I learned that a colleague of mine didn’t get a job leading a major organization. It was confusing, since all signs had seemed to indicate she was a good fit. After weeks wondering, she got a you-didn’t-hear-this-from-me from one of the hiring team members that the board had decided to go with someone with a corporate background. Someone who had no experience working in nonprofit was now going to lead a large and influential one, over my colleague who had years of relevant experience.

This happens frequently in our sector among the largest and most influential organizations. Foundations are especially guilty of this. According to this report from CEP that looks at the leadership of the largest 100 foundations in the US:

Experience as a grantee, if you exclude colleges and universities …. isn’t much valued by foundation boards when they’re searching for a CEO. In 2012 we identified just 14 foundation CEOs with immediate previous experience at an operating nonprofit that wasn’t a college or university. Today, that number is even lower — just 10.”

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Sometimes the best thing we donors can do to advance social justice is to just write the check and get out of the way

[Image description: A super adorable little fluffy brown baby bear cub clinging to a tree and looking directly at the camera! Awwww, what a sweet little baby bear! Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post will likely be controversial, so grab a bar of dark chocolate, or, if you are in Seattle, a warm cup of hemp milk and some kale chips. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our philosophy on donor engagement, and I think we need to have a serious discussion. Honestly, I am starting to believe that the way we engage donors, and habits and patterns of thinking we reinforce among ourselves and our donors, are possibly damaging to the work and to communities.

But before we go further, I want to try something different. I often speak from the nonprofit perspective, because I love nonprofit work and I love the people who choose to be in this beautiful and frustrating sector. But I also donate to several organizations; with two small kids, it’s not always as much as I would like, but I still donate. In fact, I am willing to bet that everyone who works in nonprofit also donates to other nonprofits. That means all of us are also donors. So instead of speaking from the nonprofit perspective, for this post I am going to speak from a donor’s perspective. It might be a little weird, but bear with me (here’s a picture of a baby bear for being awesome).

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