Nonprofit AF taking a break this week; here’s a picture of a kitten

[Image description: A sleeping orange-striped kitten. Image by super-mapio on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, this morning I woke up with a kidney stone flare up and spent almost the entire day doubled over in pain on the couch, and nearly went to urgent care. I was trying to power through to write this week’s blog post, considering how important it is to rally our sector in light of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, and the horrifying floodgates it would open.

But a friend, Mari Kim, reminded me that “you taking a break will give others permission to take a break when they are in DEBILITATING PAIN!” She’s right. So, no blog post this week. Here’s picture of a kitten for reading this notice. We need to rest up and take care of ourselves and gather our energy. We are in for the fight of our lives.

Subtle ways power dynamics manifest between nonprofits and funders

[Image description: A cute little brown squirrel, standing on a log, staring off to the left. Very fluffy tail. Image by Sebastian Latorre on Unsplash]

Last week, a colleague told me they wrote a grant proposal that totaled 72 pages, for a $5,000 grant. I really hoped that this was a piece of performance art, titled something like “The Ontology of Philanthropy and the Meta-Futility of Existence.” But no, it was real.

Power imbalance is pervasive in our sector, as ubiquitous as hummus, though not nearly as delicious. There is always asymmetry in power when one party holds resources that another party needs. This imbalance leads to all sorts of awfulness. There are endless horror stories like the above. Power differentials warp people’s minds, allowing for the internalization of toxic philosophies like strategic philanthropy, which leads to the perpetuation of crappy funding practices.

Unfortunately, people often think it’s something that only other people are guilty of, that they themselves don’t perpetuate it. There are lots of great program officers, and they are probably just as horrified by a 72-page grant proposal as the rest of us. But power dynamics can often be more subtle, to the point that we don’t recognize it, and even nice program officers are caught up in it. Here are some examples:

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Inflation is killing nonprofits. Funders, you need to supplement your grants immediately.

[Image a green frog with an inflated vocal sac, standing on a leaf. Image by David Cole on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. We are rapidly approaching the summer, which means it’s time for the annual Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy (PEEP), a series of events across the sector where funders and nonprofit folks get together, virtually or in-person (ideally outdoors), to break down the weird power dynamics we have, and just learn to see one another as human beings. It should be fun and informal, and usually taking place on the week of Summer Solstice (June 21st this year). If you are planning to host an event, please fill out this form by June 10th so I can help spread the word.

While we are on the topic of the relationship between funders and nonprofit leaders, we need to talk about inflation, how it’s been affecting nonprofits, and what we need from funders. It’s really bad, the highest inflation rate in 40 years, and will likely stay bad or even get worse for a while. There are people more knowledgeable than I am who have written about this topic. This article (“Nonprofits and Foundations Need to Be Prepared for the Effects of Inflation on Services, Operations, and Endowments”), brings up several good points:

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How to be a fake consultant to help a colleague deal with their stubborn board

[Image description: Two hands holding a glowing light bulb. The bulb seems to be filled with a string of fairy lights, which makes it glow. Image by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Kidney stones, along with filing taxes, have been giving me some trouble. At this point, the tax filing process has been much more painful. All that to say, I don’t feel like writing a Serious Post. Hence, today’s piece, what you are reading right now, will be nonsensical and poorly edited and possibly offensive. You have been warmed.

One of the questions people always ask me (besides “Vu, have you considered changing your hair and clothing and just…general style?”) is “How do I get my board to change? The staff are in sync with [disclosing salary range on job postings, three months of paid family leave, an office ball pit filled with 5,000 plastic balls, etc.], but the board keeps holding back progress.”

This is a very common problem in the sector, as common as the lack of retirement savings matching. We can talk about all sorts of solutions—including sending problematic board members a severed stuffed unicorn head, Godfather-style: “Henry, wake up. What’s that on your pillow? It’s dripping…ketchup?…TWILIGHT SPARKLE, NOOOOO!!!”—but the reality is that because of what I call the Outsider Efficacy Bias, internal staff will not be listened to. So one thing you can do is get a consultant to come in.

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The way we manage conflicts needs to take neurodiversity into consideration

[Image description: Drawing of a profile of a human head, showing a cross section of the brain. Radiating white lines are shooting out of the brain, on light blue and dark blue background. Image by geralt on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. This is going to be a long post. And it’s one of the more difficult posts for me to write, because I am not an expert in neurodiversity, or conflict management, or how the two might intersect. And I don’t know enough to know whether I would be considered neurodiverse/divergent or not, though I’ve been told I exhibit some signs of inattentive ADHD. For example, being constantly distracted even during the middle of conversations and tasks (at this moment, for instance, I am trying very hard not to spend the next two hours googling the history of marshmallows, because that’s what randomly popped into my mind ten minutes ago while I was writing this paragraph, and now it haunts me). Colleagues made fun of the fact that I wrote notes on my hands, forgot basic information while remembering obscure facts, doodled and sometimes stared into space during meetings, and that my desk and office were always a trash fire of hummus-stained post-it notes and bags and boxes of miscellaneous stuff. This is balanced out by occasions when I get excessively focused and absorbed in a task, like the one time I was so engrossed in writing this blog post at the airport that I missed my plane even though I was sitting right in front of the gate and they called my name several times.

I know that neurodiversity is a huge umbrella that includes many different types, including autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, sensory integration disorder, dysgraphia, synesthesia, anxiety, and many others. For the sake of this topic, I’m going to simplify it into “thinking and processing information in ways that may not be typical of how most people think and process information.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot because with everything that’s been going on and how stressed everyone is, I’ve been seeing a lot more conflicts in the sector. Some of it is heartbreaking, including conflicts I’m involved in, with and among people I care deeply about.

Unfortunately, the conflict-resolution tools and techniques we’ve been relying on don’t always work, or are actually making things worse, because these tools and techniques were designed with neurotypical people in mind, with the grounding assumptions that everyone involved in the conflict will have the same thought patterns, the same way of absorbing, interpreting, and communicating information.

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