Hi everyone. Apologies, this post will likely be long, poorly edited, and not have as many links to sources and I would like. I haven’t slept much, and even with a partner who is an experienced educator, parenting and crisis-schooling two small children have been fun but challenging.
As the protests against our deeply anti-Black, extremely racist systems continue, I am glad to see that foundations and nonprofits are getting more engaged in the conversations about how our sector must change. Invest more in Black-led organizations. Support grassroots orgs working to enable marginalized communities to vote and elect more women of color into office. Analyze the diversity at our own organizations and DO SOMETHING about the pervasiveness of senior leaders being white and front-line staff being BIPOC. Change the way fundraising is done to be less white-donor-centered. Increase payout rates beyond the minimum 5% and give Multi-Year General Operating Funds (MYGOD)!
Over the past few days, I have been thinking of George Floyd’s brutal murder by the police and of the protests happening in Minneapolis, nationwide, and globally, as I know many of you are. I am at a loss on what to do and how to support our Black friends and colleagues and family members who have constantly suffered under the pervasive violence of white supremacy and racism. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any encouraging words for you at this moment. I am just angry and sad.
And to be honest, I am also frustrated by our sector. I love our field and the people in it. There is so much good that comes from our work. In the most challenging of times, we have often been a beacon of light. There are many amazing organizations and leaders organizing protests, working tirelessly to change unjust laws, lifting up people in need, providing food and shelter and hope. Thank you for all that you do, and for doing it in a time when there is so much community need even as your resources drastically dwindle.
But as I watch the news and hear of police running over protesters, white nationalists creating chaos and confusion so they can blame peaceful demonstrators, and our racist president stoking the fires of hatred and violence again and again—it makes we wonder if our sector is equipped to help bend the arc toward justice, or if we have collectively become the “white moderate” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls the biggest barrier for equity and justice for Black people and thus for us all.
Businesses are all truly inspiring and contribute so much to our community. However, many businesses are failing to reach their full potential. During this pandemic, demands for business products and services have decreased significantly while demands for nonprofit services have skyrocketed! Is this just a coincidence? Unlikely. It would benefit for-profits to be as nimble, agile, and innovative as nonprofits. Although I have never run a business before, I do frequent many of them, and when I retire from a long career in nonprofit, I hope to do something relaxing and fulfilling, like open my own bank or grocery chain. Until then, here are some lessons I have learned that would help your business run more like a nonprofit and be successful:
Hi everyone, before we get to today’s topic, I’m having a conversation with the brilliant Angie Kim, CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation, on May 27th at 10am PST, about our sector. “Vu and Angie will have an informal, probably profanity-laden fireside chat, where we discuss what’s working and what’s not. Get ready to get provoked, maybe pissed off. There might be puppets.” It’s free. See details and register here.
Also, I may expand on this topic later, but here’s a petition calling for Congress to enact legislation to increase foundations’ and donor-advised funds’ payout rates for the next three years. Please sign it if you are so inclined. THIS IS THE RAINY DAY that funders and donors have been saving for, and it’s unconscionable that hundreds of billions are just sitting there while people die.
Lately, I’ve been getting more notices from colleagues distraught by their board or team saying things like “It’s a pandemic, we don’t have time to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Let’s get back to it when we get back to normal.” This view, that somehow equity work is like the parsley garnish to the risotto of “real work,” is pervasive. I wrote about it earlier here, mentioning a cancer organization that does not understand what race and equity have to do with cancer. This crisis has unfortunately further amplified this perspective for many people and organizations.
Last week, to feel some sense of control during this pandemic, I decided to remove the blackberry plants that had been multiplying on one side of my backyard. I had ignored them when they first sprouted last year, and now they had formed into a thick bramble. Himalayan blackberries (originally from Western Europe), may be delicious, but they are invasive and a nightmare to deal with. They choke out native plants and destroy the habitats and food sources of native animals. The most efficient way to get rid of them is to use herbicide, but we plan to grow food in our yard, so that option is out. What is left is to cut off the stems, and then to painfully and meticulously dig up as much of the entrenched roots as possible. If even a tiny piece remains, this berry—aka, the Devil’s smoothie booster—will regenerate.
After six hours, some blood from the thorns lacerating my arm, and two broken tools (Grampa’s Weeder, you served valiantly), I was able to get rid of most of the bramble. But plenty of the roots remain, and there are more buried in the ground that I cannot see. The battle has only begun, and it will last years. On some nights, I stay awake, plotting revenge while lightning flashes, illuminating the thorny silhouettes of this prolific, sinister plant.