A few years ago, I led a Vietnamese-community-focused nonprofit as a youthful executive director filled with equal parts optimism and adult acne. I remember though one time at a board meeting trying to get board members to donate. “Please,” I said, “just give something. Anything! Even $5! I just need us to be able to tell funders that we have 100% board giving!” The elders stared back blankly at me. I was desperate. “OK,” I said, “how about I give you each $10, then you donate $5 back, and you make a profit of $5!” I was joking, but also kind of not.
The idea of “100% board giving” is one of those concepts that somehow have become entrenched in our sector, an unwritten truth that we don’t question. To this day, I still see funders asking about it on grant applications. Fundraisers, meanwhile, whisper warnings to one another: “There was one organization that only achieved 50% board giving. Their donations eventually all dried up. If you walk by the office, you can hear faint ghostly echoes of weeping from the development team.”
Hi everyone, before we dive into today’s post, two quick announcements. My friend, the awesome Kishshana Palmer, and I are having an Instagram Live conversation, Rooted AF, tomorrow July 7th, at 5:30pm ET. These Live events are unscripted conversations where we discuss whatever is on our minds, so likely fundraising, philanthropy, equity, and Kish’s awesome new venture providing a supportive network for women of color.
Also, next week, July 13th, is the launch of the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement, as I wrote about here. It will kick off with a virtual event “Let’s Make Fundraising Less Racist” on 7/13 at 11am PST. The CCF Hub will launch on that day too; it’ll be a place to explore ways to fundraise that are aligned with racial and economic justice. Sign up here so we can send you the meeting link to the launch event and address to the Hub when they are ready.
OK, let’s talk about boards. First off, let me just say that I know lots of amazing people who serve on boards. Board members are volunteers who contribute time, money, talents, connections, and even the occasional shoulder to cry on during challenging moments. Without the awesome folks on my board, the two organizations that I was ED of would not have been nearly as successful. I am also currently serving on two boards of organizations I love. I know how hard boards and board members work, and we owe a lot to the brilliant board members out there who are helping us make the world better every day.
A while ago, I read about an experiment where kids were asked to draw a fish. One group was just told to draw a fish; the other group were told the same thing, but they were also given an example of a fish drawing someone else had drawn. The kids in the first group creatively drew all types of fish. The kids who were given the example, with few exceptions, drew fish that were very similar to the example. (I can’t seem to find this study or article again; if you know it, please put the link in the comment section).
I bring this up because it is yields a good lesson for
all of us. And that lesson is: Flossing in an important part of good dental
hygiene. OK, that’s not the lesson, but that’s still an important reminder. The
lesson is that all of us in this sector have been given so many fish drawing
examples—fundraising fish, capacity building fish, leadership fish, board
governance fish, hiring fish, etc.—and they constantly and unconsciously affect
how we think about and do everything.
If you think about it, so many of the things that we do are done a certain way because that’s just how someone else told us things should be done. There are few legal requirements. Which means most systems and practices are traditions that we pass down, and after a while, we just accept that that’s how we do them, the way the kids who were given a fish drawing example instantly assume that that’s the way a fish should be drawn.
Hi everyone. This post will be longer than normal, so to keep your attention, I’ve added pictures of pandas. The pandas have nothing to do with the content of this post. They are just pandas.
Some of you may know, if you are on our mailing list, that I am stepping down as Executive Director of my organization Rainier Valley Corps by this December. RVC is in a great place, thanks to our team, board, partners, and supporters, so it is a good time for me to take a break from being an ED. It’s been 12 consecutive years of that; I need to rest and recharge and spend more time with my family and Netflix.
I am not sure what I’ll be doing exactly when I am no longer an ED. This blog will continue as scheduled (heck, with more time on my hand, the spelling and grammar might even improve!). Likely I’ll focus on writing and speaking, maybe work on another book. Possibly develop Nonprofit The Musical in earnest instead of just joking about it. Or maybe I will found a business or apply for to be CEO of a major corporation. I mean, if colleagues from the for-profit sector naturally assume they can run nonprofits, I don’t know why I shouldn’t be hired to run a Fortune 500 company.
Hi everyone. I haven’t talked about the #metoo movement, even though it’s been on my mind. This is mainly because as I identify as a man, I should be listening and not mansplaining. Also, others have discussed this intersection of #metoo and nonprofit a lot more authoritatively, and I’m afraid to screw up in whatever I might have to say, if I had anything worth saying at all.
However, this movement is a discussion all of us need to have in the sector, and making mistakes and learning is a part of it, especially those of us who have positional authority due to our titles.
In the past few months, I’ve been reading up on others’ stories and thoughts. This blog post is a reflection on a few things our sector must do, prompted by various articles written by other professionals in the field. As such, it might not be very eloquent or comprehensive. But I hope one or more of these points might help to facilitate some discussions and actions. Continue reading “#metoo and the nonprofit sector”