A long while ago, I directed a small nonprofit that focused on supporting the Vietnamese and other immigrant and refugee communities. A question that I got asked constantly was “Why aren’t you merging with the other nonprofit that is focused on supporting the Vietnamese and other immigrant and refugee communities?” Right, because having TWO whole organizations focused on these populations, even though these orgs are geographically separated by miles and do different things, is one too many in a tiny village like Seattle.
Fast forward a few years, I am now having coffee with a program officer, trying to convince this funder to give more money to organizations led by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and POC communities. “I am not sure that aligns with our priorities this year,” said the program officer, sipping coffee slowly while the laughter and chatter of folks around us reverberated as golden afternoon sunlight streamed through our windswept hair (This was before the pandemic, so I might be romanticizing it a bit). “But, we are open to supporting nonprofits if they are thinking of merging.”
Meanwhile, we should all remember that less than one half of one percent of total philanthropic funding in the US goes to Native communities, according to Native Americans in Philanthropy. Foundations, you can do better. The rest of us who are non-Native, donate to Native/Indigenous organizations, pay rent for the land we’re on (such as through here if you’re on Duwamish land), and support local Native/Indigenous artists and businesses, such as Eighth Generation. And let’s not allow this day to be the only time we learn about, make reparations toward, and support Native communities.
Last week I was asked to present at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s conference about the future of capacity building, and what capacity builders can learn from Star Trek. The team at RVC, meanwhile, wrote a really important article on Transformational Capacity Building, exploring the ways that traditional capacity building tactics have often actually been harmful to organizations led by and serving Black, Indigenous, POC, and other marginalized communities, and presenting a new framework. And here’s the article I wrote on the Mycelium Model of Capacity Building, where I lay out what mushrooms can teach us about capacity building.
It is really exciting to see that we are starting to look at this area with a more critical lens and evolve it to work better for the organizations and movements led by communities most affected by systemic injustice. Given the events of this year, including the pandemic, the protests against racism, and our last-ditch effort to prevent the US from sliding deeper into fascism, our sector really needs to further reexamine our perspectives on capacity building.
Hi everyone, before we tackle today’s fun and exciting topic, a couple of announcements.
First, our administration is stepping up its concerted attacks on immigrants and refugees, preparing for further ICE raids to terrorize families and children. Here are few things you can do in response. Please take some time to do them.
Second, my organization continues to grow, so now we’re hiring an Organizational Learning Coordinator. This is an early-career position for those who love data and evaluation and learning and writing about all the cool stuff RVC and our partners are doing and the impact its having. Please check it out, and pass it along to your networks. Must love Oxford Commas.
Third, I will be going to Vietnam for the next three weeks. I wrote several blog posts in advance, so the blog schedule remains the same. However, since I had to write them quickly, the quality may have been affected. Apologies in advance.
I had written earlier about the Capacity Paradox, where foundations will not invest in an organization unless that organization has strong capacity, which it can’t build strong capacity unless foundations invest in it. It is a terrible Catch-22 that has screwed over many organizations, especially organizations led by marginalized communities. But now, there is another Capacity Paradox, where funders’ hyper focus on capacity building is precisely the thing that prevents capacity from being built.
Hi everyone, if you haven’t filled out the Fundraising Perception Survey, please do so. It’ll take 10 minutes and I will send you a baby bunny. (OK, I was just told by our lead evaluator that bribing people with adorable pets would bias the results, so strike that).
Every year, I look forward to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Wild Mushrooms Show, where hundreds of types of mushrooms are on display. All are critical to the ecosystem. Some are edible and delicious; others are poisonous; a few phosphoresce in the dark; several gradually melt into a sticky mess. In other words, mushrooms are very much like nonprofits.
All jokes aside, there is much that mushrooms can teach us. We can liken direct service organizations to mushrooms, as they provide sustenance to a variety of plants and animals. They are vital because they feed the community. However, for mushrooms to flourish, the mycelium must be strong. This is the vast but mostly underground network of root-like tendrils. Mycelium is like an invisible tree, and the mushrooms you see are the visible fruit. The mycelium does many important things: Brings nourishment, clears out toxins, connects mushrooms to one another, creates symbiosis with other species, and decomposes and recycles nutrients, among other things.
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.