Category Archives: Donor Relations

We need to talk about the handwritten thank-you note

[Image description: A note with the words “Thank You,” on top of a beige envelope. On the top right corner there’s a hand holding a pencil. This makes no sense. The note is clearly in ink, so why is this hand holding a pencil? Unless, the Thank You part is already printed on this stationary, so this person didn’t actually write that. But still, who would write a thank-you note in pencil? Unless, they’re planning to draw their gratitude. Maybe I should have stuck to the usual picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.

OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.

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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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Why nonprofit staff should not be asked to donate to the organizations they work for

[Image description: A gray-striped cat, their head peeking from unde ra shaggy carpet that is brown, tan, and white. They look shocked, with big turquoise-emerald eyes. This cat has nothing to do with this post. I was going to add a picture of a houseplant, but plants unfortunately cannot compete with adorable kittens. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we launch into today’s topic, a quick announcement: My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is expanding our team and are looking to add two critical positions: Operations Support Program Director, and Capacity Building Lead. If you love capacity building and operations and want meaningful work, an amazing team, and an inspiring array of office snacks, these positions may be for you. We also have a nap room, if that tips the scale.

This week’s topic may be polarizing and possibly rile you up, so please stare at the nearest houseplant for a few minutes (apparently, they are scientifically proven to reduce stress). Once a while our community gets into a discussion about whether nonprofits should ask their staff to donate some amount of money to the organization. There are passionate arguments from both the “absolutely” side and the “hell no!” side. (It is very similar to the Oxford Comma debate, although it really isn’t, because obviously the Oxford Comma is beautiful, practical, and magical, and there is clearly no point debating this because #OxfordCommaForever.)

I cast my vote with the side of No, we should not ask our staff to donate to our own organizations. Here are several reasons why, as articulated by many colleagues in the field, combined with some of my own thoughts and experiences:

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“The White-Paper Princess” and other children’s books about nonprofit work

[Image description: A watercolor of a grey dragon hovering over about six trees, with yellow, red, pink, and purple blended background. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s post, I created a page on Patreon, where artists get monthly financial support from their community so they can do their creative work. This is something several colleagues have recommended over the years, but I was squeamish about asking for money unless it’s for my organization. However, since I dropped my schedule down to four-days a week (so I can write on Mondays instead of Sundays and spend more time with my kids), it also dropped my salary down an equivalent amount. It’s worth it. I’m sure my board would allow me to keep my pay the same, but I need the separation between my job and the writing. Mainly so I can continue to say the things I want to say.

So thank you for pledging a buck or so a month to keep NAF going. (Pssst: Once we reach 250 patrons, I’ll remove all the random ads from the blog).  

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A common complaint we have in the nonprofit sector is that kids don’t dream about going into nonprofit as a career. Well, that’s because there are so few children’s books about our work! Just imagine how inspired our kids would be if only there were more books about being an ED, or raising money, or running programs, or filing tax forms. Here, read these classic books re-imagined and tell me they wouldn’t inspire children and maybe a few adults to do what we do.   Continue reading

Paradoxical commandments for the nonprofit professional

[Image description: Two hummingbirds drinking nectar from a red flower, with a blurry green background. The bird on the left is grayish-brown, and the one on the right is blue and green. Both are trying to find general operating nectar. Image by James Wainscoat of unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s blog post, a couple of things. First, please go write a review of a foundation on grantadvisor.org (it’s like a Trip Advisor where you can anonymously review foundations). Second, if you’re an Executive Director or CEO of color, there is a Facebook support group for you, full of amazing colleagues: EDOC—ED Unicorns of Color, which stemmed from ED Happy Hour, which is open to all current and retired EDs/CEOs.

Speaking of amazing colleagues, one of the reasons I love our sector so much is the quality of the people we have. However, I’ve been encountering more and more professionals who have become increasingly jaded and cynical about the work.  It’s gotten worse since the election. This is understandable, as the last couple of years have been especially rough on all of us, and the current challenges have really highlighted just how awful and inequitable the systems—grantmaking, public policy, hiring practices, etc.—we work within are. Continue reading