Category Archives: ED Life

10 reasons being an Executive Director is still awesome

[Image: An adorable little corgi, standing next to three trophies. What did they win this trophy for? I don’t know. Maybe CUTENESS?!! Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, this blog may have more typos than normal because it is (was) Father’s Day, and instead of spending it writing and “editing,” I hung out with my kids. They are in bed now, so I can finish this post.

Before we launch into the subject, though, this Friday is the Third Annual Beverage to Enhance Equity in Relationships (BEER), a time, usually on Summer Solstice, where nonprofit and philanthropic leaders can get a beer, ice cream, donuts, or perfectly blistered shishito peppers sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and a spritz of lime (we deserve nice things too!) and get to know one another without an agenda. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a list of events happening. If you’re in Seattle, there’s a get-together from 4pm to 6pm at Hill City Tap House, sponsored by Medina Foundation, United Way of King County, Philanthropy NW, and RVC. RSVP here. I’ll be there; go ahead and come argue with me if you don’t like something I’ve written in the past, but just to warn you, I will crush you.

Last week, I wrote a pretty long post listing some of the serious challenges faced by EDs, and in particular EDs of color. It resonated with quite a few colleagues across the globe. All of us are tired. We’re tired of the lack of trust, the unstable scraps of resources, the funding Sudoku, the power dynamics, the criticisms from staff and board, the involuntary eye twitch, and the sleepless nights listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on repeat while hugging a stuffed unicorn that’s designed to smell like baked apple pie. (Shut up, like your coping mechanisms are soooo much better).

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Why more and more executive directors of color are leaving their positions, and what we need to do about it

[Image description: Three baby pandas (pandae?), lying on a wooden floor. They are very cute, and they seem exhausted. Pixabay.com]

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.

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Our default organizational decision-making model is flawed. Here’s an awesome alternative!

[Image description: A tired orange-striped cat with their eyes closed, on a black background. This kitty is probably tired making decisions in our flawed, top-down decision-making model. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we launch into today’s post, my friend Oz recorded my Guided Meditation for Nonprofit Professionals. Check out Oz’s soothing voice as he guides you to the Land of Sustainability in this free 12-minute relaxation exercise. “Breathe in and out […] Your desk is completely clutter-free and not a coffee-stained dumpster fire of chaos and broken promises.” (Original written meditation here)

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One of the things EDs and CEOs have noticed is that we get “decision fatigue,” and one way it manifests is in our frustration at having to make even small decisions when we’re at home. The other day, for example, my partner (who also directs a nonprofit) was hungry and asked which of two packages of ramen I recommended she eat. I was unable to answer. “I’m torn!” she said, “Just make the decision for me!” I stared at her for several more seconds before hissing like a cat and scampering into the living room to hide behind the couch.

Decision fatigue is real, y’all, and it has sometimes led to fights and arguments in our household over the most ridiculous things. (“Which movie should we see?” “Hisssss!”) It is also symptomatic of the weakness in our society’s default decision-making philosophy. This philosophy is basically top-down and hierarchical, where the people who have the most power have the most decision-making authority, even in areas where they have the least amount of knowledge and experience. The ED/CEO makes the final decisions on everything. Staff who challenge the decisions get into trouble. And the board sometimes vetoes the staff’s decisions. Continue reading

Being thankful is not enough. Here are 21 tips to help you do a better job thanking people

[Image description: A little rottweiler puppy, lying on the ground, resting on its paws, looking to our left. This puppy is clearly just click-bait for this post. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s post, please take a moment to help people affected by the wildfires in California. Your donations and support in other ways make a difference.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and all of us in the US will likely be reflecting on things for which we are each thankful. That’s great. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to lead to all sorts of benefits, from reducing stress, to improving sleep, to making people around us less likely to poison our hummus.

What we kind of suck at is expressing gratitude to other people. Heck, 33% of workers have not been recognized in the past six months, and 21% have never ever been recognized ever, which is really sad. If I had a nickel for every time I learn that someone feels underappreciated—an ED by their board, staff by the leadership, volunteers by the staff, grantees by their funders, etc.—I would have…approximately 65 cents. That’s still a lot in nonprofit. Continue reading

Funders, your “wait and see” approach is killing nonprofits during leadership transitions

[Image description: A gray mouse with a long tail, its head bowed, its paws covering its eyes and nose, on a white background. What does this image have to do with this post? Who knows, maybe it is a profound metaphor for funding dynamics. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

This week, I read the Road Block Analysis Report by the Open Road Alliance that shows that the biggest barrier nonprofits face is…our very own funders. In fact, according to the executive summary:

“Funder-Created Obstacles make up 46% of the roadblock dataset and include specific obstacles such as a Delay of Disbursement, a Change in Funder Strategy, and Funder Policy Inflexibility. With only a few exceptions, Funder-Created Obstacles are the most frequent roadblocks across all sectors, funder types, project types, geographic focus, and organization size. Thus, funders are frequently – if unintentionally – contributing to disruptions to project implementation and, in doing so, threatening the impact of their own investments.” [Bolded-line emphasis mine]

I know we are all thinking the same thing: Where is Septa Unella, the severe nun from Game of Thrones, when we need her? This is the perfect time for her to walk around ringing a bell and chanting “Shame! Shame!” every three or four steps. Continue reading