Category Archives: ED Life

It’s time funders take nonprofit leadership turnover seriously

[Image description: A blue frog with black spots all over, looking to the left, while standing on some sort of mossy branch or something. They look serious. Very serious. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I have almost exactly one month left before the sun sets on my time as an executive director. (If you want to sound majestic and full of gravitas, just add “the sun sets on [someone]’s time” to anything; for instance, “We have ten minutes before the sun sets on our time together at this dive bar.” Thanks, Lion King.) I explained why I and a whole lot of other leaders, especially leaders of color, are leaving here.

Last week, I got an email from a colleague, a woman of color ED, asking me to call her back. There was no context. I knew what this meant. It meant she was leaving her position and wanted to give me a courtesy notice before the announcement came out. I was right. “I’m tired,” she said; I could hear the weariness in her voice. We were silent for a moment. I didn’t know what to say that didn’t seem trite or patronizing. “I’m sorry,” I said.  

Quietly, nonprofit leaders are leaving their posts. And most of us ED/CEOs swear off ever doing it again. And younger folks, it seems, are increasingly reluctant to take up the mantle. Who the hell can blame them? The ED’s job has always been like Sisyphus pushing the fundraising boulder up a hill, but while the eagle of program impact is pecking out his liver; the Cerberus of board, staff, and community expectations is chasing after him; and he’s trying to avoid looking at the Medusa of cash flow projections.

Continue reading

More Nonprofit Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

[Image description: Three dogs, draped in white sheets, dressed like ghosts. There is a jack-o-lantern between two of the pups. They are outside in what looks like a forest, all look adorable. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, Halloween, my favorite holiday, is this week. So here are some scary stories that are guaranteed to send tingles up your spine. Make sure you don’t read these alone. Also, if you’re looking for nonprofit-themed Halloween costumes, check out #NonprofitHalloweenCostumes on Twitter (“Dress in yellow clothing. Wear a brown hat. Say things like ‘We will triple the number of people served.’ You are a Strategic Flan.”)

The Chair

There was clearly something wrong with the chair. The team had received it from an anonymous donor. It showed up in the office one day, a shiny black executive swivel, ergonomic, with a headrest. Right away, it gave off a strange vibe that the team had never felt before. Staff who sat on it complained that it made them feel uneasy. Someone suggested they bring in a local medium who was known to be able to purify negative energy in objects and rooms.  

Continue reading

Toxic Self-Marginalization: How our unconscious addiction to being underdogs harms our work

[Image description: Two super cute little dark brown or black chihuahua puppies, or possibly three. One is facing the camera. The other one is resting their head on top of the first one. Actually, I’m pretty sure there are three now. The other one is also resting their head on the first puppy. They’re adorable and were chose to help you remain calm as we tackle a difficult topic. Hope it’s working. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post is long and will deal with a serious topic that may rile you up.

Lately, I’ve been seeing more and more of us who are supposed to be on the same “side” attack one another. “We progressives are eating our own” is a refrain I hear often. I wrote about this earlier, in a post called “Hey progressives, can we stop using the tools of social justice to tear one another down?” This was followed up with a post to balance things out, called “Hey people with privilege, you need to be OK with making mistakes and being called out.”

The last four years have been rough on many of us. There is generalized anxiety caused by the relentless cruelty, racism, and inhumanity of this administration. My mental health professional friends have been getting more business than they can handle. All of us to a degree feel helpless against the overwhelming forces of hatred that we read about on a daily basis. Our dedication to the fight, though, means that we often channel this energy toward targets that are easier and closer in proximity. And thus, we sometimes turn on one another. As one colleague said to me, “People need closer targets, and ones they can successfully take down.”

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading