“Where the Sustainable Things Are” and other nonprofit children’s books

sendak1Trying to be a good father, I read to my two-year-old son every day. And also feed him daily. Since he turns two this Friday, I thought I would write him some more children’s stories. I want to give him a leg-up early just in case he wants to pursue a career in our field. Here are the texts for four new books. Of course, these are just drafts; they’ll be much better once I find an illustrator. Check them out and let me know what you think. I hope these books will become classics that parents who work in nonprofit will read to their kids each night.

The 990 Dance

Stomp your feet,cow
wring your hands,
everybody ready for the 990 dance.
Bow to the bookkeeper,
bow to your board.
Bow to the accounting firm just outsourced
With an “eek!” and a “yikes!” and a “sigh sigh sigh…”
Discover your overhead is way too “high.”
Analyze your revenues,
analyze your spending
Do whatever the accountant is recommending
Hide your frustration,
sharpen your senses
Allocate some admin as program expenses
With a “blegh” and an “argh” and an “ack ack ack”
The filing is done, but next year it’ll be back Continue reading ““Where the Sustainable Things Are” and other nonprofit children’s books”

Capacity Building 9.0: Fund people to do stuff, get out of their way

gulls-343235_960_720Some people think capacity building is boring. Well, I think it’s sexy, and I’ve spent many hours writing romantic poems about it: “Can Love’s arrows seek truest rapture/Without the quiver of Infrastructure?/Can e’er Equity take flight and sing/Save with steadfast Capacity ‘neath her wings?” (What, like your hobbies are SOOO much more interesting).

Since most of my work is now focused on building capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits, I’m glad that there seems to be a new resurgence of people talking about capacity building. Here’s a great paper from Grantcraft with cool concrete recommendations for funders  including a brief discussion on the importance of general operating funds for capacity building. And here’s one from the TCC Group on what they call “Capacity Building 3.0.” According to this briefing paper, Capacity Building 1.0 is about individuals, Capacity Building 2.0 is about nonprofit institutions, and 3.0 is about the entire nonprofit ecosystem, which includes funders, businesses, even the government.

These white papers are all written by very intelligent people who have thought long and hard about the critical role that capacity building plays in our ability to do our work. After reading through them and other articles on the topic, I want to offer some reflections and recommendations. Continue reading “Capacity Building 9.0: Fund people to do stuff, get out of their way”

“Dancing with Program Officers” and 5 other nonprofit-themed reality TV shows we need

audience-868074_960_720So many of the challenges the nonprofit sector faces exist because of our poor portrayal in the media. This is why I think we should lobby for more shows that highlight the exciting and complex work all of us in the field are doing. A while ago I wrote about “Nonprofit and Afraid,” a show where people who have little experience with nonprofits are put to work at a nonprofit for six weeks. Here are some other ideas I’ve thought of, and sneak previews of what they might look like:

Dancing with Program Officers:

12 nonprofit staff are paired with 12 program officers of local foundations to learn various funding dances, including the “Should I call them first or should I just send in the LOI?” and “Who should pay for lunch?”

Emcee: On the floor now are Alan and Marjorie. Alan, the DD of Think of the Children, has been having trouble rehearsing for the Site Visit Dance, a nerve-wracking number with feints and swirls. Marjorie, his partner and program officer at the Swifter Foundation, has been supportive in her coaching. Let’s see how they fare tonight:

Alan: Thanks for coming down to see our program in action, Margaret. I’m sorry, I mean Marjorie…

Marjorie: No problem, people get that wrong all the time. I should just change it, ha ha.

Emcee: An understandable stumble, given his nerves, and a graceful recovery, but our panel of judges does not look happy.

Alan: This year, we served 390 kids, 85% free-and-reduced-lunch, through four programs…

Marjorie: That’s wonderful. What are some of the results you’ve seen?

Emcee: The Site Visit Dance is a tricky dance, since it combines both technicality and heart. Alan is relying too much on technique. He needs to bring more heart, more stories. Let’s hope he doesn’t flub this one like he did last week in the “Clarifying Questions on the Proposal Budget” dance. Continue reading ““Dancing with Program Officers” and 5 other nonprofit-themed reality TV shows we need”

The Baker’s Dilemma and the inequity of restricted funding

chefHi everyone, before we begin this week’s discussion, I just want to point out that this Thursday, 2/19, is the Lunar New Year, a very huge and important holiday in many Asian countries. There are some things you need to do—get a haircut, clean out your car—to ensure your year starts off right (See “Tet: What it is, and 10 things you need to do for it.”) I encourage you to take at least Thursday off if you can, since to work on that day is extremely culturally insensitive. Do you want to offend billions of people in the world? Of course not. Wear something red and take a day off.

Today, I want to talk about unrestricted funding. A couple of weeks ago, Paul Shoemaker published this piece speaking against what he calls “Quite Damaging Dollars” (QDD), funds that come with burdensome restrictions and are not just unhelpful, but actually detrimental to nonprofits’ work.

Paul and I once had a “Fireside chat” in front of an audience of 80 funders, and we drank and riffed on the merits of general operating funds and cultural competency. I don’t remember exactly what we said, because there was no vegan food there, but the wine was vegan, so that’s all I had for dinner. I think I said something along the lines of, “I love you funders—you’re so shiny!—but can you please stop restricting funds? Where am I? Shoemaker, ‘sat you?” (This may explain why I haven’t been invited to many of his org’s events lately). Continue reading “The Baker’s Dilemma and the inequity of restricted funding”

“I Can Write the Saddest Grant Proposal Tonight” and other nonprofit love poems

heart-700141_640pdHi everyone. OK, I think I’ve almost recovered from the Seahawks’ Super Bowl defeat. I can now eat Skittles without bursting into tears. All of you were very helpful throughout this grieving process, giving gentle encouragement like “Get over it! It’s a ridiculous football game!” and “Ha ha, your team lost! Go Patriots!” (If you haven’t joined the NWB Facebook community, you’re missing out on daily hilarity and unicorn jokes.)

Valentine’s Day is coming up this week. Last year, I wrote “Nonprofit professionals, you are each a unicorn,” sort of a Valentine to all the dedicated, smart, and highly attractive people in our field. This year, I thought I would try poetry. Below are three love poems dedicated to various people in the sector. I hope they inspire you. Happy Valentine’s Day, you sexy nonprofit muffins, you. Continue reading ““I Can Write the Saddest Grant Proposal Tonight” and other nonprofit love poems”