Category Archives: Funder Relations

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.

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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.  

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It’s time to completely reimagine the role of foundation program officers

[Image description: A fluffy white puppy is hugged and kissed a fluffy white kitten with a graying tail and ears. They are both very fluffy and cute. The kitten has their arms around the puppy’s neck. While normally this image would have nothing to do with the content of the post, this time the kitten and puppy hugging is a great symbol for a closer partnership between nonprofit leaders and foundation program officers. Pixabay.com]

Over a decade—and a million white hairs—ago I ran an after-school program serving low-income kids. The program went well, until one day when two-third of the kids didn’t show up. This was demoralizing. The program had started gradually decreasing in attendance, but this was the worst it had been. I literally slid down a wall and sat on the floor after the day ended, feeling like a complete loser. Strangely enough, the first person I thought about calling was one of our funders. So I called her. “Muriel,” I said, “most of the kids didn’t show up today! We are terrible human beings! Maybe you should just take the money back and give it to a program that isn’t garbage!” 

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Imagine a nonprofit-themed haunted house

[Image description: A silhouette of a hand, directly facing the camera. In the background is a blurry figure. It’s like someone is holding up a hand. It is so spooky. Just looking at this picture so I can write the image description is giving me the creeps. Why do I write blogs at 1am? Oh man, I am getting creeped out. Pixabay.com

Hi everyone. Quick announcement: This Wednesday, 9/18, from 1pm to 2:30pm EST, the co-authors of Unicorns Unite and I are having a conversation about how all of us can work together more effectively as a sector. Join virtually (or in person in San Francisco). It’s free.

It may seem too early to write a Halloween-inspired post, but Halloween is awesome, so it’s never too early to get into the spirit. Also, next week’s post will likely be extremely serious and possibly get a whole bunch of you mad at me, so might as well butter you up with a lighter piece this week.

A few years ago, my partner took me to a haunted house. It was dark and spooky, with grisly lights and decorations and there was fog everywhere and people dressed up like zombies and serial killers and sometimes they would chase you while holding chainsaws and screaming. So basically very much like our sector!

This gave me an idea. We need a nonprofit-themed haunted house! Here is what one might look like. Thanks to everyone on the NAF Facebook page who contributed ideas; and apologies that not all were incorporated and that individuals couldn’t be credited. Make sure you don’t read this by yourself at night, because it is terrifying. Add your thoughts in the comment section, and on Twitter with #NonprofitHauntedHouse

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Foundations, it’s time to stop using grant applications to distribute funding

[image description: a happy and very tiny little brown mouse, being held in someone’s thumb and maybe two other fingers. Their head is scarcely bigger than the person’s thumb. Their eyes are closed, and they seem to be smiling contentedly. Aw, what a cute little mouse. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Today’s post will be long and serious. But before we get into it, here are ways you can help victims of Hurricane Dorian. Also, my org RVC is growing and hiring a Capacity Building Lead. It’s an amazing position that combines capacity building and equity. Don’t take my word for it, here is a quick video from the team.

Our sector talks a lot about grants. Out of 380 posts on this blog, the most popular post of all time is “Answers on grant proposals if nonprofits were brutally honest with funders.” On GrantAdvisor (a Yelp-like website where you can provide anonymous review of foundations) the top complaints are about grant processes. I came up with the FLAIL Scale a while ago, a 61-point checklist for funders to measure how aggravating their grants are, followed up with the GRAVE Gauge, to determine the level of annoyingness of grantseekers. There are endless articles and workshops on how to increase your chances to get grants. And many foundations, to their credit, have been working to streamline their grant applications.

But maybe we are not having the right conversations. Maybe the question is not “how do we improve grant applications” but rather “are grant applications the best way for funders to determine who should be funded? Have they ever been? Is this tool broken or even harmful, and if so, can we afford to keep using it?”

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