Every month or so, I get an appeal letter from my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis (Go Bears!), usually with a promise of some socks or a keychain if I contribute any amount. I love Wash U. It was some of the best and most formative years of my life. It was there that I discovered the power of activism. I was vegan, and the campus had little more than salads, so I started mobilizing the other plant-eaters. We marched on the administration. Many of us fainted on the way because we didn’t have much energy, and our fake-leather shoes disintegrated. It was the longest 50 yard of our lives. But at the end, we were triumphant, and we feasted upon soy nuggets and quinoa bowls with pride. I will always be grateful for what I learned at Wash U, the friends I made, the experiences I had, and the doors that being an alum has opened for me.
But I’m not donating. Wash U is one of the most well-endowed higher education institutions in the US, with over 15 billions in reserve.
In general, the sheer scope and scale of higher education fundraising departments would make the vast majority of nonprofits’ development work pale in comparison. At a large university, we could be talking about a team of hundreds of people raising hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Hi everyone, before we get started, it’s Black History Month, so let’s all remind ourselves that only about 2% of philanthropic dollars go to Black-led organizations. Funders, release all the statements of support you want, but increase funding and donations to Black organizations, movements, and individual leaders. Have more grants like the Washington Women’s Foundation’s Rest and Repair Awards, which provides $100,000 grants each to individual Black women leaders. The rest of us, meanwhile, should be donating to Black-led orgs, supporting Black-owned businesses, and calling our representatives and writing op-eds to protest the banning of AP African American Studies, among other actions.
Handwritten thank-you notes (HWTYN) have been a contentious topic in our sector of late. Some people think they are an absolute necessity for proper etiquette and relationship-building, while others believe they are an outdated relic of ancient times, like denim jackets and fair elections. Even Dr. Glaucomflecken weighed in. I have written about the cultural and equity implications of thank-you notes, so I won’t rehash.
But given that society is changing rapidly, we need some new rules. So forget everything you’ve been taught about thank you-notes, and instead follow these guidelines, which are in no particular order because I am not that organized:
Hi everyone, before we get started, it’s been five years since Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build EPICPartnerships, a book I wrote with co-authors Jessamyn Shams-Lau and Jane Leu, was released. Here’s a free webinar taking place on February 14th at 10am PT to discuss what we’ve learned since then. Auto-captions will be enabled. Also, please use promo code UNI50 here to get 50% off your copy of the book.
Today, we talk about an issue that many of us probably had no idea existed, but one that is very annoying to those affected, and it perpetuates inequity. The concept of “tipping.” This is basically the idea that if a foundation gives a nonprofit “too much” funding, it would “tip” that nonprofit into becoming a foundation itself, which would then open a hole in the fabric of spacetime and an ancient evil would breach our dimension to rain chaos and destruction and there would be fire and brimstone and terrible wifi.
On a webinar about Donor-Advised Funds that took place on October 19th, 2022, with Susannah Morgan, Ray Madoff, and Chuck Collins, I used words that were deeply offensive and hurtful. Words that included “the rich,” “white,” “hoarding,” “equity,” “SkyMall catalog,” and, most egregious of all, “hobby.” I am here to apologize, take accountability for my thoughtlessness and insensitivity, and humbly ask for your forgiveness.
During this unfortunate presentation, I said something to the effect of, “Philanthropy has often become a hobby for the rich, and it should not be.” I also said that I considered a “family legacy of philanthropy” to be “gross.” I am truly sorry that I uttered such unconscionable words and brought trauma to you, your donors, as well as to anyone near you who may have accidentally caught glimpse of my uttering these vile invectives.
Over the past several months, my kids have been obsessed with Greek Mythology, thanks to a podcast they listen to called “Greeking Out.” Greek myths are awesome, and there’s a lot they can teach us. Actually, many of the terms we use in this sector have Greek origins. For instance, the word “philanthropy” comes from the Greek “philos” which means “love of” and “anthropos” which means “burdensome and pointless grant applications.”
Anyway, while listening to Greeking Out with the kids, I couldn’t help but imagine these iconic stories being set in the nonprofit sector, so I wrote some of them out below. Enjoy. (And stop judging. Like your Saturday nights are so much more interesting.)