Nonprofits: Get over learned helplessness and stop standing in your own way

[Image description: A pug shrouded in a beige blanket, just their face peeking out as if wearing a hooded cloak, looking tired or maybe just unimpressed. Image by Matthew Henry on Unsplash. I love this picture. It’s creative commons, so feel free to use it]

Hi everyone. I’m back after taking the month of July off from writing! During these past four weeks I took the kids on trips, attended a wedding (outdoor) for the first time in years, read some books in a hammock, removed the (probably sentient by now) leftovers from my fridge, and watched “The Bear” and “The Old Man,” which made me very glad I’m in nonprofit, a field that can be very intense but usually not deadly intense like international espionage, or, worse, the restaurant business.   

I’ve missed you all and hope you’ve been finding time to relax and recharge as well. Apologies in advance for the roughness of this post. My brain is still on vacation mode, so it may take a few weeks before I am at 100%.  

Continue reading “Nonprofits: Get over learned helplessness and stop standing in your own way”

“Plaque and Sack”: The art of getting rid of terrible board members while making them feel appreciated

[Image description: A hand holding a clear glass globe with a flat bottom. It looks like an award of some kind. Image by David Dvořáček on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, in honor of Juneteenth, I want funders and donors to remember that only 1.8% of traditional philanthropic dollars go to Black-led orgs. So, if you’ve released or are releasing a statement about Juneteenth, back it up by giving significant money to Black orgs and movements.

In our line of work, there are amazing board members who make our lives easier. They look out for staff; remember their birthdays and send flowers; advocate for equitable policies like paid family leave and sabbaticals; and pick up the tabs at lunch and coffee.

And then there are board members whose unholy presence constantly threatens to open a gate for ancient god Cthulhu to enter this reality and cover the land in a thousand years of agony; who are so irritating and possibly destructive that you imagine a giant squid-faced being ravaging the world and you think “that might not be so bad.”

Continue reading ““Plaque and Sack”: The art of getting rid of terrible board members while making them feel appreciated”

How to be a fake consultant to help a colleague deal with their stubborn board

[Image description: Two hands holding a glowing light bulb. The bulb seems to be filled with a string of fairy lights, which makes it glow. Image by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Kidney stones, along with filing taxes, have been giving me some trouble. At this point, the tax filing process has been much more painful. All that to say, I don’t feel like writing a Serious Post. Hence, today’s piece, what you are reading right now, will be nonsensical and poorly edited and possibly offensive. You have been warmed.

One of the questions people always ask me (besides “Vu, have you considered changing your hair and clothing and just…general style?”) is “How do I get my board to change? The staff are in sync with [disclosing salary range on job postings, three months of paid family leave, an office ball pit filled with 5,000 plastic balls, etc.], but the board keeps holding back progress.”

This is a very common problem in the sector, as common as the lack of retirement savings matching. We can talk about all sorts of solutions—including sending problematic board members a severed stuffed unicorn head, Godfather-style: “Henry, wake up. What’s that on your pillow? It’s dripping…ketchup?…TWILIGHT SPARKLE, NOOOOO!!!”—but the reality is that because of what I call the Outsider Efficacy Bias, internal staff will not be listened to. So one thing you can do is get a consultant to come in.

Continue reading “How to be a fake consultant to help a colleague deal with their stubborn board”

Ask Vu: Love, Dating, and Romance Advice For Nonprofit Professionals

[Image description: Two hands holding, one with what looks like an engagement ring. Image by Belle Collective on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Valentine’s Day is coming up next Monday, which means that many people are thinking about romance, love, and relationships. These are areas that can be complex and tricky. So here, in this week’s post, I am providing advice to readers who may need a little help in this department. Now, you may be thinking, “What does this guy know about love and dating and relationships?” The answer is that I don’t know much about it at all. But, I bet love and romance have a lot in common with nonprofit and philanthropy.

Dear Vu, I was recently asked out by someone I’ve had a crush on for a while. We are getting dinner at my favorite restaurant (with outdoor seating). Here’s the problem: It’s been a few years since I’ve been on a date, and I am nervous. What do I say? How do I not make a fool of myself? Nervous In Chicago.

Dear NIC: Dates often go awry because people just show up without doing any prep work. To ensure your evening goes well, create a simple survey and send it to your crush in advance asking what they hope to achieve on this date, and come up with an agenda. At the beginning of the date, start with an icebreaker. Then, review the agenda, objectives, and some ground rules. Brainstorm discussion topics and use sticky dots to vote on which topic you both would like to discuss. Also, write “parking lot” at the top of a napkin and jot down any topics that fall outside the agreed-on list of topics, so that you can circle back on the second date. Have fun! And remember to send a post-date evaluation survey.

Continue reading “Ask Vu: Love, Dating, and Romance Advice For Nonprofit Professionals”

22 courageous things you can do during the Year of the Tiger

[Image description: A magnificent tiger, staring directly at the camera, looking calm and confident. Image by Mike Marrah on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. This week, February 1st, we usher in the Lunar New Year. In Vietnam, where I was born, Tết is a big deal. It’s like Christmas, Fourth of July, Superbowl, and Shark Week combined. The entire country is consumed with an air of festivity as people decorate with branches of plum and apricot blossoms, make sticky rice cakes and candied fruit, and clean houses and altars. Incessant Tết music plays everywhere as the intoxicating scent of sandalwood wafts through the air.

To be culturally respectful, you should take the entire day, if not week, off.

This is going be the year of the Tiger. The Tiger symbolizes courage and fierceness. It is the diametric opposite of the Monkey, whose strength is in thinking and strategy. This is not to say that Tigers don’t think. They do. But they are geared toward action. And that’s what this year will be about. Courage, however, can manifest in many different ways. Here are 22 that I’ve thought of. Pick a few and do them this year:

Continue reading “22 courageous things you can do during the Year of the Tiger”