Category Archives: leadership

Younger professionals, here’s how to increase your influence and effect change at your org

[Image description: Three fluffy adorable little kittens in a basket. Two are white with blue eyes, and the one in the center has orange stripes. They are all looking up, probably at the photographer dangling something. At least that’s what I imagine. Maybe some yarn. I don’t know. I’ve never had a cat. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, after six years on Twitter, I have finally figured out how to use it (apparently, tweeting only once a week was not a “best practice;” weird, because blogging once a week has been working fine). Anyway, follow me @nonprofitAF, but be warned, I am a lot more political and swear a ton more on Twitter. But there are occasional tweets with pictures of baby animals.

On to today’s topic. In my work and speaking engagements, I meet a lot of young people who are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of power they have at their organizations. One colleague, for example, told me her ED shut down her suggestion to include personal pronouns in email signatures. I get asked this question a lot: “How can I make change as a younger professional when I don’t have positional power?”

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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.”

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Vacation tips for nonprofit professionals who suck at vacationing

[Image description: A reddish daiquiry-like drink with a straw, standing on a beach in front of beautiful tourquoise water under a blue sky. Who would leave it there? How impractical is this? This is a great way for it to be knocked over, or for sand to be blown into it. Also, I hope that straw is compostable. OMG, this is the type of stuff I think about while I’m on vacation. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, I am still in Vietnam. This was supposed to be a vacation, but I realize that I suck at vacationing. So I went on to the NAF Facebook community, made up of witty and attractive people, to ask for tips. The community did not disappoint! Over 500 comments came in within hours. I’ve highlighted a few below, in no particular order. If you are terrible at relaxing and recharging on vacation, perhaps some of these tips may help. Or not! Thank you to the colleagues who provided them, some while they were on vacation. With so many comments, it was hard to pick and choose, and many good comments were left out. Please check out the NAF FB page for the full thread (and add your own #NonprofitVacationTips on Twitter)

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We need fewer theories of change and more community organizing

[Image description: Some type of monkey, maybe a tamarin? They are grey with pointy ears and has a light brown paw. They are staring at something off camera, looking like they’re deciding where to put their sticky dots. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick disclaimer. I am still bitter and annoyed over the Game of Thrones finale, which I am sure many of you can relate, so this blog post may be affected with occasional spoiler-free snarkiness that may not make any sense if you haven’t kept up with Game of Thrones. Also, a quick reminder: This is the last week for filling out the Fundraising Perception Survey, so please do so if you haven’t. It’ll take 10 minutes and the data will be valuable for our sector.

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A while ago I read Jan Masaoka’s thought-provoking article “Aspirin and Democracy,” where she discusses the effects of the professionalization of the nonprofit sector. One such effect, according to Jan, is that:

“new executive directors can write personnel policies and grant proposals while practicing self-care, but they don’t know how to get 5,000 people to a protest demonstration or 50 parents to a city council meeting.”

This article and sentence have stuck with me. Our sector, and progressives in general, has a problem with excessive intellectualization. We’ve become really good at it. There’s nothing we love more than summits, white papers, theories of change, data, coming up with new terminologies (*cough, solutions privilege), and voting with sticky dots. We’ve basically become more like Bran, less like Sansa or Arya.

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Can we stop assuming that people with corporate or academic backgrounds can run nonprofits and foundations better than nonprofit folks?

[Image description: A white sheep sticking their head out of a wire fence. They have an annoyed expression. This is basically what I look like when thinking about how many people who have little to no experience working in nonprofit but who still have significant power on nonprofits. Pixabay.comm]

Recently I learned that a colleague of mine didn’t get a job leading a major organization. It was confusing, since all signs had seemed to indicate she was a good fit. After weeks wondering, she got a you-didn’t-hear-this-from-me from one of the hiring team members that the board had decided to go with someone with a corporate background. Someone who had no experience working in nonprofit was now going to lead a large and influential one, over my colleague who had years of relevant experience.

This happens frequently in our sector among the largest and most influential organizations. Foundations are especially guilty of this. According to this report from CEP that looks at the leadership of the largest 100 foundations in the US:

Experience as a grantee, if you exclude colleges and universities …. isn’t much valued by foundation boards when they’re searching for a CEO. In 2012 we identified just 14 foundation CEOs with immediate previous experience at an operating nonprofit that wasn’t a college or university. Today, that number is even lower — just 10.”

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