Hi everyone, it’s almost Halloween, and the NonprofitAF Scary Story Contest closes this Thursday! Write (or record) and submit a story of up to 250 words, by 11:59pm on 10/27. 10 winners will have their stories published here next week. If you need inspiration, here are some stories; beware, they are very scary (one involves someone who REMOVES Oxford Commas!)
I know I criticize our sector a lot (and more is coming!). But there are amazing things going on, and I am really grateful for the organizations and leaders who are doing awesome stuff. Recently in my state, the Washington Women’s Foundation released a grant to provide $100,000 each to 10 Black women working in nonprofit in Washington State, with the expressed purpose of funding their rest and renewal. This is mind-blowing! The approach is thoughtful, recognizing the burdens Black women have carried in our sector and trusting Black women to know what’s best for themselves.
Hi everyone. My plane is boarding for Aotearoa, so apologies for any errors or clumsy wording in this post.
When I was in high school, I took AP Psychology. A few weeks into the class, my teacher, Mr. Henderson, approached me to ask how I was doing in class. I said I didn’t think I was doing OK, that I was nervous about the AP exam, and that I was afraid I would fail it. He then told me that we would be learning about the Dunning-Kruger effect (DKE) and gave me a brief synopsis. (I did end up passing the exam with a 5, and Mr. Henderson, with his mustache, piercing insights, and gentle sense of humor would end up becoming one of the most important mentors in my life; he advised me that a career in psychology may not pay very well, so I took his words to heart and went into the lucrative field of nonprofit.)
The Dunning-Kruger effect is basically this (though I’m paraphrasing a bit): People with lower skills, knowledge, and expertise tend to overestimate themselves, while those who are more skilled, knowledgeable, etc., tend to underestimate themselves. Some of this is hypothesized to be because incompetent people may be too incompetent to recognize that they are incompetent, while competent people are competent enough to realize they may not yet know everything and still need to learn and improve.
It’s been nearly three years since I stopped being a nonprofit executive director. My skin looks healthier, my eyes less sunken and haunted, and I’ve started reverse-aging and now look like my kids’ father and not their grandfather. Best of all, I only wake up once or twice a year screaming “Cashflow! Payroll! NOooOOOO!!”
Being a nonprofit ED/CEO, or any other high-level leaders, can be rough. The systems and norms we have put in place often place unrealistic amounts of responsibility and stress on leaders. Combined with a capricious funding system that forces everyone into default survival mode, and we can understand how leaders burn out and why few younger professionals want to assume leadership roles.
A couple of years ago, I stepped down from my position as executive director of RVC, a capacity building and leadership organization serving communities of color in Seattle. I helped found it after realizing that leaders of color are not being supported in our sector, organizations led by communities of color continue being screwed over by funding and other dynamics, and that even the stuff designed to help them—like capacity building—is often useless, if not harmful. RVC went from a budget of $180,000 to over 3M, Managing Director Ananda Valenzuela became Interim ED, and I left to tend to other things, stopping by the office occasionally to get free snacks and merch (a lifetime perk of being a founder).
After a couple of years of learning amidst the pandemic, RVC announced its new leadership structure. It is exciting and will probably blow some minds. Instead of the traditional path of finding someone to replace me as ED, and heck, instead of even a co-ED structure like Ananda and I were engaged in (with me being the external leader and Ananda the internal leader), RVC decided to have FOUR CO-EXECUTIVE-DIRECTORS–Chris Rhodes, Anbar Mahar Sheikh, JoJo Gaon, and Roshni Sampath! Each director will take charge of a specific area of executive leadership duties, while also engaged in the critical work they had been doing before.
If you shook your head in disbelief at such a structure, no one will blame you. A few years ago, I was talking to a colleague about co-directorships, and he winced a bit. “Co-directorships tend to fail,” he said, “there’s role confusion, interpersonal dynamics, weird board issues, and so on.” He was talking about co-directorships of two people. What he said may be true, especially in the past when the idea was novel, but we now have lots of examples and case studies of successful orgs embracing this model, including CompassPoint, Building Movement Project, and of course, RVC. The chance to explore even further, to shake things up even more, should be encouraged and supported. How else will our sector grow and evolve?
Hi everyone, this post may be less coherent and more serious than normal. I can’t stop thinking about the news regarding the remains of 215 Native children found at the site of a residential school in Kamloops, Canada. White Canadians – teachers, administrators, the church, the government – murdered them. It is deeply sad and horrifying. I can only imagine the pain and trauma these children endured, and what Indigenous families and communities have been going through.
Meanwhile, this week marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, where in the span of hours a mob of white people murdered hundreds of Black people, left thousands homeless, and burned Black Wall Street to the ground. It is profoundly horrendous, and something I don’t think our white-centric education system taught many of us.