Category Archives: leadership

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.”

Continue reading

Imagine if we talked to other professionals the way people talk to nonprofit folks

[Image description: An irritated-looking lemur, white with grayish fur, with brown eyes, starting directly at the camera, surrounded by some leaves. This lemur is me when someone who has no nonprofit experience gives me advice on running a nonprofit. Image by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone. Before we get into today’s post, a quick announcement: My organization is now accepting applications for our first-ever Green Pathways Fellowship program, which we are launching in collaboration with our awesome partner Got Green. This cool new program will diversify the environmental movement by finding awesome leaders of color and supporting them as they work full-time at environmental organizations. Check it out!

Nonprofit work is great, but we do deal with all sorts of headaches. But many of our friends and families and even board members may have never worked at a nonprofit before, which means it’s hard sometimes for them to understand what we go through. Here is what it might be like for other professionals if they got the nonprofit treatment.

Apologies to Shannon Reed for forgetting to credit her hilarious article in McSweeneys (“If People Talk to Other Professionals the Way They Talk to Teachers”) in the earlier version of this post.

Continue reading

Welcome back to work, you stunningly brilliant and attractive world-changer, you!

[Image description: A beautiful grey striped kitten peeking out from a pink box. This kitten thinks you are an amazing person who is making the world better! Pixabay.com]

My friends of the nonprofit sector. For many of you, this is your first week back at work after a much-deserved but all-too-brief period of rest. It is not a fun feeling, and not helped by the perky morning people in the office who probably should not talk to me until noon unless they want to get their faces splashed with lukewarm coffee. I don’t even drink coffee, but I will make some coffee and keep it nearby just to splash on perky morning people. I don’t care what your resolutions are, Neal!

You may feel the same way I feel, which is basically the way your office plants currently look. Your heart may too palpitate in thinking of the list of all the stuff you have to do—if you have a list and it’s not just a bunch of things you wrote on your hands days ago and are now desperately trying to remember. Continue reading

Our default organizational decision-making model is flawed. Here’s an awesome alternative!

[Image description: A tired orange-striped cat with their eyes closed, on a black background. This kitty is probably tired making decisions in our flawed, top-down decision-making model. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we launch into today’s post, my friend Oz recorded my Guided Meditation for Nonprofit Professionals. Check out Oz’s soothing voice as he guides you to the Land of Sustainability in this free 12-minute relaxation exercise. “Breathe in and out […] Your desk is completely clutter-free and not a coffee-stained dumpster fire of chaos and broken promises.” (Original written meditation here)

***

One of the things EDs and CEOs have noticed is that we get “decision fatigue,” and one way it manifests is in our frustration at having to make even small decisions when we’re at home. The other day, for example, my partner (who also directs a nonprofit) was hungry and asked which of two packages of ramen I recommended she eat. I was unable to answer. “I’m torn!” she said, “Just make the decision for me!” I stared at her for several more seconds before hissing like a cat and scampering into the living room to hide behind the couch.

Decision fatigue is real, y’all, and it has sometimes led to fights and arguments in our household over the most ridiculous things. (“Which movie should we see?” “Hisssss!”) It is also symptomatic of the weakness in our society’s default decision-making philosophy. This philosophy is basically top-down and hierarchical, where the people who have the most power have the most decision-making authority, even in areas where they have the least amount of knowledge and experience. The ED/CEO makes the final decisions on everything. Staff who challenge the decisions get into trouble. And the board sometimes vetoes the staff’s decisions. Continue reading

Being thankful is not enough. Here are 21 tips to help you do a better job thanking people

[Image description: A little rottweiler puppy, lying on the ground, resting on its paws, looking to our left. This puppy is clearly just click-bait for this post. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s post, please take a moment to help people affected by the wildfires in California. Your donations and support in other ways make a difference.

Thanksgiving is coming up this week, and all of us in the US will likely be reflecting on things for which we are each thankful. That’s great. Gratitude has been scientifically proven to lead to all sorts of benefits, from reducing stress, to improving sleep, to making people around us less likely to poison our hummus.

What we kind of suck at is expressing gratitude to other people. Heck, 33% of workers have not been recognized in the past six months, and 21% have never ever been recognized ever, which is really sad. If I had a nickel for every time I learn that someone feels underappreciated—an ED by their board, staff by the leadership, volunteers by the staff, grantees by their funders, etc.—I would have…approximately 65 cents. That’s still a lot in nonprofit. Continue reading