Category Archives: leadership

Time for our sector to draw a new fish!

[Image description: Profile of a longhorn cowfish underwater. They are yellow with grey blotches and light turquoise blue dots. They have a big blue eye set beneath two little “horns.” They have a pouty light-colored mouth with a grey ring around it. One small diaphanous blue fin rises out of their lower back like a magnificent tramp stamp. Wow, this is the hardest image to describe ever. This is not an attractive fish. I hope they have a good personality…Pixabay.com]

A while ago, I read about an experiment where kids were asked to draw a fish. One group was just told to draw a fish; the other group were told the same thing, but they were also given an example of a fish drawing someone else had drawn. The kids in the first group creatively drew all types of fish. The kids who were given the example, with few exceptions, drew fish that were very similar to the example. (I can’t seem to find this study or article again; if you know it, please put the link in the comment section).

I bring this up because it is yields a good lesson for all of us. And that lesson is: Flossing in an important part of good dental hygiene. OK, that’s not the lesson, but that’s still an important reminder. The lesson is that all of us in this sector have been given so many fish drawing examples—fundraising fish, capacity building fish, leadership fish, board governance fish, hiring fish, etc.—and they constantly and unconsciously affect how we think about and do everything.

If you think about it, so many of the things that we do are done a certain way because that’s just how someone else told us things should be done. There are few legal requirements. Which means most systems and practices are traditions that we pass down, and after a while, we just accept that that’s how we do them, the way the kids who were given a fish drawing example instantly assume that that’s the way a fish should be drawn.

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It’s time funders take nonprofit leadership turnover seriously

[Image description: A blue frog with black spots all over, looking to the left, while standing on some sort of mossy branch or something. They look serious. Very serious. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I have almost exactly one month left before the sun sets on my time as an executive director. (If you want to sound majestic and full of gravitas, just add “the sun sets on [someone]’s time” to anything; for instance, “We have ten minutes before the sun sets on our time together at this dive bar.” Thanks, Lion King.) I explained why I and a whole lot of other leaders, especially leaders of color, are leaving here.

Last week, I got an email from a colleague, a woman of color ED, asking me to call her back. There was no context. I knew what this meant. It meant she was leaving her position and wanted to give me a courtesy notice before the announcement came out. I was right. “I’m tired,” she said; I could hear the weariness in her voice. We were silent for a moment. I didn’t know what to say that didn’t seem trite or patronizing. “I’m sorry,” I said.  

Quietly, nonprofit leaders are leaving their posts. And most of us ED/CEOs swear off ever doing it again. And younger folks, it seems, are increasingly reluctant to take up the mantle. Who the hell can blame them? The ED’s job has always been like Sisyphus pushing the fundraising boulder up a hill, but while the eagle of program impact is pecking out his liver; the Cerberus of board, staff, and community expectations is chasing after him; and he’s trying to avoid looking at the Medusa of cash flow projections.

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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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