Category Archives: leadership

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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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.

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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