The nonprofit inferiority complex is not sexy

Last week, I wrote an open letter to people from the business world telling them to stop thinking they are better than us nonprofit folks. That resonated with a lot of people from our sector: “Yeah, business people, just because you have decent dental insurance and can go to Chipotle as often as you like does not mean you’re better than us!”

But today, we need to address an equally serious problem with our sector, and that is our own sense of inferiority, which, unlike the overt superiority of many of our friends from the corporate sector, is usually unconscious. Still, it is pervasive across the sector, and combined with the martyr complex, it is debilitating. These things lead to burn out and prevent people from wanting to enter our field.

Continue reading “The nonprofit inferiority complex is not sexy”

10 lessons nonprofits can learn from The Walking Dead

TWDHi everyone. Happy Monday. The quality of this post may not be the highest today, because I just ate about a pound of chocolate while watching The Walking Dead and I’m kind of hyper. This show is awesome, but this season especially has been like as if someone filled a zombie-shaped piñata with pure awesomeness and whacked it with a titanium bat wrapped in tempeh-bacon. So it’s about time that we do a post about lessons we nonprofits can learn from this show.

The Walking Dead, about a world during the zombie apocalypse, has much to teach us nonprofits. Here are just a few of many lessons I’ve gleaned. But first:

SPOILER ALERT: If you are not up-to-date with TWD, and plan to be, stop reading this right now. Read something else, like 9 lessons from Breaking Bad we can apply to nonprofit work (“Lesson 4: Make sure your organization’s programs and services are as high in quality as Walter’s meth.”) If you’re not current with Breaking Bad either, then read 10 Game of Thrones quotes you can use at work (“You know all that from staring at marks on paper? You’re like a wizard.” Perfect when talking to your Treasurer.) If you haven’t been watching Game of Thrones either, then forget it, you’re hopeless. Go read “The New Yorker” and eat some “organic arugula” and “spend time with your family” or whatever it is that you weirdoes do. Continue reading “10 lessons nonprofits can learn from The Walking Dead”

The Frustration with Innovation: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effect on the nonprofit sector

Chicago_Bean_2_by_lightzoneOne of the great things about our sector is how innovative it is. There are smart, talented, socially-conscious people—nonprofit staff, funders, researchers, boards, donors, volunteers. We come up with amazing ideas all the time. In the past few years we’ve had 40 Developmental Assets, and 21st Century Skills. We’ve had evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. We have strategic planning, then strategic thinking. We have Collective Impact and Youth Program Quality Initiative. We have STEM. We have online learning. Some trends, like the importance of parental engagement in students’ academic performance, die and then resurface. I call them “Zombie Trends.” Now the latest trend is “We need to send more nonprofit staff to Hawaii so they can relax and recharge!”

All right, fine, that last one may not be an actual trend, though maybe it should be.

Lately, however, I’ve been encountering among my peers more and more frustration with funders’ seeming obsession with innovation. An ED friend called it the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS), this apparent inclination to drop everything and zoom in on the newest, sexiest concept to support, with sometimes negative consequences. The focus on early learning, for example, while important, has affected funding for youth programs, and the shift to collective impact has not always been positive (see “Collective Impact: Resistance is futile“). Continue reading “The Frustration with Innovation: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effect on the nonprofit sector”

The courage for mediocrity: We nonprofit professionals need to give ourselves a break

After being in this sector for over a decade, I can say that nonprofit professionals are some of the most awesome people on earth. We are so smart, talented, dedicated, passionate, caring, humble, witty, cool, and hilarious. Also, we are really good-looking and are great dressers. Let’s see someone from the corporate sector rock that $6.99 button-down shirt from Ross, Dress for Less (originally $13.99).

But we are burning out, you guys. Our natural good looks are obscured by stress-induced wrinkles, grey hair, and maybe one eye that twitches uncontrollably during staff meetings. The work never stops, our organizations are understaffed, and people’s lives depend on our actions and decisions. We work in the evenings and on the weekends, skip vacations, and when we’re on vacation we check our emails because we know if we ignore them, they will start multiplying like hipsters. It is a brutal cycle that leads to many of us leaving the sector to make jewelry that are then sold at farmer’s markets. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, despite the fact that the world could use more necklaces made out of beach glass and soda can tabs. Continue reading “The courage for mediocrity: We nonprofit professionals need to give ourselves a break”

Nonprofit with Balls’s 100th post! Let’s celebrate by going home early.

unicorn sunsetHi everyone. This is Nonprofit With Ball’s historic 100th post. It is a momentous occasion. When I was a little boy growing up in a small village up in the mountains of Vietnam, my father said to me, “Son, we may be poor, but that does not mean we can’t accomplish great things. You are the smartest, most-talented, and, in certain very dim lighting, best-looking kid in our family. Bring honor to our name.” Well, look dad, I wrote 100 blog posts about nonprofits, many mentioning unicorns! I think our ancestors would be proud. They’re probably tweeting about it right now.

For this 100th post, I’m going to provide excerpts of some of my favorite early posts, the ones that you probably haven’t read because they’re so old. If this sounds very lazy, like those TV shows that do montages as a special episode (“Instead of writing a real episode, let’s spend 10 minutes looking at all the times that Joey said ‘How you doin’?’ and all the times that Ross acts like a completely unlikeable character”) you are right. But hey, this only happens every 100th blog posts; we’ll be back next week with new content. Here, read these posts below if you haven’t. And I think it’s only appropriate that we all go home early today in celebration. Continue reading “Nonprofit with Balls’s 100th post! Let’s celebrate by going home early.”