Hi everyone. Today’s post will likely be serious, as it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I know many of us in the sector are reflecting on his legacy. It has been a rough few years, and there were several moments where it was hard for me to believe that the “arc of the moral universe” bends toward justice. But I know it does. I see it on my travels, speaking with various brilliant leaders and organizations. I see it in on a daily basis through the work that you each do to lift up individuals and families and make our world better. Thank you. You give me hope and keep me going.
Unfortunately, however, we still often stand in our own ways, sometimes without even realizing it. A while ago I attended a meeting with group of local leaders. We were talking about equity. Someone said, “What is our definition of equity? Have we defined it? Are we on the same page?” The discussion devolved into a conversation about the definition of equity. I have no poker face, so it slowly contorted into a visage of pure frustration tinged with rage.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.”