12 predictions for nonprofit and philanthropy for 2023

[A hand holding up a shiny crystal ball. Or possibly a large frozen soap bubble. There are interesting patterns that look like ice crystals on it. Image by Uki_71 on Pixabay]

Hi everyone! I hope the new year is treating you well. Since it is a brand new year, I thought I would use my Pisces power to predict what’s in store for our sector over the coming months. As everyone knows, we Pisces are attuned to the vibrations of the universe and are often blessed with clairvoyance. (We are also known to be kind, caring, sensitive, artistic, humble, and good-looking in unconventional ways.)

Here are the predictions, based on the alignments of the stars, planets, and a proprietary divination method that I like to call “surfing the internet and then guessing.” Please read with a critical eye and consult with your doctor, lawyer, or astrologer before acting on any of these predictions below:

1.Artificial Intelligence will bring hope and fear to many: AI will be on the forefront of many minds. It is exciting! It is terrifying! It is coming! Will it allow us to quickly take care of pointless and time-consuming tasks such as writing grant proposals? Will we see a spike in creepy, unsettling images on websites and donor solicitation letters, creepier and more unsettling than just the usual white savior surrounded by kids of color? Is this the beginning of a tech Renaissance…or possibly the beginning of a Matrix-style robotic revolution that we will probably need to work into our theory of change and then fundraise to resist later? Be on the lookout for more of these discussions.

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Zombie Missions: Organizations that should close but won’t

[Image description: A cute fluffy white puppy, sitting facing left, staring pensively at the ground. Image by gdmoonkiller on Pixabay]

There is often the complaint that we have too many nonprofits in our sector. I don’t necessarily agree, and in fact I think that when it comes to some types of nonprofits, such as certain ones led by marginalized communities, we may need MORE, not fewer. But that’s for a future conversation.

However, I do think we have organizations that are floating aimlessly around the sector in a state of limbo. Over the past few months, I’ve heard at least two stories of these orgs that are holding on for dear life, and not for the usual “holding on for dear life” that most nonprofits do as par for the course. These orgs have missions that were once vital, but as needs change, or as other organizations overtake them in effectiveness, or both, they find themselves in denial about their own effectiveness and relevance. They become “zombie missions.” This usually leads to a lack of direction and purpose, perpetual morale issues, and constant staff turnover.

And it is sad, because these orgs have usually done important work; they do not deserve this limbo-like state of existence. Here are things we should consider:

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We must prioritize nonprofit leaders’ rest and healing, and here are some cool funders doing that

[Image description: An empty rowboat on calm water. The water reflects the beautiful warm colors of a sunrise or sunset. In the distance there is a small house standing on stilts. Image by Quang Le on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, it’s almost Halloween, and the NonprofitAF Scary Story Contest closes this Thursday! Write (or record) and submit a story of up to 250 words, by 11:59pm on 10/27. 10 winners will have their stories published here next week. If you need inspiration, here are some stories; beware, they are very scary (one involves someone who REMOVES Oxford Commas!)

I know I criticize our sector a lot (and more is coming!). But there are amazing things going on, and I am really grateful for the organizations and leaders who are doing awesome stuff. Recently in my state, the Washington Women’s Foundation released a grant to provide $100,000 each to 10 Black women working in nonprofit in Washington State, with the expressed purpose of funding their rest and renewal. This is mind-blowing! The approach is thoughtful, recognizing the burdens Black women have carried in our sector and trusting Black women to know what’s best for themselves.

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The Personal Integrity Paradox and how it affects our sector

[Image description: A cute little light brown mouse, peeking out from a crack between some light brown rocks, staring straight at the camera. Image by Image by RolandKuck on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. My plane is boarding for Aotearoa, so apologies for any errors or clumsy wording in this post.

When I was in high school, I took AP Psychology. A few weeks into the class, my teacher, Mr. Henderson, approached me to ask how I was doing in class. I said I didn’t think I was doing OK, that I was nervous about the AP exam, and that I was afraid I would fail it. He then told me that we would be learning about the Dunning-Kruger effect (DKE) and gave me a brief synopsis. (I did end up passing the exam with a 5, and Mr. Henderson, with his mustache, piercing insights, and gentle sense of humor would end up becoming one of the most important mentors in my life; he advised me that a career in psychology may not pay very well, so I took his words to heart and went into the lucrative field of nonprofit.)

The Dunning-Kruger effect is basically this (though I’m paraphrasing a bit): People with lower skills, knowledge, and expertise tend to overestimate themselves, while those who are more skilled, knowledgeable, etc., tend to underestimate themselves. Some of this is hypothesized to be because incompetent people may be too incompetent to recognize that they are incompetent, while competent people are competent enough to realize they may not yet know everything and still need to learn and improve.

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The abundance mindset: what it looks like in everyday practice, and the equity implications around it

[Nine or so mostly yellow ducklings in the grass, encircled by two arms. It’s an abundance of ducklings! Image by Marys_fotos on Pixabay]

Y’all, I have a confession to make. I am not sure I like the whole “abundance” thing. In many ways, this concept became prominent in our sector because of our ingrained scarcity mindset, where we are so freaked out about potential lack of funding that we underinvest in everything, leading to poorly paid, exhausted staff who sit on crappy chairs, typing on a 10-year-old computer, with 48 dollars and a dozen Beanie babies as retirement savings.

Because it’s trendy, so many people are using the term abundance all the time. But it’s not really defined. I’m not sure we all have the same common understanding of it. I see some colleagues sprinkling “abundance” in conversations like fistfuls of confetti who are some of the most scarcity-ridden people ever. Is abundance just about money? Is it about relationships? All of it? At the risk of oversimplifying, here are some thoughts on abundance, starting with a few different “spheres” of abundance:   

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