When nonprofit staff are paid so low they qualify for their org’s services

[Image description: A whitish/orangish kitten, lying on the ground, their face scrunched up with eyes nearly closed. They’re either sleeping or resting. Image by Naturell on Pixabay]

A while ago, at the request of some colleagues, I talked about “Nonprofit Math” and created a little video that went viral. One of the examples I brought up was “paying your staff so little that they qualify for the services your organization is providing.” That line got a lot of chuckles.

It’s so great how we can laugh at ourselves! One of my favorite pieces of humor is an Onion article called “Nonprofit Fights Poverty with Poverty.”

But OK, a lot of humor is rooted in at least some fraction of truth, and it’s time we confront this one. Although the idea that some people are paid so little they could qualify to be a client for their own or another nonprofit’s programs seems ridiculous, the reality is that it does happen. And probably with more frequency than we realize. Last week, a friend of mine who lives in a very expensive area of the US texted me this:

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Nonprofit work and its toll on our physical health, and what we need to do about it

[A grey striped cat, lying on the grass outside, staring kind of blankly into space. They look bored or just nonchalant. Image by guvo59 on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. It’s been four years since I left being a nonprofit executive director and became “Financially Untethered” (FU), and let me tell you, it’s been amazing. I sleep better, no longer waking up in the middle of the night, whimpering “I hope we can make payroll, I hope we can make payroll.” The involuntary twitch in my left eye is still there, but it’s gradually devolving into a sly wink. And I have started reverse-aging and now only look 54!

Jokes aside, today’s topic is about the toll nonprofit work takes on our physical health, and what actions we can take. The work that many of us do in this field often comes at great costs, such as taking financial hits that leave many people unsure about their future retirement plans. There are also mental health challenges that come from being stressed out all the time. I don’t think, though, that we often stop to think about what this work does to us in terms of our physical health and the years it’s taking from us.

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A reminder about power dynamics, because we keep forgetting

[A brown dog, starting at a little yellow duckling that’s standing on a wooden plant. The dog’s nose is touching the duckling’s beak. Image by WFranz on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, real quick before we focus on this week’s topic, for the past few months, Crappy Funding Practices has been calling out the eye-popping shenanigans we’ve encountered. Such as the funder that requires grantees to submit a notarized report every 60 days! (Hats off to you, Garneau-Nicon Family Foundation; that’s a breathtakingly new level of insipidness). Here’s a great article on the movement by our colleague Dawn Wolfe. The LinkedIn following is now at over 12,000 and growing rapidly; join in on the fun.

However, all of this takes work! Behind these posts on LinkedIn are teams of volunteers spending hours communicating with folks who nominate funders, vetting submissions, crafting the call-outs, engaging with social media, developing list of resources, planning meetings and organizing, etc. It’s a lot of work and right now all volunteer-run. We need more people involved. So, if you’re interested in helping out, please join a special meeting we’re hosting on May 14th at 10am Pacific Time, where we’ll update you on what’s been going on, and present the different options for you to plug into. Register here. See you then!

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Nonprofits and foundations, time to ramp up our voter engagement and election work!

[A hand with a “I voted” sticker stuck to the index finger. Image by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, it’s my birthday this week (March 12). If you’d like to help me celebrate, please donate to organizations such as the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, and continue advocating for a permanent ceasefire, a restoration of UNRWA funding, and a free Palestine.

Meanwhile, if you’re free on March 28th at 11am Pacific Time, join me and Nonprofit VOTE for Rally the Sector: Nonprofits and Election 2024. We’ll be talking about nonprofits and the role we play in getting people to vote. It’ll be fun! Register here. It’s free, and automated captions will be available.

A while ago, I mentioned that if we’re going to solve some of these deeply entrenched problems in our society, nonprofits will need to focus on moving the levers of power. These levers include 1. electing more progressive women of color into office 2. changing the tax code so rich people and corporations pay their fair share, 3. reversing Citizens United and making other efforts to reduce the influence of corporations on politics, 4. changing the narratives and conversations people are having so they’re not so easily manipulated by misinformation, fear, and bigotry.

And 5. protecting and advancing voting and voting rights. This year is a particularly vital election year in the US (and, unfortunately, what happens in the US affects the entire world). It’s time nonprofits and foundations fully embrace our role in voter engagement and civic participation and increase tenfold our involvement in these activities.

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Funders: Do a better job of protecting and supporting leaders and organizations who take risks in standing up for justice

[Image description: People marching on the streets, the ones in front holding Palestine flags and a large sign that says “STOP GENOCIDE, FREE PALESTINE.” Image by Janne Leimola on Unsplash.]

Over the past few months, people and organizations who have been public in supporting a permanent ceasefire and an end to Israel’s US-funded genocide of Palestinians have been experiencing consequences. I know colleagues who have faced harassment and intimidation at work for wearing a keffiyeh. Others whose organizations have been losing funding from existing funders because they put out a statement calling for a ceasefire. A colleague told me a donor who had committed to hosting a fundraising event pulled out last minute because one of the org’s founders and board members have been vocal in condemning Israel’s genocidal actions. I’ve lost a few thousand followers, had keynote invitations rescinded, and have had to deal with online harassment since my post on October 17th.

None of this, of course, is going to stop us. The things we face are nowhere near the horrors Palestinians are experiencing right now, and we all need to be even more forceful in speaking up. Israel is now carpet-bombing Rafah, where Palestinians civilians had been ordered to evacuate to. All of us in the US are funding it, as our elected officials get ready to approve sending more than $17B dollars to Israel to continue its genocide of Palestinians. It should horrify all of us in this sector that we could solve homelessness and have universal healthcare and education, but instead, our tax dollars are being used to massacre children and civilians in Palestine every day.

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