Category Archives: nonprofit field

Why Impact-Per-Dollar is a terrible, harmful way to measure nonprofit effectiveness

[Image description: A fluffy brown baby highland cow, with shaggy fur over their eyes. They are adorable and have nothing to do with this post. Someone just told me to look up baby highland cows and I did and found them to be so cute! This picture is from Pixabay.com, but look up “baby highland cow” on Google Images for more cuteness.”

Hi everyone. I hope you had a relaxing Thanksgiving break (if you’re in the US). I know it’s hard to get back to work after a long weekend, which is why I am here in bed eating leftover mashed potatoes and listening to early-90s Hip Hop. Just remember, though, that your work makes a difference (Read “Welcome back to work, you sexy Jedi unicorn,” if you need a quick pick-me-up)

Unfortunately, however, the difference you are making is complex, which means it is challenging to measure. And this explains the crappy metrics of effectiveness our sector has been subjected to. Chief among them, of course, is overhead rate, one of the most insipid and destructive zombie concepts ever unleashed on nonprofits, as I and others have written about repeatedly (See: “How to deal with uninformed nonprofit watchdogs around the holidays.”)

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Thankful for nonprofits—as vital, invisible, and underappreciated as air

[Image description: Golden sunlight streaming through a forest of pine trees. Pixabay.com. By the way, someone told me they didn’t understand why I write these image descriptions. It is not just for fun. Image descriptions help people who have vision impairment. Read more here.]

Hi everyone. This week is Thanksgiving in the US, a holiday revolving around food and spending time with the people closest to us, the people we love despite their continuing to have no understanding of what we do. It’s capacity building, Dad, holistic organizational capacity building combined with equitable leadership development, I’ve told you a hundred times, gaw!

Thanksgiving forces us to reflect on what we are grateful for, the people and things we often take for granted, and this should include the fact that we are on, and benefit from, stolen Native land. Take a moment to read this article, “This Thanksgiving, Educate Your Family About Native History and Culture.”

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Are You Guilty of Equity Offset?

[Image description: Two lemurs, an adult lemur with a little baby lemur riding on their back. They both are facing the camera. I am not sure what kind of lemurs these are, maybe ring tailed? The adult has white and grey fur, while the baby seems to have white and light brown fur. Pixabay.com]

This week I got a text message from a foundation program officer colleague talking about “when philanthropy takes equity seriously but not really because they ask the POC to be THE equity person when they are already doing four jobs.” This reminds me of “Equity Offset,” a term my friend James Lovell may have invented when he and some colleagues were discussing the phenomenon of nonprofits or foundations bringing in well-regarded speakers or equity consultants to signal that the organizations are “woke,” and this then allows them to continue being inequitable.

Equity Offset is like carbon offset. Carbon offset, in simplistic terms, works like this: Companies or individuals pay for trees to be planted, or parks to be cleaned up, or other things that reduce carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions, in order to offset their own negative environmental impact. This allows them to basically continue polluting while feeling less guilty.

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It’s time funders take nonprofit leadership turnover seriously

[Image description: A blue frog with black spots all over, looking to the left, while standing on some sort of mossy branch or something. They look serious. Very serious. Pixabay.com]

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.

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We need to stop joking about the sad state of retirement security in nonprofit. It’s no longer funny.

[Image description: An exhausted cat sleeping with their head on a wooden platform. They are white with some gray hair on their head, and pink ears. Their eyes are closed. I wonder if they’re dreaming. Do cats dream? Excuse me while I spend the next hour googling whether research has been done regarding whether and which animals dream. Pixabay.com]

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the NAF Facebook community, “What are creative ways you are thinking of in terms of retirement? Me, collecting kitchen gadgets in hope that these cherry pitter and pickle grabber etc., will appreciate in value!” The comments that came back were hilarious, because this is a group of brilliant, witty, and extremely good-looking folks. Here are a few:

  • “I intend to die in whatever museum I’m working in, and have my corpse be mistaken for part of the exhibit program. Until a century later, when an intern is cleaning they figure out that I’m that curator who disappeared. It’s the price of fame.”
  • “Dumpster dive former board members homes.”
  • “Relying on my love of the outdoors, because I’ll be living in a tent. When I’m ready to die, it’ll be with honor- just wandering into the forest and letting the coyotes eat me.”
  • “I plan on selling black market pies at the train station. Not kidding. I make excellent pie.”
  • “Work until I die – in debt”
  • “Commune / small house community with all of the other women I know who gave their best years to the cause and never got enough in salary or retirement benefits to be able to “plan” for retirement.”
  • “I feel like Pokémon will still being a thing in like 40 years, so hopefully I can sell the cards that I hoarded in 1999 to help make the student loan payments I’ll have until I die.”
  • “I’ve thought about dying at my desk”
  • “Counting on society to totally collapse before then, so currency and debt will be meaningless.”
  • “I plan on dying on the phone line, most likely in the middle of an ask.”
  • “My retirement plan is climate change and/or the total collapse of late stage capitalism.”
  • “I will die in my broken office chair.”
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