Category Archives: nonprofit field

If progressives want change, we must play the game differently. Here are five things we must do.

[Image description: A young person holding up a large lantern, getting ready to release it into the sky. In the background are four other lanterns that have been released and are floating upward. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, apologies in advance, this post will be more serious and political than usual and I am sure will be polarizing. The Virginia Beach mass shooting has been on my mind. I am thinking of how New Zealand was able to pass gun-control bills within a matter of days after the horrific Christchurch shooting, while we Americans remain the laughingstock of the entire world. Mass shootings have become so common and taken for granted that The Onion publishes the same satirical but damning article each time more innocent people are murdered (“‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens”).

Last week’s post (“We need fewer Theories of Change and more community organizing”) resonated with a lot of people. However, there were a few colleagues, especially researchers and evaluators, who bristled at my call for us to intellectualize less and organize more. As I mentioned several times in the post, strategies and actions are both important, but the BALANCE has been off. Just like food and air are both necessary for survival, but if all we do is breathe, we won’t last. I hope we can come to that agreement, because we have other important things to discuss.

Continue reading

We need fewer theories of change and more community organizing

[Image description: Some type of monkey, maybe a tamarin? They are grey with pointy ears and has a light brown paw. They are staring at something off camera, looking like they’re deciding where to put their sticky dots. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick disclaimer. I am still bitter and annoyed over the Game of Thrones finale, which I am sure many of you can relate, so this blog post may be affected with occasional spoiler-free snarkiness that may not make any sense if you haven’t kept up with Game of Thrones. Also, a quick reminder: This is the last week for filling out the Fundraising Perception Survey, so please do so if you haven’t. It’ll take 10 minutes and the data will be valuable for our sector.

***

A while ago I read Jan Masaoka’s thought-provoking article “Aspirin and Democracy,” where she discusses the effects of the professionalization of the nonprofit sector. One such effect, according to Jan, is that:

“new executive directors can write personnel policies and grant proposals while practicing self-care, but they don’t know how to get 5,000 people to a protest demonstration or 50 parents to a city council meeting.”

This article and sentence have stuck with me. Our sector, and progressives in general, has a problem with excessive intellectualization. We’ve become really good at it. There’s nothing we love more than summits, white papers, theories of change, data, coming up with new terminologies (*cough, solutions privilege), and voting with sticky dots. We’ve basically become more like Bran, less like Sansa or Arya.

Continue reading

The Mycelium Model for capacity builders, professional associations, funders, and other support organizations

[Image description: Two velvet foot mushrooms, one tall one and one short one, growing from a log. They are both bright orange and standing on a cylindrical stem. The big one has gills. The mycelium is not shown. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, if you haven’t filled out the Fundraising Perception Survey, please do so. It’ll take 10 minutes and I will send you a baby bunny. (OK, I was just told by our lead evaluator that bribing people with adorable pets would bias the results, so strike that).

***

Every year, I look forward to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Wild Mushrooms Show, where hundreds of types of mushrooms are on display. All are critical to the ecosystem. Some are edible and delicious; others are poisonous; a few phosphoresce in the dark; several gradually melt into a sticky mess. In other words, mushrooms are very much like nonprofits.

All jokes aside, there is much that mushrooms can teach us. We can liken direct service organizations to mushrooms, as they provide sustenance to a variety of plants and animals. They are vital because they feed the community. However, for mushrooms to flourish, the mycelium must be strong. This is the vast but mostly underground network of root-like tendrils. Mycelium is like an invisible tree, and the mushrooms you see are the visible fruit. The mycelium does many important things: Brings nourishment, clears out toxins, connects mushrooms to one another, creates symbiosis with other species, and decomposes and recycles nutrients, among other things.

Continue reading

The privilege to fail: How the benefits of trust and failure are not equitably distributed

[Image description: A little turtle balancing a bubble on their nose, looking upward. Wait, is this a turtle…or a tortoise? It’s on land, so I think it’s a tortoise. But aren’t all tortoises considered turtles? I am not sure, but Game of Thrones is on, and I don’t have time to google. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, as usual, Game of Thrones is back on, with the Battle at Winterfell coming tonight, so the quality of this post may likely decrease. Don’t @ me, bro. Or whatever. See, I warned you.

A while ago, I wrote “Is Equity the new coconut water?” which likened the concept of equity to the refreshing tropical juice, both coming out of nowhere and suddenly becoming ubiquitous. Well, over the past few years there has also been a rise in “Failure.” Failure is now the new kombucha. Everyone is drinking it. Failure, like the fizzy fermented tea, is supposed to be good for you; kombucha has probiotics that restore the natural balance of your body’s biome or something.

One way the embrace of Failure shows up is in events where people talk publicly about their fiascoes. Last year I attended one such event. I sat enraptured as one nonprofit speaker after another came up on stage and told the audience about their screw-ups, consequences, and lessons. At the end of each story, the audience cheered with enthusiasm and support. When we are so conditioned to only display our strengths and accomplishments in public, this “Fail Fest” was refreshing, like a big gulp of ginger-berry kombucha.

Continue reading

If you’re feeling hopeless of late, remember that your work matters and you do too

[Image description: A grayish raccoon with white eyebrows, peeking out from a log or wooden beam or something. They look serious, with dark, piercing eyes that peer into one’s soul. Kind of cute though. Look at that one little paw! Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, the last few weeks have been rough. I was glad to end it with the #NonprofitHaiku contest to bring some levity and humor. A colleague on Twitter, though, pointed out the seriousness of all the challenges we face beneath the lightheartedness:

“It’s a cute joke that there are raccoons in our supply closet. It’s hilarious. […] The conditions we work in, the demoralizing chaos and the barriers to success is literally killing people.”

Continue reading