The Year of the Dragon and what it means for nonprofit and philanthropy

[Image description: A colorful, lit-up sculpture of a dragon with a long, wavy tail. Image by RM on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, before we get to today’s topic, if you’re free next Tuesday, February 13th, at 10am Pacific, please join me and the ED of Future of Good, Anouk Bertner, for “Cutting through the BS so we can actually prioritize workplace wellbeing.” It’s free; captioning available. Register here.

This week, Saturday specifically, marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year, ushering in the Year of the Dragon, widely considered the most powerful of all the Chinese Zodiac animals. Dragons are apparently smart, creative, persistent, visionary, and talented. Which is why some people—don’t ask who—would consider me a Dragon, instead of my actual sign…the chicken, known for occasionally crossing roads.

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MLK, nonprofit and philanthropy, and new ways white moderation shows up

[Image description: An adult and a child in front of an MLK quote that’s etched into a wall. The quote reads “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional, our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” Image by Suzy Brooks on Unsplash]

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and this year it will probably be even more surreal than usual. Normally, we see the plethora of politicians and people who would have opposed everything MLK stood for, now quoting and praising him. This year, be on the lookout for MLK quotes from people and organizations who have remained silent on Israel’s genocide of Palestinians, including the massacre of over 10,000 Palestinian children. If this is you, lean on MLK’s courage and use this day to break your silence.

The rest of us, however, are also not off the hook. I see the same quotes being used, the ones that are positive and hopeful, that won’t cause any offense. Those words are important, but don’t forget all the other things Dr. King said that we often conveniently ignore, including “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism”

And “Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains?”

The quote I often think about is the one on white moderation. He warned that the biggest threats to justice are not the overt racists who wear hood and burn crosses, but the “white moderate,” the seemingly nice people who profess to have the same goals, but who always prioritize civility, respectability, and a type of “peace” that doesn’t call for justice.

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Hope and trust, and gratitude for our sector

[Image description: Silhouette of a kid flying a colorful plane-shaped kite at the beach. In the background, near the water, are the silhouettes of several other people. Image by pikabum on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, this is the last post of 2023. I’ll be back on January 2nd. Normally, I end the year with a lighter article, maybe something humorous. But humor has been hard to come by with everything taking place all around us. The genocide of Palestinians. The US’s veto of a ceasefire. The horrors happening to civilians in Sudan, Congo, Tigray, and other parts of the world. The attacks on reproductive rights. The rise in violence against trans people. The continuation of mass shootings. The surge in fascism across the globe. We’ve had a horrible year after a series of horrible years, and 2024, with the election in the US, doesn’t look like it will bring much relief.

To be honest, I am very tired and on edge. I’m drained, feeling a combination of helplessness at being unable to do much to stop the injustice and suffering I see everywhere, and the frustration of having to battle strangers, colleagues, and even friends and family who seem completely unaware of the nightmares taking place, or worse, justify them.

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Intermediary organizations are vital and funders need to increase funding going to them

[Image description: Beautiful bluish/purple mushrooms growing out of the ground, shiny and almost translucent, like jellyfish. They have gills, a ring halfway up a slender stem. In the background is taller white mushroom, blurred. Image by adege on Pixabay]

A while ago, I wrote about how intermediary organizations are like mycelium, which is the rootlike structure of mushrooms. Like mycelium, these orgs are vital to the nonprofit field, as they provide several critical functions, including bringing funding to other nonprofits, connecting orgs to one another, disseminating vital information, fostering communication, and mobilizing orgs for advocacy. And they even help organizations at the end of their lives to exit gracefully, the way mushrooms help break down decaying matters and return them to the earth to feed and generate new life.

Yes, that was a very nerdy post, even nerdier than my piece that employs Star Trek analogies to talk about the future of the nonprofit sector. (Nerd alert: one of the newer Star Trek shows, Discovery, has a technology that uses a vast invisible mycelium-in-space network to warp its eponymous spaceship instantaneously anywhere in the universe, and one of its main characters is named Paul Stamets, after the legendary mushroom expert).

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Asymmetric Expectation of Gratitude: What it is, and why it’s harmful to our work

[Image description: A heart-shaped green leaf standing upright out of a knot made of rope. Image by Kranich17 on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started, a few cool things to check out: First, my friend the amazing Kishshana Palmer, has a virtual workshop series geared towards nonprofit leaders. It starts next week. Check it out.

Second, the Institute for Policy Studies released a new report on the shenanigans of billionaires. Please read it, get angry, flip over the nearest table, and then contact Congress to demand they do something about it.  

Finally, past and present funding professionals, please fill out the First Draft Funders Survey with your opinions on philanthropy and how it can improve.


As Thanksgiving is this week, I start to think about our society’s and our sector’s weird dynamics around gratitude. We’ve been trained to be thankful, to have an “attitude of gratitude,” to keep a gratitude journal, etc. This is mostly great. When everything feels overwhelming and out of control, gratitude can often be extremely grounding.

However, we don’t talk enough about the negative sides of gratitude. Specifically, there are ingrained notions of who is expected to be grateful to whom, and it is grossly lopsided, and we’ve been conditioned to just accept it. I’m going to call it the Asymmetric Requirement of Gratitude (ARG! I mentioned it briefly earlier here). Here are a few ways that it manifests:

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