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.

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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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Vital and invisible as air: An appreciation of nonprofit professionals

[Image description: A grassy hill, linted with pine trees, standing before a mountain. This was taken by me on a trip to Mt. Rainier. I had altitude sickness and could barely breathe!]

Hi everyone, last week was my kids’ first week of school. This always brings bittersweet emotions as I watch my little ones find their lines, reconnect with their friends, and increase a notch in their confidence and independence. I know the days of them holding my hands as we walk to their classes each morning are numbered, as are the moments when they turn around to wave to me before they disappear behind the walls and doors of their school. It’s beautiful. But also heart-wrenching, when I let myself ruminate about the unforgiving passage of time.

But this post is not about my kids. While dealing with the logistics of school starting, I was filled with appreciation for the nonprofits and nonprofit professionals in our sector. Kiet, my younger one, asked when his “art classes” will start up again. This is an after-school program run by a local organization here. Last year, I dropped by the program, and the wonderful staff were leading creative games and having the kids express themselves by drawing on little squares of paper.

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Nonprofit professionals, we need to be louder and more vocal, and possibly more obnoxious

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Hi everyone, for the past two weeks I’ve been dealing with ongoing violent coughs, wheezing, and occasional migraines. Chest x-rays finally concluded I have pneumonia. (My ten-year-old: “So can you transform into different animals now?” “No, son, that’s Nimona.”). I am now on a delightful cocktail of antibiotics, inhalers, and various other medications. All that to say, I am not exactly the most coherent right now and might start hallucinating again at any moment, so thank you for your understanding. Yes, Ms. Scott, I would love for you to fund Nonprofit The Musical!

This summer, I went back to Vietnam for three weeks. There, among amazing food and beautiful scenery, as usual I strove to answer questions from various relatives on what it is I do. It doesn’t help that I left Vietnam when I was eight, so my Vietnamese vocabulary is limited, which is not helpful when trying to explain complicated things like equity, grantwriting, and hummus, the trademarks of our profession.

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Hey journalists, we need to talk about your problematic portrayals of nonprofits

[Image description: A black and white cat in front of an iPad (or some type of pad), their mouth open in a shocked expression. This cat probably works in nonprofit and just read an irritating article casting nonprofits in bad light. Image by Kanashi on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, Juneteenth was this week, so a quick reminder to funders that Black-led organizations only get only a tiny fraction of all foundation dollars, so if you released a statement and then took the day off, give more money to Black-led organizations and Black leaders. Everyone else, support Black businesses, donate to Black orgs, and fight against racism, such as the fascists making the teaching of Black history illegal.

Today’s topic is the portrayal of nonprofits by the media, mainly by journalists covering nonprofits. A colleague wrote me, irritated by yet another article that portrays nonprofits in poor light. “There’s so much handwringing about how nonprofits are never held accountable, without any actual understanding of nonprofit experiences. Why don’t [nonprofits] just collect data, Vu? How hard can it be to collect data???”

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The Ethics and Opportunities of Artificial Intelligence in the Nonprofit Sector

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Hi everyone, and happy Spring if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. Last week, I moderated a conversation on Artificial Intelligence and how it might affect our sector. On the panel were Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, co-authors of The Smart Nonprofit, and Philip Deng, creator of Grantable, an AI-supported grantwriting platform. Here is the full video if you’d like to see it. Below are a few points I took away from the conversation with these experts. Those of you who are more knowledgeable in this area, please feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section or correct anything I got wrong (By the way, ChatGPT came up with the title of this blog post).

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