Hi everyone. It is October, which means my favorite holiday is coming up: Halloween, a time when children can dress up in costume and go door-to-door for free food, while adults dress up as sexy versions of healthcare workers and politicians.
And of course, it’s also a time to give ourselves a good scare. In our sector, there’s plenty of terrifying things: Restricted funding, 360 evaluations, lack of retirement savings, and creepy colleagues who tip-toe behind you in darkened hallways and whisper, “Would you consider joining the gala planning committee?” I’ll tell you a story about one of the scariest things that happen though. Make sure all the lights are on and you’re not by yourself:
For decades, our sector has had this refrain: “Donors and funders deserve transparency. They have a right to know how nonprofits spend their donations and the outcomes they achieved.” Many of us agree with this, including me. Yes, nonprofits should be transparent. They need to report their revenues, expenses, program activities, and the results of their work. And most nonprofits do, as required by law. In the US nonprofits are legally required to file 990 tax forms each year. Most orgs release annual reports. Throughout the year they also let people know what they’ve been up to, using newsletters and other forms of communication.
The challenge is that for some reason the above level of transparency is not enough, and we’ve all convinced ourselves that not only do donors and funders deserve to know specifically how the dollars they contributed were spent and what outcomes could be personally attributed to them, but also that this somehow makes sense.
Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s topic, on August 30th at 11am Pacific Time, there is a FREE webinar about one of critical things we all need to pay more attention to: Legislative reforms on Donor-Advised Funds! It’s hosted by CalNonprofits and will feature lots of brilliant minds on this issue: Jan Masaoka, Chuck Collins, Darryll K. Jones, Alex Reid, and Jon Pratt. Get more details and register here. There will be live captioning. Please be there if you can; we need to demonstrate there’s interest in the sector to reform DAFs.
Sorry, that’s not what this week’s post is about. Besides, I am a middle-age divorced man who has transcended romantic love and has fully embraced a shabby, gremlin-like existence of Netflix and Costco dried mango, so I am not sure I’m still qualified.
I am a generous and humble man who wants to help sad poor people. This is why I give money to charity. If you help sad poor people, I might also give your organization money. But I have high standards, so I usually give initial donations to test organizations’ responses. Sure, $100 may not be much, though I believe one should be able to purchase at least 10 bananas with that amount. After making the initial donation, I wait in the shadows like a philanthropic hawk to see how charities treat me, which will determine whether I will give them more in the future.
I have been very disappointed to say the least. Some nonprofits don’t respond at all. Some wait excessively long periods of time before getting back to me. One time I had to wait a whole month like an animal for a handwritten thank-you note. Another organization received a huge grant from another donor, and I expected them to know immediately how that money would affect their operations, and more importantly, how it would affect me. My various attempts demanding answers were met with silence. In fact, across multiple charities I donate to, all seem to be avoiding communicating with me, which can only mean they are all no-good, very bad.
Hi everyone, this will be the last blog post until August 8th, as I’ll be on my annual summer break. By the time you’re reading this, I am on my way to Vietnam to see the relatives. It will be three weeks of getting criticized for my career choice, divorced single status, and disheveled general appearance. It’s OK; relentless criticism is one of the love languages in Vietnamese culture.
I hope that you’re also taking time for yourself. Our sector sucks at this. Even during a pandemic, I see so many colleagues lamenting/bragging about how little vacation they’ve been taking, how they haven’t taken a break in literally years. Cut it out. There is no honor in burnout. You deserve to rest and to recharge and watch all 10 episodes of The Bear season 2 in one sitting, or whatever brings you joy.
However, it’s easy to say that. We’ve internalized some philosophies and messages that make rest feel shameful. One of these is the concept of “laziness.” Our self-worth and even identity are tied to doing stuff constantly, and when we think we’re not, we feel awful and useless. It’s a risotto of capitalism that we’re expected to stir perpetually while adding more and more heated broth of productivity.