Why I’m no longer donating to your no-good, very bad nonprofit

[Image description: Two human hands with gold rings and a gold watch, holding a dozen or so US dollar bills, most of them in denominations of $20, with at least one $100. Image by Brock Wegner on Unsplash]

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.

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You’re not lazy. Here’s what lazy looks like in our sector.

[Image description: A panda, resting their head on some tree branches. Image by shangshaistonemen on Pixabay]

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.

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Slimier than a banana slug and not nearly as cute: How Donor-Advised Funds threaten our democracy

[Image description: A bright yellow banana slug, on the forest floor, surrounded by shamrocks and leaves. Image by Max Gotts on Unsplash]

Hi everyone, if you’re in or near Seattle, we are having a PEEP (Party to Enhance Equity in Philanthropy) event on Thursday June 15th 3pm to 5pm, sponsored by Nonprofit AF, Satterberg Foundation, United Way of King County, Philanthropy Northwest, and Progress Alliance of Washington. If you Sign up here, I’ll send you the location and other details. If you’re hosting an event in your geographic area, let people know in the comment section.

I said a few months ago that it’s been hard to get people in our sector to pay attention to Donor-Advised Funds (DAFs) and proposed legislation around them because “people care about this topic as much as they care about the mating habits of banana slugs.” Well, that was one of my worst analogies. Many of you pointed out that banana slugs’ mating habits are quite interesting, and I went down a rabbit hole (or rather a banana slug hole) to learn more about their reproductive behaviors. Did you know, for example, that banana slugs are hermaphroditic and can, under rare circumstances, make themselves pregnant?

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Risk-Averse Philanthropy: How General Counsels Can Advance or Stifle Progress

a stack of paper with a padlock binding it, the key in the keyhole. Image by stevepb on Pixabay

Hi everyone. Before we get started with today’s post, next week, to kick off AANHPI heritage month, I’ll be on a virtual conversation with colleague Jennifer Li Dotson on May 3rd at 12pm PT. It’s free, with automatic captions. I hope to see you there.

I am still reeling from this op-ed published a few days ago. A time of relentless attacks on our communities and on democracy itself requires our leaders to take bold stances, not engage in the white moderation and both-siding that has led to the rise of antivaxxers, climate change deniers, flat-earthers, and people who think Love Actually is a good movie. (I said what I said!)

However, progressive-leaning philanthropy has always been like this. Months ago I was having lunch with a colleague who works at a prominent national foundation. We were lamenting how risk-averse progressive-leaning funders are, how board trustees and CEOs are hesitant to take bold actions.

“It’s also the GCs,” said my colleague, “the General Counsels. They have a lot of power and often prevent foundations from doing anything even remotely risky.”

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Philanthropy’s equivalent of “All Lives Matter”

Several dollar bills popping up out of the ground like plants

Hi everyone, I’ve been busy filing taxes, so apologies for the lateness and ineloquence of this post (Also, I’m not sure why it won’t let me put captions under the image, but it’s an image of the ground with several rolled up dollar bills popping up out of it).

Last week, six influential philanthropic leaders released this joint statement about protecting pluralism and diverse perspectives in philanthropy. This letter has generated a lot of strong feelings among my colleagues. As half of these six co-authors are leaders I know and respect, I am offering my thoughts here, in line with the third principle proposed in the article, which is “When we challenge another’s views or activities, we focus on substantive arguments and invite response.” Thank you for creating this opportunity for dialog, and for accepting my perspective in the constructive spirit in which it is offered.

This letter is the philanthropic equivalent of “all lives matter.” In this case, its premise is that all philanthropy is equally valid and good: “philanthropy provides the greatest value when donors enable and encourage pluralism by supporting and investing in a wide and diverse range of values, missions, and interests.”

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