Category Archives: Race, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion

We need to talk about the handwritten thank-you note

[Image description: A note with the words “Thank You,” on top of a beige envelope. On the top right corner there’s a hand holding a pencil. This makes no sense. The note is clearly in ink, so why is this hand holding a pencil? Unless, the Thank You part is already printed on this stationary, so this person didn’t actually write that. But still, who would write a thank-you note in pencil? Unless, they’re planning to draw their gratitude. Maybe I should have stuck to the usual picture of a baby animal. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.

OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.

Continue reading

The subtle racism of expecting people and communities of color to always get along

[Image description: Two seagulls standing on the sand, looking in opposite directions. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s topic, a quick shout out to colleagues at Momentum Nonprofit Partners in Memphis for taking a stand for equity on their job board by no longer accepting job postings for positions that pay less than $15, and also requiring all postings to disclose salary information. Y’all rock. You make me proud to have spent my high school years in Memphis (Central High! Go Warriors!). Other job boards should consider this.

***

Over the past six years, one of my greatest joys is being a father. I love it, even though I have little time to myself, and I have scars on my feet from stray LEGOS, and my diet is 85% leftover food that the kids refuse to eat. And the six-year-old thinks I’m going to die in the next ten years because “you are really old.” But it’s fun and rewarding. However, the kids fight constantly over things. When that happens, a quick resolution is to remove the contested item. Then neither of them has it, and the fight is over, and they hopefully have learned a valuable lesson about sharing and not bothering Daddy when he’s sitting fully clothed in the bathtub chanting “I love being a father, I love being a father.”

Unfortunately, I have been seeing these sort of dynamics happening in the sector, especially around funding. People and communities of color for some reason are expected to always get along, and when there is any sort of tension among us, folks with power and privilege freak out. A Black colleague told me “White people get terrified when two Black people argue in a room. I wonder what they think would happen.” It is especially alarming when funders are involved, because funding is often jeopardized under this paternalistic philosophy of “See, they can’t even get along; we’re not funding them.” Working with organizations led by and serving people of color, I’ve seen this multiple times with different funders who get upset or who roll their eyes and refuse to fund critical work because leaders of color have tension with one another.

Continue reading

Why more and more executive directors of color are leaving their positions, and what we need to do about it

[Image description: Three baby pandas (pandae?), lying on a wooden floor. They are very cute, and they seem exhausted. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. This post will be longer than normal, so to keep your attention, I’ve added pictures of pandas. The pandas have nothing to do with the content of this post. They are just pandas.

Some of you may know, if you are on our mailing list, that I am stepping down as Executive Director of my organization Rainier Valley Corps by this December. RVC is in a great place, thanks to our team, board, partners, and supporters, so it is a good time for me to take a break from being an ED. It’s been 12 consecutive years of that; I need to rest and recharge and spend more time with my family and Netflix.

I am not sure what I’ll be doing exactly when I am no longer an ED. This blog will continue as scheduled (heck, with more time on my hand, the spelling and grammar might even improve!). Likely I’ll focus on writing and speaking, maybe work on another book. Possibly develop Nonprofit The Musical in earnest instead of just joking about it. Or maybe I will found a business or apply for to be CEO of a major corporation. I mean, if colleagues from the for-profit sector naturally assume they can run nonprofits, I don’t know why I shouldn’t be hired to run a Fortune 500 company.

Continue reading

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

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