A few years ago, I led a Vietnamese-community-focused nonprofit as a youthful executive director filled with equal parts optimism and adult acne. I remember though one time at a board meeting trying to get board members to donate. “Please,” I said, “just give something. Anything! Even $5! I just need us to be able to tell funders that we have 100% board giving!” The elders stared back blankly at me. I was desperate. “OK,” I said, “how about I give you each $10, then you donate $5 back, and you make a profit of $5!” I was joking, but also kind of not.
The idea of “100% board giving” is one of those concepts that somehow have become entrenched in our sector, an unwritten truth that we don’t question. To this day, I still see funders asking about it on grant applications. Fundraisers, meanwhile, whisper warnings to one another: “There was one organization that only achieved 50% board giving. Their donations eventually all dried up. If you walk by the office, you can hear faint ghostly echoes of weeping from the development team.”
Happy Monday, everyone! The happiest I can recall in a while! I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in a long time, and my stress acne magically cleared up and has been replaced by hope acne. (Look, even my sense of humor is returning!) Before I forget, Crystal Hayling, ED of the Libra Foundation, and I will be having an informal conversation this week, November 10th at 1pm PT, to debrief philanthropy and anything else that we want to discuss. We didn’t plan any talking points, so half of the conversation may just be about our favorite shows, who knows, join us.
I know that most of us are taking some time to celebrate this political and moral victory. Some of us are still in disbelief, and like a large multi-year pledged donation that hasn’t been paid, we can’t really believe that this is real until our new president and vice president are sworn in on inauguration day. I too am a jumble of emotions: hope, catharsis, joy, but also hypervigilance and fear at the backlash that may be coming.
Next week, 10/5 at 11am PT, we have the second part of the series, focused on solutions, including potential policy changes. Speakers include Farhad Ebrahimi, Founder and President of the Chorus Foundation; Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of Wallace Global Fund; Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland). The legendary Jan Masaoka of CalNonprofits will be the moderator. It will be good! Register here.
What I am especially thankful for is the content Hub on the CCF website, which produces new thought-provoking articles, podcasts, and videos each week, curated by colleague Stacy Nguyen. Last week, I read “8 ways to make fundraising more accessible for people with disabilities” by Elizabeth Ralston. One of the tips was “Include a physical description when you first introduce yourself […] this can really help a person with low vision have an image of who is speaking and in turn make them feel included as part of the festivities.” This was something I had never considered before. Thanks to what I learned, I have started describing myself in virtual events: “Mid-age Asian man with short unkempt black hair, thick black glasses, wearing a blue button-down shirt, and surrounded by a pervasive aura of vegan sexiness.”
We need to be honest with ourselves (and no, not about the pervasive aura of vegan sexiness). The conversations we’ve been having in the field of fundraising need to change. They are dominated by topics along the lines of how to retain donors, show more gratitude, increase planned giving, write better grants, which CRM is the best, etc. Often these can be boiled down to the overarching topic of “Tactics to help you raise more money for your organization.”
Hi everyone, apologies for the likely brusque tone of this week’s post. Like many of you, I am shaken by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; may her memory be a blessing. It is hard for us to celebrate the life of an extraordinary (and imperfect) leader when there are so many terrifying implications now that she is gone. Already Trump and McConnell plan to ram a nomination through, despite what they said four years ago about not confirming SCOTUS nominees during election years. The hypocrisy and moral bankruptcy are astounding but not surprising. We need to ensure Biden/Harris are elected and the Senate is majority blue, then expand the Supreme Court, set term limits, grant statehood to DC, pass the Voting Rights Act, end the filibuster, and get rid of the electoral college, among other things.
If you’re asking me why I’m talking about politics on a nonprofit blog, I need you to shut the hell up. Believing that nonprofit and philanthropy are somehow separate from or above politics is how we’ve been complicit in perpetuating unjust systems. And yet we keep doing this. Last week, I gave a keynote virtually where I reminded folks that kids are still in cages, that Black people are still being killed by the police, that Indigenous women are still missing and murdered, and that everything is still being controlled by rich old white dudes and we need to get more women of color elected into office. In the chat stream was a sniveling remark along the lines of “Wow, this presentation did not need to be so political.”
Hi everyone, quick reminder, if you’re free next Monday 9/21 at 11am PT, join me on this webinar to discuss wealth hoarding and tax avoidance. We’ll be focused on these questions: “What are the current rules governing philanthropy, especially foundations and donor-advised funds? How do these operate in practice? Are wealthy people using these vehicles to game the system?”