Hi everyone. Quick announcement before we launch into today’s post. The Peery Foundation, whose CEO Jessamyn Shams-Lau and I co-authored the book Unicorns Unite (along with the amazing Jane Leu of Smarter Good), is having an Ask Me Anything on 2/14 at 11am Pacific time. They’re trying to “pull back the curtain on foundation decision-making. No question is off-limits and our host’s favorite question will win a box of chocolates.” Find out how philanthropy sausage is made.
I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while. Thanks to colleague Theresa Meyers, Chief of Staff at DC Central Kitchen, for bringing this back to my attention. Every once a while, we nonprofits get requests from students, usually from a nonprofit management program. The requests often go like this,
“Hi, I am a student at so-and-so college. I am
taking a course on organizational development this quarter. Part of our
curriculum is to interview several leaders at a nonprofit, and then develop a series
of recommendations on how your organization can improve. May I interview you
and your team? This project is due next Friday. Thank you for your time.”
Hi everyone. Today’s post will likely be serious, as it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I know many of us in the sector are reflecting on his legacy. It has been a rough few years, and there were several moments where it was hard for me to believe that the “arc of the moral universe” bends toward justice. But I know it does. I see it on my travels, speaking with various brilliant leaders and organizations. I see it in on a daily basis through the work that you each do to lift up individuals and families and make our world better. Thank you. You give me hope and keep me going.
Unfortunately, however, we still often stand in our own ways, sometimes without even realizing it. A while ago I attended a meeting with group of local leaders. We were talking about equity. Someone said, “What is our definition of equity? Have we defined it? Are we on the same page?” The discussion devolved into a conversation about the definition of equity. I have no poker face, so it slowly contorted into a visage of pure frustration tinged with rage.
Hi everyone. I hope you had a relaxing Thanksgiving break (if you’re in the US). I know it’s hard to get back to work after a long weekend, which is why I am here in bed eating leftover mashed potatoes and listening to early-90s Hip Hop. Just remember, though, that your work makes a difference (Read “Welcome back to work,you sexy Jedi unicorn,” if you need a quick pick-me-up)
Unfortunately, however, the difference you are making is complex, which means it is challenging to measure. And this explains the crappy metrics of effectiveness our sector has been subjected to. Chief among them, of course, is overhead rate, one of the most insipid and destructive zombie concepts ever unleashed on nonprofits, as I and others have written about repeatedly (See: “How to deal with uninformed nonprofit watchdogs around the holidays.”)
This week I got a text message from a foundation program officer colleague talking about “when philanthropy takes equity seriously but not really because they ask the POC to be THE equity person when they are already doing four jobs.” This reminds me of “Equity Offset,” a term my friend James Lovell may have invented when he and some colleagues were discussing the phenomenon of nonprofits or foundations bringing in well-regarded speakers or equity consultants to signal that the organizations are “woke,” and this then allows them to continue being inequitable.
Equity Offset is like carbon offset. Carbon offset, in simplistic terms, works like this: Companies or individuals pay for trees to be planted, or parks to be cleaned up, or other things that reduce carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions, in order to offset their own negative environmental impact. This allows them to basically continue polluting while feeling less guilty.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked the NAF Facebook community, “What are creative ways you are thinking of in terms of retirement? Me, collecting kitchen gadgets in hope that these cherry pitter and pickle grabber etc., will appreciate in value!” The comments that came back were hilarious, because this is a group of brilliant, witty, and extremely good-looking folks. Here are a few:
“I intend to die in whatever museum I’m
working in, and have my corpse be mistaken for part of the exhibit program.
Until a century later, when an intern is cleaning they figure out that I’m that
curator who disappeared. It’s the price of fame.”
“Dumpster dive former board members homes.”
“Relying on my love of the outdoors, because I’ll be living
in a tent. When I’m ready to die, it’ll be with honor- just wandering into the
forest and letting the coyotes eat me.”
“I plan on selling black market pies at the train station.
Not kidding. I make excellent pie.”
“Work until I die – in debt”
“Commune / small house community with
all of the other women I know who gave their best years to the cause and never
got enough in salary or retirement benefits to be able to “plan” for
“I feel like Pokémon will still being a thing in like 40
years, so hopefully I can sell the cards that I hoarded in 1999 to help make
the student loan payments I’ll have until I die.”
“I’ve thought about dying at my desk”
“Counting on society to totally collapse before then, so
currency and debt will be meaningless.”
“I plan on dying on the phone line, most likely in the
middle of an ask.”
“My retirement plan is climate change and/or the total
collapse of late stage capitalism.”