Hi everyone. Apologies, this post will likely be long, poorly edited, and not have as many links to sources and I would like. I haven’t slept much, and even with a partner who is an experienced educator, parenting and crisis-schooling two small children have been fun but challenging.
As the protests against our deeply anti-Black, extremely racist systems continue, I am glad to see that foundations and nonprofits are getting more engaged in the conversations about how our sector must change. Invest more in Black-led organizations. Support grassroots orgs working to enable marginalized communities to vote and elect more women of color into office. Analyze the diversity at our own organizations and DO SOMETHING about the pervasiveness of senior leaders being white and front-line staff being BIPOC. Change the way fundraising is done to be less white-donor-centered. Increase payout rates beyond the minimum 5% and give Multi-Year General Operating Funds (MYGOD)!
Over the past few days, I have been thinking of George Floyd’s brutal murder by the police and of the protests happening in Minneapolis, nationwide, and globally, as I know many of you are. I am at a loss on what to do and how to support our Black friends and colleagues and family members who have constantly suffered under the pervasive violence of white supremacy and racism. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any encouraging words for you at this moment. I am just angry and sad.
And to be honest, I am also frustrated by our sector. I love our field and the people in it. There is so much good that comes from our work. In the most challenging of times, we have often been a beacon of light. There are many amazing organizations and leaders organizing protests, working tirelessly to change unjust laws, lifting up people in need, providing food and shelter and hope. Thank you for all that you do, and for doing it in a time when there is so much community need even as your resources drastically dwindle.
But as I watch the news and hear of police running over protesters, white nationalists creating chaos and confusion so they can blame peaceful demonstrators, and our racist president stoking the fires of hatred and violence again and again—it makes we wonder if our sector is equipped to help bend the arc toward justice, or if we have collectively become the “white moderate” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls the biggest barrier for equity and justice for Black people and thus for us all.
Hi everyone, before we get to today’s topic, I’m having a conversation with the brilliant Angie Kim, CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation, on May 27th at 10am PST, about our sector. “Vu and Angie will have an informal, probably profanity-laden fireside chat, where we discuss what’s working and what’s not. Get ready to get provoked, maybe pissed off. There might be puppets.” It’s free. See details and register here.
Also, I may expand on this topic later, but here’s a petition calling for Congress to enact legislation to increase foundations’ and donor-advised funds’ payout rates for the next three years. Please sign it if you are so inclined. THIS IS THE RAINY DAY that funders and donors have been saving for, and it’s unconscionable that hundreds of billions are just sitting there while people die.
Lately, I’ve been getting more notices from colleagues distraught by their board or team saying things like “It’s a pandemic, we don’t have time to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Let’s get back to it when we get back to normal.” This view, that somehow equity work is like the parsley garnish to the risotto of “real work,” is pervasive. I wrote about it earlier here, mentioning a cancer organization that does not understand what race and equity have to do with cancer. This crisis has unfortunately further amplified this perspective for many people and organizations.
An executive director colleague told me he received $1,000 from a corporation for his organization’s emergency funds to help people pay for food and rent. Of course, he thanked the representative on the phone and sent a letter. A few days later, he got an email asking whether the nonprofit would mind publicly acknowledging the corporation and its $1K gift on some combination of social media, website, and newsletter. I could hear the weariness in his voice. He and his team had been working nonstop on the front line and barely had time to breathe. “I kind of wanted to be petty and just return the money. But I can’t, because people are starving.”
If there’s one thing that’s been beaten into all of us in the sector, it is the concept of gratitude. Donors and funders should definitely be thanked, preferably throughout the year and in multiple forms: Handwritten note, phone calls, recognition events, maybe a swag mug. It should be as personal as possible so as to not seem routine. “You can never thank someone too much,” a development director colleague told me.
Hi everyone, a couple of notes. The Nonprofit AF Facebook page is still locked due to FB refusing to confirm my location (this happened, coincidentally, the week where I wrote a post talking about how our sector needs to be more political). I’m working on it, but sorry about that. I’m active on twitter (@nonprofitAF) in the meanwhile. And if you’re free tomorrow, 4/28, at 1pm PST, I’m on this live podcast recording with brilliant leaders Mary Morten, Jane Kimondo, and Michelle Morales to talk about philanthropy.
Also, I want to thank everyone who has been supporting NAF through Patreon. I left my job a few months ago, so this pooled source of income has been very helpful. However, my partner is securely employed and we have savings (in great part thanks to you) so we are in a much more stable financial situation than many families out there. Please don’t hesitate to lower your Patreon support, stop being a supporter, or shift your support to others. We’ll be fine, I promise. Thank you so much.
I know the past few weeks I’ve been pushing hard and being very critical of our sector, especially of foundations. And also, not being very funny. The urgency of this moment means we and the people we serve can no longer afford for us to put up with ineffective or destructive philosophies and practices. Besides deaths from the virus itself, there will be significant increase in global poverty. Starvation threaten to kill millions more in the years ahead. Our sector must dispense with all the BS that has been keeping us down.