We in nonprofit work a lot and oftentimes neglect important things. Like flossing. And exercise. Let’s try to be more mindful about self-care. There are many benefits of yoga, for example, which are the ancient practices of training your mind, body, and spirit. Now, you may be thinking, “I don’t have time for yoga; I have an important grant to write.” Well, even a few minutes a day can be extremely helpful to get you more relaxed and productive. Here are a few yoga positions inspired by nonprofit work that you can do today. Do not exert yourself if you are a yoga beginner. Try one or two poses each week, and increase the variety as you advance. Also, if your office can’t afford air conditioning this summer, all the better, because hot yoga is even more beneficial. Continue reading “The Downward-Facing Budget and other nonprofit yoga poses”
Today, I want to talk about children’s books. I am so sick of these children’s books that my one-year-old makes me read each day. You try to see how charming “Guess How Much I Love You” is after the 80th time! All right, nutbrown hares, we get it, you love each other, great! And yes, brown bear, brown bear, you see a red bird, awesome, and red bird, red bird, you see a blue horse, wonderful.
But then I got this great idea! I should write children’s books! They are short as hell! And if one becomes a best-seller, I’ll be rich, rich! The conventional wisdom is to write about stuff that you know. And what do I know? Nonprofit work, of course. I can write children’s books about nonprofit work! Here are some that I’ve started working on. There is so much that children can learn from our field. Just imagine parents reading these books to their kids each night. Maybe these books might even inspire some kids to grow up wanting to be nonprofit warriors. Read these texts below, and let me know what you think, and other children’s book ideas you have.
The Runaway ED
Her board chair said, “If you run away, I will come and find you and bring you back, for you are my Executive Director.”
“If you come and find me,” said the ED, “then I will become a strategic plan and hide on the shelf.”
“If you become a strategic plan and hide on the shelf,” said her board chair, “then I will become an intern who accidentally stumbles on you.”
“If you become an intern who accidentally stumbles on me, then I will become a raw piece of cauliflower on a snack platter at a community gathering, which no one will eat.”
“If you become a raw piece of cauliflower on a snack platter at a community gathering, which no one will eat, I will become a desperate hungry vegan and find you.”
“If you become a desperate hungry vegan who will find me,” said the ED, “then I will become an invitation-only foundation that is like Fort Knox to get through.”
“If you become an invitation-only Foundation that is like Fort Knox to get through, I will become the best friend of one of the trustees’ daughters and I will get through to you.”
“Aw, shucks,” said the ED, “well, in that case, I might as well stay here and be your ED.”
And she did.
“Can I have a raise?” she asked.
If You Give a Board Treasurer a Cookie
If you give a board treasurer a cookie, he may ask who’s paying for the cookie.
When you answer that you’re using funds he approved on the budget, he’s probably going to ask to see a copy of the budget.
When you give him the budget, he’s going to ask for the latest balance sheet.
When you show him the balance sheet, it may remind him of a training he attended about the importance of opening a line of credit.
He’ll ask you to open a line of credit. He might get carried away and say he’ll go to the bank himself.
When he goes to the bank, he might notice that your signatories are not up to date.
He’ll send out an email to the finance committee asking to discuss this at the next meeting.
You’ll have to coordinate the meeting and remind everyone. And of course, you have to get snacks.
And chances are…cookies will be on sale.
The Very Tired Development Director
In the light of a fluorescent lamp, a Development Director sat hunched over an organization’s fundraising plan.
On Monday, he organized one luncheon, but the organization still needed money.
On Tuesday, he applied to two employee giving campaigns, but the organization still needed money.
On Wednesday, he launched three crowd-funding initiatives, but the organization still needed money.
On Thursday, he wrote four grants, but the organization still needed money.
On Friday, he called five major donors, but the organization still needed money.
On Saturday, he wrote 10 thank-you emails, sent out 18 handwritten notecards, went to coffee with 5 potential donors, checked the grant calendar, looked at the annual event program brochures of 9 similar organizations to scan their sponsors, called 4 board members to remind them of their tasks, emailed 3 local businesses, and led a program tour. He was exhausted.
The next day was Sunday again. The Development Director stayed at home and spent time with his family, and he felt much better.
He was due for a much-needed vacation, so he left for Hawaii. A week later he came back and…
He was still an awesome Development Director who continued to keep the organization and its important work going.
The Giving Nonprofit
Once there was nonprofit organization, and it loved the community and the funders supporting its work. Every year, the organization would continue to serve the people in its community. And each year, funders would provide funding so it could continue its programs. And the organization loved its funders and its community very much. And the community was happy.
But time went by, and the nonprofit and its programs grew older. The funders didn’t come as frequently, and the nonprofit was often left alone.
Then one day, a funder passed by, and the nonprofit said, “Come, funder, come to my programs and meet the kids we serve and let’s make the community better.”
“My foundation has shifted its priorities,” said the funder, “we only fund new and innovative programs. Do you do anything new and innovative?”
“I’m sorry,” said the nonprofit, “we have been building this program for several years. It is not new. But it is good, and it serves many wonderful people.”
And the funder left, and the nonprofit was sad again.
Then one day, another funder passed by, and the nonprofit said, “Come, let’s have lunch and talk about our community. Support our work and help kids achieve a brighter future.”
“We no longer fund direct service work,” said the funder, “that’s a Band-Aid solution. Do you do Collective Impact?”
“I’m sorry,” said the nonprofit, “we have been involved, but not significantly, since our community still needs direct service.”
And so the funder left and went far, far away. The nonprofit was now very tired and sad.
And after a long time, another funder came by.
“I’m sorry,” said the nonprofit, “I don’t have anything innovative, just good programs that serve people. My programs only target specific neighborhoods, not whole states, in case you want something farther reaching. The programs serve unique populations, so they might not be scalable, in case that’s what you seek. I am not sure I have anything that you might like to fund.”
“It’s OK,” said the funder, “we provide general operating grants focused on outcomes, and I heard you do some great stuff, so here is a grant so you can continue to serve the community.”
And the nonprofit was happy.
And its staff went to happy hour.
For more nonprofit kids’ books, read “Where the Sustainable Things Are” and other nonprofit children’s books.
And also part 3, “Green Eggs and Strategic Plans” and other nonprofit children’s books.
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The more I work in this field, the more amazed and inspired I am by the people in it. You are some of the smartest people I know. You could choose to pursue work elsewhere for much better pay and prestige. But you are here in this field fighting each day to lift up our families and strengthen our communities. You are awesome because you know that awful things in the world do not stop happening when we don’t think about them. You chose this work and stick around because you believe that if we want to make the world better, we can’t wait around for Fate or other people to take care of things.
The work is never easy, and we put up with a lot of crap, and in the quest to help end homelessness, to make elders feel less lonely, to expose kids to art and music, to make the world greener, to change unfair policies, to undo the forces of racism and homophobia and sexism and oppression, and overall to make the world better, we sometimes forget to stop to appreciate ourselves and give ourselves and each other some credit.
So today, Valentine’s Day, I just want to say that you are each a unicorn to me.
To the program staff who are on the front line helping clients, who stay late in the evenings and weekends to tutor a student or serve a hot meal to the hungry or comfort the lonely, you are each a unicorn.
To the development professionals who stuff thousands of letters, make dozens of calls per week, write grants, lead program tours, coordinate special events, and generally keep the organization afloat, you are each a unicorn.
To the admin staff who spend endless energy herding cats and putting out fires, who wake up in cold sweat after having nightmares about the budgets and HR policies and being able to make payroll this month, you are each a unicorn.
To the social justice activists and advocates who stand on the sidewalks in the cold to gather signatures and to push for better laws, who sometimes get arrested for civil disobedience in the name of equity, you are each a unicorn.
To the office management staff who keep the lights on and file paper and manage people’s schedules and check the mail and pay the bills and answer phone calls, you are each a unicorn.
To the financial management staff who make sure we stay on budget and can answer questions about where we’re spending money, who understand and explain obscure concepts like unrestricted and temporarily restricted and balance sheets and reserves, you are each a unicorn.
To the volunteer managers who wrangle the best out of people, to get them to pull up blackberry brambles and pick up litter and mentor kids, and make them feel appreciated so they come back and do it again, you are each a unicorn.
To the marketing and communication staff, who are keeping the fires alight so others can see the importance of our work, so the world can see the people whom we see every day, you are each a unicorn.
To the community organizers and community builders who get people to talk to one another, to help them realize their individual and collective power, to get neighbors to be more neighborly, you are each a unicorn.
I know I might have forgotten some people. Thank you for all that you do. Today, take a moment to give yourself some credit. You are a unicorn. A smart and charming and good-looking unicorn who is helping to make the world better. Take a moment to tell your colleagues that they are a unicorn to you.
Then, go home early and try not to work this weekend. Injustice and inequity will still be there to do battle with you afterward. You deserve a break, you awesome unicorn you.
Every once a while I get a chance to infiltrate the campus of a major corporation like Microsoft. Usually it’s to beg someone to join our board or to be a sponsor of our annual event (ideally, both). These places are very different from nonprofits, but luckily, I’ve learned to blend in by using the lingo. Walking up to the reception desk, for example, I’ll pretend to say something on the phone like, “Yes, I know you’re cranking against deliverables–we all are–but the adminisphere needs the CRM to be in beta drop and repro by next week or we are all SOL, so tell your PM to get the chips and salsa buttoned down!” Except for my aura of stress and exhaustion, no one suspects that I am from the nonprofit world.
Until I enter the cafeteria. Did you know many big companies have cafeterias? Last month, I visited he one at Microsoft, and it is amazing! They have these cool stations, with different types of hot food. They even have vegetarian/vegan food. All for very reasonable prices. I get so excited seeing all this convenient and affordable food, freshly prepared every day, and it shows. I ran around, expressing delight at everything, embarrassing the host. “Dude, calm down,” he whispered, “It’s like you’ve never seen food before.” The forks and spoons are all compostable, made from potatoes. “This is totally awesome,” I said, chewing on a piece of Panko-crusted tofu, “This tofu tastes like childhood. And this fork is delicious!” Ah, to have hot food prepared for you every day, to eat with edible utensils!
“So,” I said, calming down, “would you consider joining our board?”
It’s disappointing to come back down to earth, where we have no company-sponsored cafeteria, where last week one of the staff interrupted me to ask whether there was any food left over from the meeting the previous night. Let’s face it, we nonprofit folks have different eating habits than the corporate types. First, because we don’t have the same financial resources. Second, we usually also don’t have a lot of time, since we’re always helping people and stuff.
However, that shouldn’t mean that we can’t eat delicious, nutritious, and affordable meals. Also, we don’t like to waste food, and there is always a ton of food left over from various meetings. That’s why, prompted by Director Jen of Virginia, I’ve been thinking of writing a cookbook for nonprofit professionals. I’m working on it between episodes of the Walking Dead, but I wanted to give you a sample of what will be in the book. Here are a few recipes. I also asked friends of NWB’s Facebook page for suggestions.
The ED Ramen Bowl: Prepare one package of ramen. Add some frozen vegetables. Microwave for 5 minutes. Eat while reading financial statements or having a meeting with a staff. One hour later, eat a Cliff Bar while running to a meeting. Serves 1.
Fundraiser Wine Sangria: After every annual event, you will inevitably be left with several bottles of wine that have been partially finished. Don’t dump those down the drain! Combine and pour about 2 bottles’ worth into a punch bowl, add 2 sliced lemons, 2 sliced oranges, 2 shots of brandy or vodka, and 4 cups of leftover club soda or ginger ale or whatever, stir, and chill for a refreshing drink at the debriefing session. Serves 8, or serves 4 twice.
I-Forgot-My-Lunch Pasta: Having dried pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce in the office is a major time and money saver. For a quick meal, add dry pasta to a large microwave-safe glass bowl. Add water to one or two inches above pasta. Microwave for 15 minutes. Go answer some emails. Check for doneness and microwave 3 more minutes as necessary. Carefully drain pasta and return to bowl. Add pasta sauce to your liking, and stir. The hot bowl will heat up the pasta sauce. Serves 1 to 5. If you want more nutrition, add frozen or fresh vegetables and microwave an additional 3 minutes.
Hummus Platter Pizza: Hummus has gotten very popular, and that’s why 95% of nonprofit group meetings will feature this item, along with baby carrots, sugar snap peas, broccoli florets, and pita wedges. You will always have more hummus than people will eat, so why not make a delicious “pizza” after the meeting? Take leftover pita wedges, spread hummus on top, slice and add leftover baby carrots, snap peas, and broccoli, cover with shredded cheese cubes leftover from another meeting, and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Serves 1 to 5.
Morning-After Breakfast Melt (Contributed by J Eric Smith): “Put the leftovers from last night’s meeting/event snack platters in a bowl. Pretty consistently, the things that no one ever eats off the platter are the pepper jack cheese, the weird salami looking stuff with more white fat than red meat in it, the cauliflower florets, and those strange, flat, brown things in the snack mix that taste like Worcestershire sauce. Heat in microwave until the cheese melts. Eat at desk, with aspirin garnish.” Serves 1 to 8.
The Team-Building Stone Soup: Food being left in the fridge for too long can cause consternation among staff. So every month, make a delicious “minestrone” soup. Add one carton of vegetable stock and one jar of tomato-based pasta sauce to a large pot. Season with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or dried Italian seasoning (rub between your fingertips as you add for extra flavor). Add a splash of red wine left over from an event and half a cup of small dried pasta. Then have each staff look through the fridge and see what they can contribute to the soup: cheese, tuna salads, that weird kombucha tea with its “mother” floating inside, other soups. Simmer till the pasta is cooked. Not only is this a great way to clean out the fridge, it’s also a wonderful team-building activity. Serves the entire team.
Pastry bread pudding: Breakfast pastries are like government grants. At first they seem like a good idea, but you quickly get sick from how heavy they are. And yet, which nonprofit has not had a box of assorted pastries left over after an early-morning meeting? Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 8 pastries into small pieces, shove into a baking pan, and drizzle 3 tablespoons melted butter over pieces. In a mixing bowl, whisk 4 eggs, 2 cups milk, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over pastries and make sure everything is covered in liquid. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Serves 3 to 8.
The Development Director Omelette (Contributed by Rachel Schachter): “Take a dozen eggs out of the fridge. Give your ED a list of donors to call. Wait one week. Throw one egg at him for every donor not called. Go to store. Buy more eggs, repeat as necessary.” (Note from NWB: This is actually not a recipe and is very wasteful of eggs, which should be saved for the real recipes, like the bread pudding above).
I’ll be developing more recipes for the cookbook. Please send in your nonprofit recipes and any suggestions you may have. Remember: Just because we’re in nonprofit, and cranking against deliverables, doesn’t mean we can’t eat well.
Ooh, my ramen is ready!
Hi everyone. Go Seahawks! That was the best Super Bowl ever! Sure, no one came to my Vegan Super Bowl viewing party, so I had to watch and celebrate alone with my Buffalo tempeh “wings,” (with raw-cashew-nutritional yeast sauce), but whatever, the Hawks won! They didn’t just win, they obliterated. Now everyone is celebrating in Seattle, with a few people climbing on Walk/Don’t-Walk sign posts and setting couches on fire. And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like every day we win a Super Bowl. Plus, couches in Seattle are pretty flammable, since they’re usually made from recycled paper and organic hemp fiber.
I was planning to write on a completely different topic, but I’m too excited to think about anything other than how awesome the Seahawks are. So here are some lessons we in nonprofit could learn from Super Bowl XLVIII and the Seahawks in general. My apologies if you don’t care much about football, or if you’re a Broncos fan. This will probably be the only football-related Nonprofit With Balls post, unless the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl again (and they will).
Lesson 1: A strong defense will usually beat a strong offense. The Broncos and Seahawks kick ass in offense and defense, respectively. Historically, when that happens, defense always wins. That’s because a strong defense can prevent the other team from scoring, but you can also intercept, take possession and reverse your opponents’ momentum.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Have your defensive infrastructure in place, like a strong board, organizational insurance, clear financial management procedures, an emergency succession plan, some aloe plants on the windowsill for minor burns, etc.
Lesson 2: It’s not the size or image, it’s how you play. The Seahawks team was seen as too young and inexperienced, compared to the decorated Broncos, and, at 5’11” and 203 pounds, Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson looks in comparison to other beefier players like some scrawny vegan who should be at home eating organic vegan Buffalo tempeh wings. But he and the Hawks are quick, smart, and focused. Maybe being looked down on meant Seattle had something to prove, and that worked in our favor.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Just because an organization is experienced and well-established, doesn’t mean it should rest on its laurels. Small organizations, because we are smaller, can often be more effective due to our agility and scrappiness. Don’t you ever talk about us small organizations!
Lesson 3: Stop talking and do stuff. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was fined $50,000 by the NFL for breaking his contractual agreement to talk to the media. Dude, the guy is a football player. His job is to kick butt on the field. And he is good at that. He is no talk and all action.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We do a lot of talking and planning (strategic plans, advisory committees, research papers, summits, etc.) Sometimes we should channel Beast Mode and shut up and do stuff.
Lesson 4: Stop forcing people to do stuff they’re not good at. While we’re on Marshawn, what kind of ridiculous rule is that, to require all players to give daily interviews? The dude is obviously uncomfortable on camera, so leave him alone. He is good at other things. Like breaking people’s ankles.
How we can apply this this to nonprofit work: Find where people’s talents are, and have them focus on that. Sure, we should all step outside our comfort zone from time to time and develop new skills, but find the balance. Specifically: VFA staff, stop forcing me to be in promotional videos. I hate being in videos. On most days I look like I’ve been run over by a taco truck and may actually scare off potential donors. I’d rather tackle people. Literally; there are a few people in the nonprofit field I’d love to tackle down to the ground.
Lesson 5: Miscues and early mistakes are deadly. The Broncos did not start out well at all. Within seconds of starting on offense, Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head into the end zone, resulting in a safety and points for the Hawks. During postgame interview, Ramirez said he thought he heard Manning’s signal to snap the ball. That mistake that early in the game dealt a crushing psychological blow to the Broncos that they never recovered from.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Clear communication–between staff, between board, between staff and board, between bored board, and between boring staff–is critical. A single miscommunication could really affect an organization.
Lesson 6: Don’t let miscues and mistakes be deadly. On the same note though, the Seahawks, playing against the 49ers in the championship game a couple of weeks ago, also lost possession within seconds of the game. It was painful. But they didn’t let that affect their morale. They continued playing and recovered. This didn’t seem to happen with the Broncos. By halftime, they looked defeated, shaking their heads, staring at the ground, likely wishing they had gone into nonprofit work instead of professional sports.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We, and our organizations, screw up all the time. Learn from mistakes, move on. Just because our mistakes could result in the loss of funding and thus services for thousands of clients who need them, it doesn’t mean we should let that affect our morale and game play.
Lesson 7: Teamwork is critical. Seattle’s teamwork was awesome. Offense, defense, special teams were all in sync. Like Richard Sherman said in a post-game interview, “I am the best Cornerback in the Universe! Don’t you ever try me, or I will devour you like Marshawn devours Skittles!” All right, he didn’t actually say that. He said, “It was a total team effort: The back end, the linebackers, the d-line, everybody did their parts today.”
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: For nonprofits to be successful, all components of the team need to work well together: Admin, Development, Programming. This is especially important for many of our organizations, where Admin is also Programming, and Development is also Janitorial, and Programming is also Marketing, etc.
Lesson 8: Turnovers are demoralizing. That’s when a team loses possession of the ball when they have it, and the other team has a chance now to score. The Hawks were able to gain four turnovers; the Broncos none.
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We use the term “turnover” to refer to new staff or board members when they leave and new people come in, so it’s different than in football, but the effects are the same: Momentum is lost, people feel like crap. So try to keep your team happy and avoid turnovers.
Finally, Lesson 9: Fake it until you make it, and learn stuff along the way. I actually don’t know much about football, but look, I just talked about it as if I do! Ahaha, and you read this entire post!
How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Sometimes we don’t have the skills or experience in something, like public speaking or writing a press release or grant or talk to an intimidating program officer of a huge foundation. Don’t sit on the sideline. Go learn crap and try things out. I had to google all sorts of stuff. I’ve learned more about football these past few weeks than I had ever cared to, and you know what, it’s kind of fun.
All right, there are bunch of other lessons for us to learn (for example, puppies and horses can be friends, thus teaching us all that organizations of different sizes and missions can be effective partners; etc.), but I’m exhausted, and it’s 2:00am. I need to go to bed. The staff will be so happy tomorrow. The Seahawks are awesome. I hope they all get raises. I’m going to take my team out for lunch to celebrate. We’ve budgeted $2.50 per person.