Category Archives: Staff Dynamics

Why most annual performance reviews suck and how we can make them better

I want to begin today’scastle-862700_640 post with a story that is truly terrifying. Don’t read this by yourself in the dark:

“It was a dark autumn afternoon. Jose, a Program Director, walked into his ED’s office for his annual performance review. Jane’s skin looked pale and ashy, as if she hadn’t seen sunlight for years, her eyes were bloodshot, and her hair was stringy and dull like a wet wombat’s fur. This was nothing unusual, thought Jose, since she is an ED after all, and all EDs look like that. But something about Jane was making him uneasy. Her tone was different; it was harder, more businesslike. ‘Jose, this year, you accomplished many things. But you failed to meet expectations in a few key areas. You didn’t, for example, throw an 80’s-themed volunteer appreciation party, and you didn’t build enough partnerships with gluten-free bakeries to secure in-kind snacks for our gluten-free clients. I also called and talked to some of your staff and they said that you never bring cupcakes to the team meetings.’ Jose tried to scream, ‘I didn’t know those were your expectations! How can I meet expectations I never knew I had?! And that feedback probably came from the one disgruntled staff who doesn’t do anything but whine, whom I’ve been trying to coach and mentor before firing and needed your support on but you kept skipping our one-on-one meetings!’ He tried to scream these and many other things, but no sound came out. He left the office that evening, walking into the darkness, feeling like crap, and no one ever saw him again. Unless they were buying or selling a house. For you see, Jose became a real estate agent…”

Spooky, right? I won’t blame you if you have to sleep with the lights on tonight. Continue reading

20 quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit

ostrich-992753_960_720Hi everyone, I am back in the US after a rough 24-hour trip with a two-year-old that ended with us at US Customs declaring that we had brought back several packages of vegan deer jerky made from soy protein. “I have never heard anyone declaring that before,” said the officer, “did you try it before you bought it?” Of course we did, I said, disheveled and slightly offended. Everyone knows that only a fool would buy twenty bags of vegan deer jerky without trying some samples!

We are now all completely jetlagged, thanks to the baby, who does not care to get back to regular schedule. He wakes up at 3am with this soft, almost creepy whisper of “I’m hungry?” I’ve had about eight hours of sleep total over the last three days and have started hallucinating a little (“Yes, Your Holiness, I would love some easel paper…”)

All of that is to say I have no mental capacity to do a serious post today. Instead, here are some quotes I imagined from famous people if they worked in nonprofit. Add your suggestions to the comment section:

20 quotes from famous people if they had worked in nonprofit

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy attending meetings.” John Lennon

“You miss 100% of the grants you don’t write.” Wayne Gretzky 

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you still have to file your 990 each year.” Henry Ford Continue reading

12 pieces of advice for folks graduating from school and entering the nonprofit sector

Hi everyone. First off, last week’s post—“When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings”—resonated with lots of people, and was shared nearly 7,000 times on social media [Update: It’s now been shared over 40,000 times]. Let’s put an end to this horrible practice, because our professionals deserve fair, competitive compensation. And if that’s not available, they deserve at least transparency at the onset so that job applicants can start planning their budget and look out for sales on spaghetti and canned beans.

To that end, I am encouraging all of us to disclose salary ranges on all new postings moving forward, and all job posting services to recommend, nay, require, disclosure. And all of us need to give feedback to our peers who ask for our help spreading the word on their new positions.

Second off, I just watched Game of Thrones and am upset and annoyed by what happened in the latest episode, so this post will likely be poorly edited.

All right, on to today’s topic. Lots of young professionals are graduating this month and starting to enter into our illustrious field. Congratulations, and welcome to a rewarding and, uh, lucrative career! I received requests to provide advice for our potential new colleagues. You know you’re getting old when people start asking you for advice on stuff. Sigh. To be young and full of hopes and acne again.

Anyway, I asked the NWB Facebook community for suggestions, and have synthesized them into a few pieces of advice that I wished someone had told me when I first started out on the path to make the world better. Here they are, in no particular order, and definitely not comprehensive, and some are pretty obvious, and there are more than 12 (it’s not marketable to list more than 12 of anything in the title). Please add your own advice for our new colleagues in the comment section: Continue reading

Our hiring practices are inequitable and need to change

Hi everyone, I just returned from giving a keynote speech in at the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network‘s annual conference (in Ontario Canada) called “We Are Unicorns: Why Nonprofit Peeps are Awesome, Magnificent, and Downright Sexy.” It was an easy speech to give, since we are all those things, and our sector is kicking some serious butts. Just look at this article in Forbes that says we are more “poised for the future than either business or government.” And this report that shows we have been growing jobs at a rate of 2.1% while businesses have been losing them at a rate .06%. In light of this, I recommend we all go home early today and bake some unicorn-shaped cookies to celebrate.

However, since we are adding so many jobs, we need to now focus more attention on our hiring practices, which, unfortunately, are often medieval, short-term-focused, and inequitable. We have been relying heavily on the for-profit world’s hiring model, which has not been aligned with our sector-wide values of equity and community. It leaves out too many good people, and it is time that we as a field examine and change how we hire people. Here are some weaknesses of the hiring process for us all to reflect upon while we eat our unicorn cookies: Continue reading

“Where the Sustainable Things Are” and other nonprofit children’s books

sendak1Trying to be a good father, I read to my two-year-old son every day. And also feed him daily. Since he turns two this Friday, I thought I would write him some more children’s stories. I want to give him a leg-up early just in case he wants to pursue a career in our field. Here are the texts for four new books. Of course, these are just drafts; they’ll be much better once I find an illustrator. Check them out and let me know what you think. I hope these books will become classics that parents who work in nonprofit will read to their kids each night.

The 990 Dance

Stomp your feet,cow
wring your hands,
everybody ready for the 990 dance.
Bow to the bookkeeper,
bow to your board.
Bow to the accounting firm just outsourced
With an “eek!” and a “yikes!” and a “sigh sigh sigh…”
Discover your overhead is way too “high.”
Analyze your revenues,
analyze your spending
Do whatever the accountant is recommending
Hide your frustration,
sharpen your senses
Allocate some admin as program expenses
With a “blegh” and an “argh” and an “ack ack ack”
The filing is done, but next year it’ll be back Continue reading