We need to talk about suicide among nonprofit professionals and social justice activists

Two hands cradling a lit wax candle in the dark. Image by janwardenback on unsplash. https://pixabay.com/users/janwardenbach-3307393/

Hi everyone, this post will be more personal and serious than usual. Content warning: I will be talking about suicide, trauma, and grief. Please take care of yourself, and skip this post if you need to.

Over the past two months I have been struggling with the suicide death of a friend. She was a nonprofit professional and social justice activist. She was 30 and had been battling depression and anxiety and suicidal ideation for most of her life. A traumatic childhood led her to cutting ties with her family at a young age and being homeless for several years. Despite various challenges, she got a master’s degree, became an educator, and dedicated years of her life to advancing social justice through her nonprofit and community work, affecting the lives of many people, especially the numerous kids she taught and mentored.

Grief does a number on you, and grief when someone dies of suicide brings different feelings of guilt and regret. I run through various scenarios of what I could have said and done. Maybe if I hadn’t stayed up so late the previous night, I wouldn’t have slept through the last time she tried to call me. Maybe if I had invited her over for Christmas, she wouldn’t have spent it alone, and things might have been different. Until recently, I sometimes woke up, and unable to sleep, scanned through our text threads. Some of the messages were happy: trading vegan recipes, discussing TV shows. Others involved us arguing over various things. The later ones were of me begging her to get professional help. She had bought a gun, and I and her other friends couldn’t convince her to get rid of it. The last text she sent me was “I’m sorry. Goodbye.”

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10 condescending funding practices funders need to stop doing

[Image description: A closeup on a meerkat’s face, staring at the camera. This meerkat is puzzled by many grantmaking practices that seem to be the norm but that are actually patronizing and ineffective. Image by hansbenn at Pixabay]

Hi everyone, before we get started, I have exciting news: It took over a year and tons of dark chocolate, but I’ve compiled a bunch of Nonprofit AF ramblings into a book “Unicorns on Fire: A Collection of Nonprofit AF Blog Posts Finally Edited for Spelling and Grammar, Volume 1” which you can order on Barnes and Nobles. All revenues generated from sales from now until the end of June will be donated toward relief efforts for the devastating earthquake in Turkey and Syria.

This book makes a great present for birthdays, wedding anniversaries, as an ominous warning sign for funders or board members you don’t like, or as bathroom reading material for your household. Special thanks to editor Norea Hoeft for putting up with my shenanigans, Stacy Nguyen for designing the cover, Kishshana Palmer for penning the foreword, and all of you for inspiring me to write over the past 11 years.

Now, onto today’s topic. In this line of work, I have met lots of amazing funders. Shoutout to all the brilliant philanthropy professionals who are working hard and often without much fanfare to change the ridiculous systems that make fund seeking so painful and ineffective.

On the other hand, many foundations have a condescending belief that they know what’s best for nonprofits, and that they are like a mentor to these poor misguided organizations. A sort of “benevolent paternalism.” It leads to some terrible funding practices that we need to do away with. This is not a comprehensive list:

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Nonprofit AF taking a break this week; here’s a picture of a kitten

[Image description: A sleeping orange-striped kitten. Image by super-mapio on Pixabay]

Hi everyone, this morning I woke up with a kidney stone flare up and spent almost the entire day doubled over in pain on the couch, and nearly went to urgent care. I was trying to power through to write this week’s blog post, considering how important it is to rally our sector in light of the Supreme Court’s leaked draft decision to overturn Roe vs Wade, and the horrifying floodgates it would open.

But a friend, Mari Kim, reminded me that “you taking a break will give others permission to take a break when they are in DEBILITATING PAIN!” She’s right. So, no blog post this week. Here’s picture of a kitten for reading this notice. We need to rest up and take care of ourselves and gather our energy. We are in for the fight of our lives.

You are awesome, and 2022 is going to be an awesome year!

[Image description: A tan, white, and grey cat sleeping peacefully under a white blanket, their eyes closed in contentment. Image by Kate Stone Matheson on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Welcome to 2022! I know the heaviness of this week presses down on us like a weighed blanket filled with mayonnaise and glass shards (This is my first post in a while; the analogies may be a little rough). The holiday break, if you had one, was not long enough, and a lot of it was probably spent arguing with family members and standing in line waiting for covid tests. Those sweet few days of lying snuggled up on the couch watching Ted Lasso or the Wheel of Time or our favorite cheesy movies seem but a distant memory, like the brief romantic flings of our youth, when we too were radiant with joy and Doritos.

Now we have to get back to dealing with emails. So many emails. And to-do lists. Endless. And relentless meetings. Meanwhile, we are still in a worsening pandemic. And the CDC, sponsored by Delta Airlines, basically says that if you have covid, gargle with some warm salt water and get back to capitalism. We’re going to have to put on a brave face and refrain from answering “What are your new year’s resolutions?” with “to make it to March without strangling at least three people in this virtual meeting.”

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Vaccine Mandates are Legal and Effective. It’s Time for Nonprofits and Foundations to Implement Them.

[Image description: A patient lying in an inclined hospital bed, their wrist hooked up to various tubes. Hospital beds are running out. Image by Parentingupstream on Pixabay.]

Back in June, as COVID numbers decreased, like many of you I was excited about the prospect of getting back to some semblance of life before the pandemic. Since then, the significantly more contagious Delta variant surged, making up over 80% of all COVID cases. Now, ICU units are filled up, people are dying at high numbers, more children are getting infected, oxygen is running low, and death rates for non-COVID reasons are increasing due to shortage of healthcare workers and hospital beds. As children get back into school, it’s likely the numbers will worsen even further. It will be a brutal fall and winter.

All of this is scary, and if you’re overwhelmed, you’re not alone. I watched as my kids, eight and five, masked, line up and walk into their classrooms behind their masked teachers. I try not to recall news stories of schools shutting down for quarantine their first week, and children fighting for their lives in ICUs.

When situations are serious and overwhelming, we need to figure out what we can control and take actions. This is what we in this sector do around myriad societal issues. One thing we can and must do now is implement vaccine mandates at our workplaces. And we need to do it immediately.

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