Category Archives: Uncategorized

Solutions Privilege: How privilege shapes the expectations of solutions, and why it’s bad for our work addressing systemic injustice

[Image description: A cute black-and-white baby goat. They are mostly black, with a large vertical white stripe down their face. This kid looks surprised, with wide-open big brown eyes and a slight smile. No, this image has nothing to do with this post. I watched Game of Thrones and then thought “You know what, let’s put a baby goat up on this blog post.” So I did. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick disclaimers. Game of Thrones is back, and it runs on Sunday nights, when I’m usually doing my writing, so the next several blog posts will likely decrease in quality and coherence. The last few days also found my kids with food poisoning. I will spare you the gross details that involved multiple changes of bedsheets and 4am showers. Suffice to say, I’ve been behind on judging the #NonprofitHaiku contest and will post the winners sometime this week.

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A while ago I was giving a short talk to a group of donors (all with for-profit backgrounds) about the challenges we nonprofits faced, including the inane and harmful focus on “overhead,” the unrealistic and insulting expectations for nonprofits to be self-sustaining, the 5%-payout mentality that allows money to be hoarded away while society burns, and the pervasive inequity of the lack funding going to marginalized-communities-led organizations. Overall, a pretty standard speech, complete with metaphors involving baking.

Afterwards, a couple, I’m going to call them Bob and Sue, came up to me. “We really enjoyed your speech,” said Sue, “but I didn’t really hear any solutions.” “Yes,” added Bob, “I would love to hear what you think would solve these issues you brought up.” I took a nice long sip of my Albariño, a wine that I learned had a characteristic bitterness.

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Happy Lunar New Year! Here’s your organization’s fortune for the Year of the Pig

[Image description: Two very cute and happy-looking piglets playing outside. They are pink with splotches of grey and black. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I was going to write a Very Serious Post about something Very Serious, but then realized that this week (beginning February 5th) is the start of the Lunar New Year, an important celebration in many cultures. This is a time for new beginnings, joy, celebration, and, for some mid-age men, getting drunk on rice wine and passing out onto a plate of sticky rice cake (However, I did apologize and would appreciate it if we all moved on).

Our friends at Fakequity.com wrote an informative article on the Lunar New Year, so this post here delves into your organization’s fortune, as fortunetelling is a custom in some parts of the world for around this time. I did some “thorough research” on the Chinese Zodiac and came up with these “fortunes” for your “organization.” To find out which animal your organization is, go here and enter the date your organization was officially incorporated or signed the MOU with your (first) fiscal sponsor. Then find your org’s fortune below:

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How funder fragility is similar to white fragility and what funders can do about it

[Image description: Two adorable baby chickens, golden fluffy, standing in the dirt in sunlight. Image by Karim Manjra on Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone, if you are in Seattle this Thursday evening (1/31/19), come to RVC’s “Inside the Activist’s Studio” event, where one of our fellows interviews a community leader. This time, we’re featuring the legendary Trish Millines Dziko, co-founder of Technology Access Foundation. Details of the event here.

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At a group convening I attended a while back, we discussed some of the challenges facing leaders of color in the sector, including how 90% of funding still go to white-led organizations, how funders still use a very white lens in what is considered good data and effective programs, how the smallest and most burdensome grants are often the only ones accessible to marginalized-communities-led organizations, how white foundation boards are, the general lack of trust foundations have for nonprofits, and how progressive foundations spend endless amounts of time intellectualizing, which disproportionately harms marginalized communities because they cannot afford to wait months or years for funding decisions.

This was a group of all leaders of color, so it was cathartic and affirming for many attendees to hear that their frustrations were not imagined. As we started talking about potential solutions, though, the group’s conversation and energy quickly took a detour. A foundation program officer, who was of color, started talking about how the foundation she worked for was not like that, how they had been changing, how it felt like we were attacking and “vilifying” foundations, how we needed to not be “divisive,” etc. The previous momentum was cut off as several people in the group in succession started affirming this program officer and reassuring her that she and her foundation were great and helpful and generous and amazing. A conversation on systemic challenges suddenly became about one funder’s feelings.

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Imagine if we talked to other professionals the way people talk to nonprofit folks

[Image description: An irritated-looking lemur, white with grayish fur, with brown eyes, starting directly at the camera, surrounded by some leaves. This lemur is me when someone who has no nonprofit experience gives me advice on running a nonprofit. Image by Michelle Phillips on Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone. Before we get into today’s post, a quick announcement: My organization is now accepting applications for our first-ever Green Pathways Fellowship program, which we are launching in collaboration with our awesome partner Got Green. This cool new program will diversify the environmental movement by finding awesome leaders of color and supporting them as they work full-time at environmental organizations. Check it out!

Nonprofit work is great, but we do deal with all sorts of headaches. But many of our friends and families and even board members may have never worked at a nonprofit before, which means it’s hard sometimes for them to understand what we go through. Here is what it might be like for other professionals if they got the nonprofit treatment.

Apologies to Shannon Reed for forgetting to credit her hilarious article in McSweeneys (“If People Talk to Other Professionals the Way They Talk to Teachers”) in the earlier version of this post.

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10 things progressive funders must learn from conservative ones, or we are all screwed

[Image description: A black-and-white close-up shot of the head of the Statue of Liberty and part of her arm. Image by Fabian Fauth on Unsplash.com]

Hi everyone, this post is going to be very serious. Before we begin, though, RVC is hiring a Director for our Operations Support program; if you love the intersection of equity and operations and want to work with an incredible team, this job may be for you. Please forward it widely. 

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The last few weeks have been difficult. The images of women and kids being tear-gassed at the border haunt me. It makes me think about how effective we nonprofits and foundations are, and what’s keeping us from being able to stop these horrible things from happening.  

I know many of us are having similar thoughts. Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Edgar Villanueva, the brilliant author of Decolonizing Wealth, a critical book that highlights something we actively avoid talking about: the history of philanthropic dollars, which is rooted in the genocide of Native peoples, slavery, and other abuse of and extraction from marginalized communities. I highly recommend the book. And it is an encouraging sign that foundations have been at least willing to engage with the topics that Decolonizing Wealth, along with Anand Giridharada’s Winners Take All, have been courageously bringing up.

But there is a potential challenge that I can see: The public embrace by foundations of these two books—and other forms of criticisms—is at danger of being another form of intellectualizing, with the reflection generated by these important books serving as a self-congratulatory proxy for actions, as has happened over and over. How many more books need to be written? When will we see fundamental changes to how philanthropy operates? Continue reading