Love, power, and the nonprofit sector

[Image description: A green sprout breaking through the grey concrete ground. The sprout is bending to the left. It has a white bud, and two leaves. There are black crack lines radiating from where it springs up.]
Hi everyone, Valentine’s Day is coming up, so let’s turn down the lights, play some soft music, uncork a medium-priced bottle of white zinfandel, and gaze deep into one another’s eyes as we reflect on the intersection of love and power and how the nonprofit sector must embrace this duality to effectively fight injustice during this current political turmoil. Hold on, I’m going to slip into something a little more…comfortable.

(What, like your Valentine’s Day plans are so much hotter).

The last few weeks have seen terrible policies springing up on a daily basis. My organization works with many immigrant and refugee communities, and my family and I escaped poverty and violence under an oppressive regime, so it’s been hitting me a little hard thinking of all the banned people whose hopes now are dashed, and innocent adults and children doomed to suffering and death. Layered on that is everything else—the war on truth, on the press, on the environment, on public education, on the arts and humanities, on kindness and compassion. There is a profound sadness of seeing the country I love, flawed as it’s always been, but nevertheless a shining beacon of hope and freedom to my family and to so many others, drift further and further into darkness and hatred. Continue reading “Love, power, and the nonprofit sector”

Capacity Building 9.1: Give someone a fish, let them focus on carpentry

kitten-1582384_1280My organization, Rainier Valley Corps, just finished our first program year (yay!). In case you didn’t know, RVC’s flagship program is a fellowship where we find talented leaders of color, provide them with training and support, and have them work full-time at small, grassroots organizations led by communities of color. The fellows help the organizations build capacity and run programs while gaining critical leadership and nonprofit management skills.

This year, our ten brilliant fellows have:

 

  • coordinated protests against unfair labor laws;
  • furthered the work to create an economic zone that provides employment and entrepreneurial support to people of color;
  • organized discussions on racial equity and dynamics in light of the national tragedies;
  • planned and implemented extended-learning programs for low-income youth;
  • surveyed over 650 parents of color regarding their views and needs on education
  • wrote successful grant proposals, coordinated board retreats, planned events, managed community centers, did a million other things,
  • sang a lot of karaoke,
  • and generally made our community better, safer, and way more awesome

Continue reading “Capacity Building 9.1: Give someone a fish, let them focus on carpentry”

We need to stop treating nonprofits the way society treats poor people

brown-shoes-1150071_960_720During a drink with one of my favorite program officers, I brought up some feedback about how onerous their grant reporting process was. Even though the foundation is really flexible on how the funds can be used, they still ask for exactly how much of each line item the foundation pays for. And their line items don’t line up with ours, so we have to spend significant time translating our budget into theirs. And once the report is submitted, it affects what we report to other foundations, leading to a funding Sudoku that wastes endless hours of my and my team’s time. 

Her response, half-joking and half-serious, was “When you entered the sector, what were you expecting, cake and ice cream?” At that moment, all I wanted to do was weep quietly into my raspberry mojito while Foreigner songs play in my head: “In my liiiiife, there’s been heartache and pain. I don’t knooow, if I can faaaaaaace it again…” Continue reading “We need to stop treating nonprofits the way society treats poor people”

So, you don’t think you directly benefit from nonprofits

sn,x1313-bg,f8f8f8.u1Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s post, new NWB merchandise! The Nonprofit Unicorn Mantra line of products! Also, I got comments from non-nonprofit readers who felt left out, so here is some “I am a social justice unicorn” merchandise.

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This week, my awesome smart audio speaker arrived. It’s really cool. I can use my voice to ask it to play music, forecast the weather, read news headlines, set the timer, add things to my calendar, and—with other devices linked to it—control the lights and other appliances in the house. Her name is Alexa, and she’s a lifesaver when I have a newborn screaming in my ears and a three-year-old dangling from my leg. Alexa also spouts pick-up lines upon request, although “Hey girl. Are you a high chair? Because I want to put a baby in you” did nothing to calm the children down.

Why do I bring this up? Because I am amazed and grateful for all the incredible stuff people come up with. I appreciate inventors and manufacturers and retailers and am happy to pay money for useful gadgets that make my life easier. For-profits are critical to society, and we nonprofit folks understand that. I don’t know a single nonprofit that makes vodka. Continue reading “So, you don’t think you directly benefit from nonprofits”

7 hopeful trends in philanthropy

friends-1149841_960_720Hi everyone. Last week I was in Minneapolis for the GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations) conference. I was there primarily to give a short talk called “Want to Help Communities of Color? Stop Trickle-Down Community Engagement” and avoid work. But I stuck around for most of the conference, mainly because funder conferences always have way better food and booze. I was trying to hoard appetizers, having developed this unconscious fear of being in places traditionally reserved for funders. If I was going to get found out as an unwashed nonprofit Wildling and asked to leave, by golly I was going to take as many grilled artichoke hearts with me as I could.

But then I realized that my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is considered by many as a funder. Instead of giving financial support to organizations, though, we send resources in the form of full-time fellows of color, whom we train, to develop the capacity of host organizations led by communities of color. They apply to be a host org. No wonder these past two years everyone has been treating me nice, and no wonder I’ve suddenly become 27% more attractive to most people, despite being married and having two kids and basically having let myself go. Continue reading “7 hopeful trends in philanthropy”