On April 20th VFA will have our annual dinner. The dinner is in celebration of 35 years of service to the community. It also almost coincides with the birth of my son, who is due to arrive tomorrow. After much discussion, my wife and I are going to auction off the naming rights to the baby at the dinner, with all proceeds going to VFA. You can name this baby if you are the highest bidder, and it will be his formal first name for 18 years (He can change it once he is of age if he doesn’t like the name). This is a wonderful way to support VFA’s many programs that help immigrant and refugee children and family. You can name the baby after yourself, or perhaps in honor of someone else.
Of course, there are certain restrictions:
It can’t be a profanity in any language
It should not be unreasonably long
It must have at least one vowel
It should be somewhat gender-appropriate
It should not offend anyone from any culture
There is no expectation that you have visitation or other rights to the baby once you name him (though, of course, we’d love for him to meet his namer from time to time)
As this is a serious and potentially life-affecting decision, there is a minimum starting bid of $5,000, which will provide a six-weeks summer learning and enrichment program for 10 students. If we do not raise at least that amount from auctioning off the baby’s name rights, we will not move forward. Please spread this message to your friends who may be interested in supporting a great organization while having their or a loved one’s name immortalized in our son. It’ll be a great story for us to tell him when he’s old enough to ask how he got his name. He’ll feel proud that he helped to advance VFA’s mission of strengthening the community.
I hope to see you at the dinner. If you cannot make it, please email me (at vu.le at vfaseattle.org) if you are still interested in bidding. We can take bids even if you cannot make it to the dinner.
This week, I was asked to speak on a panel to a bunch of social work students on working with refugee and immigrant clients. Panels are like the lunch buffet of information sharing. It is a group of people with knowledge of a certain topic, asked to speak together with the hope that at least one of them will say something interesting. It is a great idea for our attention-deficient culture, but it is often poorly executed, oftentimes due to the panelists themselves.
Now, the average attention span of an audience member is nine seconds, so it was frustrating when the first panelist took 21 minutes to introduce herself, going into details about her childhood upbringing, her first trip to Disneyland, her favorite color, that one magical night when she tried peroskis for the first time, etc. The second panelist, an otherwise delightful woman, took cue from the first and spent 17 minutes telling her life story. The students, thinking this might actually be a clever real-time demonstration of how to communicate with refugees and immigrants, paid careful attention.
So I thought I would provide the following tips on how to be a dynamic, interesting panel speaker. If you are ever asked to be on a panel, please review these notes below. Many of these tips also work for other speeches, such as wedding toasts and eulogies:
Tip 1: Prepare. It is important to be ready. Many panelists make the terrible mistake of not preparing for the panel. Several days ahead of time, make sure you prepare yourself by informing your friends through tweeting and updating your Facebook timeline that you will be on a panel. Have a friend come and take an awesome picture of you from the audience.
Tip 2: Try to go first or last. Being first allows you to set precedence. If your intro is only one minute long, for example, the other panelists will follow. I prefer being last, which allows me to listen carefully to the other panelists’ points and then synthesize, which makes me look extra smart, e.g., “Yes, I agree with Mark’s statement; theretofore, and indeed, a strength-based approach is the best return on ROI.”
Tip 3: Talk like a human being. Panelists sometimes get this inflated ego, like oooh, I’m on a panel, I’m an expert. Then they try to sound intelligent, using a language that I call “expertese,” which is very annoying. The only time you should try to sound smart is when you’re talking to grad students, in which case, it is not only appropriate for you to use jargon, but also expected of you to make up some terminologies that sound real, for instance, “Post-modern misoxenistic tendencies among the media are challenges newcomers to the country face on an almost morpholateral basis.” It makes the students feel smart. They pay a lot of money for their degree, so it’s nice to boost their ego.
Tip 4: Tell hilarious jokes that are related to the topic. For example, “A Program Director, a tutor, and a refugee family with two small children walk into a school. The school asks why the long faces? The Program Director says, ‘You don’t have enough culturally appropriate services for immigrant and refugee students and families, so they’re struggling academically.” (I may need to work on my punch line).
Tip 5: Gage your audience’s reaction and energy. Watch their body language. If they’re yawning or stabbing themselves in the eyes with the corner of their binders, they’re bored out of their wits, and it’s time to ante up on the jokes.
Tip 6: Use strategic cussing. Mild expletives like “pissed” “damn” and “hell” make people think you’re passionate. Sprinkle them in once a while. For example, “Politicians always think ‘why don’t these refugees and immigrants ever attend a town hall meeting? Don’t they care?’ That pisses me off!” Remember, you’re trying to talk like a human being, and that’s what humans sound like, dammit.
Tip 7: Tell stories. Audience members love good, relevant stories. Nothing is more effective than stories. Statistics are very helpful (“Over 50% of immigrant and refugee students will not graduate from high-school”), but a good story can humanize the message and help to drive it home. Make sure your story has a point though: “And eating that peroski for the first time was when I realized how difficult yet wonderful it is to be in a new land.”
Tip 8: Get audience participation. It wakes them up. And why should you do all the work. Try to call on specific people in the audience. If you know their name, that’s great, but if you don’t, it’s appropriate to call them out by their distinguishing features, “The best way to work with refugees and immigrants? I could tell you, but first, what do you think? You, young man with the cold sore, what say you?”
Tip 9: Get into a fight with other panelists. The whole point of getting people together is so they can bounce off of one another. But panelists tend to be self-contained. That’s just boring. Either agree with someone, elaborate on others’ statements, or else respectfully disagree. At every panel I’m on, I try to get into at least one verbal fisticuff with another panelist. Just try not to make it personal, like “Oh yeah, Ed? Well your FACE has a responsibility to learn English and assimilate.”
Finally, Tip 10: Wear the appropriate clothing. I always wear glasses and a red button-down shirt. Glasses convey wisdom, and red suggests power. Then, I leave the top two or three buttons of my shirt unbuttoned, conveying a subtle sense of sexiness. Wisdom, power, sexiness. All good panelists project such an aura.
I hope those tips are helpful. Share this with any of your friends who tweet or post on Facebook that they will be on a panel. (Also, check out NWB’s 12 Tips for Not Sucking as a Panel Moderator). If all of us can learn to be better panelists, maybe, just maybe, we can achieve world peace in our children’s lifetime.
Or at least panels wouldn’t be such boring-ass events to sit through.
In less than three weeks, my son will be born, and I’ll be a father for the first time. I am very nervous about being a father. Terrified, really. But not nearly as terrified as I am of our annual dinner, which is coming up shortly after the baby is born.
Annual events are some of the most terrifying things we nonprofit people deal with. According to statistics I’ve Googled and/or made up, they are responsible for 77% of nervous breakdowns experienced by nonprofit staff and board members (Endless useless meetings and co-workers who leave their dishes in the sink for days make up the other 5% and 18%, respectively).
I started talking to other ED’s, and while all of them agree that special events are scary—with a couple of ED’s hyperventilating at the words “special events” and had to breathe into a paper bag while the rest of us chant “general operating, general operating” over and over to calm them down—some say that having a baby is scarier.
So, let us examine this as objectively as we can in order to determine which is scarier, having a baby, or planning an annual fundraising event. We will base our analysis on several dimensions: Fragility, Dependency, Time, Ickiness, Effort, Community Perception, and Cuteness.
Fragility: Babies are fragile, being all tiny and stuff. They are helpless, especially in the beginning, during their larval conical-head stage. Annual events are also fragile, held in check usually by one event planner with an increasingly twitchy eye who at any moment might strangle the rest of the planning committee, causing the whole thing to implode. Still, no one says, “It’s as easy as taking candy from a hyper-caffeinated special event planner.” In terms of scariness, the edge goes to babies on this dimension.
Dependency: Babies depend on us for everything. Meanwhile, we depend on the annual dinner for unrestricted funds, usually to plug up major gaps in the budget. Still, if for some reason my wife and I are not here, we have a good network of relatives to ensure our baby is well taken care of. If the annual dinner does not go well, though, we may have to lay off staff, cut down on health insurance, and use one-ply toilet paper. Annual event clearly wins this one.
Time: Annual events take six months to a year to plan, with an additional six months to acknowledge all the donors and do the accounting and recover from the fist-fights and nervous breakdowns. Babies take 18 years to raise to adulthood, and then an additional 7 to 10 years for them to “find themselves” and become independent. Babies win this one.
Ickiness: Babies tend to throw up and do worse things to you. You have to change their diapers. No one at an annual event throws up on anyone, except that one dinner in 2009, when an Executive Director had way too much pinot noir after not eating much food because there was nothing vegan. Edge: babies.
Effort: Babies take up all of a couple’s energy, with the constant feeding, bathing, entertaining, teaching, guarding from danger. They keep parents up at night. Annual events take up a whole bunch of people’s energy, with courting sponsors, table captains, volunteers, arranging decorations, making a moving video, organizing a program, arranging tables strategically, auctions, silent auctions, raffles, registration, dealing with registration issues, dealing with crappy audio, cleaning up, thanking people, accounting. It keeps a whole bunch of people up at night. Edge: annual event.
Community perception: People are evolutionarily programmed to like babies. People with babies receive residual good will. Annual events can bring good will to an organization, but if a whole bunch of things go wrong, or maybe one thing, such as the ED’s slurring during his speech and ranting about wombats, because of a couple glasses of wine, they can screw an organization’s image and destroy relationships and lead to the board’s imposing an unfair two-drink limit on staff. Edge: annual events.
All right, so that’s 3 for babies, 3 for annual events. It’s a tie, and the final dimension is Cuteness. While there are some donors who are adorable (especially if they raise their paddle at the right level and have that sparkle in their eye), the general consensus is that babies are cuter. If babies are cute, it means they are not scary, so annual events wins this dimension in terms of scariness.
Based on my thorough scientific analysis, it is conclusive: Babies are terrifying, but at least they’re cuddly, which is more than we can say for annual events. However, the combination of having a baby at the same time as an annual event is the most terrifying of all possible realities, so if anyone needs me, I’ll be under my cubicle desk in the fetal position with a case of pinot noir until May or June.
Hi everyone. I just joined Twitter. I have 9 followers. Is that a lot? I don’t know. If you want to follow, it’s @nonprofitwballs #confused #stilldontunderstandhashtags. On to this week’s post:
Over the weekend the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) had our retreat. Whenever we have a major event, I tend to freak out, believing that all sorts of things will go wrong. I get night terrors, waking up in cold sweats screaming, “We gave people the wrong address! The zombies are coming!” (I should probably refrain from watching TV when I’m stressed out).
OK, first some background. Southeast Seattle is home to the most diverse zip code in the nation, 98118, which means ridiculously delicious ethnic foods. Unfortunately 98118 is also home to some of the most struggling schools. Seattle Public Schools District grades its schools from 1 to 5, based on absolute scores on tests as well as how fast they’re improving, with 5 being highest in terms of achievement. Of the 20 schools in SE Seattle, only one school is above a level 3, despite some of the most amazing and dedicated educators working here.
SESEC was formed for a couple of reasons. First, education reform in Seattle has been really contentious, with people blaming each other and throwing rocks. Reading comments on any article on education is like peering into the darkest recesses of the human souls. The tension is everywhere. I’ve seen friends literally get into fist fights at the Farmer’s Market, arguing about charter schools. OK, not literally, but there definitely was vigorous head shaking and vague threats of squishing the other person’s organic heirloom tomatoes. SESEC believes instead of fighting about stuff we don’t agree on and threatening to damage prized organic produce, why don’t we work on stuff we can agree to, like parental engagement and extended learning programs.
Another reason we were formed is that while in Washington State we have many efforts to improve schools, communities of color are not well represented. It is alarming and a symptom of a not-quite-effective system when the “achievement and opportunity gap” most impacts kids of color, and yet the communities of color are barely there at these tables that are making major policy recommendations. We communities of color in SE Seattle must be in the front leading and painting a vision where all kids are successful. “All Fives in Five,” we say, our campaign slogan to push for all schools down here to become a Level 5 school within 5 years. And we believe we can get there if we all work together.
A year later, we now have about 50 organizations and schools working in collaboration, one of the most diverse coalitions in the State. That’s why we had to have the retreat, to prioritize our goals and develop an action plan, and why I bolted up in bed screaming, “Pork sandwiches?! Nooooooooo!!” (With so much diversity, having culturally appropriate food is very important).
On the day of, I had gotten up early so that I had extra time to freak out. I was worried that people wouldn’t show up, or they couldn’t find the place, or the babysitters we recruited would flake out and the children in the childcare room would escape and run amok, or that people would find the retreat useless, or that one more of my favorite characters would die on Downton Abbey. I was worried about whether we had enough stickers for when people started voting on the advocacy priorities. Each person gets five and a half star stickers to vote with. What if we didn’t have enough stickers?! People who didn’t have stickers would then have to vote by writing their initials like animals and the retreat would be a failure!!!
38 people showed up representing over 25 different organizations. The attendance was great, but I was still stressed. Our facilitator had her baby on a sling. The baby started making loud baby sounds. At one point, we could hardly hear a guest speaker because some children were curious and left the childcare room and climbed on to their mothers’ lap and started asking questions such as “can we get some stickers?” Arrg, I needed to crack down on the babysitter in the childcare room, I thought. For various activities we broke into groups. “If my five-year-old son is looking for me,” said a mother, “can you let him know I’m in the basement with a group?” How could anyone concentrate with children running around?
Then, as I watched our facilitator, whose baby was now snuggled up asleep in her sling, I realized something. In my worries about having an efficient retreat, I lost sight for a moment of why we were having it in the first place. This is what the community looks like. This is our community. We cannot retreat from our community. It is diverse. It includes children and babies. Most of the people in the room were not professional lobbyists or policy analysts. These are direct service providers and parents and educators, people who gave up six hours of their Saturday after working hard all week to be here.
After I took a breath and calmed myself down, I looked around the room and saw how awesome it was that so many people came, and what a great community we had. At least 60% of the room were people of color from all over the world. One Somali mom, for whom English is not her first language, told us it was her birthday. It was her birthday, and she was here in a church foyer working to improve the education system.
The groups took turns reporting out. The five-year old had found his mother and was happily eating a cookie. His mother started reporting on what her group had discussed. “We believe that every school needs a counselor or case manager, or both,” she said. The little boy, not missing a beat, shouted, “My mom is right!” The room broke into laughter. “We first need to map out which school currently has which resources in this area, and what they need,” she continued.
“My mom is right again!” said the little boy, “that’s two times now that she is right.”
The day was a good learning experience for me. Most times the purpose of a retreat is to withdraw from civilization so that we have time to think. But I have seen this to become the default in social justice work, where in the drive for expediency, we leave behind the people most impacted. They become the “for whom” we do the work, the recipient of our fight for equity. It is an ineffective model. When we do this type of work, it cannot be “for” the community. It must be alongside the community, and the Southeast Seattle community looks like this room. The babies, the little kids, the parents fighting hard to understand the discussion, they are not a detriment to the work. They are our community; they are our strength.
Overall, it was a good retreat. I can relax for a couple of days before starting to freak out about our annual dinner.
Last month we had to work on a grant. I don’t really mind writing grants, but this one was painful. It was awful. It was the worst grant I had ever written. It was like getting a thousand paper cuts, bathing in lime juice, and then drying off with a towel dusted with salt.
It was excruciating, like taking some tin foil, covering it with barbecue sauce, and then chewing the whole thing for five or six minutes and only taking a break once to punch yourself in the face.
Seriously, this grant was horrifying, like someone taking a garden statue of a skunk, breaking off its tail, dipping the tail in chunky peanut butter and fire ants, and then beating you with it while forcing you to watch Superman IV.
This grant was insane, like taking a Funshine Bear Care Bear doll, removing all the stuffing, filling it with sauerkraut, then duct-taping the kraut-stuffed bear to your chest before you run screaming into a garage wall while passers-by spit tapioca pearls at you with those giant bubble tea straws.
The grant was horrendously agonizing, like someone going to the farmer’s market, buying three organic purple carrots, freezing them with liquid nitrogen, smashing them into pieces, loading those pieces into a T-shirt cannon and firing them at you while you have one foot in a duffel bag filled with live scorpions and a puree of habanero peppers.
It was stressful and unpleasant, like taking a codpiece and some leeches and a blowtorch and some rope and a handful of pistachio shells and a week-old baguette and some mouthwash and …
Anyway, you get the point. It was an awful, awful grant, mind-numbingly tedious, frustrating, annoying, infuriating, and very, very irritating.
This week we just got notice that we made it to the interview round. Sweet!