How to be a fake consultant to help a colleague deal with their stubborn board

[Image description: Two hands holding a glowing light bulb. The bulb seems to be filled with a string of fairy lights, which makes it glow. Image by Riccardo Annandale on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Kidney stones, along with filing taxes, have been giving me some trouble. At this point, the tax filing process has been much more painful. All that to say, I don’t feel like writing a Serious Post. Hence, today’s piece, what you are reading right now, will be nonsensical and poorly edited and possibly offensive. You have been warmed.

One of the questions people always ask me (besides “Vu, have you considered changing your hair and clothing and just…general style?”) is “How do I get my board to change? The staff are in sync with [disclosing salary range on job postings, three months of paid family leave, an office ball pit filled with 5,000 plastic balls, etc.], but the board keeps holding back progress.”

This is a very common problem in the sector, as common as the lack of retirement savings matching. We can talk about all sorts of solutions—including sending problematic board members a severed stuffed unicorn head, Godfather-style: “Henry, wake up. What’s that on your pillow? It’s dripping…ketchup?…TWILIGHT SPARKLE, NOOOOO!!!”—but the reality is that because of what I call the Outsider Efficacy Bias, internal staff will not be listened to. So one thing you can do is get a consultant to come in.

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The way we manage conflicts needs to take neurodiversity into consideration

[Image description: Drawing of a profile of a human head, showing a cross section of the brain. Radiating white lines are shooting out of the brain, on light blue and dark blue background. Image by geralt on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. This is going to be a long post. And it’s one of the more difficult posts for me to write, because I am not an expert in neurodiversity, or conflict management, or how the two might intersect. And I don’t know enough to know whether I would be considered neurodiverse/divergent or not, though I’ve been told I exhibit some signs of inattentive ADHD. For example, being constantly distracted even during the middle of conversations and tasks (at this moment, for instance, I am trying very hard not to spend the next two hours googling the history of marshmallows, because that’s what randomly popped into my mind ten minutes ago while I was writing this paragraph, and now it haunts me). Colleagues made fun of the fact that I wrote notes on my hands, forgot basic information while remembering obscure facts, doodled and sometimes stared into space during meetings, and that my desk and office were always a trash fire of hummus-stained post-it notes and bags and boxes of miscellaneous stuff. This is balanced out by occasions when I get excessively focused and absorbed in a task, like the one time I was so engrossed in writing this blog post at the airport that I missed my plane even though I was sitting right in front of the gate and they called my name several times.

I know that neurodiversity is a huge umbrella that includes many different types, including autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, sensory integration disorder, dysgraphia, synesthesia, anxiety, and many others. For the sake of this topic, I’m going to simplify it into “thinking and processing information in ways that may not be typical of how most people think and process information.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot because with everything that’s been going on and how stressed everyone is, I’ve been seeing a lot more conflicts in the sector. Some of it is heartbreaking, including conflicts I’m involved in, with and among people I care deeply about.

Unfortunately, the conflict-resolution tools and techniques we’ve been relying on don’t always work, or are actually making things worse, because these tools and techniques were designed with neurotypical people in mind, with the grounding assumptions that everyone involved in the conflict will have the same thought patterns, the same way of absorbing, interpreting, and communicating information.

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7 principles of community-centric boards

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A while ago, a colleague and I, both haggard executive directors with involuntary eye twitches, were having lunch. Our conversation led us to our boards, and he told me of how his board chair scolded him for the egregious crime of forwarding a funding opportunity to another nonprofit. “He was mad that I helped our ‘competition’ by letting them know of a request for proposals from a foundation. I figured why wouldn’t we share RFPs with one another?”

Fast forward to now, several years and a pandemic later, and unfortunately, I still hear stories like this. Boards of directors are truly some of the biggest stressors in the sector, often more harmful than helpful, as I’ve written about here and here. But it’s partly because we’ve trained boards to think and act in certain ways, ways that over time help to entrench siloing, competitiveness, and survivalism.

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How financially stable people have been making life difficult for their lower-income colleagues in nonprofit

[Image description: Closeup on a person pulling out a one-dollar bill from a brown leather wallet. Image by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash]

Hi everyone. Before we get started, here are a couple of awesome videos. This one by Memphis Music Initiative that includes a hilarious (and wince-inducing) skit of how Harriet Tubman would be treated by a foundation if she were to ask for support today. And this poignant musical sketch by Human Services Council vividly illustrating the lack of funding in the sector and how it has been affecting the hardworking professionals dedicated to making the world better.

OK, onto this week’s topic. Will Smith just won the best actor Oscar, which reminds me of another movie where he was nominated. In “The Pursuit of Happyness,” Smith plays Chris Gardner, who, along with his young son, has been experiencing poverty and homelessness, living in subway stations and public restrooms. There is scene where Chris is asked by his boss at his unpaid internship to loan him $5 in cash for cab fare. He can’t afford to loan his boss $5, but he is in competition for a paid position, so he reluctantly hands over the money. To his boss, this was a simple transaction; the lack of $5 didn’t mean much more than a very mild inconvenience. To Chris, it was devastating, as he may not be able to afford bus fares to get back to his son.

I bring this up because it reminds me of a pervasive phenomenon in nonprofit. I’m calling it “Higher-Income Solipsism Syndrome (HISS).” This is when people who are more financial secure, through a lack of awareness brought on by their privilege, create and endorse philosophies and actions that negatively affect people who are less financially secure. Here are examples of various ways this may manifest:

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It’s still the apocalypse, let’s give ourselves and one another some grace

[Image description: Five purple crocus flowers with orange pistils, looking like they’re coming up from the ground. Image by Nennieinszweidrei on Pixabay]

Hi everyone. It is spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s my favorite season and love it as much as we all love MYGOD (multi-year general operating dollars). The days are getting longer and the crocuses and daffodils and tulips are popping up and the cherry blossoms will explode like balls of pink snow and it’s all magical.

The last several years have been one long, bitter winter. With the pandemic, the worsening climate problems, the open embrace of fascism, the rise in hate and violence, the banning of conversations about race, the rolling back of abortion rights, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the potential for world war 3, and so many other horrific things, we’ve been living through at least six consecutive years of end times without much of a break.

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