Tag Archives: community engagement

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

[Image description: A right hand is in focus, extended toward the viewer, as if this person is offering to shake hands. The person is out of focus, but appears to be wearing a grey button-down shirt with a black blazer. The composition is focused on the hand and torso, so we don’t see the person’s head.]

A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

Are you or your nonprofit or foundation being an askhole?

askholeGo Hawks, everyone. Last week, I wrote about Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE), a frustrating phenomenon that each year causes many of us EDs of grassroot organizations to daydream about abandoning civilization to live with adorable woodland critters, foraging for grubs and berries, which would actually feel very much like nonprofit fundraising, but at least would be cuter and more whimsical. (Note to self: Stop writing blog after watching Disney movies with toddler). Today, I want to touch base on a related topic: Askhole Community Engagement (ACE). TDCE and ACE are connected, like two peas in a dysfunctional pod.

So what’s an askhole? Here are some Urban Dictionary definitions. Basically, you know that one friend who keeps coming crying to you about something, asks you for advice, and so you hit pause on Netflix, listen to them attentively, empathize, and give them reasonable suggestions, and then later you find out that they completely ignored you or did the opposite of what you recommended? That’s an askhole. Or someone who keeps asking for advice until they get an answer they agree with. That’s also an askhole.
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Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement?

plants-906447_640pdIn Seattle, if you’re a person of color and you walk down a dark alley late at night and you feel like you’re being followed, it’s probably someone trying to do some community engagement: “Psst…hey buddy—Go Hawks!—you want to attend a summit? It’s about economic inequity. We need your voice.” “Daddy, I’m scared!” “Stay calm, Timmy; don’t look him in the eye.” “Come on, help a guy out! Here, you each get some compostable sticky dots to vote on our top three priorities! You can vote on different priorities, or, if you like, you put more than one dot on—” “Run, Timmy!”

This is why you should never take your kid down a dark alley in Seattle.

A while ago I was talking to a friend (another Executive Director, since all my regular friends have abandoned me because I make jokes about compostable sticky dots), and he said, “Have you noticed that everyone is getting paid to engage us communities of color except us communities of color?”

Sigh. Yes, I have noticed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have come up with a term to describe it: Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE). This is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free. Continue reading