Hi everyone. Before we delve into today’s super exciting topic, in the spirit of ending the Nonprofit Hunger Games I am declaring this week to be Wear Another Nonprofit’s T-shirt Week. Let’s help promote one another’s organizations like the awesome unicorns of Equity that we are. Show love to orgs that you don’t work for and are not on the board of. Swap T-shirts the way that some professional sports players swap jerseys. Take pictures and tweet with the hashtag #NonprofitsSupportingNonprofits. At the end of the week, 10 winners will be randomly chosen to receive…the satisfaction of making the sector better.
OK, let’s talk about the handwritten thank-you note (HWTYN). First of all, I love them. I know many of you do as well, especially the fundraisers in the sector, who have turned the HWTYN into an art form. Some of the leaders I look up to the most have gotten so skilled at this that it seems they spend considerable time writing thoughtful and highly personalized notes—“Dear Vu, it was so lovely to have lunch with you today at Piroshky on 3rd! I am glad I took your recommendation and tried the borscht. You changed my mind on beets, and thus, you changed my entire life trajectory”—and YET are able to warp time and space so that their HWTYN arrives mere hours after I meet with them.
Hi everyone, a couple of things before we get started. First of all, April is National Poetry Month, and to celebrate, Unicorns Unite (a book I co-authored on funding dynamics) is having a #NonprofitHaiku contest on Twitter. Tweet out a haiku by 4/12, tag it with #NonprofitHaiku, and by 4/15 I and the Unicorns Unite team will select five winners based on random and arbitrary criteria that we’ll make up later. Feel free to write as many haikus as you like. The winners will get a copy of Unicorns Unite. Possibly chocolate. Maybe a piglet*
Second, we had a blast with last week’s April Fool’s joke about “Fundr,” a fake app to match foundations and nonprofits. GrantAdvisor.org, however, is real. It’s a website to provide foundations with anonymous, honest feedback. The more reviews you write, the more helpful the site is, so every time you apply to a foundation (whether you get the grant or not), please take five minutes to provide a review. It helps the entire sector.
Speaking of helping the entire sector, we need to end the Nonprofit Hunger Games and do a better job not just working on our individual organization’s survival, but on the effectiveness of our field as a whole. Our missions are interrelated, so it is silly to constantly be in cutthroat competition with one another. While we work on the systemic factors that perpetuate the Games, here are some other few simple things we can all do right away to help one another, which will better our entire sector and community:
everyone. This post will likely be controversial, so grab a bar of dark
chocolate, or, if you are in Seattle, a warm cup of hemp milk and some kale
chips. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about our philosophy on donor engagement,
and I think we need to have a serious discussion. Honestly, I am starting to
believe that the way we engage donors, and habits and patterns of thinking we
reinforce among ourselves and our donors, are possibly damaging to the work and
before we go further, I want to try something different. I often speak from the
nonprofit perspective, because I love nonprofit work and I love the people who
choose to be in this beautiful and frustrating sector. But I also donate to
several organizations; with two small kids, it’s not always as much as I would
like, but I still donate. In fact, I am willing to bet that everyone who works
in nonprofit also donates to other nonprofits. That means all of us are also
donors. So instead of speaking from the nonprofit perspective, for this post I
am going to speak from a donor’s perspective. It might be a little weird, but
bear with me (here’s a picture of a baby bear for being awesome).
everyone. Before we launch into today’s topic, a quick announcement: My
organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is expanding our team and are looking to
add two critical positions: Operations
Support Program Director, and Capacity
Building Lead. If you love capacity building and operations and want
meaningful work, an amazing team, and an inspiring array of office snacks,
these positions may be for you. We also have a nap room, if that tips the
This week’s topic may be polarizing and possibly rile you up, so please stare at the nearest houseplant for a few minutes (apparently, they are scientifically proven to reduce stress). Once a while our community gets into a discussion about whether nonprofits should ask their staff to donate some amount of money to the organization. There are passionate arguments from both the “absolutely” side and the “hell no!” side. (It is very similar to the Oxford Comma debate, although it really isn’t, because obviously the Oxford Comma is beautiful, practical, and magical, and there is clearly no point debating this because #OxfordCommaForever.)
I cast my vote with the side of No, we should not ask our staff to donate to our own organizations. Here are several reasons why, as articulated by many colleagues in the field, combined with some of my own thoughts and experiences:
[Image description: A raccoon, grayish brown, peeking over a thick tree branch, staring directly at the camera with its piercing dark eyes. Image from Pixabay.com]
Every once a while, an up-and-coming nonprofit professional would ask me, “What advice would you give us folks who are just starting in the sector?” This is how you know that you yourself are no longer an up-and-coming nonprofit professional. I am trying to embrace my status as one of the grizzled old-timers with the battle scars:
“When I entered the sector years ago, we had to walk five miles—in the snow!—to deliver a grant proposal. Back then, paperclips weren’t invented, and funders wanted the attachments to be clipped just right. We had to make paperclips out of pine needles. But, there were only eight pine trees west of the Mississippi, and they were fiercely guarded by vicious raccoons. I can still see their beady eyes, glowing red like those sticky dots people used to vote with during community meetings. Of course, back then, the sticky dots weren’t just something you bought at the store. They were gum drops we had to slice by hand. Problem with using those gum drop slices though was that they attracted the raccoons. We spent as much time battling raccoons as we spent running programs.”Continue reading →