Time for our sector to draw a new fish!

[Image description: Profile of a longhorn cowfish underwater. They are yellow with grey blotches and light turquoise blue dots. They have a big blue eye set beneath two little “horns.” They have a pouty light-colored mouth with a grey ring around it. One small diaphanous blue fin rises out of their lower back like a magnificent tramp stamp. Wow, this is the hardest image to describe ever. This is not an attractive fish. I hope they have a good personality…Pixabay.com]

A while ago, I read about an experiment where kids were asked to draw a fish. One group was just told to draw a fish; the other group were told the same thing, but they were also given an example of a fish drawing someone else had drawn. The kids in the first group creatively drew all types of fish. The kids who were given the example, with few exceptions, drew fish that were very similar to the example. (I can’t seem to find this study or article again; if you know it, please put the link in the comment section).

I bring this up because it is yields a good lesson for all of us. And that lesson is: Flossing in an important part of good dental hygiene. OK, that’s not the lesson, but that’s still an important reminder. The lesson is that all of us in this sector have been given so many fish drawing examples—fundraising fish, capacity building fish, leadership fish, board governance fish, hiring fish, etc.—and they constantly and unconsciously affect how we think about and do everything.

If you think about it, so many of the things that we do are done a certain way because that’s just how someone else told us things should be done. There are few legal requirements. Which means most systems and practices are traditions that we pass down, and after a while, we just accept that that’s how we do them, the way the kids who were given a fish drawing example instantly assume that that’s the way a fish should be drawn.

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It’s time funders take nonprofit leadership turnover seriously

[Image description: A blue frog with black spots all over, looking to the left, while standing on some sort of mossy branch or something. They look serious. Very serious. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. I have almost exactly one month left before the sun sets on my time as an executive director. (If you want to sound majestic and full of gravitas, just add “the sun sets on [someone]’s time” to anything; for instance, “We have ten minutes before the sun sets on our time together at this dive bar.” Thanks, Lion King.) I explained why I and a whole lot of other leaders, especially leaders of color, are leaving here.

Last week, I got an email from a colleague, a woman of color ED, asking me to call her back. There was no context. I knew what this meant. It meant she was leaving her position and wanted to give me a courtesy notice before the announcement came out. I was right. “I’m tired,” she said; I could hear the weariness in her voice. We were silent for a moment. I didn’t know what to say that didn’t seem trite or patronizing. “I’m sorry,” I said.  

Quietly, nonprofit leaders are leaving their posts. And most of us ED/CEOs swear off ever doing it again. And younger folks, it seems, are increasingly reluctant to take up the mantle. Who the hell can blame them? The ED’s job has always been like Sisyphus pushing the fundraising boulder up a hill, but while the eagle of program impact is pecking out his liver; the Cerberus of board, staff, and community expectations is chasing after him; and he’s trying to avoid looking at the Medusa of cash flow projections.

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Younger professionals, here’s how to increase your influence and effect change at your org

[Image description: Three fluffy adorable little kittens in a basket. Two are white with blue eyes, and the one in the center has orange stripes. They are all looking up, probably at the photographer dangling something. At least that’s what I imagine. Maybe some yarn. I don’t know. I’ve never had a cat. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, after six years on Twitter, I have finally figured out how to use it (apparently, tweeting only once a week was not a “best practice;” weird, because blogging once a week has been working fine). Anyway, follow me @nonprofitAF, but be warned, I am a lot more political and swear a ton more on Twitter. But there are occasional tweets with pictures of baby animals.

On to today’s topic. In my work and speaking engagements, I meet a lot of young people who are frustrated at the pace of progress and the lack of power they have at their organizations. One colleague, for example, told me her ED shut down her suggestion to include personal pronouns in email signatures. I get asked this question a lot: “How can I make change as a younger professional when I don’t have positional power?”

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9 traits of the kind of leaders we need in this time and place

flower-108685_1280Hi everyone, this post may be a little more serious than usual. Last week, Seattle lost one of our community leaders, legendary activist Bob Santos. “Uncle Bob” was one of the Gang of Four, also known as the Four Amigos, a group of racially diverse friends who hung out, sang karaoke, and fought injustice. The other three Amigos were Bernie Whitebear, Roberto Maestas, and Larry Gossett. They realized that they, and their diverse ethnic communities, were much stronger together, a philosophy that carried them through countless successful sit-ins, rallies, and other forms of protests in their fights around gentrification, poverty, funding inequity, fishing rights, and other issues. The friendship between these men—who are Black, Native, Latino, and Asian—and their activism, made Seattle better and continue to inspire countless people, including me.

The Four Amigos are a significant inspiration for the founding of my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, which has a mission of ensuring the nonprofit sector has a strong bench of leaders of color. We are building the next generation of 100 Amigos and Amigas. If a Gang of Four diverse leaders bonded by deep friendship can do so much for a community, imagine how much a Gang of 100 social justice leaders can do. This vision is what guides RVC, along with the question, “What kind of leaders do we need in this time and place?”

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All right, everyone, we need to freak out more about nonprofit leadership

sunflower-433994_960_720During the 17 months of our existence, my start-up organization has been guided by a single profound question: “Whose disgusting leftover salad is this that’s been in the fridge since June?!” That, and also, “What kind of leaders do we need in this time and place?” Both questions have prompted us to do some serious soul-searching. The latter, posed by our partner organization the Center for Ethical Leadership, has been on my mind a lot lately.

If you’ve been reading the news, it seems that the world is getting more and more complex, and sometimes scarier, and oftentimes sadder and more confusing. I know there are lots of good things happening too, but as I part with my two-year-old son each morning to go to work, I can’t help but hold him for a few seconds longer.  

The world is changing, and the nonprofit sector has a significant role to play. A big part of that role is to provide our community with the leaders that it needs. As much as we would like to, we can’t really rely on our corporate friends to be leading social movements, and political leaders have their challenges to wrestle with. It is often up to us to bring balance. Nonprofit leaders are the underappreciated Jedi knights of our world. Continue reading “All right, everyone, we need to freak out more about nonprofit leadership”