Hi everyone, this post may be more personal than what I am used to sharing on this blog. Yesterday, my little sister Linda texted me “please don’t freak out cuz I’m fine and home now.” She had tested positive for COVID two days before, was recovering, and then suddenly had to be taken to the ER because of pneumonia, high fever, and high blood pressure. She knew I was going to freak out so didn’t tell me she was in the ER. (I got her permission to share all this).
This year has been one unending series of awfulness. I have been trying to put on a brave face, but it has been rough. I’ve been trying to support another family member who has been dealing with alcohol addiction, and others who have depression or other mental health challenges or who are experiencing severe isolation and loneliness.
A few years ago, I led a Vietnamese-community-focused nonprofit as a youthful executive director filled with equal parts optimism and adult acne. I remember though one time at a board meeting trying to get board members to donate. “Please,” I said, “just give something. Anything! Even $5! I just need us to be able to tell funders that we have 100% board giving!” The elders stared back blankly at me. I was desperate. “OK,” I said, “how about I give you each $10, then you donate $5 back, and you make a profit of $5!” I was joking, but also kind of not.
The idea of “100% board giving” is one of those concepts that somehow have become entrenched in our sector, an unwritten truth that we don’t question. To this day, I still see funders asking about it on grant applications. Fundraisers, meanwhile, whisper warnings to one another: “There was one organization that only achieved 50% board giving. Their donations eventually all dried up. If you walk by the office, you can hear faint ghostly echoes of weeping from the development team.”
Hi everyone, before we get into today’s post, I’ll be having a conversation with the amazing Crystal Hayling, executive director of the Libra Foundation, next week November 10th at 1pm Pacific. We’re calling it “2020 Philanthropy Debrief AF” and will be discussing the good, bad, and ugly of foundations’ response to the pandemic, protests, elections, etc., as well as what we hope to see in 2021. It’s FREE and it’ll be fun and informal. Register here. [Updated from earlier link]
The elections culminate this week, and if you’re in the US and care about democracy, chances are you are as anxious as I am. I’ve been unable to sleep. I’ve been eating way too much chocolate while doomscrolling on Twitter. I’ve been picking at my face! There is just so much at stake. If you’re feeling the same way, you’re not alone. So here are a few tips to endure the next few days, combined with pictures of baby animals. This is not to make light of what’s in front of us. I just can’t focus enough to write something more hard-hitting, and I’m not sure anyone wants a serious post.
Hi everyone. The past few months have been ridiculous. If you’ve emailed me, you literally got this auto-response back:
“Hi. This is an automatic reply. Due to parenting and homeschooling two small children, I will be slow to respond to emails. And I’ll be honest, I may forget to respond completely. If something is urgent, please call or text me. Thank you. Vu.”
This has actually been extremely helpful to have in place, as folks have been a lot more understanding when they hear from me three months after they email. Things are not normal. We all need to be a little more honest with one another in our communications. With that in mind, here are some auto-responses I drafted to serve as inspiration for you all. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs:
Meanwhile, we should all remember that less than one half of one percent of total philanthropic funding in the US goes to Native communities, according to Native Americans in Philanthropy. Foundations, you can do better. The rest of us who are non-Native, donate to Native/Indigenous organizations, pay rent for the land we’re on (such as through here if you’re on Duwamish land), and support local Native/Indigenous artists and businesses, such as Eighth Generation. And let’s not allow this day to be the only time we learn about, make reparations toward, and support Native communities.
Last week I was asked to present at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s conference about the future of capacity building, and what capacity builders can learn from Star Trek. The team at RVC, meanwhile, wrote a really important article on Transformational Capacity Building, exploring the ways that traditional capacity building tactics have often actually been harmful to organizations led by and serving Black, Indigenous, POC, and other marginalized communities, and presenting a new framework. And here’s the article I wrote on the Mycelium Model of Capacity Building, where I lay out what mushrooms can teach us about capacity building.
It is really exciting to see that we are starting to look at this area with a more critical lens and evolve it to work better for the organizations and movements led by communities most affected by systemic injustice. Given the events of this year, including the pandemic, the protests against racism, and our last-ditch effort to prevent the US from sliding deeper into fascism, our sector really needs to further reexamine our perspectives on capacity building.