Tag Archives: nonprofit

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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A sample annual appeal letter, if nonprofits were brutally honest with donors

[ Hi everyone, this is the last post of this calendar year. NAF will take a short break and will return with a feisty article on January 6th, 2020. Happy holidays! ]

[Image description: A blank white sheet of paper on some untreated wood planks, with various round gold ornaments and green pine branches surrounding it. The top right corner of the paper is covered with a smiling cartoony angel ornament, while the bottom left corner has a gold bow and a red bow, the kind one puts on presents. Pixabay.com]

Dear John,

As the year winds down, I know you are getting inundated with appeal letters from dozens of nonprofits. This letter is one of them. Just like other missions, we are writing to ask you to give money so we can keep vital programs and services running. And don’t worry, despite all those memes floating around about nonprofits spending 94 cents of every dollar on luxury cars and unicorn steaks or whatever, the money you donate is being put to good use. By being spent on staff, who do all of the work, along with critical things like office rent, utilities, etc. Your support makes it all possible.

Let me insert a story designed to affect you emotionally. Our program director Katie had terrible dental pains caused by her wisdom teeth, but we could not afford to give staff health insurance AND dental insurance. For months, she just carried on, but it really affected the program. The kids we serve could not understand what she was saying due to all the agonized mumbling. It made consoling them when ICE raided their parents’ workplaces a little more challenging. But thanks to donors like you last year, we were able to upgrade our healthcare from Copper to Copper Plus, which includes dental! Katie was finally able to get her wisdom teeth removed (with a $1200 deductible that she can pay off gradually with interest)! The afterschool program is stronger than ever!

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8 nonprofit-themed cocktail recipes to brighten up your holiday party

[Image description: Six hands holding up various colorful cocktails together, clinking glasses. I hope those straws are compostable. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone! It’s the holiday season, which means many of you are hosting parties. Spruce up your gatherings with these cocktails below and prepare to wow your colleagues*. Also check out parts 1 and 2 of this series, “Nonprofit Cocktail Recipes” and “9 Nonprofit-Inspired Cocktail Recipes for Your Holiday Party.” Share your own recipes in the comment section, or on Twitter using #NonprofitThemedCocktails. (*Please consult with your doctor and/or a mixologist before implementing these recipes below).

1. The Founder Syndrome

2 oz absinthe

1 oz chilled grapefruit juice

4 oz cold water

1 sugar cube

Splash of Peychaud’s (or Angostura’s or whatever bitters you have lying around)

Set absinthe spoon (or a fork) over a cocktail glass. Place the sugar cube on top of spoon or fork. Pour absinthe onto the sugar cube and into the glass. Set the sugar cube on fire. Wait 10 seconds or until flame goes out. Slowly drip cold water onto the sugar cube until it is dissolved. Add the rest of the water, along with grapefruit juice and splash of Peychaud’s. Was once on fire; can be great in small doses at the right time, but otherwise overwhelming and bitter.

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Why Impact-Per-Dollar is a terrible, harmful way to measure nonprofit effectiveness

[Image description: A fluffy brown baby highland cow, with shaggy fur over their eyes. They are adorable and have nothing to do with this post. Someone just told me to look up baby highland cows and I did and found them to be so cute! This picture is from Pixabay.com, but look up “baby highland cow” on Google Images for more cuteness.”

Hi everyone. I hope you had a relaxing Thanksgiving break (if you’re in the US). I know it’s hard to get back to work after a long weekend, which is why I am here in bed eating leftover mashed potatoes and listening to early-90s Hip Hop. Just remember, though, that your work makes a difference (Read “Welcome back to work, you sexy Jedi unicorn,” if you need a quick pick-me-up)

Unfortunately, however, the difference you are making is complex, which means it is challenging to measure. And this explains the crappy metrics of effectiveness our sector has been subjected to. Chief among them, of course, is overhead rate, one of the most insipid and destructive zombie concepts ever unleashed on nonprofits, as I and others have written about repeatedly (See: “How to deal with uninformed nonprofit watchdogs around the holidays.”)

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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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