Hey businesses: Act more like nonprofits if you want to succeed!

[Image description: A metal spoon balancing on a small black calculator resting on its side. A yellow potato is impaled on the handle end of a spoon, while the concave end holds a stack of about ten coins. The ground is covered in spreadsheets and additional coins. If y’all want to exercise your brain, try to write some image descriptions. Pixabay.com]

Businesses are all truly inspiring and contribute so much to our community. However, many businesses are failing to reach their full potential. During this pandemic, demands for business products and services have decreased significantly while demands for nonprofit services have skyrocketed! Is this just a coincidence? Unlikely. It would benefit for-profits to be as nimble, agile, and innovative as nonprofits. Although I have never run a business before, I do frequent many of them, and when I retire from a long career in nonprofit, I hope to do something relaxing and fulfilling, like open my own bank or grocery chain. Until then, here are some lessons I have learned that would help your business run more like a nonprofit and be successful:

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Funders, this crisis is the time to significantly increase funding for advocacy and community organizing, not cut down on it

[Image description: Two little brown and white birds, standing on an arching vine lined with sharp thorns, looking pensive. I am not sure what kind of birds these are. Who are the birders reading this? Can you identify these avian cuties? Pixabay.com]

Last week, to feel some sense of control during this pandemic, I decided to remove the blackberry plants that had been multiplying on one side of my backyard. I had ignored them when they first sprouted last year, and now they had formed into a thick bramble. Himalayan blackberries (originally from Western Europe), may be delicious, but they are invasive and a nightmare to deal with. They choke out native plants and destroy the habitats and food sources of native animals. The most efficient way to get rid of them is to use herbicide, but we plan to grow food in our yard, so that option is out. What is left is to cut off the stems, and then to painfully and meticulously dig up as much of the entrenched roots as possible. If even a tiny piece remains, this berry—aka, the Devil’s smoothie booster—will regenerate.

After six hours, some blood from the thorns lacerating my arm, and two broken tools (Grampa’s Weeder, you served valiantly), I was able to get rid of most of the bramble. But plenty of the roots remain, and there are more buried in the ground that I cannot see. The battle has only begun, and it will last years. On some nights, I stay awake, plotting revenge while lightning flashes, illuminating the thorny silhouettes of this prolific, sinister plant.

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Is there such a thing as too much gratitude? Yes, and it’s been harmful to our work

[Image description: A closeup of a koala’s face. They look calm, with a serene half-smile, staring off to the right. Pixabay.com]

An executive director colleague told me he received $1,000 from a corporation for his organization’s emergency funds to help people pay for food and rent. Of course, he thanked the representative on the phone and sent a letter. A few days later, he got an email asking whether the nonprofit would mind publicly acknowledging the corporation and its $1K gift on some combination of social media, website, and newsletter. I could hear the weariness in his voice. He and his team had been working nonstop on the front line and barely had time to breathe. “I kind of wanted to be petty and just return the money. But I can’t, because people are starving.”

If there’s one thing that’s been beaten into all of us in the sector, it is the concept of gratitude. Donors and funders should definitely be thanked, preferably throughout the year and in multiple forms: Handwritten note, phone calls, recognition events, maybe a swag mug. It should be as personal as possible so as to not seem routine. “You can never thank someone too much,” a development director colleague told me.

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What are we willing to give up to end the Nonprofit Hunger Games?

[Image description: A squirrel, staring at the camera in surprise, their paws touching. So cute, with their little whiskers. Also, their ears are touching. Is that normal? I have no idea. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, a couple of notes. The Nonprofit AF Facebook page is still locked due to FB refusing to confirm my location (this happened, coincidentally, the week where I wrote a post talking about how our sector needs to be more political). I’m working on it, but sorry about that. I’m active on twitter (@nonprofitAF) in the meanwhile. And if you’re free tomorrow, 4/28, at 1pm PST, I’m on this live podcast recording with brilliant leaders Mary Morten, Jane Kimondo, and Michelle Morales to talk about philanthropy.

Also, I want to thank everyone who has been supporting NAF through Patreon. I left my job a few months ago, so this pooled source of income has been very helpful. However, my partner is securely employed and we have savings (in great part thanks to you) so we are in a much more stable financial situation than many families out there. Please don’t hesitate to lower your Patreon support, stop being a supporter, or shift your support to others. We’ll be fine, I promise. Thank you so much.

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I know the past few weeks I’ve been pushing hard and being very critical of our sector, especially of foundations. And also, not being very funny. The urgency of this moment means we and the people we serve can no longer afford for us to put up with ineffective or destructive philosophies and practices. Besides deaths from the virus itself, there will be significant increase in global poverty. Starvation threaten to kill millions more in the years ahead. Our sector must dispense with all the BS that has been keeping us down.

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Foundations, knock it off with the philanthropic Sophie’s Choices and increase your payout

[Image description: A very cute corgi, lying down, looking cute but exhausted. This corgi has nothing to do with this post. I just got worked up writing it and decided I need to look at pictures of of puppies to calm me down. Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, I hope you are doing ok. I know things are rough everywhere. Last week I talked to an executive director of an international organization. His team faces funding cuts, potential furloughs and layoffs, and a pervasive sense of anxiety. “But we are fortunate,” he said, “transportation systems have been challenged, so there are workers in India walking for hundreds of miles to return to their villages from the city. They barely have money or food, and they’re just walking. Their villages don’t have jobs either, but they have nowhere else to go.”

Luckily, we have many funders stepping up. I want to give a hearty shout out to Open Society Foundations, who just committed $130M in funding for covid relief for many people both in the United States and across the globe. This is amazing! Thank you, OSF, for all the important work you do and the many critical missions that you support.

Unfortunately, I hear rumors that this additional $130M funding is not coming from OSF’s $18Billion in reserves, but from central leadership asking program officers to return up to half of their current 2020 grant budgets to be reallocated to this new fund. Meaning they would have to take back funds that are already committed or would be going to groups doing vital work, who are already facing so many difficulties. Those orgs would be devastated!

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