“There Can Only Be One” Syndrome and how people of color can also uphold white supremacy and injustice

[Image description: Silhouette of a person standing on a mountain top in maybe a martial arts pose, arms and legs both outstretched. It looks like sunset or sunrise, as rays of sunlight are streaming down, illuminating the clouds and more mountains in the background. This is as close to an image of Highlander the TV show and movie that I could get without being sued. Image by Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay.com]
[Update: After this post’s publication, colleagues pointed out that the term “Highlander Syndrome” is confusing and may negatively affect the work of the amazing Highlander Research and Education Center, so I am temporarily renaming it to “There Can Only Be One” Syndrome, OBO Syndrome for short. Apologies to the Highlander Center, but also it gave me a chance to hear about your incredible work!].

Hi everyone, a couple of announcements before we tackle this week’s topic. Please check out this critical SSIR article written by the team at RVC and me about Transformational Capacity Building. The way our sector has been doing capacity building has been grounded in white philosophies and practices. Thus it has not been working effectively for communities-of-color-led organizations. It is time for a new model and set of practices. The article is long, because we go into details and provide lots of examples, but check it out, because it’s awesome as hell.

Also, Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is now on Slack. We need a way for folks to begin connecting with one another to discuss how to make fundraising more equitable, form local CCF groups, and share successes and failures as we experiment and iterate. Slack was voted as the top preference at the CCF meeting last week. I honestly have little experience using it (*cough* I was rooting for Myspace, but was outnumbered by younger people). I’m going to learn. CCF is a movement; we’re going to learn stuff together! Anyway, join, it’ll be fun! (Slack does not preclude other platforms from being used in the future; it’s just a start)

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After the kids went to sleep one day, my partner and I put up “Ugly Delicious,” a show where celebrity chef David Chang explores different types of food and talks to various chefs and restaurant owners. In one episode, he explores Viet-Cajun, the combination of Vietnamese and Cajun. It was great, until he interviewed a Vietnamese shrimp fisherman whose family came over decades ago, who worked hard, overcame racism (including the KKK attacking shrimping boats), and became successful. When Chef Chang asked his opinion on more recent immigrants and whether he could empathize with them, the dude said something along the lines of “Well, we worked hard, but a lot of immigrants these days just want handouts.”

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25 proverbs, rewritten for nonprofit and philanthropy

[Image description: An adorable baby horse, light brown with a streak of white on the face. This foal is outside, with a field of grass in the blurry background. Look at their fluffy mane. Aw, now I want a pony. Image by Blaer of Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick announcement: If you are interested in forming a community-centric fundraising local affinity group in your area, please register to join me and some other folks this Thursday, 8/20 at 12pm PT. Meanwhile, check out some new content on the CCF Hub, including “Reparations: How we white relatives must try to pay back the unpayable debt” by Hilary Giovale, “Nonprofit Industrial Complex 101: a primer on how it upholds inequity and flattens resistance” by Sidra Morgan-Montoya, “Why I decided to give up complicity in order to be an anti-racist volunteer manager” by Laura Pilati, and more.

We’ve had a string of serious posts here on Nonprofit AF. This week we’ll mix it up a bit. Proverbs! As a wise man once said: “Proverbs are the roux that binds the gravy of existence.” Or something. I totally made that up. Anyway, here are a bunch of famous proverbs that have been re-written to be more applicable to our sector. Feel free to add your own in the comment section, and on twitter using #NonprofitProverbs.

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Toxic intellectualization: How progressives’ addiction to overthinking is sabotaging our work

[Image description: A bee feeding at a pink clover flower. Image by HG-Fotographie at Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, quick announcement: if you are a funder, please join this webinar this Wednesday 7/29 at 1pm ET, led by NDLON and Hispanics in Philanthropy, where you will hear about the impact the pandemic has had on day laborers, domestic workers, and other low-wage earners, the organizations that serve them, and what is needed from funders at this time.

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About a year ago, I was complaining to my friend Ben Reuler, ED of Seattle Works, about my backyard. I told him how the yard had been cleared the year prior and had just remained a patch of dirt. This was because my spouse and I were indecisive. We didn’t know whether to plant grass seeds, or maybe roll out some turf, try for an ecolawn full of clovers, or possibly hire a landscape designer. We wanted to do some more research. So for 14 months the yard remained barren, save for weeds. The kids refused to play in it except when it rained, then they loved jumping around in the mud. No one complained. We just thought, “We’ll get to it and some point.”

A few weeks later, we invited Ben and his family over for lunch (I make kickass bánh xèo). Ben arrived with a bag of grass seeds, a bag of compost, and a seed spreader thing. “Come on,” he said, “we’re planting grass in your yard.” And just like that, we were out in the yard, sprinkling grass seeds and compost. I was skeptical. Ben is not an expert in lawn care; he is a nonprofit executive director, and everyone knows we EDs have very few useful life skills. Over the next few months, though, as we moved into the rainy season, the grass grew. Now we have a lawn! It’s great for picnics. The children wrestle on the ground. This little yard has been a lifesaver during this pandemic when schools are closed.

Why the heck am I bringing this up? This story is an analogy for a critical weakness in our sector: Our over-intellectualization, tendency to complicate things, gravitation toward research and planning, and avoidance of risk and action. Just like my partner and I hemmed and hawed and was indecisive about what to do about our yard for over a year, we nonprofits and foundations too equivocate and overthink all sorts of things. And gradually, over the years, we start to praise ourselves for doing endless researching, planning, and pontificating instead of taking actions, to the point where we now consider this course of inaction as “best practices.”

This is not to say that we shouldn’t plan or research, but the pendulum has swung too far and it’s become destructive and we don’t even realize it. For instance, I talked to a foundation CEO who asked me to facilitate a discussion about how to better fund Black and Indigenous communities during this time. I told him to just increase payout and give multi-year general operating dollars to Black and Indigenous-led organizations, the end, stop wasting time. Another funder, when I told them something similar about increasing funding to communities-of-color-led orgs, said, “Well, we would love to do that, but we are very white and haven’t really done our inner work yet to be more diverse, so it would feel hypocritical.” So basically communities are suffering because you need months or years to think and reflect and plan and look good to the public.  

Toxic intellectualizing is pervasive across our sector. We have deeply internalized it, overusing concepts like “due diligence” and refrains like “the process is just as important as the results” to justify it. We have built entire industries of data/evaluation and strategic planning consultants around it. We are geared toward planning and thinking because it is safer and less risky to do. The consequences of taking impulsive actions and failing are usually serious in our sector and in society, but we don’t want to seem like we’re not taking any actions, so the middle ground is to think and talk about stuff, and in doing so we continue to waste so much time and resources.

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It’s OK to feel like crap right now

[Image description: A person, wearing a face mask, sitting on a bench, next to a large window. It looks like they may be on a train.The window overlooks some buildings and mountains in the distance. Image by wphoto on Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, before I get into this week’s topic, thank you to the 2,700+ colleagues who attended last week’s Community-Centric Fundraising launch event, “Let’s Make Fundraising Less Racist!” The excitement was so much that we crashed several websites. If you missed it, here’s the recording. And check out the CCF website, communitycentricfundraising.org. Meanwhile, this week on 7/24 at 12:30pm Pacific Time we have another free event, Data Says: What BIPOC Fundraisers Have Known for Years, where evaluator and CCF leadership team member Anna Rebecca Lopez will present the results of the Fundraising Perception Survey, which over 2,000 people took. See you there.

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I was looking at my list of topics to write about, and honestly, this week I’m just really tired. I know many of you are too. It has been a horrible year. And now Congressman John Lewis just died, another light gone when the night seems interminable and our democracy so tenuous. I don’t know how much more we can all handle. At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote “Things are not normal. It’s OK to not be OK.” I did not anticipate, though, how much worse it would get for the world, for our sector, for all of us.

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Why we need to move away from empathy in our fundraising approach

[Image description: Black-and-white image of two people, likely children, walking down a dirt path, facing away from the camera, the taller person having their arm across the shoulders of the shorter person. Image by Annie Spratt of Unsplash.]

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope to see you at the Community Centric Fundraising’s launch event today at 11a PDT (you can still register to join). If you can’t be there, please sign up to get more information on future events. Our next one, on 7/24, will be about the data we collected from the Fundraising Perception Survey. (Spoiler: A majority of the 2300 people who responded to the survey, both BIPOC and white, are not happy with the way our sector has been doing fundraising.) 

I am also thrilled to announce that the Community-Centric Fundraising Website is up! Check out communitycentricfundraising.org! The CCF Hub will serve as a central area for reflection and learning. Already there are several pieces on there, including 

There is also a list of some CCF-aligned actions you can take at your organization. Please keep in mind that these actions, crowdsourced over the years, are not comprehensive, and this list will change and evolve. The exciting and necessary work of this movement is for all of us to reexamine the philosophies that ground so many of our practices in the sector.

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