Which comes first, the Equity Egg or the Accountability Chicken?

chicken and eggThe last few weeks have been rough. Not only did the baby grow his first tooth and got an ear infection and has been miserable, but also my lucky bamboo, which I got to boost the feng shui in the office, mysteriously turned yellow and died.

None of that, however, compared to getting news that one of the schools we partner with didn’t get the grant that it applied to. I helped them to write this massive, 30-page narrative, sitting at the principal’s desk and typing away as she ran in and out of her office to deal with one situation after another. The grant was painful. It was like taking a pint of kumquats, freezing them overnight, putting them into a gym sock, running the gym sock though some poison oak, and then beating yourself in the face with it while watching Star Wars The Phantom Menace, that’s how painful it was. (I helped another school last year to write the same grant, and wrote about how awful that was).

We wrote this grant for several days. This is a school with 95% kids of color, 85% low-income, and this was their third time writing this grant and failing to get awarded. It was a devastating blow for a really great school. “I’ll buy you a drink,” I told the principal; we both felt like crap.

A few days later, I ran into one of the executive board members, “Frank,” who approved the decisions. I told him the grant award system was messed up and he needed to change it. “Well,” he said, “there are always winners and losers. And we need to focus on schools who have principals who are accountable and taking lead to improve their schools.”

As much as I love the US, we have some major things to improve on. One of those things is this zero-sum game that we play, and it often manifests in the form of “accountability,” a catch-all concept that everyone now uses because it makes them look smart and responsible. Accountability now equates with excellence and quality and bald eagles and apple pie.

Unfortunately, this concept has been thoroughly misused, wielded as a tool to perpetuate many crappy and unjust systems.

At a panel I was on, the topic was parental engagement. “We can talk all we want about all sorts of things,” said one of the other speakers, “but at the end, it comes down to parental accountability. Parents need to be responsible for their kids’ learning! They need to read to their kids and make sure they do their homework!”

Yeah, said the room, clapping, that’s the American Way!

“I agree,” I said, “parents should be involved in their kids’ education.” But, I pointed out, many of them don’t have the language skills, or they are poor and work several jobs. And then because they are poor, they tend to go to struggling schools, and those schools don’t have translation services, or any staff who can spend time with the parents, so even if a parent really wants to be engaged, they come to school and there is no one to help them. So if we want parents to be accountable, provide them the resources they need first.

We have a very punitive sort of mindset, and oftentimes it makes no sense. Let’s punish the schools that don’t do well by taking away or not giving them the resources they need. THAT will incentivize them to get better, those lazy, good-for-nothing schools who have no accountability.

Also, let’s force low-income schools to write painful 30-page grants to compete for these funds that are designed with equity in mind to help struggling schools with high numbers of low-income students. Grants that are so painful it’s like taking a mason jar, filling it with apple cider vinegar, running through a blackberry thicket, then pouring the vinegar all over yourself. The best-written grants should be awarded, because that’s accountability. Let’s ignore the fact that the schools that are most struggling, and thus most in need of these funds, are probably the ones that have the most challenges writing these grants.

People, even well-intentioned people like “Frank”, use “accountability” as a crutch to not have to deal with the much harder task of achieving equity. Why spend five times more effort to define and find the most struggling schools, work with them to develop a strong plan to support their students to achieve, and provide them with funding and guidance to succeed? Why do all that when you can make all the schools write a sadistically burdensome grant, grade them on a 100-point scale, and pick a school that scored 87 points over a school that scored 85 points? Your process is clear and “accountable,” you’re forcing the schools to be “accountable,” and no one can yell at you for being unfair.

People who believe that competition and the focus on accountability will lead to equity are deluding themselves. They believe everything should be like the Olympics, where those who perform the best should get the gold. Most of us, though, enter into the field of nonprofit or philanthropy because we know the games are screwed up, and our job is to do whatever we can to bring balance by making conditions equal. How can you give someone a gold medal for Alpine skiing, for instance, when they have two skis and the other skiers have only one ski, or a broken ski, or there is not enough snow on their track? Let’s focus on making sure everyone competes under the same conditions before we reward the best performers.

Even if conditions are equal, though, sadly the competition will still not be fair. That’s because everything is relationship based. Those who have the best relationships will always get ahead, and poor families, and communities of color, and struggling schools and scrappy nonprofits will seldom have the same level of relationships with influential people.

That’s why our work is important. We above most people understand that equity comes first. Sometimes, though, we also forget, and we also fall into the accountability trap.

If we want equity, we must start with equity. And there are instances where it is working. Finland, for example, has become one of the best school systems in the world, if not the best. They focus on ensuring there is equity first. In fact, they don’t even have a word for “accountability.” There are few standardized tests, for example, and they don’t make their principals spend 80 hours writing a grant to get the resources they need, a grant so awful it’s like taking a handmade quilt, gathering crazy ants onto it, then wrapping the quilt around yourself while listening to Passenger. They focus first on making sure every student has the same opportunity. And yet they are excelling. In comparison, Norway, with a similar homogenous population, has bought into this system of competition, punishment, and accountability, and they are not doing nearly as well. This is only one example, but it is a strong one.

Now that I’ve become a parent, I think a lot about how families are structured and what kind I would like mine to be. Imagine a family that is ultra competitive, where children are in constant competition with one another and rewarded by their parents. “John got 5 A’s this quarter, so we’re going to take him to Disneyland, yay! Have some more food, son, you deserve it. The rest of you, you got B’s, you need to shape up. Jimmy, I don’t care that you got mugged twice last month while walking home. Toughen up and stop whining. Be a man like John here.” (Sadly, I actually know some parents who are like that).

Most of us can see how awful it would be to live in such a family. But this is what our society is increasingly becoming like.

Many of us continue to do this work because we believe there shouldn’t be have to be winners and losers all the time, especially when we are talking about kids. All of them deserve a chance to succeed, and it pisses me off when idiots wield “accountability” as a reason to justify their thoughtless decisions. If we want EVERYONE to succeed, and not just a select few, then we must ensure everyone has the same opportunities. When it comes to accountability and quality and equity, it is not a chicken-and-egg argument. It is equity that will lead to quality and accountability, not the other way around.

Nonprofit professionals: You are each a unicorn

 

The more I work in this field, the more amazed and inspired I am by the people in it. You are some of the smartest people I know. You could choose to pursue work elsewhere for much better pay and prestige. But you are here in this field fighting each day to lift up our families and strengthen our communities. You are awesome because you know that awful things in the world do not stop happening when we don’t think about them. You chose this work and stick around because you believe that if we want to make the world better, we can’t wait around for Fate or other people to take care of things.

The work is never easy, and we put up with a lot of crap, and in the quest to help end homelessness, to make elders feel less lonely, to expose kids to art and music, to make the world greener, to change unfair policies, to undo the forces of racism and homophobia and sexism and oppression, and overall to make the world better, we sometimes forget to stop to appreciate ourselves and give ourselves and each other some credit.

So today, Valentine’s Day, I just want to say that you are each a unicorn to me.

To the program staff who are on the front line helping clients, who stay late in the evenings and weekends to tutor a student or serve a hot meal to the hungry or comfort the lonely, you are each a unicorn.

To the development professionals who stuff thousands of letters, make dozens of calls per week, write grants, lead program tours, coordinate special events, and generally keep the organization afloat, you are each a unicorn.

To the admin staff who spend endless energy herding cats and putting out fires, who wake up in cold sweat after having nightmares about the budgets and HR policies and being able to make payroll this month, you are each a unicorn.

To the social justice activists and advocates who stand on the sidewalks in the cold to gather signatures and to push for better laws, who sometimes get arrested for civil disobedience in the name of equity, you are each a unicorn.

To the office management staff who keep the lights on and file paper and manage people’s schedules and check the mail and pay the bills and answer phone calls, you are each a unicorn.

To the financial management staff who make sure we stay on budget and can answer questions about where we’re spending money, who understand and explain obscure concepts like unrestricted and temporarily restricted and balance sheets and reserves, you are each a unicorn.

To the volunteer managers who wrangle the best out of people, to get them to pull up blackberry brambles and pick up litter and mentor kids, and make them feel appreciated so they come back and do it again, you are each a unicorn.

To the marketing and communication staff, who are keeping the fires alight so others can see the importance of our work, so the world can see the people whom we see every day, you are each a unicorn.

To the community organizers and community builders who get people to talk to one another, to help them realize their individual and collective power, to get neighbors to be more neighborly, you are each a unicorn.

I know I might have forgotten some people. Thank you for all that you do. Today, take a moment to give yourself some credit. You are a unicorn. A smart and charming and good-looking unicorn who is helping to make the world better. Take a moment to tell your colleagues that they are a unicorn to you.

Then, go home early and try not to work this weekend. Injustice and inequity will still be there to do battle with you afterward. You deserve a break, you awesome unicorn you.

8 Recipes from the Nonprofit Cookbook

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Every once a while I get a chance to infiltrate the campus of a major corporation like Microsoft. Usually it’s to beg someone to join our board or to be a sponsor of our annual event (ideally, both). These places are very different from nonprofits, but luckily, I’ve learned to blend in by using the lingo. Walking up to the reception desk, for example, I’ll pretend to say something on the phone like, “Yes, I know you’re cranking against deliverables–we all are–but the adminisphere needs the CRM to be in beta drop and repro by next week or we are all SOL, so tell your PM to get the chips and salsa buttoned down!” Except for my aura of stress and exhaustion, no one suspects that I am from the nonprofit world.

Until I enter the cafeteria. Did you know many big companies have cafeterias? Last month, I visited he one at Microsoft, and it is amazing! They have these cool stations, with different types of hot food. They even have vegetarian/vegan food. All for very reasonable prices. I get so excited seeing all this convenient and affordable food, freshly prepared every day, and it shows. I ran around, expressing delight at everything, embarrassing the host. “Dude, calm down,” he whispered, “It’s like you’ve never seen food before.” The forks and spoons are all compostable, made from potatoes. “This is totally awesome,” I said, chewing on a piece of Panko-crusted tofu, “This tofu tastes like childhood. And this fork is delicious!” Ah, to have hot food prepared for you every day, to eat with edible utensils!

“So,” I said, calming down, “would you consider joining our board?”

It’s disappointing to come back down to earth, where we have no company-sponsored cafeteria, where last week one of the staff interrupted me to ask whether there was any food left over from the meeting the previous night. Let’s face it, we nonprofit folks have different eating habits than the corporate types. First, because we don’t have the same financial resources. Second, we usually also don’t have a lot of time, since we’re always helping people and stuff. 

However, that shouldn’t mean that we can’t eat delicious, nutritious, and affordable meals. Also, we don’t like to waste food, and there is always a ton of food left over from various meetings. That’s why, prompted by Director Jen of Virginia, I’ve been thinking of writing a cookbook for nonprofit professionals. I’m working on it between episodes of the Walking Dead, but I wanted to give you a sample of what will be in the book. Here are a few recipes. I also asked friends of NWB’s Facebook page for suggestions.

The ED Ramen Bowl: Prepare one package of ramen. Add some frozen vegetables. Microwave for 5 minutes.  Eat while reading financial statements or having a meeting with a staff. One hour later, eat a Cliff Bar while running to a meeting. Serves 1.

Fundraiser Wine Sangria: After every annual event, you will inevitably be left with several bottles of wine that have been partially finished. Don’t dump those down the drain! Combine and pour about 2 bottles’ worth into a punch bowl, add 2 sliced lemons, 2 sliced oranges, 2 shots of brandy or vodka, and 4 cups of leftover club soda or ginger ale or whatever, stir, and chill for a refreshing drink at the debriefing session. Serves 8, or serves 4 twice.

I-Forgot-My-Lunch Pasta: Having dried pasta and jarred spaghetti sauce in the office is a major time and money saver. For a quick meal, add dry pasta to a large microwave-safe glass bowl. Add water to one or two inches above pasta. Microwave for 15 minutes. Go answer some emails. Check for doneness and microwave 3 more minutes as necessary. Carefully drain pasta and return to bowl. Add pasta sauce to your liking, and stir. The hot bowl will heat up the pasta sauce. Serves 1 to 5. If you want more nutrition, add frozen or fresh vegetables and microwave an additional 3 minutes.

Hummus Platter Pizza: Hummus has gotten very popular, and that’s why 95% of nonprofit group meetings will feature this item, along with baby carrots, sugar snap peas, broccoli florets, and pita wedges. You will always have more hummus than people will eat, so why not make a delicious “pizza” after the meeting? Take leftover pita wedges, spread hummus on top, slice and add leftover baby carrots, snap peas, and broccoli, cover with shredded cheese cubes leftover from another meeting, and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Serves 1 to 5.

Morning-After Breakfast Melt (Contributed by J Eric Smith): “Put the leftovers from last night’s meeting/event snack platters in a bowl. Pretty consistently, the things that no one ever eats off the platter are the pepper jack cheese, the weird salami looking stuff with more white fat than red meat in it, the cauliflower florets, and those strange, flat, brown things in the snack mix that taste like Worcestershire sauce. Heat in microwave until the cheese melts. Eat at desk, with aspirin garnish.” Serves 1 to 8.

The Team-Building Stone Soup: Food being left in the fridge for too long can cause consternation among staff. So every month, make a delicious “minestrone” soup. Add one carton of vegetable stock and one jar of tomato-based pasta sauce to a large pot. Season with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon or dried Italian seasoning (rub between your fingertips as you add for extra flavor). Add a splash of red wine left over from an event and half a cup of small dried pasta. Then have each staff look through the fridge and see what they can contribute to the soup: cheese, tuna salads, that weird kombucha tea with its “mother” floating inside, other soups. Simmer till the pasta is cooked. Not only is this a great way to clean out the fridge, it’s also a wonderful team-building activity. Serves the entire team.

Pastry bread pudding: Breakfast pastries are like government grants. At first they seem like a good idea, but you quickly get sick from how heavy they are. And yet, which nonprofit has not had a box of assorted pastries left over after an early-morning meeting? Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut 8 pastries into small pieces, shove into a baking pan, and drizzle 3 tablespoons melted butter over pieces. In a mixing bowl, whisk 4 eggs, 2 cups milk, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ cup sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Pour over pastries and make sure everything is covered in liquid. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Serves 3 to 8.

The Development Director Omelette (Contributed by Rachel Schachter): “Take a dozen eggs out of the fridge. Give your ED a list of donors to call. Wait one week. Throw one egg at him for every donor not called. Go to store. Buy more eggs, repeat as necessary.” (Note from NWB: This is actually not a recipe and is very wasteful of eggs, which should be saved for the real recipes, like the bread pudding above).

I’ll be developing more recipes for the cookbook. Please send in your nonprofit recipes and any suggestions you may have. Remember: Just because we’re in nonprofit, and cranking against deliverables, doesn’t mean we can’t eat well. 

Ooh, my ramen is ready!

 

Dear business community: Please remember these 10 things about nonprofits

apple-orangeMy friends from the business community:

As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I want to say that I love you guys. Almost as much as we all love the Seahawks (Go Hawks!). You do so much to sustain our work—volunteering countless hours, donating funds to programs, and telling your friends about us so they can help too. We rely on you. The work is not possible without you. Whenever we get one of you on our board or development committee, it’s like Christmas.

However, there are a few things I’d love to remind you of, stuff like fundamental differences between nonprofits and for-profits and the challenges we face. I know, you probably have heard some of this already. But it’ll be really good for us to go over them again, so we can more effectively work together to make the world better:

  • Nonprofit funding is restricted. That is something we repeat over and over, but I’m not sure you actually understand how restricted it is. Imagine that you have a business selling software for $100 a pop. I buy a copy, and I give you $100, but then I say “You can’t spend any of this money I’m paying you on your salary, or on your rent or heating for your business. It can only be used to for you to buy copy paper and no more than 80 binder clips.” Now have all your customers say stuff like that to you each time they buy your software. That’s how it works in nonprofit, but replace “customers” with “funders.” It is not fun trying to figure out who is paying for what and how to work within this structure, but luckily it only takes up 60% of our time.
  • (Hilarious side story: Speaking of copy paper and binder clips, one of my ED friends sometimes “dumpster dives” for office supplies. On her last dive, she scored a roll of masking tape and an unopened container of poster paint (woohoo!)—and her board still complains that her organization spent over $1200 in supplies in 2013).
  • No one wants to pay for unsexy “admin” things. These are things like HR, marketing, fundraising, the ED or Development Director’s salary, etc. This is why we don’t have an HR department, or an IT person, or a marketing person, why our database (if we have one) may not be as cool as you want and why some of our marketing materials look like they were designed by bonobos. You’re frustrated that our infrastructure sucks sometimes. Well, we are too! Unfortunately, because of our funding restrictions, we can’t do much about it except to beg for free services from you and your friends.
  • (Hilarious side story: One time I was at a conference, and a business was leading a workshop on building a website. “We asked our bosses for $25,000 to develop the website,” said the presenter, “and they said, ‘Hey, we actually have extra funding.’ So they gave us $50,000!” Back then, 50K was half my organization’s operating budget and about four times my Americorps yearly wages, so I left the workshop and cried silently in a bathroom stall).
  • Our funding is unstable, and it’s not our fault. It fluctuates depending on factors such as funder priorities, the situation in Iran, the value of the Yen, and the alignment of celestial bodies. Grants are usually only for one year. So year-over-year budget comparisons are often useless, and predictions on future funding sources are educated guesses at best. Please try not to be upset when you ask us questions like “What are your budget projections for next fiscal year” and we give you seemingly wishy-washy answers like, “Well…will Mercury be in retrograde at the end of this fiscal year…?”
  • The better a job we do, the more costs we incur. That’s right; it’s weird, but it’s true. If our after-school program, for example, is awesome, more kids will attend, which means more costs. But the funding does not also increase automatically, meaning we have to serve more people with fewer resources. So then we have to spend more staff time on fundraising, which, remember, is not sexy, so people hate paying for that. If your product is awesome, your business can become stable and continue as long as demands remain stable. Not so for us nonprofits! This is why we live in a constant state of stress and fear. And why we need you on the development committee!
  • Our community members (the people we serve) are not economic units. As one of my ED friends says, “You can’t run a cost/benefit analysis on the worth of a human life, and every human being is a miracle worthy of respect and kindness and compassion.” That sounds very sappy, but we genuinely believe in crap like that, and it very frustrating when people forget this stuff and reduce human beings to numbers and statistics.
  • Success is difficult to measure. We throw around terms like “outcomes” and “metrics,” but things are so much more complex. When we’re working with people who are homeless, or mentally ill, or kids at-risk for failure, it is challenging to define success and what part we play in it. So it gets very annoying when you come in trying to impose a business framework on our programs, or get upset when we can’t give you clear answers to questions like “What’s the impact of your programs?” We’re trying to figure all this out.
  • Things can’t be “scaled” as easily as you think. Some of you are really impatient about scaling up our work. You see a great program, and you want it to be bigger, to help more people. We do too. But the clients we serve and their challenges are complex, and we work within structures that severely limit what we can do. We are constantly thinking of ways to help more people, while trying to keep our organizations from collapsing, all the while hoarding supplies for a potential zombie apocalypse (That last part–it may just be my organization that does that).
  • If you want to help, roll up your sleeves. We get plenty of advice. If you want to be helpful, roll up your sleeves and actually do something. It’s frustrating when business leaders or consultants come in and provide a report of recommendations of things we should do. These reports are often left on shelves to gather dust, since we often have no time or resources to tackle them. If you want to help, take lead on a few of these things you recommend.
  • We chose to do this work. That’s right, we chose jobs that are unstable, under-appreciated, challenging, low-paying, and high-stress. That does not mean we’re not as smart as people in other sectors. Once a while we meet young professionals in other professions, and their smugness and condescension are palpable, and we want to grab them by the collar and shake them. But we think of our clients and swallow our pride. Our society places much higher value on jobs like doctors, lawyers, movie stars, business owners, etc. However, most of us did not go into the nonprofit field because we failed at other professions. We do this work because we want to kick inequity’s butt, no matter how difficult it is.
  • (Hilarious side story: At my organization, which serves low-income immigrant and refugee youth and families, the clients are often amazed that I do this full time. One woman at an event asked when I will find a real job; her son was studying to be a pharmacist, she said.)
  • Finally, just because you’re really successful in one area, it doesn’t mean you are automatically great in another area. If you’re an amazing heart surgeon, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically a great singer. If you’re an awesome dancer, it doesn’t mean you’re now a really kickass chef. And yet we meet so many of you who are successful in the business sector who now think that you automatically know how to run a nonprofit, or lead an education reform movement, or counsel us nonprofit folks on how to do our work. One of the most irksome things we experience is when business people, after a limited time trying to understand the organization, start giving advice. We’ll try to be thankful, since you’re a potential donor and volunteer, but seriously, the you-guys-should-do-this and you-guys-should-do-that are often irritating and not helpful at all. We don’t go to your business and tell you how to…run…quarterly reports…or, uh…improve assembly line efficiency…

At a meeting a month ago, a bunch of people and I were providing input and advice to Seattle’s new mayor as he starts his administration. A community leader stood up and said, “You have to remember that poor people are not just rich people who don’t have money. And black people are not just really dark white people.” Ahaha, that’s so true, everyone thought. They laughed. (Each of those profound statements deserves to be discussed in its own post later). I want to use the same line of thinking to remind you all that nonprofits are not just chaotic businesses with really nice employees. Until we have the same flexibility and stability of essential resources that successful businesses have, comparing one with the other is like comparing an apple with a porcupine.

Thank you for reading, and for all that you do.

Go Hawks!

***

Related Posts:

Nonprofit’s ultimate outcome: Bringing unicorns back to our world.

The sustainability question: Why it is so annoying.

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10 things to do for the Lunar New Year to bring luck to your nonprofit

tetNote: This post was written in 2014. For this year, the Lunar New Year starts on Thursday, 2/8/16, ushering in the Year of the Fire Monkey. Everything else still applies though.

Lunar New Year is coming up, and those of you who still keep referring to it as “Chinese New Year,” you lose three cultural competency points. That’s like saying “American Christmas” or “Mexican Fourth of July,” all right? We all know that Christmas and Fourth of July are celebrated everywhere.

In Vietnamese culture, we call the Lunar New Year “Tet,” and it is the biggest and best and most festive period in the year ever. The weeks leading up to it are magical, as if everyone in the country just got a general operating grant. People are all busy preparing by decorating with plum and apricot blossoms and making traditional foods like sticky rice cakes and candied coconut, and there is a wonderful energy in the air and the kids are excited and the adults are happy and a few uncles get drunk and fall of their motorcycles while carrying plum or apricot branches home while teenagers point and laugh. Sigh…I miss my childhood…

But Tet is also symbolic, representing a new beginning and a clean slate. So while everyone is high on life during this time, there is a serious side as well. In order to have a great new beginning, people spend considerable time and effort to take care of all the unfinished crap. This goes for individuals, families, and businesses. And of course, this goes for us in the nonprofit field.

So, to start the Year of the Horse off right, we have to take care of stuff that is symbolically weighing us down. I’ve listed some things below. You don’t have to do all of them, but the more you can take care of, the more luck and good fortune you (and your organization) will have in the New Year. Whatever you do, do it BEFORE midnight on 1/31 (Friday morning):

  1. Clean your desk—Cleaning is a huge part of Tet preparation, and families will spend days cleaning their houses till everything is spotless. You probably have all sorts of crap on your desk and in your drawers, random receipts, what the hell is that, some sort of Powerpoint slide printout from six years ago on the 40 Developmental Assets or something? Store or get rid of it all!
  2. Clean your car—If you’re like me, you have tons of junk you collect from various meetings, all accumulating in the backseat of your car. Then there are probably half-drunk bottles of water that you take from those same meetings. And energy bar wrappers and other snack wrappers. If your car looks like a hoarder’s car, now is the time to clean it.
  3. Decorate your office: Traditionally, people decorate with flowers and things that are red and gold/yellow, which are lucky colors. You don’tfruit-951792_960_720need to go overboard with the decorating. Look at your office plants. If they are dead, get rid of them. Buy a yellow potted flower like mums or a lucky bamboo. Both symbolize renewal and good fortune. Most Vietnamese homes will also have a tray with a whole bunch of different fruit (at least five types) to symbolize bountifulness, so think about doing that. Even if it doesn’t bring good luck, we nonprofit staff can all use more fiber.
  4. Pay off your debts—This is a huge part of preparing for Tet. You do not want to start the year owing money to people. It is very bad luck. So, if there are any outstanding bills, pay them now. If you personally owe a coworker even five bucks because he spotted you some cash for coffee or whatever, pay him. If your staff have any reimbursement requests in, cut them their checks.
  5. Collect on debts—Collecting on debts can be unpleasant, so it is best to do it before the New Year starts. Plus, people are more anxious to pay off their debts during this time, so it is easier to do. If you have invoiced for reimbursement-based grants or whatever and it’s taking a long time, start being more assertive. Call up government funders and say, “If you don’t send reimbursement checks before 2/8, you’re being culturally insensitive.” This also goes for overdue pledged donations.
  6. Apologize to people—You want to start Tet off with a clean slate, so make a list of all the people you’ve slighted, for example people you’ve accidentally stood up this year, staff who spent their own money to buy supplies whom you didn’t reimburse for several months, hipsters you made fun of during a keynote speech, interns whom you ordered to get you a vegan soy caramel Macchiato at Starbucks while forgetting that it’s their birthday, etc. Call or email them to apologize.
  7. Forgive people—You don’t want to start the new year with bitterness in your heart. So, whatever hatred or disdain you have for people who have wronged you, such as your boss or coworker or board member, now is the time to take care of it and/or let all that go. Forgive as much as you can, and act on it with conviction by treating everyone nicely. Even the hipsters with their skinny jeans and weather-inappropriate scarves. If you find it hard to let go of these negative feelings, just remember that there will be plenty more bitterness and grudges for you to develop and harbor in the coming year.
  8. Get a haircut: If you don’t really need a haircut, then don’t worry too much about this. If you are thinking of getting one, do it now before the new year starts. Getting your hair cut before Tet symbolizes shedding off of bad luck or whatever negative energies attached themselves to you this year. During the first three days of Tet, your hair now symbolizes good luck, so you can’t get a haircut during these three days.
  9. Thank people: During Tet, families take time to visit the graves of ancestors, where they clean the tombstones and light incense to remember where they came from, and to ask the ancestors for a multi-year general operating grant. It is a time for reflection and appreciation, so call or send a note to thank your key funders, donors, volunteers, board members, and other awesome people. Especially thank any people who were historically critical to the organization, such as founders.
  10. Request Monday, 2/8 off. I’m very serious. Very few people work during the first day of Tet. This is the happiest day of the year and everyone spends it with family and friends. If you have to work, try to do only tasks that you enjoy. The belief is that whatever you do and feel on the first day of Tet is what you’ll experience the rest of the year. So if you are stressed and overworked or resisting the urge to strangle that one annoying committee member who always speaks out of turn while saying stupid irrelevant things, that’s your fate for a whole year.

On the first day of Tet [2/8/2016], you and your house and organization are infused with a dose of good luck, provided you followed some of thelion-dance-653735_960_720above steps. Don’t do anything that would symbolize getting rid of this good luck. For example, don’t get a haircut, don’t take out the trash, don’t do laundry. If you are staying home, you can probably skip showering as well. And for the love of general operating grants, try to brush aside stressful things and remain happy.

Good luck, and may the Year of the Fire Monkey bring you good health, peace of mind, stability, and a general operating grant or two.

(Note: By reading this blog post all the way through, you have earned 10 Cultural Competency Points and are on your way to becoming a Cultural Competency Unicorn. See list of CC points as well as titles you can earn.)