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.
Hi everyone. I just came back from speaking at the Blue Ridge Institute, a 90-year-old week-long retreat in the Tennessee woods for nonprofit leaders. It’s a combination of thought-provoking conversations and endearingly ridiculous hijinks, including an all-ages talent show, skits, hiking, dancing, a lot of singing, a softball game with equal-opportunity cheering and heckling from a designated group called “The Best Worst Cheerleaders,” a sarcastic daily news parody segment that roasts everyone mercilessly in good fun, and something called “moonshine cherries.” Basically, if I designed a retreat for nonprofit leaders, it would look a lot like BRI. But with more sock puppets (and Oxford Commas in the marketing materials). Check it out. It’s magical, and kids are welcome.
During my keynote, I brought up the Nonprofit Hunger Games and how all of us are in constant competition with one another for resources and influence. “I call it Stabbing for Dollars,” says one seasoned nonprofit executive. A manifestation of this is through our hiring philosophies and practices. There are thousands of articles on staff recruitment, retention, etc., but they all have something in common: It is always about the well-being of the organization, getting the best talent for the organization to ensure the organization thrives, rarely about the entire sector or community. We recruit professionals to fulfill our individual missions, not paying much attention to what happens when they leave our organizations, or how the way we treat them might affect their work at their next organization, or our own individual responsibility to support a “bench” of talent needed for the entire sector to thrive.Continue reading “Ending the Nonprofit Talent Hunger Games”
During the 17 months of our existence, my start-up organization has been guided by a single profound question: “Whose disgusting leftover salad is this that’s been in the fridge since June?!” That, and also, “What kind of leaders do we need in this time and place?” Both questions have prompted us to do some serious soul-searching. The latter, posed by our partner organization the Center for Ethical Leadership, has been on my mind a lot lately.
If you’ve been reading the news, it seems that the world is getting more and more complex, and sometimes scarier, and oftentimes sadder and more confusing. I know there are lots of good things happening too, but as I part with my two-year-old son each morning to go to work, I can’t help but hold him for a few seconds longer.
The world is changing, and the nonprofit sector has a significant role to play. A big part of that role is to provide our community with the leaders that it needs. As much as we would like to, we can’t really rely on our corporate friends to be leading social movements, and political leaders have their challenges to wrestle with. It is often up to us to bring balance. Nonprofit leaders are the underappreciated Jedi knights of our world.Continue reading “All right, everyone, we need to freak out more about nonprofit leadership”