Why the Sustainability Myth is just as destructive as the Overhead Myth

unicorn headHi everyone, thanks to the latest episode of Game of Thrones, I’m depressed out of my mind. And I’m hungry. So this post will probably be slightly bitter, and have food metaphors. Last week I mentioned my piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy regarding sustainability. Unfortunately, since the piece is for paid subscribers only, many of you were not able to read it, leading to several angry comments, and one reader who sent me a severed stuffed unicorn head.

All right, no one sent me a stuffed unicorn head. But that gives me a brilliant NWB merchandizing idea: Stuffed unicorn heads that you can buy and send to board members who don’t show up to meetings. Or funders who make you write a ten-page proposal with eight attachments for a $5,000 grant. Or coworkers who keep leaving their containers of food in the fridge until they get all moldy. Take your butternut squash and quinoa salad home, for the love of GOF (General Operating Funds)!

But, getting back to the topic, there were a few readers annoyed that they couldn’t read the article, so I want to recap and elaborate on the main points here. I know, I know, we’ve been talking forever about this. I hope this will be the last time we bring up Sustainability for a while.

The Overhead Myth

When Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and the BBB Wise Giving Alliance got together in 2013 and wrote a letter denouncing the Overhead Myth, I was ecstatic. The Overhead Myth is one of the dumbest and most damaging concepts ever inflicted on nonprofits and the communities we serve. Imagine if we go on Yelp to find help deciding which restaurants to frequent, and all the reviews are like this:

“We were disgusted that the Happy Chicken spends over 30 percent of their revenues on rent, water, insurance, and accounting software. Go a block down the street and eat at the Flying Lemur instead; the owner assures me she only spends 10 percent on things like electricity.” 

That’s what the Overhead Myth is like, and since it is down, we all need to kick it so that it never gets back up to terrorize us again. There is still a lot of people in society we need to educate regarding this issue. Let’s send them severed stuffed unicorn heads… Continue Reading…

Standardized answers to the Sustainability Question

teeth tattooHi everyone, last week the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a piece I wrote on the Sustainability Myth. Warning: The piece is for paid subscribers, but it was adapted from this post—“Can we all just admit there is no such thing as nonprofit sustainability?”—which you should check out, since it talks about teeth tattoos, which is an earned-income strategy I am working on in order to increase my organization’s “sustainability.” Tattoos on one’s canines and incisors will be the next big thing in society, trust me, and my organization is going to ride that wave.

Recently I wrote a grant proposal for $30,000, and of course, at the end, there it was, the Sustainability Question. “How will you sustain your program when support from the XYZ foundation runs out?” I took a deep breath. And by “taking a deep breath,” I meant chugging a mini bottle of vodka I keep in my laptop bag. Then I looked at pictures of cute baby animals. That always helps me to calm down. Continue Reading…

Mother’s Day, and the myth of indispensability

make-your-mothers-dayHi everyone, this post may be melancholy and depressing. I won’t be upset if you skip this and read something more hilarious, like “Ask a Nonprofit Director: Advice on Love, Family, and Other Stuff.” Or these nonprofit cocktail recipes.

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and I will wake up to realize that my mother has been gone for ten years. She died at the age of 49 of a stroke. When you’ve lost someone, holidays can be terrible to endure. The first few Mother’s Days I just stayed in bed most of the morning, envious of all those happy people taking their moms to brunch.

Now I am older, so I try to figure out what this all means, what I can learn from all this. I run through memories I have. Since it was one of the last moments I had with her, I recall coming home from college, and being greeted by the smell of her cooking. Sweet and sour soup, tofu sautéed in tomatoes, braised bamboo shoots—dishes she had learned to make when I told her I had decided to go vegan.

My mother stood there at the sink washing dishes, smiling. The late-afternoon sunlight streaming through our kitchen window fell on her hair, and she’d greet me with these sweet maternal words: 

“You’re too skinny. You look like one of those drug addicts on TV.” Continue Reading…

Our hiring practices are inequitable and need to change

unicorn cookiesHi everyone, I just returned from giving a keynote speech in at the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network‘s annual conference (in Ontario Canada) called “We Are Unicorns: Why Nonprofit Peeps are Awesome, Magnificent, and Downright Sexy.” It was an easy speech to give, since we are all those things, and our sector is kicking some serious butts. Just look at this article in Forbes that says we are more “poised for the future than either business or government.” And this report that shows we have been growing jobs at a rate of 2.1% while businesses have been losing them at a rate .06%. In light of this, I recommend we all go home early today and bake some unicorn-shaped cookies to celebrate.

However, since we are adding so many jobs, we need to now focus more attention on our hiring practices, which, unfortunately, are often medieval, short-term-focused, and inequitable. We have been relying heavily on the for-profit world’s hiring model, which has not been aligned with our sector-wide values of equity and community. It leaves out too many good people, and it is time that we as a field examine and change how we hire people. Here are some weaknesses of the hiring process for us all to reflect upon while we eat our unicorn cookies: Continue Reading…

Winter is coming, and the donor-centric fundraising model must evolve

nedHi everyone, this post is one of the toughest I have written. Mainly because I just watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones and now am feeling depressed and anxious about which character I like is next to die. Just kidding—kind of. This post is difficult to write because individual donor cultivation is complex, and I have been so focused on other areas of our sector that this seems like new territory for NWB. Today’s post, then, is more an invitation for discussion, and I hope fundraisers, and donors, will weigh in with thoughts and counterpoints.

Over the last few years, we have been sharpening our fundraising knives on the whetting stone of donor-centrism in order to carve into the gluten-free loaf of equity and social justice. (This may just be the worst metaphor I’ve written since the Vitamix of summits blending the margaritas of community engagement). Because of the constancy and complexity of fundraising, the brilliant development professionals in our field—Pamela Grow and Mary Cahalane being two that I learn from—have created a model where the donor is at the center. It is not about us and our organizations and programs, but about the donors and their relationships with our missions. I’ve been making sure donors are thanked quickly and in personalized ways and are constantly kept in the loop, for example. And I’ve been learning to say “you” way more often in all my communications, both at work, and even at home—e.g., “YOU do the dishes!” Continue Reading…