The courage for mediocrity: We nonprofit professionals need to give ourselves a break

stressAfter being in this sector for over a decade, I can say that nonprofit professionals are some of the most awesome people on earth. We are so smart, talented, dedicated, passionate, caring, humble, witty, cool, and hilarious. Also, we are really good-looking and are great dressers. Let’s see someone from the corporate sector rock that $6.99 button-down shirt from Ross, Dress for Less (originally $13.99).

But we are burning out, you guys. Our natural good looks are obscured by stress-induced wrinkles, grey hair, and maybe one eye that twitches uncontrollably during staff meetings. The work never stops, our organizations are understaffed, and people’s lives depend on our actions and decisions. We work in the evenings and on the weekends, skip vacations, and when we’re on vacation we check our emails because we know if we ignore them, they will start multiplying like hipsters. It is a brutal cycle that leads to many of us leaving the sector to make jewelry that are then sold at farmer’s markets. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, despite the fact that the world could use more necklaces made out of beach glass and soda can tabs. Continue Reading…

Nonprofit and Afraid: A new show on the Discovery Channel

clint-laura-300x300Hi everyone. I just came back from giving a keynote speech at the AFP Arizona’s state conference, where I had a great time and made many cool friends. It was, seriously, a really amazing and unforgettable experience, complete with dancing “The Wobble,” handstands, trying out the nonprofit yoga positions I wrote about, eating rancid hummus (it spoils easily in 100+ degrees weather), and talking about riding the giant koi fish in the resort we were all staying in. Yeah, we were kind of tipsy, but only after hours. I was writing about this awesome experience I had in Tucson when Naked and Afraid came on.

Naked and Afraid is a riveting show about two random strangers who have to survive in the wilderness for three weeks while naked (and afraid). They meet for the first time in their birthday suits, they are given usually a knife and a fire starter, and the two must find water and food, build shelter out of bamboo and leaves or whatever, and put up with insects, freezing cold nights, blisteringly hot days, thorns, poisonous snakes, and worst of all, lack of wifi. They are followed around by a film crew who intervenes in severe emergencies, but who otherwise are not allowed to talk to the naked couple.

They also get waterproof camcorders to record their personal thoughts, which often sound like this: “Day 9: We are so cold right now, and we haven’t eaten anything since that bat we shared six days ago. Kyle was delirious with a fever and started gnawing at his own arm, but luckily a poisonous spider bit him in the eye and he came to his senses…”

Damn you, Discovery Channel, for putting on new episodes at 10pm on Sunday nights. 10am to 2pm on Sunday is usually when I do my writing. This show is to blame for any decrease in quality of these blog posts.

But this gives me a brilliant idea for a show that I want to pitch to the Discovery Channel: “Nonprofit and Afraid.” Hear me out for a second. Picture this: We take an average person who is not from the nonprofit sector, and we place them to work at a nonprofit for six weeks, filming their experience every step of the way! Here’s what the pilot episode might look like: Continue Reading…

Nonprofit with Balls’s 100th post! Let’s celebrate by going home early.

unicorn sunsetHi everyone. This is Nonprofit With Ball’s historic 100th post. It is a momentous occasion. When I was a little boy growing up in a small village up in the mountains of Vietnam, my father said to me, “Son, we may be poor, but that does not mean we can’t accomplish great things. You are the smartest, most-talented, and, in certain very dim lighting, best-looking kid in our family. Bring honor to our name.” Well, look dad, I wrote 100 blog posts about nonprofits, many mentioning unicorns! I think our ancestors would be proud. They’re probably tweeting about it right now.

For this 100th post, I’m going to provide excerpts of some of my favorite early posts, the ones that you probably haven’t read because they’re so old. If this sounds very lazy, like those TV shows that do montages as a special episode (“Instead of writing a real episode, let’s spend 10 minutes looking at all the times that Joey said ‘How you doin’?’ and all the times that Ross acts like a completely unlikeable character”) you are right. But hey, this only happens every 100th blog posts; we’ll be back next week with new content. Here, read these posts below if you haven’t. And I think it’s only appropriate that we all go home early today in celebration. Continue Reading…

Really-high ropes courses and other uses of legal marijuana in the nonprofit sector

Cookies shaped like marijuana leafs are pictured at the Cannabis Carnivalus 4/20 event in SeattleHi everyone. Before we launch into today’s topic, I want to invite you to Rainier Valley Corps’s open house this Wednesday evening, July 9th from 6pm to 8pm. If you’re in Seattle, come on by and learn about the project. And I’d love to meet you. Details at rainiervalleycorps.org

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Every week, when I publish a new post, inevitably two to five readers will unsubscribe their email from this blog, probably in protest against something I said (“How DARE you disparage hipsters blah blah you’re just jealous because your fat vegan legs don’t look good in skinny jeans blah blah scientific studies show that wearing skinny jeans for just two hours a day can vastly improve fertility rates blah blah you and your blog suck, etc.”) It’s OK, because new readers subscribe, so there is usually a net gain.

As a warning, this week’s topic may be sensitive to some readers, because, dude, recreational marijuana will be available for sale in Washington State this Tuesday! For some, it is the end of the world. But for others, it’ll be like Black Friday, where you wake up extra early, grab an empty Snapple bottle, wait in line for hours, and then shove aside the weak and elderly to get your hands on that sweet, sweet 32GB flash drive for $5.99. Except replace “32GB flash drive” with “legal weed” and “$5.99” with “about $400 per ounce.”

Now, whether you support or oppose legalizing pot, the fact is that the tides are turning, and pot use will grow and affect the way we do our work in the nonprofit sector. Continue Reading…

7 annoying things nonprofits do and say that get on funders’ nerves

irritatedHappy Monday, everyone. Last week, I wrote about annoying things that funders say to us nonprofits. Now, I want to stress again that funders and fundees are in symbiotic relationship. Like those ants that live on that one tree. Or those billions of probiotic bacteria that thrive in a healthy stomach. Nonprofits cannot do our work without funding, and funders can’t do their work without nonprofits. And no one can do their work without a healthy stomach, which is why all of us—funders and NPOs—should eat more yogurt and kimchi.

Anyway, after last week’s post, I got emails from a few funders who wanted to point out that nonprofits say and do annoying things also. At this point, you may have spewed coffee at your computer screen in shock and indignation. We nonprofits are unicorns! We never do anything annoying! Well, here are some things I was asked to mention. Let’s hear our funding friends out. And let’s keep in mind that I am only the messenger here. Like Shakira in those Activia probiotic yogurt commercials, but maybe slightly less attractive. Continue Reading…

7 Annoying things funders say, and what we wish they (you) would say instead

Kaziranga National Park reopens for visitorsHappy summer, everyone. A colleague wrote me recently, saying “I just received an email from a well-known foundation (that supports us) mentioning that they ‘are all out of town all of this week for a conference in Hawaii.’ I just spent 2 months working my a** off on our annual event raising just $35,000…” She asked me to write about things that funders should never mention to folks working in the nonprofit world

Now, funders are awesome and play a very important and symbiotic role in the nonprofit ecosystem. It would be hard for us nonprofit egrets to do our work if the…uh…rain doesn’t fall and the…um….savannah grass is not green enough to feed the rhinoceroses who…uh…do whatever it is that rhinoceroses do in this metaphor, which made a lot more sense yesterday after I had several beers. But once in a while, likely inadvertently, funders say things that get on our nerves. I asked Nonprofit With Balls readers as well as all my ED friends to tell me what they wished funders would stop saying. Here are the top ones: Continue Reading…

The game of nonprofit, and how it leaves some communities behind

Game-of-Thrones-S3E7-02-e1368427519542A while ago I attended a meeting coordinated by a major local funder. The topic was “Lessons from Game of Thrones we can apply to nonprofit work.” All right, that wasn’t the topic, although that would have made for a much livelier discussion and will be a blog post here soon enough. No, we were talking about Community Engagement. Once again we were talking about community engagement, because it is becoming more and more apparent that voices of communities of color are missing from almost every table on every issue—the environment; education; housing; transportation; food equity; employment; scrimshaw, the ancient art of carving on whale bones, etc.—and everyone is banging their heads against the wall trying to figure out what the heck is going on. Continue Reading…

The Downward-Facing Budget and other nonprofit yoga poses

We in nonprofit work a lot and oftentimes neglect important things. Like flossing. And exercise. There are many benefits of yoga, which are the ancient practices of training your mind, body, and spirit. Now, you may be thinking, “I don’t have time for yoga; I have an important grant to write.” Well, even a few minutes a day can be extremely helpful to get you more relaxed and productive. Here are a few yoga positions inspired by nonprofit work that you can do today. Do not exert yourself if you are a yoga beginner. Try one or two poses each week, and increase the variety as you advance. Also, if your office can’t afford air conditioning this summer, all the better, because hot yoga is even more beneficial. Continue Reading…

Some reflections on my old job before I start my new job

mariachiHi everyone, I realized that last Friday was my last day as Executive Director of my organization. Today’s post may be rambly and a little sentimental, reflecting on nine years at an organization that I love. Please indulge me this week, and next week we will be back to nonprofit hilariousness (such as “Lessons we nonprofits can learn from ‘Naked and Afraid’,” a totally awesome show with much to teach us, such as if your staff or board is naked in the wilderness—maybe as a very creative retreat—the first thing you should do is make some basic undergarments for your team out of grass or leaves, since there may be leeches.) Continue Reading…

If You Give a Board Treasurer a Cookie, and other classic children’s books about nonprofit work

Guess-How-Much-I-Love-You-The-Adventures-Of-Little-Nutbrown-HareLast week I survived giving a keynote speech at the Washington Low-Income Housing Alliance (WLIHA) conference in Yakima. The speech, delivered to over 600 smart and good-looking people, was called “Unicorns, Equity, and General Operating Funds: Quest of the Nonprofit Warrior.” It was 30 minutes long and filled with unicorn jokes, and so I’ll spare you and break it into smaller chunks on this blog over time.

Today, I want to talk about children’s books. I am so sick of these children’s books that my one-year-old makes me read each day. You try to see how charming “Guess How Much I Love You” is after the 80th time! All right, nutbrown hares, we get it, you love each other, great! And yes, brown bear, brown bear, you see a red bird, awesome, and red bird, red bird, you see a blue horse, wonderful. Continue Reading…