All right, “color-blind” colleagues, we need to have a talk

[Image description: Sharpened coloring pencils of various colors. From left to right: Dark green, light green, light blue, purple, red, orange, yellow. They are all lined up in close proximity and facing the same direction, and they appear to be on a mirror, hovering over their reflections. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

In my work and travels I’ve met some really incredible people doing amazing stuff. Every meeting, every trip restores my faith in our sector, as well as replenishes my office’s supply of pens and chapsticks from various exhibitors at conferences.

But once a while, I encounter people who are “color-blind,” who say things like:

  • “Vu, I love what you say about nonprofits needing to be more inclusive. You know, I have a grown son who has diverse friends. And he has never once referred to his friends by their skin color characteristics. Not once. I think it’s wonderful that he just doesn’t see color.”
  • “XYZ foundation decided to focus on organizations doing work with minorities. That’s great for organizations like yours, but what about the rest of us? I just don’t understand. I just don’t get why we need to keep focusing on race.”
  • “Can we talk about income? We keep talking about race, when really it’s about income. It’s not about race. Poor people are of all colors.”
  • “Why do you keep using the term ‘people of color’? Isn’t that just dividing us further? Where did that term even come from?”
  • “Why does it matter that they [leaders of organizations focused on specific diverse communities] be from those communities? Shouldn’t the most important factor be whether they have the qualifications to run the organization?”
  • “Maybe you should release a statement saying that you prioritize skills and experience above everything. That may help calm people down.” This was said by a board development consultant after I said my organization has been trying to be thoughtful about ensuring we have a diverse board that’s representative of the communities we serve, but that it was complex and we were getting pushback on the fact that though our board is 90% people of color, we still are not representative.

These are just a sample of things I’ve heard, and when I hear them, it makes me sad. So I do what I sometimes do under stress: Listen to the soulful ballads of Kenny Loggins. Especially “Return to Pooh Corner,” which recalls the innocence of childhood, counting bees and chasing clouds with a yellow bear whose nose is stuck in a jar of honey (Kenny Loggins, you sexy mulletted genius, you!). Continue reading

How Earth-friendly is your nonprofit or foundation? Take this quiz to find out

[Image description: An image of the earth, craddled between two bright green leaves, as if it were a fruit growing out of a plant. The background is completely black]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s post, a couple of announcements. First, just a reminder my organization is hiring a Development Director and an Operations Associate. We will begin interviewing soon.

Second, RVC is launching a naming rights campaign. We aim to name everything in the office—from the conference room to the fridge to the microwave to each of the cabinet drawers. Support RVC’s work developing leaders of color, and immortalize yourself, by naming a white board or shoe rack. 

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Earth Day is coming up, and despite our sector being full of thoughtful and amazing people doing awesome work, let’s face it, many of us suck at being green. I was at a fundraising dinner with 500 attendees or so, and noticed that everyone got a 30-page glossy program booklet. Barely anyone took it home at the end of the event, which means that 489 program booklets ended up in recycling or trash. Multiply this by one billion events we have each year as a sector, and we’re basically destroying whole forests.

Maybe we should think about having only one or two booklets per table, and figure out other ways to recognize our sponsors. Plus, since they’re rarer, people might actually want them! 

We also use a lot of disposable utensils for events: Cups, plates, forks, etc. They’re convenient. But maybe we should try to cut back, or use compostable stuff, or do both. And why isn’t edible utensils a thing yet?! I’d love to be able to just eat the plate and napkins when I’m done with my meals. Continue reading

What’s your nonprofit unicorn name/title? Find out here

[Image description: A painting of three unicorns prancing in water. The unicorns are all white with spiral horns. All of them are facing our left, mostly in three-quarter profile. The sky and water are dark blue with splashes of white. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone, I was writing a post about how we nonprofits can be more environmentally friendly. But yesterday was National Unicorn Day, so colleagues emailed me unicorn pictures and name generators. One of these generators has me as “Dandelion Pretty Pony” and has this description: “Dandelion is a little bit crazy. He is as pretty as a picture, and he brings the sunshine and chases away clouds.” Does that sound like me at all? Does that sound like any of us?! Not to mention it is insensitive to people with mental illness. 

Like all of you, I’ve been kept awake by the sad and disrespectful state of unicorn name generators. So instead of finishing the post on being green—it’ll be published next Monday—I created a unicorn name chart specifically for us nonprofit (including foundation) unicorns. Find out what your #nonprofitunicornname and title are, and write them in the comment section. Don’t forget your nonprofit’s unicorn name, based on your org’s acronym. Share this post with your friends and colleagues. 

Here’s a PDF file you can print (or not print) for your next board meeting, staff meeting, or volunteer orientation. 

You’re welcome!

Continue reading

How the focus on overhead disenfranchises communities of color and fans the flames of injustice

[Image description: A lone firefighter standing on a road spraying water at some raging flames on our left and up an embankment. It looks to be a wild forest fire. The firefighter’s hose is connected to a truck that is facing us with its headlights on. Smoke and orange flames are in the background, along with silhouettes of trees being consumed by the fire.]

Hi everyone, before we start on today’s post, a couple of announcements. First my org is hiring a Development Director and an Operations Associate. (Make sure you like unicorns and Oxford commas). Also, you can now buy a t-shirt, mug, or notebook that says “I am a pita wedge for the hummus of justice.” And, finally, I’m on Instagram (@nonprofitwithballs), mainly taking pictures of stuff I find pretty while doing nonprofit work. Like this event wagon, and this gala centerpiece, and this 9-year-old keyboard

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In this political climate, when so many of us nonprofits are rallying to put out one fire after another, many of the things we have been used to and have been putting up with no longer make sense. Many of us in the sector have been making the argument against restricted funding and for general operating for years. Here’s a report from GEO. Here’s one from CEP. Here’s a piece from my colleague Paul Shoemaker. And I’ve made impassioned pleas here, here, and here. But despite countless arguments by dozens of leaders, we still have foundations who restrict funds, who set arbitrary numbers for “indirect expenses” and “overhead.”

But there has been one argument that we have not stressed enough to funders and donors, but now it is urgent that we do so: The focus on overhead is no longer just annoying, it’s perpetuating inequity and injustice. Continue reading

What is partisan? Baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me, no more

[Image description: A picture with the profiles of a dog and a cat, staring at each other. The dog is on the left. The top of its head is black, the band around its eyes is brown, and the band around its nose is white. The cat is on the right. It is mainly black, with a white nose and mouth and a thin streak of brown down its forehead. Neither of the animals’ bodies is shown.]

OK, everyone, we need to have a talk. Due to the current political climate, I’ve been noticing that many of us have been more curt and on attack-mode lately. The simplest disagreement sets off chains of arguments. Tension builds, insults fly, and someone ends up stabbed in the spleen. And that’s just over the Oxford Comma. #OxfordCommaForever #OxfordCommasSaveLives #ILoveYouOxfordComma #WillYouMarryMeOxfordComma

I’ve suggested some general agreements to help us have more civil conversations with one another when we don’t agree, rules like “Assume the best intention,” “Seek to understand,” and “No matter how angry you get, don’t bite anyone.” Let’s agree to be nicer to one another, OK? And let’s just be nicer to everyone, even the clueless turd donkeys who don’t agree with you and thus are clearly ugly and wrong. Continue reading