All right, you guys, we need to talk about nonprofit salaries

54557587Last month, one of my friends told me she was making 70K as a waitress at a fancy restaurant. She quit because she didn’t find it satisfying, and took a pay cut to work as a community organizer. I wept softly into my soy hot chocolate. 70K was way more than I was making as an ED with rapidly greying hair and daily night terrors.

Most of us who entered the nonprofit field didn’t do so because of the Benjamins. We knew, when we decided to dedicate our lives to making the world better, that we would not likely be able to afford a huge house with a pool. Or trips abroad every year. Or private school for our kids. Or maybe healthcare. Or organic blueberries at $6 per pint. Gawd, that’s like fifty cents a berry! Seriously, are organic blueberries watered with unicorn tears?!

Sorry, where was I? Yes, we knew what we were getting into. There are tons of reasons why nonprofit work is so awesome (See “10 reasons nonprofit work is so awesome”), and not one of those is a huge pay. Unless you include unlimited hummus at meetings as part of wages. Continue Reading…

7 challenges inspired by the Icebucket Challenge

Ice Bucket ChallengeAll right, you guys, up until now, I’ve managed to avoid talking about the Icebucket Challenge. First, because I don’t have a personal Facebook page and thus have been spared videos of friends and celebrities pouring freezing cold water over their heads to raise awareness and funds for ALS.

Second, I’ve been very jealous at the humbling success of this viral campaign. Over 100 million raised?! Can you imagine what most nonprofits could do with $100,000,000? Five words: Unlimited. Breadsticks. During. Committee. Meetings.

Honestly, I’m not really sure how I feel about it all. On one hand, it’s inspiring that so many people—people of all races and classes, kids and adults, celebrities and the unwashed masses—are participating in addressing a terrible and incurable disease. It’s great that an important message is able to cut through the noises and get some needed attention. Continue Reading…

Is equity the new coconut water?

coconut waterIn the past couple of years we have seen the meteoric rise in the consumption of coconut water. Cold, refreshing coconut water. Drinking some is like being punched in the mouth by a tropical breeze. Coconut water is now everywhere. People drink it before and after working out. It’s added to everything, such as fancy smoothies made with flaxseed and goji berries. It’s flavored with mango and pineapple juice. Coconut water is delicious. And it’s excellent for hangovers. Not that I would know from experience or anything.

Recently we have also seen the rise in “equity.” I don’t know about you, but in Seattle, the term “equity” has become ubiquitous. You can’t walk down the street without hearing someone saying something like, “Equity. Equity, equity, equity. Blah blah community engagement Seahawks equity.” Funders are incorporating the terminology and concepts of equity more into their work. People are having summits on it. Strategic plans incorporate it. It’s included now in many organizations’ set of basic values. “Equity” will become one of the top baby girls’ names soon, believe you me (If I had three daughters, I would name them Equity, Charity, and General Operating Funds). Continue Reading…

The joys and burdens of being an ED of color

orangesLast week I flew to Los Angeles to talk to a group of 12 or so Asian/Pacific Islander EDs who are in a leadership program of which I am an alum. This cohort was a group of all women. I was a bit nervous, looking at the leaders seated in a circle. First of all, there were some EDs who have had way more experience than I do. And second of all, people in LA are hella stylish, and in comparison, I looked like I was dressed by a few smarter-than-average bonobos.

The EDs came from all over the US and work in many different areas—art, cancer awareness, education, etc. They had the archetypal look of the Executive Director: Radiant good looks surrounded by an aura of power stymied by baggy eyes, greying hair, and the slouched shoulders of stress and exhaustion.

It’s rough being an ED, but being an ED of color has an additional set of stress: Continue Reading…

Icebreakers, do’s and don’ts, and some that don’t suck

boring-meetings-made-betterWhen I say “icebreaker,” what images or feelings come to mind? For some people, they think “Yay, a fun game to get to know people!” For others, it is a swirling vortex of darkness and hatred.

A while ago I wrote a post describing what bad-ass mythical creatures you are. Each creature has different qualities and preferences. Whether you like icebreakers may depend on what creature you are. Unicorns, for example, love harmony and crap like that, so they tend to like them. Phoenixes are always distracted and have unlimited energy, so they like them too. Lion-Turtles love processes and don’t want to share much about themselves, so they’re leery of icebreakers. And dragons, who are action-oriented, would rather eat one of their arms than share their feelings in a wishy-washy icebreaker.

Whether we like them or not, icebreaking activities can play important roles, such as lightening the mood, building energy, improving team dynamics, and distracting people from the fact that the snacks are skimpy and probably left over from another meeting (why is the hummus so crusty?). Yet so many suck, or are deployed wrong and end up wasting people’s time or embarrassing them. Find-Someone-Who, for example. Participants are given a sheet of paper and are asked to go around the room finding people who speak four languages, has a pet chihuahua, is gluten-free, makes soap from bacon grease, or whatever. Problem is, by the end of the activity, no one remembers a single fact about anyone, and obsessive people feel resentful that they didn’t get enough time to complete their checklist. Meanwhile, “Two Truths and a Lie” should be renamed “Two Hours and a Half” because that’s how long it usually takes to get through everyone’s truths and lies. Continue Reading…

The Frustration with Innovation: Bright Shiny Object Syndrome and its effect on the nonprofit sector

Chicago_Bean_2_by_lightzoneOne of the great things about our sector is how innovative it is. There are smart, talented, socially-conscious people—nonprofit staff, funders, researchers, boards, donors, volunteers. We come up with amazing ideas all the time. In the past few years we’ve had 40 Developmental Assets, and 21st Century Skills. We’ve had evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence. We have strategic planning, then strategic thinking. We have Collective Impact and Youth Program Quality Initiative. We have STEM. We have online learning. Some trends, like the importance of parental engagement in students’ academic performance, die and then resurface. I call them “Zombie Trends.” Now the latest trend is “We need to send more nonprofit staff to Hawaii so they can relax and recharge!”

All right, fine, that last one may not be an actual trend, though maybe it should be.

Lately, however, I’ve been encountering among my peers more and more frustration with funders’ seeming obsession with innovation. An ED friend called it the Bright Shiny Object Syndrome (BSOS), this apparent inclination to drop everything and zoom in on the newest, sexiest concept to support, with sometimes negative consequences. The focus on early learning, for example, while important, has affected funding for youth programs, and the shift to collective impact has not always been positive (see “Collective Impact: Resistance is futile“). Continue Reading…

We should build a nonprofit-themed theme park!

theme parkHi everyone, I am still in Hawaii on vacation. However, that does not mean I can slack off on writing a blog post on Monday. Consistency is very important. As I often tell my son, “Son,” I would say, “whatever you decide to do, always be consist–aaarrrgh, why did you bite Daddy’s toes?! Do you think that was funny? That was not funny!”

Hawaii has been great, something I have sorely been needing for a while. The people here are so friendly and sweet, and the shaved ice tastes like happiness and childhood and unrestricted funds. I have been spending a lot of time with my wife and baby son and taken lots and lots of naps and drank a bunch of drinks that have little paper umbrellas on them. And I only checked my work emails about 20 times total.

There has been a couple of highlights on this trip. First, I met with the ED Ryan and Development Director Cheri of Hands In Helping Out (HIHO), a wonderful organization that recruits, trains, and matches volunteers with opportunities, all the while making the experience of volunteering fun for everyone involved. We went to a raw vegan restaurant, and while chewing on some “escargots” made from mushrooms and cashews, we grumbled about restricted funding and the lack of support of critical things like volunteer management. Even in paradise, nonprofit directors are frustrated with certain things, like all of us in the mainland are. “Funders only want to support NEW programs, forget tried and true ones,” we grumbled, using flaxseed crackers to scoop up some raw olive tapenade.

On one of the days, we went to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), a nonprofit theme park that teaches visitors about the different Polynesian cultures. In different “villages,” you learn about Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Hawaiian, Aotearoan, Marquesan, and Tahitian cultures. Visitors get a chance to throw spears, make coconut bread, start fires with sticks, make hats out of palm fronds, learn different dances, and gain basic understanding of cultural norms, such as which door one must use when entering a Fijian temple.

It was pricey to spend the day there, but well worth it. And it made me think, “Dude, we should totally have a nonprofit-themed theme park!” Continue Reading…

The “Cultural Competency” and other nonprofit cocktail recipes

coconut cocktails

Hi everyone, I’m going on vacation for eight days starting today*, and I am going to try not to do any work. That’s right, no work. Well, maybe one grant. I am going to relax on the beach, introduce my son to the ocean for the first time, and drink cocktails from hollowed-out tropical fruit. It will be so awesome.

If you haven’t taken any vacation time, I hope you will do so soon. Our field relies on effective people, and people can’t be as effective if they are burnt out. Take some time off and stop feeling guilty about it. Many of us are reluctant to take long vacations because of something I call “Avalanche Anxiety,” the fear that work will build up while were gone, and bury us when we get back. Take a few days off anyway. If you really insist on working the rest of the summer, then at least try to cut your hours down so you can sit in your garden or porch with a nice cold drink.

Here, I have several more cocktail recipes inspired by the nonprofit sector. There are a couple of recipes by NWB’s Facebook friends too. 

cultural competency coctail

 

The Cultural Competency. 1 shot vodka, 1 shot Kalua, 1 shot tequila, 1 shot sake, 1 shot whiskey. Mix everything together in a shaker with ice and strain into glass. Garnish with whatever exotic tropical fruit you can find. Drink slowly. Congratulations, you’re culturally competent! Continue Reading…

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…