Ask a nonprofit director: advice on love, marriage, and other stuff


Executive Directors are problem solvers. That’s why we get paid the big bucks. But why keep it to just nonprofit problems? We would make great advice columnists!

adviceDear Nonprofit Director: After a year of dating the girl of my dreams, I introduced her to my family and announced we were getting married. The reaction was warm but not enthusiastic. Neither set of our parents has offered to help with the costs of the wedding happening next year. How do we bring this subject up to them? Anxious in Anchorage.

Dear Anxious: Potential funders like your parents are not obligated to support your project. They may do so if it aligns with their priorities; you can present a clear argument with research and best practices, you yourselves are financially invested, and you can promise significant outcomes, e.g., grandchildren. Keeping your parents in the dark about your girlfriend for a year was a mistake, as transparency is always more effective in engaging your donors. Given these circumstances, I recommend you postpone this project a year or two in order to build up your infrastructure and strengthen your relationship with your potential funders.

Dear Nonprofit Director: My teenage daughter is incorrigible! I know all kids this age go through a rebellious phase, but it’s driving me crazy. She is sullen, lazy, disobeys curfews, gets poor grades, and neglects to do her one chore, which is to load up the dishwasher. That’s the one chore I ask her to do! When she’s not holed up in her room texting, she hangs out with her equally irresponsible friends. I’m at wit’s end! What should I do? Massively Overwhelmed in Minnesota

Dear MOM: First, own up your part in this. Did you give clear directions and expectations? Does she have a detailed chart with chores, metrics, and deadlines? Have you provided her with sufficient dishwasher loading training? When those things are taken care of, the problem will usually resolve itself. If not, ask yourself if this is a matter of fit. Sometimes, it’s just not a good match. Have a talk with your daughter to see if this is the right family for her. Whatever you do, document her behavior and your actions in writing so that liabilities are decreased in the unfortunate event you need to part ways.

Dear Nonprofit Director: My husband and I are thinking of having children. We are in our mid-30’s and love to travel. How do we know if we’re ready to settle? Ambivalent in Kansas City.

Dear Ambivalent: Do a SWOT analysis to determine your family’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential opportunities (tax incentives, having someone to take care of you in your old age, the chance to create a kid who might discover the cure for cancer) and threats (collapse of the Euro, zombie apocalypse, etc.). Sometimes a more extensive assessment, in which you solicit the feedback of key stakeholders, such as your financial advisor, may be helpful. It is important, though, that this new element aligns with your family’s mission, vision, and strategic plan.

Dear Nonprofit Director: I have a coworker, let’s call him Chuck, who is a total slob. Ugh! This guy never washes his dishes, just leaves them in the sink. We’ve been giving him hints, as well as posting a sign over the sink that says “Please wash your own dishes, Chuck!!!!” No use! How do we get Chuck to see how his disgusting behavior is unprofessional and causing resentment? Yours, Fed Up.

Dear FU: Really? You come to me for this? Do you think this grant application is going to BS itself?! When you have challenges with your coworkers, I expect you to first try to resolve the matter on your own before involving me. Go talk to Chuck directly, share your perspective on how his behavior is affecting your work, and negotiate on a solution. If that does not work, let me know and I will step in to mediate. 

Dear Nonprofit Director: I have a son who is not exactly the brightest, but he’s not all that dumb either. He’s just up in the clouds, with bunnies and unicorns, wanting to make the world better or something. That’s noble, but I’m afraid he’ll never get anywhere. And he’s not blessed enough to coast by on his looks or charms. How can I convince him to switch to a practical job like being a pharmacist? I hear they pay pretty well. The boy is kind of physically weak too, and you don’t have to lift much as a pharmacist. Concerned in Seattle.

Dear Concerned: Leave me alone, Dad!

“Ask a Nonprofit Director” is the premiere syndicated advice column on life issues from the perspective of an Executive Director. Read Part 2 with more questions and advice from an ED here. Send your questions to 

  • Your blog is making my day! As a struggling executive director of a tiny youth center I feel all alone in my work but reading your blog makes me laugh and gives me ideas and food for thought. Thanks for that! This post in particular had me laughing….

    • Vu

      Thanks so much for commenting, Kelly. I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. You should start an ED Happy Hour over there. Let me know if you want me to add you to the EDHH Seattle mailing list; it might give you ideas also (mainly about different drink recipes)

    • bill holston

      Kelly you’re not tiny, you are ‘poised for growth!’

      and I so agree with you about this post.

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