9 awesome nonprofit trends we should all celebrate with unicorn cookies!

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MangosteenHi everyone, I am in Saigon right now, where it is a 95 degrees and the humidity is so thick, you can use a knife to whittle out some humidity sculptures for your next silent auction. But, things have been great. Food is cheap and ubiquitous and good, so I’ve been loading up, especially on cold young coconuts and mangosteens, a purplish tropical fruit that tastes like general operating funds (You need to add “Eat five pounds of mangosteens in Southeast Asia” to your bucket list right now!).

The relatives, meanwhile, still have no idea what I do, and while my Vietnamese is pretty good, it is not when it comes to advanced topics. I have the vocabulary of a ten-year-old, so it leads to awkward conversations like this:

Aunt: We heard that you got a new job? Tell us about it

Me: Yes, I work for a…location…that grows people who…drag others…to do good things…

Aunt: Drag others to do good things? You mean, leaders?

Me: Yes! Yes! Leaders! Leaders from groups of people who have …the darker…skins…

Aunt: People of color?

Me: Yes, people of color! We send these leaders into…businesses that don’t make money, but they help make the world better…

Aunt: NGO’s?

Me: Yes, yes!

I won’t recap the next part, where I try to explain capacity building and community organizing. Just be glad your elevator speech doesn’t last thirty minutes and involve a lot of wild gesturing, followed by your relatives looking disappointed at your career choice.

Anyway, on to today’s topic. Recently a reader wrote me this message: “I have noticed that your posts tend to emphasize things that are ‘wrong’ in the non-profit sector.debbie And there is certainly much to say about the many ills of our sector. This said, given the hard work people in the sector are undertaking, maybe there is a way for some of the messages to emphasize the positive, too?”

And she’s right. There are many, many things that we can improve on, there are also just tons and tons of awesomeness. We nonprofiteers often do tend to focus on the stuff that isn’t going well, and not appreciate or even see the good stuff. Let’s all give ourselves a break by celebrating, preferably with unicorn cookies, all the great things that are happening in our sector. Here is a list below, made with some help from the NWB Facebook Community, to balance out last week’s listicle. This is by no means comprehensive—or particularly well-written, since I’m on vacation—so please add to this by writing in the comment section.

9 awesome nonprofit trends we should all celebrate with unicorn cookies!

People are giving nonprofits more money! Yay! Yup, for the fifth consecutive year, the amount of charitable giving increased! Now it’s surpassed pre-recession level! Here’s an article about it, focused on giving in the US. And giving around the world is going up as well, from 1.2B in 2011 to 1.4B in 2014, according to the World Giving Index! More money means we can do more stuff!

One out of every ten people in the US work for a nonprofit! That’s a lot of people. And it leads to a classic new joke: Look to your left, now look to your right, now look at seven other people, and if none of them are in nonprofit, then likely it is you who work for one.

Our sector is outgrowing businesses! As I mentioned in a previous post, a report shows that our sector is growing jobs at rate of 2.1 percent, while for-profits are shrinking at a rate of .6%. We are becoming a force with which to be reckoned. This, hopefully, will cut down on that superiority complex so often displayed by business people.

Passionate, talented younger professionals want to join our sector. Over 70% of younger people are interested in working for a nonprofit. Pretty soon, it won’t be uncommon to hear conversations like this: “So, little Billy, what do you want to be when you grow up?” “I want to work for a nonpwofit.” “Oh yeah? That’s great. What are you drawing there?” “A finance committee meeting.” “Aw, is that you holding the 990 tax form?”

Funders are providing more multi-year and general operating funds. According to this report by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), private foundations provided more multi-year support, more general operating funds, and are seeking more feedback from grantees. Sweet! We’ve been pushing for those things for decades, and need to continue pushing, but maybe this wall between funders and nonprofits is starting to crumble. Hopefully a few of them will show up to my 80’s-themed karaoke birthday party next March.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is actually pretty cool. You enroll in the program, then make 120 payments while full-time employed at a nonprofit, and the rest of your student loans are forgiven. And, you can count payments you made from October 2007. Heck, you probably have a bunch of credits toward the 120 payments right now. Go check. Details here. This is a great sign that the government and society are recognizing the importance of having people join and stay in the nonprofit sector.

The tyranny of overhead is ending! Overhead is on its way out as a crappy, ugly concept. Yeah, we still have work to do, but the trend is definitely in favor of cookiesoutcomes and not how much we spent on office electricity and toilet paper in order to get to the outcomes. Even the government is starting to realize how ridiculous overhead is. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), for example, last year issued new guidance basically saying government contracts should reimburse nonprofits more fairly for indirect costs. Here, the Council of Nonprofits explains it better than I can.

Recognition of the important role women play in solving global challenges. Studies have shown that investing in women and girls have great benefits for families, often more than would focusing on men as the household breadwinners. People are recognizing this, and global aid is increasingly focused on women and girls, with tons of success stories.

Most importantly, our work is working! According to this article, childhood obesity, traffic deaths, and violent crimes in the US are decreasing, air quality is actually increasing, and global poverty is going down. Utah found an innovative way to end homelessness. Houston is ending veterans’ homelessness, and other city and states are following suit. We can’t claim credit for everything, but hells yeah, we played a part and should be proud. 

Every day, the hardworking, passionate, brilliant people who work for and with nonprofits work tirelessly to make the world better. And every day, the world gets a little better because of us. I think there are signs that the world is starting to recognize just how vital we nonprofit professionals are. We are awesome. YOU are awesome. I hope that you will take some time off this summer to recharge. You’ve earned it, you sexy nonprofit unicorn who makes the world a happier place, you.

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  • Paul

    Is there a way to print your blogs directly from this page? Your information has been quite helpful and I’d like to share with people without computers—-especially retired teachers. Thank you!

    • Everyone can print from their browser. I’m using Firefox, and I clicked on the upper right hand icon that brings up the general menu, and “print” is one of the options. I’m sure that Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Safari have similar functions.

      If that doesn’t work, you can always cut and paste into a word document, too – but you might not get all of Vu’s lovely photos that illustrate his points.

      • Paul

        Thank you many times over! My grandkids are not available to help me so had to reach out!

  • Lisa Haderlein

    We were very excited a couple of years ago to realize that we are restoring native Unicorn habitat, and that once you restore the correct habitat for the creatures, they will return.

  • Lorraine Thomas

    Hey, Vu. Seattle is 95 and humid, too. So really, being in Viet Nam is just like being here except we don’t have mangosteens. Blogging on vacation. That is dedication, my friend. Have fun.

  • Becca

    Thank you, this was heartening to read on a Monday morning. *strikes Non-Profit Victory! pose*

  • nonprofitcommenter

    More on the success front: Nonprofit effort in Colorado shows incredible success at reducing teen pregnancies:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/06/science/colorados-push-against-teenage-pregnancies-is-a-startling-success.html
    Of course, success (as always) is tenuous; amazingly, there are multiple opponents of this program in Colorado. But something to celebrate nonetheless.

  • Devra Thomas

    The Loan Forgiveness Program *IS* awesome… IF you work full-time. I’ve worked for nonprofits for 8 years now, so would almost be there, except it’s only been part time, which is true for most of my nonprofit arts colleagues. *frowny face*

  • Jennifer Clancy

    I was feeling down because my family escaped the Canberra (Australia) cold to go to Gold coast beaches without me while I continued my unicorn work. Then I read your blog and remembered that I am awesome. But then I realised you are blogging on holiday better than I write at work and felt bad again. Thanks for your attempt at cheering us unicorns up (breifly in my case).

  • SRise

    Is there something that I’m missing from this article? Was that an actual conversation that you had with your Aunt?

    “The dark skins?”

    I don’t want to speculate but it’s sounding as though you have a white savior complex.

    • Lillian Karabaic

      He was explaining the organization he works for, which focuses on getting people of color into leadership roles. This was his illustration of how hard it is to communicate in Vietnamese about complex concepts when he doesn’t have the full vocabulary necessary. Hence ‘the dark skins”- that was his translation of his attempt to explain his work in vietnamese.

      ..Also Vu is not white.

  • Jim Z

    Thank you. It’s not only a ‘feel good’ blog but its filled with good info and facts! By the way, under Public Service Loan Forgiveness the payments that were previously made before entering the program unfortunately DO NOT qualify toward loan forgiveness. It’s a bit of a complex program so that point is often misunderstood…

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