15 poems about nonprofit that will move, anger, and inspire you


road-1226873_960_720Hi everyone. Thank you to all who participated in NWB’s first-ever nonprofit poetry contest. This weekend, the two other judges (Nate Thomas of Rainier Beach Action Coalition, and Rainier Valley Corps Fellow, and Jody Schreffler of Nonstop Wellness, the contest’s sponsor, who is providing the cash prizes) and I spent hours reading through the 260 entries we received. We had no idea what to expect, but we all left this experience feeling grateful and inspired, even moved.

Some of the poems were hilarious. Some were bitter. Some were hilarious and bitter. Others were touching. A few were hysterically crass or vulgar. Many poems taught us a something new, made us think. Clearly we have a lot of talented poets in our sector, with many of us sublimating our artistic talents so we can keep our organizations and programs running.

This was an incredibly difficult task to choose 3 winners among the 260. At the end, we chose poems that revealed a glimpse into our sector, that made us think and feel some sort of emotion, that haunted us, even if we don’t agree with the content. They are below, after a list of honorable mentions. Nate, Jody, and I admit that our system is not perfect, and that if we reread the entries again, our reactions to the poems may change completely. That’s the wonderful nature of poetry though, in that different poems affect us differently in different times and circumstances. So if you don’t see your poem below, please know that this is not a reflection on how awesome you are. There were many beautiful poems that are not included here. It was a tough and painful decision, and the judges didn’t agree on everything. What we all did agree on, though, was how grateful we are that you took time from your work of making the world better to share your art with us.

Here are the poems. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. (And apologies in advance if I mess up the format. Unfortunately, many of the poems did not make it through the Google form with format intact, and this blog template is also finicky).

Honorable mentions, in no particular order:

“When you know”

Stephen Labounty


When do you know your fundraising initiative is screwed?
will fail?
is dead?

When the circle
around the table

And one person
not you
because you have seen this death before


says to everyone in an exasperated
yet hopeful

Does anyone know George Lucas?


Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of San Francisco’s western neighborhoods.


Keeley Stalnaker

Your suggestions will only weaken
the wall between Us and Them.
See, we give things
not get, not TAKE from
those unseen Others
that desire canned food and
generic packages of crayons
too fiercely, to such a flaw.
It’s sad.
You can’t get sad, you can’t feel
Bad for them unless–
Unless maybe they had really bad luck.
And then
Get a photo along with the
write up in the Brochure
And then
forget their faces their
Other faces
that will so surely need us again,
and so soon.


Keeley Stalnaker is a writer and nonprofit professional living in suburban Kansas City.

“Complaint of the Middle Manager”

Charles Jensen

My job is to ask my staff
what my boss will ask me
before he asks me. If he

asks me before I ask my staff,
I will ask him if I can get
back to him once I’ve asked

my staff what he’s asked me.
If my staff doesn’t know
what to say when I ask them

what my boss has asked me,
I have to tell my boss no one
knows how to answer what

he asked. This is never good.
Sometimes my boss will ask
a question only I can

answer. When that happens
I usually answer right away.
Sometimes I ask my boss

if I can think about it first.
This is never good. Sometimes
my boss will ask me to do

something he knows I will ask
my staff to do because he
respects there is a chain of

command in which I am but
a link. When he asks me
things like this, I ask my staff

to do them and they usually
say they will. Sometimes they
say they will but they forget

or don’t really intend to do it
or think if they wait long enough
I will do it for them. In these

cases, my boss may call and ask
me the status of his request.
This is never good. Then I ask

my staff the status of my request
and most of the time they
hurry up and get it done so

I can call my boss and say,
“Hey, that thing is done,”
and then I can take a moment

to rest until I think of something
to ask my staff before my boss
thinks to ask me about it.


Charles Jensen is the author of a collection and four chapbooks of poems. He lives in Los Angeles, where he works and volunteers in the nonprofit arts sector.



2pm, the lowest point of the day,
At which to read our latest volunteer survey.
“I was not told we would be standing
During our service project;
I wore my new Louboutins and there
Comfortable place to sit.
I should have
Been warned
About the standing”
“We were provided with coffee
and hot chocolate
and cookies,
But not with bottled water.
I got hot and there
Bottled water.”
“I was told
That this was a family
Friendly event.
I brought my two year old
Daughter and there
Work for her to do.
Very disappointed.”

Oh, my beloved volunteers,
How you have betrayed me!
Though I sent you email
After email
Explaining the nature of our project;
Advising comfortable clothes
And sensible shoes.
Spent precious hours
Begging and borrowing;
Trading my principles for potables,
My charms for chocolate biscuits.
And the water fountain
Was right around
The damn corner.
Your toddling daughter is,
I’m sure,
Adorable and
Truly passionate
About service work.
But the email stated
So very clearly
That this event was for adults,
And children over the age of 10. There
Work for her to do??
I wonder just
How handy
Your toddler is
Around the house.
Friendly, my
I should have painted
That wall myself.
But then what
Self-satisfied reply
Could you all give to
Friends and co-workers
When they asked how
You spent your Saturday?
You brood of vipers!

But for heaven’s sake
Don’t leave me.
For we need your
Year-end donation and your
Facebook Likes and that
Time you brought your
Three best friends to our
Silent Auction.
In lieu of bottled water,
Please accept
My volun-tears.

“Best Job in the World”

Susan Nickell

She pops her head in my office door and wonders,
“Should I kiss my boyfriend?”
I pose, is he cute?
“Oh, yes”
Would he mind if you kissed him?
“I’ll ask him” and she’s away.
And that is the joy I revel in daily working with People With Abilities.


Magic Valley Rehabilitation Services is a private, nonprofit agency which has a 43 year history of providing training, employment, personal development and related services for persons with disabilities.

“Tech Philanthropy”

Esther Landau

We could give you money
But that would be too easy
Instead, here is some wisdom
You can use it to pay your staff


The Pomeroy Recreation & Rehabilitation Center is a community center for people with and without disabilities. We serve the Bay Area with programs that help our clients become more independent, make healthy choices, and express themselves. The majority of our participants have developmental disabilities; a small number are survivors of brain injury. The Pomeroy Center is a truly special place with a loving, committed staff.

“Ode to the Nonprofit Sector”

Mandy Strider

Our budgets can be anemic
Our wish lists pneumatic
Our business plans enigmatic
Our Board members rheumatic
Our technology cadaveric
Our office equipment geriatric
Our livers cirrhotic
Episodes of panic are manically periodic
But we are intrinsically virtuosic
Fantastically elastic
Our visions for a better world dynamically eclectic
Our need for good aesthetically animalistic
We are atomically caffeinic
We emphatically battle the myopic
We bombastically awaken the catatonic
Some might call us Quixotic…
But, our belief in our work is camphoric
Soothing wounds made by the critically negativistic
Nonprofit heroes, you are kickasstic!


At Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado, we believe that no one should go hungry. Through a vast network of more than 300 non-profit partner agencies on the front-lines of hunger alleviation, we provide food throughout 31 counties, covering 52,000 square miles. Last year, we distributed more than 21.4 million pounds of food to our neighbors in need!  Our vision is an end to hunger in Southern Colorado . Why? Because well-fed communities are better, brighter, and more vibrant for us all. 

“The Unemployed Program Officer”

Brad Kruse

On the street corner,
“Will give away money for food,”
Says the cardboard sign.


MAP for Nonprofits provides a variety of consulting and training programs for nonprofits. I am a former board member and appreciate all the work MAP does on behalf of the Nonprofit Sector

“On Being a Board Member”

Spencer Sandor

Once a month, in the room with the most chairs;
Around the biggest table we could buy;
The board asks our staff to demystify
The organization’s recent affairs.
Reports and old minutes stacked up in pairs,
And the ED trying to simplify
The new outreach model, outcomes, and why
We can’t count on funding from millionaires.
The Chair of the Board and the members-at-large
Stroke our chins, ask questions, complain and then praise
All the progress that has been made. But although
We like to pretend WE are the ones in charge,
everybody knows this place would close in days
without staff to turn the Board’s lead into gold.

Dedicated to two orgs: Growing Chefs! Ontario in London, Ontario unites chefs, growers, educators and community members in children’s food education projects. Our mission is to gets kids excited about wholesome healthy food.  We engage with chefs and growers in the community to help provide children with the confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm to grow and prepare good, healthy cuisine. The London Employment Help Centre works with people who are unemployed or underemployed and provides a combination of workshops and action plans.  We are reducing poverty in our community by helping individuals achieve their maximum employment.

“What is it like?”


What is it like to be working with a team of white people?
You asked me
Not just any white people
But white people with Ph.Ds and research interests in non-white people
Research interests in people like me

The thing is, you never asked me this
No one ever asked me
What is it like
To drown in a sea of whiteness?

No one ever asked me
What is it like
To hear white people
Talk about how they know
Because they were on food stamps
When they were doing AmeriCorps
Or what is it like
To hear white people
Talk about
Working with at-risk youth
So now they know
What it’s like
To be disadvantaged and poor

And even if you asked me
I might not answer
Not because I don’t want to
But because I might say
It’s just in my head

These things I feel
Are not real
These things I wonder
Does not mean much

Because that’s what it’s like
To drown in a sea of whiteness
The things I feel
Are not real

“Love Notes”

Amy Rich

Whisper the world to us
in one thousand characters or less.
Tell us how our five thousand dollars
will make all the difference as you show the little girl
whose floured fingers dance cakey snowflakes above her salt dough snowman
that her mind works in beautiful ways.
Tell us about the boy who shoves the fistful of winter dandelions
into the hands of the children’s program director as he says,
“I brought you a gift from the neighborhood.”
Tell us how our four thousand dollars will help
tutor him and teach him more words to share his generosity with the world.
Tell us how our two thousand dollars will keep
the water on for the man so grateful for a quiet place to shower
that he gives the gift of a shower curtain
scoured clean with the jets of the car wash.
Tell us about the woman with a bag of groceries from the food pantry
who stands at the edge of the garden,
intrigued by the children digging there, and says,
“I’ve never seen where potatoes come from before.”
Tell us how we made this happen.
Do not tell us how you struggle to find the last forty-five hundred dollars
to meet your budget, how every toilet in the building is broken,
how the toilet paper was stolen yesterday,
how the copier’s pickup wheels are so worn and smoothed by a hundred thousand sheets
that they can no longer copy two-sided without a prayer.
Do not tell us how you are unsure
of how you will afford health insurance for yourself
as you spend three hours on hold, negotiating
with Medicaid, health insurance companies, and doctors
on behalf of a surly, hurting man who needs a specialist
and angrily broke the pharmacist’s phone earlier in the day.
Do not tell us how you went home last night
and cried because of all the things you cannot say.
Cried until your lover held you and reminded you,
“Because of you, something beautiful still exists in this world.”
Whisper the world to us,
but choose what to leave out.
One thousand characters are not many.


Patchwork Central is located near downtown Evansville, Indiana and has served its neighborhood since 1977. It is a neighborhood hub that provides a variety of services to those in need, that helps the next generation grow to be successful adults, and that provides space for all our neighbors to come together and learn from one another. Current programming includes: our Arts & Smarts children’s program, an emergency food pantry, building use for other community groups, a health ministry to provide health-related resources to our neighbors, a bike shop to provide transportation to low income individuals, and neighborhood hospitality.


Leah Johnston

It might not seem like much, but I used to make toast in Apartment 7. I spread butter and jam on warm bread and looked out the window. Wind moved through the trees. It moved through the clouds and the phone wires. It moved through me. I was happy.

It was an ordinary moment, but those are extraordinary; they’re the ones you remember when the apartment and everything else is gone. Call it what you want. I chased a light that went out. Most lights in the world do that. You think you’re getting what you want, but there’s nothing there.

But I know which light to follow now. It’s a quieter one. There is no flash. It’s called noble purpose and I have a plan. I start work tomorrow, washing dishes in someone else’s kitchen and it will lead me to my own again. I heard you can help me because I am helping myself.

It might not seem like much, but thank you for the non-slip shoes. Thank you for the bus pass and the pants, and the way you shook my hand. Outside your office, I noticed a nest in a bare tree. There was a bird singing on a branch. It might not seem like much, but it was enough.


Small Sum‘s sole purpose is to help homeless individuals, who have found jobs, with the specific things that they need to start back to work. We believe gainful employment is a key factor in helping homeless individuals get out of their homeless situation. With our practical and timely assistance we remove obstacles that often prevent homeless workers from being able to take a job. It’s a surprisingly simple solution. To help those who have fallen on hard times, with what THEY need to take care of things themselves. Small Sums serves the Twin Cities are of Minnesota.


3rd Place Winner

“A Song For the Nēnē (The Hawaiian Goose)
Judy Edwards

The rising sun of Hawaiʻi
Breathes gold on the waking geese.
Goslings peep to parents,
Parents pace and stretch.
What is the cost of extinction?
What have we lost, when we say
“It is gone”? Just this:
The way one small eye opens
To the bright world
It almost never saw.


Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association HPPA is a nonprofit cooperating association working in partnership with the National Park Service in Hawaiʻi and American Samoa. Proceeds from our park stores support interpretation, educational programs, research projects, publications, and cultural activities. Our core purpose is to inspire visitors and foster meaningful connections to the parks—for the preservation and enjoyment of the parks forever—all with a spirit of aloha. Judy Edwards is a content and website writer for HPPA, as well as the social media person. She also freelances and is a published poet and essayist.

2nd Place Winner

“Things I have had on my desk to get me through”


Things I have had
on my desk to get me through
reporting, evaluating, measuring success;
a photo of my daughter at four months in black and white
a block print from trans programs many years ago
that says “We can’t afford to work like this”
alive plants, dead plants, an empty flower pot turned over
Buddha and a gnome
fairy lights and little paper lamps
an inappropriate note from a participant
many tea-stained mugs
and the phone numbers of some folks I was worried about

Things I have kept
on my desk to get me through
more late nights than early mornings
troubling phone calls
cryptic emails
writing the same sentence over and over
and wondering about all the different ways to define
“success story”
wondering if any of them
felt like success
to some of the folks I was worried about
one I wrote in 2011
about Joanne
who is dead now
her successful suicide attempt
not yet part
of the story

things I have kept
over my desk to get me through
Joanne’s picture
others we have lost
and all the things
we can’t afford
to keep doing
or keep


The author, who wishes to remain anonymous, volunteers for Victim Services Toronto, a wonderful org which provides immediate crisis response, intervention, and prevention services that are responsive to the needs of individuals, families, and communities affected by crime and sudden tragedies.

1st Place Winner

“Richard vs. the Line-Item Budget”

Richard Porter

Nonprofit Poet Laureate of the Milky Way Galaxy


do not make me beg
for $$$ to buy a laminator.

I have suffered the 1001 indignities of social work
and all I want
is a nice A4 document
pressed between 2 silky-soft sheets of
ethylene-vinyl acetate.

Fresh pressed
I want it to warm my hands.

I want our funders to esteem us
based upon the quality
of our printed promotional materials.

I want laminating sheets that are as
extremely durable and stress resistant

as I would like to be.

Richard works for Volunteer Chore Services of Snohomish County. Our program matches volunteers to disabled, low-income seniors for housework and transportation services. This allows seniors to age in place in their community.

Congratulations to our winners. Your cash prizes will be coming shortly; thanks again to Nonstop Wellness for sponsoring our first-ever Nonprofit Poetry Contest. I hope this is an annual event. If I can find a sponsor, we may be doing a nonprofit songwriting contest (in videos).

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  • Hildie Lipson

    Poignant, funny, heart-felt, and all too familiar sentiments. Thanks to all the poets and judges.

  • Toby Neiman Berkow


  • Rhiannon Orizaga

    Very good work. I especially love the poems by Amy Rich, Leah Johnston, Judy Edwards & [Confidential]!

    • Judy Hppa

      Thank you! 🙂

  • Terre Thomas

    Volun-tears is priceless! And Leah Johnston is our pride and joy at Small Sums in the Twin Cities. Yeah to all the poets; you rock!

  • Ron Ein

    Good work! Bravo to all!

  • K Irene Stone

    Who knew that seeing our pains and joys, laughter and tears pouring forth in poetic form could be so moving, even healing. Thank you!

  • Audrey McGlothlin

    Delicious laugh out loud and tears, too, addition to my “sit at my desk while I eat canned soup and look for interesting things to read” lunch. Feel like I struck gold today:) Kudos to all!

  • Judy Hppa

    That was good fun, and I am gobsmacked by some of the smarts shown here. Great contest!

  • Alex Ong

    If poetry provides a glimpse into the soul, I would say that after reading the poems above the soul of the nonprofit universe is alive and well. Thank you to all the poets for sharing.

  • Third_Sector_Life

    Thank you all! I saved it to ready this morning, right before the weekend. It made the week worth it and more.

  • Lisa Beatman

    Priceless! I bow particularly to Charles Jenson and Brad Kruse.

  • jr

    The “What is it like?” poem should have won. The lack of diversity in nonprofits is suffocating.