A letter to Santa from the nonprofit sector

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[Image description: The image is of a man dressed as Santa, sitting in front of a fireplace with a white mantle. His robe is red with white trimmings, accented with a large black belt with a large golden buckle. He has a row of what may be red poinsettia flowers and green holly leaves lining the trimming of his hat, which is flopped over to the right side of his head. He is looking directly at the camera, his head slightly tilted. He has a stern or wry look. His hands are in white gloves. One hand is on his glasses, as if he were lowering them, the other resting on his belt. On the mantle there are several brown pine cones, white snowflakes, and red ornaments. Off to Santa’s right, in the background, is a tree decorated with red and white ornaments. There are several red stockings with white trimmings hanging from the mantle.]

Dear Santa,

I know you are extremely busy. I mean, you are technically a nonprofit, and this is December after all. My colleagues are wrapped up in licking thousands of envelopes, handwriting tons of thank-you notes, organizing a gazillion events for the community, and consuming leftover holiday party wine and chips. (Stop judging us, Santa. Like your lunch is always so balanced). Since they are occupied with year-end tasks, I asked my colleagues what they wanted from you, and I’m synthesizing their responses, to save you some time. I am writing a letter to you on behalf of all of us in the nonprofit sector.

Santa, this has been a horrible year. First-episode-of-Black-Mirror horrible. Superman-IV:-Quest-for-Peace horrible. And many of us are not exactly looking forward to next year either. It’s OK. All of us are rolling up our Ross-Dress-for-Less sleeves and are determined to fight for a just and inclusive society.

It won’t be easy though. That’s why we need you. You can help us out by granting some of these wishes below. This Christmas, please give us:

  1. A society that values us and allows us to do our work: Once a while, we get thanked by a donor or another community member, and it carries us through the weeks and months. But if you can make society appreciate us a little more, and then support our work instead of making it more difficult with funding restrictions and unreasonable demands and stupid jokes like “Those are nice shoes; are you sure donations are going to programs, hawhaw?” that would be so great. And if we can get some more TV shows and movies about our work, that would be awesome too. Please make sure the actors who play us are as attractive as we do-gooders naturally all are.
  1. Funders who see us as partners, not parasites: There are many wonderful funders. And then there are many who still treat us as if we were beggars, constantly suspicious of our motives, often disdainful of our work. Please, make them see that we are not the enemy, nor are we children to be taught lessons to. Help them to truly believe that we are partners in this work to create an equitable world. And then perhaps they can simplify their grant processes and forms and give multi-year general operating funds so we don’t collectively waste hundreds of millions of hours annually weeping over ridiculous budget templates. We promise we will use those hours to better deliver services.
  1. Board members who know their roles and support our missions: We have some really awesome board members, Santa—basically everyone on my board—but there some who make us daydream of filling a sock with mango-peach salsa and hitting them with it during a finance committee meeting. Please give us awesome board members who understand the mission, appreciate the team, and know their role and when to butt out so we can do our jobs.
  1. For-profits that appreciate us and don’t just use us for marketing: Santa, we face so much bizsplaining, and it is very annoying. Please make our for-profit friends understand that we are different sectors with unique roles to play. We appreciate our colleagues, but please have them stop looking down on us. Or at the very least, have them stop doing unhelpful things like sending five billion volunteers to us on one day of service so that they can look good in the community. Or make us collect the most “likes” in order win a small grant with them. Please put coals in the stockings of any business that runs these popularity grants.
  1. Decent compensation and benefits for our people: Santa, I know some colleagues who work full-time doing amazing work, who are on food stamps. We have professionals in our sector who qualify for the services their organizations provide. Our folks in this sector are some of the most brilliant, talented, and dedicated people doing some of the most difficult and important work for our world. Please make funders and organizations realize this and provide our professionals with fair compensation. None of us are expecting to get filthy rich doing this work, but if all of us can get dental insurance, that would be swell. OMG, and if we can save up more than $38 a year for retirement…eeeek!!!
  1. Resources that we don’t have to constantly scrimp for: A laptop that has all its keys! A printer that works! A CRM that fits our needs! A budget for professional development! Heat for our office this winter! Some of us would like one of those fancy standing desks; we are clever and resourceful and have been MacGyvering milk crates and boxes of wine, but if only we can have a desk that can adjust to standing or sitting height, that would make our days. If you can pair that with a decent ergonomic chair and an office couch we can occasional nap on that is not haunted by its previous owner, that would be amazing. I would like some medium-size binder clips and a button-maker.
  1. A society that is willing to have honest and difficult conversations: It’s been a brutal and ugly year, Santa, revealing some awful things about our fellow human beings, especially in the online comment sections of newspapers. But maybe it’s finally the time for us to have some serious discussions about systemic oppression, including the intersectionality of race, class, gender, LGBTQ identity, disability, and ageism. Can you please make everyone more willing to listen and to consider differing viewpoints?
  1. A guilt-free break once a while: Santa, this work can be so heavy, with all the injustice and inequity out there beating down on people we care about. Sometimes we wonder if we make a dent at all, or if we’re just Cerberus pushing a boulder up a hill while an eagle throws some golden apples at our liver. Or whatever, Santa, you know what I mean. Many of us feel guilty whenever we take any time off. Please give us the energy to work hard for our community, but also the grace and compassion to lay down our burdens once a while without feeling like crap.
  1. World peace, and an end to poverty and hatred: OK, this is kind of a big request, but, like, can you just make all wars go away, along with the poverty, racism, misogyny, and other forms of injustice? Can you convince our government to take care of its people, and our neighbors to take care of one another? Many of us in the sector would seriously just love to not have a job at all. We would love a world that does not need us. Then we can focus on other things, because all of us are really talented. I can finalize realize my dream of writing, producing, and acting in Nonprofit: The Musical!
  1. Money! Unlimited, unrestricted money! All right, Santa, let’s get serious. We’re never not going to have injustice. We nonprofits will always be needed. So forget everything I said above and just give us cold, hard cash! How are you going to do that? Don’t care! Convince people to pay more in taxes? Get people to grow their hearts two sizes so they donate more? Just do it!

Listen, Claus, let’s just skip the niceties. You owe us nonprofits! We do a lot of your work year-round, but you get all the credit. You give some toys away once a year and everyone is like “Oooh, Santa! You’re so magic!” You know what’s magic?! The nonprofit sector! Bringing joy? That’s us! Helping families? That’s us! You get a bunch of elves and some tiny reindeer to do most of your work for you. Of course you would be jolly! We get leftover hummus and a 7-year-old computer that takes half an hour to turn on. With all the resources at your disposal, you’d think you’d be a little more active the rest of the year!

We’re on to you. You’ve been taking credit for the work of our sector long enough. You’re the one who has been naughty. You better change your ways. We noticed you haven’t filed your 990 tax forms in like, ever, and you haven’t disclosed where your revenues come from. And no one knows who you are accountable to, since you have no board. It would be mutually beneficial for us to work together, if you catch our drift, Santa. 

Think about it. Gosh, it would be such a Christmas miracle if all our orgs suddenly got an influx of checks in the mail this month. It would make us all so happy. You want us to be happy, Santa. 

Sincerely,

The nonprofit sector

PS: We left you some mango-peach salsa

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  • Lauri Goldkind

    Did I hear you were tapped to run the federal reserve?

  • Audrey Krumbach

    Thnks for including number 8. I’m taking a sick day, and I was feeling super guilty. But our end of year mailers are already in boxes, our admin can send out thank you letters, and I’ve got a fever, cough, and sore throat. So I’m going to stay in bed, drink lemon and honey tea, and be thankful for my roommate instead of beating myself up for catching a cold during the busiest season.

    • Susan Conrad

      I know this will sound nuts, but maybe take an extra day instead of going back the minute you can stand without passing out or coughing up a lung – just a suggestion from one who’s been there. did I mention the time I wrote a federal grant sitting in a children’s hospital with my son?

  • Daniel Jones

    Cerberus / Sisyphus. There’s some distinction to be made there… 🙂

    • Carol Clarke

      Hahahahahaha!!!

  • April Susan

    “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Oh wait, wrong movie. But seriously Santa, I’d like to add that the generosity of year end tax write-offs and holiday cheer be present year round

  • Mehitabel

    “Day of Service” can be great when there’s a playground that needs cleaning up or a building that needs a coat of paint. But here’s when it’s not so great: when a “Day of Service” program promises to send 60 volunteers to help at a mass-market fundraising event (think: 5K run-walk) where 1,500-plus people are expected, and only 8 volunteers actually show up. Good times.

  • Cindie Alwood

    Well, that certainly made my Monday suck way less. Thanks Vu!

  • Carol Clarke

    Darling Vu, you are the Chris Rock of non-profits. Brilliant and on point, Every. Single. Time. You make Mondays great again.

  • Paulette Lynch

    Perfection…thx so much for adding this wonderful column to your own long list of “to-do’s”!!!!!

  • Heather A. Strong

    Awesome article, thank you. I’m actually eating leftover hummus right now, ha!

  • Carlo Kriekels

    Gosh, you make me laugh. Thank you!

  • Sarah Weissman

    A great read before I head to the in-laws. You really do have a way with words. And let me know if you want help promoting Nonprofit! The Musical…

  • Susan Conrad

    #5 is a big one for me – it killed me to watch my staff work 60+ hours a week after working their way through one or two degree programs and wonder if they would ever be able to buy their first house or take a ‘grownup’ vacation. Depending on your mileage check to have gas $ to get to the job that puts tons of miles on your car you can’t afford to replace or fix is discouraging (to say the least)

  • Arik Greenberg

    Vu, you did it again. Another brilliant post. Just FYI, you might want to consider redirecting most of these requests for intangible gifts to one’s higher power. I think Santa only does tangible gifts.
    Loved the Cerberus comment.