Author Archives: Vu

Bragging about program-to-admin ratios is a destructive practice that needs to die 

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[Image description: A black and white photo of a raccoon standing behind a chain-link fence. The raccoon has one paw raised near its face resting on the fence, and its other paw lower, also resting on the fence. This is a cute but kind of sad-looking raccoon. This image may be evocative of restricted funding in the nonprofit sector]

Hi everyone. Just a quick reminder that my org is hiring a capacity building coach to work with our partner organizations. We are getting lots of amazing candidates, but we are keeping the position open until we find that magical unicorn to join the team. 

Thank you to those of you who supported the Kickstarter project I’m involved with, where I’m helping to write a book. Thanks to you, the project got fully funded within a few days! Sweet! (You can still donate if you missed out, because there are cool prizes).

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for awesome holiday gifts for the nonprofit people in your life, NWB merchandise is available. 

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I know that many of us have sent out our year-end appeal letter, or are in the process of doing so. Some of us are pouring our blood, sweat, and tears into these letters, sometimes literally, with the paper cuts and the occasional weeping over the hundreds or thousands of letters that need to be stuffed. 

You know what makes me weep, though? Y’all who still use language in your letters like “94 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs!!!” Every time I see it or hear about it, it is like getting a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat directly to the noggin. Continue reading

25 simple ways we can all be more disability-inclusive

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[Image description: Two hands with fingers close together on a book, opened to a white page filled with text in Braille.]

Hi everyone, before I launch into today’s topic, two announcements. First, I’m co-authoring a book about how we can reset the funder/grantee relationship to minimize power dynamics and allow us all to be more effective at our work and less likely to curl into the fetal position under our desks, rocking and weeping to 80s rock ballads. I’m writing it with Jane Leu and Jessamyn Shams-Lau, and we’re trying to raise $9,600 on Kickstarter by the end of this month. Please pitch in $5, $20, $50, or…$9,600. You’ll get cool prizes such as getting your name in the book for a donation of $5. For $50, you get a t-shirt and the book. For $200, you’ll also get a hand-made unicorn. For $9,600, I will personally fly to your office anywhere in the US and put on a puppet show about the horrors of restricted funding.

Second, last month I issued the #OpEdChallenge, which is simple: Write an op-ed related to your mission and get it published before the end of 2016. We nonprofits must be more vocal, especially in light of the political climate. Some colleagues are actually taking on this challenge! Look: “Seattle must address root causes of racial disparities.” And “Stand with your Muslim neighbors and fight bigotry.” You are awesome. If you’ve successfully taken this challenge, please let me know. Your op-ed may get mentioned here.

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I have not written much on NWB about disability. Mainly because I am not an expert on it, and I’m afraid that I’ll make serious mistakes and cause offense. The world is complex, and there are so many ways for us to screw up. I’ve done it at least once already while researching for this post. I asked the NWB Facebook community for tips, writing “Please send in things we should all be aware of, and any pet peeves you have, especially if you work with individuals with disabilities or have a disability.” Continue reading

How to deal with uninformed nonprofit-watchdogs around the holidays

dog-1127486_1280Around this time of the year, we nonprofits work to bring in year-end donations, incurring paper cuts and envelope-tongues in the process (seriously, the glue stick is your friend). Around this time also is when people start pushing “guides” about which nonprofits to give to, warning of shady nonprofits that spend too much on “overhead” and leave nothing for the people they are supposed to be serving.

These guides often sound like this: “Don’t give to these horrible organizations! Only 3 cents of every dollar goes to the people they claim to serve! The rest goes straight to the greedy CEOs’ salaries! They sit on crystal-encrusted chairs and feast on caviar and unicorn steaks! Meanwhile, their staff live in actual houses and drive cars! They are paying their mortgages and buying organic blueberries with your donations! Organic blueberries!!!”

Here’s an example of that. It comes back again and again year after year like some sort of aggressive toenail fungus, despite being charitiesdebunked by fact-checking website snopes.com. WTF. It’s exhausting dealing with so much recurring ignorance. As if our work isn’t hard enough already, with many of us having involuntary eye twitches due to cashflow issues. So, let’s come up with a better strategy to handle this yearly irritation so we can focus on what matters: Writing hundreds of personal notes on our printed year-end letters and praying we don’t misspell donors’ names. Continue reading

10 ways the nonprofit sector must adapt to the new reality

butterfly-1716535_1280Hi everyone. Two quick announcements: First, my organization is hiring an on-staff capacity building coach. This is a high-level position focused on supporting grassroots organizations led by communities of color. If you believe in strengthening communities of color to advance social justice, and you love organizational capacity building and working with small grassroots organization, please apply. It is more urgent than ever for us to support our community-based organizations to be civically engaged, so this position is critical. But no pressure or anything! (Make sure you like unicorns and Oxford Commas, though…)

Second, please read my article in Chronicle of Philanthropy on what funders must do in light of the new political reality. It’s hilarious, and I added pictures of bunnies and puppies. OK, it’s deadly serious, and there are no pictures of baby animals at all. Given the urgency of the work, we can no longer afford to continue the same destructive funding philosophies and processes that have been hampering nonprofits’ abilities to carry out our missions.

While funders discuss how to adapt, we nonprofits need to do things differently too. Here are my thoughts on a few areas that we need to consider. This is by no means comprehensive. Or particularly groundbreaking. Some of these are ideas I have written about before, and some I will expand on in future posts: Continue reading

7 agreements for productive conversations during difficult times

tied-up-1792237_1280Hi everyone. It’s been a really rough week for many of us due to the election results. For me, I also had an 8-month-old baby who was sick and who stayed up all night for three nights crying and projectile-vomiting on everything. It was seriously like The Exorcist. But cuter. Luckily, just when things were getting bleak…my wife also got sick with fever, chills, and other less pleasant symptoms. During one of these sleepless nights, I hallucinated that the election results weren’t the way they were, and we all woke up to a bright and sunny morning where the world is the way we hope it would be, and everyone is happy and inclusive, and my favorite brand of soy ice cream is on sale. And I have six-pack abs.

Unfortunately, that is not our reality. Many of us in the sector are still going through the stages of denial, anger, and sadness. Everyone is on edge, and it’s been manifesting in various ways. Luckily, I’ve been seeing an increase of support and community, with many colleagues checking in with one another, validating feelings, and creating space to process.

Unfortunately, I’ve also been seeing an increase in hurtful and divisive interactions between colleagues who are on the same side. Normally collegial conversations become heated. People become defensive and accusatory. Emotions are intense. I’m not immune to it myself. I got feedback from a colleague that my post last Wednesday was uninspiring and possibly even making things worse. And I thought, “WTF! Oh hell no you didn’t just email me that! Someone hold my sick baby!” Continue reading