Category Archives: Capacity Building

Volunteers, a critical ingredient in the banh mi of social justice

banh miHi everyone, I am in the beach city of Nha Trang right now. It is beautiful, the 100 degree heat making the ocean extra blue. So far, the vacation is going great, except that I am now overdosed on MSG, which the locals use in great quantity in everything. I’m not against MSG, but when you can see individual crystals of it in your spring roll sauce…

And I can’t find an adapter for my laptop, so I am in the hotel lobby typing this up and sweating gallons on the sticky keyboard (probably why the keyboard is so sticky, from all these sweaty people using it). Sorry in advance for typos and unedited rambling. And since I’m hungry, there will be food metaphors.

A highlight of this city so far, is a vegan banh mi stand we found. Banh mi, of course, is the Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with pickled daikon and carrot and various meats and is the humble and delicious meal of students, workers, and anyone on the go. I met a lady three years ago who has a vegan banh mi stand, where she works 16 hours a day. Her banh mis are arguably some of the most amazing sandwiches ever created and she’s been using the stand to pay for her kids’ schooling and even to buy a house. 

After a long walk, I found the stand and ordered four banh mis for 50 cents each. I bit into one, and it was magical, the combination of grilled gluten and shredded green papaya and Vietnamese cilantro and the secret sauce, all of it melding in my mouth and tasting like an unrestricted multi-year grant.

Anyway, I could spend an entire post talking about banh mi and the feisty and hilarious seller, but on to today’s topic, which is about the need for our field to better appreciate volunteers. In the US, 62 million volunteers contribute about 8 billion hours of service each year, the equivalent of $173 billion. The nonprofit sector would probably collapse without all our awesome volunteer unicorns. Continue reading

Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities

brass-knuckles-1258994_1280Hi everyone, I just came back from giving a keynote speech in Vancouver Canada, complete with pictures of baby animals. I am condensing the key concepts here. A couple of notes before we tackle today’s exciting topic. First, I want to thank my awesome colleague Dr. Jondou Chen for introducing me to the term “weaponized data.” If I ever start up an alternative rock band, I am going to invite Jondou, and we’ll call it “Weaponized Data.” Sample lyrics: “From the start/you returned begrudging correlation/to my foolish causation/like an icepick to my heart.”

Second, for the grammar geeks out there—and I am one—I’m going to do something blasphemous and use “data” as both a singular and a plural noun in this post, depending on context. I know, I know, technically “data” is the plural for “datum,” so we should be saying, “The data are inconclusive” and not “The data is inconclusive.” Kind of like “media” is the plural of “medium” and “panda” is the plural of “pandum.” But, fellow grammar geeks, we must choose our battles. Let us save our energy to fight, with patience and compassion, crimes against decency like “that time works for John and I” and “you were literally on fire during your presentation.”

So, data. Data is pretty awesome. As a proud nerd, I love a good set of data and can spend endless hours looking at a sexy chart full of numbers. If data were turned into a syrup, I would put it on my soy ice cream all the time, because it is just so sweet. In the past few years, there has been more and more pressure on nonprofits being able to produce good data. Getting more and better information on practices and outcomes can only be good for our sector.

However, like fire or Jager Bombs, data can be used for good or for evil. When poorly thought out and executed, data can be used as a weapon to screw over many communities. Usually this is unintentional, but I’ve seen way too many instances of good intentions gone horribly awry where data is concerned. Here are a few challenges we need to pay attention to regarding the game of data, which is a lot like The Game of Thrones, but with way less frontal nudity: Continue reading

Capacity Building 9.0: Fund people to do stuff, get out of their way

gulls-343235_960_720Some people think capacity building is boring. Well, I think it’s sexy, and I’ve spent many hours writing romantic poems about it: “Can Love’s arrows seek truest rapture/Without the quiver of Infrastructure?/Can e’er Equity take flight and sing/Save with steadfast Capacity ‘neath her wings?” (What, like your hobbies are SOOO much more interesting).

Since most of my work is now focused on building capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits, I’m glad that there seems to be a new resurgence of people talking about capacity building. Here’s a great paper from Grantcraft with cool concrete recommendations for funders  including a brief discussion on the importance of general operating funds for capacity building. And here’s one from the TCC Group on what they call “Capacity Building 3.0.” According to this briefing paper, Capacity Building 1.0 is about individuals, Capacity Building 2.0 is about nonprofit institutions, and 3.0 is about the entire nonprofit ecosystem, which includes funders, businesses, even the government.

These white papers are all written by very intelligent people who have thought long and hard about the critical role that capacity building plays in our ability to do our work. After reading through them and other articles on the topic, I want to offer some reflections and recommendations. Continue reading

Waiting for unicorns: The supply and demand of diversity and inclusion

unicorn memeThe question I am asked most frequently—after “Vu, have you tried using Proactiv?”—is “Vu, would you consider joining so-and-so board/committee? If not, can you connect me to other leaders of color who might be interested?” Apparently, everyone is having a hard time finding people of color for their board of directors and 80’s-karaoke-night planning team.

There are tons of reports and articles with depressing statistics about diversity in nonprofit leadership at all levels. Here’s an eye-opening article called “The Nonprofit Sector Has a Ferguson Problem,” which cites several stats that make me want to stay in bed streaming Netflix for the rest of the year:

  • only 8% of board members are people of color,
  • nearly a third of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color
  • only 7% of CEO/EDs are people of color
  • only 18% of nonprofit staff are people of color
  • only 5% of philanthropic orgs are led by people of color

Continue reading

5 lessons for nonprofits from the Seahawks’ bizarre Super Bowl loss

seahawksHi everyone. I am trying to calm down enough so that I can write this week’s blog post. But I can’t. This post is going to be crappy. Because the whole City of Seattle, probably the whole world, is wondering “WTF, Seahawks?!!!!” This is painful. They were half a yard from touchdown, and from winning the game, and they decided to THROW the ball?! The Patriots intercepted, sealing the most ridiculous ending to a football game ever.

Everyone in Seattle is going through the stages of grief right now. Of course, this is Seattle, so the stages are: Denial, Righteous Anger, Hot Yoga, Organic Juice Cleanse, Bargaining at a Farmer’s Market, Composting, Existential Despair, Biking to Happy Hour, and Acceptance…of Marijuana.

Seahawks, did you forget that you have the most effective running back—Marshawn Lynch—in the history of football?! Was he invisible?! Why didn’t you just give the fricken ball to Marshawn so he can barrel through the Pats and win us our second Super Bowl so that I could polish off my third Corona and write “What nonprofits could learn from the Seahawks, Super Bowl Champions, part 2”?!!! (Read part 1 here) Continue reading