Category Archives: Community Engagement

Why we need to stop asking “What do you do?”

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A while ago, while I was seeking input for a post on how we can all be more disability-inclusive, a colleague mentioned that we should drop the get-to-know-you question “What do you do?” because people with disabilities face significant employment discrimination, and this question is often a painful reminder of that. Another colleague of mine who is brilliant and talented and hilarious and wheelchair-enabled told me she spent seven years searching before someone hired her. I can imagine all the times during those seven years when people asked her “What do you do?” and how she must have felt. This has made me think of the “to-do” culture that we have and how it’s been affecting our work.

I learned a few years ago, through my participation in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship, that the US has a default “To-Do” culture. The first thing we ask someone we meet is about what they do. Actions, in our culture, define us. For other cultures, though, are more of a “To-Be” culture, and you are defined less from what you do, and more from who you are:  Your relationships, your family history, your beliefs, your passions, your haircuts, etc. Continue reading

AmeriCorps is important. Thanks for helping to save it, you sexy unicorn, you

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Hi everyone. I just learned that AmeriCorps and other national service programs are on the list of things that could get cut by the new administration. With all this chaos, who the heck knows, maybe by the time you read this, our new president will have changed his mind, and it’s not at risk at all. I doubt it though, so this blog post is to convince you to act now to protect funding for these programs. Since I’m asking you to not just read this post, but to actually call your legislators, I’m going to insert pictures of kittens throughout as a reward for your dedication.

For some of you who may not be familiar with the US’s national service programs, they are a set of federally-funded programs encouraging and allowing people to provide service to their community. AmeriCorps in particular has been an important element of the US’s

[Image description: A cute little black kitten strolling in the grass! It’s so tiny! It is mostly black with little white paws! Awwww!]

nonprofit sector, engaging over 80,000 volunteers each year across over 21,000 cities. Besides generating millions of hours of service to improve our community each year and—let’s face it—saving nonprofits a ton of money, AmeriCorps is also an important pipeline of talent, allowing many amazing leaders to jumpstart their careers.

I am one of these leaders. Back in yonder days, I entered the real world after getting my Continue reading

Funders’ role in protecting marginalized communities during the next four years

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Last week, my organization, in partnership with several other orgs, called for an urgent meeting between funders and nonprofit leaders. “Protecting Marginalized Communities During the Next Four Years.” It was just a few days of notice, and I was nervous people wouldn’t show up. Over 100 did, half funders and half nonprofit leaders from diverse communities. For three hours, we checked in with one another, shared stories and ideas, and discussed actions.

There are certain days in my career where I return home exhausted and drained, but simultaneously grateful to get to do this work, and to get to do it with brilliant and passionate colleagues. This was one of those days. Although many of the stories shared were painful and alarming—a Muslim colleague detailed the fear and danger she experiences every day taking the bus; two Native colleagues discussed the challenges their communities face at Standing Rock—the energy and support and sense of community were palpable. Continue reading

Appreciation for all the nonprofit professionals working this week

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Hi everyone. This message will be short, because I am off all of this week. Also because I stuffed myself with dark chocolate and hard pear cider. Many of us are taking a break this week, and if you can, I hope you are too. The work we do is unrelenting, often heartbreaking. But we cannot be our most effective if we do not take time to recharge. If you have the authority, and it is possible, give your team this week off. It costs little, and the return to the organization in morale and future productivity is tenfold.

All of us who can, let’s lay down our burdens for a few days. Let’s watch our favorite shows. Bake cookies. Sleep. Let’s spend time with the people we love and remember why we do this work.

I know, though, that that is easier said than done. While many of us are resting this week, there are lots of you out there working. You run food banks and shelters and emergency services. You answer calls on suicide hotlines. You check in on seniors who may not have family nearby. The need for these services often increases during the holidays, and not only do you not get a break, but you may be working even harder than you normally do. Continue reading

25 simple ways we can all be more disability-inclusive

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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