Category Archives: ED Life

7 lessons nonprofits can learn from newborn babies

chick-1202577_960_720Hi everyone, my apologies in advance, as today’s post may not be very coherent. On Friday, my son, Kiet Thomas Prinzing Le, was born (you can see a picture on Nonprofit Happy Hour). The little tyke came several days early, surprising all of us. I have not slept since then. It’s been a little rough, I won’t lie. I am barely lucid right now.

I said before that having a baby is like getting a giant multi-year highly-restricted grant. Like, “Congratulations, our foundation has decided to award you a million each year for 18 years. But every two hours, day or night, you have to get up and fill out an online survey while we scream at you in a high pitched voice.”

Except replace “fill out an online survey” with “change diapers.” I had forgotten what’s it’s like to have a newborn. The screaming, the spit ups, the clawing at the face. And that’s just me. Then there’s the meconium. It is a baby’s first poop, and like most strategic plans it is so dense and viscous that not even light can escape, thus giving it the color and consistency of roofing tar. You can only pray that you do not get any of this on your hand or hair, because only a caustic agent like gasoline or kombucha tea can dissolve it. Continue reading

10 classic movies that could have been about nonprofit work


humphrey-bogart-619157_960_720Despite the awesomeness and complexity of our work, and the fact that we employ 10% of the work force, and the fact that independent studies that I have commissioned found that we have the most attractive professionals among all the sectors, nonprofit is still neglected by the media and society at large. 
I’ve written about the need for more TV shows about our sector. And now, we need to push for more movies. Imagine how much more awesome some of our classic movies would have been, if they had been about nonprofit. Here are some of my ideas, along with potential quotes. #nonprofitmovielines. Go make that trend on Twitter, like you did with #nonprofitpickuplines.

A Few Good Donors: An up-and-coming Development Director tries to convince her ED to change their org’s fundraising strategies, in the process encountering resistance and a complex conspiracy involving budgets, CRMs, the board, and strategic planning. “You want answers? You want the truth?! An effective donor cultivation strategy takes time and resources!”

The Shawshank Restriction: Andy, a new Program Director learns too late that the organization that just hired him had gotten trapped by a burdensome and restrictive multi-year federal grant. The terrifying realities of restricted funding are explored as Andy works to save the remainder of his program and his sanity, using his skills and intelligence to gain the trust of his jaded colleagues and extract the program and organization out of the dilemma. “Get busy living, or get busy dying. Or somewhere in between: just lots of paperwork.” Continue reading

Your self-care may be holding you back and making people around you hate your guts

meditation-473753_960_720On Friday I attended the Seattle chapter’s monthly ED Happy Hour. A bunch of EDs showed up and for four hours we all drank and laughed and stuffed our faces with sushi and discussed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and its parallels to nonprofit work. It was awesome, as usual, to get to hang out with my brilliant colleagues. At 9pm, as the group disbanded, we found out an ED was planning to head back to her office for a couple more hours of work. “What’s wrong with you?!” we hissed, pelting her with edamame shells, “Go home to your family!”

The majority of us in this sector, probably 90%, work ridiculous hours at very stressful jobs, and we really do need to take better care of ourselves, and our organizations as well as society need to do more to create supportive conditions—fair wages, adequate benefits, sufficient family leave and vacation time, a culture of learning and camaraderie, a working printer, two-ply toilet paper, etc.—so it’s not just our individual responsibility to ward off burnout.

There are plenty of thoughtful articles on these topics, such as this one by Beth Kanter called “How Can Nonprofits Switch from Scarcity to Abundance Mindsets When It Comes to Self-Care?” and this one by Mary Cahalane called “Your work or a life: A painful choice no one should have to make,” and this one by B. Loewe calling for “An End to Self-Care” (in favor of a more holistic “community care.”) I’ve also touched on this topic a few times, such as “7 self-care tips for nonprofit professionals” and “The courage for mediocrity: Why we nonprofit professionals need to give ourselves a break.

This post today, though, is to bring some balance. In some ways, maybe because we talk so much about it, that self-care has become somewhat of a punchline to various jokes: “Hey, are you attending that breakfast gala of one of our partner organizations?” “Nope! Self-care!” “Hey, I heard you were asked to lead the diversity and inclusion committee?” “I declined. Self-care!” “Did you drink my bottle of Mike’s hard lemonade that I was saving for lunch?!” “Yup! Self-care!” Continue reading

Why communities of color are getting frustrated with Collective Impact

hand-813525_960_720A while ago I wrote “Collective Impact: Resistance is Futile,” detailing the frustrations of CI and comparing it to The Borg on Star Trek. “Controlled by a hive mind that neutralizes any sort of individualism, and comprising billions of annexed individuals, [The Borg is] strong and terrifying, like an army of zombie robots, each with one eye that has a laser beam.” That was my first impression of Collective Impact, at least the way it’s being playing out in Seattle.

Years later, Collective Impact continues to spread, with mixed results and reactions. I talked to a funder on the East Coast last week, and she said her state is getting sick of the constant mention of Collective Impact. Meanwhile, in a Seattle, a colleague of mine said, “Collective Impact is like The Governor in The Walking Dead—seems nice, until you’re locked in a room with it.”

Talking to other nonprofit leaders, I’ve started noticing some patterns. There is definitely a sense of frustration of how CI has been manifesting in Seattle, and among leaders of color, that sense of frustration is even more palpable. We need to have an open discussion about how Collective Impact has been affecting diverse communities, and work toward some concrete actions that would make it more effective.

But before we get into the discussion, a couple of disclaimers. First, I am not against Collective Impact. I think it has done a lot of good, with Strive Together and Harlem Children’s Zone being two examples. And heck, I am involved with efforts that would arguably be labeled as Collective Impact: Rainier Valley Corps (RVC), which is developing nonprofit leaders of color and organizations led by communities of color with the ultimate goal of getting diverse communities to work together to effect change; and the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), a communities-of-color-led coalition rallying people together to help school and kids succeed in the most diverse quadrant of Seattle. (Also, to a lesser degree, ED Happy Hour, a backbone organization encouraging EDs to get together monthly to engage in mutually-reinforcing therapy involving alcohol). Continue reading

Why most annual performance reviews suck and how we can make them better

I want to begin today’scastle-862700_640 post with a story that is truly terrifying. Don’t read this by yourself in the dark:

“It was a dark autumn afternoon. Jose, a Program Director, walked into his ED’s office for his annual performance review. Jane’s skin looked pale and ashy, as if she hadn’t seen sunlight for years, her eyes were bloodshot, and her hair was stringy and dull like a wet wombat’s fur. This was nothing unusual, thought Jose, since she is an ED after all, and all EDs look like that. But something about Jane was making him uneasy. Her tone was different; it was harder, more businesslike. ‘Jose, this year, you accomplished many things. But you failed to meet expectations in a few key areas. You didn’t, for example, throw an 80’s-themed volunteer appreciation party, and you didn’t build enough partnerships with gluten-free bakeries to secure in-kind snacks for our gluten-free clients. I also called and talked to some of your staff and they said that you never bring cupcakes to the team meetings.’ Jose tried to scream, ‘I didn’t know those were your expectations! How can I meet expectations I never knew I had?! And that feedback probably came from the one disgruntled staff who doesn’t do anything but whine, whom I’ve been trying to coach and mentor before firing and needed your support on but you kept skipping our one-on-one meetings!’ He tried to scream these and many other things, but no sound came out. He left the office that evening, walking into the darkness, feeling like crap, and no one ever saw him again. Unless they were buying or selling a house. For you see, Jose became a real estate agent…”

Spooky, right? I won’t blame you if you have to sleep with the lights on tonight. Continue reading