Category Archives: leadership

“The White-Paper Princess” and other children’s books about nonprofit work

[Image description: A watercolor of a grey dragon hovering over about six trees, with yellow, red, pink, and purple blended background. Image from Pixabay.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s post, I created a page on Patreon, where artists get monthly financial support from their community so they can do their creative work. This is something several colleagues have recommended over the years, but I was squeamish about asking for money unless it’s for my organization. However, since I dropped my schedule down to four-days a week (so I can write on Mondays instead of Sundays and spend more time with my kids), it also dropped my salary down an equivalent amount. It’s worth it. I’m sure my board would allow me to keep my pay the same, but I need the separation between my job and the writing. Mainly so I can continue to say the things I want to say.

So thank you for pledging a buck or so a month to keep NAF going. (Pssst: Once we reach 500 patrons, I’ll remove all the random ads from the blog).  

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A common complaint we have in the nonprofit sector is that kids don’t dream about going into nonprofit as a career. Well, that’s because there are so few children’s books about our work! Just imagine how inspired our kids would be if only there were more books about being an ED, or raising money, or running programs, or filing tax forms. Here, read these classic books re-imagined and tell me they wouldn’t inspire children and maybe a few adults to do what we do.   Continue reading

The courage to be unfair

[Image description: A tan brown lion cub, hiding behind a tree branch, blurred yellowish background. I think this is a lion cub. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Last week, I went to speak at a conference in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania put on by the United Way of Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. The topic was Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Not wanting to use the same graphic with the kids standing on the boxes (you know what I’m talking about) to illustrate the difference between equity and equality, I tried the sandwich metaphor:

“Imagine if you had three kids and three sandwiches. Equality would be that you give each kid a sandwich. That seems fair. But many of you work with kids whose families are low-income, whose only meal that day may be through school or through your program. Imagine if one of the kids has not eaten for three days, and one kid just came from a birthday party and is stuffed. Equity is understanding these circumstances and giving the kid who is really hungry two sandwiches, and maybe the kid who just ate gets none.” Continue reading

Funders, your “wait and see” approach is killing nonprofits during leadership transitions

[Image description: A gray mouse with a long tail, its head bowed, its paws covering its eyes and nose, on a white background. What does this image have to do with this post? Who knows, maybe it is a profound metaphor for funding dynamics. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

This week, I read the Road Block Analysis Report by the Open Road Alliance that shows that the biggest barrier nonprofits face is…our very own funders. In fact, according to the executive summary:

“Funder-Created Obstacles make up 46% of the roadblock dataset and include specific obstacles such as a Delay of Disbursement, a Change in Funder Strategy, and Funder Policy Inflexibility. With only a few exceptions, Funder-Created Obstacles are the most frequent roadblocks across all sectors, funder types, project types, geographic focus, and organization size. Thus, funders are frequently – if unintentionally – contributing to disruptions to project implementation and, in doing so, threatening the impact of their own investments.” [Bolded-line emphasis mine]

I know we are all thinking the same thing: Where is Septa Unella, the severe nun from Game of Thrones, when we need her? This is the perfect time for her to walk around ringing a bell and chanting “Shame! Shame!” every three or four steps. Continue reading

Paradoxical commandments for the nonprofit professional

[Image description: Two hummingbirds drinking nectar from a red flower, with a blurry green background. The bird on the left is grayish-brown, and the one on the right is blue and green. Both are trying to find general operating nectar. Image by James Wainscoat of unsplash.com]

Hi everyone. Before we begin today’s blog post, a couple of things. First, please go write a review of a foundation on grantadvisor.org (it’s like a Trip Advisor where you can anonymously review foundations). Second, if you’re an Executive Director or CEO of color, there is a Facebook support group for you, full of amazing colleagues: EDOC—ED Unicorns of Color, which stemmed from ED Happy Hour, which is open to all current and retired EDs/CEOs.

Speaking of amazing colleagues, one of the reasons I love our sector so much is the quality of the people we have. However, I’ve been encountering more and more professionals who have become increasingly jaded and cynical about the work.  It’s gotten worse since the election. This is understandable, as the last couple of years have been especially rough on all of us, and the current challenges have really highlighted just how awful and inequitable the systems—grantmaking, public policy, hiring practices, etc.—we work within are. Continue reading

How I used leadership and organizational development skills to survive four nights at a haunted hotel

[Image description: Closeup of a brown puppy, snuggled in a checked grey-white-pink-black blanket. The puppy has nothing to do with this post. I just didn’t want to look at pictures of scary things to find a relevant image. Image obtained from Pixabay.com]

Right away, I could tell that the hotel was haunted. Or just really old. The elevator would occasionally bring me to the basement when I pushed the button for the third floor. Sometimes, it would stop on the second floor, and the door would open, but no one would be there. On the first night, the light outside the bathroom turned on at 5am. Since it was motion-activated, I didn’t think much of it, because these sensors can often be overly sensitive. On the second night, it did it again.

I was in Oakland for the Art of Transformational Consulting, a training led by the legendary Robert Gass of the Social Transformation Project. (Thank you, Haas Jr. Fund for sponsoring my participation). It was an intense one-week program, where the days often went from 9am to 9pm. During these hours, I and 29 other participants, mostly consultants or nonprofit leaders, learned from Robert and from one another. We examined the deepest corners of ourselves, we analyzed case studies, we worked in pairs and triads and groups and sat in large circles. I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, encouraged to do things that I never thought I was capable of: Meditate, communicate without words, exercise. Continue reading