Category Archives: leadership

Ending the Nonprofit Talent Hunger Games

[Image description: A reddish squirrel peaking out from behind a tree. Its left paw is at its chest. Image obtained from]

Hi everyone. I just came back from speaking at the Blue Ridge Institute, a 90-year-old week-long retreat in the Tennessee woods for nonprofit leaders. It’s a combination of thought-provoking conversations and endearingly ridiculous hijinks, including an all-ages talent show, skits, hiking, dancing, a lot of singing, a softball game with equal-opportunity cheering and heckling from a designated group called “The Best Worst Cheerleaders,” a sarcastic daily news parody segment that roasts everyone mercilessly in good fun, and something called “moonshine cherries.” Basically, if I designed a retreat for nonprofit leaders, it would look a lot like BRI. But with more sock puppets (and Oxford Commas in the marketing materials). Check it out. It’s magical, and kids are welcome.

During my keynote, I brought up the Nonprofit Hunger Games and how all of us are in constant competition with one another for resources and influence. “I call it Stabbing for Dollars,” says one seasoned nonprofit executive. A manifestation of this is through our hiring philosophies and practices. There are thousands of articles on staff recruitment, retention, etc., but they all have something in common: It is always about the well-being of the organization, getting the best talent for the organization to ensure the organization thrives, rarely about the entire sector or community. We recruit professionals to fulfill our individual missions, not paying much attention to what happens when they leave our organizations, or how the way we treat them might affect their work at their next organization, or our own individual responsibility to support a “bench” of talent needed for the entire sector to thrive. Continue reading

Why we need to end the culture of “Cultural Fit”

[Image description: A whole bunch of greenish yellow figs, with one black fig. Image obtained from]

A few weeks ago, the Building Movement Project released this critical report, Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, which has profound implications for our sector. If you haven’t read it, I highly suggest you do. It debunks some crappy and destructive myths about leadership and diversity in our sector. Like the one about people of color not wanting to be in leadership positions—WRONG! We actually want it MORE! Or the one about the assumption that POCs just don’t have the same level of qualifications as our white colleagues—WRONG! POCs are just as qualified as our white colleagues, it not more so! Or the myth that vegans don’t have enough energy to be effective leaders—WRONG! Vegans make excellent leaders due to our natural ability to empathize! Continue reading

23 quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit

[Image description: A grey-scale drawing of Muhammad Ali’s face. He is looking to his left. Image obtained from]

Hi everyone. I was on vacation this week, so did not have the mental energy to write a serious post. So here are quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit. Check out the previous installments and write yours in the comment section. Continue reading

The downsides of linear thinking, and why we need to embrace failure

[Image description: An abstract image made by computer, probably using mathematical equations to generate fractals. There grey and white and patterned spheres, sheets, columns, all bending and connecting and confusing. Image obtained from]

The world is complex. Therefore, to put order to things, we try to become more organized and linear in many aspects of life and existence: In battle: first we send the scouts to check out lay of the land and our enemies’ strengths and weaknesses, then we send in the infantry. In marriage: First, we date, then we have the parents meet, then we get married. In going to IKEA: First we spend 30 minutes finding parking, then we get panic attacks in the lamps aisle, then we get into fights with our partner.

In the nonprofit sector, this linear sort of thinking is pervasive, seeping into every aspect of our work, manifesting in things such as: Continue reading

Disorganized colleagues, stop feeling bad and own your chaotic brilliance!

[Image description: Two wombats eating from a metal bowl. There’s a large wombat, and a cute little baby wombat. The’re both dark brown. The bowl has vegetables–looks like corn and carrots and half a green apple. Image obtained from]

Hi everyone. As usual I procrastinated in writing this blog post—look, House of Cards season five is not going to binge-watch itself while eating an entire container of vegan chocolate ice cream. I don’t know how this blog post will turn out or whether it will include pictures of wombats for some reason. (Update: It definitely includes a picture of wombats).

Since the beginning of time society has had a bias toward the Type-A individuals, they with their to-do lists, and their “bullet journals,” and their “inbox zero,” and their “daily flossing.” We tend to look down upon the disorganized, equating cleanliness with godliness, and having other sayings related to being neat and orderly. These messages have been pushed so hard that those who are disorganized in their work and personal lives are left feeling like crap. Continue reading