Category Archives: nonprofit field

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

The Nonprofit Serenity Prayer

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Hi everyone. A couple of things before we start. First, NWB is changing its name. I’ve been thinking about it a while, having received some feedback from many of you. Most of it has been positive, but I realized that I’ve been preaching about impact versus intention, and while the intent of the name when I started this blog four years ago was light-hearted and humorous, the impact has not always been, and in light of everything happening currently, I want to set a good example. It might take a little time to find the right name, but just wanted to let you know this is happening. Thanks for your patience.

Meanwhile, my wife and I started sleep-training our kids this weekend. It has been rough these past few nights, with the anguished, tormented wailing lasting for hours. And that’s just from us. The kids are even worse! Anyway, because of that, I don’t know how coherent I’ll be for this post. Everyone in our sector has been on edge lately, so I wrote the Nonprofit Serenity Prayer. Here it is below. May it be a beacon to you in the bleakest of times. Continue reading

Grantseekers, how irritating are you to funders? Use this checklist to find out

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Hi everyone. Last week, I unveiled the FLAIL Index, a tool that allows foundations to see whether or not their grantmaking process will unleash the demon-god Cthulhu upon this world. I’m now calling it the FLAIL Scale (#FLAILscale), since things that rhyme are always more worth our time. I will be updating the Scale this week, based on your feedback, to increase the aggravation points for certain items, such as requiring people to get anything notarized, as well as add some redemption points. Thank you to everyone who tested the FLAIL Scale, especially those who are actually using it to make their grant process better. You are amazing unicorns, and may Cthulhu spare you in the coming Apocalypse.

This week, for balance, we present the other side: Things that we nonprofits do that make funders want to punch us in the jaws—or worse, not fund our programs. I asked the NWB Facebook community, and received nearly a 100 comments from current and past program officers. I synthesized them into the checklist below.

So here, I present, the Grant Response Amateurism, Vexation, and Exasperation (GRAVE) Gauge (That’s, sadly, the closest rhyme to “grave” I can think of). Go through the list below, add up your points (or, use this Excel worksheet), and see how your organization does on any grant proposal. Use this to improve your process. And of course, this is also in beta—and the point values are arbitrary, somewhat based on the frequency the item is brought up—so send feedback and suggestions for GRAVE v2. Also keep in mind there are exceptions and extenuating circumstances. Continue reading