Hi everyone. Last week I was in Minneapolis for the GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations) conference. I was there primarily to give a short talk called “Want to Help Communities of Color? Stop Trickle-Down Community Engagement” and avoid work. But I stuck around for most of the conference, mainly because funder conferences always have way better food and booze. I was trying to hoard appetizers, having developed this unconscious fear of being in places traditionally reserved for funders. If I was going to get found out as an unwashed nonprofit Wildling and asked to leave, by golly I was going to take as many grilled artichoke hearts with me as I could.
But then I realized that my organization, Rainier Valley Corps, is considered by many as a funder. Instead of giving financial support to organizations, though, we send resources in the form of full-time fellows of color, whom we train, to develop the capacity of host organizations led by communities of color. They apply to be a host org. No wonder these past two years everyone has been treating me nice, and no wonder I’ve suddenly become 27% more attractive to most people, despite being married and having two kids and basically having let myself go.Continue reading →
Hi everyone. Before I delve into today’s topic, I’m going to ask for donations to my organization. Seattle has a day called GiveBig, hosted by The Seattle Foundation. Donate on May 3rd (not before or after) and the money gets a share of a stretch fund. If you like the rantings on NWB, and especially if you are a foundation or major donor, consider giving to RVC on May 3rd (you can go there and pledge to give before May 3rd). We’re trying to raise 10K; 100% of this money will pay for rent and utilities*. As an Executive Director, I freak out a lot about fundraising and being able to pay for rent and utilities. A lot. It basically accounts for 80% of my daily night terrors. The less I freak out about fundraising, the more time I can focus on thinking and writing about important stuff, like Trickle-Down Community Engagement, or the rules of dating in the nonprofit sector.
Today, I want to talk about Values. Values have been like the middle children of the nonprofit sector, wedged between the older brother Vision and the me-me-me baby of the family, Mission, whom everyone has to pay attention to all the time. Or maybe Mission is the bossy older brother, and Vision is the baby. Or maybe Mission is like the mom who makes us eat our vegetables, and Vision is like that cool but aloof cousin.
Whatever. (It’s midnight, and I have a newborn. And in fact, I am at the airport). Point is, few of us pay much attention to Values. Values are the platonic friend who has a crush on us but whom we constantly take for granted while we chase after hotter people. We scatter a few inspiring-sounding words on our website—Equity! Respect! Compassion! Community! Accountability!—and call it a day. A few of us elaborate on our core values with vague sentences like “Respect: We treat everyone with respect.”Continue reading →
A while ago, I wrote “When you don’t disclose salary range on a job posting, a unicorn loses its wings.” The post highlights the importance of salary transparency from the beginning of the hiring process. It also talks about one of the dumbest and most damaging hiring practices we have: Using salary history to determine the starting pay of new hires. This practice ensures that people who have been underpaid—primarily women and people of color—continue to be underpaid. We, the sector fighting for equity and social justice, must end this archaic and destructive practice immediately.
As I’ve been thinking more about how we treat individuals in the sector, I’ve been noticing that there is a parallel to how we treat organizations and even whole communities. A parallel to using salary history at the organizational level is something I’m going to call “Budget Testing.” This is when funders have rules regarding how much funding an organization can apply for based on its budget size. Many foundations, for example, will not fund an organization for more than 10% of its budget. Others have set limits, such as organizations with budgets less than $1M can only apply for $25,000, and those over $1M can apply for $100,000. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, I gave a keynote speech to a large group of youth involved in philanthropy, along with a few of their parents and mentors. My topic was “The Role of Equity in Philanthropy.” It was awesome that we had kids ages 8 to 24 engaged in grantmaking and other aspects of philanthropy. They were smart and hungry and full of hope and possibilities, bright minds not yet beaten down to a haggard shell haunted by endless grant rejections and complex community dynamics and the sudden dawning realization of the ephemerality of existence, cowering in the supply closet on a fold-out cot, cradling a stuffed unicorn while Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” plays softly from a phone.
(What, like your Friday nights are soooo much more exciting.)
“As budding philanthropists,” I said to the youth, “you have probably seen the illustration of the difference between Equality and Equity. You know, the drawing of those kids standing on those boxes looking over a fence at people playing baseball.”
As if on cue, two kids came up to the stage with a drawing they had done earlier of the iconic image on easel paper. I stuck it to the lectern. “Get used to this image,” I said, “Have it burned into your mind. Because you will not be able to avoid it. It will haunt your dreams.”Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, a fellow Executive Director of color and a friend of mine, “Maria,” was nearly in tears after failing for a second time to get a small grant. She doesn’t drink, or else I would have offered access to the personal minibar that I keep in my office. A shot of Wild Turkey and a brisk walk always cheer me up after a grant rejection.
“I’m so tired,” Maria said over the phone, “I can’t continue putting in my own money to keep this afloat. Maybe nonprofit is just not for me. It’s too hard.” She had spent over 40 hours on these two grants, and I had spent over 12 hours facilitating part of a board retreat, helping develop the logic model, revising the budgets, editing the narratives, and providing moral support.
The grant was a one-time award for less than 10K, and she had been told repeatedly, by different people at this foundation, that her work was important and much needed.
The purpose of this story is not to call out a particular foundation, but to highlight the fact that the standard grant application process needs a deep overhaul because it is leaving behind too many communities.Continue reading →