Tag Archives: Seahawks

5 lessons for nonprofits from the Seahawks’ bizarre Super Bowl loss

seahawksHi everyone. I am trying to calm down enough so that I can write this week’s blog post. But I can’t. This post is going to be crappy. Because the whole City of Seattle, probably the whole world, is wondering “WTF, Seahawks?!!!!” This is painful. They were half a yard from touchdown, and from winning the game, and they decided to THROW the ball?! The Patriots intercepted, sealing the most ridiculous ending to a football game ever.

Everyone in Seattle is going through the stages of grief right now. Of course, this is Seattle, so the stages are: Denial, Righteous Anger, Hot Yoga, Organic Juice Cleanse, Bargaining at a Farmer’s Market, Composting, Existential Despair, Biking to Happy Hour, and Acceptance…of Marijuana.

Seahawks, did you forget that you have the most effective running back—Marshawn Lynch—in the history of football?! Was he invisible?! Why didn’t you just give the fricken ball to Marshawn so he can barrel through the Pats and win us our second Super Bowl so that I could polish off my third Corona and write “What nonprofits could learn from the Seahawks, Super Bowl Champions, part 2”?!!! (Read part 1 here) Continue reading

Are you or your org guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement?

plants-906447_640pdIn Seattle, if you’re a person of color and you walk down a dark alley late at night and you feel like you’re being followed, it’s probably someone trying to do some community engagement: “Psst…hey buddy—Go Hawks!—you want to attend a summit? It’s about economic inequity. We need your voice.” “Daddy, I’m scared!” “Stay calm, Timmy; don’t look him in the eye.” “Come on, help a guy out! Here, you each get some compostable sticky dots to vote on our top three priorities! You can vote on different priorities, or, if you like, you put more than one dot on—” “Run, Timmy!”

This is why you should never take your kid down a dark alley in Seattle.

A while ago I was talking to a friend (another Executive Director, since all my regular friends have abandoned me because I make jokes about compostable sticky dots), and he said, “Have you noticed that everyone is getting paid to engage us communities of color except us communities of color?”

Sigh. Yes, I have noticed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have come up with a term to describe it: Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE). This is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free. Continue reading

What the NFL would look like if it were an actual nonprofit

foam fingerAll right everyone, I hope you are all sitting down for this, because I am filled with mild outrage at the National Football League. But first, go Seahawks! Dudes, sweet touchdown at the last minute to beat the Panthers! We all needed that. We’ve been worried about you guys. Welcome back!

But back to the outrage. Apparently, the NFL has for decades been considered a trade association, kind of like a chamber of commerce, and is granted 501c6 status, which makes it a nonprofit. That’s right, the NFL is a nonprofit! Sure, it makes over $10 billion a year and pays its commissioner, Roger Goodell, $44 million in salary last year. But with the 501c6 status, which it gained through some political voodoo in 1966 when it merged with the American Football League, the NFL is tax-exempt.

Now, before you too get upset and punch your cubicle wall with your carpal-tunnel-afflicted hand, here are some facts to consider. First, even though the NFL is considered a nonprofit, its members (the 32 football teams like the Seahawks) are not, so the revenues they make through licensing and swag and stuff are taxed. Second, the NFL often operates at a loss, which you can clearly see on their 990. Heck, in 2012 they were $304 million in the red. You can’t tax a net loss. Removing their tax-exempt status would only recover about $10 million per year in funds, which is still a lot, but not nearly as much as we were all hoping. 

What is mainly annoying me, however, is the fact that the NFL is considered legally a nonprofit. This is ridiculous. That’s like saying that a donkey is a bunny. Or that a hat is a door. Or that a Hershey’s bar is actually chocolate (it is chocolate-flavored sugar). It is insulting to all of us who proudly wear the title “Nonprofit.” Do I go around telling people that I am a dentist? Of course not! Especially not after the last tooth extraction I did on a colleague who didn’t have dental insurance; it did not go as well as Youtube suggested it would. Continue reading

9 lessons for nonprofits from Super Bowl XLVIII and the Seahawks

seahawks 2Hi everyone. Go Seahawks! That was the best Super Bowl ever! Sure, no one came to my Vegan Super Bowl viewing party, so I had to watch and celebrate alone with my Buffalo tempeh “wings,” (with raw-cashew-nutritional yeast sauce), but whatever, the Hawks won! They didn’t just win, they obliterated. Now everyone is celebrating in Seattle, with a few people climbing on Walk/Don’t-Walk sign posts and setting couches on fire. And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like every day we win a Super Bowl. Plus, couches in Seattle are pretty flammable, since they’re usually made from recycled paper and organic hemp fiber.

I was planning to write on a completely different topic, but I’m too excited to think about anything other than how awesome the Seahawks are. So here are some lessons we in nonprofit could learn from Super Bowl XLVIII and the Seahawks in general. My apologies if you don’t care much about football, or if you’re a Broncos fan. This will probably be the only football-related Nonprofit With Balls post, unless the Seahawks make it to the Super Bowl again (and they will).

Lesson 1: A strong defense will usually beat a strong offense. The Broncos and Seahawks kick ass in offense and defense, respectively. Historically, when that happens, defense always wins. That’s because a strong defense can prevent the other team from scoring, but you can also intercept, take possession and reverse your opponents’ momentum.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Have your defensive infrastructure in place, like a strong board, organizational insurance, clear financial management procedures, an emergency succession plan, some aloe plants on the windowsill for minor burns, etc.

Lesson 2: It’s not the size or image, it’s how you play. The Seahawks team was seen as too young and inexperienced, compared to the decorated Broncos, and, at 5’11” and 203 pounds, Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson looks in comparison to other beefier players like some scrawny vegan who should be at home eating organic vegan Buffalo tempeh wings. But he and the Hawks are quick, smart, and focused. Maybe being looked down on meant Seattle had something to prove, and that worked in our favor.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Just because an organization is experienced and well-established, doesn’t mean it should rest on its laurels. Small organizations, because we are smaller, can often be more effective due to our agility and scrappiness. Don’t you ever talk about us small organizations!

Lesson 3: Stop talking and do stuff. Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch was fined $50,000 by the NFL for breaking his contractual agreement to talk to the media. Dude, the guy is a football player. His job is to kick butt on the field. And he is good at that. He is no talk and all action.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We do a lot of talking and planning (strategic plans, advisory committees, research papers, summits, etc.) Sometimes we should channel Beast Mode and shut up and do stuff.

Lesson 4: Stop forcing people to do stuff they’re not good at. While we’re on Marshawn, what kind of ridiculous rule is that, to require all players to give daily interviews? The dude is obviously uncomfortable on camera, so leave him alone. He is good at other things. Like breaking people’s ankles.

How we can apply this this to nonprofit work: Find where people’s talents are, and have them focus on that. Sure, we should all step outside our comfort zone from time to time and develop new skills, but find the balance. Specifically: VFA staff, stop forcing me to be in promotional videos. I hate being in videos. On most days I look like I’ve been run over by a taco truck and may actually scare off potential donors. I’d rather tackle people. Literally; there are a few people in the nonprofit field I’d love to tackle down to the ground.

Lesson 5: Miscues and early mistakes are deadly. The Broncos did not start out well at all. Within seconds of starting on offense, Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head into the end zone, resulting in a safety and points for the Hawks. During postgame interview, Ramirez said he thought he heard Manning’s signal to snap the ball. That mistake that early in the game dealt a crushing psychological blow to the Broncos that they never recovered from.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Clear communication–between staff, between board, between staff and board, between bored board, and between boring staff–is critical. A single miscommunication could really affect an organization.

Lesson 6: Don’t let miscues and mistakes be deadly. On the same note though, the Seahawks, playing against the 49ers in the championship game a couple of weeks ago, also lost possession within seconds of the game. It was painful. But they didn’t let that affect their morale. They continued playing and recovered. This didn’t seem to happen with the Broncos. By halftime, they looked defeated, shaking their heads, staring at the ground, likely wishing they had gone into nonprofit work instead of professional sports.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We, and our organizations, screw up all the time. Learn from mistakes, move on. Just because our mistakes could result in the loss of funding and thus services for thousands of clients who need them, it doesn’t mean we should let that affect our morale and game play.

Lesson 7: Teamwork is critical. Seattle’s teamwork was awesome. Offense, defense, special teams were all in sync. Like Richard Sherman said in a post-game interview, “I am the best Cornerback in the Universe! Don’t you ever try me, or I will devour you like Marshawn devours Skittles!” All right, he didn’t actually say that. He said, “It was a total team effort: The back end, the linebackers, the d-line, everybody did their parts today.”

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: For nonprofits to be successful, all components of the team need to work well together: Admin, Development, Programming. This is especially important for many of our organizations, where Admin is also Programming, and Development is also Janitorial, and Programming is also Marketing, etc.

Lesson 8: Turnovers are demoralizing. That’s when a team loses possession of the ball when they have it, and the other team has a chance now to score. The Hawks were able to gain four turnovers; the Broncos none.

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: We use the term “turnover” to refer to new staff or board members when they leave and new people come in, so it’s different than in football, but the effects are the same: Momentum is lost, people feel like crap. So try to keep your team happy and avoid turnovers.

Finally, Lesson 9: Fake it until you make it, and learn stuff along the way. I actually don’t know much about football, but look, I just talked about it as if I do! Ahaha, and you read this entire post!

How we can apply this to nonprofit work: Sometimes we don’t have the skills or experience in something, like public speaking or writing a press release or grant or talk to an intimidating program officer of a huge foundation. Don’t sit on the sideline. Go learn crap and try things out. I had to google all sorts of stuff. I’ve learned more about football these past few weeks than I had ever cared to, and you know what, it’s kind of fun.

All right, there are bunch of other lessons for us to learn (for example, puppies and horses can be friends, thus teaching us all that organizations of different sizes and missions can be effective partners; etc.), but I’m exhausted, and it’s 2:00am. I need to go to bed. The staff will be so happy tomorrow. The Seahawks are awesome. I hope they all get raises. I’m going to take my team out for lunch to celebrate. We’ve budgeted $2.50 per person.

Dear business community: Please remember these 10 things about nonprofits

apple-orangeMy friends from the business community:

As an Executive Director of a nonprofit, I want to say that I love you guys. Almost as much as we all love the Seahawks (Go Hawks!). You do so much to sustain our work—volunteering countless hours, donating funds to programs, and telling your friends about us so they can help too. We rely on you. The work is not possible without you. Whenever we get one of you on our board or development committee, it’s like Christmas.

However, there are a few things I’d love to remind you of, stuff like fundamental differences between nonprofits and for-profits and the challenges we face. I know, you probably have heard some of this already. But it’ll be really good for us to go over them again, so we can more effectively work together to make the world better:

  • Nonprofit funding is restricted. That is something we repeat over and over, but I’m not sure you actually understand how restricted it is. Imagine that you have a business selling software for $100 a pop. I buy a copy, and I give you $100, but then I say “You can’t spend any of this money I’m paying you on your salary, or on your rent or heating for your business. It can only be used to for you to buy copy paper and no more than 80 binder clips.” Now have all your customers say stuff like that to you each time they buy your software. That’s how it works in nonprofit, but replace “customers” with “funders.” It is not fun trying to figure out who is paying for what and how to work within this structure, but luckily it only takes up 60% of our time.
  • (Hilarious side story: Speaking of copy paper and binder clips, one of my ED friends sometimes “dumpster dives” for office supplies. On her last dive, she scored a roll of masking tape and an unopened container of poster paint (woohoo!)—and her board still complains that her organization spent over $1200 in supplies in 2013).
  • No one wants to pay for unsexy “admin” things. These are things like HR, marketing, fundraising, the ED or Development Director’s salary, etc. This is why we don’t have an HR department, or an IT person, or a marketing person, why our database (if we have one) may not be as cool as you want and why some of our marketing materials look like they were designed by bonobos. You’re frustrated that our infrastructure sucks sometimes. Well, we are too! Unfortunately, because of our funding restrictions, we can’t do much about it except to beg for free services from you and your friends.
  • (Hilarious side story: One time I was at a conference, and a business was leading a workshop on building a website. “We asked our bosses for $25,000 to develop the website,” said the presenter, “and they said, ‘Hey, we actually have extra funding.’ So they gave us $50,000!” Back then, 50K was half my organization’s operating budget and about four times my Americorps yearly wages, so I left the workshop and cried silently in a bathroom stall).
  • Our funding is unstable, and it’s not our fault. It fluctuates depending on factors such as funder priorities, the situation in Iran, the value of the Yen, and the alignment of celestial bodies. Grants are usually only for one year. So year-over-year budget comparisons are often useless, and predictions on future funding sources are educated guesses at best. Please try not to be upset when you ask us questions like “What are your budget projections for next fiscal year” and we give you seemingly wishy-washy answers like, “Well…will Mercury be in retrograde at the end of this fiscal year…?”
  • The better a job we do, the more costs we incur. That’s right; it’s weird, but it’s true. If our after-school program, for example, is awesome, more kids will attend, which means more costs. But the funding does not also increase automatically, meaning we have to serve more people with fewer resources. So then we have to spend more staff time on fundraising, which, remember, is not sexy, so people hate paying for that. If your product is awesome, your business can become stable and continue as long as demands remain stable. Not so for us nonprofits! This is why we live in a constant state of stress and fear. And why we need you on the development committee!
  • Our community members (the people we serve) are not economic units. As one of my ED friends says, “You can’t run a cost/benefit analysis on the worth of a human life, and every human being is a miracle worthy of respect and kindness and compassion.” That sounds very sappy, but we genuinely believe in crap like that, and it very frustrating when people forget this stuff and reduce human beings to numbers and statistics.
  • Success is difficult to measure. We throw around terms like “outcomes” and “metrics,” but things are so much more complex. When we’re working with people who are homeless, or mentally ill, or kids at-risk for failure, it is challenging to define success and what part we play in it. So it gets very annoying when you come in trying to impose a business framework on our programs, or get upset when we can’t give you clear answers to questions like “What’s the impact of your programs?” We’re trying to figure all this out.
  • Things can’t be “scaled” as easily as you think. Some of you are really impatient about scaling up our work. You see a great program, and you want it to be bigger, to help more people. We do too. But the clients we serve and their challenges are complex, and we work within structures that severely limit what we can do. We are constantly thinking of ways to help more people, while trying to keep our organizations from collapsing, all the while hoarding supplies for a potential zombie apocalypse (That last part–it may just be my organization that does that).
  • If you want to help, roll up your sleeves. We get plenty of advice. If you want to be helpful, roll up your sleeves and actually do something. It’s frustrating when business leaders or consultants come in and provide a report of recommendations of things we should do. These reports are often left on shelves to gather dust, since we often have no time or resources to tackle them. If you want to help, take lead on a few of these things you recommend.
  • We chose to do this work. That’s right, we chose jobs that are unstable, under-appreciated, challenging, low-paying, and high-stress. That does not mean we’re not as smart as people in other sectors. Once a while we meet young professionals in other professions, and their smugness and condescension are palpable, and we want to grab them by the collar and shake them. But we think of our clients and swallow our pride. Our society places much higher value on jobs like doctors, lawyers, movie stars, business owners, etc. However, most of us did not go into the nonprofit field because we failed at other professions. We do this work because we want to kick inequity’s butt, no matter how difficult it is.
  • (Hilarious side story: At my organization, which serves low-income immigrant and refugee youth and families, the clients are often amazed that I do this full time. One woman at an event asked when I will find a real job; her son was studying to be a pharmacist, she said.)
  • Finally, just because you’re really successful in one area, it doesn’t mean you are automatically great in another area. If you’re an amazing heart surgeon, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically a great singer. If you’re an awesome dancer, it doesn’t mean you’re now a really kickass chef. And yet we meet so many of you who are successful in the business sector who now think that you automatically know how to run a nonprofit, or lead an education reform movement, or counsel us nonprofit folks on how to do our work. One of the most irksome things we experience is when business people, after a limited time trying to understand the organization, start giving advice. We’ll try to be thankful, since you’re a potential donor and volunteer, but seriously, the you-guys-should-do-this and you-guys-should-do-that are often irritating and not helpful at all. We don’t go to your business and tell you how to…run…quarterly reports…or, uh…improve assembly line efficiency…

At a meeting a month ago, a bunch of people and I were providing input and advice to Seattle’s new mayor as he starts his administration. A community leader stood up and said, “You have to remember that poor people are not just rich people who don’t have money. And black people are not just really dark white people.” Ahaha, that’s so true, everyone thought. They laughed. (Each of those profound statements deserves to be discussed in its own post later). I want to use the same line of thinking to remind you all that nonprofits are not just chaotic businesses with really nice employees. Until we have the same flexibility and stability of essential resources that successful businesses have, comparing one with the other is like comparing an apple with a porcupine.

Thank you for reading, and for all that you do.

Go Hawks!

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Related Posts:

Nonprofit’s ultimate outcome: Bringing unicorns back to our world.

The sustainability question: Why it is so annoying.

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