Tag Archives: justice

The ongoing revolution in philanthropy: An open-ended reading list

 

 

I recently had a conversation with a friend and colleague about what I perceive to be a revolution in progress.  Grant makers and nonprofit professionals are now talking openly about some very painful (and inter-related) issues in philanthropy, such as

  • The lack of inclusion and equity in philanthropy.
  • The difficult power dynamics among grantors and grantees.
  • The origins of some foundations’ wealth, which in some cases includes slavery and other forms of exploitation.
  • The tendency of philanthropic professionals, big donors, and other relatively privileged people to assume that they know what is best for the people who are directly affected by the problems that need to be addressed.

It is really inspiring to see philanthropic and nonprofit professional engaging in public conversations about these challenges, and even more inspiring to see them taking action to create positive changes.  I offered to send my friend and colleague a list of key articles and books about this revolution, and it now occurs to me that I can share this list with everyone who is interested.  Here it is:

Books:

Articles, reports, podcasts, and videos:

I’d like to point out that Vu Le, a few of whose publications are listed above, is a revolution in his own right.  He uses his blog, Nonprofit AF, to analyze overlapping issues such as philanthropy, justice, inclusion, power dynamics, racial equity, nonprofit leadership, outcomes reporting, and financial sustainability. And as a bonus, he’s very funny as well.

Tools:

 

This is an open-ended list. I plan to add more items, and I invite you to use the form below to let me know of anything that I have missed. I always have more lessons to learn!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve learned from working with mission-based organizations

Keep calm and be a unicorn

 

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  1. You need to make sure that your mission, operations, and desired outcomes are aligned with each other.
  2. Movements for equity, inclusion, and belonging have the potential to revolutionize both mission-based organizations and philanthropy.
  3. Carefully tailored one-to-one desk-side coaching usually increases a worker’s effectiveness much more quickly than classroom training.
  4. The nonprofit/philanthropic sector in Massachusetts is different from the analogous sector in any other state in the U.S.A.
  5. Poverty is an insufficient reward for devoting one’s professional life to a nonprofit organization.
  6. In a mission-based organization, many problems that initially appear to be about information and communication technology are really about organizational culture, knowledge management, or a combination of organizational culture and knowledge management.
  7. Age discrimination is alive and well in mission-based organizations.
  8. It makes much more sense to aim to run a nonprofit organization like a highly effective organization, rather than to aim to run it like a business. There’s nothing inherently superior (or inferior) about businesses.
  9. Every human being is eligible to help others and to be helped by others; moreover, it’s a mistake to stigmatize being helped by others.
  10. Bringing token members of various demographic minorities into the building isn’t enough; real power means being at the table when crucial information is disseminated and crucial decisions are made.
  11. When you decide to solve a problem, you need help from the people who are deeply affected by the problem in order to determine:
  • the real nature of the problem
  • the possible solutions
  • a clear and specific idea of what success in solving the problem would look like

I invite you to leave comments about what lessons you’ve learned from working with mission-based organizations!

Or, if you prefer to send me a private message, you can do so by using the form shown below:

 

 

What I love and hate about serving as a consultant

love hate

Talk about first world problems!  I love my clients as people. I love the projects. I love the missions.  I love working on strategyI love nonprofit technology.

In so many ways, my professional life is a dream.  But it can also be very sad, because I’m always worried about becoming the consultant’s version of the overly attached girlfriend.  I end up loving my clients so much that I don’t want to wrap up the project.

The truth is that I love being part of a team.  I love working with the same people over time, having an office that is somewhere other than my home, and having an organizational affiliation.  If someone hired me to be a full-time member of team, doing the work that I currently do, I’d be in heaven.  But it currently seems that being an independent consultant is my best option for doing what I love.

I’m not wrapping up any projects at the moment, but of course I’m wrapping up the year.  I want to pause and tell my past and current clients how much I love them. It really is a privilege to serve them.  In my mind, they’ll always be my clients, now matter how brief the project is or how long ago it was finished.  I also want to tell them that my separation anxiety is my problem, not theirs!

But most of all, I want to wish them a beautiful new 2013 – a year of peace, joy, prosperity, health, justice, and fulfillment of all their goals.

Harsh truths

Illustration from "Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person" by David Wong    http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-harsh-truths-that-will-make-you-better-person/
Perhaps as a counter-balance to my previous blog post, I’ve been reflecting on an article by David Wong that appeared this month in Cracked.Com: “Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person.”

While I don’t agree with all of Wong’s assertions, there are a few that I think we should take to heart in the nonprofit sector.  I present them here as bullet points:

  • “The World Only Cares About What It Can Get from You”

Wong points out two corollaries to this:  “…society is full of people who need things….”  and “(e)ither you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving and polite you are.

He’s right, or at least he should be.

(We all know of high-profile nonprofit professionals whose main achievement is making people feel warm inside.  They don’t contribute to any lasting and positive change, but they get plenty of photo opportunities.  If this were an entirely fair universe, the world would be rejecting them, and instead it applauds them.  However, they are the exceptions.)

Most of us are plebs in the nonprofit sector, and we are obliged to solve problems in order to justify our continued employment.  That’s the way it should be.  At the end of the day, if our organization’s mission is to save whales, then we should be judged on how our efforts add up to success in saving whales.  That might involve sticking to methods that have stood the test of time, or to finding ways to save more whales with fewer resources, or to finding ways to ensure that once we save them they stay healthy for the long run.   We have to keep our eye on results, and not give free passes to people who are merely impassioned without being effective.

By this I don’t mean that personalities and processes should be completely discounted.  It’s important to be considerate, ethical, and fair.  It’s also important to value the processes enough to learn from both failures and successes.  But having a pure heart is not enough, either as a process or an outcome, when your self-proclaimed mission is to save the whales.

  • “What You Produce Does Not Have to Make Money, But It Does Have to Benefit People”
‘Nuff said, right?  This the nonprofit sector, right? It’s not just that people ask “what’s in it for me?” when they donate, it’s that we’re living in an WIIFM universe. If what’s in it for us, as nonprofit professionals, is the dubious glamor of altruism, I suppose that’s alright, but we still have an obligation to make our work more than a vanity project.  Again, if it were a fair world, then effective projects would get more love than vanity projects.  But even though it’s unfair, there’s still a principle involved that obligates us to be as effective as possible in benefiting the world, even when that’s less glamorous.
  • “Everything Inside You Will Fight Improvement”

Thank you, Mr. Wong.  This is true indeed – not just for individuals, but for nonprofit organizations.  This one of the most compelling reasons why outcomes management is such an uphill battle in our sector.  It’s not just that we don’t like being judged by our results; it’s that we don’t like having to change.

I’m not using the first person plural (e.g., “we”) here in a abstract, vague, editorial way.  I’m using it, because I’m talking about flaws in which I fully partake.  When Wong says, “(t)he human mind is a miracle, and you will never see it spring more beautifully into action than when it is fighting against evidence that it needs to change,” he’s certainly speaking to my condition.

Here is his list of the powerful defense mechanisms of which I am (and perhaps you are) capable of fielding when we are challenged or criticized:

              “Intentionally Interpreting Any Criticism as an Insult”

              “Focusing on the Messenger to Avoid Hearing the Message”

             Focusing on the Tone to Avoid Hearing the Content”

              Revising (My) Own History”

             “Pretending That Any Self-Improvement Would Somehow Be Selling Out (My) True Self”

Of course, my personal favorite is the last mentioned. When I start wallowing in it, I do my best to remember that there are more important (and perhaps more valid) ethical principles at stake than expressing what I take to be my essential nature.

In fact, it’s our obligation to submit to public scrutiny and criticism when we work in the nonprofit sector.  (At least, it is in the U.S.; I can’t say much about other countries.)  As George McCully points out in his book Philanthropy Reconsidered, we are engaged in private initiatives for the public good, and the public has a right to evidence that we deserve the trust that is vested in us.  They deserve to know that we are striving to serve them with both processes and results that are valid, and that we are quickly learning from processes and results that do not yield strong positive benefits over the long run.
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