Hi everyone. If this is your first day back from the holiday break, make some coffee and read last week’s pep talk “Welcome back to work, you stunningly brilliant and attractive world-changer, you!” followed by “12 tips to ensure you don’t stab anyone on your first day back from break.” (Tip 9: Take a short walk. To your car. Drive home. Watch Netflix.)
It is 2019, a brand new start! Take a deep breath. What you smell is the aroma of change, of possibility, of hope! Or maybe leftover food or rotting compost that should have been thrown out before the weekend, but I’d like to think it’s the former. As many of us make our personal resolutions to improve ourselves, so should our organizations. Unfortunately, many resolutions fail because they are either too lofty or too nebulous or involve exercise.
Here then are some tangible, relatively straight-forward resolutions all of us, whether we are nonprofits or foundations, should make to ensure that we and our sector have a kickass 2019. They are in no particular order, do not encompass everything we need to do, and I might expand on some of them in future posts:
- Write and publish one op-ed in the local newspaper. We often complain within our bubble about the general public’s complete lack of knowledge about our sector. Let’s do something about it. Take the #NonprofitOpEdChallenge. Think of a topic you wish people knew, maybe something that’s been irritating your organization or making its work difficult. Perhaps you want to inform people about specific issues that your org is tackling. Perhaps you want to talk about something that affects many orgs, such as cuts in funding, or misconceptions people have about overhead, or why people need to stop donating expired cans of beets to food pantries. Contact the opinions section of the local newspaper and pitch the idea to them. Keep working on this until you have at least on op-ed published this year.
- Introduce five of your current donors to other organizations: Let’s end the Hunger Games style of fundraising. Our sector is most effective, and our community is best served, when we nonprofits look out for one another. This is a key principle of Community-Centric Fundraising, which I will be working more intensely on this year. Find ways to introduce existing donors to the important work of other organizations. For example, RVC has monthly “Community Connect” lunches where we engage with a small group of our current donors, and most of the discussion is focused on a partner organization’s work. It’s fun, and everyone leaves inspired not just by the partner org, but by the fact that we are supporting one another.
- Make sure all job postings comply with the Four Rules for Equitable Job Postings: To be equitable, a job listing 1. Discloses salary range and never asks for salary historyor salary requirement. 2. Does not ask for formal education except for specialized positions (legal, accounting, counseling, etc). 3. Does not exclude candidates with disabilitiesthrough requirements like must have working vehicle or be able to lift 50 pounds, unless those are essential duties. 4. Does not exclude candidates with criminal records unless those records are relevant to the current job.
- Remove all mentions of overhead or administrative ratio from all your communications:: Boasting at your gala about how 100% of donations raised go to programming or saying on your website that 94 cents of every dollar goes to services furthers the destructive overhead myth and screws over the entire sector. Review your communications and remove all mention of overhead or program-to-admin ratio. Funders, stop setting limits on “indirect” rates. Let’s as a sector just stop talking about it (except in op-eds, when we’re trying to inform the public). It’s 2019, and “overhead” or “indirect” rates is an archaic concept that needs to die. Let’s focus on outcomes and results.
- Attend one lobby or advocacy day: All nonprofits can use up to 10% of their budget to engage in lobbying. Unless we are advocacy organizations, few of us get anywhere near that, and our community suffers because of unfair policies and practices. We all need to engage in shaping rules and systems at some level. Advocacy-focused organizations are leading many efforts to inform legislators of important issues and ensure good policies are in place (thank you!). Let’s support them. Funders, you too should be involved, not just in funding advocacy, but in working with nonprofits to shape policy.
- Provide paid family leave: If you do not currently have a policy around leave that includes substantive paid family leave for parents of all genders when they have a new baby through childbirth or adoption, or to take care of family members, or for other reasons, create one this year. There are countless benefits not just to employees but to also organizations and the entire community. Morale improves, retention rates increase, productivity goes up, and all of us (whether we have kids or not) benefit when the children in our community grow up feeling loved and cared for. If you are looking for examples, our friends at Seattle Works has an amazing policy: 12 weeks of paid leave as baseline, more if needed.
- Add captions to all videos shown on your website and at your events: Take time to add captions to all your video clips. This is a concrete step that is helpful to our colleagues and community members who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as for people who are learning English or another dominant language. Here are other actions we can all take to be more disability-inclusive.
- Read and discuss as a team two books by authors of color about race, white privilege, gender, disability, or other equity topics. “So You Want to Talk about Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks, “Racing to Justice” by john a. powell, “The Body is Not an Apology” by Sonya Renee Taylor, and “Decolonizing Wealth” by Edgar Villanueva are a few critical books. Please add other recommendations in the comment section. (Thanks, Fakequity, for this suggestion and other actions in your Fakequity Pledge.)
- Get into three figurative fistfights with people and institutions who hold power: Our sector attracts really nice people. Because of that, we often become deferential in the face of those who hold power—donors, funders, board trustees, policy makers, etc.—even when we strongly disagree, and this is not good for our sector or the people we serve. If you argue with a donor or a foundation program officer, or if you are a program officer and you argue with a board trustee, then yes, you may lose a donor or funder or experience other consequences. But we need to practice this skill more often. When someone in power needs to see a different perspective, push them. Do it directly, assertively, respectfully, and with a spirit of mutual vision and goals, but do it at least three times this year.
- Review five foundations on Grantadvisor.org, or get five grantees to review you: Grantadvisor.org is like a Yelp where nonprofits can anonymously provide feedback about foundations. It was launched about a year ago and has been collecting hundreds of reviews across the US. But it needs more in order to be really useful to the entire sector. When a foundation gets 5 reviews, its profile goes live and everyone can see the feedback. Foundations, this tool is a great way for you to receive honest, no-BS feedback, so encourage your grantees to review you.
I know we are all very busy, and some of these resolutions may be more challenging to achieve than others, but let us set these goals and get them done. Happy New Year, everyone. Thank you for being so awesome.
If anyone needs me, I’ll be on a short walk.
Vu Le's column, Point of Vu, appears monthly in the GuideStar Blog. This article is a cross-post of an January 6, 2019, piece from his blog, Nonprofit ... And Fearless. Vu Le is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the executive director of Rainier Valley Corps, a nonprofit in Seattle with the mission of developing and supporting leaders of color to strengthen the capacity of communities-of-color-led nonprofits and foster collaboration between diverse communities to effect systemic change.