The Cotillion

big-black-hatHe knew he lacked credibility. After all, how could anyone think that a 30-something man, hailing from the City’s affordable housing units, should be designated as the events manager for a Ladies Cotillion and fashion show. But there was no one else now that the Director of Special Events quit and decided to backpack across some remote locale for three months with her boyfriend of as many months. Yet there he was, hunched over his ill-fitting desk, after-hours, listening to iTunes whilst feverishly googling “kitten heel, pump, gingham, damask, sarong, pareo.” The learning curve was daunting.

After all, the 400 women scheduled to sip Bellinis whilst shopping under a tent on a Long Island wine-estate depended upon him knowing the difference. He was instructed by the Lululemon-clad co-chairs at yesterday’s committee meeting that it would be an “utter travesty” if two vendors with similar merchandise were too close to one another. Juggling personalities was never a problem for him. Nor was hard work. But his skill–set bent toward the written word, getting to know his supporters, and inspiring people to bleed for a cause. Not this. This was different.

He felt lost. Alone. At every pair of shoes he identified and vendor he assigned into a corner, he questioned this moment.

At yesterday’s meeting, the event co-chairs and their feverish entourage were talking over Venti Mocha Lattes about beaded sustainably-made jewelry, created in an African Village through a micro-lending project that “inspired” female-owned collaborative businesses. Someone suggested a line of fragranced soaps hand-made by developmentally disabled women in Appalachia. And, yet, no one discussed these women. What was their day like? How much money are they making with this bracelet or this bar of soap? Is it enough to support their family? Will it be enough tomorrow or next year? He felt like the event committee was trying on pithy causes to see which one looked best against their well-tended skin.

He questioned whether they even cared about what they were raising money for — poor, young mothers struggling to regain control of their lives after experiencing the terror of domestic violence. These women who were supposed to be celebrated for their spirit and courage, remained unseen, despite the elaborate efforts of the event committee. They may have well been raising funds for a bucolic farm where former circus elephants frolic for the remainder of their lives. No doubt he was the assigned ringleader regardless of the cause–maybe that’s why he kept seeing elephants. He imagined his assigned task, “know your vendors, pair accordingly, don’t mix in bad form.” He considered the fate of a small, furry mammal against a python. Keep the animals in their respective cages, and like the great OZ, Jon, stay behind the curtain. His circus was cinematic in scope.

As he started to research bags, he thought about the nature of philanthropy and that it was often not quite for the enlightened purpose that was regularly championed. If artists’ works in the 14th century were commonly commissioned as a superhighway for wealthy patrons to purchase a seat in heaven, clearly the Cotillion was a 21st century version of folks still vying for a seat somewhere through enormous wealth and influence.

Surely, these sort of ethical vagaries have plagued philanthropy for years, and greater minds than his — de Tocqueville, Rousseau, and Drucker included — contemplated that fine line. But none of their musings helped him with his appointed task. All he kept coming back to was the advice his first boss, a grizzled Director of Development with a penchant for cigars, offered five minutes before his first Gala: “No matter what happens, no matter the drama or self-destruction, our job is to make the event chair and the committee look good. If she forgets her speech, you have a backup. If she wants an eleventh at her table of ten, you find an extra chair. And if she’s had one too many proseccos, you grab her some coffee.”

“Gold Guns Girls” by Metric came up on his shuffle. He considered Emily’s question, “Is it ever gonna be enough?” and resigned himself to the reality that in the accounting that truly matters, it was impossible to make the committee look good no matter how many times he googled tea party bonnets.

All he could do was bring coffee to the event.

– Jon and Sarah


Nonprofit Apocalypse Camp – Designated Leader: Foundations

In keeping with our end-of-the-world theme, from time to time, Sarah and Jon will share with you, their esteemed readers, their experiences traversing the vast apocalyptic wasteland in search of a safe haven devoid of shambling hordes of zombies, alien invaders, or other assorted tropes (which are really just thinly veiled substitutes for what’s actually killing the nonprofit world).  This is our first installment… 


Female_With_Clipboard_Silhouette_590x300Jon and Sarah arrived at the camp close to nightfall with their band of battered nonprofit survivalists in tow. They found the camp by following the RFP instructions posted alongside the train tracks they had been clandestinely pursuing for several weeks. They were looking for sanctuary, and this, they concluded in earnest, might be the place. Eventually they discovered the entrance, slightly obscured by a vast line of emaciated survivors patiently waiting by a 30′ high steel gate. Despite the growing crowds and increasing desperation of each passing day, there was only one gatekeeper on sentry duty. Hair pulled back, she wore a black pin-stripe pantsuit with 3-inch heels — a curious fashion choice for the apocalypse. In lieu of a katana or an AR-47, she wielded something far more deadly… a clipboard and a Sharpie. The sun set, rose and began its daily descent again, without one person being allowed into the camp.

By the time their group made it to the gate, Jon stepped forward and said in his most cordial demeanor, “Good evening. My associate Sarah and I represent a plucky and intrepid group of survivors… might we have five minutes of your…”

“Do you have an LOI?” interrupted the black pantsuit, whose voice, it turned out, was as sharp as the pin-stripes of her pantsuit. Close up, they could see that she wore a fading Avery 5385 name tag that read,“Ferme.” Clearly apocryphal, but also perhaps, prescient.

“A Letter of Intent? But… it’s the end of the… we don’t have… a pen… or water, food… anything!” stammered Sarah.

“The RFP clearly states that an LOI is needed before you can gain entry to our steel-gated, armed encampment. It has to be submitted on a one-page, single spaced letter with 12 point font or similar sized script. In less than 2,000 characters, you are expected to provide a mission statement for your group or person, a history of how you got here, what makes your group unique, the top five camps that previously supported your survival, three goals and objectives that will result from your participation in our camp, the methodology used to track those goals and objectives, the long-term benefits your group can provide our camp, a description of what you want from our camp, how you will recognize and acknowledge the generosity of our camp, and a basic list of resources you believe you need to survive for one year only, keeping in mind that we don’t provide overhead. If you are allowed in, you have to re-apply every year and prove that your participation will be sustainable.”

“I’ll show you my fuckin’ LOI,” mumbled Jon as he slowly thumbed the falchion slung across his back. Sarah grabbed at his arm, shot him a hard look, and moved quickly to de-escalate the situation like she had done countless times before.

“Um, Ferme, or Ms. Ferme… Jon and I are hardened nonprofit survivalists. We probably have submitted a thousand LOIs in our careers – we’ve secured millions in grants and private support. And my brother, Matt, used to be a nonprofit lawyer and fought ninjas and crime lords in Hell’s Kitchen. Our group is made up of people you need. We’ve got engineers, farmers, musicians, nurses, teachers, hell, we’ve even got a legal services attorney and a social worker. Our group can support your camp in every way possible to keep people housed, fed, happy, healthy, educated, and alive. Please… it’s the apocalypse… we don’t have paper or anything to write with… if you just talk with us… give us five minutes… I know you will see the value in what we can provide to this camp. Please!”

The pantsuit sighed, rolled her eyes, and dismissed Sarah as she had done thousands of others before. With a vague boredom she yelled, “Next” and thought to herself, “Still not one goddamn transformative disrupter in the bunch.”

– Sarah & Jon