Nonprofit Apocalypse Camp – Designated Leader: Fantastic 400

And now, another installment in our search for safe harbor during the nonprofit apocalypse…


It was 20 weeks since Jon and Sarah’s nonprofit survivalist group escaped from the Sorgan Manly-led Corporate Social Responsibility camp. The team was fading. Some were hallucinating, others were considering cannibalism, but vowed that they would only eat those that rejected their tribe: private and corporate foundation officers and financiers. They were miles from those camps, however, and with bloodied hands and feet they continued their momentum together, bonded by a mission of unity, compassion, and a quest for the common good.

Times were grim. For the past five days, in her delusional state, Sarah routinely offered the survivors imaginary expresso from Trevor’s van der Westen Speedster. They accepted every time. At week 21, a few of the survivors considered eating Sarah, confusing her love of bourgeois comfort with Trevor. Of course, the survivalists, weeks removed from Trevor’s camp, never got to enjoy his ironic comeuppance. It seems he was hitting on what he thought was an aspiring Wilhelmina model, but it turned out to be just a garden variety 80 lb. decaying zombie with a sense of fashion.

This time the gate was gorgeous. A wrought iron entryway to a resplendent garden still in bloom – one that curiously had a working fountain that was even fashioned after the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Jon hesitantly drew closer to the gate as if he were steeling himself to approach the Eye of Sauron. Sarah lithely sprinted forward and vaulted herself into the hard iron flourishes with an awkward sprawl. Less than two seconds later she was greeted by Jodi, who jolted Sarah’s exhausted corpse away from the entrance with a garden hoe. After securing an appropriate personal distance between her and Sarah, Jodi quickly turned her frown upside down and exclaimed, “Helloooooo!!! I am soooo tickled that you all have come to visit Fantastic 400. I am your host, Jodi, the first entry point to our superfantastic community. We are a group of 400 passionate women dedicated to making a difference in the apocalypse. We pool our resources so that we can leverage our impact in a highly visible way. Our goal is to welcome transformational survivors that can raise the bar for all of us, and keep us entertained while we throw fabulous parties.”

Jon slumped forward, leaned heavily on his falchion and muttered…”Oh fuck, not again.” Sarah, clutching the garden hoe as if it was a smoked turkey and Manchego panini, exclaimed with delight, “Yes! Whatever! We’re in! We’re in! What are the guidelines?!”

Jodi shifted in her Gucci loafers, threw out her hip, placed her hand squarely in the curve of her torso, and like a deranged cheerleader, preceded to share the Fantastic 400 Rules of Engagement to the plucky group of nonprofit survivalists, desperate for food, shelter and safety. “The first step is submitting a 20-page LOI. We were so inspired by the model employed by our foundation friends, that my sister-from-another-mother Ferme is letting us use her LOI template. How AWW-some! It’s like, you don’t have to do more work, right?!! We’re considering a cross-camp collaborative application process. Patricia at Sorgan Manly is thinking about it. We still haven’t heard from Trevor, though. Anyway, if all 400 Fantastic women decide that your LOI is the Best-of-the-Week, then you get to come INSIDE our gate and share your story during our evening ‘Stare.’ How amazing for you… all 400 Fantastic women will be listening to your stories of tragedy, death, and hopelessness over a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. You like white, right?” For a second Jodi stares in the distance – she drops her head downward and says quietly: “Now… I can help you craft your LOI and storyboard for the evening Stare. Normally, I’d suggest you ask a ten year old to read it first to make sure it’s easy to understand. Were any of you forced to kill a partner, parent or child?”

A trickle of blood pearls down Jon’s sword as he death-grips the hilt: “Jodi. I have three questions for you. How many zombies have you killed? How many people have you…” Sarah interrupts: “Jon! I have been serving dustachino for two weeks, and I’m pretty sure Grace and Steve are going to eat me if we leave this place. And you know how sarcastic Grace gets when she’s hungry. Who wants to be mocked while being eaten?” Sarah pulls a scraggle of loose leaf papers from her backpack: “Jodi – here’s your common application, LOI, or whatever the hell you’re calling it these days. Mind the bloodstains.” Jodi blinks, accepts the papers and lets the group know she’ll be, “Back in a Jiff… or up to 2 to 4 days!!”

16 days later.

Jodi saunters back to the gate: “Helloooo – my superfantastic survivors! Are you ready for some exciting news?!!” The group of nonprofit survivalists can only muster a collective shrug. The gates creak open and Jodi vaults through the threshold exclaiming with arms spread wide in a Jesus Christ pose: “The Fantastic 400 welcome YOU, our latest beleaguered, downtrodden-yet-fierce resisters to share your deepest, darkest moments with 400 FAAANNTAASTIC women. After we hear your story, we will then decide if your trials, your losses, your dreams, your future can transform our community and create the kind of high-impact resilience that makes the apocalypse such a special place!!”

Jon looks at Sarah and whispers, “We go in. We do the fuckin’ Stare. And then we kill them all, right?”

Sarah turns, and with a clarity belying her previous desperation, says, “Fuck yeah… and I got Jodi.”

– Sarah and Jon


A Consideration of Workshops to Attend


Welcome to “Fundraising Day” organized by the Association Dedicated to Happy Development!

Jon: Another year, another ADHD Fundraising Day!

Sarah: Ugh… how many consultants can I duck and cover from this year? My suburban boxing training should get me through at least 6 during the morning keynote.

Jon: Listen, I know. Conferences and seminars have basically become onslaughts of similarly-equipped consultants aggressively looking for work, while the overworked W-2 masses of the fundraising world scamper from one workshop to another desperate for a spark of inspiration. But I hear this year is going to be different. They went for the corporate perspective and brought in some serious talent to lead the workshops.

Sarah: Corporate Talent… OK, Jon, I’m waiting to be led. I just have to get through the 142 page workshop brochure. Did they get fucking Tolstoy to copywrite this thing? We’re only here until 3!

Jon: No, I think they hired a consultant. I’m just thrilled to be here now that the statute of limitations has expired from when I was thrown out five years ago.

Sarah: Well, Jon, did you really have to call-out the presenter from the City Museum about using wrong stats in his presentation?

Jon: How was I supposed to know he was the Co-Chair of ADHD Fundraising Day? Besides, did they really need to call-in two guys from Halliburton to remove me?

Sarah: You were screaming, “Unhand Jon. Nobody touches Jon.”

Jon: You know I go all third person when I’m angry. Anyway, have you found any cool workshops featuring titans in their field?

Sarah: Sure – I think this one’s for you.

Oscar Martinez, CEO of Unified Airlines
“Effective Chokeholds & Avoiding a PR Meltdown”

The social service industry is rife with customers that “just don’t get it;” can’t be bought with $42, a forced eviction and public humiliation; and, worse, it’s our fault when we protect our own, when these deviants won’t just LEAVE. In this session, customer service representatives will learn effective and silent chokeholds that will temporarily (in 99.2% of all cases — death occurs only in .08%) incapacitate most customers and avoid a very public, loud and visual display of outward aggression. Session II will explore techniques for hiding and disposing of bodies temporarily and/or when death occurs. 

Jon: Hmmm, Session II intrigues me, but I’ll pass. See anything you’re interested in?

Sarah: I’m having some motivation issues with my Development team. I’ve tried trivia games, trophies, baked goods, even Monday morning bagels cut in two.

Jon: Sarah, you know that doesn’t work. You have to cut the bagels in foursies.

Sarah: How about this…

Trevor Imadick, CEO, Tuber Ride Hailing Service
“The Basics of Employee Motivation”

We work hard. We should play hard. And there’s no better way to play hard than lining up your hottest staffers, rating them on a 1 to 10 scale, passing around the Macallan 40 year old single malt scotch, and letting your senior management have a go. Know what I mean? If that’s not your speed, then what about loosening up the corporate culture and having an open-door policy on male-female groping and sexy language. Hell, if the President can do it, I say, we should go all in. Amirite? If you’re looking for some other form of employee motivation, then you must be gay.

Jon: Wow. Just, wow. You sure about that one? Isn’t it a tad misogynistic and homophobic?

Sarah: I caught that but figured he might be serving Macallan, and I’ll need that extra edge to fight off the late afternoon consultants.

Jon: Okay. I’ll pass. Besides, I’m thinking I can really use some tips on how to maximize revenue. My nonprofit is really being hit hard by the Federal budget cuts.

Sarah: Then how about this workshop?

Marty Suckli, Former CEO Tourin Big Pharma
“How to Make More Money, Bitches!”

Yeah, suckers. That’s what I’m talking about. I be ridding dirty in my Rolls all because of one patented secret money making system… raise the price bitches! That’s all you need to do. Say you got a Gala coming up and the tickets cost $300. Just raise the price 5,600%. Charge ’em $16,800 a ticket. Boom. What are them society-B’s gonna’ do? They know all their friends are gonna’ go… hell, they’ll die if they don’t. Think of all the money you’ll make implementing my system. You’re welcome.

Jon: Interesting. But we both know that raising a ticket price by even $100 actually changes the dynamic of who does/does not attend and that our society “friends” are actually just that – friends – who have many other charitable options and can easily choose another event. The for-profit model does not, and has never, applied to fundraising.

Sarah: Well, Jon, if you’re not willing to put a donor in a chokehold, endorse sexual harassment policies, or bilk your donors for grossly obscene ticket prices, then I can only assume you are one of those “do-gooder” executive directors and fundraisers that the keynote speaker, Johnny LaRoose, of the National Association of Nonprofit Administrative State Dismantlers wants to burn at the stake for the grand finale at 2:55. I hear he’s giving out torches.

Jon: Well, ADHD has always prided themselves as being inclusive and edgey.

Sarah: Okay then, maybe we skip the keynote, but I’ve got one more consideration.

Carry Tollhouse, Former SVP, Bells Embargo Bank
“Just Make Shit Up”

At Bells Embargo Bank, we pride ourselves on our integrity, customer service, and ability to generate a profit for our shareholders. Those three tenets have been at the core of everything we do since our founding more than 150 years ago. But if we had to prioritize those three tenets, then of course, making oodles of cash is always going to win out. And the fastest way to make money is to just make shit up. You know, randomly create 42,000 new accounts and assign them to your customers. In this workshop, I’ll show you how this system translates to the nonprofit world. You’ll learn how to make up grant outcomes for foundation funders; how to fake net revenue numbers and report these budgets to your Board of Directors with a straight face; and, of course, how to make up LYBUNT numbers from your Annual Appeal that make you look like a winner.

Jon: I’m beginning to think ADHD Fundraising Day was a mistake.

Sarah: Careful, Jon. Don’t say it too loudly. I think I see a couple of Halliburton goons in the corner with some lighter fluid and matches.

– Jon and Sarah

It’s all about the crumbs


It’s April. Yay! For many, that means flowers blooming, birds chirping, warmer weather, and generally the warm and fuzzies.


For battle-hardened nonprofit warriors, it means Gala season. Yes, the existential soul-crushing culmination of hundreds of hours of pain-staking detail coupled with hardcore flesh pressing and creative messaging all to raise a fistful of dollars – well, that is, once we pay the bill for the damask table runners that our event co-chair insisted “we had to have.”

Galas are like planning a wedding, except that Galas have been filtered through Walter White’s Meth. Not only do you have to manage 500 guests, in various states of inebriation, but there’s also a journal, an auction, a fund-a-need, a video, half a dozen speeches, several honorees, awards, “unique” entertainment (try belly dancers if your event theme happens to be “Moroccan Nights”) and, of course, goodie bags. Somehow we in the nonprofit sector have unilaterally decided that everybody needs more useless shit to clutter up their junk draw at home. And you thought picking the cake at your wedding was hard.

Depending upon the size of, and involvement of, your volunteer Gala committee, these myriad details might take your average plucky Development professional a few days or weeks to resolve. But if you are cursed by a Slytherin alumna and saddled with a committee “in name only,” then your best hope is to not suffer extreme bodily harm as you juggle these flaming balls. If you screw up just one detail, you’ll be sure to hear about it from your guests, your Board of Directors, and of course your Executive Director. At least after a wedding, you get to go on a honeymoon where you can easily dodge your Aunt Tilly’s phone calls complaining about being too close to the speakers.

For many of us, the worst part of Galas is table seating, or as it’s been affectionately called, “THE FUCKING SHIT SHOW OF EPIC PROPORTIONS.”

First off, when you start to assign people to tables, there’s always drama, especially with event committee members. “You can’t sit Jane with Suzy… she had an affair with Suzy’s landscaper’s cousin’s roommate last year… there’s bad blood.”

We are also well accustomed to the social-anxiety hysteria created when someone isn’t surrounded with every last one of their friends in just the right way. This leads to a complicated, puzzled seating death-match of who gets bounced, who stays, who is closest, who is farthest, whose chair gets pushed against the column, and the like. Once the pieces are aligned, there is no telling what kind of feverish, maddened fallout the development professional may receive from the originating guest. *shiver*

There’s the sociopathic ghosting employed by patrons purchasing “Super Tables” or whatever euphemism du jour you want to employ for a “really expensive table.” You rarely get the guest list. That’s a menial detail left for Development professionals to trail (we are professional pests after all). So we call like some innocent waif scampering down a sylvan path humming “tra la la,” only to be ghosted again, and again, and again, before we find out the night of the Gala that said patron is only using six tickets. “Be sure to remove the extra seats, will you… we don’t want people to see empty chairs.”

Unfortunately, it’s usually too late to fill those tables with the yahoos (not the search engine) that call two hours before the Gala to purchase tickets. They’re usually the ones that insist on “good seats” and demand extraordinary recognition impossible to generate so late in the game. “What do you mean you can’t print my name in your Journal?”

Of course, all of these quirks that give development professionals acute bouts of irritable bowel syndrome are not unique. Some people just want what they want and complain if they don’t get it. Galas are just the amplified version of that.

Well, here’s why the narcissistic behavior of a few is particularly stinging and demotivating to all the nonprofit warriors out there. While some people have the time to fixate on “getting exactly what they want, when they want it,” 95% of the nonprofit world lives the real-life version of Oskar Schindler’s “This Watch” speech. Every dollar spent on a damask runner… every seat we can’t fill… every minute we waste reprinting name tags… we could have been feeding another hungry child, or giving shelter to another family after a disaster, or comforting another frail senior citizen with dementia.

In our world, we work in Spartan conditions not because we really like Gerard Butler movies, but because every second matters… every dollar matters… every crumb matters.

We work in offices using recycled desks with coffee stains so embedded they go back to the Johnson Administration. Many of us can’t even afford coffee for our make-shift kitchenettes with 20-year-old microwaves the size of a Mini Cooper. And those of us who can are not buying hand-picked, fair-trade organic Sumatran whole-beans… it’s Costco bitches!

Jon worked someplace once where he had to bring in his own stamps if he wanted to mail a grant application. Sarah worked someplace where “Employees of the Month” were awarded with the highly sought after prize of getting to clean the office bathrooms. And there was much rejoicing when new cleaning supplies arrived. Hell, just ask Siri if teachers have to purchase their own classroom supplies. We don’t have expense accounts. We don’t get to order meals-in on the company card if we work past 7pm.

We just kind of wish the next time a guest felt the urge to go all Scarface on some well-meaning, development professional because he or she had the unmitigated gall to seat her in the second row of tables instead of the first, that some 3rd party white knight would ride in on a charger and ask: Is it really important? 

Because after all, we’re supposed to be in this together. And if we’re really honest about Gala math, we (and our guests) would understand that the proceeds (after all said items above sanctified as “necessary” yet only contribute to driving down our gross earnings) actually won’t get us all that far. Gala math is no different than the math we use everyday in our own lives and in the corporate world. So, if it’s not about the relatively small amounts of money that most nonprofits average from their event, then it’s about something else.

It’s about the larger community of supporters coming together in solidarity about a cause. It’s meant to be a lasting bond, one that flows into a larger relationship with an organization and, hopefully, a long-term commitment to their mission.

Hmmm… that’s pretty much the same reason why you go to a wedding. Last we checked, it’s in bad taste to firebrand the bride or groom the day before or even the day after her/his big day. Let’s not do it to the charities we’ve come to love and respect.

– Jon and Sarah


Finding Nemo… or an Honoree

Those of us in the nonprofit world know that gala season is upon us, and with it, hope springing anew for buckets of cash to sustain our paltry efforts to make the world a better place. The common misconception by those with real jobs (i.e., anything but what we have chosen to do for a living) is that we get to “chill” after the event. Kick back, enjoy a tall one or three (who are we kidding, more like six), and generally coast until approximately six weeks before next year’s gala. Isn’t that how it works?

Us war-weary nonprofit veterans know that once gala ends, the search for next year’s honoree begins. It’s a yearly tradition among the gala throwing nonprofit crowd that involves at least 3-6 months of prep and research, meetings, emails, hair pulling (usually not our own), bad ideas, wasted energy, cringing, eye rolling, groaning, the occasional flogging, and no shortage of regret.

The search always begins in earnest because, most likely, there are few people worth honoring that haven’t already been honored by at least five other organizations and asked by at least 20 more. If we could have one sacrificial Mayan wish during this spring gala season and beyond (OK… really if we’re talking about events, we’d have at least 20) it’s this: May the nonprofit community come together in harmony, unity and downright mutiny and force the “Honoree Model” of event planning to swan dive off of Captain Jack Sparrow’s plank into shark infested waters.

It starts with an equation. A master set of identifiers that we use to torture ourselves, and our teams, into thinking that this unreasonable alliance of characteristics can be demonstrated by anyone living, let alone anyone within our social/relationship network and thereby remotely attainable. In more clear terms, picking an honoree starts with an equation designed by Pinhead, whose only goal is to create the lament configuration, steal souls and force you to cringe, look away and generally question why you chose Hellraiser on Netflix for your first date. Surely a Jane Austen adaptation would have been more appropriate.

For safety purposes, we recommend that after you read the following equation, be sure to show it to another nonprofit professional within 7 days, lest the ghosts of Leona Helmsley and her pampered pooches emerge from your smart phone and drag your soul into the well-ish caverns of her Greenwich Mansion. We’re going with The Ring theory on this one.

So, here’s the equation…

Mission Fit + Past philanthropy + Accomplishments + Reasonably “well-known” and therefore can attract new audiences + Propensity for “Making the World a Better Place” MULTIPLIED BY  Name recognition/cache in the community Address book of Celebs, Wealthy Friends and Corporate/Media connections DIVIDED BY # of times said honoree has already been an honoree (i.e., hint, 42 is too many) + Overestimating their potential philanthropic contribution to the organization (i.e., just because said honoree gave $100k to the local University that her entire family attended, doesn’t mean she’s going to give that amount to your tiny childcare center) + The costs associated with paying for the honoree’s entourage (i.e., you’re going to pay for a hotel suite for his Aunt Tilly flying in from Saskatchewan to see her favorite nephew being honored) + Lack of Media/Celebrity interest in the honoree (i.e., sorry, nobody cares that the potential honoree wrote a haiku collection 37 years ago about cheese) + Honoree’s lack of mission fit (i.e., umm, maybe our Anti-Defamation non-profit shouldn’t be  honoring someone that’s being sued for discrimination) + Honoree’s minimal contribution to “Making The World A Better Place” (i.e., she’s a narcissistic jackass with a propensity for throwing her shoes at the hired help while screaming, “Don’t you know who I am!”) + Honoree’s potential for shenanigans at the event (i.e., last time he was honored, he hijacked the mic for 90 minutes to regale the crowd with the minutia of financial practices in post-colonial America) + Assorted X Factors (i.e., asking for a glass carriage ride to the event, yellow peeps in the dressing room, a 10-top table for the honoree’s rescue dogs, etc.).

Phew. Exhausting, isn’t it?  All that math just to get to some esoteric sigma that’s bullshit anyway because, well, let’s face it, the Board President is still going to blurt out publicly in the Event Planning meeting that she wants you to cold call Adele and ask her to be this year’s honoree. Because. Rich. Famous. She likes her music.

So, plucky nonprofit warriors you have your mission which begins right after your upcoming gala ends. We know, you’re unreasonably busy with unreasonable tasks, so you don’t have much time. But we challenge you to these two very important and very reasonable tasks:

1) Find a nonprofit buddy and share the love, but really, make sure they read the equation; and

2) Pick up the nearest sword and keep advancing on the deck. Making the “Honorees Model” Walk the Plank is just the first of many fine sacrifices we can make to advance the field.

– Sarah and Jon