The Latte


The Soy Chai Latte was warming, welcoming, like a favorite blanket that’s been tucked away all summer finally getting use on a crisp fall evening. It was a celebratory treat during what felt like a year without anything to celebrate. If we all wear two faces – our private, personal side, and our work side — truth be told, both of his faces were swollen and sullen. That’s what a year of 70+ hour work weeks coupled with the loss of multiple family members and chronic health issues — no doubt exacerbated by an unsustainable work schedule – did to a person. That, and of course, the constant, unrelenting abuse at the hands of a superior in name only. Someone overcompensating for a general lack of knowledge about her job and the nonprofit industry as a whole, with a piercing tongue and a propensity for threats both overt and slight.

But this morning was different. There was a jump in his step that belied the fact that he didn’t get home until 3am. Gala was over, and it was a huge success.

It wasn’t a triumph just because many of the four hundred guests in attendance said so throughout the event. Nor was it the myriad logistics that flowed seamlessly, effortlessly. No, those were things that only Development people notice but go unattended by the masses unless something goes wrong — and nothing went wrong.  Nor was it the speakers, each and every one adhering to the carefully crafted, strategic message he drafted for them, even the volunteer auctioneer sorely lacking in both personality and a propensity for memorizing lines. And it wasn’t the video that he spent days storyboarding, filming, and editing for the sole purpose of engendering enthusiasm long since dormant – although the room did rise in solidarity to applaud.

He wasn’t fool enough to celebrate those little details as a success. He knew the only thing that mattered to his Executive Director was profit. She had transitioned to the nonprofit world — not by her own choosing of course — after a career on Wall Street. In that area, at least, he now had currency in her eyes. After all, a 60% increase in net revenue is rarefied air. Especially when the budget only called for 9%. At long last he had reason to swagger, something to deflect his Executive Director’s abuse and prove that his fundraising ideas weren’t “stupid,” and that in fact, he wasn’t an “idiot” or a “liar” or a “third grader.” And moreover, that donations don’t just “come in” without someone at the wheel. It takes strategic planning, hard work, passionate messaging, and continued cultivation to build meaningful relationships with contributors. That’s why sponsorships, journal ads, attendees and auction purchases were all up… dramatically.

He allowed himself the Latte as a treat for a job well done, a year in the making.

He didn’t realize that it was to become a bracing draught against a new and tenacious onslaught.

As he stepped off the elevator and walked down the dark hallway toward his office, the first thing he noticed was that her light was on. It was curious, not because it was the morning after Gala and everyone, surely, was going to come in late. Rather, it was curious because he was always the first one in, while she was allergic to starting her day prior to 10am. Still, he was determined to ride his “runner’s high” from the night before. He fancied himself the Flash, and that today, of all days, he could speed by her office without nary a trace but a blur of light.

Instead, he chose to pop his head in through her doorway and offer his customary “Morning” as he continued down the hallway. It was a personal fuck-you he cultivated during the year as if to say, “It’s certainly not ‘good’ to see you” and “I’m not stopping to chat.”

“Jon, get in here!”

Stopping dead in his tracks, he turned with the precision of an automaton, and said, “I’m sorry, what?”

“You heard me. NOW!”

“Is something wrong?”

Although her eyes remained fixed on her desk, he knew her entire soul, if she possessed one, was targeting him for some surgical vivisection.

“Yes there’s something wrong. What the hell was that last night? That was a disaster. It was the single worst event I’ve ever been to. Your entire department is a waste of money. You should be ashamed to call yourself whatever the hell it is you call yourself. ”

Immediately on the defensive, and questioning the size of the Latte and the choice of beverage entirely, all Jon could do was respond with incredulity, “You’re kidding right? What disaster? That was the most successful Gala this organization has ever had. It raised…”

In typical fashion, she cut him off mid-sentence, ignored his response, and pressed her point with the pressure of a vise, or an alligator’s maw.

“Ben said he couldn’t get a bottle of red at the end of the night. Stephen, who was sitting at my table, had to wait 5 minutes — FIVE WHOLE MINUTES — to get a steak that was actually edible and not raw. There was a light that kept flickering in the back of the ballroom that distracted me when I was giving my speech. And only half the room gave during the Fund-a-Need. Why didn’t more people contribute? Every single person should have made a donation. Every. One. Those things are all your fault Jon. Yours. What are you stupid? How could you let this happen? It’s like you just don’t care. Like you don’t even want to be here.”

The celebration, the swagger, the reasons for confidence slipped away just as quickly as the foam on his Latte.

He debated retorting each and every point… Ben’s a drunk with two DWIs, do we really need to give him more alcohol right before he gets in his car… Stephen’s a millionaire and hasn’t even paid for his fuckin’ ticket and I’m supposed to care about his steak… What are you a cat, easily distracted by a flashlight 100′ away… Maybe if you let me hire a professional auctioneer with a personality instead of your next door neighbor with a social anxiety disorder, more people might have felt compelled to contribute… oh, and only half the room contributed because they were fucking couples you mathematically-challenged Asshat.

Instead, he led with the only defense he was allowed as a twenty-year Development professional, inculcated to please and to take the blame for everything.

“I’m sorry. But. But. The revenue is up 60% from last year. Isn’t that what you wanted? Isn’t that all that matters?”

“You should have raised it 70% Jon. There will be consequences for this. You know what I mean right? YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. And you can forget taking off this Friday. That’s out. You’ve got to find more money. Now shut up, and get it done.”

As he skulked back to his office, he stopped by the kitchen and texted his wife that he was sorry, but that he wasn’t going to be able to go to her friend’s beach house this weekend as they planned.

Then, he dumped the rest of the Latte down the drain.

– 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


Squish, just like grape

berry grape in a wine puddleThree of the more eloquent philosophers of the past few centuries — Mr. Miyagi, John Mellancamp and Alexander Hamilton (if you take Lin Manuel-Miranda’s dialog literally) — all cautioned against sitting on your biscuit and being unwilling to risk it. And while the first one employed the imagery of grapes and a road while extolling his lesson to a young Daniel-san, the latter two were more succinct in their message — “Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

It’s a simple-enough message, but then, every truly profound exaltation has its roots in the ordinary.  Indeed, that is why they are so moving. Because they were right in front of us the entire time.  Heck, it took an apple falling out of a tree to point out the obvious — Duh, shit falls DOWN for a reason.

So, if it’s an obvious philosophical tenet, then why is it so hard for many of us to stand for something? You know, saddle up, and put our big boy or girl pants on and generally do something to make the world a better place regardless of our own self-interest or gratification.

Don’t tell me it’s because we have different visions on how to achieve that…different definitions of a better place. There are some debates that are complicated; for instance, there are significant variations in the public school vs. charter school debate or government’s role in helping the poor versus private support. However, surely there’s something that someone can get on board with, such as Cancer. There’s a critical mass of people that want Cancer around or don’t feel too strongly about abused puppies or elder care – really?

It’s hard to believe, but there is a hardened group in our society that just refuse to stand for anything. In fact, according to highly reputable sources like Giving USA and The Chronicle of Philanthropy – not fake news sites popular on Reddit – somewhere between 15% – 35% of Americans just don’t give a shit about charity. They don’t donate money or volunteer their time.

When we’re asked what we do by those not “in the know,” we usually respond that we’re professional “ass-kissers” or “nags” depending upon our disposition, coffee intake, or type of adult beverage nearby.  What we usually don’t explain is the constant pressure and need to generate resources for an organization so that its staff can actually do the work associated with saving the world. A better analogy is that fundraisers are living the demented real-world version of Liza and Henry’s nursery rhyme where no matter what they do, they just can’t seem to fill that pesky bucket because it has a hole in it. Every day we have to bring in new gifts, inspire passion, and cultivate new friends or our organization withers and dies.

This endless cycle hastens burn out. We’re not tired from hard work, stress, or unattainable expectations. We’re burnt out because of the aforementioned 15% – 35% of this world that doesn’t give a shit. And we’re not talking about blowing us off after one random voicemail message. We’re talking about the typical nonprofit Board Member – people who are SUPPOSED TO GET IT but don’t make meaningful gifts because they “conveniently” missed a deadline that a dedicated development director called to remind them about five times, emailed four times, and mailed twice. Jon even ran up to a rooftop once and built a make-shift Bat-Signal using his hands to mime his nonprofit’s logo to try and get a board member’s attention. Sorry, no one is that busy.

Before you dismiss the 15% – 35% as being poor individuals without disposable income or free time, stop, collaborate and listen to the stats (great, now we’re both humming Vanilla Ice). Households with incomes below $20,000 give the most to charity of any group as a percentage of income (somewhere between 5% – 6%). So, it ain’t that.

Maybe those hardened souls just don’t care about humanity. Sociologists will tell you that 2% of any population exhibits sociopathic tendencies. How else can you explain network TV executives inflicting Mama June and Honey Boo Boo on us?

And there is also the fact that a critical mass of people just have fucked-up belief systems… things that no one with an IQ above 70 would embrace. For example, you may not know that 3% of Americans (which coincidentally happens to be the percentage of the population with a 70 IQ or lower) believe that Lizard Aliens have secretly taken human form and replaced every world leader in a long-con to prepare our species for domination. And while that may sound eerily like the plot to a very bad 80s mini-series starring Lori Singer’s older brother (his other famous starring role included dressing-up in a loin cloth and carrying around trained ferrets in a satchel) you can Google our claim about the Lizard Aliens to see that its not hyperbole — after all, Jon’s mother told him a million times never to exaggerate.

2% and 3% are huge numbers that translate into tens of millions of people, but that’s just a fraction of what we’re talking about. Those of us who’ve hawked our wares as veteran fundraisers know that it’s 11 times more time consuming and expensive to bring in a new gift than it is to cultivate an increased gift–and that’s to “prospects.” Imagine how difficult it must be to enlighten and engage the 15% – 35% that just don’t give a shit.

So, here’s the thing folks: whether it’s puppies, frail seniors or cancer survivors – there’s something, somewhere that you give a shit about. Well, those causes need fundraisers to frolic down the road and fill our dainty little buckets, hole or no hole, to help them save the world.

You can join us, chip in, lend a hand, return a call, make a difference, and generally “Earn it” as Tom Hanks said to Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan. Or, you can continue to be noncommittal, unattainable, entrenched Asshats with a propensity for ghosting people that are just trying to do the right thing.

Just don’t squish us, like a grape. It makes a mess, and you’ll never be able to get the stain out of your clothes… or your soul for that matter.

– Jon and Sarah


Nonprofit Apocalypse Camp – Designated Leader: Corporate Social Responsibility Officer

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

Enjoy Your Drinks

Forced into self-reflection and existential contemplation in a post-apocalyptic landscape, our plucky band of nonprofit survivors soldier on for weeks after they were unceremoniously dismissed by Finance-Guy, Trevor, for not providing any ROI. Battered by the elements; sustained by nothing more than crumbs scavenged along the way; Jon and Sarah begin to submit to the overwhelming fatalism of their trudge.

One by one, their numbers dwindled. First, it was the social worker, who stopped to help a mother and child, only to realize all too late that they were zombies intent on feeding. The land conservationist – who was always more comfortable around trees than people – was swarmed by ravenous creatures drawn to his screams of joy upon finding a Shaggy Bark Hickory amongst a copse of Norway Pines. “Oh, happy day!” was the last they heard as he was swallowed by the horde. But still, they trudged. They started to hallucinate, partly from hunger and dehydration, and partly from the monotony of what life had become. Sarah was convinced a squirrel was mocking her choice of camouflage parachute pants. Jon kept seeing a shadowy wraith each morning upon waking. He was sure it was either someone from his past warning him of impending danger or the Grim Reaper offering a final invitation of respite on the other side.

After the group shared a saltine cracker for breakfast, they staked out in single-file through the last of the woods, only to come upon a parking lot of great expanse, ringing a 20-story building a half-mile in the distance. From there, Sarah could recognize the massive placard adorning the top four floors of the building: Sorgan Manly.

“Fuuuck….it’s their corporate headquarters,” Sarah exclaimed defeated, dejected. “For five years, I tried to get program underwriting from their Corporate Social Responsibility representative. I met her for coffee six times. We talked on the phone 28 times. Each grant was for $5,000. She wouldn’t allow me to ask for more. She said I wasn’t worth more, and, in fact, I was asking for one of the highest grants Sorgan Manly had to offer. She was murder.”

“We have to check it out, Sarah. We’re almost spent. Allie keeps saying ‘It’s not that I’m weak; it’s that I’m not strong,’ and Kelly’s been babbling incoherently about a farm and mustard greens for days,” pleaded Jon.

The group carefully skulked toward the front entrance of enormous, reinforced, revolving glass doors opening into a cavernous marbled hallway with Sorgan Manly etched into each side of the lobby. They were surprised by the lack of confrontation or conflagration. Once inside the lobby, a late 50-something year old women in a black-and-white Karl Lagerfeld business suit walked out from around the corner.

“Patricia, oh my god, hi! I should have expected you’d survive the apocalypse. It’s Sarah. We met two years ago when…”

“I know who you are, Sarah. You were the one that just didn’t get it,” said the Sorgan Manly Corporate Social Responsibility officer. “We only fund programs that get it.”

Jon, nonplussed by the coldness of their reunion, interjected, “I know we’re intruding on your time as well as Sorgan Manly property, but we’re desperate. It’s been months since the nonprofit apocalypse, and our band of survivors are looking for a safe haven. Might your company welcome us? We have a lot to offer and we don’t need much. We’ve made do with a saltine cracker a day. And that’s been split 23 ways. We know how to keep low overhead!”

“A saltine? My god man. We can do better than that here. Come with me.”

Sarah and Jon looked at each other in abject disbelief and contemplated the possibility that this may, in fact, be a safe place for their group to ride out the end-of-nonprofit-days. The group followed Patricia around a corner into a large cafeteria, with dozens of 20-year-olds running around in chaotic fashion. Most had reams of paper in tow. Some were carrying styrofoam food containers. More than one was carrying a cardboard tray with cups of lattes and other assorted pretentious beverages. They all seemed to be under the Svengali-like control of a handful of men seated behind mahogany desks in corner, glass enclosed offices.

“Do you want something to eat? Drink? One of our interns can get you something,” offered the Sorgan Manly representative.

Sarah stammered, “In… wait, what? Interns?”

“Yes,” replied Patricia. “We have a very competitive yet progressive program here. It’s a fantastic learning experience, which of course, will lead to great job opportunities in the future for those that are team players and follow the Sorgan Manly way. Our interns are only required to work 18 hours a day.”

“18 hours… a… day? I thought Silverman Sacks capped them at 17,” said Jon, who felt like the initial welcome was about to wear out.

SILVERMAN!!! You think we care about anything Silverman does!?!Silverman Sacks has an intern/zombie turnover rate of 96%; we are proud of our low turnover rate of 89%, which dramatically increases our human rate of highly accomplished Portland coffee brewing techniques!”

Sarah sensed the welcome was about to end. She feared Jon’s response to the situation: a sharp falchion and a swift hand. “I think what Jon was trying to say was that clearly an 18 hour workday will enable Sorgan Manly to continue its, um, low intern/zombie turnover rate for continued and longterm post apocalyptic dominance in the free labor market. I mean…Wow. It’s amazing. You’re amazing. This place is amazing. We would be speechless if we weren’t already speaking. We just don’t know what the hell is going on in the most wonderful way, but, we want in.  How can we join your camp, ermm, company? How can we become part of the Sorgan Manly team?”

“Oh, so now you get it, Sarah. Good. Good. It took you long enough. Not enough of you nonprofit people get it. Well, if you’re serious about being a part of the team, then I’ll take you to meet our Chief Branding Officer.” Patricia, without delay, stepped lively down a hallway.

“Branding?” Jon exclaimed as the group scurried to keep up. “Are you fucking kid…” Jon stopped himself mid-sentence. He could feel Sarah’s icy gaze and sensed his group’s desperate longing to grab onto any life preserver, particularly one that was greeted by really excellent coffee every morning. “Sure, right, branding, that would be great. We’d be happy to wear Sorgan Manly T-shirts or fly banners or whatever.”

“Oh, deary. We prefer a more permanent commitment to our team,” said Patricia as they turned another corner and were greeted by the warmth of a wood-fired kiln heating a red-hot iron featuring the Sorgan Manly logo.

Sarah turned to Jon and stated simply: “Jon, why are they all fucking crazy?”

“I don’t know Sarah, but let’s make sure to grab a couple of lattes as we run out of here.”

– Sarah and Jon

Nonprofit Apocalypse Camp – Designated Leader: Finance Guy

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


MercedesOur plucky band of nonprofit survivalists, having been recently turned away from the false Sanctuary that was run by a Foundation officer, happen upon a razor wire-topped stone wall shielding an old building besides a woody copse of trees. Tentative after their last encounter with “civilization,” Jon takes the lead, with his falchion twirling in hand like a nervous lover.

Suddenly a voice booms out from behind the wall, “Welcome Bro, I’m Trevor.” Sarah stops suddenly and casts her gaze just to the left of what must be the entry gate. There, a late 20-something man, perfectly coiffed and groomed, stands to attention in a Ralph Lauren Black Label pinstripe suit. He carries no weapon or associated accoutrement… just a highball glass with an amber-colored liquid, neat. Behind him, the nonprofit survivalists can discern a hodge-podge of human rabble, adorned with little more then rags, tending to a shiny car of some sort.

“Is that a Mercedes S-Class behind you?”  Jon proffers, trying to hide his incredulity.

“Sure is,” the well-dressed man responded. “How else do you lead but by inspiring greatness in people? I mean look at them. They’re all lazy. Half of them don’t even have the drive to put on a Brooks Brother, forget a Ralph Lauren. It’s my job to show them that if you work hard, meet benchmarks, and embrace accountability, then the sky’s the limit. That’s how I got to be the boss… by playing the boss. It’s all about appearance you know? And it’s all mental discipline. And it’s 90% sheer determination. Oh, and it’s also 50% who you know. That’s how I got to be in charge. These desperate lazy fucks saw my inherent qualities, my success, and handed everything over to me. After all, they knew if I got all this shit, then I must know how to work hard. ”

“Um, wait, work hard? It sure looks like you’re the one enjoying a Scotch while they’re breaking their asses,” Sarah blurted out before Jon could interject a more measured response. “I think what my esteemed cohort means is that it doesn’t seem to be an equitable distribution of labor… after all this is the apocalypse. Shouldn’t everyone be pitching in, sharing the load?”

“Pitch in? Do you even know who I am? Dude, I graduated Yale second in my class. Third generation. I started my own boutique hedge fund in Greenwich and was managing $7 billion in assets by the time I was 27. I know how to work hard. Damn, I work like 18 hours a day. Like yesterday for that matter. I got up at 6am, hit the gym to work out next to a couple of hotties. Got some digits, yea, whatever. Grabbed my double expresso and rolled into my office at 8am. Worked the phones all morning. Went to lunch with Taylor and Austin to discuss that IPO launch and the percentage split after the derivatives are swapped. Back to the office to work the phones. Left at 5pm to hit a strip club and talk business with the guys from Blackrock. Four lapdances and two hits off the top of the toilet later with those jackasses, and WHAM, $25 million being wired into our account. That’s how I roll bitches. Making it rain.”

“You have an expresso maker?” Sarah said lovingly, longingly, apparently missing the rest of Trevor’s improbable screed. It had been months since she indulged in that particular addiction, since before the apocalypse, when she earned a decent salary at the nonprofit she worked at. Usually she grabbed a cup to go from the mom and pop coffee shop next to the train station on her way into the City each day… not of course, from the Starbucks by her house… she wasn’t a pretentious fraud with no morals after all.

“Yea, babe, I used my Chase Sapphire Black Card. Wanna’ check it out? It’s in my penthouse apartment overlooking the park.”

Jon, clearly unimpressed, and a bit perturbed by the outward misogyny, turned the conversation back toward the issue at hand… surviving the apocalypse. “Ok, you’re clearly someone of great renown. We get that. Can you offer sanctuary to our plucky band of nonprofit survivalists? We’ve got nurses, teachers, musicians, farmers, engineers, you name it. They’re all willing to work hard to build a community… to build a better life.”

“Sorry Bro. No can do.”

“WHY!?!” Sarah screams, partly from anger, and partly from the prolonged hunger associated with having to ration a bagel cut in foursies across as many days.

“Because, sweetie, there’s no ROI.”

– Jon and Sarah

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


Micromanagement… the Hobgoblin of Asshats Everywhere

platoandsocratesPsychologists, bartenders, and moms everywhere will tell you that the first thing to remember when working for a Micromanager is that “It’s not you, it’s them.” And while George Costanza once argued that, “It’s not you, it’s me,” generally the professionals are right.

A Micromanager is engaging in what we will refer to throughout this blog as “Asshat” behavior. It’s not necessarily a unique word. In fact, its roots can be traced back more than 2,500 years to a passage written by Plato where he describes why his teacher, Socrates, made him stack his teaching scrolls each day in a perfectly straight line from largest to smallest, sub-categorized by the type of cow stomach used to create the parchment and with the leather strap used to tie the scroll pointing to the east. Of course, back then, Plato used the phrase “Rectus Pileus” but everyone knew what he was trying to say.

We’ve met a few Micromanaging Asshats in our day.  And our fellow abused colleagues in this business have cried us a river (apologies to Justin Timberlake) about their stories of scroll stacking over the occasional bourbon.

  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that insisted that every sentence in a 12 page newsletter have only one space after the period instead of two or she wouldn’t allow it to go to the printer.
  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that made someone take the celebratory bagels being served to the staff the day after a highly successful Gala and cut them in “foursies” instead of “twosies.”
  • There’s the Micromanaging Asshat that refused to sign any grant proposal that went out without a paper clip, fat part outward, placed precisely in the center of the cover letter affixed to the necessary attachments.
  • Oh, and there’s that Micromanaging Asshat that demanded to carefully read and edit the emails her 20+ year Development Director sent to donors… daily.

Sadly, these are all true stories, and we could drone on, but we’re relatively sure that by now you, our most esteemed readers, have 42 examples of Micromanaging Asshat behavior running through your head like a Rachel Platten song. Sorry. We didn’t really mean to dredge up your long-suppressed work PTSD or “Fight Song” for that matter. But as they say, “If you can name a problem…”

You see, these Asshats are micromanaging for three reasons, and only three reasons. Well, there’s probably more than three, but our Psychologist is out of town, our regular bartender finally got a role as an understudy in “Hamilton,” and mom, well, let’s not go there… there’s still some drama leftover from the holidays.

  • They’re transferring what their parents did to them as a child, as in… “Billy, first you eat your peas, then you eat your mashed potatoes, and then you eat your chicken. And remember, your food should never touch. Oh, and I want a report on the kitchen counter about dinner’s transit time through your colon.”
  • They are nothing more than a vessel for a backwards, frightened-of-change, corporate culture that thinks everyone is an idiot and needs to be flogged daily until morale improves. Of course, leadership usually ends up bemoaning that which Homer Simpson said in The Simpson Movie, “Why does everything I whip leave me?”
  • Or, they are a straight-up, cards-on-the-table, balls-in-the-air, fraud to the Nth degree. And, because they can’t do their job with even a modicum of professionalism, as a defense mechanism, they fixate on what you’re doing so that they feel a sense of power. As an added bonus, they usually pick up a thing or two from you about what they’re supposed to be doing every day. Yay! You should feel proud. Cutting those bagels in foursies actually teaches them how to do their job… well, the job they’re actually qualified for. Bagel cutter. Whoo hoo!

So, our esteemed nonprofit brethren who’ve been forced to endure the real life version of a Lindsay Lohan/Rachel McAdams/Lacey Chabert movie… take a deep breath, count to ten, and feel free to utter the word “Asshat” the next time a Micromanager asks you to change the color of the columns in your LYBUNT Report created in Excel to a pale shade of mauve five minutes before your Development Committee meeting.

It’s them, not you.

– Jon

Seize that Man!

0d6db1869c3722cdef228785bb64b55aThere’s a scene in Season 1 of HBO’s Games of Thrones – or for the ultra-cool types that actually read all 42,000 pages associated with A Song of Fire and Ice, it’s in Book 1 – where Catelyn Stark (nee Tully), surreptitiously travelling with only one guard, confronts Tyrion Lannister, the primary suspect behind her son’s attempted assassination. The setting is a Pub, frequented by soldiers from different Houses along the Riverlands. Knowing she won’t get the chance to capture Tyrion again, but also knowing she’s at a tactical disadvantage, she stands up and calls very public attention to who she is and what the various allegiances are to her House (Tully) and her husband’s (Stark). One by one the soldiers, who really only wanted a moment to enjoy in peace their flagon of ale, acknowledge her calls for fealty, and of course, her accusation against the suspected assassin. It’s only then that she flips the switch to full-on Badass mode and drops the hammer on Tyrion, “Seize that Man!”

It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book, and if you’re a nonprofit warrior like me, it should be yours as well because it completely encapsulates our archetype. How often have we stood in front of a group of people (or even just one) and passionately argued our vision for changing the world — outgunned, alone, afraid, and without nary a resource to support us. And how badass is it when they heed our call for help and respond by giving their time, money and occasionally, their swords to a most worthy cause.

In a way, Catelyn Stark was the first fundraiser. I just hope her outcome at the Red Wedding is not what awaits all nonprofit warriors.

Friends stepping up selflessly, compassionately, are what the nonprofit world is built upon — people actually listening to the whys and hows of it all. Not Apps on your phone. Not Text to Give campaigns. Not 30-second elevator speeches because a 31 second speech is much too long to listen to another living, breathing human being fighting to change the world.

Donors used to care about old-fashioned, honest to goodness, laugh at your jokes, ask how your daughter is doing in college, give-and-take relationship building. I can’t tell you how many major (and minor) gifts I secured around a cup of coffee (or at, umm, at a Martini tasting) spending time with people getting to know them. There was an authenticity in both our approaches. I was truly energized by their vision and desire to change the world through charity X, Y or Z, and they genuinely wanted to connect – to an organization, to the staff, and to the clients being served.

That mutual connection between us and our donors is what made Development a great profession. After all, we weren’t selling widgets to line some fat-cat’s pocket. We were selling a better world, and in doing so, we all felt good about ourselves.

But during the past half dozen years, donors have become increasingly “too busy” to take a call, let alone meet, let alone connect. Sure, there’s an element of self-preservation to it all. “If I take your request for a meeting than surely every one of your sycophantic ilk will crawl out of the wood-work to ask for my money, maybe even steal my soul or whatever it is you people do.” There’s a skepticism… an incredulity to both our profession and the industry as a whole.  I get it.  After all, Cancer hasn’t gone away. One in four children is still living in poverty. One third of our teens still drop out of high school. One in four college-age women still report being sexually assaulted. The world is a dark scary place and it sure doesn’t seem to be getting any better despite our best efforts.

A fundraising rock-star once told me, “The only problems left in this world are the big ones.” Fuck-yeah, so saddle up and help me make this world a better place. Isn’t that the whole point to living? Making the world a better place?  Wanting to live in a better place? For ourselves, our children, our pet children, our Chia Pets, whatever?

Or has it truly become a NIMBY, get off my lawn you rotten kids, it’s all-about-me, YOLO world?

Personally, I subscribe to something Jodie Foster said in the movie Contact, based upon Carl Sagan’s book of the same name. Her character was royally screwed out of going to space by Tom Skerritt’s character (who I’m glad to see survived that brush with the Alien). He says something to the effect of, “I wish the world was the kind of place that rewarded your optimism and honesty.” To which she says in probably the second best imitation of a Badass behind the aforementioned Catelyn Stark, “Funny, but I always thought the world was what we make it.”

So is this it? Our brave new world that eschews relationships for a button click, closes its doors to new friends, views everything with skepticism and incredulity, and generally doesn’t return phone calls? Or, when push comes to shove, are there still people out there that believe as Jodie Foster did, as I do… that the world is what we make it and thus are willing to take a few minutes to help Catelyn Stark get justice?

Unfortunately, the last time I stood up in the middle of a Pub and implored my fellow patrons to join me in meting out justice, everyone remained fixed on their flagons pretending not to hear me.

And then someone threw me out.

– Jon