You’re one of the good ones

In Season 2 of the Netfilx series, “Marvel’s Daredevil,” we’re introduced to Frank Castle, played by Walking Dead fan-favorite actor, Jon Bernthal. You remember him. He’s the sociopath prone to sleeping with his best friend’s wife and furtively trying to kill him so he can have her all to himself. Oh yea, all against the backdrop of the apocalypse. I guess you could also describe him as someone with priority issues.

Anyway, Castle becomes, to those of us over-grown geeks with a propensity for reading comic books under our covers and playing Dungeons & Dragons back in the day (hey, don’t judge), The Punisher… a vigilante hell-bent on single-handedly taking out all the assorted criminal scum populating the dark and scary places of New York City. As someone who’s lived in New York City, there are quite a few of those places, so it’s safe to assume The Punisher was a busy guy. He does so utilizing a particular one-man-army set of skills that Liam Neeson would be envious of. His world view and propensity for badassness, has made him and his logo — an elongated skull on a black backdrop – a symbol for some of our finest U.S. Navy Seals.

To be sure, The Punisher is not the kind of guy you want to have tea and crumpets with, or sip a prosecco while touring an art gallery. He kills bad-guys in some of the most brutal ways imaginable, which belies his traumatic backstory – losing his wife and two children to criminal violence. In the TV show, he repeats the phrase “One Batch. Two Batch. Penny and Dime,” supposedly his daughter’s favorite book when she was little, before he murders his quarry as a reminder why he became a vigilante in the first place.

Although clearly a less violent analogy – well, I have seen a couple of Major Gift officers a razor’s edge away from going postal after spending months courting a donor only to be told they don’t have any money – many of us in the nonprofit world treasure some “thing” as a reminder why we started doing this work in the first place and that keeps us grounded. They’re sort of like the totems that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character used in “Inception” to keep him focused on the real world instead of getting lost within a dream… within a dream… within a dream… within a dream. Yes, there were four dreams. Come on. Keep up people. It wasn’t that hard to follow.

Maybe it’s a portrait made by the children in your after-school program adorning your office wall. Or a picture of some of the cats and dogs that you helped find a forever home. Or a handmade flyer for the lemonade stand you built when you were 11 to raise money for your friend who was very ill. Or a thank you note written by a domestic violence survivor you helped find her voice again.

I for one have a miniature Captain America on my desk because, like our Star-Spangled friend said to Stanley Tucci’s character in “The First Avenger,” “I don’t like bullies.”

These things help us remain focused on the now, on what really matters, to us, and to a world that sometimes seems more interested in money, fame, and all things shallow and vapid. To be sure, us nonprofit types are rare. Like Ghost Orchid rare. Like Yeti sighting rare. Like Kanye West smiling rare. I bet you still get a warm and fuzzy when you meet someone at a cocktail party that actually understands what you do for a living. After all, nobody aspires to this. When you were young, did you tell your grandparents you wanted to grow up and work for a nonprofit? Yea. Didn’t think so. You told them you wanted to be cool.

And even if you did harbor some childhood fancy for this life, I’m sure it’s because no one had the intestinal fortitude to pull you aside and shatter your tiny little dreams with a truth bomb. “Um, little Suzy, if you grow up and work for a nonprofit here’s what to expect… every day you will be constantly depressed and always feel like you’re merely stemming the tide of an all-encompassing darkness that’s literally just over the next wave. You’ll chafe up against sorrow and despair time and again, and measure your successes in small doses… in fractions even. Oh yea, and you’ll make very little money in the process while all your friends are getting bonuses at their jobs. Toodles.”

That’s heartbreaking when you stop and think about it. And there’s no way not to let it affect you. I haven’t slept well for a decade and my nightmares usually involve me not being able to save someone… ermm… from zombies. Hmm, maybe it’s not about the nonprofit world, but the fact that I keep watching The Walking Dead before going to sleep. Anyway…

In the wake of this soul-crushing knowledge about what the heck we do for a living, somehow, we all ended up here, trying to save the world. Why?

Are we just masochists, or as I posit to you, are we real life superheroes (well, both wear capes and masks, so it’s hard to tell the difference sometimes)?

And that’s the thing my fellow nonprofit warriors. Whether it’s the Punisher, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, or Aquaman (Hey Sarah Murdock, that one was for you) we are the modern-day equivalent of our childhood caped-crusaders. And just as they kept us safe from the scary things under our bed, or outside our bedroom door, they’ve transformed us into superheroes trying to save the world.

So, display that totem proudly on your office wall, desk, or computer desktop. And every time you stare at it, remember just who you are…

You’re one of the good ones.

– Jon

The Scarecrow


It was only a 20’ x 20’ earthen plot, but it was the closest thing to “nature” many of the South Bronx children had ever seen. The school garden featured rows of assorted vegetable plants awaiting harvest and a make-shift chicken wire fence. Looming in the center of the plot was a scarecrow, adorned with hand-me-down clothes brought in by the children and their teachers, and lovingly stuffed with pages from used textbooks. While no one could remember the last time they saw a crow in the South Bronx, you could assume the scarecrow was to ward off the legions of pigeons that circled and marched along the garden periphery. Arms spread wide in a Jesus Christ pose, the scarecrow made an imposing figure… especially at 5am.

She wasn’t accustomed to such an early start, frequently joking to her friends about her passion for power sleep. She had a mission: it was six straight weeks since the Executive Director past away suddenly from a heart attack in his office — most likely caused by the stress of being accused by the Board of Directors, without proof, of embezzling money from the school’s failed capital campaign. She thought about quitting after the grim news and sordid details had settled, but she wanted to impress the Board. She was focused on the old-money Chairperson who barely uttered two words to her during her admittedly short-lived tenure. She reasoned that if she could clean up the mess that was left behind, and get the school back on track, she might be fast-tracked for the Executive Director position. Her efforts were working and nearly all of the campaign donors expressed a verbal commitment to maintain their support of the school. However, not a single Board member reaffirmed their pledge, let alone acknowledge the work she was doing or extend their gratitude for her efforts. It was as if they expected her to do it all by herself, and in the process, absolve them of their own responsibilities for a failed capital campaign they were charged with leading and for a school that was, quite literally, falling apart.

She didn’t mind the work… she just hadn’t factored in the extent of the mess, or the lack of assistance she would get from the Board in the aftermath.

She parked in the back lot, behind the dilapidated cinderblock school building with several layers of peeling paint, just to the side of the garden plot. The Administrative building, what was once an old storehouse for who knows what in the 20’s and 30’s, lay just beyond. She was not looking forward to her walk. It wasn’t the neighborhood, although the occasional gunshot would echo through the streets at random hours of the day. Nor was it the finger she saw in the gutter the first day she decided to walk to the Bodega for lunch — it was brown bags ever since. No, she felt safe behind the 10’ high chain-link fence topped with razor wire.

The school and the neighborhood wasn’t the problem. It was the juxtaposition of a scarecrow in the middle of a concrete jungle at 5am that left her uneasy.

She knew it was irrational. Scarecrows weren’t uncommon to her, after all, having grown up in Newton, Iowa. They were utilitarian, as were most of the things in her life. And their usage in countless horror motifs didn’t implant a subconscious fear in her mind. No. She was far too level-headed to be afraid of a scarecrow. Snakes, however, were a different matter.

Yet, she was still uneasy because yesterday morning, the scarecrow moved.

It was imperceptible at first. After all, a cell-phone lamp doesn’t portend to be a jail house spotlight. And at 5am, in a dark parking lot, and in a hyper state of vigilance, one only perceives flashes of things. A Coke can glistening by a curb. A plastic bag caught in a slight updraft. A very long tail scurrying under a dumpster. She thought she saw the fleeting movement of an arm. She stopped and stared for what felt like an hour before she mustered up the courage and self-denial to convince herself it was a shadow and continue to her office.

Today that unease made her more focused. In lieu of a cell-phone lamp, she carried the Tactical Flashlight her father gave her when she went away to college. It was part of a kit of “things a girl should keep in her car.” In the other hand, instead of her customary double espresso, she carried a small ball peen hammer primarily designed for breaking windshields should a car become submerged — another item from the car survival kit.

Each step through the parking lot was measured. Each turn of her head was methodical. Each breath was slow. Her focus was always on the Scarecrow.

When she got within 10’ of the oversized rag-a-muffin doll, she stopped and stared with the countenance of someone unafraid, or someone determined to convince themselves they were unafraid. “I see you,” she said, partly to the Scarecrow, and partly to her subconscious. “I’m going to keep walking to my office now. You know I’m not afraid of you, right? You know I can do this on my own, right?”

Of course, there was no reply from the Scarecrow, just a muted inner voice echoing affirmation.

She adjusted her oversized leather tote brimming with the trappings of a professional life, steadied the hammer, and turned the flashlight away from the Scarecrow and towards her intended quarry — the administrative building and her office. In just a handful of steps, which were more like leaps, she made her way to the entry, entered the security code, and used her key to enter the building. In less than a minute she lit up the building like the Vegas strip, grabbed a reasonable facsimile of an espresso from the Keurig in the kitchen, and settled into her office to start her day. A dozen emails and a second expresso later, the sun began to rise and with it, a clearer vantage point from her window of the garden plot and her morning nemesis.

She took a moment to look at him and think about her fear. Of course, in the cold light of day, she knew the scarecrow hadn’t moved, just as she knew she really wasn’t afraid of him. She admitted her real fear. She was afraid of the loneliness of her professional course at the school, the weight of what lay ahead, the lack of appreciation for her efforts, and of course, her own biting realization that she would never make a difference — not in this job, not at the school, and not in the lives of the children she quickly grew to love. Because, one person, alone, at 5am, can’t save the world.

She shook her head in quiet acceptance, finished off the second espresso, and started an email to the Board Chair:

“This is to inform you that I am officially giving my two-weeks notice. I strongly encourage you and the Board of Directors to take a long, hard strategic look at your investment in this school and the children it serves. No one can save the world on their own… not one Executive Director, not one Development Director. The school needs you, its foremost leaders, to invest the time and due diligence afforded with your position. The children need you to take ownership of fixing this school and reenergizing the capital campaign because they deserve better than falling down cinder blocks and peeling paint.

P.S. You may also want to consider turning the scarecrow to face north, away from the Administrative building.”

– Jon

Piracy is Our Only Option

It had been years since the Super Colossal Foundation — originally founded in 1842 by some long-dead rich guy who made his money on whale oil or guns or slaves or something equally conflicting to philanthropy — made a grant to Sarah’s plucky nonprofit organization. She remembered the last time she won a grant from the Foundation…. it had just announced that their Executive Director of 20 years was retiring. She was a woman with a big personality and an even bigger heart, and she had a hand in buttressing literally hundreds of nonprofit organizations through strategic partnerships and investments in people. In the months that followed, the Foundation conducted a national search for a new Executive Director, interviewing everyone from titans in the corporate world to MacArthur Fellow Changemakers with resumes a mile long. The curious survivor of the battle royale for the ED job was a mousy aficionado for all things numerical and a propensity for hiding in corners and plotting.

In the subsequent years following her rise to power, she would close the Foundation’s coffers to even the neediest and most impactful of community programs, all under the trumped-up guise of wanting to “Change the way The Super Colossal Foundation does business; liberate its funding from the confines of business-as-usual; and secure new partners to innovate, and drive measurable and specific social change for a new generation.” An esoteric way of saying, “Get away kid, you bother me.” As a result of her steely drive for the de rigueur, dozens of long-standing nonprofit organizations with a legacy of helping thousands of people with a hand up, were forced to unceremoniously shutter their programs—some closed for good.

Sarah and Jon saw no other choice. It was 2 a.m.. They were in a white van parked outside the Foundation’s office.

Jon packed his REI rucksack with great care, meticulously inventorying each item as if he was marooned on a desert island and forced to ration coconuts, a sleeve of saltine crackers and some trendy bottled pink water until rescue. Sarah, on the other hand, was a bit more mercurial because it was her plan after all, and because she had nothing left to lose. Her nonprofit organization was days away from shuttering its doors.

“Do you have the crampons? We might need those. I think they are on the third floor, and Patrick has issues with heights,” said Jon as he tucked the Black Diamond Non-Dry rope into his bag. “Why is he here anyway? Do we really need four people?”

“Patrick is our CFO, and he has just as much to lose as any of us–besides, he’s the only one in the office with duct tape,” said Sarah as she casually scrolled through the inbox on her iPhone.

“So, why don’t we just borrow his duct tape?” said Jon.

“Because…” Sarah said as she scrolled through the latest garden shoe offer from Zulily, “he’s a nonprofit finance guy… they put their name on everything so nobody can steal it.”

“Right. I forgot. Why did you also bring Ayesha, the pacifist social worker? The worst thing she’s ever done is post a Mean Girl comment about some frenemy on Facebook,” said Jon as he fiddled with the hand-taser to make sure the batteries were fresh.

“Jon, Ayesha is going to lose her bleeding-heart job like the rest of us if we don’t steal this money. She is committed and is prepared. In the past 2 days, she’s seen Wonder Woman 15 times, and she can now do 20 pushups. Remember, Jon, I let you talk me out of Cassie. I wanted five for this job, like the Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Convinced the taser was now working properly, Jon replied, “While I love playing Rocket to your Gamora, there is no way in holy hell I was going to agree to bringing Cassie. The last thing we need is a fucking trust-fund kid, right out of college with a Liberal Arts degree in Communications, who’s use to getting everything she wants from Mommy and Daddy, lecturing us every thirty seconds on the correct way to hogtie a person so that they can’t wriggle free.”

“First the hands, then the elbows, then the feet,” said Sarah.

“I’m mentally texting you an angry emoji right now,” said Jon, holding his hand up to Sarah in emotional self-defense. Looking at his watch, he slung the rucksack over his shoulder and says, “It’s time. We gotta go.”

They hopped out of the nondescript white van and walk down the darkened street to the Foundation’s Brownstone, where Patrick and Ayesha were skulking about trying to avoid the dim light of the street lamp. There was a palpable nervousness about the duo as Jon and Sarah approached. “Did you bring the duct tape,” said Jon, still obsessing about the details.

“No,” said Patrick. “It’s got my name on it. I don’t want to get caught. Why didn’t you just buy some?”

Livid, and hands beginning to flail about like an inflatable road-side air dancer, Jon exclaimed “What the fuck! That’s the only reason you’re here Patrick… to bring the duct tape! Besides, how can we buy some? You sign our checks. You know we can’t afford duct tape on our salaries.”

“Jon, please, don’t get angry with Patrick,” Ayesha offered with a measured tone and easy voice. “You know this is hard on us both. I for one am having reservations about this whole affair. I mean, robbery? Is that what’s become of us? Is that what an enlightened society devolves into? How does THIS solve the problem? All theft does is perpetuate the same system that engendered our current situation. Can’t we just talk to them or perhaps apply to another foundation?”

“Ayesha, please. This IS big picture planning and execution,” said Sarah. “For millennia, the rich have horded their resources and artificially kept everyone else down–not the lazy, or the stupid, or the illegals as they’ll have us believe. Everyone. And you know what happens? Every few centuries, the masses rise up and take back their society. Remember the American and French Revolutions? How about Robin Hood? Bane in Gotham City?”

“Um, Bane tried to blow up Gotham with a nuke,” whispered Jon as he leaned into Sarah.

“Sorry. It was hard to hear what Bane was saying through that mask. Anyway, this is our time! This is our moment! THIS is what resistance looks like now. Not for ourselves, but for the tens of thousands of people we help every day. The single mothers who poverty criminalized after they left an abusive relationship. The dying children with preexisting conditions that can’t get health care coverage. The hardworking Americans who are tormented, abused, and battered, just because of the color of their skin. It’s for everyone out there that’s sick and tired of turning the other cheek and letting the rich fuckers yank our chains whenever they want–like King Joffrey dementedly toying with an injured bird. To quote Edward Ferrars in Sense in Sensibility, ‘Piracy is our only option.’ Now, Jon, hand them the crampons and let’s start scaling the facade so we can break into the Foundation’s damn safe.”

“Um, Sarah, I thought you brought the crampons. Remember. I asked you,” said Jon.

“Would duct tape work?” said Patrick.

“I still think we should talk to the Foundation,” said Ayesha.

“Arrggghhhh. It’s a good thing my brother taught me how to hand-scale a building when he wasn’t fighting ninjas in Hell’s Kitchen.” Sarah grabbed Jon’s rucksack and scampered up to the third-floor window left open in some staffer’s absent-mindedness. It was only a matter of seconds before she attached the Black Diamond rope to a stationary object inside the Foundation office and cast it down to her comrades in crime. Ayesha was the first to scale, mumbling the entire time about the non-sustainability of the rope being employed and how much energy the Foundation was wasting leaving their window open with the air conditioner running. Patrick climbed hesitatingly, only to stop and restart when his calculator slipped out of his pocket. Jon caught the calculator and pocketed it because he was sure it also bared Patrick’s name for safe keeping.

When the team was safely inside the Foundation office, Sarah pointed and quietly offered, “There… on the wall… behind the surrealist painting of Hedge Fund billionaire Steve Cohen… that’s where they keep the safe.”

“Are you sure that’s Steve Cohen?” said Patrick. “It looks more like John Candy from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

Ignoring the comment, Sarah barked, “Ayesha, give me the blow torch. Ayesha?! What… what are you doing?”

“Look! The person who works at this desk has a picture of a puppy AND a kitten on her desk. Aw. How cute,” says Ayesha.

“So, no blowtorch?” stammers Sarah.

“What?” says Ayesha.

“I’m not sure a blowtorch is a cost-effective tool for us to employ… we are on a budget after all,” offered Patrick, still staring at the Steve Cohen/John Candy painting.

Sarah angrily pulled a swivel chair to her position to take a seat. She fumbled through the rucksack with the fury of a caged wolverine suddenly unfettered after being subjected for years to reruns of Keeping up with the Kardashians.

“Sarah, what are you looking for?” offered Jon in a genuinely helpful demeanor.

“The taser,” says Sarah.

“That’s not going to cut through the safe, Sarah,” says Jon.

“It’s not for the safe, Jon. Not. For. The. Safe.”

– Jon & Sarah


Worst. Fundraising. Ideas. Ever.

It’s a little known fact – probably because everyone and their Aunt Tilly thinks that they can “do” fundraising – that, in fact, this stuff is hard. It is certainly not splitting the atom hard, or performing brain surgery hard, or being Trump’s Communication’s Director hard. Fundraising is, however, specialized, requiring training, expertise, resources and ongoing support.

Yet, everyone (even Aunt Tilly… she’s a real pain in the ass by the way), feels free to suggest an amazing pearl of wisdom that will surely make all the difference to our bottom-line.

We hear your sigh already. And Jon just beat his head on the keyboard. F78dt fd7qx wte p9fd. That was his forehead typing.

Before you go all Pearl Jam Jeremy on someone for a ridiculous nugget of half-ass wisdom, we share this with you, our tired, weary and under-appreciated nonprofit warrior friends… Our top five list of EPIC SHIT-SHOW FUNDRAISING IDEAS!

Number 5: The Bake Sale for Major Donors

Now, we’re all for yummy delicious baked goods. Sarah prefers the more traditional variety, while Jon dabbles in the Vegan and Gluten-Free aisle (cough, garbage). There is a time and a place for bake sale fundraisers. PTAs, Soccer Clubs, and Dance teams all across the country corner the market on these sales. It’s not, nor should it ever be considered as the primary fundraising vehicle to get $10,000 Major Donors to give. Jon, however, was once ordered to engage, energize, and create synergistic impact with a group of one hundred $10,000 and up Major Donors by inviting them to the office for a bake sale. All goods baked by the staff. This was offered by a new volunteer, fresh on the job for 40 minutes. Clearly, nothing says “Leveraging Impact” like giving a millionaire ten times over a badly glazed cupcake with a powdery-sugar heart on top and XOXOXO scrawled along the bottom. “Oh, thanks, it’s just what I always wanted to eat in my Aston Martin.” Serious donors, major donors, invest in ideas and impact. They invest in change–not muffins, carafe coffee and polite conversation.

Number 4: B-Gats (West Coast) or G-Sors (East Coast) 

Sarah affectionately calls this, “The JLo Factor,” having once served at a Bronx-based organization. Some volunteer, board member, Executive Director, somewhere, has ordered you (we know), once more unto the breach dear friends, to call Bill Gates or George Soros or {insert name of world-dominatingly wealthy individual with zero prior contact to your organization} for no other reason than: a) they have money, and b) they are famous. “You should get Adele to be our honoree. She drove through our town for 15 minutes last summer. Call her. Call her! She’ll sing for us all!” “Oh, why don’t you ask Mark Zuckerberg to fund our education program? He’s big on that!” “Hey, let’s ask Hedge Fund Billionaire Ray Dalio from Bridgewater to underwrite our First Night in Westport event because… well… what could be more important?” Hrrmm. Wait. I’m pretty sure you can Google that one to see we’re not lying.

For the uninitiated, here’s why cold stalking celebrity money is no better than, well, stalking: 1) There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States. We actually don’t know any fundraisers that haven’t been asked to solicit Bill Gates. So how many letters do you think that adds up to each year – 10,000, 50,000, 100,000? Our guess is to aim higher. Bill Gates isn’t reading these letters. The letter should really be addressed to, “Dear Gates Foundation Staffer that never worked in a nonprofit, but has a few doctorates, can actually split an atom, and helped solve world peace within some change-maker social entrepreneur, MacArthur Fellows retreat.” Bill isn’t going to fund your charity. He’s not… no… shhh… stop. He’s not. 2) Your cause is important to you. It’s not important to everyone. You’re still fighting that basic fact? OK – Consider this: How likely are you to give to a charity that’s fighting the stigma associated with tattoos; or the one that gives prom dresses to poor teenage girls; or the one that gives cows to third-world villages? Everyone has something they’re interested in… hell, Sarah just called her mom to locate her prom dress from 1991, but she got really uppity about people’s ink choices (apparently Sarah chose the more removable option of piercings). Basically, don’t confuse your love of your own charity for a universal endorsement — even if the chosen celeb has identified the cause, they have not identified YOUR charity.

Number 3: An empty Fishbowl at an Annual Gala…

…For major donors to leave their business cards in case they were interested in naming opportunities… Sarah is still shaking her head, as she recalls the conversation that had to be had, with the basic soul who offered such advice (and spent a few minutes in defense of such logic). You may not have been charged to leave a fishbowl out at an annual gala, but we’re guessing you’ve endured something similar in concept and design. Sarah is willing to bet the life of Betsy Devos that no one, in the history of naming opportunities has ever, once, successfully employed the fishbowl tactic. If they have, don’t worry–we may be wrong–but our public education system will be that much safer. Similar to cookies and carafe coffee, serious donors don’t engage in raffle and trade show tactics, particularly when it comes to their family name.

Number 2: All you have to do is create a fun event and they will come

If Sarah and Jon had a bitcoin for every time they were told to create the bestest, funnest, most excitingest event ever with nary a thought to budget or engaging a cadre of passionate people to organize or attend it, they’d have enough bitcoins to buy everything on the Dark Web (Jon has been eyeing that Cold-War era Russian sub).

A drone air-race may be fun. A Single Malt Scotch sampling event on a private yacht may be fun. A lingerie and pajama party featuring Victoria’s Secret models may be fun. However, if you’re given a budget of $500 and your volunteer and donor base is retired, in their 80s and dedicated to fighting alcohol abuse, sexism, and decreasing air-traffic injury, then your creative idea is just plain dumb.

The father of Modern Management, Peter Drucker, once said, “People think ideas move mountains… they are wrong… bulldozers move mountains.”

It’s not about how “creative” the event is. It’s about building (hence the need for bulldozers) from the ground up something that is strategically designed to engage people you otherwise might not be able to engage, so that you have the opportunity to cultivate them. That means carefully honing and cleaving the event to the interests of your volunteers and donors, with a realistic budget and expectations, so that said volunteers are willing to work to make it a success by inviting their friends to get involved and become donors. That’s the key, because no matter how fun or “creative” an event is, if you don’t have a group of passionate people proselytizing from the highest mountain top, ain’t nobody gonna come. Need proof why? When was the last time you went solo to a drone air-race event? Thought so.

And the #1 Worst. Idea. Ever. Anybody can do fundraising!

Do you tell your doctor, “Anybody can perform a kidney transplant!” Do you tell your attorney, “Anybody can draft a legal document that holds up under scrutiny in court!” Do you tell your hair stylist, “I can cut my own hair!” I bet not. Why? You respect those professions and the skills they possess.

Development, and by extension, fundraising, is a highly specialized field, that is asked to perform a dozen highly specialized tasks with nary a box of paperclips to help us. Your next-door-neighbor who was a realtor for two years is not qualified to lead a Development effort. Your niece who just graduated from a fancy private college with a degree in communications and a minor in dead languages, is not qualified to lead a Development effort. And, yet, because development is difficult, because it takes time, because it’s a team effort, boards and senior leadership often lean into what they believe will be the ‘big sell’ hire. The experienced professional is less appealing than the local real estate broker with all the “community ties,” or the former business executive that “understands how to run a business” or your niece with the “family connections” and youthful eagerness. In time, for sure, any one person can grow into a new role and excel. We all start somewhere. The issue of respect is no small factor. In fact, in our not-so little community, we like to play under/over with the how long that former real-estate broker/finance-exec/communications major actually makes it in their newly anointed chief fundraising role–turns out, not much longer than the average nonprofit professional. To our knowledge, no survey exists to back up the data for our “Is-Sarah-or-Jon-buying-this-week” bet, but we’re guessing you’ve witnessed and experienced similar trends.

Implicit in the notion that “Not everyone can do this shit,” is the tiny little detail that it costs money to make money. If that fundamental truth were not the case, then why even hire and pay development professionals in the first place? Just prop up a cardboard cut-out next to an empty plastic water bottle and a sign that says, “Hey fuckers, give now!”

It’s really very simple: better people can do better things, and more people, can do more things. You spend time trying to find a “good” plumber, right? You know a quarterback doesn’t play against the opposing team all by his lonesome, right? Hell, why does Harvard raise hundreds of millions of dollars every year? Do they all run around waving their scarlet and gold Gryffindor wands and “Poof” a unicorn leads them to a pot of gold? No. They have hundreds of Development staffers; they hire the best, and they pay them very well to attract and retain that talent. Yes, of course, somewhere along the way you’re going to misfire and hire a hack who’d rather play Angry Birds all day, but social psychologist Douglas McGregor’s famous Theory X vs. Theory Y primer posits that there are truly very few Theory X employees out there — i.e., most of us know what we’re doing, are self-motivating, dedicated, and can get the job done.

We don’t want to bake cookies for one-percenters. We don’t want to write a sad “look at me!” letter to Bill Gates’ McArthur Genius Fellow who is only funding global solutions-by-straws this week. We don’t want to put out fish bowls to source donors for a building that will provide desperately needed healthcare to impoverished families. We don’t want to design lavish parties with a budget of $500 and donors that have modest desires and just want to see their funds put to good use. We just would like some modest recognition that this shit is hard and maybe we know what we’re doing.

Trust us. Just a little. You won’t regret it.

– Jon & Sarah





It’s Okay to Leave

There have been several posts, articles, and a semaphore or two in recent months on the subject of Development professional tenure insomuch as… there is none. All purport to have a unique spin on the celebrated, if not infamous, study entitled “UnderDeveloped” by CompassPoint from several years ago. You know the study. It’s the one that says Development types only stay 16 months on average in their jobs; that the vast majority of us are unhappy and don’t even want to be in this profession; and that, 80% of the organizations we work for have Board of Directors that “aren’t committed to fundraising” at even the most basic level (think social anxiety disorder).

It ain’t all duckies and bunnies, amirite?

Most of the recent posts have been good-intentioned, to be sure, and are coming from a place of trying to help our fellow fundraising brethren weather the storms that circle this industry. But a few of them that I’ll leave unnamed for fear of being trolled by Russian hackers (we know what they can do after all), sail dangerously close to the shallow waters of victim-blaming. As in, “us Development types need to endure whatever and stay longer than 16 months at a job for the sake of our careers and the industry as a whole.” I half expected their title to read “Hey, snowflake, suck it up.”

I’ve had four Director-level jobs (or higher) in my career. At two of them, my tenure was a combined 15 years. For the other two… well… not so much. Let’s just say they were closer to the 16-month average.

Curious right? Clearly, if I can last 15 years at two jobs, I’m the kind of professional that can establish roots, build relationships, and generally look to the long-term. So, why didn’t I “suck it up” at the other two for the sake of my career?

Because at one of them, the Executive Director was verbally, emotionally, and intellectually abusive on a regular basis. She was the kind of person who thought calling people a half dozens times each day while they were on vacation and screaming at them “SHUT UP IDIOT, AND GET IT DONE!” was an appropriate form of motivation.

At the other… The Board Chair ordered me to commit an act of fraud. Nuff’ said.

Robert California on The Office said during the Season 7 finale that, “The fallacy is that it is up to the steamroller to decide… it is up to the object whether it will be flattened or not.” The two jobs that I just mentioned are the kind of people and places that will flatten you if you let them. They’re not the kind of places you “suck it up” for the sake of your career… they’re the kind of places you run from, kicking and screaming, with a banker’s box nestled under your arm brimming over with your assorted inspirational posters and desk toys including that limited edition Wolverine figurine.

Before you quote me the story of Frodo from the Lord of the Rings, and the notion that I should have fought back because even the smallest of us can make a difference, remember that he had a magic sword and a fellowship of mighty warriors by his side including a wizard. A WIZARD, for fuck’s sake! All I had, and I’m sure, all that many of you have in the nonprofit world, is a desktop computer running Windows Vista, a half empty box of paperclips scrounged from the recycle bin, and a couple of volunteers that like to stuff envelopes. Not a wizard in sight. Telling us to to stay and cleave to some misguided, turn-the-other cheek philosophy, is just a form of Stockholm syndrome in an effort to “Humanize” the people and places that if we really take a full and honest accounting of the situation, are not quite human.

After all, is it really human to threaten to fire someone asking to leave at 4pm so that they can go to the hospital to be with an immediate family member that was dying? Not a second cousin, once-removed. An immediate family member.

Is it really human to order someone to misappropriate tens of thousands of dollars in restricted funding earmarked for a program for dying children so that you can “kick-back” business to your cronies who you like to ponce around with?

And even if these people are human, and deserve a second (or 42nd) chance for that matter, what of our humanity? What about those of us that cut through this world like Captain America and do the right thing time and time again. Is not our humanity also paramount? Why must we shrink like violets and “suck it up?”

The author Marianne Williamson once wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you NOT to be?”

So, my dear fellow nonprofit warriors, do not for one second let the abusive Asshats, the lying thieves, and the victim-blamers make you doubt yourself. Don’t ever let them tell you that something wrong is something right. YOU are powerful, beyond measure. YOU are the ones trying to save the world.

It is not incumbent upon you to “suck it up” and fix the 16-month tenure problem of our profession. It’s incumbent upon THEM to stop being Asshats, trust in our abilities, invest in our growth, put their big-boy and girl pants on and embrace a culture of philanthropy, and generally hold these Jerkwads accountable for their “less than humane” actions.

Because when push comes to shove, there is no script or formula that says the only way you can save the world is by staying at this particular job in this particular corner of the universe.

That’s the thing about the world… it always needs saving… because there will always be people in it like my former Executive Director and Board Chair.

So, if you need to leave… leave… and don’t look back.

And as you drive away, blast Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”  I did.

– Jon




Farts & Poops

Yep, we went there.

And… now that we’ve shamelessly gotten your attention, we’ll explain. After all, if you’ve worked in the nonprofit world, you’re nonplussed by scatological references. You’ve endured the real-world version from Executive Directors with social-anxiety disorders, do-nothing volunteers with a penchant for telling you how to adjust the table napkins “just so,” and donors demanding a photo-op and face-time with your Board Chair for a $500 grant.

No, you know all about Farts and Poops.

While rude-humor is often the bailiwick of Hollywood movies, it’s also the intellectual pinnacle of 10-year-olds the world over. Hell, there’s a YouTube video out there purported to be “actual footage” of a tween Alien asking a frightened human to pull his finger, so it might even be a Universal truth for all we know. We’ll keep looking and let you know, because after all, the truth is out there.

Anyway, 10-year-olds are not exactly the hallmark of our species. As Beverly Goldberg says, they can be delightful angel babies–especially Sarah’s. They’re adorable, truly, but we all know they’ve just started on this thing called life. Heck, a big deal for them, as The Flobots said, is to “ride my bike with no handlebars.” They’ve got a long way to go before they can split the atom, or even remember to wash their hands before dinner.

So, the last place you’d expect to find a reference extolling the intellectual prowess of a 10-year-old is in a Grant Workshop held by the de rigueur Foundation of the moment. But that’s exactly where Jon and Sarah found it – being bandied about like its sugared-up namesake when Nanna comes to visit.

“Before submitting your grant narrative to our grant review committee, give it to a 10-year-old to read over to make sure they understand it… because if they don’t, we won’t.”

Now to be sure, it’s time-honored advice when writing or crafting any message in general, to make it palatable to the greatest common denominator (i.e., dumb it down). The most profound communicators of all time have engendered a sense of connectedness to their audience by speaking in a parlance that was familiar.

This is different. Preparing a grant is not the same as standing on a podium and extolling a virtuous message to a crowd of ten thousand earnestly yearning for someone to make something great again. A foundation is supposed to be our partner in the trenches, learning the field and fighting the good fight. The best institutional partners are the ones that take the time to learn about the field and have the knowledge and experience to readily assess the grants and the organizations they are or aren’t funding. Further, when said foundation presents a set of guidelines for the LOI that is more complex than the instructions on building a nuclear device, yet can’t be bothered to Google basic industry terms like IEP, HIPAA, or ALICE, then there’s a problem in the process. And, for the record, it doesn’t matter if the award is $1,000 or 100,000. Grantmaking should not be whittled down to a bucket of roses and 100 desperate nonprofits, eager to do whatever it takes for the love of the trendy new local foundation.

And if it’s not the techno-jargon that causes the greatest offense, but rather our use of words like protean, plethora, or Sisyphean, still, are you really sure you want to stand in front of a room of 100 nonprofit professionals, many of whom are quite accomplished grant-writers and skilled fundraisers, and tell them how to write? It’s quite possible, that most of these folks can not only write an excellent narrative, but can also run your foundation.

This brings us back to a common theme in this blog. PHILANTHROPY IS NOT A TRANSACTION. It’s not a check box, multiple choice, T or F solution, or typically anything that can be tracked on a spreadsheet or metrics designed by Goldman Sachs. Philanthropy is a heartfelt investment in making the world a better place that requires knowledge, practice and a realistic understanding of what it takes to run the average nonprofit — large or small.

Taking a cue from our local foundation, here’s how you completely fuck it up: Create a LOI that requires 40 questions, 20 pages of written content; max word count at 200 word/question; and require sensitive financial information that is often not even required for the average grant. Step two, if a 10-year old can read your LOI and you get the royal welcome, the nonprofit enters into a Roman Colosseum-style battle of the nonprofits! In an exciting evening of live desperation porn, amongst your fellow community nonprofits, you get 5 minutes to present to the foundation just how sad the world would be without your services. The winner gets the big pot!

Circling back to the transaction and removing humanity from the equation…The disassociation created by some foundations is the first step toward embracing an “It’s not my problem” philosophy. Indeed, it is all our problem, even if you have the money to temporarily satiate the needs of a few this year. Dying children, poverty, abused puppies, end-of-life-care, hunger, whatever, it all affects us because they are all intertwined, inextricably. Just like we all drive the same roads and rely on the same governmental services to keep us safe (i.e., police, fire, military, etc.). We are all impacted, either personally or some member of our family, by these programs. I’m not suggesting that every nonprofit program is equal. The best run programs with the greatest impact should get more funding. Recognize, however, that with funding comes responsibility: learn the field and talk to your constituents, not just other funders, and treat those that you fund with an equal amount of respect and deference.

We’re in a funny industry. Not funny “Ha Ha” as Joe Pesci said, but peculiar. We panegyrize ourselves for being tolerant, welcoming, embracing, yet everyday we’re forced to endure the outrageous slings and arrows of classism, elitism, and a few other “isms” all in the name of the almighty dollar. Why? Because saving the world is hard and it costs money? Not astronaut on the moon money, although we have been known to fix a leaky O2 tank with duct tape and rubber bands on more than one occasion. We beg, plead, and otherwise prostrate ourselves – some Major Gift Officers would call it prostitute ourselves – and are made to jump through ridiculous, unimportant, and inefficient hopes for what… so that our patrons can feel good about themselves while maintaining a healthy dispassionate distance from the rabble covered in farts and poops? “Shhh, don’t make the funder feel intellectually inferior because you dared to use words with multiple syllables.”

So, here’s the wake-up call that every ten-year-old learns eventually – albeit some sooner than others. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU! It’s not about your grant workshop attended by the desperate masses. It’s not about your 20-page, 40-question, Letter of Intent. It’s not about your status as an up and coming Foundation.

It’s about the programs you’re trying to invest in, elevate, and buttress. It’s about the lives you’re trying to change. That’s why you, and everyone else creates a foundation in the first place. Right? It’s certainly not for a tax break — you really want to help people, right?

Reading a grant may be hard, but really, is it as hard as attending to a dying child in a hospital room; ladling soup into a styrofoam cup late at night so a homeless person can eat their first meal this week; or trying to calm an autistic child having a meltdown in the middle of a classroom?

If the prose and the jargon that we use are a tad too much, ask yourself how you’d react to a grant proposal submitted, double-spaced in 48pt sans-serif font, featuring a one-syllable, four letter word that begins with “F” followed by the word “Off.”

Not well, right?

Then don’t tell us to dumb down our applications to make it “easier for you to understand” because “Fuck Off” is what we’re hearing when you say that.

The world is a dark and scary place, and you need to know about every alleyway, tunnel, dead-end and burnt-out building. Because, as Tyrese said on The Walking Dead, how else can you really know “What’s happening and what’s going on.” Remaining willfully ignorant of a world you profess to want to help, just keeps you in the perpetual state of a 10-year-old riffing about farts and poops.

The nonprofit world is hard enough that we don’t need more 10-year-olds… what we need is for you to grow up.

– Jon


Bad Pony

Photo courtesy of Farewell Debut.

It was nearly a decade since I’d last seen Laura. We’d only met once, when she gave me a tour of the youth center she worked at. We instantly bonded as two fellow Development Directors, swapping battle stories and the inevitable peaks and lows of fundraising for scrappy organizations that were beloved by their communities and, well, us. I didn’t know all the details, but I knew her parting from the organization was painful and sudden.

I was now the chief fundraiser for the center and was desperate for any hint of historical knowledge, since Laura was the last true professional fundraiser in the role, replaced by a scattering of transient, warm bodies that unsuccessfully pushed papers for 8 years. In those years, relationships iced over, funding ended, and the world of fundraising in NYC changed dramatically during the cooling. I also wanted to meet up with Laura, because I generally don’t fair too well in cultivating fundraising friends. The NY Metro area tends to mold its ilk into well-polished pods of professionals that don’t break form often. Last we met, Laura had a penchant for blue hair, 1970s punk and big necklaces. I wanted to find a friendly warrior — I figured we could at least commiserate on our battle scars post-2008 recession, post-Bloomberg and the golden age of our profession, when the word “sustainability” seemed reasonable.

It wasn’t the warmest reception. We met in a dark, cavernous restaurant on the lower west side that had airs of reclaimed wood, warehouse and vaguely asian finishings. I threw out a large hug the moment we met, while she stood her ground and gave a light embrace that belied the solid fighter that I knew stood before me.

Our meeting progressed only slightly better. We didn’t bond like I had hoped. We didn’t trade war stories like Wonder Woman and Athena, warrior goddesses that conquered and brought justice to all. We shared stories with caution, because our stories didn’t have heroic endings. I don’t think Laura quite trusted my intent, as I was now representing a place that caused her pain. I have too many nonprofit stories without heroic endings, but I draw power in what I can rewrite and re-envision for the future. This wasn’t a power lunch, however, and it felt more like two bad ponies hunched over overpriced salads lacking in basic sustenance. Ponies once beloved by their organizations, by their leaders, but now relegated to the outer pasture, broken, joyless and fairly irascible.

Development Directors – the Wonder Women, Michonne’s, and Burka Avenger’s of the field – embrace the cause, the organization, the donors, board, the program staff… hell… we even cozy up to the financial directors, accountants, maintenance… anyone that makes it all happen every day. Our faith and love runs deep. We obsessively devour all information that feeds into the state of the cause: the donors, trends, markets, politics… it all matters. We become enveloped by the cause, both intellectually and emotionally. We are not, however, perfect. For example, most mortal women aren’t the 21st c. reboot of Wonder Woman where apparently nothing can kill her.

Personally, I am a ninja grant-writer and strategist, but major gifts is sometimes my kryptonite. I’ve refined my donor relations and execution over the years, but my bad pony story came about nearly two decades earlier at the start of my career. I built an enviable fundraising program from the ground up, leveraged heavily on grants, a successful annual event and appeal and a growing communications platform. The Executive Director wanted more–she wanted a Development Director that could take that success and quickly turn it into a major gifts program with barely the time, planning, training or resources needed to build this new program. She wanted a pony that could do more, and she grew increasingly frustrated by the seeming limits of my talents. I grew increasingly frustrated by the limits of her talents, but I wasn’t the one with the power. It was her call to put the bad pony in a corner.

One of the most painful, shell-shock moments in my career was the day she pulled me aside, alone in a workshop room, and expressed her dissatisfaction in my work and my “bad attitude.” She tapped her watch to show that my time was limited. The message was clear: ‘shape up girl, or get out.’ When I walked back in the office the next day I resolved to do 3 things: 1) I would be the happiest fucking employee she had ever seen; 2) I would make things ‘right’ in whatever combination of tasks or goals she deemed suitable; and 3) I would leave. It wasn’t a heroic departure, but I met my goals, and I was gone in six months.

I still love that organization. It still brings me joy. I still love the people that I worked alongside for so many years. There are many narratives to my time at the organization, and the days leading up to when I left, but that day, at the restaurant with Laura, I was back to being the bad pony. There was something in the timing of our meeting, and the manner in which I was coming to her that brought it all back. Laura shared her story–not all of it, but enough. I shared mine. We didn’t draw strength from one another. We didn’t bond. We should have–it should have been a fantastic reunion. We should have ordered steak or definitely something with more protein. I can blame the pretentious hipster garbage that dangled all around us; I can blame the sad salads, but mostly I blame the profession.

The nonprofit field is drenched in stats, surveys, opinions, and every quantifiable indicator that development directors are miserable. The best study to date, Underdeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing the Nonprofit Field, is now buried in a deep google search. Underdeveloped found that most Development Directors are deeply unhappy, last less than 2 years in their jobs and can readily tick off at least 20 reasons why they feel fairly defeated and otherwise abused. There are about 50 blog posts that could spin off on how & why this has come to be, but not a lot of consultants, executive directors, board members or senior leaders really understand (or talk about) what it’s like to be the chief fundraiser.

I’m not quite sure if you can, or should, cross a superhero with a beloved pony – it’s weird, but I know what it feels like to be both. Mostly, I don’t know what it feels like to be a fallen superhero. I just know what it feels like to be a bad pony. So I’m going to keep re-writing this narrative, because no one else is writing the handbook for getting out of the pasture. I hope that someday Laura and I have lunch again, but this time we’ll order steak and Manhattans. Our stories will be about heroes and fighters and warriors–it will be about us.

– Sarah


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

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