It’s all about the crumbs


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jon and Sarah


Finding Nemo… or an Honoree

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

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

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

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

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

So, here’s the equation…

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

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

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

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

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

– Sarah and Jon


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

A Consideration of New Careers

zombieAs a new administration plots its bloodthirsty vengeance on federally funded social services and the cultural sector, Development professionals everywhere wait for the next move in this brave new world. Waiting on the brink is exhausting, mostly because as a fundraiser, your charge is to control the situation. Every day, with every program, donor, mode of operations, income and expense stream, staffing pattern, and the like, you need to predict multiple scenarios for the future in the hope that today’s actions will lead to tomorrow’s funding. Since the new normal involves Biff Tannen, the Bundy brothers and a gang of Nazi-apologists occupying Washington and playing King Joffrey against a terrorized nation, it’s hard to make predictions for tomorrow. So, in this new reality, Jon and Sarah grab a coffee and wade into the silent, still waters of possibility as they consider how their skill set will fare in the coming nonprofit apocalypse. 

Sarah: What about Zombie Porn?

Jon: Yeah, great… wait… what??!!!

Sarah: Zombie. Porn. Listen, it is sort of a thing already, and I’d rather not go into the details of my research, but I think we can really blow this thing out. I started my skills-list with “tragedy porn,” and I realized that with my – and our – arts and writing backgrounds, horror affinity and daily salesmanship of tragic real-life scenarios, that we could be, like, The Walking Dead for the sex industry. This could be Yuge! And Trump is totally not going to touch porn – we both know that, right? Him, porn.

It’s important that it’s written and directed from a perspective of intersectionality and empowerment for women, particularly because we’ll have at least 40% of the proceeds go to Planned Parenthood. Or heck, we’ll give money to all the nonprofits facing life-changing cuts like the national parks, PBS, National Endowment for the Arts, civil legal services, etc. Seems only fair… they are all set to lose billions in Federal funding. We both know a bunch of actors, although this may not be their “thing.” What do people shoot porn on these days, iPhones? Do you need a zoom lens? Hey, didn’t you say you have a friend that writes Vampire Porn?

Jon: Um, yea, I do, and he says it’s very lucrative. But, Vampires are different. You can write tone, mood in a Vampire narrative. But Zombies? How do you even write dialog?  They only grunt and growl.

Sarah: Exactly! That’s perfect for Porn. It’ll be easy.

Jon: True, but, it’s just not creative. Besides, I want to feel inspired by what I do, like I’m improving myself, challenging myself on some fundamental and metaphysical level. And that during my journey of self-discovery, I’m also improving the world. I don’t know, Zombie Porn just doesn’t seem right for my idiom.

Sarah: Right. I forgot. Your fascination with Captain America and all things Apple Pie.

Jon: Gluten Free and Vegan Apple Pie.

Sarah: Whatever.

Jon: Besides, if our entire industry is going to be torn asunder by the “Mangled Apricot” as if he were doing shots of Jaegermeister while playing social service Jenga with his Frat buddies on a Wednesday night, then I’ll be damned if I take my skills to the recesses of the Dark Internet in exchange for Bitcoins and Mario Brother hacks. We should use our skills to resist. Fight back. Like Jyn Erso and the Rebel Alliance or Jon Snow and the Men of the North.

Sarah: Last I checked we were short one blaster and an army of Wildlings.

Jon: Hell with that! Let our words be our blasters. Let the prose we create inspire an army. We will become the engineers of a brave and bright new future for us all.

Sarah: Jon, we can’t even get the local Community Foundation to give us a grant. Their largest gift went to a start-up music therapy program for refugee kittens with feline AIDS. It was crowned as a model of local sustainability! The biggest army that I know dominates the many tiered rankings of our professional networking affiliates–consultants. They can teach you how the blaster works, but they ain’t gunna hold it, and they’ll always tell you your aim is true.

Jon: I’m sure we know at least 60 people that would read our passionate entreaties.

Sarah: 60? That’s not an army, that’s a Platoon, and you and I are nothing more than a fire team. We’re hopelessly outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, out-planned.

Jon: You’re a buzz-kill Lin Manuel-Miranda.

Sarah: You know nobody outside of the New York area gets your “Hamilton” references, right?

Jon: Okay – Let’s not look at this from an interest or impact perspective. Let’s look at this from a skills perspective. What job requires the ability to turn a phrase, albeit in a slightly humorous, concise format, while enduring constant rejection and occasional abuse?

Sarah: Blogger?

Jon: We’re fucked.

Sarah: ….So no Zombie Porn?

– 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


Nonprofit Apocalypse Camp – Designated Leader: Foundations

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Sarah & Jon


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

The Reckoning – Part 2

_8445270A Jimmy Choo work pump makes a precise, surgical tap when it hits a wide-plank, pine wood floor. A $700 pair of shoes announces its wearer with authority, so she knew when the Executive Director walked into the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space.

It had been a prolonged absence with the holidays, but the mechanical taps signaled a primal change in the inhabitants’ dynamics. Four minutes later her inbox lit up: “I want to meet with you and the rest of your team in my office in 10 minutes.” She slowly breathed in until her chest fully expanded and her body lifted, exhaling at 20 counts. At count 19 she cursed her prudent choice of herbal tea over whiskey that filled her Klean Canteen. The situation needed more than air, affirmations and pacifism. 

The gang of three entered the Executive Director’s office. The coldness and dark were ever present in the farmhouse, partially because the ED set the century-old heating system to 60 degrees and duct-taped select switches to the “off position.” The ED was ever-present in calculating the minutia associated with cost-savings and income-generation. 

The gang settled around the pockmarked, donated conference table. They noticed a solitary appeal letter. A lone orphan leaning against an overturned glass. The envelope was muddied, slightly torn. It was the abandoned, abused child in a late night television appeal. She thought she heard Sarah McLachlan singing in the distance. The letter was addressed to a relatively low-level donor that typically made an annual gift that belied her wealth. The Development Director knew it didn’t matter how the letter came back from the dead. She thought of the toddler Gage, in Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, who was lovingly resurrected from the dead by his despondent father, only to return to his family like a deranged ninja and kill his mother. She wondered how deep a papercut could tear through skin.

The ED spoke. “THIS! This..LETTER..was handed to me at my country club’s holiday party. This was sent to MY friend. A friend who is very generous and is an important donor! I am mortified. I want to know what happened. Who killed the annual appeal?!!”

The Development Director’s eyes drifted away from the seething, raging war that was bound to take at least an hour, if not more, to negotiate. She considered her options.

The ED slid into the job a few years ago after a long career in take-overs and acquisitions. The organization suffered from the same humdrum issues as most nonprofits, especially post-Recession, so the board chose their Jimmy Choo armored knight mostly because she looked exactly like them. A bottom-line, grind-to-the-bone corporate sorceress that apparently could spin gold at the drop of a piercing web of pressure point demands. There was not much gold to be found during these years, yet the organization could be described as a Dr. Seuss nightmare of Thneed-making, resource-ravaging excess. The staff had been chopped down, laid bare and continually plundered for more programs, more events, more of anything that squeezed-out even a modicum of income regardless of mission-fit.

“Sarah. SARAH!” She throws up her hands either to feign incredulity or to telegraph a forthcoming slap. “Do you have anything at all to contribute here? This is YOUR team and this is a BIG screw up. Can you even tell that we upgraded to the matte satin finish? NO! I want to know…who killed these letters?”

Sarah finally looked up. She sat back, deeper into the chair and felt extremely calm. She always thought that liberation would come from a job well done, from raising more money, exceeding expectations and inspiring the love of donors, board and executive staff. Her passion was always committed to the mission, but she mistakenly thought that there would come a day when she could finally have the staffing, resources and support needed to seamlessly execute a successful fundraising program and not hand-stuff a thousand envelopes a few days before Christmas because the Appeal had became a caricature of itself. Sarah would be liberated, at peace with her career and fulfilled by the work.

At that moment, Sarah realized that liberation was not normalizing the oppressor. Liberation was being on the outside and normalizing resistance. Sarah grabbed the envelope, shoved it in her back pocket and turned to the ED: “Yeah…it’s a pity. I guess we’ll never know.”

She walked out of the turn-of-the-century farmhouse turned non-profit office space and never returned.

– Sarah and Jon