My Own Private Stockholm Syndrome
Misogyny & How It Affects Nonprofit Salaries
A couple of things have happened in the last few weeks: I started working for a startup (which accounts for the delay in this post, apologies); someone suggested that a nonprofit I was considering launching be run as a for-profit consultancy.
Both of these things have thrown me through a loop. (Though? For? Who’s to say.) Both have pushed me to rethink the last six months of my life and what it is that I find valuable in work. That’s been difficult for a number of reasons, but there’s one that underlays much of it: Nonprofit Stockholm Syndrome.
An Ode to Linda Hall
I’ve been reading Winners Take All, the thought-provoking, occasionally maddening book by Anand Giridharadas about how the solutions to income inequality/racism/sexism/all the other -isms, have become dictated by wealthy people who earned their inordinate amount of money by building businesses that are deeply entrenched in all the systems that subvert the people that the wealthy people have now decided to help. I have a lot of thoughts about this book but for now I’m going to focus on one throwaway line about how, instead of fighting to change systems that reduce systemic oppression of people, people argue that people in the nonprofit world should be paid better to retain/attract well educated and/or experienced leaders.
Once Again, I’m Angry
When I launched this blog, I forgot that for about 20 years of my life I wanted to be a writer.
I was a voracious reader as a kid. Before podcasts existed, I filled my head with books on tape (specifically Agatha Christies). When I was 9 or 10 I dreamed about writing a novel and on some floppy disk in Virginia lives the secret scribbles of a wannabe writer. As with many things, my reading and writing fell away in middle school and then my high school - a public, rural school - was… fine. Not known for academic rigor. It wasn’t a bad school, but it was realistic about what it was and who its students were.
And then I met Linda Hall.
Values vs Capitalism
I debated for the last 24 hours if I should write about what’s happening to abortion rights or if I should write about literally anything else so I could not think about it for a minute. But here we are (Sunset and Kansas!*). I’m full of feelings. Let’s do it.
One thing first: access to abortion is not just about women. It’s about anyone who can get pregnant and it’s about anyone who can get anyone pregnant.
Go Jump In a Lake
I was at an event yesterday where a group of female entrepreneurs discussed, among other things, how to maintain radical, feminist values and goals (transparency, equality, liberation) in your business within a capitalist society. Because the truth of the matter is, the two things are inherently antithetical. Capitalism is built on patriarchal, white supremacist theory: there are winners and losers, haves and have nots. Some people are more equal than others.
Why Conversation Circles?
It’s hard to be a person working in social justice in the year 2019. States are trying to ban abortions at 6 weeks. Mass shootings happen with shocking regularity (this is being written three days after the latest school shooting and the fact that you probably have to click to figure out which one I mean should say a lot). Oppressive leaders are being regularly invited to our White House. The Supreme Court is considering the humanity of gay and trans people. Over 3 years after her death, video of Sandra Bland’s arrest just surfaced. Climate change is definitely going to kill us all. We’re headed toward (or maybe already are at) a constitutional crisis and there are so many more things I could add to this list (anti-Semitism! The detention of children! Mass incarceration! Islamophobia! ICE raids!).
It is a dark time.
A couple months ago, I got accidentally included on this group of new leaders in food sustainability. I am not in food sustainability, never have been. But once a month a group of women get together to talk about what’s happening in their organizations and think through problems with their peers and I realized - this is all I ever want to do. My proverbial “happy place” (a phrase that makes me literally wince typing but I guess I’ll keep) is talking to other nonprofit leaders about how to make this sector better and to commiserate about Boards and HR and funding all the things worth complaining about.
Trust, Philanthropy, and That One "Office" I Had
I think a lot about Otherness - both my proximity and distance from it and the way that Otherness shapes my life, my work and my relationships.
As previously mentioned, I grew up on a dairy farm in Virginia. Many people that I met in my post-Virginian life are surprised by that - by the Southernness, the country-ness (rurality?), the actual farm. We were a family of transplants in a county made up of poor to middle class families who had been there for generations. It was well acquainted with racial Otherness (see this essay on the desegregation of the high schools in 1969), but only in the context of Black vs. White. My family was a different kind of Other that no one really knew what to do with.
What I Learned From Running A Children's Theatre Camp In A Barn For 15 Years
There’s an ongoing discussion in the nonprofit world about our relationship to for-profit businesses - specifically if nonprofits should be run more like them. Throughout different parts of my career I have fallen on different sides of this argument, but today I think we’re asking the wrong people the wrong question.
Here are things that I wish nonprofits would allow themselves to do in the way that for-profits do: put real value in branding and marketing; invest in market research; experiment; pay generously; have comfortable offices.
But of course the problem isn’t as simple as “allow themselves to do.”
How Financial Transparency Could Revolutionize Giving
So here’s a thing about me: I grew up in Virginia on a dairy farm and for 15 years my three sisters and I ran a musical theatre summer camp for elementary and middle school children out of the barn. It all started in 1992 when my oldest sister and her best friend decided that instead of just working with the local community theater, they wanted to put on their own plays. So they convinced my dad to clear out what had been the original milking parlor (which, conveniently, had a raised rectangle with a wall behind it, aka a stage) and began what would eventually be a decade and a half long project.
It's My Birthday So I'm Going To Talk About One of My Favorite Things: Women Leaders
I went to a workshop about the new accounting laws for nonprofits (I’m very fun at parties). The instructor informed us that according to the new standards, organizations are now going to have to list not only their total assets but the restrictions on those funds so that at the bottom there’s a total of what is actually left for general operating.
In his discussion of this, the instructor kept saying - this is a huge deal. You’re not going to want to do it; your Board isn’t going to want to do it. It’s going to make your finances look bad. Funders are going to panic. This is huge (and this is bad).
Which is all true. But maybe it’s about time people realized just how bad it is.
Where This All Started
If there is one thing the nonprofit world is good at (besides, you know, providing the services the government will not) it’s amassing amazing women. As with everything else, this is in part because the patriarchy and the fact that the caring for the sick, elderly, impoverished and underserved is generally seen as “women’s work” and we can also go into a rant about why that’s part of the reason that the work is underpaid but we’re going to put that all aside for now because, again, it’s my birthday and I just want to talk about things I love.
There are a number of reasons why I left a full time job at the end of 2018 to begin this work. I have been in the nonprofit sector for over a decade and despite my love for the people, the passion, and the work that comes out of it, there is deep dysfunction that runs through it. For years I’ve been watching this dysfunction, talking to family and friends about how to manage it, and I decided I wanted to change it.