First Person Nonprofit

Focusing on the individual.
Real people experiencing and reporting on real life.


I Followed A Founder: a First Person Nonprofit Tale

Too often the focus on nonprofit executive transitions is about the departing executive. We're in the middle of interviewing 58 executives who followed founders or long-time leaders. Here's just one of their stories; we'll call her "Amanda":

The job was a dream come true. I had become executive director of a organization where my love and loyalty had lain for years. I had started out there as a volunteer there right out of college. After working at other nonprofits I had come back to this organization -- I'll call it CW -- as an employee, and had risen to the job of program director.

Less than a year after I became the executive director, the co-founders -- who had never fully left the picture -- fired me. They had brought in a consultant to "coach" me, and they hired him as the new ED. A year after that this wonderful organization crashed and burned.

This is my story:

First Person Nonprofit: A Day in the Life of a Major Gifts Officer

So exactly how do you lead someone up to a $1 million ask? The director of major gifts at a large regional environmental organization agreed to tell us everything . . . as long as we didn't reveal her name or organization.

And best of all: post your questions to her in the Comments section and she'll answer them there at the end of the week!

Major gifts aren't the right strategy for every organization, but we can still appreciate how this fundraiser talks about her job:

Q: Can you walk us through a major gift ask?

A: Well, here's an example. We sent our board members a list of new members, and one of them knew one of the people on the list, although not very well at all. But he knew that this person had a large capacity to give. So he sent that person an email saying

In the Swirling Dust of Change, Life Still Goes On for an ED

It just makes sense that the founder of the Center for Digital Storytelling would tell his own story in a remarkably compelling way. Here's Joe Lambert with a thoughtful First Person Nonprofit account of how organizational problems can bring out the creativity and best in people and how, through it all, life goes on, though it's your choice how to embrace its everchanging moods:

My friend Daniel recently shared this Margaret Atwood quote:

"When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It's only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story . . .

A Gay Activist is Conflicted about the Marriage Equality Campaign

What if you got a chance to chat over coffee with a deeply experienced, witty, and smart gay leader about the movement for marriage equality? He might say something you haven't seen elsewhere about the campaign. Listen in on a conversation with Matt Foreman (left, with Francisco De Leon to right):

Matt, isn't the Freedom to Marry movement a huge, unexpected, and unqualified success?

Well, yes. But frankly, I'm also a little conflicted about the issue. Fifteen years ago, when activists started pushing marriage equality in New York and I was lobbying for pro-gay legislation, I said "Folks, stay the hell out of Albany -- we can't even get a hate crimes bill passed because it would include the dreaded words 'sexual orientation' and you want us to put marriage on the table? No way, no how!"

I was convinced that marriage would have stalled and derailed . . .

Stuck Between a Financial Crisis Wrought by the Founder and a Hard Place

A deputy director describes the crisis that befell her organization as the founding executive director left, how that organization almost closed down, and what she's learned from it for her new job as an executive director in another state and another field.

When I started with this Brooklyn organization as the deputy director, there was an understanding that the executive director, who had been there 20+ years, was going to retire in 3 to 5 years. She was the founder. The organization was trying to be thoughtful about the founder leaving, trying to be proactive.

We went through a major strategic planning process, worked on executive transition, and brought in a transition consultant. We did all the right things: we had the right committees and the ED announced her retirement fully a year ahead of time.

I didn't see any problems coming

They hired someone, but then after this candidate accepted the job, she pulled out at the last minute.

It was then the outgoing director began acting out.

We were just at the end . . .

Coming Out as a Christian

Kim Klein is a legendary speaker on fundraising, taxes, social justice, and community-building. She is well-known as a leftist and open about being a lesbian. Here she comes out in a different way:

Recently I shocked some colleagues whom I like a lot. This is what happened:

Colleague A: Can you believe that Santorum? He's such a clear example of why any intelligent person leaves religion behind."

Colleague B: "There are some well meaning religious people, but you have to wonder about someone who believes all that stuff."

Me (here's where I shocked them): "Actually, I am religious." An embarrassed, awkward moment ensued.

A: "You mean you are spiritual." (that's okay)

But the truth is that I am not only spiritual, I am religious.

Let me compare coming out as a lesbian with "coming out" as a Christian:

Firing My Friend, the Founder

Blue Avocado's recent article, "The Board Just Fired Me, and I'm the Founder!" generated a huge reader response. For this issue we interviewed a board member from a different organization:

My wife became friendly with someone she knew from PTA, and one day they invited us and our kids over for dinner. We hit it off. Ben [names have been changed] ran this nonprofit for low-income kids that did after school tutoring, had a big summer camp, and did some programs in the public schools in a low-income, mostly African American neighborhood. Something like 1,500 kids a year. Anyway, we got to be friends and he ended up asking me to join the board.

At first everything seemed fine although I wasn't sure what the board was adding to anything. I'm in banking so it was inevitable that I became the treasurer. It wasn't much work because most of the money -- maybe 80% -- came from the school district or city government. Ben really loved the kids and you could see he really bonded with them.

Financial troubles

Then we started to lose some of the school district money. They were cutting back, things got pretty tough. We laid off a few people, but we were still bleeding . . .

The Board Just Fired Me . . . and I'm the Founder!

We usually don't publish First Person Nonprofit articles anonymously. But in this case we know the individual and corroborated the key points of her story, and we understand why she has asked that her name not be published.

Four weeks and five days ago from this moment -- at 4 pm on a May afternoon -- I was fired. That morning the board chair told me our afternoon meeting would not be a finance committee meeting after all, but, rather, "about your future with the organization." The meeting lasted, at the most, 6 minutes.

"We would like you to resign," the board chair said.

"I have already submitted my resignation," I replied. Three weeks ago I had told the board I would be leaving in November. We were about to embark on a strategic planning process, and our big conference -- the one I created 11 years ago -- would be in the fall. That seemed like a fitting exit point.

"It's not acceptable to wait until November," he said. "We are terminating you effective immediately. Please turn in your keys and key card right now."

Nonprofit Love

We asked readers about their experiences with romance in the nonprofit workplace. While we didn't catch any juicy stories of workplace crushes or of locking eyes over the cheese plate at the board meeting, we did hear loud and clear the common thread of passion -- for their work and each other.

What brought them together keeps them together

Sharing common values and interests are key for any successful relationship, and it's no different for those who meet in the nonprofit sector. Says Cathy Cooney, who met her husband Ned in 1997 when she worked at the Riverside Community Foundation and he was the head of the local Volunteer Center: "It's wonderful to speak the same language, be concerned about the same issues, and be committed to the same goals."

Nelson Layag, Project Director at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, met his wife Maureen in 1991, right out of college when they both worked as case managers for The Choice Program in Baltimore. He says, "We have very fond and detailed memories of our work there and how it impacted our view of the world - something we continue to share."

For some, love for their work infuses their life as a couple. Celie O'Donnell and her husband of seven years met in late 1999 at a convening of young leaders in the arts . . .

America's Dirtiest Job: Nonprofit Telemarketer?

So many people hate telemarketing calls that there are whole websites devoted to ways to torment and infuriate the people making those calls. Are telemarketers evil fiends who should be despised and tortured whenever possible? We asked Blue Avocado readers for their experiences as the wretched creatures:

"I was a music teacher," said Gayle Holtman of Indianapolis, "and I needed something to do for the summer. I got this job in the basement [this is when the audience starts shouting: 'Don't go into the basement!'] and was given a stack of cards and told, 'Just call these people.' Says another former telemarketer: "One call changed my life: I called this guy and he talked to me a little bit and then got off the phone. I called a week later and he ordered two subscriptions and said, 'Anyone who can sell me over the phone I want to meet.' That's a pretty corny line, but I did go meet him, and he hired me to work at the Chamber of Commerce."

Worst situation for one reader: "I was telemarketing for . . .


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