First Person Nonprofit

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


Korean American Nonprofit Implodes Diversity Myths

Much of what we hear about diversity is about mostly white organizations. And most of what we hear about people-of-color nonprofits is that they're small. Koreatown Youth and Community Center (KYCC) confounds both assumptions. Sam Joo is the Program Director:

KYCC got started in 1975 when a big wave of Koreans moved to the United States, including my dad. The U.S. was recruiting health care workers, so immigration regulations were loosened; my dad was a pharmacist.

Now we have 55 staff in four locations. But KYCC started as just a two-story house for the Korean kids in the neighborhood. Their parents couldn't help them with their homework, some of them were experimenting with drugs. We started by offering counseling, employment counseling, then added mental health work for youth and parents.

At the time of the Civil Unrest [also known as the 1992 Los Angeles Riots], we were Korean Youth Center. Then we became Korean Youth and Community Center. Now we're Koreatown Youth and Community Center.

So you changed "Korean" to "Koreatown"? Doesn't sound like a big change.

It is a big change once you understand it. We looked around and realized that not only Koreans . . .

Knitting Makes Me a Better Executive Director

Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer is Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts in Jamaica, New York, a children's book author, a pianist, and a fanatic knitter. In this First Person Nonprofit story, she tells what she's learned from knitting:

I had been a classical pianist. But as an executive director, being able to play 32 Beethoven sonatas was not going to provide the knowledge I needed. So I asked someone for advice who had left one world successfully for another world: my mother.

What I got was a ball of yarn and two knitting needles.

My mother taught me to love creating . . .

True Stories of Grantseeking: A First Person Nonprofit Story

There are true stories that wealthy people tell about housekeepers that have stolen from them, lied to them, and so on. And there are stories that housekeepers tell about employers who have cheated them, blamed them unfairly, and so on. Both kinds of stories are true but each carries a different sensibility. This article has a few stories from the domestic help, as it were. Unlike urban myths that 'happened to a friend of a friend,' every one of these happened directly to me.

There are three levels of exchange in the grantor-grantee relationship. First is the one-to-one interaction between two individuals, and that's the level this article addresses. More importantly, at another level are grantmaking practices, such as restrictions on proposals or the processes for applications. And the third is the relationship between the funding market as a whole, and the fund-seeking market as a whole. This article looks at the least important of these: the one-to-one interactions. We don't mean to suggest that these are less important than the other two levels. In fact, if these were the worst of grantseeking, it wouldn't be the subject of sore complaints. In any case, stories like the ones here are of the sort that are constantly swapped over drinks after nonprofit events; this article takes one person's experience and shares them more broadly:

1. The head of corporate grantmaking at a bank phoned me to let me know she had received our application for funding and to tell me the timeline for their response. She went on to tell me about a local chamber music group where she is on the board, and asked me to . . .

Angry Activist Gets Old & Wise: A First Person Nonprofit Story

Brenda Crawford is known as a fierce activist and relentless advocate for African Americans, for poor communities, for women, for lesbians and gays, and against all forms of oppression everywhere. As she turned 63 she came to some reflections and conclusions that surprised her; we think her comments will start a conversation for you:

I'm 63 now and how am I going to spend the rest of my life?

I'm retiring from the activist movement. I'm finished with in-your-face lobbying and sign-carrying activism. I don't want to go to Sacramento again unless it's to see a basketball game. I'm done talking to our elected officials. I'm done with confrontational politics.

I'm going to take up senior line dancing and dominoes. I have to re-learn how to play bid whist. My new activism is about building community, talking more with people I don't agree with . . .

Our Executive Director is Embezzling

It's the phone call no board member wants or ever expects to get: word that the organization's executive director is being investigated by the police for embezzlement. In this First Person Nonprofit article, Vernon Waldren, board member of the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands in Omaha, Nebraska, talks candidly about how the story unfolded:

We got a call from someone at a different nonprofit letting us know that our executive director was probably going to be arrested for embezzlement at their organization, where he was on the board. Our [board] president got that call on a Monday morning, and she called a meeting of the executive committee at 5:00 that evening. What we learned was . . .

From Artist to Executive Director: Not a Straight Line

Few young people answer "Nonprofit Executive Director" when asked what they want to be when they grow up. And most executive directors will admit to not having thought much about such a career, until just the right job happened to land in their path. Here's how the story unfolded for a young artist from Chicago who one day found himself unexpectedly working as an ED in Montana:

As an artist, the thought of becoming a nonprofit executive director just never occurred to me. My aspirations were always clear: to make my artwork in a stimulating, creative environment. After college I spent a summer as an artist-in-residence at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts (The Bray) in Helena, Montana, doing sculpture alongside other ceramic artists. After that 1998 summer residency I moved to Chicago and worked as a studio potter for three and a half years while also managing a local ceramic supply company. As much as . . .

Turning the Tables on Pride

This First Person Nonprofit article should probably be called a First Person Rant. We like this rant.

This happens to me all the time and probably to you, too: someone asks me, "So what do you do for a living?" And then I'm not sure what to say.

Sometimes I say, "I'm the CEO of a nonprofit" and other times I say,"I'm the CEO of an insurance company." They're both true because I work for an insurance company that is a nonprofit (and was created to serve nonprofits exclusively).

I am sorry to tell you that people sit up and pay attention when I say "insurance company" and pass me off when I say "nonprofit." Imagine: the insurance business has one of the worst reputations of all industries, and yet people respect the insurance part of my job more than the nonprofit side of my job! Why is that?!

I suspect there are more than a few misperceptions, but I also think . . .

Switching Careers at the Worst Possible Time

Edie Boatman left a for-profit career for fundraising just as the economy crashed. With irony and humor her First Person Nonprofit essay reflects on her sense of timing and what she's learned so far.

August of 2008: Just one month before the economic meltdown . . . my first day begins on my new job as Director of Fund Development for a small nonprofit focused on arts and literacy with inner city kids. At 43, after a career in corporate marketing and publishing, I had to ask myself: What did I know about raising money? Nothing, outside of managing a few appeal letter projects. What did I know about the economy? Nothing, other than having a belief things would start to change for the better after the election.

If I had known then what I know now, would I have jumped into a job with no experience during the worst slump in the economy since the 1930s? . . .

Six of Our Board Members are in Prison

Do you have a hard time getting board members to meetings? Justice Now, a California organization working in women's prison issues, has ten board members, of whom six are imprisoned. There is much to learn from them about involving board members in strategic decision-making, about board member mentoring of staff, and about how board members can raise money from their peers in unexpected circumstances. In this issue Board Treasurer Misty Rojo and Co-Founder/Executive Director Cynthia Chandler talk with Blue Avocado.

Blue Avocado: Misty, I understand that you were released three months ago after nearly ten years in prison, and you've been on the board for six years. How did you get involved with Justice Now?

Misty: When I was just starting my time in prison, I had some health problems. I met two women who were fellow inmates who were founding members . . .

The Volunteer Who Couldn't

Martin Gorfinkel retired from the technology company he started and ran for 30 years. He is the legendary "retired and willing volunteer" but has run into roadblock after roadblock. We seldom hear from the would-be volunteer who never ended up volunteering; this is the voice of one such person, from whom there is much to learn (and a happy ending).

Trying to volunteer has been a disaster! Over the last five years I have made serious efforts to help at several organizations.

Exhibit A: A local hospital put out the word it was looking for men to help in...


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