To mark our first year of chronicling the ups and downs of nonprofit life, we asked readers to enter our competition for the a wacky nonprofit moment. Congratulations to Toronto fundraiser and AIDS educator Ann Rosenfield, for her story “Personal Use.” Ann would have received a box of tasty avocados, but tells us that they can’t be shipped to Canada from the U.S., so graciously suggested we give the crate to a local nonprofit. We have two runners up, as well: Davina Grace Hill’s “Purse to Hip” and Paul Danicic’s “First Week Blues.” Here’s Ann’s story of Life on Planet 501c3:
Winner: Personal Use
In the 1980s, I was on the board of an international human rights and health education charity. Our executive director was going on a trip to the Soviet Union to do HIV prevention education work. She was bringing 30,000 World Health Organization condoms with her to demonstrate HIV prevention techniques and to distribute. She had been strictly warned not to reveal this because she would not be let into the country. Instead, she was instructed to say she was on a personal visit.
When she got to Customs and Immigration, the guard asked her if she had anything to declare. “Yes,” she replied. “Condoms.”
“Condoms? How many?”
“Thirty thousand,” she replied.
Looking suspicious, he asked, “For what purpose do you need 30,000 condoms?”
Thinking quickly, she replied, “Personal use.”
Breaking into a wide grin, he replied, “Clearly you are planning a very, very good time in my country!”
–Ann Rosenfield is a fundraiser in Toronto; at the time of this story she was Board Chair for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
First Runner-up: First Week Blues
After one week on a new job, I realized I needed some real education in a couple of areas. Just as the seriousness of the situation dawned on me, I went on to participate in an intense meeting in which I struggled to keep up with the main event. After the meeting, feeling less than competent, I went back to my computer and accidentally – and almost mystically – deleted the entire Admin and Finance folder from the server, erasing the administrative documents for the entire organization. The first low point was officially reached.
— Paul Danicic, Executive Director, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minneapolis
Second Runner-up: Purse to Hip
Here on Planet 501c3, the Maryland District, I’m going to weld my purse to my hip. I’m going to sew my coat to my shirt. That way I can’t ever take off my coat or put down my purse. What that will mean is that problems can’t reach me!
My staff at the arts center had gotten into the habit jumping at me the minute I walked in, reporting the problems of the night before, making complaints about everything – real or imagined – and giving me no breathing room to gradually transition into work mode.
It started as a joke: “Can’t you let me at least put my purse down first?”
Now, it’s a policy. I admit the staff still hover around my desk waiting for me to put my purse down, but at least I can control those first few minutes. After that, it’s all fair game. Unless I can find a way to weld that purse to my hip.
— Davina Grace Hill, Executive Director, Chesapeake Arts Center, Brooklyn Park, Maryland
And thanks to the many other readers who submitted stories, too! By the way, Planet 501c3 is the name of CompassPoint’s out-of-print comic strip about the nonprofit sector . . . we borrowed the name for this feature.