We Don’t Need Thought Leaders Right Now

It was just canceled, but last week the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo — the largest in the world, and a 501(c)(3) — was in full swing. For the uninitiated, it’s a giant, three-week party in Houston attended by 2.5 million people, with concerts, tons of great food, rides and learning opportunities. It’s exceptionally fun, and they do an exceptional amount of good, having provided more than half-a-billion dollars in support of youth and education since 1932.

One of the most entertaining (okay, cutest) things at Rodeo is called mutton busting, which is, essentially, an adorable activity of little kids trying to ride baby sheep as long as they can. Usually only one or two kids “win,” and they put those kids up on giant screens in front of tens of thousands of people and ask them all sorts of questions. Last week, one such winner was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I want to be kind.” Kids say the darnedest things, though sometimes they say the rightest things.

In the week since, the world has sort of exploded (imploded?) and I believe that’s absolutely the thing we need to hear right now. Too many people, especially in our nonprofit orbit, are stepping into the self-anointed role of thought-leader. Especially all those non-doctors offering all sorts of coronavirus medical advice.

NOTHANKSTo be fair, things are absolutely nuts right now. Here in Texas, cancelations of the Rodeo and South by Southwest will result in prospective hits to the Houston and Austin economies of hundreds of millions. And while no nonprofit consultant has yet done the math (to my knowledge), the blow to our sector will be equally devastating.

Winston Churchill reminded us to never waste a good crisis, and I see all y’all out there putting on your thought-leader pants, trying to make some magic happen. You’re finding every news story and YouTube video on how to turn this disaster into an opportunity, and you’re blasting it out there so all the world knows of your thought-leader prowess. And I get it. Many of us were having glacial fundraising years before COVID-19, and today the market saw its worst drop since 1987. You don’t need to look hard to know this next decade will be a philanthropic slug.

The thing is, we don’t need more thought-leaders right now. We need more kindness-doers. We need reminding from our young mutton buster to be kind when we grow up. Wait a minute, we are grown up. That means we can do it right now! We can talk with our teams about flexibility in their schedules. We can Clorox the office kitchen and let people know (without boasting about it) so they feel more comfortable. We can call our donors and stakeholders to simply say hello and wish them well. My gosh there are 1,001 things you could do right now.

So why are you still here? Go on, ‘git. Put down your nightmare pocket rectangle and vamoose — while washing your hands and avoiding crowds, obviously. And if you figure out the secret kindness sauce, share it with your friends, your colleagues and the world. We need a whole lot more of that right now.


Treat Yo’ Self

Note: This isn’t necessarily a nonprofit-centric post, though after nearly two decades of experience, I see this issue more in our sector than others. Please also don’t accept any of this as medical advice; there were no health courses as part of my nonprofit management degree.

Friends, Romans, countrymen (and women and others)… lend me your ears. Stop. Coming. To work. Sick. Say it with me now. STOP COMING TO WORK SICK. I don’t know what it is about our field — maybe it’s a misinterpreted sense of purpose, or the feeling that appearing in the office showcases a stronger dedication to the mission. Whatever the reason, all y’all need to walk your sneezy, coughing, runny-nose selves back to your cars and go home.


We are in the throes of cold and flu season, and all it takes is one of you to bring your acute viral rhinopharyngitis to the office before all 20 of us are down for the count. I’ve worked places where a simple cold made the rounds for three months (one quarter-year!) because everyone felt they needed to send e-mails from their cubicle instead of the comfort of their own homes.

To be fair, this isn’t solely on the shoulders of employees. If you’re traipsing around the office with a box of tissues and a blanket, it’s up to the powers-that-be to assess and request you go home, if appropriate — lest anyone take advantage of what should be an honorable system. That said, there are helpful things to know, which I for one found eye-opening.

  • First, it’s not allergies. Susan, you have the full-on plague, and your nose has been leaking for days. Why are you in the office claiming it’s just tree pollen? Please Purell everything you’ve touched, and go lay down in your domicile.
  • Yes, you are still contagious. A simple Google search notes the common cold is contagious one day prior to symptoms, and up to seven days after. Keep this in mind when being near people, hugging people, shaking hands, sharing food, etc.
  • Give yourself some space. I can’t imagine why, though if for some reason it is absolutely necessary for you to be in the office around other human beings, studies have shown, “a person with the flu can infect others from as far as six feet away.” Share an open office with other people? Keep that in mind when Chad sneezes in the cubicle right next to you.
  • Zoe’s Chicken Soup. My own personal opinion here, but for some reason, Zoe’s chicken soup has some crazy non-medicinal healing powers, and it’s delicious… if you happen to live in one of the 17 states where they have stores.

None of this is rocket science, right? And if it is, I’m glad to have played a small part in your continuing education. Nonprofiteers, let this haiku help you in times of germophobic worry:

Feeling sick today?
Stay sneezing and coughing in
your own darn bedroom.


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

Most of us are probably familiar with the classic holiday Andy Williams song. But the tune was actually co-written by George Wyle and Edward Pola. Behind the scenes, the two crafted possibly one of the most well-known holiday songs, ever. A lot of great things happen behind the scenes, and the movers and shakers often get less credit than they deserve.

As a nonprofiteer, I think about this a lot during the holidays. I think about all the terrific things happening throughout the year, and I certainly think about the equally terrific people who make those things happen. In my world of fundraising — especially as it relates to corporate and foundation partners — those people are not always the top figures. They might be coordinators, executive assistants or other complementary collaborators.

Each year, at some point between Thanksgiving and December 31, I always make it a point to set aside a good chunk of time to not only reflect on the past year’s experiences, I make sure to thank each and every one of those complementary collaborators. I pick up the phone, I write notes, I send e-mails. Some I’m closer with, and some I’ve never met, but in no small way they have all made my life easier and better, and they deserve exceptional appreciation.

So as we inch closer to December 31, won’t all y’all join me in sharing thanks with these superheroes? Because really, it IS the most wonderful time of the year.