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.


RIP, Fundraising Event

Fundraising Event, 156, died February 26, 2020 in Kalamazoo, MI, where it was born, with 95,400 nonprofit fundraisers by its side. A memorial service was held Thursday evening at kitschy renovated firehouse event spaces everywhere, replete with discount Chiavari chairs, bone-color linens, and cold chicken.

Fundraising Event was born as “Kalamazoo Sanitary Fair” on November 10, 1864, the lovechild of Ladies Soldier’s Aid Society of Kalamazoo. As a youth, Fundraising Event moved frequently around the United States until 1948, as a teenager, arriving in New York City under the name “Met Gala.” For the next quarter-century, it found its way until meeting Diana Vreeland, who really cleaned it up. It received a M.A. in philanthropic studies from the Lilly School at Indiana University, though never really did much with the degree.

Fundraising Event was at its best in the evenings, during the months of spring. As a young adult, it was mindful and full of purpose; its closest friends knew it as “modest,” “effective,” and “not a tremendous burden on staff.” As it aged, its tastes grew more refined and elegant, and it started spending time with a more exclusive crowd, which it charged for the pleasure of its company.

Over the past century-and-a-half, Fundraising Event was actively involved with thousands of American nonprofit organizations, particularly arts, culture, social service, and healthcare. Its interests included silent auctions, cloth napkins folded like birds, and imposing upon friends to sponsor high-cost gala tables.

Fundraising Event is survived by its siblings, GivingTuesday and 5k Run/Walk. Though estranged, it is also survived by its cousin, Girl Scout Cookie Drive. It was preceded in death by Haseki Sultan Imaret in Jerusalem.

Donations may be sent to your local chapter of Association for Fundraising Professionals, in support of National Philanthropy Day — fair market value of $45 per person.


Rest in piece, dear friend.


Nonprofit Apps We Didn’t Know We Needed

Technology is a wondrous thing, especially the apps we use on our little nightmare pocket rectangles. Here are a few someone should create to make our nonprofit lives easier. It would have to be a volunteer though, because we don’t have the budget this fiscal year.ComputerGuy

  • Oopz: Sends strongly worded emails to staff who have the audacity to tell you how to do your job, when they can’t be bothered to do their own
  • OopzPro: Sends strongly worded emails to board members when they overstep their boundaries
  • DonorImperfect: Aggregates publicly available data to discern whether the donor was actually inspired by your organization, or was just making a test gift
  • LolNoThnx: Delicately shoots down (via text, obviously) incredibly naive program ideas presented by millennial staff with less than five years experience
  • Fundr: Immediately lets you know if a corporate sponsor is actually interested in your mission, or if they just want logo recognition on print collateral
  • FundrPro: Translates foundation RFPs into simple terms, letting you know exactly what they want, when they want it, how many copies, on what color and weight paper, what random PO Box to use for mailing, and what board members are comfortable being secretly and inappropriately pitched because you “already have a relationship with them”
  • Coupl: Helps figure out if you should list the donor wife or husband’s name first on stewardship materials
  • NegotiatR: Helps effectively negotiate job offers which propose salaries at or below the poverty line
  • DoctR: Automatically locks Susan’s office door and flashes a “GO HOME” sign when she tries to come to work with massively contagious viral bronchitis
  • ThatIsUrJob: Finds YouTube videos which explain simple tasks like mail merges and replacing the Xerox paper when the office administrator claims those things are not his responsibility

What else do we need, nonprofiteers? How about a social media platform where we get together and vent about the absurdities of our work? Oh, wait, that already exists.