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Vu Le has joined Blue Avocado as a regular humor columnist. By day: executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association in Seattle; by night: caped crusader for humor. We're calling his column: Point of Vu.

 

Cow Board Members Give of Their Time, Not Milk

Blue Avocado humor columnist Vu Le is taking a brief vacation, so we're bringing you a guest humor column by John Suart of the Non-Profit Humour Blog in Canada:

The board of directors of the Metro Foundation says they don't need to make a donation to the charity's new milk campaign because they "give of their time." The move was in response to the executive director asking board members to make personal donations to the $10 million "Give Milk?" campaign.

"Board members already give to the success of this charity with our many hours spent at meetings and asking others to give milk. That's enough. We don't need to give any of our own homogenized or skim to the campaign," said Flossy The Cow, chair of the board.

Executive director Dibble Brewer made the pitch at last night's board meeting, calling on the board to give a least a couple of ounces of milk or a stick of butter. Brewer made an impassioned plea . . .

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Bring Unicorns Back to Our World: The Problem with Outcomes

How many outcomes and logic models can fit on the head of a pin? Humor columnist Vu Le enlightens us:

The concept of "outcomes" has been well-beaten into all of us nonprofit folks. So much so, in fact, that I start to apply this concept to all sorts of non-work stuff. For example, watching Games of Thrones reduces stress so that I have increased knowledge of pop culture and thus higher social status.

Outcomes and metrics are great and necessary, but I am wondering if we are starting to take them too far. Every once in a while, we in the field do the infamous "so that" exercise. We start with an activity, let’s say tutoring kids, and we think about the effects: We tutor kids so that they can get better grades in school…so that they can move up a grade…so that they can graduate from high school…so that they can get into college…so that they can graduate from college…so that they can get a good job. Therefore, tutoring kids helps them get a good job. Sweet!

But at what point in the chain is it OK to stop and say, that's a good outcome to fund? The further up the chain we go, the stronger and more compelling the outcomes seem to be, and the easier it is for funders and donors to rationalize funding programs. But sometimes it makes no sense. Because of the funding dynamics, we often have wacky conversations like this:

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The Sustainability Question: Why Is It So Annoying?

This morning, I woke up early and realized I was face-to-face with my son Viet, who has been sleeping in the same bed with his mom and me. Looking at our sweet little baby, who was still sleeping peacefully, one tiny hand under his soft and rosy cheek, I was filled with warm fatherly thoughts. Namely: "When is this kid going to get a job and help pay for his keep?" I was tempted to wake him up and say, "You do realize that childcare for you each month is literally more than our mortgage, right? You better enjoy this while you can, little dude, because when you turn 18, you're on your own."

And that makes me think about the issue of sustainability of nonprofit programs. In every grant application, there is the "Sustainability Question," which is basically, "How will you sustain this program or project when funding from the So-and-So Foundation runs out?"

This question seems absolutely reasonable at first glance, but . . .

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Humor: Nonprofit Advice on Love, Marriage, and Other Stuff

Vu Le, Blue Avocado humor columnist and executive director of Vietnamese Friendship Association, makes us smile:

Executive directors are problem solvers. That's why we get paid the big bucks. But why keep it to just nonprofit problems? We would make great advice columnists!

Dear Nonprofit Director: After a year of dating the girl of my dreams, I introduced her to my family and announced we were getting married. The reaction was warm but not enthusiastic. Neither set of our parents has offered to help with the costs of the wedding next year. How do we bring this subject up to them? --Anxious in Anchorage

Dear Anxious: Potential funders like your parents are . . .

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Nonprofit Funding: Buying a Cake and Restricting it Too

Blue Avocado's humor columnist Vu Le dreams about restricted funding for cakes:

For the past few months one of our staff has an eye that's been twitching. "It's this grant!" she says. "It's for our after-school program. It pays for instructors' teaching time, but not their planning time! How can they teach when they can't plan?! How? How?!"

"Psst," I whispered, "Let's talk in the conference room. "Since the staff is so dedicated, they will plan anyway even without getting paid,” -- I paused, looking around -- "Why don't you just increase their hourly wages?"

"This grant capped the hourly wage, so I can't pay them more. The other grant might pay for planning time, but they don't pay for employer taxes!" She started pulling at her hair, and both of us collapsed on the floor, weeping and beating our chests in anguish and . . .

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How to Schedule a Nonprofit Meeting: Point of Vu

Our humor columnist, Vu Le, comments on the joys of meeting scheduling. But first, a cartoon about meetings from Planet 501c3:

As a field, we have a lot of meetings. And we totally suck at scheduling them. Each week, I get at least a dozen emails like this: "Dear Vu, my name is John, and I am from Unicycle for Guns, a nonprofit dedicated to replacing violence with the joys of unicycling. I would like to meet with you to see how our organizations could collaborate. Let me know what works best for you."

Now, this email is very sincere and courteous, but it makes me want to punch the meeting requester in the pancreas. Not at first, of course, . . .

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"Collective Impact" -- Resistance is Futile (Point of Vu)

We're pleased to announce that Vu Le -- who wrote last issue's hilarious and popular article about foundation site visits -- has joined Blue Avocado as a regular humor columnist. By day: executive director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association in Seattle; by night: caped crusader for humor. We're calling his column: Point of Vu.

In the past few years, the concept of Collective Impact (CI) has covered lots of ground, often with great results. Concerted efforts can kick some serious butts and do it more sustainably, too. Look at the examples such as Strive and others profiled by consultants and foundations. CI efforts are characterized by a common agenda, shared measurements, mutually reinforcing activities, constant communication, a backbone organization, and monthly happy hours.

However, like taking naps at work, Collective Impact should be done strategically and sometimes not at all.

Recently, I've started seeing it become more and more like the Borg in Star Trek, a species . . .

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Humor: The Uncomfortable, Terrifying Site Visit

Executive director Vu Le writes with verve and humor about that peculiar, nerve-wracking nonprofit ritual known as the foundation site visit:

This week, Vietnamese Friendship Association (VFA) had a site visit: We're always telling people how cool our programs are, but to have funders actually come down and visit is affirming. And terrifying. It's a weird contradiction, like it’s your birthday -- yay! -- but you're also getting a colonoscopy.

Before a visit, we try to prep as much as we can. Making a good impression is important. This includes tidying up the place and putting away our fold-out cot, which staff use for naps during particularly long days -- and some weekends. I also gather up all the papers on my desk and shove them into the overhead bin.

The staff's personal appearance is also taken into consideration. The more funding is at stake, the better we dress:

  • < $10,000: we dress a little better than our usual shabby
  • $10,000 to $19,000: we wear button-down shirts and tuck them into our jeans
  • $20,000 to $49,000: we wear slacks and a nice shirt, maybe a tie
  • $50,000 or over: I might require some of the staff to get Botox

Last year when the staff asked me . . .

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