Point of Vu

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.

Point of Vu graphic

Nine Nonprofit Trends that Need to Die

Vu Le of the Rainier Valley Corps, calls out some of the most annoying nonprofit trends. We would add the use of word clouds (see left).

1. Ignite-style presentations AKA "presentation by karaoke"

"Ignite" involves a five-minute Powerpoint presentation with 20 slides, where the slides advance themselves every 15 seconds. It cuts off long-winded people, and it's kind of fun to see how speakers match up their speech with the slides. When done right, and used mostly for humorous and easy-to-understand stuff, it can be great.

But I've seen it too often used for novelty's sake to explain difficult nonprofit concepts or missions, in which case it becomes "presentation by karaoke," underestimates . . .

Mediocrity Starts with ME (humor)

After being in this sector for over a decade, I can say that nonprofit professionals are some of the most awesome people on earth. We are smart, talented, dedicated, passionate, caring, humble, witty, cool, and hilarious. Also, we are really good-looking and are great dressers. Let's see someone from the corporate sector rock that $6.99 button-down shirt from Ross, Dress for Less (originally $13.99).

But we are burning out, you guys. Our natural good looks are obscured by stress-induced wrinkles, grey hair, and maybe one eye that twitches uncontrollably during staff meetings. The work never stops; our organizations are understaffed, and people's lives depend on our actions and decisions. We work in the evenings, on the weekends, and skip vacations. And when we're on vacation, we check our emails because we know if we ignore them they will start multiplying like hipsters.

It is a brutal cycle that leads to many of us leaving the sector to make jewelry that is then sold at farmers' markets. This is a terrible, terrible tragedy, despite the fact that the world needs more necklaces made out of beach glass and . . .

If You Give a Board Treasurer A Cookie . . .

Blue Avocado columnist Vu Le inspires us again with his ideas for nonprofit-themed children's books. We should all be writing some!

Today, I want to talk about children's books. I am so sick of these children's books that my one-year-old makes me read each day. You try to see how charming "Guess How Much I Love You" is after the 80th time!

But then I got this great idea! I should write children's books! They are short as hell! And if one becomes a best-seller, I'll be rich, rich! The conventional wisdom is to write about stuff that you know. And what do I know? Nonprofit work, of course. I can write children's books about nonprofit work!

Here are some that I've started working on. Just imagine parents reading these books to their kids each night. Maybe these books might even inspire some kids to grow up wanting to be nonprofit warriors. Read these texts below, and let me know what you think, and other children's book ideas you have.

The Runaway ED

Once upon a time there was an executive director, and she wanted to run away. So she said to her board chair, "I am going to run away."

"Classic" Nonprofit Jokes

Our humor columnist Vu Le is standing at the microphone:

Last week, someone told me I should go into stand-up comedy. Figuring that stand-up probably pays more than nonprofit, I started working on some jokes. Here is the first batch. Try them out at your next annual dinner and you should have people rolling on the floor.


An executive director walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" The executive director says, "My organization is facing financial crisis due to the economy and funders' shifting priorities. We may have to lay off some staff and close several programs, leaving thousands of low-income clients without service."


Knock knock . . .

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 . . .

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:

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 . . .

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 . . .

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 . . .