Director Dispatch: Beans, Cornbread, & Fundamental Shifts

Director Dispatch: Beans, Cornbread, & Fundamental Shifts

This video - Dan Pallotta's The way we think about charity is dead wrong - has been rocketing around the internet over the past couple of weeks.  Numerous people have emailed it to me and a couple have shared it on my facebook wall.  All of them have been asking what I think.

I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it a few days ago and, honestly, what strikes me most about it is not the central message about how our emphasis on overhead misses both the point and the potential of the nonprofit sector.  I don’t think Dan Pallota is saying anything that folks like Kim Klein or GIFT have been making for years - though I always appreicate when someone’s able to underscore an important point eloquently. Mr. Palotta does just that in his TED Talk, so I am very grateful to him.

What struck me most about Dan Pallotta's talk is that he’s trying to shine a bright light on something that isn't necessarily controversial.  The vast majority of us agree that the way we think about nonprofit operations is broken.  Even folks outside of the sector who don't have an understanding of the ins and outs of running a nonprofit organization understand the simplicity of the argument that you can't solve big, complex problems with meager investments. What's difficult is where to and how to begin to change something that has become culturally comfortable, however dysfunctional.  What are the first steps an individual, let alone a sector takes in making a fundamental shift in the way that it thinks and operates?

Last month, Rahsaan Harris, executive director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy, and I posted a blog and sent eblasts to our respective networks about something else that most of us agree is broken - power dynamics between funders and grantees in the nonprofit sector.  We titled the eblast Beans & Cornbread - Rahsaan's tongue-in-cheek reference to the Louis Jordan & Tympany Five song about things that go together but sometimes just can't get along.  But we also talked seriously about this need for a fundamental shift in the way that these dynamics play out and what we see as the role of our generation in facing these issues.

What Rahsaan and I found in our conversations surrounding the post was that agreeing that the fundamental relationship between the nonprofit sector and the philanthropic sector is problematic wasn't hard.  Agreeing that EPIP and YNPN have a unique role to play in addressing these dynamics wasn’t hard either.  It’s a conversation that our organizations have actually been having for years and our members are very ready for based on the numerous responses we got to the survey that accompanied the post.  What's hard is figuring out what to do next.

After we sent out the post, many responded enthusiastically, “Saying, okay - what’s the plan?”  Here’s the honest answer - we’re not really sure.  EPIP and YNPN have taken important steps by co-facilitating power dynamics workshops together but know that this is only one piece of the puzzle.  We know that it’s important to set the stage at the National level but also need our members to be talking one on one.  We know that this conversation has and will take years (as fundamental shifts tend to) and it will take many of us working patiently together.  So we're as curious and excited as everyone else to see where it will lead.

What we do know is that folks are ready - they’re past ready.  So we’re ready too.  And we’re looking forward to figuring this out together.

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