Odes to Labor

Ten little poems for you (all copyright JES, 2004) in honor of Labor Day, and the workers of the world who the holiday honors, hopefully with a day of rest.

#1. Where the Oysters Are

Push off in the bateau
and through the marsh we go,
way on out there where the oysters are.
Toss out the dredge and tong
drag and pull all day long.
It’s our job to stock the oyster bar
at the brand new resort
where the rich folk cavort,
arriving in their expensive cars,
to eat oysters and drink,
all wrapped up in the stink
of imported fine hand-wrapped cigars,
never thinking of us
who work from dawn to dusk,
way on out there where the oysters are.

#2. Midlevel

The buck? You know it’s stopping someplace higher,
The shit? I see it as it’s flowing lower.
I’m working here, behind the line of fire:
I fix, but I don’t aim, the fire throwers.
The chairmen without faces drop the orders,
I drop them quickly on the faceless clerks.
Don’t venture past my job description’s borders,
that’s terra incognita in my work.
Anonymously, that’s the way we’re quoted,
defined by work and never by our names.
On graphs, our productivity is noted,
red ink for losses, black lines plot our gains.
Midlevel: where I live and where I’ll die,
the limbo of the average working guy.

#3. Beryl

Beryl shared her name with a versatile gem, a fact missed by her mother (now dead).
Her name, Beryl knew, had been taken instead from a romance book mother had read.

Beryl (the stone) was usually nondescript until key trace elements were introduced.
If, for instance, you added chromium, then a precious green emerald was produced.

You could infuse beryl’s matrix with a trace of iron and end up with blue aquamarine.
Beryl had read of such pretty rocks, with rhinestones the sole gems she’d seen.

Beryl was plain, too, in her natural state, before painting herself with henna and kohl,
and hiding behind green and blue eye powder so nobody could look into her soul.

Wrapped in color and swirling in feathers, Beryl danced on the stage every night,
for the seedy old men with their one dollar bills who were desperate, but always polite.

At the end of the evening her color came off; nondescript, she went home to her son,
and counted her tips and read romance books, just the way that that her mother had done.

#4. Bogmen

we dig the peat moss ‘neath the hoarfrost sign the old cross
gather stones
wash wild lettuce let grit upset us pitch a fit fuss
spit out bones
there’s no pretending nor comprehending we’re just wending
through the bogs
wet trousers saggin’ as we’re draggin’ simple wagons
made of logs
in the night we drink and fight
kill the light to make it right
on and on until the dawn
when we’re strewn out on the lawn
wild insane consumed by pain
whipped and chained we work again
to dig the peat moss ponder our loss curse the old boss
gather bones
pitch a fit fuss kick up old dust whimper and cuss
spit out stones
cinch the straps down turn the cart ’round drag what we found
hate the bogs
nuts to soup we fly the coop thrown for a loop
and crushed by logs
whipped and chained we work again
wild insane consumed by pain
’til we’re strewn out on the lawn
on and on until the dawn
kill the light and make it right
let us drink and fight all night
let us drink and fight all night
let us drink and fight all night

#5. The Boots of Sleep II

Leap out of the boots of sleep,
rip open the sash,
assault the innocent morn
with bayonets of caffeine,
bullets of bacon,
and fried chickens (yet unborn).

Feint and thrust decisively
in your turbo Saab,
liberate the passing lane,
evade capture, play Wagner,
survey the bunker,
seize your cubicle again.

Review plans and strategies,
goals and objectives,
rally yon weary minions,
Patton at the water tank:
damn Montgomery
and his weak-chinned opinions!

Carpe diem, warrior,
office commando,
Sherman of the morning shift,
strike while the world is sleepy,
but save Savannah
as a presidential gift.

Burn brightly, flash, flare and die
by second smoke break
outside of your fortress keep,
anesthetized by donuts,
collapse on your shield,
slip into the boots of sleep.

#6. Delmas, Master of Tractors

These big ol’ caterpillars here, I’ll tell y’,
they’re like the lions in a circus cage:
doin’ what y’ tell ’em while y’r watchin’
then bitin’ your ass off when y’ turn away.
Y’ gotta crack the whip with’ese ol’ fellas,
let ’em know that y’r the big, bad boss,
but at the same time y’ gotta love ’em, too,
gotta keep ’em good n’ healthy, at any cost.
They’re more’n just big piles o’ glass n’ metal
and I b’lieve they can smell fear on a man,
but I walk confidently through their garages,
maskin’ m’ scent with th’ grease on m’ hands.
I respect these tractors, n’ that respect’s mutual,
they know it’s me what keeps ’em fit an’ clean.
I’m not no fancy doctor or lawyer or nothin’,
but I’m King o’ the World to these here machines.

#7. The Cedars of Chalybeate Hollow

Just look at them there cedars,
man, they’re gorgeous and they’re fragrant,
above the springs
with the red iron water,
they’ve got to be quite ancient.

We sit beneath them resting,
soon the half of us are snoring,
but we’ll wake up
real quick, just as soon as
the chainsaws start their roaring.

We’ll cut the trees to pieces
and then sell them in the city,
where fancy folks
put chips in their closets
to make their clothes smell pretty.

#8. Cow Catcher

The engineer stands way back in the dusty cab
of the 2-6-2 engine rolling southwest from Canadys,
bound first for Hampton and then for Savannah,
heavy with a load of southern yellow pine trees.
The sun’s setting there directly out in front of him,
so he squints and blinks beneath his stained denim cap,
ringing his bell periodically, in good force of habit,
just to alert anything caught unawares in his path.
He turns to checks his steam pressure; there’s a thump
and he sees some broken thing as it flies into the field.
He keeps on steaming, thankful for the welded black iron wedge
that kept whatever it was from derailing his engine’s wheels.

#9. Labor, Organized

They cut the timber, we make it into pulp
They bring us pine trees, we grind ’em into pulp
Our machines eat up their logs in one big scary gulp

They work the west seam, we burn their coal for heat
They bring us black coke, we burn it up for heat
Watch ’em coughing up their lungs while drinking in the street

They grow the soy beans, we feed ’em to our pigs
Feed corns and soy beans, we give ’em to our pigs
Come the holidays we’ll have some bacon with our figs

They’re in the garden, with pitchforks in their hands
Pitchforks and torches, and long ropes in their hands
We sit here in darkened rooms and wait for their demands

#10. Fishing Vessel Ophelia Rae

The sun’s rising on the horizon
as our boat motors into the east,
with nets hanging low on her winches
like wings on some cumbersome beast.
She’s a mote in that vast living ocean,
a speck catching yet smaller specks,
which we haul up in great writhing masses
and then dump in her tank, below decks.
With a full metal belly, she shudders
as we turn her back ’round t’wards the shore,
and then ease her back into her harbor,
where she vomits up shrimp by the score.
And the townsfolk, they scoop up her purging,
which they take home to shell and de-vein,
and then eat with their families at dinner,
while our boat, she gets hungry again.

They didn’t appear on your plate by magic, you know . . .

2020: Year in Review

Remember 2016? There was a lot of “Worst Year Ever” chatter as it wound to its close, four years ago this month. We lost David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, Maurice White, Muhammad Ali, Bernie Worrell, Greg Lake, Keith Emerson, George Michael, Carrie Fisher and so many other “big” names that year. We also elected President Bonespurs Tinyhands, made Brexit a sick and sad reality, watched global climate change unfold in tragic ways in real time, experienced a devastating number and impact of mass shootings, and suffered the extreme right-wing media giddily expanding its reach and impact in the aftermath of international fellow-traveler efforts to sabotage our already-sickened democracy through the infectious cesspools of social media.

It all seemed utterly dreadful at the time, and it certainly felt wonderful to wish it all good riddance come January 1, 2017. But then 2020 arrived, said “Hold My Beer,” and made 2016 look like a veritable paradise of goodness and justice and equity in comparison to the horrors that the past 12 months have heaped upon us, domestically and around the globe. If you want or need concise hot takes on why 2020 was such an ass-end of a year, I’m sure you can find plenty of them in the newspapers, magazines, websites, blogs, televisions shows or social media feeds of your choice. I generally try to avoid such wallows, and I doubt that I can add anything worthwhile to that bewildering stream of chatter, so I’m not even going to bother to try. Suffice to say that 2020 was a truly shitty year on a truly macro basis for an immense number of people, and that my normal website year-end report (which follows) is offered as a diversion for the record, not as a summary of recent horrors.

ON THE BLOG:

In 2019, I posted 70 articles on this website, noting 12 months ago that “as satisfying as that is, given my own goals for the upcoming year, I doubt that I will hit the same high post mark in 2020.” Well, surprise, surprise, 2020 didn’t quite go the way I planned it, and I ended up writing 147 posts, the most I’ve done since the Poem-A-Day Project in 2004. Retiring from full-time work certainly gave me more time to write, as did the cancellation of planned travel, and the need to fill socially isolated time in some satisfying and/or productive fashions. Interestingly, other folks being similarly isolated seemed to have an impact on readership here, per the following trend analysis of 2014-2020 website hits and visitors (actual numbers edited out, as it’s tacky to share them; the trend line is what matters):

I’ve owned this domain since the mid-1990s, but prior to 2015, I split my writing between a variety of sites with a variety of hosts. Since consolidating everything here in 2015, our Anno Virum has clearly been the most successful year in terms of readership numbers. It is nice to think that perhaps I helped some folks distract themselves, even if just briefly, from the day-to-day awfulness that 2020 has inflicted upon us. I suppose at some point I should consider trying to monetize that. Though I know from experience that turning fun/hobby undertakings into work/income ones that way usually never plays out as happily as one might expect it to.

As I report each year, here are the dozen most-read articles among the 147 new posts here in 2020:

And then here are the dozen posts written in prior years that received the most reads in 2020. It always fascinates me which of the 1,000+ articles on my website interest people (or search engines) the most, all these years on since the first 1995 post on an early version of this blog. (Note that I exclude things like the “About Me” page or the generic front page from the list, even though they generate a lot of my traffic). And once again, here’s hoping that people realize that the perennially-popular “Iowa Pick-Up Lines” post is a joke . . .

ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:

See this earlier post: Best of My Web 2020.

TRAVEL:

See this earlier post: The Roads Not Taken.

RECORDINGS:

See these two earlier posts: Best Albums of 2020 and Most Played Songs of 2020.

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND ART EXHIBITIONS:

Yeah, right. That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.

BOOKS:

See this earlier post: Best Books of 2020.

FILMS:

See this earlier post: Best Films of 2020.

AND  THEN . . . .

. . . onward to our brave post-Trumpian world, hopefully one that is anchored in science, justice and truth, all of which we will enjoy from our new homestead in Arizona. At least until travel is safe(r) again, anyway. I assume that I will be back here at my desk in December 2021 with a similar report (as has become my habit), marveling at that which was, and eagerly anticipating that which is yet to come. See you then?

Ho Ho Humbug Us, Every One!

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (Update #2)

I rode 75.1 miles today, the fourth jaunt in my “Rollin’ in Place” Anno Virum version of the Tour des Trees. That puts me at about 84% of my mileage goal, which I should finish early next week. I had originally planned to complete the 321 miles in six rides, but I’ve been going hard enough that I will get it done in five instead. Zoom zoom!

On the fundraising side, I’m at 69% of my goal. I’m truly grateful to those who have supported me and TREE Fund already. (See this post for more information on how these funds will be used). I’d be even more grateful if other readers would consider making a gift to the good cause. If you do it this weekend, I may be able to complete the money part of my commitment around the same time that I complete the physical challenge. That would be most satisfying. You can click the image above to get to my fundraising page. Easy peasy!

It was chilly out there today, in the high 30s when I rolled out, frost still visible in the fields. Hoping for a little balmier air next time I take Trusty Steed out . . . but if I need to be bundled up to get the job done, so be it. Worse things happen at sea.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place (UPDATE!)

A couple of weeks back, I publicly stated my commitment to support my former employer, TREE Fund, by participating in their Anno Virum “Rollin’ In Place” version of the organization’s long-standing alpha community engagement and fundraising event, the Tour des Trees. I’ve ridden in five Tours, and they were truly wonderful, in many, many regards that I’ve written about at length here multiple times before. (Here’s last year’s report). While I will certainly miss the spirit of community that defines in-person Tours, I sincerely applaud TREE Fund for taking the safe and sane approach to the big event this year. I’m glad to do my part, where I can, however it can help them. So motivated, I defined my goal for this year’s activity as follows:

I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’m pleased to provide the following status report, updated after a solid (but cold, and windy) ride today of 70.2 miles:

That’s a screen cap from my fundraising page. You can get to it by clicking the image. Hint hint hint. For the record, I’m at ~61% of my cycling goal after three rides, averaging around 65 miles per excursion, all on real roads, in real-world conditions. Just like the Tour. I’m at ~51% of my fundraising goal, and would like to see those two metrics running in parallel. I’d be most grateful for your support, as would TREE Fund. Every gift counts, especially this year, when so many sources of funding are drying up or being redirected in the face of the pandemic and its related economic tumult.

Throughout the years that I served as TREE Fund’s President and CEO, I wrote boodles of words and articles explaining what we did and why it mattered and why donors should fund us. I think my favorite of those various fundraising pieces was one called “The Trees We Live With.” I reproduce its text below to help frame TREE Fund’s work, if you’re not already familiar with it. Their mission is important. I’m to glad to continue supporting them as I am able. I’d be deeply appreciative if you’d join me by making a contribution to my campaign on their behalf. Here’s the link again. Thanks for your consideration and support, as always. It means a lot, and it makes a difference.

THE TREES WE LIVE WITH

When friends and new acquaintances outside of the tree care industry hear that I am the “President of TREE Fund,” they almost always express enthusiasm for my work, although the conversation is often a little more complicated that you might expect, e.g.:

Friend: “Oh cool, I love trees! TREE Fund is the one that does tree planting events, right?”

Me: “No, that’s not us.”

Friend: “Oh, so you’re protecting the Amazon Rain Forest, right?”

Me: “No, not really, sorry.”

Friend: “Ummm . . . so you’re the organization that buys up land and puts it into trust so it stays forever wild, right?”

Me: “No, we don’t do that either.”

And so on, and so forth, sometimes for a few more rounds. In trying to cut to the chase politely on such conversations without diminishing people’s enthusiasm for my work with trees, the phrase I’ve found that seems to most quickly make their eyes light up with realization is when I say: “We fund research to benefit the trees we live with.”

People seem to embrace “the trees we live with” quickly and intuitively. These are the trees in our backyards, our street trees, the ones our children climb, the trees that shade our schools. They’re the formal arrangements that make our civic architecture more grand, the little glades that provide green backdrops to our developments, that killer oak along the fairway that costs us a stroke every time we slice a tee shot into it, the canopy above the cemeteries we visit on Veterans and Memorial Days, and so many others. The “trees we live with” are a part of our everyday lives and experiences. TREE Fund supports the science needed to sustain them.

I know, of course, that the benefits of our research and education programs reach well beyond that simple rubric. But getting people outside our industry to think actively about the myriad choices and decisions that can surround a single familiar tree over its lifetime is a great first step in helping them understand not only what TREE Fund does, but also the benefits that professional tree care services anchored in rigorous science can provide.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t appreciate “the trees we live with.” Bringing our work home for people that way can help us open the circle to new friends and supporters, one conversation at a time.

Tour des Trees 2020: Rollin’ in Place

I retired from my role as President and CEO of Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund) in November 2019. That was right around the time that we announced that the next installment of our premier community engagement event, the Tour des Trees, would be rolling through Colorado in September 2020. Having ridden in and fundraised for five prior Tours (click here for last year’s report), I had fully intended to ride that planned 2020 mountain route as well, but those plans changed last Spring when I was awarded the opportunity to visit Ideas Island in Sweden, creating an irreconcilable scheduling conflict.

Then, of course, Anno Virum happened, and everything changed. I’m not posting from Sweden right now, and the Tour did not roll through the Rockies as expected. Bummers on both fronts. While losing the opportunity to work on a project at Ideas Island impacted only me, the loss of the 2020 Tour had far more consequential impacts on TREE Fund, significantly cutting into its ability to provide community engagement and fundraising to support crucial arboricultural research programs. The West Coast is burning as I write this post, demonstrating clearly and painfully how necessary and valuable scientifically-robust research findings and practices are to mitigating climate change, combating invasive species, and capitalizing on the myriad benefits provided by healthy urban and community forests. TREE Fund is a major player in that effort, especially as Federal funding for such work has evaporated or been redirected in recent years.

I was pleased, therefore, when TREE Fund announced plans for a “Rollin’ In Place” Tour designed to allow riders, runners, walkers, swimmers, hikers, whatevers support the organization safely from and in their own home communities. They’ve set a goal of $150,000, around the theme of “3-2-1 Go!,” explained thusly:

Traditionally, Tour des Trees riders would spend a week riding through a state or region, engaging with communities and raising funds for TREE Fund. Instead of riding 321 miles in the Rockies this year, we challenge you to take on 321 your own way! Ride 321 km a month the entire duration of the campaign, run 3.21 miles a day, do 321 pushups a week, walk your dog 321 miles, pogo-stick jump to a new record of 321 . . . you get the idea. 321 is the magic number!

I’m down to do my part on that front to help TREE Fund reach its event goals. I’m sticking with cycling as my activity, with a 321 mile goal, ridden out on the road, like a normal Tour. While I can’t get the climbing experience in Iowa that I would have gotten in Colorado, I do want to replicate the daily endurance aspect of the Tour, so my objective is reach 321 miles in six rides (a typical Tour week), ideally including one century (100+ mile) ride. We are moving from Iowa on October 22, so I intend to complete the miles and the related fundraising before then.

I’ve kicked things off by making my own contribution to the cause, and would greatly appreciate it if you would support TREE Fund via my “Rollin’ In Place” campaign. Here’s my fundraising page, where you can make your own gift to support the mission and goal. That page is linked to my cycling computer, so it will show progress updates as they occur, and I will also report them here, of course. Thanks in advance for whatever you can chip in to the effort. I am grateful, as will be the entire TREE Fund team.

Last year’s Tour team. We’re not together in person this year, but the communal spirit remains strong. (Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the very professional Ex-President/CEO throwing the metal horns. BRUTAL!!)

Nonprofit Management: Tips of the Trade

In 1996, I wrapped up 14 years of Federal service in a variety of military and civilian roles. I had already established a solid freelance writing business at the time, but I wanted a “day job” to provide healthcare coverage for my family and a stable salary base atop which my I could write what, when, and as I wanted. Most of my colleagues from Navy days facing similar transitions at the time went into the for-profit sector, but I decided that public service meant too much as a guiding principle for me to walk into a world where shareholder profits were at all a governing interest in my day-to-day work.

So I made a conscious decision to enter the nonprofit sector, where I’ve remained ever since. I had to essentially start my career over that year, since my acquired skills of negotiating complex, high-value, confidential contracts for submarine and aircraft carrier components didn’t exactly translate into the cultural, educational, and social service sectors. But I’m a quick learner, and it didn’t take long before I earned the first of four nonprofit chief executive positions that I have held to date.

As that phase of my professional life now winds down with my retirement from that fourth nonprofit CEO position this month, I wanted to share ten frank thoughts that I think might be useful to the next generation of up-and-coming nonprofit executives. I would have appreciated having someone tell me some or all of these things in 1996, so hopefully others may find them useful. (Note: in the few cases where I’ve already written more on some of these topics elsewhere, I link to those articles, rather than simply repeating them here).

1. Understand the differences between governance and management: Nonprofit boards are tasked with governance, nonprofit executives are tasked with management. I developed this grid to explain the key differences between those roles. When boards manage and executives govern, nonprofits fail. As the chief executive of a nonprofit organization, you sit as the single crossover point person looking upward to a multi-person board that supervises you, and downward at a multi-person staff that you supervise. No one is in a better position than you are to monitor roles in both directions, to set appropriate boundaries, and to formulate and implement corrective action when the governance vs management relationships get out of alignment.

2. Serve on nonprofit boards: You will never fully understand or appreciate the challenges that your boards face in fulfilling their governance and fiduciary roles unless you yourself sit on that side of the table at some point too. But don’t just serve on a board as checklist item on your resume, or for the cache of having your name on the letterhead of a prominent charity. Board service involves a lot of challenging volunteer work, and there are specific duties and responsibilities expected of all nonprofit board members. I developed this summary of those roles and responsibilities, and you should be prepared and committed to live, work and deliver within such a rubric before you join any nonprofit board.

3. Understand nonprofit accounting standards and auditing practices: On some plane, I’d almost say this is the most important of the ten tips provided here, as an adept skill with your budgets and financials will allow you to work most closely and effectively with your board’s treasurer and your own staff financial professionals. You want to have the best people possible in those roles, sure, but you don’t want to turn them into the de facto financial decision-makers for your organization because you don’t have a complete, timely and accurate understanding of the reports they produce, review and approve. Some years ago, I wrote a (hopefully) amusing introduction to this somewhat dry topic called Financial Basics for Nonprofit Managers. While I mostly developed these skills in a hands-on fashion over a lot of years, if you’re at that transition point between being a development or other nonprofit middle manager and serving as your organization’s executive, I would most emphatically recommend that you find a training or certificate course in nonprofit accounting. It will set you apart, and it will serve you well.

4. Develop a thick skin: I often use a sports analogy when I discuss the life of a nonprofit fundraiser, noting that a really good professional baseball player will hit at or above .300 over the course of a season, meaning that 70% of his at-bats result in failure. Well, guess what? A really good fund development or institutional advancement professional has about the same success rate in a given year, and if being told “no” hurts your feelings, then you’re in the wrong business. Some nonprofit executives think they can get around this by having their development directors and/or board members make all of the hard asks, but that’s a recipe for failure over the long haul. Peer-to-peer asks are crucial, and many times you are the right person to make such asks, and many times you will receive a negative reply after you make them. They key to enduring that is to recognize that most “no” answers are actually “not now” answers, and to practice your swings and hone your skills until the next at-bat comes around, with a smile on your face while you do it.

5. Understand and practice the donor development cycle: Related to the point above, if you step up to the plate having done none of the necessary training and practice, the likelihood of a big swing and a whiff increases exponentially. The donor development cycle involves prospect identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, and it takes time, research, and talent. If you ask someone for a big gift the first time you meet them, you can pretty much plan on a “no” response. If you do not understand what motivates a prospect before you ask them for a gift, you’re even more likely to get a “no” from them. And some of those “no” answers will really mean that, for good, with no invitations to come back around again for another try. The one part of the donor development cycle that most often goes neglected by nonprofit executives is the stewardship phase, or what happens after you actually get the gift. If a major donor does not hear from you again until you want more money, he or she is less likely to feel the love and write the check. But if you carefully, judiciously, and personally steward those donors, your next gift is more likely to come in, and hopefully be bigger than the one before it. People want to feel connected to their charitable causes, and they want to know that their gifts make a difference. You are one of the most important players in making sure that’s the case.

6. Respect the sector and its people: There’s a sadly common trope in the business world that “people work in the nonprofit sector because they can’t cut it in the for-profit sector.” From a strictly monetary standpoint, this might seem to make sense, since salaries in the nonprofit sector are generally lower when compared to comparable positions in the for-profit sector, and if people can get paid more for doing the same job in the for-profit sector, then their continued presence in the nonprofit sector must be indicative of their second-tier talents, right? But this is very wrong, offering a shallow and reductive view of the nonprofit sector that fails to recognize fundamental elements of the charitable experience: altruism, belief in a mission, philanthropy, a desire to serve others, a sense of deeper meaning, wanting to make a difference, etc. Some of the most talented individuals that any of us are ever likely to encounter have forged their entire careers and reputations working for and with nonprofits, to the tremendous benefit of their communities. The nonprofit workforce isn’t less effective or less valuable than the for-profit sector is, it’s just driven by a very different set of motivations and inspirations. I believe those of us in leadership positions within the nonprofit sector have a clear responsibility to educate those outside the sector on this front, and we should never denigrate, by action or by inaction, our colleagues and their organizations in the eyes of those who would judge our staffs that way.

7. Understand and manage the power dynamics of our sector: This is a subtle one, somewhat related to stewardship, somewhat related to developing a thick skin, somewhat related to respecting the sector and its people, but it’s a common facet of the nonprofit world experience, so I think it needs to stand on its own. At bottom line, you need money for your organization, and your donors have the money you need, which means that your donors have a profound power to greatly enhance your success, or to deeply undermine it, as they see fit. Some of your biggest donors will be clearly aware of this fact, and they’re not going to be bashful about letting you know what they want and expect from you, when they want and expect it. Sometimes, those wants and expectations are going to cross lines of professionalism and propriety and you will have to stand firm on principles in such cases, and (hopefully) do so in a way that does not produce negative outcomes for your organization. But other times, sorry to say, you’re going to have to suck it up and go along with what they want, when they want it, on their terms. This can be a real prick to the pride when you’re feeling particularly powerful and accomplished as the CEO of your nonprofit corporation, and I’ll admit that accepting this reality has always been a challenge for me. I’m a seasoned professional and a major donor for some organizations in my own right, so being treated like “the help” can really sting sometimes, e.g. going to a gala event with a lot of heavy-hitting donors in your community, where their interactions with their peers, and then with you, make it very clear that in their minds, you are not one of them. But that’s, sadly, the macro nature of a world where there are those who give, and those who need their gifts. Many major donors are truly gracious and would never treat you this way. But a surprising number of them will, and you should know that going in.

8. Foster a strategic culture: Strategic planning is crucial to the success of any good nonprofit organization. It may be broadly viewed as an iterative, two-part undertaking. In the first part of the process, an organization defines a vision for the future that is consonant with its mission. In the second part of the process, the organization then allocates financial, capital and human resources toward achieving this vision. The two parts of the process must be linked with regular feedback mechanisms that allow both the vision and the allocation of resources to evolve, together, to meet emergent opportunities and challenges. Strategic planners must recognize a principle most eloquently elucidated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower during planning for the invasion of Normandy: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” Planning is a dynamic, ongoing enterprise, not an occasional activity resulting in a static, printed plan that becomes obsolete soon after it is created because it is placed on a shelf to gather dust. Planning is a process, while plans are tools—and no tool should ever be held in greater reverence than the process it supports. As your organization’s executive, you sit smack in the middle of this crucial process: you must encourage and empower your board to think and act strategically, and you must manage your staff to implement the plan to fulfill the board’s vision, not your own personal preferences and projects. I wrote a bit more on this topic here.

9. Don’t start your own nonprofit as a hobby or on a whim: I will admit that this is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve seen more people than I care to consider over the years say “I see a very niche need not being met in my community, so the best thing for me to do is to establish a new nonprofit corporation to address that need.” And then they do it. And more often than not, it fails, but only after wasting a lot of donated money. Maybe some of those folks are correct in taking that first step to organize and establish, sometimes, but not very often, and a nonprofit organization shouldn’t be established as a hobby, especially if it needs to suck funds from a finite pool of community resources. You also should never establish a nonprofit corporation to give yourself a paying job as its executive. That’s just bad form. While changes in tax codes and economic uncertainty are resulting in shortages in individual funding for the nonprofit sector these days, there is no shortage of nonprofits themselves: the National Center for Charitable Statistics reports that there are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in existence in the United States today, of which about 1.2 million are 501(c)3 charities. (Don’t make the amateur mistake of saying “501(c)3” interchangeably with “nonprofit;” they are not, necessarily). The Balkanization of the nonprofit sector caused by a growing number of tiny niche mission nonprofits ultimately hurts the overall effectiveness of our sector. If you see a charitable need unfulfilled in your community, your best, first bet is to figure out which existing service provider may have a mission that could allow it to meet the need within its established operational and fundraising infrastructure, and commit to helping it do so. Setting up competing, small nonprofit corporations without the ability to actually pay for such provision will generally make it very difficult for any funds raised to have any significant, long-term impact. Again, this is not to discourage you from volunteering your time, talents and treasures in a visionary fashion, but you’re going to be a lot more useful to a lot more people if you don’t reinvent the wheel by starting a new nonprofit from scratch on a personal whim.

10. Keep charity charitable: There’s been a lot of (needed) discussion over the past couple of years about tax code changes making it financially beneficial for donors to use the increased standard deduction in lieu of itemizing deductions (including charitable giving), thereby reducing the strictly financial tax return benefit donors receive from their charitable giving. But I think we make a mistake in our communications when we put too much focus on tax benefits, because the charitable good that donors do is actually independent of any quid pro quo tax benefit they receive as a result of their philanthropy. Charity is, by its very definition, the voluntary giving of help, typically via money, to those in need — and nonprofit organizations need to demonstrate, at bottom line, that they remain worthy of support for the good work they do, and for the benefits that they deliver to their clients and communities. After all of my years in the nonprofit sector, I know that when push comes to shove, the sense of doing something righteous, and making a difference through one’s gifts, is the truly fundamental motivator for individual donors, one that resonates deeply in ways that simple monetary benefit from tax-deductions does not. As your organization’s leader and spokesperson, it’s your job to keep the sense of awe that comes from doing the right thing front and center in everything you say and do.

Bonus Tip #11: Learn how to calculate and build a donor campaign pyramid. It should not look like this one.