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podcast: the difficult conversations we need to be having with Vu Le

Are you ready for some pretty big #truthbombs about our sector? Mixing humour and honesty, Vu Le calls out our sector out on all the charitable sector’s shortfalls and challenges and helps us do better.

the hard truth

First on the list of must-talk about, is the dynamic between funders and nonprofit organizations. This is always difficult to discuss, but often the things that are most difficult to talk about are the ones that most need talking about.

Vu argues that the power imbalances and philosophies around how we fund nonprofits prevents us from reaching our potential - to the point where we can’t do our work due to restricted funding, short-term grants and the lack of trust.

There is an assumption (we’ve probably all felt it) that nonprofits will do terrible things unless they safeguard around where the money goes. That is not the foundation to a strong funder relationship.

As nonprofits, we are expected to be self-sustaining and are given some money but once it’s used, they need to find other sources of money because we can’t be “freeloading.” We are expected to change the world and invest our time and energy, yet we aren’t seen as a necessary investment.

understanding our fears

Every organization is scared of doing something that loses funding. This is limiting our ability to take risks, tackle issues and invest in our priorities.

Whether it comes to feedback or dealing with a donor who may have said something racist - we aren’t allowed to fail or we won’t get funding. That’s really scary. It can damage our work, especially in the long run.

First we need to acknowledge and recognize our fears, we can examine whether they are realistic or not.

The reality is that most donors are open to giving honest, authentic and solutions-based feedback - but we are too terrified to give it back to them. However, they do tend to be appreciative and although you may get funders who will pull their funding because they are offended, you need to ask yourself if this is the type of funder you really want to work with.

Overall, Vu’s advice is to start to have those conversations. It’s scary but critical.

let’s look internally, too

The irony is that for the most part, our sector is working to build a more just society and yet we perpetuate some of these problems.

One thing we can do is look at equity within our organizations.

Perhaps one of the topics Vu is most known for is advocating for organizations to include salary ranges in their job postings. This ensures that everyone, regardless of gender or race, is aware of the starting point. For example, women and people of colour can negotiate without worrying about being seen as “too aggressive,” undervalued or can assess if their proposed salary is overshot. We can also make sure we respond to our candidates and acknowledge when we have already hired someone.

Job postings should also avoid preventing anyone with disabilities or a lack of formal education from applying. Other information like one’s address, a working vehicle, driver’s license that aren’t needed to do their job should not be required. It doesn’t affect one’s ability to write a good grant or manage grantor relationships.

We also can’t forget about our colleagues too. We absorb a lot of trauma that we’re trying to address and can unconsciously perpetuate them to each other. We can avoid this by ensuring that we are paying them living wages. These practices build respect for the candidate and employee - that the organization respects their time and is doing their part to be a fair, equitable workplace for all.

having difficult conversations is urgent and important

We need to stop working within the default systems that we are given through change. We need to stop and think: what is at stake if nothing changes? These issues are not going to solve themselves. Insead, they will continue to grow and will be even more difficult for us to do our work. There is a lot of urgency in being able to have these conversations and take action. You don’t have to have it all figured out, you just need to take the first step.

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The Small Nonprofit podcast is produced by Eloisa Jane Mariano