JN70: What should I do about these DOPES?! Vote now!

November 6, 2009

Dear everyone,

For weeks now the fiancée and I have been trying to plan our wedding. By “we,” I mean Jameelah, and by “planning,” I mean Jameelah coming up with some sort of idea and me furrowing my brows and muttering stuff like “Party favors? What are party favors?! I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies, Miss Scarlet!” Then I’d claw at my face and run screaming into the darkness.

So that’s the update on the wedding planning.

Work has been going well, and by well, I mean it’s been driving me a little nuts. I learned from a recent workshop that there are four basic personality types when it comes to work. To simplify things, I’m going to distill these personality types into the Dove, Owl, Peacock, Eagle (DOPE) model:

  • Dove: Likes peace and harmony; hates interpersonal conflicts; good at stabilizing things; can be indecisive.
  • Owl: Likes data and processes; hates chaos and lack of structure; good at getting things right; can be argumentative.
  • Peacock: Likes being around people and being the center of attention; hates boredom and solitude; good at connecting to people; can be unfocused.
  • Eagle: Likes action and movement; hates over-planning and delays; good at getting things done; can be impatient.

Think about the people you work with and see what kind of DOPE they are, and what you are. In the office, we have several owls, and they can’t stand the peacocks. The eagles, meanwhile, can’t stand the doves or the owls. One staff who is an owl complains that the peacock staff plays music too loud and that his random bursts of singing is distracting, so she would rather work from home, and she ends up arriving late for work and leaving early a lot. The peacock, meanwhile, thinks the owl is cold and unapproachable and no fun, and that it’s not fair she gets to work from home often. The owl thinks it doesn’t matter that she works from home or is late, as long as she gets her work done on time, and she looks down on the peacock because he sometimes drops the ball on things. The peacock, however, has put in long hours and is charismatic, so that brings in lots of partners and community goodwill. The one eagle in the office is fed up with everything and seems rude sometimes. I realize that I’m a dove, so I’m a pretty good listener but can be indecisive until I hear everyone’s opinions, so they end up coming to me to complain about the others, to the point where I just want to grab them by the collar, knock their heads together, and say, “You’re adults! Find a way to work out your differences!”

This is arguably the toughest part of running a nonprofit. It is just easier to write a 30-page grant for $95,000 than to mediate personality clashes. It keeps me up at night, thinking that one of these days I’ll come to the office and there will only be piles of beaks and feathers because an all-out war broke out.

Thoughts? Advice? What should I do? I’m going nuts. Everyone loves the mission and does good work, and I like them all, but they don’t all get along. Vote now:

  1. You should have a staff retreat, with candles and blindfolds and trust exercises and everyone sings Kumbaya around a campfire. Retreats solve everything.
  2. Build a battle cage and lock all the disgruntled staff inside and not let them out until they either settle their differences or else fight to the death.
  3. Fire them all and hire migrant workers.
  4. Fire all the DOPEs except for doves, because doves are cool and always get along with each other.
  5. Have a “Survivor”-type of competition where each week, a staff will be voted off the company. As a staff leaves, divide up his/her work responsibilities with the remaining staff.
  6. Switch over to the business field instead of nonprofit, because people in corporations get along better.
  7. Build a time machine, go back in time, warn self about the challenges of running a small nonprofit, buy a hundred shares of Google, come back to present.

Let me know what kind of DOPE you are and what I should do. I think I need a Trader Joe’s bar of chocolate.

JN52: What to do when life gives you a dead badger

June 12, 2009

My friends,

I’ve eaten half a pound of chocolate from Trader Joe’s, so this post might not be as lucid as the regular ones. It has been a rough couple of weeks, for several reasons, none of which involves slugs. Why am I thinking of slugs right now? Because a friend, Freya, told me that if you have a slug infestation, you just take a couple of the suckers, puree them in a blender with some water, and spray this unholy mixture on plants. Slugs, like most things, are averse to cannibalism, so they will stay away. “Death is instantaneous,” she says, “especially set on puree.” I can’t seem to get this image out of my mind.

Anyway, back to the roughness. First, my hair still looks like a dead badger. That’s fine, because there come points in every man’s life when he will look like he has a dead badger on his head. It is what he decides to do during these times that determines what sort of person he is. When life hands you a dead badger, you make lemonade.

This week, several things happened. First, I’ve been trying to hire a couple of people for my organization, under the theory that the more people I can boss around, the less work I have to do and the cooler I look. The economy has been so bad that really great people are scrounging around for even crappy jobs. If you put a post on Craigslist right now for “Assistant Toe Nail Clipping Technician, $4/hour,” you’d probably get a few hits, that’s how sad it is. Which makes me feel awful when I meet really great people, knowing that I can’t hire them all. I stay up at night, thinking of these people, many with Master’s, roaming around the world, begging for any sort of position, scorned like lepers.

Second, apparently there are rumors that the Dragon has been trying to get me fired. This is the same Dragon for whom I fought to remain on the board. I appreciate irony, but this is just ridiculous. He probably won’t get very far, since it will require a full board vote to remove me, but the thought that he would do this is just hurtful, considering how great things have been going. If their plans carry through, the organization will probably collapse. Recently an elder who is on my side, pulled me into the conference room. “There have been whispers,” he said, glancing around, “There are four of them, four old men who are plotting to take back the organization. They are plotting. They think you are getting too strong, too uncontained. Their hearts are dark and cold as frozen sewage; soon, a chasm will open, and they will rise out of the air on winged steeds…”

OK, I made that last sentence up. Everything else is true. This is so ridiculous that it’s almost comical, like a plot from a very bizarre novel: a tiny organization, facing the scheming of four old men; a dashing vegan hero with a slightly unfortunate haircut races against the clock to save what he loves most. It’s starting to get to me. When I’m stressed, my face breaks out. I have the entire constellation of Orion on my face right now. But don’t worry, their scheming won’t succeed. And if it does, perhaps is a sign from the universe that I should follow my dream of raising llamas in the Andes or go into the art of making clogs. But it would sadden me to think of the dozen of my current staff ending up like many of the bright and talented people who wander the earth like ghosts, searching for employment. They have poured their souls into building up this little agency, working to improve the world.

I can’t let them down. What should I do? Let me know your thoughts. Or, to make it more convenient, you can choose one or more of the following options below.

  1. Get the rest of the board to vote the Dragon off the board
  2. Have a private meeting with the Dragon, get him drunk, then convince him to move to New Jersey
  3. Get the four old men into one room, hire a hooker, take lots of pictures, and blackmail
  4. Secretly form a new organization, and slowly squirrel away office supplies
  5. Hire an Assistant Toe Nail Clipping Technician, gather some toe nail clippings from one of those old men, puree the clippings with water, and spray the mixture all over the community…

JN47.5: When it rains, it pimp-slaps you too

May 11, 2009

My friends,

I’ve learned today that the world is truly cruel, and Fate is capricious and wanton. First we had the most depressing Monday morning staff meeting ever, in which the 7 of us sat around our sad plastic conference table and discussed positive ways to move forward after the office break-in. Here are some of our ideas and conclusions:

  1. People are stupid and mean
  2. We hate people
  3. Why are we even in a nonprofit with after-school programs trying to help people anyway?
  4. Let’s go to Happy Hour

After the meeting, our Master of Social Work intern, Kara, and I went to Office Depot to purchase new equipment to replace the ones we lost. I was talking to a bald guy with a mustache about the possibilities of locking a server in a safe, or bolting it down to the ground. “No no,” he said, “that will heat it up. The motherboard won’t like that. What you should do is go to a metal smith and ask him to construct a special cage of steel beams. That will at least make it annoying for any thieves.”

The revenge fantasies have still been coming. In one scenario, I catch the thieves in the act, arrest them, and throw them in a room of twenty cranky first-graders who do not want to listen to a read-aloud, and no matter what the thieves do, they kids refuse to sit still and hear a story. Muahahahah! That will show those bastards…

On the way out, Kara and I realized that my car was broken into. That’s right, it’s shocking to end a sentence with a preposition, but when one’s car is broken into, one could hardly think of grammar. They left the glove compartment open, and all the paperwork were scattered around the car. This was the literal 10th break-in of my Honda Accord, which has racked up 240,000 miles. There was nothing left to take, since the radio was stolen during the first break-in, and I never bothered to replace it. They escaped with nothing of value. But to leave the car in such a mess was unconscionable, a sign of terrible rudeness and poor upbringing. At least they could have put my papers and the one dehydrated forgotten tangerine back in the glove compartment.

We took the new equipment home. While driving, Kara and I looked at each other and started laughing. It’s hilarious: We go get equipment for our burglarized office, and in the thirty minutes we were in Office Depot, they broke into my car? It’s hysterical. I started fantasizing about going to see a metal smith to make a cage. Not one for the new server, but a giant battle cage like the Thunderdome. Then I’d hunt down both the thieves who broke into my office, as well as the ones who have broken into my car all these times. I’d rally them up and put them all together into the battle cage…and then I’d throw in some first-graders who didn’t get their snacks…

JN40: The standard depressing birthday reflection on mortality and the meaning of life

March 25, 2009

My friends,


The annual benefit dinner is over. Over 400 people attended, nearly everyone had a good time, and we reached our modest goal of netting 10K. The week of the event was hell; the staff had very little sleep, neglected hygiene and nutrition, and we were sure that one of us would stab one of the board members with a ballpoint pen out of frustration and then run off to live the life of a fugitive. But now it is over, and all of us have learned a valuable lesson that will help us work together as an organization. And that lesson is: Yay, the benefit dinner is over!!


I was thinking that with the Dinner being over, life would get back to normal. I had forgotten, though, that there is no such thing as normal in the world of nonprofit. Two days after the Dinner, some funders came to our program to visit, terrifying us all for three hours with questions like “So how do you measure the success of your programs?” and “What are your long-term goals for developing the board?” 40K is at stake, and I prayed they liked us. Then they asked how long I planned to stay at the organization, since they need to know there is stability in the organization’s leadership before they would invest.


And now it’s Spring, and the cherry blossoms are blooming. You are probably thinking, “What the hell sort of transition was that? First you talk about nonprofits, then you talk about cherry blossoms? Did you learn nothing in high school English?” Well, I’ll tell you my friend, that cherry blossoms have everything to do with everything. For you see, recently it was my birthday. I turned a year older, and my birthday always coincides with the cherry blossoms in Seattle blooming. Soon the streets will be lined with their petals, fluttering down in whirls of spring breezes. Then two weeks later, they’re gone.


So when those funders asked me this question of how long I planned to stay, I thought of the cherry blossoms, and I thought, is this where I want to be? This is my fourth year with the organization, and I’ve helped it grow. But I dream sometimes of raising llamas in the Andes, or traveling the world and writing feature pieces for airline magazines that people read because they are bored and forgot to bring a book.


What do you think of birthdays? Being an existentialist, I get depressed, thinking of the inevitable passing of time, of our own fragile existence like Post-It notes on the bulletin board of life. Then the cherry blossoms bloom, reinforcing the message that some of us go out in a concentrated explosion of sublime beauty, then fade.


Then I think, Eh, you know what, maybe cherry blossoms are only special BECAUSE they fade so quickly. If they bloomed year-round, I’d probably think of them as just giant weeds, really ordinary and bland most of the year. And seriously, pink is a ridiculous color. So then, are our lives meaningful simply because they are short? If we all lived forever and need not think about our own mortality, would our decisions have as much meaning? Would any of us want to live forever?


I don’t know. Whether we are conscious of it or not, I think most of us yearn to make that “Final Bloom” to justify our existence. But how do we decide what that would be? I’ve always thought my blaze of glory would be to publish a book and have it be successful. Then I could just die in peace. But maybe I need to reconsider, because it will take time, and a ton of luck, and really, should any of us rely on luck to give meaning to our lives?


Do any of you feel this way? Do any of you feel like you have reached your “Final Bloom”? Or is that that when we approach the Fade that we retrospectively determine what our Bloom was? And are these cherry blossom metaphors getting on your nerves? Maybe I should revert back to artichokes.


To conclude, birthdays suck, because they make me think and stuff, and I hate that. It is much safer to watch Law and Order. After much consideration, though, I think I will definitely stay with this organization for at least three more years. After all, I am making a difference, and I am starting to inspire people. Maybe that is my Backup blaze of glory. And, even more importantly, the economy sucks, so I probably won’t be able to find a job anyway and I need to be able to afford cable. Life is meaningless without cable.

JN37: Lessons from Sparky the Llama

March 2, 2009

My friends,


Have you ever had one of those days where you come home so exhausted from work that you just want to leave your job and start raising llamas in the Andes?


Things have been crazy at the office. Being a nonprofit manager is no fun and games, no matter what people tell you. For example, you have to deal with the incessant whining of the people under you. “The budget for this project is not clear,” they say, “The goals are not feasible,” they say, “It’s been three months since our last paycheck,” they say.


Sheesh! With attitudes like that, who’s to blame me for only giving them one weekend off each month?


The Dragon has actually been quite pleasant to work with of late, focused on our fundraising dinner, which is coming up in three weeks and which scares the bejeezus out of me. I will tell you that there are few activities on earth more painful than planning a fundraising event. They really should reserve it as an interrogation technique, such as used on the TV show “24”: “Tell us where the target is, you filthy terrorist! You won’t talk?! Let’s see if you will change your mind after being on a committee to plan one fundraising dinner and auction for a nonprofit!”


When I come home at 9 after all these various committee meetings and staff one-on-ones, I think of all the llamas I would have. I’d name them all, and I’d whittle a flute and each day while tending to their grazing I’d play haunting songs that will echo softly on the mountains. Each day I’ll come home to my jolly wife who tends to the children and who makes llama-milk cheese and knits our clothing out of llama wool. I’ll probably develop a bond with a small llama named Sparky, whom we thought was too small and weak to survive. Little Sparky grows up to be spritely and full of personality. One day, I’ll get attacked by a panther while in the meadows, and little Sparky jumps in and saves my life, and ends up getting eaten.


Does that not sound so much more peaceful than writing grants and having meetings all day and explaining to staff why they don’t get dental care and should research do-it-yourself root canals on Google?


But, my friends, it is not for us to determine our fates, so I should stop complaining. Like the great and wise Gandalf once profoundly said, “A little late to trim the verge, don’t you think?” I have no idea what he meant, but I’m sure it’s profound and is perfectly relevant to the point that I’m trying to make, which is that Sparky was a brave little llama, and if we should learn anything from his selfless sacrifice, it is to always have hope and faith in everyone and everything, even in the most daunting of circumstances, and to never complain about our lives, because at least we have not been devoured by a panther.


Now, if anyone needs me, I’ll be at my desk writing some letters to ask for donations of raffle items and learning how to whittle a flute.



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