Am I just preaching to the choir? Maybe

Written by Vu Le

One of the comments I often receive online and in-person after my various baby-animal-picture-punctuated rants is, “Vu, I agree with all the stuff you’re saying, but it seems you’re preaching to the choir. Shouldn’t you dress better and yell at the people in power who are not in this room?”

I can understand the frustration. Many of the issues I point out—grantmaking shenanigans, the archaic focus on overhead, the need for better tax policies, the ridiculousness of infinity scarves, etc.—are things many of us have been ranting about for decades. To hear someone bring them up again can invoke feelings of exasperation over how little progress we’ve made in many of these areas affecting our work.

However, I am not sure we’re actually a choir. I don’t know much about music, and I have the singing voice of a blender trying to puree a handful of fidget spinners, but I think choirs overall has members who show up at the same time, sing songs that are agreed upon in advance, know who is singing which parts, and start and finish each song at the same time before starting another one. I am not sure that accurately describes any audience I’ve spoken to.

If anything, it reveals how far away from being a choir we have been as a sector. Take the overhead issue for example. Most of us should be in agreement by now that general operating funds should be the default, and that funders who still provide restricted funds exist in the past and should all be given a codpiece to wear on their clown outfits because they still insist on living in the Middle Ages, when average life expectancy was 27 and there was no wifi.

And yet, many nonprofit organizations still say things on their website or at their fundraising events like “95 cents of every dollar you donate go directly toward benefitting the families we’re serving.” WTF. I thought we had collectively agreed this was a bad thing to say and we’d all cut it out. (Seriously, cut it out).

If we were truly operating like a choir, I’d love to see the following:

We all work to advance voting and voting rights: Over the past few years, literally hundreds of bills have been passed to suppressed voting, disproportionately affecting marginalized people. And except for a few really awesome organizations, our sector response has been “meh…” Thank you to the 20% of orgs in our sector that are working to protect and advance voting rights and register people to vote. But this number should be 100%. One hundred percent of nonprofits should be working to advance voting!

We are in-sync and on-message about taxes: We should all agree that the way our sector is operating is not tenable and we should all be working to change the tax code so that wealthy individuals and corporations are paying their fair share of taxes. And then we’d work together to ensure our government is representative and effective and that our taxes are used to fund education, housing, etc., and not just war.

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About the author

Vu Le

Vu Le (“voo lay”) is a writer, speaker, vegan, Pisces, and the former Executive Director of RVC, a nonprofit in Seattle that promotes social justice by developing leaders of color, strengthening organizations led by communities of color, and fostering collaboration between diverse communities.

Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it. He is going to do that, with the hope that one day, a TV producer will see how cool and interesting our field is and make a show about nonprofit work, featuring attractive actors attending strategic planning meetings and filing 990 tax forms.

Known for his no-BS approach, irreverent sense of humor, and love of unicorns, Vu has been featured in dozens, if not hundreds, of his own blog posts at NonprofitAF.com.