This past Tuesday, I attended the Maine Philanthropy Partners Conference in Northport. It was my first time attending this conference, and I wondered what I was in for.
All day conferences can be hit or miss. You never know what you’ll get for presenters, and I always worry about not having enough to eat during the day. I pack snacks just in case.
The theme of the conference was “engaging the many voices of Maine.” While I wasn’t planning on blogging about the event, I was blown away by the two keynote speakers, in particular, Akaya Winwood and Vu Le. If you don’t know these names and have any interest in social change, google them after reading this post. They will inspire you and make you laugh.
Akaya Winwood, president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute, started the day off by telling the 400+ attendees to put our feet on the ground. While my feet dangled every so slightly above the conference hall floor due to my lack of height, I closed my eyes and listened. And that was the point. To listen. To be present and not just hear, but listen.
When we opened our eyes after a minute or two of Akaya centering us, she talked about how we need to be willing to be uncomfortable and open to change in order for social change to happen. We must take the time to listen intimately. In her words:
“Social justice is an intimate act.”
Akaya encouraged us to lean in and learn from our discomfort. She shared the story of a black-faced trivet that was both racist and kind at the same time. The overall message I left with was “don’t be nice, be kind.” I found an excerpt from an article Akaya wrote on the subject:
“Niceness is often filled with falseness—it is a way to not tell the truth, or to obscure it. “Be nice!” is something many of us heard as children as a way of avoiding upsetting someone. While niceness might be a strategy that gets us through an immediate situation, it is not effective in the long run as a way to come together to solve the myriad difficulties facing our communities, both local and global.
It is crucial that we hold ourselves and each other accountable, and we can do this with hearts of kindness. This often takes a lot of courage. Kindness allows us to say the hardest of things while preserving the dignity of those around us. It allows us to take the big risk of letting people know what is on our minds in a way that is unclouded and respectful. It is an action of the heart.” ~ Full article: Commentary :: Don’t Be Nice—Be Kind
Vu Le, executive director of Rainier Valley Corps and author of the hilarious Nonprofit with Balls blog, was a spectacular speaker at the dreaded after lunch moment when everyone was starting to realize how much more time we had in the day and that the outside was actually quite sunny and warm for a change here in Maine.
Vu was as hilarious in person as he is on his blog. His presentation slides included simple titles and photos of baby animals. Because, according to Vu and some Japanese research, pictures of baby animals increase productivity.
Vu’s plenary was more focused on the nonprofit sector itself. I won’t go into to much detail here, because this blog isn’t written for the sector, but he talked of the “overhead myth” and the need for funders to actually fund sustainability with unrestricted funds instead of restricting funds because they aren’t sure we can do it on our own and don’t want to pay for things like electricity or staff. (If this makes no sense to you, you are not alone!)
Vu also talked about “bizsplaining” or how for profit businesses talk down to nonprofits as if they know nothing about running an organization. He noted that those of us in the nonprofit world need to stand up for the sector. We don’t need to emulate businesses, we just need to run our organizations.
My favorite quote from Vu was on accountability since there is so much talk out there on how nonprofits need to be accountable. In Vu’s words:
“Accountability is what’s left when responsibility is gone.”
It’s amazing the amount of hoops that nonprofits have to go through in order to gain funding. It was nice to be in a space that included nonprofits (I was representing Tedford Housing, where I am the director of development), funders and consultants. There were some really great conversations about how we can work better together to achieve our missions. Here’s hoping those much desired outcomes (and funding!) will emerge in the future.