It’s Just a Numbers Game

The ALSA’s Bucket challenge has taken the internet and country by storm and has become one of the most successful online fundraising campaigns to date. When an organization has huge success like this there comes more scrutiny. Which there should be; after finding out that some organizations allocated more funds to branding than projects or research, all non-profits need to rise up to the cause and be responsible how donations are used.

Recently I read an article discussing how the ALSA is “only using 34% of funds for research”. The idea of an organization using a third of their funding for programs would be extremely disappointing. However, it took me approximately 30 seconds to find out that, actually, other funds are allocated to education and various programs, and that their administrative costs are only .24 out of every dollar. For an organization like the ALSA, that is very reasonable.

All non-profits try to maximize donations, but without the oil the wheels don’t turn. If no one is paid within a non-profit, the work doesn’t get done. If ink isn’t bought, flyers and materials aren’t printed for the education program. The administrative costs may not be pretty or make you feel better, but they are crucial for the continuation and furthering of the mission. I’ve been told by several donors that they don’t want their donation to cover our shipping and logistics. This is fine, because shipping is completely free to us, but if we didn’t have the logistical part of our programs financed, we wouldn’t be able to operate without fundraising for shipping costs. Sometimes your donation won’t go to a meal, a book, or a vaccination. However, without the money to the operational or logistical needs, those materials wouldn’t get to where they need to, and those programs would at worst not exist, and at best be nowhere near as impactful as they could be.

In a perfect world, 100% of all donations all of the time would go directly to constituents. Organizations like the Red Cross or UNICEF can show these numbers because of the plethora of large and small donations that keep constantly pouring in. Medium or small-sized organizations, especially those who work with specific populations like ALSA don’t get that luxury. People who don’t work within the non-profit sector might think that 24% of funding going towards administrative costs may be high.  The way that materials or salary get allocated within a budget greatly impacts what is technically called administrative.

Administrative costs will always exist, and it isn’t fair to chastise and dismiss an organization who keeps their administrative costs to under 30%. Should the ALSA work to make that number smaller? Of course, as should all of us who work in the non-profit sector, but don’t expect every organization to have 99-100% of donations go directly to programs.

Numbers can be easily manipulated, and numbers most certainly can lie. Before you donate, I encourage you to research how an organization uses it’s funds. A critical eye is important , but criticizing without understanding is dangerous.

We Need Gay Spaces

This weekend my girlfriend and I attended a bachelorette party of one of her friends which involved going to a club, a very stereotypical straight club full of dude bros. My girlfriend and I understood that the club wasn’t designed to cater to us, but we couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable when overly aggressive men tried to hit on us or try to touch us. I know I’m not a club person in general, but I have no idea how this type of setting would be appealing to anyone.

For me, one of the most frustrating parts of the night was knowing that there really aren’t that many spaces for my girlfriend and I to go and dance and not be a harassed by men who ‘accidentally’ grab my ass . The city that we live in doesn’t have many LGBT specific safe spaces, and the number that is specifically for lesbians is minuscule.

Why is it so difficult for us to have safe spaces? And, for those of us who work in the non-profits, finding a safe space within our sector, organization, or country could be near impossible. There aren’t that many safe spaces online either (that’s why I started this blog in the first place). It’s frustrating that there are so few spaces outside of our apartment that I feel safe talking about my girlfriend, holding her hand, or being able to dance with her. I should be able to talk about her on my organization’s trips or in other situations where people get to casually mention their heterosexual significant other. It’s frustrating and it’s saddening. Denying my orientation and denying my girlfriend are two very big parts of myself,I always feel like I have to pretend I’m someone I’m not .

I want there to be club where I can dance with my girlfriend. I want to travel the world and tell everyone how amazing she is. I want to not be afraid of  mentioning her or looking ‘too gay’ when I talk to donors or constituents.

For now, I hope that this blog can serve as that, and hopefully we can work towards more safe spaces online and offline, and having fun and working within the organizations we feel so passionately about.

I want all of us gay humanitarians to be able to band together, and at least create a space online where we can be safe, and be ourselves.

How To: Make a Program Budget

When creating a new program, the budget is essential for understanding how much money will be needed to launch and maintain the program.  According to the Foundation Center, “… the budget may be a simple one-page statement of projected expenses, or an entire spreadsheet including projected support and revenue and a detailed narrative, which explains various items of expense or revenue”. The budget is a way to tell the program’s story through numbers, in a way that is tangible and concrete to funders, donors, and constituents.


How are you funding this project? Are there going to be multiple funding sources? Will these sources last throughout the program, or will you need to supplement the revenue later on? Revenue can include: Individual Contributions, Grants/Institutional Donors, Program Fees, Membership Revenues, Sponsorships, Special Events Revenues, and Government Contracts. Listing out all of these sources can show that your organization is capable of acquiring multiple sources. To a potential donor or sponsor, it would mean that their investment is worthwhile and sustainable.


Be as detailed and realistic as possible when listing out expenses.  Expenses can include: Staff Salaries, Payroll Taxes, Employee Benefits, Travel, Training/Education – Staff, Meetings & Conferences, Rent and utilities, Insurance, Advertising, Website Development & Service, Public Relations, Telephone/Fax Equipment, Office Furniture, Postage, and Printing. Grantmakers or sponsors want to see whole funding picture; they also want the program to succeed if they invest. Don’t surprise funders with new expenses in the middle of the project.


Good luck!


You Can’t Always Get What You Want

In my quest for finding a paying non-profit job, I’ve been luckily enough to be one of the few selected to come I for interviews. This has happened several times, and has not result in successful employment. I know that this is significantly more progress than my peers are experiencing, so a part of me feels guilty for being frustrated.  Then there is the part of me that wants organizations to see how freaking awesome of an asset I would be in their non-profit. I know that I have a good amount of experience, and I’ve knowledge of a wide range of things that are necessary in a non-profit office (everything from website management, event planning, and everything in between). What do these other people being interviewed have over me? Probably experience, which in reality, I really can’t do anything about. There are always going to be people who know more than I do. I just wish that I was given a chance to prove myself.

Honestly, constantly getting my hopes up and then having them dashed is the worst part about the job hunting process. For me to present myself in the best possible light in an interview, I need to feel excited and passionate about the position. How else will employers get that I’m serious about getting hired? But with that excitements leads to huge disappointment after I don’t get the position. I feel like this job hunting process is like a terrible roller coaster that I got bored with 3 months ago, but can’t get off of it.

I know I need to be grateful for the opportunities to go into these interviews and network with people I wouldn’t normally get a chance to interact with. I need to be grateful for getting farther in the job process than a lot of people.  I know I need to stay positive because even as I’m writing this, I am getting emailed about possible positions.

I just need to take deep breaths, and keep doing what I’m doing. Because really, there isn’t an alternative.

How To: Deal With Naysayers

There are always going to be people who don’t ‘get’ what your organization does. There are always people who don’t understand why you work with a certain population or in a specific geographic area. Most annoyingly, there are people who don’t think what your non-profit does is worth while and make sure you know it. Instead of offering constructive criticism or trying to help, these people will only offer up criticism.The best thing to do when faced with a naysayer is to be polite, be open and flexible, and keep doing what you’re doing.

Be Polite

Naysayers are usually frustrating and provocative. For example, I’ve been told that the children I was working with couldn’t be poor because they were smiling in the pictures. As much as you want to reply with snappy comebacks, it really doesn’t get you anywhere. Staying level-headed might not change their minds, but you will keep your professional reputation intact. Putting someone in their place isn’t worth losing the respect other possible volunteers, donors, or constituents.


Be Open and Flexible

Even if the naysayer seems annoying, they may have a point. No program or organization is perfect and should be open to improvement. Ask what suggestions they would have for your non-profit. If it’s something that you can improve upon, try to see how you can implement the changes. If it’s something you can’t or don’t want to change right now, still be polite when opinions are given.


Keep Doing What You’re Doing

The best way to silence your critics is to have positive outcomes. If your organization keeps expanding while maintaining quality and positive impact, critics will lose their power to criticize your non-profit. Keep doing your best, and your programs, volunteers, and donors will speak volumes about what you are doing correctly.


Take a deep breath, and good luck!

Dealing With Reverse Culture Shock and Burnout

After studying abroad, and really after I come back from an international trip, I suffer terrible reverse culture shock which usually results in a mental burnout. Before medication and therapy, these burnouts could last weeks or even months. It was so bad that I burst into tears landing at JFK airport because I saw a golf course. No one back in the United States really seemed to get how I felt, and telling stories about my international adventures only made me feel worse.

I may be wrong, but I feel like people who suffer from good old regular culture shock when traveling to a country have it easier. You either stick it out in the new country, or you go home. Reverse cultural shock likes to creep out unexpectedly and at the worst moments. Like almost having a panic attack in the middle of a Bath and Body Works while Christmas shopping at a mall. Whenever I travel internationally, even if it’s for a short period of time, reverse culture shock sets in as soon as I land back in the United States. Places abroad feel so much like home, more than other living situations I was in, and I didn’t want to leave that feeling. I didn’t want to leave that sense of community and simplicity. My responsibilities abroad were going to school or volunteering, which made life back in the United States seem ten times more complicated than it probably was. After returning from study abroad, the reverse culture shock was so severe that I stayed in varying degrees of depression over a 5 year period. My depression is biochemical, and that feeling of loss was something that I couldn’t truly overcome on my own.

I thought that with the medication and therapy the feeling would be non-existent or at least dissipate faster. However, the feeling stays just as long and just as strong. The only difference now is that it doesn’t complete destroy my mental state for a month after returning. Which I suppose is a pretty big difference. Not completely burning out helps me move forward and allows me to get the work done that I need to. I just wish that there was some magic spell or drug that would allow me to travel from country to country without feeling so disoriented when I return. In the meantime I have a great girlfriend, friends, family, and therapy that remind me what home feels like in the United States.

How To: Craft Your Non-Profit’s Story

Story telling is one of the most quintessential ways a non-profit can get its mission across. Donors, volunteers, constituents, and funders all want and need to know the facts, but they also want to be captivated by what you are telling them. Statistics are educational, but stories inspire people. How you need to craft your non-profit’s story depends on who you are speaking to and why you are speaking to them. Like an elevator pitch, you want to keep your story interesting and engaging.

Who are you speaking to?

How you tell you story should be determined on how many people this person represents. If it is just an individual donor the story should be more personalized. If this person represents a corporation or organization, the story should focus on impact and how a donation or partnership would benefit them.

What is this person or organization interested in?

If your organization focuses on primary and secondary education, but the person you are talking to is interested in middle school, your story should focus on the work you do with middle school students. Pinpointing a specific interest will help guide your story in a way that will hold their attention; a person is more likely to give or participate when you are telling a story through their worldview. However, you shouldn’t change your mission to draw donors or partners. It will become obvious that you were leading them on.

Speak passionately and have visuals

Story telling is most effective when its obvious that you are passionate about what you are discussing. The more energized you are about your organization, the more that energy is contagious to those who are listening. People tend to get excited about tangible examples of program success; showing someone a picture of your constituents and your program connected to your story creates a ‘show and tell’ response. They are not only hearing what your non-profit is doing, they get to see what kind of impact they can have if they participate.


Start crafting, and good luck!

“But You Don’t Look Gay…”

When I was abroad and socializing with the oil workers I mentioned the last weekthere were several times when these middle-aged men would try to create drama within my study abroad group (composed of 20-somethings).  One of these incidents was one of them insisting to me that another person in my group was gay, and you could tell by “just looking at them”.

I’m not going to touch on the idea of creating drama over sexual orientation (that’s a whole other blog post). Even after I started to come out to myself, no one on that trip could tell I was gay. Everyone that I came out to at home was surprised. It felt like my homosexuality was pouring out of every part of me, but my ‘straight acting’ of the past was just too good.  I had pretended to have crushes on male celebrities and tried to convince myself that I was in love with several of my male friends. It never felt real to me, but I guess I was fairly convincing. The markers that seemed so obvious to that oil worker were wrong, but all of the markers I had weren’t ‘gay enough’.

Can you always tell that people are gay by just looking at them? At the beginning of the trip when this occurred, I wasn’t even out to myself yet, but no one was picking up on what in hindsight was pretty obvious gay vibes. Even after being out for 6 years, I still get surprised reactions; they couldn’t ‘see’ my gayness. Before I cut my hair short, I would go  to Pride parades and events with my male gay friends and automatically be pegged as the ally or hag tagging along.  Now, there are times when I look at myself and think I look ‘gayer’ than other times, but those visual markers don’t necessarily give me away. My hair could be in a faux hawk, and I could be wearing skinny jeans and a plaid shirt and people have still be surprised when I refer to my girlfriend.

Is there a mysterious gay vibe that I’m not emitting? Being a lesbian is a crucial part of my identity, and honestly it frustrates me that people don’t see it when I think I am making it obvious. Is it that it’s so obvious to me, but surprising for everyone who assumes heterosexuality until proven other wise? Is that what has kept me safe when I have been traveling with my non-profit? I feel gay all of the time, but I guess since straightness is assumed ( I usually dress in the middle of the butch/femme spectrum) I get lumped in with all the other heterosexuals. I don’t mind that when I’m traveling with my organization if it protects me, but I get frustrated that people can pick up on gay vibes from other people and not me.  What separates me from all of the other women you can ‘just tell’ are lesbians?

Even though I’m grateful that assumed straightness protects me from homophobia abroad, it’s a double edged sword. Having people know that I’m a lesbian is crucial to my identity. I feel like less of myself while under this protection, and I feel like I’m lying to everyone involved.

I want to be my gay self all of the time; I just have to wait until being my true self wouldn’t get myself or my organization hurt.

I won’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful.