An Interview with Vu Le from Nonprofit with Balls

Vu-Le-with-mug-graphic_0.jpgFor those of you who follow us on social media with any regularity, our Nonprofit with Balls (NWB for short) posts might prompt a chuckle. We at YNPN regularly reference posts from NWB at our Board Meetings, and it’s safe to say that the blog inspired our entire “humor” theme this month.

While the name might seem to imply some sort of perversion, according to the blog’s author, Vu Le, “it refers to all the balls that we nonprofit professionals have to juggle: clients, board, staff, volunteers, funders, auditors, payrolls, budgets, cashflows, trainings, annual events, etc. We are all knee-deep in balls.” We can all certainly agree with that!

 

NWB covers topics like Cultural Competency, Donor Relations, Office Culture, Work-Life Balance, and even Zombies. Vu artfully blends the painful realities of the nonprofit sector with a healthy dose of humor and pop culture. He even comforted us after the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, writing “5 lessons for nonprofits from the Seahawks’ bizarre Super Bowl loss.”

In addition to blog writing, guest speaking, and answering questions from pesky young nonprofit professionals, Vu is the Executive Director of Rainier Valley Corps. Rainier Valley Corps cultivates immigrant and refugee leaders to strengthen the capacity of ethnic-led nonprofits.

As experts in the field, we can safely say that NWB is the funniest blog discussing nonprofit issues on the internet today. Okay, so maybe we aren't entirely objective, but don't take our word for it, take a gander yourself at Nonprofit with Balls. And once you you experience it for yourself, come back for this exclusive interview with the author himself.

YNPN: What's your writing process like? All at once? A measured 200 words per day each week? (3am posts imply you're quite the night owl!)

Vu Le:I set aside time on Sunday to write from 10pm to whenever the post is done, sometimes 2 or 3am. If I have time and energy, I try to get a head-start Saturday or Sunday morning. Sometimes I get distracted and end up procrastinating, finishing at 3 or 4am. Then my 2-year-old wakes up at 6am, and I am a zombie for the rest of the day.

YNPN: How do you generate ideas? Does humor or content come first?

Vu Le: There is so much to write about. I get ideas every day just from doing the work. I write them down in an app in my phone. Sometimes readers will send in topics that are burning on their minds. Content is always first. But I like to break it up once a while with posts that are focused on humor, like nonprofit yoga position, nonprofit cocktails, nonprofit jokes, etc.

YNPN: When are you going to publish a book? (We hope soon.)

Vu Le: I'm just exploring talking to publishers right now, and also looking into self-publishing. This is a big project, and I've procrastinated for a couple of years now. But I want to get something out soon because life is unpredictable, and I'll get really angry at myself if I die before publishing a book.

YNPN: We loved your nonprofit reality show ideas, which one would you win?

Vu Le: Not sure about winning, but I'd love to be swapped with the ED of a large "mainstream" nonprofit that is very structured. First thing I would do would be to mandate every staff put up several pictures of cute baby animals at their work stations, and we'd have a giant stuffed unicorn at reception.

YNPN: Any tips for balancing your ED work, blog, and personal life?

Vu Le:

  1. Adopt a Zen-like acceptance of sleeplessness.
  2. Multitask. For example, draft out your blog posts during staff meetings.
  3. Personal hygiene is overrated. Come on, do you really need to shower EVERY day...?

YNPN: What prompted you to go "all in" on Nonprofit with Balls (weekly posts/marketing/etc.)? We couldn't find a story on the website about when you got started or if there was a meaningful "origin story" and are just curious.

NWB started two years ago when SVP asked me to blog on their website. I thought it would be fun to show how things really are, as well as to show the humorous side of our work. I think so much of nonprofit is so serious that a little bit of humor goes a long way. We have a lot of dedicated, passionate and very smart people in our field. Unfortunately, because of the nature of our work and the funding structure, we don't always feel appreciated. Part of NWB's purpose is reminding the professionals in our sector just how awesome they are, and how meaningful their work is

I've done very little marketing, though, and generally suck at social media (I tweet once a week). I think with a blog, being consistent and having interesting content will always be the best form of marketing.

YNPN: Finally, if you could give 2-3 sentences of advice for young nonprofit professionals (think less than 5 years into the sector), what would it be?

Vu Le: A blog post is coming on this very topic. But I would say, first, don't take things too seriously; even seemingly crappy things happen for a reason. I was depressed for a week, for example, after I bombed my first job interview after moving back to Seattle from St. Louis. I ended up in an Americorps-like program that paid way less than the position I didn't get. However, I think that was what Fate had in store, because my path would have been very different had I gotten that other job, and I probably would have been miserable. Heck, Nonprofit With Balls might not have existed! Second, the best way to build your credibility is to show up for people and do everything you say you're going to do. Third, find several mentors, people you respect, but don't call them "mentors" because that might freak them out. Take them out to coffee, ask them for advice, and then later say, "Hey, I really appreciated your advice. Would you mind if we meet once a while so I can bounce ideas off of you?"

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