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In Silicon Valley, “unicorns” might refer to billion dollar startups, but on Nonprofit With Balls, a humor site about life in the nonprofit industry, that term refers to something more real, and more heroic: nonprofit workers. “These people are underpaid to work on emotionally challenging issues, and all with crappy chairs that they got off Craigslist,” says site founder Vu Le. “We are like unicorns, imaginary creatures here to make the world better.”
Such quips have made Nonprofit With Balls (site logo: a cartoon unicorn juggling lots of balls, of course) a reality check within the philanthropic field. “We need to own our awesomeness more,” says Le, who speaks at numerous conferences around the country and was named one of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s 40 Under 40. “The sector draws lots of humble, compassionate people who are less likely to be assertive about our needs and the restrictions put on us. If we want to be effective, we need to start owning our power to shape policy and the system.”
As a veteran nonprofit director, Le experienced many of these struggles firsthand. He currently leads Rainier Valley Corps, a fellowship program to empower leaders of communities of color within the Seattle area. To that end, the site itself was inspired by an experience he had a few years ago. At the time, he managed a small group that provided services to low-income Vietnamese families. A larger, better-funded group wanted free help with their own outreach program. On Nonprofit With Balls, Le calls moves like this trickle-down community engagement, so he said no. “We don’t have enough time to juggle other people’s balls for them,” he says.
The site’s name riffs on how many balls unicorns have to keep in the air, with that double entendre about being, er, assertive. Occasionally, Le receives an email from a funder or manager who has taken his advice to heart. But the site’s impact is likely bigger than that. He’s unifying a scattered and generally underappreciated workforce. If you want to draw attention to a cause, you need to humanize it.