What We're Reading: Unicorns Unite

Visualize a unicorn. It’s white, one-horned, a mystical creature often crowned by rainbows, associated with sayings like “always be yourself.”

Now, visualize a unicorn and its place in the nonprofit world. Sound far-fetched? Not to the staff and directors of the John Rex Endowment who are collectively reading Unicorns Unite: How Nonprofits and Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships, written by Jane Leu, Vu Le and Jessamyn Shams-Lau. This award-winning book bills itself as offering a “whimsical journey through a challenging conversation that could hold the key to slaying the dragons of injustice and inequity once and for all.”

Kellan Moore, President and CEO of the Endowment, first learned of the book at the Grantmakers for Effective Organization's 2018 national conference. The presentation hit home.

“Having worked in the philanthropic sector for 30 years in North Carolina as both an Executive Director and funder, I’ve seen and experienced the need to slay the dragons. Sometimes attitudes, grantmaking processes, power imbalances and/or a lack of trust can negatively impact the great work and strong relationships that are needed and possible between nonprofits, government and foundation leaders to achieve the change we desire,” says Moore.

This easy to-read and humorous book is filled with colorful images and exercises. The language is all about family. The authors explain we are a family of nonprofits and foundations coming together to create change for communities and the planet. But, like many families, we have our own dysfunction – which has been described by some as the combination of money, trust and standards. These three influencers interplay in ways that are not in our best interests and dilute our abilities to be successful.

Moore recommends the book to other members of the nonprofit and funder community. She goes on to say, “Sometimes our respective behaviors and structures unintentionally create the ‘elephant in the room.’ I believe we can work through potentially awkward conversations that keep us from the one thing we can all agree on – to build stronger communities and bring hope.”

As the Endowment reflects upon its role with community partners and reviews grantmaking procedures, building epic partnerships like those suggested in Unicorns Unite will be at the forefront.