The Truth About Hugging Panda Bears

8 mins read

Did you know that giving is good for your health?

 Yes, the old Biblical Proverb that says, “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” is 100 percent true.

 Studies show that giving can actually boost a person’s physical and mental health. Some of the benefits include:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Greater happiness and satisfaction.

 Many nonprofit leaders fall in love with the giving side of their business. They start a nonprofit to help others, which is admirable. They know first-hand the massive psychological benefits the giver and receiver will gain. They are passionate about their cause… but they struggle to get donors to open up their wallets and give.

 Nonprofit Lowdown host Rhea Wong calls this “hugging the panda bears”:

 “On the podcast, I talk about the business side of running a nonprofit. Nonprofit leaders are so passionate, they sometimes forget that it’s actually a business. Nonprofits start their businesses because they’re passionate about a cause and the good it can do. I call that ‘hugging the panda bears.’ What I talk about and help them to see is the less glamorous, business side of running a nonprofit,” Wong said.

 Wong started the podcast in 2018, and her core listening audience is comprised of individuals leading nonprofits. They tend to be women in their 30’s and 40’s who reside primarily in New York or the Bay Area.

 “My podcast is very tactical. I give tips and tricks on how to succeed. I can speak from experience, because I was an executive director for 12-and-a-half years, and I had to learn the hard way how to successfully run a nonprofit and get donors to give. So, I’m essentially sharing the lessons I learned, so others don’t make the same mistakes. I endeavor to unpack what seems to be really complicated and integrate tools and processes to make their jobs a little bit easier.

 “The bulk of the job of the executive director is to fundraise. The harsh reality is that executive directors must hire people to ‘hug the panda bears’ for them; they cannot do it themselves. Their job is to fundraise for the panda bears. It’s important that I pull back the curtain on that for people; otherwise, they’re not going to be effective at their job. They will be frustrated, and they won’t bring in the right resources. So, my whole thing with the podcast is ‘hashtag real talk.’ I tell the directors that I love that they hug the panda bears… but real talk, fundraising is what you actually need to be doing.

 “I developed a love for helping nonprofits after I had successfully run my own. I was able to raise $250,000 a year when I started, but when I left, I was raising just under $3M a year in private funds. I was successful, but it took me 12-and-a-half years to figure it all out. With my consulting business, I also aim to help people avoid the mistakes I made.

 “I enjoy podcasting because I want to elevate the voices of people of color. So often, the podcasting world is dominated by White voices. With such a diversity of people here in New York, I felt that as a person of color, it was important to lift up the voices of other folks of color. It’s a very interesting dynamic when White voices believe they are entitled to be heard, and conversely, folks of color who I want to interview have to be convinced that they have something worthy of being heard. That’s why you’ll see that the people I feature on my podcast are disproportionately folks of color.

 “At the end of the day, I hope nonprofits can get the tools, advice, and confidence to be able to run effective and sustainable nonprofits. Because I feel like so often in the nonprofit sector, we’re in this starvation cycle, and it ends up burning people out. That happened to me. I want to help them run their organizations without the burnout, because we need those panda bear huggers. We need their experience, expertise, and talent to stay in the sector and continue to deliver those much-needed services.

 “COVID has really changed the game for nonprofits. So, we’ve had to become creative in terms of virtual galas and more creative in how the work is done. But there’s been a positive financial upside, as well. Many nonprofits have seen increased donations thanks to the generosity of so many because of the pandemic.”

 Wong was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is married and has the cutest little dog named Stevie Wonder. She speaks French and understands Spanish because her husband is half Cuban and half Ecuadorian. She loves to do yoga and swims almost every day.

 She admires Oprah and aspires to be the Asian Oprah of her field. She recently started doing stand-up comedy, and a book that really impacted her is, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. “She is an activist in India and speaks up for those who often don’t have a voice,” she said.

 “When I was running a nonprofit, I felt like I was hustling all day. When I stopped, I made a conscious decision to do things that are joyful. I’ve taken responsibility for my life. So, if I’m not having fun, then it’s on me. I am accountable and responsible for my life and happiness. I am the boss of me. I am the boss of my brain. We can’t blame external things. We are responsible for making ourselves happy. Our success is not outside ourselves. We must be the captain of our own ship. We decide what happens and how to manage it. At the end of the day, it’s important to not give your power away. That’s the primary objective of my podcast—I want to help nonprofit leaders captain their own ship and highlight those folks who are doing great work in the sector.”


May 2021 Issue

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