A Journey, Together

Joell & Darius

In the holiday season of 2003 Joell and I started a journey together.

DandJ2011From our second or third date in 2001, we were hardly apart, but for our various jobs. Joell was teaching riding and doing sales for equestrian products. I was doing tech sales and failing at my new consulting business.

We both wanted more out of life. We wanted to make a difference; something with meaning.

I found plenty of meaning in my work in tech, where our products were used by brilliant people doing extraordinary things. I’m fascinated by technology, and the big hook for me is giving people tools that enable important work that changes lives and society. I had that meaning in work, especially at Sage/Stride and Silicon Graphics, and I wanted more.

On Christmas Day 2003, Joell and I decided we would both commit full-time to build this thing we created called Square Peg Foundation. Friends thought we were crazy, though several provided invaluable counsel and support. We were energized and headed down this new path, together.

In the early years, I managed the office and went out to help with the barn a couple days a week. For both of us it was commonly a seven day week. J1024x768-09507

We knew what we didn’t want to be – a program where families came for 60 minutes, rode the horses and left. We wanted to build a true community – where the shared work of caring for the horses who needed a second chance was empowering for everyone.  We wanted to give struggling families the confidence and the support to do extraordinary things.

We learned every day about the running of a non profit, but there were so many things we didn’t know. We knew we were committed to being fiscally transparent and true to our mission. We pressed on and kept learning.

standing upEvery evening,  Joell would bring home stories from the barn. Our long conversations connected me to the Square Peg work, to the families and the horses.  As we dreamed, we were making a significant difference. Parents raved about how their kids grew in confidence and how the experience was carrying over into their lives outside the ranch.

But a few years in, we almost lost everything. Some early donors and the last bit of our personal savings pulled Square Pegs through. I had to find paying work and Joell had to run both the office and the programs and teach the lessons and care for the animals.

This time was hard for me. Mostly I worked alone isolated in our little house in the woods. For Joell it was a sanctuary, but for me started to feel like a prison.

At the end of the day, Joell would bring home those barn stories. We talked about the new kid’s first break-through on horseback, saying new words and stringing together phrases. I listened to her heartbreaking stories of parents who time and again would tearfully told her that this was the one place where they could take their child and not worry that he would be judged and rejected. We discussed the meaning of self. We saw the difference that modeling compassion and cultivating joy could make. The keystone was the importance of how kids see themselves, how they see the world, and how they see themselves in the world.

I was Joell’s sounding-board and trusted support, and she brought to me the heart of the work, and together we refinedRCP_8810-5 our principles of Square Pegs, our practices, and the way we communicated what we do and who we are.

Those difficult years were a crucible for us. We came out of it clear about what Square Pegs is, and what it is not. Rather than our troubles driving Joell and I apart, our relationship deepened.

Ten crazy years later, we moved to our current location. Joell developed her dream team, and now that we live here at the ranch I’m involved again in the daily programs, meeting with parents and donors and planning new projects, and loving it.

StuartNafey-square peg-8954Today I see myself differently from 15 years ago, or even five. My work is more focused and I understand more clearly my own motivations and contributions. I’ve regained my curiosity. I’m diving deep into technical topics, running my own servers and learning Python and Swift. I am working with great clients, and on writing projects that I love — I’m writing a book, and already thinking hard about the next one.  I read voraciously, and I’m thinking deeply about meaning, compassion and learning and how they connect through Square Pegs and technology and business. I’m learning to surf and I’m healthier than I have been in years.

All this is a direct result of this complex and trying journey of building Square Peg Foundation together. More than ever, I have a clarity about myself. How I see myself in the world has grown, developed and I see exciting and endless possibilities on my path.

What we’d dreamed on Christmas day 2003 that Square Peg Ranch does for the kids, it has done for me.


Square Peg Email Problems…

For the last several days, email to squarepegfoundation.org has been down. Email coming in to our server was therefore delayed, and in some cases failed.

As of this morning, email to squarepegfoundation.org is restored and is working properly, but it may take some time for any delayed email to get delivered.

Any new email to a squarepegfoundation.org address will be delivered promptly.

It would help us if you would please do two things:

1. Resend any email that you have sent to us in the last week.
2. If you receive a mail delivery status notification of email you sent to squarepegfoundation.org, please forward it to darius@squarepegfoundation.org so that I can check the details and ensure that we don’t have any remaining problems.

Thank you, and I apologize for any trouble this has caused.

Anyone who would like to know more of the technical details can read on…

Our server developed a very strange problem with its RAID array, which we thought at first would be easily resolved, but it wasn’t. Ultimately, we had to get new hardware to replace the old, and then go through a laborious process of rebuilding the RAID. As of this morning, this server is still not up and running.

Other than email, our lesson scheduling database is also effected. As of this morning (April 2, 2014), that system is still not running.

We fixed our email by adding the squarepegfoundation.org domain to our Google Apps account, where everyonefits.org has been for several years.

Your email server may not re-try to contact our email server for many hours, so any delayed email may not be delivered to us right away, even though our new Google-powered email is in place and ready. It’s also possible that your email server has already given up, in which case you should receive a notification that delivery failed. Different email servers are configured differently in this regard, so you may see different notifications, including some saying that email delivery has been delayed.

This is all frustrating, of course, despite heroic efforts by our volunteer IT team. Thank you all for your patience!


Darius Christopher Dunlap
co-Founder, Board President
Square Peg Foundation

The Search for Meaning

Arianna Huffington was the morning Keynote Speaker at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-Profit, Saturday in Berkeley, CA. I was looking forward to her speech. I enjoy Arianna on KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center and usually agree with her editorials in The Huffington Post. I knew it would be a good speech – an inspiring and thought-provoking speech. It was a lot more.

“Tell your Story, so others can be inspired to action”

– Arianna Huffington

photo by Darius Dunlap CC-BY

In a time when everyone seems to be focusing on the financial effects of the current problems, Arianna instead emphasized caring, love, compassion, and meaning. She told us to think beyond the services we provide, the food, shelter, counseling, and money. We need to think instead about the people, how our services effect their lives, how compassion and and love make a difference.

While we grow physically by what we get, we grow spiritually by what we give.

– Arianna Huffington

As a business strategy for non-profits, this is also an important point. An organization that attends to the core meaning of their work will be better positioned for growth when the economic climate improves. They’ll also do a better job if facing tough decisions about their programs and services, staffing, or future direction.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito

– Arianna Huffington

Photo by Darius Dunlap CC-BY

We also need to share our stories. By telling our stories, we might inspire others to action. By telling our stories, we remind ourselves why we do what we do and what it was that made us make this commitment.

Even in a room full of people who are doing good and meaningful work, it was an excellent reminder. Thanks, Arianna!

Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-profits

Joell and I founded Square Peg Foundation in 2004, the same year Craigslist Foundation had their first “Boot Camp for Non-profits.” That first Boot Camp was an amazing experience for me, and since then I have only missed one.

As Craigslist Foundation describes it:

Boot Camp is an inspiring and unique community effort that connects people to the resources they need to help build stronger and healthier communities. Our focus is simple – to connect, motivate and inspire greater community impact.

[From Craigslist Foundation’s Boot Camp]

If you work at a non-profit, volunteer, serve on a board, or have always dreamed of starting something that really matters, you should join us at the Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp for Non-profits! I hope we’ll see you there.

Regarding Eight Belles

Regarding the amazing filly Eight Belles

by Joell Dunlap

I was out on a trail ride with students when the Kentucky Derby ran this year. Upon our return to the ranch, I rushed inside to watch the replay of the race on my computer. Big Brown owned the race from start to finish and showed the world that we may have a true phenom on our hands. No surprise to me who has admired the colt for some time. The real treat was watching the valiant filly Three Belles chase the colt down the stretch as the other horses tired. I emerged from my office to tell my students that Big Brown was “the real deal” and that the only horse to be brave enough to give him chase was a fantastic dark gray filly named Eight Belles. I was gloating as I brushed my own haughty OTTB mare Gigi.

“Um, Joell, I guess you didn’t see after the race” one of the mothers said with veiled eyes. “The filly broke down after the finish and had to be destroyed.”

I couldn’t speak.

Continue reading “Regarding Eight Belles”

GiveMeaning interview with eHub…

There are a lot of people doing interesting and creative things on the internet related to philanthropy, and this is just another wonderful example. On Emily Chang – eHub Interviews, Emily talks with Tom Williams, the creator of GiveMeaning. Wonderful stuff. Just read it!

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Maybe it’s OK that not everyone loves the Square Peg name…

I’ve had many reactions to the Square Peg logo and name. Lots of folks like it and are intrigued by the idea. Somie even think it’s brilliant! but we do get some other responses. Several people have HATED the circle logo with the word “Square”. One non-profit professional told me, completely seriously, “We recommend that non-profits name themselves something related to what they do”.

So today I have some vindication for those responses that sometimes worry us. In the article Maybe you should be attracting enemies, on Donor Power Blog, Jeff Brooks talks about the value of stirring things up.  I’m going to put some thought into this in the coming weeks. Beyond our name, how can we really distinguish ourselves and set ourselves apart? What really makes us “us”. What is it that’s interesting enough about what we do to make some people dislike it?

Thoughts? Please let me know!

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Do What You Love

Paul Graham has written a wonderful essay How to Do What You Love. Everyone should read this!

As a Square Peg, it’s important to think about the meaning we are creating. Each of us have things we’re rather be doing at any given moment, and as Paul Graham points out, doing what you love does not mean just doing whatever you feel like doing.

I always wanted to create something that made a difference. That’s why I studied engineering, that’s why I went into customer support, that’s why I started different groups and projects in my career, that’s why I decided to help Joell start Square Pegs. It’s that recurring theme of making meaning in my life.

So find that which creates meaning for you, and I think you’ll find yourself embracing that which makes you a Square Peg.

Why Blog?

The Donor Power Blog has a good article on the reasons a non-profit should blog and the reasons they should not:

Donor Power Blog: Should your nonprofit blog?

So, what are our reasons for starting this blog? Well, for one thing, it was easy. Joell and I are comfortable writing, so that makes it easier for us (other than finding the time). The blog software we use, Movable Type, is very easy to use and provides all the sophisticated interfaces for syndication, plug-ins, authoring, comments and trackbacks. And now we’re going to hook it more directly into our website so that it serves as regularly updated content there. Joell uses ecto, which is wonderful on the Mac, and I use Performancing and the Movable Type web interface because ecto on windows just doesn’t work as well. (I can’t WAIT to be off of my windows machine! But that’s a topic for anotherposting.)

But mostly we started this blog because we wanted to capture more of the stories about what we do and what happens every day at Square Pegs. As we teach, learn about running and non-profit and note interesting trends and ideas, we hope people come to understand better what this is all about a are compelled to get involved. Maybe they’ll send us a check, or maybe they’ll volunteer. Or maybe they’ll be inspired to go support some other cause that really has their heart. That’s OK too!

The Donor Power Blog article mentions how few people are “reading blogs”. But I don’t think that’s really a barrier. Your own supporters are your first customers for your blog. If they know you are blogging and are interested in your cause ( and have computer access), they’ll come and read what you write. Make sure they like it, and make sure they believe that what you’re writing captures the story of your organization.

I also believe that many people have read a blog but don’t even know it. To them it’s just a website. But folks (techies like me) get hung up on the specifics and on the buzz-words. Heck, our friend Joe Shelton has a blog, and doesn’t even know it – because he just writes a new story every day on the front page of his website. No archive, no categories, no RSS feed, just great stories about life on a Horse Rescue ranch. I don’t just call it a blog because he updates it all the time, but because it’s all about the stories. That’s the key – the stories.

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