Vulnerability as Strength: Letter from our Interim Executive Director

Vulnerability as Strength!

Letter from Our Interim Executive Director

Hi! This is Emily Lai. One of the last times you heard from Momentum Alliance (MA) was in December 2017, when I became MA’s Interim Executive Director. So it's been a while.

The purpose of this letter is to address 2 common questions I get:
1. What has Momentum Alliance been up to this year?
2. How has Executive Director life been? 


There’s an unspoken expectation for nonprofits to only share our “do good” and “feel good” work with the public. The truth is, doing good and feeling good through nonprofit work is complex and challenging. 

There's a taboo around speaking openly about our challenges, our finances, our "dirty laundry" so to speak. I would like to break that taboo.  


Youth have always been on the front lines of the struggle for social justice.

Momentum Alliance’s mission is for youth to realize their power individually and collectively and to mentor future social justice leaders. We try to do right by ourselves and our youth, but in the process we inevitably make mistakes. One of our core values is “Vulnerability as Strength”. So here is my update and attempt at vulnerability:

Momentum Alliance ended 2017 with powerful achievements! We:

  • Helped pass a bill that would bring Ethnic Studies to Oregon K-12 schools

  • Organized an undocumented youth rally in front of Immigration Customs and Enforcement

  • Raised money to pay for 35 undocumented youths' DACA renewals

  • Hosted 7 weeks worth of free Social Justice Camps

  • Sent 60 youth to OSA’s Oregon Students of Color Conference

  • Completed two leadership development cohorts on Reproductive Justice and Education Justice

  • Launched a long-term partnership with our regional government, Metro--to ensure that youth of color are included in government


At the start of 2018, we celebrated MA becoming an ALL women and queer trans people of color staff under 30.

This dream became a reality for the first time in our 6 years of existence. We know we have to do better at including and supporting our most excluded youth. We began to plan for a new year of prioritizing social justice issues like anti-Blackness, rape culture, disability justice, and healing for youth of color. Being a nonprofit entirely staffed by young women and queer trans people of color in this racist, heterosexist, transphobic, and capitalist world is not easy. 

Help us continue our dream!



Three months into 2018, among many unexpected things, we learned that MA ended our 2017 fiscal year with an unplanned operating deficit of $100,000.

An operating deficit is when you spend more money than you earned. Why were we blindsided by an operating deficit this large? It took a lot to investigate and understand how MA got to this point. Through all this, we learned that:

  • The last few years, MA had 50% staff and Board turn over every year, including four Executive Director transitions in 1.5 years. Yes, I was MA's fourth Executive Director in 1.5 years.  

  • Deficits were not uncommon for us -- 3 out of the last 4 years were deficit years. 

  • Since 2015, MA launched 10 new programs and partnerships without increasing our staff capacity correspondingly.

  • To make matters worse, our Board was not consistently given accurate or timely financial reports.

In essence, given our rapid growth and high staff and Board turnover, MA lacked the stability and institutional knowledge to manage of our finances.


Just a silly selfie I took at the height of our financial uncertainty trying not to lose it. 

Just a silly selfie I took at the height of our financial uncertainty trying not to lose it. 


In May, money got really tight. There were serious doubts about whether MA was going to survive.

Our youth told us that MA is special and worth fighting for. So we fought. We had to make painful decisions to downsize and pause on our programming. We lost some people along the way. We disappointed our youth. Meanwhile our very own staff and Board were experiencing mismanagement and burn-out under my leadership.

I had to reflect on my own responsibility in this crisis. I was ignorant of the financial oversight required of Executive Directors. I led the staff on a budgeting process without fully understanding MA's finances. In hindsight, that was irresponsible of me. I take ownership of my mistakes, I have gotten training and support on financial management to prevent this from happening again. To the people I have hurt and disappointed, I am sorry. I am learning how to not make the same mistakes.

Financially, things have gotten a little better for MA. We have enough money to operate at the bare minimum. 

With your support we can become more sustainable! 



We have a challenging journey ahead of us. So please be patient with us. We are still recovering, healing, and learning.

Momentum Alliance is committed to being an organization for youth to realize their power. In the coming months and years, we will improve our financial management, organizational sustainability, our inclusivity and accessibility for youth of color most impacted by injustices.You will start to hear from us more because we will also improve on our communications!

I am sharing all of this with you because this is what MA has been up to in 2018, and this is the reality and complexity of nonprofit work. We believe in the power of our transparency, and of course, the strength in our vulnerability.

We are looking for support in fundraising, financial management, human resources, graphic design, video production, staff and organizational development. If you want to offer any of these services, feel free to contact us at You can also donate to us here


It took A LOT for MA to get out of this crisis. It took A LOT of community support. We didn't do it alone. We did it with the patience and generosity of our incredible youth, staff, Board, funders and partners. 

Thank you all for continuing to care for Momentum Alliance! We are so grateful for the community support. We will update you in September about our team, vision, and goals for the coming year! Stay tuned!

With love,

Emily Lai 賴慧心

Ps. I have to give a special shout to some people and organizations for really helping us out when things were really rough: our Board officers Daisy Quiñonez, Marina Barcelo, Carina Guzmán, and Jess Thompson, our partners: Northwest Health Foundation, Penney Family FundOregon Women’s Foundation, our mentors: Leila Hale,  Lisa Hawash, Rob CatoSally Yee, Luann Algoso, Katrina Holland, and Lamar Wise.