In episode 61 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Larry J. Robertson discuss:
Larry Robertson is an organizational development and certified governance consultant who specializes in helping nonprofit and state and local governments assess, plan, and improve organizational strategies, governance, leadership, and talent. His work includes organizational assessments, strategic planning, strategy coaching, nonprofit board development and transformation, and talent management. He tailors services to fit the needs and aspirations of each organization through an appropriate mix of analytic consulting, coaching, training, facilitation, and product development. Larry has extensive experience offering these services to organizations that range from small, startup nonprofits to large, mature state and municipal agencies. He has an M.A. in Human Development from the University of Maryland and a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Miami.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Larry Robertson. Larry and I talk about the fundamentals of healthy nonprofit governance, red flags that governance needs attention, and why boards should be hearing from and interacting with more staff than just the executive director
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome, Larry. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Larry Robertson: Thank you, Carol. Good to see you.
Carol: So I'd like to start the conversation with helping people get some context of your background. So what would you say drew you to the work that you do and, and what motivates you? What would you describe as your why?
Larry: I mean, I think the simplest answer is, is having discernible impact. And I, I, I know we're gonna talk about governance some, but I came that route somewhat indirectly. Okay. I was sitting on a board some years ago and We were nominated for an award. We ended up winning the award. And as a result of that, we got two free trainings. I was one of the people who went to the training. Then out of the two of us, they asked, Well, who can sit on the committee to select our winners for the next year? And so I was that person who didn't step back when they were looking for volunteers. And I ended up being on that committee in 2012. And, and they haven't gotten rid of me yet. And as a result of that, I was on a board that had a significant impact, but that was the impression that I had. But then as I started to learn more about governance, I started to see just how significant an impact the board can have by what it does or what it doesn't do. And we can talk more about that.
Carol: Excellent. You often work with organizations around board development, around governance, strengthening their governance. What would you say are some of the fundamental elements that folks involved with non-profits really need to understand about non-profit governance?
Larry: I think there are probably a couple of things. One is the fiduciary responsibility that a board has, is one of the paramount things. And then one of the things that tends to happen is that boards. Play out how they carry out that function in either a range of ways, one of which can be very onerous and they can be over-involved in the organization and down into the weeds of it. Where if they have competent staff, they don't really need to be there. They need to play a different role and be complementary to the staff. The other one that is equally dangerous is when they fall behind and don't play an active role and pay attention. The detail and one of the biggest ways that that happens is by not observing the extent to which the organization has the capability to survive and then preferably to thrive. Cuz what my work focuses on is how do you actually get organizations to thrive? The sweet spot is the great spot. And that's where boards recognize that they have this, august duty to be the fiduciary body of the organization. But they also are strategic partners with the executive leadership. They recognize as a fiduciary body also and strategically they recognize the need to kind of. Ensure that the board, that the organization has sufficient resources to operate, that there's this clear vision to a path to the future. And that their focus is as much there as it is about the inner workings of the organization. And they look for results to come back to them rather than the detailed process pieces. And, some of the conversations I have with people are really about the concerns they have about the role that the board plays. And if those rules of engagement aren't clear, you can get a lot of fuzziness, you can have 11 people on a board, and they all have 11 different interpretations of what governance entails. And so a large part of what I try to do is some level setting of really trying to get down to things like what's the purpose and do we have a shared understanding of the purpose, the roles, the responsibilities of the board. And then, then we can talk about tactics of how you actually make it work.
Carol: Absolutely. And you started out by saying fiduciary responsibility and I'm, I'm could, could you just define that for folks?
Larry: I mean, you're the stewards of an institution and that means that you have a range of duties, duty of care, duty of loyalty, all those things. But more or less, what it basically means is that the institution is within the grasp of the board and that the board really can be looked upon as the chief responsibility officer. They actually represent the highest level of responsibility within that organization, legally and morally so to speak. And so they need to make sure, much like parents need to make sure that. Their family is taken care of. When you send some of your kids off to college, you wanna make sure that the university takes care of them as well. And so there's a, there's a really August responsibility that you have as a board member and people as they consider board membership, they really do need to take that seriously because legally they're the ones that are gonna be responsible for that institution. And I keep calling it an institution because of some boards. Look more toward the leader and not as the institution, the cause, the purpose of why we're actually having this non-profit exist, and that is really typically supposed to be the paramount reason why the organization exists. It's so easy to get caught up in all those interpersonal things and either, trying to be out front of the staff leader or following the staff leader or, depending on the stage of the organization. They may not even have that yet. But I think a lot of folks go into board membership leadership without really understanding. How they are on the hook for the organization, its purpose. And not necessarily the, the, the people the individuals that happen to be there, happen to be around the table at the time. Although, of course, those individuals have so much impact on whether the organization is thriving or not, particularly if they're founders. And if, if I'm on a board and looking at a founder, I have to look at this as if that is their baby. That is their brainchild, and you have to respect that. At the same time, that can't be the only driver of how you operate. And so you wanna be respectful and it's a really delicate balance to strike.
Carol: And, and I think you've already named a few of those, but what are some red flags when you're coming into organizations that signal to you that governance is weak within the organization?
Larry: Well, I'll say that governance needs opportunity strengthening for improvement. . I think some of the things are: lack of clarity about the purpose of the board, whether the board is really in the game to have true impact, or if it's there because legally you have to have a board in pretty much every state. The extent to which the board members are engaged, and that would mean that they participate in strategy setting. That they recognize that their role is complementary. To the staff, but distinct from the staff that they also have some sense of where the organization is in its development. And that is one of the things that we can get hung up on is some of, I think you and I have talked about this before, some of the orthodoxies that people follow, everything is situational. And if a board recognizes that the organization is at a particular place and its development. It needs to govern according to that and then where it's headed after that point. So a very new board or a new organization that is getting its footing needs a different level of governance than, say, a board that, an organization that has. 20 years of experience resource rich and has, really more existential strategic concerns at hand. The other thing is the extent to which boards have made the simple decisions about what participation entails. What including expectations around whether you give, you, get funds or those sorts of things. And so basically at all to the extent that the roles. The purpose, the responsibilities of the boards are clear and that they actively make a meaningful impact on the organization. And so those are some of the, some of the key features, I think, and the extent to which they actually view themselves as a cooperative body and collaborator with the staff is one of the things I'll look for.
Carol: A couple things in that, that you talked about. I was working with an organization and, and I generally am working with them around strategic planning. I think one value is that those of us who are consultants that go from organization to organization and, and have some of that perspective around, around a life cycle, a typical life cycle of a nonprofit, they were going through that very common transition from a completely volunteer board. They'd had staff for a little while, but we're still struggling with roles and responsibilities and, some of the founding board members wanting to have things, the way they'd always been when, when they did everything. And just being able to share that construct of you're going through a very typical transition, it calmed everybody down. Mm-hmm. because they'd made it so you know about the personalities in the room versus just the very typical organizational transition that they were going through, and how then roles needed to be renegotiated and, and rethought. So I really appreciated that. And then you talked a couple times around the complementary role of the board and staff and then having a collaborative Engagement with the staff. And one of the things that I've seen where some of those orthodoxies around board governance maybe have been misapplied have been where some of them work around. The executive director, as the only staff person of, that's chosen by the board and then that real bright line between board and staff that that can be, can become so, Hard and fast that the executive director is really the pivot point and neither group talks to each other. And so then that, to me, I've observed where that just puts so much power in that executive director role that it can be really harmful to the organization.
Larry: I think that it's a communication, but more or less it's a management leadership issue around permeability. It's true that the board does oversee one person, which is the exec, the chief exec. However, that is not a hard and fast firewall. A good board is gonna be inclusive. And it's gonna be comprehensive in where it gets its information from. It's gonna get that information from staff as well as external parties as well, who have a vested interest in the organization. So I'll, so let's base it on, what I've seen is the high functioning organizations and what they typically, what you'll typically see at the board meetings are open staff who are welcoming and sometimes actually have a role in those. They pay very particular attention to key staff, particularly financial staff in, in board meetings because they have a level of insight that is contributing to board's decision making. They will play a big role with development people. And oftentimes, I know at least on the board that I was on, we would follow the lead of the development person and the chief executive. And so there was a very close relationship there. They'll pay a lot of attention to what's going on programmatically, but only in the sense of not getting into the machinations of programming, but in terms of the impact that the programs are having on the population that they're intending to serve. And so that relationship tends to be really collaborative in the sense that the board needs to make, needs to deliberate and take certain actions, and they can't do that in a vacuum. And the chief executive. A good chief executive will recognize that they don't have to be the expert in the end all in the conversation. And so they will invite into that conversation the people who have the bird's eye view of those particular areas. And that will inform the board in making, really having well rounded deliberations because the staff will be right there in the mix of that conversation and there, and there's a clear distinction between who has voice and who has vote. What a tendency in these really high functioning boards, a staff board and other people that they invite into the conversation have a voice. At the end of the day, the board has the vote, but the question is, what does the board have the vote on? And so that brings to another chapter in the conversation, which is how do you make a clear delineation between that, which is the provide of staff and that which is the provide. The board and while they might have conversations that have some overlap, who takes action and makes decisions is gonna be, should be clearly delineated. It makes it, it's not as nice and neat as I'm portraying it, but to the extent that you can get it close to there, it will make for a better partnership between the two parties. And there will sometimes be some tension, but tension isn't necessarily a bad thing. It means there's a resolution that needs that's around the. If you work it the right way.
Carol: And I think what I've observed is folks really wanting it to be a very bright line and, very. And, and so struggling with the ambiguity of, is this ultimately a board responsibility and role or what role does the staff have in it, especially around strategy, aligning to the mission and those kinds of things. What have you seen where organizations have, have done a good job of, really setting their, their strategic alignment and being inclusive and yet, honoring the responsibility the board has with that fiduciary.
Larry: I can think of a couple of recent examples from me of organizations that have won the board leadership award, and they both, they actually both have, they have a couple of things in common. They serve marginalized communities by and large, and they were large organizations that decided to make huge changes. Their physical plant, including one, in one case, the place where they serve, because where they served really affected who they served. And they made changes to partnerships. And so all of these things came into play that affected how they looked at what their mission was and any shifts that they made in mission. They had those conversations in concert with the staff and the communities that they served, so they weren't just doing it in isolation. They engaged very thoughtfully in a very planful, intentional way over a significant period of time and made these significant shifts in that. Put them on the line in terms of how they raise money, what they raise money for, the partnerships that they created to create these new physical plans, because they actually had to do that in one case, the organization moved from one part of DC to a different part, and that was a radical shift, and they basically referred to themselves as a placed based organization, but they had to get staff aligned with that. Both of them did if they recognized it in order for them to make the major shifts, they were pretty bold moves in both cases. They had to adopt the mentality and an orientation and a practice of full ownership. Of all partners, staff were partners. Not these, not something, they weren't doing things to staff, they were doing things with staff and in the end it made their success more apparent because they were able to accomplish these, these, big things. And, a few years out, in both cases, they're actually now, you know, prospering as a result of that relationship. And they don't have the types of tensions that a tendency when. Are not, they're not necessarily an afterthought, but they're not engaged in the processes as genuinely as they should be. And staff will know if they are really owners. And it's, and I make the distinction between owning and buying in, It's great to buy into something, but you actually get a whole lot more bang for the buck when you can get everyone to own it because they actually are part of the making of it. And, and I think in these cases, that's the difference.
Carol: . And I, the way you're talking about it when it's, when folks are trying to really, I think find that, that perfect bright line of, the, what's, what's on the board side, what's on the staff side. There's the, there's often To me, what it comes down is, is power dynamics and the healthy relationships that you're talking about are more of that partnership, more of that power with rather than power over. And so really appreciating that we all have our different roles. We're not gonna all be doing exactly the same thing, but if ultimately we're pulling in the same direction and, and own those decisions I think that makes a huge difference. But it takes a lot of trust. I'm, I'm working with a group and there's, there's a lot of questioning around all, all the different basic VO vocabulary and what do people mean by each thing and, and, and to some extent, I, I'm curious about what the real level of trust is with between the different parties that's there,
Larry: You said something, Carol, that I think triggered something that I hadn't thought about as overtly as this before, and that, and you basically described emotional intelligence. Maybe a different twist on a question you asked earlier. What would I, what do I see in those boards that really work well? That's actually one of the things
Carol: Is it the board members and those and the leaders all?
Larry: It’s an emotionally intelligent organization.
Carol: So say more about what an emotionally intelligent organization looks like.
Larry: Well, one of the biggest things is that everyone is gonna be mission driven. I'll give you another example of one of these organizations, and they just blew us away. When they were coming up for the board leadership award a few years ago, they recognized that they were at this inflection point, some time ago, that they had lost a significant funder. They were doing work both nationally, internationally, and thought that they needed to, really focus and make a shift. So it's a part of their strategic plan. They did a couple of things. They wanted to focus more on really serious aggressive development of raising funds. So they brought a couple of people onto the board who were, and one of whom I know. So it's like if they got hurt, then they were rocking . They got these two high level development people on their board and they started to create this whole path of development as a part of the board membership. But one of the other things that they did that I thought, One of the most emotional and intelligent and mature things I've seen is that they actually set out a plan to fire themselves as a board.
Carol: Say more about that.
Larry: What does that look like? So what they essentially did is they set within a certain amount of time, each member of this board will be off of the board. And I think it was maybe about three or four year period. And at the time that they came up for the board leadership award, we, we were talking to the last two or three members of that original, that previous board. Both of whom I would put on any board on Earth, quite frankly, they were just that good. But the thoughtfulness and the selflessness behind what they did was just so admirable. It was one of the few times in the interviews and boards, I didn't ask any questions and at, and at the end I asked my committee mates, Can anyone poke a hole? And we are a really critical group, , and the room went silent and they, and it was just because they had that, they had, they were just pumping on all cylinders. And that was a good example of how the organization from staff to board recognized that culture is based upon leadership, and leadership is dependent upon the emotional intelligence of its.
Carol: And what they did there sounds like they were really intentional about essentially succession planning for, from the board point of view and, and really building a, a pipeline and, and seeing their exit versus, I've gotta stick around cuz I was here at the beginning.
Larry: Right, and they also understood what drove them was, they looked to the future and said here are the competencies, here are the skills, the, the experience, the attributes that we need to have now and into the future. And I know you and I did the piece on succession planning with another group and that it sounds very familiar, doesn't it? That they looked into the future and said, this is what we're gonna need. . And so let's now start to prepare for them, and that is like one of the biggest things that a board can do is to be, and that is really one of the charges as a strategic body. What a board should be able to do is to start to project and, and, and you don't do it with a crystal ball because life does interrupt, but you wanna look into the future to the extent that you can and start. Look at, what aspirations, what challenges, what opportunities are down the pike and who's around the table to help us address those things. And that's what the, and that, and I think in the, the cases that I've presented so far, that's what the boards have done, is they've all been really very intentional about recognizing what the future might look like for them and how they can have an impact on that future by making, smart strategic decision. By incorporating the input from different sources of information, data, people, et cetera.
Carol: And one of the big things that has been demonstrated through research over and over again is how White, top organizations are, especially at the board level and, and that disconnect between the folks who are sitting around that table and the purpose of the organization, who they're trying to serve. And, and, but that, that lived experience not being centered in the conversation. So I think a lot of organizations are really grappling with that right now. And, and it does take some emotional intelligence to realize, Okay, it may be time for me to step aside.
Larry: True. And because the question is who are you serving? Are you serving self or institution? And in each of the cases that I've talked about so far, it was very clear that these really high functioning boards understood what their purpose was. That their purpose was not about them. It was about the mission. It was about the people that they serve, and they put that above all else.
Carol: Well, that's why I started each of these conversations with a question around why, because it's, it's just so important.
So at the end of each episode I play a game where I ask a random icebreaker question that I have a box of. So. I always put out three so I can just grab one from it. So what mistake would you say you keep making over and over again or, what lesson does the universe keep throwing in front of you that you have to learn over and over again?
Larry: Let's see. Only one?
Carol: One's good enough for today.
Larry: I think the one that I remind clients of that I have to keep reminding myself of is that it is around the concept of the stages of change. And I know if you're familiar with what Percha and Clement's work and recognizing that you can't always jump into action mode if. Haven't gone, worked through the processes and basically the stages of change. Talk about pre-contemplation, where you're thinking about thinking about it, and then contemplation, and then you're actually thinking about it and then planning and, and, but much like most consultants, I have to take a step back and constantly remember, we're not ready for action yet because they are not emotionally, mentally at that place. And so I have to keep reminding myself. The process begins is really about figuring out where someone is in the stage of change and getting them to move from that. Your task is to get them to move from that stage to the next, not directly to action if they're not ready for that. And so I think that is an age old thing that most consultants battle with. And we have to, we actually have to pray on it, meditate about it, or whatever. It's a level of mindfulness that's important to keep driving us.
Carol: Always a question that I have for myself is, am I doing what I'm asking my clients to do? Am I doing it myself and staying true to that? Or am I just yapping about something? ? So it's an important thing to remember. So what are you excited about? What's up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Larry: I think I've. Finding these opportunities with these small startup organizations and I'm finding some real stars. There's one I'm working with now that I've been really excited about because they've only been around since 2018, but they have already progressed beyond the thinking and how they have actually put together their pieces. They've already passed a lot of organizations that have been around a lot longer because they do something very simple, which is that they listen. And they ask questions about what they should be doing, and it's like, Oh, I love these. And they're, and they're a group of young people and young people of color. And so they, they've, they've gotten my attention. And there's another project that you'll probably relate to this, that. I'm working with the Center for Nonprofit Advancement in the DC Bar, Pro Bono Center on, it's putting together some sort of a package. We haven't put together this toolkit yet on helping folks think through the process of starting a non-profit. What you experience, what I experience as consultants is that we walk into habits that have already been formed. And so what this initiative is that we are trying to kick off probably in, in 2023, is to get them on the thinking, the conceptual stage of it, and to give them a good running start to include the recognition that you need to have the right people on the board to. They may not be the people who are gonna be on your board three to five years from now. Right.
Carol: And start that mentality from the very beginning.
Larry: Understanding the developmental stages as an organization that you're gonna go through and what you need now and what you need as you move on toward, having your feet solidly, planet on earth will be a very different type of dynamic. And some, in some cases it may mean that the founder may need to shapeshift into a different role as.
Carol: , I really appreciate folks who are founders who realize that that's their energy, that they're really good at getting things started, but not necessarily the right person to stick around for a long time. And they may need to go start something, a new thing or, or they become
Larry: The face to voice, the passion of the organization. It depends. I mean, it depends. And someone else can operate it. And that happens a lot with the people I've worked with. Arts groups, particularly performing arts groups, and that tends to be, what they do is they siphon off the artistic part from the organizational part, right? And they have this bifurcated management structure, but it works for them as long as they, again, have clearly delineated roles.
Carol: Exactly. Well, you mentioned the board leadership award. It's, and it's the org I think it's the organization that you mentioned, Center for Nonprofit Advancement in DC which is essentially the, the state non-profit association for the DMV area and I'm on their other awards committee, so for full transparency, the one that looks at the executive director and the CEO of nonprofits. And, and, in that, in those conversations we're having the same deliberations and the people that end up winning that award really have that Emotional Intelligence, but also I think the emotional maturity and health to be truly collaborative, both with staff and with the board. So. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast. It was, I, I really appreciated our conversation.
Larry: Thank you. And I'll think about that last question again.
Carol: I appreciated Larry’s point that while the roles and responsibilities of the board and staff need to be clear – they are not a bright line – and there should not be a firewall between board and staff beyond the executive director. This is always a balancing act because it can be too easy for board members to get too far into the operational aspects of the organization or start acting like a staff member’s boss when that staff member reports to the Executive director. So it is messy – and needs frequent attention and likely renegotiation as the organization grows and matures. I also appreciated Larry’s point around cultivating open communications throughout the organization. That for the culture to be truly impactful and collaborative – board members should know staff and likewise. The executive director should not be the sole source of information that the board relies on. I have worked at organizations where staff were literally prohibited from speaking to board members unless they were on the senior staff. To me this is a red flag. It points to a very controlling and top down culture. What is the ED afraid of in that case? Perhaps it is inappropriate complaints by staff going to board members? And if so – is there a safe and clear way for staff to share their feedback and challenges? I have experienced executive directors so closely managing what information was shared to hide real challenges within the organization from the board – to the point in one case where the senior management almost bankrupted the organization. So communication, trust, collaboration and transparency – all things that will result when the folks involved in the board – staff partnership that undergirds healthy governance have the emotional intelligence and maturity that Larry mentioned.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Larry Robertson, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 60 of Mission: Impact, Carol goes solo to discuss:
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Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission Impact. Welcome to my 60th episode, and in this episode I'm gonna be focusing on the work that I do with organizations and talking about strategic planning. I came to strategic planning, probably naturally I started my interest in working with organizations and their organization development by being part of a strategic planning process at a local organization where I was a member. We used what's known as an appreciative inquiry process, but going through the whole process and being led by the consultant made me very curious about this whole approach.
Welcome to Mission: Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your host and nonprofit consultant.
On a personal level, I really enjoy planning. Used to love when it was back to school time and it was time to get those new planning notebooks for the school year. And now as a professional, I have probably way too many notebooks where that helped me with my daily, weekly, and monthly planning. And yearly I'm coming to, we're coming to the end of the year here. And I'm looking forward to spending a good chunk of time thinking through what this last year has brought for me and what does the next year look like and how can I get ready for that?
So that's all at the personal level, but why do strategic planning and why is it called strategic planning instead of just, there are other types of planning, but why strategic planning at the organizational level and there are, I think, a lot of things that people fear about strategic planning and I guess I wanna say that you don't need to fear it.
Unfortunately a lot of people have had some not great experiences with processes that they've been involved in before. But I think there's also, with some folks a little bit of hesitancy around a feeling that a plan is gonna hem you in, a plan is not gonna allow you to adjust and iterate as you need. A plan is gonna be constrictive and it doesn't allow for that creativity and emergence and doesn't. It really enables you to respond in the way that you want.
And so when I'm thinking about working with organizations and strategic planning, I wanna help them find that happy medium between a plan that does feel that way, That is very constrictive, that is very defined, and just having no plan. So just being able, just reacting in the moment to whatever is emerging. And I think for organizations, because they're really just made up of a network of people, a group of people who are all ideally working towards a similar goal, the mission of the organization.
To me, what a strategic planning process does is help the group realign around that mission and get clear about. What are they gonna be focusing on in the next three to five years? So, what are those three to five big goals that the organization needs to pay attention to over the next three to five year period? And that really helps get everyone moving in the same direction. So you don't have all of that. Working at cross purposes or confusion or not really knowing what to prioritize when you get to your desk every day. So some of the benefits that I see, finding that goldilocks spot of. just an, just enough structure and planning and direction and still not nailing it down, soak definitively over a, that three year period that there's no way to adjust and make a. Changes as, as needed.
And certainly anyone who's lived through the last three years knows that the best laid plans that's what, that's what happens to them. So I've heard folks talk about how at the beginning of the pandemic, they just had to throw out their strategic plan and react to what was happening there. I'm guessing. It's not like they started over in the pandemic to reimagine what their organization did. The mission was still going to be the same, but it was really about how you can make progress in that mission, in that moment, in the pandemic when everything was so different.
We all live in this. What is known as the, if you've heard the acronym, VUCA. Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic, and Ambiguous. We all live in that world. I'm guessing that if we looked back in history, folks across time would have felt that they were living also in a VUCA world. Things that are pr make it particularly. So these days are just the speed at which things happen and the interconnectedness with which we live across our country. So with ambiguity and volatility. There can be a sense of let's just throw this whole planning process out. Let's not even bother. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of time. Why would we, why would we wanna do that? But some of the benefits that I've seen, organizations really come out of a planning process. Is through the structure of the deliberate conversations that you walk through with the group that really help people uncover their, their aspirations, their visions for the organization, what it could be, the impact it could have, as well as the assumptions they're making.
And so through that series of conversations, you're able to. That common ground of where people agree, where the energy is to set some direction. And for me, I essentially think of it as you're, you're setting your intentions. I go out on a walk every morning and I have to decide, am I turning left or am I turning right? You're setting your direction, you're, you're deciding where you're going to go. Of course, on my morning walk, I pretty much know the route and it's not too unexpected, and we can. Predict the future. That's not what the purpose of the, the whole process is. It's really to refine and, and help everyone get into alignment. I
've seen the benefits of boards getting reengaged with organizations, board members who maybe came into the organization at the beginning of a process and didn't feel like they could contribute a lot because they didn't know as much as they wanted to about the organization. Really feel like they'd learned so much through all the conversations with other board members and staff, through the strategic planning process. So, that education process, that process, that re-engagement process with board members can be such a key benefit.
Being able to lift up, being, being able to lift up and, and examine challenges that are going on inside the organization and giving people a safe and constructive place to have conversations about that so that it's not just a conversation out in the hallway, but it's being brought into the room and it's a focus. We're gonna pay attention to this. Not that you're gonna solve that problem necessarily in the strategic planning process itself, but more through the, all the conversations, it's gonna be lifted up and hopefully then prioritized to gather some attention over in that next period of time for the organization to continue to strengthen itself. So those are just some of the benefits that I see.
Oftentimes if an organization hasn't gone through planning in a while, it. A common complaint that isn't just about planning, but, but a common complaint in organizations is the, the sense of being siloed from each other board versus staff of different departments, not necessarily knowing what each other are doing. And through the planning process, you can really help integrate those, all those pieces. So I think of it as trying. lessen the noise that's happening and increase the signal. So if you're thinking about an old time radio where we're trying to dial in and, and get that station, you're, you're reducing the static and you're really dialing into that signal where everyone Says, Yes, I'm in agreement. This is the direction we need to go. This is what we need to focus on over the next couple years, and I understand how it really moves our mission forward.
So there's lots more that I could say about strategic planning. But I wanted to really focus on why today as many people are familiar with the Simon Sinek book “Start With Why.” I start every podcast interview with a question with my guests of what their why is. I wanted to dig into what is the why for possibly thinking about doing strategic planning. So we're coming to the end of the year. A lot of folks are starting to think about next year and perhaps are thinking about strategic planning. So if you're thinking about it those are just some of the benefits that I really see. Educating staff, educating board. Dialing up that signal so that everyone's in alignment around a common purpose.
And it also is a great way to help folks get to know each other. The last couple retreats that I did, I've been obviously doing all of the planning that I've been doing with organizations virtually. And then most recently, a couple in person sessions and both through the virtual and the in person folks talked about at the end of the process how they really appreciated getting to know each other better. So there are lots of different benefits. So I'd just invite you to consider thinking about how that might apply to your organization and think about what, what you could gain from it and why it might be important. So thank you so much.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me. Just by myself this time. And with our other episodes, with our guests I will put a link in the show notes to a resource that I think is particularly helpful. I have a resource of common mistakes that organizations make in strategic planning. So that's a free download that you can grab from the website. So we'll put that up and there'll also be a transcript of this episode in the show notes as well. If you enjoyed this episode, I'd love for you to share it on your favorite social media platform and tag me it's Grace Social Sector Consulting, or Carol Hamilton at LinkedIn or Mission Impact on LinkedIn. And we appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I also wanna thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 59 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Hugh Ballou discuss:
Hugh Ballou works with visionary leaders and their teams to develop a purpose-driven high-performance culture that significantly increases productivity, profits, and job satisfaction. through dramatically decreasing confusion, conflicts, and under-functioning. With 40 years as musical conductor, Ballou uses the leadership skills utilized daily by the conductor in teaching relevant leadership skills creating a culture that responds to the nuances of the leader as a skilled orchestra responds to the musical director while allowing each person to excel in their personal discipline while empowering the culture.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Hugh Ballou. Hugh and I talk about what defines leadership and why moving from idea to action is so critical and too rare, how influence is key to leadership, especially nonprofit leadership, how communication flows within organizations are so important, and why they are too often ineffective.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Hugh. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Hugh Ballou: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.
Carol: So I like to start to give people some context and just ask you what, what drew you to the work that you do, and what would you say motivates you? What would you say is your why?
Hugh: I am a leader because I influence people and I enjoy helping people who are visionary create the skill set and the tactics to be able to influence other people because out of every a hundred people have an idea, only three people do something about it. And so I really like working with non-profit leaders cuz they have such great programs and ideas, but they need what I have to be able to accomplish their work and completely fulfill their mission rather than getting stuck partway.
Carol: . So you, as you said, specialize in working with leaders and particularly non-profit leaders. And there are lots of books about leadership. There are lots of people who talk about leadership. How would you define leadership? What does the word mean to you?
Hugh: Well, I spent 40 years as a musical conductor. And people perceive the conductor to be a dictator. That doesn't work very well in today's world. you got a bunch of union players in an orchestra, you paid 'em for two hours, they're gonna leave in two hours. Whether you've accomplished what you wanna accomplish or not, they're not very sensitive. Like, Oh, I need two more minutes. No, you've paid us for two hours. We're going. So we're not a dictator because we got this little white stick. You can't really make people do anything. What you can do is influence people to function at a higher level. So leaders have a position of influence and we influence people to work in the vision that we've defined. So a transformational leader transforms ideas into reality. Transformer leader is the whole methodology of transformational leadership is focused on the culture of building high performance.
Carol: You talked about influence. What, what are some ways, what do you see as being effective in influencing the group that you're trying to lead?
Hugh: If I'm in front of an orchestra and it's not, I'm not getting what I want, then I need to go look in the mirror and work on myself. If I'm at a board meeting as a non-profit executive, and it's not going well. Well, maybe I haven't been really clear on where we're going. I haven't been very clear on everybody's role and responsibility, and I have not been very clear about how I expect them to step into this place of performing. And so I've created a look for, for look, performing culture. Just by my lack of preparedness, my lack of understanding, how to motivate and engage people. And right there if I'm prepared, I'm on time. I'm enthusiastic, I'm an expert at what I'm doing because I've studied it and I've worked on myself, then people will respond in kind. It's the reciprocity of what we do as leaders.
Carol: . And you talked about vision within that and. Sometimes an organization could be led by an or with a, by a leader that has a really strong vision. But it seems to me that reciprocity that you were talking about, of helping everyone see themselves as part of that vision, building a shared vision is, is also so important. How have you seen that work in organizations?
Hugh: Well, that's essential. Here's an example. Now leaders have the vision period, but leaders don't do it alone. And leaders wanna get other people to ratify that vision and then come back up with a plan of how to get to that vision. So your vision is the idea that what about, what are you doing? Center vision. Transforms leaders, transforming organizations, transforming lives. So we, it's a transformational process. We do this in our, our mission through, through coaching, through planning, strategic planning, through, leadership empowerment, through board development, et cetera. So We do it because we've got a team behind us and I created the vision. I've had others that have created parts of that to apply it. So we send the vision out and then people come back and they might have some modification of how it sounds because it's gotta be really clear to everyone. So we, we, we'd accept those modifications so it's clearer and. We've been to namby pamby and it needs to be more profound in the language. So we negotiate those changes and then it's up to everybody. So you're in strategic planning. If you, if you write a strategy and you give it to the board, you've completely cut 'em off at the knees. They cannot engage because it's your plan, not their plan. So we guide the planning process. They participate, and once they start creating these, these parts of the plan, they own it. And what goes on in the culture that we orchestrate, That's my word. I'm a conductor. We orchestrate that system. There's a whole shift in the culture because we've co created the plan based on the leader's.
Carol: I think that co-creation process is so important when I'm working with clients non-profit organizations, and it's usually the board and staff working on that strategic plan and, and vision. And, sometimes they'll want me to write it at the end, right? And I like literally no, you. This is your plan. You need to, you need to craft it. I can help, I can guide, I can provide feedback but it's gotta be yours. So that piece is so important. You've mentioned being a conductor a couple times. What would you say having been a music director, having been a conductor, what, what has that taught you about leadership?
Hugh: People respond and we can create problems. We can make problems worse, or we can make it very clear so people know how to respond. And so the culture is a reflection of the leader.
Carol: . And that culture piece is so important. I've noticed that recently there's been so much conversation about folks going back to the office. Sometimes people trip and say they're going back to work. Well, we've all been at work for the last. Two and a half years. That we're going back to the office because we need to have culture. Forgetting that when you have a group of people, you always have culture. What are some things that you've seen leaders be able to do to really build effective cultures?
Hugh: Well, and many leaders in this time, we were separated for two years plus. Didn't miss the Olympics, they just went virtual, but they really created systems. No matter where people are, we could be engaged. So my teams, I guess your teams too are pretty much in different continents all the time. They have people all over the world. And so it really amplified our presence. It's so, the culture piece is that relationship piece. Now, in a musical ensemble, like other ensembles, there's a very clear culture. If I wanna say something to the violin, I talked to the concertmaster, and I said, They need the bowing to do this. The concertmaster turns around, interprets it in violin talk. There's a certain language they use and I don't just say, Hey, you over there do this. No, there's a very clear protocol there. And it's a very clear protocol that you start the rehearsal with the concertmaster right on the lick of the hour cuz there's somebody from the union there. So you start now and you end now. So it's my job to get the work done in the time allotted. So this is a very clear culture and nobody criticizes the conductor. People raise the bar on their performance and they try to do it. The culture respects the leader, which is the conductor, they play as the leader intends. If they don't respect, they play exactly as they direct, which could be choppy. Which could be fragmented. So there's a, there's a relationship piece that defines the culture. And they respond to the person because I treat them as individuals and respect the individuals. So the culture is the center vision, is my brand. It's the synergy of the common vision. So if we go through that exercise like we talked about a minute ago, of, of defining not only the, the milestones that you want to achieve, your ultimate long term objectives and your short term goals, and those milestones along the way. Then we've got this, this energy, which really sets the bar for the culture cuz now we're working together and we see how we can tag team on things. So it helps you prevent these things called silos where some people are working independently and not connecting with the community. Lack of communication is the biggest problem. And most nonprofits I've seen in 34 years of doing this and nobody. Why it's there cuz we haven't created the messaging and then we haven't created the relationship. Because sending an email doesn't cut it. Seven percent of the message is in the words. Seven. And so what about all the rest of it? So you make sure that they understand it. So part of culture is creating that respect for one another and the relationship underneath what we do. We aren't what we do, we are beings, and so we look at the tactical stuff and skip over this human being part of it, which is so critical to a leader.
Carol: , absolutely. And building those relationships. , I feel like every organization that I've ever worked with talks about, communication challenges or silos. And, too often I've seen the, the recipe or the, the solution to that being a restructuring or reorganizing, which really only, it shuffles the deck for a little bit and then people reorganize back into new silos. So I, paying attention to how, how do we bring people together in a cross-cutting way? Or if there's a really, if there's a very clear protocol on, as you had gave that example of I'm gonna talk to the concert master and they'll talk to their folks, that the message chain, but most, most groups are, the non-profits are, are relatively small, small teams, informal. They don't necessarily have a lot of really strong protocols, but they can still, even with a small team, get siloed if they're not figuring out ways to have the information or go across functions and share information in a useful way. What are some ways that you've seen leaders be able to set up some of those cross-cutting mechanisms to really help with those communication challenges?
Hugh: When you have, like we have boards that come together and board meetings, you don't work at board meetings. You report on what's happened and you structure the next happening. So you work between meetings and the biggest mistake is we try to dig into the work in the meeting when we really need to spend time talking about what we're doing. And that's where you start fostering. Cuz I'm working on this, somebody else is working on this, somebody else is working on. Different, but there's an interdependence in all of that. And so if we start talking about what we're doing and say, Okay, here's what I could use from the communications committee. Here's what I need from the finance committee. I'm doing marketing. So we start, Bridging those gaps by saying, This is what I need. And by the way, I've created this data, which the two of these committees will find helpful to other committees. I wanna send this to you cuz it'll save you duplicating the work. And so thinking about the reciprocity of how we work together intentionally. And then when we have committee meetings, We never think about the specific messages that need to be communicated, others. So I insist that when we end meetings, any kinda meeting, there's an exercise. What's a message that somebody needs to know? Specific message for somebody who wasn't here, and you start thinking about, Oh, Soso needs to, oh, so and so, and then, okay, then who's gonna tell 'em? How will they tell 'em, or when will they tell 'em, we need to happen before the next meeting because there's some stuff here they need to know so they can show up at the next meeting. Or it's their responsibility to find out, well, how are they gonna find out? And unless we create the message and then send it out. So having somebody that's the communication clearing house, somebody. Y better if it's a staff person, but sometimes there's some really good volunteers that do that work and are better and want to step up. So what do other people need to know that weren't in the room? And then how will they know that? So being intentional if you do that in every meeting and insist on that, that does a lot to start closing that.
Carol: . Well the other thing that made that, as you were talking, sometimes meetings would just be one update after another and, and people aren't necessarily asking the question of how do all these things relate? And there may be somebody in the room who thinks that way, so brings it up. But thinking about and asking the question intentionally about what are the dependencies? How could we, What, what does one project have to do with another, could, could bring that and, and also help people stay awake while they listen to all those updates. Cause that's another thing. I know I can, if I'm in a meeting, that's all that I sometimes will, will get distracted and so I'm not following where the opportunities are for intersection.
Hugh: And there's, there's a, there's a rest. There's also how much people can take in one sitting, right? So we tend to want to dump all the information at the meeting when in fact, when you send out the deliverables for a meeting, I suggest deliverables are not on agenda. So we talk about stuff. So what? Let's get something done. So if you shift your paradigm from agenda to deliverables, we're gonna accomplish abc. People go, Oh, that's just semantics. No, it's a paradigm shift. We're not gonna be guilty of activity. We're gonna be charged with and, and driving. Results and people like that. And so if you say, Okay, two days before meetings at seven, here's another thing people know they're supposed to be on time and we say stupid things like be on time. Well, they know that. So instead of saying, We're gonna start a meeting at seven o'clock, You could say to them, Okay, we normally start at seven. We need to get more done this time, so we're gonna start early. So please be ready to go at 6:59. And people go, Why do I come in? Well, if you come at seven, you'll be late. And we're starting. So that gives them a specific time because seven o'clock is sort of, Oh, it's around. And we know we're a little bit late. They're gonna wait for us. No, we're starting at 6:59. So our job is to start on time. So the communications start with. We're gonna start at 6:59. We're gonna be through at 8 27. So we have to state that commitment. But if we're specific and we say two days before we're, we're gonna talk about fundraising. So we're gonna, we're gonna, our deliverable is to, to define five. Strategies for increasing our revenue by 25%. That's very clear. So we've defined five strategies. Now we have that as the number one deliverable. Now my job is to go backwards from that and figure out, we brainstorm, we sort common ideas, we prioritize the ideas, then we make a plan, and then we assign it to a committee to do the details. And so our off limits are, What we're not gonna do is the details of those plans, cuz you can't do all that work and do the details of the plan in the same. And we shouldn't. It's not a work meeting. So we've defined the brainstorming work, so we define what we're gonna do there. So the other communication piece is what meeting is it? Okay. It's brainstorming. All ideas go, it's sorting, it's focus, and then it's planning. So there's three different activities, and we need to be clear on what we expect people to do. Two days before we send that deliverable. We may have one or two others, but we're gonna do this so people know when we leave, we're gonna have completed these, this, this item, and then we send them any relevant information so they can come prepared. So it's like a conveyor belt. It's going, We get on the conveyor belt, we do the meeting, and we get off. And so we've helped. Get smart enough to have the data to make the decision, so we don't download a bunch of stuff at the same time and expect people to process it, think of the questions and make decisions. That's just not good.
Carol: , I really appreciate the reframing of an agenda to a set of deliverables and being really clear about that. Sometimes I've seen items on the list of things to talk about if we're gonna discuss this today, or we're gonna have a brainstorm, we're not making any decisions today and be clear about that. Right. Be clear about what stage of that conveyor belt you're on. But the way that you framed it in terms of we're gonna do x for this result, I. For me it would be more motivating to then do all that prep than I might otherwise leave until 6:45 before the seven o'clock meeting to feel like I can show up and, and be helpful.
Hugh: I use storyboards. I use regular paper cut, regular paper in half from the printer, and then I spray a board. It's it's report boards from the office supply, and then everybody has markers and they, everybody's working, so they're not looking at the back of my head when I'm writing on a chart pad, the energy of the room dies and you take one minute, one minute, one minute, you've wasted 15 to 20 minutes in a board meeting for people looking at the back of your head. So if you took that 15 minutes and used it for people, they can, they can write simultaneously and we put the ideas up. They're active, they're creative, they're participating. That changes the culture more than anything. So people say, Oh, that's silly. You should use Sharped. That's the industry standard, Well, that's also the industry problem. And so if people are engaged, you don't have time to sleep. Plus, if you send them the data, then we're gonna process it. And then up in the B top I'll say, Here's the question we're answering or brainstorming around. And I'll brainstorm and they'll say, We're gonna take these cards off the board. We're gonna move 'em over here, and we're gonna group 'em by topic. And so it's sorting it, and then we're gonna move those over into 1, 2, 3. It's a plan. Some things, like you said, we're not making a decision. It's information. Only. People need to relax and just be able to receive the information, so it's our job. To communicate what we're doing and we don't do that very well.
Carol: . Most folks don't think, Another trick that I've seen a colleague use: have them finish the sentence. By the end of this meeting, we will have achieved X and, and be really clear about what those outcomes are. And I use that all the time to just. Get that end state, what, what's the, where are we aiming, where are we aiming for just in this 45 minutes, what's gonna be useful? Where are we gonna get?
Hugh: You form the culture. You rehearse the, like seven, seven guys jump over a wall and ask our race and they change the tires, fill the cast and whatever else. Adjustments in their back over the wall in 13 seconds. And they rehearse that and everybody has a role of responsibility. 13.1 seconds. Driver's gonna lose a spot in the race. And so we need to have that fine tuned. So the other defining piece of a culture I call guiding principles. When we do, you do strategy, we do core values. And core values are essential in that we have to be aligned. And if people aren't aligned with the core values, anything gonna work out. So personal core values or organizational core values and. Those are static, usually. Integrity, honesty, fairness. So that we, I take those another step that's essential. Then they quickly become useless because it's static and people have different ideas of what that means. So we shape those in what we call them. Guiding principles so that shapes how we make decisions. Like one non-profit that I worked with had had a school that didn't teach standardized testing in Virginia, and their students went on to college, made the honor roll because they learned how to learn. They didn't just learn how to regurgitate in a test. And so their number one guiding principle was, we will not accept money from any donor that wants to change how we educate children. E. Guideline for making decisions. So they were aligned around that principle. So we don't think about the principles to apply those values to the decision making.
Carol: , absolutely. I mean, I think naming those values is just a first step. And then having that conversation about, well, what do you mean by integrity? What do you mean by respect? What does, how do you know? How am I gonna know whether I'm being respected? How, how do I receive that? How do I show that to me? And then the other piece around the guiding principles creating some set of. These are the decisions, these are the things that we're gonna map anything against for a decision. So that, so that we're having some consistency around how we're, evaluating new opportunities or new challenges is so important. . So one thing I love to do at the end of every podcast episode is I have a box of random, well, they're not random cuz there's a box of icebreaker questions. But I've got a couple here, a couple here, and I'm gonna grab one for you and I'm gonna ask, the question I'm gonna ask is, what's the last thing you bought for under $50 and you love and use?
Hugh: A burr, a manual burr grinder for my coffee beans. I'm a coffee snob and you have to have a burr grinder. So all of the granules are the same size, so you extract the majority of the flavor. So it's a little hand crank and I'm gonna use it tomorrow. I'm traveling and I have an electric one for home, but it's a little crank one. And it's essential because we all know hotel coffee is terrible.
Carol: Well, I will have to look that up because I also am a fellow coffee snob, but I don't often grind my own. So I'll have to try that and see if that's a new innovation. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Hugh: Emerging is, I just finished a leadership symposium where I live in Lynchburg, Virginia. I had people from around the region come and attend. I had 12 faculty members that
were just out of the box. Brilliant. And if you wanna be a good leader, you surround yourself with better people. And I could, I certainly have done that. So I'm excited about the next chapter, getting people in. We have this community for non-profit leaders and how we get together. It's a free community off of social media, so we don't have all that to mess with. And we talk about leadership and we talk about how to help each other. So in the south we say none of us is as smart as all of us. And that is true, even though we have our own language.
Carol: All right, well you send us a link to that and we'll make sure to put it in the show notes so people can find it. Thank you so much. It's been great to talk to you.
Hugh: You're a great interviewer. Thank you so much. It was my joy to be with you today.
Carol: I appreciated Hugh’s points about defining what deliverables you need from a meeting. I saw a study on LinkedIn recently from Korn Ferry that found that employees spend an average of 18 hours per week in meetings whether in person or virtual and managers spent 22 hours. That is close or more than half of their hours at work. The same study found that a third of those meetings could have been skipped. The study estimated $100 million a year for a single large organization. That is likely large in for profit terms – thousands of employees.
So which meetings on your calendar could be an email, or a short video created using a platform like Loom? And which need to be redesigned.
A key step is to define the purpose of the meeting. Why are you getting together? What are you hoping to accomplish? How are you communicating the purpose? Are folks clear what the expectations are for the meeting? Are you brainstorming? Narrowing options? Making a decision? Looking for intersections across different functions work streams?
Be clear about what your goals are and use the mad lib I learned from a colleage – by the end of this meeting, we will have [Fill in the blank].
This is all especially important for those regular team meetings or other regularly occurring meetings – check in on those – do they have a clear purpose? Does the purpose need to be reconsidered? Nonprofits run lean operations generally. So your Time, money and energy is precious. Taking a critical look at your meeting schedule is a good place to start.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Hugh, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 58 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Deneisha Thompson discuss:
A licensed social worker turned social entre/edupreneur, Deneisha Thompson is a consultant, facilitator and coach who specializes in change management, leadership development, group facilitation, and building strong teams. She is the founder of 4 Impact Consulting, a social impact firm, that provides culture-influencing organizational development services focused on building, repairing and positioning nonprofit teams for impact and growth.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Deneisha Thompson. Deneisha and I talk about what the drivers of impact are, the factors that contribute to toxic cultures within nonprofit organizations, and why it is often so hard to have conversations about communications and accountability
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome Deneisha. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Deneisha Thompson: Thank you, Carol. It's wonderful to be here,
Carol: So I'd like to start with a question of what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Deneisha: Okay, so as you said, I'm Deneisha Thompson. I am the founder of 4impact consulting. It is a consulting firm, a social impact firm that really is focused on what I call culture, influencing organizational development. As a black girl born in the Bronx, New York who now knows that they grew up quite very much so with a life of privilege. Both of my parents were immigrants who came to this country who sent me to Catholic school and told me, get an education, and that would solve all your problems. But now as a black woman and as an adult, I recognize The oppression and poverty and just systemic injustice that I was surrounded by as a young person. And I was given a lot of opportunities, which is why I was able in my adult years to start a firm. But right out of college, I knew that something was different and I felt really. Call to give back. One of my favorite sayings is to whom much is given much is required. And I looked around me and a lot of the people who I grew up with in the Bronx have very different outcomes. And I'm not really curious about why that is. Why is it that we can grow up very similar? Environments that have completely different outcomes. And so my very first job was as a case manager in a homeless shelter. And that was transformative for me. It was where I really began to learn about systems, where I began to learn about the isms and began to see just how difficult some people have it in spite of quote unquote, doing everything right. And I was very lucky and, and really worked hard, but moved up in the nonprofit sector quickly.
I have sat at every level of a nonprofit from direct service to supervisor, to senior management. I've been the chair of a nonprofit board. And really now, 10 years later after starting my firm. While well intentioned and well meaning non profit org, the whole nonprofit system is broken and nonprofit organizations often find themselves perpetuating the same systems that they're trying to dismantle. And so One of the things I think is like the through line in that is culture. And if you have a nonprofit with this great mission, I usually work with direct service nonprofits and they wanna do these great things in communities, change indicators that are plaguing communities and really tackle long standing problems. You can't have a love for a community, but then internally. Don't treat each other well, internally have a toxic culture, internally have an oppressive culture or one where communication and diversity and having tough conversations isn't valued. And so when I found it was oftentimes I would do strategic planning, for example, with a nonprofit. And they would say things like this has been our third strategic plan and the other ones didn't work. And it's like, well, why not? What's the real issue around why you are not reaching the impact that you hope to have both in communities and internally as a team. And again, the through line of that is culture. You need to have a culture that is going to allow you to get to the impact that you want to be able to grow organizationally, to be able to support your staff so that they are able to do good work. And so that's why I do what I call culture, influencing org development. In short, I help nonprofits, get it together, get your stuff together. These communities cannot wait for you to figure it out for you to, , have these tough conversations and learn how to work better together so that you actually can achieve the type of impact that everyone is working so hard to achieve on a daily basis.
Carol: There's so many things I wanna follow up with on that, on what you just said. First, yeah, just certainly as I have come up and, thinking about my trajectory in the sector, become more and more aware of all the privileged boxes that I definitely check in terms of my identities and where that situates me. But one thing that really struck me from what you were saying is the sense that the nonprofit sector is broken. And I think what was my catalyst for shifting my focus into organization development and kind of. Why don't organizations work like I think they should? And why don't people work together? , why are they getting in their own way? Was that same discrepancy or cognitive dissonance between these really. Ambitious and wonderful. And sometimes just well intentioned, sometimes really grounded missions that that organizations wanted to have for the change that they wanted to see out in the world. And then not seeing that mirrored inside the organization, or actually even, opposite of that. Like, totally not. Living the, , embodying the values that they want to have other people embody somewhere else, but not embodying them internally. So yeah, that, that was definitely my catalyst as well.
Deneisha: Yeah. And I will say, it's not for lack of trying. Sure. I think nonprofits often, like I said, are well meaning. Full of people who really believe in what they're doing and wanna see the change that their mission is really driving. And, and so my company wasn't always called 4impact consulting. It was initially called rent an expert cause I wanted to connect. Expert consultants with the right nonprofit projects, that it was a win-win situation. And then after doing work for so long, people were like, we don't wanna work with other experts. We wanna work with you. And so it was Thompson LLC for a while.
But what I recognize is that it is really important to think about what the drivers of impact are. And for our company, we see them as being four very specific things that, , if you work on one, that's great. But if you work on all four, you actually can move the needle and get to meaningful change. And so those impacts or those four pillars are leadership. And that's tied to executive coaching and making sure you have strong leaders who are positioning themselves to learn and grow and be responsive to the needs of their team. It's around team professional development. So no more just sending one person to training and thinking they're gonna come back and change the entire organization, but how do we learn and grow together as a team so that we're rowing in the same direction, it's around communication. How do we create the environment to have a real life? Tough conversations, important conversations, brave conversations, so that we are respecting each other and sharing and allowing the brilliance of our diversity rise to the top. And then finally strategy. What does our strategic planning look like? Do we have a north star? Do we have a clear set of goals and targets that we're all working towards? And so what we try to do is really help the organization. Think about all four and whether or not you are hiring us for one service or all four services. We really think that together by doing those , really thinking about those four pillars and, and being active around them, you can build the type of culture you need to make the impact that you want. And so when we influence culture, we think, unless you really are taking an effort to think about all four of those pillars and thinking about how they work together, collectively extra organization, it's why people will say, well, we've done coaching it didn't work, or we've done. We had a mediator come in and that hasn't helped, or we've done some training. We've sent our leadership team to training and we did a retreat, but it's still not working. Or this is our third strategic plan. And the other two were not successful. It's like, yeah, because are we thinking about this as a collective, as four things that we are working on together to really influence the culture of the organization.
Carol: Yeah, I love how you break that down because , in the work that I do, I'm, I'm primarily focused in, on, on that strategic planning aspect, but always wanna come at it from a team perspective. So really engaging all staff [and] board in that process. Hopefully helping people have conversations. With people that they might not normally be interacting with. So a lot of those things, but I always think of the strategic plan as, and that whole process as in service of the rest of it and not a one. And , the one thing that's gonna, , mean success or, or not success, I think it's important, but I think it's, it's part of a bigger picture. Like you're talking about indeed.
Carol: So you talked about culture influencing and you talked about the, the. The toxic cultures that can often emerge in nonprofit organizations and also said people aren't trying to create these, it's not usually out of maliciousness or anything. It's, it's, , they're very well intentioned. And what do you see kind of, or, or what would be. And I'm sure it's by, , each organization obviously is, is individual and has its own set of circumstances, but in your experience, what are some things that contribute to that? And perhaps make it more prevalent. I don't know whether it's more prevalent. I don't know that anyone's done the study, but I think maybe some, some part of it for me at least, is that when you're in the sector and you're wanting to work for an organization that is driving towards a mission beyond profit, a mission that that's designed to, , In your estimation, make some positive change in the world. You also hold your organization to a higher standard in terms of how it treats everybody and, and how that culture is created. But I'm curious for you, what are some of the things that are kind of. Common traps,
Deneisha: perhaps. Right? So there are lots of feeds of what I would say, create toxic cultures, particularly in the nonprofit sector. And, there's no one size fits all. There's no one type of nonprofit. So whether we're thinking about service organizations or we're thinking about philanthropy, or we're thinking about think tanks, there's lots of different makeups of nonprofit fors, but at the heart of it, It usually is a set of people that are trying to tackle a problem. And what I say is nonprofits are made up of humans, right. And in the business sector and like the private sector, when you are driven towards profit, there's like a very clear north star, right? Like, are we making more money? Are we, are we building our customer base? Whatever that is in a nonprofit. You often have people who are really passionate about the mission, which then makes it hard. And what I say is you can't like people say, leave your personal self at home. And like, just come to work that doesn't work in the nonprofit sector, whether you are working on issues related to poverty or education or homelessness, or, , especially with service orgs. We're often looking at places where people care a lot and their passions. Drive how they show up. So that's one thing, just like the idea of people who love the work are passionate about it, and really come in with their own personal perspective around how the work should be done.
The other thing is, , unlike some other sectors, there's a lot of diversity in terms of experience and education in the nonprofit sector. And so you have people with all different types of backgrounds, not necessarily humans oriented backgrounds that come in and. , either lead at nonprofits or are part of nonprofits. So everything from lawyers to MBAs to human services, professionals, to social workers, all of which have their own code of ethics. So their own way of approaching. How you show up at work. And I think oftentimes what happens is that nonprofits are not always good about declaring the lane that they're in the expectations. They have the shared values that you have that are going to drive your work. And so you have people with all these different educational backgrounds. Who are coming in, have learned different ways of approaching problems.
And then the nonprofit doesn't do the internal development to say, well we're a values driven organization. These are our values. This is how we embody them. And these are the expectations we have of the people who work here, not only of how we treat communities, but how we treat each other and how we speak to each other. So there's that then there's always like the stretch too thin. Funding is a difficult thing to do, but nowadays there's a lot of competition out there for it. And so while we're not businesses, we often operate through a business lens that then become places that aren't always connected to our values and embodying values and are just chasing contracts, chasing dollars, treating clients and participants like another number and really putting pressure.
Staff without actually supporting them to do the type of difficult work they do on a daily basis.
And then finally, I would say power depending on whether you're a small nonprofit or huge nonprofit. And how the systems of hierarchy work within your nonprofit. As nonprofit organizations, we're often trying to reorient power in communities and to think about how we think about self-determination, how we promote that, how we promote communities being part of the solution. And then we don't do that internally. You may have a group or a committee who holds the power, who holds the influence and then makes lots of decisions for people who don't feel like they can actually be a part of it. So it just becomes adversarial in terms of internal operations. And oftentimes the people who are closest to. The members of the community who you're trying to work with and for are the people who have the least amount of power, the least amount of influence. And so then resentment bills and, , people say things like, I feel like a hamster on the wheel, or I feel like we're not really tackling the problem or we know what the problem is, but we can't talk about it openly here, or they're gonna do whatever they want. So now I'm just showing up for a check.
Or people are not paid really well. People who are closest to the ground case managers, people who are doing difficult work in communities are not paid very well, are often checking themselves away from needing some service or help. And so it just isn't a space. Promotes wellness oftentimes for staff to be well for staff to be in a good space to do the type of emotional, passionate, difficult work that it requires. And so those things. Collectively together, depending on what happens at a specific nonprofit often breeds a culture where communication is not valued, like honest, clear, open communication at all levels where feedback loops aren't really happening. And there isn't time. You hear a lot, we didn't have time for training. We don't have time to do this meeting. We don't have time to get together and do team building. We don't have time to resolve the conflict. And so it becomes a place where turnover is high. And rather than build culture, you think we're just gonna smooth the chairs around, do a little bit of musical chairs, switch out the people and things will get better. And so I know that was a lot, but there are a lot of differences, it just goes to show. There are a lot of different ways to get to a toxic culture. And my work is regardless of how we got here. Let's try to do a good assessment to understand what the landscape is and why we are, where we are. And then let's as a team collectively through leadership, through communication, through training, through real strategy, deep strategic planning, think about how we can build a better culture that helps us work better together. and, and restore good relationships so that the toxicity is reduced and good teamwork is elevated.
Carol: Yeah. That's awesome. Just talking about the, the passion and thinking about Yeah, most people will end up at an organization because of something in their past or some connection that they have to the issue that leads them there, or even, I know for myself just thinking about my trajectory, it wasn't necessarily , I have a, I have a older brother who has a disability, and so I didn't end up in the disability arena, a lot of siblings do. But I think that was part of what motivated me to step into the nonprofit sector and see all those systems. But, and, and then the other thing that you were talking about in terms of professional backgrounds, I hadn't even really thought about that of each. Each profession, having its own code of ethics, its own way that it sees the world. Right. And what it thinks is, is good practice or not good practice and all of those value systems clashing in, in, in addition to the individual value systems clashing. And then I also think of that. We don't have time. We don't have time for team building. We don't have time for training. The issue that we're working at is so pressing, we have to be focused on that a hundred percent of the time. And so folks who ended up in leadership positions may probably ended up because they were good at.
One of those things that the organization did, they were great at advocacy or great at service or great at program development and may have had no training or development around what it actually means to be a leader. And then you, you give through a lot, Abby. So I've just like, had so many different thoughts of to, to think about, but also the fact that in so many organizations while. The organization and its mission wants to disrupt those power dynamics. And yet the models that we have, and even the models that are built into how nonprofits are structured from a, , as a not for-profit corporation Really just mirror the same hierarchy and, and same power systems that we see everywhere else. And so how do you, how do you start questioning that and what I also appreciate is a way that you elaborated on what you mean by communication, cuz so often when I'm doing that organizational assessment that you talk about, that'll happen for me at the beginning of a strategic planning process. People name well, communication is, , we need to improve communication. And my question is always in what way, what, I always feel like there's many things behind the label communication that are actually other things, but some of the things that you talked about of just that capacity to have. Open and brave conversations are often lacking and people need skill building in those areas. Few people, at least in my experience, were taught how to do that at home.
Deneisha: Yeah. It's one of the things I was just recently talking to a client about the word accountability, because it's the same thing, or really similar to communication where people want members of their team to be accountable for the things they're supposed to do. And when accountability doesn't happen, it hurts trust. But it's also a really hard thing to have that conversation around, right? Like people are saying, this is my job and I can be responsible for this, but when things go wrong, Owning up to it and, and being able to recognize how, whatever you didn't do impacted your team is a really scary thing. We are not. Our culture and just as humans, we are defensive deans. We are not bred to really exist, to be public about accountability. You may feel bad internally, but to actually come out and say, what? I screwed this up. I'm sorry. Or I had a bad day and I didn't show up. Those things are not valued. We actually have a very punitive approach to how we deal with people not doing what we need them to do. And that's very present in the nonprofit sector.
While we talk about things like restorative justice, and we talk about things like healing and bringing people together. And build bridges. These are all terms we hear around the sector a lot. We don't really create mechanisms internally for people to feel safe to do that. And so what ends up happening is that we have lots of teams who are individuals. Just try to escape accountability, because I don't wanna be written on, I don't wanna a bad performance review. I don't want to be othered or, or to be rejected and feel like I don't belong. It is a. Difficult difficult thing to, to be accountable to your team. And so part of that is like, I tie that in with communication because what we wanna do is to normalize like imperfection. No, one's perfect. We all make mistakes. We all have bad days. We all have had times where we were supposed to do something and we didn. And so how can we practice grace on our team and really offer grace to people in the way we would want people to be graceful to us when we make a mistake or we don't show up, or we had something personal or we were, or, or, or our lived experience. Came into play in a way that didn't allow me to be really objective at this moment. Right.
And so I think , oftentimes I say in the nonprofit sector, we do things that are really dehumanizing. And what I mean by that is things that are natural human emotions, like being fearful of getting in trouble or not being honest because you don't know what the repercussions are, or it may impact your ability to be promoted or saying I'm not ready to be a supervisor. I know I've been here 15 years, but I don't really have any leadership development or supervisory skills. Right. Like. The idea of leadership, supervision and management being three different things. These words people use interchangeably. And so sometimes people are promoted into positions that they're really not equipped to do. And being able to say, what, I really wanna get a promotion, but this job isn't for me is not, are not muscles we massage. And so that's why, again, I talk about culture so much because you have to build a culture where we normalize those uncomfortable things, where we normalize people. Being fearful. And we say, we know, but we want to create a system where we can be honest. We can be transparent and it's not gonna happen overnight. But how do we build trust with each other? How do we start having those things and putting systems in place and taking baby steps towards normalizing the things that people are often running from and things like communication. Accountability. Really being able to declare when you're not ready for something or when you've hurt someone's feelings, being able to like go beyond, not just that. I'm sorry. Cuz I'm sorry. Doesn't solve it. Everything is a really important skill that needs to be taught. You're not born with that. And if you don't practice it it's like anything, you lose the muscle for it. And so it's really about consistently building in opportunities for teams to be vulnerable with each other, to, in order to build trust, which we all know is like the foundation of having a really strong team.
Carol: Yeah. So, yeah, absolutely. And I'm thinking back to a program that I was involved in where it was a, a, , a new executive director CEO program leadership development program. And I would say that the number one, we. Did a lot of the more structural stuff here. Working with your board roles and responsibilities. But the crux of the issue that people were, I felt like had the most fear around was actually giving feedback to employees having those challenging conversations.
And even to the point where I was just on a call this morning and someone was reflecting the fact that in this organization, none of their leadership team ever gets any performance evaluation. And then thinking back to my career in organizations, and I would say there was only one that was a larger organization. Had any regular system for that. So, , it may not, it may not need to be a formal evaluation system, but what, how are you building those feedback loop loops so that people have a sense of how they're doing. And, and then also can, , can. Have a space to have those conversations about what's going well and, and what isn't and it isn't. And so, those check ins aren't always like a performance of these are all the awesome things I did last week.
Deneisha: Carol. You just hit the nail on the head. Can I just tell you, this is like one of the main conversations that I have at nonprofit organizations where we have. Especially when I talk to supervisors and then leaders are another topic. I'll come to that in a second, but sure. The idea. Constructive feedback versus constructive criticism. Mm right. And like what role do evaluations and supervision play in that feedback should be happening constantly. We should not just be waiting until something goes wrong to have conversations around how we can do better. And in supervision, it shouldn't just be like a check-in like you said around like, well, this is what we have in college. This is what we do. I always say to supervisors, if you are a match, if someone is seeing something for the first time on the performance review, you have failed. Right. Right.
You have plenty of opportunities between annual evaluations to share your feedback. And it doesn't always have to be in the form and it should not be in the form of criticism. You don't wanna be criticized like that does not feel good. What this should be is like, how can we grow? How can we do better? And so there is opportunity, every single one, to provide feedback. And you should be also saying as a supervisor, how can I support you? Right. Like, what do you need from me to be able to do these things? So feedback doesn't just go from the top down. It should also be able to go from the bottom up for a staffer to say, okay, I hear you. These are the things you'd like me to do, but here's the support that I need or the resources I. To get that done. So number one, feedback should be in a 360. It should go all the way around. Everyone should be providing feedback on a regular basis and feedback's different from criticism. We really should try not to criticize because that feels so personal and traumatic for so many people. That starts to lead to toxic work cultures and then people hiding from accountability. So that's one piece of it. The other piece is around leadership and that's why in my four pillars, we start with leadership. I always say the tail follows ahead. And while it may not follow in a straight line behind the head, it might be like a little wiggly rule behind. It's not gonna be going in the opposite direction. And so leadership is so, so, so important in building a culture. And when I say, , when I do coaching with executives, , we. I really try to work, to create environments where people can be honest and vulnerable. And what I've heard from so many leaders is, is like, what? I know I'm not, I know that I have room to grow, but it can be really isolating as a leader to get the type of support that you need. So who are you surrounded by? You have your staff who work for you and you're supposed to know what you're doing. And so you don't really wanna be vulnerable with them and say, folks, I don't have this, so I'm not sure about this. I don't really have experience in this area. I'm not really sure what to do. No leader wants to tell their staff that they don't know what to do. Then you have your board who often is supervising you, right? like, that's not necessarily the space where you also can be vulnerable and honest about your opportunities for growth. And then you have your colleagues who are other leaders of other organizations, and you definitely don't wanna tell them most of the time that you don't have it all together. And so. It becomes really hard for leaders to get the type of support that they need in order to be good leaders. And a part of that is also not creating systems to get feedback from your team around your leadership.
And it is one of the most common things that I see that leaders are not getting evaluations. And they're also not going to training, so they'll send everyone else to training, but they're not getting professional development. They're not getting coaching. They're not putting themselves in environments to really stretch and think beyond what they currently know. They're not learning new ways of knowing. And so it really, and, and then they think they're hiding. And what I try to help them understand is you're not hiding. Your staff see poor leadership. They might not have a space to tell you that they feel you're a poor leader, but this stuff. Impact, right.
Just like doing the coaching and getting good professional development can have a positive impact, not getting that also has the impact. And you're actually, you may be hiding from your board or you may be hiding from your clients or, or your or your colleagues. You're not hiding from your staff. Your staff are talking about you and talking about your poor leadership, and it would behoove you to really demonstrate that they are not the only ones who need to do better, that you, as a leader also needs to do better. And I will tell you, in organizations where I have seen culture shift, where people talked about it being toxic, and really being able to see where that switch happened when they see their leadership, taking it seriously. And their leadership also has opportunities of vulnerability and being honest and saying like, here's the spaces where I need to grow staff really buy into that because it no longer feels like it's this one sided finger pointing. We just need to get better trained staff. They recognize that this is a team thing, an organizational thing, and we're all gonna work on it together. And so what you said resonates so much because leadership matters, it really, really.
Carol: Well, and I, I see that finger pointing going both ways, right. Of staff in the break room, , venting about the leader, but that feedback not, not ending up. And I think the other thing that I, I noticed from that group and I've certainly seen at other places was that they, that they. The word feedback to them was synonymous with criticism. Feedback was always negative. Like I have to give someone feedback. Well, if you're giving feedback all the time, it can be both recognizing wins, recognizing the positive and having constructive feedback as well. And the other thing, I think that, in terms of feedback, that people Could do with more practice. And that's where the skill building really comes in is getting specific because I've worked for people who are like, you're doing a great job. It was awesome, but it's like, well, what, what was it that you saw that was particularly helpful that I could build on. But that two way feedback and certainly. Those kinds of programs where people where leaders can get a little more vulnerable with peers to be able, or with coaching, to admit their growth edges is, is really, is really key.
Deneisha: feedback. Isn't also just an outward thing. Sometimes feedback's listening, right? Like a key component of being able to give good feedback. Is to also listen and to hear and to synthesize that information and then to provide something back to the person that is actually actionable, that's meaningful. Mm-hmm . And to your point, that's really clear about the next step, right. And then also like to have an opportunity for disagreement. Like we all come from our own perspectives and some things are clear. Cut. Right. That was unsafe, something that you did was unsafe or things like that, but things like you could do better, like that's subjective, right? Like how, how can I do better is the next question? And because we are defensive beings, I think we also have to realize, like we will personalize feedback. And so how can you give it in a.
That feels positive and helpful and not just something that's gonna sting so badly that actually, I haven't been able to take that feedback in and I'm not gonna do anything about it. I'm just gonna be mad, right? Like now I just feel offended, particularly if it's coming in my performance review and we've had all these other opportunities to meet, and you've never said this to me. Right. And so I really do think it's incumbent on supervisors, managers, and leaders to build the muscle, to do. Constructive feedback. And again, even when it's about something that someone can feel is criticism that the way you frame that feedback. Can have very different results in how someone receives it. And so this is not just about wounding people. And what I say is like the punitive approach to things in organizations like that doesn't actually help people be honest. And so how do we get to a space where we create a culture of honesty? It has to be one that doesn't feel harmful to people. Yeah,
Carol: You talked about leaders , thinking that they're hiding X, Y, or Z, and, and staff are in the break room talking about it. And it just makes me laugh because I've had a couple different instances where I've come into strategic planning and the executive director was getting, , maybe they were two years. Maybe they were a couple years out from retiring and they, I don't wanna tell, don't tell anybody about this. And I'm thinking about that. I'm like, okay. So you're clearly in your sixties, seventies. This is not invisible to people. People are talking about this. Like how long are you planning to be here? What's the trajectory, what's your plan? So, , that's just one one example, but this notion that, , they're keeping secrets is, is one that is not helpful. So, I mean, I think about feedback learning how, how to give feedback in a way that. Increases the likelihood that someone can hear it. Right? I mean, you, you can't guarantee that, but there are ways to, to phrase things that are more likely for someone to be able to, to hear that. So what are some of the practical, I mean, what would you say to someone in terms of, Getting better at providing feedback. What are some things that you talk to people about?
Deneisha: So one of the things I say is something you said earlier is that it should happen regularly and should not always be based on what went wrong. Right. So it shouldn't also always just be about the individual person. Have we created opportunities to evaluate our work? Are we creating opportunities to evaluate the effectiveness of maybe a project or initiative or an event that we hosted? Do we ensure that feedback when it's given you also say things. What can I do to support you in doing that so that this person knows they're not on their own to just figure it out?
Definitely making sure that anything you put in a performance review has been discussed with someone. So no one ever feels like the rugs have been pulled out from under them. And then give feedback directly to the person. I cannot tell you how many times there's like all this stuff swirling about a person and no, one's actually told them. They talked about it with their colleagues. They've talked about it with the leadership, maybe even talked about it with HR and no, one's talked about it with the person who is the subject of the conversation.
And so some of it also requires having a direct approach and making the commitment to say, I'm gonna give you this feedback, but I also wanna hear back from you. How, how do you one, how do you feel? That's one of the things that's like the biggest curse word sometimes in our sectors. Like we don't care how people feel. We don't wanna know how you feel. Well, no, actually we are a social service human service sector where feelings actually matter because it impacts. People's actions.
And if everyone feels really horribly, it's really hard to get them to do meaningful work. Right. And so like, no, I hear you. And getting opportunities to be responsive to the feedback and asking again, the question around support, how can I support you in doing this? I also think it is an opportunity for questions. I think sometimes people give feedback and there's no room to ask questions about. How'd you get there? How'd you get, why did you make that decision? And also almost like a little bit of coaching. What could you have done differently, especially if it's something that the person may not, not feel great about one of the things that's thinking about. Okay.
So next time. What are some things we can try proactively developing strategies so that the next time someone is confronted with a similar issue, they don't have to figure it out on the fly. It's really helpful. And so I really think that in supervision, That should happen regularly and that organizations should really train their supervisors. That's another piece of it. I cannot tell you how many times I have done supervisor training and asked people who have been supervisors for five years, 10 years, and they've never actually had supervisor training and it shows, or organizations are not clear about their expectations of supervisors. So everyone's running their team like it's in their own little kingdom. Those are recipes for disaster and actually just increased risk and liability, right. At an organization because it's hard to show consistency, which then people can use in a lawsuit to say, this was discriminatory as opposed to this is what we're doing. And so it's feedback regularly and often. Allow for questions and proactively plan things that you can try next time. So you have some strategies and then check in, how did that go? What did it mean? How did you learn from it? And again, how can I support you and ensure this is something you're actually able to do and accomplish.
Carol: Absolutely. Yeah. And, and I was laughing when you described the swirl around people, because I feel like that's another common thing that people will do. They'll call someone like us. Right. I want to do team building or I wanna do board training or roles and responsibilities. And once you start having the conversation of, okay, why. We're having a problem with this person. And then the next question I'll always ask is, well, have you had a conversation with that person? Well, no, not yet. Nope. Okay. Well, we can talk if we can continue talking about training or team building or whatever it is. And you need to have the conversation.
Deneisha: Yeah. I'll give you another quick example of how I can tell at an organization when there's a communication barrier. So oftentimes someone will hire me and say, for example, I'm gonna come in and do the strategic plan. And as. A part of the strategic planning, like you, I do an org assessment to get us started. And I always pride myself. It's similar to supervision and with the evaluation that at the end, when someone gets their org assessment and you share it with the leadership and share it with the team that it should feel familiar, it shouldn't feel like, like a bomb just dropped and there's all this new information.
But oftentimes the response that I get, people get their org assessment and they'll read through it. And they're like, yeah, we knew all of this. And it's almost as if they're expecting it to be a document full of secrets and things they didn't know. And that says to me, like these are issues that everyone knows about. We know the landscape of where we are, but we don't have a system for us to have that conversation, which is why we had to hire a consultant to come in and tell us where we all already know. And we could have elevated in a landscaping conversation if we just had a team that was able to communicate and talk to each other. And so it'll be like their assessment. It'll have recommendations. It'll have questions for further consideration. And I find, oftentimes the staff are like, this is amazing. Like, I've been saying this for years. And then the leadership is. Oh, we, we knew some of this or, , it's good to see it, or you really captured our, our organization and it's like, yeah.
So did you really need this assessment or did you, right? Like, could you have had these conversations or maybe dealt with some of these things internally before it rose to the level of being a complete issue right now? And. That's another way to show that everyone is itchy. Shouldn't talk to the consultant. I can't wait to talk to you as a part of this assessment. I wanna tell you everything. And then I pulled together this report and everyone's like, yeah, we knew all that stuff already. It's like, yeah. Why have you not been talking about it? What's the, where's the barrier that makes it, so that the only way this rises to the level of something that we're gonna deal with? If someone from the outside comes in and tells us like that is a huge indicator that you haven't set up systems of communication internally for your team to have important conversations that are meaningful to like the impact of your work.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I have that same experience of people thinking that there's gonna be a big reveal and then saying, well, no, really wasn't that much surprising. I think what they do find what I have experienced is people find there's a sense of relief yeah. Of. We are more on the same page than I thought. I thought I was over here having these thoughts myself and actually everybody else is having those same thoughts. But as you point out, like, why are they just thoughts? Why are they not conversations? Exactly. So yeah, so, and then, I mean, I think sometimes it is helpful. Any process where you're working with a consultant or a coach, or you have a system for doing that in a methodical way, that certainly organizations can do themselves.
And I think it's helpful sometimes to have a shepherd really, to guide you through it. So it's, it's both, but right. Not to just wait every three years for that to happen. Right. If you're on a regular process for a strategic plan, for example, again, like the performance review, you don't have to wait for three years. And then in terms of the goals, I also , if the goals are so far beyond. What's been in the conversations. I also am like, I don't want any of these to be super like a left field either because it needs to relate to what you're already doing and what you're already good at.
Deneisha: Right. That's the part that I actually find is the meaningful part of the strategic planning. Of course, all of it's meaningful. The landscape analysis is important. Having some assessment. Because you need to reflect on the past in order to really build good goals and targets for the future. But I find that's the piece because I always say so. There's a hundred things we can do. Our goal in this process is to build alignment and find consensus around the best next set of things we can do. What is the thing that will help us when it comes to things like operations or development programs and services? What's the right combination? It's putting together a puzzle. So you end up listing all these ideas and then working together to really think about them. What's the right combination of pieces to get us further than where we are? Three years from now. And so that's the part that I think is really helpful for teams in the strategic planning process is building the muscle of being able to like learn from the past, think together, and then develop a plan that there is team alignment and cohesion around the next steps of things that can move us forward.
Carol: absolutely. So we identified a lot of the problems with nonprofit culture. And you talked about some of the ways that organizations can start stepping forward to, to build a more positive culture. What are some other things that you would say are really important as organizations and leaders wanna get more intentional about building a healthy culture?
Deneisha: Yeah. So one of the things I think is just a really easy starting point is to think about how you embody your organizational values and notice I use the word embody. I think all organizations have values, but when we think about, and what does that look like here? Those are questions that need to be answered. I think oftentimes organizations will list their values. And when you ask staff about what that looks like or ask community members about what that looks like, that is not really clear.
Or what is our organizational culture? I always define culture when I'm talking to groups because I Al I use the term like, it's like, look, everybody knows what it is, but if you try to define it, we're all gonna have, there's 10 of us in this room. There'll be 10 different definitions. And so really trying to understand what the culture is. Like that's an important conversation to have. What do people think about our org culture? Is it healthy? Is it toxic? Just asking the basic question. I think another thing is to, , really think about where do we have opportunities for us to connect and talk and like, is there a space for us? , put questions up somewhere that we actually have some conversation and then a, a action around. So lots of conversations happen at nonprofits and sometimes I'll hear things like we've been talking about this for years, but there's no action tied to it.
So having conversations lead to action is a practice that you should have, like do not get stuck in analysis paralysis. , and even like the term parking lot, when I do strategic planning, we don't do that. We don't use that term because people say things like the parking lot is where things go to die. So we use the phrase, a runway and I give the analogy like this is a plane, and we're about to launch something with this strategic plan. What are the bumps on our runway that would keep us from a safe launch, right? From a successful launch.
So identifying the, like, there's always a ton of things that we could work on, but what are the things that are really barriers to keeping us from having the type of culture that we want. And then finally, like really the recognition that culture is everyone's. It's not just the HR person's job. It's not just the job of the supervisor. It's not just like the DEI person's job. Like all of those things require all of us to be embodying the values as we have defined them. And. To make sure that everyone is contributing to trying to have a more positive and healthy work culture. And so defining what that looks like is what I do like with organizations to say, like, what are our expectations of each other and how we work together. And just naming that and saying that we are also individually going to make our commitment around how we're going to contribute to this on a daily basis. So I tell people. Let's get in touch with your shadow side, because we all have one. It's never really the thing. We're proud of stuff, but what happens is it shows up at work and your teammates see it, and they don't know that.
And so we do a lot of work around, like, who am I as an individual? How do I show up? And how do I. When things come up change my reflex. So I am not automatically thinking about the external factor or the person who caused this thing or caused me to be frustrated. My first instinct is to be reflective and think about how am I showing up right now? How did I contribute to this thing? How do I calm myself down so that when I do go to have this conversation, it can be productive and get us to a better place and not just be like a way for me to vent and, and, or feel vindicated. So I think it really just takes a lot of intention.
And I think, again, the number one thing that organizations can do is have a leader that says like, this is meaningful. I want us to have a healthy culture. And I, as a leader, am going to really leave this effort and participate in making sure we have what's necessary to get us there. What are your suggestions? Right, like starting from the top saying this is everyone's job, including mine. and this is what we're gonna work on. And we're like the next year or however long it takes for us to have the types of conversations, get the type of training that we need to set up the systems so that we can be in a better place. This is no one person's fault. I think that's the other thing. We do a lot of blaming in the nonprofit sector. We blame the government. We blame communities. Like we blame each other. How do we reduce the culture of blame? And say that everyone has to have skin in the game. Everyone needs to work on personal accountability and everyone contributes to whether or not we have a healthy culture.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, that leads me into the last part. On every episode, I play a little game where I ask a question from a box of icebreaker questions that I have, and the, the one, one of the ones that I pulled out today was what's the, what's the life lesson or mistake that you keep on making over and over again and keep having to relearn,
Deneisha: To protect my time. I think I do not. Because I have some of the same things I talk about with nonprofits. I am so passionate about my work that I work a lot and I don't always make time to. Have joy, like true joy. I think I worry about clients. I worry about work. I worry about the world and am I taking enough time to replenish my gas tank? Right. Like, I feel like my work is exhausting. It's meaningful. It's hard work. I'm one of the lucky ones that my personal values and passion are very much connected to my professional values and passions.
And how do I actually just sometimes take time to pause and in spite of all of the crazy around me, like, Experience joy, like really like prioritize that. I think it would help me not feel so exhausted all the time and would actually help me just show up in life and be better to myself and get that good balance. I have a big vision board in front of me that I sit in front of every day. And one of the phrases on it is, or two of the phrases are to get balance and rediscover pleasure. And they are reminders that I have to make to myself all the time. And I think it's something that's endemic in our sector of people who are well, meaning passionate, stretched really thin. Always helping others and not really doing what's necessary to help themselves and replenish. So I would say that and ask for help, because I think that's also important.
Carol: Oh my goodness. You named my top two too. We seem to have something in common. So what, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Deneisha: So one of the things I'm very excited about is, changing things for a lot of folks. I'm an adjunct professor. So I teach in the school of human services at metropolitan college of New York. And I have been able to take that skill set and translate it into building a virtual classroom. And so I'm really excited about the launch of this virtual classroom that will be able to. Help teams get professional development at the time and that it works for them.
One of the biggest things in our sector is time. And so I'm really excited that the beta testers who are testing the classroom love it. It is gamified and its incentivized staff earn rewards and points for participating in professional development. And I love that. It's not just based on one individual going to get training and thinking. They're gonna bring that back to the organization. This really. Built to cater to all different learning styles, to be training that sticks and to offer people rewards for growing and building and doing better. And so I'm really excited for teams to learn together. Participate in the discussion forms and really create something that's new that I think our sector needs, but is not out there. And I'm really happy to have a real innovative way to help teams get the type of training and learning that they need to build better cultures.
Carol: That's awesome. So you're, you're in beta now. Let us know and we'll make sure to include all the information in the show notes for this episode. And, and I, I love how you phrase it and, and you talked about it before not just sending one person to training X and expecting it to impact, because what happens is people come back from that training, all excited, and then they run into the culture. Exactly. Exactly. And, and so, yeah, so it's all, or they're
Deneisha: Not trainers, they're not facilitators. So it's like, OK, I got the training. I teach everybody training and no
Carol: One, my, my air quotes and it's actually just listening to someone drone on. Right. So they're not actually getting to, to do skill development, but yeah, that sounds really exciting. And we will definitely include that information. I'm sure it will be a really, really rich resource for the sector. So thank you so much. And thank you again for coming on. It was a great conversation.
Deneisha: Thank you, Carol. It's really great to spend some time with you today.
Carol: I appreciated what Deneisha said about feedback. When folks hear the word feedback – they usually assume it is feedback about something bad. But feedback itself is neutral and needs to be frequent and specific. For positive things and for things that need improvement.
Too many organizations lack any system for providing performance feedback on a regular basis – starting with regular evaluations – to integrating feedback into regular conversations. And the key – and it can be challenging – is to be specific. Just telling me “great job” feels a little meaningless. That about it was great – can you give me a specific example. I appreciated when you spoke up in that last meeting and challenged us to think some more about our new direction. Your questions were really thought provoking and helped us slow down and not make a decision too quickly. That is specific positive feedback. And I also appreciated Deneisha’s point that a culture that only provides criticism encourages people to hide from accountability and hide mistakes – they want to avoid being called out and that sting. Yet things will go wrong and they need to be discussed too – How can you create a space where it is safe to admit mistakes – and that the discussion is focused on what can we learn from this and manage and or avoid it in the future. – that it is future oriented vs. blame oriented. And beyond the individual level – how are you creating a learning culture – where your work on a project, program or initiative basis is also being regularly evaluated – and not just whether folks like it or not – enjoyed it or not – but rather it is achieving the goals and objectives it was designed to produce. And if not what tweaks need to be made? And have you taken the time to map out what the assumptions, the expected short, medium term and long term outcomes are?
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Deneisha, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed today’s episode , please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. The easiest way to do that is to go to podlink. Pod.link/missionimpact and you can share the podcast or any individual episode and then your colleague can listen on their podcast listening app they prefer. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 57 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Betina Pflug (Beh-tee-nuh Flug) discuss:
Betina Pflug is an executive and life coach with over 25 years of experience in entrepreneurship, relational intelligence, strategic decision-making, nonprofits, facilitation & training, marketing, and CRM. Her international experience enables her to share best practices from a different perspective and allows her to communicate in several languages, such as Portuguese, German, Spanish, and English. With a personal motto of "leave every place you go, better than you found" and her organizational skills, Betina identifies problems and dreams up actionable solutions.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Betina Pflug.
Betina and I talk about relational intelligence. What it is, how it is different from emotional intelligence, why it is important to team development, and how it can help teams work more effectively together.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Betina. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Betina Pflug: Thank you so much for inviting me to be here, Carol.
Carol: So I like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you're doing. What motivates you and what would you describe as your “why”?
Betina: My big “why” started in Brazil. I was rescuing dogs. A lot of times I always saw poor dogs on the street, took them home. I said, one time I need to help something. In a different way instead of just doing individual docs, why don't I go to a non-profit and try to help them with many. So I started doing research of what shelters were around in my area. And I started volunteering with them after a while I became the volunteer coordinator for the organization. And at the same time I was running a marketing agency and learning a lot how to generate new leads, marketing big corporations. And I said, you know what? I'm gonna use my knowledge to help nonprofits. So I started every Friday working pro bono, applying everything I learned in my agency to the nonprofit world. And then one, after another nonprofit, it started inviting me to revisit their fundraising strategy. And I love doing this more than my regular work. So when I moved here to the United States, I had a chance to start from scratch my career. I said, why not work a hundred percent with nonprofits? I love this. It's much better than working for profits. So I hired a coach to help me out, to migrate and be able to work a hundred percent with nonprofits. That's why that's when I started working with Salesforce, implementing Salesforce for nonprofits, and I never stopped. Now. I'm coaching nonprofit professionals. I'm doing a lot of new initiatives with nonprofits, but always with my heart on my work.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. And yes, part of that shift has been focusing on relational intelligence. So can you first just describe what that is?
Betina: First off, why I came up with this topic and why it is so important after helping several nonprofits meals on wheels, I can name it, chase the music, a lot of nonprofits. I noticed that the biggest challenge inside the nonprofits is the lack of professionals, they don't have as many people as they wish to execute all the ideas. So people are wearing different hats. And sometimes a person who's running the volunteers needs to go and manage an event and needs to work on the fundraising strategy as well. So they need to be very flexible and for an executive director to be able to delegate things for their team, she needs to understand what I'm telling her, because the majority of the S reces are females. So this executive director needs to understand the native talents that each employee has, so they can take the best out of them and understanding and having a self-assessment tool and understanding about what are the talents that each employee, each person on their intelligence help on communication help on taking the best out of each professional that you guys have. That's why I was looking for a self-assessment tool and a training that was easy to implement, and it won't be something complicated that they will have the wish to take this even to their own personal life. So that's the self-assessment tool I'm using. It's called try its
Carol: How would you say that relational intelligence is different from emotional intelligence?
Betina: First of all, I'd like to compare relational intelligence to artificial intelligence. So we are in a big era of technology. We need to really improve our skills on interacting with devices in the future. We will be doing fundraising using Alexas and refrigerators because we're gonna have internet all over our house. So artificial intelligence plays an important role in the organizations right now, and we play an important role even in the future, but not even, not only artificial intelligence is important, but people really need to understand how to relate with each other. And I can give you an example. Sometimes kids go out for a program and they have internet over there. Whenever the internet stops working, they stop talking. They only know how to communicate using their smartphones gladly. We are from a different generation and the majority of the professionals working on nonprofits right now. We're in a place where they haven't had devices. We used devices so much at that time, so they knew how to relate with each other, but we were losing this capability when COVID hit. We were at home working remotely and we lost a little bit of this touch on how to relate with each other. So relearning, how to relate, how to learn for example, Gestures postures and how people react with your information, learning how to express yourself with words, not only texting or sending emails, plays an important role inside the organizations. Right now, answer your question. What's the difference between relational intelligence and emotional intelligence? When we talk about emotional intelligence is understanding how you're. And how others are feeling relational intelligence is understanding what are your skills? How do you like to communicate and how do other people like to receive information and how do they communicate such different perspectives? That's what we're talking about when we mention relational intelligence.
Carol: Yeah. There are a number of different things that I wanna follow up on there. Just your, your story about younger generations and. just getting so used to communicating only through devices or then going to online school. And of course we're doing this via a screen. Excuse me. And just thinking, just last week was the first time for me to be back in a room with a group of people facilitating a meeting. I hadn't done that since 2019. And I know a lot of people who are at a big conference of folks who work with associations this week and the posts on LinkedIn about, people have grown back their legs and this whole. Seeing people beyond just, the top half talking head piece. So I think being able to navigate in both contexts is really important. But yeah, figuring out how to work together as a team with which you work well with communication styles, all those, all those things are really critical and important. Can you say a little bit more about the framework and how you work and how you use that with teams?
Betina: Yes. First of all, I think it's important to touch a little bit about behavior evolution in organizations. In the past, we were very used to obedience to rules and authorities. We rarely listened to each other and differences were punished. Everyone had to be equal. Technical activities were more common and logical intelligence was the most important thing. So if you have a high IQ, you will be able to be hired. In our present moment, what's happening, Carol. We still obey. We respect who rules. And sometimes now we listen to each other. Different. Sometimes we are punished as we can see big movements like black lives matter. And we still have a transition between this respect between differences. Polarization and re rejection. We have a lot of that in politics and in problems that are coming up in technical and relational activities, starting to race and emotional intelligence is super important in our present moment. But what we see in the future that's gonna happen inside an organization is that people will start breaking rules. They're gonna have more respect for each other and more freedom. You can see this in some environments already. The difference will be included. We are gonna respect everyone's rights. We will really listen to people. Diversity will be accepted. Each one can have their place and relational activities will be the main thing inside organizations and relational intelligence will play an important role. That's what I see the difference between the organizations and that's why it's super important for us to start learning how to use relational intelligence in our lives.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, I definitely see those changes as we start to. I think there's been, it's been a long time coming of questioning hierarchies, how to that top down way of managing, I'm just gonna tell you what to do. I'm not asking you to bring your thoughts to the table. And I think in some arenas, that's still very much the mindset. And I feel like the whole great resignation, with folks just walking off of jobs and not feeling like their managers or their organizations, their companies really were. Caring about them as individuals, especially as we were really confronting, some, some existential crises in, in COVID as people are, literally having to face dangers to their, their health and safety as they work and, and then shifting towards the more egalitarian flexible changing rules I feel like there's some organizations that are moving towards that. And a lot that are still resisting it really, really, very much. And with the whole, everybody has to go back to the office three days a week, or, we're gonna be doing this, these things in different ways and, like put up or, put up or put out and. Some of what you describe on the other end feels a little utopian, but I'd love it. I feel like there are a lot of folks who've been wanting management to shift in that direction for a long time. So I'm, I'm curious about your, your reactions to, to, to our current moment.
Betina: Yes. We've seen a lot of organizations wishing to change, but there is a lot of resistance. So the way we are helping them is by bringing them awareness of who they are, the leaders, having them having awareness of themselves and having awareness of the teams, the, the main people they have. Together with them and how to better communicate. That's why this training is super important because what we do is we send a self-assessment task for every participant. They do the test, they receive a report of 28 pages that they can understand better about themselves. And then we do a workshop, a four hour workshop with the whole team explaining how they can use this knowledge. To better communicate with each other. You asked me about the framework. How does it work? So Marco and Antonio, the guy who developed this methodology, he's been a coach for four years in Brazil. He was the founder of ICF, the international association coaching association in Brazil. And he mainly coaches CEOs of big corporations over. After 35 years of experience leading and coaching CEOs, you figure out the main problem they have is leading teams and forming efficient teams like combining different personalities and different skills in an efficient team. So as you might have heard, a disk is an amazing tool in the market, but a more than 80 years old disc is very old compared to our Reality right now. And there are other tools like Agram that are very efficient, but they require a lot of study. And whenever you want to scale down to the whole team, a methodology like that, without spending a lot of money with consultants, it's important to have an easy way to transmit knowledge. So the methodology that he has. This framework has only five types and they are the thinker, the achiever, the organizer, the social and the integrator. And I can tell a little bit about each type so you can understand the difference between them, but he normally uses colors. So the thinker is the white. As we can imagine, for example, a human being connected to the cosmos, to the ideas. That's the white that represents it. The second one is the organizer, the blue, the person who is very here in the mind. The third one is the social, the green one. That's connected with the heart, with nature, the person that's very warm. The achiever is the gut, the orange, the person who really wants to get things done. And the integrator, if you visualize a person standing up, I can say that an integrator is a person who has roots, like a tree, a person who goes deep, who sees the interconnection between them. So, the framework that we use has five types and each person has at least two of them that they navigate in polar. And we explain a lot about polarity. Sometimes we think our boss is crazy because one day they're acting one form. And the second way they're totally different is because they're navigating into the two main characteristics. And in polarities, I'm gonna give you an example, a person who is green, who is very social, they're very empathic. But at the same time, they victimize themselves a lot when they're in the negative part of the green. So that's why it's hard. Sometimes you go to a person who is green and they're very happy, welcoming the next day they're complaining and everything's a disaster. So understanding polarities, that's something that's already in our environment and understanding that the person can have two different types and they use this to navigate the world. It's essential. So the framework also explains that during our life we develop our third. Skill the third type. This is what brings balance. So imagine if you're navigating into two different types and for you to have balance, you have, you need something to hold you in the middle, and this is the skill that you develop along your life. We call it the third color. So it's very simple. It's only five colors and the framework it's Sorry to say again, it's easy and simple. So a leader can be trained and train their employees to apply this in their personal life. And someone who participates in the workshop will be able to go back home and identify the kids' personality, how to interact with them and will be able to use another personal life and professional life at the same time.
Carol: Yeah, as you describe those different types, I can, I can see myself going back and forth between the, I don't know, the thinker of the achiever. And then through all the work that I've done, probably, always trying to strengthen myself, the relator or I don't remember what you called that group, the social, the social group. So, yeah. And and, and polarities, you mentioned, can you, can you say a little bit more about what polarities are and, and why, why they're important?
Betina: Okay. Yes. I think this is super important. Everything that exists in the world has polarities. For example, day and night, hot and cold reason and emotion, right or wrong results of relationships, networks, or hierarchy. So polarities are present in our life. All the. The same way our native talents have PLAR. So, as I was explaining, if I'm a social person, sometimes I can be very loving. Sometimes when I'm negative of myself. Socially, I can be victimizing if I'm an achiever, a person who wants to get things done, they can really achieve goals, but in a negative part, maybe they can go over some people to achieve their goals. They can be seen as a cold person. So every type that we have in our framework has positive and negative parts. And whenever you receive your report, you're gonna be able to read everything that you have as a positive, everything that you have as a negative and how to relate with different color.
Carol: Yeah, I appreciate working helping groups see polarities cuz especially working in groups, there's often a push pull between relationships and tasks. Like what, getting into task. What's the agenda? What are we, what are we doing next? Versus, let's get to know each other. Let's build trust. And I feel like a lot of groups feel like they have to choose one or the other. And going through that exercise of mapping out, okay, what are the positives for relationships? What is the shadow side? What's the positive for, focusing on, on task and what are the shadow sides, helping them see that you can, you can really have how might they. Really leverage more of the positive of each side versus having to feel like they have to choose one or the other way of working together. So I feel like it helps groups bring a little more balance that they can kind of. tack back and forth between, okay, well, we're gonna do a check-in at the beginning. It doesn't mean we're gonna spend the entire meeting checking in. We do have some things we need to get done where we're an organization that has a mission as a purpose. So I love that tool as one that I think it's very often very eye opening for groups. It releases them from that either or thinking. How do you see that? Playing out in terms of teams thinking through their different strengths that they bring to the table? The way
Betina: We approach this as we do some exercises together and one of them is teaching them to compare individual versus collective. So we write everything that by working individually, what are the benefits of working individually? What are the shadow parts of working by yourself? For example, the positives of working by yourself is that you control your time. You can prioritize. What's important to you? You have a peaceful mind, less conflict. You can move quicker, you have control and efficiency, but when you're in the negative or being individually too much individually, You, you can fuel only, you only have a single perspective. You have to put more effort on what you're doing. You can get stuck, feel overwhelmed, and maybe you can have blind spots. Whenever we are working on the positive of the collective, like working in a group, we have different perspectives. We have more strength to leverage. We have collective experience. We can go faster alone, but further together. And in the negative part, maybe we can deal with drama. We need to deal with feelings. We have to compromise. Maybe we'll move slower and could be more expensive. But what we teach them is how to navigate. If you're in the positive of the individual, you go to the negative, the way of getting. Is going to the positive of the opposite, the positive of the collective. So how to navigate in this framework is the secret. Whenever you transcribe this framework to relational intelligence. So we go in the basics, understanding the concepts of polarities first, and then we introduce them to the different types and how to navigate in your native talent.
Carol: So I feel like a lot of the conversation about remote work or work in the office has to do with this push pull again between the individual work and collective work. And what, what settings do people need for each and a lot of assumptions from how work used to be in terms of, the, this idea that if we're in the office, we're gonna bump into each other and have. co collaborative aha moments where actually the studies have shown that actually that doesn't happen a whole lot. It may have those bumps, those kinds of. Bumping into someone and having conversation moments in the office may have to do more with that relational aspect of just getting to know each other and building trust, getting to know the person outside of their work role. But I'm curious when, as organizations are having to navigate this. Do we continue working remotely? Do we do a hybrid? Do we in person curious how that individual versus collective conversation plays in these types?
Betina: I'm not sure if I understood your question.
Carol: So you were talking about the individual and the collective, and I feel like we're in this moment where A lot of things that were taken for granted when we all were in the office together are having to be pulled apart with virtual and remote work. And I'm just curious about how you see this framework and working between those, those modalities play out when, when teams are navigating working remotely.
Betina: I can give you an example with a corporation that we implemented, this methodology better business bureau has 17 employees and we train all of them. And the benefits of understanding their own strengths was that when they came back to the office from working remotely, they were able to understand what preference each person has. So the achiever, they really want to have goals and settings and it's okay for them to go back to the office as soon as they can. If they can achieve their goals for society, it's super important to come back because they need this relationship for the blue ones who are the rational ones. They don't need this touch. They really need to see black and white plans in advance. They prefer to stay at home. But have been aware of what their strengths are, if they are blue, but at the same time, they have a little bit of green going to the office. They can meet and smack the activities that they're doing, but respecting each other and understanding their differences is what will make a huge difference in the organization. So they were able to better communicate and set expectations about coming back from remote work, by knowing each other better. I can also give you an example. If you understand the native talents of someone new that you just hired, you can create a new integration process for this. Imagine you're giving a task to several animals. For example, to be fair on the selection. I want everybody to climb this tree and you're saying this to a monkey, to a ping wing, to an elephant, to a fish and to a dog, not everybody will be able to climb a tree, but the monkey will say, okay, I will get it. And that's the same thing. When you are in a work environment. I don't want to compare anyone to animals. I just think that everybody has different lands, how they see the world. If the leader understands what are the lenses that this person is using to see the world, they will be able to better communicate, to better prepare an integration process, to better prepare a meeting, to delegate and also to follow up and give feedback.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. Yeah. I think that, using any tool that helps teams have a better understanding about how people are approaching things, their thinking process and how they're processing information. You know how they approach things differently and having them have a conversation about that is always gonna help the team work more effectively together in the future.
So at the end of every episode, I like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question. So the one I've got here is very unrelated to what we've been talking about, but what show on Netflix or streaming service of your choice, did you binge watch embarrassingly fast? Anything recently?
Betina: I think I will go back to nonprofits. I'm sorry. I'm a patient about nonprofits. I saw a documentary about nonprofits, international nonprofits. And when I was watching, I said, oh, this will help me so much. I will be very in love with nonprofits. Look, they even have a program on Netflix, but after I watched them, they were showing the bedside of the nonprofits. Oh no, I was so sad. Showing how we are exploring the third word and everything, but I think it was super important for me to have a different perspective. A different approach, a blind spot that I wasn't able to see how the third world is receiving the support from international nonprofits. And this made me be more aware that it's important to see positive things and negatives all the time. Not just thinking that everything is beautiful, but listening to both sides to make my own conclusions. So I'm still very passionate about the nonprofits. I truly support international nonprofits. I think they're doing amazing work. If they weren't here, we wouldn't be able to change the world. Nonprofits are doing everything that nobody else wants to do. So I admired it and I was happy to find this on Netflix.
Carol: Yeah. So I think with, with anything that people create, there's always an upside and a downside, every person, every type there's always the positive part. And then when you do too much of it you can get in your own way. So, yeah, absolutely. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Betina: I work as a coach and one of my best clients is my husband. And recently he wasn't happy at his work. And I was thinking that I have so many tools to help someone find a new job. Why don't I use it with my own husband? I said, okay, I'll give it a try. Sorry that I'm clapping here. Maybe it's still loud for you guys. But I was super excited to apply everything that I knew to help a person find a new job. He did several interviews and he finally found a job inside the same company he is in right now. And we are moving to Australia at the end of the year. Oh wow. I plan to keep working with nonprofits. I plan to keep having my show of wisdom for nonprofits that I have a podcast and doing the same. Just in another country. I came from Brazil, stayed six years in the United States and my next journey will be in Australia.
Carol: That is so exciting. That is so exciting. Well, good good wishes to you as you make that transition. That's a, that's always a big one and changing countries and learning a new culture, always a big transition, but I'm sure it will. I'm sure you'll manage it incredibly well. And I'll be looking forward to hearing about your exciting adventures in Australia.
Betina: Yeah, I hope so. And maybe we can share some knowledge from the nonprofits over there in your show later on. Everything that I learned that I think could be beneficial to nonprofits, I would try to share.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. All right. Well, thank you so much.
I appreciated Betina’s perspective on polarities. Polarities are everywhere – breathing in and breathing out, rest and activity. In groups and organizations one where there is often a lot of push and pull – relationship vs task. Many conflicts come from trying to argue for or against one side of a polarity. As I phrased it there relationship vs task. Big picture vs details. But the truth is we always need both sides of polarities. And there is an upside and downside of each. For the relationship and task example. If you focus only on task which is often the pressure in our culture – the upside is you are efficient, you get a lot done and are productive. But you might burn out yourself in the process. You might alienate team members and bruise some feelings. If you only focus on relationships in a workplace – the upside is you know each other well, you – hopefully – enjoy each other's company. But the downside is you are not actually moving your mission forward, you may be very conflict averse and avoid tough conversations. But in reality you do not have to choose one or the other. You can attend to relationships and get work done. And as organizations grapple with whether or not to return to the office – hybrid or 100% remote. This will be impacted by what type of work your organization focuses on. And practically some organizations are still locked into office leases that impact their decision making.
Yet I invite leaders to decouple the idea that the office equals organizational culture. Every human group creates a culture – So remote only teams and organizations have a culture too. Culture is not created by the building – it is created by people in the building or the Zoom room. Whether you create that intentionally and are mindful of it or not is a different question. And even 100% remote teams get together periodically. Many remote first organizations have periodic retreats where they bring everyone together for team building, planning and other activities. So again you are not stuck in an either or. If you do decide to let go of your office, take some of the money you are saving on rent and be sure and compensate employees for those extra expenses they are incurring by working at home. And provide stipends for going to a co-working space if they do not have a good space at home conducive to work.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Betina, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 56 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Danielle Marshall discuss:
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion. Danielle has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years most recently having served as the Executive Director for Playworks Mid-Atlantic. Danielle went on to found Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to move organizations beyond DEI statements to develop strategic and actionable equity goals.
Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/Executive Coach.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Danielle Marshall. Danielle and I talk about why it is so important for groups to be clear about their why on pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion – both at the group or organizational level as well as the individual level, how organizations can work both at the systems level of policy change and at the service level and have that work complement each other, and why applying an equity lens to your work helps integrate DEI work beyond a stand alone training series.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome, Danielle. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Danielle Marshall: Thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with this question. What drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Danielle: Yeah. It's funny that you start with the question. What is my, why? Cause I definitely wanna talk about that today as well. I think I have been engaged in this work. Before I knew there was a term for it. So, I come from the world of nonprofits and spent over 20 years working in a variety of nonprofits, usually youth serving organizations. And I worked around the country in a variety of different states from DC to New York, Maryland, Louisiana. Even Washington DC, so forth. And there was something that was happening that I found to be very interesting because I am serving youth and particularly what they focus on black and brown youth. I kept hearing this really persistent narrative about who these children were and what their outcomes in life would be. And then potentially like, even who their families were and the narrative was not a positive one. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm working on the ground with these individuals. I see them every day. I see how hard their families are striving to provide for them and, and help uplift them as the next generation. And I realize pretty early on it isn't the actual families that are the problems here, right? It's something systemic. That's leading to particular outcomes. And that's where I began to shift my thinking around, addressing the systems. Now my background is in industrial organizational psychology , which is a fancy way of saying, I tend to look at the whole world as a case study. Right. And so I'm looking at these systems, I'm looking at people's behaviors at the moment and I'm really working to figure out again, how do I use my strategy, knowledge? To create a space where we can start addressing these systems themselves, as opposed to looking at people as if they were the deficit. So that's sort of the Genesis of how I got to the place that I am now. , but in 2020 there really was this emphasis. And, and I started my business a month before George Floyd's murder. I had been on this path already. I knew it was time. What I didn't anticipate though, was the outcry, from the community that came in, I just mass numbers. So I really was beginning to now target specifically organizations that were interested in moving beyond this performative. We care about DEI. We care about racial equity to groups that actually wanted to do something that was tangible, measurable, and resulted in.
Carol: And in thinking about those organizations that really wanna move beyond just, making a statement or maybe having training and checking the box. What do you see them doing differently than that surface approach to equity and inclusion?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that's a great question. What feels like is at the heart of it is these groups. So just going back to the question you asked me in the beginning, what's my. They're clear on their, why they know why they are leaning into this work and that allows them to set again, very clear goals to get there. Right? So if it is happening for a variety of reasons, people can approach their why from the business case for our organization. , some of them are thinking about the bottom line for their organization. They're thinking about diverse workforces, et cetera. , some of them are thinking about values. This aligns with my moral values. This is what I want to see in the world. And others are thinking about it from an inter or intrapersonal level. And so what does this mean to me as an individual? And so, what does it mean for the quality of relationships that I am seeking to have with people? The changes I wanna see in the world, but then even sometimes it is on that, that, outward sort of facing way. I'd like a promotion. And in order to get a promotion in my organization, I need to have skills that are gonna allow me to connect with as many people as possible from diverse backgrounds. And so I would say there, why being clear feels like a really amazing starting place, in the grand scheme of things. Because once we have that, why in place now we can talk about the next step, which is the, what do we want to. , what changes do we want to see if we're talking about equity? What does equity even mean in our organization? What should we be looking for? And then, and only then can we get to the how?
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like most, most groups they wanna move to, they skip over that. Why phase? Yes. And, or, between the different whys it might become. We have to choose one or the other, right? We have to choose working at the system level or working at the individual level where they all interrelate.
Danielle: Yeah I - oh my goodness. I feel so strongly about that because there are two, it feels like distinct schools of thought that people approach this work from. So, they'll talk about the organization as if it was alive, a living, breathing entity, and I'm forever telling people like the organization is a brick and mortar building. It is not alive. The people within the organization are alive and there's nothing wrong with having strong goals for the organization. We actually need them. , but for me, this feels like a both end moment because you can enact policies. , you can go and do an equity review, make changes that are going to mandate. If you will DEI at the organizational level. But again, if there is no personal connection to that on the individual level, if I don't have a personal reason, or even a belief in an organization, why as soon as there's a change in leadership, maybe the budget decreases, it causes policies to falter. So you have put the right sets of things in place, but there's no commitment to completing. And so I think that we can't necessarily just say, Hey, I wanna work on the individuals and I just wanna change hearts and minds, or I just wanna work on the policies within the organizations. My approach again is both. And, and it's really a blending of those two worlds.
Carol: And it goes back to what you were saying at the beginning of the, the youth work that you were doing and that, that the discrepancy between the narrative that you heard and your experience of folks, of, their families, and then thinking about the systems. And I feel like people have often in the nonprofit sector put those two things at a, at a, an either or. Well, don't just work on the direct service, move up the, move back the chain of events to work on the systems. And again, it's , to me, I feel like that's a, that's an unhelpful, argument to be stuck in of both needs to be dealt with. For change to happen. Yeah. Like people have immediate needs and, working with individuals, but also, thinking about those bigger systems.
Danielle: Absolutely. I just was with a client earlier today and one of the activities we were focused on was, something around opposite thinking, ? So I can't do both of these things at once. Right. So what's the opposite of that? Both the community that we serve and the systems need to be addressed. So we're, we're tackling it from that perspective. But then the third piece of that is asking if that is to be true, what are the things that need to happen in order for us to be able to address both? So instead of stopping immediately with this, either it is going to be right, or it's going to be left that we're moving. There's so much space in between, right? Where is our middle ground, where we can begin to really think about multiple things, at one time and hold them both as true. Yes. The community needs services. There are deficits that may be there today. Existing needs that they have. And we also need to be able to say we are driving some of those problems in those communities because of the systems that we have.
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like if you think about the whole nonprofit sector as a whole, and I mean, not, not the entire sector because, but much of it in essence is set up to address. These needs that don't necessarily need to be needed. Right? Like that's like a triple negative, but, if we didn't have a system that caused homelessness, we wouldn't need homeless shelters. Right. So yeah, I just think about it at the, at the bigger picture level of like, Why is our nonprofit sector so big?
Danielle: Yeah, I, oh my gosh. I struggle with that so much because I have a heart for nonprofits. I probably always will, and oftentimes it still feels like we're putting a bandaid on a much bigger problem. And so I have to say that, where there are cases of homelessness, where there are cases of food insecurity or lower literacy rates. Absolutely. These communities need support right now that are gonna help them achieve better outcomes. No doubt. And we will continue to kick the can down the road if we don't get at the underlying systems that are, as you mentioned, like they're really driving this. Yeah, absolutely. So that's the place that I feel like we have to focus a little bit more at, attention and time, but yet not take our foot off the gas when it comes to also being able to support people simultaneously.
Carol: Right. Right. How do you see, do you, can you gimme some examples of places where you've seen folks be able to do that?
Danielle: I mean, I think some people are doing it every day. They don't necessarily stop to think about it. , if, if I'm working with a group that is dealing with food insecurities, and they're also trying to tackle, let's say racial equity systems, they're not stopping the feeding of people. That work continues, but they are allocating time to sit down as a team to review the policies, to begin to look at data, who works in this organization. What's our retention rate based on the disaggregated data, are there certain demographics that are promoted at higher rates to, maybe leaving the organization? Or even hired into the organization at that point. So they're doing both sets of things and I, by no means, would say it is easy because it is an intentional carving out of time. But the people that are able to hold those two things as truthful and important in the moment, those are the groups that I see having the most success.
Carol: So what are some of those steps that you see organizations taking to move things along and, and shift their cultures?
Danielle: Yeah, I'm gonna go back to 2020 for a second because I feel like so many things shifted at this point. And I, I will absolutely say there have been people doing this work and committed to it for longer than I've even been around sure. On this planet. , but what felt like shifted in that moment to me is in 2020, it sounded like people really got for the first time that, Hey, we need to sit and talk about this. We need to be able to. Understand that we are not all seeing the world. Similarly, we are not all having the same experiences. There is this really interesting thing in the US where we, we're, we're the melting pot everybody's supposed to blend together. Therefore we all have to be the same. I don't even know if I agree first off with matter of fact, I can say pretty clearly. I don't agree with the fact that we should all be the same , but beyond that, it was never true to begin. Right. There are different cultures. There are values, there are different beliefs that people bring to the table. There's just simply different understandings of the world. And to not look at that is sort of a detriment to us because yes, we may have gone through the same situation, but how we experienced it is vastly different, ? So we've all gone through this period of COVID right now. And depending on who you were. So did you live in an urban environment? Did you live in a more rural environment? Did you have a stable job or were you one of the first people to go on furlough or lose your job? Right. Like these are going to force different outcomes. Were you someone who didn't have a choice, but to go into work? And so as we look at it, yes, again, we all went through the same period and still continue to go through it. But how it's impacting us is very different. And so when people say, well, it's, it's as simple as you just need to go apply for jobs. I did it, it was easy for me. Great. I'm glad that you had that experience or the next person they may have put in 50 resumes, but because their name is an ethnic sounding name, they're never even called in for the first interview. We're having different experiences. And so I think in watching people begin to realize that it was the first time, at least in my lifetime, that I saw so many people saying, Hey, I wanna understand this on a deeper level. I wanna dig a little bit deeper into this. And for many people, I think they made some great strides. It feels like there's a pulling back right now that is happening for many folks. And I don't know if you see that in your work as well. , but it seems like the attention given to it. Felt like it was ripe for that moment. We were all home. We were watching TV on a loop. We could see all the devastation occurring across not only our nation, but across the world. So it felt prime to dig deeper into some root causes, but as things have begun to open back up and I, I don't say this from a pessimistic standpoint either. , But more so from a reality check, like we need to be able to continue to sit in these conversations so that it's not just talking about it and I'm not just talking about, Hey, I'm learning something new, but what is the strategy that I'm now going to use? Because I have invested in this knowledge, you can have a ton of information at the ready, but if you're not doing anything with it, you're also part of the problem.
Carol: And I think there was, certainly for white people, who delved into this, there was a huge remedial education essentially that we had to go through, to catch up and, and get a lot of perspective. And then, but then again, as you're saying, how, how to actually put that, the stack of books that I've read over the last, whatever number of years, and then put it into action, is a different thing. Can you, can you gimme some examples? Organizations where you see them being able to integrate it. And it's becoming more of a way of thinking or more of the culture, then we went, we had these conversations, we did these training sessions.
Danielle: Yeah. One of the things that I have found to be incredibly helpful, within organizations. And I see them normalizing this into their practices are groups that are using an equity lens when it's time to make decisions. So those decisions could be, where we choose to hold our conference, this year. Is it going to be in person? Is it going to be virtual? It could be a decision around a particular policy now that we're returning to the world reopening what's our telework policy. Right. And so to apply an equity lens means we're asking some pretty fundamental questions around, like what are the assumptions that we're bringing to this issue? Are we ensuring that multiple voices are heard and included in this discussion? And not just from the standpoint of like collecting feedback, but that we're actually listening to the dynamics that are emerging for people. We wanna think about it again, like, what are those outcomes. We are not necessarily predicting. They might be potential outcomes. There's always someone in one group who is like, sort of the negative Nancy, they're the naysayer. And they're like, but wait, but this thing might happen. And our tendency is when that person speaks up, we're like, Ugh, Nancy beat, please be quiet. Like we, we don't need this right now. We need to move the project ahead. But I actually think that person at times can be a real asset for us because what they're doing is poking holes in the plan as a whole. But they're helping us uncover things that we may have a potential blind spot towards. And so being able to listen at least to, Hey, what, that might be something that could occur. Here's what we now can plan for, because we're aware this may be a potential barrier that we come up against, things like that feel like they are. Really helpful for me. And it's a simple strategy. There are a variety of equity lenses that exist out there. But nonetheless, like if I am thinking about my policy, if I'm thinking about a decision. I can now start thinking about who my stakeholders are, how this decision will impact them, if I'm collecting feedback from a broader group, right? So we often do this, especially in the nonprofit sector. I wanna know everything that you've experienced. Are you satisfied with our program? Are the kids reading at a higher level? Did we plant more trees? Whatever it happens to be, we ask all of these questions. And then where does the data go? Sometimes it literally sits on someone's shelf in the old days or now, in the cloud somewhere, but we're not using it effectively. And I really have a problem with that because it almost feels a little disrespectful, quite frankly, that you've asked me in a very transactional way to give you my insight on something unpaid, right. Free labor. And now you're not even gonna tell me what you've done with it. And sometimes you haven't done anything with it. So, when I think about that, these are tools that we can use. If I want to have partnerships that are transformational, it means that there's a constant dialogue going on between us, where it is less about the transaction. You provide your feedback, you provide this resource for me. And I go about my business, but like, how do I take that in partnership with. And grow it to the next level. Like, based on the feedback that you offered here are the things that we've done differently. Here are the changes on the horizon. Like people are not necessarily asking for EV everything to be different like today, but they would like to know where you're headed. So that's one, I think a solid example of where I'm seeing people make a difference is by intentionally using equity lenses, building those into staff meetings, into leadership team meetings, like on a regular basis. I often tell my clients, like, Hey, post it above your desk, right. It should be whether it's a bulletin board, some people have it as screensavers. Like you should know these questions well enough. That at any given time, even if you're not looking at it, you should be able to say, Hey, what are those assumptions we're making right now? Like, am I biased in my thinking? Like, how do I test that assumption?
Carol: Yeah. And I think we can start with the assumption that we always have some bias.
Danielle: A hundred percent.
Carol: But I love, I love because I feel like I've heard that term bandied around a lot -- equity lens, but like, what is it practically? The thing that you're describing seems so grounded in, okay. Here's a set of questions that we're asking. Each major decision and how it's impacting folks, and I also really appreciate the point you make around all the data that nonprofits tend to collect and how the assumptions have been built into that process. In the past that asked that one have assumed a complete access to folks and, and their willingness to just show up and, and provide input and, and provide perspectives, but also, forgetting to close that loop of, how are you, you've taken the information in, how are you sharing it back out? I mean, I'm at the midst of a strategic planning process right now, and I'm just, as you're talking, I'm thinking, okay, I know I've mentioned this to the client. We've gotta make sure that we do some type of feedback that goes back out to everybody that we've asked information from, not just board and staff, which is the typical group. Mm-hmm, we'll hear those findings, but who are all the people that you've asked, for input and, and how are they gonna see what was said? What are some themes and, and how it's gonna be actually used, in the work that the organization's doing at that moment and the purpose that it collected the information.
Carol: Absolutely. And like can, but yeah, it's only for funders, that's not the right audience,
Danielle: Oftentimes that's who we're focused on. Right. The funder said we have to deliver a report in one year's time and therefore I'm gonna collect feedback on it. And. I don't want to belittle nonprofits, because I think there are some really amazing groups out there that are taking that feedback and they are sharing it with their teams to strengthen their program quality. I see that every day, but what is that further step, right? To go back to your partners in the community and say, we really appreciated this. Here are some of the changes. And, or, we got some initial feedback from you and we're still really noodling on this. We're not sure what's next, would you like to be a co-creator in the next steps of this process? Because that, that's the other thing that really concerns me sometimes is that we believe, as nonprofit leaders, that we have the answers to whatever ails the community. And we often don't go back to the community itself and say, what do you need? Years ago, I worked at a nonprofit that built playgrounds, and I remember going to a community meeting and we had given the kids an opportunity to actually say, Hey, here's some of the design elements we want in our playground. And if you've been on a playground lately or sometime in your life, they have these really cool tool tubes where kids can climb through. And we were talking to the parents after the kids said, we want one of these climbing tubes. And the parents said, absolutely not now, I'm, I'm an early professional. I'm in my twenties at the time. And I'm wondering, what is the big deal about this? Why are the parents putting up such resistance? The question in that moment though, was not so much about what they were saying. But tell me more. What is the context? What is the why behind that? Well, as we began to dig deeper, we understood that the families didn't want the tubes only for one reason: when people crawled through them, they couldn't see what was happening within that tube. And this was a community where there were some, they were experiencing homelessness. There was some drug abuse, there are things that are happening. And they said for us to feel comfortable with our kids playing in this space, we need to just be able to put our eyes on it. Right. And as soon as we said, we have a tube that has a glass bubble or a plastic bubble, they were like, oh, that's great. So, we're jumping to conclusions about what the community needs at times without actually asking them what is a value to you and tell, tell me more about it. What is going to make this possible for you? Because in terms of the resistance they put up, they had every right to put up that resistance. That was a safety issue for them. Sure. As soon as we understood it, the dynamics were completely different. They're like, great. We've solved that problem. Let's talk about some other stuff. Now we love this idea.
Carol: Yeah, and part of that is just, having the opportunity to slow down a little bit and be able to ask the next question.
Danielle: That is exactly it, ? And so when we are faced with time pressure, when we're distracted, when we're even tired,
Carol: Which feels like everybody these days.
Danielle: Well, yeah, it certainly does. Right. So what does that mean to us in the grand scheme of things? If we're facing this every single day where you go to work and that you're, every project you had was due yesterday, there's constant time pressure to get to the next thing. You're distracted because we're multitasking. If your desktop looks anything like mine, you have like 11 billion tabs open at any given time. There's a lot that can stop us from being able to ask quality questions, and just sit with people because sometimes just the act of sitting and listening tells you so much about where people are and what their needs are at this moment.
Carol: Absolutely. When I'm doing meetings with groups now, and it's often virtual, online, one of the things that I will say at the beginning is, literally, if you have a ton of tabs open, I invite you to close them. just so you can be in the here and now for this meeting right at this moment. I love it. So what are some wider trends that you're seeing in the nonprofit sector, around these issues? We've talked about some of them, but what are some other ones that you're, you're noticing talked about a slow down in terms of interest in the, in the, work around equity? , what other things are you noticing?
Danielle: Yeah, I, I would say yes, there, it feels like there's a slow down of people, but when I say that I'm, I'm thinking more sort of on a national level, lots of different sectors. What I am personally experiencing is that the people who are stepping into this moment are more committed than they ever have been before. Mm-hmm . And so I think that, while I would love for everyone to get behind this particular effort, the reality is not everyone's ready. Not everyone desires to. , but what I am seeing is with the people who have made this commitment, there are some things that are shifting they're understanding they need to, we just talked about time. They need to allocate time in order to really embed this work in their, in their staff, their teams, their training, their onboarding processes, et cetera, how they're interacting with the community. So they're setting aside time for that. They're also setting aside resources. And that's something that in the past, if you ask someone what their DEI budget was, oh, we don't actually have a budget for that. We have a budget for professional development or maybe there's a training budget, but that was sort of a catchall for everything, right. It could have been for Excel. It didn't even matter. They did not have that set aside. And so I think that is useful. The other thing that I'm really seeing, move forward and. This one can be tricky at times. And I see a lot more boards getting involved. Mm. Right. And, and as a governing body, they need to be involved in this work. , because again, we can't just be in service to communities because it makes us feel good. How are we actually being of service, meaning helping as opposed to helping in the way we think is.
Carol: Right. Helping that’s helpful. Not helping that's patronizing.
Danielle: That’s exactly it. Yeah. So like, how are we driving that board? , and I'm really enjoying the board work in particular right now, because I have an opportunity to talk to people who. This is not something that they've been thinking about, right? Boards tend to be a little bit older. At least they have been in the past, right? Older, white male, et cetera. And this has not been something that's necessarily on their radar. And so we are challenging a ton of assumptions on a daily basis about how one we approach this work. Audre Lord has a quote that says ‘the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house,’ right. The way that we've gotten to the point that we are at today. Will not be the way that we get to the next phase of our evolution. And so we have to think about, yes, there are some strategies that we have used that feel like they may be tried and true, but what else is out there? What else could we be utilizing? And again, this is where those multiple perspectives come in. And I always wanna hear from the community. These are people that live there every day, right? They're raising their families. They work there, they have homes. They're seeing things that we don't necessarily get to see as the outsiders bringing services in. I'm hearing more conversations around working with boards on equity and inclusion issues. And I've definitely seen, with different boards that I've worked with, that there's often a big gap between where the staff is and where the board is. And then, Yeah. Some, some, and oftentimes some, some resistance, from older, whiter mailer folks, to how does this connect to our issue, not seeing those intersections. , and I think, that can feel all, I don't know what, I don't know what the right word is. Maybe. Like dismissive and I'm also curious, like, okay, so how can we like, maybe I, how can I draw the breadcrumbs from one to the other, yeah. This issue that you work on and, and these, these. To me, these issues permeate everything, but it's not, they're not necessarily seen that way. Yeah. From everybody.
Danielle: One of the things that I utilize a lot with boards is, the intercultural development inventory or IDI. And this is a tool that's been used in nonprofits, corporations, education, government, et cetera. What I really appreciate about it is it doesn't tell you who you are. , but it does provide based on self assessment. A snapshot in time of how you relate to similarities and differences when it comes to culture. Right. And we can talk about culture in sort of sweeping terms, right? So it might be your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, so forth, right? So like these big groupings of people that we have some type of social identity and connection to. And so, as people are starting to think about how they relate to groups that are similar to them, versus people that are, are different from them. Like it's really interesting to see, literally see, I, I mean, sitting on zoom calls and I can see people, the light bulb going on in their hip. Like I hadn't considered that. So this really feels like that issue of time constantly comes back to the forefront for me, because why don't we see certain things because we, we don't even allow the space for us to explore it. , and that feels really important to me because it's almost like a paramount to driving that new car off the lot. You go out, you find your favorite car, you buy this car, you haven't seen anybody. And you're like, I'm gonna be the first one to have this. You drive it off on your way home. You see 30 cars that look exactly like yours, even the same color. Right. And all of a sudden it is there. It is salient. It is right in front of you and you hadn't noticed it before. And to that end, what are we not noticing on a regular basis? Because it is not something we allow time for. We do not put intentionality. So with this IDI assessment, it's an opportunity to just really sit there and, and one explore how we're viewing these similarities and differences, but secondary to this. And I think probably the most important, cuz this connects back to the why, what do you wanna do with this information? Like why does this even matter to you? right. So if I know that there's a particular group that I may feel a little disconnected to, I don't know them as well as I'd like, but I have a goal, I wanna be able to connect my nonprofit services. Right. We wanna expand who we're reaching. I've heard a lot of groups recently say, Hey, we may serve the black community, but we're not really, and, and Latino community, but we're not doing well with reaching out to people in the Asian popul. Okay, great. I now have a goal in mind, right. So knowing how to increase my cultural competency is gonna actually help get me there. Right? So there's, there's this idea for me of like the knowledge building piece, who is it that I want to engage? What do I need to understand about them? So before I come in with my best ideas and like, Hey, this is the path forward. What do they do? Do they even want my help? Are they requesting it right? Or am I a burden to them? Because I've brought in this thing for them, it's not actually useful for them in building all of this, right? So I may have some motivation. I understand why. I'm beginning to build a knowledge base about the particular community that I wish to serve in this case. Now I tie this back into strategy, right?
Carol: You mentioned the IDI and it really focuses on how people can develop their personal cultural competence. What are some steps you see that folks can take once they get a little bit more aware around how they're interacting with differences or how they're seeing them or not seeing them?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that very much ties to the stage that they come back, at, within the IDI. But one thing that I do wanna clarify is certainly about being able to develop individual cultural competencies. But I also work with a lot of organizations who are, they're basically getting their team aggregated results. And we can say, as an organization, Here's where we sit and I'll give you an example. Many organizations will come back to the stage of minimization. So if we're in minimization, there is a tendency to seek out similarity. And so people are constantly looking for the ways that we are, like one another. , and so, well, of course we all think that we wanna be happy. We wanna be healthy. We wanna be respected. Great. Seems on the surface, like a pretty safe state. But it is more nuanced than that. So like, as someone is thinking about organizational work, what does that actually mean? So what does respect mean at the organizational level? And what does respect mean for you Carol, versus how I view respect? Because that's where I think things get a little tricky. We use words, just assuming that everyone is behind the definition, they're seeing it in the same context, because again, we're minimizing right differences without digging into. How we are seeing and, or experiencing the world differently. And that matters so much. , I can't even put enough emphasis behind that particular point. It matters greatly. , and when we ignore those factors, We end up with people that are unhappy, right? They're disgruntled. I don't feel seen. You're just sort of glossing over this issue. That is greatly important to me. I'm not included in your organization. I don't feel a sense of belonging. , it also is the very thing that in some cases, has organizations pushing people to assimilate to be more like them. Right? So we talk about culture fit. You hear this all the time when people are hiring, oh, we need someone who fits our culture. Let's break that down. What does that mean? Oh, well, they have to be professional. What does it mean to be a professional? And I am by no means saying that we shouldn't have some guard rails that we use within our work. So like, as you define as an organization professional, okay. We're gonna have an understanding of what professional means, but is it one that is inclusive of the team members you presently have and then also future thinking? Is it something that is inclusive of the people you wish to have on your own? Like, you're never gonna get to the fit if you're not acknowledging, identifying what this means and how we are allowing people to show up as authentic versions of themselves within the workplace.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I've literally had. Conversations with teams where, the first round of doing well, what do we want, what are, what do we want as our team values and big words, like respect get pulled up, professionalism, whatever it might be. And then you actually take them to the next step of, So, what does that look like? How does that actually show up? What are the behaviors that are gonna mean respect to you and have people say diametrically opposing things where respect is. You never interrupt me. Respect is we can have an engaging conversation where everyone jps in and we're all talking depending on, cuz not every culture interprets that particular thing. For example, interrupting the same. Yeah, and I was actually on a call this morning where the whole conversation around, being business-like, or professional. Just using that as a catch raise, but then again, right. You can create those guardrails, but have a conversation about, well, what are the behaviors that we agree mean professional. Yeah.
Danielle: And which are the behaviors that we're using. Sort of we're using unconsciously to keep people who are different out. Right. That I think that for me, feels like probably, one of the hardest conversations to have with people cuz they don't wanna admit it, but it's there it's present. Right. So we, if we carry these biases with us, but we just use a word like professionalism as a catchall. It allows us to continue to be biased without ever having to have this conversation about what a professional actually looks like.
Carol: Like, yeah. And I think beyond also I'm thinking about this right now, just beyond the behaviors. It's also like what's actually necessary for the work. Yes. I mean, I think that's being reexamined across job descriptions, qualifications. Yeah. Requirements, the need to have versus the nice to have, like, does everyone actually have to have bachelor's degree, et cetera, et cetera. So reexamining all those assumptions. Absolutely.
Danielle: You make me think about a position description I had years ago that one of the criteria for qualifications is must be able to lift 50 pounds. Okay, that would be great. If I had a job where I needed to lift 50 pounds worth of anything, I sat at the desk all day. What am I lifting? Here's the other thing about it. If we're moving towards this place where we wanna be equitable, we wanna be inclusive. What you're saying to me is if I am not an able bodied person, who can, if needed, lift this 50 pounds. Then I shouldn't even bother to apply for this job. It's not said explicitly like that, but that's certainly the undertone of it when it was not actually anything that I needed to be concerned about because I had a desk job. Yeah. And what are the accommodations we're willing to make for people they're like, oh, we're, we're totally open to making accommodations. Great, but your language presented a barrier before this person even applied for the job. Because if I read that and I'm, especially as a woman, cuz , women have a tendency to look at it and are like, oh I don't meet these qualifications. Whereas men are like, oh, I'm gonna apply. Anyway, women will pull back from it. But if I'm reading that and saying, Hey, what, I can lift 25. Can't do 50, this, this isn't the job for me. Mm-hmm and it's a silly example, but yet it's not silly because there are so many things embedded in position descriptions along those lines that you just miss.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So really digging into what, what, what is actually required for this job? What is actually embedded? Thank you so much. This has been such a rich conversation and I'm just gonna shift gears a little bit here at the end.
Ad Carol: We’ll be back after this quick break.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program portfolio review, design thinking, and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources.
We’re back on Mission: Impact.
Carol: At the end of each episode, I play a game where I ask. You, one random icebreaker question. And, for listeners, if you've been listening to all these icebreaker questions, these are great ones to think about starting meetings with, to help get to know groups better. But when, when you talked about your journey to the work that you're doing now, when you were younger, what did you wanna be when you grew up?
Danielle: When I was younger, I thought I was gonna be a veterinarian.
Carol: All right. How, why, what, what brought you to
Danielle: That path? My mother told me I was gonna be a veterinarian oh, okay. Well, I mean, she had expectations for me. She thought I was going to move into something medical related. , and I tease her like, so my background now is in psychology, so I'm like, I am sort of a medical person, but not quite. I was like, I focus on the organization side, but it wasn't necessarily my dream. Fast forward a couple of years, I thought I was going into television and that was really the job that I thought I was going to have. And I was gonna love until I had an internship in television. Okay. And I said, this isn't the particular path for me because what I knew even in college is I needed to be sitting in service, uplifting others, giving, Giving support to people who are learning sometimes to use their verse, their voice for the first time. Like that is my space to be in. I am an introverted person who has an extroverted personality. When you put me in front of an audience, like I love to engage people and just really help bring out threads of wisdom that we're always there for them, but like that they can do something meaningful with.
Carol: Awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Danielle: Hmm. That's a good question. I'm just fresh off of vacation. I'm thinking about that. I think what is emerging for me right now that feels incredibly important is, is this leaning into cultural competencies? So we talked a little bit about that already, but like, if you understand that there. A goal ahead of you again, whether it is to diversify your board, if it is to be more inclusive of a variety of vendors, like I don't even care what your goal is. Like, how do we begin to shift the mindset? How do we institutionalize these practices in organizations? And I'm really trying to work a lot more, I think with organizational mindsets on that, because. The policy reviews the use of the equity lens. Those are simply, those are tools. Those are things that we can do there. I want to get to a place where you don't need to look at the tool. I want you to just be able to think naturally like, Hey, someone's voice and perspective was not included here. Here are the places where I know that I'm being biased. Here's how I'm gonna move differently. So like, those are the spaces I think I am really excited about moving into with the organizations I'm supporting, but more importantly, once we have this strategy on the table, How are you implementing it? Cause I hear a lot of folks talk about a good game. They may even have so many people out here right now doing DEI plans, racial equity plans. How are you creating a feedback loop? To say, Hey, this worked really well. Or, what? We missed the mark with this. We left something, someone, a perspective out of this, how do we incorporate that learning back in? So that the next time that we do this, we emerge even smarter, stronger, better positioned to do this work than we were when we got started. And so I think those are the things that excite me because when I think about what stops people from continuing this work, it's often the fear that I'm gonna get it. Guess what you are, right. That is what we do. We mess up royally all the time. The question is, are you committed enough to get it wrong? Pick yourself back up and do it again because for us to achieve a world that is equitable, that is inclusive, where people really feel like they authentically belong. We're going to misstep. So. But getting back up and continuing to try continuing to advance this work is the only way we will ever see that level of success.
Carol: And building that in, as you're saying to the mindset of how do we learn from mistakes yes. At an end and normalizing that and normalizing it, normalizing that we will make mistakes. The project won't go forward perfectly with all of these different things. How are we, how are we taking again, taking the time to stop and think and, and consider. How, what did we learn from that experience?
Danielle: Yeah. And being willing to admit that there isn't one right way to do things, right. There are a multitude of perspectives and ways that we can begin to embark on this. Are all of them gonna work? Probably not, but can we at least hear them out before we say, oh, that's not gonna be the path for us, or we've done it this way, as long as I can remember. So that's the way we're gonna stick to it. I want to figure out what could be. How we might approach this, that really, if, if there is one thing that excites me, it is the, how might we, mm.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll end it there. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation. I really appreciated all of your perspectives and, I'm gonna hope that you send me at least one link to an equity lens. So I can put that in the show notes for people as a tool. , cuz I think, as when groups are getting started, It is helpful to have a couple concrete things. And then like, as you said, once you use it over and over again, then it becomes it. It just becomes infused with how you see things.
Danielle: Absolutely. Carol, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for the invitation to join you today. I've loved having this conversation.
Carol: I appreciated Danielle’s point about doing a better job of listening to the ‘negative Nancy’s’ in your organization. Instead of just seeing resistance as something to overcome, slow down and listen to the challenges – what can you learn from their perspective – and what blind spots are they helping reveal. I also appreciated our conversation about an equity lens. I have heard people use this term for quite a while – but was not necessarily sure what they meant or how to implement this and integrate it from a concrete point of view. Danielle shared her lens – a set of key questions to consider each time you are engaging in a new initiative or policy or process update or revision. These questions help you and your group think through the equity implications of any proposed action. Whose voices will be included? How will input be gathered? Will the change favor one group over another? You can find a link to Danielle’s equity lens resource in the show notes. And in addition to using this type of tool – Danielle went on further to point out that it is really about shifting organizational mindsets and having equity integrated into everything the organization is doing. Having it really embedded in the culture vs. something we happen to be working on this year. Building in feedback loops for learning is a key way to work towards that integration. That is the end goal – an equitable culture.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Danielle Marshall, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I am about to go on vacation so we are going to have a slight pause in releasing podcast episodes. We normally release an episode every two weeks. There will be a slightly longer gap between episodes.
In the meantime, until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 55 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry discuss:
Dr. Renee Rubin Ross is a nationally recognized strategic planning and board development consultant. Committed to racial equity in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Ross supports organizations and individuals in practices that celebrate and amplify diverse voices and perspectives.
Christal M. Cherry is a nationally recognized nonprofit executive and professionally trained fundraiser. With over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, she has supported higher education institutions, human services organizations and faith-based missions. Her career portfolio, as a full time professional and consultant includes American University, the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College, Nicholas House, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Florida A & M University, Action Ministries, and the GA Center for Nonprofits.
In each role, Christal has interfaced, guided and collaborated with diverse boards made up of college presidents, ministers and bishops, politicians, corporate CEO's, civic leaders, consultants, attorneys, stay at home moms and students.
With passion and a wide breadth of experience, Christal works today with clients to help them mark a clear path to success in board development. Her style is electrifying, inspiring, and energizing.
Christal earned a MA in Counseling from Hampton University, a BA in Liberal Arts from Hofstra University and professional development certifications in nonprofit leadership, social media fundraising, and nonprofit management.
She currently serves on the board of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Villages of Carver YMCA. She is regular presenter with CANDID, Qgiv, Network for Good, Bloomerang, and the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy where she facilitates webinars and teaches courses in fundraising, board development and equity and inclusion. Christal has been a guest on multiple podcasts and enjoy serving as a requested expert on board matters. She is contributing author in Collecting Courage, a documenting of racism and survival by 14 accomplished Black fundraisers working across North America. She also enjoys her membership in the African American Development Officers Network, Toastmasters, and F3, Fabulous Female Fundraisers which she founded.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact are Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry. We talk about how nonprofit boards can work towards becoming more inclusive and more diverse. We explore why it is so important to not just name the challenges boards have with diversifying, but also identify some possible solutions and positive actions to take to create movement, why it is important for groups to unpack and own history, including their group’s history, how white people need to accept being uncomfortable during conversations around race.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Renee and Christal to the mission impact podcast.
Christal Cherry: Thank you.
Renee Rubin Ross: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
Carol: So I'd love to hear from each of you on this question, I'd love to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do and what motivates you, what would you describe as your, why?
Christal: Go for it, Renee
Renee: Hi. So I'm Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. And a lot of my work is really focused on inclusion and bringing out the wisdom in the room, bringing out all voices. And I would say that some of this comes from, from my experiences as a kid who, and a geeky kid in the back of the library, not feeling included and really observing and thinking about who. Part of the group who has power and how do I change things? And then more recently, I, one of the things that I do is I run the Cal state east bay nonprofit management certificate program. Our students are a rainbow of people of all races and in teaching board development for the program, our students have asked me. Not just to share the problem of board composition, which we're gonna be talking about, but what are some paths to solutions? And that's what, that's, what started to motivate my work. And also then connected me with Christal actually.
Christal: And I'm Christal M Cherry. And I wanna say, as I started doing this work group, and then we encourage each other to, to share our race autobiographies. And that's something that we do in the work that we do with our boards. And as I started to really think about mine, I realized that there were many times when I was the only in many cases I was bused out as a small child. Out of the neighborhood that we lived in and I went to school were predominantly white children from elementary school, all the way to high school. So there were many times. When I was the only in the classroom and then graduated from high school and went to a predominantly white Jewish college Hoff street university in Long Island, New York and was part of a small program called the new college at Hoff street university. And I was the only one there. And then in many cases after graduation from college, I worked on teams. I remember I worked at the Bank of New York in New York City. And was only for a short period of time. They did eventually hire others. So I've always been the only in, in, in many instances and because of my personality, I'm a type, a personality, outgoing, not shy, not afraid. To enter groups and introduce myself, but there were still times where I felt like, ah, do I really belong here? Do they really get me? Do they really understand? What my lived experience is like I remember in college, my peers during the summertime were backpacking, of course, Europe and I was working at Macy's, so I couldn't afford the backpack. I didn't know anything about Europe. I was like, that's not part of my reality. So because I've always been the only. I think this work is about inclusion and belonging. Resonates with me. And particularly as we talk about boards, because I've been on boards, I've, I've sat in a room with boards and I know how uncomfortable it can be just for board members, periods that don't know each other. But then when you throw in race and culture and background then it gets weird. And if people don't get it, then people might not feel comfortable speaking up and you will find sometimes that people of color on boards are quiet because they're not sure whether or not their voices are gonna be heard. They feel like the only, and they're not sure whether or not it's okay to speak up. If what they're gonna say is gonna really be heard. And respected if, if, if they can weigh in it'll matter, all of those things. So that's why I got started in this work and in particular working with Renee. She's awesome. And, even though we're very different we have this thing in common and we have synergy and we respect one another and we work well together. So here we are.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. And you've named a couple different things there. This extra kind of challenge that hasn't happened, there hasn't been a lot of movement in terms of diversifying boards. Having them folks will recruit people, but not necessarily create a culture that really builds that inclusion. And I love how you talked about not just stating the problem. We, we, many. Many people have done lots of research around, around the problem, but love that you guys are working towards a solution. And, and just to name what it is, is really working towards helping nonprofit boards become more equitable and, and inclusive and create a culture of belonging. So what would you say are some common challenges? That nonprofit.
Renee: Carol. I just wanted to just appreciate what you just said, which was, you said equitable because sometimes we say we hear people when we start working with people, we hear them say, oh, you're trying to make boards more diverse. And I truly wanna call that out and say from everything, we know, and we've heard and all that without the pieces around culture and around Understanding how boards are connected and how all of us are connected to the larger inequities in our society. You're not gonna make much progress. So we do talk about inclusion and equity a lot too. Yeah. So thank you for that.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate it. I appreciate you calling that out. And I was reading recently and, and I'm sure others knew this way before me, but how the whole language around diversity came about was basically white or dominant entities wanting to avoid the whole conversation around race and wanting to call it something different. So I appreciate you calling that out. So what would you say are some common- I mean, I appreciate that you don't just name the problem, but let's just say, what are some of the common challenges the boards have in working to be more equitable and inclusive?
Renee: Well, we talk about knowledge gaps. So often things happen and then some people, and it is often the white people don't really understand what just happened. So very concretely, we had a board that brought us in and they had some contentious conversations. There were several women of color who left the board. And, and when they, when the organization reached out to us, they didn't say, this is what happened. They just said, well, we need some, we need some consulting. What do you say? You talk to us, you support us. And then as we got into our interviews and all of that, we started to learn. There had been some really hard conversations and, and interactions. And even after this happened, the people who were involved still didn't understand why this is that they never really went back to those people and said, Hey, is there something we could do to bring you back? You know? So it's just like this real lack of understanding. What had happened with these women, which, we, we didn't interview them ourselves, but we're guessing that they experienced this. We know that there was some aggressive behavior towards them. And certainly that there were most likely microaggressions that happened over time. And they truly just felt like I'm not being respected. I don't wanna do this anymore. Who would? And, and so, so, but, but from the perspective of some of the white people on the board, it was like, Oh, why can't we just talk this all out and not understand the larger dynamics Christal?
Christal: What do, what do you say? Yeah. And we received some resistance when we started talking about white supremacy culture and what that looks like. I remember the board chair pushing back and he was one of the main reasons why the women left because they went to him with their concerns and he threw them off. And it wasn't until we worked with him for a couple months that he really started to realize maybe his, how he was being complicit in this and that he was also a part of the reason why these women left. But it took a while for us and he did come around. But initially he was Kurt with them and dismissive. And so it's with this deep dive work where we really ask people to take a good long look at themselves and we have them do the race autobiographies. As I mentioned earlier, we do some race caucusing where we separate the board by race and Renee talks to the white people. And I talk to the black people, the people of color and and some really, really greeting conversations come out of that experience. And essentially what happens. What I've learned is that people of color are angry and white people are fearful. And so when we come back in the room, we've realized that, unless we start having these conversations where white people really can UN they're confused, they're fearful. They don't know what, what, what they, they don't know what to do. They don't know how to fix it. They, they, they feel shameful. They feel like we're trying to put them on blast and make them embarra. And, and they're like, I wasn't there, I'm not responsible for what happened. I wasn't there during slavery. And that's one of the things I tell people to disarm them. None of us were here were in slavery happened. Right. So, no one's pointing the finger at you and you and you, what we're just asking you to do is to own the history. And to accept the fact that because of what happened, some people live a certain way and some people don't, and that still has ramifications hundreds of years later. And while neither of us were there I still struggle with some of the disadvantages of what's happened to my people and maybe Renee. Some, some perks and bennies, some privileges that she got because of her background and because of the color of her skin. So we just wanna call people out and say, listen, we're not trying to make you feel bad individually. We just want you to see it and not ignore it anymore.
Carol: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate that. You mentioned something that you do with boards, a race autobiography. Can you say a little bit more about what that is and what comes out of that conversation?
Renee: Yeah. So we got this, this exercise originally from this, or organization called rise, where they teach about facilitating racially dust spaces and what it is is we, first of all, we, we give people some questions ahead of time. Think about when, when did you first notice race? When did you talk about race? How, how was it discussed in your family? So that they're thinking about ahead of time, then the two of us model this together, and it is active listening. So whatever I'm sharing Christal says, Christal doesn't say, oh my gosh, I can't believe that really happened. You know it, but it's actually just wow. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you opened up and, and shared that. And then Christal shares. Same active listening. And then we send people off into breakout rooms and let them for, three or four people talk and, and listen to one another in the same way and people just really love this. I think that it's so interesting. There are certainly statistics now about our society becoming. More segregated and that it's harder to have these conversations across honest conversations across race. And yet I do think that people are really interested in understanding the perspective of somebody who's different from themselves. And it really has deepened, deepened connection, deepened empathy. And that we believe is the way to start making progress in terms of breaking down all the other hard stuff that is happening, because like I care about this person. And so I want them, I care about the more I understand their story. And so I, now I want them to feel like they're part of this group and I want them to feel like we value what they are bringing because it's, it is needed in this setting.
Carol: Christal. I wanted to follow up on one of the things that you talked about. It's the different experiences that folks have based on racial background. And the shame that you talked about, a lot of white people are sitting in and then acting out of. And I think, white fragility has been well described, but I think that, that, that oftentimes I know when I. Myself and them working with other white people is that initial reaction is they're saying I did something bad and perhaps they did do something that was harmful that they need to own up to and, and take accountability for. But that shame can be so paralyzing.
Christal: Yeah. And so, you know what we've learned is, some white people, they don't wanna feel uncom. They don't, they don't want to feel that wiggly feeling when you're in the room and you're just like, something feels itchy on my back and you're just feeling uncomfortable. And so they opt out and so , so, which is what happened to us when we were working with a client in Montgomery, Alabama. We had a client where we were doing Renee and I were doing some deep DEI training with, and it was a large group and it started out with, I don't know, 32 people or something like that. And then at, by the end we realized the group had dwindled down and who was like blaringly? Absent were white men. We had, we had white women, we had black men, we had black women. But we looked around and we were like, we're the five or six white men that we started this training with. They just opt it out. They didn't wanna deal with it. They didn't wanna talk about it. He just didn't come. And, that board talked about having some accountability for them. you can't just not come because it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for all of us. But if we're really serious about trying to change our culture, then we all have to sit here and deal with this discomfort and they just opted out. And so I think that's why. people of color are so angry because white people wanna just opt out. They don't wanna teach their kids about it. They don't want their kids to feel uncomfortable. They don't wanna feel uncomfortable. And we are just saying, you have to look at it. You have to look at it in the face. You have to own it. And not own it. Like you, you are personally responsible, but own it, that this is just a reality of what's happened to. Yeah, I just,
Carol: I mean, definitely that, that white privilege of just being able to opt out and being able to say, oh, I'll worry about that tomorrow. And obviously it's not the experience of most people in the United States, so yeah, really appreciate that. And, and yeah, it's, I, it's just seeing that as an unfortunate dynamic. Yes.
Renee: I, I was gonna just add onto that, that, that many of us believe that our society is better when people of all races can thrive and really understand, like that's the vision. And so it's like, well, what needs to happen? In order to move towards that vision. And one of the great books on this is the sum of us by Heather McGee. And, and it's funny because we just did a webinar for the network for good. And we were talking about this and it was all about building belonging. Right. And we talked about it a lot in terms of race and how people of all races should feel like they belong. On a board and belonging is very specifically, I am part of the circle. And then someone, a colleague of mine just listened to this webinar and said, oh wow. This really applies to, to the people who feel left out to the white people who feel left out.
And I was like, yeah, that's exactly right. Because what this is saying is when we think about all the people in our society and everybody's feelings. There's a sense of belonging. You're thriving. It's actually good for everyone. Right? So that's the, I mean, that's the, I know that there's so much fear around this as if something is getting taken away and, and that's the, the white people's fear, but at the same time, it's like, well, what, what is the positive vision? And I, for myself and in this work and what we talk about, how do we keep holding that positive? And, and for, for, for ourselves, for our clients, for, for these boards, I I'm gonna, I could go on this longer ,
Christal: but our society perpetuates us and we have this capitalist society. We have this patriarchal society and this whole thing about if, if you gain, I lose. Right. It's not like we can both get there. I can't, I can't have it. Nice things. And you can have nice things, right. If I have nice things, that means that you are gonna have less nice things. And, and, and that's what that really is what the bottom line is, is that, we we're, it is this competition. I have to maintain power. I have to maintain influence. I'm the one that has the money and I'm pulling the strings. And if I give. The opportunity to pull the strings. That means I'm gonna have less power. And that's essentially what this book that some of us talk about, but that's really the root of what's going on with this whole diversity equity and inclusion thing. Boards have been historically white male, right? They have been the ones that have been making the, there's 64 million board members in this country. They have been the ones that have been calling the shots about how nonprofits have been operated, how the monies are being spent, decisions on what happens to black and brown children. What happens to women who are pregnant, what happens to, and all of the things that we know, all the missions, the causes are out there in a nonprofit space. These boards who have been historically white male have been the ones that have been making the decisions about what happens to millions of people. And now what we're saying is, Hey, wait a minute. The world doesn't look like it used to. And there are more brown people in the world than it's ever been. And how dare you make decisions? Hello? Does this sound familiar? How dare you make decisions about me without allowing me to weigh in on those decisions? And so now we're saying move over and let other people who actually come from the communities that you're working with, have a say in what happens to them and, and the white folks who have had that power saying. I don't wanna move over. I mean, I know, right? It's, it's politically correct to say you should have a, you should have a seat at the table, but I've always had the seat. I don't wanna make room for you. I don't wanna make room for you. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and so that's basically what's going on. And so people will come to us and say, yes, we wanna, we wanna change our culture, that we wanna change the composition and wrap up. But then as we start working with them, we realize when it really comes down to doing the real hard work. They may not, they may not really mean it.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like a lot of organizations and, and boards fall in the trap of the diversity piece. So if we wanna recruit people beyond white men or white men and white women to be on this board and they actually don't think about how it's gonna, how they need to shift in terms of their culture. And be more open. I'm a hundred percent with you, Renee on the, that's the vision of where we want to go. And I'm sometimes a little fearful that that can fall. That white people just wanna say, okay, let's get there. How do we do that? We're just all the same, like I don't see color pieces. So, so as a whole fan,
Renee: Oppos and we thank you for saying that, Carol, we, we each talk about this as this is, you're, you're on, we are gonna help. What we're gonna do with your board is unfreeze. Because, and by, by starting to deepen conversations around race, I, another thing that we wanna mention is like, everything, from research is you need to talk about race because if you do not talk about race, if you're not able to talk about race, then anyone who experience race experiences, race is those experiences are made in. And so it's not enough to say, oh, we serve diverse communities. I mean, you, you really need to be specific. And, and only by doing that, can you start to really pull out in equities in the society and do something about them? But you're right. It's like, do you want to do this work of building belonging and, and, very simple. Do you feel like people who are equity is defined as people who are closest to the problems should be weighing in on the solutions? It's either a yes or no. Either you believe that, or you don't, or you believe that someone else who's really far away somehow knows. What should happen, which sounds very, patronizing to me, but ,
Christal: Carol, while we focus primarily on race, I mean, we talk about diversity. We talk about all the isms. I mean, not only just color and, and background ethnicity, but able body versus disabled, right. cis straight white heterosexual against, people of color who are LGBTQ+ I right. You know? And so when we talk about diversity, we are just talking about difference. Right. Coming to the table, being different from what has normally been at the table. So Renee and I focused a lot on color and race and background and ethnic, background, but we are really talking about it all. So I don't want us to just be pigeonholed to talk specifically about race, which is our focus. And which we think is really, really, of course, obviously important. But when we start talking about belonging, we're talking about all those isms, right. And all those individuals who are historically left out to be at the table in the boardroom.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I just think it's a hundred percent in what you're saying, the language around belonging. Probably EV I would guess I could go out on a limb and guess that almost everybody has had an experience of feeling left out or feeling not like they didn't belong. They didn't feel included. And so being able to connect into that just as a, at a basic human level is really helpful. And I think starting with race, it's kind of, it's so deep in our history in terms of the US specific context, but I, but I think, I think there are folks around the world who actually listened to this podcast. And so I always make a point of saying, we're talking about this from a us perspective, but at the same time, I don't think it's a uniquely us problem either. So, what would you say are some first steps you've taken about some work that you've done with different clients? What are some first steps that boards can take in terms of becoming more inclusive?
Renee: So we, I mean, we, so again, one of them is deepening one's ability to talk about race. And that might mean Understanding who is on the board. One of the really other things is getting a sense of whether people feel, feel belonging. And I, I told this story, not, not long ago about, we had this conversation with this man named Carl, this white man named Carl. And we said, well, do the people on your board feel belonging? And he said, oh yeah, of course they do. Of course they, everybody feels so much belonging. And then I said, well, how do you know? And, and he was like, well, I don't know. I mean, I asked my three friends, and they all said that they feel belonging. Like, well, there's another 20 people on the board. Do you know anything about oh, no, but I'm sure they feel belonging, like, so, so, so what we do when we come in, we do some assessment that is interviews and a survey. And this, we're a cross race team. Sometimes people feel more comfortable talking to one or the other of us about what's going on. And we're listening and then we share everything back and it, and one of the principles is even if there's one person who has some information that person might be, might feel like, wow, this is, this is a super welcoming board if you're white, but I am, I am black. I'm a Latino, I'm Asian American. I don't feel welcome here. You gotta listen to every single voice and really understand what's going on. So first just getting a sense of what's happening.
Carol: Yeah, I think that, that, that Taking that step to really gather some good information, qualitative quantitative, and then mirroring that back to the organization so that they have that fuller sense. So it's not just the four people that I happen to be friends with on the board. Right. And talk to them on a regular basis. And so I think I know what everybody the, the, the bad phrase of, well, I think I'm speaking for everyone here. Well, no, you're. Whatever. Right. Even paying attention to who's speaking up in the meetings and who isn't who you are hearing from? And I think some people are, are pretty attuned to that and others just don't, don't notice it at all. And so that can be so helpful.
Christal: And Carol, I'm a big proponent of doing self work. Right? And so I always tell the board that before we could start collectively working as a group, you really need to do a selfie. You really need to take a selfie and, and look at yourself in the mirror. This is all part of that whole race, autobiography stuff. It's like really starting thinking about who you are and how you feel and where you fit in. Why do you feel the way you feel about others? How do you feel about yourself? Like where do, where do you fit in, in this whole thing as, so Renee and I, during our, our training, we will, we will show videos, we will encourage art reading articles and we, we copy chapters out of books. Right. And we send them to the board members and we ask them to read, and then we come back and we talk about those things. And so I think, doing your own self work so that you can look at your mirror yourself in the mirror and say, you know what I do have Biase. I do feel this way about this group of people. I have heard certain things and I believe that, and so really breaking that down to see where you stand in this space and then come back to, is that really how I wanna be? Is that really how I wanna navigate through this world? And maybe there are some stereotypes that I've bought into that are not. And so I think when we start to really take a really hardcore look about who we are and how we are behaving and how we may be contributing to what the perceptions are about groups if we can really get people to really see that and start breaking that down, I think that that is another next step. To come back together in, in the room as a group and saying, okay, I looked at myself, I've had the conversations. I'm ready to come and talk to you all about what's happening with me and then how we can work together as a group to maybe make some change.
Renee: I just, I just wanted to add, I mean, going on to that, that, that we model that ourselves, like as a, as a white person, I feel like I need to keep learning. I need to keep listening. I need to keep stepping back. I have my own communities of, of, places where I learn as a facilitator and trainer, and that are centering. By, black indigenous people of color in this work. And, and so that's really a suggestion that we make for, for the white people in the group too, is, yeah. We're gonna give you some resources and we're gonna share some, some great information, but there is, there is such a, there is often a lack of awareness about bias, about racism and, There's some real catching up that the white people in the group need to do. And, and so, we support them as much as we can, but this is where we do say, all right, we're gonna UN we're gonna unfreeze your group. Mm-hmm and you're gonna need to keep talking about this. And it is if we took 400 years to get to this. It's gonna take a long time to untangle this. Right.
Christal: And I always say, give yourself a little grace, there's no fixed endpoint to this work. Like I, as much as Renee and I talk about it and read about it and write about it, we're still learning. She's always sending me information. I'm like, oh my God, Renee. That was so good. That was good stuff, you know? And so give yourself some grace, it's gonna take a long time. You're not gonna be able to undo everything that you've learned in your 55 years in, in, in, in three hours. Right. And so give yourself some grace, but start. Start and keep and keep it moving. Right. And then we also talk about finding some champions, finding people who may be a little further along than you are. And I did a lot of that. I interviewed people on LinkedIn, like cold calling people who either wrote an article or blog, or I saw they did something amazing. And I was like, can we do a virtual coffee? Can I get, can I get your ear for 30 minutes? I just wanna learn a little bit about you and your experience and why you wrote that blog. And so find some champions and people who are actually doing the work, who may be a little further along than you. And see if you can get some perspective, Renee, you wanna add anything?
Renee: About that? Well, I will say that I think one of the unique features of this training that we do is this race caucus work because sometimes, I mean, so I lead the white caucus and this is, we come together. We say, we are. Sent we are, our goal is to build an anti-racist organization. And we are what is doing this and an organization where all people feel a sense of belonging, but we, what is, what, what do we, as white people need to work out in order to get to the place where we can come to the table with the rest of the group and. It was really interesting. I mean, people talk about can, can go through some of that shame and powerlessness without wasting the time of the BIPOC people in, in the group. So we, we, we did this with a group and then, we had the caucus meetings, we came back together and then one of the. people, people were looking at each other. The, it had been pretty emotional, some of these conversations. And so, one of the BIPOC men looked at the group and said, what'd you guys talk about? And we had this woman, we’ll call her Emily, she raised her hand. She said, I just, what we talked about was the, the, the shame and sadness that we are feeling about racism and about the impact of racism. And then this man in the bipo caucus said, well, that's what we talked about too. And it was really this, this amazing moment of like, okay, maybe we're not as different because we're, or, how do we, we can find these, these places to bridge what we're trying to, what we're trying to do. And not all problems were solved. But, we started to, to get to some understanding. What, what do you say, Christal?
Christal: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And, and when there's anger that comes out of it, we had a black male stand up and said, I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of trying to convince white people to wanna be on this board with me, you know? And if they don't want me here, I can go back to my community where I'm wanted and I can work on and on other things I don't have to be here. I'm tired of fighting. And, we applauded him for having the courage to stand up and, and really share how he, how he was really feeling. And we were all taken aback. But it was definitely a moment. And so we're glad that we are providing space for people to feel comfortable doing that. We round out our training after we do all of this work as we try to come together. If we can come together in person, we can cause a lot of the training is done virtually, but we try to end the training with all of us in the room. And it's really nice after having seen each other in these little boxes for all these months, Renee and I can actually shake hands with people and the first 10, 15 minutes of the training, we're just all sitting around kicking it. And it's just nice. We're just talking, getting to know each other. But we do do some more work and, and we end the training by inviting them to come up with some priorities and goals that they're gonna work on. ‘Cause our time with them is finite. Right? And so we wanna make sure that once we leave that their work continues. And so we realize sometimes it seems so overwhelming. There's so many things I didn't wanna work on, but we tell you to pick three things. Three things that you're gonna work on this year. And then each group comes up with what those things are. And then once we decide, they decide what they are, then we put some timeline and benchmarks and who's gonna do what to it, but we wanna leave them with a plan so that they continue to do the work past Renee and I.
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And I appreciate what you said about the caucus. And I feel like white people sometimes will be like, what, why will we do that? This is supposed to be diversity trading. And, but I really appreciate how it creates a space for right. The white folks work through that shame, have all those emotions and are not burdened. The people of color, not just waste their time, but also stress them out, from an emotional labor point of view of having to listen to all that. Like, no . And so I think one thing that I would say, Christal, you said you did a lot of reaching out to people who were one step ahead of you. And I would say for the white people listening. Try to find other white people are a little further ahead versus reaching out to the people of color that who are already like, have had it with telling white people about this stuff.
Christal: yeah. And what's interesting about my caucus is that I have people of color, so it's not just black people. So I, we have black people, we have Asians, we have Hispanics we have, and even in our group, we can't call people, people of color together and think that they even all. The same experience, cuz their experiences are all very different. And even in the group, you'll find that a lot of the black folks are speaking up, they're angry and then the Asian folks are quiet. Right. They're not saying even in the group where they're supposed to feel comfortable with all of us, cuz we're people of color, they still feel like it. So we have those conversations about why is it that black people always feel like they get all of the attention? Why are we adored? Why can't we ever talk? And so, and they're like, we just have been told our culture tells us to be quiet and stay, stay in the background, stay small, and then Latinos have their issues. So we have very interesting dialogue, even in the people of color caucus. It's very different.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean that, that black, white dot binary is certainly something embedded in our culture, in the US. And then we've lumped this enormous group of like the, the most people in the world into one group as if they all had common experience and they all come with different cultures. Different norms. And so, yeah, that's, that's for sure. Gonna, gonna come up. I would love it. You talked about modeling a couple different times and if you indulge me, I wonder if you guys might model the racial autobiography exercise that you do when you do the training. I wonder if you just would do that for a few minutes.
Renee: All right. Woo. You're putting us on the spot here. so, what I do is so interesting in terms of reflecting on what, on the conversations in race about race in my home as a white Jewish person. And what I noticed when I thought more about this is that we didn't talk about race and we never talked about race. It is rare. It was almost impolite to notice someone's race or to refer to it. So there was something bad about, bad about mentioning race. And, but the funny thing is I personally was so curious about different people's experiences, but there wasn't even really any space because it was sort of like it was the wrong thing to do. And the only thing that I and I feel so sad about is this. Talking about it. But the only thing that I remember was hearing about a black neighborhood as an unsafe place. And so that was all that, that was most of what I had in my, my mind, in my images. It was this fear and boundaries. And I mean, I've, I've done a lot of work over the last five years to shift all of these images, but they are powerful and yeah, I, I mean, that's, I guess I'll leave that here and,
Christal: well, thank you for Renee for having the courage to share your personal history and your personal story. We really appreciate hearing it.
Renee: You're welcome. What about you Christal?
Christal: Yeah. So I had quite the opposite experience in my family. And so race was talked about all the time. And I always share the story about me being a little kid playing on the, on the floor with my dolls and, and hearing my father and my uncles stand around the bar, having drinks, talking about the white. And the white man is not gonna let us do this. And the white man is gonna do this and the white man, he has his foot on our neck and the white man. And I remember as a little kid thinking, who is this white man? And why is he so mean and is he coming to our house? And so I grew up hearing that we should be fearful of white people. And there were times and instances where we would be out in public. And I bring up the instance where we were in the mall one time and we were about to go down the escalator and we got there first, me and my family, but a white family was coming and they got there maybe just a minute or two behind us. And I was just about to step onto the escalator. And my mom pulled me back and pulled me aside. To let the white family get on the escal first. And she said something like, oh, sorry, sorry, come on. Then she said to me, get outta the way. Come on. I can get outta the way. And I remember thinking to myself, Why couldn't we get on the escalator first? And why were we being a nuisance just by being present? The white folks didn't ask to get on first, but my mom felt like it was the right thing to do to push us outta their way to let them go on first. And so I was constantly being fed that white people were superior. And that we were inferior and that we should be fearful. And so I didn't even realize that. And then I was bused out of my neighborhood, which was the message that my neighborhood was not good enough. Right. And so I was constantly fed that black people were not the same as white people. And so I didn't even realize all of that Carol, until we started having these conversations that Renee and I are having about how much that was ingrained in me as a child. And so it has taken me a long time. For me to come around to my own feeling of self love and self acceptance and self-worth and particularly in doing this work.
Carol: Yeah, no, I appreciate you sharing.
Renee: Thank you so much. You appreciate so much your story
Carol: Then since I put you guys on the spot, I guess I'll have to reflect on my own. I mean, I think yes, mine has in common with Renee's that race was invisible to me. I grew up in very segregated areas here in the greater Washington DC area. And then my dad was in the foreign service, so we were overseas in Europe. So it was primarily European, although the country's demographics were changing as I was growing up in two different places. And so when I've had these conversations before, and it's been reflected back to me that the, the time that I noticed race was when there was a black kid in my class, in, in first grade. Right. And so that's when it was an awareness for me or when I was on the London tube and I first saw somebody with dreadlocks and he was like, what is that? And I was a kid, you know? And so I, I think, I think I had that experience of a lot of white people. Since I was part of the dominant culture and had so many boxes that checked off the privilege boxes that that race to me was pretty invisible and, and not, and not spoken about. And so yes, to have to unpack and UN I think we all are untangling all these messages, all these things that we've internalized and, and just need to keep doing that to, to, free ourselves from all of this as much as we can.
Christal: Wow. Well, thank you, Carol, for sharing that it's very brave. We appreciate you for sharing.
Carol: So you talked about some steps that, and obviously every organization's gonna have different steps that they're gonna be taking as they move along in this journey. What are some examples of success? I know Renee wants us to, to look on the brighter side and not just focus on the problem and think that there can be solutions and we can move in, in a direction of helping more people have a sense of belonging. What are some successes that you've seen?
Renee: We, we have gone through the process with a couple of organizations and got, again, we haven't solved all problems. Sure. No, but we have, we have worked with them too, to foster conversation and build a plan. And can, and and that they would continue the work going forward. And also we have gotten them to make connections between their work on the board and why this, why it matters to build belonging and talk about race. So, for example, we worked with an arts institution and we started talking about. Well, who needs to be served, who is served now? what, what, where is the organization located? Where are you creating events? And, and why does this matter in terms of even the future of your organization? Right? So it's like this isn't just about us in the room. It starts with us in the room, but it really radiates out. In terms of the future of your organization, if you're ever gonna survive, because it's like, are you only gonna be an organization that's gonna serve white people in this white neighborhood? Or are you gonna be something that belongs to the people of all races and get them to think about that. And so really deepening what is at stake here?
Christal: And Renee suggested that, because I think one of the issues that we found with that group was that the black people in the community felt like the museum was not located in their community. It wasn't, they didn't have access to it. And so we talked about maybe having a pop-up exhibit and taking the exhibit to them, to their community, maybe in their community center, maybe at their library, maybe in a place where they can walk to it, as opposed to having to take three buses and two. To get to it. And I know that that is something that has been considered. So we're praying and hopeful that they will take some of the things that we said into consideration and maybe try to reach across the lines and, and give access to the artwork. And, and, and also, there weren't many pieces of artwork in that museum that represented those communities. Right. And so Renee and I actually pulled out one of them and had them talk about it. And, while it was that one, I actually went and visited that museum and that piece of artwork, which was absolutely beautiful. It's on the back wall behind like four or five different walls. You gotta walk in and out. You have to walk in and out of the, and then on the very back wall, that one piece of artwork representing a, a, a church scene of people of color. But if you don't make it to that back wall, if you cut your visit short and you decide you're gonna go get some ice cream or something and, and not make it to that back wall, you're gonna miss that piece. Mm-hmm . And so why is that piece on the back wall? Right. And so all of these things, , all of these things are things that we, we, we, we brought to their attention and so practically they've moved that piece and we'll, we'll see what. And
Carol: Those looking for those glimmers of hope. And I think it's, it's taking away those blinders. So, I talked about how, for me, it was so invisible and now, I can't look anywhere without seeing the implications. And. and I think also just like everyone has biases, it's built into the way our brains work. So the shame that people have about those, yes, those are the stories you were told. Those are the stereotypes that are in the culture, but how can you start, questioning those, thinking about it differently. And it's still in the stem, right? The way back to a part of our brain that's always just looking for. Foe or friend the foe or friend. And we have to have all those shortcuts or we wouldn't be able to manage in the day, but then it's like slowing down, taking the time, questioning, like taking a pause saying, Ooh, no, that's not how I wanna show up. How can I do it differently? Moving forward? Mm-hmm .
Renee: Absolutely. Oops. I wanted to mention Reesma Menakem and who we just really love his work and a black man who talks about black bodies and white bodies and what we're carrying around in our bodies in terms of love and fear and hate and all of this, because this is very much, sadly, and, and men, other people have done work in. Also, it can be very much on an emotional level. And that's where, again, we're, we're trying to foster these conversations across race to try to get people to rewire a little bit, because this is not just intellectual work.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. Christal, any, any final thoughts? And then I'm gonna shift gears a little bit.
Christal: No, I just wanna encourage those, those organizations whose boards have not really thought about this, or have not delved into this work to really just begin, it, you have to. Start, what do we say? A journey of a thousand steps begins with just one small step. So you have to just start, and if you're not sure where to start, you could certainly reach out to Renee and I, but find someone who could help facilitate the conversations because it needs to happen and it's no longer an option. The world looks different than it did a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, 10 years ago. Right. And so it's time. It's time for you to, to, to do the work. And Renee and I are certainly here to help. If, if you need us.
Carol: Yeah. There is definitely magic in getting started. Well, like I said, I will shift gears a little bit. At the end of every episode, I play a game with folks where I ask them a random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box of icebreakers. So I'm gonna ask you both the same question: who had the most influence on you growing up since we talked about growing up.
Renee: Well, I can, I probably can start. I was part of a Jewish youth group. It was actually called Hannah Szenes. And so Hannah Szenes was a paratrooper who was also a writer who died in the second world war. And I just really appreciated her writing her thoughts. Community and connection and the challenge of, of all of that and, and her desire for a better world, a better and more just world. So if someone just, comes to mind at the, at this moment,
Christal: Yeah. And what immediately came to mind to me was my dad. He just while he's deceased now, but, and and certainly while he was not perfect, he had a high moral compass and he just really just taught us the difference between right and wrong. We used to say there's a right way to do things and there's a wrong way to do things. We laughed at my sisters and I laughed about that today. Cuz we, we always say, people don't care, we're always the ones trying to do the right thing and other people don't care, but he was just a, a man who believed in hard work. He believed that, if you, if you worked hard, you, you, you got, you got success. And if you're treating people right, then even if they don't treat you right. If you treat people right, then you're doing the right thing. And so I think that's probably stuck with me the most. I can always hear his voice in my head. And so that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do the right thing,
Carol: Carol. Excellent. Excellent. I'm trying to do the right thing each day, too. So what are you guys excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work you're doing?
Christal: we gotta talk. We were in the middle of trying to write this book. All right. Well, not even in the middle. We're at the beginning.
Renee: We have been interviewing people about this and we have our own work and we have some, a framework that we have created about this work. So we're really trying to write it down. So, yeah. So we're writing a book. We still are offering the training for boards. We'd love to hear from people who are interested and, and yeah.
Carol: Yeah. That's exciting. Well, let us know when the book comes out and we can add something to the show notes and we'll, we'll put links to your bios and the links that you've talked about and how to get in touch with you. All of that'll be in the show notes. So, but appreciate both of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing.
Christal: Thank you. Yeah. Thanks for that invite. Yes, we appreciate you as well.
Carol: I appreciated Christal’s point that we need to give ourselves and each other grace when engaging in these difficult conversations. It took us 4-500 years to get where we are and we are not going to dismantle these systems and ways of thinking overnight. Yet this also doesn’t let folks off the hook- especially white people – from continuing to examine themselves, their thinking and how they show. And to keep stepping into growth and learning. And for white people to reach out to other white people who are a little further ahead of them on their equity journey rather than defaulting to reaching out to people of color in their network. That is part of doing your own homework as a white person. I was also struck by the differences in each of our racial autobiographies. Of how within white families – Renee and mine – there was little or no conversation about race and how in many, but not all ways, it was invisible. And for Christal the experience was the opposite. It was a topic of conversation frequently. And in both Renee and Christal’s story there was an element of being taught to fear the other. So it is an uncomfortable conversation – especially if you are white and you are not used to talking about race. Or even if you were taught it is impolite to talk about or a taboo subject. Christal’s observation that white people come into the conversation with fear and people of color with anger – strong emotions to handle and uncomfortable emotions to have in the workplace. As a fellow white person, I invite white people to step in and manage their fear and be in the conversation, knowing that you will make mistakes and screw things up. For people of color I appreciate the grace, generosity and patience I have observed over the years – all in many ways probably undeserved.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Renee and Christal, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 54 of Mission: Impact, Carol celebrates the podcast’s two year anniversary by doing a best of episode about executive leadership transitions. We talk about:
Guests and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Today’s episode of Mission Impact is a little different. To celebrate my two year Pod-iversary, I am doing another “best of episode.” Today’s podiversary episode focuses on leadership transitions - a topic that has been the focus of several interviews. We will be hearing from Elizabeth Woolfe, Carlyn Madden, Don Tebbe and Andy Robinson. We talk about the types of transitions that organizations experience and how different leaders approach those transitions, why it is so important for leaders to make space and groom the next generation of leaders, whether or not having an interim executive director is a good idea, and how those exiting the leadership role and those entering as new leaders can prepare themselves for their new chapter.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Leadership transitions come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of factors will go into what type of transition the organization is facing. One of those is the attitude of the leader, others include the lifestage of the nonprofit – is it a start up? In a growth spurt? Is this the first transition from the organization’s founder? Has there been ongoing transition on the board side, not just the staff side of the organization?
Don Tebbe is a leading expert in nonprofit leadership transitions and with Tom Adams in many ways founded the field of executive transition management. He has written several books on the subject and we will link to those in the show notes. He talks about what inspired him to focus on this aspect of nonprofit management.
Don Tebbe: In fact, I did some research for one of my books on callings and I was trying to figure out why I was attracted to this, to this nonprofit sector work. But it just seemed like a great place. To really, to do work that's meaningful. And that's one of the things I discovered in doing the research on callings is that everybody has this innate desire for a meaningful life.
Tom and I put together this program two day retreat called next steps. Particularly targeting founders and long term executive directors, cuz those, those are some of the. Can be some of the most problematic transitions out there and, I think it's just, it's a space where governance, executive leadership, and strategy all come together in, in one moment. And so I think it's a great opportunity really, to address all three of those, those prongs also the organizational capacity. When we realized that we needed to be working with organizations earlier, before they. That moment of transition. So that led us into the succession planning work. What are the characteristics of these high ity organizations? those organizations where you walk in the front door and you can just feel it. You can feel the energy, the excitement, the commitment and the impact. And what's going on in those organizations came up with these three tiers, that base level there's organizational stability, the, the vital signs that are okay. It's not at risk, it's not in the intensive care ward. The next level up was what I would call Sustainability. And then, layering on top of that was vitality. And so you really have to, I think you have to address both the executive and board leadership that the board hires the executive, the board, is responsible for, shepherding the mission and shepherding impact.
Carol: Leadership transitions really do impact all aspects of the organization and are an opportunity to take stock of how leadership is being shared – or not- across the organization – between the board and executive director – between the executive director and staff.
I appreciated Andy Robinson’s challenge to organizations and their leaders. His question goes to the heart of thinking about, planning for and preparing for transitions. And normalizing this process, instead of thinking of it as an anomaly.
Andy Robinson: One of the things I ask people is how long will it take to win? And they're like, what? And I say, how long will it take for you to change the world so effectively that the work of your organization is no longer necessary? Like, what's your exit strategy right now? We should acknowledge that many organizations are perpetual organizations. Hospitals, universities, some of these institutions should be around forever. I totally get that. A lot of groups are trying to solve a problem and go out of business. So my first question is how long will it take for you to win? Then I say, are you gonna be here for the victory party? And of course everybody laughs and says, no, I'm not gonna be around that long. And then I say to them, if you are not Actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition.
Carol: If you are not actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition. This is a real call to action for leaders – because very few are really putting this front and center as they lead their organization – or their movement. To dig deeper into how different people approach their leaving, Don Tebbe has reflections on the different common styles people take.
Don: The hero's farewell, and he outlined four different characters, four different profiles.
ambassadors, people that could leave the organization gracefully, or even have a continuing role with the organization. And, everything was gonna be just fine. Governors who went on to other big jobs and left the organization behind so forth. Monarchs, they are gonna be carried out feet first. Stewards, what I see most of in the nonprofit world. People that can leave gracefully, but not necessarily have a continuing role with the organization. So I encouraged department executives to think of themselves as stewards, and they're gonna hand off the organization to the next steward.
Carol: For those starting to think about their exit from leadership, which of these avatars will you embody? Will you be a monarch, an ambassador, a governor or a steward? And how ready is the organization as a whole for change? How are you cultivating shared and new leadership on your staff and board? Without this, the board – who is charged with finding the new leader can be ill equipped for the responsibility as Elizabeth Woolfe explains.
Elizabeth Woolfe: If the board is still firmly entrenched in what used to be, they're not going to be as effective. And it really, that can be a real recipe for disaster because then you have someone coming in new and fresh as a leader who wants to take the organization to the next level or in a different direction, and the board is stuck. When I do board coaching and board development, it's really to view boards on an ever-expanding continuum where they go from this working board as they commonly are in the very beginning, like sheep following the leader, to something that becomes what's more appropriate for a later or iteration of the organization where they're, they become a governing board and it's a completely different set of skills.
Carol: Andy Robinson echoes Elizabeth’s points.
Andy: You and I have both worked with boards where there's been board members on the board for 20 or 30 years. Term limits is a whole nother thing here that we can be thinking about in terms of a succession plan, is that even if the staff leadership turns over, you still have the same people on the board with the same set of assumptions and the same story that goes back to 1993, about why we should be doing this.
Carol: Don advocates for the staff leader to take the reigns in planning their exit.
Don: You need to take responsibility for your departure and your exit plan. And then I go to try to clarify that doesn't mean you suring the board's authority and trying to force in your handpick success or on the one hand, nor does it mean dumping everything in the board's lap. getting the board to engage in conversations about what governance relationship they want with this new executive, paying attention to how that handoff and making sure that the critical relationships get handed off that there's briefing materials for the new executive.
Carol: Carlyn Madden explains some of the work her search firm does to prepare the groundwork for the needed changes.
Carlyn Madden: On the front end, we are not just reviewing key documents. To get a sense of the lay of the land or does the last audit say and all of those sorts of things. But also we are surveying board members, see staff members for membership association, the actual members of the association, key volunteers, possibly even program participants. We're talking to funders, we're doing a survey, we're doing one on one phone calls. We're doing listening sessions. It's just, it's gonna depend on what the organizations are, how recently they've done similar things. And we're trying to learn what. What was really stellar about the LA person in this position?
What were some of the key achievements? What do you think is on the horizon? What hasn't been paid attention to that often needs too often, staff culture is a big east. I think we're really going through a virtuous time. Rightly so. In my opinion, where staff are much more vocal about what they're going to need from their next leader.
Carol: She also comments on what has often been missing from how boards approach executive searches.
Carlyn: What hasn't been happening, particularly in the equity piece, the racial equity or gender justice, or whatever, these different, different elements that affect individual organization. And this is their time to be able to lift and surface that. And for the board to be able to hear that in an objective way, that's not the The thesis banged on the front door that says, we're demanding change or we are unionizing because our rights are being infringed upon.
Carol: Andy Robinson pointed out the mission critical aspect of grooming the next generation and preparing a leadership pipeline. We talked about some specific actions that leaders can do to start that process.
Andy: one thing you should do is look at your task list and try to hand it off. I don't know, one task a week, two tasks a week. And I don't mean, pardon me, Carol. I don't mean the medical stuff. I mean, substantive stuff. I mean, if you're doing all the data entry and you hand that off to somebody else. Sure. That's lovely, but that's not building their skillset. So that's one thing they could do is actually look at what you do and say, is there stuff that I can delegate reasonably appropriately without burdening other people, but also takes me out of the center
when I'm building an agenda and I'm figuring out who's gonna lead. What section of the agenda. I want multiple people leading different parts of the agenda. Cuz the ability to, to run a meeting, facilitate a conversation is a leadership skill. Don't be a perfectionist. And there's the classic thing you see is that you have a leader who wants it done their way. And often somebody else has a different way of doing it. That is different, but could be just as effective or differently, effective or weaker in some ways, but stronger in ways that your way isn't. I think that's a succession planning strategy too. If you're a leader, how do you take up less space so that other people can occupy that space?
Carol: One thing that I would say to every leader – you can start creating more space for others to lead by one really simple yet challenging act. Do NOT be the first to speak in a discussion. Wait a beat. Wait two beats. Even when it feels awkward to be in silence. Let others step in and share their perspective before you. If you always go first – most likely everyone around you will be sharing in reaction to and in light of your contribution. I observe so many leaders dominating conversations and not realizing the impact they are having. By doing this, they are leaving a lot of good thinking on the table from those around them. If it feels super awkward – tell people you are going to do this – and have them hold you accountable.
If you do try this, I would love to hear some results of your experiments.
As Elizabeth points out, your leadership pipeline doesn’t have to only be inside your organization. You can be looking to cultivate leadership with those in your wider ecosystem.
Elizabeth: If it's that organization that has a leadership pipeline, it could be that but most often in larger organizations, yes, that is more typical, but in smaller organizations, there's not.
Enough people working there for it to really be an appropriate way of organizing succession, but it is always nice. And, I encourage organizations to do this, to have sort of a. A running list of people that they have in their orbit. That could be either someone that they consider in, in a search or someone who would, they, they would consider to be part of a search committee who knows the organization well enough and who's connected enough.
Carol:. Carlyn also talks about how those wider networks and ecosystems are so important for effective searches. As well as tapping into a variety of networks.
Carlyn: Hire by hire and talk about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years, right. The demographic has not actually changed. And so what is required are that the conditions of executive search have to change.
we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our clients. I'm really thinking about building, not actually building out networks, multiracial networks, leveraging affinity groups, having open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors or, when we are reaching out to folks saying, who do you know in this space. That would be a good executive director because there's so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. If a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for it. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors.
And so we're already starting to limit the pool.
Carol: Carlyn also talks about the differentiation process of what is essential for the executive director role and what is there because of the current person in the role.
Carlyn: What's his pet project, right? The organization has been shaped around his identity and in many ways it's been really successful. His vision has helped propel this organization to really incredible heights in a very small period of time, short period of time. But there are also things, their pet project. And the board recognizes it to some extent but not necessarily the full extent. So that was the focus of our conversation yesterday, but it was really helpful just to identify, like there are some things that only he can do and only he wants to do. And so the next executive director might even bring their own pet projects and that's okay.
Carol: Interim executive directors is something that organizations going through a transition should consider as an option. There are consultants who do nothing but interim work and can bring their experience to your organization. But our experts were not totally in agreement about interims and their value.
Elizabeth: The transition period in an organization, especially when they're losing a position like a founder, it's crucial to, to build in some space where everyone can experience what that feels like before embarking on the next. I almost always recommend that they consider hiring an interim for that reason. And, and especially with a founder, and a founder that might have been with the organization for a very long time, it's a big change. It's like when you bake cookies and or, and when you make pancakes and, and the first pancake just doesn't turn out well, It's like that. If you hire someone too quickly, that first pancake just might not turn out that well, and that's unfortunate because then the organization is once again plunged into a period of transition, which is not really healthy or something I'd recommend. The statistics about, especially following a founder for new leaders coming in and not being successful is really shocking.
So the interim can really be that bridge very successfully. For all of the reasons that you just outlined, it's like a palate cleanser. It's a good thing to try. The most formative of those relationships, but when you have relationships with funders, when those people have those relationships that are very closely held, there's a lot of insecurity and instability that can affect the organization adversely if it's not handled correctly. And oftentimes that's the best reason to have an interim. Because that person can focus on those relationships. Otherwise it's a board member or maybe a secondary staff person that might not be as comfortable relationship building and relationship cultivating as the leader was. And it could be really debilitating for the organization.
Don: I've been listening to your interview with Liz Wolf and I take a little bit different tack about the idea of interim executive. Being the standard approach for an organization now, that was the, that is the experience in, in many religious denominations. For a lot of organizations that just doesn't work, you've got fundraising relationships that you need to hand off, or you've got key government contract relationships that you need to hand off and, you know, having an interim in there and doing that hand off twice, just, just, just doesn't seem to work.
Carol: Carlyn and I talked about the danger of a new executive director becoming an accidental interim – especially if they are following a founder or a long term ED.
Carlyn: Is that executive director going to be the person that hands over the keys? Or is that person going to need to use an interim executive director in order to facilitate that transition? And we're dealing with people. So every person is different. Every organization is different because of that person. I can't say there's one right way to do it, but often an interim executive director after the founder is a good idea because this person can help steward and.
Steer the organization's operation and help clean up. it's not like there's a mess necessarily, but, but be able to implement some new systems, be able to identify if there are staff members that need to be promoted. If there are staff members that have outgrown their position they can do some of that quote unquote dirty work before the next executive director comes in. We commonly say there's sort of. Accidental interim that often follows a founder, somebody that is in that role for about 18 months. And you don't want that. You want the next person to follow the founder to be there for a much longer term. Maybe not another 30 years, but five, 10 years be able to take the organization through its next cycle of opportunity.
Carol: The glass cliff, not the, just the glass ceiling, but the glass cliff of being offered, you women, women of color, especially being offered the, the impossible job. Yeah, exactly. And then people wondered why they couldn't.
Carlyn: Where women are called in to clean out a. And then have an impossible job out of them. And then our, their performance is managed in a way that is not commensurate with the, with the opportunity ahead, or the challenge ahead.
Carol: As Don points out it is never too early to start thinking about transition and succession. It is not just a process to follow or a set of steps. In William Bridges work on transition, he describes three phases that people go through - the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning. In our action oriented culture, we often think we can jump directly from the ending to the new beginning. The liminal - in between spaces of the neutral zone can catch us off guard. It is messy and confusing. And all through the transition, you can feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. Don describes how this impacts leaders.
Don: the executive really should initiate the succession. Process and rather than the board initiating it on their behalf. They were shocked and surprised by how emotional the process was for them. That was something that really caught them off guard. You probably can't start too early. We were focusing on primarily trying to get to people four, three to four to five years ahead of their departure. A lot of times, executives are confused about their role in, in the transition process and the succession process to me, there's no ambiguity. You got three jobs. Job number one: lead the organization through the transition, of course, but understand that that role is going to evolve as your departure date draws closer. Number two is to prepare yourself for that next chapter of life. Like if you're gonna retire, have something magnetic that's drawing you forward rather than a job that you're leaving. And job number three is to prepare the organization for the succession and transition process.
Carol: Don talks about how many leaders are caught by surprise by the emotional element of the transition – and I would add - everyone in the organization is going through their own emotional roller coaster too. Don tells a story that illustrates just this point.
Don: He was rethinking his departure date and his long time, well seasoned deputy just up and.
Said, look, I'm done with this, you're, you're never gonna leave this organization. I'm gonna go do something else. I think I gave some notice, but you know what I mean? It really upset the apple cart. And I think it also makes people feel whipsawed. It can be a real stew for the staff and ripe for people, some of your best people, to look elsewhere because they're questioning their career. The future with the organization and, and there's always questions anyway will we like the new executive? Can we trust the board to pick the right person for a job?
Carol: I appreciate Don’s comment about the leader preparing themselves for the next step. In our conversation, Andy described his own process of succession and transition into retirement.
Andy: I feel like if I step back, there's more room for others to step up and jobs than I am not accepting. And I am referring to other people or jobs. I don't get anymore, cuz it's okay. I have enough, I've had enough work. I don't need to do it much longer, but I'm also supporting and training and helping other people who wanna enter this space. And that feels good to me. So this is my personal succession plan and I can't say I wrote it down, but it's something I've thought about for years and I've been implementing it step by step. And the latest step is for me to work less and be more assertive about pushing jobs out to other people, especially folks who are new to consulting. I'm sending a lot more work to BIPOC consultants. Black indigenous people of color as a way of supporting social justice and equity.
Carol: Carlyn and I explored what emerging leaders can do to get ready for an executive director role and what the board needs to do to set the new leader up for success.
Carlyn: if you're an aspiring ED, this is your time to shine. But if you're a board know that, that it's gonna be very additive to get the right person. So you might walk away with the perfect person, but you might be offering it to a couple different people. We've had a couple scenarios just in the last few months where someone's accepted a job offer, been in this situation where they're negotiating a parallel job offer. You have to be willing to make some, some adjustments to your timeline, to the amount of money that you have on the table, all sorts of things. If somebody is looking to ascend into an executive director role, the board is paying very close attention to how much fundraising experience they have, or what is their external facing. What are the technology needs that they're going to have? What are the key people that they need to meet in the first week? How are they let's go ahead and set up meetings with the board members so that that's all done for them. They like to walk in, they open their calendar and they're like, great. I will meet Jim for lunch next Tuesday. And Jill and Joanie are going to be a happy hour,
We also do 30, 60, 90 day check-ins with both the incoming executive director, and the board chair.
Carol: The topic of transitions seemed super relevant as we slowly emerge from the pandemic. As the going impacts of the Great resignation, great reshuffle keep reverberating through the economy. And the nonprofit sector as a subset of that – feeling all those transitions too. We are also I think – finally in the much anticipated generational transition as boomers retire and new leaders step into the limelight.
If these clips intrigued you and you want to go back and listen to the full episodes from each of the people featured in today’s best of – Elizabeth Woolfe’s is episode 12, Carlyn Madden is 27, Andy Robinson is 21 and Don Tebbe is 32.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find the full transcript, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything that you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 53 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Reva Patwardhan discuss:
Reva Patwardhan is the founder of Greater Good Coaching. She works with nonprofit leaders who’ve followed their hearts into careers of service and advocacy. She helps them discover their innate strength, resilience and confidence, so they can use their careers to make the impact they want in their lifetimes. She has 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser, communications director, lobbyist, board member, facilitator, coach and diversity trainer. Reva co-facilitates small experiential learning groups with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She chairs the Board of Directors at Rethink Media. She is a certified Integral Coach, and a member of the International Coaching Federation.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Reva Patwardhan. Reva and I talk about leadership coaching. We talk about what it is and what it is not, the extra challenges nonprofit leaders have in investing in coaching, why an organization’s mission can push people into a state of constant urgency and how slowing down can actually help them work better and more effectively, and why taking a trauma-informed, somatic approach to coaching is key.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome. Welcome Reva to the podcast.
Reva Patwardhan: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Reva: So I'm an executive coach and before I was a coach, I worked at a nonprofit for about 14 years. And I had a lot of different roles there, fundraiser, lobbyist, communications director. And in that time there, I realized that I had a real love of supporting the people around me. Even when they were doing jobs that I was not necessarily capable of doing. And I also really just had a great deal. So there were, like every nonprofit we had issues with burnout and not every nonprofit, but a lot of nonprofits have. Right. Hashtag not all nonprofits.
Carol: Just most.
Reva: Yeah. But I stuck around because I just really loved the people I worked with. I just admired them so much. They were so smart and so passionate and just incredibly committed and I believed in what we were doing. So that was just like all the magic components for me. So I decided to make a career out of that. And yeah, I really feel like the people who are actually out there trying to solve problems that we all face that are, they are not there's no. or a little profit motive, it's just like, I am here to try to solve this problem. Those are really hard jobs. And those are exactly the people that we need to be figuring out, like, what can we do for you? Right. And so I really feel passionate about asking, what do we need to be doing to make these jobs that are very hard and also very crucial, more sustainable so that we are not crushing the very people who are carrying. Our hope for us.
Carol: Yeah. A hundred percent. So I feel like coaching it's certainly become more prevalent in the for-profit sector. Yeah. And more well known. But I feel like there's still quite a few misconceptions about what it is and who it's for why it's important. So, how would you describe leadership coaching?
Reva: Yeah, leadership coaching and you're right. There is quite a gap that I've observed between the nonprofit sector and the corporate sector. The nonprofit sector for whatever reason is, has been behind. And really recognizing how important it is to invest in leaders, as individuals, as human beings. And that is what leadership coaching is. It's really investing in you. I think that's why it's hard for people. It's hard for an executive director to say, Hey, I'm going to spend some money on an executive coach because it's really for her. Right. it is for her in service of her mission. And when I coach with people, we do have the mission centered in our work, but it is for her and her ability and her passion and her values. That is part of the process of what we're doing to serve the mission. Right. So, in order to center your own wellbeing and your own development, I think it's a hard thing for a lot of people to do. We're very much conditioned out of that. And I do work with a lot of women but very much conditioned to, to not to always be giving to others, not to ourselves. And that is what coaching does. And I think what it is beyond that, I think it varies quite a bit. I think one reason why there's a lot of confusion about what coaching is because it varies quite a bit depending on who you work with, and there's a lot of great ways of coaching out there. And it really is a matter of finding your right fit. So I'm a big believer in figuring things out, talking to people and finding who's the person who resonates for you. The way that I work with people is I work with the whole person. That means we're talking about feelings, we're talking about the things that really matter to you. We there's room to talk about what's happening in your home life as well. Because you're the same person there. And we're always looking for what is life and work asking of you right now? What edge are you at? Where the way you did things before got you to where you are. Let's thank those methods. Let's honor that. And what new edge is life asking you to meet right now?
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I appreciate the whole, whole person perspective that, just going against that myth, that we park all that stuff at the door. When we come to work, it's all there. Whether we talk about it or not, it's all there. So one of the things that you focus on when you're, when you're working with nonprofit leaders is somatics. Can you tell me a little bit about what somatics is and how you incorporate that into your coaching?
Reva: Yeah. So when I work with someone somatically, what I'm doing is. The reason I do that is I find it's one of the quickest pads for someone to access their innate wisdom. So when I'm working with someone I'm not it's not consulting because I'm not providing you with a bunch of answers. I might offer ideas. I might thought-partner with you, but I'm not offering you suggestions. What I'm doing is asking questions to help you figure out and feel into what is right for you. And it's that feeling. That is the power of coaching. And I really see one of my goals as a coach is when someone walks away from their work with me, one of the things they've learned is how to listen to themselves very deeply. And what are the ways they can be with themselves? How can. , what, what ways of being with yourself and coaching yourself, can you practice and learn that help you learn how to get unstuck so that you become someone who, so everybody gets stuck, but do you stay stuck or do you know how to get yourself unstuck? And all of that is Starts with being able to really slow your mind down. And the container of coaching for that is really, it's a powerful container because that's what we're doing is we're slowing ourselves down and we're pausing. And we're noticing in the moment, right, as an emotion comes up or right. As something important was said, you're slowing down and saying what's happening there in the body. And what guidance can we get from that?
Carol: So somatics being about paying attention to what's going on in the body, not just what we're thinking. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I feel like, folks. It's always been there, right? Like we've always been in these bodies and yet, in our culture at least in the US context, there's been this mythical separation of our mind in our body. How much resistance or acceptance do you find when you're working with folks to step into that work?
Reva: Yeah, so I always meet people where they are. Right. I think that's really important. That's one of my core values and I don't push. Right. I respect people's boundaries. That's another core value and I do invite, right. And I find that most of the time, people welcome that because what they're experiencing in their day to day life is a lot faster. A lot of fast pace, a lot of rushing from one task to another. So what it often feels like is just having a chance to finally take a breath. And then it's like, okay, what is it like for you when you get to take a breath, let's just spend some time noticing. I don't experience people. Like I think part of it is because a lot of folks and this isn't true for everybody, but a lot of my clients do seem to get pretty quickly the value of tuning in. It's just, it's something we all innately are able to do. It's just that it's conditioned out of us. So when you Remi you're reminded suddenly that, oh, this is something I can do. Maybe you haven't done it since you were four, but oh, this is something that I can do. It's not , it's not wild or scary. It's just like, this is the thing I can do.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like so many of the conversations that I have with other coaches, consultants doing different work, different work with organizations, PE individuals. Almost always some element of that. Let's just slow down for a minute. Let's take a pause. Let's take a step back. Let's try to pull you out of that rush, rush, rush meeting after meeting mentality that gives people just a little bit more space to think. Yes.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. And what if we could have that more and more in our lives. Right. Right. What if as a leader, I had the ability to pause and to actually say, I'm a leader in this organization and I'm gonna decide to actually program into my day to day and set boundaries, time to reflect and pause. And that is a priority because when I do that, I'm better at my job. And so part of the, and, and it sounds, I think a lot of times people are truly experiencing urgency in their work, right. There's urgency coming from somewhere, right. And often people are working with, or serving communities that are experiencing urgency. And so it sounds, it sounds really bizarre. or it can be like, who am I to slow down? Why do I get to do this and all of that stuff? But one of the things that can happen with coaching is you start to see, oh, this actually is gonna help me be more in service than I currently am, because it'll help me actually. See the forest rather than just the trees. If I'm constantly moving from one task to the other, I'm never able to ask the big questions, or if I'm asking the big questions, I'm not able to do anything about it. And there's the undercurrent of frustration there of, there are things I'd like to do and there's no space to do.
Carol: Yeah. Okay. And I think when the, when the leader actually does that, and then, people see that on their calendar or they talk about it, it starts to give permission for other people to also do that within the organization and, question this whole culture that we have of, Rush rush, rush, busy, busy, busy, every job description saying you must be comfortable in a fast paced environment, you know? Yeah. And I mean, what my little step in that direction is to try to stop, when it's the first part of a conversation and the hi, how are you? Oh, I'm, you know? Oh, it's been, so it's been so hectic. It's been so. Busy. I try to avoid actually saying whether it's true or not. Cause I just feel like it, it plays into this myth that we all have to live that way.
Reva: Yeah. I mean, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna be real. I also often live that way. Sure. I often also feel overwhelmed and rushed and all that stuff. It's just that I think one of the gifts of doing this work is I don't feel. As guilty about slowing down, because I know that I can't lead from that rushed place. I can get things done, but that's different than leading.
Carol: I haven't quite managed to let go of all of the guilt yet. I'm working on it.
Reva: I said mostly or something mostly. OK.
Carol: That sounds good. But it's gotten better. You also take a trauma-informed approach. And I feel like I am hearing this a lot with clients that I'm working with, that they're taking a trauma-informed approach with their clients. What does it actually mean to be trauma-informed?
Reva: It means being careful of your impact. Mm. I think it means having some humility and respect for the person that's in, that's in front of you. I think it's being aware that there is a lot of trauma, more so than ever, I think, in the world. And there are tools to help people. It's having a toolbox to offer people around that. And it's knowing your lane. So I'm not a therapist. And if I'm really, if I'm seeing real trauma with someone, then I'm going to refer them to someone who can, can help them with that. And when I say trauma, I mean like a level of trauma that I can't deal with, but there is a certain level of trauma we're all carrying, I think. And so everyone has to skill up for that. And part of it is respecting those boundaries. It's like, whatever defenses this person has, they're there for a good reason. And so let's not pretend they're not there for a good reason. And so I do work with people around understanding their defenses and slowly loosening them. But I work slowly, which my, one of my one of the things that I really believe in is in order to move quickly, you have to slow down, go move, slow to go fast. Right. So that is often the most effective way towards transformation is just having patience, continuing to meet whatever's happening in the moment. And not rush it, not push it because that's ultimately not gonna work anyways. Yeah. That's how I think about it.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what some of those defense mechanisms might be and, and kind how to, I don't know that skilling up that you talked about in that arena.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. So so I work with, so I work with people around emotions, right? So as you said, it's, it's the whole person who's coming in the room. And I see coaching as where we get to work with the human side of our challenges. And so if someone's coming in with a challenge and we're unpacking, what is the, what is the human part of this and focus on that. So there's emotions coming up. So I'm making space for those and we're, we're, we're we're unpacking that we're working with that. Like what's behind these emotions. What are some thoughts? Some, some mindsets or thoughts that are there. What are some wounds that need a little bit of space there? And if I find someone who, if I find that someone is, you know that's really hard to be with a certain emotion. I respect that. So we move slowly. So we titrate. So it's like, So what if you're just with this emotion for one second, just to see what it is, right. And then we back off, we intentionally back off. Right. So I might offer them something to practice on their own. That's just like just saying hello to this part of you that feels this way. once a day and then you just back away and then slow, very slowly increase. Capacity to be with it. So that's one.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah. So my tagline for my podcast is helping nonprofit leaders have greater mission impact without becoming a martyr to the cause. How do you see that show up with folks you work with and, and how are you trying to contribute to shifting this culture of overwork and extraction in the sector.
Reva: Yeah. So I'll tell you one of the things that I've been seeing a lot lately, And I think it was always there and I've just started to be able to begin to catch onto it more. But I've noticed that there are certain very prevalent, toxic dynamics in the nonprofit sector that when you are in the middle of that dynamic, when you're really a part of it, it can feel like a personal problem. Mm. Right. So something's going wrong. and in the organization, but because it feels like a personal problem, I treat it like a personal problem. So and so what happens there is if you, so if you imagine you're a leader, an E.D. and things aren't going right. And the thing that's not really feeling like the thing that's not going right is me. And my efforts to address it have failed. So what do I do? Like, what do you do in that situation is you hide it, you hide the problem right. If you blame yourself for the problem and you haven't been able to adequately address it, you hide the problem. And so you're then unable to do anything about it. Right? And so like some examples I've seen of this are Executives, who've gotten really good at hiding their overwhelm. And because they're, it's just become this really normalized thing that their funders don't fund overhead. And it's been like that for so long. That it's just a completely normalized culture where overwhelmedness and burnout are just normal. And so if you are overwhelmed or if you have a problem with being overwhelmed, that's a problem with you. Right? And so let's hide that rather than actually trying to figure out how to do it. You feel compelled to hide it. Another example is like so you have to say, part of your job is going to speak at, to represent your organization and your community at community meetings where there's politicians or whatever, and you feel very anxious about it. And you're ashamed of that anxiety. Well when it's not the anxiety, that's the problem. The problem is the fact that you are the sole member. You're the sole representative of your community. No one else in the room looks like you, you're the only person of color in the room, you know? And that's the problem because you feel ashamed of the anxiety. You're trying to solve the problem yourself. And trying to hide the fact that you feel the anxiety. It's actually very normal to feel anxious in that situation. That's not the problem. So I think people in this situation it's like, they're, they might be this is just ripe for a very ripe moment for imposter syndrome. So they might be thinking that someone else could be doing this job better. The person who was in this role before me did it better. And or or they might be thinking like, I'm the least competent person in this room, all of that stuff, which makes it feel like this is a problem with me. And so that's, and that's just paralyzing. So what I do is, I help people take their power back and find their voice. Part one by realizing you're not crazy. This is a genuinely hard situation. You are not broken. So taking your power back, finding the things that you can do in your immediate sphere to take action. And really, and just to the whole taking your power back thing, that's like, What I try to do is I try to help my clients see it for themselves. So it's not just me telling them. It's like, sure, help them see it for themselves and actually feel it actually feel the truth that, oh, oh, I see. It's not me. Right. And so from that place, you can take action. And the fact is most of these problems, they are much bigger than one person. So, and it may be a long game, but just starting the process of strategizing and, and planning out, how can you get more resources in this? Who can you reach out to? Who's gonna be your support system who are gonna be your collaborators and actually problem solving this. Right? So it's putting the problem where it belongs, which is in the collective. right. Not in the individual.
Carol: Yeah. And even some of the things that you talked about at the very beginning of who am I to slow down or who am I to invest in myself and get coaching goes to this whole mindset of if you're passionate about your, your issue and you have to give it all and this selflessness of the helper and that can be just a recipe for burnout. It's like here, here are the five steps to burnout. Here you go, go do these things, go believe these things.
Reva: Yeah, and I think there's also a recipe for burnout for the people in those jobs. And I think there is a wake up call going on for the sector. If it's not happening already, it's going to happen very soon because there is this emerging sense that people don't wanna put up with any of this crap anymore in their jobs. Right. And it's getting harder and harder to fill the position of executive director. In the for-profit sector, being a CEO is seen as this glamorous thing. And I think part of that is because part of that is like the ridiculous salaries and we don't necessarily want to model ourselves off of that. Part of it is that they have resources, they have support to do what they need to do. They don't. And so in the nonprofit sector, I think becoming an E.D. should feel, you should feel proud. You should feel proud of being an executive director or being a leader of a development director. Communication director any, any like any role, like doesn't just not just at the director level, but you should be proud. Anyone should be proud to work in the nonprofit sector, whether you're an entry-level fundraiser. I started out in the, as a door to door canvasser. We should feel proud of our work. Right. But I think one of the reasons it's very hard to feel proud of our work is because we don't feel appreciated. Right. And there is that undervaluing and a big part of that is not being supported in the work. Right. You're just allowed to flail. And so, and so people are saying, no, why, why, why would I do that to myself? You know?
Carol: Just the sense it's like never enough. Yeah.
Reva: And, but the fact is I think that we actually still need the nonprofit sector in this country. We live in this country where this is the way it's set up right now. And if we wanna be able to solve big problems, We have to be able to do work that centers on impact and not profit. We just have to do it. And maybe there's sweeping changes that need to happen, but this is where it is right now. And how do we not lose all our wonderful people?
Carol: Yeah, no, I am seeing that, that, and, and just hearing people talk about it, this underbelly of the sector, that's always, probably always been there. And various, I don't know, historical reasons for that. And just this mythology that gets exploited and folks are saying, no more. How can we do this differently? Doesn't have to be this way. But it's hard to step out. It's hard to step out and, and do it in a, you know, to work on being countercultural, right, even at the individual level.
Reva: Yeah. And that's why I do this work. It's like, okay. I, if I think that this is important work and I really want there to be people doing it, how do we support them? How do we find ways to make this work for them? If the mission matters then so do the people who are working for the mission.
Carol: Right. Yeah. All the people involved matter for sure.
So at the end of every episode, I play a game where I ask one moderately random icebreaker question. So I've got three cards from my little box. So if you, for, for any place that you visited, what's, what's a place that you would love to go back to.
Reva: Hmm. Bali.
Carol: Mm. Say more.
Reva: Oh man. So Bali is a beautiful place. Now I'm worried about promoting tourism to a place that maybe can't handle it.
Carol: Don't go to Bali, right?
Reva: I was there maybe 10 years ago, so, and oh, it was just, it was just the, the people are just very, were just very open and lovely. And the. The nature was just beautiful and gorgeous. And it, every, any time I go to a different country, I think I've been to India many times as well. It's my parents' mother country. I've been to Mexico, I've been, I've been, anytime I go to another country, I just feel a sense of freedom because I'm. It's like something about just like now I don't have to follow the usual rules here.
Carol: You have this, the sense of even when you're going, you're, you're breaking cultural rules in the other country. They give you a pass like, Ugh, they're a foreigner, but they don't know so, so you have a little bit of leeway and can yeah. And also like, people give you a little grace.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. People give you a little grace and it's, it's more, it's just like, it's lovely to just get out of the water that I'm usually swimming in. Yep. It's lovely to get out. What I define or what we define as normal here. Sure. Just to leave for a while.
Carol: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. My parents first posting in the foreign service was in Indonesia. So we have many home movies from there and from Bali. This was before me, but I would love to go visit. I'm sure it would be totally different than when they were there in the 1960s. Yeah. But yeah, it's, it's a place on the list. So thank you. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you in your, in your work and what's emerging?
Reva: Yeah, the thing I’m most excited about is my work with my one on one coaching clients. There is something so powerful about that moment when someone faces the truth of the challenging moment they’re in and starts to sort through, what are the things that are in your power to influence, and what are the things that are bigger than you that you can reach out for help on, and what starts to become more possible for you when you stand in an unconditional sense of your own belonging and the unconditional belonging of your community. It is really beautiful, powerful, transformative work and it is an honor and a joy to be able to do it. It is the thing I love doing more than anything and I feel blessed to be able to do this work. If anyone listening would like to talk to me about the possibility of working together please come to my website. I would love to talk to you. It's been a long time and I've been at this work for a bunch of years now. And I have a lot of new, a lot of new things to say, and I'm excited about saying them.
Carol: Excellent. Yeah. So what would you say are your top three new things to say?
Reva: Well, one of them is just seeing this relationship between imposter syndrome and the nonprofit sector's inability to address major problems that are sector wide or organization wide. And to see that imposter syndrome is not an individual problem, it's actually baked right into the structures of the nonprofit sector.
Carol: And our society for various identities, if you've been questioned your entire life yes, then you will learn to question yourself, yeah. In your capacity and when you have not. Yeah. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for all you do for nonprofit leaders. I really appreciate it and appreciate you having this conversation.
Reva: Well, thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Carol: I appreciated how Reva described her approach for helping her coaching clients deal with uncomfortable emotions. It is not a matter of all in. It is a matter of step by small step – titrating is the word she used. – Meeting folks where they are and only going as far as is a little bit beyond their comfort zone – be with it for a little bit and then back off. I also appreciated her broader perspective on the toxic cultures that too often emerge within nonprofit organizations – overwork, overwhelm, and burnout. That when you are part of it – it feels personal, and it may seem like it is embedded in the personalities of those around you. And as a leader it can feel like a personal problem – which can lead to denial and avoidance and hiding from the challenge instead of addressing it. So instead by naming it leaders and staff can take their power back and address the elephant in the room.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Reva, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 52 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, David Pisarek discuss:
David is an award-winning web and digital solutions architect, designer and project manager with extensive industry experience focusing on education, not-for-profit, politics, healthcare, and government. An expert in his field, David worked full-time at Durham College for 11 years (seven of those while working at UOIT too). It was in that role where David performed the redesigns and programming and ran training sessions for over 100 staff. As a result of those years, David understands the internal processes and functioning of post-secondary institutions. He also worked as a professor and guest lecturer at Seneca College and Durham College where he taught web design, graphic design, computer science, and web development. And he developed the Web Design curriculum at a private, corporate training facility.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is David Pisarek. David and I talk about nonprofit websites. We explore the common mistakes nonprofits make with their websites, why video is something your organization should consider for storytelling, how to start cultivating a relationship with the people learning about you through your website, and a quick and easy way to create a content calendar.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome David, welcome to the podcast.
David Pisarek: How are you doing today? Thank you.
Carol: I am doing well. I'd like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
David: That is an awesome question. My why is really baked into my upbringing. I was involved in youth groups as a child and adolescent and teen years, and there was always a component of helping and giving back and volunteering and being part of the community. I started working in nonprofits in 2000, managing the web and all that type of stuff for them. And it just evolved from there. It's just something I love doing. I love figuring things out and thinking strategically about what it is and how to problem solve and, and work around things and find solutions. And part of what I also love doing is educating and teaching people about things. So in terms of my agency, when we're working with our clients, we train them on the system. We teach them about SEO. We teach them about best practices. Like you don't want to put a giant wall of copy up on your site. You need to break it up and have some headlines and bullet points and things like that. But we're about educating in that. And so like I've got a blog and a podcast as well to help empower the people that we work with and other people that are in the nonprofit.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. . just that's, that's what you do. You help people help nonprofits really create better websites. And, and probably more than that you've mentioned a couple of things, but, but what would you say are some of the biggest mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their website, which really today is a foundational piece of how you present yourself to the world?
David: One of the biggest things that we find with our prospects that come to us, and we've also conducted an audit of over 400 nonprofit and charity websites. we've got like this broad base of data to pull from, to answer this question. One of the biggest things that we find is that websites look old. There's a client we worked with a couple of years ago. Their site was actually redone in 2016, but it looked like it was from the mid two thousands. And I'm sure you've come across a site. The listeners have come across sites where it's like, Hmm, the site doesn't really quite look like maybe anything has been done. Like, is that organization still in business? Are they still doing things or is this just like up there? And it's just like a ghost town.
Carol: . paying attention to updating information, but also updating the look and feel of a website to make sure that , it doesn't look like a, I dunno, a Victorian mansion or something.
David: You could have a wonderfully, beautifully designed Victorian mansion. Right. But if your website isn't working properly, it's an issue for your organization because Google and their algorithm is giving preferences to sites that are. Working really well and designed for mobile devices. So the easiest way to check if you're not sure is to open up your website in your browser window and then make your browser window really narrow. And if you have to scroll sideways to see any of the content, your site's not mobile optimized or likely isn't mobile optimized, I should say. That would be a good start.
Carol: . Excellent. what are some other couple simple things that organizations can do to really improve their websites?
David: You need to create an emotional connection with the people you're trying to reach out to. that can be done through the wording that you have. But it can also be done through the images that you've got or videos that you have there. And you need to create this impactful story about your organization in terms of what you do, why you do it, who you help, how the donor's funds are being used, the type of volunteers that you need and need to really weave that through all of the messaging that you have. Not just like we need. You need to donate today, right? Why, why do we need to donate? What's the money happening sorry, what's happening with the money and how is it being spent? What's it going towards and making people really care and be empathetic towards your cause? And that's going to really help organizations have ambassadors for your brand.
Carol: And how do you help organizations identify what their story is and, and how they can tell their story in a way that connects with the people that they're trying to reach.
David: That's one question with regards to connecting. If you're going to be looking at imagery, things like that, it's hardwired in our DNA. It's scientifically backed and proven. You want pictures of people looking at the camera. And because. Fight or flight responses from like back in caveman days. Right. So do you need to be here and fight and we're wired to look people in the eyes and being able to do that will help you evoke that response from a visual perspective when you're thinking about the story and the meaning and everything behind it. There's a couple of things that you can do the first thing or one of the first. Would be to connect with the senior leadership, the executive team, the board of directors at your organization and ask them, why do they care? What does this organization mean to them? Most likely people care about an organization because they are helping. In some way, shape or form with something that has impacted their lives, their family, or their friends, there's some direct connection, like first or second level to whatever it is. So if it's, if your organization is about, I don't know, ALS for example, Somebody in their family or, or friend or circle has been affected by that in some way, shape or form. And so they want to help and they want to get involved and be able to do that. So really understanding why people care. And then having that in and talking about, here are the things that we're doing to help this. He, there's a media campaign or there's this awareness week and really pumping up your messaging around those.
Carol: . And that's why I love asking that question at the beginning of my interviews. Right. Why what motivates folks to do the work and, and why, why are they connecting into it? And it usually the story does begin in, in people's growing up and how they were connected either impacted by an issue or connected in service early on lots of different things, but one other thing that you said that really struck me was around thinking about imagery and I've, I've heard so much about, our lizard brain and the amygdala and our fight flight. I'll put them there's fun. And there are four of them. Now I think freeze and Fon have that immediate response. And that, that part of our brain is always checking for. Can I trust you? Are you going to hurt me? I've never thought about it in terms of imagery, in a magazine, on a, on a website, any of that. all we thought about it in terms of either this on, on a. In person, not in person, but it, mediated through some screen event or just more of that interactive. it's so interesting that you bring that in also in the imagery that folks are using. thinking about it from that point of view, what's inviting, what's, what's engaging. What other mistakes do you see organizations making?
David: there's two other ones that I'd like to mention. One is making it really easy for people to connect with you. In our audit that we conducted, we found there were a lot of sites. They didn't even have a phone number on there. Like some really basic things have an email. Your, your mailing address, your physical address, a contact form on your site, a phone number some way that you can reach out to that organization in a way that people can connect with you. The other, sorry. Hold on one sec. I wanna, this is popping up. Okay. The other thing that organizations typically fall short with are having calls to actions on their website. The best way to get somebody to do something is to have a call to action. And typically a call to action is a button that you would have on your site with some wording in it, right? Like “donate now,” for example, right. Or a volunteer with us or subscribe, right. Things like that. And making it really. Comprehensive and short and understandable way for people to take whatever that next action is that you want them to take.
Carol: And what are, what would you prioritize between those different calls to action? In terms of thinking about someone, hearing about you, looking you up, looking up your website and in terms of what that next step might be. The reason I asked you the question was the first one you asked, you mentioned, was “donate now.” And I guess one thing that I'm curious about is. I guess an assumption that I have is it takes a little while for something, to get someone to the point where they want to donate and give money to your organization. That's not always true. it may be that a disaster just happened. They looked for a list of who can I donate to by someone that they trust. They look at that list, your organization's on the list and they're going to, they don't need to know anything more. They're going to donate money to you. But in most cases I would think that you have to nurture that relationship a little bit more before they're ready to jump to that action. what, what are some of those steps that you want to invite people into in terms of what that call to action might be?
David: You're absolutely right. They are getting people to make a donation. Isn't the, isn't typically the first thing that people are going to do when they come to your site, they want to get familiar with your organization. I always talk about in terms of, of three things, there's the know like, and trust factors, right? They need to know you, they need to like you, they need to trust you and then they'll be willing to take action of some kind. you need to really have your messaging put together. Easiest thing to get people to do is to subscribe. if you don't have an email list set one up there's MailChimp, there's constant contact as a campaign monitor. There's a ton of systems out there that you can use. A lot of them have a free tier. I typically recommend MailChimp. It allows up to, I think 2000 email addresses and they're free and they also have nonprofit pricing as well. if you do need to bump up into a, into a paid tier, they do, they do offer a discount there. But , you can embed a form in your website and get people to subscribe. And that's where some of that nurturing can happen. you need to set up the messaging you need to set up. Maybe if you're a little bit more of an established organization, a nurture sequence, maybe two or three emails, just explaining, Hey, thanks for subscribing. We send out emails, every month, this is the type of stuff that you're going to get from us. The second email would be, Hey, here's, what we've done recently, or the impact we've had over the last year? Hoping you might be interested in finding out more from us, the 30 emails could be, here's our most popular articles that we've published or videos that we've put together looking forward to getting you our monthly newsletter, for example, right. And then they get on the regular monthly email that you'll get, or pardon me that you'll publish out there. But in terms of call to actions, Unless they're like, somebody may have passed away and they want to donate to your organization because that's what that family or that individual really cared about or were passionate about. Typically that donation isn't, isn't the piece that they're going to go to right away. So there are some other things that you could do. I have a podcast also called the nonprofit digital success podcast episode 39. So while digital.com/ 0 3 9, that'll take you right there. That episode is all about CTS. So head on over there, you'll get, you'll get a bit more detail there, but in terms of call to actions, it could be contact us. It could be sharing this page or sharing this article. You could have some buttons for social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, that type of thing. But some other CTS that you can think about doing, let's say your organization was around funding cancer research, let's say, and you're trying to raise funds for that. It could be like “end cancer today” or, “end brain cancer today.” Or instead of “subscribe,” it could be, “keep me informed.” Right? There's different languages that you can have. But something you shouldn't be scared of is having to call. On a page in your website. So, maybe when people load up your homepage, you'll probably find only about 40 to 50% of your web traffic actually lands on your homepage. Google wants to send people deep into your site, into the content that they're already looking for. But on the top of the homepage, you can usually have the typical designers you've got like a big image or something like that, and like a headline and a button. So that button up there, that could be. I have two buttons. So you could have one for more info. So if you have a big campaign or something like that happening at your organization, or maybe there's a gala and you're trying to do some fundraising for that, it could be like I don't know, RSVP could be one of the, those buttons and the other button could be subscribed and you can have that right up there and drive them to a subscription page.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. And just you, you did say call to action and then you said CTA multiple times, but , just for clarity, CTA is market speak for call to action. So, awesome. . Another acronym that you may not be familiar with is SEO. Can you explain a little bit about what that is and what are some, what if, how do people need to think about that or why it's important.
David: SEO is again an acronym it's search engine optimization and really what it comes down to is how do the search engines index and list your website in their database. So when somebody goes and does a search, it's looking through their database, it doesn't actually search your website live. Actually, they have a cache of all the content on the internet. So if you think of Google, they've gotten like terabytes petabytes of. Astronomical amounts of data that we can't even comprehend on all the different websites and domains that are out there in the world. So when somebody goes into Google and they search for something, it's looking for relevance as well as geographic proximity. So I'll take a look when I'm in Toronto. And so if I went and looked for, I don't know, my heart and stroke association, let's say it'll, it'll find me results based because I'm in Canada and Toronto that are as close to me as possible. Whereas if I was in Australia or Germany or somewhere else, it would show different results. Based on. So SEO is about being found by search engines and being able to be indexed. So if your organization is, let's just talk about, I don't know, cancer research, because we were just talking about that four months ago. If you're focused on that, you want to make sure that you're using the terminology that other people, the general population might be searching for, because then you're going to end up ranking higher in the search result. People typically don't really go past page two of Google search results. We'll end up going back to the search and typing again. So if you think about the last time you went to Google and you searched for something, that's probably exactly what you did. If you're looking for a new hat or something, right? Like you'll go you'll search and whatever. I don't know. Totally unrelated to nonprofits there, but right.
Carol: But you might need a hat for your next Gala. who knows.
David: It's important to have the terminology that people are looking for. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that you have some analytics tool in your website. you can gather data about how people are coming to your site. What are the popular pages on your site? And then you can create additional content. Around that so that you can start to become more well-known to search engines around certain topic areas. And one of the best tools that I can recommend is Google analytics. It's free and you can install it on your site. If you need help with that, reach out to me, connect with me. We'll do it for you for free, no strings attached. We'll get you going. Analytics is one of the best ways to be able to improve your web presence. And it's really important. To have regular check-ins on that.
Carol: . Because certainly through mine, I have some analytics through just the service that I use. I use one of them. like Squarespace and others, that make it easy to make it look good. But they're not as robust around analytics, et cetera. And I got Google analytics set up at one point, but I think it's all falling apart, so probably could do with some help in that direction.
David: Happy to help. One little caveat is Google analytics is sunsetting their universal analytics. So if you are going to sign up for new analytics or if you have it on your site, you need to migrate to GA for so Google analytics for,
Carol: Okay, good to know. Good to know. what are some steps that organizations can take to improve their SEO? And I, a lot of organizations, these are the kinds of things that may feel Beyond their sophistication or capacity, but I'm wondering if there's some easy things. You talked about making sure that you're using keywords that aren't just the expert jargon. But really how an average person would look for, for whatever it is that you do. that being an important element, are there other key things that organizations need to think about in terms of SEO?
David: Absolutely. So like I said, right at the beginning, I love educating and getting information out there. I have a webinar, a free webinar that I run, where I talk about how you can leverage your website to get better impact, more donations and more website traffic. And I talk in that webinar about SEO and the importance of things. And one of the best things that you can do is to add content to your web. Over time on a frequent regular basis. So maybe once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, whatever the cadence is that works for you. Write a piece of content about whatever that keyword or the idea that you want people to find you under. Frank. Right content and it doesn't have to be long. There's people out there that are going to be like, no, you need to write at least 2000 words. We've had a lot of success with some of the clients we've done this for where it was just five or 600 words on a weekly basis. And over a period of five months, we were able to increase their organic search traffic by 510 times. So. short content things that are easily digestible, things that are topical, maybe there's something happening in the news around COVID or something like that. And you're related to Curing, whatever disease based on MRNs, for example, right? Maybe there's, there's a tie there, connection there, and you can talk about that in some content and you can try to leverage media in that way because people are already searching for that. In Google analytics, you can actually get some details in terms of what pages are the most popular on your website. Take a look at those pages and. Over time, make some updates to those pages. And Google is going to start to rank that page a little bit higher as well. And just jumping back to CTS, when you're looking at that list of the most popular pages of your website, make sure that the top 10 pages of your site, you've got a clear call to action on that page to drive people, to do something, whatever that happens to be because you're already getting traffic there. Right. Let's leverage that traffic to try to get them to do something else, like subscribe or make a donation of some kind. And you don't affect change that way.
Carol: that makes a lot of sense. I've been in organizations where they haven't had a, a communications person or a marketing person, and they've really struggled with being able to keep that consistent, creating a little bit of content and getting it, getting things updated because there's just this mindset of it. It has to be really important or really meaningful or just perfect. And I think really for me, the way that I've just tried to stay consistent and keep things rolling is, just, it's gotta be good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. And it doesn't always have to be super profound. I keep being, perhaps I'm boring people, I don't know, but I try to psych myself into just continuing versus getting into that mind space that can be paralyzing. And I've seen parallel organizations in, in, in really. Keeping people appraised about what's going on because they had so many criteria that they felt like their communications had to meet.
David: . And it's really tough. So one of the things I always tell people when I'm meeting with them is you need to take some action for better, or for. Take something, create a bit of content, see how it works. If it doesn't work, modify it a little bit for next time. If it does work, keep following that same path until you meet some resistance or, or something like that. What we find with a lot of our clients is that they're reactive instead of proactive. There's. One of the issues between non-profits, and charities is the size of the team. The time that the team has to get the job done. And then, you might, you might embark on a project with the world's best intentions. But then there's fires that come up and there's wrenches that get thrown in. And then there's red tape and meetings and meetings and meetings. And ultimately at some point you need to say, what, I need to actually just do something and make it happen. And, taking that first step, taking that initiative is really, what's going to help you because you can have committee meetings and you can meet with stakeholders across the organization, all you want, but nothing's actually going to happen until you sit down and spend time in.
Carol: I think people see technology tools, whether it's websites or any other thing. And, and, and they see all the bells and whistles and they want to do the, all the things I was talking with, an organization, a small organization. They only have two staff right now. They will be growing, but there are only two right now. And they're thinking about their metrics and data tracking. And they have a database that, It's infinitely expandable in terms of the things that they could track, could pay attention to. And, I kept trying to bring them back to what are the one or two things that are going to be super important to be able to tell donors, tell funders, tell your story. You don't want your staff caught up in spending all of their time, entering information into a database. What are, what are going to be the things that really give you leverage? So key, back to that keep it simple. what else is important for organizations to keep in mind as they approach their digital marketing strategy?
David: I'm just going to close the door. Hold on, I have no idea why, but my wife just came home. She was at her office today. So okay. So let me ask the question again. Nope, I got it. We're good. Okay. . One of the things that I think is important to do is really be strategic about how you're spending your time. Right. And. On the wall behind me. You can't see it because this is an audio podcast, but I have a board. And on that board is our content calendar for the year. And we do this with our clients. You can do it yourself. Sit down with your team with key stakeholders from your organization, spend an hour together an hour and a half. Give everybody a stack of post-it notes and just say around this idea. So we are focused on cancer, curing cancer, right? In the next minute, how many post-it notes? Can you write down topic ideas for articles, right? And just sit and just pound out as many as you can. And then. Do that three, four times and have another topic idea. Do that three, four times another topic on day three, four times. And you're going to find within probably about 20 minutes, you're going to have 40, 50, 60 different topics. Some of them are going to overlap, right? So you take those, you throw them out who cares, right. But you've, you've spent a really short amount of time and you figured out, all right, here's all the different types of things that we can write about, or we can create videos about, or we can be featured on podcasts and talk about the great work that we do. And it really simplifies that process. So taking those post-it notes and then taking all of those. Magical DS and weeks and months that happened. So for example, like Alzheimer's awareness month, right? If, if there's content, some of those topics that tie into that, you want to put those on, on those months, on those special days that come up through the year, those awareness type of days, and then you can plot out your content for the whole year. So within a short amount of time, we're talking like an hour, hour and a half. You can have your content calendar planned the entire year. And . Things are going to come up through the year. So you take the post-its and you move them. If you want to use tech tools, you can use any Kanban board, like an air table or mural or whatever, there's tons of things out there for that. But , it's a super great process. It was really streamlined. And it makes it easy. And you don't have to think week after week or month after month about what it is. What are we going to write about this time? No, you have it already done. You grab it. Put that together and be done or you bring in people to help support your team. And that's like where we, where we come in, we as an agency, think of our thoughts. Think of ourselves as an extension of your marketing communication, it teams. And it's, it's, there's lots of agencies out there. There's lots of freelancers out there, whether it's copywriting design, web development strategy. Branding, whatever it happens to be that you can bring in to help.
Carol: When I was blogging on a regular basis I just kept a running list of ideas, and sometimes I'd write a bunch down and think about them. And then sometimes they would just pop up. Swimming or walking around the block and I'd add it. And then when it came to the time when I was supposed to be writing I would look at the list and sometimes I wanted to write the thing that was next on the list. And sometimes I didn't, so I just skipped and found another topic, but I did really find that not starting with that blank page was really, really helpful. I love that process that you described of just bringing a group of people and it is amazing how quickly you can generate. More than you could possibly even cover. you feel like you start with, oh my God, what are we going to talk about then having a list of 50 things and you're, you're good to go. And then, then doing that planning. That's awesome.
at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask each guest one random icebreaker question. What is one activity that you enjoy so much that it really makes you lose track of time?
David: Do you love doing so
Carol: much when you get into that state of flow?
David: Low. . The state of flow is super awesome. Right? Once you can focus and you're just sitting there working with it, and then all of a sudden it's two hours later. You're like, where did that time just go for me? With regards to the business side of things, that state of flow happens when I'm sitting down and really working on strategy and in. Problem solving, like trying to figure out all right, here's the, here's the issue. Here's what we need to do. What is it that can be done to work around that, but then going from that to actually doing it and jumping in and going, okay, we want to build out this new thing. So for us, here's a great example. We want to have better communication with our clients. We want to impact more and give them more education and more awareness about the work as we're working through the project. So we created what we call the hub for our. And so every client has a page. They can go in, they can see a Gantt chart of the projects, live project status and whatever. And when I had this idea, I was like, all right, let's just make this happen. And then like three hours later, I had the first template put together. And it was like, where did, where did all that time? Just go.
Carol: What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and your work?
David: It's interesting. We've got a few really great projects on the go right now. We're excited to move forward with them. We had a couple of meetings this morning already with them and we heard that the senior executive leadership loves the work that we've done. So that's super awesome and exciting in terms of our agency and where things are going, we're like dabbling. And taking a look at a metaverse in terms of like, what does this actually really mean? How can nonprofits and charities leverage this? We're also taking a look at crypto. So cryptocurrency and NFTs are non-fungible tokens. You've probably heard about this in the news a bit with artwork and there's like 14 year olds that have made over $10 million selling their like whale artwork, essentially. And what are some ways that nonprofits might be able to leverage that newer technology and get ahead of the curve on it, typically what we see as you've got like big business and then you have the education sector. And then lagging behind education is like the nonprofit world. Let's leapfrog that a bit and help them be current as things are happening in the news.
Carol: That's awesome. I appreciate all the education that you do for folks and I'm helping them. . Not, not always being one step behind, so that's awesome. Appreciate it. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking with you today.
David: Thank you so much, Carol.
Carol: I appreciated what David said about some of the very basic things that can easily be fixed on websites that they audit. The first being look and feel – does your website still look like someone should be looking at it via AOL in the 90s? The DIY website hosting and creation services such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly – all have built in templates that make it easy for you to have an up to date looking website and have it be mobile friendly – all without having to know how to do any of those things. And the very basic – is there information on your website about how people can get in touch with you. And then beyond the basics, I appreciated David’s points about building a relationship with people – so this will likely be beyond the website. Are you asking them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you have it set up that when they sign up they get a series of automatic emails over a period of time to educate them about your work? And then how might you start using video to tell your story. Everyone can do a video now on their smartphone. What if you were to spend 15 minutes at your next board meeting having each board member each record a 1-2 minute video about why they are involved and what excites them about the work you do. It doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be super fancy. And if you do want to go the extra mile there are plenty of folks who can help you produce more professional looking videos for your site. Or at your next board or staff meeting take his other tip and spend 15 minutes brainstorming all the topics you could cover to create a content calendar quickly.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with David, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.