In episode 51 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Thomas Anderson discuss:
Dr. Thomas E. Anderson, II is the founder of Teaiiano Leadership Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience leading high-performance teams in faith-based non-profits. As a coach, consultant, and workshop facilitator, Thomas helps founders, leaders, and managers to navigate the multi-loop (…and often elusive) process of vision development and realization. In fact, he measures results by how much he helps clients to move forward with their vision for the future. Thomas is a recurring presenter at Regent University's Annual Research Roundtables and has published academic articles in the Journal of Practical Consulting and Coaching (JPCC). Above all, Thomas enjoys being a devoted husband to his wife, Jamie, and dedicated father to his daughters, Arianna and Azalia.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Thomas Anderson. Thomas and I talk about how organizations can learn to see and listen, why more and more people are working with founders, and what foresight is and why it is important to organizations.
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 Thomas. Welcome to mission impact.
Thomas Anderson: Thank you, Carol. It's nice to be here today, talking with you.
Carol: I like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you describe as your why?
Thomas: That's a great question. I started this work just to basically help visionaries to, I used to say, to change the world, but it's really to help visionaries to impact the world or to improve the condition of the world that we live in.
Carol: And. As you just said, you're a coach and consultant that really works with folks too, you focus on vision development. Why would you say that vision is so important for whether it's an organization, a team, an individual.
Thomas: that's a good question. And I have to caveat it by telling you a little bit about the backstory of how I got into this work. So I had every intention of graduating from undergrad and just going right into it. Nine to five corporate jobs staying there retiring, but the more and more I talk to people who are around me and the more opportunities that were coming my way, they were really related to people would come to me with their ideas or they would come to me with some type of creative, something that they wanted to do. Made everyone else who gave them feedback on it say, okay, I don't know about this. You might be crazy. Those kinds of responses kept coming to them. And so when I was just open to just the fact that, okay, you want to do something new at the time? I graduated right after the dot com bust. I was in a sense , either forced to go back to school or to try something new. And I was at the time trying something new. And so I saw, I say all that to say, I saw how it motivated vision has a very motivating it's a very motivating phenomenon within itself.
Carol: I work a lot with folks in the nonprofit sector and it's usually someone. Has a vision of, of how the world might be better or how they could have impact or how they could serve people or a gap that they perceive. They step into that. Sometimes the vision is very clear for the founder and not necessarily for everyone that they pull along with them. So you recently did some research into vision development and then its realization. Can you tell me a little bit about that research and what were the, what were the questions that you were trying to answer?
Thomas: Yes. Yes. I'd be happy to. And you just brought up something that I thought about earlier. There's a trend going on and I can, I can break it down like this. And this is what my research has shown just on a cursory level. More new businesses are popping up and even more so since the pandemic has happened. The number of new business applications doubled between 2007 and 2022, and they actually spiked between 2020 and the end of 2021. They have level back off to that doubling, but when you couple that with the fact that corporate longevity has decreased from 67 years , companies used to last on average on the S and P 67 years in 1920 to 15 years. And in 2012 you had this trend that businesses are getting younger. And the chances of working with a founder are higher. And so I started to think, what does that say? Or a visionary leadership vision and visionary leadership. And so what I started to do was to reconceptualize there was a call in the research from a couple of scholars to reconceptualize visionary leadership. And I started to think about the trend of businesses actually getting younger. And I said, okay I need to jump in here. And so I started to ask two questions. The first one was, can an organization learn. And then the second is if so, how do organizations practice? Seeing together now I've had a couple of discussions around my book topic, or I should call it a manuscript at this point because we're still in the process of the proposals and so forth and so on. But I'm even revising that question to look at a topic that came up in one of the sessions: can an organization learn to hear or learn to use the senses. And so what that looks like, going back to my original question, is how organizations learn how to detect and anticipate the future in such a way that they can choose which future they want to pursue. And also on the same token, be nimble enough to make changes along the way.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by an organization seeing or an organization hearing.
Thomas: Still, when it comes to seeing, basically when we talk about vision, we all know that it's future oriented and so. A term for that is the preferred future. And so which future the organization prefers, but visioning itself, starts with the ability to see. And you mentioned the founder earlier in, and that really comes into play here because founders take a journey through what they can see to be the preferred. But there's a lot of information there. That lies outside of the realm of visioning. It lies in the foresight realm of future-thinking, just picking up on trends that are happening or doing some type of horizon scanning or thinking about scenarios that could play out. And so all of that comes into play when talking about organizations. Learn to see together, not just the founder learning to see, but everyone, at some point being invited into the process through their feedback or through a whole group collaborative session, just in bringing all of that wisdom into one room and saying, okay, based on that, what do we want our company to be in this.
Carol: Yeah. And you talked about foresight also. Can you say a little bit about what you mean by that? Sure.
Thomas: So foresight it's not really pie in the sky. Like sometimes vision enforced that can be treated that way, but foresight is basically seeing or detecting what's coming up in the next. So just to, I guess, make a juxtaposition between foresight and strategic foresight and strategic planning, right? Strategic planning looks, and you're an expert at strategic planning. So I need to get this right. Strategic planning looks in the near future, right up to maybe three or five years of foresight. Beyond that it can, it usually starts at five years, but can look up to 50 to a hundred years not to say that people can predict the future. But, you're just picking up on all of these trends that are going on emerging trends, things that could turn into something later, we just don't know. But there are things that would impact or could possibly derail that perfect picture of the future that many organizations and the founders do hold.
Carol: it's so interesting when you're talking about the near term and the longer term for nonprofits with the, with there being so much oftentimes just. Way more to do than can possibly get done. The visions tend to be huge, even when the resources and the organization are, are really small. And so I find even getting organizations to think about the next three years or the next five years can be challenging for them to just take the time. To step back, what are some ways that smaller organizations can tap into what other people are doing around foresight? So they don't have to start from scratch when thinking about those trends.
Thomas: Hmm, that's a good question. I was talking to the president of a smaller organization. It wasn't a nonprofit, but I think the lesson for me in this was that there are certain organizations that are mission driven or are concerned with their teams as wellbeing. And I think that's good. The point of commonality, but what she told me is that she gets together with our team monthly and each team member gets a chance to be the CEO. And so in that meeting she selects someone or they volunteer. And what the first task that they have is to tell, in their own words, what the vision is. And so that's a good way for the leader to not have to always take center stage in communicating it, but also for someone to come forth through someone else's boys and for the leader to also see where that person is and what they see and see the organization from their vantage point.
Carol: That's a great point. I often, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations and in that initial phase where I'm talking to everybody, one of the questions I often ask. Why does your organization exist? What's the purpose to get everyone to, to describe that mission? They're probably not going to be able to recite the mission statement, but do they at core, have a common understanding of what the purpose of the organization is and, and have that be a checkpoint in the process so that if there, if it's like really all over the place, then that's something that the organization needs to deal with. Yeah. So in your research you were looking at how organizations can see and now maybe how organizations can hear or, or use the other sentences that we have. What were some of the findings that you, that came out of? The work that you did?
Thomas: Great question. So I, going through the process, came up with 11 operating principles that were the focus for each chapter. Around organizational vision development and realization. And so I talked a little bit about this earlier, but vision is more than what meets the eye it's using your senses. It's really detecting and, and I came up with a lot of synonyms that I placed in, in the book. But one phenomenon really stuck out to me was picking up on weak signals on the horizon. And these are signals. Can often be missed, but they can inform the direction of the vision, the, what I call the iteration of the vision. That brings me to a second concept where I think Brenda Zimmerman, who was a consultant and a futurist, and she worked in chaos and complexity theory. She recommended it. Good enough vision, not necessarily wordsmithing it to the point of beyond recognition. She's had to get a vision to the point where it's good enough and then use it to be tested and, over the course of its life cycle, it'll change.
Carol: I love that idea of a good enough. Again, when I'm working with organizations, I'm also trying to get them to what's a good enough strategic plan and to remind them that, yeah, you're not trying to predict the future and These aren't w once it's done, it's also not a tablet that came from on high, right. It’s something that you all created. And so when you need to, you can also update it. So just reminding people that there's flexibility, even when you want to set some intentions and some direction, but yeah, what's good enough.
Thomas: Yeah. And it changes from a wallflower vision and to a working document.
Carol: Absolutely. What were some of the other findings that came out? Yeah,
Thomas: Sure. So there are two trends that in my opinion are upending the traditional idea of visionary leadership and even vision development. And one of those we talked about just now is good enough vision or emergency. The other is shared vision. And in founder-led companies, I'm finding that shared visioning doesn't happen as much with employees at the start as, and I was surprised. I did one quick survey and the customers. So founders would actually. Go through the process of shared visioning with customers using design thinking. I know you're very familiar with that process more than they would with their employees. Once the company had grown. And I found that to be fascinating.
Carol: Well, yeah, I guess there is the focus there on going to the customer, but then if only a few people are involved in that conversation, then there's a big gap of folks who are in the day-to-day and yeah. For nonprofits. Oftentimes, the founder, the CEO, and the board get involved in those conversations and staff get left out of it. And I really encourage groups to include, as many people as is, really practically possible to get involved in those strategic conversations, because everyone has something to share and a perspective and that frontline, actually, implementing a program, actually making things happen is so important. When you bring it back up to that bigger picture vision,
Thomas: And I think we're at a point and I think we're at a pivotal moment in just organizational life. And considering visionary leadership and what it was contextualized for in the late eighties and nineties and where we were as a country at that time. I think we're at a moment where the call even on a generational level is for more people to be involved and that's, I'm picking up on corporations and nonprofits. I work with faith-based nonprofits and I don't really see a difference. People are lacking time and the budget to do certain things, but there is something that I did come across in the literature. It was a book on visionary leadership by Burton. And he actually when I was reading. And also looking through the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner the leadership challenge. And I had a conversation with Jim Kouzes also. And what I found was there's a backstory, even to leaders coming up with a vision because they spend time talking. To people walking through the halls and Jim Kouzes just put it like this, leaders pick up on the vision. That's latent in the hearts of the people. Those are the visions that really end up working on when you start to generalize them for the entire organization.
Carol: that shared leadership is so important because in a nonprofit organization there isn't just one person making the decision, right. It's always a group effort. Whether it's all volunteer all everyone on the board needing to come together and, and have a common shared, shared vision , between board and staff and I think that's one of the things that always can trip people up if they've come from the for-profit side and especially with smaller organizations where they've been in charge and been able to do things the way they wanted to, whether that was best practice or not, they had that ability.
And so to step into the nonprofit sector, whether it's faith-based or. Where it's much more of a matrix it's much more of a collective so that building that sense of shared leadership and shared vision is, is just so important. What would you say are some of the challenges that leaders face when trying to implement their vision and implement, and then build a shared collective vision?
Thomas: Yeah, there are two challenges that immediately come to mind. One is the adoption, like having the vision to be adopted by a critical mass of stakeholders, whether they be employees managers donors just getting that vision adopted. And what, Carol, there is an example of that. I've been unpacking some of these examples and reading through them several times. And so with the March of dimes, I actually read through their history and included it in the manuscript. And so over a period of more than 80 years, their vision. And their mission has evolved several times. And so on its website, its structures, its history, for instance, around the four areas of an evolving vision. So the first iteration, what I call it, the first iteration was curing polio and the era was 1938 to 1955. When the VI, the vaccine for polio became available in 55, they entered into another iteration and they called it. Eradicating birth defects. You could also call it eradicating congenital disabilities that ran until about the mid seventies. And then they entered another one healthy pregnancies and they were ensuring at this time that babies were strong and that moms were healthy. This is random too. And it overlapped into the current era that they're in, where they're tackling a crisis of premature birds. And, and I think that I, as far as I can tell, that's where their focus has landed. And so we, we see things like that with the division becoming , moving in cycles instead of straight.
Carol: each of those are certainly related and they've stayed in the same realm. But the particular challenges or particular eras have been different. Yeah, I mean, oftentimes we'll ask Organizations for some organizations, their mission is going to be perpetual, like healthcare institutions, a hospital. Others would love to see themselves out of business. , a homeless shelter, a food bank if we didn't have needs for that, we'd be a better society, right? Like folks don't want to have to have. The services available. But they see the need and so they build organizations to fit those needs. But yeah. So, so visions can, can iterate in, in a variety of different fashions.
Thomas: And that's a great point. It reminded me of the challenge that the March of Dimes faced in that first shifting from that first iteration to the second, whether the loss of sponsorship and they had to. Find creative ways to tell their donors who had pretty much devoted themselves to the mission. And that shared mission of eradicating polio. Tell them there are other problems that we need to address here. And to your point about they would have gone out of business. Had they not iterated that.
Carol: Which could, which would have been a in, in some ways a valid choice, right. Except that they were, they looked around and there were other related things that they could, that they had the infrastructure to tackle.
Thomas: Jim Henslin, he wrote a textbook on sociology. He put it this way. He said they could have gone out of business, but the bureaucracy. Made them continue. And so they said, okay, we have to come up with something else because there are jobs that stayed there we built so much Goodwill in this brand. And so they had to continue.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I think we'll, we'll actually , caution organizations against that, that, that they're not. Certainly they want to be in the nonprofit sector. You want to have a well-run organization. You want it to be well-managed, be effective, all of those things. But if it becomes only about. Perpetuating the organization versus really staying on mission. That's where there can be a little bit of a gap, but certainly there's a multitude of challenges that they could have tackled and then what they chose to tackle. It made sense in terms of where they were and how they were set up.
Thomas: For sure
Carol: I'm curious, what are the phases of iteration or other examples of that vision iteration that you see?
Thomas: They are pretty much four phases. That first phase deals with foresight. Just really detecting what's going on in, in and around an existing organization. Or if it's a startup around the startup, in the external environment. The second is the one we know just sitting down, writing the vision, creating it or co-creating it. And there's a micro phase in between there where the vision is emerging. It's just organically in different quote-unquote containers. It could be through values. , it could be through culture. It can, it can emerge through several different things. The third phase is where stakeholders have a choice and this choice is often taken for granted for founders. They can accept them, its division or stakeholders can reject it. And we're seeing a lot of rejection of organizational vision right now in the great reshuffling. The great. What is it? What is the other name for it? Great. Resignation resignation. I think I've gravitated to reshuffling more, but yeah, the great shoveling, the great resignation where people are voting with their feet, they're rejecting the vision by leaving. And if organizations don't get to the point of the end of founders, especially in leaders, don't get to the point where they accept, okay. People can accept the vision or they can reject it. Then sometimes it becomes impossible. And if folks reject it, it's always impossible to get to this fourth phase where they, and I didn't come up with this term, but it's called vision integration. Dr. Jeffrey Coles, he came up with the term and he did a lot of the research where people do two things. They use the vision to make decisions in their everyday work life and they use it. The vision to guide their behaviors and their actions during the.
Carol: it's so interesting with the whole great reshuffle or whatnot. I think it comes down to, for certainly in the nonprofit sector. What I've observed is often there's been a real gap between the vision that the organization has for the change that they want to make in the world, but then a real misalignment with how they actually act internally, how they treat each other, the culture that they've built and I think it's especially acute when it is a mission-driven organization and people they essentially have higher standards for a group. And so they, when they, when they see that gap, they're much more likely , to, to walk away. And I, I think certainly in the nonprofit sector folks just have gotten to the point and, and then I think with. I don't know, it's pandemic, you, you reminded me that we're, that our, all of our time is finite. That things become more urgent than they might've been. You might've put up with it in the past where folks just aren't willing to as much now.
Thomas: that's a great point. While you were sharing that, I thought about when you, you talked about sometimes there's a disconnect people can vision mission. And I don't know if I said this previously, but it's often something that can be taken for granted with when it's in place, but if it's not in place you feel, or, or employees can feel that disconnection between Where the organization, what the organization does and where their job fits in. And that vision often gives everyone a common direction. And then it's a good launching pad just for even those team meetings weekly to say, this is where we're going. This is everybody's part in it. And , the check-ins, it gives focus and direction to a lot of the work.
Carol: I think that's a piece that people forget to do on a regular basis. And, and one of the values that I see in, in going through a strategic planning process, I mean, sometimes what will come out. The other end won't necessarily be super different than what folks saw going into it. But it's like a rechecking and a confirmation that folks are on the same page. I often get a lot of feedback, wow. That's really helpful to know that other people are feeling the same way I am or seeing it the same way I am that validation. So, I'll often say if you come up with a whole bunch of goals in your plan that are brand new, I actually will be curious about that. Like, why is there such a departure from what was before? And oftentimes it's much more of a through line and it's about conforming or reconfirming or reintegrating that.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I played a game or I asked you one random icebreaker question. So I'm curious, what's your favorite family tradition?
Thomas: Oh, goodness. That is random. Wow. I love that question. Let's see my favorite family. I wouldn't have to say there are several, but if I have to pick one, it would be going to Hershey park. Yeah.
Carol: And how's that tradition originating and the same way.
Thomas: What am I, that's a good question too. I think we are just random, and that's why I say yeah, I'm going to stay with the randomness because I think we were random at times and we like to just experiment, try new things, go places. And I think we just looked it up and we saw that they had a chill child-friendly rides and attractions, and we said, okay, let's go.
Carol: And you love chocolate. Well, I am, I'm always in agreement with that one, for sure. So that's something you do on a regular basis or when we can, at least once a year.
Carol: Well, I'm not, I'm not a rollercoaster person, so I stay away from us at the museum at the park, but I was lucky that my daughter loved them and my younger sister also loved them. So it was a big treat that my younger sister, auntie, would take my daughter to the amusement park. And they got, they had a great time, left me, left me behind, best stay out of the way.
Thomas: I discovered, and this is funny now, but I discovered that. I had vertigo on one of the rides at Hershey park. So my wife is the roller coaster person
Carol: Yeah. There you go. I definitely have vertigo. Vertigo is a real thing. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in your work? You talked about a manuscript.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm totally excited about that. So I'm working with beta readers right now to figure out what's missing what's resonating with them. And, and they're mostly scholars in visioning and organizational change so forth and so on. And so I'm hoping to have that type of yes, by the end of the year.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll look forward to it and let us know so we can let folks know when it moves to that next step. That'll be exciting. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Thomas: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I was struck by Thomas’ example of the CEO who has each of her staff be CEO for their monthly meeting and to articulate to the team what the organizational vision is. It is a great way to check in and find out whether folks are in alignment and really understand where you are trying to go. I also appreciated Thomas’ description of the ‘good enough vision.’ So many organizations can get caught up in trying to get it perfect. Whether it is their vision statement, their mission statement, their strategic plan. Having the attitude of we need to get it ‘good enough’ and then get moving can really help keep the momentum going. And the importance of visions being a shared vision. If you are a founder and you are the only person who really gets your vision, it will be a lot harder to realize it. You will be more effective if you create the vision with the people you are working with – whether everyone is a volunteer or you have a staff. It needs to be the vision of the group, not just the founder.
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 Thomas, 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. Keep making an impact!
In episode 50 of Mission: Impact, Carol went solo to discuss:
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Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission: Impact. Today, I'm celebrating my 50th podcast episode. I'm going solo. I'm going to discuss why more money and more staff isn't always the answer. 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 more innovative. We dig into how to build an organizational culture where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
When I'm doing strategic planning, I often ask in my interviews and in focus groups, if you had three wishes for your organization and you could change anything that you want, what would you wish for? And frequently, I would say 90% of the people that I talked to say that they want more funding for more staff. why isn't that always the answer? I think it comes down to the assumption that more money and more staff is always going to be less work. And when it often doesn't our culture really emphasizes growth. Capitalism depends on growth. If the economy is not growing, even if it's just staying steady, folks, fear a recession. we have a proclivity to always want to grow.
And certainly growing your organization, having more resources to meet the demand. Further your mission addresses the needs that you're addressing. All of those are certainly good things, and I'm not arguing against any of those. I'm not arguing against scaling your organization to meet the needs. What I'm saying is that people fall into a false fallacy where they equate more staff and more funding as a way to get out of overwhelm, overwork and overcome. With the idea that if we just had more staff, I would have people to delegate to, I would have less on my plate, but what I have found and what I have noticed in all my years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the reality is that nonprofit leaders are very ambitious. They have big dreams and goals. Most vision statements, mission statements are way beyond what that organization can actually deliver. And growing is the only way to move towards that. As I said, the need is often greater than your current capacity.
When you grow, when you add them more staff, when you get more funding, it's authentic. Take on new projects, new programs, new services, you try to serve more people. You have a serve, serve additional audiences. You broaden your policy agenda. The work grows with the capacity. In the end you're still overloaded and overwhelmed. And running the organization actually becomes more complicated because you have more people and more things to keep track of. more funding, if we just had more money, everything would be fine. We could hire more people and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, in the scenario above where it does not lighten the load at all. And oftentimes funding rarely covers the full cost of those new initiatives, restricted funding. Doesn't contribute to your overhead. you're expected to find a match for your funding. And now you have more money to attract new reports, to write and new funders to please, as I said before, none of these are inherently bad goals.
I'm not arguing against them being able to serve more people and turn fewer people away is important. Being able to provide them with more comprehensive services, being more ambitious in your policy or research agenda. Having more staff to focus on fundraising, marketing, operations, HR, financial systems, all the things that it takes to run an organization. All of these are good things, but the assumption, as I said that I often hear embedded, is that if I just have more staff just have more funding. When I get that, I will finally be able to relax. Whether it's as a board member, as an executive director, as a lead program person or the development director. The assumption is my to-do list will be shorter. I can finally take that long postponed vacation. I can feel less guilty about taking care of myself, but unfortunately that's only true if you choose not to grow the amount of work with the growth in staff and instead redistribute the work for the pieces of the work pie to be small. The pie has to say the same size and mostly what's embedded in more staff, more funding is certainly growth and therefore does not get you out of the overall.
On episode 38. I explored a related question. What if you did less? If you haven't listened to that, I invite you to, and I also recommend Third studios, recent blog posts, headlines of “what if you did less,” that also looks at our current state of burnout and reflects on why just individual responses to the current state we're in is just not enough. I will post the link to that blog post in the show notes.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests. You can find a full transcript of the show as well as any links and resources that I mentioned 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 a 100 Ninjas for her production support.
And if you enjoyed this episode, I really would love it. If you would share it with a colleague or friend, we appreciate your help in getting the word out; and the easiest way to do that is to go to pod.link.com/mission impact. Again, that's podlink, mission impact one word, and use that URL to share the show. Then your friend or colleague can listen to the show on whatever their favorite podcast player. Thanks again. I appreciate your time.
In episode 49 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lewis Flax discuss:
Lewis Flax specializes in assisting nonprofits and associations generate additional revenue. His hands-on approach has helped numerous organizations implement strategies and tactics to increase sponsorship, partnership, and other funding streams. His firm, Flax Associates, established in 2008, serves as a partner in driving revenue and results.
Lewis understands the challenges nonprofits face, both from an outside consultant's point of view and from the internal perspective of a nonprofit executive. Previously, Lewis served as a Vice President for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and served on the leadership team at Financial Executives International (FEI).
He is a certified instructor for Dale Carnegie Training (Winning with Relationship Selling) and an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Master Trainer.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lewis Flax. Lewis and I talk about sponsorships. We explore why companies are interested in sponsorships, some of the misconceptions, and why to create real value you will need to get beyond your traditional bronze, silver, and gold-level sponsorships.
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 Lewis. Welcome to the podcast.
Lewis Flax: Thanks, Carol pleasure to be here and looking forward to discussing sponsorship and the tie in with associations and nonprofits.
Carol: Absolutely. So I like to start at the beginning, I guess the sound of music inspires that, but start at the very beginning, but, but what w what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Lewis: When. First started working within the nonprofit world, realized when it came to sponsorship and how to go about it. When it came to how to structure and set up a sponsorship, when it came to how they go ahead and sell it, there was a lack of knowledge. There, there was a lack of awareness and the idea of how they work. Corporations and funders where they needed assistance and guidance. I felt a need or an urge to help, to give back through assistance and support. So I went to work for a larger consulting firm and then started my own firm in 2008.
Carol: All right. So you've been around the block a few times. So as you said, you work with nonprofits and associations on sponsorships. Just so folks have some context. Can you define sponsorship first?
Lewis: So sponsorship is where a company or an organization is paying a fee. Back to a property, the association or nonprofit where they're gaining specific benefits or specific rights which they value.
Carol: And what would you say motivates organizations to enter into those sponsorships? And I'm saying from the corporation side, what, what, what do they see as you a give get of what they're getting from that relationship?
Lewis: Sure. So they're aligning with an organization that can add value. So on the association side, often it's visibility awareness connection to thought leadership on the traditional non-profit side. It's aligning with a good cause, it's connecting with an organization which aligns with their values.
Carol: And what would you say are some of the key misconceptions that people have about sponsorships? You said that when you started there was a lack of knowledge. What are the things that you have to help people understand about those misconceptions?
Lewis: Sure. When it comes to sponsorship, often organizations on the nonprofit side look at, okay, well, put together a perspective. Especially now, given the pandemic things that have occurred, sending out a prospectus is not nearly enough, here's a standard offering of gold, silver, bronze, and this is what you get. That's not the way to generate higher revenue. That's not the way to customize your target in a way that's meaningful to a potential.
Carol: So what, what would you have organizations do instead?
Lewis: Well, there are a number of steps to take in working with different organizations. I walked them through a process that I term step up in terms of how to go about what it is that you can offer, whether a sponsor is interested in it, and then how you could structure your program to connect with the potential sponsors and align with your culture and your organization.
Carol: Can you give me an example of when you've seen that work well in terms of building that, building that relationship.
Lewis: Yeah. There are, there are many instances. So for example, with different associations it's well, what is it that they're offering? That's a value. So in working with one group, they have an awards program, safety awards. And for a sponsor, that's in a space where they're tied into safety. So say an insurance company or other types of companies. Well, if they can get involved with the safety program and they're providing insurance to the members of that association, all of a sudden it changes. Because if an insurance company is working with those who submit, apply or are involved in a safety awards program, well, they want to insure them. And if they can provide guidance as to how to handle safety procedures at a, in a manufacturing plant, or how to handle safety procedures in a different environment, that's who they want. So if they can get involved either on the selection committee or get involved in terms of articles on safety or debt involved in terms of working with an awards program that offers far more value than having your name and your logo on the website and on signage and pasted anywhere and everywhere. So when it aligns with what the company is seeking. And the specific association or nonprofit it's far greater. So I tossed out an awards program because I've seen that work a number of times.
Carol: What are some other misconceptions that you see folks have about sponsorships,
Lewis: Offering? They view it as a connection with a board member and the board member knows someone. And as a result, oh, we'll set up this. Offering and they think that that's the key value where the board member leaves and often boom, the sponsorship disappears.
Carol: So what would you say are some of the challenges that organizations are facing in terms of sponsorships and building those partnerships?
Lewis: New issue often that they face is the idea of corporate involvement and how we go about it moving beyond. Well, we can offer a webinar or we can offer a slot at a conference, or we can offer a table at a gala because those are just tools. They'll just tools in a toolbox, but what is it that the sponsor wants? How do they want to get involved? What's meaningful to them. And often on the association, nonprofit side, they only see it as well. What can we offer without thinking about it from the lens or from the perspective of the sponsor?
Carol: So what are the types of things that sponsors are often looking for?
Lewis: Normally it's going to, so with associations, are they interested in a specific regulatory area? Are they interested in reaching a set or tying in with a consumer promotion campaign? Or are they interested in an advocacy effort? What issues or challenges that the member base, the distribution list? What are the issues and concerns that they face and how can we respond or are addressed?
Carol: So again, can you give me an example of, of what your of those kinds of situations like th those, those values that they see
Lewis: Let's look at, let's say it's in the accounting space where the association is to provide information. Well, the accounting firms are going to have information on that regulatory issue. And if they can provide that information, be it in the form of an article, maybe a webinar, a conference presentation, a survey, and all of those could be tied together. That's where it's offering far greater value to the sponsor. And it's going to offer value to the association, assuming that they have authority and they best review what's presented and who's going to be presenting.
Carol: And from this, what mistakes do you see sponsors making when they, when they try to, make the most of their sponsorship in that partnership?
Lewis: Often they're looking at it as a short-term game. What we need to have X number of leads. Well, that's generally not how sponsorship works. It's often, well, if you're going to be involved, You're going to get out of it. What you put in for the sponsors needs to. So for example, if it's a regulatory issue where it's an advocacy campaign or it's a specific issue, well, do they develop content? They have resources. Do they have information? That's a value, not just a product demo. They have information. That's a value too.
Carol: So it's getting out of just a pure sales mode then, and thinking about what are the, yeah, what's the information, what's the thought leadership that they can, they can share and provide. And how about on, on the more traditional non-profits sometimes I feel like it's, it's easier to see the connections from an association point of view. But your more traditional nonprofits are also interested in engaging corporate partners. D do you see differences there between the two and, and approach?
Lewis: Yes. In the sense that. From the standpoint of how they go about. Often it's somewhat the same. Yeah. Associations are often looking at it. Both perspectives. Associations are often looking at it saying, well, they should want this. And it's visibility, logos everywhere. The traditional non-profits are often looking at it through the lens of board member connections and how to leverage those, if it's more well, them. So they should sponsor as opposed to what the value is from the company's.
Carol: And what are some steps that organizations can take to get started in this? If they haven't, haven't had a sponsorship program before, what are some of the basics?
Lewis: Sure. So I walk organizations through what, like turn on step up S and the S stands for, well, what's their current situation and looking at who they have as sponsors and who's within their sponsor. Now. And then also addressing the key challenge. What is preventing them? What is stopping them from establishing that sponsorship program? And that could be maybe there's a board resent. It could be that we don't know corporate decision makers. It could be. So one of those challenges, often organizations will, or nonprofits or associations will begin to set up their sponsorship program and, oh, we'll come back to those challenges later. We'll address that down the line and it's when they do. Those challenges are going to pop up again, those obstacles are going to come back and if they don't address that upfront or think through how they're going to address it, there's going to be an issue. There's going to be a problem. So the first step is to evaluate your current situation and figure out how you're going to move.
Carol: I feel like every, every consulting process starts with that first step of figuring out what that current situation is. And when I'm working with groups on strategic planning, that whole process of helping them also have a shared understanding of what that current state is, I think, is also a helpful step that consultants can bring to organizations that they may be. I know for me, when I'm working. Clients there's often a perception or almost a fear that there's such a breadth of ideas and perspectives. And then once you have a chance to talk to folks and get into it it turns out that there's actually a lot more common understanding and shared perspective than people realize.
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Carol: So what trends are you seeing in the whole arena of sponsorships?
Lewis: Yeah, the trends are, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of unknowns. So on both the association and nonprofit side, they're unsure how to move forward. And so what ends up happening is they don't do anything or they don't make changes. So the idea of making changes. And making shifts as to how they're going to approach things. The associations and nonprofits that are going to thrive are the ones that are willing to take those chances. I say, take those chances. They're willing to experiment. They're willing to test and Rocky dies that not everything will go right. And when I say God, everything will go, right? Whether it's an event, whether it's a webinar, whether it's a sponsorship offering, they're going to try something new and organizations recognize that they need to do that. A lot of them won't. So the key is to take a step, make an effort and, and on the sponsor side, there's a lot more awareness of when organizations do that, they respect them. They acknowledge that these are different times.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine that, at least in my limited experience, Of just observing what goes on in sponsorship programs from the sides, certainly in working in different organizations. I think what I've seen is a traditional model that's very very event focused often around an annual conference or some annual convening. And, since the pandemic with so many things going virtual there's not that same. I guess it seems traditional, like slack, the logo everywhere. It's just not the same in the online environment. So what, what shifts have you seen with that? with everything that folks have been contending with in the last couple of years?
Lewis: Yeah. When it comes to events, Organizations have learned. Well, if you're just focused on events, you're going to be in trouble because in a virtual environment, whether it's zoom or teams or whatever the format is, you can appease the exhibit hall of 500 people. You can appease a gala where you had a hundred and 150 tables. So moving beyond events is a big component of how these organizations should shift. So earlier when you asked me for examples, the idea of a safety program or a safety awards program, the idea of a specific regulatory issue, when it's focused on a theme or an issue it's for a greater, because then it's not event centric and organizations can be more effective. The issue is a lot of the organizations struggle with how to piece that. If the conference department doesn't talk to the group that handles webinars, it doesn't talk to the magazine area. It doesn't speak to the research area. It's a lot tougher and they need to navigate through that because the truth is if there's good content and it was featured in a magazine or. Well, why not tie that into a webinar? And then why not include that at a conference presentation? Why not tie that into a survey? Why not allow the good content for the good content from a specific source, perhaps a sponsor and others. And you connect that across the organization. It's far better for the organization and it's easier than to establish a stronger sponsorship program. So it's more about themes and concepts. Topics or issues that are of interest to the member base or to the audience. And when that's done, it's far easier to set up a successful sponsorship.
Carol: That's a really interesting flip and I think it, beyond just sponsorship, it goes to a lot that, especially associations are doing around, serving their members being current and getting out of the mindset of, the, the delivery channels of whether it's a conference or it's research or it's, the magazine. But what are the overarching themes of the things that people need to know about the things that are upcoming, the trends the current research is helping, helping people navigate all that without being so caught up in what particular channel that it's being delivered.
Lewis: Yeah, analog organization, they get that's where I mentioned the tools they get caught up in here's a webinar, or here's put your logo on or banner on our newsletter or here's some other offering. And it's all about slapping or pasting logos everywhere. Well, that doesn't offer much value. Whereas it's an awards program, or if it's a specific campaign or advocacy effort or a themed approach, you move away from the tools. Then you move towards what the customer wants and then it could be, and should be far more successful.
Carol: And when the customer wants what you're saying there, that would be the member of the organization. Which customer are you talking about in that instance?
Lewis: Okay. So if the sponsor is interested in conveying their thought leadership related to regulatory issues, X. And they're pitched, here's an ad in the newsletter or here's an exhibit booth or here's a webinar. Well, it's not connecting with them. Those are the tools. And they're interested in this regulatory issue. Well, can they get involved in that regulatory issue?
Carol: Right, right. What are some fears that you would say either staff or board members have about, especially for, I would say on the more traditional nonprofit side of bringing in private sector groups to their, to their organization.
Lewis: Number one is if we take corporate money, how does that impact us? And I'm a big believer that any organization, association, or traditional nonprofit, should stick to their values and their culture, and do not allow a sponsor to dictate or to determine how to handle something, their control, regardless of funding. That's, that's one, the and then secondly, for a number of organizations, if they take. Funds, what does that mean? How do they work with them? And to clarify ahead of time what those requirements are, what those values. So it's easier for them to set up a program that's going to be successful as opposed to just hit or miss and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine helping a group talk through what they're looking for in sponsors. So the, in the same way that you're talking about flipping the script and thinking about it from the sponsor's point of view and what value they're going to get out of it. But then from the organization's point of view, helping them think through. What is it that we want? Who, who do we want to partner with? Who do we want to give access and who do we not? And like having that conversation without individual sponsorship opportunities in the room, or in the conversation I would think would set them up to feel more confident in moving forward, to look for a potential organization. So it isn't just based on, as you said, the current board members that they happen to have, who they happen to have relationships with, et cetera.
Lewis: Yeah. I mean, when they set the parameters or the guidelines ahead of time, they're going to be far more directed and focused. And it's going to be easier for them to move forward as opposed to, well, we'll walk through the door and whether the company says they would do, and then the board or leadership is looking at that. And all of a sudden they haven't clarified their own values. They haven't clarified their own culture. They haven't set the parameters, they haven't set the guidelines. And often that leads to maybe not a problem at that point in time, but the problem down the line. Sure.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I play a little game where I pull out a Random, somewhat random icebreaker question. So the one I have, I have three of them sitting here. I always put up for you to just see what let's go to fit. I don't know if this fits or not, but we just, we've just moved into spring. And I think this will actually be being published sometime probably as we're moving more towards summer. But which season would you say fits your personality?
Lewis: Probably fall. And the reason I say fall is in my mind, it's beautiful outside because the leaves are returning the weather's a little cooler, more comfortable. I like to walk with my family. We'll hike and get outside and fall could be a rebirth and it's a change. It shifts. And I liked that. I liked that change. Yeah. The feel in the air. I like how things are changing. So fall follows my favorite season. I think it would describe who I don't think describes who I am. Yeah. I really enjoy fall. I enjoyed the change of seasons.
Carol: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We're just, I'm enjoying the, the, all the, all the. Flowers are popping up right now and the trees are blooming. And then yes, at the other end, when all the leaves are falling and you have that shift in the weather appreciate that. One of my sisters moved out to California and one of the things she missed the most about the east coast was having seasons so well, I really appreciate it.
Lewis: I was just saying, I love the different seasons. I love how in our area, in the Washington DC area, they're distinct and different seasons. And I liked that
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you and what's emerging in your work these days.
Lewis: It's interesting as we start to move, hopefully out of the pandemic and working with different organizations. So much for coming back to the fall, there's a bit of a rebirth, okay, now we need to move forward. And then in my role, it's looking at it through the lens of, no, you can't go back to the way you weren't doing it. Let's make those adjustments, those changes, and then move forward.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you, Carol. I liked the way you asked the questions. You asked me good questions and the follow-ups are on target in terms of what does that mean to clarify?
Carol: Yeah. Well, what I, one thing I appreciate about doing the podcast is that I'm always learning something new because I get to talk to people about their area of expertise and it's not necessarily mine. So I get to have a little mini-masterclass. So appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your perspective and all your wisdom on, on sponsorships. So thanks so much.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you for giving back to the association and nonprofit community by adding resources.
Carol: All right.
I appreciated how Lewis described how to work with your sponsors and potential sponsors to create more value – for your organization as well as the company. That it starts with conversations with the sponsor – what are they looking to achieve? How might you align in your efforts? And for both sides – the sponsor and your organization – that developing the relationship should be with the longer term in mind. If either party is just looking for short term gain they are missing a lot of opportunity and value that could be there. There is also more opportunity available if different parts of your organization are cross pollinating and talking – in an association – staff who are managing the magazine, staff who are producing webinars and other learning events. Are they talking and coordinating their efforts with a sponsor and a tie in? Of course always being mindful of whether a particular sponsor aligns with your organizational values.
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 Lewis, 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. 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!
In episode 48 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Chyla Graham discuss:
Chyla Graham is a certified public accountant with over ten years of experience helping nonprofit organizations realign and thrive. Chyla started her company, CNRG Accounting Advisory, to empower more nonprofit organizations. To date, she has secured over $2 million in funding for several organizations and helped many more streamline to better serve their communities. Chyla credits flying trapeze for keeping her physically and mentally strong, and reminding her that you can’t succeed in life alone. Every trapeze artist needs someone to be “on line” holding the ropes. Chyla likes that metaphor for trapeze and for business, and her greatest pride is being “on line” for her clients.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Chyla Graham. 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.
Chyla and I talk about why it is important for nonprofit leaders to get comfortable with their organization’s numbers, why you have to consider the wider context when you are looking at your organization’s financial statements, and why it is so critical to connect your organizational goals with your financial goals.
Welcome Chyla. Welcome to the podcast.
Chyla Graham: Thanks for having me, Carol. How are you doing today?
Carol: I am doing well. I'm doing well. We're supposed to have rain all day and all day tonight. So it's just an indoor day.
Carol: Yeah. So I like to start each podcast with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
Chyla: What drew me to the work was, I think I'd like to say it's like the convergence of several things. So I have always been interested in numbers. I'm an accountant. It is the thing I do. It's always the thing I've been interested in and, or I guess more so like the idea of money, like, Ooh, this is a cool thing. And I went from, I was a. So I'd be the one I, Hey, Carol, don't you want to donate $500 and that was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible, but loved learning more about the work nonprofits were dealing with that money. And so that led me to say, okay, well maybe that's where I want to go. And also seeing the idea of Enron worlds com I, all of that was happening while I was in college. And so I was just like, So this is the thing. And so it really made me more passionate about helping non-profit leaders get comfortable reading the numbers, asking questions about their numbers, because I just, I was just like, this could be any of you.
Carol: Yeah. And that, that comfort level with reading the numbers, just asking questions about them. I feel like. Very few people go into the nonprofit sector to manage money. Right. If, if they did, they would've gone into finance and they would've made a lot more money. Right. So they want to help people. They want to help animals, the environment, and some cause. So what do you do to help people get a little bit more comfortable about interacting with them, the money that flows through their organization, then the numbers that keep track.
Chyla: I am nosy. So I think by nature, I'd like, tell you more about why you did the thing. And so I try to get them back to explaining themselves not from an idea of like, I'm committed. I want to know why you went to Starbucks. I actually don't. It makes no difference to me why you went to Starbucks, but I want them to be clear on why they went to Starbucks. I want them to be able to understand that. And so for me, it's being able to say to them, Hey, let's go through your chart of accounts. So we do several things, like as energy, we do several things. We do accounting services where we help them. We do some of that coding, but most of our work, I would say most of our clients are actually in the consulting and education space where we're speaking. Just talk me through these reports as you read them. And in that way, trying to highlight for them. In their own words. What is the thing that works or doesn't work for them in terms of reading the financials? If they're like that, actually I have no idea what any of these pages mean. I just know I get it every month and I'm supposed to present it to the board. And so in that way, trying to dig in with them to say, oh, well, tell me what questions the board asks, tell me what questions you have every month, even though you get these reports. And so trying to help them say, oh, Let me put a list together or what are the things that come to mind? Because sometimes we just don't know where to start. And I think if we start with like, well, what is the thing that comes up every month? Whenever I talk to these people, it gives us a good entryway to say, oh, all right, well, how could I reframe this question? Or what else would I, should I look at to like, get an answer to this question?
Carol: What would you say are some of the common questions that people have whether they are comfortable reading the financial statements or not, or don't even know what a chart of accounts is?
Chyla: Yeah, I would say the most common question is, do we have enough money? It's really all that call that everyone wants. And I was like, is there enough money and context, man? I like to say financial statements don't make a difference if they're not in context or in relationship to something. And so, well, I don't, I don't know if you have enough money. What is your, what were you planning on having? So how does this compare to what you budgeted that might tell us? Do you have enough money? Because we can see how far apart you are or should we be comparing this to blast? If, like month to month things shouldn't change. And so that's the, we were like, Hmm, we have a lot less than we did last month. We don't have enough money. So I reframed it in that way to say like, well, tell me what it is that you're trying to find out. Because some organizations it's not about last month, it's more about last year because they are pretty cyclical. And so they're like, same time last year. How did that look? This is the indicator. And one of the things we started doing more and more is. I'm trying to help clients come up with their own benchmark of how much money per month they should. They, they have directed as their target. I know I liked them for like three to six months. It makes me feel comfortable, but maybe for their organization, they're like three. That's not, it's not a comfortable place. And then trying to say, okay, A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand thousand feels too small for this example, a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. And each month you're expecting to spend 50,000 you're two months worth of cash. And so just saying like, let's do simple math on this. We have this much in the bank. We know, we expect to spend this much each month, let's come up with that calculation so they can say, okay, yes, we have enough. And because two months is comfortable or no, we don't because two months is just not.
Carol: Your firm offers accounting services, but you, as you said, you're more in the consulting and coaching and you really focus on strategic financial management. Can you say a little bit about what that is and why it's important for organizations?
Chyla: Yeah, so I think I'll share it. She does financial management. After the board has identified some goals. Cause it makes no sense for me to say, like, these are your goals. If your board is like, well, you actually have a different vision in mind. So after your board has identified what the goals are for the next year, next three years, having a conversation about, well, how does that impact our finances? So sometimes we see organizations who say we need to expand our programs. We want to be in this many vocations, or we want to serve this many more people. And for me, that begs the question of what would it take to get there? Does it take more staffing? Does it take more computers? Does it take, like, what is it, what are the pieces? The tangible pieces that it actually takes to get there and help them build out. Okay. Is that a realistic plan? Because sometimes we say. Self included, guilty of being, I want to do all these amazing things and, what is the budget? Actually, maybe we should scale back accordingly. And trying to help them reframe that to say, okay, if this is the goal, what would it take to build the infrastructure we need to get there? Because sometimes it's not even about, we need more people, it's I need computers that don't die on me. I need something that's faster, stronger, whatever it is. I'm really trying to say that. Let's think that through and let's plan ahead. And if we look at your, if the fundraising goal, we want to raise a million dollars. Okay, cool. Let's look at your current trends to say, how do we manage those so that we can think of what are some times we should be, be heavier in the fundraising? Because we know from a cash perspective, we actually need this money to show up. And saying, let's plan that three months in advance, next week we will not have any money. I don't know who would have known this. And I'm really trying to say, let's just take a step back. Let's take, think about all the goals that we have, all the big picture items and make that a real, realistic thing and say like, Pencil bank. What, what do you have for me? And I find that that makes it a little bit easier putting those trends together because sometimes organizations don't, when I say we have an April development plan, I know we need to fundraise. And I just know I have to hit this number. When do you need to hit some of this number though? do you really need to emphasize in the first quarter of the year? And say like, okay. In March, I need to be talking to Petra. Has owners submitting all my grant applications that have X turnaround time because in June is where we see a real. We're short on cash and we want to know we've had those conversations already, as opposed to saying, I know it's May 31st. Would you like to write me a check for tomorrow? Thank you. that's what I think of as that's your CJ financial management. It's helping them see the big picture, helping them plan out. When do we need to start some of these activities, especially if there's not already a plan in place, because maybe there are more people involved that we need to integrate into this plan and help them think. That board member. I need to give them steps like this. It's not just like, oh, you can just fundraise. No, no, they can't. Well, not necessarily. Maybe they can. And really saying like, we need to build this out as a plan, as opposed to just like this morning, I woke up with this really great idea.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about stepping back and seeing the big picture, because I feel like. And in a lot of ways, that's the role of consultants for pretty much any aspect of the organization, whether you're working on finance or fundraising or marketing or operations, it's often, let's take a step back. Let's see where we are. Let's look ahead, look back where, where were we a year ago? And just helping people pause and have some perspective on what they're doing. You talked about how context is really important. And obviously every, every organization is a little bit different, but are there some key financial things that board members and staff members should really be tracking for the organization? You've mentioned cash as one. Yeah. What other things are really important?
Chyla I would say. Looking at the trends of when are there peak seasons in terms of revenue coming in, even if that's not actually fascist more of the pledges idea what, what are those timetables? And also on the expense side, what's the timing of things, because sometimes we. We assume we have to pay for something earlier or later. And that's just the piece that causes more stress and angst. And I have, I've worked in the non-profit environment. I've, I've been on all sides. I've been the auditor. I've been the auditee I've been, now in the consulting space. And being able to say, actually, I'm going to call up this vendor and say, can we make this payment on this day? And really thinking about it, to say, Hmm, are there payment arrangements we need to be making I've there's one organization we support where their board wants to know about accounts receivable, because for them they want to know, is there someone on here that we have a relationship with that us as a board member, this is the way we could support. And really thinking if it pledges something that your organization does and your board members are helping you get those touches, how do you delegate to them? And how can you help them say, AR is really high and we would love you to, this is the place that you can think about. They should also be thinking about the relationship items have to one another. I said, I was, I've been in the oddest space before, and I remember one client. We had a good meeting, there was not anything intentional, like miss dealings or theft. But their finance director was still overwhelmed. It was just like I'm just going to put in a number. I think this is how much we should have. I think revenue should be about here. And I like to think about what's the relationship between the numbers. really trying to say like, well, in theory, if our donations went up, we should either see an increase in. Well, we should see an increase in accounts receivable. One of those two things should happen. And really trying to say like, okay, I didn't see an increase. What does that mean? Where, what happened to this magical money that we received and really try thinking through what are those relationships, same for, if our expenses are going up, does that mean we either have a high account payable? The people we owe. we have a new loan. Do we have, or less cash? . Have you seen the movie? All the Queen's horses. Okay. I can't remember what city in Illinois, but it's about theft and mismanagement. And what happened is the finance manager for this city is a small, small town. I mean, I was taking out loans for. And it was said that it was going to be for rotor repair and all these things, but the people kept writing over potholes and she kept saying to me, that was a great indicator. You're like, well, if we were getting loans to do repairs, why aren't the streets repaired? Right. Right. And just making those, you didn't have to do a math calculation. You didn't have to say, I need to know how much meat, how much we borrow. Exactly. But you could say, even if we're not seeing progress, it'd be, see the people outside. Like we all know construction on roads doesn't necessarily feel like it happens fast, but do we see people working? No. Well, what happened to the money? And just making those types of conclusions or relations to say, I might not be able to do any fancy math or any quick math, but. This number feels like it should go up or down, or I should see we have new hires or I should see, we've got more supplies in the closet, something to say, like, these things tell us that this isn't just a made up number someone isn't just like, oh, that looked like a good route. It's actually saying like, oh yeah, we got a lot. I see where that load proceeds.
Carol: Yeah. it makes sense. What would you say are some. Differences in the finances for nonprofits. it's important for staff members and board members to understand. , different from a for-profit organization. Cause a lot of board members, they, they, and then they may actually be recruited right. For their, for their business background. But what are those differences that are important to be aware of?
Chyla: Yeah. the first one that typically trips people up is the name of. And the statement of activity for a nonprofit is the income statement for a for-profit business. And remembering that language is like, what are we doing? Is it an activity? How do we make money? We did a thing. We made money or we lost money. remembering like, oh, what did we, what does that mean? And then the same financial position is the balance sheet. it's at a point in time. On this day, we have this much happening. that is a really easy place that people were just like, ah, I don't really know. Another thing that I think people should be mindful of is the commitments to. From donors. in the for-profit world, we are typically providing a service or providing a product and we can say, hi, I did this thing for you. Please pay me. And in the nonprofit world, we are really exchanging goodwill. We were saying, would you commit to supporting this message mission? And sometimes we say, like, we ask people to commit a pledge. And one of the things I like to say. When should you record it? like in a for-profit you'd be like, listen, they said they were, they started that contract is their end. And in the nonprofit space, you have to say, let's take a step back. If this person was unable to. What would our next steps be? If your next steps would be like, we are going to Badger them, we are going to make sure we get that money. Great record. Yes. That is revenue. That is yours. But if you're like, you know what, it's not worth it to lose a relationship. Or if you feel like we would lose a relationship over this and just don't, don't record it because in essence you're, if you're not going to follow through on it, or there's no requirements to follow through, you would say, no, that's not. There are instances you could definitely say like, okay, maybe we'll put a little buffer. We'll say maybe we won't collect some of it. And those are things that are for-profit businesses. that's a similarity. A for-profit business would be like, I messed up invoice you, but here's how much I probably won't get. And a non-profit in some cases would say the same thing to say, like, we are committed, we are going to follow up, but we recognize some of this. We might just not get it. And so being able to see. Have some of those conversations say like, are we allowing for any of these sites and you have a business background to say, like, see the invoices aren't going anywhere. And I don't know who these people are, I can't call them. should we just have a conversation as a whole to say, what are our thresholds? What's our risk tolerance? So that. they can be good stewards. That's part of why they came into this. They're like, I've got a big background. I know what it takes to collect some money. And I know sometimes maybe it's just not worth it to say, like, those are some places that they could really chime in and be a part of and have like an engaging conversation. I think another difference is that trips up everyone, even if they're in the for-profit world, becomes the idea of donor restrictions. And what, what does that mean? What do you do? And don't the restrictions just mean the donor said, you need to use my money to buy, to build a gazebo. You can't use it for anything, but this was evil. And that that's a donor restriction that is saying, well, you can only use it for this thing versus. Something that's not restricted where there's just like, here's some money if you'd like to buy it. Cause those are those, great. Like you want to pay salaries also. Great. And being able to say like, well, what, what is that? And why does it matter? It matters because more and more. We're seeing what I'm seeing in grant documents and donor documents. If you don't spend the money for the specified rean, or by the specified time, you need to return the money. And it's always good to have a handle on, Hey, what's money that we might either need to spend by a certain time. there might be a time restriction or purpose requirements or we might think about, do we have to return. And should we not count right now? Those are, those are pieces. I feel like we are constantly changing and have a nice, high-level idea of how much of this might mean we need to turn back and how much of this we have to commit to a cause. In some cases it might not be relevant. I say, because Debo, because I've seen it, I've seen where people are like I'm donating $5,000 for it. Cause Eva, and then no one else. maybe money for it. Cause he wants to, we're like, that is not enough money to eat. Can you call that donor and see if we can get that money unrestricted? And those types of things are really good. I'll be monitoring.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just in terms of those grant timelines and, and the time restrictions, it seems like that's something where, if you're running up against it, reaching out to the grant maker and seeing, can this, can, are you flexible on this, this, this, or, do or die can be helpful. I mean, I think the other one, the other mistake that I've seen people make is to interpret non-profit as no profit. Well, yes. And, and really believing like, oh, we can't make any money. We can't have anything left over. what, what do you, what would you say about that?
Chyla: I try to remind them what would you do in your house at the end of the month? And then rent was due the next day. You, that wouldn't be a comfortable place. And thinking of your organization in that way, we don't want to go to zero every month because the next thing will arrive. And really thinking of it as you're not hoarding. You're not there. You're not necessarily saying like, ah, we're just building our reserves for no reason. Everything has a reason. And they're identifying that we're building our reserves because we want to launch a new program in three years. And , no, we're not spending it today, but we know it's going to come up because it's part of our strategic plan or thinking through like our staff gets, it has to get paid like every, every pay period, right? Oh yeah. We should probably have some money in the bank to do that. reminding them that it's not about. Hoarding of resources. It's more about what is the timing of some of the things that we have coming up to complete our mission and what do we want to make sure that we do so that it's not a surprise? That's the whole point of having to think about how much cash we have so that you can do the unexpected. And part of some nonprofits is trying to think of better ways to do that. And sometimes that doesn't come with any funding and you have to say, we need to have the money on hand. And reminding yourself like this is to do something that a funder doesn't yet see the value in, but we do know it's important. And just reframing. This isn't an arbitrary number. We're not picking three months for no reason, we're picking it because where it's, if something were to happen and we want it to still provide the services that we do, we would be able to, and our community wouldn't go without, because suddenly we, we didn't have it. getting beyond ourselves and beyond like what people might perceive us to do. I think that's where that comes in. People are like, well, they're going to see that we have so much money. They will see that you are responsible people and thought to save money for salaries and for program materials. That's great. I would love them to see what you are doing.
Carol: Right, right. Yeah. it's all, it's all about. What's the purpose and what's the goal? What's the strategy? at the end of each episode, I like to play a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. I have a box of them. I always put out three before the interview and then pick one. what's something about you that surprises people when they first hear it?
Chyla: Usually that I'm an accountant
Carol: Say more, say more.
Chyla: That is typically the thing that people are surprised about, which I find amusing. More because I think I get perceived as very pernal and high want to have a conversation with you. And I'm like, I am, I'm definitely an introvert. Definitely. But I manage it really well. And I'm like, I can do the people thing. And I remember I used to have a quote. I was like, I've met my word quota. I can't talk to any more people. I think that piece has been the piece that, cause I don't tell people, I don't usually tell people work. What are you doing? I'm like, oh. That's a boring conversation starter. it's usually the last thing I share about myself. And that's typically something that I'm like, oh, I did not guess that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've met a lot of accountants that did not fit the stereotypical mold of whatever, whatever people perceive of as and it's great. It's great. Yeah, and I also, I also saw something recently where somebody described themselves as a social introvert. And I was like, I can relate to that because I get it a lot too. Like people aren't you talking to hell with all these people. Yeah. But then I need to recover. I'm like,
Chyla: Saturdays are typically my day. I'm like, you want me to do things with people? Well, they would, they would be in my house? No. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I can, at least when I come to my husband, like I can, I can manage this. But otherwise.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Chyla: We are doing webinars for our. Online course. So helping nonprofits get more money, greater impact by just being more transparent about their finances. I'm really just digging into, like, what does that mean? How does it look? Because people get scared. People get nervous. They're like, I don't know what that I don't want to do. I don't know if we should be transparent and you should. But helping them figure out what that framing looks like and what that means, because we've definitely. With our clients that we work with when they've been able to say, this is what we're doing with the money, or this is a thing that you're looking to build, we've been able to one, identify more resources available because wow, thank you for telling me what you were going to do. There's money available for that one thing. So that's that piece. And there's also just the idea of, there are some donors who just want that level of transparency and they're like, oh, you can tell them. Cool. Here's some more money. And so just being able to do that is really exciting. It's been a thing that's been in the works. I'm just like, oh, Kimmy. And I have to do it now. Oh, okay. So they interpreted to me 'cause like a sport infer and the food lever baker in me, it's like, I have a slice of cake that is ready. I'm like, you're going to do it. And then you're in a warm beer cake. So the caramel is nice and soft and runny. And you're going to be like, look, you've finished. The thing that you were really worried about. So that is what's out on the horizon.
Carol: So the, you mentioned the course, what's the, what's the course that you're offering. Yeah.
Chyla: So, well, the course itself will be about other sitting financial management from a nonfinancial perspective. So we'll go through the first year mission. Why? Because I feel like if you, if you forget, when you straight from that, it becomes really hard. You're like, why are we doing this again? And so just recentering your mission is in that conversation about budgets and finances and all of those things, and then thinking about your priorities. So how do we, how do we rank the budget? How do we think about the chart of accounts, all those things that indicate what matters to the organization. Then we go on to actually using some tools. And so I don't necessarily need anyone to become a bookkeeper or a QuickBooks expert, but being able to say, all right, I know what a bank reconciliation is and what I should look out for, because again, part of this is managing those people and just being able to say like, Where should this be? Or how could I reframe that question? Because sometimes it's hard to talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Cause there's like, I don't know if he spoke the same language. I don't know what they're talking about and just giving them some tools to help frame that. And then finally, it's about storytelling. How do we look at the financial statements and rephrase some of the things? How could we show some things differently? So not changing any numbers, but just updating the presentations to something that's more. Palatable more understandable for the people who actually need to read them and make decisions based off of
Carol: That sounds great. That sounds like a really, really needed resource for the sector. So thank you for creating that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk to you.
Chyla: Thanks for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Chyla’s point that as a board member you don’t necessarily need to be a financial expert but you do need to pay attention to when things don’t add up. Not just literally the numbers – but when the narrative does not match what is in the numbers. A staff person says donations have increased but the numbers don’t match. The story is we have taken out loans for more staff but no one else has been hired. Where is the money going? Often it is about paying attention and asking the hard questions. And it is often because the people tasked with managing the finances are in over their heads – not necessarily because anyone is doing any malfeasance. Although of course that does happen in the sector and you certainly don’t want to be on a board when the organization gets in the paper for fraud or embezzlement on the part of staff or volunteers.
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 Chyla, 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 this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
In episode 47 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Julia Campbell discuss:
Named as a top thought leader and one to follow by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell is a nonprofit digital consultant on a mission to make the digital world a better place. Host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast, she’s written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling, and her online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online. You can learn more about Julia at www.jcsocialmarketing.com/blog
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Julia Campbell. Julie and I talk about ethical storytelling – what it is and why it is so important for nonprofits to consider as they share stories of their impact, the misconceptions people have about social media and its place in your organization’s marketing mix, and why leveraging your owned marketing assets 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, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julia Campbell: Thanks so much for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with, what drew you to the work you do? What motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Julia: I have always been very attracted to social justice work and social justice issues. And when I was in high school, I was involved. I couldn't even vote, but I was involved in the Clinton gore campaign. I started a recycling program at my high school. There was no recycling program. I just have always been very involved in activism and changing the world for the better. It sounds simplistic and cliche, but I really always have been. And then in college I volunteered at several different places in Boston. I went to school in Boston. And decided to enter the Peace Corps. So I was in the U.S. Peace Corps, for two and a half years after I left, , after I graduated from college. And that was where I really worked, started working with international NGOs and other organizations, and also started fundraising and truly understanding what it takes to make a difference in a culture because I feel like, I feel like with the Peace Corps, especially. I'm just speaking for myself, but I also feel like this is a, this is almost a, how people perceive us is we do have this white savior complex where we go into these countries and we think we're gonna change everything and make everything better. And what I really learned was that you have to. Immerse yourself in a culture and listen and hear the stories and truly understand what's going on. And you can't just say I'm gonna come in here and build a well and raise a ton of money for a well, and then leave. And that really opened my eyes because a lot of the NGOs were doing that. So when I got home, I thought I'm going to work. For nonprofits, but really help them understand how they do fundraising, how they do marketing and, and if it is maybe harmful to the communities that they're trying to serve. So I've worked in domestic violence. I've worked in international relations. I've worked in early childhood rape ISIS centers. I've pretty much run the gamut from large organizations. I worked at Boston university where. I graduated. And then I've worked in really small organizations with tiny budgets. And I think the work that the nonprofit sector does is so incredibly vital, no one else is gonna do it. Okay. The government can't do it or won't do it. The private sector won't do it. So we're filling this really important gap and solving these problems. And I just feel really strongly that people need to be advocating for the sector. And I'm just, I'm just such a strong advocate for it.
Carol: I realized when I was looking at your bio that, that you were a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and I think you're probably at least the third guest that had that, that experience, that background,
Julia: We always end up a nonprofit don't we?
Carol: AmeriCorps, I really appreciate, the perspective that you got there helped you come around to how stories are used, and how they can be used for harm. There were a lot of common practices, , and I'm not a fundraising person, but, just observing, being in the sector in fundraising that now people are questioning and saying, that's really not exploited ethically. It's very exploitative, and so I'm curious about how you're helping organizations shift that and tell their story, but not take advantage of the people that they're actually trying to help.
Julia: There's an entire. tidal wave in the sector right now. I think because younger people are starting to take the reins and younger generations do not put up with things that we have put up with in terms of exploitation or unethical storytelling, unethical practices, and they will call you out. what we learned in terms of practices and fundraising, when we all, I didn't study fundraising, but I read a ton of books. I took a lot of courses. I went to a lot of conferences. Mostly predominantly taught by white people. What I learned was you have to pull these heartstrings, you have to tell these sob stories. You have to start from a place of, of deficit. And it's called deficit thought basically. So then I started to study. I didn't feel very good about it. And I started to talk to other people. That we're doing fundraising work and saying, no, there are stories of hope and inspiration, and there are, they don't need to be tied in a bow. You don't need to say, oh, everything's, , grand and Mary Poppins ask. And it's just, it's not the reality, but still, if you think of the Sarah Locklin, the arms of the angels where she's singing and there's all these abused animals around her. And it's the shots of these dogs and cats. And it's always played on cable TV and they, the, as BCA pulled that ad because they did raise money from it initially. But if you're constantly doing that storytelling, it. It's not only unethical, but it's very fatiguing and people get numb to it and people, they wanna turn it off. They grab the remote. There are whole stories of people saying, oh, that ad came on and I had to like, actually leave the room and I couldn't deal with it anymore. The other thing is the. Giving the person that is sharing their story agency and making sure that they understand that this is not necessarily their defining moment. This is just something that happened to them. The terminology now has really shifted. And I think it's interesting where we don't say. And I'm still working on this and I'm not perfect as well. We don't say homeless person, we say a person experiencing homelessness. We don't say domestic violence survivor, we say person experiencing domestic violence or person living with a disability or person living with misuse and substance abuse. The terminology has changed. We don't make the experience that someone is having be the focal point of their whole life and it doesn't define them. And then there are, there are all sorts of interesting studies and all sorts of people talking about ethical storytelling using terms like at risk vault, vulnerable. I think you can still use marginalized populations. It's changing all the time. I think it's interesting. And to me, I don't think it's about canceling people or telling people they're wrong. If they use a certain term, it just opens up a conversation for something that I think is really interesting. And I think the sector does need to do a lot of introspection into how we might have, we shared all of these videos of kids in Africa with bellies descended and flies around their face. And if you look at the work of charity water in particular, one of my, one of my favorite charities, you can love them or hate them. Their whole perspective was we wanna make giving joyous. We wanna make people happy. We don't wanna guilt people into giving. We wanna make people excited and proud to be a part of what we're doing, and that's gonna help retain donors. And that's gonna help people continue to give, because if they're constantly guilted into giving, it's not good, so we wanna make people feel great about giving and feel proud about being part of the cause.
Carol: One of the areas in addition to storytelling, or I guess it's not really in addition, it's a way to deliver a story. You work a lot with helping nonprofits with their social media and social media presence. And I feel like it's an area that can really trip people up. What would you say are some of the key things that people need to consider in pursuing a social media strategy?
Julia: They need to consider how much time it truly takes to be successful. We need to get out of this mindset that it's free. So Carol, I could come to your house and give you a puppy for free. I mean, I don't know if you want a puppy,
Carol: I got one of those free puppies and he cost me like $150, the first visit to the vet.
Julia: Exactly. And then walking every day and feeding them. It's like, technically, maybe having a kid is not free because of the medical bills, but you could technically have a child in the middle of the woods for free, but then of course, there's so much upkeep there's upkeep, there's taking care of what you've created. So I always give the analogy of the puppy because. Yes, it sounds great on the surface. It's free, but your time is not free. Your effort, your energy, your bandwidth, none of that is free. And then also of course, as we know now to really get more visibility, you do have to play the ad game. Whether or not you think it's ethical to pay Facebook. I'm constantly going back and forth on that, but there's also lots of other platforms, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok. There's so many other platforms that we can explore. So what I do, and I'll just summarize it really quickly, I teach nonprofits the four pillars of social media and management because, you can't say I'm just gonna get on TikTok without doing all four of these things. And so something else is gonna have to come off your plate. So the first pillar is Listening, going there, being on let's just take TikTok. For example, being on TikTok, listening, watching, lurking around following people, seeing what. See, like taking webinars, reading blog posts really figuring out, okay, what's going on on this platform? What would my audience wanna see on this platform? That takes time. The second pillar is Content Creation. You have to create the content and you have to create it specifically for the platform. What you put on LinkedIn is not the same as what you're gonna put on YouTube, it's not the same as what you're gonna put on Instagram. So you need to have that content creation strategy specifically for the platform. And then the third pillar is Community Management. This is following people, looking at who's following you, going in, responding to comments, responding to your DMs, interacting in conversations, going into chats, being present because social media is a two-way street. You can't just use it as a billboard or a newspaper ad. Then the fourth pillar is Measurement and Analysis. Really taking time. This doesn't take three hours a week to do measurement analysis. If you're on one platform, you can quickly just do a scan and say, are we growing? Are we not growing? What posts were popular, which were not popular? What happened this week? Just do a scan of it. And then the key with pillar four is the reporting out, because what we don't wanna do is do our work in a vacuum. And we wanna report to the board. We wanna report to the staff. We wanna report to executive directors because we wanna show them this is actually work. A lot of them still think it's tweeting about what you had for lunch. I have never once tweeted about what I had for lunch ever. I probably have put a picture of a cappuccino or something on Instagram, but I've never done that. And that's the whole misconception that this is not an actual job. This doesn't require actual skill, but it really does. So every time you think about it, should I be on this platform? Should I adopt another platform? Are you doing those four pillars? Are you accomplishing those on the ones you're already on? And then if you're not, you get, you get those ducks in a row before you jump on another platform.
Carol: When I was thinking about, just for my consulting practice, how I use social media and that the second, the first thing that you said of how much time do you have to. To give to it. I was like, okay, to be reasonable, I'm gonna pick one. I do LinkedIn, that's it.
Julia: And LinkedIn is great for B2B. Like that's the best place to go for B2B.
Carol: I just felt like the other places it's like probably not where people are hanging out.
Julia: , but, and also actually it's a really good point. I just had. A podcast interview with my friend, Angela Pitter, who's a LinkedIn expert. And what she said was, you have to think about what people are doing on the platforms. Like you said, they're not really on Facebook looking for people to connect with professionally. They're hanging out with their friends, they're watching cat videos. They're doing fun things with friends and family. They're looking at the AB pictures. They're not necessarily using it the way people use LinkedIn. So I think that's smart. I think that's a very smart, strategic move.
Carol: The only thing I practically go on Facebook for anymore is to see what picture I posted or what I posted eight years ago.
Julia: I like the memories to look at, I like memories. I always wish that I could get off Facebook. I can't escape it, but I have Facebook groups that I run. So I can't. Right. Exactly. I can't officially leave. Exactly, exactly. But I do, I do spend a lot less time on it lately.
Carol: And I think that for a long time I was just posting, right. Then I heard the phrase, the posting and ghosting, and that's a sense and ghosting. Then more recently just, I started doing the other things that you're talking about by actually getting in their comments ending on people's engaging and, it was more satisfying actually to, feel like you're, getting to know people that way. And actually, I think we connected originally cuz you had posted something about getting on podcasts and I was like, oh I've got one and we yeah. Talked to each other.
Julia: That's what I love. It's like an actual LinkedIn memory Michelle received. Right. Really? Yeah. I posted that. I said I'm really interested in being on more podcasts this year. I have my own podcast. I'm just putting it out there. I had so many introductions. The LinkedIn community is so generous and so welcoming and just so happy to make connections with other people. I found it to be a much warmer community than Facebook.
Carol: Which is ironic, right?
Julia: It's ironic, but all of the CEOs, they make their own decisions about what they allow on the platform and what they don't and what they make go viral and what they don't. And I think Facebook, especially the more provocative, the more angry you are, the more negative you are. That's what is going viral and getting eyeballs. And that's why that's what we're seeing.
Carol: One of the misconceptions that you talked about was that it's, well, it's just free. It's something that somebody can do on the side. What are some other misconceptions that people have about social media and their marketing strategies?
Julia: I think there's, there's so many, one that I would say is that it can substitute for other things that are working. Social media is really the icing on the cake. It's really one of those things that people have definitely built their business on. But how I feel about it is I feel like you should be using it and leveraging it to bring people into other owned platforms. So your email list, maybe subscribing to your blog. Making a donation on your platform. You need to be consistently bringing people over to your owned platforms because social media is rented land. They can and will and do pull the rug out from under us very frequently. Do you remember when Facebook pages started? I will never Forget this cuz I was working at a nonprofit and my executive director called me and said we have to get a Facebook page. And I was on it, , because I had, I still had my college account, so I could still like get on it. I wasn't in college at the time, but I had an EDU address and I said, I don't know, like, is this a marketing place? Is, is all college kids, like just talking about stuff, but. She said, no, it's gonna be free and it's gonna be, it's gonna replace websites and it's gonna be a free way that we can talk to all of our fans and followers. People still think that. And to me, I think if we look at the data, you really can only reach a tiny percentage of your fans and followers. You use social media, not to say that if you have built a community, you should leave, but we need to be consistently bringing people over to our email list and our own. Properties where we can then build a deeper relationship with them. And also you can bring an assumption you've earned and its permission based on your email list. You can bring that email list anywhere you can change providers. If you don't like this one provider, you can communicate with these people. You can use that as huge leverage. And if you, about the way. We use email. It's a much more intimate experience than social media, because a lot of us are spending less time scrolling on social media, but we still all spend the majority of our day in our inbox. A lot of us. So to me, I do teach social media marketing, and I think it's a fantastic way to reach new audiences and younger audiences and to do fun things and experiment and build ambassadors and, and really, advertise events, things like that. But I don't want people to put all their eggs in that basket. We have to have a multi-channel digital marketing strategy that also includes our website search engine optimization is essential. People are searching. People will never stop using Google. Maybe they will. One day Google became so popular and huge. We want people to be able to find us where they are. So the other misconception that is really popular is that you have to be on all the platforms and you have to just cut and paste what you do across all the platform forms. What I've seen now, the trend is people are two platforms. Maybe now I need to start doing that because I need to really start focusing on two platforms. I feel like I spread myself so thin and I think a lot of us do, but the trend now, if you go to influencers websites, or if you go to brands that are just starting out, they're not gonna, they're not gonna see the 27 little logos on the bottom. You're gonna see Instagram probably, and maybe Twitter. and that might be it, or maybe YouTube. It depends if you're video based or visual based, or if you're text based, like LinkedIn is fantastic for B2B and consultants, but I do see the streamlining as being a big trend and the going all into one or two platforms as opposed to being everywhere at once. And I actually think that's a gift to nonprofits because we can't be expected to manage, unless you're a full-time social media person, which very few nonprofits have you cannot be expected to do those four pillars that I talked about on seven different platforms every week. It's just not feasible.
Carol: You used a phrase, “your owned properties, social media is rented.” Can you say a little bit more about that? I don't know if people exactly get what you're saying there.
Julia: Say you have an event in person or virtual, someone signs up for this event, permission based. you ask them to come. They come. Whether it's on Zoom, whether it's in-person, they give you their contact information. You now own that contact information and you have it. And if someone goes to your website, signs up for your email newsletter on your little form that I hope you have on your website, if someone subscribes to your blog, if you have that old school, like I have on my blog, WordPress. People can subscribe to your blog. Those are owned. You own those, and you can take those wherever you go. Sure. people will unsubscribe and move and email addresses will bounce. And that's not what I'm saying, but you do not own. You can't upload your Facebook fans. And this is a big problem. You can't get the contact information from people that donate to you on Facebook. So what I would do is just take these tools for what they are. Raise money on Facebook, raise money on Instagram. Don't worry about the contact information, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. You own your CRM, your database, you could switch a database and still bring all those contacts with you. Your direct mail list. You own that. So. To me. I want us to build our donor files, our supporter files using these tools. These amplifying tools are what I call them, but we can't just say, okay, we're not gonna have a website or an email list anymore because we have Facebook. Remember the day that Facebook went down the whole day? I was actually running a fundraising, paying for a client and we had. Multiple posts that were gonna go out. We were gonna do a Facebook live. We had Instagram posts and we had to completely cancel all of it because both platforms were down for the entire day. And we had no control over that. So we had to rely on email and we still did a lot. We did things like a YouTube live, but what I learned was that we really cannot rely on this. Like, this is just a good to have, a nice to have, but we can't put all of our effort and all of our eggs in this basket, because what if it went down, like, I'm just thinking of Giving Tuesday. If Facebook went down so many nonprofits would've lost thousands of dollars. So it's good to have, you need to have it, but focus on the other elements of your marketing program that you can, you have more control over?
Carol: I remember when Facebook first started having the fundraisers, I think they were linking it, like it's your birthday, have a fundraiser. And so I did one and, I didn't realize at that point that the nonprofit that I did the fundraiser for wouldn't actually get any information about who donated. This is not helping them - it's helping them in the very short term.
Julia: I kinda have a different perspective on that, so I don't mean to interrupt you but, the way I feel about Facebook fundraisers is yes, it's not a way to build your donor file long term. You're not gonna get major donors and plan givers and like to build this funnel, but. I'm sure that a lot of your friends and family had not heard of the nonprofit. So they were exposed to a brand new organization and they gave because of you, , they didn't necessarily give because they supported the organization they gave because of your birthday. And then honestly, I've given for birthday fundraisers. And then I have on my own, looked up the nonprofit later and got on their mailing list and maybe got more information. So I really see birthday fundraisers as marketing. It's like a marketing piece. Interesting. Because think of your friends on Facebook, they all saw that, and then their friends saw that, like, if I donate to my friend Melissa's birthday fundraiser, I post about it and then my friends and family see it. So the way I think about it is it's much more marketing based than fundraising based. And yeah, you're never gonna build your whole fundraising program on Facebook. And what's, what's also interesting though. about Facebook. They developed that because you remember the ALS ice bucket challenge. I can't remember what year that was. There was no donate button on Facebook. So what Mark Zuckerberg saw, because I do believe that he is like, actually a diabolical. Like, I don't know if he's evil, but I he's, he's like a genius and I'm not sure if it's in a good way, but what he saw was. Oh, everyone's donating, but they're going off of Facebook. So I wanna keep everybody on Facebook. I don't want people going to als.org and making a donation and then maybe not coming back to Facebook. So he created the donate button, really? Not out of the goodness of his heart. I mean, they know we, they say. But it was to keep us on the platform. So they wanna be in all encompassing, all, one ring to rule them all thing. And that's always been the way that they've been thinking about things. So when we think about the donate button, there are no fees involved. Fantastic. The reason we don't get the donor information is because it was never created for us. It was created so that we would stay on the platform. And so that, I mean, it's a bad user experience. It's. If you get my data and then you start spamming me or you start soliciting me again, that's bad for me. And I would blame Facebook. So if we look at it from a business perspective, it makes total sense not to give the data because it would be a bad move for them. This is also how we just have to look at social media. We can't have color glasses because we have to understand these are multi-billion dollar businesses and the answer to them. They're shareholders. So that was a little bring of their own, but I don't think people know how the donate button came about. I think they thought it was interesting. Oh, they wanna do something good for nonprofits? No, they just wanna keep you on the platform. It's really true. It's totally true. Yeah. I'm reading that amazing book. , I can't remember who it's by. It's all about Facebook. It came out a couple of years ago and it's really eye-opening and pretty, incredibly amazing. So I teach it, I love it. I think it has power and potential, but I always take things with a grain of salt when it comes to these platforms. ‘Cuz I just think, okay, shareholders, shareholders, they're businesses. They're businesses. They're not nonprofits like we are. Yeah.
Carol: And I really appreciate the perspective of its amplification. It’s nice to have the extra, but it's not the core pieces. So one thing that's interesting when I'm, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations, I feel like almost every group, one of the themes that comes out of all the conversations that I have with people is we're the best kept secret in blah, blah, blah
Julia: Are we though?
Carol: Now that I've heard it from so many different groups, I'm just curious, like how. I don't know, like, yes. How do you get over that? Is it important? Is it important for every group to be a household name?
Julia: It's not possible. I don't think it's possible. That's true. I think of the organizations where I live, some of the really small organizations, like I live in a town of 4,000 people and if it's a food bank, it's a village technically. And if it's the library here, it's not going to appeal like 4,000. It's kind, probably the limit. Maybe people that have lived here and moved, but you're not gonna get 300,000 Facebook fans. It's just not going to happen because you are serving such a small community and it's such a targeted niche thing. So we have to really tamp down our extra, I think, unless we are. Dealing with a cause that's in the news all the time, unless we are a national organization, unless we're an international organization. So we have to understand that. Not only can we not reach everybody, probably the majority of people are not going to support what we do. And that's so hard to stomach for a lot of organizations that have. This passion, the curse of knowledge, they know that what they do is important. They know that it's life changing. They know that they're making a huge difference in a lot of different populations, but there are people that don't agree with food banks. There are people that don't agree with homeless shelters. There are people that don't agree with arts programs. I mean, there are people that just, they don't care, they don't, and that we can't change that. So to me, I just want people to focus on who you have now and love on them and love on them and appreciate them, encourage them to spread the word like you. Did Carol have a fundraiser, tell your friends and family. They are your best marketers. They are your absolute best ambassadors. And then try to find more like-minded people, but don't get hung up on being the best kept secret because how many people can get on the front page of the New York times, not many. Even the front page of your local newspaper, it's pretty rare. So I really encourage people and marketers, especially fundraisers to love on the people that are there, because what happens is we get so focused on. Acquiring new people and new names and new donors. And then we neglect the people we have. And I just actually, who did I just have on my podcast? Julie Edwards, she's a fundraiser consultant. She was talking, she was saying that donor retention. It's something like 20% or at least in the last couple of years. So we don't focus nearly enough on keeping the people we have. We're constantly focused on the next thing, the next thing. And I really think we should do more to retain and engage the people that have raised their hand and said, Hey, I really like you, rather than just say, okay, we're 10 more. The like,
Carol: Cause you hear people like, oh, we're just preaching to the choir.
Julia: And the choir's amazing. If you get the choir singing together in harmony, get more people to get them to join the choir. Like you need the choir. If you don't have the choir, what do you, well, I mean, I'm not a real church goer, but I would say if you don't have a choir, you don't have a church. Like if you don't have people. Attending the church and their job is really to get more people to come and to, to make it an exciting, fun thing to do to invite people to say, we're having this great party over here. Do you wanna come? Oh, you don't wanna come right now? You can't come. It's not a good time. That's fine. The door's always open or, Hey, you wanna come? Here's some more information on how you can come to this party. And I think the whole notion of. Like beating people over the head with information and forcing them. And like we would, bring it full circle, manipulating people, guilting people. That's just not a sustainable way. It's like, you need to inspire people, get them excited, and then they're gonna spread the gospel for staying on this metaphor.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, overwhelming people with information. If I had a magic wand to change the nonprofit sector, I would somehow sum all the policy people and I would sit them down with the marketing people and, um, have the marketing people. help them simplify their message. So on all those advocacy emails that I get, I'm now saying this so that if a few people hear me, I want a, the highlight summary, like that has like a sentence behind it. Mm-hmm and then the second version is I want all the details. Then you can give me the version that the policy people will usually give. Yes, but I want to.
Julia: This is called TLDR for “too long, didn't read.” Have you ever seen that? Oh my God. Well, so sometimes people write emails and it's TL:DR. Yep. I've seen that where it's like, this is the too long didn't read version and it's two sentences. And then it's the whole rest of the email. If you wanna read it, go ahead.
Carol: I was talking to somebody who was interested in taking action on an item. Yeah. an issue. And she went to their website and she got so overwhelmed by the amount of information that was there. She just was paralyzed and didn't do anything. So it had exactly the opposite effect of what they wanted. Yes. Um, yeah,
Julia: This gives me a good idea for a blog post. All right. Excellent. Yeah, and we don't need more information. We need people to synthesize information for us. Yeah. And tell us why it's important. So you and I, we can Google everything all day. Every day. We do not need more information or data or statistics. We do need someone to tell us what it means and why it's important. And I totally agree with you, too many emails are just listing the data, but not giving me any context.
Carol: Yeah. And not giving me the simple “okay. And here's the next thing to do and I'm gonna help you do it.” So one of the things you talk about is future-proofing your organization. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that and how somebody might go about future-proofing?
Julia: I talk a lot about specifically future-proofing your marketing strategy, but I do think the. Principles would apply to me, my main idea behind this is to build a community that is excited and inspired by what you do. And that will follow you anywhere because tools and trends come and go. There's a clubhouse. There's this idea that something's gonna come up. TikTok and Snapchat the tools are not what's important. And I think when people hear me talk about future-proofing and trends, they get excited and they're like, “oh, she's gonna talk about the five tools that you need.” But actually the tools are really the least important thing. It's if you understand your audience and truly understand what they want. And just like we just said, if you can really distill your message down. Into the why and not focus so much on the how also if you're adaptable. So we have to be more proactive. That's a huge thing that I teach and that I advocate for rather than simply reacting. To change or putting our head in the sand and saying we can't fundraise because of XYZ, or we can't do this. We can't do that. We can't do this. Trying to be as proactive as possible around the things that you can control or the things that you do have in your wheelhouse. So, we can't control things like the war in Ukraine, we can't control things. Like I remember George Floyd's murder and, and the black lives matter protests and clients of mine had fundraising campaigns. They had marketing campaigns going on. You just have to say something like, trust your gut and say, okay. We're gonna be quiet now, but then not be quiet forever. Don't think because the world is constantly changing. I mean, the only constant is really change. Don't think because the world is so in upheaval that you can't, you can't connect with people. And then another thing that I teach is just to communicate more than you think you need to, you are not annoying people. If you are sending out relevant interest in communications that people want to hear. So, yeah, you're annoying me. If you send me five emails that are written the exact same way, just ask me for money. But if you're communicating with me weekly or twice a month, about the impact of my donation, about the problem, about the solution that you're providing, about things that you're doing, what should I know, what do I need to know? If you are becoming a thought leader and a go-to resource, then the tools don't matter. And, and. The method of communication doesn't really matter. So I think the only way to future-proof yourself is to become a real go-to resource and thought leader in your industry, even if it's tiny and small and not quote unquote sexy. Although I don't believe there are no sexy causes. I hear that all the time. I call this sexy well, sexy is in the eye of the beholder. As we know, like what I think is sexy, you might not think it is sexy. So I think that it's in the eye of the beholder, but really being able to understand your audience is what's important to them and what motivates them. And then just constantly be proactive in giving that to your audience. That's really the only way we're gonna get through. The next, I don't know, 5, 10, 15, 20 years of total upheaval and change.
Carol: Yeah. And that goes back to what you were saying before, really pay attention to the people who are already there. Who've already raised their hand. Who've already said they're interested. , yeah. Keep educating them. And, but it doesn't need to be a dissertation every time to give them the tools to spread the word, right. Like helping them be an ambassador. Yeah, I've been an ambassador and they don't, they're not necessarily, that's maybe somewhere where somehow it might actually be helpful, right? Like how do you, how would, what are some steps that you might be able to take to let other people know about the organization, et cetera.
Julia: Right. If you can't. I see Global Citizen as a fantastic example. I get their emails and honestly, there's great articles and information, but it's always like here's a step I can take this month, tweet this out, sign this petition, put this on Facebook, it's usually very simple activities like that. They do fundraising campaigns, but it's very rare. It's mostly here's something small you can do to spread the word about this and to help us, reach more eyeballs and more people that are interested and does it make you feel good? I mean, they're targeting a very, very young audience actually. They target a lot of college students and like Gen Z who might not have the ability to make a donation. I'm thinking of my daughter, she's twelve. She doesn't have a bank account. So she's on TikTok, but she still elevates the voices of people due to her sharing commenting, that's a huge deal to that generation. So you're building it up for them to care about these causes. It's a long term game here, and then when they become my age and then they can actually make donations. Hopefully they will have remembered that experience that they had. So I just see it as playing, playing a really long term game. There's so many different generations that we have to interact with now. I mean, I think there's like seven distinct generations right now. So we can't. We can't ignore the people with the money, right? The boomers, but we can't ignore the people that are coming up and that are really active in digital natives and are excited to spread the word and talk about it. So we just need to have different approaches. I think for, for both ends.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So at the end of each conversation, I like to ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. Yes. And so I pulled one out of my handy icebreaker question box. Yes. So if you could have any fictional character as your friend, who would you pick and why?
Julia: Wow. That is such an amazing, amazing, amazing question. Okay. I don't wanna think too long about this because I have so many books that I love. Mm-hmm , oh, I just had it in my brain and I lost it. Well, Right now I'm reading. Well, first of all, I should probably say cat is from hunger games, cuz I'm obsessed with hunger games, but I'm not sure she'd be such a good friend. So I dunno if she'd be like a really fun person to hang out with. But I'm reading station 11 right now. I don't know if you've read that. Mm-hmm so good and it's a TV show on HBOMax. So I would have Kirsten, the main character. I believe I would love to hang out with her. I think she'd be fun.
Carol: Yes. Yes. She is a really, really interesting character
Julia: Yeah. It's cool. Just such an interesting experience and she's just very Shakespeare and I think it'd be cool.
Carol: Yeah. And what was so interesting that, that book, and then the series was one of many. After some huge apocalypse story, but what I really appreciated about that one versus so many others, is that, sure there was some fighting between different groups of people, but that wasn't really the focus.
Julia: It's not like walking dead where it's just a bunch of oh yeah. People fight all the time.
Carol: And so many of the others, , after the apocalypse are always people fighting. And this one, I really felt like it was much more centered. People taking care of each other and I was that's what's actually gonna happen. Like yeah, sure.
Julia: People are gonna fight and be terrified. It's not gonna be Mad Max.
Carol: People are gonna take care of each other.
Julia: Oh, can I add one more- Jo of Little Women, obviously. Oh yeah, you gotta hang out with Anne of Green Gables. Okay. Now I've got a million of them.
Carol: We'll have a tea party with all of them.
Julia: Have a dinner party. That would be amazing. There you go. That's a great, great question.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So, what's coming up for you. What are you excited about, , in your work these days?
Julia: Yay. I'm traveling a lot more for work and speaking. I am running my nonprofit social media summit again this year, November second and third. The registration page is not up yet, but we're really excited about that. I'm working with, , neon one CRM on. The third year of our summit, we did it in person in 2019, virtually last year. And we're doing a virtual this year again. , and my podcast, nonprofit nation, I absolutely love it. Some fantastic episodes and great guests coming up. So I just, I'm really, I'm feeling very positive for 20 me, 22. I really am. I think. I think it, I mean , I felt very positive about 20, 20 and 2021, but this year is our year. This is the year that it's gonna be. It's gonna be good, but I'm just feeling very, very positive and optimistic.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great. Thanks Carol. Great having you on the podcast and really appreciated the conversation.
Julia: Thank you so much anytime.
Carol: I appreciated Julia’s point about the marketing assets that you own vs your presence on social media. Whatever following you cultivate on social media – you only have access to them to the extent the algorithm puts your stuff in front of them. I was talking to someone recently who said they post on LinkedIn to broadcast what they are up to. But that isn’t really the case – because the LinkedIn algorithm decides whether it puts your post in someone’s feed or not. When you send an email to your list, you know you are sending it directly to the person. They may not open it and read it – but at least you know you have sent it to them. So your subscriber list, your donor list – these are all important marketing and fundraising assets of your organization. I also appreciated her different take on Facebook fundraisers – that they actually serve a marketing purpose by making more people aware of an organization they may not have heard of before. So even though the organization is not getting the donor information from the fundraiser – you are still getting them a little money in the short term and some visibility. Her advice to ‘love on the people that are there’ reminded me of Stu Swineford’s comment about the value of the choir. Both are saying – care for the people who already support you. Give them tools and resources to be able to spread the word. Don’t assume they know how to be a good ambassador for your organization – make sure you give them the resources and time to practice sharing your good news.
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 Julie, 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. Until next time!
In episode 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Carolyn Mozell discuss:
Carolyn Mozell is the founder and CEO of Leaders Who Connect and Inspire LLC and knows firsthand how transformative it can be when leaders and employees treat each other with mutual respect, kindness, and a genuine desire to see each other succeed.
Carolyn served in some of the highest levels of local government leadership for over 25 years. Rising from executive assistant to deputy chief, she also knows that leadership is a privilege. It can literally change someone’s life. She’s seen it happen and she’s made it happen.
Now, Carolyn leverages her direct experience advising elected officials, cabinet-level leaders and activating diverse high-performing teams to help leaders in business, nonprofit organizations and government agencies do the same.
Carolyn’s journey through leadership provided clear evidence that people do not leave companies, they leave bad bosses. That’s why she is dedicated to working with organizations to provide consulting, coaching and professional development programs to strengthen leadership, retain and attract good talent, and improve workplace culture through a lens of Emotional Intelligence.
Carolyn is passionate about putting more kind leaders into the world. That’s why she helps leaders develop their emotional intelligence skills so that they can grow teams that work more collaboratively and employees who thrive and want to stay. She can be found facilitating conversations on leadership, emotional intelligence, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to coaching clients on how to build a better team by being a better boss.
Clients appreciate Carolyn’s accumulated years of experience managing up, down, and across organizations as a former Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief and rely on her expertise to advise on what a positive workplace culture looks like for them, how to achieve it, and how to sustain it.
Carolyn is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park, BA African American Studies, Public Policy Concentration, a certified DISC Behavioral Assessment Practitioner and a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.
She is Vice President of Suited to Succeed and Dress for Success Greater Baltimore, member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and host of the "Use Your Powers for Good with Carolyn Opher Mozell” podcast. She resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Dawyne and adopted cat, Eva.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Carolyn Mozell. 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.
Carolyn and I talk about why everyone in organizations need to consider what their sphere of influence is and think about how they can contribute to making it better, why it is so important to share back the results of any survey or assessment with the people who participated and then to act on the information, and why it’s important to know what is critical for your self care so you can manage the energy you bring to work and your colleagues.
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
Well, welcome Carolyn, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
Carolyn Mozell: Thank you so much. Great to be here. So
Carol: I like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you're doing? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your work?
Carolyn: Well, having served in local city government for decades. And I, and I, when I say decades, that just sounds like something my parents would say, but yes, decades I saw like so many problems that were caused by a toxic workplace. And the impact that it had on employees, the leaders and even the customers. And then it made it very clear to me that when your workplace is sick, your employees are sick and it's a vicious cycle that leads to an unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive work environment for everyone. So I started solving this problem through my own leadership, because I felt like it doesn't have to be this way. I have no desire to lead in a way that promotes or fosters an unhealthy environment. And I started just being, as I grew in leadership, started being more intentional about my interactions with people that basically led to me consistently leading with empathy. Compassion. Integrity and accountability though. And that helped to inspire a work environment where people felt seen and heard and valued, all those things that we as humans like in the field. And at the same time, created an environment where the organization is, in this case, the agency, so the agency was productive. So, I began to understand that. It was a win-win for everyone. And even the constituents, now that the workforce is happy, when they're out. We're interacting with the community, we'd get, we would always get a lot of good feedback about how our people are nice and professional and polite and get the work done. So I began to really understand that it didn't have to be the other way, that you can lead with compassion. You can, with empathy, then on behalf to be a model of integrity. Because otherwise your employees don't trust you. And they'll, they won't do it. They won't do that. As you say, they'll do FAC. And then you know that, but I always, always, it was very clear about we are here for business purposes because we are all here and our job to work. For an outcome. But so that was my way of having some compassionate accountability with people, just so being there for them, but unders pairing them up to understand that You need it to also get the work done. So now I work with leaders in Munis municipalities and nonprofit organizations who want to break that vicious cycle that leads to something unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive.
Carol: Yeah, and I so appreciate your statement around, when the workplace is sick, then, infects everyone else. Everyone else is sick too. And I love the turn of phrase, compassionate accountability, because it really brings both sides. Right. It's a ying yang of but we need both. And yeah. So your, your work now, you're really working with leaders. Foster those productive and healthy work cultures. And I think it's everything. It's something that everyone wants. A lot of people just don't know how they can contribute, how, or how they can make a change. And I really appreciate your story and that, you're in a big agency, you could, could look around and say, well, what can I do? But you decided, no, I have a sphere of influence. There are things. So there are ways that I can be there, ways that I can show up for my team and then the people that I'm working with. So, so how, when you're working with leaders, what are some steps that you take to help them see that, that they can start doing to cultivate that healthier work environment.
Carolyn: First I, I really always say that I consult and then I coach interactively because at first you need to understand you, you have to. Make sure that you are willing to uncover your blind spots that may be leading to this environment and be willing to have the blind spots exposed, of people that maybe you have a higher regard for et cetera, that the blind spots are being uncovered. Are going to eventually lead to that healthy workforce. So, be willing to uncut, get data to uncover blind spots. The first thing I always do is to have either an insight survey or assessments behavioral or, or emotional intelligence assessments to go in and just understand where people are so that we know where we're starting and get some baseline data. And then using that information to align that with your goals and all, and the most important thing is, involving people who are directly impacted in that process and whatever the recommendations will be in the process so that you're not faced with a situation where when you're done. People are like, I don't agree with that or I'm not doing that, you know? And I found that like having a representative, so to speak of all levels of the organization helps to give that insight more a more well-rounded insight so that even if like, 100% of the people are not going to agree all of the time, but at least you will get the representation from all of the levels of your organization to make sure that you are incorporating those diverse voices. And then after that, then it's time to always say you got, you gotta apply the results timely, just not be worse than going through, getting people to answer surveys or getting people to take assessments. And then. having meetings and then not doing anything with the information. Yeah, that's the same as, having, we talked about having a workflow committee or a task force and, you just sit the document on the shelf. And so I always encourage leaders to keep the communication consistent. And reliable because humans again, we all like reliability, and it's the same as businesses, businesses like reliability and, in humans like reliability. So, having people to know that, they're going to hear about the survey update or the next step. On Fridays from their leadership, is what I try to encourage them to do to establish some level of consistent communication. And it's all in one case, they would do it at their Monday staff meeting, but just having, keeping people engaged and letting them know that the process is resulting in some action and action that will be.
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate it. It's so important that when you ask people to take their time to contribute their thoughts and, and answer a survey or do anything like that, that, that you do complete that circle and that a group of people looks at it synthesizes it, but that synthesis then goes out, back out to the folks who originally were asked the question so that they can, can see that they were heard. And, and yeah, that's, that's so important. So can you say a little bit about this, because you also do some executive coaching with leaders? Can you say a little bit more about what that is and, and how you work with clients in that situation? Yeah.
Carolyn: So the local clients that I've been working with so far are either in like a big government or a smaller non-profit. And when I have, but they're, they have been mid to senior level executives and they are, they, they are at a point in their. Career where they want to understand how to gain, influence to expand and their leadership. And so what I do, I help them with understanding how to interact better to gain that influence and using it again on like, improving their emotional intelligence and using disc assessments to help them understand how to, how they, how they are communicating. And if they're, if they're communicating what they intend to communicate or is, are people hearing differently than what they are trying to say. And, I learned that, through my leadership process, that was really important. And gaining influences, they'll always used to say, say what you mean and mean what you say, and, but you gotta be careful of what you're saying, you know? And so it's a whole, it's a whole self-awareness piece, as well as understanding how to communicate with different types of people.
Carol: Yeah. Sometimes those truisms are true.
Carol: So when folks are trying, you talked about self-awareness, you talked about being aware of how you're communicating with folks, is what you're intending to say, matching up with how people are hearing it. What are some other ways that leaders can start to be more intentional about growing their influence?
Carolyn: Well, they can be careful and intentional about the energy that you embrace into a conversation. The energy that you're bringing into a room, the energy that you're bringing into a meeting, it's always I would say you can't change the reaction of the other person, but you can always, always control how you respond to that other person. And so I always make sure that they are intentional about responding and not reacting and understanding what that means for them. And, if you know that. John, every quarter is gonna trigger you for some, will be because of what he's going to say or do in a meeting then, prepare yourself for that because you can't necessarily control. You can only control him to a certain extent, if you're directly you have that. If he started direct reports, then there's always that coaching conversation about, would be appropriate this and what he's doing, if there's anything inappropriate, but John, as his own personality, So, you, he, John just may communicate in a way that's different from how you communicate, but as a leader, you should just be, you need to be aware of that so that you can. The most productive output from John all while making sure that he feels seen, heard and valued. So, it's, it's, it all works. So if the change is believed, interchange, it bleeds together and, having empathy, having empathetic leadership can be exhausting. So always encourage leaders to make sure that they're taking care of themselves and that they are understanding what their balance means. I always see a lot of people say, oh, there's no such thing as balance, but we all have our own personal balance. There's no one definition for what balance means for you or for me or anyone else. Everyone has their own. Version of what balance means to them, but by whatever priorities they have in their life. So I always make sure that leaders take care, take, and have a routine to take care of themselves, whether it's meditation, whether it's, getting a good night's sleep, whether it's, time-blocking for your calendar to make sure that you are incorporating. Priorities that are going to make your life feel like you are living. As well as, having a professional life, because I know like when I worked at city hall, it just felt like my, like, it could be 24 hours, that because in the city there was always something going on. And so you just felt all absorbed in all of that. So I had to understand how to take care of myself so that I can go in and lead the people that I had to lead in, in a productive way. And show up with energy and show up, with my best version of myself, to encourage them to bring their best version of themselves.
Carol: Yeah. All of those things and, and, ideally you get, you can meditate and go to get a good night's sleep and get some exercise and have some time blocking and do all those things to create those guardrails that really. Help you stay centered so that you can show up with empathy for people. So, yeah, but it takes a lot of practice. And, then I think also for me obviously we all want to be more, we're, we're aspiring to be less reactive, more proactive and then things catch up. Right. And we get triggered. And so how do you recover from that and repair what might've happened?
Carolyn: Well, first as always, it goes back around to just being aware of those things about yourself and repairing those things. Again, different for everyone. Repairing could be that you are you, that you need to turn off your email at a certain time or that you need to, they'll schedule looking at your email at a certain time. It depends on what your circumstances are, but recovering are some of those things that you mentioned, exercising. I worked for a mayor who. That was her recovery exercise. We took exercising out of her schedule one, one time because of a conflict and it was a horrible afternoon for everyone. She could not show up as her best self. I tease about that all the time. I'm like, oh, I told her it's her executive assistant at the time. Please do not take exercise out of her schedule because she was just a barrel the rest of the day. And so, but that made me really understand that, being a leader. It's exhausting because you are trying to solve a lot of different problems and still have a life of your own. So you do have to have things in place to recover, like, going exercise, taking a walk, getting fresh air, being out in nature. And I learned over the summer, I've been very. Intentional about just trying different things over the last year and a half. And I, and I came across a coach who talked about grounding yourself and going and standing on like in the grass on seeing it with no shoes on and how that just does something to the body and makes you feel refreshed. And I said, let me try that. So over the summer I did that. It was awesome. I went out and stood on the patio and I just stood there. The neighbors probably didn't understand what was happening. I'm standing there in my bare feet and in the middle of the patio, not really looking at anything, eyes closing up, just absorbing all of the energy. And it was really refreshing because over this last year and a half or so leaders have had to rethink everything about how they're leading themselves and So, I tried to be very intentional and open about learning new things.
Carol: I love that. Cause I think of lots of meditations where I've had, where the instruction has been imagined, the, or, feel the ground that you're you're on and imagine how you're connected to the earth, but actually going out. Standing with bare feet and, in grass or wherever you can to really, really feel that. Yeah. That's interesting. What other, what other things have you tried out in this last year and a half of experimentation?
Carolyn: A night routine. So I had, and this was a, this was mostly actually recently I had a young woman on my podcast. You should power, so good. And she is, she dealt, she was a healer and a coach, a healing coach. And so she talked about the importance of a night routine to get sleep that would help to revive you and re-energize you and all, and some of the things she said, I tried and I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so good. And it was, there were several things to do, but you don't really understand the impact unless you're consistent with them. And so for me, I took my shower at night and she suggested like, take a nice hot shower and have the water just run on your phone. And that disliked does something. She has all her terms. So then you can check the podcast, but it does something to your body. And, it just promotes some sleep stuff for lack of a better term. Because that's not my area. And then, doing things that are going to make your next day more productive. So for me, getting my clothes out the night before now for me, I couldn't understand why I had so much anxiety around this when I wasn't leaving the house. Really zoom calls. Yes. But, then I would like recordings and stuff for some of my content. And so I had so much anxiety around, like, what am I going to wear? And then, I spend half the morning, like finding something and then. didn't want to iron. So I just really, so I, what I decided to do was like one Sunday. If I needed to put the clothes out and if I needed to iron something, iron it, then and sell them. That's taken care of, check it out off my list as I have something to do in the morning. So, she shows you how, like on the, on the back of your feet, the different pressure points that help to relax you. And so, I try some of that and that scene. To spark some type of relaxation for me and using an IMS to blackout the light. Now I'm married and my husband likes the TV on all night, all night. And, I grew up like that, but then I started somewhere along the way, I didn't have to have the television on. So having the eye covers really helped me to just get into my, getting to sleep mode and, oh, one important thing that almost everybody probably has. Well, if you have an iPhone, turn it on that night mode where the screen goes into more of a blue demo mode because she talked about getting yourself. Prepare for sleep and remove yourself from the light of the television of your phone and all that. But you're the fluorescent lights above you. And getting blue light glasses to help with that. I haven't purchased those yet, but that's one thing that I'm going to try. So there are like so many ways, so. Help yourself, but a lot of times we just struggle with getting started. So I, I've, I've gotten into a mindset where I make it uncomplicated and I just take the best next step.
Carol: The best next step. I love that. Yeah. Yeah, I think there's so much emphasis on creating a good morning routine, but people forget about the night routine and how you kind of, you, you, you think about it with kids, right? Like what's their routine for getting them to bed so that they can get to sleep well, we're just grown up kids. So, yeah, that's awesome. So what are some of the common challenges that you see leaders facing as you work with?
Carolyn: One of the biggest ones is dealing with people who are like bringing their personal problems to work and just dealing, not how to manage themselves personally in the workplace. And so they bring all their stresses and then they, that shows up in the work that they're doing. How they're interacting with people. And so helping people to manage that piece of their participation in the workforce and workplace is one thing. And then also helping people to. Understand how to work collaboratively, like in groups, without it feeling like a competition. And so, one of the things that I did with a client, I have. After we did the survey process, we put together a task force that I facilitated and it had various generations of people, diverse people in all respects. And so one of the things I laid out for them in the beginning is that as I always say, we're gonna, let's w we're going to jointly come up with our rules of engagement. And, so we listed about five things, about listening, respecting conversations, respecting differences, in opinion a grade to disagree, so, we, we just, we, we, we covered things that. We agreed to want to gather so that, as we were moving forward, the process didn't seem offensive or unfair or anything to any, any person in particular. And that, we were all, we just all remember when our rules of engagement were that we agreed. And we're able to have a very productive meeting with a very productive outcome. We got through the recommended survey recommendations and like two sessions. So the third session was just a tweak, But we were able to substantially get the work done and all, and everyone was really happy. And, those are the kinds of things that really make my work feel very gratifying knowing that I've gotten people. A diverse people able to work together for a common goal to achieve a common goal.
Carol: Yeah. Those, those having a conversation about those rules of engagement and how are we going to work together? And what do each of those things mean? Like what does respect mean to you? How does that show up? How do you demonstrate it? What, how am I going to know or what, what demonstrates to me that, that you're respecting me or listening to me or effectively communicating yeah, that, that work it, you know infrequently take the time to do it. And that feels like, oh, it's a big conversation, but they can use that, meeting after meeting to work productively together. And it's, it's just so, so helpful. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Carolyn: Let's say one of the, one of the biggest benefits of that process that I just, was some of the middle management leaders. Stepping up to like continue the pro content, continue in the process and bring. And, like, because some of the work is included, the next steps included. We outlined the five goals that we would want to work on. And then the next step was like assigning resources to those at those arm recommendations. So, we had people step up to say, all right, I'll take this one. And then I'll go talk to this department and explain to them what this work has been about. And I understand how the capacity is for completing the work and getting this goal completed. And so it was really awesome to say, those leaders, like just raising their hands, like if there was no. No. Yeah. Like sometimes you'll, you'll say, well, who's going to do this. And then you hear pins dropping and all kinds of stuff. And, but then this case, it was like, I'll take this one. I'll take that one. I'll take this one. So, I was like, it's done. Our work is done.
Carol: Leaders who built leaders. They go, they go. Yeah. And the other thing you talked about in terms of people bringing their personal challenges into work. And I think that, it's gotten even more so, muddied with, with so many people working from home and us literally, being on video calls where you can see into people's homes. And obviously some people have. Manage that by figuring out how to, or having computers that can manage a virtual background or a blind thing, I've tried them. But for some reason, the, the, the Whatever it is with my hair. Like I disappear, like, so I can't use them. So I'm like, okay, here I am. This is, this is what's behind me. But yeah, I wonder what you've seen in the last, almost two years now for leaders that I feel like there's been a call to be more empathetic with everything that people are dealing with. And at the same time how, helping people set those bands.
Carolyn: Yes. And oh, I am like, this pandemic has caused us to have to reef. And everything, everything, we are just, at anything that you thought, anything that you thought about leadership, post I made free COBIT, has gotten twisted and turned and changed like ever. But the bottom line is that employers want to grow a workforce where employees don't leave and employees want to have a workplace where they can grow professionally and financially. So understanding that. Sprinkle some empathy around all of the challenges that people are experiencing. I've found that the best thing that leaders have been able to do in this environment is to just really exercise, flexibility, responsible flexibility. Now, again, Yeah, they have that compassionate accountability piece where we are here for the business purpose. But understanding that, your workforce and your poor employees are people who are the engines of your organization. If they all go away, you have no organism. So, so, so leaders have had to really be more flexible and especially the work from home piece and, and understanding how that impacts the work and, and. Wherever possible, making the environment flexible enough that a person could work from home or do a hybrid situation. But just making things more flexible and understanding that with the knowledge of knowing, everyone on the same page about the work still has to get done.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. So you encourage everyone to put a little more kindness into the world. What, what inspired you to put that front and center? And I'm, I'm also curious what, how you put more kindness into the world.
Carolyn: So, so. What inspired me to, to create the podcast, use your powers for good that inspires leaders, managers, and supervisors, to put more kindness into the world, because through my experience, I saw how leaders build other leaders. And though that could go, you could be building positive leaders or negative leaders. And I haven't experienced back in like the late eighties. But one of my first jobs out of college, And I worked at the us chamber of commerce in the manager director there. She said I am right, I don't expect you to be in this job for more than three years. It was as a staff assistant. She said, I will expect you to be here for more than three years. And I was like, what job is this? I can't say more than three years. That was the whole, you go to a place and you retire. So I'm like, what the heck? So but what she said after that was, I'm going to give you everything. You need to be sunsetted. So it's up to you to use the tools that I gave you, the experiences that I gave you the opportunities that are put in front of you to be successful. And she did, and she gave me, she put me in front of people and, I was 23, 24 years old. Put me in. People that I would never think that would be a front of and situations, but she gave me the tools and, she allowed me to go to different trainings and, and to hone how to interact with higher level people at the time I considered. Because they weren't like chamber presidents from around the country. And so, I've never forgotten that and I never forgot that. And so that created a lead. And myself that paid that forward to other leaders, to other people that I was, I was developing into leaders. And so I have always led with a, so this is how I put my kindness into the world. I always lead. And whether it's in the workplace or in the personal and personal life, always lead in a way where, someone is left with an impression that is so. Heartwarming or inspiring that they feel compelled and inspired to do kindness for someone else, be kind to someone else or exhibit that kindness for someone else. And that really was like really I saw that in my recent work when I was in city hall. creating the people that were directly sat directly supervise, they went on to become leaders who, understood how to place empathy in their leadership, without it feeling like they were like gonna be a pushover and all that, because empathy, when people hear that, they think, oh, you're just a soft manager. I was very clear that we are here for business purposes, but I understand your situation. So let's solve the problem together. And so that you can get a productive outcome. We can still get the work done, but then it leaves the person. I gained a lot of loyalty through leading in that way. And so people showed up for me and I, I will never forget that. And I want all leaders to have that feeling. So that's why I want to inspire leaders, managers, and supervisors that put more kindness in the world through their leader.
Carol: Yeah. And I love that story that you tell because it demonstrates a lot of different things. One, she knew the reality that this was an entry-level job that, if, if you were, if she was doing things right, you weren't going to stay in. Cause you were going to grow and learn algebra. But the trust that she also put in you to say, let's, let's have you go here and there and do these different things. And the fact that you're telling your story, years later, it's pretty amazing. And then the ripple effects that you're talking about makes me think of it, is it the Maya Angelou quote of, my favorite. Yeah, we'll forget what you say, but we’ll remember how you made them feel and as a recovering, no, at all. I try to remind myself that every day.
Carolyn: I forgot that that's one of the quotes that I always have in all of my coaching that people are going to ever re they may remember. They won't remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. And that's it like, yo, that's exactly what happened from an experience and the eighties, So telling that story, it still feels that emotion around that.
Carol: Right, right. Then the way that she trusted you. Yeah. That's awesome. So one thing that I like to do at the end of my podcasts is ask one random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box. So the one for you today is in what way do you feel your childhood was happier than most? People's?
Carolyn: I didn't know we were poor. I never, I never knew we were living paycheck to paycheck. Until I went to high school and I went to for those who are involved, the Baltimore area, Western high school, an all girls high school and, and you're seeing a year, they're like, like they have so many activities that no one, everything required. They do everything that is required like a white gown or something. Outfit. And so I did not know that we did not have the resources to support that until I got to that time in my life. And my parents, my parents were awesome. They were awesome. But they, they, they, said it in a compassionate way, but they were pretty much like we don't have the money. And they said it in such a compassionate way that that just led me to go and get my first job in worry Rogers and raise my own money to do all this stuff. So then they wouldn't have the burden of doing that. And so, I always remember that, I didn't know, we were living paycheck to paycheck. I had everything I needed. And some of what I wanted and I think it didn't help that I wasn't a very needy child. So, I had everything I needed, some of what I wanted, we ate, I was, I was. A little baby, but my brother who was next in line to up for me was 14 years older. So they were like, my brothers, brother, and sisters were like stairsteps. And then I came like 14 years later. So have another story behind that. I'll go into that. But so I said, boys are pretty spread out too, so yeah, so I was like an only child. because they were pretty much not paying me any attention because they were teenagers. And then either the house, by the time I really got to any like, like elementary school. So, we ate together, my parents and I, we ate dinner together. I watched after school special holes. and I just didn't need anything. And, I felt safe and protected. So I never knew we were poor until high school.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you?
Carolyn: Oh, wow. So I am going to be rebranding my podcast. Well, it's starting now. So anyone who wants to like, come on the podcast, I'm starting to do, I was doing all audio. So now I'm doing visuals because what I learned is like, people love seeing other people and I get, I got so much, I get so much feedback and people engage when they are, when they see me. So if anyone's interested in being a guest on the podcast, please reach out to me. Subscribe to my mailing list. All of this can be found on my website at www dot leaders who connect and inspire. And if you are looking for. The speaker or moderator I've recently met. I didn't know. You have plans. I plan. So who knew I was like a speaker or a moderator? I didn't. So recently I got asked to be a speaker and my reader at the Maryland association of counties con on winter conference. And I loved it. I did. That was one of those things that I did not know I would love, but I had done another event prior to that and I got my feet wet and now I'm just like, I love it. So, those are some of the things that I want to just explore more of, and especially in municipalities, because those are the people that I understand most and that I feel like, my experience. Yeah. Help inspire and lead to leaders, building other and other better leaders in. So the solos, those are some of the things I have coming up But I really look forward to connecting hopefully with anyone who wants to oh, one other thing. So I've been working with folks who, or having conversations with folks who are working in DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And, those are, those things are still evolving. And one of the things that has come up. Especially as a person who had to build the infrastructure for the city's program, that the law was passed and then had to be implemented. So I was one of them, I was the deputy that implemented it. And so. One of the things that came up for me as I left that process and started looking at how others were approaching it is the using emotional intelligence in that process. Because if I had to do it over again, that's where I'm going to start it with, like getting people prepared for all of these uncomfortable emotional conversations and helping them to understand how to interact with that. If anyone needs any, if anyone is in that space and is thinking that is something that they would be interested in exploring, I'm doing information gathering, especially what that means for municipalities and leaders.
Carol: That's awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Carolyn: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Carolyn’s comment about the best next step. Or I might make a slight edit – to a good next step. You may not really know whether it is best or not. But that approach pulls us out of trying to game out all the possibilities and pretend we can predict the future. It keeps us in action – just make one small choice about your next good step and it keeps you out of analysis paralysis. I also appreciated Carolyn’s perspective on being a leader who builds leaders. Confident leaders want to invest in those around them and contribute to their growth, learning and success. And this may mean they leave your team. Wish them well and know that by investing in them, your support will continue to have a ripple effect as they contribute in their next role. It can be challenging in the short term as you have to fill a vacancy – but you are contributing to the long term. And your mission of your organization is likely part of a wider movement – your investing in your teammates and what they go on to accomplish will likely contribute to that wider movement you care about. Be generous.
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 Carolyn, 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 this 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 share pod.link/missionimpact – then your colleague can access the podcast on their preferred platform.
Thanks again for your support. Until next time!
In episode 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Stu Swineford discuss:
If you know me, you’ll know I’m never one to shy away from an opportunity to grow and take on new challenges.
For example, I started my marketing career as a copywriter and ad man. But one day, when my graphic designer colleague didn’t show up for work, I evolved (very quickly) into a designer. After all, I was the only other person in the building who knew how to turn on the Mac.
Since then, I’ve performed virtually every role in the digital marketing production lifecycle – from strategy and concepting, to design and development, to QA/QC and everything in between.
Along the way, I realized that I get the greatest joy from helping others achieve their goals. In a way, you could say I’m making the world a better place, one frustrated professional at a time.
These days, I’m in love with purposeful, conversion-focused digital marketing strategy and execution. That, and doing ridiculous things outdoors – usually where oxygen is limited.
When I’m not helping entrepreneurs and executive-level professionals, I can be found traipsing around the woods near the cabin in which I have lived with my wife and menagerie of pets since 1993. There I watch movies, read, and polish the details of my latest (possibly ill-advised) master plan for world domination.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Stu Swineford of Relish Studios. 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 am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Stu and I talk about the nonprofit marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be, why it is important to really be able to articulate what makes your organization different, and why many nonprofits struggle with the attract phase of the marketing cycle
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
All right. Welcome Stu. Welcome to the podcast.
Stu Swineford: Thank you so much for having me on Carol. I'm really excited to talk with you today.
Carol: So I like to start out with a question around what, what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Stu: That's a great question. I think that it comes down to my initial motivation, [it] was opportunity. I was working as a sales guy at a bike catalog company back in the early nineties. And had been working there for a couple of years. And one day the owner came to me and said, Hey, do you want to go to lunch? And I thought, well, this is a weird way to fire somebody. But we went on a bike ride for lunch and during that ride invited me to help them with copywriting. So at the time I was just being, I was just a sales guy, but they needed some help writing copy for the county business. This tells you how old I am. We're talking about actual physical catalogs back in the day. So I raised my hand and said, yeah, that sounds great. I think that sounds like fun. So I became a copywriter in about six weeks. After that the graphic artists decided that she no longer wanted to work there and just stopped showing up. So we had a catalog that needed to be completed and gotten out the door in about three or four weeks after that. And I thought to myself, well, I know how to turn the Mac on. So maybe this is something I can do. So I raised my hand and said, how about I take this on and see about. Being a graphic designer and all of a sudden at about the age of 23 or so, I found myself as the director of marketing for one of the top three catalog companies in the states at the time. So it was really an opportunity that drove me initially to marketing. From there, I really was able to, Work for during the.com boom, and worked for a number of agencies and eventually found myself in a position where I decided that I knew enough to be dangerous, to run my own business. And so started relish studio back in 2018. I'm one of the co-founders of, and, and partners at relish studio. And we were able to refine what we do to bring a little bit of a different take to it where we recognized that. We had the most fun. And we did our best work when we were working for companies who had something more in mind than just making money. It wasn't just buying the owners next yacht or, or Porsche or something like that. There was a mission behind what these companies were doing. And so we really pivoted what we do to try to work with purpose driven businesses, nonprofits, people in that, in that zone who. Who really do have a little bit of a giving back mentality. So that's what we try to do here at relish studio. So I think that's our, why being able to serve authentically one of my declarations is I exist to serve and and so I really have embraced that and, and, and that's what gets me up.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah, I, I can, I can relate to that story because I feel like when I first moved into the nonprofit sector, I had a little bit of a background of doing some Well, they were actually advertorials and it was also in a, in a physical magazine that got sent to people who, who did a radio talk shows back in the day, then moved into the nonprofit sector because I wanted to really support causes that I believed in, but it was also a little bit of the case of, oh, well, she can write, so she should do marketing. Like, or, and she's organized so she can manage production. it was very much falling into it and, and, not moving out of the, out of the circles fast enough when it's like, well, okay, you, and and I've since moved away from that, but I feel like for a lot of people in the non-profit sector they may not come to their role with a huge amount of background or, they may have some basic skills. Don't have a degree in marketing or business or, and they're having to learn as they go. So where would you say is a place to start for folks who, they, they somehow end up with that title. But aren't really, don't necessarily have a real huge background in, in the field for a, for a small organization.
Stu: That's a really fantastic question. It's like marketing a marketing title through necessity and opportunity there. Right. I think that. So we have a blog post that actually has gotten quite a bit of traction over the years that just talks about the marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be and understanding that there are a thousand things that you can do in any given day. The best plan of action is to pick one and do it really well. And then you can move on into other options, understanding also where your audience is going to play. I think that there are a lot of people who feel forced into social media. They may not be comfortable with it, or, they're, they're trying to do all of the things in social media instead of just figuring out which one will have the most impact and going there. So we always try to start with values, vision, mission making sure that there's a good understanding, a good solid understanding of, of what makes your organization different. And then really rolling into the audience, who are the people who are going to support your organization. And where do they go to get information where they go to engage and, and start there? So for example, in the nonprofit world, the boomer generation is still one of the most powerful. Donor pools out there. But there are a lot of new social media platforms out there that are exciting and fun and people want to play in. But, for example, putting all of your eggs into the TikTok basket with. Your organization and the donor pool is really in the, more aligned with the Facebook basket or even direct mail or email basket is something that you want to consider. So just make sure that you are hitting things hitting the people where they should. There are programs out there to help with coaching. In fact, relish studio has a coaching program as well, where we help budding marketers learn more about marketing and, and become more adept at being able to fill. Role within their organizations. So I'd say that going out and trying to seek out those types of service opportunities or learning opportunities would be another, another place to, to start as you're dipping your toe in the marketing.
Carol: Yeah. And you make some great points there. I mean, one of the things that, as I was thinking about our conversation today, I was thinking about was, with marketing today, there are just so many different options, different directions that people can go in different channels. And so starting about thinking, who are you trying to reach? Who you're trying to educate or inform about what you're doing, what your organization is doing and then where they hang out and go there. And instead of, “oh, well I'm comfortable writing, so I'm going to do a blog,” but no one's going to come to it or, from your own comfort level of like, “oh, I have fun on Instagram and I'm going to go there.” [Try] thinking about it from the other person's point of view: where are your donors – or potential donors – and how can you reach them where they're at?
Stu: One of the things that we've done, we have a blog but one of the things we recognized is, it's really challenging to get people to come to your site for a “regular blog” type of scenario. So we looked at a couple of ideas and in one of those was why don't we go where the audience is. And so I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn basically putting material there. It can be, it can be reused on the blog. So it's not like you can't use that material on your site as well. And we've actually seen a strong growth in both organic and redirected traffic from LinkedIn to our site. So, I think that what I really recognized was I was able to reach a larger audience. If I went to where they were actually hanging out, rather than asking them to come, come join me wherever.
Carol: Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing that you talked about right, there was just the ability to use one thing, but re put it in different places, repurpose it. And, and I think that that's a great opportunity for organizations, especially when there's, they're stretched so thin. They don't need to be in that constant turn of, we’ve got to create something new all the time, what's the take, the one thing, and how can you use it in five different ways? So if somebody were to try to do some more repurposing of what they're already producing, what are some ways that you would talk them through thinking about.
Stu: Well, a podcast is a great example. You can start with an audio or a video explanation or discussion or conversation. And from that, you can get a variety of different materials. So I have a podcast called Relish. It's about nonprofit marketing. And I have conversations with nonprofit leaders and experts in the field who bring a lot to the table in terms of opportunities to just have discussions around, around marketing and how people can do a better job. So there's one asset there, which is the podcast itself. That podcast theoretically can be broken into sound bites. If there are nice little quotes in there, those can be leveraged on social media. You can put a sound byte out that is a teaser to the show that drives people back to the podcast. The transcript of the podcast becomes an opportunity to create written content that can be used in a variety of different ways, both on social media and on a blog et cetera. In fact, what are the, one of the ideas around starting the show was that I would get a book out of it, out of it. I'd have, let's say 52 conversations. And from that we had a book, essentially. I have not yet written that book, but it's certainly there and the opportunity there to take what started as an audio recording and. pretty quickly enables you to repurpose that material. in a variety of different ways to, to get the most out of that one piece of media. I am also always on the lookout during my show for blog opportunities and ideas. And so we leverage it that way as well as send out an email about the show, send out an email with that, with those blog post opportunities. So, we're repurposing what started as one conversation into a whole variety of different materials. We also publish the audio to YouTube as a video. I know there are a lot of podcasts out there that record video for their shows as well. So, there's just a lot, a lot of ways to to take one piece of media and make it really like.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, I started including transcripts of the interviews. My initial motivation was just around accessibility in terms of the deaf community who obviously can't listen to a podcast. But I realized there was someone who was listening who said “No, I love the fact that you do transcripts because I don't generally listen to podcasts, but I love reading the conversation.” So it makes it accessible to folks whether they have a challenge in the way or not. So yeah, then all those things that you're talking about, how can you springboard from that one piece? What do you see as the biggest challenges facing nonprofits when it comes to marketing and getting the word out about the work that they do?
Stu: Well it really depends on the non-profit the maturity level of, of, of each nonprofit, I would say. I think that non-profits tend to have a real challenge in the attract phase. So if you consider our idea that there are essentially four major phases of a stakeholders life cycle: attract, bond, connect, and then inspire. Within those, you can break it out into a little more granularly where people need to know about you. So they need to find out who you are. They need to then develop a sense of liking you where they're like, okay. Yeah, this is a person I'm interested in continuing to follow trusting you. So providing proof that you're doing a good job or. social proof that demonstrates that that is what you're doing. And then we move into the connect phase so that those are part of the bond of the attraction phase. We move into the connect phase where they're really being able to try and buy. So, small offers, small opportunities to have a value exchange. Usually that's an email. It starts with time for value. And then you escalate that to perhaps an email address for value. And then eventually that becomes a financial transaction where you're actually getting a donation. And then or, or a purchase, if you're a nonprofit actually has a product that they can sell. And then we move into the inspire phase, which is essentially once you have established that financial, transactional relationship moving into the inspire phase is really getting those people to shout your praises, to spread the message to reach a wider audience, as well as repeat. So you're taking a one-time donor and turning them into a second time donor, turning them into a monthly donor. Maybe getting their business involved and having. Those relationships grow into something that's bigger than what it first started, which might be a simple $20 donation. And so, so really I think some of the big challenges lie in that attract phase. What are the things that we can do as a nonprofit to get the word out and encourage people to come learn more? What are those offers? What are those things that are going to get people to. To say, oh, I want to learn more about this. And that tends to be I think one of the, one of the biggest areas of challenge is, is just starting to, how do I, how do I get in front of the right people to get them to come to my site or to learn more about.
Carol: So, what are some things that you've seen organizations be successful in, in terms of that attract phase or that, just building some awareness around the work that the organization is doing.
Stu: I think that organizations, one of the things that we see organizations of almost every type struggle with is how to position themselves as the guidance story. All of us want to be the hero in our own stories. And most organizations fall into that trap where, when they talk about themselves with. When they're attempting to talk to their audiences, they tend to talk more about themselves than their audiences and fail to really see opportunities to reframe that narrative where the audience becomes the hero of that story. And it's a challenge in the non-profit space because people are out doing really good work. They are out there, changing lives and. Perhaps saving lives. And so it's, it's pretty easy to fall into that trap of, we do this type of language. I think reframing that narrative and doing the best that you can to put it into that perspective of where your donors are, where the people in that audience are framed as the hero of that story. So trying to figure out what their motivations would be to donate to your organization, what is inspiring them to fill that role and then framing your narrative around that is one, one way to just start that process certainly as I said a few minutes ago, making sure that you're, you're in the right place to be starting. Those conversations are important as well. I would recommend that every organization out there do a survey of their constituents or their stakeholders and just find out where, where they go to get information, what social channels are they on? Where do they go, how do they even like gathering information? So, I like to read, but I don't want to watch a video. And that'll really inform not only. Where to go, but what media type to to leverage in that place in order to, to get in front of the right people and, and and create materials with that, they'll be interested in engaging with,
Carol: Can you give me an example of turning that around that reframe that you're saying of being the guide versus the hero in the story?
Stu: Yeah. So an example in the nonprofit space might be, let's say you are a, let's say you're an organization that builds trails and advocates for trail use in in a certain area. One of the ways that you might re-frame that conversation. So instead of saying, Hey, we help save the trails and keep them clean. And ready for all of the access that people might want. You might want to reframe that in the perspective of, if we know that you are passionate about trails and want to keep them safe. So by donating today, you help w you help keep this area's trails open and accessible for all.
Carol: Yeah. So it's turning it around again. I mean, just like you were saying at the beginning where it's, go, go where the folks are, right. Rather than where you want to hang out and then put them in the center of the story instead of, instead of yourself. Yeah, just really appreciate that you talked about maturity levels of organizations, kind of. I'm curious what you see. Well, obviously there, there are organizations that are early on small as they get bigger. What are some different things that you see as opportunities as, as organizations grow to maybe, I don't know whether it's necessarily to expand their marketing, but maybe do it differently as they.
Stu: Yeah. So I think as organizations grow and this can be any organization you have, have built up an audience, you have built up a base of clients or donors or stakeholders that have raised their hand that are ready to continue to engage. With your organization, if you just ask them. And so the lowest hanging fruit tends to fall into that inspire phase where it's way easier to get a donor to donate again than it is to take someone through that entire journey of attracting, bond and connect and get them to donate for the first time. We, as people love shiny new things, it's just, for whatever reason our brains are geared toward how exciting it is to land something new. So it's a little boring to go back to Stephanie or Jim or, or, or, or Gail and say, Hey, would you be willing to do it? Would you be willing to donate again? Could we turn you into potentially a monthly donor? That just isn't as exciting in our brains, but it's an easier opportunity. So two things there first is. Yeah, it's way easier to get someone to donate again than it is to get them to donate the first time. And the second thing is those people also have demonstrated their interest in your organization and their desire to help your organization. And so even though. Even if they aren't able to donate again right now, they will probably be willing to share your mission with their networks. So that repeat and refer area is something that we see as more available to a mature organization, because you've just simply been around for longer. And you have those connections built up versus a startup, nonprofit who right now doesn't really have a whole lot of opportunity to re-engage donors if they, if they're just starting to get them.
Carol: Yeah. And what comes to mind is the phrase, “oh, you're just preaching to the choir.” Well, you need the choir yeah. Those folks that continue to, to show up maybe at your events, maybe, participating in programs, donating all of those different things. And so making sure that you're treating the choir well is, is, is important
Stu: Well to extend that metaphor, the choir sings really, really well.
Carol: Right. And how can you help them see broader, broader audiences?
Stu: Exactly, exactly. And a lot of times that's just giving them something to say, that social post and sharing it, writing an email that they can share with their, with their team, just, getting them one step down the road, saying, Hey. Feel free to modify this, however you'd like, but here's, here's some ways that you can spread this message a little bit, a little bit more effectively, and we wanted to help you help make that easier. That's certainly among the recommendations that we would have for that referral type of athlete.
Carol: Yeah, that, that point of making it easy for folks. I was with a group the other day, and a woman was talking about, she wanted to take action in this particular arena. And, she went on to a website. It was, this was around, advocating for voting rights. And she was motivated. She went. But there was just so much information on the website. It was so complicated. It just overwhelmed her and she ended up in paralysis. She didn't take any action, even though she was motivated enough to go to their website and try to read, but they, they didn't, keep it simple, they wanted to give the person all the information. And so, unfortunately it probably had the opposite impact that they actually wanted because she didn't end up making the phone calls that they were hoping that she would do or anyone who would show up on the website. Right. And was motivated to take action.
Stu: Yeah. We tend to fall into the trap of wanting to tell people all the things. And if we can focus on one thing at a time, this is why I've, I've gotten a little bit away from newsletters and have started focusing email outreach on a single idea and a single action. So instead of giving people a choose your own adventure, monthly newsletter, where, there are nine things that they could possibly do. Get interested in and maybe go exploring hitting people more frequently with more focused intentional single, single ideas. Emails have proven to be a lot more than that.
Carol: Yeah, I've seen that for myself. When I first started out, I did a newsletter where I went once a month where I shared both. I did a twice-monthly blog. And so I shared links to each of them. And after a year looked at my stats and every single month, the one at the top was the one that got opened more. I was like, well, and, and the one, one further down, just and so yeah, I went to one thing, one email, one thing and people are just so bombarded with information that yeah, I think that, that desire to tell you everything that. We've got a lot to share. We want it, we want to do that. But what, what's that one thing that you really want people to take away or take action on?
Stu: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. We've found that creating synergy between your email message and where you're sending people as well is super effective. And so making sure. the tendency is to be just like, okay, well we'll send them to the homepage. Well, once I get to the homepage, there's dozens of things on most sites that people can do from there. So even creating a single landing page, that is the action that we want you to take from that particular email is a really valuable exercise.
Carol: So what do you see as the opportunities for organizations as they're trying to connect with people, attract them, may do that bonding help them get to know each other, create that relationship. Really. It's not just about that transaction and then moving them to inspire what are some of the opportunities that you're seeing? Stay the course and don't get distracted with the shiny new things, or are there some new things that are coming along that people should be paying attention to?
Stu: Well, that's a one fun thing about marketing is there's always something new, something that's either falling out of favor because it's no longer really working or coming into favor because it's it's something that people are trying, I would say nonprofits have a tendency to lag in terms of what they are. They just don't have the bandwidth to stay on top of the latest trends. However, like I mentioned earlier, most of the donations are still coming from the boomers. At this point that'll, fairly quickly move into Gen X-ers. And it just tends to be the people with more. Less time left on the earth, as well as more income opportunities or more, more disposable income opportunities. Tend to give a little more, it's just, we tend to do that as we age. So I would say nonprofits should probably be a little less focused on the newest. Information a delivery mechanism or, or marketing channel and stay focused more on some of the things that are a little bit more tried and true. For example, email continues to be a very viable way to engage with some of the older populations. That's been something they're comfortable with. Email, if someone's on your email list, they tend to have raised their hand at some point. So they tend to be a little more engaged with you than just, something that happens to flow into their feed. I would say consistency is something that most businesses including nonprofits can benefit from is just creating content. Map a a roadmap for what the next six months look like develop themes around that, that a roadmap. So, maybe April is going to be, when you talk about this particular program, maybe when you promote some event or sweepstakes opportunity that you have et cetera, and then develop the content that's of help support that. And then just be, get really good at executing on, on that content. just be consistent about it when shiny things, I call it the shiny squirrel syndrome. When those things come up, put them, put them in a sandbox and be willing to explore those as future opportunities, but don't let those try to not let those get in the way of the plan.
Carol: Yeah, I appreciate the notion of, you don't, you don't need to be on top of all the trends and picking a couple of things, doing it well, doing it consistently. Those all can have multiplier effects. So yeah, I, I think that may be a sigh of relief for most people in the nonprofit sector where it's like, we're, we're, we're trying to do so many different things. And, and I mean, I think probably that those principles would work in a lot of different areas within an organization, oftentimes where I'm working with them around strategy. It's it's, it's also trying to figure out what are the. Couple big things that you're going to be focused on, not 95 different things that you could be doing within a particular space. So yeah it aligned.
Stu: You mentioned relationships earlier, and frankly, I see marketing as just relationship building, whether you're selling, trying to sell a widget or let's say a bottle of soda or trying to get someone to come on board as a major corporate donor, it's all about building relationships and getting good at having those conversations consistently. And making sure that those are authentic. And I would say if there's, if there's ever one thing to do for an executive director or a donation manager or, someone out there it's pick up the phone or get people on calls and ask them questions and develop relationships with them. even, even buying soda, for example, Coke and Pepsi and all those guys are out there trying to develop a relationship with a customer. And it may be a fairly easy relationship to develop, a dollar or whatever, however much a soda costs these days is not a heavy lift to get somebody to try something. But at the end of the day, you’re billing awareness. So not getting people to know who you are, getting people to like you, to trust you, to try to buy, to repeat your refer. that's that, that's that cycle that, that we want to get people into. And yeah, it's just about having authentic conversations is, is really, if there was one thing that every non. Leader or their team could do it, contact X amount of people and have good solid conversations with them every week. And just put a number to that and, and make sure you're hitting that.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just keeping the relationship and the conversation front of line. So even when you're, you're creating something that may not be in a conversation format and back and forth too. Remember that whatever you're sharing is only one half of the conversation. So what's, what's the other half that you went back to? So that back and forth I think is really
Stu: Yeah. And developing opportunities to just provide value, whatever that is. So we talked about content a little while ago. You don't always have to be, you don't always have to come up with the big story out of thin air to be a good blog post, if there's something that aligns with your mission that, in another organization, is doing, or that's interesting. I had a conversation last night about food scarcity, scarcity at a, at a meetup that I had appeared with some somebody and, there's information there that I could then share. I didn't come up with it. Found out about it. But that's like being the Maven, being the person willing to share that information. if you can just reach out to somebody and be like, Hey, I saw this article, it reminded me of you. Here's why you think it's important or why. I thought you might be interested. Let me know what you think and send that to an individual or send that to your list, in an authentic capacity that that's good.
Carol: Yeah. I actually love the parts of newsletters where it's, what we're reading right now or what we're listening to. And, and, some of my most read things have been my little, like, short reviews of books, et cetera, because people are always on the lookout for recommendations from people, as you said that from people that they trust and, and they know, have a similar perspective. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So at the end of each podcast, I ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. I have a box of icebreaker questions I pull them out of. And so I've got a couple here for you. I'll just ask you one. What I usually do is pick out three and then see where the conversation goes and see what I'm pulled to, pull to, to then ask. So what's the best advice that you've ever received?
Stu: Wow. The best advice. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be able to engage with experts in a variety of different fields: business, personal life. No even athletics. I just somehow managed to be able to spend time with world champions and, and people of that nature. So I've received a lot of amazing advice over the years. I think that probably the best advice I have that I could share is to be yourself. And if you can come to every conversation and every interaction as you are authentic and be interested and, and all of those things, but essentially coming from that from who you are you're going to feel more fulfilled and you're going to develop better, stronger relationships. It's that authenticity piece that I think is super important.
Carol: Yeah. And I think, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that goes for organizations as well. Right. Be themselves. Yeah, I think we're, we're social creatures and our antennae are pretty good for when people are faking it. Right. And they're not, they're phony or whatnot. And so, yeah, I think that that's, that's great. That's great advice. And we're always stepping into that. I think as we, as we continue to evolve, hopefully. Yeah, I hope
Stu: so. It feels to me like I've been around in the business world since, I mean, I guess I graduated college back in the early nineties. And so I entered the business world pretty, pretty soon thereafter, and for a while, there was a real trend to never show weakness and never, never be. demonstrate that things might not be going well. We're asked for help and, and I, I'm very encouraged and maybe it's just the people that I hang with, but I'm very encouraged to see at least among that group, people being more and more vulnerable and more and more willing to share both the good things and the bad things that are going on. I think that social media has created a situation where a lot of us argue. Given the opportunity to, to see how people may be struggling because they just put out the good stuff out there and just really understand that it's okay to be vulnerable. And when you can be yourself and show up in an authentic way good things happen.
Carol: Yeah. And with that, I think I appreciate it. I've heard it from Brene Brown of also being aware of who's earned the right to your story. Who's earned the right to, what levels of vulnerability. Are you, are you telling a story from a wound or a scar? So I think that that's also important when you, those, those big, big blanket statements don't, obviously it never works in every situation, but the more that you can, be willing to yeah. I recognize, and share when, when you're struggling and that. But you need help. Right. And asking for help, I think, is certainly something that I've had to step into and learn more about as I grow older. So yeah. Appreciate that. So what are you excited about? What's emerging in your work?
Stu: I think that is one of the things that I have been working on for quite some time. And it's really coming to fruition and I'm incredibly excited about it. It's something I spoke about a little while ago, which is this coaching opportunity. I love helping people. I love helping people be their best selves. And so being able to create a coaching program that puts me in a, in a. In a position to be able to help people in that capacity has been really fulfilling and I'm super excited to continue to expand that program. So, it's something that we have, I have several, several coaching clients at this point and And so it's really fun to be able to meet with them on a, on a regular basis and watch their progress and see how much they can come alive in, in the marketing space and be able to contribute to the growth and success and ability for their organizations to to expand that.
Carol: Yeah. So it goes back to that. You don't have to do it young. You don't have to go it alone. You can, you can get help.
Stu: Yeah, for sure. There are lots of resources available out there and I'm certainly available. And, and, if somebody would like to discuss some of the challenges they're facing or, or what coaching might look like, I'd be happy to chat with them about.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being on the podcast. It's been a super pleasure. I'm excited to be able to have this chat with you and look forward to talking with you soon.
Stu: Alright. Thank you so much. Thanks Carol.
Carol: I appreciated Stu’s point about thinking about all of your communications from the point of view of those you are trying to reach. So if your average donor is a Baby Boomer, spending a lot of time on TikTok probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Where do they hang out and how can you go to them? And then when you are telling your story – making yourself the guide not the hero of the story – putting the people that benefit from your work at the center instead of yourself. That can be a little tricky because you don’t want to be in the business of not respecting your clients privacy or using their challenges for inspiration porn. At the same time – how can you get yourself out of the way of the story you are trying to tell. I also appreciated Stu’s emphasis on keeping it simple. Asking people to do one thing – just one thing. When I am talking to people as part of the strategic planning processes that I support, I ask them if they had a magic wand and could change the organization in any way, what would their wishes be. So if I were to give myself the magic wand, it would be to have every policy person who writes policy updates and asks their constituents to take an action – write an email, call their representative to simplify their messages. And if they really want to share all the details – they would have two options – Click here for the highlight summary – that would have at most a sentence or two explaining – why they wanted me to contact my representative to vote for or against the bill and then provide a mechanism for me to do that. SIMPLE. Then they could include a second option – if you want all the details – click here – But right now – most of the advocacy communications I receive only have the second version. Maybe the policy people think it is the simple version – but to a layperson like me it is not. So yes – keep it simple and to the point! With that I should get to the point…
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 Stu, his 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. I also hope of course that you subscribe so that you will get future episodes. Reviewing the podcast helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
This episode is the final part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis discuss:
Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis is a senior leader with over 17 years of broad-ranging experience in program management, advocacy, and community outreach. She has a passion for public engagement in STEM, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a groundbreaking healthcare and STEM pipeline program for West Baltimore youth. Dr. Grier McGinnis is a Baltimore, Maryland native where she still resides with her family. She enjoys exploring urban green spaces and volunteering to promote mental health awareness.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis. This is the last of the series of interviews I did in collaboration with my son-in-law Peter Cruz as part of our culture fit podcast project.
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.
Gia, Peter and I talk about the challenges young people of color face in seeing themselves in STEM fields given how historically – and currently – white male dominated the fields tend to be, how she found role models and mentors and has played that role for other, and how she sees the impacts of health disparities play out front and center in the work she does and how the news of police brutality impacts her students.
It has taken me a little while to get all these interviews for the culture fit project out so our conversation is from last year so some of the events we reference in terms of where we were in the pandemic reflect that.
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
Peter Cruz: Welcome to Culture Fit, the podcast where we do our best to answer your diversity, equity, and inclusion questions that will help you navigate the professional landscape, especially when you are not a culture fit. I am Peter Cruz.
Carol: And I’m Carol Hamilton.
Peter: How are you doing?
Carol: I am doing well, managed to run and grab a little bite for lunch. So that was good.
Peter: Yeah. It's needed. I think the only thing that I've been snacking on are these foods that are good for health. White cheddar puffs. They're like healthy healthy Cheetos Cheeto puffs. Those are the only things like since the heart attack and stroke that I can snack on.
Carol: My favorite has been dried mango. We are now buying in bulk from Costco.
Peter: So now that we've got the snack plugs out of the way, this week we have Gia Grier McGinnis. How are you doing here?
Gia Grier McGinnis: Great.
Peter: Great. For our listeners, can you provide us some context on your professional background, who you are, where you from?
Gia: So from Baltimore city originally, I've had two overarching themes to my career. One is that like public and community engagement, the other is always with health science or the environment. And sometimes those two things have play together and sometimes I've done them separately on the. Right now, I'm the executive director of a program called CURE Scholars at the university of Maryland Baltimore system and healthcare pipeline program for west Baltimore, middle and high school youth. I'm also really into mental health advocacy right now. I'm on the board of NAMI, Maryland. And I know Carol, from my days on the Baltimore GreenMap board, which is about giving access to young people in the community to green spaces around Baltimore.
Peter: Could you speak a little bit about this? The fellowship program that you work with. Could you elaborate a little more on that?
Gia: So CURE scholars started back in 2015 and really the idea is we're trying to generate the next generation of STEM and healthcare leaders for the society to work on health disputes. We actually recruit youth at sixth grade level and we stay with those youth all the way through high school. It's a multi-year program. They're all recruited from the same three west Baltimore middle schools. Very close to the University Maryland at Baltimore's campus which is intended to be good neighbors to the west Baltimore community. And we both provide them with STEM activities year round, but we also have a social work team that helps them with social emotional support and with any barriers that the families might have anything from food insecurity to unemployment. We consider ourselves a wraparound program.
Peter: Great. And, and this is more for, I guess, exposure or would this lead into like, I guess, internships in the future?
Gia: Certainly. At the early grades, a lot of it's about exposure. They do like STEM labs and three science areas. But as they get older we partner with Youth Works, which is Baltimore city summer jobs program. We actually serve as an employment site. For their summer, they do get paid to do their STEM work with us. Once they hit high school level we also have a team that works on college career readiness. The goal is to actually walk them into competitive STEM majors on college campuses, or for those that maybe don't feel like college is for them to explore careers that may require maybe two year degrees with something more technical.
Peter: And, and for that being that STEM is, and I think we've all experienced this like as, as women or people of color. But STEM is a very white male dominated space. What are, what do you feel like are some key areas that you yourself or the program and the fellowship Tried to address and I'm like holding on for, I guess, the code switching, the amount of code switching that might, may need to be done or, or simulation at a fairly young age.
Gia: Yeah. I mean, so really what we're trying to do is, get them to see themselves as scientists. Like you are a person of color. You can be a scientist and it's amazing how many scholars will expose them to say a dentist or expose them to say a psychiatrist. I didn't know, black people could be like, like it's tough. It's like, of course, but to them, it's like, oh, okay. Right. That's a career I could have too. And it, it really actually works as a spark, like. A role model that looks like them, which is what we try to do in the program, is exposed to career professionals and they go, okay, like maybe I'll be a genius or maybe I'll be a nurse. Because I see that the other thing we started doing this year is we did a whole week last week on mental health. Trying to get them to learn about self care, trying to get them to learn about, breaking the stigmas on. Like, you can take care of yourself. You can understand that as a person of color, you're carrying a lot of stress. we had yoga sessions. We had a speaker come and talk about black male wellness. We then had a separate session for ladies. really trying to get them to understand. Yeah, stem fields will be stressful. And how do you prepare yourself? You can't change others a lot of the time, but how do you help yourself cope and how do you navigate life in general against stresses that come at you?
Peter: Yeah. Cause those are things that we're all kind of, and it'd be like don't escape those things, right. Like what have you learned from working in this, in this field and doing, like, even facilitating or coordinating these types of things, whatever you learned insofar as your own professional experience. And I mean, I could only assume having to assimilate or coats, which are under like, cause. discovering new things and new perspectives as we become more of a progressive society. Yeah. what are some like new things that are tricks of the trade, but you have even. Oh, like, I have a hot moment, like, oh, wow. I've been doing this my whole life where I probably shouldn't have.
Gia: Yeah. it was interesting. like I said, I grew up in Baltimore city and I always just had a natural interest in the environment and nature before I had a label for those things. And eventually I go off to college and it's Predominantly White Institution and in the environmental studies major, I am the only black woman in all of my classes. And I don't say it was like a bro culture. It wasn't, I mean, it wasn't, it was just, it was a small liberal arts college. it was very, everyone's very chill and Hey, white, white, white very small. And it was a huge culture shock right. Coming from Baltimore city, going to what was on the Eastern shore, Maryland. A small way. But it was like, the black community on that campus did the whole, well, white kids sitting together at the cafeteria, we sat together and stayed together socially and so very early, you learn like, all right, you need support systems. like, every once in a while you see a person of color. Be by themselves. And it's like, eventually they drift to the car. It's like, yes. Right, right. You need, you need us, we need each other. we, that was something very early. It's like, find, find your people both intellectually, but also culturally if you need to. And then as I move through life, I think the environmental fields become a little bit more diverse than they used to be. Well, all that tiny bit, like ma'am, there are more campuses that have the major and things like that. And people talk more about climate change and things like that. But yeah, I mean, when I graduated from that university, I was the only black graduate in that major. But what I noticed was right behind me was another black female. Like she declared like right, right in the class behind me and. That was great to see. Right. So if one person does it right. Okay. It's cool. If one person does it, like, okay, maybe I can do it now. And so in subsequent years, they're a little bit more people going through that program.
Peter: Do you feel like, as you reflect on that time being that you were the first and only. Is it a burden to be that type of a role model? Like, did you feel like you were a role model, even though you were in your mid, late, early?
Gia: Actually I didn’t. And I think that's, you don't really, you're not thinking about it. You're thinking about your own experience. You're not thinking about like younger classmates or and I just moved in spaces that I wanted to, like, I was very active on that campus. I was in student government. Again, like one of the few ran people and that, I just, I did whatever I wanted to. I studied abroad. I did all these things and other students were like, oh, don't, you just want to be black student union. It's like, I want to do everything like I do all the things. But no, I never really saw myself as like chili then or anything like that.
Peter: And when you shifted from guess university to then the professional landscape, like did your college experience in like defaulting and trying to find and establish support systems being that you go into the professional landscape and that it may not necessarily be the case, especially if you look a certain way.
Gia: it's interesting. , I graduated from undergrad and then I went to Washington DC for an AmeriCorps year. it did, they now call it, they call it a gap year now I don't know what to do. I'm going to do it. AmeriCorps is what I called it. And I did, I was working for an environmental health children's mental health network and there was a black female. She's now the ED, but a black female in that office. Again, a role model for me. I call her every once in a while when I'm stuck. But what happened was that the program was really keyed into environmental justice. I actually found by the environmental justice community in DC there is a great community organizer named Diamond Smith. He was really active in South African divestment,but had started this black peace and justice group in DC. So I was doing it. And by miracle work with the children's grandmother, not that work doing environmental justice work, but al doing this peace and justice work with this really incredible leader. I found it. My community of organizers and people that were really committed to inclusion and really loved it. That was a year where I was just like soaking in all sorts of social justice, overwhelmed with it. And it was that time. And I remember it was like the occupation they're all these, like, this is kinda like early two thousands and like DCU is exploding with all the anti occupation stuff. I was like, knee-deep in that. And then over here, I was knee-deep in environmental justice and health stuff. We're kids. And it was like an overload of social justice. And it was a wonderful, wonderful year. But then I was like, I want to go back to school. then I went back and That's a university culture for a couple more years.
Peter: And in that time, did you feel like the university culture had changed at all?
Gia: this time I went off to a totally different campus. University of Michigan. Big huge school. But within that, I was in the natural, natural resources school, which again, had a very small community of people of color in the environmental justice program they had there. And again, like, Here's community again, right this time, our environmental justice group that we're doing like work in Detroit and Dearborn and our mentors kind of, teaching their classes. And so again like predominantly white culture, but finding this group of people that really cared about environmental justice and, and really, thinking in and, and finding a home.
Peter: from your having a lot of experience of being one of few, what are some things that you tried to instill in the CURE fellowship or scholarship fellowship?
Gia: The scholars. And out of school time program, it's also considered a, what they call pipeline program. it's walking the youth progressively into a career field. But yeah, I mean, it's all about raising confidence, giving them platforms to lead, giving them platforms to present to others. one of the activities they do at the end of the year, say. Then called the SIM expo, where they get to present to their family and their community about a science topic they've picked and worked on in spring semester. this is like their time to like, stand up and introduce themselves like when you go to poster sessions at conferences and you could just see like the ones that maybe start out in the beginning of the year, super shy by the time they hit the expert or like, saying their names, shaking hands, eye contact. They stand up a little taller, which, again, like you need to develop that confidence to be able to navigate what's going to come next. a lot of it's about wrapping around them and saying, okay, you can do this. And you're just as smart as any other kid out here.
Carol: Yeah. And I was talking to someone this morning who described those public speaking skills and all the things you're talking about, this. It's really leadership skills.
Peter: And also for, because so far we've been talking about like from the leadership, if you have control over a certain environment, which more often than not, we do not, but if you do. Establishing an environment where these young people, cause yes, they are building up these like hard skills throughout this process, but the soft skills that they're also and needs that they're being that are being addressed are acknowledgement and recognition, which are like the most vital things to not feel excluded.
Carol: Yeah. I heard you just continue to come back to the notion of finding, finding community. As a, as a safe space and a place to, I dunno, hang out, be yourself, not worried that not, be on as a place to rejuvenate that whole importance of wellness. And how do you build those skills and practices that you can keep, keep on keeping on.
Peter: For those young people as that warm handoff like they transition and progressed through the full, through the program is what is alumni engagement? Cause I think like, being a part, when you're a college student being a part of a fraternity sorority, or a club, like you like to go back to those people when you need to do that type of thing exist or, or is in the process of being.
Gia: what's interesting with this is because the program's only five years old, our oldest scholars are juniors and we were literally building the program as we go. And we'll have our first graduates next year, which is super exciting. And we're already thinking ahead, like, okay, they're going to be first year students on college campuses. What can we be doing? How can we get some of them, the thread back and maybe do near peer mentoring with the ones coming behind them because they would be the best mentors the program has eventually as they get older. And so we're definitely starting to think about that. As we look to our first graduates,
Peter: That's exciting to make it. Like, I can't wait. Like I'm sure they are as equally as excited about the prospect of the world opening back up so that they could stop mething very large-scale
Gia: like that it's been hard, you, like the, the scholars you don't want line learning has been tough. I definitely think, yeah, next year. Looking forward to seeing them in person.
Peter: we've been talking for a minute. I only have another one question. Carol, do you happen to have any additional questions or can I ask the classic Peter question?
Carol: I guess I was just thinking that, that this year, even though I obviously, for the program for everyone, it's been a bit of a tough year. And at the same time, it puts all of those issues that you've been working on front and center in terms of disparities, in terms of health equity, or lack of equity. Even right now, as we're looking at the vaccine, roll out how that's not happening in, in an equitable way in Maryland. I was wondering how you're using what's going on right now to work with students and have conversations about it?
Gia: Absolutely. We both provide them a little bit of clear information about COVID as it's a science program. Of course let's learn about neurology. But also, some of them have had COVID. Some of the families have had COVID. I had COVID so just also sometimes, we'll get family calls that say, We have COVID and okay, well here's here resources that the university has. Like, here's how I'm, here are things you can do. And so we've definitely had it hit home for people, but also trying to use it as a teachable moment for science and stem. it is a great time for public health right now. But yeah we've also had, Things with the pandemic just affect families, economically, just unemployment. our social work team helped develop an emergency fund. we have this fun that parents can tap if they need emergency electrical assistance or help someone buy an oven the other a couple months ago. whatever we can do, and of course it was all a very quick pivot, right? we're, everything was a pivot, The pandemic hit and just all of a sudden we had all these new issues and al exacerbated issues amongst our network. And we really had to think about, okay, how do we continue to Pratt support virtually safely? getting people resources. yeah, it's been a really challenging year and then I'm looking forward to the herd immunity or the vaccine distribution pushing out.
Peter: Well, I'm about what we're first firstly, glad that you're doing well. I think the last question that we have is having experienced what you've had in the entire tidy of 2020. Also actually let me ask this question first. We, we address the pandemic, but In regards to the social unrest resurgence of black lives matter that impacted the young people that you serve and also you as a person.
Gia: Yeah. first of all, say this community was deeply impacted by. 2015, it's the protests in Baltimore that went through west Baltimore, it's almost like Freddie Gray all over again for these communities. And our scholars, they read the news. They're very up to speed on what's happening. Some of them express concerns for their own safety of traveling out in space as a person of color because they saw what was happening on the news and they're just like, should I even be going outside now? We brought in a speaker for them, so we could talk through after George , we did a social justice town hall around that, just to get them to talk about that and unpack that. But absolutely these young people are very aware about what's happening around them and their place in the world. And what does that mean for them and trying to figure that out.
Peter: Yeah. Cause it's like, it's one of those things where of course they can see the positive and then you get like, oh, I could potentially replicate that. But that's through my own, I guess, effort and like sticktoitiveness, but things like Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, like those things can just happen without my knowledge. But also I could see myself with them as well. now then that transitioned, like, because you're building, we are building these habits as a society. Also your program, your. What are some things that you are looking forward to in the near future or, 2021 and beyond in regards to the program, societally, how the mental health of these young people.
Gia: Definitely looking forward to the end of the pandemic, but also through all the struggles of the pandemic, we've actually done some things that are a little innovative, like things that we never would have normally done had it not been for the pandemic. certain types of programming that we've never done before. All the things we're doing online are pretty neat. And so there's also this sense of, Do we go right back to the way we were or do we hybridize and go, actually that was pretty cool. What we did there, there and there. I also look forward to thinking more about, okay, what does crew styles look like with our curriculum post pandemic? Like, we used to have monsters. Huge events like with hundreds of people. are we still doing that? do we, do we figure out a different way to solve it or maybe we can do that, you know? I think it's actually exciting like this whole year of like, do you ever think differently? I think it has opened the door to be like, okay, maybe moving forward, we do do some things differently. it's actually pretty exciting.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, yeah, there's, we're at this intersection of like potential and like having been through so much. it's like, it's very exciting to actually like, be in the midst of history, if that makes sense. But yeah You don't want to hold up more of your time, I think. thank you so much for joining us. We truly appreciate it. And maybe we'll have you on after the graduation and see how that
Gia: oh, absolutely.
Carol: Well, thank you so much and thank you for all the work you've done.
Peter: Again, thank you to Gia. That was a great conversation and a lot of great insight on her work and her as a person and the journey that she's been on. I think some of the things that really stood out to me is the importance, like you mentioned, of community Wherever you go. It's important to have that support system and knowing that there are people who are going through the same journey as you who have the same concerns is always comforting in a very real way. When you go into professional spaces that you are truly the minority, she's another person who is one and only that it is very intimidating and scary. Kind of, for me at a younger age, I would probably avoid those spaces. Yeah, so, the importance of community and being recognized and acknowledged as a person, as a being, as, as someone who is different, because I think most spaces want to be like, oh, we're all family here. It's like, nah, we're all different. And that's okay.
Carol: Yeah. And I think when we pulled together our tagline. Podcasts and, and name. And when I was listening to that again, I'm thinking, oh God, I hope people don't think that we're kind of, advocating that people have to, be a culture fit or have to assimilate or have to take on these attributes. It's more a recognition that that's the reality. And a lot of people are navigating and Yeah. just that, that just acknowledging that reality. And how people have to manage those to survive and thrive.
Peter: It’s really like a spotlight on the struggle that we all go through. The mental gymnastics that we all have to play as someone who. Isn't part of the majority. And I think as we go and have more conversations, different people will have a couple of episodes where it's just us and talking about our experience and juggling all that. Yeah, the importance to, for stem exposure. And we're doing the importance for, I guess, The emotional and, and mental baggage that we have. Like we're exposing everyone to that. These are all very real things. And what you're going through is also just as real.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. In that support of a, of a group of folks going through it together to make it just a little bit easier.
Peter: Sure. All right. So. For us please send those over to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will see you at, yeah, we'll see you when we see you.
Carol: Thanks for listening. Bye bye.
Peter and Carol: Bye.
Carol: 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 Gia, 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 this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
Brief discussion of attempted murder from 26:27 until 26:38
In episode 43 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Travis Johnson discuss:
Travis Johnson is the host of the Nonprofit Architect Podcast. Travis shares his perspective as the former Vice President of Books by Vets; a board member at the S.H.I.N.E. foundation; he’s donated over $30,000; volunteered over 1,500 hours; raised more than $500,000; helped start 6 nonprofits; event coordinator; and published author.
Travis is currently serving as an active-duty officer in the United States Navy, married with two children, and on move #50. His humble beginnings include 36 moves before graduating high school at 17, 6 states, 5 foster homes, and surviving 2 murder attempts. Although this was very rough, there was always a person, group, or church willing to help him and his family. Now that he’s in a position to give back, he’s made it his mission to “Help the Helpers”.
Important Links and Resources:
Welcome Travis. Welcome to the podcast.
Travis Johnson: Hey, thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what motivates folks. So, what drew you to the work that you're doing now? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Travis: I have a why, and I just had this conversation right before we got on about a mutual friend of mine and this other guy, he's like, why are you doing all this stuff? And he replied because I'm allergic to being poor is like, why I'm doing so many things. That's not my why, but I thought it was a hilarious way to put that in context. But we're talking about the show that I had with the nonprofit architect podcast when I was growing. We had a lot of help and we needed a lot of help. I went through 36 moves, 12 schools, six states, five foster homes, and survived two murder attempts all before graduating high school at 17. And that means that we needed a lot of help, whether it was from individuals, churches, social services, or nonprofit organizations. You have a lot of credit to all the people that helped our family grow up there, the reason that we stayed sheltered close at the fed, and now that I'm in a place where I'm not in that scarcity of that survival mode, I'm able to give back. And I found out a way to be part of the community and being part of the nonprofit community, served on a couple of boards, donated a bunch of hours, and a bunch of money helped start a few nonprofits. And then I got stationed overseas in the kingdom of Bahrain. And I was like, how am I supposed to keep doing all this fun nonprofit work? And someone's like, well, you really have that podcast voice. You could probably connect and talk about some of this stuff. And I was like, Ooh, that would be cool. And, look through all the different podcasts that are out there. And there were some great conversations, but when I really didn't find that the top tier show was, was it really a show, like how do you set up a board? How do you raise money? How do you hold events? All these different things that apply to the nonprofit world. So I set out to create the premiere, how to podcasts for nonprofits. And we came up with the nonprofit architect podcast, helping build stronger nonprofits. And I view it as my mission to help health.
Carol: Well, I love that, that catchphrase. I was just looking at your website and saw that it helps the helpers, because I've used that phrase myself, that when I'm working with organizations, I like to work with people who are helping other people. And so I'm like many, many lines back in the chain of the helpers. But going back to that Fred Rogers, look, look for the helpers that, that really, When I'm wondering, what, what am I doing here all day? And I, that really helps me come back to center and think, it's, it's contributing to that, that entire ecosystem of folks who are doing all sorts of things to contribute to a better world. taking care of people day to day, all of that, all of the above. So I love that motivation. It certainly rings true for me.
Travis: Oh, absolutely. There's so many people out there doing, just going to work, helping their neighbors, helping the environment, helping animals. And if I, I can't help all of them, but if I can help them do what they're doing better, put a little bit more money in their pocket, help them understand their organization a little bit better, get a bit more focused. So they're able to deliver those services more efficiently, more effectively, and with less stress. All in.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. So one of the things that in addition to the podcast that you host yourself focusing on, how do you really think that nonprofits themselves should have their own podcasts? Can you, can you tell me a little bit more about that and why, why you think that?
Travis: And we can fill up a couple of hours talking about it if you want it to. First off I fell in love with podcasting while I was deployed. It is just such an easy medium to deal with. It's easy to get started. It's free to get started. If you've got a smartphone, you've got all the equipment you need to get started. And even I have production services and all that stuff, but even if you don't use me, like just getting started and falling in love with the process, that's, that's the way to go. Everyone that I talk to, everyone that I interview, everyone that I'm a guest on their show. I get to learn something. And if I'm the host, I get to ask all the cool questions that I want answered when you're in the nonprofit space, there's all these other organizations doing something similar to what you're doing, right. They're helping the same group of people. Maybe they're helping the same type of animals and maybe you're doing it differently. But what it does is. You're promoting the stuff that you're doing in your area, right in your local area. And there's people that are going to be listening and they're going to be like, this is really cool. I want to know how I can contribute. And it might be giving your organization money directly, or it might be connecting with an organization in their area that they didn't know is there. And they can now help out. The same thing that you want to help, maybe not your organization. It helps you build this huge, massive contact list. Every interview that you do, they're also sharing. So you guys are both getting the chance to leverage each other's network, all the audience that you've built, all the audience that they've built, you get to, You lend some of your credibility and some of your audience to them as an organization, and then all the people, because they're going to share the episode, all the people in their sphere of influence, they're going to hear about you. And it's such a fantastic way to grow your audience, to connect, to do better things on the personal. you go to a school, you go to college, you learn life experiences. Maybe you get into reading and maybe you listen to podcasts. Like you're listening to right now and they're going to teach you something. But when you start interviewing people, it's like having your own private masterclass with the experts. I got the opportunity to interview Asha Curran from Giving Tuesday, and learned a ton. Interviewed Alan Stein Jr. From raising your game. He's done leadership work with the late great Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and he gets to speak about leadership on the show. I got to interview Bob Burg, author of the Go-Giver series. It was just a fantastic man. I love his five principles for stratospheric success. And I got to interview Steve Sims. This is someone that does world-class events for millionaires and billionaires. He hosts, Sir Elton John's. Carpet Oscar party every year. And I asked him, I was like, what's the difference between the way for-profit businesses do events and the way that nonprofit businesses, like I got to ask him personally, instead of having to spend like $30,000 for his coaching, I get to bring them on my show. He gets to leverage my platform and I get to ask him for whatever the heck I wanted to. But if you're in the nonprofit space, And you're trying to get something accomplished, especially if it requires legislation, you can interview every single politician, every city council member, the mayor, the Senator, the Congressman state, and the federal level, the governor, you get to get them on your show on a record, talking about the thing that you both care about. Best part about it is when this comes up in Congress or for a vote or they're getting the committees ready. They're going to say this stuff, who do we know that's an expert, and they're gonna remember being on your show and you're going to get brought into the conversation to have that direct ability to affect the change that you want to see in the world with the people that can make it happen. It's such a fantastic way to leverage and do everything you want to do as a nonprofit, but that's not even the biggest part of this Carol. It's the big difference between a website people go to all the time, day after day, week after week, month after month and a website. Yeah. People only go through one time. The biggest difference between the two is new content. When you look at news, sports, social media, whatever it is, there's new stuff every day. And when you look at the vast majority of non-profit websites, it looks like a digital pain, but this is who we are. This is what we do. Here's our founding story. And that's great. And there's a sure, some donation plugin there so people can give you money, but they've got no reason to come back to your website. Unless you've created new content and reasons for, for doing that. So by adding a podcast or a blog or a blog or a YouTube channel to your page and creating that new content, all of a sudden people are coming to your page for other reasons. And realizing that the thing they care about is the thing that you care about and they can provide money directly to the cause of the thing that they care about. Because they found you through some other method and what a fantastic way to get people into your circle and to create real value for them, the person that large, the potential donor, the potential volunteer is by coming directly to you because of something that you've created.
Carol: Yeah, that's awesome. I wanted to follow up on a couple of different things you've talked about there. First is I just totally resonate with the idea that the podcast actually is a learning mechanism because I, when I started mine or even actually way before I started it, because, well, I won't admit how long it took me to get started. But when I first had the idea, I was sitting at a conference and listening to. A number of experts, consultants. Who've been in the field for a long time and were thinking about their legacy. And I thought, oh, wouldn't, I want to follow up with these people having kind of one-on-one informational interviews. And I thought, well, Wouldn't it be cool if I just shared that, if I just had the conversation recorded and then shared it with other people and, and that was the springboard for the, the podcasts that my podcast of yeah, exactly. That I could say, talk to interesting people. I'd be doing that anyway. The difference is I hit record and I work with some of them, do a little bit of editing and add some music and stuff, but beyond that, it's pretty simple. Right. It's what you would do in a virtual coffee anyway. And yet it can be valuable to a whole other group of people. So I love, yeah, so, it could be Just that, that, that instance of learning and continued growth. I think too often folks in organizations think about any content that they're creating a blog post, possibly a pocket. As, just as a way to get their message out, but all of those other benefits of the multiplying networks that you're talking about, the potential for relationship building. Having, as you said, your own private masterclass with really prominent people, all is beneficial. And, and for me, when I was doing my worst case scenario, What if no one listens to this podcast, I still could list all of those things as benefits. And luckily there are plenty of people listening. So thank you to all of them, all the folks who are listening. But I could list all of those benefits from the get-go even if, if my worst fear were to have.
Travis: You have nobody listened. Nobody showed up, the really cool part about it is, a lot of organizations have a problem with things like, what am I gonna post on social media? Like, what am I going to, I don't even know what to put out there today. If you do something like an interview show, thank you Carol, for being my guest yesterday. And I'm your guest today. Thank you so much. If Carol asked me 10 questions and I provided 10 answers. That's all the content you need to have a morning in an afternoon post each and every week. Right? So if you interview me, it’s January 6th. I don't know when this is going to be published. Let's just say it's next week. Carol asked me 10 questions, using a program that's free called headliner. And you can take a few minute clips out of there. Her question and my answer. And if you have 10 questions and answers, you have a morning, Monday morning and Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning or Wednesday afternoon for the whole week, from just a single conversation, you don't have to figure out what you're going to post. You just have to repurpose what you've created and all of a sudden that workload goes away. If you have a company doing the backend stuff for you, they create them all for you. And they can even schedule them out. So you don't have to even do anything. You just record the episode, you give it to the team and they do all the work.
Carol: I think that's another thing that people forget is the number of ways that you can repurpose. One thing that you've created. So you've talked about a lot of the benefits that organizations can see from doing a podcast from, the learning aspect of connecting with other people, networking with other potential partners highlighting all the interesting things. Obviously you can just interview people within, inside your organization and help highlight their expertise. Multiplying networks, having, having people they'll share you share you got to borrow people's audiences are stepping into their audiences and building relationships in that repurposing. What are some of the things that you see gets in the way of folks getting started? Because it might, it might seem intimidating to do a pilot.
Travis: It can be. And I'm sure when you started your show, I mean, you feel like there's a thousand things you got to figure out before you surgery. You're like, oh, what am I going to record this thing? When do I have the time? And who's going to do the production, can I do the production? Can I do all these things? What equipment do I need? What do I host it on? Can I change it? What am I going to name it? Like it can be. It can be a lot to be successful in this stuff. The main thing you need to do is say what your show is about and tell people how often you're going to do it. And if you keep the program on target about what it's going to be about, and you publish, when you say you're going to publish that builds credibility and authority and reliability. So I said, I'm going to do a weekly show, and I've done a weekly show each and every week I publish. And people come flocking in. They know that it might be providing the steps they need to be successful. So I've said what I'm going to do. And then I do it, which is great. If you look out there, there's all sorts of different production, quality levels. There's people on their phone on anchor, just chatting for a few minutes and then they call it good. A guy named Russell Brunson. Who's the co-founder of click funnels. Did this as a marketing podcast. He got in his car every morning, recorded on his phone on the way to work at 10. And it got to the parking lot and he hit publish and just let it go. He did this for like 400 episodes. He's gotten millions upon millions upon millions of downloads. No intro music, no outro music, no production quality whatsoever. He had quality conversations with himself and publishing. And allowed him to have this huge platform with millions of downloads. You don't have to get all crazy with it. You can write, you're going to get the Joe Rogan setup and he's got people setting up the sound and he's got the crazy microphone and he's got headphones and mixers and all these things. And they do it in a sound booth and a sound room, and then they take it and they put all this production value into it, make the sound, sound great, and all these things. And you can do that, but you don't have to do that. I didn't start with this fancy microphone. I started with the equipment that I have and started having good conversations and came from it from a curious point of view. And that's all that was needed. To start going to start showing up to have the audience grow and to provide value. It doesn't have to be crazy. People are like, well, we already do so much in the nonprofit. When are we going to have the time? Hey, I get it. But if you have someone dedicated to doing the interview, One day a month in the morning, lunchtime afternoon, evening, they sit down and record all the episodes for the month. They don't have to be crazy. not doing a Joe Rogan three hour long marathon. There's nothing wrong with his show, but some people just don't have the time and I don't blame them. Right. But you can say I'm going to do 10, 15, 20 minute episodes. And if you're going to do an interview, you set them all up on the same day. You do them back to back to back and. Yeah, two hours worth of work, record six interviews, and you've got six weeks worth of material. If you have a team that's doing the production, you give it over to them, they publish it, they edit it and they do all those things. So as long as you have the time to record, which is a two hour block, Sometime during the month, you've got your time set aside. So it's really easy to do. It can be free to start. If you use your cell phone, an anchor, you can buy the equivalent when you decide, you know what? We really like this thing because we want to improve the sound quality. People understand that you might not be the best interviewer when you start. I don't think I was the best interviewer when I started Carol. Were you the best interviewer?
Carol: No. I mean, I think that's been one of the, talk about learning from others, but you just, you also get better at this. Right. You get, you get more comfortable. It's not as anxiety producing as it might've been at the beginning. So yeah, you definitely get better and, and right. If there are lots of different options, you can do like the person that you mentioned, you're just doing a solo show short. Some thoughts on your own. You don't have to be interviewing other people. You can mix it up. Right. So, occasionally I'll do a solo episode. I mostly do interviews, but occasionally I'll, I'll throw one of those in a couple, couple of episodes ago. I did a best-of which was an interesting one because I found that it actually took more work than doing a simple interview, but it was a lot of fun too.
Travis: Oh, it's there. There's no, there's no rules, right? So you can have these as long or as short as you want them. There's there's people that do flash briefing. On Google or Alexa or Siri or whatever you have that are between two and 10 minutes. It doesn't have to be crazy long. It doesn't have to be all consuming. I posted a solo show on the fifth. That is like three quick tips, three reasons. I think every podcast needs their own website. And it's really quick. I go through the three tips, a program or something that's going to add value to the podcaster. There's three and a half minutes. What would he do? People are like, well, I just don't like the camera, I guess what? I didn't like the camera when I started. I like it now because with the right filters, I look, I mean, I'll look good. Like let's not pretend here. I'm joking. Of course. I don't know. I'm not that high on myself, but you can turn the camera off and just record audio. You can do this in your slippers and housecoat. Nobody cares. I've got a show on the veteran podcast. As a gal who talks about mule, military sexual trauma, and she's still active duty military. So all of her stuff, she's never shown her face. She's getting the word out there, talking about the thing that's important to her, but she's doing it anonymously. Like we don't know who it is. And she's able to do that because of the technology that we have. She interviews her camera and stays off the whole time and she gets the. Content that she needs to put out on episode and she's able to speak her mind and do her things and remain anonymous. You don't have to do video. You can do just audio only and put out great content. And why wouldn't you, but you can do it a couple of ways. You can do it solo. You can do an interview show like Carol's doing, let's be honest. It's probably the best. Like Carol doesn't have to do any work. She just asks a couple of questions. Is that guy in the hot seat or of the guest that does all the work, right? Carol's like, oh, tell me about this. And I talk for 20 minutes and he's like, this is great. Like, I don't have to do any work. You can do a co-hosted show. There's one like diapers and deployments. It's a co-hosted show. Two people, one was active duty, one was a military spouse. Talk about who had it worse. And then they bring on guests for part of the episode. There's people that do panel discussions, where the host is the guy and they asking, five, six people what they think about a certain topic. There's all sorts of different ways to do this. And the best part about. As you can change it. If you don't like the name of your podcast, you can change it in a couple of months. You don't like your podcast, or you can change in a couple of months, get in a fight with your co-host. You can do a solo show. You don't like doing it. Let alone starting the interview show. You can change it however you want to do it. But the whole thing. Is to just start. Most people that do start, they get about 10 episodes in and they're like, I don't have a million downloads yet. A fun fact, no one did. Right. Unless you're doing like… NFTs right now, I saw a guy's show. This was increasing by hundreds of thousands every day. Because of the new hot NFT space, but most people, 99.9999997% are not going to have that return. You have to come through, you have to do it on a regular basis, whether that's daily, weekly, monthly by way. Even if you did one a month, you would still have 12 pieces of content that you created. I recommend a weekly. Because think about Netflix when they binge like people get in, they want to listen to something. And if you produce one piece of content, it takes you 30 days to get your next piece. They're already on to some other show they've already forgotten about you. I definitely recommend at least one a week, but there's so many different ways to do this, but if you wait to make all the decisions or slog through all the possibilities, you'll never start. And if you do start, you want to commit to making 25 episodes. There's something like 2.5 million podcasts that are published right now. But 2.1 million of them haven't produced more than 10 episodes. So the people that are going to come on and be dedicated to the thing like Carol and myself, We're already in the top 20%, just because we have more than 10 episodes. I don't know where you're at in the standings and it doesn't really matter, but like I'm in the top 5% of podcasts in the world and I do a nonprofit show. Our audience just really isn't that big, but because then I'm showing up every week we can bring in week out bringing and providing value, valuable guests. You will be able to hear my show with Carol soon, probably in a few months, I've had a lot stacked up, but. If you do this and you stick with it and you stick to whatever your mission is, like, it's gonna pay off. And it's just so much fun thinking. Am I right Carol?
Carol: Yeah, it totally is. I have been having great fun. It's a great way to connect with people and, and yeah, I think that's really important to just have people. Go into it, thinking this is for the long haul. This isn't a short, this is not an easy short return thing. It's a quick thing that builds over time. And I've heard of, I've seen a lot of podcast spaces where they're like, just, just ignore the downloads. Don't even pay any attention to them. Just keep doing your thing, keep showing up. And then as you say, like try not to overcomplicate it. And that could be challenging in the nonprofit sector because it's not usually just one person making a decision. It's many people being involved. But. You know that you can just get started with as, as simple as set up as possible. Not, getting all involved with complicated equipment at the beginning are all good places, just that, what's, what's the what's good enough. Get it out there.
Travis: Oh, all this stuff builds over time. Especially if you’ve got a board. Money's tight, completely understood. Go with the free option to start with your phone, whatever earphones you have that have a mic on them and download the Anchor app. There's a couple. I'm not affiliated with Anchor. There's a couple of free apps that have a podcast hosting app that you can do it for free and get. Start creating content for your page and give people a reason to come back to your website over and over and over again. Don't just rely on outbound traffic, outbound, social media, direct mail. Don't just rely on those things. Give them a reason to come find you. Wouldn't you rather have volunteers showing up in your email and donors contacting you than having you have to contact all of them. Find a reason to create content. So they come to you.
Carol: So I'd love to finish every episode with a game where I play, where I ask one random icebreaker question that I pulled somewhat randomly out of a box. So I've got three sitting here. What would you say is something that surprises people when they first hear it about.
Travis: I mean, if, if it comes up in conversation, the murder attempts are usually pretty high in the list. Like, what did you do that people tried to kill you? It usually comes out. If I'm on video, I've got all this great stuff behind me. People are like, Ooh, what's that? Like, it was this thing. Like, you've got a Rubik's cube over there. Can you sell all of that? I had a guest stop, like in the middle of our thing, make me grab the cube and mix it. I can solve it. Any three by three of your weeks, Q in under a minute. So they're like, I have someone like, I want to see this Kenny be like, I've never seen it done in real life before, I've got my wings up here. I've got my sign that lights up. I've got the kingdom of Bahrain. I've got some awards from the Navy. Like this is from a war hammer from the veteran podcasts awards. All sorts of different things. People like you're so young, you've been in the military. How long have you just turned 40? They're like, holy cow, like I have no idea. Like how long have you been podcasting for this long? Like, have you had any success? I was like, well, four months after starting, I was number four in the U S and they're like, what? Like, I don't know. I don't know what it is about me or my life or what happens, but like, I've dodged death like six or eight times that I can remember that I can directly remember what happened and then not dying, obviously. I've been to all 50 states. I've been to 12 countries. I've got friends all over the world, especially I started meeting a lot of people doing the podcast and game, but if you're listening to this and you want to reach out to me, please do. But like, People in your area, meet him online, meet him for coffee, go meet people who will be so surprised to see all the amazing things that are right in your neck of the woods that you just never know. Because he never asked the question.
Carol: Exactly. Exactly. So, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you next?
Travis: Oh, let me tell you, let me tell you Carol. I know I told you yesterday cause you're on my show, but like we have created. The ultimate and complete podcast guide, which is available on the website or whatever, but we've taken that thing and we've created a course and you're like, no, there's a bunch of podcasters with courses right now.
We are the only course it's being revoked. Even professional podcasters get tongue tied every now and again. We're the only professional podcast group that has created a course that's going to be available at the college level that is being reviewed right now at Forbes business school. At the University of Arizona, you're gonna be able to take my college course and get college. For podcasting here, hopefully within the next like four or five weeks, it will be available online as the only professional podcast, or to have an actual course where you get college credit, which is just really, really, really amazing. anyone that's in business communications, journalism, marketing, entrepreneurship, the possibilities are endless, and you have the ability to get college credit from a podcast course. Come on. Who wouldn't take that? And why wouldn't you? That's exciting. And my official Navy retirement is March 1st, so I'm less than two months from retiring after a career of over 21 years.
Carol: Congratulations. And I think yeah, I am also stacked up with interviews, so this probably will be coming out just about that time. You'll be officially retired when this is published. So thank you. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation and I hope. This inspires a couple of new non-profit related organizations to get into the podcast and game and, and share their wisdom, share their, their networks and get connected with people. So thank you so much.
Travis: Hey, thanks, Carol. And anyone listening hop on over to nonprofit architect.org. There's a tab in there. That's got all my stuff, but we also have the non-profit podcast network. We've got 15 shows: my show and Carol’s show, and a bunch of other shows that talk through all the things that go on in the nonprofit world and nonprofit game. Maybe you like my show, maybe you don't, but you're going to find something that you do like that does resonate with you at nonprofitarchitect.org. Thank you so much again, and thank you, Carol, for having me on. Thank you.
Carol: Thank you.
I am taking away several things from our conversation. The first is the versatility of the podcasting medium and the hidden benefits – I have certainly experienced what Travis talked about in terms of giving me a way to access many people, their expertise and perspective. I learn so much from each guest and each conversation. And he also makes a good point – that you don’t have to make it complicated to start. You can start with a smartphone. You also learn as you go and get better at interviewing, at spotting an interesting quote to pull out. One thing to remember with this particular marketing channel – it is a slow burn and takes a while to build an audience. It’s a long game, not a quick win. 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 Travis, their background and 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. Until next time!
In Episode 42 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Marla Bobowick discuss:
Marla Bobowick is an independent consultant based in Washington, DC, has served as a Senior Governance Consultant for BoardSource since 2008, and is also a Standards for Excellence® licensed consultant. She has more than 30 years of nonprofit experience and a history of creative problem solving. Specializing in nonprofit management and leadership, she has extensive experience with board governance, strategy, and publishing. She has worked with nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes, including regional healthcare and social service providers, educational institutions (independent schools and colleges and universities), family and other private foundations, and local and national offices of federated organizations and professional associations. Previously, Marla was Vice President of Products at BoardSource, where she oversaw publications, online products, and research. During her tenure at BoardSource, she was an active consultant and trainer, developed educational curriculum, managed regional capacity building projects, oversaw the global program, and coordinated the annual conference. While at BoardSource, Marla managed Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. She was also a member of the working group for The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards (BoardSource © 2005). She managed “Governance Futures: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Governance,” a multiyear research project that culminated in publication of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (John Wiley & Sons © 2005). She is co-author of Assessing Board Performance: A Practical Guide for College, University, System, and Foundation Boards (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges © 2018). Previously, Marla was an acquisitions editor at John Wiley & Sons, where she developed Wiley’s Nonprofit Law, Finance, and Management Series and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Development Series. Marla holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, a master’s degree in business administration and a certificate in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University. She is a past board chair of Maryland Nonprofits and a past board member Calvary Women’s Services.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Marla Bobowick. Marla and I talk about the misconceptions that people have about nonprofit boards and governance, why shared leadership and governance is important to strive for, and why boards needs to shift their focus from hindsight to foresight 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 Marla, welcome to the podcast.
Marla Bobowick: Thanks for inviting me. This'll be fun.
Carol: So I like to start by asking folks what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your, why?
Marla: I fell in love with the nonprofit sector by accident. I love being involved with people who are absolutely passionate about what they do and believe in it and get to live and act and work their values and passions. And I wanted to be surrounded by people like that. And my passion is the nonprofit sector and making it work better, which is a little wonky, but that's what I do. Yeah. The most people, when they think of the nonprofit sector, I think they, they think of that direct, direct service or, or, working on the front lines, but there's so many layers and I've often felt that I was a couple layers removed from, from those frontline folks, but it's all important work.
Carol: Your work focuses on nonprofit board governance, which is obviously very key. What would you say is the most common misconception about nonprofit boards?
Marla: Of course, I always think there's more than one answer to questions like this, which is, I think it's two extremes. It's either the board thinks they have all the power or they think they have none of the power and same from the CEO executive director point of view. And so. Undoing that misconception because I really believe in a notion of shared leadership and a governance partnership is forcing people to challenge a lot of their implicit or explicit assumptions.
Carol: And where do you think those two extremes come from?
Marla: I think it's sometimes the language that, that we in the sector that state laws say that the board is responsible for the mission. Well, they can't do that by themselves. They do it with the community that they serve. They do it with professional staff who are on the front lines. So there's language that says the board is responsible for it. Sometimes unfortunately it's more egregious, I pay for it. Therefore I get to decide what our priorities are. And I think executives over underestimate they either manipulate or overestimate how much power they have because they control information. And so board members sometimes feel excluded or executives don't want to give them too much information because they'll get in the weeds. And that creates a tension that is counterproductive.
Carol: Yeah. And I've definitely always wondered about that aspect and, and been in organizations where I've seen those dynamics playing out where it seems like in the, the, the way that conventionally nonprofit governance. Is taught and the models that people are using currently, there is a lot of power in, in that executive director role of, especially around controlling information and what information is shared, what information isn't shared that, can, can lead to some not great outcomes. So I'm curious about what your perspective is on that.
Marla: So I feel like I walk into a lot of boardrooms and there's this hope. Assumption that there's a nice, neat line in the middle of the sand. That's a bright line that says on one side is what the CEO and the staff do. And on the other side is what the board does. And when I walk in and say, the reality is it's a fuzzy line. It moves sometimes depending on the circumstances of the organization, either as it grows and changes over time or on the size and shape and nature of the organization. And the goal is to know where the line should be and agree on it for your organization at the moment in time. No, when you cross over and know when it's time to go back to your respective sides and that underlying that is the. Every decision you can make the case that should really be borders should really be, may be management and to say, What's the sequence of the discussions and conversations and decision making, as opposed to thinking it's all one or all the other, and realizing that almost everything really has to be done in partnership or together in some way. And it's the process about how do you do that? That is the way through the mass to see where the line is and what to do on terms of what's management and what's board work,
Carol: Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
Marla: So strategic planning is a pretty classic one, which is, again, it depends, the board has a role in it. I think of the board as bookends. They should be involved in the front end, the back end, but board members and the board in particular, can't do strategic planning by themselves. They need information from the CEO. They need information from the field. They need information from the frontline staff, from constituents and stakeholders. And it's gotta be an inclusive process. And often the executive and the staff are the ones that filter and synthesize and frame that information for the board on a regular basis. And together talk about what's the priority, what's the shift, what are our goals and what matters most? And some of those things about what matters most are going to be based on client needs. Others are going to be based on organization. so the client needs in terms of which programs, where should we grow, where should we shrink? How do we rethink what we do? Some of them are going to be on Operational issues about size staffing technology. Inevitably, every strategic plan has to improve operational excellence or systems. And that's really the purview of the staff and the CEO. But when you get to fundamental questions about sort of, are we really a hunger organization thinking of a food bank or are we really a poverty or anti-poverty organization? Those are philosophical conversations that have to be had by everybody.
Carol: Yeah, I definitely see when I'm doing strategic planning, I want to see it as a partnership between board and staff, because each is bringing different information, different perspectives and to really have buy-in for what those final strategic goals are going to be. Staff need to be involved in those conversations. So what would you say is the key to having healthy governance?
Marla: You need magic. So I'm a big fan of alliteration as a recovering book editor, but I think there's a combination of, I used to say, it's just, you need good. You need clarity, real clarity, and sharpness of focus on what you're doing. You need great communication and information sharing. I always say this is a little of the Goldilocks approach, the right amount, not too much information, not too little and at the right time. And I started to add to that list. You need real curiosity to break out of old habits and maybe COVID has brought this to the fore, but I also think it is just part and parcel of words in particular need to be with. Ask good questions and then work together to find the answers and executives who have a lot of the answers, and sometimes think it's their job to give answers all the time. Need to be curious about what's behind board members, questions, interests, responses, as opposed to being defensive. And the last one I would add as context, which is what does the organization need now? And in the future, knowing where you've come from. And the, I did this somewhere else. And you hear that a lot from board members, and you'll hear that a lot from executive directors to say what fits the culture, what aligns with the organization's culture and purpose and mission. So that it makes sense for this organization now and going forward. And I always say the end going forward, because board work is often hindsight and I wish there was more foresight with it.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean?
Marla: So board meetings often happen and you get lots of information and reports. That is all about what happened in the past. What happened last month, last quarter, last year, and not a lot about the, what you see coming up in the next 3, 6, 12, 18, 24 months. And so how do you use it? And that's, that's the reality of information sharing because there's nothing, there's no data on what's going to happen next, but how do you use the past to inform conversations about wow, we saw. But they need an X during the last six months. How do we pivot to make more of that available? What are we going to stop doing so that we can put more staff onto this program? And so I think it's that using the past to inform the present, as opposed to saying pat yourself on the back and say, Hey, we just did a great job on this, or, oh my God, we're having a panic. Because if something didn't work, we should beat ourselves up and slash the budget to say, let's really think about what. Coming ahead and short-term, and long-term.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important. Especially around the communications piece. Cause that could be so tricky of a kind, you want people to be informed. It's challenging to get people to read things ahead of time. So you end up with a lot of reports, but as you're saying, that's all looking backwards and so, how can. Boards, carve out the time to have some strategic conversations, get, sometimes I'll talk to folks about, what's a, what's a question that you can have a half an hour conversation about that isn't necessarily about making decisions today. But opening up so that you're thinking about possibilities for the future is right. None of us can predict the future, but by just having that discipline of trying to look ahead and notice name and notice trends, et cetera can, can help. And I think having some a couple of questions to frame that up really helps people have those conversations because otherwise it's like, okay, well, are we being strategic? We're supposed to be strategic. How are we doing?
Marla: One of the challenges is that people are so prone to asking, yes, no questions as opposed to open-ended questions. And there is a time when you need a yes, no. And up, down, vote on something. I think you learn more from the boards when you can ask them open-ended questions, which is what worked, what would work better? What would you do differently? What did we learn from this? Where there is no, yes, no answer. And you can then pull out the nuggets of information that can inform things. And so as opposed to saying, will you approve this or do you agree with this decision learning to ask open-ended questions creates more discussion. And I think the more board members are given a chance to have productive and constructive conversation and discourse in the boardroom and not be talked at or to. Is healthier. So one of the mantras, I think I can brag about board source on this podcast is that when we were aboard board source, our rule is staff. When we presented to the board you had five minutes of the hour-long agenda item. They had them on our board and came prepared, but they had the materials in advance. You framed the questions for discussion, and we gave the highlights and then it was a board discussion. And they would ask big questions and they would offer different points of view, but it wasn't. I gave the report for 20 minutes or half an hour that they already had read. And then ask them, do you agree with that?
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And it's really like those almost as if the report is laying the groundwork or setting the stage for having that conversation rather than yeah. Being talked out and then going, oh, whoops. We ran out of time for any conversation about this. Yeah. So, what are some other things that you see get in the way of kind of, of good governance? You talked about those extremes of like either the board that you may have all the power and none of the power. What are some other things that get in the way of boards that are just being talked at by staff?
Marla: It’s people. Boards would be great if there was nobody on them, nobody staffing them. Right?
Carol: None of us, we have any work. If there weren't any people in home,
Marla: We get in our own way as execs and board members in terms of not listening in terms of having preconceived ideas in terms of. Presenting a defense or offense for something as opposed to a conversation. And so I think it's, and I think board members, on the one hand, there's this push for efficiency. We want to be efficient. So we're going to run through a bunch of conversations or meetings. Or we're going to try and cover so many things that then there's no time for conversations. So I feel like board members and execs put up their own barriers, they bring a lot of baggage or and preconceived ideas into their board work and their work together. That, to say, taking time out to pause And find a way to say what's how we should be as a board and spending time on board purpose and culture can overcome a lot of the usual frustrations that go around boards, but it takes time. And often people don't feel like they have time for what board, something many board members do. We'll say it is navel gazing. And many execs would say it's not going to make a difference. But taking time out to say, well, is this a good use of our time? What's the most important thing we talked about? What could we do differently at the next thing? I just came from a board meeting this weekend where we finally have turned around the board. We've restructured it. We've got new board members on and somebody complained about one of the agenda items. Like, all we do is talk about fundraising. So I said, what do you want to talk about next? And I think that was the first time that the board had ever been asked what's of interest to you. And I think that's a healthy conversation and let the board own some of it.
Carol: Yeah, I think so often when I talk to folks, the whole question of slowing down and taking a pause and stepping back and thinking about, well, why are we doing things the way we're doing them? Or, is this really serving us? Always comes up and then there is the pressure of, we just gotta get through this. We've got so many things on our agenda. Yeah, I, I, to me, when. When I was on board. And, and in charge of putting together the agenda, I was always fighting. Well, it was us fighting might be a strong word, but there was a struggle often between us having all these different things to talk about and then being saying, well, We're really not going to talk about any of them. If we just try to rush through it all we'll just end up having to come back to it anyway. So could we have fewer things on the agenda so that we could really dig into at least one of them?
Marla: Well, I think that's a silver lining for boards during the time of COVID, which is, many were meeting more often, less often, but they were all meeting differently than they used to. And I think it is forced. One of the most important conversations, which is what does the board need to talk about and why, and what do we not need to have as a board meeting on a board meeting agenda. So to hear a lot of reports that there's not a lot of conversation about is a waste of everyone's time. And yet it has value. I understand when you're in a board meeting, like people aren't thinking about the organization as board members on a day-to-day basis, and they want to know what's new and different, but finding a different way to convey that or a more engaging and interactive way to talk about what's happening at the organization so that when you are together with the board, with the average of whatever 15 people. You are using everyone's time to the highest value, which is what's. How can we add value to the organization and help the executive and help advance our mission? No. Be not a board, his book club. Let's just talk about what you did last month and how great it was, but you're not actually contributing anything of, of intellectual or strategic value.
Carol: So, what are some of the innovations that you've seen come out this past 18 months?
Marla: I have been surprised and shocked and pleased at being able to do some board assessment, evaluate self evaluation, work online with doing the typical online survey and then presenting the results, and creating it as a separate meeting. Whereas if we were always meeting in person, it was an all day retreat. There was a lot of drama and anxiety around, oh my God, what are we going to do per day? Is it worth it, but to kick off a conversation in an hour and a half or two at a zoom meeting and talk about it and then parlay it into full board discussion. So it's almost like deconstructing what were retreats? Definitely missed the in-person social networking that happens when board members are together. No one get this wrong, I'm all for meeting again in person. But I think the innovation of saying we can call an extra meeting for an hour and a half and use it as a listening to her, use it for a discussion that doesn't require action. Use it to dig into one topic. So I think that's the notion of focus. Out of it. I think there's just a lot. I think people have realized how much information you need and what's the best way to present it. Because I hear all the complaints and I haven't heard them lately. That board meetings are just a bunch of presentations. So when you work on zoom. You have to think about how much presentation, how many Hollywood squares can I see, how many, how much is too much PowerPoint. All of that is a test to be rethought. The strain honestly, though, is that it takes a lot more work to organize a meeting like that on zoom than to do it in person. It can take a lot. It can, it doesn't have to, but even as a consultant who does this all the time to plan and design interactive meetings, it takes more of a.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, it's been interesting to me where you talked about deconstructing the retreat. I've definitely seen the advantage of breaking up. I do a lot of strategic planning and break up those processes into a series of two hour or three hour meetings where you're really just doing one piece of it. You're starting out with that. Okay. So, I've, I've done all those conversations. I've done that assessment. I've got survey data, all of that. Let me share that with you. Let's make sure. But that's it that we're going to do today. We're not going to try to get to the very end in one day and have that marathon that people have had before. So I've really appreciated that, that focus that that can be brought.
Marla: I've done something similar with orientation and I did this before. COVID with an organization that is very small and. It's a national organization and people just can't afford to come together very often. And so a couple of years ago, we started a three-part session of orientation. One session about the state of the organization. One session about the work of the board in one session. Planning for the next year, board action planning that then feeds into organizational planning and budgeting. And we've been doing it in these three-part sessions now, I think for three or four years. And it really is like there, it compounds it, it gives people time to think about it. They tag it on to an existing board meeting, so they're not creating more stuff. It's worked really wonderfully and I've watched the board come along. And the conversation, even if the session, the content doesn't change much, the quality of the conversation has improved. And in the beginning they didn't talk a lot. And now there's much more back and forth. It's much less hearing me talk, but to have board member to board member conversation. So I think things like breaking things down have been, has been.
Carol: Yeah. And I'm even thinking, in terms of all those presentations what, what, might've all been written reports before, you could just record a brief, the, the staff or the, whatever the report is and have those go out beforehand. So you watch them while they're doing the dishes or listen to them while they're taking a walk, it doesn't have to all be written materials. So there's lots of different ways that you can deliver whatever information people need to have to have the conversation.
Marla: I'm trying to think of other innovations I've seen. And I think it just has to do with better reports. I've seen a, like little they're, more logistical and operational about better way board members are getting in the execs, I guess, are getting better at organizing board packets and materials and online handbooks and resources. And I think this is the nature of the pandemic, but I think it's a healthy thing. And I've seen other execs do this often when they're new, which is communication between board meetings. Assuming you're not meeting monthly, which I rarely recommend. But that, they're like, here's an update from the staff on what's happening on the ground because board members, especially during COVID and especially if you're doing frontline work, want to know what it’s like in the office or the quote office. What are you seeing? And so they don't have to be long emails, but a, like, here's three exciting things that happened this month. And yes, it takes some time from the exec to do that, but to be strategic about it and balance it between operational and strategic issues and need, and mission has, I think, helped some board members feel better connected. I've also seen some really savvy execs have coffee hour sort of, much more intentionally one-on-one with board members or an open house, like just call and ask questions, schedule time on a, like once a month basis for just whats. So people can ask questions because I think with all the uncertainty around, going back to work or direct service needs or increases or decreases in funding. It's just a way to ask questions without feeling like it's the formality of a full meal. Yeah, I love that.
Carol: There are lots of different ways to do that communication, that isn't all in the box of a board meeting, but what are the different ways that you can poke people in and not have it be onerous either on the board members part or on the staff part, but to keep those lines of communication open. So on each episode I'd like to play. A game where I ask one random icebreaker question. My question for you is what book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?
Marla: One of the things they did during the pandemic was a virtual book club with people I've been in book clubs with over the course of my life, and none of us are in the same city. So it's been a blast. My favorite book was Deacon King Kong by James McBride. I can see you smiling. Not everybody can do that on the podcast. So it is a historical novel, if you will. We'll about, I believe it was the sixties in New York city and it had the, the Italian mafia on the Irish cops and the black drug dealers. And The Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn, I can't even remember, but it had the best characters.
Carol: Character names for sure.
Marla: Absolutely the best names. And so it was incredibly relevant to the world today and issues of social justice and community. And yeah, just a blast to read. He's a wonderful writer. And we had some fun conversations about it, we were joking about that. So if you haven't read the book, the burning question in our head was what was the cheese that was left in the basement by that was left for the community in the basement of the boiler room.
Carol: I do remember it now. I do remember it. Yeah, there was just so it set in, in a, in a housing project. I can't remember what borough of New York and just all the intersections of community and. These characters. Oh my goodness. Yeah. So Donald has great characters, but the story moves too. So yeah. I love that.
Marla: I want it to be a movie.
Carol: Yes. I think it would make a great movie. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Marla: It was amazing in the middle of the pandemic. I worked on a think tank research project about the principles of trusteeship which I did with the association of governing boards of universities and colleges. It's always a mouthful to say that and it really focused on what are the principles of would that make a great board member? Not a great board because the board is made up of a bunch of people. And as I said earlier, one of the obstacles to governance is people. And so it was really fun and amazing to tap into the wisdom of a bunch of college and universities per professor presidents and foundation executives to say what they had seen and to do this in the middle of the pandemic. When you thought colleges didn't even know if they were going to be open that semester. Folks, hundreds of volunteers from AGB we're on focus groups. And so really walking away with this sort of, how do you speak to the individual? I think it has made me realize how important it is to say, it's not just what a good board should do, but it's like, what can you personally do and do better as a board member and. I feel like that's a mantra that comes out in conversation, but not as explicitly as this project brought it into focus. And so really helping people see what you are doing to help or get in the way of yourself or others. Be part of a great board.
Carol: Is there a report or some summary of findings for that?
Marla: It’s coming. There is a big purple book that we did that has nine principles. They fall into three big buckets. I was a PI. Now it's a mandola because that sounds far more sophisticated than a pie. It was at Thanksgiving when we came up with a pie that has an inner circle of three pieces, which is understood by the government. Think strategically and lead by example or lead with integrity. And so that is what you as an individual should do. And then each piece of that pie has components built within it that get at your role as a. As a fiduciary of the organization. So you've got to uphold that they get a, what role you play on the board as a member of a team. Like not everyone is the captain or the center or the goalie. I'm a soccer fan. And then there is the, what do you do outside of the board and board work? That you do as a volunteer. So when you have special expertise or you show up on campus for an event or whatever it is that you're doing, that is not board work, but you do because you love the organization or you're passionate, or because you're a board member, but you have something to add that is not a governance function. And I think so. Yes, it came out as a book that you can buy from AGB. There is an article that I wrote for trusteeship magazine that I believe is free to anyone on the AGB website, agb.org. And the title is what board members are you? So it's again, it's speaking to you. And then there's a whole bunch of stuff that AGB is rolling out, but it really was this process of self-reflection and trying to make it and put it in the language that is accessible and not jargon. And that isn't shaming people or giving them commandments, thou shall do this, but that's say, we know this is hard and we know it varies from organization to organization, but there are some fundamentals that we think everybody should be capable of doing, or you shouldn't be on the board.
Carol: Awesome. All right. Well, we'll look for that so that we can put a link in the show notes, so, awesome. Thank you so much. It was great having you in love to have this conversation.
Marla: Likewise, thanks for including me and keeping up the good governance work. All right. Thanks.
Carol: I appreciated Marla’s perspective on how the work of governance is not always crystal clear about whether an issue or decision is in the realm of strategy or management. Those are two categories that are somewhat arbitrary and there is a gray area between them. Clear communication and trust between the board and the executive director and senior leadership can go a long way to make it safe for each group to ask the questions it has, get the information it needs and feel supportive of each other instead of so wary about whether they are stepping on each other toes or getting in each other’s lanes. The models may make it look super distinctive but folks need to realize that sometimes it is not. I also appreciated the point that boards needs to spend more time looking forward than backward. Too often so much of board meetings is taken up with reports – updates on work done by committees, staff, task forces, etc. Instead of using the time that everyone is together to have a discussion about a key issue – whether it is one facing the organization today or one that folks see coming down the pike. As much as you can get reports to people in another format than shared verbally in a meeting – whether it is a written update, a short video or audio message – there are lots of options to consider.
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 Marla, 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 it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time.
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.
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