In episode 73 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Cindy Wagman discuss:
Cindy Wagman is the President & CEO of The Good Partnership. She helps small nonprofits raise more money and reluctant fundraisers learn to love fundraising.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Cindy Wagman. 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.
Cindy and I talk about how our social norms around not talking about money make it hard for folks to want to do fundraising, some of the common things that get in the way of success for new fundraisers, and how to start building your fundraising muscles.
Welcome Cindy. Welcome to Mission: Impact. Thanks so much for having me. I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Cindy Wagman: Oh my goodness. I feel like that is a question that goes, it's answer starts so many years ago. I've always been. Involved in the nonprofit sector. I volunteered when I was in high school. When I was in university. I ran the women's empowerment committee and raised money for local women's organizations. It's always been what I would say defines my experiences. So my university, when I look back at university, it wasn't the academics, it was my community involvement. So it's always just been in my blood and I actually am one of the few people who, when I was in university and I said, I wanna be a fundraiser. Most people fall into it. But I knew, and I have really, my only professional job has been a fundraiser until I started consulting and now I help other fundraisers.
Carol: What was it that made you decide, I wanna be a fundraiser?
Cindy: So, It's fun. Funnily, I met two people who were professional fundraisers in the same summer. I never knew that that was an option growing up. It wasn't something we talked about. When don't you talk about what, what do you wanna do when you're older? So I was working and there was a regular. I worked in the cafe slash home decor store and there was a woman who was a regular. Dan is her name, and she came in and we would always chat and she was a fundraiser. And at the same time I started dating someone who is now my husband and his aunt was a professional fundraiser. So that same summer just hit me in the face.
Carol: Which is cool. That is, I would say definitely unusual. Trying to even think of what would have been my first connection to, I did work in one of my work study jobs at college, working in the development office or the advancement office. I don't remember what they called them. Typically I think I. I filed donor reports. Mm-hmm. It was back to paper, paper and files. Oh, I remember that. So I did a lot of alphabetizing. Oh God. I don't think I learned a lot more about fundraising, but while I was doing it, except of course that keeping track of who your donors are was important.
Cindy: I remember when we used to have to dial in the monthly donations and press the credit card information with the keypad on your phone, on your landline to process all the monthly gifts. So I've been, I've been doing this a while, but it's cool. I have to say one thing as I look at my story and how I came to this work. It makes me very happy to see my own kids think about what they wanna do when they're older. And aside from like be a world famous soccer player, my one son is very much he is like, I wanna, I wanna run a food bank, or I wanna do, he's already thinking about charitable work, which
Carol: That is awesome. My daughter after doing a gap year where she did AmeriCorps and did City Year, she ended up in the nonprofit sector and, and now is just moving over to the Phil philanthropy side in terms of giving away the money instead of mm-hmm. Raising the money. But,so, so you work with small nonprofits on their fundraising and most people. Don't decide right. When they're in college to become a fundraiser, or even when they, when they start an organization or they join an organization they may not, put their hand up or maybe they don't move back fast enough. Exactly. Why would you say it's so hard for people to do a fundraiser?
Cindy: So this is a huge problem in our sector because most people don't wanna fundraise, and it's not just in our sector. I always tell the story, like, and actually my husband tells a story because I didn't remember it as well as he does, but we were at a wedding, a friend's wedding, and we were just chatting with people and, talking to, oh, what do you do? And when I said the word fundraiser, it. People had a physical reaction and like that, it shut down the conversation.
And so we have these pervasive stories about fundraising and money, both in society in general, right? Like you, polite conversations do not include talking about money. And so that makes our jobs a lot harder. But then in our sector we have this sense. Money is taboo or even, I mean, there's so many different stories around this work, we don't do this work. It's not about the money. We should be. I hear a lot of people saying we should be volunteering our time. I've actually had people ask me, oh, so you're a volunteer, like you volunteer? So all of that adds up.
And I think increasingly we have these stories about what philanthropy looks like, which generally is becoming in the public eye a sense of really big donations, millions multi millions, hundreds of millions of dollars donated. And so I think. Means that for you and I and the rest of us like normal people, there's a further gap between what, how we see ourselves and our contributions as philanthropists or how we see our generosity in our commitments to our community. And so I, when I introduced myself as a fundraiser, aside from people just not wanting to talk to me they don't understand what it is, I. They don't see it as relating to their lives. They say, oh, you're just gonna ask me for money, or they ask if I'm an event planner, which I'm not. So, it’s vastly misunderstood. And our brains as we grow into the people that we are, our brains develop shortcuts and patterns that keep us safe and familiar. And what that means is often our, like, if we have these stories about fundraising being bad, our brain is gonna tell us you don't wanna do that. And so we don't.
Carol: And yet, If we really want to have functional organizations somebody's gonna have to bring in some revenue. So what, what, what do you, what would you say helps people move beyond their reluctance or move beyond some of those stories?
Cindy: Absolutely. So I would say that meeting donors is a big one, very often. Project our own feelings and beliefs onto other people. So I think things, stories like, our donors are so fatigued who wants to stay for soccer? Okay. So we project onto other people our feelings and beliefs about fundraising that we just talked about, how we develop those. And so we don't want to, we see, we write the stories for donors before we get to know them. And so getting to know your donors, meeting people understand. When I say I have a donor meeting, most people think of asking for money. But I just mean getting to know your supporters, individuals, corporations, foundations. Why do they care about the work that you're doing? That is actually the number one thing I recommend because as we get to know our supporters, we actually get to see that they're much more like us than we think. And they're not these like multimillionaires out there in the world, that everyday people care about what we do. They want us to be successful in our mission. And they're willing to contribute and that starts to change those stories we have in our brains about fundraising and its utility in the work that we do.
Carol: I like that point that you made about, people we read in the news about these big gifts, and I'm blanking. It was the wife of Jeff Bezos.
Cindy: Mackenzie Scott. Mackenzie Scott.
Carol: Mackenzie Scott. Right. So you, we read about her gifts. Right. And we think, well, we can't do that. So what's the point?
Cindy: Exactly, exactly.
Carol: And we think, but what do you say to people around, around that story?
Cindy: I mean, listen, Mackenzie Scott is doing some really cool things around Absolutely. Philanthropy and power to her. But That's not the lifeblood of organizations. And when I present to a board of directors or when I used to work within organizations, like the number one thing I would hear people say is we don't know anyone who can give. And because we're thinking, I don't know anyone like Mackenzie Scott or I think I think Harvard like as of today, just got a huge gift, like massive. They renamed a school after this donor. But it's like, of course we don't know people like that. I don't know people like that.
But most of the generosity that I see in organizations comes from people who are already known to the organization. I've had donors who give $250 a year, eventually give $250,000 or who give 10,000 who end up giving. A hundred thousand right now. Those are big dollars for smaller organizations. We think we don't know these people, but chances are we do. And even if someone doesn't have the capacity, I mean, I can, this, I can get on a soapbox and talk about just because someone doesn't even have the capacity to give a hundred dollars, let alone a hundred thousand dollars, their gift is still really important to organizations.
And I, I actually wrote a thesis on this 20 years ago talking about the value of Engaging your community in giving so that they have ownership over the work that you do and you're accountable to them. And so often I see organizations make decisions on behalf of the communities that they serve, which I think is an incredibly disempowering act. So, Every dollar I think is important. And I think the act of giving is a very meaningful one for all of us to engage in, to build the world that we wanna, that we wanna live in.
Carol: Right, right. So what are some steps that would be used? Would you say that people can, can, can take to move through? I mean, I, I had said move beyond, but I'm like, well actually maybe it's, you just need to move through some of those stories or that projection that you're doing on, all the fears that I have about asking someone for money. Onto the donor and why they're there. What are some things that have started?
Cindy: There's, there's a couple things. I mean, the first thing is awareness. And like if you, if anyone's ever seen a therapist or gone worked with a coach like you have to. Be self-aware. You have to do the work and understand, because all of our stories are individual to us. They're, they come from the houses that we grew up in or the environments that we grew up in and our experiences and the people around us and how their influence on us. So we have to understand our own origin story and that usually, like you can do it on your own, but sometimes it's helpful to have some help with that.
So understand what your origin story is, and then you can start to see these false narratives. And then as I said, my favorite way to reverse those narratives is to meet with your donors, get to know them, and that process can be really simple. So often people get caught up in Who do I meet? How do I reach out to them? How do I have a conversation? And in reality, it's actually so, so simple. So who to reach out to? Who is the least intimidating for you? What is the path of least resistance? These meetings are like having these meetings are like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. So if it's easiest, I literally have worked with organizations who said, oh, well my aunt made a donation last year. I'm gonna start with her great monthly donors, board members, whoever. I just want you to start and get in the habit and reach out.
And my biggest advice around this is tell donors what your intentions are and follow through. So tell them what to expect and then deliver on that. So, for example, you're gonna tell them, what we're, I'm trying to get to know our donors. I really wanna understand why you support our work, and I want to hear from you about why this is important to you. And you have a meeting and you ask questions that align with that purpose. And if you're ever in a position, this is a tangent, but if you're ever in a position to ask someone for a donation face-to-face or at a meeting, you are going to tell them when you book the meeting. I would love to talk to you about a contribution or can we meet to talk about a donation so that again, you are telling them what to expect and then they're following through. So that's a side. But for this, the purpose of this, you're not even asking for money. You're just saying, I wanna get to know you. Will everyone say yes to a meeting? No. Is that okay? Absolutely. Find the people who are gonna say, And then have a conversation.
The best fundraisers are curious. So you can have a couple like starter questions or spark questions I call them that's kinda like, oh, tell me about how you first learned about this work. Better work. Or, tell me about why this work is important to you. And then just listen and have a real conversation. And that's it. It is. Simple. The magic is when you do it over and over and over again and you get to know your donors, you get to know them once, but then you can reach out and say, oh, it's been a few months since we last spoke. I'd love to catch up. And you start to build those relationships. And again, I'm not just talking about major donors. I'm talking, All your donors, obviously you might not be in a position to meet with them always all the time, but you wanna have a good sense of where your champions are, who's really passionate, and give everyone in your donor base the opportunity to deep, more deeply engage with you, with you and your organization by just inviting them that first.
Carol: When you said start with someone that's like the least intimidating, it makes me think back to when I started this podcast. Mm-hmm. And that's exactly what I did because it felt like a big thing to do. I mean, now by the time this episode comes out, it'll be, we'll be in 70 something episodes. But,I thought of like, who were five people that have no, I have no anxiety about having a conversation with, and even then, that very first one, I was nervous. I was so nervous before the conversation. So,it's so true about like start, make it, make the stakes low and then start building that muscle, that habit, that,that practice. exactly. I really appreciate it.
You also talked about setting expectations and that you would've actually told someone. When you get to the point where you're asking them for money, you've given, you've let them know it, they're not being sideswiped, they're not being surprised. Those people at the wedding, you can tell, tell them, calm down because my practice is that I would've told you. Exactly. I was gonna ask you for money. Exactly. So it lets everybody know what the purpose is.
Cindy: I have a friend, his name's Kipp. And I met him actually through work. Just, he supports a number of organizations that I have been involved with over the years. And every now and then we'll go for lunch and he'll say, okay, this organization just asked me for a coffee. What does it mean? And it gives him a donor of like decent means. I would say He is definitely not like,off the charts, but he gives substantially to organizations and it actually causes him anxiety when he's like, what are they gonna ask me for? And he tries to decipher and decode all of the stuff and like, is this, what do, what do I expect? And he wants to be prepared.
And so I, I'm such a fan of transparency and letting people know, and by the time, like if, if you say it to someone, and again, most people don't actually ask face-to-face in small organizations, it's actually not a dominant fundraising strategy. But if you are doing major gifts or face-to-face asking and they, and you say, I'd like to talk to you about a contribution, and they say yes to the meeting, They're not likely to say no to a gift. It's really then a question of how much and what's meaningful. And so that I just, I think it's so critical to build that trust with your donors and to really make them feel like they're part of a community. And that you trust and respect them in the way that you also, you are asking them to trust and respect you.
Carol: Right? Cuz he's anticipating being invited for coffee.
Cindy: But like, can you give to us this year? And like, sometimes the answer is no. And honestly, like he has I mean, the one thing I'll say, getting to know your donors is like, Feels bad when he has to say no or when his, and, and no one's gonna give away all their wealth. Even Mackenzie Scott is sitting like she's not going to be comfortable, her lifestyle's not going to suffer because of her philanthropy. Right. So everyone is gonna give, and they're going to, not everyone gives, but who, who the people who are giving are giving in a way that's meaningful and they want to, and it makes them feel good, but also they do have a limit. And if you're putting them in a position where they have to, where you haven't prepped them for the ask It actually makes the giving experience feel bad. And that's not what we want. We want them to feel good about these conversations.
Carol: And I feel like that bait and switch is actually what people think of. It's one of those stupid things that people think of when they're like, Ooh, I don't want to do that. It's, they don't wanna, they don't wanna manipulate people, or they don't wanna pretend that they're wanting one thing when actually they're gonna, oh, by the way,
Cindy: Exactly. It's buying a car, like, oh, and there's so many memes in comedy about this, but, I hate, hate, hate buying a car because you go in, then there's the list price, and then you talk to someone and then they negotiate it down. And then if you're still, then they bring in their manager to negotiate it down. Like, come on, it, it is, it feels icky. And I walk out of there and I think you don't respect me. And this is a game, and I don't, none of us wanna feel that way when it comes to our generosity. So . And I will say fairly, this is a.
Experience that our sector has reinforced, right? There are a lot of fundraisers who still do it that way, and so there's this stereotype, but we can be part of the change to make it a different experience for people.
Carol: What would you say helps people move from being reluctant about fundraising to being more confident in that role?
Cindy: What I think that. Getting a better understanding of what fundraising actually is. So as we sit here talking about these, like one-to-one asks, that is not how most organizations fundraise. It's through appeals, it's through grant writing, it's through, sometimes it's through events. Maybe there's some small events or fundraising. So Get to know your donors and get to understand how they give, like what are also the vehicles, what do they respond to? I'm telling you, most people are gonna respond to an appeal whether it's emailed or mailed or what have you. So know your donors understand what fundraising is and isn't. And the more you do these things, the more you start to see that again, we're all on this journey together to make the world a better place. And if we can be on the same team with that, fundraising's gonna feel a lot better for both the fundraiser and the donors.
Carol: You mentioned fundraising, isn't this, that, or the other? What are some of the misconceptions or what are some of the like, well, fundraising is not X that most people believe it is.
Cindy: Okay. So the big ones I get all the time. All the time, especially from boards. One is like, we just need to go ask the companies for money. In Canada, it's the big banks or whoever, like, we need to ask the big companies to give us money. And I think that the idea behind that is very much they're not gonna miss the money. They have it. And so, and it's a corporation, so I don't have to ask someone. And it feels, so there is this idea that like the, the companies are just sitting there. Loads of cash waiting to give it to our organization if only we ask.
That's generally not true. Most giving comes from individuals. Most, funding for, for nonprofits and charities comes from individuals. So that's one big misconception, and I'm not saying that you don't need, like, don't ask companies for money, but understanding how they give and understanding the different vehicles in which they give allows you to be more successful and find out what type of corporate giving aligns with your organization. As I said before, events like people think I'm an event planner. I get that a lot. Events are like the least profitable way to raise money. They have the highest cost associated with them. I have certainly run events in the past, but that's generally not how most organizations, again, are, are raising money. So like within individual giving, there's so many different ways within. Corporate, there's so many different ways, even with events like a big gala is not necessarily like I I, my favorite events are small events where there's like 15, 20 people. And I've done a ton of those. So it's just so much broader.
And the best fundraising again, comes from understanding your donors and how they want, what does a relationship with your organization look like? And also you have to balance that with what's meaningful for your organization and mission, obviously. Those two should be aligned. Otherwise, you're not really on the same journey, right? That's right. So you wanna make sure your donors are on that same journey and that there's alignment and then it's a lot easier to find out what fundraising makes sense for your organization.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I ask, I have a couple random icebreaker questions here. So. What would you say is one of the best gifts you've ever received?
Cindy: Oh my goodness. I'm a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for. I know. Actually, no. Okay. I am a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for because I usually, if I want, I'll buy it for myself. And I'm very particular about my style and what I like. A couple years ago, actually, I think it was in 2020, it was my birthday. It was a milestone birthday, and my team at work actually got together. It was during Covid. And they got together and they sent me this gift, which was like so bang on. I felt so seen and understood. And so it was a, just like a sweatshirt, like a concert sweatshirt from a band called Veruca Salt. If anyone from like knows from the mid nineties I happened to like a lot of like mid nineties female singer songwriters and like, not Riot Girl, but like Girl Rock stuff. And then they also had custom designs, it's so funny that the custom designed press on nails that were like in my brand colors. Cause I like, I, this was, I was doing my nails at home a lot cuz everything was closed and I'm in Toronto and we were shut down for a very, very long time. So I was like doing my own nails and all this stuff. I'm playing around with that and they know I love branding and like everything being on brand. That was the best gift I've ever received. That's
Carol: Awesome. That's awesome. I will definitely have to look up Ru salt, Ru salt and, and play a little bit this afternoon. So what, what are you excited about? What's, what's up for you? What's emerging in your work these days?
Cindy: So our network is growing. So for the last number of years we've been offering a service called fractional fundraising, which is kind of, Down for you. Long term, long term fundraising with someone very experienced, but only you get a fraction of their time. And this has been working really well with small organizations and so we're growing that network. They're not staff of mine, they're independent consultants, but I teach them how to consult. I teach 'em how to build their business, and I teach 'em how to deliver this service. And I feel like this is an idea whose time has come. We've tested it. There's demand. Small organizations need help.
And quite frankly, hiring inexperienced staff usually adds to their frustration and does not relieve it. And so getting them access to experience. Fundraisers who understand strategy and like to implement and do it at an affordable cost. And like to me it just, it's a win-win all around and it feels really good. So this is what I am super excited about and is a big focus in my life right now.
Carol: That sounds awesome. cuz it's, it's clearly important to come up with the plan, the plan and the strategy, but if you don't have the staff to implement it . Then that . It was nice but not great. Exactly. Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so much.
Cindy: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated what Cindy said about getting in your reps. And starting small – who is the easiest person for you to reach out to when you are getting started with fundraising? Who can you reach out to who already supports your organization to further cultivate the relationship? That principle of starting small and working upwards and outwards applies to so many things when you are developing a new skill.
It is why I love Duolingo – I have been learning Spanish very slowly over the past year and the Duolingo app has that very principle built in. Each lesson takes 3-5 minutes to complete. And I just have to do one lesson a day to keep my streak – I am up past 400 days now. Plus they build in all sorts of virtual gold stars and prizes into the process – and really they don’t mean anything – and yet – they keep me moving. So how can you celebrate your small successes along the way?
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 Cindy Wagman, her 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 Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 72 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lauren Brownstein discuss:
Lauren Brownstein is the author of Be Well, Do Good: Self-Care and Renewal for Nonprofit Professionals and Other Do-Gooders. She has been working in philanthropy for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, educator, program manager, and administrator. She helps nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and grant makers achieve their goals through PITCH, LLC, her fundraising and philanthropy consulting practice. As a reflection of her commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism, Lauren has served on the boards of several nonprofits and has volunteered extensively in the community. She was a certified foster parent before adopting a child from the foster care system. She earned a Masters in Teaching in Museum Education from the George Washington University and a Bachelors with High Distinction from the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, DC area.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lauren Brownstein. 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.
Lauren and I talk about why it is so important for those in the nonprofit sector to take care of themselves while they are working towards their mission, the concept of passion exploitation, and the importance of professional boundaries
Welcome Lauren. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Lauren Brownstein: Thank you. Thank you so much for the invitation. I'm excited to have this conversation.
Carol: I always start my conversations with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you describe as your why or what motivates you?
Lauren: That's such a big question and I'm laughing in part. Let's see. I started my career, started working I guess in 1992. And to be honest, I sort of fell into nonprofit work. I mean, it was like there's a recession and there's this job opportunity and fundraising, and I had a background in that work, but I always had been and continue to be Mission driven in both my personal life and my professional life. I remember when I was in college, I had to do a project about career choices. And I did something about PR, what it's like to be a PR professional, but mine was PR for a nonprofit. I couldn't even imagine not working in the nonprofit sector.
I think what's kept me in the sector is this notion of. having a work life and a personal life that align along the same values. And I certainly don't think that's exclusive to people who work in the nonprofit sector, but I think for some folks that, we live in the DC area, there's tons of lawyers, for example, and I think for some of my friends who are lawyers, Their orientation is more like, well, this is what I do to take care of my family so that I can give back to my community, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that's great if that's the way that works for you. For me, I don't wanna feel like my life is in these two different buckets. Like, this is what I do during the day just to support myself so that I can do the things I wanna do. I like having it more. Blended and, and, more of a partnership between all those areas of my life.
And there are pros and cons, look, money wise and everything else, but I, I, I would say that's what drives me. Does that make any sense?
Carol: Totally makes sense. And, and I, I think we, we've been living parallel lives cuz I started about the same time and my very first job out of college, I was working for. A small company that helped people get on talk shows and it was so , in the realm of PR and was working with lots of publicists for self-help books from New York. But that experience cuz it was a for-profit business of doing PR for all comers. When I moved back to the Washington area it sparked me to say, if I'm doing this, who do I wanna do it for?
And so that's what prompted me to move into this sector. And , I I, I appreciate that alignment. And I also as I'm coming to the other end of my career, thinking about, a lot of people may segue into the sector at the end of their career, right? Having, having done that, Job that supports their family or whatnot and wanna give back later.
But I appreciate those of us who've been in the trenches all long.
Lauren: so Exactly. And sometimes I meet people, God bless, best of intentions, will say, well, I'm retiring and now I'm gonna be a grant writing consultant. having never written a grant in their life. So I think that the sector depends on some.
It still needs to work on helping people understand that these are professions and that there are levels of expertise, just like in any other profession.
Carol: , I would invite those folks who are thinking about that transition to come in with a little humility that they might have a little bit to learn.
That it isn't just about applying everything that they knew from their corporate or, or legal or whatnot profession.
Lauren: Or realizing that even if you've been very involved in a nonprofit as a volunteer or a board member, you don't really know the dirty, dirty of the inside probably. Unless you've actually been on the staff side of things, it's not gonna be the same.
Being a lay leader and being a staff person are not gonna be the same. There's gonna be things that are better, but there are gonna be things that are different.
Carol: Definitely lots of things that are gonna be different.. So you, you've, you've been in the, in the realm of, of fundraising for a long time and in the sector and, but you recently wrote a book Be Well, do Good Self-Care and Renewal for nonprofit professionals and other do-gooders.
And since my tagline for this podcast is that it's a podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who wanna build a better world without becoming a martyr to cause Yes. When I saw it, I was like, oh my goodness, I need to talk to Lauren. So, what inspired you to write this?
Lauren: Well and remind me to talk about passion exploitation.
Oh, because please, your tagline reminds me of that. But in terms of the inspiration for the book, I mean, to be honest, I never really, although I write a ton for my consulting work's, one of the main things I do, I never really thought I had a book in me. I never do it for plenty of people. That's a dream and something they work on for years, it wasn't really on my radar.
It wasn’t. Something I had written, written off, pun intended, but it wasn't really on my radar. As the conversations around burnout were becoming even more accelerated during the pandemic, I turned more of my attention to that. And on a personal level, I've been a student far from a master, but a student of various.
Wellness practices and approaches for decades, whether that's meditation, yoga, my therapy is crafting like crocheting and, and turning everything in my home into an art project, et cetera, et cetera. So I, I. Had realized that I had been writing about this for years in my blog and in other settings and talking about it.
And I had a collection of thoughts and tactics and micro steps that I had assembled over the years. And as a consultant, maybe you can relate to this too, I've both been a full-time staff person at nonprofits and been a consultant for 19 years. What makes that, it provides a unique perspective because I've seen how so many different nonprofits treat their staff, approach their work, take care of themselves, take care of others.
So to make a long and rambling story short, I realized that I had the makings of a book that had evolved naturally and organically. So then I sat down to create something that looked and felt like me, and Reflected my unique perspective. I used a bunch of things I'd written over the years, but also added some additional content, particularly in the area of there's a section of the book called, whose Job is It Anyway, where I talk about how staying well and strong and resilient as a nonprofit professional should not just be on the shoulders of the individual professionals, but.
Nonprofits themselves, the leadership of these organizations have a responsibility to create a culture that honors wellness. So I added some new content about that. I also added some worksheets and checklists and things like that. I do a lot of training as well in my consulting practice and my training based on I have a masters in teaching in museum education, which is very interactive.
So my training is very interactive. People are talking, they're writing, they're working. So I knew I didn't wanna have a book that was just Words on a page. I wanted to create something that could be that everyone could customize for themselves, as their own personalized guidebook towards wellness.
So I think that answers your question. Those are the things that moved me to do this and, and in short, realizing that. At the same time, there was this conversation bubbling up in the zeitgeist, in the nonprofit world. It was also so much a part of who I am and what I'd been talking about and thinking about for years.
Carol: I mean the, the, the challenge of burnout of unhealthy cultures within organizations have, have, have been there for years. And then I think we're just amplified and. . I guess amplified by, by the pandemic and all the changes and the, multi, multiple stressors that were going on. I, I say that in the past tense as, as if it's over, but that, that hap , that have been happening.
And so, and, and at the same time there's been so much conversation about that and, the, the many, many. it's in, in the news all the time around wellness and, and self care. And I feel like especially in the nonprofit sector, there's a lot of skepticism about it. How do we have time for it?
And, and what, what are some of the approaches that you've found possible to really integrate into your routine or found particularly
Lauren: helpful? you mean on a personal level? Just keeping myself the
Carol: We start at the personal level and then we can, move from there.
Lauren: I have always been good at professional boundaries.
So , when I worked in organizations, for example, I left the office at. five 30 ish every day, which is pretty unusual in the DC area. But I also, when I work, work very intensively, so I'm not somebody who spends half their day hanging out at the water cooler. When I work, I really have my head down to work.
On some level, there's a price to pay for that in organizations, in terms of personal relationships or whatever. Not that any of my personal relationships were bad, but it's sort of the same thing as , when women don't go out and play golf on the golf course with the CEO, there's missed opportunities.
But for me it was worth it. I was just telling someone the story of when I used to work in this office . I like to, before I leave every day, clean off my desk, sort of put my papers and files and make my desk look neat cuz I didn't like coming into a messy office. And one of my colleagues said to me, you really shouldn't do that because people aren't gonna think you're busy.
So I would purposefully leave a mess. And then you have to sort of step back and. What is wrong with us, is that this is the culture that we've created. So back to your original question: yes, I have always been good at boundaries. I also observe the Jewish Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday, the sundown Saturday, and I don't work then.
So, That has always been a boundary that's been really helpful for me to, like, I, I know there's gonna be 24 hours when I don't work, and people who work with me know that. I just had a client the other day who asked me to do something very last minute, and I literally sent it to her at like 4 45 on Friday, something I was writing, and then she was gonna work on it over the weekend and she wrote back and said, oh, so were you available to work on this on the weekend or not until Monday? And I said not until Monday, and I didn't need to give her a big speech about why the answer was not until Monday.
So I think part of it is setting some clear boundaries and knowing that if I don't do that, my work is going to suffer. I also sort of do as I say, not as I do, or that whole, like the cobbler has no shoes.
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed about two weeks ago. A lot of professional and personal stuff going on, and then I said to myself, wait a minute, when's the last time I did my gratitude writing? When's the last time I sat down to work on a crocheting project? When's the last time I went for a walk in the middle of the day?
And I realized that even after just one day of doing a couple of those things, not all of them, that I did feel better. Sometimes I worry that all of these practices become a big to-do list, right? And then they become a burden and a stressor. So I have to give myself permission to pick and choose. So I have figured out things over the years.
Center me, calm me, make me feel good, and help give me the mental clarity that I need to do my work. And it's okay not to do all of them. Like it's okay if I just go for a walk today. It's okay for me, and not everybody has this freedom, but it's okay for me to take a 30 minute work break. and crochet because it really calms me and relaxes me and slows down my central nervous system.
And if that means I work a little later in the evening, so be it. So those are a few of the, a few of the things that I do. And I also think I, I wonder if you find this too, at this point in my career, it's different from what I was earlier in my life. If I have a difficult conversation with a client or if someone critiques my work or just does something that annoys me, I'm able to separate that from who I am.
What am I saying? So I think there was a time where, if I wrote a proposal for someone and then they sent it back to me and said, oh, I don't really like this. I don't really like that. Let's scratch this, let's scratch that. I would get really bent out of shape about it. Not to them, but like, the cartoon bubble over my head
And, and now I just, oh, well that's my work. That's not. But that I think is, some people maybe are naturally like that, but I think that comes with time. What about you? What are your, do you have strategies around this?
Carol: , I mean, one you mentioned was the, the gratitude practice, and a couple years ago I started using a, a daily planner that's, I think, I don't know, the company's like best self or something.
And I've since adapted it and, and just use a blank one to, to to do the same thing. But I do always find that my days are better if I start with that. It takes. 10 minutes. . One step is just taking a look at the schedule. What have you got on setting your goals? Like what are the top three things you're gonna try to get done today, but then also what are three things that you're grateful for?
And in reading your book, I appreciated that you went too much. You get much more in depth of your gratitude. Sometimes I'm just like sunshine, a really good cup of coffee and good sleep. And that's all I write.
Lauren: I think you just hit my top three actually. Oh, add chocolate. Then we'd hit there.
Carol: I think it's been easier to integrate some of these things since I've been outside of organizations.
But even when I was working inside organizations and even early in my career, like the first 15 years of my career when I was a single mom, I mean, one of the things I would do was I was a very early bike commuter because it was a cheap form of transportation. Mm-hmm. It provided me with exercise.
and it provided me with some, a little bit of alone time and like a transition from work, right? Mm-hmm. And luckily I've never had an accident since. There was no bike infrastructure at that time. Back in the nineties
Lauren: I hope you were wearing a helmet at least.
Carol: Oh, of course I was. Yes, I was doing that.
But even then, just, just prioritizing. So for me, some form of exercise, some form of mindfulness, doing some meditation, even if it's just I take a, after my shower laying down for five minutes and just breathing. Mm-hmm. And then with a little more flexibility of being able to manage my own schedule I've just become much more mindful about different things. About what energy level I need for different activity levels, different activities, right. And trying to structure my time around that. I think there's a little bit of an illusion that when you work for yourself, you have complete control, but you don't,
Lauren: no. It's like you have 10 bosses.
Right, right, right.
Carol: You're working with lots of people and their expectations and, and all of that. But, those are some of the things that work for me.
Lauren: , what you're reminding me of also, and I wonder if you found this to be true. I don't like to talk about pandemic silver linings because the pandemic is tragic.
But one change in my work life that I appreciate is I feel like per, maybe particularly in fundraising it's become a little less performative. In other words, when you talked about energy, how much energy to devote to things, you were reminding me of this. I don't feel like I have to be on as much.
And I think the pandemic did that because everyone was at home on Zoom and you would hear things, like, oh, sorry, my baby's crying. My cat just jumped on me. My, there's a, someone at the door, my internet's not working. Well, whatever the case may be. I. I think that people have given each other a little more grace and don't feel like they have to put on quite as much of a show, but I, I don't know, maybe that's just my experience.
Carol: I think that's definitely the case. It's just the, a little more acknowledgement that as you said at the very beginning, that you wanted your personal life and your work life to align that, that everybody has. and that they aren't as quite as neat and separate as we might have tried to pretend before.
Lauren: . I was listening to a podcast yesterday. It was an interview with Natasha Leon, who's an actress, and she was saying that as she gets older, she realizes we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus. you get, you don't get as mad anymore when other people don't do things perfectly because we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus.
We're all just trying to figure it out, for goodness sake.
Carol: Absolutely. I remember when I was managing younger staff and, and I think coming out of the education system has become more and more and more structured and there's more and more support, scaffolding and rubrics and all these things.
There was an expectation of like, well, the work world should be like that too, and I know we're, or, or what are the best practices? And , sure, you wanna learn those. You wanna learn from others and at the same time, Honestly, we're all making this up every day. We get up and, and live
Lauren: get some stuff done. Oh,
Carol: That's what's happening. That's all, it's a constant improv, right? I mean, that's essentially what life is. Oh
Lauren: my gosh, that's such a good quote. It's constant improv. It really is. It
Carol: really is. So one of the things you talked about that I'd love to go back to is the idea of passion exploitation.
Lauren: Oof. I just heard this term for the first time I don't know, maybe a month ago or six weeks ago. And again, it feels like all these conversations are just in the zeitgeist right now. So, I don't know. Maybe I have good timing for the first time in my life, but it's this idea. Oh, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're not paid well, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're, overworked and you don't have enough staff people to do this job that you've been told to do, and the expectations are really unfair, and you haven't taken a day off in a month.
You are getting to live your passion, so you shouldn't mind about these things. The broken
Carol: chair, the computer, that doesn't work
Lauren: a hundred percent and it is so exploitative and manipulative and I think people are pushing back. But I do, as much as I, as a Gen Xer, have issues with millennials, and, and younger, I think they are the ones who are standing up and saying, Uhuh, that's, this is not okay.
Carol: I'd have to give it to my, my daughter's generation and, and my nieces and nephew's, generation Millennials and, and gen Z . Gen Z of . We're not, we're not gonna take this anymore
Lauren: and appreciate, and the words of Quiet was that Quiet Riot or Twisted Sister. We're not gonna take this anymore.
And there's just. Patience for this stuff. And I think that as people become more aware of systemic inequities, particularly over the last couple of years with the Black Lives Matters movement, even #MeToo, to a degree, there's also a recognition of. How much of that nonsense is tied up in systemic inequities and people who have always had to fight these battles of, of, of exploit.
We understand more about what exploitation is and the forms, the insidious sort of gaslighting forms that it can take.
Carol: I feel like I'm seeing that across many, many helping professions. there's so many pieces of systemic inequity that are built into how all of those systems work.
Mm-hmm. Whether it's teachers or nurses, social workers, folks in the nonprofit sector the expectation that because you're helping people and because there's that inherent What is the word I'm looking for? Not validation, but gratification. She'll feel good about it. . .
That, that, that you also then don't actually need to be paid. We only need to pay the people whose life, whose work is. Sucking the life outta them.
Lauren:. Right. And I think that's really backwards. Yes. I write about this in the book too, that, yes, when you decide to work in nonprofits, I mean there's an understanding you're gonna make less money than some other people, but there's, there should not be an implicit understanding that you can't pay your kids' tuition, you can't go on a vacation, you can't buy a cute pair of shoes or get a massage.
You should be able, you certainly should be able to do the basics and you should be able to do a little more than the basics, particularly if you've been in this, in your career path for a while. I think where people get a little annoyed maybe with some younger generations is when they ex, when they expect this stuff without putting in the time.
I once read something about sort of millennials versus Gen X, which is me and maybe you that there is this assumption around. More vacation time, job titles, things like that. The Gen Xers in this study had more expectation around having to earn that over, bec through work result time, whatever the case may be.
Whereas millennials maybe came in with more of that expectation. But in any event, You shouldn't have to give up a good life to work for a good cause. Right. And I also, something else I write about in the book is that I think the donors should care about this because if donors are supporting a nonprofit, and that nonprofit is churning through workers.
The workers are overwhelmed, stressed out, quitting, quiet, quitting. Another term I heard recently was, I think it was minimum effort Monday or something like that. If this is what's going on at the nonprofits you're supporting, you should be concerned about that. And I think as organizations, I think organizations can't really say that they're being the most responsible steward.
of donors' funds if they're not taking care of their staff, because by taking STA care of the staff, they are maximizing those donations.
Carol: . It really goes to that overhead myth. An organization is more effective if. almost all of its funds are going directly into program, not recognizing what it actually takes to create the and support those programs
Lauren:.I've seen that turnaround somewhat in among foundations over the last decade or so. I don't know about that turnaround, I don't know if it's happening among individuals. I was having a conversation with a foundation officer just yesterday. And they were telling me about an organization.
I don't know anything about them. I'm not endorsing them. I've never spoken to them, but I think it's called Fund the People. And it's about spreading this message of making sure you're investing in the staff because the staff are the ones who are making it happen.
Carol: . We talked about our individual approaches to self-care and, and prioritizing that. But as you mentioned at the beginning, it's not just the job of the individual, even though in. Us individualistic culture, we often have the solutions trickle down to the poor individual to take care of it all. But , I, I've heard it framed as organizations need to, there's personal boundaries that you need to set, but then organizations need to set what this personnel find their, their name called guardrails that That support those personal boundaries so that it is the norm that you're not working over the weekend or that, There's not an expectation that you're answering emails after hours or, those kinds of things, or that, the organization is investing in people's skill building, professional development taking time together to do learning and, and reflection.
Lauren: . To be honest with you, I haven't seen a lot of nonprofits that do that. Well, I'd love to hear about more of them that do that. Well, one thing I think I say in the book is, Fri, it's not just Friday yoga. Like it's not enough to just slap Friday Yoga into the schedule and say, well, we're done with wellness.
Not that Friday. Yoga isn't great. I love Friday Yoga, and I'm just picking on Friday yoga at the moment. But the idea is it has to be, Part of the culture. I think that the leadership, the C-suite, however your organization is organized, has to lead the way on that, as does the board. So the C-Suite has to be committed to not.
Working on the weekends also. And that's not easy for a lot of people at that level. And sometimes it's not realistic. It's sort of a chicken of the egg. Like I don't have enough people on staff to not work on the weekends, but I wanna not work on the weekends, so my staff doesn't feel like they have to do that.
So I understand that it's easier said than done. One thing I also talk about in the book is, and I guess it's related to the passion exploitation piece too. When you're working at a nonprofit, sometimes you can feel pretty far removed from the actual work depending on what your job is. And you need to stay connected to the cause, the work, the clients, the people.
So for example, when I worked at the Holocaust Museum, People the US Holocaust Memorial Museum here in DC people used to say to me, oh gosh, isn't it a hard place to work? It must be so hard. And I would say, it's an office. We talk about recipes and share about our weekends. I'm not, my desk is not in the middle of the permanent exhibition.
And, and so we worked in a separate office building than the museum, and sometimes it did feel disconnected, so I started volunteering as a tour guide at the museum. There are certain groups, like school groups and, and police groups that would get tours and it, I didn't have to take time. I didn't have to make up the time with my job.
I did it. I wanna say I gave tours maybe twice a month or something, but it was during my workday and there was no problem with that. I think that was a good example. So for example, I think if, let's say a nonprofit is some sort of environmental group, I don't think it's enough for the executive director to say, To staff.
Oh . You should make the time, like once a month to go and see this watershed that we're working on. It's really inspiring. No, the director and the COO or whatever should be doing that on the regular. They should be making time in the regular workday for the staff to go do that. They should be facilitating it.
Carol: There's so many benefits of that. It's not only, if you do it together it's not only reconnecting or connecting people really directly to the mission, but , it can also serve as, as team building it. it gets people.
Interacting in a different way. maybe bringing some cross-functional groups together to do something like that. But I think that modeling is so important. So, I mean, I think Friday, Friday yoga or Wednesday Lunch yoga is a great place to start. . As long as when , there was one organization where I was working where they did have that and they collaborated with a couple different organizations in the same building to sponsor it.
So staff from all sorts of different groups were coming down, and doing it. But every once in a while you'd, you'd come back and, Have to go to the bathroom to change out of your yoga clothes. And then Right. The, senior leader would look at you like, where have few been?
And I'm like, okay, that's not healthy
Lauren:. Oh, I thought you were gonna talk about how you don't want your colleagues to see you in yoga pants, which I also completely understand. Well, there is that , not you particular, I mean, anybody, I. Gym is in the office. I don't want anyone to see me showering, after I go to the gym with colleagues.
And you remind me of another point that makes this I think, I hate to say it makes it tricky cuz I don't wanna make it sound harder than it is. But it's something to keep in mind. For some people the last thing they wanna do is yoga with a colleague, the last thing they wanna do is participate in a brown bag.
Lunch. Lunch is their sacred time. They want to eat quietly at their desk and read their book and that's okay. So there has to be some flexibility. and understanding that what fills up one person drains another person. And, either it needs to be okay for people to participate, not participate, or participate in a way that makes sense for them, and that feels good for them.
Carol: , for sure. And, and, but as, as you said, it's also important to . I think that the the place where people get frustrated when they see these, top 10 lists of the things to do for self-care and, and, the eye roll start is one more thing to do, one more thing to do, or, or the creating the impression that that, that this is easy and it isn't.
But I think the investment and the intention around it can really pay off in a. really important ways. . For the overall effectiveness and mission of the organization.
Lauren: . I mean, my hope is with the book and just in general, that even if it doesn't feel easy to figure out how to start doing these things or to get in the habit of making time for it, it can still be done with ease.
, that it doesn't feel like a burden and something else you have to do. It doesn't feel like a struggle. And what you are doing to feel. If it doesn't feel like you can do it with ease, I would suggest that maybe you could find something else.
Carol: , and I think that's an important one because it's not something that is much valued in our culture.
I feel like the first time I've even. interacted with the notion of having ease in, in, in anything was was in doing. And I'm not, like, people would not look at me and say, oh, I, I'll bet she does yoga. No, yoga or, or meditation where that sense of just giving yourself grace and, and, and not pushing, not you.
Jane Fonda approach to . . Exercise . . . But approaching things with ease.
Lauren: , . Ease. What's that? I mean, we're not, we're not conditioned to believe that that's okay. And also it gets back to nonprofit culture. ? I think there's this notion of, it's, it's really like the passion exploitation conversation.
Like it shouldn't be easy. I mean, you are working on really difficult things. I'm not. That you don't work hard at whatever you're doing, but can you find a sense of ease in what you're doing, whether it's a wellness practice or just work in general? Like it, it doesn't have to be, and it shouldn't have to be torturous, and we shouldn't have a culture where we're saying, if you're not running yourself into the ground, you're not doing it right.
If your desk doesn't look messy, you're not doing it right. I mean, that's the culture we need to have.
Carol: , absolutely. Well, at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question from a box of icebreaker questions that I have. So you literally have a box right there.
I literally have a box. Yep. I love it. So what important truth do very people very few people agree with you on what, what would be an important truth that few people agree with
Lauren: you? Orange juice is gross. I don't like pulp . Nobody agrees with me on that. I know it's very un-American to not like orange juice. But what can I tell you? I don't. What is something more important or valuable that other people don't agree with me on? Oh my gosh. It's hard for me to think of something cuz I unfortunately surround myself with a lot of people who tend to agree with my general outlook on life.
what? I love crappy tv. I love reality tv. I love watching The Real Housewives and seeing those dingbats argue with each other about stupid. Makes me feel better about my problems, and I think some people say, oh, just rot your brain. It's the worst. You should throw your TV out the window. God, I, I just, I love it.
I really do. I love it. And that is okay, and I should not have to feel ashamed about that. And I, it's also, I can love the Real Housewives and all that other junk, and I can still read really great books and go to museums and do beautiful things. In fact, my daughter and I are bringing this new show.
It's not new, new to us right now called Married At First Sight. Like on some level after I watch it, I feel like I have to take a shower. Like it's unbelievable that we're watching this show, but there is something about just looking at it and, and it prompts conversations between me and my daughter. And so much of it is silly and cringey.
And if that releases me from my day-to-day worries, then so be it.
Carol: , it gives you a, gives you a little sense of ease, I would say. . And, and that idea that, I mean, especially in DC we can take ourselves way too seriously. So, no, no. The idea that highbrow and lowbrow culture can, can coexist in one person.
I love that
Lauren:. Oh, I love me some lowbrow. Love it.
Carol: So what's coming up in your work? What's emerging?
Lauren: Good stuff actually. I've been asked to do a bunch of training virtually with some, virtually some in person. But, the pandemic really opened a lot of virtual opportunities for me, so that's good.
And talking about the book, doing some interviews around that and just lots of writing, which I love. I love doing the writing, whether it's grant writing or case statement writing or just, general. Organizational writing needs. I love all of that. So that's the latest, really.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Lauren: Thank you. I loved our conversation. I'm so grateful that you invited me and included me among all your great guests. So thanks so much.
Carol: I appreciated Lauren’s point around self care and wellness not just being the responsibility of the individual staff person or volunteer – it is on the organization and the organization’s leadership to create a culture that values wellness. And this can be such a challenge because it is often leaders who are modeling over work and always being on. And even if they are setting up policies to support wellness and are saying to staff – take care of yourselves. If leadership does not do it themselves, all that is for naught. We explore this dynamic from multiple angles in my two part episode series on creating healthy organizational cultures – episodes 62 and 63.
I also appreciated Lauren’s explanation of the concept of passion exploitation. That we should feel lucky to work in a sector where we get to work towards our passion – where as Lauren described – her values in her personal life and work life can align. [And that] because of that we should be willing to put up with low pay, poor working conditions, and unreasonable expectations. The broken office chair and hand me down computers. Thinking about this dynamic and the fact that 75% of nonprofit workers are women. There are so many assumptions built into the sector that start with its origins. Many helping professions started with the wives of middle class and wealthy men who wanted to contribute outside the home – yet did not need to be comparably compensated for their labor since their material needs were already taken care of. This was never fully the case as Dr. Orletta Caldwell pointed out on our last episode – episode 71 – but I do believe it informs structures and assumptions that got built into the beginnings that we are still living with today. Another precursor could also be the vow of poverty many in religious orders that served the poor made as part of their religious life. The cultural assumption that money is somehow immoral and to do go, you cannot include money colors our current struggles around paying people living wages and more, in the sector.
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 Lauren Brownstein, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Graze of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 71 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Dr. Orletta Caldwell discuss:
Dr. Caldwell is a passionate and qualified educator and nonprofit management specialist. Caldwell brings more than 30 years of administrative and leadership experience to the CEO of Beyond Existing Enterprises. Highlights of a stellar and diverse career include Executive Director, Camp Baber, and Assistant Professor at Grand Rapids Community College. She has served in many professional and volunteer capacities, including Tech Soup, the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD), Metro Detroit Council of Christian Churches, Urban Renewal Commission for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Board Member/Secretary, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and the Southfield Downtown Development Authority for Southfield, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Public Affairs from Wayne State University, Master of Science in Management from Cardinal Stritch, and Ph.D. in Public Policy & Administration specializing in Nonprofit Management from Walden University.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Orletta Caldwell. 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.
Orletta and I talk about her work with African- American led community-based organizations. We explore the specific challenges these organizations face, what folks need to be aware of when they shift from being a project to being an organization, and why it is so key to understand that even as founder you do not “own”
Welcome, Orletta. Welcome to Mission Impact. Thank you. So I'd like to get started with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you? And what would you say is your why?
Dr. Orletta Caldwell: My why? I grew up. In a black church, save a community, help people that are worse off to you. I have been truly blessed in my life and I've just always wanted to give back, and that's my why. And one of my reasons is funny. I'm not interested in being in the front so much, like, president of this or that, but it was always more to provide resources so people can do what they want. Better. So that's been my wife for a long time.
Carol: I love that. I also am more of a behind the scenes person, so when I describe my work, I describe it as I help the helpers mm-hmm. I'm multiple steps away from whatever help is being done. But, helping them do their work better is where I can then see impact.
Orletta: And that, and that's always been my thing. It. Putting those tools together, coming out of a process, but making other people be able to do their jobs better. So that's why.
Carol: You and I both do capacity building with nonprofits, but you really focus specifically on African American led organizations. What are, what are some of the specific opportunities or, or challenges that those organizations face?
Orletta: Well, traditionally in the research shows, they always say they're smaller and have less access to money. And I had one guy who was at his clinic, it was his workshop, and he said, we're not grassroots. We're mud roots. We don't even have enough money to get grass. And that's. What I've seen so many times, and it's always because they may not know what's going on, and I've always wanted to be this bridge to say it. It even led me to go for my PhD to find out what's going on in the nonprofit sector and take it back to my people, my community. And that's why I've focused on them. I'll work with anybody, but I've focused on African American nonprofits for that.
Carol: What are some of the things in terms of building that bridge that you're helping folks gain connection to or access to?
Orletta: A lot of it is compliance issues, filling out that paperwork knowing that that paperwork should be filled out and it's not so much. If you don't fill out the paperwork, bad things are gonna happen. Sometimes I'm like, because you don't have this proper paperwork, the good things can't happen. You don't have access to the grants and the funding that you could have. You miss out on little things. People don't check your credibility. So I'm really into helping nonprofits stay compliant and making sure you understand the rules. Filling out the charitable solicitation paper. Don't let a $275 fee stop you from getting a 501C3 that can open up opportunities for your mission.
Carol: Because I can imagine folks might start something and it's really more of an informal project or initiative. And, they may not be aware of those steps. So what are some of the steps that people need to be aware of? And this certainly in the US context of to shift from just a, a passion project or to, to really becoming an organization.
Orletta: Well, one thing, I live in Michigan and I'm like, just get your, they don't really understand. Once you get your articles of incorporation from the state of Michigan, for example, you're truly a nonprofit corporation, and now we can work on your tax exemption status, which you have 24 months to do, and they don't really understand that, so they're paying out of their pocket. A lot of them, again, when they file for the incorporation papers, they're incorporated. They don't realize they have 24 months where it can still be considered tax deductible donations to them because you have the intent to file for your tax exemption and so they lose 24 months. Of money they could be receiving, cuz they're like, well we're not, they don't think they're a real nonprofit until they get to 5 0 1 So it's those little, niggling things like that. And then my favorite one is the Founder's Syndrome. They think that this was my dream. I thought of it, I ran it. And when I come into a class and say, we don't run, you don't own a nonprofit. That's not how it's set up. That, that, those are interesting conversations. So it's those little things, and those little things. Having a real budget, planning for that, having a board that's gonna actually help you and not just grab your family and your friends. Those are the things, and it's the small things, but it keeps them from having the impact that they can have.
Carol: I don't know that they're that small necessarily. I think there is a lot of misconception about this notion of being a corporation, but that a nonprofit can't be owned by an individual. Can you say more about that?
Orletta: I always tell 'em that the nonprofit system, what I do with my, I teach a nonprofit management series course I wrote, and one of the things I, every time somebody wants to say, Or get into that groove of I'm the owner of my nonprofit, and it's like no, you are you doing this on behalf of society. The reason the nonprofit sector was set up is that you're supposed to be, you're doing it on behalf of society, and if you do it on behalf of society as a reward, we exempt you from your corporate income taxes. But that's, since you're doing it, it's a higher level of standard. We have to make sure that you're doing that and you're not what we call, getting personal gain from the quote unquote profits. And so we, I'm saying, I always try to pull my students back to, why are you doing this? Because you can be nice and not run, start a nonprofit corporation, and I always tell 'em that too. So if you're doing this, you're doing it on behalf of society as such. There's certain rules. And one thing is you don't own a nonprofit. And actually the board is the stewards on behalf of society to make sure that you're running that organization correctly. And that's how I put it to them so they can understand, foundationally what we're trying to do here. And we're not saying you gotta go. We're just saying, you can't take those funds and have a good party.
Carol: It's a whole notion of being a fiduciary for the board or being a steward of those resources on behalf of, of society, of the larger society community. Which I think. Is that a thing? Gap where people not, may not realize, the intent and the purpose of the non, the tax exemption
Orletta:. there's a little, so many misconceptions about the nonprofit sector. So I just, I just chuckle and smile and it's like, okay, we're gonna get through. I had one student, she cracked me up. She's one of my best students and she's getting grants and everything now, but she was just like, but this is my concept. What do you mean? Can my board let me go? Oh, yes, the board runs it. That's the way they are set up. So a lot of them, and it's a lot of that information. If they, if a person doesn't know it, they just don't be, they don't run the organization correctly. And so I really try to work with that.
Carol: You talked about having a real board, not just pulling your friends and family. Can you say a little bit more about that as people are getting started?
Orletta:. What typically do they do? Cuz this is what I always heard. Can I put my husband and my daughter and my cousin in and I'm like, okay, you can legally yes. However, The board is the people that are supposed to look out for your mission. They're the one. So when you out of organization may be having money issues, it's the board that's supposed to help you get that money. So I'm like, why don't you use those purposes, find somebody who has connections, find somebody who has money, find somebody who has expertise, maybe some accounting expertise or different things that you need to run? Increase the impact of your nonprofit and what a lot of people do when you get your friends, that's what you got, your friends, and then again, you feel like you're the founder cuz you're pulling the whole organization on your back instead of getting some people that can support you and grow the mission. Everything should focus on the. I, that's why I don't like nonprofit terms so much. I always prefer mission based cuz everything we should do emanates from the mission and you should have boards that's going to push and impact that mission together with you and not you got people cuz you gotta fill it out on a form.
Carol:. And that whole question of like, who are you pulling in? I mean, certainly people are gonna start with their network, but thinking a little more strategically about, what skills do we need? What competency, what social capital do we need to move this mission forward? I was working with an organization once where it was essentially. One person was running the organization and the board was made up of a group of college friends. And I think it was fine for the first couple years they were excited, but over time, people became disengaged and because they had friendships, the, the, oftentimes groups are already conflict averse, but it made it even more so because they were not gonna just lose them. They were putting the not wanting to harm their relationships as friends, Over what they needed to hash out as a board. And so they really got stuck, mm-hmm. And so, it may be easy. It seems easy, but It also makes it hard to bring in new people, right? Because if you have a subset that really knows each other and they've known each other for the last 15 years or whatever to be able to come in as a new person, how long are you gonna last? If you don't feel like you're actually part of the group, so, Coming on as a board member for the organization versus I'm doing you this, doing you a favor because you've started this thing. It has a really different motivation.
Orletta: It does. And again, it takes the focus, it puts the focus on the founder and the mission. Right, and I think that's the key thing when you really, I find, when you really think about what is this mission, what are we trying to do here? That focus, if you focus on that, it just changes how you make decisions.
Carol: What are some ways that you found seeing people be successful about getting out beyond just their friends and family to build a board that is really gonna move the mission forward?
Orletta: I even recommended people to who, who's volunteering with you. That really is. Into what you're doing. Those are potential board members. And then I said, you can even put on like indeed.com or even some of the free, I know in Detroit we have like a board. I can't, my brain is like an internet listing or something. So if you're looking for a board member, you can put it on there. And I said, it's fine to find a stranger. You may find a stranger. That's so, that's so much more into your. Thank you. So I, I say, see those people that's donating to you and they don't, you, you barely know what you're talking about yourself, but they're helping you. That's a good board member. That's somebody who's really into what you're doing and really into you too, if you wanna, if you wanna have a good relationship with them. So those are the things I say, find people who's into the mission and wanna
Carol: be, and they're there for, the purpose versus just the person.
Orletta: We're, I know we're a very individual driven sector, but, I think we do need to look at what's the mission. So those are the kinds of things I think about, like who are good board members.
Carol: So you're in the process right now of working on a book about the history of African American organizations. Can you give us a few, I know it's not finished yet, you're probably who knows how, I'm not sure how far along you are, but any, any interesting things that you're researching right now that are coming up and bubbling up?
Orletta:. This is my dissertation. I got my PhD at 20. I earned it in 2021. I was looking at
Orletta: Thank you. I was looking at what keeps, what do African American leaders do to sustain successful nonprofits. But part of my literature review when my chair said, I need you to. On the history of African American and his non-profit history. And here I am, I studied this stuff and all this, and I scoffed and I remember reading that memo and thinking what, what history? And it was just ridiculous. But that was the first thing I thought. And it was even worse because I grew up African Methodist Episcopal, that's the first African American. Over, I think there've been since 1787. So I'm like, what are you talking about?, the Free African society. So as I was looking into this and I was writing this literature review, there was an organization, I think it was the Massachusetts Negro Bureau and I wish I can remember the name, but I know they started in 1693 and that was you. Over 400 years ago, and they've been running, they were running, their mission was to help their enslaved brothers and sisters. And that's when I'm like, we've been doing this. We've been doing this. While enslaved, we've, through reconstruction, civil rights or whatever. And so I talk, I'm talking to a book editor right now. We're hashing out what we're doing and he wants to call it the Invisible History of African-American Nonprofits. And it's been like, for me, it's been like a faith journey too. It's sobering. But hearing li reading these stories and researching stories of these people, Who could have just said, forget it, you're on your own. And it always came back for the community and Randy's organizations and some of these organizations are still in existence cuz I'm looking from 1693 through civil rights. And that's where the book is gonna span from. And that whole entire time there's been pivotable figures and organizations that kept doing the work to keep the community.
Carol: That’s amazing to be able to really bring that history to the fore and that, that the length of that legacy that it's always been there. Yes. It's always been there. It may not have been celebrated, but it's always been there. That's amazing. I'll look forward to it, when it gets published. But you also talked about With your, with your work, with your PhD around what makes African American leaders successful, so what were some of the things that really helped people move forward, bottom line, line, once it got beyond some of the stuff that you're talking about, of that and getting beyond the basics of really being able to succeed.
Orletta: Beyond the bottom line, they persist. I mean, even with the lack of money, the smaller ones. But one thing I found out cuz I, what I wanted to make sure, academically, cuz they always, it was always like some of the research tried to say is we didn't have to have particular skills intrinsically as, black people. And I'm like, okay, I know that's not true. That's stupid. So let me, so I want to find out, what do successful nonprofit leaders across the sector do? Well, they get training, they build boards. They build a team around them. And then I looked at what these African Americans were doing. I had interviews. They did the same thing. And not only did they do the foundational things they knew they needed to do to be successful, build better boards, build a team. But because of one interview in particular, she was telling me how, she got a grant from the state and the program manager didn't think they were worthy of it cuz it was a black organization. So how much harder she worked to make sure that all the dots were crossed and everything was done correctly so that they couldn't say this organization C couldn't do it because that's what she had, had to deal with. They knock on doors hard, more, they have, because we, that's one of the things we don't have access to the boards and foundations like our counterparts. So they knock on more doors. I always tell my students you have to go to functions and you just gotta talk and talk and talk and talk, more and you have to do more. The one thing I did find there is an innate loneliness. Hmm. Because often the community that you're fighting, To serve, don't understand what you're doing, and they'll fight against you, while you're fighting for them. Plus, they're being bridges. They can't just do their job. They have to be a bridge, on behalf of a, a whole group or community, and a lot of times to get into those stores to get the money. So it's a. They have a heavier lift, but they do persist. All nine of them persist. And I interviewed nine people. The one thing I found was this was their second career. Mm, all of them. It was like, so you are interested. Can just retire and go home and say, forget this. Which is always, it's been a trade in the nonprofit field, but none of them came in as nonprofit leaders or anything like that. They just saw a need and I looked at what we call a social contract. Socially, I think it's contract theory, Bandura. And it was something innate in them from their community that they learned that I have to give them myself. And so that was a trade I saw over and over. I have to give of myself, not of my wealth. Black philanthropy is not given of our wealth, it is given what we have, but giving of my time and talent and treasure to help the community as a collective. So you, I saw a lot of that too from that.
Carol: There's an organization that I'm aware of here in Maryland that I think is, it has goals to go national, but a black ed network, black executive director network for African-American nonprofit leaders, executive directors. And I think, anytime you're a leader of an organization, it can be lonely. Mm-hmm, but those particular challenges and to be able to come together and compare notes and, and help each other. Persist. When you get to the point where you're like, oh, I cannot knock on another door. I cannot do my little elevator pitch One more time. Colleagues can encourage you to step, get back up and, and move, keep going
Orletta:. we get a lot of microaggressions. it's that small thing when you go like, ugh, and they go like And you just talk, you don't even say a word and it's like, okay, get back out there. And, and, and that's encouraging. So, because it, it, it's a, I and a lot of them are tired. I can, I can see it. It's like, oh my god. ? So, but they just keep doing it. I have this one woman, she runs a garden program and she's teaching sixth graders. She should be sitting in her rocking chair having a good time, and she's trying to teach sixth graders that I don't even wanna be with to show them how to plant a garden so they can sustain their lives in this neighborhood that has food.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. And, being able to bring the whole career experience to the sector, I think so, but then there is that gap, right? Of mm-hmm. Not knowing all the nuts and bolts about this particular sector, how things work, what's different about being in a for-profit business versus a nonprofit corporation, all those kinds of things. Yes. So appreciate that you're, you're addressing those items.
Orletta: That was my real goal. I mean, one, the, the great, one of the greatest things I feel I've accomplished is, is this, it's just a seven week course. I teach at community college, a local community college, but now I can do it virtually too. And it just, in seven weeks, we hit on every aspect of what it's gonna take to manage a nonprofit. So it's not like you're gonna be, I'm proficient now. I've got it. They come out with a one to two page blueprint for the organization. And so I've taught the class enough now that I've had students that use that blueprint. So now I have data. We love data. Yep. I have data to show that I know what I'm talking about. And if you put a good effort into this, you can get your nonprofit running and be compliant. And, some two of them have gotten grants and are working on programs. And I
Carol: I love that. It's just a one one to two page road roadmap? Keep, keep it simple. Keep it moving, right?
Orletta: Yes. That, and that was my thing. And when they do their presentation at the end, I only give them 15 minutes. I'm like, if you can't tell me in 15 minutes what you wanna do, you don't know what you wanna do. And they get frustrated, but it's like, no, you only need 15 minutes to tell me what you're gonna do. That's all you need. Right.
Carol: What are some other things that you found in your studies, beyond persistence? What were some other things that stood out?
Orletta: Is it for me? The difference between white philanthropy and black philanthropy. I did the presentation, I was at my job at TechSoup and I, we were an, they were asking me questions and how we can get African Americans, more leadership and stuff. And I was like, okay. And for somehow we got into this conversation about, philanthropy in general, and I said, you have to understand why philanthropy, and I don't wanna be critical, but basically it was a bunch of robber barons that, raped and pillaged the land and, gathered their resources, got rich, very wealthy, had to clean their past, and now they give their wealth and then their spouses had some jobs, they had something to do. I said, versus black philanthropy, we didn't have a massive wealth, we gave her what we had, washer, women, janitors, porters, gave off what they had and we gave it to us, the collective. And the one example I always use, I used to run camp Babe. That was the ame church's camp, the way that camp was. To be purchased was one of the members. The lady put a second mortgage on her home for $16,000 back in the forties, and that's how the AME church got that camp. So obviously it wasn't, she wasn't wealthy, she mortgaged her home. And so you can see the disconnect and the difference between how, when we look at philanthropy a lot of times, Organizations is to keep, literally keep our communities alive and fed. Like the one woman, I said Detroit is getting better, but we have some food deserts and she started a community garden and she lives in the neighborhood. Actually, this neighborhood I grew up in, it's the land of time and people have forgotten, but she's determined not to forget them. And so they're not, they don't have this proclivity. Community organs. D, she makes them, she actually runs Mimeographs almost and go up and down the street and make people show up for block club meetings. And she's out there in the summer with sixth graders when she should be at home, drinking lemonade, pushing people to keep their properties up and that stuff. So that was the thing I learned. It is just this, it's a life or death situation. One of my students was taking money out of her pocket to feed her. So now I've taught her how to get a domain and she's got all her paperwork now so she can have somebody help pay for this cuz she's literally feeding the children in her neighborhood during the summers. And then on holidays she does neighborhood dinners. Hmm. So, that's the kind of, those are the differences and the things that they're doing, and they do it on very little. Like when he the guy who worked for I o b, it, when he said mud groups, it really is, I mean, they're taking so much that muster seed of faith and just pushing it.
Carol: Well, thank you. Thank you for all you're doing. At the end of each episode, I ask an ice, a random icebreaker question from mm-hmm. A box of cards that I have to ask some questions about. So what would you say is an interesting tradition that your family has
Orletta: tradition interest? Oh. Or unique. My daughter and I, oh, my daughter and I, every time my daughter is an alumni at Michigan State University go green. We go, when they play Northwestern in Chicago, we've, for the last five or six years, we always go to that game. No matter how cold, how hot, whatever. No matter if the Spartans are doing well or not, we always go to that game. We spent a weekend in Chicago and we went to the game and we sang the fight song on the EL train with the rest of the things, and we acted very obnoxious. So it's just something we do, and it's like every other year. It's like, well, they're playing Northwestern again. Okay And we go. Awesome.
Carol: So what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Orletta: Well, the book is coming together and it's so funny imposter syndrome when a book editor is like, taking you seriously is talking about, I'm like, oh, so this is actually good. So I'm excited about that. Like I said, I like to be in the background, but I am being considered for ED for a role. So I'm, but it's, it impacts everything I've ever done in my life. So the mission is totally what I'm into. So lemme see if I'm well ready to go to the front again. But those are the things I'm excited about and my daughter moved back to. Oh, nice, nice, she's my only, so. Yep.
Carol: I've got an only daughter too, but she's trying to train right away, so.
Orletta: Good. Okay,
Carol:. All right, well thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast and I definitely once, once the book is out, we'll have to have you back and have another conversation about that history. I'm definitely interested to learn more. Okay,
Orletta: great. I love to talk about it. You can say I'm, I love, it's just been, it's been life changing, so I'm, I'm looking forward to it.
Carol: I appreciated Orletta’s reminder that no one owns a nonprofit organization. This is a basic concept but because both for profits and nonprofits in the US are organized as corporations it is easy to confuse the two. For nonprofit corporations, everyone involved – especially the board – is stewarding the resources for the good of the community. The mission or purpose of the organization that has a public benefit is why the organization is given certain privileges – tax exemption for example – or the ability for donations to be tax deductible. I also appreciated her tip for founders to get out beyond their friends and family as they recruit board members. Those folks might be easy to get involved with – but do they really want to be part of your organization to support the mission or to support you, the founder? Board members need to be recruited for their support of the mission and what time, talent and/or treasure they are going to bring to help you move your mission forward. I can’t wait until Orletta’s book on the history of African- American nonprofits and philanthropy comes out. I think it opens a lot of eyes to a history that has always been there but hasn’t been fully told.
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 Dr. Orletta Caldwell, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
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