In episode 56 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Danielle Marshall discuss:
Danielle is an inclusive leader focused on strengthening collaboration among teams, leaders, and stakeholders to foster problem-solving, create solutions, and improve culture. She finds inspiration in leading systemic change work that promotes equity and inclusion. Danielle has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20+ years most recently having served as the Executive Director for Playworks Mid-Atlantic. Danielle went on to found Culture Principles in response to a persistent need to move organizations beyond DEI statements to develop strategic and actionable equity goals.
Danielle holds a Master's degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Louisiana Tech University and draws on her background as an I/O psychologist in applying a racial equity lens to organizational policies, practices, and programs. She is a Certified Diversity Professional (CDP)/Executive Coach.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Danielle Marshall. Danielle and I talk about why it is so important for groups to be clear about their why on pursuing diversity, equity and inclusion – both at the group or organizational level as well as the individual level, how organizations can work both at the systems level of policy change and at the service level and have that work complement each other, and why applying an equity lens to your work helps integrate DEI work beyond a stand alone training series.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome. Welcome, Danielle. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Danielle Marshall: Thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with this question. What drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Danielle: Yeah. It's funny that you start with the question. What is my, why? Cause I definitely wanna talk about that today as well. I think I have been engaged in this work. Before I knew there was a term for it. So, I come from the world of nonprofits and spent over 20 years working in a variety of nonprofits, usually youth serving organizations. And I worked around the country in a variety of different states from DC to New York, Maryland, Louisiana. Even Washington DC, so forth. And there was something that was happening that I found to be very interesting because I am serving youth and particularly what they focus on black and brown youth. I kept hearing this really persistent narrative about who these children were and what their outcomes in life would be. And then potentially like, even who their families were and the narrative was not a positive one. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm working on the ground with these individuals. I see them every day. I see how hard their families are striving to provide for them and, and help uplift them as the next generation. And I realize pretty early on it isn't the actual families that are the problems here, right? It's something systemic. That's leading to particular outcomes. And that's where I began to shift my thinking around, addressing the systems. Now my background is in industrial organizational psychology , which is a fancy way of saying, I tend to look at the whole world as a case study. Right. And so I'm looking at these systems, I'm looking at people's behaviors at the moment and I'm really working to figure out again, how do I use my strategy, knowledge? To create a space where we can start addressing these systems themselves, as opposed to looking at people as if they were the deficit. So that's sort of the Genesis of how I got to the place that I am now. , but in 2020 there really was this emphasis. And, and I started my business a month before George Floyd's murder. I had been on this path already. I knew it was time. What I didn't anticipate though, was the outcry, from the community that came in, I just mass numbers. So I really was beginning to now target specifically organizations that were interested in moving beyond this performative. We care about DEI. We care about racial equity to groups that actually wanted to do something that was tangible, measurable, and resulted in.
Carol: And in thinking about those organizations that really wanna move beyond just, making a statement or maybe having training and checking the box. What do you see them doing differently than that surface approach to equity and inclusion?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that's a great question. What feels like is at the heart of it is these groups. So just going back to the question you asked me in the beginning, what's my. They're clear on their, why they know why they are leaning into this work and that allows them to set again, very clear goals to get there. Right? So if it is happening for a variety of reasons, people can approach their why from the business case for our organization. , some of them are thinking about the bottom line for their organization. They're thinking about diverse workforces, et cetera. , some of them are thinking about values. This aligns with my moral values. This is what I want to see in the world. And others are thinking about it from an inter or intrapersonal level. And so what does this mean to me as an individual? And so, what does it mean for the quality of relationships that I am seeking to have with people? The changes I wanna see in the world, but then even sometimes it is on that, that, outward sort of facing way. I'd like a promotion. And in order to get a promotion in my organization, I need to have skills that are gonna allow me to connect with as many people as possible from diverse backgrounds. And so I would say there, why being clear feels like a really amazing starting place, in the grand scheme of things. Because once we have that, why in place now we can talk about the next step, which is the, what do we want to. , what changes do we want to see if we're talking about equity? What does equity even mean in our organization? What should we be looking for? And then, and only then can we get to the how?
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like most, most groups they wanna move to, they skip over that. Why phase? Yes. And, or, between the different whys it might become. We have to choose one or the other, right? We have to choose working at the system level or working at the individual level where they all interrelate.
Danielle: Yeah I - oh my goodness. I feel so strongly about that because there are two, it feels like distinct schools of thought that people approach this work from. So, they'll talk about the organization as if it was alive, a living, breathing entity, and I'm forever telling people like the organization is a brick and mortar building. It is not alive. The people within the organization are alive and there's nothing wrong with having strong goals for the organization. We actually need them. , but for me, this feels like a both end moment because you can enact policies. , you can go and do an equity review, make changes that are going to mandate. If you will DEI at the organizational level. But again, if there is no personal connection to that on the individual level, if I don't have a personal reason, or even a belief in an organization, why as soon as there's a change in leadership, maybe the budget decreases, it causes policies to falter. So you have put the right sets of things in place, but there's no commitment to completing. And so I think that we can't necessarily just say, Hey, I wanna work on the individuals and I just wanna change hearts and minds, or I just wanna work on the policies within the organizations. My approach again is both. And, and it's really a blending of those two worlds.
Carol: And it goes back to what you were saying at the beginning of the, the youth work that you were doing and that, that the discrepancy between the narrative that you heard and your experience of folks, of, their families, and then thinking about the systems. And I feel like people have often in the nonprofit sector put those two things at a, at a, an either or. Well, don't just work on the direct service, move up the, move back the chain of events to work on the systems. And again, it's , to me, I feel like that's a, that's an unhelpful, argument to be stuck in of both needs to be dealt with. For change to happen. Yeah. Like people have immediate needs and, working with individuals, but also, thinking about those bigger systems.
Danielle: Absolutely. I just was with a client earlier today and one of the activities we were focused on was, something around opposite thinking, ? So I can't do both of these things at once. Right. So what's the opposite of that? Both the community that we serve and the systems need to be addressed. So we're, we're tackling it from that perspective. But then the third piece of that is asking if that is to be true, what are the things that need to happen in order for us to be able to address both? So instead of stopping immediately with this, either it is going to be right, or it's going to be left that we're moving. There's so much space in between, right? Where is our middle ground, where we can begin to really think about multiple things, at one time and hold them both as true. Yes. The community needs services. There are deficits that may be there today. Existing needs that they have. And we also need to be able to say we are driving some of those problems in those communities because of the systems that we have.
Carol: Yeah. Cause I feel like if you think about the whole nonprofit sector as a whole, and I mean, not, not the entire sector because, but much of it in essence is set up to address. These needs that don't necessarily need to be needed. Right? Like that's like a triple negative, but, if we didn't have a system that caused homelessness, we wouldn't need homeless shelters. Right. So yeah, I just think about it at the, at the bigger picture level of like, Why is our nonprofit sector so big?
Danielle: Yeah, I, oh my gosh. I struggle with that so much because I have a heart for nonprofits. I probably always will, and oftentimes it still feels like we're putting a bandaid on a much bigger problem. And so I have to say that, where there are cases of homelessness, where there are cases of food insecurity or lower literacy rates. Absolutely. These communities need support right now that are gonna help them achieve better outcomes. No doubt. And we will continue to kick the can down the road if we don't get at the underlying systems that are, as you mentioned, like they're really driving this. Yeah, absolutely. So that's the place that I feel like we have to focus a little bit more at, attention and time, but yet not take our foot off the gas when it comes to also being able to support people simultaneously.
Carol: Right. Right. How do you see, do you, can you gimme some examples of places where you've seen folks be able to do that?
Danielle: I mean, I think some people are doing it every day. They don't necessarily stop to think about it. , if, if I'm working with a group that is dealing with food insecurities, and they're also trying to tackle, let's say racial equity systems, they're not stopping the feeding of people. That work continues, but they are allocating time to sit down as a team to review the policies, to begin to look at data, who works in this organization. What's our retention rate based on the disaggregated data, are there certain demographics that are promoted at higher rates to, maybe leaving the organization? Or even hired into the organization at that point. So they're doing both sets of things and I, by no means, would say it is easy because it is an intentional carving out of time. But the people that are able to hold those two things as truthful and important in the moment, those are the groups that I see having the most success.
Carol: So what are some of those steps that you see organizations taking to move things along and, and shift their cultures?
Danielle: Yeah, I'm gonna go back to 2020 for a second because I feel like so many things shifted at this point. And I, I will absolutely say there have been people doing this work and committed to it for longer than I've even been around sure. On this planet. , but what felt like shifted in that moment to me is in 2020, it sounded like people really got for the first time that, Hey, we need to sit and talk about this. We need to be able to. Understand that we are not all seeing the world. Similarly, we are not all having the same experiences. There is this really interesting thing in the US where we, we're, we're the melting pot everybody's supposed to blend together. Therefore we all have to be the same. I don't even know if I agree first off with matter of fact, I can say pretty clearly. I don't agree with the fact that we should all be the same , but beyond that, it was never true to begin. Right. There are different cultures. There are values, there are different beliefs that people bring to the table. There's just simply different understandings of the world. And to not look at that is sort of a detriment to us because yes, we may have gone through the same situation, but how we experienced it is vastly different, ? So we've all gone through this period of COVID right now. And depending on who you were. So did you live in an urban environment? Did you live in a more rural environment? Did you have a stable job or were you one of the first people to go on furlough or lose your job? Right. Like these are going to force different outcomes. Were you someone who didn't have a choice, but to go into work? And so as we look at it, yes, again, we all went through the same period and still continue to go through it. But how it's impacting us is very different. And so when people say, well, it's, it's as simple as you just need to go apply for jobs. I did it, it was easy for me. Great. I'm glad that you had that experience or the next person they may have put in 50 resumes, but because their name is an ethnic sounding name, they're never even called in for the first interview. We're having different experiences. And so I think in watching people begin to realize that it was the first time, at least in my lifetime, that I saw so many people saying, Hey, I wanna understand this on a deeper level. I wanna dig a little bit deeper into this. And for many people, I think they made some great strides. It feels like there's a pulling back right now that is happening for many folks. And I don't know if you see that in your work as well. , but it seems like the attention given to it. Felt like it was ripe for that moment. We were all home. We were watching TV on a loop. We could see all the devastation occurring across not only our nation, but across the world. So it felt prime to dig deeper into some root causes, but as things have begun to open back up and I, I don't say this from a pessimistic standpoint either. , But more so from a reality check, like we need to be able to continue to sit in these conversations so that it's not just talking about it and I'm not just talking about, Hey, I'm learning something new, but what is the strategy that I'm now going to use? Because I have invested in this knowledge, you can have a ton of information at the ready, but if you're not doing anything with it, you're also part of the problem.
Carol: And I think there was, certainly for white people, who delved into this, there was a huge remedial education essentially that we had to go through, to catch up and, and get a lot of perspective. And then, but then again, as you're saying, how, how to actually put that, the stack of books that I've read over the last, whatever number of years, and then put it into action, is a different thing. Can you, can you gimme some examples? Organizations where you see them being able to integrate it. And it's becoming more of a way of thinking or more of the culture, then we went, we had these conversations, we did these training sessions.
Danielle: Yeah. One of the things that I have found to be incredibly helpful, within organizations. And I see them normalizing this into their practices are groups that are using an equity lens when it's time to make decisions. So those decisions could be, where we choose to hold our conference, this year. Is it going to be in person? Is it going to be virtual? It could be a decision around a particular policy now that we're returning to the world reopening what's our telework policy. Right. And so to apply an equity lens means we're asking some pretty fundamental questions around, like what are the assumptions that we're bringing to this issue? Are we ensuring that multiple voices are heard and included in this discussion? And not just from the standpoint of like collecting feedback, but that we're actually listening to the dynamics that are emerging for people. We wanna think about it again, like, what are those outcomes. We are not necessarily predicting. They might be potential outcomes. There's always someone in one group who is like, sort of the negative Nancy, they're the naysayer. And they're like, but wait, but this thing might happen. And our tendency is when that person speaks up, we're like, Ugh, Nancy beat, please be quiet. Like we, we don't need this right now. We need to move the project ahead. But I actually think that person at times can be a real asset for us because what they're doing is poking holes in the plan as a whole. But they're helping us uncover things that we may have a potential blind spot towards. And so being able to listen at least to, Hey, what, that might be something that could occur. Here's what we now can plan for, because we're aware this may be a potential barrier that we come up against, things like that feel like they are. Really helpful for me. And it's a simple strategy. There are a variety of equity lenses that exist out there. But nonetheless, like if I am thinking about my policy, if I'm thinking about a decision. I can now start thinking about who my stakeholders are, how this decision will impact them, if I'm collecting feedback from a broader group, right? So we often do this, especially in the nonprofit sector. I wanna know everything that you've experienced. Are you satisfied with our program? Are the kids reading at a higher level? Did we plant more trees? Whatever it happens to be, we ask all of these questions. And then where does the data go? Sometimes it literally sits on someone's shelf in the old days or now, in the cloud somewhere, but we're not using it effectively. And I really have a problem with that because it almost feels a little disrespectful, quite frankly, that you've asked me in a very transactional way to give you my insight on something unpaid, right. Free labor. And now you're not even gonna tell me what you've done with it. And sometimes you haven't done anything with it. So, when I think about that, these are tools that we can use. If I want to have partnerships that are transformational, it means that there's a constant dialogue going on between us, where it is less about the transaction. You provide your feedback, you provide this resource for me. And I go about my business, but like, how do I take that in partnership with. And grow it to the next level. Like, based on the feedback that you offered here are the things that we've done differently. Here are the changes on the horizon. Like people are not necessarily asking for EV everything to be different like today, but they would like to know where you're headed. So that's one, I think a solid example of where I'm seeing people make a difference is by intentionally using equity lenses, building those into staff meetings, into leadership team meetings, like on a regular basis. I often tell my clients, like, Hey, post it above your desk, right. It should be whether it's a bulletin board, some people have it as screensavers. Like you should know these questions well enough. That at any given time, even if you're not looking at it, you should be able to say, Hey, what are those assumptions we're making right now? Like, am I biased in my thinking? Like, how do I test that assumption?
Carol: Yeah. And I think we can start with the assumption that we always have some bias.
Danielle: A hundred percent.
Carol: But I love, I love because I feel like I've heard that term bandied around a lot -- equity lens, but like, what is it practically? The thing that you're describing seems so grounded in, okay. Here's a set of questions that we're asking. Each major decision and how it's impacting folks, and I also really appreciate the point you make around all the data that nonprofits tend to collect and how the assumptions have been built into that process. In the past that asked that one have assumed a complete access to folks and, and their willingness to just show up and, and provide input and, and provide perspectives, but also, forgetting to close that loop of, how are you, you've taken the information in, how are you sharing it back out? I mean, I'm at the midst of a strategic planning process right now, and I'm just, as you're talking, I'm thinking, okay, I know I've mentioned this to the client. We've gotta make sure that we do some type of feedback that goes back out to everybody that we've asked information from, not just board and staff, which is the typical group. Mm-hmm, we'll hear those findings, but who are all the people that you've asked, for input and, and how are they gonna see what was said? What are some themes and, and how it's gonna be actually used, in the work that the organization's doing at that moment and the purpose that it collected the information.
Carol: Absolutely. And like can, but yeah, it's only for funders, that's not the right audience,
Danielle: Oftentimes that's who we're focused on. Right. The funder said we have to deliver a report in one year's time and therefore I'm gonna collect feedback on it. And. I don't want to belittle nonprofits, because I think there are some really amazing groups out there that are taking that feedback and they are sharing it with their teams to strengthen their program quality. I see that every day, but what is that further step, right? To go back to your partners in the community and say, we really appreciated this. Here are some of the changes. And, or, we got some initial feedback from you and we're still really noodling on this. We're not sure what's next, would you like to be a co-creator in the next steps of this process? Because that, that's the other thing that really concerns me sometimes is that we believe, as nonprofit leaders, that we have the answers to whatever ails the community. And we often don't go back to the community itself and say, what do you need? Years ago, I worked at a nonprofit that built playgrounds, and I remember going to a community meeting and we had given the kids an opportunity to actually say, Hey, here's some of the design elements we want in our playground. And if you've been on a playground lately or sometime in your life, they have these really cool tool tubes where kids can climb through. And we were talking to the parents after the kids said, we want one of these climbing tubes. And the parents said, absolutely not now, I'm, I'm an early professional. I'm in my twenties at the time. And I'm wondering, what is the big deal about this? Why are the parents putting up such resistance? The question in that moment though, was not so much about what they were saying. But tell me more. What is the context? What is the why behind that? Well, as we began to dig deeper, we understood that the families didn't want the tubes only for one reason: when people crawled through them, they couldn't see what was happening within that tube. And this was a community where there were some, they were experiencing homelessness. There was some drug abuse, there are things that are happening. And they said for us to feel comfortable with our kids playing in this space, we need to just be able to put our eyes on it. Right. And as soon as we said, we have a tube that has a glass bubble or a plastic bubble, they were like, oh, that's great. So, we're jumping to conclusions about what the community needs at times without actually asking them what is a value to you and tell, tell me more about it. What is going to make this possible for you? Because in terms of the resistance they put up, they had every right to put up that resistance. That was a safety issue for them. Sure. As soon as we understood it, the dynamics were completely different. They're like, great. We've solved that problem. Let's talk about some other stuff. Now we love this idea.
Carol: Yeah, and part of that is just, having the opportunity to slow down a little bit and be able to ask the next question.
Danielle: That is exactly it, ? And so when we are faced with time pressure, when we're distracted, when we're even tired,
Carol: Which feels like everybody these days.
Danielle: Well, yeah, it certainly does. Right. So what does that mean to us in the grand scheme of things? If we're facing this every single day where you go to work and that you're, every project you had was due yesterday, there's constant time pressure to get to the next thing. You're distracted because we're multitasking. If your desktop looks anything like mine, you have like 11 billion tabs open at any given time. There's a lot that can stop us from being able to ask quality questions, and just sit with people because sometimes just the act of sitting and listening tells you so much about where people are and what their needs are at this moment.
Carol: Absolutely. When I'm doing meetings with groups now, and it's often virtual, online, one of the things that I will say at the beginning is, literally, if you have a ton of tabs open, I invite you to close them. just so you can be in the here and now for this meeting right at this moment. I love it. So what are some wider trends that you're seeing in the nonprofit sector, around these issues? We've talked about some of them, but what are some other ones that you're, you're noticing talked about a slow down in terms of interest in the, in the, work around equity? , what other things are you noticing?
Danielle: Yeah, I, I would say yes, there, it feels like there's a slow down of people, but when I say that I'm, I'm thinking more sort of on a national level, lots of different sectors. What I am personally experiencing is that the people who are stepping into this moment are more committed than they ever have been before. Mm-hmm . And so I think that, while I would love for everyone to get behind this particular effort, the reality is not everyone's ready. Not everyone desires to. , but what I am seeing is with the people who have made this commitment, there are some things that are shifting they're understanding they need to, we just talked about time. They need to allocate time in order to really embed this work in their, in their staff, their teams, their training, their onboarding processes, et cetera, how they're interacting with the community. So they're setting aside time for that. They're also setting aside resources. And that's something that in the past, if you ask someone what their DEI budget was, oh, we don't actually have a budget for that. We have a budget for professional development or maybe there's a training budget, but that was sort of a catchall for everything, right. It could have been for Excel. It didn't even matter. They did not have that set aside. And so I think that is useful. The other thing that I'm really seeing, move forward and. This one can be tricky at times. And I see a lot more boards getting involved. Mm. Right. And, and as a governing body, they need to be involved in this work. , because again, we can't just be in service to communities because it makes us feel good. How are we actually being of service, meaning helping as opposed to helping in the way we think is.
Carol: Right. Helping that’s helpful. Not helping that's patronizing.
Danielle: That’s exactly it. Yeah. So like, how are we driving that board? , and I'm really enjoying the board work in particular right now, because I have an opportunity to talk to people who. This is not something that they've been thinking about, right? Boards tend to be a little bit older. At least they have been in the past, right? Older, white male, et cetera. And this has not been something that's necessarily on their radar. And so we are challenging a ton of assumptions on a daily basis about how one we approach this work. Audre Lord has a quote that says ‘the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house,’ right. The way that we've gotten to the point that we are at today. Will not be the way that we get to the next phase of our evolution. And so we have to think about, yes, there are some strategies that we have used that feel like they may be tried and true, but what else is out there? What else could we be utilizing? And again, this is where those multiple perspectives come in. And I always wanna hear from the community. These are people that live there every day, right? They're raising their families. They work there, they have homes. They're seeing things that we don't necessarily get to see as the outsiders bringing services in. I'm hearing more conversations around working with boards on equity and inclusion issues. And I've definitely seen, with different boards that I've worked with, that there's often a big gap between where the staff is and where the board is. And then, Yeah. Some, some, and oftentimes some, some resistance, from older, whiter mailer folks, to how does this connect to our issue, not seeing those intersections. , and I think, that can feel all, I don't know what, I don't know what the right word is. Maybe. Like dismissive and I'm also curious, like, okay, so how can we like, maybe I, how can I draw the breadcrumbs from one to the other, yeah. This issue that you work on and, and these, these. To me, these issues permeate everything, but it's not, they're not necessarily seen that way. Yeah. From everybody.
Danielle: One of the things that I utilize a lot with boards is, the intercultural development inventory or IDI. And this is a tool that's been used in nonprofits, corporations, education, government, et cetera. What I really appreciate about it is it doesn't tell you who you are. , but it does provide based on self assessment. A snapshot in time of how you relate to similarities and differences when it comes to culture. Right. And we can talk about culture in sort of sweeping terms, right? So it might be your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, so forth, right? So like these big groupings of people that we have some type of social identity and connection to. And so, as people are starting to think about how they relate to groups that are similar to them, versus people that are, are different from them. Like it's really interesting to see, literally see, I, I mean, sitting on zoom calls and I can see people, the light bulb going on in their hip. Like I hadn't considered that. So this really feels like that issue of time constantly comes back to the forefront for me, because why don't we see certain things because we, we don't even allow the space for us to explore it. , and that feels really important to me because it's almost like a paramount to driving that new car off the lot. You go out, you find your favorite car, you buy this car, you haven't seen anybody. And you're like, I'm gonna be the first one to have this. You drive it off on your way home. You see 30 cars that look exactly like yours, even the same color. Right. And all of a sudden it is there. It is salient. It is right in front of you and you hadn't noticed it before. And to that end, what are we not noticing on a regular basis? Because it is not something we allow time for. We do not put intentionality. So with this IDI assessment, it's an opportunity to just really sit there and, and one explore how we're viewing these similarities and differences, but secondary to this. And I think probably the most important, cuz this connects back to the why, what do you wanna do with this information? Like why does this even matter to you? right. So if I know that there's a particular group that I may feel a little disconnected to, I don't know them as well as I'd like, but I have a goal, I wanna be able to connect my nonprofit services. Right. We wanna expand who we're reaching. I've heard a lot of groups recently say, Hey, we may serve the black community, but we're not really, and, and Latino community, but we're not doing well with reaching out to people in the Asian popul. Okay, great. I now have a goal in mind, right. So knowing how to increase my cultural competency is gonna actually help get me there. Right? So there's, there's this idea for me of like the knowledge building piece, who is it that I want to engage? What do I need to understand about them? So before I come in with my best ideas and like, Hey, this is the path forward. What do they do? Do they even want my help? Are they requesting it right? Or am I a burden to them? Because I've brought in this thing for them, it's not actually useful for them in building all of this, right? So I may have some motivation. I understand why. I'm beginning to build a knowledge base about the particular community that I wish to serve in this case. Now I tie this back into strategy, right?
Carol: You mentioned the IDI and it really focuses on how people can develop their personal cultural competence. What are some steps you see that folks can take once they get a little bit more aware around how they're interacting with differences or how they're seeing them or not seeing them?
Danielle: Yeah. I think that very much ties to the stage that they come back, at, within the IDI. But one thing that I do wanna clarify is certainly about being able to develop individual cultural competencies. But I also work with a lot of organizations who are, they're basically getting their team aggregated results. And we can say, as an organization, Here's where we sit and I'll give you an example. Many organizations will come back to the stage of minimization. So if we're in minimization, there is a tendency to seek out similarity. And so people are constantly looking for the ways that we are, like one another. , and so, well, of course we all think that we wanna be happy. We wanna be healthy. We wanna be respected. Great. Seems on the surface, like a pretty safe state. But it is more nuanced than that. So like, as someone is thinking about organizational work, what does that actually mean? So what does respect mean at the organizational level? And what does respect mean for you Carol, versus how I view respect? Because that's where I think things get a little tricky. We use words, just assuming that everyone is behind the definition, they're seeing it in the same context, because again, we're minimizing right differences without digging into. How we are seeing and, or experiencing the world differently. And that matters so much. , I can't even put enough emphasis behind that particular point. It matters greatly. , and when we ignore those factors, We end up with people that are unhappy, right? They're disgruntled. I don't feel seen. You're just sort of glossing over this issue. That is greatly important to me. I'm not included in your organization. I don't feel a sense of belonging. , it also is the very thing that in some cases, has organizations pushing people to assimilate to be more like them. Right? So we talk about culture fit. You hear this all the time when people are hiring, oh, we need someone who fits our culture. Let's break that down. What does that mean? Oh, well, they have to be professional. What does it mean to be a professional? And I am by no means saying that we shouldn't have some guard rails that we use within our work. So like, as you define as an organization professional, okay. We're gonna have an understanding of what professional means, but is it one that is inclusive of the team members you presently have and then also future thinking? Is it something that is inclusive of the people you wish to have on your own? Like, you're never gonna get to the fit if you're not acknowledging, identifying what this means and how we are allowing people to show up as authentic versions of themselves within the workplace.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I've literally had. Conversations with teams where, the first round of doing well, what do we want, what are, what do we want as our team values and big words, like respect get pulled up, professionalism, whatever it might be. And then you actually take them to the next step of, So, what does that look like? How does that actually show up? What are the behaviors that are gonna mean respect to you and have people say diametrically opposing things where respect is. You never interrupt me. Respect is we can have an engaging conversation where everyone jps in and we're all talking depending on, cuz not every culture interprets that particular thing. For example, interrupting the same. Yeah, and I was actually on a call this morning where the whole conversation around, being business-like, or professional. Just using that as a catch raise, but then again, right. You can create those guardrails, but have a conversation about, well, what are the behaviors that we agree mean professional. Yeah.
Danielle: And which are the behaviors that we're using. Sort of we're using unconsciously to keep people who are different out. Right. That I think that for me, feels like probably, one of the hardest conversations to have with people cuz they don't wanna admit it, but it's there it's present. Right. So we, if we carry these biases with us, but we just use a word like professionalism as a catchall. It allows us to continue to be biased without ever having to have this conversation about what a professional actually looks like.
Carol: Like, yeah. And I think beyond also I'm thinking about this right now, just beyond the behaviors. It's also like what's actually necessary for the work. Yes. I mean, I think that's being reexamined across job descriptions, qualifications. Yeah. Requirements, the need to have versus the nice to have, like, does everyone actually have to have bachelor's degree, et cetera, et cetera. So reexamining all those assumptions. Absolutely.
Danielle: You make me think about a position description I had years ago that one of the criteria for qualifications is must be able to lift 50 pounds. Okay, that would be great. If I had a job where I needed to lift 50 pounds worth of anything, I sat at the desk all day. What am I lifting? Here's the other thing about it. If we're moving towards this place where we wanna be equitable, we wanna be inclusive. What you're saying to me is if I am not an able bodied person, who can, if needed, lift this 50 pounds. Then I shouldn't even bother to apply for this job. It's not said explicitly like that, but that's certainly the undertone of it when it was not actually anything that I needed to be concerned about because I had a desk job. Yeah. And what are the accommodations we're willing to make for people they're like, oh, we're, we're totally open to making accommodations. Great, but your language presented a barrier before this person even applied for the job. Because if I read that and I'm, especially as a woman, cuz , women have a tendency to look at it and are like, oh I don't meet these qualifications. Whereas men are like, oh, I'm gonna apply. Anyway, women will pull back from it. But if I'm reading that and saying, Hey, what, I can lift 25. Can't do 50, this, this isn't the job for me. Mm-hmm and it's a silly example, but yet it's not silly because there are so many things embedded in position descriptions along those lines that you just miss.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So really digging into what, what, what is actually required for this job? What is actually embedded? Thank you so much. This has been such a rich conversation and I'm just gonna shift gears a little bit here at the end.
Ad Carol: We’ll be back after this quick break.
Mission: Impact is sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector Consulting helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Download free resources on strategic planning, program portfolio review, design thinking, and more at gracesocialsector.com/resources.
We’re back on Mission: Impact.
Carol: At the end of each episode, I play a game where I ask. You, one random icebreaker question. And, for listeners, if you've been listening to all these icebreaker questions, these are great ones to think about starting meetings with, to help get to know groups better. But when, when you talked about your journey to the work that you're doing now, when you were younger, what did you wanna be when you grew up?
Danielle: When I was younger, I thought I was gonna be a veterinarian.
Carol: All right. How, why, what, what brought you to
Danielle: That path? My mother told me I was gonna be a veterinarian oh, okay. Well, I mean, she had expectations for me. She thought I was going to move into something medical related. , and I tease her like, so my background now is in psychology, so I'm like, I am sort of a medical person, but not quite. I was like, I focus on the organization side, but it wasn't necessarily my dream. Fast forward a couple of years, I thought I was going into television and that was really the job that I thought I was going to have. And I was gonna love until I had an internship in television. Okay. And I said, this isn't the particular path for me because what I knew even in college is I needed to be sitting in service, uplifting others, giving, Giving support to people who are learning sometimes to use their verse, their voice for the first time. Like that is my space to be in. I am an introverted person who has an extroverted personality. When you put me in front of an audience, like I love to engage people and just really help bring out threads of wisdom that we're always there for them, but like that they can do something meaningful with.
Carol: Awesome. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Danielle: Hmm. That's a good question. I'm just fresh off of vacation. I'm thinking about that. I think what is emerging for me right now that feels incredibly important is, is this leaning into cultural competencies? So we talked a little bit about that already, but like, if you understand that there. A goal ahead of you again, whether it is to diversify your board, if it is to be more inclusive of a variety of vendors, like I don't even care what your goal is. Like, how do we begin to shift the mindset? How do we institutionalize these practices in organizations? And I'm really trying to work a lot more, I think with organizational mindsets on that, because. The policy reviews the use of the equity lens. Those are simply, those are tools. Those are things that we can do there. I want to get to a place where you don't need to look at the tool. I want you to just be able to think naturally like, Hey, someone's voice and perspective was not included here. Here are the places where I know that I'm being biased. Here's how I'm gonna move differently. So like, those are the spaces I think I am really excited about moving into with the organizations I'm supporting, but more importantly, once we have this strategy on the table, How are you implementing it? Cause I hear a lot of folks talk about a good game. They may even have so many people out here right now doing DEI plans, racial equity plans. How are you creating a feedback loop? To say, Hey, this worked really well. Or, what? We missed the mark with this. We left something, someone, a perspective out of this, how do we incorporate that learning back in? So that the next time that we do this, we emerge even smarter, stronger, better positioned to do this work than we were when we got started. And so I think those are the things that excite me because when I think about what stops people from continuing this work, it's often the fear that I'm gonna get it. Guess what you are, right. That is what we do. We mess up royally all the time. The question is, are you committed enough to get it wrong? Pick yourself back up and do it again because for us to achieve a world that is equitable, that is inclusive, where people really feel like they authentically belong. We're going to misstep. So. But getting back up and continuing to try continuing to advance this work is the only way we will ever see that level of success.
Carol: And building that in, as you're saying to the mindset of how do we learn from mistakes yes. At an end and normalizing that and normalizing it, normalizing that we will make mistakes. The project won't go forward perfectly with all of these different things. How are we, how are we taking again, taking the time to stop and think and, and consider. How, what did we learn from that experience?
Danielle: Yeah. And being willing to admit that there isn't one right way to do things, right. There are a multitude of perspectives and ways that we can begin to embark on this. Are all of them gonna work? Probably not, but can we at least hear them out before we say, oh, that's not gonna be the path for us, or we've done it this way, as long as I can remember. So that's the way we're gonna stick to it. I want to figure out what could be. How we might approach this, that really, if, if there is one thing that excites me, it is the, how might we, mm.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll end it there. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation. I really appreciated all of your perspectives and, I'm gonna hope that you send me at least one link to an equity lens. So I can put that in the show notes for people as a tool. , cuz I think, as when groups are getting started, It is helpful to have a couple concrete things. And then like, as you said, once you use it over and over again, then it becomes it. It just becomes infused with how you see things.
Danielle: Absolutely. Carol, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much for the invitation to join you today. I've loved having this conversation.
Carol: I appreciated Danielle’s point about doing a better job of listening to the ‘negative Nancy’s’ in your organization. Instead of just seeing resistance as something to overcome, slow down and listen to the challenges – what can you learn from their perspective – and what blind spots are they helping reveal. I also appreciated our conversation about an equity lens. I have heard people use this term for quite a while – but was not necessarily sure what they meant or how to implement this and integrate it from a concrete point of view. Danielle shared her lens – a set of key questions to consider each time you are engaging in a new initiative or policy or process update or revision. These questions help you and your group think through the equity implications of any proposed action. Whose voices will be included? How will input be gathered? Will the change favor one group over another? You can find a link to Danielle’s equity lens resource in the show notes. And in addition to using this type of tool – Danielle went on further to point out that it is really about shifting organizational mindsets and having equity integrated into everything the organization is doing. Having it really embedded in the culture vs. something we happen to be working on this year. Building in feedback loops for learning is a key way to work towards that integration. That is the end goal – an equitable culture.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Danielle Marshall, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out.
I am about to go on vacation so we are going to have a slight pause in releasing podcast episodes. We normally release an episode every two weeks. There will be a slightly longer gap between episodes.
In the meantime, until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 55 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Dr. Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry discuss:
Dr. Renee Rubin Ross is a nationally recognized strategic planning and board development consultant. Committed to racial equity in the nonprofit sector, Dr. Ross supports organizations and individuals in practices that celebrate and amplify diverse voices and perspectives.
Christal M. Cherry is a nationally recognized nonprofit executive and professionally trained fundraiser. With over 20 years in the nonprofit sector, she has supported higher education institutions, human services organizations and faith-based missions. Her career portfolio, as a full time professional and consultant includes American University, the United Negro College Fund, Spelman College, Nicholas House, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Florida A & M University, Action Ministries, and the GA Center for Nonprofits.
In each role, Christal has interfaced, guided and collaborated with diverse boards made up of college presidents, ministers and bishops, politicians, corporate CEO's, civic leaders, consultants, attorneys, stay at home moms and students.
With passion and a wide breadth of experience, Christal works today with clients to help them mark a clear path to success in board development. Her style is electrifying, inspiring, and energizing.
Christal earned a MA in Counseling from Hampton University, a BA in Liberal Arts from Hofstra University and professional development certifications in nonprofit leadership, social media fundraising, and nonprofit management.
She currently serves on the board of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Villages of Carver YMCA. She is regular presenter with CANDID, Qgiv, Network for Good, Bloomerang, and the Mississippi Alliance of Nonprofits and Philanthropy where she facilitates webinars and teaches courses in fundraising, board development and equity and inclusion. Christal has been a guest on multiple podcasts and enjoy serving as a requested expert on board matters. She is contributing author in Collecting Courage, a documenting of racism and survival by 14 accomplished Black fundraisers working across North America. She also enjoys her membership in the African American Development Officers Network, Toastmasters, and F3, Fabulous Female Fundraisers which she founded.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact are Renee Rubin Ross and Christal Cherry. We talk about how nonprofit boards can work towards becoming more inclusive and more diverse. We explore why it is so important to not just name the challenges boards have with diversifying, but also identify some possible solutions and positive actions to take to create movement, why it is important for groups to unpack and own history, including their group’s history, how white people need to accept being uncomfortable during conversations around race.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Renee and Christal to the mission impact podcast.
Christal Cherry: Thank you.
Renee Rubin Ross: Thank you so much. Good to be here.
Carol: So I'd love to hear from each of you on this question, I'd love to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do and what motivates you, what would you describe as your, why?
Christal: Go for it, Renee
Renee: Hi. So I'm Dr. Renee Rubin Ross. And a lot of my work is really focused on inclusion and bringing out the wisdom in the room, bringing out all voices. And I would say that some of this comes from, from my experiences as a kid who, and a geeky kid in the back of the library, not feeling included and really observing and thinking about who. Part of the group who has power and how do I change things? And then more recently, I, one of the things that I do is I run the Cal state east bay nonprofit management certificate program. Our students are a rainbow of people of all races and in teaching board development for the program, our students have asked me. Not just to share the problem of board composition, which we're gonna be talking about, but what are some paths to solutions? And that's what, that's, what started to motivate my work. And also then connected me with Christal actually.
Christal: And I'm Christal M Cherry. And I wanna say, as I started doing this work group, and then we encourage each other to, to share our race autobiographies. And that's something that we do in the work that we do with our boards. And as I started to really think about mine, I realized that there were many times when I was the only in many cases I was bused out as a small child. Out of the neighborhood that we lived in and I went to school were predominantly white children from elementary school, all the way to high school. So there were many times. When I was the only in the classroom and then graduated from high school and went to a predominantly white Jewish college Hoff street university in Long Island, New York and was part of a small program called the new college at Hoff street university. And I was the only one there. And then in many cases after graduation from college, I worked on teams. I remember I worked at the Bank of New York in New York City. And was only for a short period of time. They did eventually hire others. So I've always been the only in, in, in many instances and because of my personality, I'm a type, a personality, outgoing, not shy, not afraid. To enter groups and introduce myself, but there were still times where I felt like, ah, do I really belong here? Do they really get me? Do they really understand? What my lived experience is like I remember in college, my peers during the summertime were backpacking, of course, Europe and I was working at Macy's, so I couldn't afford the backpack. I didn't know anything about Europe. I was like, that's not part of my reality. So because I've always been the only. I think this work is about inclusion and belonging. Resonates with me. And particularly as we talk about boards, because I've been on boards, I've, I've sat in a room with boards and I know how uncomfortable it can be just for board members, periods that don't know each other. But then when you throw in race and culture and background then it gets weird. And if people don't get it, then people might not feel comfortable speaking up and you will find sometimes that people of color on boards are quiet because they're not sure whether or not their voices are gonna be heard. They feel like the only, and they're not sure whether or not it's okay to speak up. If what they're gonna say is gonna really be heard. And respected if, if, if they can weigh in it'll matter, all of those things. So that's why I got started in this work and in particular working with Renee. She's awesome. And, even though we're very different we have this thing in common and we have synergy and we respect one another and we work well together. So here we are.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Thank you. Yeah. And you've named a couple different things there. This extra kind of challenge that hasn't happened, there hasn't been a lot of movement in terms of diversifying boards. Having them folks will recruit people, but not necessarily create a culture that really builds that inclusion. And I love how you talked about not just stating the problem. We, we, many. Many people have done lots of research around, around the problem, but love that you guys are working towards a solution. And, and just to name what it is, is really working towards helping nonprofit boards become more equitable and, and inclusive and create a culture of belonging. So what would you say are some common challenges? That nonprofit.
Renee: Carol. I just wanted to just appreciate what you just said, which was, you said equitable because sometimes we say we hear people when we start working with people, we hear them say, oh, you're trying to make boards more diverse. And I truly wanna call that out and say from everything, we know, and we've heard and all that without the pieces around culture and around Understanding how boards are connected and how all of us are connected to the larger inequities in our society. You're not gonna make much progress. So we do talk about inclusion and equity a lot too. Yeah. So thank you for that.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate it. I appreciate you calling that out. And I was reading recently and, and I'm sure others knew this way before me, but how the whole language around diversity came about was basically white or dominant entities wanting to avoid the whole conversation around race and wanting to call it something different. So I appreciate you calling that out. So what would you say are some common- I mean, I appreciate that you don't just name the problem, but let's just say, what are some of the common challenges the boards have in working to be more equitable and inclusive?
Renee: Well, we talk about knowledge gaps. So often things happen and then some people, and it is often the white people don't really understand what just happened. So very concretely, we had a board that brought us in and they had some contentious conversations. There were several women of color who left the board. And, and when they, when the organization reached out to us, they didn't say, this is what happened. They just said, well, we need some, we need some consulting. What do you say? You talk to us, you support us. And then as we got into our interviews and all of that, we started to learn. There had been some really hard conversations and, and interactions. And even after this happened, the people who were involved still didn't understand why this is that they never really went back to those people and said, Hey, is there something we could do to bring you back? You know? So it's just like this real lack of understanding. What had happened with these women, which, we, we didn't interview them ourselves, but we're guessing that they experienced this. We know that there was some aggressive behavior towards them. And certainly that there were most likely microaggressions that happened over time. And they truly just felt like I'm not being respected. I don't wanna do this anymore. Who would? And, and so, so, but, but from the perspective of some of the white people on the board, it was like, Oh, why can't we just talk this all out and not understand the larger dynamics Christal?
Christal: What do, what do you say? Yeah. And we received some resistance when we started talking about white supremacy culture and what that looks like. I remember the board chair pushing back and he was one of the main reasons why the women left because they went to him with their concerns and he threw them off. And it wasn't until we worked with him for a couple months that he really started to realize maybe his, how he was being complicit in this and that he was also a part of the reason why these women left. But it took a while for us and he did come around. But initially he was Kurt with them and dismissive. And so it's with this deep dive work where we really ask people to take a good long look at themselves and we have them do the race autobiographies. As I mentioned earlier, we do some race caucusing where we separate the board by race and Renee talks to the white people. And I talk to the black people, the people of color and and some really, really greeting conversations come out of that experience. And essentially what happens. What I've learned is that people of color are angry and white people are fearful. And so when we come back in the room, we've realized that, unless we start having these conversations where white people really can UN they're confused, they're fearful. They don't know what, what, what they, they don't know what to do. They don't know how to fix it. They, they, they feel shameful. They feel like we're trying to put them on blast and make them embarra. And, and they're like, I wasn't there, I'm not responsible for what happened. I wasn't there during slavery. And that's one of the things I tell people to disarm them. None of us were here were in slavery happened. Right. So, no one's pointing the finger at you and you and you, what we're just asking you to do is to own the history. And to accept the fact that because of what happened, some people live a certain way and some people don't, and that still has ramifications hundreds of years later. And while neither of us were there I still struggle with some of the disadvantages of what's happened to my people and maybe Renee. Some, some perks and bennies, some privileges that she got because of her background and because of the color of her skin. So we just wanna call people out and say, listen, we're not trying to make you feel bad individually. We just want you to see it and not ignore it anymore.
Carol: Yeah. Thank you. Appreciate that. You mentioned something that you do with boards, a race autobiography. Can you say a little bit more about what that is and what comes out of that conversation?
Renee: Yeah. So we got this, this exercise originally from this, or organization called rise, where they teach about facilitating racially dust spaces and what it is is we, first of all, we, we give people some questions ahead of time. Think about when, when did you first notice race? When did you talk about race? How, how was it discussed in your family? So that they're thinking about ahead of time, then the two of us model this together, and it is active listening. So whatever I'm sharing Christal says, Christal doesn't say, oh my gosh, I can't believe that really happened. You know it, but it's actually just wow. Thank you so much. I really appreciate that you opened up and, and shared that. And then Christal shares. Same active listening. And then we send people off into breakout rooms and let them for, three or four people talk and, and listen to one another in the same way and people just really love this. I think that it's so interesting. There are certainly statistics now about our society becoming. More segregated and that it's harder to have these conversations across honest conversations across race. And yet I do think that people are really interested in understanding the perspective of somebody who's different from themselves. And it really has deepened, deepened connection, deepened empathy. And that we believe is the way to start making progress in terms of breaking down all the other hard stuff that is happening, because like I care about this person. And so I want them, I care about the more I understand their story. And so I, now I want them to feel like they're part of this group and I want them to feel like we value what they are bringing because it's, it is needed in this setting.
Carol: Christal. I wanted to follow up on one of the things that you talked about. It's the different experiences that folks have based on racial background. And the shame that you talked about, a lot of white people are sitting in and then acting out of. And I think, white fragility has been well described, but I think that, that, that oftentimes I know when I. Myself and them working with other white people is that initial reaction is they're saying I did something bad and perhaps they did do something that was harmful that they need to own up to and, and take accountability for. But that shame can be so paralyzing.
Christal: Yeah. And so, you know what we've learned is, some white people, they don't wanna feel uncom. They don't, they don't want to feel that wiggly feeling when you're in the room and you're just like, something feels itchy on my back and you're just feeling uncomfortable. And so they opt out and so , so, which is what happened to us when we were working with a client in Montgomery, Alabama. We had a client where we were doing Renee and I were doing some deep DEI training with, and it was a large group and it started out with, I don't know, 32 people or something like that. And then at, by the end we realized the group had dwindled down and who was like blaringly? Absent were white men. We had, we had white women, we had black men, we had black women. But we looked around and we were like, we're the five or six white men that we started this training with. They just opt it out. They didn't wanna deal with it. They didn't wanna talk about it. He just didn't come. And, that board talked about having some accountability for them. you can't just not come because it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for all of us. But if we're really serious about trying to change our culture, then we all have to sit here and deal with this discomfort and they just opted out. And so I think that's why. people of color are so angry because white people wanna just opt out. They don't wanna teach their kids about it. They don't want their kids to feel uncomfortable. They don't wanna feel uncomfortable. And we are just saying, you have to look at it. You have to look at it in the face. You have to own it. And not own it. Like you, you are personally responsible, but own it, that this is just a reality of what's happened to. Yeah, I just,
Carol: I mean, definitely that, that white privilege of just being able to opt out and being able to say, oh, I'll worry about that tomorrow. And obviously it's not the experience of most people in the United States, so yeah, really appreciate that. And, and yeah, it's, I, it's just seeing that as an unfortunate dynamic. Yes.
Renee: I, I was gonna just add onto that, that, that many of us believe that our society is better when people of all races can thrive and really understand, like that's the vision. And so it's like, well, what needs to happen? In order to move towards that vision. And one of the great books on this is the sum of us by Heather McGee. And, and it's funny because we just did a webinar for the network for good. And we were talking about this and it was all about building belonging. Right. And we talked about it a lot in terms of race and how people of all races should feel like they belong. On a board and belonging is very specifically, I am part of the circle. And then someone, a colleague of mine just listened to this webinar and said, oh wow. This really applies to, to the people who feel left out to the white people who feel left out.
And I was like, yeah, that's exactly right. Because what this is saying is when we think about all the people in our society and everybody's feelings. There's a sense of belonging. You're thriving. It's actually good for everyone. Right? So that's the, I mean, that's the, I know that there's so much fear around this as if something is getting taken away and, and that's the, the white people's fear, but at the same time, it's like, well, what, what is the positive vision? And I, for myself and in this work and what we talk about, how do we keep holding that positive? And, and for, for, for ourselves, for our clients, for, for these boards, I I'm gonna, I could go on this longer ,
Christal: but our society perpetuates us and we have this capitalist society. We have this patriarchal society and this whole thing about if, if you gain, I lose. Right. It's not like we can both get there. I can't, I can't have it. Nice things. And you can have nice things, right. If I have nice things, that means that you are gonna have less nice things. And, and, and that's what that really is what the bottom line is, is that, we we're, it is this competition. I have to maintain power. I have to maintain influence. I'm the one that has the money and I'm pulling the strings. And if I give. The opportunity to pull the strings. That means I'm gonna have less power. And that's essentially what this book that some of us talk about, but that's really the root of what's going on with this whole diversity equity and inclusion thing. Boards have been historically white male, right? They have been the ones that have been making the, there's 64 million board members in this country. They have been the ones that have been calling the shots about how nonprofits have been operated, how the monies are being spent, decisions on what happens to black and brown children. What happens to women who are pregnant, what happens to, and all of the things that we know, all the missions, the causes are out there in a nonprofit space. These boards who have been historically white male have been the ones that have been making the decisions about what happens to millions of people. And now what we're saying is, Hey, wait a minute. The world doesn't look like it used to. And there are more brown people in the world than it's ever been. And how dare you make decisions? Hello? Does this sound familiar? How dare you make decisions about me without allowing me to weigh in on those decisions? And so now we're saying move over and let other people who actually come from the communities that you're working with, have a say in what happens to them and, and the white folks who have had that power saying. I don't wanna move over. I mean, I know, right? It's, it's politically correct to say you should have a, you should have a seat at the table, but I've always had the seat. I don't wanna make room for you. I don't wanna make room for you. Mm-hmm mm-hmm and so that's basically what's going on. And so people will come to us and say, yes, we wanna, we wanna change our culture, that we wanna change the composition and wrap up. But then as we start working with them, we realize when it really comes down to doing the real hard work. They may not, they may not really mean it.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like a lot of organizations and, and boards fall in the trap of the diversity piece. So if we wanna recruit people beyond white men or white men and white women to be on this board and they actually don't think about how it's gonna, how they need to shift in terms of their culture. And be more open. I'm a hundred percent with you, Renee on the, that's the vision of where we want to go. And I'm sometimes a little fearful that that can fall. That white people just wanna say, okay, let's get there. How do we do that? We're just all the same, like I don't see color pieces. So, so as a whole fan,
Renee: Oppos and we thank you for saying that, Carol, we, we each talk about this as this is, you're, you're on, we are gonna help. What we're gonna do with your board is unfreeze. Because, and by, by starting to deepen conversations around race, I, another thing that we wanna mention is like, everything, from research is you need to talk about race because if you do not talk about race, if you're not able to talk about race, then anyone who experience race experiences, race is those experiences are made in. And so it's not enough to say, oh, we serve diverse communities. I mean, you, you really need to be specific. And, and only by doing that, can you start to really pull out in equities in the society and do something about them? But you're right. It's like, do you want to do this work of building belonging and, and, very simple. Do you feel like people who are equity is defined as people who are closest to the problems should be weighing in on the solutions? It's either a yes or no. Either you believe that, or you don't, or you believe that someone else who's really far away somehow knows. What should happen, which sounds very, patronizing to me, but ,
Christal: Carol, while we focus primarily on race, I mean, we talk about diversity. We talk about all the isms. I mean, not only just color and, and background ethnicity, but able body versus disabled, right. cis straight white heterosexual against, people of color who are LGBTQ+ I right. You know? And so when we talk about diversity, we are just talking about difference. Right. Coming to the table, being different from what has normally been at the table. So Renee and I focused a lot on color and race and background and ethnic, background, but we are really talking about it all. So I don't want us to just be pigeonholed to talk specifically about race, which is our focus. And which we think is really, really, of course, obviously important. But when we start talking about belonging, we're talking about all those isms, right. And all those individuals who are historically left out to be at the table in the boardroom.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I just think it's a hundred percent in what you're saying, the language around belonging. Probably EV I would guess I could go out on a limb and guess that almost everybody has had an experience of feeling left out or feeling not like they didn't belong. They didn't feel included. And so being able to connect into that just as a, at a basic human level is really helpful. And I think starting with race, it's kind of, it's so deep in our history in terms of the US specific context, but I, but I think, I think there are folks around the world who actually listened to this podcast. And so I always make a point of saying, we're talking about this from a us perspective, but at the same time, I don't think it's a uniquely us problem either. So, what would you say are some first steps you've taken about some work that you've done with different clients? What are some first steps that boards can take in terms of becoming more inclusive?
Renee: So we, I mean, we, so again, one of them is deepening one's ability to talk about race. And that might mean Understanding who is on the board. One of the really other things is getting a sense of whether people feel, feel belonging. And I, I told this story, not, not long ago about, we had this conversation with this man named Carl, this white man named Carl. And we said, well, do the people on your board feel belonging? And he said, oh yeah, of course they do. Of course they, everybody feels so much belonging. And then I said, well, how do you know? And, and he was like, well, I don't know. I mean, I asked my three friends, and they all said that they feel belonging. Like, well, there's another 20 people on the board. Do you know anything about oh, no, but I'm sure they feel belonging, like, so, so, so what we do when we come in, we do some assessment that is interviews and a survey. And this, we're a cross race team. Sometimes people feel more comfortable talking to one or the other of us about what's going on. And we're listening and then we share everything back and it, and one of the principles is even if there's one person who has some information that person might be, might feel like, wow, this is, this is a super welcoming board if you're white, but I am, I am black. I'm a Latino, I'm Asian American. I don't feel welcome here. You gotta listen to every single voice and really understand what's going on. So first just getting a sense of what's happening.
Carol: Yeah, I think that, that, that Taking that step to really gather some good information, qualitative quantitative, and then mirroring that back to the organization so that they have that fuller sense. So it's not just the four people that I happen to be friends with on the board. Right. And talk to them on a regular basis. And so I think I know what everybody the, the, the bad phrase of, well, I think I'm speaking for everyone here. Well, no, you're. Whatever. Right. Even paying attention to who's speaking up in the meetings and who isn't who you are hearing from? And I think some people are, are pretty attuned to that and others just don't, don't notice it at all. And so that can be so helpful.
Christal: And Carol, I'm a big proponent of doing self work. Right? And so I always tell the board that before we could start collectively working as a group, you really need to do a selfie. You really need to take a selfie and, and look at yourself in the mirror. This is all part of that whole race, autobiography stuff. It's like really starting thinking about who you are and how you feel and where you fit in. Why do you feel the way you feel about others? How do you feel about yourself? Like where do, where do you fit in, in this whole thing as, so Renee and I, during our, our training, we will, we will show videos, we will encourage art reading articles and we, we copy chapters out of books. Right. And we send them to the board members and we ask them to read, and then we come back and we talk about those things. And so I think, doing your own self work so that you can look at your mirror yourself in the mirror and say, you know what I do have Biase. I do feel this way about this group of people. I have heard certain things and I believe that, and so really breaking that down to see where you stand in this space and then come back to, is that really how I wanna be? Is that really how I wanna navigate through this world? And maybe there are some stereotypes that I've bought into that are not. And so I think when we start to really take a really hardcore look about who we are and how we are behaving and how we may be contributing to what the perceptions are about groups if we can really get people to really see that and start breaking that down, I think that that is another next step. To come back together in, in the room as a group and saying, okay, I looked at myself, I've had the conversations. I'm ready to come and talk to you all about what's happening with me and then how we can work together as a group to maybe make some change.
Renee: I just, I just wanted to add, I mean, going on to that, that, that we model that ourselves, like as a, as a white person, I feel like I need to keep learning. I need to keep listening. I need to keep stepping back. I have my own communities of, of, places where I learn as a facilitator and trainer, and that are centering. By, black indigenous people of color in this work. And, and so that's really a suggestion that we make for, for the white people in the group too, is, yeah. We're gonna give you some resources and we're gonna share some, some great information, but there is, there is such a, there is often a lack of awareness about bias, about racism and, There's some real catching up that the white people in the group need to do. And, and so, we support them as much as we can, but this is where we do say, all right, we're gonna UN we're gonna unfreeze your group. Mm-hmm and you're gonna need to keep talking about this. And it is if we took 400 years to get to this. It's gonna take a long time to untangle this. Right.
Christal: And I always say, give yourself a little grace, there's no fixed endpoint to this work. Like I, as much as Renee and I talk about it and read about it and write about it, we're still learning. She's always sending me information. I'm like, oh my God, Renee. That was so good. That was good stuff, you know? And so give yourself some grace, it's gonna take a long time. You're not gonna be able to undo everything that you've learned in your 55 years in, in, in, in three hours. Right. And so give yourself some grace, but start. Start and keep and keep it moving. Right. And then we also talk about finding some champions, finding people who may be a little further along than you are. And I did a lot of that. I interviewed people on LinkedIn, like cold calling people who either wrote an article or blog, or I saw they did something amazing. And I was like, can we do a virtual coffee? Can I get, can I get your ear for 30 minutes? I just wanna learn a little bit about you and your experience and why you wrote that blog. And so find some champions and people who are actually doing the work, who may be a little further along than you. And see if you can get some perspective, Renee, you wanna add anything?
Renee: About that? Well, I will say that I think one of the unique features of this training that we do is this race caucus work because sometimes, I mean, so I lead the white caucus and this is, we come together. We say, we are. Sent we are, our goal is to build an anti-racist organization. And we are what is doing this and an organization where all people feel a sense of belonging, but we, what is, what, what do we, as white people need to work out in order to get to the place where we can come to the table with the rest of the group and. It was really interesting. I mean, people talk about can, can go through some of that shame and powerlessness without wasting the time of the BIPOC people in, in the group. So we, we, we did this with a group and then, we had the caucus meetings, we came back together and then one of the. people, people were looking at each other. The, it had been pretty emotional, some of these conversations. And so, one of the BIPOC men looked at the group and said, what'd you guys talk about? And we had this woman, we’ll call her Emily, she raised her hand. She said, I just, what we talked about was the, the, the shame and sadness that we are feeling about racism and about the impact of racism. And then this man in the bipo caucus said, well, that's what we talked about too. And it was really this, this amazing moment of like, okay, maybe we're not as different because we're, or, how do we, we can find these, these places to bridge what we're trying to, what we're trying to do. And not all problems were solved. But, we started to, to get to some understanding. What, what do you say, Christal?
Christal: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. And, and when there's anger that comes out of it, we had a black male stand up and said, I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired of trying to convince white people to wanna be on this board with me, you know? And if they don't want me here, I can go back to my community where I'm wanted and I can work on and on other things I don't have to be here. I'm tired of fighting. And, we applauded him for having the courage to stand up and, and really share how he, how he was really feeling. And we were all taken aback. But it was definitely a moment. And so we're glad that we are providing space for people to feel comfortable doing that. We round out our training after we do all of this work as we try to come together. If we can come together in person, we can cause a lot of the training is done virtually, but we try to end the training with all of us in the room. And it's really nice after having seen each other in these little boxes for all these months, Renee and I can actually shake hands with people and the first 10, 15 minutes of the training, we're just all sitting around kicking it. And it's just nice. We're just talking, getting to know each other. But we do do some more work and, and we end the training by inviting them to come up with some priorities and goals that they're gonna work on. ‘Cause our time with them is finite. Right? And so we wanna make sure that once we leave that their work continues. And so we realize sometimes it seems so overwhelming. There's so many things I didn't wanna work on, but we tell you to pick three things. Three things that you're gonna work on this year. And then each group comes up with what those things are. And then once we decide, they decide what they are, then we put some timeline and benchmarks and who's gonna do what to it, but we wanna leave them with a plan so that they continue to do the work past Renee and I.
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And I appreciate what you said about the caucus. And I feel like white people sometimes will be like, what, why will we do that? This is supposed to be diversity trading. And, but I really appreciate how it creates a space for right. The white folks work through that shame, have all those emotions and are not burdened. The people of color, not just waste their time, but also stress them out, from an emotional labor point of view of having to listen to all that. Like, no . And so I think one thing that I would say, Christal, you said you did a lot of reaching out to people who were one step ahead of you. And I would say for the white people listening. Try to find other white people are a little further ahead versus reaching out to the people of color that who are already like, have had it with telling white people about this stuff.
Christal: yeah. And what's interesting about my caucus is that I have people of color, so it's not just black people. So I, we have black people, we have Asians, we have Hispanics we have, and even in our group, we can't call people, people of color together and think that they even all. The same experience, cuz their experiences are all very different. And even in the group, you'll find that a lot of the black folks are speaking up, they're angry and then the Asian folks are quiet. Right. They're not saying even in the group where they're supposed to feel comfortable with all of us, cuz we're people of color, they still feel like it. So we have those conversations about why is it that black people always feel like they get all of the attention? Why are we adored? Why can't we ever talk? And so, and they're like, we just have been told our culture tells us to be quiet and stay, stay in the background, stay small, and then Latinos have their issues. So we have very interesting dialogue, even in the people of color caucus. It's very different.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean that, that black, white dot binary is certainly something embedded in our culture, in the US. And then we've lumped this enormous group of like the, the most people in the world into one group as if they all had common experience and they all come with different cultures. Different norms. And so, yeah, that's, that's for sure. Gonna, gonna come up. I would love it. You talked about modeling a couple different times and if you indulge me, I wonder if you guys might model the racial autobiography exercise that you do when you do the training. I wonder if you just would do that for a few minutes.
Renee: All right. Woo. You're putting us on the spot here. so, what I do is so interesting in terms of reflecting on what, on the conversations in race about race in my home as a white Jewish person. And what I noticed when I thought more about this is that we didn't talk about race and we never talked about race. It is rare. It was almost impolite to notice someone's race or to refer to it. So there was something bad about, bad about mentioning race. And, but the funny thing is I personally was so curious about different people's experiences, but there wasn't even really any space because it was sort of like it was the wrong thing to do. And the only thing that I and I feel so sad about is this. Talking about it. But the only thing that I remember was hearing about a black neighborhood as an unsafe place. And so that was all that, that was most of what I had in my, my mind, in my images. It was this fear and boundaries. And I mean, I've, I've done a lot of work over the last five years to shift all of these images, but they are powerful and yeah, I, I mean, that's, I guess I'll leave that here and,
Christal: well, thank you for Renee for having the courage to share your personal history and your personal story. We really appreciate hearing it.
Renee: You're welcome. What about you Christal?
Christal: Yeah. So I had quite the opposite experience in my family. And so race was talked about all the time. And I always share the story about me being a little kid playing on the, on the floor with my dolls and, and hearing my father and my uncles stand around the bar, having drinks, talking about the white. And the white man is not gonna let us do this. And the white man is gonna do this and the white man, he has his foot on our neck and the white man. And I remember as a little kid thinking, who is this white man? And why is he so mean and is he coming to our house? And so I grew up hearing that we should be fearful of white people. And there were times and instances where we would be out in public. And I bring up the instance where we were in the mall one time and we were about to go down the escalator and we got there first, me and my family, but a white family was coming and they got there maybe just a minute or two behind us. And I was just about to step onto the escalator. And my mom pulled me back and pulled me aside. To let the white family get on the escal first. And she said something like, oh, sorry, sorry, come on. Then she said to me, get outta the way. Come on. I can get outta the way. And I remember thinking to myself, Why couldn't we get on the escalator first? And why were we being a nuisance just by being present? The white folks didn't ask to get on first, but my mom felt like it was the right thing to do to push us outta their way to let them go on first. And so I was constantly being fed that white people were superior. And that we were inferior and that we should be fearful. And so I didn't even realize that. And then I was bused out of my neighborhood, which was the message that my neighborhood was not good enough. Right. And so I was constantly fed that black people were not the same as white people. And so I didn't even realize all of that Carol, until we started having these conversations that Renee and I are having about how much that was ingrained in me as a child. And so it has taken me a long time. For me to come around to my own feeling of self love and self acceptance and self-worth and particularly in doing this work.
Carol: Yeah, no, I appreciate you sharing.
Renee: Thank you so much. You appreciate so much your story
Carol: Then since I put you guys on the spot, I guess I'll have to reflect on my own. I mean, I think yes, mine has in common with Renee's that race was invisible to me. I grew up in very segregated areas here in the greater Washington DC area. And then my dad was in the foreign service, so we were overseas in Europe. So it was primarily European, although the country's demographics were changing as I was growing up in two different places. And so when I've had these conversations before, and it's been reflected back to me that the, the time that I noticed race was when there was a black kid in my class, in, in first grade. Right. And so that's when it was an awareness for me or when I was on the London tube and I first saw somebody with dreadlocks and he was like, what is that? And I was a kid, you know? And so I, I think, I think I had that experience of a lot of white people. Since I was part of the dominant culture and had so many boxes that checked off the privilege boxes that that race to me was pretty invisible and, and not, and not spoken about. And so yes, to have to unpack and UN I think we all are untangling all these messages, all these things that we've internalized and, and just need to keep doing that to, to, free ourselves from all of this as much as we can.
Christal: Wow. Well, thank you, Carol, for sharing that it's very brave. We appreciate you for sharing.
Carol: So you talked about some steps that, and obviously every organization's gonna have different steps that they're gonna be taking as they move along in this journey. What are some examples of success? I know Renee wants us to, to look on the brighter side and not just focus on the problem and think that there can be solutions and we can move in, in a direction of helping more people have a sense of belonging. What are some successes that you've seen?
Renee: We, we have gone through the process with a couple of organizations and got, again, we haven't solved all problems. Sure. No, but we have, we have worked with them too, to foster conversation and build a plan. And can, and and that they would continue the work going forward. And also we have gotten them to make connections between their work on the board and why this, why it matters to build belonging and talk about race. So, for example, we worked with an arts institution and we started talking about. Well, who needs to be served, who is served now? what, what, where is the organization located? Where are you creating events? And, and why does this matter in terms of even the future of your organization? Right? So it's like this isn't just about us in the room. It starts with us in the room, but it really radiates out. In terms of the future of your organization, if you're ever gonna survive, because it's like, are you only gonna be an organization that's gonna serve white people in this white neighborhood? Or are you gonna be something that belongs to the people of all races and get them to think about that. And so really deepening what is at stake here?
Christal: And Renee suggested that, because I think one of the issues that we found with that group was that the black people in the community felt like the museum was not located in their community. It wasn't, they didn't have access to it. And so we talked about maybe having a pop-up exhibit and taking the exhibit to them, to their community, maybe in their community center, maybe at their library, maybe in a place where they can walk to it, as opposed to having to take three buses and two. To get to it. And I know that that is something that has been considered. So we're praying and hopeful that they will take some of the things that we said into consideration and maybe try to reach across the lines and, and give access to the artwork. And, and, and also, there weren't many pieces of artwork in that museum that represented those communities. Right. And so Renee and I actually pulled out one of them and had them talk about it. And, while it was that one, I actually went and visited that museum and that piece of artwork, which was absolutely beautiful. It's on the back wall behind like four or five different walls. You gotta walk in and out. You have to walk in and out of the, and then on the very back wall, that one piece of artwork representing a, a, a church scene of people of color. But if you don't make it to that back wall, if you cut your visit short and you decide you're gonna go get some ice cream or something and, and not make it to that back wall, you're gonna miss that piece. Mm-hmm . And so why is that piece on the back wall? Right. And so all of these things, , all of these things are things that we, we, we, we brought to their attention and so practically they've moved that piece and we'll, we'll see what. And
Carol: Those looking for those glimmers of hope. And I think it's, it's taking away those blinders. So, I talked about how, for me, it was so invisible and now, I can't look anywhere without seeing the implications. And. and I think also just like everyone has biases, it's built into the way our brains work. So the shame that people have about those, yes, those are the stories you were told. Those are the stereotypes that are in the culture, but how can you start, questioning those, thinking about it differently. And it's still in the stem, right? The way back to a part of our brain that's always just looking for. Foe or friend the foe or friend. And we have to have all those shortcuts or we wouldn't be able to manage in the day, but then it's like slowing down, taking the time, questioning, like taking a pause saying, Ooh, no, that's not how I wanna show up. How can I do it differently? Moving forward? Mm-hmm .
Renee: Absolutely. Oops. I wanted to mention Reesma Menakem and who we just really love his work and a black man who talks about black bodies and white bodies and what we're carrying around in our bodies in terms of love and fear and hate and all of this, because this is very much, sadly, and, and men, other people have done work in. Also, it can be very much on an emotional level. And that's where, again, we're, we're trying to foster these conversations across race to try to get people to rewire a little bit, because this is not just intellectual work.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. Christal, any, any final thoughts? And then I'm gonna shift gears a little bit.
Christal: No, I just wanna encourage those, those organizations whose boards have not really thought about this, or have not delved into this work to really just begin, it, you have to. Start, what do we say? A journey of a thousand steps begins with just one small step. So you have to just start, and if you're not sure where to start, you could certainly reach out to Renee and I, but find someone who could help facilitate the conversations because it needs to happen and it's no longer an option. The world looks different than it did a hundred years ago, 50 years ago, 10 years ago. Right. And so it's time. It's time for you to, to, to do the work. And Renee and I are certainly here to help. If, if you need us.
Carol: Yeah. There is definitely magic in getting started. Well, like I said, I will shift gears a little bit. At the end of every episode, I play a game with folks where I ask them a random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box of icebreakers. So I'm gonna ask you both the same question: who had the most influence on you growing up since we talked about growing up.
Renee: Well, I can, I probably can start. I was part of a Jewish youth group. It was actually called Hannah Szenes. And so Hannah Szenes was a paratrooper who was also a writer who died in the second world war. And I just really appreciated her writing her thoughts. Community and connection and the challenge of, of all of that and, and her desire for a better world, a better and more just world. So if someone just, comes to mind at the, at this moment,
Christal: Yeah. And what immediately came to mind to me was my dad. He just while he's deceased now, but, and and certainly while he was not perfect, he had a high moral compass and he just really just taught us the difference between right and wrong. We used to say there's a right way to do things and there's a wrong way to do things. We laughed at my sisters and I laughed about that today. Cuz we, we always say, people don't care, we're always the ones trying to do the right thing and other people don't care, but he was just a, a man who believed in hard work. He believed that, if you, if you worked hard, you, you, you got, you got success. And if you're treating people right, then even if they don't treat you right. If you treat people right, then you're doing the right thing. And so I think that's probably stuck with me the most. I can always hear his voice in my head. And so that's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to do the right thing,
Carol: Carol. Excellent. Excellent. I'm trying to do the right thing each day, too. So what are you guys excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work you're doing?
Christal: we gotta talk. We were in the middle of trying to write this book. All right. Well, not even in the middle. We're at the beginning.
Renee: We have been interviewing people about this and we have our own work and we have some, a framework that we have created about this work. So we're really trying to write it down. So, yeah. So we're writing a book. We still are offering the training for boards. We'd love to hear from people who are interested and, and yeah.
Carol: Yeah. That's exciting. Well, let us know when the book comes out and we can add something to the show notes and we'll, we'll put links to your bios and the links that you've talked about and how to get in touch with you. All of that'll be in the show notes. So, but appreciate both of you. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you so much for the work that you're doing.
Christal: Thank you. Yeah. Thanks for that invite. Yes, we appreciate you as well.
Carol: I appreciated Christal’s point that we need to give ourselves and each other grace when engaging in these difficult conversations. It took us 4-500 years to get where we are and we are not going to dismantle these systems and ways of thinking overnight. Yet this also doesn’t let folks off the hook- especially white people – from continuing to examine themselves, their thinking and how they show. And to keep stepping into growth and learning. And for white people to reach out to other white people who are a little further ahead of them on their equity journey rather than defaulting to reaching out to people of color in their network. That is part of doing your own homework as a white person. I was also struck by the differences in each of our racial autobiographies. Of how within white families – Renee and mine – there was little or no conversation about race and how in many, but not all ways, it was invisible. And for Christal the experience was the opposite. It was a topic of conversation frequently. And in both Renee and Christal’s story there was an element of being taught to fear the other. So it is an uncomfortable conversation – especially if you are white and you are not used to talking about race. Or even if you were taught it is impolite to talk about or a taboo subject. Christal’s observation that white people come into the conversation with fear and people of color with anger – strong emotions to handle and uncomfortable emotions to have in the workplace. As a fellow white person, I invite white people to step in and manage their fear and be in the conversation, knowing that you will make mistakes and screw things up. For people of color I appreciate the grace, generosity and patience I have observed over the years – all in many ways probably undeserved.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Renee and Christal, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 54 of Mission: Impact, Carol celebrates the podcast’s two year anniversary by doing a best of episode about executive leadership transitions. We talk about:
Guests and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Today’s episode of Mission Impact is a little different. To celebrate my two year Pod-iversary, I am doing another “best of episode.” Today’s podiversary episode focuses on leadership transitions - a topic that has been the focus of several interviews. We will be hearing from Elizabeth Woolfe, Carlyn Madden, Don Tebbe and Andy Robinson. We talk about the types of transitions that organizations experience and how different leaders approach those transitions, why it is so important for leaders to make space and groom the next generation of leaders, whether or not having an interim executive director is a good idea, and how those exiting the leadership role and those entering as new leaders can prepare themselves for their new chapter.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Leadership transitions come in all shapes and sizes. A lot of factors will go into what type of transition the organization is facing. One of those is the attitude of the leader, others include the lifestage of the nonprofit – is it a start up? In a growth spurt? Is this the first transition from the organization’s founder? Has there been ongoing transition on the board side, not just the staff side of the organization?
Don Tebbe is a leading expert in nonprofit leadership transitions and with Tom Adams in many ways founded the field of executive transition management. He has written several books on the subject and we will link to those in the show notes. He talks about what inspired him to focus on this aspect of nonprofit management.
Don Tebbe: In fact, I did some research for one of my books on callings and I was trying to figure out why I was attracted to this, to this nonprofit sector work. But it just seemed like a great place. To really, to do work that's meaningful. And that's one of the things I discovered in doing the research on callings is that everybody has this innate desire for a meaningful life.
Tom and I put together this program two day retreat called next steps. Particularly targeting founders and long term executive directors, cuz those, those are some of the. Can be some of the most problematic transitions out there and, I think it's just, it's a space where governance, executive leadership, and strategy all come together in, in one moment. And so I think it's a great opportunity really, to address all three of those, those prongs also the organizational capacity. When we realized that we needed to be working with organizations earlier, before they. That moment of transition. So that led us into the succession planning work. What are the characteristics of these high ity organizations? those organizations where you walk in the front door and you can just feel it. You can feel the energy, the excitement, the commitment and the impact. And what's going on in those organizations came up with these three tiers, that base level there's organizational stability, the, the vital signs that are okay. It's not at risk, it's not in the intensive care ward. The next level up was what I would call Sustainability. And then, layering on top of that was vitality. And so you really have to, I think you have to address both the executive and board leadership that the board hires the executive, the board, is responsible for, shepherding the mission and shepherding impact.
Carol: Leadership transitions really do impact all aspects of the organization and are an opportunity to take stock of how leadership is being shared – or not- across the organization – between the board and executive director – between the executive director and staff.
I appreciated Andy Robinson’s challenge to organizations and their leaders. His question goes to the heart of thinking about, planning for and preparing for transitions. And normalizing this process, instead of thinking of it as an anomaly.
Andy Robinson: One of the things I ask people is how long will it take to win? And they're like, what? And I say, how long will it take for you to change the world so effectively that the work of your organization is no longer necessary? Like, what's your exit strategy right now? We should acknowledge that many organizations are perpetual organizations. Hospitals, universities, some of these institutions should be around forever. I totally get that. A lot of groups are trying to solve a problem and go out of business. So my first question is how long will it take for you to win? Then I say, are you gonna be here for the victory party? And of course everybody laughs and says, no, I'm not gonna be around that long. And then I say to them, if you are not Actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition.
Carol: If you are not actively grooming the next generation of leadership for your organization right now, by definition, you are failing at your mission by definition. This is a real call to action for leaders – because very few are really putting this front and center as they lead their organization – or their movement. To dig deeper into how different people approach their leaving, Don Tebbe has reflections on the different common styles people take.
Don: The hero's farewell, and he outlined four different characters, four different profiles.
ambassadors, people that could leave the organization gracefully, or even have a continuing role with the organization. And, everything was gonna be just fine. Governors who went on to other big jobs and left the organization behind so forth. Monarchs, they are gonna be carried out feet first. Stewards, what I see most of in the nonprofit world. People that can leave gracefully, but not necessarily have a continuing role with the organization. So I encouraged department executives to think of themselves as stewards, and they're gonna hand off the organization to the next steward.
Carol: For those starting to think about their exit from leadership, which of these avatars will you embody? Will you be a monarch, an ambassador, a governor or a steward? And how ready is the organization as a whole for change? How are you cultivating shared and new leadership on your staff and board? Without this, the board – who is charged with finding the new leader can be ill equipped for the responsibility as Elizabeth Woolfe explains.
Elizabeth Woolfe: If the board is still firmly entrenched in what used to be, they're not going to be as effective. And it really, that can be a real recipe for disaster because then you have someone coming in new and fresh as a leader who wants to take the organization to the next level or in a different direction, and the board is stuck. When I do board coaching and board development, it's really to view boards on an ever-expanding continuum where they go from this working board as they commonly are in the very beginning, like sheep following the leader, to something that becomes what's more appropriate for a later or iteration of the organization where they're, they become a governing board and it's a completely different set of skills.
Carol: Andy Robinson echoes Elizabeth’s points.
Andy: You and I have both worked with boards where there's been board members on the board for 20 or 30 years. Term limits is a whole nother thing here that we can be thinking about in terms of a succession plan, is that even if the staff leadership turns over, you still have the same people on the board with the same set of assumptions and the same story that goes back to 1993, about why we should be doing this.
Carol: Don advocates for the staff leader to take the reigns in planning their exit.
Don: You need to take responsibility for your departure and your exit plan. And then I go to try to clarify that doesn't mean you suring the board's authority and trying to force in your handpick success or on the one hand, nor does it mean dumping everything in the board's lap. getting the board to engage in conversations about what governance relationship they want with this new executive, paying attention to how that handoff and making sure that the critical relationships get handed off that there's briefing materials for the new executive.
Carol: Carlyn Madden explains some of the work her search firm does to prepare the groundwork for the needed changes.
Carlyn Madden: On the front end, we are not just reviewing key documents. To get a sense of the lay of the land or does the last audit say and all of those sorts of things. But also we are surveying board members, see staff members for membership association, the actual members of the association, key volunteers, possibly even program participants. We're talking to funders, we're doing a survey, we're doing one on one phone calls. We're doing listening sessions. It's just, it's gonna depend on what the organizations are, how recently they've done similar things. And we're trying to learn what. What was really stellar about the LA person in this position?
What were some of the key achievements? What do you think is on the horizon? What hasn't been paid attention to that often needs too often, staff culture is a big east. I think we're really going through a virtuous time. Rightly so. In my opinion, where staff are much more vocal about what they're going to need from their next leader.
Carol: She also comments on what has often been missing from how boards approach executive searches.
Carlyn: What hasn't been happening, particularly in the equity piece, the racial equity or gender justice, or whatever, these different, different elements that affect individual organization. And this is their time to be able to lift and surface that. And for the board to be able to hear that in an objective way, that's not the The thesis banged on the front door that says, we're demanding change or we are unionizing because our rights are being infringed upon.
Carol: Andy Robinson pointed out the mission critical aspect of grooming the next generation and preparing a leadership pipeline. We talked about some specific actions that leaders can do to start that process.
Andy: one thing you should do is look at your task list and try to hand it off. I don't know, one task a week, two tasks a week. And I don't mean, pardon me, Carol. I don't mean the medical stuff. I mean, substantive stuff. I mean, if you're doing all the data entry and you hand that off to somebody else. Sure. That's lovely, but that's not building their skillset. So that's one thing they could do is actually look at what you do and say, is there stuff that I can delegate reasonably appropriately without burdening other people, but also takes me out of the center
when I'm building an agenda and I'm figuring out who's gonna lead. What section of the agenda. I want multiple people leading different parts of the agenda. Cuz the ability to, to run a meeting, facilitate a conversation is a leadership skill. Don't be a perfectionist. And there's the classic thing you see is that you have a leader who wants it done their way. And often somebody else has a different way of doing it. That is different, but could be just as effective or differently, effective or weaker in some ways, but stronger in ways that your way isn't. I think that's a succession planning strategy too. If you're a leader, how do you take up less space so that other people can occupy that space?
Carol: One thing that I would say to every leader – you can start creating more space for others to lead by one really simple yet challenging act. Do NOT be the first to speak in a discussion. Wait a beat. Wait two beats. Even when it feels awkward to be in silence. Let others step in and share their perspective before you. If you always go first – most likely everyone around you will be sharing in reaction to and in light of your contribution. I observe so many leaders dominating conversations and not realizing the impact they are having. By doing this, they are leaving a lot of good thinking on the table from those around them. If it feels super awkward – tell people you are going to do this – and have them hold you accountable.
If you do try this, I would love to hear some results of your experiments.
As Elizabeth points out, your leadership pipeline doesn’t have to only be inside your organization. You can be looking to cultivate leadership with those in your wider ecosystem.
Elizabeth: If it's that organization that has a leadership pipeline, it could be that but most often in larger organizations, yes, that is more typical, but in smaller organizations, there's not.
Enough people working there for it to really be an appropriate way of organizing succession, but it is always nice. And, I encourage organizations to do this, to have sort of a. A running list of people that they have in their orbit. That could be either someone that they consider in, in a search or someone who would, they, they would consider to be part of a search committee who knows the organization well enough and who's connected enough.
Carol:. Carlyn also talks about how those wider networks and ecosystems are so important for effective searches. As well as tapping into a variety of networks.
Carlyn: Hire by hire and talk about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years, right. The demographic has not actually changed. And so what is required are that the conditions of executive search have to change.
we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our clients. I'm really thinking about building, not actually building out networks, multiracial networks, leveraging affinity groups, having open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors or, when we are reaching out to folks saying, who do you know in this space. That would be a good executive director because there's so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. If a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for it. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors.
And so we're already starting to limit the pool.
Carol: Carlyn also talks about the differentiation process of what is essential for the executive director role and what is there because of the current person in the role.
Carlyn: What's his pet project, right? The organization has been shaped around his identity and in many ways it's been really successful. His vision has helped propel this organization to really incredible heights in a very small period of time, short period of time. But there are also things, their pet project. And the board recognizes it to some extent but not necessarily the full extent. So that was the focus of our conversation yesterday, but it was really helpful just to identify, like there are some things that only he can do and only he wants to do. And so the next executive director might even bring their own pet projects and that's okay.
Carol: Interim executive directors is something that organizations going through a transition should consider as an option. There are consultants who do nothing but interim work and can bring their experience to your organization. But our experts were not totally in agreement about interims and their value.
Elizabeth: The transition period in an organization, especially when they're losing a position like a founder, it's crucial to, to build in some space where everyone can experience what that feels like before embarking on the next. I almost always recommend that they consider hiring an interim for that reason. And, and especially with a founder, and a founder that might have been with the organization for a very long time, it's a big change. It's like when you bake cookies and or, and when you make pancakes and, and the first pancake just doesn't turn out well, It's like that. If you hire someone too quickly, that first pancake just might not turn out that well, and that's unfortunate because then the organization is once again plunged into a period of transition, which is not really healthy or something I'd recommend. The statistics about, especially following a founder for new leaders coming in and not being successful is really shocking.
So the interim can really be that bridge very successfully. For all of the reasons that you just outlined, it's like a palate cleanser. It's a good thing to try. The most formative of those relationships, but when you have relationships with funders, when those people have those relationships that are very closely held, there's a lot of insecurity and instability that can affect the organization adversely if it's not handled correctly. And oftentimes that's the best reason to have an interim. Because that person can focus on those relationships. Otherwise it's a board member or maybe a secondary staff person that might not be as comfortable relationship building and relationship cultivating as the leader was. And it could be really debilitating for the organization.
Don: I've been listening to your interview with Liz Wolf and I take a little bit different tack about the idea of interim executive. Being the standard approach for an organization now, that was the, that is the experience in, in many religious denominations. For a lot of organizations that just doesn't work, you've got fundraising relationships that you need to hand off, or you've got key government contract relationships that you need to hand off and, you know, having an interim in there and doing that hand off twice, just, just, just doesn't seem to work.
Carol: Carlyn and I talked about the danger of a new executive director becoming an accidental interim – especially if they are following a founder or a long term ED.
Carlyn: Is that executive director going to be the person that hands over the keys? Or is that person going to need to use an interim executive director in order to facilitate that transition? And we're dealing with people. So every person is different. Every organization is different because of that person. I can't say there's one right way to do it, but often an interim executive director after the founder is a good idea because this person can help steward and.
Steer the organization's operation and help clean up. it's not like there's a mess necessarily, but, but be able to implement some new systems, be able to identify if there are staff members that need to be promoted. If there are staff members that have outgrown their position they can do some of that quote unquote dirty work before the next executive director comes in. We commonly say there's sort of. Accidental interim that often follows a founder, somebody that is in that role for about 18 months. And you don't want that. You want the next person to follow the founder to be there for a much longer term. Maybe not another 30 years, but five, 10 years be able to take the organization through its next cycle of opportunity.
Carol: The glass cliff, not the, just the glass ceiling, but the glass cliff of being offered, you women, women of color, especially being offered the, the impossible job. Yeah, exactly. And then people wondered why they couldn't.
Carlyn: Where women are called in to clean out a. And then have an impossible job out of them. And then our, their performance is managed in a way that is not commensurate with the, with the opportunity ahead, or the challenge ahead.
Carol: As Don points out it is never too early to start thinking about transition and succession. It is not just a process to follow or a set of steps. In William Bridges work on transition, he describes three phases that people go through - the ending, the neutral zone and the new beginning. In our action oriented culture, we often think we can jump directly from the ending to the new beginning. The liminal - in between spaces of the neutral zone can catch us off guard. It is messy and confusing. And all through the transition, you can feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster. Don describes how this impacts leaders.
Don: the executive really should initiate the succession. Process and rather than the board initiating it on their behalf. They were shocked and surprised by how emotional the process was for them. That was something that really caught them off guard. You probably can't start too early. We were focusing on primarily trying to get to people four, three to four to five years ahead of their departure. A lot of times, executives are confused about their role in, in the transition process and the succession process to me, there's no ambiguity. You got three jobs. Job number one: lead the organization through the transition, of course, but understand that that role is going to evolve as your departure date draws closer. Number two is to prepare yourself for that next chapter of life. Like if you're gonna retire, have something magnetic that's drawing you forward rather than a job that you're leaving. And job number three is to prepare the organization for the succession and transition process.
Carol: Don talks about how many leaders are caught by surprise by the emotional element of the transition – and I would add - everyone in the organization is going through their own emotional roller coaster too. Don tells a story that illustrates just this point.
Don: He was rethinking his departure date and his long time, well seasoned deputy just up and.
Said, look, I'm done with this, you're, you're never gonna leave this organization. I'm gonna go do something else. I think I gave some notice, but you know what I mean? It really upset the apple cart. And I think it also makes people feel whipsawed. It can be a real stew for the staff and ripe for people, some of your best people, to look elsewhere because they're questioning their career. The future with the organization and, and there's always questions anyway will we like the new executive? Can we trust the board to pick the right person for a job?
Carol: I appreciate Don’s comment about the leader preparing themselves for the next step. In our conversation, Andy described his own process of succession and transition into retirement.
Andy: I feel like if I step back, there's more room for others to step up and jobs than I am not accepting. And I am referring to other people or jobs. I don't get anymore, cuz it's okay. I have enough, I've had enough work. I don't need to do it much longer, but I'm also supporting and training and helping other people who wanna enter this space. And that feels good to me. So this is my personal succession plan and I can't say I wrote it down, but it's something I've thought about for years and I've been implementing it step by step. And the latest step is for me to work less and be more assertive about pushing jobs out to other people, especially folks who are new to consulting. I'm sending a lot more work to BIPOC consultants. Black indigenous people of color as a way of supporting social justice and equity.
Carol: Carlyn and I explored what emerging leaders can do to get ready for an executive director role and what the board needs to do to set the new leader up for success.
Carlyn: if you're an aspiring ED, this is your time to shine. But if you're a board know that, that it's gonna be very additive to get the right person. So you might walk away with the perfect person, but you might be offering it to a couple different people. We've had a couple scenarios just in the last few months where someone's accepted a job offer, been in this situation where they're negotiating a parallel job offer. You have to be willing to make some, some adjustments to your timeline, to the amount of money that you have on the table, all sorts of things. If somebody is looking to ascend into an executive director role, the board is paying very close attention to how much fundraising experience they have, or what is their external facing. What are the technology needs that they're going to have? What are the key people that they need to meet in the first week? How are they let's go ahead and set up meetings with the board members so that that's all done for them. They like to walk in, they open their calendar and they're like, great. I will meet Jim for lunch next Tuesday. And Jill and Joanie are going to be a happy hour,
We also do 30, 60, 90 day check-ins with both the incoming executive director, and the board chair.
Carol: The topic of transitions seemed super relevant as we slowly emerge from the pandemic. As the going impacts of the Great resignation, great reshuffle keep reverberating through the economy. And the nonprofit sector as a subset of that – feeling all those transitions too. We are also I think – finally in the much anticipated generational transition as boomers retire and new leaders step into the limelight.
If these clips intrigued you and you want to go back and listen to the full episodes from each of the people featured in today’s best of – Elizabeth Woolfe’s is episode 12, Carlyn Madden is 27, Andy Robinson is 21 and Don Tebbe is 32.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find the full transcript, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything that you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 53 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Reva Patwardhan discuss:
Reva Patwardhan is the founder of Greater Good Coaching. She works with nonprofit leaders who’ve followed their hearts into careers of service and advocacy. She helps them discover their innate strength, resilience and confidence, so they can use their careers to make the impact they want in their lifetimes. She has 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser, communications director, lobbyist, board member, facilitator, coach and diversity trainer. Reva co-facilitates small experiential learning groups with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She chairs the Board of Directors at Rethink Media. She is a certified Integral Coach, and a member of the International Coaching Federation.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Reva Patwardhan. Reva and I talk about leadership coaching. We talk about what it is and what it is not, the extra challenges nonprofit leaders have in investing in coaching, why an organization’s mission can push people into a state of constant urgency and how slowing down can actually help them work better and more effectively, and why taking a trauma-informed, somatic approach to coaching is key.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome. Welcome Reva to the podcast.
Reva Patwardhan: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Reva: So I'm an executive coach and before I was a coach, I worked at a nonprofit for about 14 years. And I had a lot of different roles there, fundraiser, lobbyist, communications director. And in that time there, I realized that I had a real love of supporting the people around me. Even when they were doing jobs that I was not necessarily capable of doing. And I also really just had a great deal. So there were, like every nonprofit we had issues with burnout and not every nonprofit, but a lot of nonprofits have. Right. Hashtag not all nonprofits.
Carol: Just most.
Reva: Yeah. But I stuck around because I just really loved the people I worked with. I just admired them so much. They were so smart and so passionate and just incredibly committed and I believed in what we were doing. So that was just like all the magic components for me. So I decided to make a career out of that. And yeah, I really feel like the people who are actually out there trying to solve problems that we all face that are, they are not there's no. or a little profit motive, it's just like, I am here to try to solve this problem. Those are really hard jobs. And those are exactly the people that we need to be figuring out, like, what can we do for you? Right. And so I really feel passionate about asking, what do we need to be doing to make these jobs that are very hard and also very crucial, more sustainable so that we are not crushing the very people who are carrying. Our hope for us.
Carol: Yeah. A hundred percent. So I feel like coaching it's certainly become more prevalent in the for-profit sector. Yeah. And more well known. But I feel like there's still quite a few misconceptions about what it is and who it's for why it's important. So, how would you describe leadership coaching?
Reva: Yeah, leadership coaching and you're right. There is quite a gap that I've observed between the nonprofit sector and the corporate sector. The nonprofit sector for whatever reason is, has been behind. And really recognizing how important it is to invest in leaders, as individuals, as human beings. And that is what leadership coaching is. It's really investing in you. I think that's why it's hard for people. It's hard for an executive director to say, Hey, I'm going to spend some money on an executive coach because it's really for her. Right. it is for her in service of her mission. And when I coach with people, we do have the mission centered in our work, but it is for her and her ability and her passion and her values. That is part of the process of what we're doing to serve the mission. Right. So, in order to center your own wellbeing and your own development, I think it's a hard thing for a lot of people to do. We're very much conditioned out of that. And I do work with a lot of women but very much conditioned to, to not to always be giving to others, not to ourselves. And that is what coaching does. And I think what it is beyond that, I think it varies quite a bit. I think one reason why there's a lot of confusion about what coaching is because it varies quite a bit depending on who you work with, and there's a lot of great ways of coaching out there. And it really is a matter of finding your right fit. So I'm a big believer in figuring things out, talking to people and finding who's the person who resonates for you. The way that I work with people is I work with the whole person. That means we're talking about feelings, we're talking about the things that really matter to you. We there's room to talk about what's happening in your home life as well. Because you're the same person there. And we're always looking for what is life and work asking of you right now? What edge are you at? Where the way you did things before got you to where you are. Let's thank those methods. Let's honor that. And what new edge is life asking you to meet right now?
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I appreciate the whole, whole person perspective that, just going against that myth, that we park all that stuff at the door. When we come to work, it's all there. Whether we talk about it or not, it's all there. So one of the things that you focus on when you're, when you're working with nonprofit leaders is somatics. Can you tell me a little bit about what somatics is and how you incorporate that into your coaching?
Reva: Yeah. So when I work with someone somatically, what I'm doing is. The reason I do that is I find it's one of the quickest pads for someone to access their innate wisdom. So when I'm working with someone I'm not it's not consulting because I'm not providing you with a bunch of answers. I might offer ideas. I might thought-partner with you, but I'm not offering you suggestions. What I'm doing is asking questions to help you figure out and feel into what is right for you. And it's that feeling. That is the power of coaching. And I really see one of my goals as a coach is when someone walks away from their work with me, one of the things they've learned is how to listen to themselves very deeply. And what are the ways they can be with themselves? How can. , what, what ways of being with yourself and coaching yourself, can you practice and learn that help you learn how to get unstuck so that you become someone who, so everybody gets stuck, but do you stay stuck or do you know how to get yourself unstuck? And all of that is Starts with being able to really slow your mind down. And the container of coaching for that is really, it's a powerful container because that's what we're doing is we're slowing ourselves down and we're pausing. And we're noticing in the moment, right, as an emotion comes up or right. As something important was said, you're slowing down and saying what's happening there in the body. And what guidance can we get from that?
Carol: So somatics being about paying attention to what's going on in the body, not just what we're thinking. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I feel like, folks. It's always been there, right? Like we've always been in these bodies and yet, in our culture at least in the US context, there's been this mythical separation of our mind in our body. How much resistance or acceptance do you find when you're working with folks to step into that work?
Reva: Yeah, so I always meet people where they are. Right. I think that's really important. That's one of my core values and I don't push. Right. I respect people's boundaries. That's another core value and I do invite, right. And I find that most of the time, people welcome that because what they're experiencing in their day to day life is a lot faster. A lot of fast pace, a lot of rushing from one task to another. So what it often feels like is just having a chance to finally take a breath. And then it's like, okay, what is it like for you when you get to take a breath, let's just spend some time noticing. I don't experience people. Like I think part of it is because a lot of folks and this isn't true for everybody, but a lot of my clients do seem to get pretty quickly the value of tuning in. It's just, it's something we all innately are able to do. It's just that it's conditioned out of us. So when you Remi you're reminded suddenly that, oh, this is something I can do. Maybe you haven't done it since you were four, but oh, this is something that I can do. It's not , it's not wild or scary. It's just like, this is the thing I can do.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like so many of the conversations that I have with other coaches, consultants doing different work, different work with organizations, PE individuals. Almost always some element of that. Let's just slow down for a minute. Let's take a pause. Let's take a step back. Let's try to pull you out of that rush, rush, rush meeting after meeting mentality that gives people just a little bit more space to think. Yes.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. And what if we could have that more and more in our lives. Right. Right. What if as a leader, I had the ability to pause and to actually say, I'm a leader in this organization and I'm gonna decide to actually program into my day to day and set boundaries, time to reflect and pause. And that is a priority because when I do that, I'm better at my job. And so part of the, and, and it sounds, I think a lot of times people are truly experiencing urgency in their work, right. There's urgency coming from somewhere, right. And often people are working with, or serving communities that are experiencing urgency. And so it sounds, it sounds really bizarre. or it can be like, who am I to slow down? Why do I get to do this and all of that stuff? But one of the things that can happen with coaching is you start to see, oh, this actually is gonna help me be more in service than I currently am, because it'll help me actually. See the forest rather than just the trees. If I'm constantly moving from one task to the other, I'm never able to ask the big questions, or if I'm asking the big questions, I'm not able to do anything about it. And there's the undercurrent of frustration there of, there are things I'd like to do and there's no space to do.
Carol: Yeah. Okay. And I think when the, when the leader actually does that, and then, people see that on their calendar or they talk about it, it starts to give permission for other people to also do that within the organization and, question this whole culture that we have of, Rush rush, rush, busy, busy, busy, every job description saying you must be comfortable in a fast paced environment, you know? Yeah. And I mean, what my little step in that direction is to try to stop, when it's the first part of a conversation and the hi, how are you? Oh, I'm, you know? Oh, it's been, so it's been so hectic. It's been so. Busy. I try to avoid actually saying whether it's true or not. Cause I just feel like it, it plays into this myth that we all have to live that way.
Reva: Yeah. I mean, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna be real. I also often live that way. Sure. I often also feel overwhelmed and rushed and all that stuff. It's just that I think one of the gifts of doing this work is I don't feel. As guilty about slowing down, because I know that I can't lead from that rushed place. I can get things done, but that's different than leading.
Carol: I haven't quite managed to let go of all of the guilt yet. I'm working on it.
Reva: I said mostly or something mostly. OK.
Carol: That sounds good. But it's gotten better. You also take a trauma-informed approach. And I feel like I am hearing this a lot with clients that I'm working with, that they're taking a trauma-informed approach with their clients. What does it actually mean to be trauma-informed?
Reva: It means being careful of your impact. Mm. I think it means having some humility and respect for the person that's in, that's in front of you. I think it's being aware that there is a lot of trauma, more so than ever, I think, in the world. And there are tools to help people. It's having a toolbox to offer people around that. And it's knowing your lane. So I'm not a therapist. And if I'm really, if I'm seeing real trauma with someone, then I'm going to refer them to someone who can, can help them with that. And when I say trauma, I mean like a level of trauma that I can't deal with, but there is a certain level of trauma we're all carrying, I think. And so everyone has to skill up for that. And part of it is respecting those boundaries. It's like, whatever defenses this person has, they're there for a good reason. And so let's not pretend they're not there for a good reason. And so I do work with people around understanding their defenses and slowly loosening them. But I work slowly, which my, one of my one of the things that I really believe in is in order to move quickly, you have to slow down, go move, slow to go fast. Right. So that is often the most effective way towards transformation is just having patience, continuing to meet whatever's happening in the moment. And not rush it, not push it because that's ultimately not gonna work anyways. Yeah. That's how I think about it.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what some of those defense mechanisms might be and, and kind how to, I don't know that skilling up that you talked about in that arena.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. So so I work with, so I work with people around emotions, right? So as you said, it's, it's the whole person who's coming in the room. And I see coaching as where we get to work with the human side of our challenges. And so if someone's coming in with a challenge and we're unpacking, what is the, what is the human part of this and focus on that. So there's emotions coming up. So I'm making space for those and we're, we're, we're we're unpacking that we're working with that. Like what's behind these emotions. What are some thoughts? Some, some mindsets or thoughts that are there. What are some wounds that need a little bit of space there? And if I find someone who, if I find that someone is, you know that's really hard to be with a certain emotion. I respect that. So we move slowly. So we titrate. So it's like, So what if you're just with this emotion for one second, just to see what it is, right. And then we back off, we intentionally back off. Right. So I might offer them something to practice on their own. That's just like just saying hello to this part of you that feels this way. once a day and then you just back away and then slow, very slowly increase. Capacity to be with it. So that's one.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah. So my tagline for my podcast is helping nonprofit leaders have greater mission impact without becoming a martyr to the cause. How do you see that show up with folks you work with and, and how are you trying to contribute to shifting this culture of overwork and extraction in the sector.
Reva: Yeah. So I'll tell you one of the things that I've been seeing a lot lately, And I think it was always there and I've just started to be able to begin to catch onto it more. But I've noticed that there are certain very prevalent, toxic dynamics in the nonprofit sector that when you are in the middle of that dynamic, when you're really a part of it, it can feel like a personal problem. Mm. Right. So something's going wrong. and in the organization, but because it feels like a personal problem, I treat it like a personal problem. So and so what happens there is if you, so if you imagine you're a leader, an E.D. and things aren't going right. And the thing that's not really feeling like the thing that's not going right is me. And my efforts to address it have failed. So what do I do? Like, what do you do in that situation is you hide it, you hide the problem right. If you blame yourself for the problem and you haven't been able to adequately address it, you hide the problem. And so you're then unable to do anything about it. Right? And so like some examples I've seen of this are Executives, who've gotten really good at hiding their overwhelm. And because they're, it's just become this really normalized thing that their funders don't fund overhead. And it's been like that for so long. That it's just a completely normalized culture where overwhelmedness and burnout are just normal. And so if you are overwhelmed or if you have a problem with being overwhelmed, that's a problem with you. Right? And so let's hide that rather than actually trying to figure out how to do it. You feel compelled to hide it. Another example is like so you have to say, part of your job is going to speak at, to represent your organization and your community at community meetings where there's politicians or whatever, and you feel very anxious about it. And you're ashamed of that anxiety. Well when it's not the anxiety, that's the problem. The problem is the fact that you are the sole member. You're the sole representative of your community. No one else in the room looks like you, you're the only person of color in the room, you know? And that's the problem because you feel ashamed of the anxiety. You're trying to solve the problem yourself. And trying to hide the fact that you feel the anxiety. It's actually very normal to feel anxious in that situation. That's not the problem. So I think people in this situation it's like, they're, they might be this is just ripe for a very ripe moment for imposter syndrome. So they might be thinking that someone else could be doing this job better. The person who was in this role before me did it better. And or or they might be thinking like, I'm the least competent person in this room, all of that stuff, which makes it feel like this is a problem with me. And so that's, and that's just paralyzing. So what I do is, I help people take their power back and find their voice. Part one by realizing you're not crazy. This is a genuinely hard situation. You are not broken. So taking your power back, finding the things that you can do in your immediate sphere to take action. And really, and just to the whole taking your power back thing, that's like, What I try to do is I try to help my clients see it for themselves. So it's not just me telling them. It's like, sure, help them see it for themselves and actually feel it actually feel the truth that, oh, oh, I see. It's not me. Right. And so from that place, you can take action. And the fact is most of these problems, they are much bigger than one person. So, and it may be a long game, but just starting the process of strategizing and, and planning out, how can you get more resources in this? Who can you reach out to? Who's gonna be your support system who are gonna be your collaborators and actually problem solving this. Right? So it's putting the problem where it belongs, which is in the collective. right. Not in the individual.
Carol: Yeah. And even some of the things that you talked about at the very beginning of who am I to slow down or who am I to invest in myself and get coaching goes to this whole mindset of if you're passionate about your, your issue and you have to give it all and this selflessness of the helper and that can be just a recipe for burnout. It's like here, here are the five steps to burnout. Here you go, go do these things, go believe these things.
Reva: Yeah, and I think there's also a recipe for burnout for the people in those jobs. And I think there is a wake up call going on for the sector. If it's not happening already, it's going to happen very soon because there is this emerging sense that people don't wanna put up with any of this crap anymore in their jobs. Right. And it's getting harder and harder to fill the position of executive director. In the for-profit sector, being a CEO is seen as this glamorous thing. And I think part of that is because part of that is like the ridiculous salaries and we don't necessarily want to model ourselves off of that. Part of it is that they have resources, they have support to do what they need to do. They don't. And so in the nonprofit sector, I think becoming an E.D. should feel, you should feel proud. You should feel proud of being an executive director or being a leader of a development director. Communication director any, any like any role, like doesn't just not just at the director level, but you should be proud. Anyone should be proud to work in the nonprofit sector, whether you're an entry-level fundraiser. I started out in the, as a door to door canvasser. We should feel proud of our work. Right. But I think one of the reasons it's very hard to feel proud of our work is because we don't feel appreciated. Right. And there is that undervaluing and a big part of that is not being supported in the work. Right. You're just allowed to flail. And so, and so people are saying, no, why, why, why would I do that to myself? You know?
Carol: Just the sense it's like never enough. Yeah.
Reva: And, but the fact is I think that we actually still need the nonprofit sector in this country. We live in this country where this is the way it's set up right now. And if we wanna be able to solve big problems, We have to be able to do work that centers on impact and not profit. We just have to do it. And maybe there's sweeping changes that need to happen, but this is where it is right now. And how do we not lose all our wonderful people?
Carol: Yeah, no, I am seeing that, that, and, and just hearing people talk about it, this underbelly of the sector, that's always, probably always been there. And various, I don't know, historical reasons for that. And just this mythology that gets exploited and folks are saying, no more. How can we do this differently? Doesn't have to be this way. But it's hard to step out. It's hard to step out and, and do it in a, you know, to work on being countercultural, right, even at the individual level.
Reva: Yeah. And that's why I do this work. It's like, okay. I, if I think that this is important work and I really want there to be people doing it, how do we support them? How do we find ways to make this work for them? If the mission matters then so do the people who are working for the mission.
Carol: Right. Yeah. All the people involved matter for sure.
So at the end of every episode, I play a game where I ask one moderately random icebreaker question. So I've got three cards from my little box. So if you, for, for any place that you visited, what's, what's a place that you would love to go back to.
Reva: Hmm. Bali.
Carol: Mm. Say more.
Reva: Oh man. So Bali is a beautiful place. Now I'm worried about promoting tourism to a place that maybe can't handle it.
Carol: Don't go to Bali, right?
Reva: I was there maybe 10 years ago, so, and oh, it was just, it was just the, the people are just very, were just very open and lovely. And the. The nature was just beautiful and gorgeous. And it, every, any time I go to a different country, I think I've been to India many times as well. It's my parents' mother country. I've been to Mexico, I've been, I've been, anytime I go to another country, I just feel a sense of freedom because I'm. It's like something about just like now I don't have to follow the usual rules here.
Carol: You have this, the sense of even when you're going, you're, you're breaking cultural rules in the other country. They give you a pass like, Ugh, they're a foreigner, but they don't know so, so you have a little bit of leeway and can yeah. And also like, people give you a little grace.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. People give you a little grace and it's, it's more, it's just like, it's lovely to just get out of the water that I'm usually swimming in. Yep. It's lovely to get out. What I define or what we define as normal here. Sure. Just to leave for a while.
Carol: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. My parents first posting in the foreign service was in Indonesia. So we have many home movies from there and from Bali. This was before me, but I would love to go visit. I'm sure it would be totally different than when they were there in the 1960s. Yeah. But yeah, it's, it's a place on the list. So thank you. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you in your, in your work and what's emerging?
Reva: Yeah, the thing I’m most excited about is my work with my one on one coaching clients. There is something so powerful about that moment when someone faces the truth of the challenging moment they’re in and starts to sort through, what are the things that are in your power to influence, and what are the things that are bigger than you that you can reach out for help on, and what starts to become more possible for you when you stand in an unconditional sense of your own belonging and the unconditional belonging of your community. It is really beautiful, powerful, transformative work and it is an honor and a joy to be able to do it. It is the thing I love doing more than anything and I feel blessed to be able to do this work. If anyone listening would like to talk to me about the possibility of working together please come to my website. I would love to talk to you. It's been a long time and I've been at this work for a bunch of years now. And I have a lot of new, a lot of new things to say, and I'm excited about saying them.
Carol: Excellent. Yeah. So what would you say are your top three new things to say?
Reva: Well, one of them is just seeing this relationship between imposter syndrome and the nonprofit sector's inability to address major problems that are sector wide or organization wide. And to see that imposter syndrome is not an individual problem, it's actually baked right into the structures of the nonprofit sector.
Carol: And our society for various identities, if you've been questioned your entire life yes, then you will learn to question yourself, yeah. In your capacity and when you have not. Yeah. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for all you do for nonprofit leaders. I really appreciate it and appreciate you having this conversation.
Reva: Well, thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Carol: I appreciated how Reva described her approach for helping her coaching clients deal with uncomfortable emotions. It is not a matter of all in. It is a matter of step by small step – titrating is the word she used. – Meeting folks where they are and only going as far as is a little bit beyond their comfort zone – be with it for a little bit and then back off. I also appreciated her broader perspective on the toxic cultures that too often emerge within nonprofit organizations – overwork, overwhelm, and burnout. That when you are part of it – it feels personal, and it may seem like it is embedded in the personalities of those around you. And as a leader it can feel like a personal problem – which can lead to denial and avoidance and hiding from the challenge instead of addressing it. So instead by naming it leaders and staff can take their power back and address the elephant in the room.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Reva, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 52 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, David Pisarek discuss:
David is an award-winning web and digital solutions architect, designer and project manager with extensive industry experience focusing on education, not-for-profit, politics, healthcare, and government. An expert in his field, David worked full-time at Durham College for 11 years (seven of those while working at UOIT too). It was in that role where David performed the redesigns and programming and ran training sessions for over 100 staff. As a result of those years, David understands the internal processes and functioning of post-secondary institutions. He also worked as a professor and guest lecturer at Seneca College and Durham College where he taught web design, graphic design, computer science, and web development. And he developed the Web Design curriculum at a private, corporate training facility.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is David Pisarek. David and I talk about nonprofit websites. We explore the common mistakes nonprofits make with their websites, why video is something your organization should consider for storytelling, how to start cultivating a relationship with the people learning about you through your website, and a quick and easy way to create a content calendar.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Welcome David, welcome to the podcast.
David Pisarek: How are you doing today? Thank you.
Carol: I am doing well. I'd like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
David: That is an awesome question. My why is really baked into my upbringing. I was involved in youth groups as a child and adolescent and teen years, and there was always a component of helping and giving back and volunteering and being part of the community. I started working in nonprofits in 2000, managing the web and all that type of stuff for them. And it just evolved from there. It's just something I love doing. I love figuring things out and thinking strategically about what it is and how to problem solve and, and work around things and find solutions. And part of what I also love doing is educating and teaching people about things. So in terms of my agency, when we're working with our clients, we train them on the system. We teach them about SEO. We teach them about best practices. Like you don't want to put a giant wall of copy up on your site. You need to break it up and have some headlines and bullet points and things like that. But we're about educating in that. And so like I've got a blog and a podcast as well to help empower the people that we work with and other people that are in the nonprofit.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. . just that's, that's what you do. You help people help nonprofits really create better websites. And, and probably more than that you've mentioned a couple of things, but, but what would you say are some of the biggest mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their website, which really today is a foundational piece of how you present yourself to the world?
David: One of the biggest things that we find with our prospects that come to us, and we've also conducted an audit of over 400 nonprofit and charity websites. we've got like this broad base of data to pull from, to answer this question. One of the biggest things that we find is that websites look old. There's a client we worked with a couple of years ago. Their site was actually redone in 2016, but it looked like it was from the mid two thousands. And I'm sure you've come across a site. The listeners have come across sites where it's like, Hmm, the site doesn't really quite look like maybe anything has been done. Like, is that organization still in business? Are they still doing things or is this just like up there? And it's just like a ghost town.
Carol: . paying attention to updating information, but also updating the look and feel of a website to make sure that , it doesn't look like a, I dunno, a Victorian mansion or something.
David: You could have a wonderfully, beautifully designed Victorian mansion. Right. But if your website isn't working properly, it's an issue for your organization because Google and their algorithm is giving preferences to sites that are. Working really well and designed for mobile devices. So the easiest way to check if you're not sure is to open up your website in your browser window and then make your browser window really narrow. And if you have to scroll sideways to see any of the content, your site's not mobile optimized or likely isn't mobile optimized, I should say. That would be a good start.
Carol: . Excellent. what are some other couple simple things that organizations can do to really improve their websites?
David: You need to create an emotional connection with the people you're trying to reach out to. that can be done through the wording that you have. But it can also be done through the images that you've got or videos that you have there. And you need to create this impactful story about your organization in terms of what you do, why you do it, who you help, how the donor's funds are being used, the type of volunteers that you need and need to really weave that through all of the messaging that you have. Not just like we need. You need to donate today, right? Why, why do we need to donate? What's the money happening sorry, what's happening with the money and how is it being spent? What's it going towards and making people really care and be empathetic towards your cause? And that's going to really help organizations have ambassadors for your brand.
Carol: And how do you help organizations identify what their story is and, and how they can tell their story in a way that connects with the people that they're trying to reach.
David: That's one question with regards to connecting. If you're going to be looking at imagery, things like that, it's hardwired in our DNA. It's scientifically backed and proven. You want pictures of people looking at the camera. And because. Fight or flight responses from like back in caveman days. Right. So do you need to be here and fight and we're wired to look people in the eyes and being able to do that will help you evoke that response from a visual perspective when you're thinking about the story and the meaning and everything behind it. There's a couple of things that you can do the first thing or one of the first. Would be to connect with the senior leadership, the executive team, the board of directors at your organization and ask them, why do they care? What does this organization mean to them? Most likely people care about an organization because they are helping. In some way, shape or form with something that has impacted their lives, their family, or their friends, there's some direct connection, like first or second level to whatever it is. So if it's, if your organization is about, I don't know, ALS for example, Somebody in their family or, or friend or circle has been affected by that in some way, shape or form. And so they want to help and they want to get involved and be able to do that. So really understanding why people care. And then having that in and talking about, here are the things that we're doing to help this. He, there's a media campaign or there's this awareness week and really pumping up your messaging around those.
Carol: . And that's why I love asking that question at the beginning of my interviews. Right. Why what motivates folks to do the work and, and why, why are they connecting into it? And it usually the story does begin in, in people's growing up and how they were connected either impacted by an issue or connected in service early on lots of different things, but one other thing that you said that really struck me was around thinking about imagery and I've, I've heard so much about, our lizard brain and the amygdala and our fight flight. I'll put them there's fun. And there are four of them. Now I think freeze and Fon have that immediate response. And that, that part of our brain is always checking for. Can I trust you? Are you going to hurt me? I've never thought about it in terms of imagery, in a magazine, on a, on a website, any of that. all we thought about it in terms of either this on, on a. In person, not in person, but it, mediated through some screen event or just more of that interactive. it's so interesting that you bring that in also in the imagery that folks are using. thinking about it from that point of view, what's inviting, what's, what's engaging. What other mistakes do you see organizations making?
David: there's two other ones that I'd like to mention. One is making it really easy for people to connect with you. In our audit that we conducted, we found there were a lot of sites. They didn't even have a phone number on there. Like some really basic things have an email. Your, your mailing address, your physical address, a contact form on your site, a phone number some way that you can reach out to that organization in a way that people can connect with you. The other, sorry. Hold on one sec. I wanna, this is popping up. Okay. The other thing that organizations typically fall short with are having calls to actions on their website. The best way to get somebody to do something is to have a call to action. And typically a call to action is a button that you would have on your site with some wording in it, right? Like “donate now,” for example, right. Or a volunteer with us or subscribe, right. Things like that. And making it really. Comprehensive and short and understandable way for people to take whatever that next action is that you want them to take.
Carol: And what are, what would you prioritize between those different calls to action? In terms of thinking about someone, hearing about you, looking you up, looking up your website and in terms of what that next step might be. The reason I asked you the question was the first one you asked, you mentioned, was “donate now.” And I guess one thing that I'm curious about is. I guess an assumption that I have is it takes a little while for something, to get someone to the point where they want to donate and give money to your organization. That's not always true. it may be that a disaster just happened. They looked for a list of who can I donate to by someone that they trust. They look at that list, your organization's on the list and they're going to, they don't need to know anything more. They're going to donate money to you. But in most cases I would think that you have to nurture that relationship a little bit more before they're ready to jump to that action. what, what are some of those steps that you want to invite people into in terms of what that call to action might be?
David: You're absolutely right. They are getting people to make a donation. Isn't the, isn't typically the first thing that people are going to do when they come to your site, they want to get familiar with your organization. I always talk about in terms of, of three things, there's the know like, and trust factors, right? They need to know you, they need to like you, they need to trust you and then they'll be willing to take action of some kind. you need to really have your messaging put together. Easiest thing to get people to do is to subscribe. if you don't have an email list set one up there's MailChimp, there's constant contact as a campaign monitor. There's a ton of systems out there that you can use. A lot of them have a free tier. I typically recommend MailChimp. It allows up to, I think 2000 email addresses and they're free and they also have nonprofit pricing as well. if you do need to bump up into a, into a paid tier, they do, they do offer a discount there. But , you can embed a form in your website and get people to subscribe. And that's where some of that nurturing can happen. you need to set up the messaging you need to set up. Maybe if you're a little bit more of an established organization, a nurture sequence, maybe two or three emails, just explaining, Hey, thanks for subscribing. We send out emails, every month, this is the type of stuff that you're going to get from us. The second email would be, Hey, here's, what we've done recently, or the impact we've had over the last year? Hoping you might be interested in finding out more from us, the 30 emails could be, here's our most popular articles that we've published or videos that we've put together looking forward to getting you our monthly newsletter, for example, right. And then they get on the regular monthly email that you'll get, or pardon me that you'll publish out there. But in terms of call to actions, Unless they're like, somebody may have passed away and they want to donate to your organization because that's what that family or that individual really cared about or were passionate about. Typically that donation isn't, isn't the piece that they're going to go to right away. So there are some other things that you could do. I have a podcast also called the nonprofit digital success podcast episode 39. So while digital.com/ 0 3 9, that'll take you right there. That episode is all about CTS. So head on over there, you'll get, you'll get a bit more detail there, but in terms of call to actions, it could be contact us. It could be sharing this page or sharing this article. You could have some buttons for social channels, like Facebook, Twitter, that type of thing. But some other CTS that you can think about doing, let's say your organization was around funding cancer research, let's say, and you're trying to raise funds for that. It could be like “end cancer today” or, “end brain cancer today.” Or instead of “subscribe,” it could be, “keep me informed.” Right? There's different languages that you can have. But something you shouldn't be scared of is having to call. On a page in your website. So, maybe when people load up your homepage, you'll probably find only about 40 to 50% of your web traffic actually lands on your homepage. Google wants to send people deep into your site, into the content that they're already looking for. But on the top of the homepage, you can usually have the typical designers you've got like a big image or something like that, and like a headline and a button. So that button up there, that could be. I have two buttons. So you could have one for more info. So if you have a big campaign or something like that happening at your organization, or maybe there's a gala and you're trying to do some fundraising for that, it could be like I don't know, RSVP could be one of the, those buttons and the other button could be subscribed and you can have that right up there and drive them to a subscription page.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. And just you, you did say call to action and then you said CTA multiple times, but , just for clarity, CTA is market speak for call to action. So, awesome. . Another acronym that you may not be familiar with is SEO. Can you explain a little bit about what that is and what are some, what if, how do people need to think about that or why it's important.
David: SEO is again an acronym it's search engine optimization and really what it comes down to is how do the search engines index and list your website in their database. So when somebody goes and does a search, it's looking through their database, it doesn't actually search your website live. Actually, they have a cache of all the content on the internet. So if you think of Google, they've gotten like terabytes petabytes of. Astronomical amounts of data that we can't even comprehend on all the different websites and domains that are out there in the world. So when somebody goes into Google and they search for something, it's looking for relevance as well as geographic proximity. So I'll take a look when I'm in Toronto. And so if I went and looked for, I don't know, my heart and stroke association, let's say it'll, it'll find me results based because I'm in Canada and Toronto that are as close to me as possible. Whereas if I was in Australia or Germany or somewhere else, it would show different results. Based on. So SEO is about being found by search engines and being able to be indexed. So if your organization is, let's just talk about, I don't know, cancer research, because we were just talking about that four months ago. If you're focused on that, you want to make sure that you're using the terminology that other people, the general population might be searching for, because then you're going to end up ranking higher in the search result. People typically don't really go past page two of Google search results. We'll end up going back to the search and typing again. So if you think about the last time you went to Google and you searched for something, that's probably exactly what you did. If you're looking for a new hat or something, right? Like you'll go you'll search and whatever. I don't know. Totally unrelated to nonprofits there, but right.
Carol: But you might need a hat for your next Gala. who knows.
David: It's important to have the terminology that people are looking for. And one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that you have some analytics tool in your website. you can gather data about how people are coming to your site. What are the popular pages on your site? And then you can create additional content. Around that so that you can start to become more well-known to search engines around certain topic areas. And one of the best tools that I can recommend is Google analytics. It's free and you can install it on your site. If you need help with that, reach out to me, connect with me. We'll do it for you for free, no strings attached. We'll get you going. Analytics is one of the best ways to be able to improve your web presence. And it's really important. To have regular check-ins on that.
Carol: . Because certainly through mine, I have some analytics through just the service that I use. I use one of them. like Squarespace and others, that make it easy to make it look good. But they're not as robust around analytics, et cetera. And I got Google analytics set up at one point, but I think it's all falling apart, so probably could do with some help in that direction.
David: Happy to help. One little caveat is Google analytics is sunsetting their universal analytics. So if you are going to sign up for new analytics or if you have it on your site, you need to migrate to GA for so Google analytics for,
Carol: Okay, good to know. Good to know. what are some steps that organizations can take to improve their SEO? And I, a lot of organizations, these are the kinds of things that may feel Beyond their sophistication or capacity, but I'm wondering if there's some easy things. You talked about making sure that you're using keywords that aren't just the expert jargon. But really how an average person would look for, for whatever it is that you do. that being an important element, are there other key things that organizations need to think about in terms of SEO?
David: Absolutely. So like I said, right at the beginning, I love educating and getting information out there. I have a webinar, a free webinar that I run, where I talk about how you can leverage your website to get better impact, more donations and more website traffic. And I talk in that webinar about SEO and the importance of things. And one of the best things that you can do is to add content to your web. Over time on a frequent regular basis. So maybe once a week, once every two weeks, once a month, whatever the cadence is that works for you. Write a piece of content about whatever that keyword or the idea that you want people to find you under. Frank. Right content and it doesn't have to be long. There's people out there that are going to be like, no, you need to write at least 2000 words. We've had a lot of success with some of the clients we've done this for where it was just five or 600 words on a weekly basis. And over a period of five months, we were able to increase their organic search traffic by 510 times. So. short content things that are easily digestible, things that are topical, maybe there's something happening in the news around COVID or something like that. And you're related to Curing, whatever disease based on MRNs, for example, right? Maybe there's, there's a tie there, connection there, and you can talk about that in some content and you can try to leverage media in that way because people are already searching for that. In Google analytics, you can actually get some details in terms of what pages are the most popular on your website. Take a look at those pages and. Over time, make some updates to those pages. And Google is going to start to rank that page a little bit higher as well. And just jumping back to CTS, when you're looking at that list of the most popular pages of your website, make sure that the top 10 pages of your site, you've got a clear call to action on that page to drive people, to do something, whatever that happens to be because you're already getting traffic there. Right. Let's leverage that traffic to try to get them to do something else, like subscribe or make a donation of some kind. And you don't affect change that way.
Carol: that makes a lot of sense. I've been in organizations where they haven't had a, a communications person or a marketing person, and they've really struggled with being able to keep that consistent, creating a little bit of content and getting it, getting things updated because there's just this mindset of it. It has to be really important or really meaningful or just perfect. And I think really for me, the way that I've just tried to stay consistent and keep things rolling is, just, it's gotta be good enough. It doesn't have to be perfect. And it doesn't always have to be super profound. I keep being, perhaps I'm boring people, I don't know, but I try to psych myself into just continuing versus getting into that mind space that can be paralyzing. And I've seen parallel organizations in, in, in really. Keeping people appraised about what's going on because they had so many criteria that they felt like their communications had to meet.
David: . And it's really tough. So one of the things I always tell people when I'm meeting with them is you need to take some action for better, or for. Take something, create a bit of content, see how it works. If it doesn't work, modify it a little bit for next time. If it does work, keep following that same path until you meet some resistance or, or something like that. What we find with a lot of our clients is that they're reactive instead of proactive. There's. One of the issues between non-profits, and charities is the size of the team. The time that the team has to get the job done. And then, you might, you might embark on a project with the world's best intentions. But then there's fires that come up and there's wrenches that get thrown in. And then there's red tape and meetings and meetings and meetings. And ultimately at some point you need to say, what, I need to actually just do something and make it happen. And, taking that first step, taking that initiative is really, what's going to help you because you can have committee meetings and you can meet with stakeholders across the organization, all you want, but nothing's actually going to happen until you sit down and spend time in.
Carol: I think people see technology tools, whether it's websites or any other thing. And, and, and they see all the bells and whistles and they want to do the, all the things I was talking with, an organization, a small organization. They only have two staff right now. They will be growing, but there are only two right now. And they're thinking about their metrics and data tracking. And they have a database that, It's infinitely expandable in terms of the things that they could track, could pay attention to. And, I kept trying to bring them back to what are the one or two things that are going to be super important to be able to tell donors, tell funders, tell your story. You don't want your staff caught up in spending all of their time, entering information into a database. What are, what are going to be the things that really give you leverage? So key, back to that keep it simple. what else is important for organizations to keep in mind as they approach their digital marketing strategy?
David: I'm just going to close the door. Hold on, I have no idea why, but my wife just came home. She was at her office today. So okay. So let me ask the question again. Nope, I got it. We're good. Okay. . One of the things that I think is important to do is really be strategic about how you're spending your time. Right. And. On the wall behind me. You can't see it because this is an audio podcast, but I have a board. And on that board is our content calendar for the year. And we do this with our clients. You can do it yourself. Sit down with your team with key stakeholders from your organization, spend an hour together an hour and a half. Give everybody a stack of post-it notes and just say around this idea. So we are focused on cancer, curing cancer, right? In the next minute, how many post-it notes? Can you write down topic ideas for articles, right? And just sit and just pound out as many as you can. And then. Do that three, four times and have another topic idea. Do that three, four times another topic on day three, four times. And you're going to find within probably about 20 minutes, you're going to have 40, 50, 60 different topics. Some of them are going to overlap, right? So you take those, you throw them out who cares, right. But you've, you've spent a really short amount of time and you figured out, all right, here's all the different types of things that we can write about, or we can create videos about, or we can be featured on podcasts and talk about the great work that we do. And it really simplifies that process. So taking those post-it notes and then taking all of those. Magical DS and weeks and months that happened. So for example, like Alzheimer's awareness month, right? If, if there's content, some of those topics that tie into that, you want to put those on, on those months, on those special days that come up through the year, those awareness type of days, and then you can plot out your content for the whole year. So within a short amount of time, we're talking like an hour, hour and a half. You can have your content calendar planned the entire year. And . Things are going to come up through the year. So you take the post-its and you move them. If you want to use tech tools, you can use any Kanban board, like an air table or mural or whatever, there's tons of things out there for that. But , it's a super great process. It was really streamlined. And it makes it easy. And you don't have to think week after week or month after month about what it is. What are we going to write about this time? No, you have it already done. You grab it. Put that together and be done or you bring in people to help support your team. And that's like where we, where we come in, we as an agency, think of our thoughts. Think of ourselves as an extension of your marketing communication, it teams. And it's, it's, there's lots of agencies out there. There's lots of freelancers out there, whether it's copywriting design, web development strategy. Branding, whatever it happens to be that you can bring in to help.
Carol: When I was blogging on a regular basis I just kept a running list of ideas, and sometimes I'd write a bunch down and think about them. And then sometimes they would just pop up. Swimming or walking around the block and I'd add it. And then when it came to the time when I was supposed to be writing I would look at the list and sometimes I wanted to write the thing that was next on the list. And sometimes I didn't, so I just skipped and found another topic, but I did really find that not starting with that blank page was really, really helpful. I love that process that you described of just bringing a group of people and it is amazing how quickly you can generate. More than you could possibly even cover. you feel like you start with, oh my God, what are we going to talk about then having a list of 50 things and you're, you're good to go. And then, then doing that planning. That's awesome.
at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask each guest one random icebreaker question. What is one activity that you enjoy so much that it really makes you lose track of time?
David: Do you love doing so
Carol: much when you get into that state of flow?
David: Low. . The state of flow is super awesome. Right? Once you can focus and you're just sitting there working with it, and then all of a sudden it's two hours later. You're like, where did that time just go for me? With regards to the business side of things, that state of flow happens when I'm sitting down and really working on strategy and in. Problem solving, like trying to figure out all right, here's the, here's the issue. Here's what we need to do. What is it that can be done to work around that, but then going from that to actually doing it and jumping in and going, okay, we want to build out this new thing. So for us, here's a great example. We want to have better communication with our clients. We want to impact more and give them more education and more awareness about the work as we're working through the project. So we created what we call the hub for our. And so every client has a page. They can go in, they can see a Gantt chart of the projects, live project status and whatever. And when I had this idea, I was like, all right, let's just make this happen. And then like three hours later, I had the first template put together. And it was like, where did, where did all that time? Just go.
Carol: What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and your work?
David: It's interesting. We've got a few really great projects on the go right now. We're excited to move forward with them. We had a couple of meetings this morning already with them and we heard that the senior executive leadership loves the work that we've done. So that's super awesome and exciting in terms of our agency and where things are going, we're like dabbling. And taking a look at a metaverse in terms of like, what does this actually really mean? How can nonprofits and charities leverage this? We're also taking a look at crypto. So cryptocurrency and NFTs are non-fungible tokens. You've probably heard about this in the news a bit with artwork and there's like 14 year olds that have made over $10 million selling their like whale artwork, essentially. And what are some ways that nonprofits might be able to leverage that newer technology and get ahead of the curve on it, typically what we see as you've got like big business and then you have the education sector. And then lagging behind education is like the nonprofit world. Let's leapfrog that a bit and help them be current as things are happening in the news.
Carol: That's awesome. I appreciate all the education that you do for folks and I'm helping them. . Not, not always being one step behind, so that's awesome. Appreciate it. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking with you today.
David: Thank you so much, Carol.
Carol: I appreciated what David said about some of the very basic things that can easily be fixed on websites that they audit. The first being look and feel – does your website still look like someone should be looking at it via AOL in the 90s? The DIY website hosting and creation services such as Squarespace, Wix and Weebly – all have built in templates that make it easy for you to have an up to date looking website and have it be mobile friendly – all without having to know how to do any of those things. And the very basic – is there information on your website about how people can get in touch with you. And then beyond the basics, I appreciated David’s points about building a relationship with people – so this will likely be beyond the website. Are you asking them to sign up for your newsletter? Do you have it set up that when they sign up they get a series of automatic emails over a period of time to educate them about your work? And then how might you start using video to tell your story. Everyone can do a video now on their smartphone. What if you were to spend 15 minutes at your next board meeting having each board member each record a 1-2 minute video about why they are involved and what excites them about the work you do. It doesn’t need to be perfect and doesn’t need to be super fancy. And if you do want to go the extra mile there are plenty of folks who can help you produce more professional looking videos for your site. Or at your next board or staff meeting take his other tip and spend 15 minutes brainstorming all the topics you could cover to create a content calendar quickly.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with David, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 51 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Thomas Anderson discuss:
Dr. Thomas E. Anderson, II is the founder of Teaiiano Leadership Solutions. He has over 20 years of experience leading high-performance teams in faith-based non-profits. As a coach, consultant, and workshop facilitator, Thomas helps founders, leaders, and managers to navigate the multi-loop (…and often elusive) process of vision development and realization. In fact, he measures results by how much he helps clients to move forward with their vision for the future. Thomas is a recurring presenter at Regent University's Annual Research Roundtables and has published academic articles in the Journal of Practical Consulting and Coaching (JPCC). Above all, Thomas enjoys being a devoted husband to his wife, Jamie, and dedicated father to his daughters, Arianna and Azalia.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Thomas Anderson. Thomas and I talk about how organizations can learn to see and listen, why more and more people are working with founders, and what foresight is and why it is important to organizations.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Thomas. Welcome to mission impact.
Thomas Anderson: Thank you, Carol. It's nice to be here today, talking with you.
Carol: I like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you describe as your why?
Thomas: That's a great question. I started this work just to basically help visionaries to, I used to say, to change the world, but it's really to help visionaries to impact the world or to improve the condition of the world that we live in.
Carol: And. As you just said, you're a coach and consultant that really works with folks too, you focus on vision development. Why would you say that vision is so important for whether it's an organization, a team, an individual.
Thomas: that's a good question. And I have to caveat it by telling you a little bit about the backstory of how I got into this work. So I had every intention of graduating from undergrad and just going right into it. Nine to five corporate jobs staying there retiring, but the more and more I talk to people who are around me and the more opportunities that were coming my way, they were really related to people would come to me with their ideas or they would come to me with some type of creative, something that they wanted to do. Made everyone else who gave them feedback on it say, okay, I don't know about this. You might be crazy. Those kinds of responses kept coming to them. And so when I was just open to just the fact that, okay, you want to do something new at the time? I graduated right after the dot com bust. I was in a sense , either forced to go back to school or to try something new. And I was at the time trying something new. And so I saw, I say all that to say, I saw how it motivated vision has a very motivating it's a very motivating phenomenon within itself.
Carol: I work a lot with folks in the nonprofit sector and it's usually someone. Has a vision of, of how the world might be better or how they could have impact or how they could serve people or a gap that they perceive. They step into that. Sometimes the vision is very clear for the founder and not necessarily for everyone that they pull along with them. So you recently did some research into vision development and then its realization. Can you tell me a little bit about that research and what were the, what were the questions that you were trying to answer?
Thomas: Yes. Yes. I'd be happy to. And you just brought up something that I thought about earlier. There's a trend going on and I can, I can break it down like this. And this is what my research has shown just on a cursory level. More new businesses are popping up and even more so since the pandemic has happened. The number of new business applications doubled between 2007 and 2022, and they actually spiked between 2020 and the end of 2021. They have level back off to that doubling, but when you couple that with the fact that corporate longevity has decreased from 67 years , companies used to last on average on the S and P 67 years in 1920 to 15 years. And in 2012 you had this trend that businesses are getting younger. And the chances of working with a founder are higher. And so I started to think, what does that say? Or a visionary leadership vision and visionary leadership. And so what I started to do was to reconceptualize there was a call in the research from a couple of scholars to reconceptualize visionary leadership. And I started to think about the trend of businesses actually getting younger. And I said, okay I need to jump in here. And so I started to ask two questions. The first one was, can an organization learn. And then the second is if so, how do organizations practice? Seeing together now I've had a couple of discussions around my book topic, or I should call it a manuscript at this point because we're still in the process of the proposals and so forth and so on. But I'm even revising that question to look at a topic that came up in one of the sessions: can an organization learn to hear or learn to use the senses. And so what that looks like, going back to my original question, is how organizations learn how to detect and anticipate the future in such a way that they can choose which future they want to pursue. And also on the same token, be nimble enough to make changes along the way.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by an organization seeing or an organization hearing.
Thomas: Still, when it comes to seeing, basically when we talk about vision, we all know that it's future oriented and so. A term for that is the preferred future. And so which future the organization prefers, but visioning itself, starts with the ability to see. And you mentioned the founder earlier in, and that really comes into play here because founders take a journey through what they can see to be the preferred. But there's a lot of information there. That lies outside of the realm of visioning. It lies in the foresight realm of future-thinking, just picking up on trends that are happening or doing some type of horizon scanning or thinking about scenarios that could play out. And so all of that comes into play when talking about organizations. Learn to see together, not just the founder learning to see, but everyone, at some point being invited into the process through their feedback or through a whole group collaborative session, just in bringing all of that wisdom into one room and saying, okay, based on that, what do we want our company to be in this.
Carol: Yeah. And you talked about foresight also. Can you say a little bit about what you mean by that? Sure.
Thomas: So foresight it's not really pie in the sky. Like sometimes vision enforced that can be treated that way, but foresight is basically seeing or detecting what's coming up in the next. So just to, I guess, make a juxtaposition between foresight and strategic foresight and strategic planning, right? Strategic planning looks, and you're an expert at strategic planning. So I need to get this right. Strategic planning looks in the near future, right up to maybe three or five years of foresight. Beyond that it can, it usually starts at five years, but can look up to 50 to a hundred years not to say that people can predict the future. But, you're just picking up on all of these trends that are going on emerging trends, things that could turn into something later, we just don't know. But there are things that would impact or could possibly derail that perfect picture of the future that many organizations and the founders do hold.
Carol: it's so interesting when you're talking about the near term and the longer term for nonprofits with the, with there being so much oftentimes just. Way more to do than can possibly get done. The visions tend to be huge, even when the resources and the organization are, are really small. And so I find even getting organizations to think about the next three years or the next five years can be challenging for them to just take the time. To step back, what are some ways that smaller organizations can tap into what other people are doing around foresight? So they don't have to start from scratch when thinking about those trends.
Thomas: Hmm, that's a good question. I was talking to the president of a smaller organization. It wasn't a nonprofit, but I think the lesson for me in this was that there are certain organizations that are mission driven or are concerned with their teams as wellbeing. And I think that's good. The point of commonality, but what she told me is that she gets together with our team monthly and each team member gets a chance to be the CEO. And so in that meeting she selects someone or they volunteer. And what the first task that they have is to tell, in their own words, what the vision is. And so that's a good way for the leader to not have to always take center stage in communicating it, but also for someone to come forth through someone else's boys and for the leader to also see where that person is and what they see and see the organization from their vantage point.
Carol: That's a great point. I often, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations and in that initial phase where I'm talking to everybody, one of the questions I often ask. Why does your organization exist? What's the purpose to get everyone to, to describe that mission? They're probably not going to be able to recite the mission statement, but do they at core, have a common understanding of what the purpose of the organization is and, and have that be a checkpoint in the process so that if there, if it's like really all over the place, then that's something that the organization needs to deal with. Yeah. So in your research you were looking at how organizations can see and now maybe how organizations can hear or, or use the other sentences that we have. What were some of the findings that you, that came out of? The work that you did?
Thomas: Great question. So I, going through the process, came up with 11 operating principles that were the focus for each chapter. Around organizational vision development and realization. And so I talked a little bit about this earlier, but vision is more than what meets the eye it's using your senses. It's really detecting and, and I came up with a lot of synonyms that I placed in, in the book. But one phenomenon really stuck out to me was picking up on weak signals on the horizon. And these are signals. Can often be missed, but they can inform the direction of the vision, the, what I call the iteration of the vision. That brings me to a second concept where I think Brenda Zimmerman, who was a consultant and a futurist, and she worked in chaos and complexity theory. She recommended it. Good enough vision, not necessarily wordsmithing it to the point of beyond recognition. She's had to get a vision to the point where it's good enough and then use it to be tested and, over the course of its life cycle, it'll change.
Carol: I love that idea of a good enough. Again, when I'm working with organizations, I'm also trying to get them to what's a good enough strategic plan and to remind them that, yeah, you're not trying to predict the future and These aren't w once it's done, it's also not a tablet that came from on high, right. It’s something that you all created. And so when you need to, you can also update it. So just reminding people that there's flexibility, even when you want to set some intentions and some direction, but yeah, what's good enough.
Thomas: Yeah. And it changes from a wallflower vision and to a working document.
Carol: Absolutely. What were some of the other findings that came out? Yeah,
Thomas: Sure. So there are two trends that in my opinion are upending the traditional idea of visionary leadership and even vision development. And one of those we talked about just now is good enough vision or emergency. The other is shared vision. And in founder-led companies, I'm finding that shared visioning doesn't happen as much with employees at the start as, and I was surprised. I did one quick survey and the customers. So founders would actually. Go through the process of shared visioning with customers using design thinking. I know you're very familiar with that process more than they would with their employees. Once the company had grown. And I found that to be fascinating.
Carol: Well, yeah, I guess there is the focus there on going to the customer, but then if only a few people are involved in that conversation, then there's a big gap of folks who are in the day-to-day and yeah. For nonprofits. Oftentimes, the founder, the CEO, and the board get involved in those conversations and staff get left out of it. And I really encourage groups to include, as many people as is, really practically possible to get involved in those strategic conversations, because everyone has something to share and a perspective and that frontline, actually, implementing a program, actually making things happen is so important. When you bring it back up to that bigger picture vision,
Thomas: And I think we're at a point and I think we're at a pivotal moment in just organizational life. And considering visionary leadership and what it was contextualized for in the late eighties and nineties and where we were as a country at that time. I think we're at a moment where the call even on a generational level is for more people to be involved and that's, I'm picking up on corporations and nonprofits. I work with faith-based nonprofits and I don't really see a difference. People are lacking time and the budget to do certain things, but there is something that I did come across in the literature. It was a book on visionary leadership by Burton. And he actually when I was reading. And also looking through the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner the leadership challenge. And I had a conversation with Jim Kouzes also. And what I found was there's a backstory, even to leaders coming up with a vision because they spend time talking. To people walking through the halls and Jim Kouzes just put it like this, leaders pick up on the vision. That's latent in the hearts of the people. Those are the visions that really end up working on when you start to generalize them for the entire organization.
Carol: that shared leadership is so important because in a nonprofit organization there isn't just one person making the decision, right. It's always a group effort. Whether it's all volunteer all everyone on the board needing to come together and, and have a common shared, shared vision , between board and staff and I think that's one of the things that always can trip people up if they've come from the for-profit side and especially with smaller organizations where they've been in charge and been able to do things the way they wanted to, whether that was best practice or not, they had that ability.
And so to step into the nonprofit sector, whether it's faith-based or. Where it's much more of a matrix it's much more of a collective so that building that sense of shared leadership and shared vision is, is just so important. What would you say are some of the challenges that leaders face when trying to implement their vision and implement, and then build a shared collective vision?
Thomas: Yeah, there are two challenges that immediately come to mind. One is the adoption, like having the vision to be adopted by a critical mass of stakeholders, whether they be employees managers donors just getting that vision adopted. And what, Carol, there is an example of that. I've been unpacking some of these examples and reading through them several times. And so with the March of dimes, I actually read through their history and included it in the manuscript. And so over a period of more than 80 years, their vision. And their mission has evolved several times. And so on its website, its structures, its history, for instance, around the four areas of an evolving vision. So the first iteration, what I call it, the first iteration was curing polio and the era was 1938 to 1955. When the VI, the vaccine for polio became available in 55, they entered into another iteration and they called it. Eradicating birth defects. You could also call it eradicating congenital disabilities that ran until about the mid seventies. And then they entered another one healthy pregnancies and they were ensuring at this time that babies were strong and that moms were healthy. This is random too. And it overlapped into the current era that they're in, where they're tackling a crisis of premature birds. And, and I think that I, as far as I can tell, that's where their focus has landed. And so we, we see things like that with the division becoming , moving in cycles instead of straight.
Carol: each of those are certainly related and they've stayed in the same realm. But the particular challenges or particular eras have been different. Yeah, I mean, oftentimes we'll ask Organizations for some organizations, their mission is going to be perpetual, like healthcare institutions, a hospital. Others would love to see themselves out of business. , a homeless shelter, a food bank if we didn't have needs for that, we'd be a better society, right? Like folks don't want to have to have. The services available. But they see the need and so they build organizations to fit those needs. But yeah. So, so visions can, can iterate in, in a variety of different fashions.
Thomas: And that's a great point. It reminded me of the challenge that the March of Dimes faced in that first shifting from that first iteration to the second, whether the loss of sponsorship and they had to. Find creative ways to tell their donors who had pretty much devoted themselves to the mission. And that shared mission of eradicating polio. Tell them there are other problems that we need to address here. And to your point about they would have gone out of business. Had they not iterated that.
Carol: Which could, which would have been a in, in some ways a valid choice, right. Except that they were, they looked around and there were other related things that they could, that they had the infrastructure to tackle.
Thomas: Jim Henslin, he wrote a textbook on sociology. He put it this way. He said they could have gone out of business, but the bureaucracy. Made them continue. And so they said, okay, we have to come up with something else because there are jobs that stayed there we built so much Goodwill in this brand. And so they had to continue.
Carol: Yeah. And sometimes I think we'll, we'll actually , caution organizations against that, that, that they're not. Certainly they want to be in the nonprofit sector. You want to have a well-run organization. You want it to be well-managed, be effective, all of those things. But if it becomes only about. Perpetuating the organization versus really staying on mission. That's where there can be a little bit of a gap, but certainly there's a multitude of challenges that they could have tackled and then what they chose to tackle. It made sense in terms of where they were and how they were set up.
Thomas: For sure
Carol: I'm curious, what are the phases of iteration or other examples of that vision iteration that you see?
Thomas: They are pretty much four phases. That first phase deals with foresight. Just really detecting what's going on in, in and around an existing organization. Or if it's a startup around the startup, in the external environment. The second is the one we know just sitting down, writing the vision, creating it or co-creating it. And there's a micro phase in between there where the vision is emerging. It's just organically in different quote-unquote containers. It could be through values. , it could be through culture. It can, it can emerge through several different things. The third phase is where stakeholders have a choice and this choice is often taken for granted for founders. They can accept them, its division or stakeholders can reject it. And we're seeing a lot of rejection of organizational vision right now in the great reshuffling. The great. What is it? What is the other name for it? Great. Resignation resignation. I think I've gravitated to reshuffling more, but yeah, the great shoveling, the great resignation where people are voting with their feet, they're rejecting the vision by leaving. And if organizations don't get to the point of the end of founders, especially in leaders, don't get to the point where they accept, okay. People can accept the vision or they can reject it. Then sometimes it becomes impossible. And if folks reject it, it's always impossible to get to this fourth phase where they, and I didn't come up with this term, but it's called vision integration. Dr. Jeffrey Coles, he came up with the term and he did a lot of the research where people do two things. They use the vision to make decisions in their everyday work life and they use it. The vision to guide their behaviors and their actions during the.
Carol: it's so interesting with the whole great reshuffle or whatnot. I think it comes down to, for certainly in the nonprofit sector. What I've observed is often there's been a real gap between the vision that the organization has for the change that they want to make in the world, but then a real misalignment with how they actually act internally, how they treat each other, the culture that they've built and I think it's especially acute when it is a mission-driven organization and people they essentially have higher standards for a group. And so they, when they, when they see that gap, they're much more likely , to, to walk away. And I, I think certainly in the nonprofit sector folks just have gotten to the point and, and then I think with. I don't know, it's pandemic, you, you reminded me that we're, that our, all of our time is finite. That things become more urgent than they might've been. You might've put up with it in the past where folks just aren't willing to as much now.
Thomas: that's a great point. While you were sharing that, I thought about when you, you talked about sometimes there's a disconnect people can vision mission. And I don't know if I said this previously, but it's often something that can be taken for granted with when it's in place, but if it's not in place you feel, or, or employees can feel that disconnection between Where the organization, what the organization does and where their job fits in. And that vision often gives everyone a common direction. And then it's a good launching pad just for even those team meetings weekly to say, this is where we're going. This is everybody's part in it. And , the check-ins, it gives focus and direction to a lot of the work.
Carol: I think that's a piece that people forget to do on a regular basis. And, and one of the values that I see in, in going through a strategic planning process, I mean, sometimes what will come out. The other end won't necessarily be super different than what folks saw going into it. But it's like a rechecking and a confirmation that folks are on the same page. I often get a lot of feedback, wow. That's really helpful to know that other people are feeling the same way I am or seeing it the same way I am that validation. So, I'll often say if you come up with a whole bunch of goals in your plan that are brand new, I actually will be curious about that. Like, why is there such a departure from what was before? And oftentimes it's much more of a through line and it's about conforming or reconfirming or reintegrating that.
Thomas: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I played a game or I asked you one random icebreaker question. So I'm curious, what's your favorite family tradition?
Thomas: Oh, goodness. That is random. Wow. I love that question. Let's see my favorite family. I wouldn't have to say there are several, but if I have to pick one, it would be going to Hershey park. Yeah.
Carol: And how's that tradition originating and the same way.
Thomas: What am I, that's a good question too. I think we are just random, and that's why I say yeah, I'm going to stay with the randomness because I think we were random at times and we like to just experiment, try new things, go places. And I think we just looked it up and we saw that they had a chill child-friendly rides and attractions, and we said, okay, let's go.
Carol: And you love chocolate. Well, I am, I'm always in agreement with that one, for sure. So that's something you do on a regular basis or when we can, at least once a year.
Carol: Well, I'm not, I'm not a rollercoaster person, so I stay away from us at the museum at the park, but I was lucky that my daughter loved them and my younger sister also loved them. So it was a big treat that my younger sister, auntie, would take my daughter to the amusement park. And they got, they had a great time, left me, left me behind, best stay out of the way.
Thomas: I discovered, and this is funny now, but I discovered that. I had vertigo on one of the rides at Hershey park. So my wife is the roller coaster person
Carol: Yeah. There you go. I definitely have vertigo. Vertigo is a real thing. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in your work? You talked about a manuscript.
Thomas: Yeah, I'm totally excited about that. So I'm working with beta readers right now to figure out what's missing what's resonating with them. And, and they're mostly scholars in visioning and organizational change so forth and so on. And so I'm hoping to have that type of yes, by the end of the year.
Carol: All right. Well, we'll look forward to it and let us know so we can let folks know when it moves to that next step. That'll be exciting. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Thomas: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I was struck by Thomas’ example of the CEO who has each of her staff be CEO for their monthly meeting and to articulate to the team what the organizational vision is. It is a great way to check in and find out whether folks are in alignment and really understand where you are trying to go. I also appreciated Thomas’ description of the ‘good enough vision.’ So many organizations can get caught up in trying to get it perfect. Whether it is their vision statement, their mission statement, their strategic plan. Having the attitude of we need to get it ‘good enough’ and then get moving can really help keep the momentum going. And the importance of visions being a shared vision. If you are a founder and you are the only person who really gets your vision, it will be a lot harder to realize it. You will be more effective if you create the vision with the people you are working with – whether everyone is a volunteer or you have a staff. It needs to be the vision of the group, not just the founder.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Thomas, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Keep making an impact!
In episode 50 of Mission: Impact, Carol went solo to discuss:
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission: Impact. Today, I'm celebrating my 50th podcast episode. I'm going solo. I'm going to discuss why more money and more staff isn't always the answer. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause.
I'm Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast, we explore how to make your organization more effective and more innovative. We dig into how to build an organizational culture where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
When I'm doing strategic planning, I often ask in my interviews and in focus groups, if you had three wishes for your organization and you could change anything that you want, what would you wish for? And frequently, I would say 90% of the people that I talked to say that they want more funding for more staff. why isn't that always the answer? I think it comes down to the assumption that more money and more staff is always going to be less work. And when it often doesn't our culture really emphasizes growth. Capitalism depends on growth. If the economy is not growing, even if it's just staying steady, folks, fear a recession. we have a proclivity to always want to grow.
And certainly growing your organization, having more resources to meet the demand. Further your mission addresses the needs that you're addressing. All of those are certainly good things, and I'm not arguing against any of those. I'm not arguing against scaling your organization to meet the needs. What I'm saying is that people fall into a false fallacy where they equate more staff and more funding as a way to get out of overwhelm, overwork and overcome. With the idea that if we just had more staff, I would have people to delegate to, I would have less on my plate, but what I have found and what I have noticed in all my years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the reality is that nonprofit leaders are very ambitious. They have big dreams and goals. Most vision statements, mission statements are way beyond what that organization can actually deliver. And growing is the only way to move towards that. As I said, the need is often greater than your current capacity.
When you grow, when you add them more staff, when you get more funding, it's authentic. Take on new projects, new programs, new services, you try to serve more people. You have a serve, serve additional audiences. You broaden your policy agenda. The work grows with the capacity. In the end you're still overloaded and overwhelmed. And running the organization actually becomes more complicated because you have more people and more things to keep track of. more funding, if we just had more money, everything would be fine. We could hire more people and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, in the scenario above where it does not lighten the load at all. And oftentimes funding rarely covers the full cost of those new initiatives, restricted funding. Doesn't contribute to your overhead. you're expected to find a match for your funding. And now you have more money to attract new reports, to write and new funders to please, as I said before, none of these are inherently bad goals.
I'm not arguing against them being able to serve more people and turn fewer people away is important. Being able to provide them with more comprehensive services, being more ambitious in your policy or research agenda. Having more staff to focus on fundraising, marketing, operations, HR, financial systems, all the things that it takes to run an organization. All of these are good things, but the assumption, as I said that I often hear embedded, is that if I just have more staff just have more funding. When I get that, I will finally be able to relax. Whether it's as a board member, as an executive director, as a lead program person or the development director. The assumption is my to-do list will be shorter. I can finally take that long postponed vacation. I can feel less guilty about taking care of myself, but unfortunately that's only true if you choose not to grow the amount of work with the growth in staff and instead redistribute the work for the pieces of the work pie to be small. The pie has to say the same size and mostly what's embedded in more staff, more funding is certainly growth and therefore does not get you out of the overall.
On episode 38. I explored a related question. What if you did less? If you haven't listened to that, I invite you to, and I also recommend Third studios, recent blog posts, headlines of “what if you did less,” that also looks at our current state of burnout and reflects on why just individual responses to the current state we're in is just not enough. I will post the link to that blog post in the show notes.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests. You can find a full transcript of the show as well as any links and resources that I mentioned in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support.
And if you enjoyed this episode, I really would love it. If you would share it with a colleague or friend, we appreciate your help in getting the word out; and the easiest way to do that is to go to pod.link.com/mission impact. Again, that's podlink, mission impact one word, and use that URL to share the show. Then your friend or colleague can listen to the show on whatever their favorite podcast player. Thanks again. I appreciate your time.
In episode 49 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lewis Flax discuss:
Lewis Flax specializes in assisting nonprofits and associations generate additional revenue. His hands-on approach has helped numerous organizations implement strategies and tactics to increase sponsorship, partnership, and other funding streams. His firm, Flax Associates, established in 2008, serves as a partner in driving revenue and results.
Lewis understands the challenges nonprofits face, both from an outside consultant's point of view and from the internal perspective of a nonprofit executive. Previously, Lewis served as a Vice President for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and served on the leadership team at Financial Executives International (FEI).
He is a certified instructor for Dale Carnegie Training (Winning with Relationship Selling) and an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Master Trainer.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lewis Flax. Lewis and I talk about sponsorships. We explore why companies are interested in sponsorships, some of the misconceptions, and why to create real value you will need to get beyond your traditional bronze, silver, and gold-level sponsorships.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Lewis. Welcome to the podcast.
Lewis Flax: Thanks, Carol pleasure to be here and looking forward to discussing sponsorship and the tie in with associations and nonprofits.
Carol: Absolutely. So I like to start at the beginning, I guess the sound of music inspires that, but start at the very beginning, but, but what w what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Lewis: When. First started working within the nonprofit world, realized when it came to sponsorship and how to go about it. When it came to how to structure and set up a sponsorship, when it came to how they go ahead and sell it, there was a lack of knowledge. There, there was a lack of awareness and the idea of how they work. Corporations and funders where they needed assistance and guidance. I felt a need or an urge to help, to give back through assistance and support. So I went to work for a larger consulting firm and then started my own firm in 2008.
Carol: All right. So you've been around the block a few times. So as you said, you work with nonprofits and associations on sponsorships. Just so folks have some context. Can you define sponsorship first?
Lewis: So sponsorship is where a company or an organization is paying a fee. Back to a property, the association or nonprofit where they're gaining specific benefits or specific rights which they value.
Carol: And what would you say motivates organizations to enter into those sponsorships? And I'm saying from the corporation side, what, what, what do they see as you a give get of what they're getting from that relationship?
Lewis: Sure. So they're aligning with an organization that can add value. So on the association side, often it's visibility awareness connection to thought leadership on the traditional non-profit side. It's aligning with a good cause, it's connecting with an organization which aligns with their values.
Carol: And what would you say are some of the key misconceptions that people have about sponsorships? You said that when you started there was a lack of knowledge. What are the things that you have to help people understand about those misconceptions?
Lewis: Sure. When it comes to sponsorship, often organizations on the nonprofit side look at, okay, well, put together a perspective. Especially now, given the pandemic things that have occurred, sending out a prospectus is not nearly enough, here's a standard offering of gold, silver, bronze, and this is what you get. That's not the way to generate higher revenue. That's not the way to customize your target in a way that's meaningful to a potential.
Carol: So what, what would you have organizations do instead?
Lewis: Well, there are a number of steps to take in working with different organizations. I walked them through a process that I term step up in terms of how to go about what it is that you can offer, whether a sponsor is interested in it, and then how you could structure your program to connect with the potential sponsors and align with your culture and your organization.
Carol: Can you give me an example of when you've seen that work well in terms of building that, building that relationship.
Lewis: Yeah. There are, there are many instances. So for example, with different associations it's well, what is it that they're offering? That's a value. So in working with one group, they have an awards program, safety awards. And for a sponsor, that's in a space where they're tied into safety. So say an insurance company or other types of companies. Well, if they can get involved with the safety program and they're providing insurance to the members of that association, all of a sudden it changes. Because if an insurance company is working with those who submit, apply or are involved in a safety awards program, well, they want to insure them. And if they can provide guidance as to how to handle safety procedures at a, in a manufacturing plant, or how to handle safety procedures in a different environment, that's who they want. So if they can get involved either on the selection committee or get involved in terms of articles on safety or debt involved in terms of working with an awards program that offers far more value than having your name and your logo on the website and on signage and pasted anywhere and everywhere. So when it aligns with what the company is seeking. And the specific association or nonprofit it's far greater. So I tossed out an awards program because I've seen that work a number of times.
Carol: What are some other misconceptions that you see folks have about sponsorships,
Lewis: Offering? They view it as a connection with a board member and the board member knows someone. And as a result, oh, we'll set up this. Offering and they think that that's the key value where the board member leaves and often boom, the sponsorship disappears.
Carol: So what would you say are some of the challenges that organizations are facing in terms of sponsorships and building those partnerships?
Lewis: New issue often that they face is the idea of corporate involvement and how we go about it moving beyond. Well, we can offer a webinar or we can offer a slot at a conference, or we can offer a table at a gala because those are just tools. They'll just tools in a toolbox, but what is it that the sponsor wants? How do they want to get involved? What's meaningful to them. And often on the association, nonprofit side, they only see it as well. What can we offer without thinking about it from the lens or from the perspective of the sponsor?
Carol: So what are the types of things that sponsors are often looking for?
Lewis: Normally it's going to, so with associations, are they interested in a specific regulatory area? Are they interested in reaching a set or tying in with a consumer promotion campaign? Or are they interested in an advocacy effort? What issues or challenges that the member base, the distribution list? What are the issues and concerns that they face and how can we respond or are addressed?
Carol: So again, can you give me an example of, of what your of those kinds of situations like th those, those values that they see
Lewis: Let's look at, let's say it's in the accounting space where the association is to provide information. Well, the accounting firms are going to have information on that regulatory issue. And if they can provide that information, be it in the form of an article, maybe a webinar, a conference presentation, a survey, and all of those could be tied together. That's where it's offering far greater value to the sponsor. And it's going to offer value to the association, assuming that they have authority and they best review what's presented and who's going to be presenting.
Carol: And from this, what mistakes do you see sponsors making when they, when they try to, make the most of their sponsorship in that partnership?
Lewis: Often they're looking at it as a short-term game. What we need to have X number of leads. Well, that's generally not how sponsorship works. It's often, well, if you're going to be involved, You're going to get out of it. What you put in for the sponsors needs to. So for example, if it's a regulatory issue where it's an advocacy campaign or it's a specific issue, well, do they develop content? They have resources. Do they have information? That's a value, not just a product demo. They have information. That's a value too.
Carol: So it's getting out of just a pure sales mode then, and thinking about what are the, yeah, what's the information, what's the thought leadership that they can, they can share and provide. And how about on, on the more traditional non-profits sometimes I feel like it's, it's easier to see the connections from an association point of view. But your more traditional nonprofits are also interested in engaging corporate partners. D do you see differences there between the two and, and approach?
Lewis: Yes. In the sense that. From the standpoint of how they go about. Often it's somewhat the same. Yeah. Associations are often looking at it. Both perspectives. Associations are often looking at it saying, well, they should want this. And it's visibility, logos everywhere. The traditional non-profits are often looking at it through the lens of board member connections and how to leverage those, if it's more well, them. So they should sponsor as opposed to what the value is from the company's.
Carol: And what are some steps that organizations can take to get started in this? If they haven't, haven't had a sponsorship program before, what are some of the basics?
Lewis: Sure. So I walk organizations through what, like turn on step up S and the S stands for, well, what's their current situation and looking at who they have as sponsors and who's within their sponsor. Now. And then also addressing the key challenge. What is preventing them? What is stopping them from establishing that sponsorship program? And that could be maybe there's a board resent. It could be that we don't know corporate decision makers. It could be. So one of those challenges, often organizations will, or nonprofits or associations will begin to set up their sponsorship program and, oh, we'll come back to those challenges later. We'll address that down the line and it's when they do. Those challenges are going to pop up again, those obstacles are going to come back and if they don't address that upfront or think through how they're going to address it, there's going to be an issue. There's going to be a problem. So the first step is to evaluate your current situation and figure out how you're going to move.
Carol: I feel like every, every consulting process starts with that first step of figuring out what that current situation is. And when I'm working with groups on strategic planning, that whole process of helping them also have a shared understanding of what that current state is, I think, is also a helpful step that consultants can bring to organizations that they may be. I know for me, when I'm working. Clients there's often a perception or almost a fear that there's such a breadth of ideas and perspectives. And then once you have a chance to talk to folks and get into it it turns out that there's actually a lot more common understanding and shared perspective than people realize.
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Carol: So what trends are you seeing in the whole arena of sponsorships?
Lewis: Yeah, the trends are, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of unknowns. So on both the association and nonprofit side, they're unsure how to move forward. And so what ends up happening is they don't do anything or they don't make changes. So the idea of making changes. And making shifts as to how they're going to approach things. The associations and nonprofits that are going to thrive are the ones that are willing to take those chances. I say, take those chances. They're willing to experiment. They're willing to test and Rocky dies that not everything will go right. And when I say God, everything will go, right? Whether it's an event, whether it's a webinar, whether it's a sponsorship offering, they're going to try something new and organizations recognize that they need to do that. A lot of them won't. So the key is to take a step, make an effort and, and on the sponsor side, there's a lot more awareness of when organizations do that, they respect them. They acknowledge that these are different times.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine that, at least in my limited experience, Of just observing what goes on in sponsorship programs from the sides, certainly in working in different organizations. I think what I've seen is a traditional model that's very very event focused often around an annual conference or some annual convening. And, since the pandemic with so many things going virtual there's not that same. I guess it seems traditional, like slack, the logo everywhere. It's just not the same in the online environment. So what, what shifts have you seen with that? with everything that folks have been contending with in the last couple of years?
Lewis: Yeah. When it comes to events, Organizations have learned. Well, if you're just focused on events, you're going to be in trouble because in a virtual environment, whether it's zoom or teams or whatever the format is, you can appease the exhibit hall of 500 people. You can appease a gala where you had a hundred and 150 tables. So moving beyond events is a big component of how these organizations should shift. So earlier when you asked me for examples, the idea of a safety program or a safety awards program, the idea of a specific regulatory issue, when it's focused on a theme or an issue it's for a greater, because then it's not event centric and organizations can be more effective. The issue is a lot of the organizations struggle with how to piece that. If the conference department doesn't talk to the group that handles webinars, it doesn't talk to the magazine area. It doesn't speak to the research area. It's a lot tougher and they need to navigate through that because the truth is if there's good content and it was featured in a magazine or. Well, why not tie that into a webinar? And then why not include that at a conference presentation? Why not tie that into a survey? Why not allow the good content for the good content from a specific source, perhaps a sponsor and others. And you connect that across the organization. It's far better for the organization and it's easier than to establish a stronger sponsorship program. So it's more about themes and concepts. Topics or issues that are of interest to the member base or to the audience. And when that's done, it's far easier to set up a successful sponsorship.
Carol: That's a really interesting flip and I think it, beyond just sponsorship, it goes to a lot that, especially associations are doing around, serving their members being current and getting out of the mindset of, the, the delivery channels of whether it's a conference or it's research or it's, the magazine. But what are the overarching themes of the things that people need to know about the things that are upcoming, the trends the current research is helping, helping people navigate all that without being so caught up in what particular channel that it's being delivered.
Lewis: Yeah, analog organization, they get that's where I mentioned the tools they get caught up in here's a webinar, or here's put your logo on or banner on our newsletter or here's some other offering. And it's all about slapping or pasting logos everywhere. Well, that doesn't offer much value. Whereas it's an awards program, or if it's a specific campaign or advocacy effort or a themed approach, you move away from the tools. Then you move towards what the customer wants and then it could be, and should be far more successful.
Carol: And when the customer wants what you're saying there, that would be the member of the organization. Which customer are you talking about in that instance?
Lewis: Okay. So if the sponsor is interested in conveying their thought leadership related to regulatory issues, X. And they're pitched, here's an ad in the newsletter or here's an exhibit booth or here's a webinar. Well, it's not connecting with them. Those are the tools. And they're interested in this regulatory issue. Well, can they get involved in that regulatory issue?
Carol: Right, right. What are some fears that you would say either staff or board members have about, especially for, I would say on the more traditional nonprofit side of bringing in private sector groups to their, to their organization.
Lewis: Number one is if we take corporate money, how does that impact us? And I'm a big believer that any organization, association, or traditional nonprofit, should stick to their values and their culture, and do not allow a sponsor to dictate or to determine how to handle something, their control, regardless of funding. That's, that's one, the and then secondly, for a number of organizations, if they take. Funds, what does that mean? How do they work with them? And to clarify ahead of time what those requirements are, what those values. So it's easier for them to set up a program that's going to be successful as opposed to just hit or miss and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine helping a group talk through what they're looking for in sponsors. So the, in the same way that you're talking about flipping the script and thinking about it from the sponsor's point of view and what value they're going to get out of it. But then from the organization's point of view, helping them think through. What is it that we want? Who, who do we want to partner with? Who do we want to give access and who do we not? And like having that conversation without individual sponsorship opportunities in the room, or in the conversation I would think would set them up to feel more confident in moving forward, to look for a potential organization. So it isn't just based on, as you said, the current board members that they happen to have, who they happen to have relationships with, et cetera.
Lewis: Yeah. I mean, when they set the parameters or the guidelines ahead of time, they're going to be far more directed and focused. And it's going to be easier for them to move forward as opposed to, well, we'll walk through the door and whether the company says they would do, and then the board or leadership is looking at that. And all of a sudden they haven't clarified their own values. They haven't clarified their own culture. They haven't set the parameters, they haven't set the guidelines. And often that leads to maybe not a problem at that point in time, but the problem down the line. Sure.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I play a little game where I pull out a Random, somewhat random icebreaker question. So the one I have, I have three of them sitting here. I always put up for you to just see what let's go to fit. I don't know if this fits or not, but we just, we've just moved into spring. And I think this will actually be being published sometime probably as we're moving more towards summer. But which season would you say fits your personality?
Lewis: Probably fall. And the reason I say fall is in my mind, it's beautiful outside because the leaves are returning the weather's a little cooler, more comfortable. I like to walk with my family. We'll hike and get outside and fall could be a rebirth and it's a change. It shifts. And I liked that. I liked that change. Yeah. The feel in the air. I like how things are changing. So fall follows my favorite season. I think it would describe who I don't think describes who I am. Yeah. I really enjoy fall. I enjoyed the change of seasons.
Carol: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We're just, I'm enjoying the, the, all the, all the. Flowers are popping up right now and the trees are blooming. And then yes, at the other end, when all the leaves are falling and you have that shift in the weather appreciate that. One of my sisters moved out to California and one of the things she missed the most about the east coast was having seasons so well, I really appreciate it.
Lewis: I was just saying, I love the different seasons. I love how in our area, in the Washington DC area, they're distinct and different seasons. And I liked that
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you and what's emerging in your work these days.
Lewis: It's interesting as we start to move, hopefully out of the pandemic and working with different organizations. So much for coming back to the fall, there's a bit of a rebirth, okay, now we need to move forward. And then in my role, it's looking at it through the lens of, no, you can't go back to the way you weren't doing it. Let's make those adjustments, those changes, and then move forward.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you, Carol. I liked the way you asked the questions. You asked me good questions and the follow-ups are on target in terms of what does that mean to clarify?
Carol: Yeah. Well, what I, one thing I appreciate about doing the podcast is that I'm always learning something new because I get to talk to people about their area of expertise and it's not necessarily mine. So I get to have a little mini-masterclass. So appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your perspective and all your wisdom on, on sponsorships. So thanks so much.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you for giving back to the association and nonprofit community by adding resources.
Carol: All right.
I appreciated how Lewis described how to work with your sponsors and potential sponsors to create more value – for your organization as well as the company. That it starts with conversations with the sponsor – what are they looking to achieve? How might you align in your efforts? And for both sides – the sponsor and your organization – that developing the relationship should be with the longer term in mind. If either party is just looking for short term gain they are missing a lot of opportunity and value that could be there. There is also more opportunity available if different parts of your organization are cross pollinating and talking – in an association – staff who are managing the magazine, staff who are producing webinars and other learning events. Are they talking and coordinating their efforts with a sponsor and a tie in? Of course always being mindful of whether a particular sponsor aligns with your organizational values.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lewis, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
In episode 48 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Chyla Graham discuss:
Chyla Graham is a certified public accountant with over ten years of experience helping nonprofit organizations realign and thrive. Chyla started her company, CNRG Accounting Advisory, to empower more nonprofit organizations. To date, she has secured over $2 million in funding for several organizations and helped many more streamline to better serve their communities. Chyla credits flying trapeze for keeping her physically and mentally strong, and reminding her that you can’t succeed in life alone. Every trapeze artist needs someone to be “on line” holding the ropes. Chyla likes that metaphor for trapeze and for business, and her greatest pride is being “on line” for her clients.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Chyla Graham. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Chyla and I talk about why it is important for nonprofit leaders to get comfortable with their organization’s numbers, why you have to consider the wider context when you are looking at your organization’s financial statements, and why it is so critical to connect your organizational goals with your financial goals.
Welcome Chyla. Welcome to the podcast.
Chyla Graham: Thanks for having me, Carol. How are you doing today?
Carol: I am doing well. I'm doing well. We're supposed to have rain all day and all day tonight. So it's just an indoor day.
Carol: Yeah. So I like to start each podcast with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
Chyla: What drew me to the work was, I think I'd like to say it's like the convergence of several things. So I have always been interested in numbers. I'm an accountant. It is the thing I do. It's always the thing I've been interested in and, or I guess more so like the idea of money, like, Ooh, this is a cool thing. And I went from, I was a. So I'd be the one I, Hey, Carol, don't you want to donate $500 and that was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible, but loved learning more about the work nonprofits were dealing with that money. And so that led me to say, okay, well maybe that's where I want to go. And also seeing the idea of Enron worlds com I, all of that was happening while I was in college. And so I was just like, So this is the thing. And so it really made me more passionate about helping non-profit leaders get comfortable reading the numbers, asking questions about their numbers, because I just, I was just like, this could be any of you.
Carol: Yeah. And that, that comfort level with reading the numbers, just asking questions about them. I feel like. Very few people go into the nonprofit sector to manage money. Right. If, if they did, they would've gone into finance and they would've made a lot more money. Right. So they want to help people. They want to help animals, the environment, and some cause. So what do you do to help people get a little bit more comfortable about interacting with them, the money that flows through their organization, then the numbers that keep track.
Chyla: I am nosy. So I think by nature, I'd like, tell you more about why you did the thing. And so I try to get them back to explaining themselves not from an idea of like, I'm committed. I want to know why you went to Starbucks. I actually don't. It makes no difference to me why you went to Starbucks, but I want them to be clear on why they went to Starbucks. I want them to be able to understand that. And so for me, it's being able to say to them, Hey, let's go through your chart of accounts. So we do several things, like as energy, we do several things. We do accounting services where we help them. We do some of that coding, but most of our work, I would say most of our clients are actually in the consulting and education space where we're speaking. Just talk me through these reports as you read them. And in that way, trying to highlight for them. In their own words. What is the thing that works or doesn't work for them in terms of reading the financials? If they're like that, actually I have no idea what any of these pages mean. I just know I get it every month and I'm supposed to present it to the board. And so in that way, trying to dig in with them to say, oh, well, tell me what questions the board asks, tell me what questions you have every month, even though you get these reports. And so trying to help them say, oh, Let me put a list together or what are the things that come to mind? Because sometimes we just don't know where to start. And I think if we start with like, well, what is the thing that comes up every month? Whenever I talk to these people, it gives us a good entryway to say, oh, all right, well, how could I reframe this question? Or what else would I, should I look at to like, get an answer to this question?
Carol: What would you say are some of the common questions that people have whether they are comfortable reading the financial statements or not, or don't even know what a chart of accounts is?
Chyla: Yeah, I would say the most common question is, do we have enough money? It's really all that call that everyone wants. And I was like, is there enough money and context, man? I like to say financial statements don't make a difference if they're not in context or in relationship to something. And so, well, I don't, I don't know if you have enough money. What is your, what were you planning on having? So how does this compare to what you budgeted that might tell us? Do you have enough money? Because we can see how far apart you are or should we be comparing this to blast? If, like month to month things shouldn't change. And so that's the, we were like, Hmm, we have a lot less than we did last month. We don't have enough money. So I reframed it in that way to say like, well, tell me what it is that you're trying to find out. Because some organizations it's not about last month, it's more about last year because they are pretty cyclical. And so they're like, same time last year. How did that look? This is the indicator. And one of the things we started doing more and more is. I'm trying to help clients come up with their own benchmark of how much money per month they should. They, they have directed as their target. I know I liked them for like three to six months. It makes me feel comfortable, but maybe for their organization, they're like three. That's not, it's not a comfortable place. And then trying to say, okay, A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand thousand feels too small for this example, a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. And each month you're expecting to spend 50,000 you're two months worth of cash. And so just saying like, let's do simple math on this. We have this much in the bank. We know, we expect to spend this much each month, let's come up with that calculation so they can say, okay, yes, we have enough. And because two months is comfortable or no, we don't because two months is just not.
Carol: Your firm offers accounting services, but you, as you said, you're more in the consulting and coaching and you really focus on strategic financial management. Can you say a little bit about what that is and why it's important for organizations?
Chyla: Yeah, so I think I'll share it. She does financial management. After the board has identified some goals. Cause it makes no sense for me to say, like, these are your goals. If your board is like, well, you actually have a different vision in mind. So after your board has identified what the goals are for the next year, next three years, having a conversation about, well, how does that impact our finances? So sometimes we see organizations who say we need to expand our programs. We want to be in this many vocations, or we want to serve this many more people. And for me, that begs the question of what would it take to get there? Does it take more staffing? Does it take more computers? Does it take, like, what is it, what are the pieces? The tangible pieces that it actually takes to get there and help them build out. Okay. Is that a realistic plan? Because sometimes we say. Self included, guilty of being, I want to do all these amazing things and, what is the budget? Actually, maybe we should scale back accordingly. And trying to help them reframe that to say, okay, if this is the goal, what would it take to build the infrastructure we need to get there? Because sometimes it's not even about, we need more people, it's I need computers that don't die on me. I need something that's faster, stronger, whatever it is. I'm really trying to say that. Let's think that through and let's plan ahead. And if we look at your, if the fundraising goal, we want to raise a million dollars. Okay, cool. Let's look at your current trends to say, how do we manage those so that we can think of what are some times we should be, be heavier in the fundraising? Because we know from a cash perspective, we actually need this money to show up. And saying, let's plan that three months in advance, next week we will not have any money. I don't know who would have known this. And I'm really trying to say, let's just take a step back. Let's take, think about all the goals that we have, all the big picture items and make that a real, realistic thing and say like, Pencil bank. What, what do you have for me? And I find that that makes it a little bit easier putting those trends together because sometimes organizations don't, when I say we have an April development plan, I know we need to fundraise. And I just know I have to hit this number. When do you need to hit some of this number though? do you really need to emphasize in the first quarter of the year? And say like, okay. In March, I need to be talking to Petra. Has owners submitting all my grant applications that have X turnaround time because in June is where we see a real. We're short on cash and we want to know we've had those conversations already, as opposed to saying, I know it's May 31st. Would you like to write me a check for tomorrow? Thank you. that's what I think of as that's your CJ financial management. It's helping them see the big picture, helping them plan out. When do we need to start some of these activities, especially if there's not already a plan in place, because maybe there are more people involved that we need to integrate into this plan and help them think. That board member. I need to give them steps like this. It's not just like, oh, you can just fundraise. No, no, they can't. Well, not necessarily. Maybe they can. And really saying like, we need to build this out as a plan, as opposed to just like this morning, I woke up with this really great idea.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about stepping back and seeing the big picture, because I feel like. And in a lot of ways, that's the role of consultants for pretty much any aspect of the organization, whether you're working on finance or fundraising or marketing or operations, it's often, let's take a step back. Let's see where we are. Let's look ahead, look back where, where were we a year ago? And just helping people pause and have some perspective on what they're doing. You talked about how context is really important. And obviously every, every organization is a little bit different, but are there some key financial things that board members and staff members should really be tracking for the organization? You've mentioned cash as one. Yeah. What other things are really important?
Chyla I would say. Looking at the trends of when are there peak seasons in terms of revenue coming in, even if that's not actually fascist more of the pledges idea what, what are those timetables? And also on the expense side, what's the timing of things, because sometimes we. We assume we have to pay for something earlier or later. And that's just the piece that causes more stress and angst. And I have, I've worked in the non-profit environment. I've, I've been on all sides. I've been the auditor. I've been the auditee I've been, now in the consulting space. And being able to say, actually, I'm going to call up this vendor and say, can we make this payment on this day? And really thinking about it, to say, Hmm, are there payment arrangements we need to be making I've there's one organization we support where their board wants to know about accounts receivable, because for them they want to know, is there someone on here that we have a relationship with that us as a board member, this is the way we could support. And really thinking if it pledges something that your organization does and your board members are helping you get those touches, how do you delegate to them? And how can you help them say, AR is really high and we would love you to, this is the place that you can think about. They should also be thinking about the relationship items have to one another. I said, I was, I've been in the oddest space before, and I remember one client. We had a good meeting, there was not anything intentional, like miss dealings or theft. But their finance director was still overwhelmed. It was just like I'm just going to put in a number. I think this is how much we should have. I think revenue should be about here. And I like to think about what's the relationship between the numbers. really trying to say like, well, in theory, if our donations went up, we should either see an increase in. Well, we should see an increase in accounts receivable. One of those two things should happen. And really trying to say like, okay, I didn't see an increase. What does that mean? Where, what happened to this magical money that we received and really try thinking through what are those relationships, same for, if our expenses are going up, does that mean we either have a high account payable? The people we owe. we have a new loan. Do we have, or less cash? . Have you seen the movie? All the Queen's horses. Okay. I can't remember what city in Illinois, but it's about theft and mismanagement. And what happened is the finance manager for this city is a small, small town. I mean, I was taking out loans for. And it was said that it was going to be for rotor repair and all these things, but the people kept writing over potholes and she kept saying to me, that was a great indicator. You're like, well, if we were getting loans to do repairs, why aren't the streets repaired? Right. Right. And just making those, you didn't have to do a math calculation. You didn't have to say, I need to know how much meat, how much we borrow. Exactly. But you could say, even if we're not seeing progress, it'd be, see the people outside. Like we all know construction on roads doesn't necessarily feel like it happens fast, but do we see people working? No. Well, what happened to the money? And just making those types of conclusions or relations to say, I might not be able to do any fancy math or any quick math, but. This number feels like it should go up or down, or I should see we have new hires or I should see, we've got more supplies in the closet, something to say, like, these things tell us that this isn't just a made up number someone isn't just like, oh, that looked like a good route. It's actually saying like, oh yeah, we got a lot. I see where that load proceeds.
Carol: Yeah. it makes sense. What would you say are some. Differences in the finances for nonprofits. it's important for staff members and board members to understand. , different from a for-profit organization. Cause a lot of board members, they, they, and then they may actually be recruited right. For their, for their business background. But what are those differences that are important to be aware of?
Chyla: Yeah. the first one that typically trips people up is the name of. And the statement of activity for a nonprofit is the income statement for a for-profit business. And remembering that language is like, what are we doing? Is it an activity? How do we make money? We did a thing. We made money or we lost money. remembering like, oh, what did we, what does that mean? And then the same financial position is the balance sheet. it's at a point in time. On this day, we have this much happening. that is a really easy place that people were just like, ah, I don't really know. Another thing that I think people should be mindful of is the commitments to. From donors. in the for-profit world, we are typically providing a service or providing a product and we can say, hi, I did this thing for you. Please pay me. And in the nonprofit world, we are really exchanging goodwill. We were saying, would you commit to supporting this message mission? And sometimes we say, like, we ask people to commit a pledge. And one of the things I like to say. When should you record it? like in a for-profit you'd be like, listen, they said they were, they started that contract is their end. And in the nonprofit space, you have to say, let's take a step back. If this person was unable to. What would our next steps be? If your next steps would be like, we are going to Badger them, we are going to make sure we get that money. Great record. Yes. That is revenue. That is yours. But if you're like, you know what, it's not worth it to lose a relationship. Or if you feel like we would lose a relationship over this and just don't, don't record it because in essence you're, if you're not going to follow through on it, or there's no requirements to follow through, you would say, no, that's not. There are instances you could definitely say like, okay, maybe we'll put a little buffer. We'll say maybe we won't collect some of it. And those are things that are for-profit businesses. that's a similarity. A for-profit business would be like, I messed up invoice you, but here's how much I probably won't get. And a non-profit in some cases would say the same thing to say, like, we are committed, we are going to follow up, but we recognize some of this. We might just not get it. And so being able to see. Have some of those conversations say like, are we allowing for any of these sites and you have a business background to say, like, see the invoices aren't going anywhere. And I don't know who these people are, I can't call them. should we just have a conversation as a whole to say, what are our thresholds? What's our risk tolerance? So that. they can be good stewards. That's part of why they came into this. They're like, I've got a big background. I know what it takes to collect some money. And I know sometimes maybe it's just not worth it to say, like, those are some places that they could really chime in and be a part of and have like an engaging conversation. I think another difference is that trips up everyone, even if they're in the for-profit world, becomes the idea of donor restrictions. And what, what does that mean? What do you do? And don't the restrictions just mean the donor said, you need to use my money to buy, to build a gazebo. You can't use it for anything, but this was evil. And that that's a donor restriction that is saying, well, you can only use it for this thing versus. Something that's not restricted where there's just like, here's some money if you'd like to buy it. Cause those are those, great. Like you want to pay salaries also. Great. And being able to say like, well, what, what is that? And why does it matter? It matters because more and more. We're seeing what I'm seeing in grant documents and donor documents. If you don't spend the money for the specified rean, or by the specified time, you need to return the money. And it's always good to have a handle on, Hey, what's money that we might either need to spend by a certain time. there might be a time restriction or purpose requirements or we might think about, do we have to return. And should we not count right now? Those are, those are pieces. I feel like we are constantly changing and have a nice, high-level idea of how much of this might mean we need to turn back and how much of this we have to commit to a cause. In some cases it might not be relevant. I say, because Debo, because I've seen it, I've seen where people are like I'm donating $5,000 for it. Cause Eva, and then no one else. maybe money for it. Cause he wants to, we're like, that is not enough money to eat. Can you call that donor and see if we can get that money unrestricted? And those types of things are really good. I'll be monitoring.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just in terms of those grant timelines and, and the time restrictions, it seems like that's something where, if you're running up against it, reaching out to the grant maker and seeing, can this, can, are you flexible on this, this, this, or, do or die can be helpful. I mean, I think the other one, the other mistake that I've seen people make is to interpret non-profit as no profit. Well, yes. And, and really believing like, oh, we can't make any money. We can't have anything left over. what, what do you, what would you say about that?
Chyla: I try to remind them what would you do in your house at the end of the month? And then rent was due the next day. You, that wouldn't be a comfortable place. And thinking of your organization in that way, we don't want to go to zero every month because the next thing will arrive. And really thinking of it as you're not hoarding. You're not there. You're not necessarily saying like, ah, we're just building our reserves for no reason. Everything has a reason. And they're identifying that we're building our reserves because we want to launch a new program in three years. And , no, we're not spending it today, but we know it's going to come up because it's part of our strategic plan or thinking through like our staff gets, it has to get paid like every, every pay period, right? Oh yeah. We should probably have some money in the bank to do that. reminding them that it's not about. Hoarding of resources. It's more about what is the timing of some of the things that we have coming up to complete our mission and what do we want to make sure that we do so that it's not a surprise? That's the whole point of having to think about how much cash we have so that you can do the unexpected. And part of some nonprofits is trying to think of better ways to do that. And sometimes that doesn't come with any funding and you have to say, we need to have the money on hand. And reminding yourself like this is to do something that a funder doesn't yet see the value in, but we do know it's important. And just reframing. This isn't an arbitrary number. We're not picking three months for no reason, we're picking it because where it's, if something were to happen and we want it to still provide the services that we do, we would be able to, and our community wouldn't go without, because suddenly we, we didn't have it. getting beyond ourselves and beyond like what people might perceive us to do. I think that's where that comes in. People are like, well, they're going to see that we have so much money. They will see that you are responsible people and thought to save money for salaries and for program materials. That's great. I would love them to see what you are doing.
Carol: Right, right. Yeah. it's all, it's all about. What's the purpose and what's the goal? What's the strategy? at the end of each episode, I like to play a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. I have a box of them. I always put out three before the interview and then pick one. what's something about you that surprises people when they first hear it?
Chyla: Usually that I'm an accountant
Carol: Say more, say more.
Chyla: That is typically the thing that people are surprised about, which I find amusing. More because I think I get perceived as very pernal and high want to have a conversation with you. And I'm like, I am, I'm definitely an introvert. Definitely. But I manage it really well. And I'm like, I can do the people thing. And I remember I used to have a quote. I was like, I've met my word quota. I can't talk to any more people. I think that piece has been the piece that, cause I don't tell people, I don't usually tell people work. What are you doing? I'm like, oh. That's a boring conversation starter. it's usually the last thing I share about myself. And that's typically something that I'm like, oh, I did not guess that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've met a lot of accountants that did not fit the stereotypical mold of whatever, whatever people perceive of as and it's great. It's great. Yeah, and I also, I also saw something recently where somebody described themselves as a social introvert. And I was like, I can relate to that because I get it a lot too. Like people aren't you talking to hell with all these people. Yeah. But then I need to recover. I'm like,
Chyla: Saturdays are typically my day. I'm like, you want me to do things with people? Well, they would, they would be in my house? No. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I can, at least when I come to my husband, like I can, I can manage this. But otherwise.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Chyla: We are doing webinars for our. Online course. So helping nonprofits get more money, greater impact by just being more transparent about their finances. I'm really just digging into, like, what does that mean? How does it look? Because people get scared. People get nervous. They're like, I don't know what that I don't want to do. I don't know if we should be transparent and you should. But helping them figure out what that framing looks like and what that means, because we've definitely. With our clients that we work with when they've been able to say, this is what we're doing with the money, or this is a thing that you're looking to build, we've been able to one, identify more resources available because wow, thank you for telling me what you were going to do. There's money available for that one thing. So that's that piece. And there's also just the idea of, there are some donors who just want that level of transparency and they're like, oh, you can tell them. Cool. Here's some more money. And so just being able to do that is really exciting. It's been a thing that's been in the works. I'm just like, oh, Kimmy. And I have to do it now. Oh, okay. So they interpreted to me 'cause like a sport infer and the food lever baker in me, it's like, I have a slice of cake that is ready. I'm like, you're going to do it. And then you're in a warm beer cake. So the caramel is nice and soft and runny. And you're going to be like, look, you've finished. The thing that you were really worried about. So that is what's out on the horizon.
Carol: So the, you mentioned the course, what's the, what's the course that you're offering. Yeah.
Chyla: So, well, the course itself will be about other sitting financial management from a nonfinancial perspective. So we'll go through the first year mission. Why? Because I feel like if you, if you forget, when you straight from that, it becomes really hard. You're like, why are we doing this again? And so just recentering your mission is in that conversation about budgets and finances and all of those things, and then thinking about your priorities. So how do we, how do we rank the budget? How do we think about the chart of accounts, all those things that indicate what matters to the organization. Then we go on to actually using some tools. And so I don't necessarily need anyone to become a bookkeeper or a QuickBooks expert, but being able to say, all right, I know what a bank reconciliation is and what I should look out for, because again, part of this is managing those people and just being able to say like, Where should this be? Or how could I reframe that question? Because sometimes it's hard to talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Cause there's like, I don't know if he spoke the same language. I don't know what they're talking about and just giving them some tools to help frame that. And then finally, it's about storytelling. How do we look at the financial statements and rephrase some of the things? How could we show some things differently? So not changing any numbers, but just updating the presentations to something that's more. Palatable more understandable for the people who actually need to read them and make decisions based off of
Carol: That sounds great. That sounds like a really, really needed resource for the sector. So thank you for creating that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk to you.
Chyla: Thanks for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Chyla’s point that as a board member you don’t necessarily need to be a financial expert but you do need to pay attention to when things don’t add up. Not just literally the numbers – but when the narrative does not match what is in the numbers. A staff person says donations have increased but the numbers don’t match. The story is we have taken out loans for more staff but no one else has been hired. Where is the money going? Often it is about paying attention and asking the hard questions. And it is often because the people tasked with managing the finances are in over their heads – not necessarily because anyone is doing any malfeasance. Although of course that does happen in the sector and you certainly don’t want to be on a board when the organization gets in the paper for fraud or embezzlement on the part of staff or volunteers.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Chyla, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
In episode 47 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Julia Campbell discuss:
Named as a top thought leader and one to follow by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell is a nonprofit digital consultant on a mission to make the digital world a better place. Host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast, she’s written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling, and her online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online. You can learn more about Julia at www.jcsocialmarketing.com/blog
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Julia Campbell. Julie and I talk about ethical storytelling – what it is and why it is so important for nonprofits to consider as they share stories of their impact, the misconceptions people have about social media and its place in your organization’s marketing mix, and why leveraging your owned marketing assets is key.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julia Campbell: Thanks so much for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with, what drew you to the work you do? What motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Julia: I have always been very attracted to social justice work and social justice issues. And when I was in high school, I was involved. I couldn't even vote, but I was involved in the Clinton gore campaign. I started a recycling program at my high school. There was no recycling program. I just have always been very involved in activism and changing the world for the better. It sounds simplistic and cliche, but I really always have been. And then in college I volunteered at several different places in Boston. I went to school in Boston. And decided to enter the Peace Corps. So I was in the U.S. Peace Corps, for two and a half years after I left, , after I graduated from college. And that was where I really worked, started working with international NGOs and other organizations, and also started fundraising and truly understanding what it takes to make a difference in a culture because I feel like, I feel like with the Peace Corps, especially. I'm just speaking for myself, but I also feel like this is a, this is almost a, how people perceive us is we do have this white savior complex where we go into these countries and we think we're gonna change everything and make everything better. And what I really learned was that you have to. Immerse yourself in a culture and listen and hear the stories and truly understand what's going on. And you can't just say I'm gonna come in here and build a well and raise a ton of money for a well, and then leave. And that really opened my eyes because a lot of the NGOs were doing that. So when I got home, I thought I'm going to work. For nonprofits, but really help them understand how they do fundraising, how they do marketing and, and if it is maybe harmful to the communities that they're trying to serve. So I've worked in domestic violence. I've worked in international relations. I've worked in early childhood rape ISIS centers. I've pretty much run the gamut from large organizations. I worked at Boston university where. I graduated. And then I've worked in really small organizations with tiny budgets. And I think the work that the nonprofit sector does is so incredibly vital, no one else is gonna do it. Okay. The government can't do it or won't do it. The private sector won't do it. So we're filling this really important gap and solving these problems. And I just feel really strongly that people need to be advocating for the sector. And I'm just, I'm just such a strong advocate for it.
Carol: I realized when I was looking at your bio that, that you were a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and I think you're probably at least the third guest that had that, that experience, that background,
Julia: We always end up a nonprofit don't we?
Carol: AmeriCorps, I really appreciate, the perspective that you got there helped you come around to how stories are used, and how they can be used for harm. There were a lot of common practices, , and I'm not a fundraising person, but, just observing, being in the sector in fundraising that now people are questioning and saying, that's really not exploited ethically. It's very exploitative, and so I'm curious about how you're helping organizations shift that and tell their story, but not take advantage of the people that they're actually trying to help.
Julia: There's an entire. tidal wave in the sector right now. I think because younger people are starting to take the reins and younger generations do not put up with things that we have put up with in terms of exploitation or unethical storytelling, unethical practices, and they will call you out. what we learned in terms of practices and fundraising, when we all, I didn't study fundraising, but I read a ton of books. I took a lot of courses. I went to a lot of conferences. Mostly predominantly taught by white people. What I learned was you have to pull these heartstrings, you have to tell these sob stories. You have to start from a place of, of deficit. And it's called deficit thought basically. So then I started to study. I didn't feel very good about it. And I started to talk to other people. That we're doing fundraising work and saying, no, there are stories of hope and inspiration, and there are, they don't need to be tied in a bow. You don't need to say, oh, everything's, , grand and Mary Poppins ask. And it's just, it's not the reality, but still, if you think of the Sarah Locklin, the arms of the angels where she's singing and there's all these abused animals around her. And it's the shots of these dogs and cats. And it's always played on cable TV and they, the, as BCA pulled that ad because they did raise money from it initially. But if you're constantly doing that storytelling, it. It's not only unethical, but it's very fatiguing and people get numb to it and people, they wanna turn it off. They grab the remote. There are whole stories of people saying, oh, that ad came on and I had to like, actually leave the room and I couldn't deal with it anymore. The other thing is the. Giving the person that is sharing their story agency and making sure that they understand that this is not necessarily their defining moment. This is just something that happened to them. The terminology now has really shifted. And I think it's interesting where we don't say. And I'm still working on this and I'm not perfect as well. We don't say homeless person, we say a person experiencing homelessness. We don't say domestic violence survivor, we say person experiencing domestic violence or person living with a disability or person living with misuse and substance abuse. The terminology has changed. We don't make the experience that someone is having be the focal point of their whole life and it doesn't define them. And then there are, there are all sorts of interesting studies and all sorts of people talking about ethical storytelling using terms like at risk vault, vulnerable. I think you can still use marginalized populations. It's changing all the time. I think it's interesting. And to me, I don't think it's about canceling people or telling people they're wrong. If they use a certain term, it just opens up a conversation for something that I think is really interesting. And I think the sector does need to do a lot of introspection into how we might have, we shared all of these videos of kids in Africa with bellies descended and flies around their face. And if you look at the work of charity water in particular, one of my, one of my favorite charities, you can love them or hate them. Their whole perspective was we wanna make giving joyous. We wanna make people happy. We don't wanna guilt people into giving. We wanna make people excited and proud to be a part of what we're doing, and that's gonna help retain donors. And that's gonna help people continue to give, because if they're constantly guilted into giving, it's not good, so we wanna make people feel great about giving and feel proud about being part of the cause.
Carol: One of the areas in addition to storytelling, or I guess it's not really in addition, it's a way to deliver a story. You work a lot with helping nonprofits with their social media and social media presence. And I feel like it's an area that can really trip people up. What would you say are some of the key things that people need to consider in pursuing a social media strategy?
Julia: They need to consider how much time it truly takes to be successful. We need to get out of this mindset that it's free. So Carol, I could come to your house and give you a puppy for free. I mean, I don't know if you want a puppy,
Carol: I got one of those free puppies and he cost me like $150, the first visit to the vet.
Julia: Exactly. And then walking every day and feeding them. It's like, technically, maybe having a kid is not free because of the medical bills, but you could technically have a child in the middle of the woods for free, but then of course, there's so much upkeep there's upkeep, there's taking care of what you've created. So I always give the analogy of the puppy because. Yes, it sounds great on the surface. It's free, but your time is not free. Your effort, your energy, your bandwidth, none of that is free. And then also of course, as we know now to really get more visibility, you do have to play the ad game. Whether or not you think it's ethical to pay Facebook. I'm constantly going back and forth on that, but there's also lots of other platforms, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok. There's so many other platforms that we can explore. So what I do, and I'll just summarize it really quickly, I teach nonprofits the four pillars of social media and management because, you can't say I'm just gonna get on TikTok without doing all four of these things. And so something else is gonna have to come off your plate. So the first pillar is Listening, going there, being on let's just take TikTok. For example, being on TikTok, listening, watching, lurking around following people, seeing what. See, like taking webinars, reading blog posts really figuring out, okay, what's going on on this platform? What would my audience wanna see on this platform? That takes time. The second pillar is Content Creation. You have to create the content and you have to create it specifically for the platform. What you put on LinkedIn is not the same as what you're gonna put on YouTube, it's not the same as what you're gonna put on Instagram. So you need to have that content creation strategy specifically for the platform. And then the third pillar is Community Management. This is following people, looking at who's following you, going in, responding to comments, responding to your DMs, interacting in conversations, going into chats, being present because social media is a two-way street. You can't just use it as a billboard or a newspaper ad. Then the fourth pillar is Measurement and Analysis. Really taking time. This doesn't take three hours a week to do measurement analysis. If you're on one platform, you can quickly just do a scan and say, are we growing? Are we not growing? What posts were popular, which were not popular? What happened this week? Just do a scan of it. And then the key with pillar four is the reporting out, because what we don't wanna do is do our work in a vacuum. And we wanna report to the board. We wanna report to the staff. We wanna report to executive directors because we wanna show them this is actually work. A lot of them still think it's tweeting about what you had for lunch. I have never once tweeted about what I had for lunch ever. I probably have put a picture of a cappuccino or something on Instagram, but I've never done that. And that's the whole misconception that this is not an actual job. This doesn't require actual skill, but it really does. So every time you think about it, should I be on this platform? Should I adopt another platform? Are you doing those four pillars? Are you accomplishing those on the ones you're already on? And then if you're not, you get, you get those ducks in a row before you jump on another platform.
Carol: When I was thinking about, just for my consulting practice, how I use social media and that the second, the first thing that you said of how much time do you have to. To give to it. I was like, okay, to be reasonable, I'm gonna pick one. I do LinkedIn, that's it.
Julia: And LinkedIn is great for B2B. Like that's the best place to go for B2B.
Carol: I just felt like the other places it's like probably not where people are hanging out.
Julia: , but, and also actually it's a really good point. I just had. A podcast interview with my friend, Angela Pitter, who's a LinkedIn expert. And what she said was, you have to think about what people are doing on the platforms. Like you said, they're not really on Facebook looking for people to connect with professionally. They're hanging out with their friends, they're watching cat videos. They're doing fun things with friends and family. They're looking at the AB pictures. They're not necessarily using it the way people use LinkedIn. So I think that's smart. I think that's a very smart, strategic move.
Carol: The only thing I practically go on Facebook for anymore is to see what picture I posted or what I posted eight years ago.
Julia: I like the memories to look at, I like memories. I always wish that I could get off Facebook. I can't escape it, but I have Facebook groups that I run. So I can't. Right. Exactly. I can't officially leave. Exactly, exactly. But I do, I do spend a lot less time on it lately.
Carol: And I think that for a long time I was just posting, right. Then I heard the phrase, the posting and ghosting, and that's a sense and ghosting. Then more recently just, I started doing the other things that you're talking about by actually getting in their comments ending on people's engaging and, it was more satisfying actually to, feel like you're, getting to know people that way. And actually, I think we connected originally cuz you had posted something about getting on podcasts and I was like, oh I've got one and we yeah. Talked to each other.
Julia: That's what I love. It's like an actual LinkedIn memory Michelle received. Right. Really? Yeah. I posted that. I said I'm really interested in being on more podcasts this year. I have my own podcast. I'm just putting it out there. I had so many introductions. The LinkedIn community is so generous and so welcoming and just so happy to make connections with other people. I found it to be a much warmer community than Facebook.
Carol: Which is ironic, right?
Julia: It's ironic, but all of the CEOs, they make their own decisions about what they allow on the platform and what they don't and what they make go viral and what they don't. And I think Facebook, especially the more provocative, the more angry you are, the more negative you are. That's what is going viral and getting eyeballs. And that's why that's what we're seeing.
Carol: One of the misconceptions that you talked about was that it's, well, it's just free. It's something that somebody can do on the side. What are some other misconceptions that people have about social media and their marketing strategies?
Julia: I think there's, there's so many, one that I would say is that it can substitute for other things that are working. Social media is really the icing on the cake. It's really one of those things that people have definitely built their business on. But how I feel about it is I feel like you should be using it and leveraging it to bring people into other owned platforms. So your email list, maybe subscribing to your blog. Making a donation on your platform. You need to be consistently bringing people over to your owned platforms because social media is rented land. They can and will and do pull the rug out from under us very frequently. Do you remember when Facebook pages started? I will never Forget this cuz I was working at a nonprofit and my executive director called me and said we have to get a Facebook page. And I was on it, , because I had, I still had my college account, so I could still like get on it. I wasn't in college at the time, but I had an EDU address and I said, I don't know, like, is this a marketing place? Is, is all college kids, like just talking about stuff, but. She said, no, it's gonna be free and it's gonna be, it's gonna replace websites and it's gonna be a free way that we can talk to all of our fans and followers. People still think that. And to me, I think if we look at the data, you really can only reach a tiny percentage of your fans and followers. You use social media, not to say that if you have built a community, you should leave, but we need to be consistently bringing people over to our email list and our own. Properties where we can then build a deeper relationship with them. And also you can bring an assumption you've earned and its permission based on your email list. You can bring that email list anywhere you can change providers. If you don't like this one provider, you can communicate with these people. You can use that as huge leverage. And if you, about the way. We use email. It's a much more intimate experience than social media, because a lot of us are spending less time scrolling on social media, but we still all spend the majority of our day in our inbox. A lot of us. So to me, I do teach social media marketing, and I think it's a fantastic way to reach new audiences and younger audiences and to do fun things and experiment and build ambassadors and, and really, advertise events, things like that. But I don't want people to put all their eggs in that basket. We have to have a multi-channel digital marketing strategy that also includes our website search engine optimization is essential. People are searching. People will never stop using Google. Maybe they will. One day Google became so popular and huge. We want people to be able to find us where they are. So the other misconception that is really popular is that you have to be on all the platforms and you have to just cut and paste what you do across all the platform forms. What I've seen now, the trend is people are two platforms. Maybe now I need to start doing that because I need to really start focusing on two platforms. I feel like I spread myself so thin and I think a lot of us do, but the trend now, if you go to influencers websites, or if you go to brands that are just starting out, they're not gonna, they're not gonna see the 27 little logos on the bottom. You're gonna see Instagram probably, and maybe Twitter. and that might be it, or maybe YouTube. It depends if you're video based or visual based, or if you're text based, like LinkedIn is fantastic for B2B and consultants, but I do see the streamlining as being a big trend and the going all into one or two platforms as opposed to being everywhere at once. And I actually think that's a gift to nonprofits because we can't be expected to manage, unless you're a full-time social media person, which very few nonprofits have you cannot be expected to do those four pillars that I talked about on seven different platforms every week. It's just not feasible.
Carol: You used a phrase, “your owned properties, social media is rented.” Can you say a little bit more about that? I don't know if people exactly get what you're saying there.
Julia: Say you have an event in person or virtual, someone signs up for this event, permission based. you ask them to come. They come. Whether it's on Zoom, whether it's in-person, they give you their contact information. You now own that contact information and you have it. And if someone goes to your website, signs up for your email newsletter on your little form that I hope you have on your website, if someone subscribes to your blog, if you have that old school, like I have on my blog, WordPress. People can subscribe to your blog. Those are owned. You own those, and you can take those wherever you go. Sure. people will unsubscribe and move and email addresses will bounce. And that's not what I'm saying, but you do not own. You can't upload your Facebook fans. And this is a big problem. You can't get the contact information from people that donate to you on Facebook. So what I would do is just take these tools for what they are. Raise money on Facebook, raise money on Instagram. Don't worry about the contact information, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. You own your CRM, your database, you could switch a database and still bring all those contacts with you. Your direct mail list. You own that. So. To me. I want us to build our donor files, our supporter files using these tools. These amplifying tools are what I call them, but we can't just say, okay, we're not gonna have a website or an email list anymore because we have Facebook. Remember the day that Facebook went down the whole day? I was actually running a fundraising, paying for a client and we had. Multiple posts that were gonna go out. We were gonna do a Facebook live. We had Instagram posts and we had to completely cancel all of it because both platforms were down for the entire day. And we had no control over that. So we had to rely on email and we still did a lot. We did things like a YouTube live, but what I learned was that we really cannot rely on this. Like, this is just a good to have, a nice to have, but we can't put all of our effort and all of our eggs in this basket, because what if it went down, like, I'm just thinking of Giving Tuesday. If Facebook went down so many nonprofits would've lost thousands of dollars. So it's good to have, you need to have it, but focus on the other elements of your marketing program that you can, you have more control over?
Carol: I remember when Facebook first started having the fundraisers, I think they were linking it, like it's your birthday, have a fundraiser. And so I did one and, I didn't realize at that point that the nonprofit that I did the fundraiser for wouldn't actually get any information about who donated. This is not helping them - it's helping them in the very short term.
Julia: I kinda have a different perspective on that, so I don't mean to interrupt you but, the way I feel about Facebook fundraisers is yes, it's not a way to build your donor file long term. You're not gonna get major donors and plan givers and like to build this funnel, but. I'm sure that a lot of your friends and family had not heard of the nonprofit. So they were exposed to a brand new organization and they gave because of you, , they didn't necessarily give because they supported the organization they gave because of your birthday. And then honestly, I've given for birthday fundraisers. And then I have on my own, looked up the nonprofit later and got on their mailing list and maybe got more information. So I really see birthday fundraisers as marketing. It's like a marketing piece. Interesting. Because think of your friends on Facebook, they all saw that, and then their friends saw that, like, if I donate to my friend Melissa's birthday fundraiser, I post about it and then my friends and family see it. So the way I think about it is it's much more marketing based than fundraising based. And yeah, you're never gonna build your whole fundraising program on Facebook. And what's, what's also interesting though. about Facebook. They developed that because you remember the ALS ice bucket challenge. I can't remember what year that was. There was no donate button on Facebook. So what Mark Zuckerberg saw, because I do believe that he is like, actually a diabolical. Like, I don't know if he's evil, but I he's, he's like a genius and I'm not sure if it's in a good way, but what he saw was. Oh, everyone's donating, but they're going off of Facebook. So I wanna keep everybody on Facebook. I don't want people going to als.org and making a donation and then maybe not coming back to Facebook. So he created the donate button, really? Not out of the goodness of his heart. I mean, they know we, they say. But it was to keep us on the platform. So they wanna be in all encompassing, all, one ring to rule them all thing. And that's always been the way that they've been thinking about things. So when we think about the donate button, there are no fees involved. Fantastic. The reason we don't get the donor information is because it was never created for us. It was created so that we would stay on the platform. And so that, I mean, it's a bad user experience. It's. If you get my data and then you start spamming me or you start soliciting me again, that's bad for me. And I would blame Facebook. So if we look at it from a business perspective, it makes total sense not to give the data because it would be a bad move for them. This is also how we just have to look at social media. We can't have color glasses because we have to understand these are multi-billion dollar businesses and the answer to them. They're shareholders. So that was a little bring of their own, but I don't think people know how the donate button came about. I think they thought it was interesting. Oh, they wanna do something good for nonprofits? No, they just wanna keep you on the platform. It's really true. It's totally true. Yeah. I'm reading that amazing book. , I can't remember who it's by. It's all about Facebook. It came out a couple of years ago and it's really eye-opening and pretty, incredibly amazing. So I teach it, I love it. I think it has power and potential, but I always take things with a grain of salt when it comes to these platforms. ‘Cuz I just think, okay, shareholders, shareholders, they're businesses. They're businesses. They're not nonprofits like we are. Yeah.
Carol: And I really appreciate the perspective of its amplification. It’s nice to have the extra, but it's not the core pieces. So one thing that's interesting when I'm, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations, I feel like almost every group, one of the themes that comes out of all the conversations that I have with people is we're the best kept secret in blah, blah, blah
Julia: Are we though?
Carol: Now that I've heard it from so many different groups, I'm just curious, like how. I don't know, like, yes. How do you get over that? Is it important? Is it important for every group to be a household name?
Julia: It's not possible. I don't think it's possible. That's true. I think of the organizations where I live, some of the really small organizations, like I live in a town of 4,000 people and if it's a food bank, it's a village technically. And if it's the library here, it's not going to appeal like 4,000. It's kind, probably the limit. Maybe people that have lived here and moved, but you're not gonna get 300,000 Facebook fans. It's just not going to happen because you are serving such a small community and it's such a targeted niche thing. So we have to really tamp down our extra, I think, unless we are. Dealing with a cause that's in the news all the time, unless we are a national organization, unless we're an international organization. So we have to understand that. Not only can we not reach everybody, probably the majority of people are not going to support what we do. And that's so hard to stomach for a lot of organizations that have. This passion, the curse of knowledge, they know that what they do is important. They know that it's life changing. They know that they're making a huge difference in a lot of different populations, but there are people that don't agree with food banks. There are people that don't agree with homeless shelters. There are people that don't agree with arts programs. I mean, there are people that just, they don't care, they don't, and that we can't change that. So to me, I just want people to focus on who you have now and love on them and love on them and appreciate them, encourage them to spread the word like you. Did Carol have a fundraiser, tell your friends and family. They are your best marketers. They are your absolute best ambassadors. And then try to find more like-minded people, but don't get hung up on being the best kept secret because how many people can get on the front page of the New York times, not many. Even the front page of your local newspaper, it's pretty rare. So I really encourage people and marketers, especially fundraisers to love on the people that are there, because what happens is we get so focused on. Acquiring new people and new names and new donors. And then we neglect the people we have. And I just actually, who did I just have on my podcast? Julie Edwards, she's a fundraiser consultant. She was talking, she was saying that donor retention. It's something like 20% or at least in the last couple of years. So we don't focus nearly enough on keeping the people we have. We're constantly focused on the next thing, the next thing. And I really think we should do more to retain and engage the people that have raised their hand and said, Hey, I really like you, rather than just say, okay, we're 10 more. The like,
Carol: Cause you hear people like, oh, we're just preaching to the choir.
Julia: And the choir's amazing. If you get the choir singing together in harmony, get more people to get them to join the choir. Like you need the choir. If you don't have the choir, what do you, well, I mean, I'm not a real church goer, but I would say if you don't have a choir, you don't have a church. Like if you don't have people. Attending the church and their job is really to get more people to come and to, to make it an exciting, fun thing to do to invite people to say, we're having this great party over here. Do you wanna come? Oh, you don't wanna come right now? You can't come. It's not a good time. That's fine. The door's always open or, Hey, you wanna come? Here's some more information on how you can come to this party. And I think the whole notion of. Like beating people over the head with information and forcing them. And like we would, bring it full circle, manipulating people, guilting people. That's just not a sustainable way. It's like, you need to inspire people, get them excited, and then they're gonna spread the gospel for staying on this metaphor.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, overwhelming people with information. If I had a magic wand to change the nonprofit sector, I would somehow sum all the policy people and I would sit them down with the marketing people and, um, have the marketing people. help them simplify their message. So on all those advocacy emails that I get, I'm now saying this so that if a few people hear me, I want a, the highlight summary, like that has like a sentence behind it. Mm-hmm and then the second version is I want all the details. Then you can give me the version that the policy people will usually give. Yes, but I want to.
Julia: This is called TLDR for “too long, didn't read.” Have you ever seen that? Oh my God. Well, so sometimes people write emails and it's TL:DR. Yep. I've seen that where it's like, this is the too long didn't read version and it's two sentences. And then it's the whole rest of the email. If you wanna read it, go ahead.
Carol: I was talking to somebody who was interested in taking action on an item. Yeah. an issue. And she went to their website and she got so overwhelmed by the amount of information that was there. She just was paralyzed and didn't do anything. So it had exactly the opposite effect of what they wanted. Yes. Um, yeah,
Julia: This gives me a good idea for a blog post. All right. Excellent. Yeah, and we don't need more information. We need people to synthesize information for us. Yeah. And tell us why it's important. So you and I, we can Google everything all day. Every day. We do not need more information or data or statistics. We do need someone to tell us what it means and why it's important. And I totally agree with you, too many emails are just listing the data, but not giving me any context.
Carol: Yeah. And not giving me the simple “okay. And here's the next thing to do and I'm gonna help you do it.” So one of the things you talk about is future-proofing your organization. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that and how somebody might go about future-proofing?
Julia: I talk a lot about specifically future-proofing your marketing strategy, but I do think the. Principles would apply to me, my main idea behind this is to build a community that is excited and inspired by what you do. And that will follow you anywhere because tools and trends come and go. There's a clubhouse. There's this idea that something's gonna come up. TikTok and Snapchat the tools are not what's important. And I think when people hear me talk about future-proofing and trends, they get excited and they're like, “oh, she's gonna talk about the five tools that you need.” But actually the tools are really the least important thing. It's if you understand your audience and truly understand what they want. And just like we just said, if you can really distill your message down. Into the why and not focus so much on the how also if you're adaptable. So we have to be more proactive. That's a huge thing that I teach and that I advocate for rather than simply reacting. To change or putting our head in the sand and saying we can't fundraise because of XYZ, or we can't do this. We can't do that. We can't do this. Trying to be as proactive as possible around the things that you can control or the things that you do have in your wheelhouse. So, we can't control things like the war in Ukraine, we can't control things. Like I remember George Floyd's murder and, and the black lives matter protests and clients of mine had fundraising campaigns. They had marketing campaigns going on. You just have to say something like, trust your gut and say, okay. We're gonna be quiet now, but then not be quiet forever. Don't think because the world is constantly changing. I mean, the only constant is really change. Don't think because the world is so in upheaval that you can't, you can't connect with people. And then another thing that I teach is just to communicate more than you think you need to, you are not annoying people. If you are sending out relevant interest in communications that people want to hear. So, yeah, you're annoying me. If you send me five emails that are written the exact same way, just ask me for money. But if you're communicating with me weekly or twice a month, about the impact of my donation, about the problem, about the solution that you're providing, about things that you're doing, what should I know, what do I need to know? If you are becoming a thought leader and a go-to resource, then the tools don't matter. And, and. The method of communication doesn't really matter. So I think the only way to future-proof yourself is to become a real go-to resource and thought leader in your industry, even if it's tiny and small and not quote unquote sexy. Although I don't believe there are no sexy causes. I hear that all the time. I call this sexy well, sexy is in the eye of the beholder. As we know, like what I think is sexy, you might not think it is sexy. So I think that it's in the eye of the beholder, but really being able to understand your audience is what's important to them and what motivates them. And then just constantly be proactive in giving that to your audience. That's really the only way we're gonna get through. The next, I don't know, 5, 10, 15, 20 years of total upheaval and change.
Carol: Yeah. And that goes back to what you were saying before, really pay attention to the people who are already there. Who've already raised their hand. Who've already said they're interested. , yeah. Keep educating them. And, but it doesn't need to be a dissertation every time to give them the tools to spread the word, right. Like helping them be an ambassador. Yeah, I've been an ambassador and they don't, they're not necessarily, that's maybe somewhere where somehow it might actually be helpful, right? Like how do you, how would, what are some steps that you might be able to take to let other people know about the organization, et cetera.
Julia: Right. If you can't. I see Global Citizen as a fantastic example. I get their emails and honestly, there's great articles and information, but it's always like here's a step I can take this month, tweet this out, sign this petition, put this on Facebook, it's usually very simple activities like that. They do fundraising campaigns, but it's very rare. It's mostly here's something small you can do to spread the word about this and to help us, reach more eyeballs and more people that are interested and does it make you feel good? I mean, they're targeting a very, very young audience actually. They target a lot of college students and like Gen Z who might not have the ability to make a donation. I'm thinking of my daughter, she's twelve. She doesn't have a bank account. So she's on TikTok, but she still elevates the voices of people due to her sharing commenting, that's a huge deal to that generation. So you're building it up for them to care about these causes. It's a long term game here, and then when they become my age and then they can actually make donations. Hopefully they will have remembered that experience that they had. So I just see it as playing, playing a really long term game. There's so many different generations that we have to interact with now. I mean, I think there's like seven distinct generations right now. So we can't. We can't ignore the people with the money, right? The boomers, but we can't ignore the people that are coming up and that are really active in digital natives and are excited to spread the word and talk about it. So we just need to have different approaches. I think for, for both ends.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So at the end of each conversation, I like to ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. Yes. And so I pulled one out of my handy icebreaker question box. Yes. So if you could have any fictional character as your friend, who would you pick and why?
Julia: Wow. That is such an amazing, amazing, amazing question. Okay. I don't wanna think too long about this because I have so many books that I love. Mm-hmm , oh, I just had it in my brain and I lost it. Well, Right now I'm reading. Well, first of all, I should probably say cat is from hunger games, cuz I'm obsessed with hunger games, but I'm not sure she'd be such a good friend. So I dunno if she'd be like a really fun person to hang out with. But I'm reading station 11 right now. I don't know if you've read that. Mm-hmm so good and it's a TV show on HBOMax. So I would have Kirsten, the main character. I believe I would love to hang out with her. I think she'd be fun.
Carol: Yes. Yes. She is a really, really interesting character
Julia: Yeah. It's cool. Just such an interesting experience and she's just very Shakespeare and I think it'd be cool.
Carol: Yeah. And what was so interesting that, that book, and then the series was one of many. After some huge apocalypse story, but what I really appreciated about that one versus so many others, is that, sure there was some fighting between different groups of people, but that wasn't really the focus.
Julia: It's not like walking dead where it's just a bunch of oh yeah. People fight all the time.
Carol: And so many of the others, , after the apocalypse are always people fighting. And this one, I really felt like it was much more centered. People taking care of each other and I was that's what's actually gonna happen. Like yeah, sure.
Julia: People are gonna fight and be terrified. It's not gonna be Mad Max.
Carol: People are gonna take care of each other.
Julia: Oh, can I add one more- Jo of Little Women, obviously. Oh yeah, you gotta hang out with Anne of Green Gables. Okay. Now I've got a million of them.
Carol: We'll have a tea party with all of them.
Julia: Have a dinner party. That would be amazing. There you go. That's a great, great question.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So, what's coming up for you. What are you excited about, , in your work these days?
Julia: Yay. I'm traveling a lot more for work and speaking. I am running my nonprofit social media summit again this year, November second and third. The registration page is not up yet, but we're really excited about that. I'm working with, , neon one CRM on. The third year of our summit, we did it in person in 2019, virtually last year. And we're doing a virtual this year again. , and my podcast, nonprofit nation, I absolutely love it. Some fantastic episodes and great guests coming up. So I just, I'm really, I'm feeling very positive for 20 me, 22. I really am. I think. I think it, I mean , I felt very positive about 20, 20 and 2021, but this year is our year. This is the year that it's gonna be. It's gonna be good, but I'm just feeling very, very positive and optimistic.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great. Thanks Carol. Great having you on the podcast and really appreciated the conversation.
Julia: Thank you so much anytime.
Carol: I appreciated Julia’s point about the marketing assets that you own vs your presence on social media. Whatever following you cultivate on social media – you only have access to them to the extent the algorithm puts your stuff in front of them. I was talking to someone recently who said they post on LinkedIn to broadcast what they are up to. But that isn’t really the case – because the LinkedIn algorithm decides whether it puts your post in someone’s feed or not. When you send an email to your list, you know you are sending it directly to the person. They may not open it and read it – but at least you know you have sent it to them. So your subscriber list, your donor list – these are all important marketing and fundraising assets of your organization. I also appreciated her different take on Facebook fundraisers – that they actually serve a marketing purpose by making more people aware of an organization they may not have heard of before. So even though the organization is not getting the donor information from the fundraiser – you are still getting them a little money in the short term and some visibility. Her advice to ‘love on the people that are there’ reminded me of Stu Swineford’s comment about the value of the choir. Both are saying – care for the people who already support you. Give them tools and resources to be able to spread the word. Don’t assume they know how to be a good ambassador for your organization – make sure you give them the resources and time to practice sharing your good news.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Julie, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Until next time!
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
Grace Social Sector Consulting, LLC, owns the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of the Mission: Impact podcast, with all rights reserved, including right of publicity.