In episode 73 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Cindy Wagman discuss:
Cindy Wagman is the President & CEO of The Good Partnership. She helps small nonprofits raise more money and reluctant fundraisers learn to love fundraising.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Cindy Wagman. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Cindy and I talk about how our social norms around not talking about money make it hard for folks to want to do fundraising, some of the common things that get in the way of success for new fundraisers, and how to start building your fundraising muscles.
Welcome Cindy. Welcome to Mission: Impact. Thanks so much for having me. I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Cindy Wagman: Oh my goodness. I feel like that is a question that goes, it's answer starts so many years ago. I've always been. Involved in the nonprofit sector. I volunteered when I was in high school. When I was in university. I ran the women's empowerment committee and raised money for local women's organizations. It's always been what I would say defines my experiences. So my university, when I look back at university, it wasn't the academics, it was my community involvement. So it's always just been in my blood and I actually am one of the few people who, when I was in university and I said, I wanna be a fundraiser. Most people fall into it. But I knew, and I have really, my only professional job has been a fundraiser until I started consulting and now I help other fundraisers.
Carol: What was it that made you decide, I wanna be a fundraiser?
Cindy: So, It's fun. Funnily, I met two people who were professional fundraisers in the same summer. I never knew that that was an option growing up. It wasn't something we talked about. When don't you talk about what, what do you wanna do when you're older? So I was working and there was a regular. I worked in the cafe slash home decor store and there was a woman who was a regular. Dan is her name, and she came in and we would always chat and she was a fundraiser. And at the same time I started dating someone who is now my husband and his aunt was a professional fundraiser. So that same summer just hit me in the face.
Carol: Which is cool. That is, I would say definitely unusual. Trying to even think of what would have been my first connection to, I did work in one of my work study jobs at college, working in the development office or the advancement office. I don't remember what they called them. Typically I think I. I filed donor reports. Mm-hmm. It was back to paper, paper and files. Oh, I remember that. So I did a lot of alphabetizing. Oh God. I don't think I learned a lot more about fundraising, but while I was doing it, except of course that keeping track of who your donors are was important.
Cindy: I remember when we used to have to dial in the monthly donations and press the credit card information with the keypad on your phone, on your landline to process all the monthly gifts. So I've been, I've been doing this a while, but it's cool. I have to say one thing as I look at my story and how I came to this work. It makes me very happy to see my own kids think about what they wanna do when they're older. And aside from like be a world famous soccer player, my one son is very much he is like, I wanna, I wanna run a food bank, or I wanna do, he's already thinking about charitable work, which
Carol: That is awesome. My daughter after doing a gap year where she did AmeriCorps and did City Year, she ended up in the nonprofit sector and, and now is just moving over to the Phil philanthropy side in terms of giving away the money instead of mm-hmm. Raising the money. But,so, so you work with small nonprofits on their fundraising and most people. Don't decide right. When they're in college to become a fundraiser, or even when they, when they start an organization or they join an organization they may not, put their hand up or maybe they don't move back fast enough. Exactly. Why would you say it's so hard for people to do a fundraiser?
Cindy: So this is a huge problem in our sector because most people don't wanna fundraise, and it's not just in our sector. I always tell the story, like, and actually my husband tells a story because I didn't remember it as well as he does, but we were at a wedding, a friend's wedding, and we were just chatting with people and, talking to, oh, what do you do? And when I said the word fundraiser, it. People had a physical reaction and like that, it shut down the conversation.
And so we have these pervasive stories about fundraising and money, both in society in general, right? Like you, polite conversations do not include talking about money. And so that makes our jobs a lot harder. But then in our sector we have this sense. Money is taboo or even, I mean, there's so many different stories around this work, we don't do this work. It's not about the money. We should be. I hear a lot of people saying we should be volunteering our time. I've actually had people ask me, oh, so you're a volunteer, like you volunteer? So all of that adds up.
And I think increasingly we have these stories about what philanthropy looks like, which generally is becoming in the public eye a sense of really big donations, millions multi millions, hundreds of millions of dollars donated. And so I think. Means that for you and I and the rest of us like normal people, there's a further gap between what, how we see ourselves and our contributions as philanthropists or how we see our generosity in our commitments to our community. And so I, when I introduced myself as a fundraiser, aside from people just not wanting to talk to me they don't understand what it is, I. They don't see it as relating to their lives. They say, oh, you're just gonna ask me for money, or they ask if I'm an event planner, which I'm not. So, it’s vastly misunderstood. And our brains as we grow into the people that we are, our brains develop shortcuts and patterns that keep us safe and familiar. And what that means is often our, like, if we have these stories about fundraising being bad, our brain is gonna tell us you don't wanna do that. And so we don't.
Carol: And yet, If we really want to have functional organizations somebody's gonna have to bring in some revenue. So what, what, what do you, what would you say helps people move beyond their reluctance or move beyond some of those stories?
Cindy: Absolutely. So I would say that meeting donors is a big one, very often. Project our own feelings and beliefs onto other people. So I think things, stories like, our donors are so fatigued who wants to stay for soccer? Okay. So we project onto other people our feelings and beliefs about fundraising that we just talked about, how we develop those. And so we don't want to, we see, we write the stories for donors before we get to know them. And so getting to know your donors, meeting people understand. When I say I have a donor meeting, most people think of asking for money. But I just mean getting to know your supporters, individuals, corporations, foundations. Why do they care about the work that you're doing? That is actually the number one thing I recommend because as we get to know our supporters, we actually get to see that they're much more like us than we think. And they're not these like multimillionaires out there in the world, that everyday people care about what we do. They want us to be successful in our mission. And they're willing to contribute and that starts to change those stories we have in our brains about fundraising and its utility in the work that we do.
Carol: I like that point that you made about, people we read in the news about these big gifts, and I'm blanking. It was the wife of Jeff Bezos.
Cindy: Mackenzie Scott. Mackenzie Scott.
Carol: Mackenzie Scott. Right. So you, we read about her gifts. Right. And we think, well, we can't do that. So what's the point?
Cindy: Exactly, exactly.
Carol: And we think, but what do you say to people around, around that story?
Cindy: I mean, listen, Mackenzie Scott is doing some really cool things around Absolutely. Philanthropy and power to her. But That's not the lifeblood of organizations. And when I present to a board of directors or when I used to work within organizations, like the number one thing I would hear people say is we don't know anyone who can give. And because we're thinking, I don't know anyone like Mackenzie Scott or I think I think Harvard like as of today, just got a huge gift, like massive. They renamed a school after this donor. But it's like, of course we don't know people like that. I don't know people like that.
But most of the generosity that I see in organizations comes from people who are already known to the organization. I've had donors who give $250 a year, eventually give $250,000 or who give 10,000 who end up giving. A hundred thousand right now. Those are big dollars for smaller organizations. We think we don't know these people, but chances are we do. And even if someone doesn't have the capacity, I mean, I can, this, I can get on a soapbox and talk about just because someone doesn't even have the capacity to give a hundred dollars, let alone a hundred thousand dollars, their gift is still really important to organizations.
And I, I actually wrote a thesis on this 20 years ago talking about the value of Engaging your community in giving so that they have ownership over the work that you do and you're accountable to them. And so often I see organizations make decisions on behalf of the communities that they serve, which I think is an incredibly disempowering act. So, Every dollar I think is important. And I think the act of giving is a very meaningful one for all of us to engage in, to build the world that we wanna, that we wanna live in.
Carol: Right, right. So what are some steps that would be used? Would you say that people can, can, can take to move through? I mean, I, I had said move beyond, but I'm like, well actually maybe it's, you just need to move through some of those stories or that projection that you're doing on, all the fears that I have about asking someone for money. Onto the donor and why they're there. What are some things that have started?
Cindy: There's, there's a couple things. I mean, the first thing is awareness. And like if you, if anyone's ever seen a therapist or gone worked with a coach like you have to. Be self-aware. You have to do the work and understand, because all of our stories are individual to us. They're, they come from the houses that we grew up in or the environments that we grew up in and our experiences and the people around us and how their influence on us. So we have to understand our own origin story and that usually, like you can do it on your own, but sometimes it's helpful to have some help with that.
So understand what your origin story is, and then you can start to see these false narratives. And then as I said, my favorite way to reverse those narratives is to meet with your donors, get to know them, and that process can be really simple. So often people get caught up in Who do I meet? How do I reach out to them? How do I have a conversation? And in reality, it's actually so, so simple. So who to reach out to? Who is the least intimidating for you? What is the path of least resistance? These meetings are like having these meetings are like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. So if it's easiest, I literally have worked with organizations who said, oh, well my aunt made a donation last year. I'm gonna start with her great monthly donors, board members, whoever. I just want you to start and get in the habit and reach out.
And my biggest advice around this is tell donors what your intentions are and follow through. So tell them what to expect and then deliver on that. So, for example, you're gonna tell them, what we're, I'm trying to get to know our donors. I really wanna understand why you support our work, and I want to hear from you about why this is important to you. And you have a meeting and you ask questions that align with that purpose. And if you're ever in a position, this is a tangent, but if you're ever in a position to ask someone for a donation face-to-face or at a meeting, you are going to tell them when you book the meeting. I would love to talk to you about a contribution or can we meet to talk about a donation so that again, you are telling them what to expect and then they're following through. So that's a side. But for this, the purpose of this, you're not even asking for money. You're just saying, I wanna get to know you. Will everyone say yes to a meeting? No. Is that okay? Absolutely. Find the people who are gonna say, And then have a conversation.
The best fundraisers are curious. So you can have a couple like starter questions or spark questions I call them that's kinda like, oh, tell me about how you first learned about this work. Better work. Or, tell me about why this work is important to you. And then just listen and have a real conversation. And that's it. It is. Simple. The magic is when you do it over and over and over again and you get to know your donors, you get to know them once, but then you can reach out and say, oh, it's been a few months since we last spoke. I'd love to catch up. And you start to build those relationships. And again, I'm not just talking about major donors. I'm talking, All your donors, obviously you might not be in a position to meet with them always all the time, but you wanna have a good sense of where your champions are, who's really passionate, and give everyone in your donor base the opportunity to deep, more deeply engage with you, with you and your organization by just inviting them that first.
Carol: When you said start with someone that's like the least intimidating, it makes me think back to when I started this podcast. Mm-hmm. And that's exactly what I did because it felt like a big thing to do. I mean, now by the time this episode comes out, it'll be, we'll be in 70 something episodes. But,I thought of like, who were five people that have no, I have no anxiety about having a conversation with, and even then, that very first one, I was nervous. I was so nervous before the conversation. So,it's so true about like start, make it, make the stakes low and then start building that muscle, that habit, that,that practice. exactly. I really appreciate it.
You also talked about setting expectations and that you would've actually told someone. When you get to the point where you're asking them for money, you've given, you've let them know it, they're not being sideswiped, they're not being surprised. Those people at the wedding, you can tell, tell them, calm down because my practice is that I would've told you. Exactly. I was gonna ask you for money. Exactly. So it lets everybody know what the purpose is.
Cindy: I have a friend, his name's Kipp. And I met him actually through work. Just, he supports a number of organizations that I have been involved with over the years. And every now and then we'll go for lunch and he'll say, okay, this organization just asked me for a coffee. What does it mean? And it gives him a donor of like decent means. I would say He is definitely not like,off the charts, but he gives substantially to organizations and it actually causes him anxiety when he's like, what are they gonna ask me for? And he tries to decipher and decode all of the stuff and like, is this, what do, what do I expect? And he wants to be prepared.
And so I, I'm such a fan of transparency and letting people know, and by the time, like if, if you say it to someone, and again, most people don't actually ask face-to-face in small organizations, it's actually not a dominant fundraising strategy. But if you are doing major gifts or face-to-face asking and they, and you say, I'd like to talk to you about a contribution, and they say yes to the meeting, They're not likely to say no to a gift. It's really then a question of how much and what's meaningful. And so that I just, I think it's so critical to build that trust with your donors and to really make them feel like they're part of a community. And that you trust and respect them in the way that you also, you are asking them to trust and respect you.
Carol: Right? Cuz he's anticipating being invited for coffee.
Cindy: But like, can you give to us this year? And like, sometimes the answer is no. And honestly, like he has I mean, the one thing I'll say, getting to know your donors is like, Feels bad when he has to say no or when his, and, and no one's gonna give away all their wealth. Even Mackenzie Scott is sitting like she's not going to be comfortable, her lifestyle's not going to suffer because of her philanthropy. Right. So everyone is gonna give, and they're going to, not everyone gives, but who, who the people who are giving are giving in a way that's meaningful and they want to, and it makes them feel good, but also they do have a limit. And if you're putting them in a position where they have to, where you haven't prepped them for the ask It actually makes the giving experience feel bad. And that's not what we want. We want them to feel good about these conversations.
Carol: And I feel like that bait and switch is actually what people think of. It's one of those stupid things that people think of when they're like, Ooh, I don't want to do that. It's, they don't wanna, they don't wanna manipulate people, or they don't wanna pretend that they're wanting one thing when actually they're gonna, oh, by the way,
Cindy: Exactly. It's buying a car, like, oh, and there's so many memes in comedy about this, but, I hate, hate, hate buying a car because you go in, then there's the list price, and then you talk to someone and then they negotiate it down. And then if you're still, then they bring in their manager to negotiate it down. Like, come on, it, it is, it feels icky. And I walk out of there and I think you don't respect me. And this is a game, and I don't, none of us wanna feel that way when it comes to our generosity. So . And I will say fairly, this is a.
Experience that our sector has reinforced, right? There are a lot of fundraisers who still do it that way, and so there's this stereotype, but we can be part of the change to make it a different experience for people.
Carol: What would you say helps people move from being reluctant about fundraising to being more confident in that role?
Cindy: What I think that. Getting a better understanding of what fundraising actually is. So as we sit here talking about these, like one-to-one asks, that is not how most organizations fundraise. It's through appeals, it's through grant writing, it's through, sometimes it's through events. Maybe there's some small events or fundraising. So Get to know your donors and get to understand how they give, like what are also the vehicles, what do they respond to? I'm telling you, most people are gonna respond to an appeal whether it's emailed or mailed or what have you. So know your donors understand what fundraising is and isn't. And the more you do these things, the more you start to see that again, we're all on this journey together to make the world a better place. And if we can be on the same team with that, fundraising's gonna feel a lot better for both the fundraiser and the donors.
Carol: You mentioned fundraising, isn't this, that, or the other? What are some of the misconceptions or what are some of the like, well, fundraising is not X that most people believe it is.
Cindy: Okay. So the big ones I get all the time. All the time, especially from boards. One is like, we just need to go ask the companies for money. In Canada, it's the big banks or whoever, like, we need to ask the big companies to give us money. And I think that the idea behind that is very much they're not gonna miss the money. They have it. And so, and it's a corporation, so I don't have to ask someone. And it feels, so there is this idea that like the, the companies are just sitting there. Loads of cash waiting to give it to our organization if only we ask.
That's generally not true. Most giving comes from individuals. Most, funding for, for nonprofits and charities comes from individuals. So that's one big misconception, and I'm not saying that you don't need, like, don't ask companies for money, but understanding how they give and understanding the different vehicles in which they give allows you to be more successful and find out what type of corporate giving aligns with your organization. As I said before, events like people think I'm an event planner. I get that a lot. Events are like the least profitable way to raise money. They have the highest cost associated with them. I have certainly run events in the past, but that's generally not how most organizations, again, are, are raising money. So like within individual giving, there's so many different ways within. Corporate, there's so many different ways, even with events like a big gala is not necessarily like I I, my favorite events are small events where there's like 15, 20 people. And I've done a ton of those. So it's just so much broader.
And the best fundraising again, comes from understanding your donors and how they want, what does a relationship with your organization look like? And also you have to balance that with what's meaningful for your organization and mission, obviously. Those two should be aligned. Otherwise, you're not really on the same journey, right? That's right. So you wanna make sure your donors are on that same journey and that there's alignment and then it's a lot easier to find out what fundraising makes sense for your organization.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I ask, I have a couple random icebreaker questions here. So. What would you say is one of the best gifts you've ever received?
Cindy: Oh my goodness. I'm a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for. I know. Actually, no. Okay. I am a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for because I usually, if I want, I'll buy it for myself. And I'm very particular about my style and what I like. A couple years ago, actually, I think it was in 2020, it was my birthday. It was a milestone birthday, and my team at work actually got together. It was during Covid. And they got together and they sent me this gift, which was like so bang on. I felt so seen and understood. And so it was a, just like a sweatshirt, like a concert sweatshirt from a band called Veruca Salt. If anyone from like knows from the mid nineties I happened to like a lot of like mid nineties female singer songwriters and like, not Riot Girl, but like Girl Rock stuff. And then they also had custom designs, it's so funny that the custom designed press on nails that were like in my brand colors. Cause I like, I, this was, I was doing my nails at home a lot cuz everything was closed and I'm in Toronto and we were shut down for a very, very long time. So I was like doing my own nails and all this stuff. I'm playing around with that and they know I love branding and like everything being on brand. That was the best gift I've ever received. That's
Carol: Awesome. That's awesome. I will definitely have to look up Ru salt, Ru salt and, and play a little bit this afternoon. So what, what are you excited about? What's, what's up for you? What's emerging in your work these days?
Cindy: So our network is growing. So for the last number of years we've been offering a service called fractional fundraising, which is kind of, Down for you. Long term, long term fundraising with someone very experienced, but only you get a fraction of their time. And this has been working really well with small organizations and so we're growing that network. They're not staff of mine, they're independent consultants, but I teach them how to consult. I teach 'em how to build their business, and I teach 'em how to deliver this service. And I feel like this is an idea whose time has come. We've tested it. There's demand. Small organizations need help.
And quite frankly, hiring inexperienced staff usually adds to their frustration and does not relieve it. And so getting them access to experience. Fundraisers who understand strategy and like to implement and do it at an affordable cost. And like to me it just, it's a win-win all around and it feels really good. So this is what I am super excited about and is a big focus in my life right now.
Carol: That sounds awesome. cuz it's, it's clearly important to come up with the plan, the plan and the strategy, but if you don't have the staff to implement it . Then that . It was nice but not great. Exactly. Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so much.
Cindy: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated what Cindy said about getting in your reps. And starting small – who is the easiest person for you to reach out to when you are getting started with fundraising? Who can you reach out to who already supports your organization to further cultivate the relationship? That principle of starting small and working upwards and outwards applies to so many things when you are developing a new skill.
It is why I love Duolingo – I have been learning Spanish very slowly over the past year and the Duolingo app has that very principle built in. Each lesson takes 3-5 minutes to complete. And I just have to do one lesson a day to keep my streak – I am up past 400 days now. Plus they build in all sorts of virtual gold stars and prizes into the process – and really they don’t mean anything – and yet – they keep me moving. So how can you celebrate your small successes along the way?
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Cindy Wagman, her bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 72 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lauren Brownstein discuss:
Lauren Brownstein is the author of Be Well, Do Good: Self-Care and Renewal for Nonprofit Professionals and Other Do-Gooders. She has been working in philanthropy for more than 30 years as a fundraiser, educator, program manager, and administrator. She helps nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and grant makers achieve their goals through PITCH, LLC, her fundraising and philanthropy consulting practice. As a reflection of her commitment to philanthropy and volunteerism, Lauren has served on the boards of several nonprofits and has volunteered extensively in the community. She was a certified foster parent before adopting a child from the foster care system. She earned a Masters in Teaching in Museum Education from the George Washington University and a Bachelors with High Distinction from the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, DC area.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lauren Brownstein. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Lauren and I talk about why it is so important for those in the nonprofit sector to take care of themselves while they are working towards their mission, the concept of passion exploitation, and the importance of professional boundaries
Welcome Lauren. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Lauren Brownstein: Thank you. Thank you so much for the invitation. I'm excited to have this conversation.
Carol: I always start my conversations with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you describe as your why or what motivates you?
Lauren: That's such a big question and I'm laughing in part. Let's see. I started my career, started working I guess in 1992. And to be honest, I sort of fell into nonprofit work. I mean, it was like there's a recession and there's this job opportunity and fundraising, and I had a background in that work, but I always had been and continue to be Mission driven in both my personal life and my professional life. I remember when I was in college, I had to do a project about career choices. And I did something about PR, what it's like to be a PR professional, but mine was PR for a nonprofit. I couldn't even imagine not working in the nonprofit sector.
I think what's kept me in the sector is this notion of. having a work life and a personal life that align along the same values. And I certainly don't think that's exclusive to people who work in the nonprofit sector, but I think for some folks that, we live in the DC area, there's tons of lawyers, for example, and I think for some of my friends who are lawyers, Their orientation is more like, well, this is what I do to take care of my family so that I can give back to my community, et cetera, et cetera.
And I think that's great if that's the way that works for you. For me, I don't wanna feel like my life is in these two different buckets. Like, this is what I do during the day just to support myself so that I can do the things I wanna do. I like having it more. Blended and, and, more of a partnership between all those areas of my life.
And there are pros and cons, look, money wise and everything else, but I, I, I would say that's what drives me. Does that make any sense?
Carol: Totally makes sense. And, and I, I think we, we've been living parallel lives cuz I started about the same time and my very first job out of college, I was working for. A small company that helped people get on talk shows and it was so , in the realm of PR and was working with lots of publicists for self-help books from New York. But that experience cuz it was a for-profit business of doing PR for all comers. When I moved back to the Washington area it sparked me to say, if I'm doing this, who do I wanna do it for?
And so that's what prompted me to move into this sector. And , I I, I appreciate that alignment. And I also as I'm coming to the other end of my career, thinking about, a lot of people may segue into the sector at the end of their career, right? Having, having done that, Job that supports their family or whatnot and wanna give back later.
But I appreciate those of us who've been in the trenches all long.
Lauren: so Exactly. And sometimes I meet people, God bless, best of intentions, will say, well, I'm retiring and now I'm gonna be a grant writing consultant. having never written a grant in their life. So I think that the sector depends on some.
It still needs to work on helping people understand that these are professions and that there are levels of expertise, just like in any other profession.
Carol: , I would invite those folks who are thinking about that transition to come in with a little humility that they might have a little bit to learn.
That it isn't just about applying everything that they knew from their corporate or, or legal or whatnot profession.
Lauren: Or realizing that even if you've been very involved in a nonprofit as a volunteer or a board member, you don't really know the dirty, dirty of the inside probably. Unless you've actually been on the staff side of things, it's not gonna be the same.
Being a lay leader and being a staff person are not gonna be the same. There's gonna be things that are better, but there are gonna be things that are different.
Carol: Definitely lots of things that are gonna be different.. So you, you've, you've been in the, in the realm of, of fundraising for a long time and in the sector and, but you recently wrote a book Be Well, do Good Self-Care and Renewal for nonprofit professionals and other do-gooders.
And since my tagline for this podcast is that it's a podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who wanna build a better world without becoming a martyr to cause Yes. When I saw it, I was like, oh my goodness, I need to talk to Lauren. So, what inspired you to write this?
Lauren: Well and remind me to talk about passion exploitation.
Oh, because please, your tagline reminds me of that. But in terms of the inspiration for the book, I mean, to be honest, I never really, although I write a ton for my consulting work's, one of the main things I do, I never really thought I had a book in me. I never do it for plenty of people. That's a dream and something they work on for years, it wasn't really on my radar.
It wasn’t. Something I had written, written off, pun intended, but it wasn't really on my radar. As the conversations around burnout were becoming even more accelerated during the pandemic, I turned more of my attention to that. And on a personal level, I've been a student far from a master, but a student of various.
Wellness practices and approaches for decades, whether that's meditation, yoga, my therapy is crafting like crocheting and, and turning everything in my home into an art project, et cetera, et cetera. So I, I. Had realized that I had been writing about this for years in my blog and in other settings and talking about it.
And I had a collection of thoughts and tactics and micro steps that I had assembled over the years. And as a consultant, maybe you can relate to this too, I've both been a full-time staff person at nonprofits and been a consultant for 19 years. What makes that, it provides a unique perspective because I've seen how so many different nonprofits treat their staff, approach their work, take care of themselves, take care of others.
So to make a long and rambling story short, I realized that I had the makings of a book that had evolved naturally and organically. So then I sat down to create something that looked and felt like me, and Reflected my unique perspective. I used a bunch of things I'd written over the years, but also added some additional content, particularly in the area of there's a section of the book called, whose Job is It Anyway, where I talk about how staying well and strong and resilient as a nonprofit professional should not just be on the shoulders of the individual professionals, but.
Nonprofits themselves, the leadership of these organizations have a responsibility to create a culture that honors wellness. So I added some new content about that. I also added some worksheets and checklists and things like that. I do a lot of training as well in my consulting practice and my training based on I have a masters in teaching in museum education, which is very interactive.
So my training is very interactive. People are talking, they're writing, they're working. So I knew I didn't wanna have a book that was just Words on a page. I wanted to create something that could be that everyone could customize for themselves, as their own personalized guidebook towards wellness.
So I think that answers your question. Those are the things that moved me to do this and, and in short, realizing that. At the same time, there was this conversation bubbling up in the zeitgeist, in the nonprofit world. It was also so much a part of who I am and what I'd been talking about and thinking about for years.
Carol: I mean the, the, the challenge of burnout of unhealthy cultures within organizations have, have, have been there for years. And then I think we're just amplified and. . I guess amplified by, by the pandemic and all the changes and the, multi, multiple stressors that were going on. I, I say that in the past tense as, as if it's over, but that, that hap , that have been happening.
And so, and, and at the same time there's been so much conversation about that and, the, the many, many. it's in, in the news all the time around wellness and, and self care. And I feel like especially in the nonprofit sector, there's a lot of skepticism about it. How do we have time for it?
And, and what, what are some of the approaches that you've found possible to really integrate into your routine or found particularly
Lauren: helpful? you mean on a personal level? Just keeping myself the
Carol: We start at the personal level and then we can, move from there.
Lauren: I have always been good at professional boundaries.
So , when I worked in organizations, for example, I left the office at. five 30 ish every day, which is pretty unusual in the DC area. But I also, when I work, work very intensively, so I'm not somebody who spends half their day hanging out at the water cooler. When I work, I really have my head down to work.
On some level, there's a price to pay for that in organizations, in terms of personal relationships or whatever. Not that any of my personal relationships were bad, but it's sort of the same thing as , when women don't go out and play golf on the golf course with the CEO, there's missed opportunities.
But for me it was worth it. I was just telling someone the story of when I used to work in this office . I like to, before I leave every day, clean off my desk, sort of put my papers and files and make my desk look neat cuz I didn't like coming into a messy office. And one of my colleagues said to me, you really shouldn't do that because people aren't gonna think you're busy.
So I would purposefully leave a mess. And then you have to sort of step back and. What is wrong with us, is that this is the culture that we've created. So back to your original question: yes, I have always been good at boundaries. I also observe the Jewish Sabbath, which is from sundown Friday, the sundown Saturday, and I don't work then.
So, That has always been a boundary that's been really helpful for me to, like, I, I know there's gonna be 24 hours when I don't work, and people who work with me know that. I just had a client the other day who asked me to do something very last minute, and I literally sent it to her at like 4 45 on Friday, something I was writing, and then she was gonna work on it over the weekend and she wrote back and said, oh, so were you available to work on this on the weekend or not until Monday? And I said not until Monday, and I didn't need to give her a big speech about why the answer was not until Monday.
So I think part of it is setting some clear boundaries and knowing that if I don't do that, my work is going to suffer. I also sort of do as I say, not as I do, or that whole, like the cobbler has no shoes.
I was feeling pretty overwhelmed about two weeks ago. A lot of professional and personal stuff going on, and then I said to myself, wait a minute, when's the last time I did my gratitude writing? When's the last time I sat down to work on a crocheting project? When's the last time I went for a walk in the middle of the day?
And I realized that even after just one day of doing a couple of those things, not all of them, that I did feel better. Sometimes I worry that all of these practices become a big to-do list, right? And then they become a burden and a stressor. So I have to give myself permission to pick and choose. So I have figured out things over the years.
Center me, calm me, make me feel good, and help give me the mental clarity that I need to do my work. And it's okay not to do all of them. Like it's okay if I just go for a walk today. It's okay for me, and not everybody has this freedom, but it's okay for me to take a 30 minute work break. and crochet because it really calms me and relaxes me and slows down my central nervous system.
And if that means I work a little later in the evening, so be it. So those are a few of the, a few of the things that I do. And I also think I, I wonder if you find this too, at this point in my career, it's different from what I was earlier in my life. If I have a difficult conversation with a client or if someone critiques my work or just does something that annoys me, I'm able to separate that from who I am.
What am I saying? So I think there was a time where, if I wrote a proposal for someone and then they sent it back to me and said, oh, I don't really like this. I don't really like that. Let's scratch this, let's scratch that. I would get really bent out of shape about it. Not to them, but like, the cartoon bubble over my head
And, and now I just, oh, well that's my work. That's not. But that I think is, some people maybe are naturally like that, but I think that comes with time. What about you? What are your, do you have strategies around this?
Carol: , I mean, one you mentioned was the, the gratitude practice, and a couple years ago I started using a, a daily planner that's, I think, I don't know, the company's like best self or something.
And I've since adapted it and, and just use a blank one to, to to do the same thing. But I do always find that my days are better if I start with that. It takes. 10 minutes. . One step is just taking a look at the schedule. What have you got on setting your goals? Like what are the top three things you're gonna try to get done today, but then also what are three things that you're grateful for?
And in reading your book, I appreciated that you went too much. You get much more in depth of your gratitude. Sometimes I'm just like sunshine, a really good cup of coffee and good sleep. And that's all I write.
Lauren: I think you just hit my top three actually. Oh, add chocolate. Then we'd hit there.
Carol: I think it's been easier to integrate some of these things since I've been outside of organizations.
But even when I was working inside organizations and even early in my career, like the first 15 years of my career when I was a single mom, I mean, one of the things I would do was I was a very early bike commuter because it was a cheap form of transportation. Mm-hmm. It provided me with exercise.
and it provided me with some, a little bit of alone time and like a transition from work, right? Mm-hmm. And luckily I've never had an accident since. There was no bike infrastructure at that time. Back in the nineties
Lauren: I hope you were wearing a helmet at least.
Carol: Oh, of course I was. Yes, I was doing that.
But even then, just, just prioritizing. So for me, some form of exercise, some form of mindfulness, doing some meditation, even if it's just I take a, after my shower laying down for five minutes and just breathing. Mm-hmm. And then with a little more flexibility of being able to manage my own schedule I've just become much more mindful about different things. About what energy level I need for different activity levels, different activities, right. And trying to structure my time around that. I think there's a little bit of an illusion that when you work for yourself, you have complete control, but you don't,
Lauren: no. It's like you have 10 bosses.
Right, right, right.
Carol: You're working with lots of people and their expectations and, and all of that. But, those are some of the things that work for me.
Lauren: , what you're reminding me of also, and I wonder if you found this to be true. I don't like to talk about pandemic silver linings because the pandemic is tragic.
But one change in my work life that I appreciate is I feel like per, maybe particularly in fundraising it's become a little less performative. In other words, when you talked about energy, how much energy to devote to things, you were reminding me of this. I don't feel like I have to be on as much.
And I think the pandemic did that because everyone was at home on Zoom and you would hear things, like, oh, sorry, my baby's crying. My cat just jumped on me. My, there's a, someone at the door, my internet's not working. Well, whatever the case may be. I. I think that people have given each other a little more grace and don't feel like they have to put on quite as much of a show, but I, I don't know, maybe that's just my experience.
Carol: I think that's definitely the case. It's just the, a little more acknowledgement that as you said at the very beginning, that you wanted your personal life and your work life to align that, that everybody has. and that they aren't as quite as neat and separate as we might have tried to pretend before.
Lauren: . I was listening to a podcast yesterday. It was an interview with Natasha Leon, who's an actress, and she was saying that as she gets older, she realizes we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus. you get, you don't get as mad anymore when other people don't do things perfectly because we're all just a bunch of buffoons on the bus.
We're all just trying to figure it out, for goodness sake.
Carol: Absolutely. I remember when I was managing younger staff and, and I think coming out of the education system has become more and more and more structured and there's more and more support, scaffolding and rubrics and all these things.
There was an expectation of like, well, the work world should be like that too, and I know we're, or, or what are the best practices? And , sure, you wanna learn those. You wanna learn from others and at the same time, Honestly, we're all making this up every day. We get up and, and live
Lauren: get some stuff done. Oh,
Carol: That's what's happening. That's all, it's a constant improv, right? I mean, that's essentially what life is. Oh
Lauren: my gosh, that's such a good quote. It's constant improv. It really is. It
Carol: really is. So one of the things you talked about that I'd love to go back to is the idea of passion exploitation.
Lauren: Oof. I just heard this term for the first time I don't know, maybe a month ago or six weeks ago. And again, it feels like all these conversations are just in the zeitgeist right now. So, I don't know. Maybe I have good timing for the first time in my life, but it's this idea. Oh, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're not paid well, you're working for a nonprofit, so you shouldn't mind if you're, overworked and you don't have enough staff people to do this job that you've been told to do, and the expectations are really unfair, and you haven't taken a day off in a month.
You are getting to live your passion, so you shouldn't mind about these things. The broken
Carol: chair, the computer, that doesn't work
Lauren: a hundred percent and it is so exploitative and manipulative and I think people are pushing back. But I do, as much as I, as a Gen Xer, have issues with millennials, and, and younger, I think they are the ones who are standing up and saying, Uhuh, that's, this is not okay.
Carol: I'd have to give it to my, my daughter's generation and, and my nieces and nephew's, generation Millennials and, and gen Z . Gen Z of . We're not, we're not gonna take this anymore
Lauren: and appreciate, and the words of Quiet was that Quiet Riot or Twisted Sister. We're not gonna take this anymore.
And there's just. Patience for this stuff. And I think that as people become more aware of systemic inequities, particularly over the last couple of years with the Black Lives Matters movement, even #MeToo, to a degree, there's also a recognition of. How much of that nonsense is tied up in systemic inequities and people who have always had to fight these battles of, of, of exploit.
We understand more about what exploitation is and the forms, the insidious sort of gaslighting forms that it can take.
Carol: I feel like I'm seeing that across many, many helping professions. there's so many pieces of systemic inequity that are built into how all of those systems work.
Mm-hmm. Whether it's teachers or nurses, social workers, folks in the nonprofit sector the expectation that because you're helping people and because there's that inherent What is the word I'm looking for? Not validation, but gratification. She'll feel good about it. . .
That, that, that you also then don't actually need to be paid. We only need to pay the people whose life, whose work is. Sucking the life outta them.
Lauren:. Right. And I think that's really backwards. Yes. I write about this in the book too, that, yes, when you decide to work in nonprofits, I mean there's an understanding you're gonna make less money than some other people, but there's, there should not be an implicit understanding that you can't pay your kids' tuition, you can't go on a vacation, you can't buy a cute pair of shoes or get a massage.
You should be able, you certainly should be able to do the basics and you should be able to do a little more than the basics, particularly if you've been in this, in your career path for a while. I think where people get a little annoyed maybe with some younger generations is when they ex, when they expect this stuff without putting in the time.
I once read something about sort of millennials versus Gen X, which is me and maybe you that there is this assumption around. More vacation time, job titles, things like that. The Gen Xers in this study had more expectation around having to earn that over, bec through work result time, whatever the case may be.
Whereas millennials maybe came in with more of that expectation. But in any event, You shouldn't have to give up a good life to work for a good cause. Right. And I also, something else I write about in the book is that I think the donors should care about this because if donors are supporting a nonprofit, and that nonprofit is churning through workers.
The workers are overwhelmed, stressed out, quitting, quiet, quitting. Another term I heard recently was, I think it was minimum effort Monday or something like that. If this is what's going on at the nonprofits you're supporting, you should be concerned about that. And I think as organizations, I think organizations can't really say that they're being the most responsible steward.
of donors' funds if they're not taking care of their staff, because by taking STA care of the staff, they are maximizing those donations.
Carol: . It really goes to that overhead myth. An organization is more effective if. almost all of its funds are going directly into program, not recognizing what it actually takes to create the and support those programs
Lauren:.I've seen that turnaround somewhat in among foundations over the last decade or so. I don't know about that turnaround, I don't know if it's happening among individuals. I was having a conversation with a foundation officer just yesterday. And they were telling me about an organization.
I don't know anything about them. I'm not endorsing them. I've never spoken to them, but I think it's called Fund the People. And it's about spreading this message of making sure you're investing in the staff because the staff are the ones who are making it happen.
Carol: . We talked about our individual approaches to self-care and, and prioritizing that. But as you mentioned at the beginning, it's not just the job of the individual, even though in. Us individualistic culture, we often have the solutions trickle down to the poor individual to take care of it all. But , I, I've heard it framed as organizations need to, there's personal boundaries that you need to set, but then organizations need to set what this personnel find their, their name called guardrails that That support those personal boundaries so that it is the norm that you're not working over the weekend or that, There's not an expectation that you're answering emails after hours or, those kinds of things, or that, the organization is investing in people's skill building, professional development taking time together to do learning and, and reflection.
Lauren: . To be honest with you, I haven't seen a lot of nonprofits that do that. Well, I'd love to hear about more of them that do that. Well, one thing I think I say in the book is, Fri, it's not just Friday yoga. Like it's not enough to just slap Friday Yoga into the schedule and say, well, we're done with wellness.
Not that Friday. Yoga isn't great. I love Friday Yoga, and I'm just picking on Friday yoga at the moment. But the idea is it has to be, Part of the culture. I think that the leadership, the C-suite, however your organization is organized, has to lead the way on that, as does the board. So the C-Suite has to be committed to not.
Working on the weekends also. And that's not easy for a lot of people at that level. And sometimes it's not realistic. It's sort of a chicken of the egg. Like I don't have enough people on staff to not work on the weekends, but I wanna not work on the weekends, so my staff doesn't feel like they have to do that.
So I understand that it's easier said than done. One thing I also talk about in the book is, and I guess it's related to the passion exploitation piece too. When you're working at a nonprofit, sometimes you can feel pretty far removed from the actual work depending on what your job is. And you need to stay connected to the cause, the work, the clients, the people.
So for example, when I worked at the Holocaust Museum, People the US Holocaust Memorial Museum here in DC people used to say to me, oh gosh, isn't it a hard place to work? It must be so hard. And I would say, it's an office. We talk about recipes and share about our weekends. I'm not, my desk is not in the middle of the permanent exhibition.
And, and so we worked in a separate office building than the museum, and sometimes it did feel disconnected, so I started volunteering as a tour guide at the museum. There are certain groups, like school groups and, and police groups that would get tours and it, I didn't have to take time. I didn't have to make up the time with my job.
I did it. I wanna say I gave tours maybe twice a month or something, but it was during my workday and there was no problem with that. I think that was a good example. So for example, I think if, let's say a nonprofit is some sort of environmental group, I don't think it's enough for the executive director to say, To staff.
Oh . You should make the time, like once a month to go and see this watershed that we're working on. It's really inspiring. No, the director and the COO or whatever should be doing that on the regular. They should be making time in the regular workday for the staff to go do that. They should be facilitating it.
Carol: There's so many benefits of that. It's not only, if you do it together it's not only reconnecting or connecting people really directly to the mission, but , it can also serve as, as team building it. it gets people.
Interacting in a different way. maybe bringing some cross-functional groups together to do something like that. But I think that modeling is so important. So, I mean, I think Friday, Friday yoga or Wednesday Lunch yoga is a great place to start. . As long as when , there was one organization where I was working where they did have that and they collaborated with a couple different organizations in the same building to sponsor it.
So staff from all sorts of different groups were coming down, and doing it. But every once in a while you'd, you'd come back and, Have to go to the bathroom to change out of your yoga clothes. And then Right. The, senior leader would look at you like, where have few been?
And I'm like, okay, that's not healthy
Lauren:. Oh, I thought you were gonna talk about how you don't want your colleagues to see you in yoga pants, which I also completely understand. Well, there is that , not you particular, I mean, anybody, I. Gym is in the office. I don't want anyone to see me showering, after I go to the gym with colleagues.
And you remind me of another point that makes this I think, I hate to say it makes it tricky cuz I don't wanna make it sound harder than it is. But it's something to keep in mind. For some people the last thing they wanna do is yoga with a colleague, the last thing they wanna do is participate in a brown bag.
Lunch. Lunch is their sacred time. They want to eat quietly at their desk and read their book and that's okay. So there has to be some flexibility. and understanding that what fills up one person drains another person. And, either it needs to be okay for people to participate, not participate, or participate in a way that makes sense for them, and that feels good for them.
Carol: , for sure. And, and, but as, as you said, it's also important to . I think that the the place where people get frustrated when they see these, top 10 lists of the things to do for self-care and, and, the eye roll start is one more thing to do, one more thing to do, or, or the creating the impression that that, that this is easy and it isn't.
But I think the investment and the intention around it can really pay off in a. really important ways. . For the overall effectiveness and mission of the organization.
Lauren: . I mean, my hope is with the book and just in general, that even if it doesn't feel easy to figure out how to start doing these things or to get in the habit of making time for it, it can still be done with ease.
, that it doesn't feel like a burden and something else you have to do. It doesn't feel like a struggle. And what you are doing to feel. If it doesn't feel like you can do it with ease, I would suggest that maybe you could find something else.
Carol: , and I think that's an important one because it's not something that is much valued in our culture.
I feel like the first time I've even. interacted with the notion of having ease in, in, in anything was was in doing. And I'm not, like, people would not look at me and say, oh, I, I'll bet she does yoga. No, yoga or, or meditation where that sense of just giving yourself grace and, and, and not pushing, not you.
Jane Fonda approach to . . Exercise . . . But approaching things with ease.
Lauren: , . Ease. What's that? I mean, we're not, we're not conditioned to believe that that's okay. And also it gets back to nonprofit culture. ? I think there's this notion of, it's, it's really like the passion exploitation conversation.
Like it shouldn't be easy. I mean, you are working on really difficult things. I'm not. That you don't work hard at whatever you're doing, but can you find a sense of ease in what you're doing, whether it's a wellness practice or just work in general? Like it, it doesn't have to be, and it shouldn't have to be torturous, and we shouldn't have a culture where we're saying, if you're not running yourself into the ground, you're not doing it right.
If your desk doesn't look messy, you're not doing it right. I mean, that's the culture we need to have.
Carol: , absolutely. Well, at the end of each episode, I like to play a game where I ask one random icebreaker question from a box of icebreaker questions that I have. So you literally have a box right there.
I literally have a box. Yep. I love it. So what important truth do very people very few people agree with you on what, what would be an important truth that few people agree with
Lauren: you? Orange juice is gross. I don't like pulp . Nobody agrees with me on that. I know it's very un-American to not like orange juice. But what can I tell you? I don't. What is something more important or valuable that other people don't agree with me on? Oh my gosh. It's hard for me to think of something cuz I unfortunately surround myself with a lot of people who tend to agree with my general outlook on life.
what? I love crappy tv. I love reality tv. I love watching The Real Housewives and seeing those dingbats argue with each other about stupid. Makes me feel better about my problems, and I think some people say, oh, just rot your brain. It's the worst. You should throw your TV out the window. God, I, I just, I love it.
I really do. I love it. And that is okay, and I should not have to feel ashamed about that. And I, it's also, I can love the Real Housewives and all that other junk, and I can still read really great books and go to museums and do beautiful things. In fact, my daughter and I are bringing this new show.
It's not new, new to us right now called Married At First Sight. Like on some level after I watch it, I feel like I have to take a shower. Like it's unbelievable that we're watching this show, but there is something about just looking at it and, and it prompts conversations between me and my daughter. And so much of it is silly and cringey.
And if that releases me from my day-to-day worries, then so be it.
Carol: , it gives you a, gives you a little sense of ease, I would say. . And, and that idea that, I mean, especially in DC we can take ourselves way too seriously. So, no, no. The idea that highbrow and lowbrow culture can, can coexist in one person.
I love that
Lauren:. Oh, I love me some lowbrow. Love it.
Carol: So what's coming up in your work? What's emerging?
Lauren: Good stuff actually. I've been asked to do a bunch of training virtually with some, virtually some in person. But, the pandemic really opened a lot of virtual opportunities for me, so that's good.
And talking about the book, doing some interviews around that and just lots of writing, which I love. I love doing the writing, whether it's grant writing or case statement writing or just, general. Organizational writing needs. I love all of that. So that's the latest, really.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Lauren: Thank you. I loved our conversation. I'm so grateful that you invited me and included me among all your great guests. So thanks so much.
Carol: I appreciated Lauren’s point around self care and wellness not just being the responsibility of the individual staff person or volunteer – it is on the organization and the organization’s leadership to create a culture that values wellness. And this can be such a challenge because it is often leaders who are modeling over work and always being on. And even if they are setting up policies to support wellness and are saying to staff – take care of yourselves. If leadership does not do it themselves, all that is for naught. We explore this dynamic from multiple angles in my two part episode series on creating healthy organizational cultures – episodes 62 and 63.
I also appreciated Lauren’s explanation of the concept of passion exploitation. That we should feel lucky to work in a sector where we get to work towards our passion – where as Lauren described – her values in her personal life and work life can align. [And that] because of that we should be willing to put up with low pay, poor working conditions, and unreasonable expectations. The broken office chair and hand me down computers. Thinking about this dynamic and the fact that 75% of nonprofit workers are women. There are so many assumptions built into the sector that start with its origins. Many helping professions started with the wives of middle class and wealthy men who wanted to contribute outside the home – yet did not need to be comparably compensated for their labor since their material needs were already taken care of. This was never fully the case as Dr. Orletta Caldwell pointed out on our last episode – episode 71 – but I do believe it informs structures and assumptions that got built into the beginnings that we are still living with today. Another precursor could also be the vow of poverty many in religious orders that served the poor made as part of their religious life. The cultural assumption that money is somehow immoral and to do go, you cannot include money colors our current struggles around paying people living wages and more, in the sector.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lauren Brownstein, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Graze of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 71 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Dr. Orletta Caldwell discuss:
Dr. Caldwell is a passionate and qualified educator and nonprofit management specialist. Caldwell brings more than 30 years of administrative and leadership experience to the CEO of Beyond Existing Enterprises. Highlights of a stellar and diverse career include Executive Director, Camp Baber, and Assistant Professor at Grand Rapids Community College. She has served in many professional and volunteer capacities, including Tech Soup, the Community Development Advocates of Detroit (CDAD), Metro Detroit Council of Christian Churches, Urban Renewal Commission for the city of Colorado Springs, Colorado; Board Member/Secretary, Association of Gospel Rescue Missions and the Southfield Downtown Development Authority for Southfield, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Public Affairs from Wayne State University, Master of Science in Management from Cardinal Stritch, and Ph.D. in Public Policy & Administration specializing in Nonprofit Management from Walden University.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Orletta Caldwell. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Orletta and I talk about her work with African- American led community-based organizations. We explore the specific challenges these organizations face, what folks need to be aware of when they shift from being a project to being an organization, and why it is so key to understand that even as founder you do not “own”
Welcome, Orletta. Welcome to Mission Impact. Thank you. So I'd like to get started with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you? And what would you say is your why?
Dr. Orletta Caldwell: My why? I grew up. In a black church, save a community, help people that are worse off to you. I have been truly blessed in my life and I've just always wanted to give back, and that's my why. And one of my reasons is funny. I'm not interested in being in the front so much, like, president of this or that, but it was always more to provide resources so people can do what they want. Better. So that's been my wife for a long time.
Carol: I love that. I also am more of a behind the scenes person, so when I describe my work, I describe it as I help the helpers mm-hmm. I'm multiple steps away from whatever help is being done. But, helping them do their work better is where I can then see impact.
Orletta: And that, and that's always been my thing. It. Putting those tools together, coming out of a process, but making other people be able to do their jobs better. So that's why.
Carol: You and I both do capacity building with nonprofits, but you really focus specifically on African American led organizations. What are, what are some of the specific opportunities or, or challenges that those organizations face?
Orletta: Well, traditionally in the research shows, they always say they're smaller and have less access to money. And I had one guy who was at his clinic, it was his workshop, and he said, we're not grassroots. We're mud roots. We don't even have enough money to get grass. And that's. What I've seen so many times, and it's always because they may not know what's going on, and I've always wanted to be this bridge to say it. It even led me to go for my PhD to find out what's going on in the nonprofit sector and take it back to my people, my community. And that's why I've focused on them. I'll work with anybody, but I've focused on African American nonprofits for that.
Carol: What are some of the things in terms of building that bridge that you're helping folks gain connection to or access to?
Orletta: A lot of it is compliance issues, filling out that paperwork knowing that that paperwork should be filled out and it's not so much. If you don't fill out the paperwork, bad things are gonna happen. Sometimes I'm like, because you don't have this proper paperwork, the good things can't happen. You don't have access to the grants and the funding that you could have. You miss out on little things. People don't check your credibility. So I'm really into helping nonprofits stay compliant and making sure you understand the rules. Filling out the charitable solicitation paper. Don't let a $275 fee stop you from getting a 501C3 that can open up opportunities for your mission.
Carol: Because I can imagine folks might start something and it's really more of an informal project or initiative. And, they may not be aware of those steps. So what are some of the steps that people need to be aware of? And this certainly in the US context of to shift from just a, a passion project or to, to really becoming an organization.
Orletta: Well, one thing, I live in Michigan and I'm like, just get your, they don't really understand. Once you get your articles of incorporation from the state of Michigan, for example, you're truly a nonprofit corporation, and now we can work on your tax exemption status, which you have 24 months to do, and they don't really understand that, so they're paying out of their pocket. A lot of them, again, when they file for the incorporation papers, they're incorporated. They don't realize they have 24 months where it can still be considered tax deductible donations to them because you have the intent to file for your tax exemption and so they lose 24 months. Of money they could be receiving, cuz they're like, well we're not, they don't think they're a real nonprofit until they get to 5 0 1 So it's those little, niggling things like that. And then my favorite one is the Founder's Syndrome. They think that this was my dream. I thought of it, I ran it. And when I come into a class and say, we don't run, you don't own a nonprofit. That's not how it's set up. That, that, those are interesting conversations. So it's those little things, and those little things. Having a real budget, planning for that, having a board that's gonna actually help you and not just grab your family and your friends. Those are the things, and it's the small things, but it keeps them from having the impact that they can have.
Carol: I don't know that they're that small necessarily. I think there is a lot of misconception about this notion of being a corporation, but that a nonprofit can't be owned by an individual. Can you say more about that?
Orletta: I always tell 'em that the nonprofit system, what I do with my, I teach a nonprofit management series course I wrote, and one of the things I, every time somebody wants to say, Or get into that groove of I'm the owner of my nonprofit, and it's like no, you are you doing this on behalf of society. The reason the nonprofit sector was set up is that you're supposed to be, you're doing it on behalf of society, and if you do it on behalf of society as a reward, we exempt you from your corporate income taxes. But that's, since you're doing it, it's a higher level of standard. We have to make sure that you're doing that and you're not what we call, getting personal gain from the quote unquote profits. And so we, I'm saying, I always try to pull my students back to, why are you doing this? Because you can be nice and not run, start a nonprofit corporation, and I always tell 'em that too. So if you're doing this, you're doing it on behalf of society as such. There's certain rules. And one thing is you don't own a nonprofit. And actually the board is the stewards on behalf of society to make sure that you're running that organization correctly. And that's how I put it to them so they can understand, foundationally what we're trying to do here. And we're not saying you gotta go. We're just saying, you can't take those funds and have a good party.
Carol: It's a whole notion of being a fiduciary for the board or being a steward of those resources on behalf of, of society, of the larger society community. Which I think. Is that a thing? Gap where people not, may not realize, the intent and the purpose of the non, the tax exemption
Orletta:. there's a little, so many misconceptions about the nonprofit sector. So I just, I just chuckle and smile and it's like, okay, we're gonna get through. I had one student, she cracked me up. She's one of my best students and she's getting grants and everything now, but she was just like, but this is my concept. What do you mean? Can my board let me go? Oh, yes, the board runs it. That's the way they are set up. So a lot of them, and it's a lot of that information. If they, if a person doesn't know it, they just don't be, they don't run the organization correctly. And so I really try to work with that.
Carol: You talked about having a real board, not just pulling your friends and family. Can you say a little bit more about that as people are getting started?
Orletta:. What typically do they do? Cuz this is what I always heard. Can I put my husband and my daughter and my cousin in and I'm like, okay, you can legally yes. However, The board is the people that are supposed to look out for your mission. They're the one. So when you out of organization may be having money issues, it's the board that's supposed to help you get that money. So I'm like, why don't you use those purposes, find somebody who has connections, find somebody who has money, find somebody who has expertise, maybe some accounting expertise or different things that you need to run? Increase the impact of your nonprofit and what a lot of people do when you get your friends, that's what you got, your friends, and then again, you feel like you're the founder cuz you're pulling the whole organization on your back instead of getting some people that can support you and grow the mission. Everything should focus on the. I, that's why I don't like nonprofit terms so much. I always prefer mission based cuz everything we should do emanates from the mission and you should have boards that's going to push and impact that mission together with you and not you got people cuz you gotta fill it out on a form.
Carol:. And that whole question of like, who are you pulling in? I mean, certainly people are gonna start with their network, but thinking a little more strategically about, what skills do we need? What competency, what social capital do we need to move this mission forward? I was working with an organization once where it was essentially. One person was running the organization and the board was made up of a group of college friends. And I think it was fine for the first couple years they were excited, but over time, people became disengaged and because they had friendships, the, the, oftentimes groups are already conflict averse, but it made it even more so because they were not gonna just lose them. They were putting the not wanting to harm their relationships as friends, Over what they needed to hash out as a board. And so they really got stuck, mm-hmm. And so, it may be easy. It seems easy, but It also makes it hard to bring in new people, right? Because if you have a subset that really knows each other and they've known each other for the last 15 years or whatever to be able to come in as a new person, how long are you gonna last? If you don't feel like you're actually part of the group, so, Coming on as a board member for the organization versus I'm doing you this, doing you a favor because you've started this thing. It has a really different motivation.
Orletta: It does. And again, it takes the focus, it puts the focus on the founder and the mission. Right, and I think that's the key thing when you really, I find, when you really think about what is this mission, what are we trying to do here? That focus, if you focus on that, it just changes how you make decisions.
Carol: What are some ways that you found seeing people be successful about getting out beyond just their friends and family to build a board that is really gonna move the mission forward?
Orletta: I even recommended people to who, who's volunteering with you. That really is. Into what you're doing. Those are potential board members. And then I said, you can even put on like indeed.com or even some of the free, I know in Detroit we have like a board. I can't, my brain is like an internet listing or something. So if you're looking for a board member, you can put it on there. And I said, it's fine to find a stranger. You may find a stranger. That's so, that's so much more into your. Thank you. So I, I say, see those people that's donating to you and they don't, you, you barely know what you're talking about yourself, but they're helping you. That's a good board member. That's somebody who's really into what you're doing and really into you too, if you wanna, if you wanna have a good relationship with them. So those are the things I say, find people who's into the mission and wanna
Carol: be, and they're there for, the purpose versus just the person.
Orletta: We're, I know we're a very individual driven sector, but, I think we do need to look at what's the mission. So those are the kinds of things I think about, like who are good board members.
Carol: So you're in the process right now of working on a book about the history of African American organizations. Can you give us a few, I know it's not finished yet, you're probably who knows how, I'm not sure how far along you are, but any, any interesting things that you're researching right now that are coming up and bubbling up?
Orletta:. This is my dissertation. I got my PhD at 20. I earned it in 2021. I was looking at
Orletta: Thank you. I was looking at what keeps, what do African American leaders do to sustain successful nonprofits. But part of my literature review when my chair said, I need you to. On the history of African American and his non-profit history. And here I am, I studied this stuff and all this, and I scoffed and I remember reading that memo and thinking what, what history? And it was just ridiculous. But that was the first thing I thought. And it was even worse because I grew up African Methodist Episcopal, that's the first African American. Over, I think there've been since 1787. So I'm like, what are you talking about?, the Free African society. So as I was looking into this and I was writing this literature review, there was an organization, I think it was the Massachusetts Negro Bureau and I wish I can remember the name, but I know they started in 1693 and that was you. Over 400 years ago, and they've been running, they were running, their mission was to help their enslaved brothers and sisters. And that's when I'm like, we've been doing this. We've been doing this. While enslaved, we've, through reconstruction, civil rights or whatever. And so I talk, I'm talking to a book editor right now. We're hashing out what we're doing and he wants to call it the Invisible History of African-American Nonprofits. And it's been like, for me, it's been like a faith journey too. It's sobering. But hearing li reading these stories and researching stories of these people, Who could have just said, forget it, you're on your own. And it always came back for the community and Randy's organizations and some of these organizations are still in existence cuz I'm looking from 1693 through civil rights. And that's where the book is gonna span from. And that whole entire time there's been pivotable figures and organizations that kept doing the work to keep the community.
Carol: That’s amazing to be able to really bring that history to the fore and that, that the length of that legacy that it's always been there. Yes. It's always been there. It may not have been celebrated, but it's always been there. That's amazing. I'll look forward to it, when it gets published. But you also talked about With your, with your work, with your PhD around what makes African American leaders successful, so what were some of the things that really helped people move forward, bottom line, line, once it got beyond some of the stuff that you're talking about, of that and getting beyond the basics of really being able to succeed.
Orletta: Beyond the bottom line, they persist. I mean, even with the lack of money, the smaller ones. But one thing I found out cuz I, what I wanted to make sure, academically, cuz they always, it was always like some of the research tried to say is we didn't have to have particular skills intrinsically as, black people. And I'm like, okay, I know that's not true. That's stupid. So let me, so I want to find out, what do successful nonprofit leaders across the sector do? Well, they get training, they build boards. They build a team around them. And then I looked at what these African Americans were doing. I had interviews. They did the same thing. And not only did they do the foundational things they knew they needed to do to be successful, build better boards, build a team. But because of one interview in particular, she was telling me how, she got a grant from the state and the program manager didn't think they were worthy of it cuz it was a black organization. So how much harder she worked to make sure that all the dots were crossed and everything was done correctly so that they couldn't say this organization C couldn't do it because that's what she had, had to deal with. They knock on doors hard, more, they have, because we, that's one of the things we don't have access to the boards and foundations like our counterparts. So they knock on more doors. I always tell my students you have to go to functions and you just gotta talk and talk and talk and talk, more and you have to do more. The one thing I did find there is an innate loneliness. Hmm. Because often the community that you're fighting, To serve, don't understand what you're doing, and they'll fight against you, while you're fighting for them. Plus, they're being bridges. They can't just do their job. They have to be a bridge, on behalf of a, a whole group or community, and a lot of times to get into those stores to get the money. So it's a. They have a heavier lift, but they do persist. All nine of them persist. And I interviewed nine people. The one thing I found was this was their second career. Mm, all of them. It was like, so you are interested. Can just retire and go home and say, forget this. Which is always, it's been a trade in the nonprofit field, but none of them came in as nonprofit leaders or anything like that. They just saw a need and I looked at what we call a social contract. Socially, I think it's contract theory, Bandura. And it was something innate in them from their community that they learned that I have to give them myself. And so that was a trade I saw over and over. I have to give of myself, not of my wealth. Black philanthropy is not given of our wealth, it is given what we have, but giving of my time and talent and treasure to help the community as a collective. So you, I saw a lot of that too from that.
Carol: There's an organization that I'm aware of here in Maryland that I think is, it has goals to go national, but a black ed network, black executive director network for African-American nonprofit leaders, executive directors. And I think, anytime you're a leader of an organization, it can be lonely. Mm-hmm, but those particular challenges and to be able to come together and compare notes and, and help each other. Persist. When you get to the point where you're like, oh, I cannot knock on another door. I cannot do my little elevator pitch One more time. Colleagues can encourage you to step, get back up and, and move, keep going
Orletta:. we get a lot of microaggressions. it's that small thing when you go like, ugh, and they go like And you just talk, you don't even say a word and it's like, okay, get back out there. And, and, and that's encouraging. So, because it, it, it's a, I and a lot of them are tired. I can, I can see it. It's like, oh my god. ? So, but they just keep doing it. I have this one woman, she runs a garden program and she's teaching sixth graders. She should be sitting in her rocking chair having a good time, and she's trying to teach sixth graders that I don't even wanna be with to show them how to plant a garden so they can sustain their lives in this neighborhood that has food.
Carol: Excellent. Excellent. And, being able to bring the whole career experience to the sector, I think so, but then there is that gap, right? Of mm-hmm. Not knowing all the nuts and bolts about this particular sector, how things work, what's different about being in a for-profit business versus a nonprofit corporation, all those kinds of things. Yes. So appreciate that you're, you're addressing those items.
Orletta: That was my real goal. I mean, one, the, the great, one of the greatest things I feel I've accomplished is, is this, it's just a seven week course. I teach at community college, a local community college, but now I can do it virtually too. And it just, in seven weeks, we hit on every aspect of what it's gonna take to manage a nonprofit. So it's not like you're gonna be, I'm proficient now. I've got it. They come out with a one to two page blueprint for the organization. And so I've taught the class enough now that I've had students that use that blueprint. So now I have data. We love data. Yep. I have data to show that I know what I'm talking about. And if you put a good effort into this, you can get your nonprofit running and be compliant. And, some two of them have gotten grants and are working on programs. And I
Carol: I love that. It's just a one one to two page road roadmap? Keep, keep it simple. Keep it moving, right?
Orletta: Yes. That, and that was my thing. And when they do their presentation at the end, I only give them 15 minutes. I'm like, if you can't tell me in 15 minutes what you wanna do, you don't know what you wanna do. And they get frustrated, but it's like, no, you only need 15 minutes to tell me what you're gonna do. That's all you need. Right.
Carol: What are some other things that you found in your studies, beyond persistence? What were some other things that stood out?
Orletta: Is it for me? The difference between white philanthropy and black philanthropy. I did the presentation, I was at my job at TechSoup and I, we were an, they were asking me questions and how we can get African Americans, more leadership and stuff. And I was like, okay. And for somehow we got into this conversation about, philanthropy in general, and I said, you have to understand why philanthropy, and I don't wanna be critical, but basically it was a bunch of robber barons that, raped and pillaged the land and, gathered their resources, got rich, very wealthy, had to clean their past, and now they give their wealth and then their spouses had some jobs, they had something to do. I said, versus black philanthropy, we didn't have a massive wealth, we gave her what we had, washer, women, janitors, porters, gave off what they had and we gave it to us, the collective. And the one example I always use, I used to run camp Babe. That was the ame church's camp, the way that camp was. To be purchased was one of the members. The lady put a second mortgage on her home for $16,000 back in the forties, and that's how the AME church got that camp. So obviously it wasn't, she wasn't wealthy, she mortgaged her home. And so you can see the disconnect and the difference between how, when we look at philanthropy a lot of times, Organizations is to keep, literally keep our communities alive and fed. Like the one woman, I said Detroit is getting better, but we have some food deserts and she started a community garden and she lives in the neighborhood. Actually, this neighborhood I grew up in, it's the land of time and people have forgotten, but she's determined not to forget them. And so they're not, they don't have this proclivity. Community organs. D, she makes them, she actually runs Mimeographs almost and go up and down the street and make people show up for block club meetings. And she's out there in the summer with sixth graders when she should be at home, drinking lemonade, pushing people to keep their properties up and that stuff. So that was the thing I learned. It is just this, it's a life or death situation. One of my students was taking money out of her pocket to feed her. So now I've taught her how to get a domain and she's got all her paperwork now so she can have somebody help pay for this cuz she's literally feeding the children in her neighborhood during the summers. And then on holidays she does neighborhood dinners. Hmm. So, that's the kind of, those are the differences and the things that they're doing, and they do it on very little. Like when he the guy who worked for I o b, it, when he said mud groups, it really is, I mean, they're taking so much that muster seed of faith and just pushing it.
Carol: Well, thank you. Thank you for all you're doing. At the end of each episode, I ask an ice, a random icebreaker question from mm-hmm. A box of cards that I have to ask some questions about. So what would you say is an interesting tradition that your family has
Orletta: tradition interest? Oh. Or unique. My daughter and I, oh, my daughter and I, every time my daughter is an alumni at Michigan State University go green. We go, when they play Northwestern in Chicago, we've, for the last five or six years, we always go to that game. No matter how cold, how hot, whatever. No matter if the Spartans are doing well or not, we always go to that game. We spent a weekend in Chicago and we went to the game and we sang the fight song on the EL train with the rest of the things, and we acted very obnoxious. So it's just something we do, and it's like every other year. It's like, well, they're playing Northwestern again. Okay And we go. Awesome.
Carol: So what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Orletta: Well, the book is coming together and it's so funny imposter syndrome when a book editor is like, taking you seriously is talking about, I'm like, oh, so this is actually good. So I'm excited about that. Like I said, I like to be in the background, but I am being considered for ED for a role. So I'm, but it's, it impacts everything I've ever done in my life. So the mission is totally what I'm into. So lemme see if I'm well ready to go to the front again. But those are the things I'm excited about and my daughter moved back to. Oh, nice, nice, she's my only, so. Yep.
Carol: I've got an only daughter too, but she's trying to train right away, so.
Orletta: Good. Okay,
Carol:. All right, well thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast and I definitely once, once the book is out, we'll have to have you back and have another conversation about that history. I'm definitely interested to learn more. Okay,
Orletta: great. I love to talk about it. You can say I'm, I love, it's just been, it's been life changing, so I'm, I'm looking forward to it.
Carol: I appreciated Orletta’s reminder that no one owns a nonprofit organization. This is a basic concept but because both for profits and nonprofits in the US are organized as corporations it is easy to confuse the two. For nonprofit corporations, everyone involved – especially the board – is stewarding the resources for the good of the community. The mission or purpose of the organization that has a public benefit is why the organization is given certain privileges – tax exemption for example – or the ability for donations to be tax deductible. I also appreciated her tip for founders to get out beyond their friends and family as they recruit board members. Those folks might be easy to get involved with – but do they really want to be part of your organization to support the mission or to support you, the founder? Board members need to be recruited for their support of the mission and what time, talent and/or treasure they are going to bring to help you move your mission forward. I can’t wait until Orletta’s book on the history of African- American nonprofits and philanthropy comes out. I think it opens a lot of eyes to a history that has always been there but hasn’t been fully told.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Dr. Orletta Caldwell, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Riveria Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Values based strategic planning
In episode 70 of Mission: Impact, Carol goes solo to discuss:
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome to episode 70 of the Mission Impact Podcast. To mark this milestone. I'm going solo. 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.
Today I'm gonna talk about my favorite topic, strategic planning. It is the main thing that I do with organizations, and I often go on other people's podcasts to talk about it, but I don't always talk about it. So one thing I'd like to start with are what are the guiding principles that really undergird the way that I approach strategic planning?
The first is being collaborative. I really am looking for a way to help organizations create a shared understanding by bringing all of their stakeholders together in a meaningful way that brings their input, brings their voice into the process, and then enables a smaller group, usually the staff and board to collaborate to define what the organization's future is going to be. And that starts by, usually by looking back, taking stock of where you are currently, and then looking forward a couple years and saying, okay, given that our North star, our mission and our vision for what's different, what we want to be different in the world is this, what are the things that we need to focus on over the next couple years and put our energy towards, to move us closer to that?
I also take a strengths-based approach where I'm not looking to come in and assess them on all the things they're doing wrong that naturally will come up in the conversations. People will have ideas about what could be strengthened, areas for improvement, but really helping people recognize the strengths that they have as an organization.
What are the resources that they're building from? , Makes it a much more joyful and fun process, , to build on those strengths rather than only being focused on what needs to be fixed or what needs what, what, , needs to be addressed and through that participatory process. In addition to integrating that participation, I also want to focus on how we are bringing an equity lens?
How are we integrating the kind, the, the notion of equity into every step of the process? And with that, also bringing a cultural humility. There's a lot of talk about people building cultural competence, but I really appreciate the concept of cultural humility more. I think there's certainly some basic competence that people can build, but you're always, there's always gonna be blind spots.
There's always gonna be things that you don't know about a different culture, a different, whether it's at the, different individual. The organizational culture, the cultural context that organization is working with, the different cultures that are represented within the groups. And then with that equity lens, really making sure that, who's being represented in all of that, the gathering of information and the participation.
Create space for folks who don't have as much power, may not feel as comfortable speaking up to feel safe, feel so, feel safer in contributing their perspective, , into the process.
And building on that, I do wanna talk about a couple different misconceptions that I think people have about strategic planning.
And a few things that I've seen organizations get. Might be able to do better with, since I just talked about being strength-based, I was talking about getting wrong, but what they might, , think about or think about differently when they approach planning. And I think one of those major misconceptions, or maybe it's not even a misconception, maybe it was the conventional wisdom, some 10, 20, 30 years ago and, and is still in parts of the sector that the.
The board or the leadership team and the leadership team and the board is quite unquote the head of the organization. That's where strategy lives and I really see it as a partnership with the stakeholders of the organization. Definitely a partnership between board and staff to decide on what the future of the organization's gonna look like.
And that just because you sit at the board table, just because you are part of a leadership team, Anoint you somehow with a more strategic capacity than someone who works directly, at the front lines of your organization is more of an individual contributor. I really believe fundamentally that everyone can contribute to that bigger picture.
It may take some structure and some guided conversations, cuz I think it's not the natural place. Most people don't. naturally are in that strategic thinking mode, but you can bring people there through a series of guided conversations, which is the whole purpose of a strategic planning process and what a consultant can bring, to help people step into that strategic space and think longer term, bigger picture.
Fundamentally, when people have a part in creating the thing, they're much more likely to want to help move it forward. So that is essentially how you build buy-in. You build buy-in by having people at the table with you to create the plan. And then I think a big reason that folks choose not to do a strategic plan is that they may have been part of a process in the past that took a long time, took a lot of resources, and then was just a plan on the shelf.
Or perhaps today, more likely hidden in some folder on the computer and wasn't referenced again. It was, where's that Dropbox link to that document? , and nobody has it anymore, and, and it's not integrated into people's day-to-day work. And I did a workshop recently on strategic planning and I really appreciated some of the simple steps that participants talked about to mitigate this concern of how do we really integrate the plan into our work?
How do we implement, how do we do that failure to operationalize a plan is, is, can be just the biggest sticking point to many plans. And I think the first is probably the simplest, just having regular meetings about your progress on the plan. And there are a number of ways that that could, that could show up.
It could be a meeting specifically about the plan. It could be, an item on a, an agenda, , on at your regular meetings every, at a certain cadence. Maybe it's once a month, maybe it's not every, every. Meeting, but, but, at a, at a certain cadence that you agree on that makes sense for your organization.
And then, another suggestion that I thought was so important is, taking the time to celebrate, celebrate Progress, and celebrate those small wins. We're such an action oriented culture. We're such a move on to the next culture that we forget to take a breath and pat ourselves on the back and say, Look, we did this thing, we checked this thing off the list.
We've moved this, this, we've moved a little closer to this milestone. and let's celebrate in some way. I mean, the simplest way that I do this on a daily basis is that at the end of the day, the beginning of the day, I write a to-do list. At the end of the day, I write a to-do list. What did I do?
And for those implementations, really thinking about that, you've got your bigger plan, but thinking about, creating an implementation plan that's really with a shorter timeframe. your bigger picture plan, maybe at a three to five year timeframe. Three to five big goals that you're working towards, but then your implementation plan is either in three or six months or a year, whatever makes sense for your organization.
That really goes into who will do what by when. And I would add it's not just about measuring progress, it's also about having the time and space to consider what the goal means for the organizations. What are the implications? How are we interpreting? What adjustments do we make?
And there are four key questions when you put that thing on the agenda, when you put strategic planning on the agenda, or you wanna have a check-in meeting. Four key questions that I would offer you to use to frame that meeting would be, what have we done that we meant to do? In other words, what can we check off the list?
What, what progress have we made? What were things that we did that we did not plan to do, but we did and it had good results. The world is constantly changing and shifting. A new opportunity may have popped up. You took action on it. Celebrate that.
What did we plan to do? But we don't need to do it anymore. Things have shifted. We recognize that it doesn't, it no longer fits today's realities. What can we let go of? And is there anything we need to add to our plan given today's new realities? At each point we're saying, okay, where were we? Where have we come?
What's our current state? Where do we want to go and all the steps on where we want to go. Are they still fitting our current assessment of today's reality? And so those action steps that you may, may have set a year ago at that retreat, probably that's the part that's gonna get updated, on a continual basis because it will recognize that progress.
It will adjust to the new reality. And you'll have that living docent that we so often talk about and so infrequently actually implement. Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me. You can find the full transcript of this episode as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/show notes.
And I'd like to thank Isabelle Strauss Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of a hundred Ninjas for her production. And I would love it if you would take a minute or two to rate and review mission impact on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
It helps other people find the podcast and we definitely really appreciate it. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 69 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Jeanne Bell discuss:
Jeanne Bell is co-founder of JustOrg Design. She has consulted on nonprofit strategy and organizational change for over 20 years. Jeanne curates Nonprofit Quarterly's Leading Edge Program, recruiting and presenting nonprofit practitioners advancing more equitable nonprofit leadership practices. Previously, Jeanne led CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, one of the country's premier leadership and capacity-building organizations. While serving as CEO, Jeanne also chaired the board of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management, a national association of nonprofit capacity builders and academics. She currently serves on the boards of Community Works and Borealis Philanthropy. She has a Masters in Nonprofit Management from the University of San Francisco. Jeanne loves living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Jeanne Bell. 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.
Jeanne and I talk about how to integrate strategy and strategy implementation effectively into the structure of your organization. We explore how organizational systems, leadership, and structures can support or get in the way of implementing a strategy, why strategy isn’t just about what the organization does externally, and why having crisp and clear strategies help you be more agile, not less.
Welcome, Jean. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Jeanne Bell: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
Carol: I'd like to start out all my interviews with a question around what drew you to the work that you do. What would you say motivates you and what, what's your why?
Jeanne: My experience is that my why becomes clearer and clearer the older I get and the, and the early connections I can make to why that why was formed and how it was formed. I think I'm more conscious of them now in terms of the effect of my parents and the effect of growing up in San Francisco and the effect of doing a lot. Like class travel across class and different parts of my youth journey that I don't think I would've initially in my twenties or thirties associated with my why or my how, but now I do. But, I think the short answer is I, I grew up in a Jesuit tradition, my dad was in that. He obviously left, but was a teacher around a lot of teachers and, and around liberal arts. And by the time I got to Cal, I majored in ethnic studies and so there was something pulling me towards a justice lens and I immediately entered the nonprofit sector after college. And it just sort of organically unfolded from there. But I think the combination of growing up and growing up around. I don't wanna overstate it. I've had to unlearn a lot and learn a lot more, but, generally a justice orientation and a lot around education and teaching. And so I quickly found my way through nonprofits to capacity building and leadership development, which really feeds me. And now I do that pretty much exclusively in a justice framework.
Carol: Moving into that capacity building realm. if you then have the opportunity to combine that perspective of justice. And as you said, we're all having to unlearn a lot of things, a lot of unpack, a lot of assumptions that we might have come up with, but it enables you to combine that with that education perspective and helping people build their skills and their capacity to that ripple effect that that can have.
Jeanne: Exactly. I'm just, innately interested in organizational systems and processes and leadership and I'm committed to the end cause, but what feeds me in the day-to-day is helping the people who are working towards that.
Carol: That was for me an interesting thing that I had to realize that, cuz so many people are coming into the sector, it's because they're really passionate about a particular cause.. And what I started to learn over time was that a lot of what interested me was. What helps people be more effective as they try to work towards that? All the things that go into making an organization work well, making a group work well together. How they're creating their strategy, how they're creating, how they're making, doing decision making, all those kinds of things. And unfortunately, probably more from all the ways in which I saw it not working, yeah, that spurred a curiosity around.
Jeanne: Yeah, and I think what's especially exciting and also challenging now is that I think there's much more recognition, or at least there's a school of thought of which I'm a part, that the what we practice inside organizations really matters and that it's, it's difficult to be credible or even necessarily effective if we can't practice what it is that we're advocating for externally. So I think that. Mandate to leadership, development and capacity building, I think has emerged more crisply in the last, say 10 years or so, changed our work as leaders and capacity builders because the wall between the inside and the outside came down and, and the organization as a laboratory for personal practice, for interpersonal practice, for exploring how we can do the work differently and more consistently with our quote unquote external values and strategies. I raised the bar for all of us.
Carol: That's exactly where that rub between the mission organizations that I worked for that had really ambitious and, and wonderful missions for what they wanted, the change they wanted to see out there. But then we were not at all practicing those things internally or even sometimes the exact opposite. And, the disconnect between those two is what led me down the path that I've been on for sure. I'm curious to hear from you how you're seeing those two, those two perspectives come together a little bit more.
Jeanne: I've been thinking a lot in my work with clients, which includes a lot of work on strategy development. That kind of, the distinction between internal practice and external strategy is, is less and less sharp. And what I've been, honestly, I, what I've been encouraging my clients to do is not worry about that distinction and actually embrace that again, our internal practices should at least be in a through line to our external strategies, if not pretty much part and parcel of the same. I've been integrating different schools or different practices. I think people in our sector, particularly in the social justice space, really emphasize personal practice, the way in. I, I, I borrow from that and I agree with that, and I think it's important to have very crisp and clear-eyed, quote unquote, external strategies that understand the larger ecosystem and the financial resources and all those pieces. I, I pretty much call it all strategy and I think it's okay to have a list of organizational strategies, core strategies, whatever, 4, 6, 8 of 'em, where some of them may appear a little bit more internal or more about how we work. Internally, but to me, the likelihood that you're gonna be able to execute one of those bold external strategies without that internal practice is very low. So I'm not that interested anymore in sorting them out, but in looking at them as a set of strategies that, are interconnected and that make or interdependent, and make each other possible,
Carol: I'm thinking about all the processes that I've supported over the last couple years and The goals, strategies, initiative, whatever you wanna call them that emerged as the big areas to pay attention to and put focus or put energy into for the organization. They were a combination of something that moved the mission forward in a specific way. depending on where the organization was or what was happening and maybe it's lifecycle stage or whatnot. There might be more on the internal that they needed to really take care of To be able to be effective externally and sometimes, other way or an, even balance. But definitely it's interesting that you're saying traditionally there's, there's been a, and I, and I did get a question recently around that from a client. I guess I didn't realize where it came from, of this notion that strategy has to be all for the outside and well, no. to me at least, it's what are you paying attention to? What are you putting energy into? I mean, there's been a lot of shift towards the notion of emergent strategy. And, and, and sometimes I feel like that ends up being an excuse to just throw all strategy discussions out the window and say, well, we just can't do that. Mm-hmm. and I feel like there's some middle ground between. This is the document that we created. We can never change it once. It's, once we vote on it and, and, and agree that this is where we're going, this is the map. And, and there's no, I mean, even when you use a G P s it, and you take a wrong turn, it tells you to, it's recalculating like that should be built in or no framework at all. And I'm curious about what you've been experiencing.
Jeanne: I appreciate that a lot. And I think there is a little bit of recognition in the sector. Again, I tend to work more with organizations, even if they're service organizations who have some sort of change orientation. So I don't wanna blanket the whole sector. But I think there is some recognition that we do need to be crisp. I think the external environment, I mean, we, we can no longer keep talking about, Oh, this is particularly complex or particularly challenging, whether it's the loss of the Supreme Court or whatever. It just keeps happening, right? And so I, I think we, we recognize, or I'm seeing people recognize that actually strategy. is extremely important and, and understanding what we're trying to do to quote unquote win again, even if that's in service, right? Because service is also political. I think. I mean, taking care of people that have been structurally marginalized is, in my view, a political act, right? We can do that in a way that is quite neutral, or we can do that in a way. Cognizant of how it's connected to all the systems and structures. So I'm, I don't mean to only be talking about advocacy organizations, but I, I think in this context, we have to be clear-eyed that certain kinds of strategies have not worked. To me that means being clear on what you're attempting to do. I love your language around what we're paying attention to. That might sound soft to some people. I don't hear it as soft. I hear that as, This is the combination of ecosystem issues, cultural issues, whatever, whatever we're working on that we have to be so on top of in order to choose our four or five working strategies, they're adaptable. Of course they're agile, of course, they turn up and down. But I think the crispness is very important. And, and really what's there to be agile about if you're not crisp, right? I mean, there's nothing to even know that you're changing or testing if you don't define something. Right.
Carol: Can you give me an example? So cuz we're, we're talking a bit, right. High level here. I'm, I'm curious if you could, give an example or a story that might bring that to.
Jeanne: I’m thinking about and I don't wanna disclose, individual clients, but, but what I'm thinking about is, actually the Supreme Court is a great example, if you were in an organization that was thinking of the, classic legal approach to social change, You have had to think differently about that. if the Supreme Court was, was part of the solution, if getting things up to that level and changed that way was part of your solution. And I do have a client in that space. We're in a different environment, for quite some time now, potentially. And so that's what I mean about, that strategy has to now be unpacked and, and reconceived of in a very crisp way, it can't just be, we'll wait and see what happens here.
This is a different environment and, and what does our legal work, what does our advocacy work mean in this context? And what I find is that, Not just that example, but what I find is that what's happening is that we're in a larger context of systems and structures not delivering the way we historically thought they would or were. Right. And so that's an example to me of a macro issue that should be affecting the way nonprofits craft strategy. That's an example of something that to continue on as if that's not the macro context would be an example to me of weak strategy..
Carol: And you've used the word crisp several times. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that
Jeanne: is, is specific, right? I think a lot of times, again, strategy is written in very sort of neutral, ? Positive terms. And I think what, what I'm suggesting is that strategy actually has to be responsive and specific to the operating context, right? It has to be specific to the political reality, to our internal capacity, reality, to the financial realities, right? So I get excited more about strategies that are very specific to our environment, our capacities, our resources, right? Rather than just sort of global statements of. Right. Aspiration.
Carol: I think there's, there's room for both, right? But labeling, which, normally I don't try to get caught up on, on what we're labeling each thing, but, but just working with a, a client recently where, for each of their strategic pillars we, we had them do a, a vision statement, which was that, what, what do we, if we succeeded, what would the world look like? Sure. And, acknowledging we. you may never get there.. But then that, that at least says where we're aiming towards and then being able to get specific and more in the here and now of what we need to do, over the next couple years to, to get closer to what we've envisioned.
Jeanne: There are some things that, that, people who. in the more sort of radical part of social change are starting to open their minds to I would use abolition as an example,? Even if you are not an abolitionist organization, the work that's happened over the last 10 years and the continued violence perpetrated by police, even if you're not in the criminal justice reform space, I would argue that something like. That widening out and that that questioning of systems, that that's affecting you if you're in domestic violence, if you're in housing, if you're in, it's gotta be starting to sort of seep in that are working assumptions about these systems and structures may not be where we're gonna be as a culture or as a society in 10, 15, 20 years. So that's an example of something. You might say, well, our board's not ready to talk about abolition, and that's not even what we do. But there's a pressure coming about challenging those systems and structures that actually potentially affects, certainly NextGen thinkers,? People coming up. Young people have a very different set of assumptions. Your next program assistant or program director, may be coming in with. many different assumptions about how change is gonna happen,? And that's what I mean about are our strategies sensitive to these more, to these shifts, these seismic underlying shifts to systems and structures and policies, that all of our nonprofits really sit on top of.
Carol: I'm just thinking I definitely have. experienced and witnessed and then started myself that, that sense of really questioning all those underpinnings that's up for discussion and out in the open and, anything that starts in the margins and then it eventually moves more to the center. That's, it's more centered in conversations now, than any time in my career. I was going to college during the Reagan era and so it was all from the progressive point of view, like, How, how do we survive and what's possible? Now there's just a whole different kind of, why are we taking all, all of those things as givens. what's underneath that and, and how do we start questioning that? And, and so one of the things that I, that you're working on is also just looking at different ways to work internally with organizations around decision making, around structure, around strategy and. To really create, to try to build more equity and inclusion in how the organization operates. And I'm, if you could just say a little bit about that model and what you're learning as you're working with I, I think you're in the stage of working with some different pilots around that.
Jeanne: Well, thanks for asking. The process and, and, and software is called just org design and really it's responding to, to what we've just been talking about in many ways, which is that the strategy that I think is necessary, again, even for service organizations who are gonna be. honest about what's going on in the ecosystem that makes those services necessary. I'm not only talking about advocacy organizations, but I think it's, that's all of it. Strategy is inherently interdisciplinary, right? And, organizational strategy is inherently interdisciplinary. I, I think, and we are still working in very siloed departmental structures that assume that individual senior managers are taking those strategies, the real meaning and nuance and soul of those strategies in some consistent way into their silos, right? I think what we all experience is that that's not the. Right, that management teams actually spend a ton of time talking about HR challenges. At least the ones I've been on. They're not actually talking about how we stitch strategy together across multiple departments and silos. It's, it's very rare that that's what the, the driving And when you say, what are we paying attention to? Most management teams are paying attention to budget and hr, in my experience, they're not actually paying attention to how. Get a strategy to seep into everything we do, right? we need a different structural response to that rather than just saying, management teams are always putting out fires.
I think we have to recognize that we need to configure people around strategy. And so what just org designed does, is say, departments are fine. Project teams are fine, but they're insufficient and we need to have not committees, not task forces. Not every five year strategic planning, but recurring existing places that are cross-functional and interdisciplinary. To really explore and advance what we mean by these organizational strategies, what we're learning, how they're seeping into the work or not, how we're developing people to accelerate those strategies to really take that seriously. So in a nutshell, it, it. It calls for and supports configuring people around compelling strategies and empowering those people to make choices. Not the little ch, not the day-to-day choices that are people's individual jobs, but the kinds of choices that get deferred because we don't have strategy tables. The kinds of strat, the choices that get deferred until strategic planning. if even then to move those and accelerate those with this, these cross-functional groups that are really tending to strategy and who are
Carol: Some of the people that would be around those tables? Because I think one of the, the orthodoxies that is certainly being questioned is the idea that, Boards are the ones who have the strategic lens or leadership teams and or the executive director, that somehow by having ascended to that position or being appointed on that group, you suddenly are anointed with, with strategic talent and You can tell by the way I just said that, that I don't believe hasn't been your experience. Are you noticing different patterns? I actually, I actually find that, I find, it seems to me that people. at all levels struggle with being strategic. Mm-hmm. and, and, there's always, there's a lot of rhetoric about being strategic. But when it comes right down to it actually staying at that out of the day-to-day is really hard for folks.
Jeanne: It's incredibly hard and there's some debate going on about whether structure really matters. is it more about personal practice that that makes us, and I, I think structure. Is extremely important. And I, and I think leadership's job actually, is to use structure as a lever to help people become more strategic together. I saw a blog recently called Strategy is a Conversation by a guy named Andrew Blum, and I really agree with that. The words are just words. They're our best current articulation of what we're trying to do. as you've said, and what we're paying attention to. The only way they really matter is if people are in constant conversation about them. And, and the reality is, really almost ubiquitously, they're not. They're really not, strategies are not used as decision screens, as agenda drivers, as they're not, people are using job descriptions to evaluate people. Right. I mean, I, I feel like there's so much emphasis on job descriptions and titles and as if that is going to get us to, as you say, as if that's a proxy four. Strategic, activity or thinking or alignment, and I, that just is not my experience. The reality is that we need to be in daily, weekly, ongoing conversation about what these strategies actually mean and how they're playing out and are they making our work better. So I feel strongly that you are correct, that everybody who works at the organization should be able to understand these words. The reason that they don't is cuz there's no space to discuss them. Right. So who's at the table? My current pilot client, who's a smaller organization, only has about 25 staff. What they're doing is they've put everybody at one of their key tables, right? So, they wanna have, if they're gonna have a table around one of their core strategies, They are gonna have a cross section of people there, not only the people who are quote unquote, responsible for the delivery of that strategy, but somebody from communications, somebody from develop, from development, somebody from finance even who's helping to reimagine the budget to reflect those core strategies, not just these. Old departments. Right. We've been saying all this for a long time, right, Carol? That strategy needs to be agile. It needs to live and breathe. It has to come off the shelf. But we haven't done anything structurally to enable that. So
Carol: Can you, can you say a little bit more about how those tables work and how that does, how to, how they do or how you're seeing them enable people to, to really. I don't know. Work, work the strategy, if you will.
Jeanne: Yeah. Yeah. And we're early, actually just yesterday. Sure. I facilitated a, a, a table meet. We call them tables. Because they're not departments and they're not even teams. Right. I mean, again, we, those are other tools. Right. This is a place. To explore and advance strategy. Right? And so what I'm seeing in the, in the buildup to these, and I'm just using yesterday's meeting as an example that lives in my mind is people feeling a sense of relief. A sense of relief. In fact, we had a one word checkout and multiple people said, I feel relieved. I feel relieved that this space now exists where I can come and say, Wait a second. We're talking about centering a certain leadership, but I don't know how to make that happen over here. Right? I don't, I keep hearing everyone say that, but we're not doing that here or, and the development person saying, I, I don't know how to position that in the marketplace for resources. I'm sure it is fundable, but people have a space. It's not just with their direct supervisor, right? Who may or may not know, but with the group of people committed to advancing that work, how do we advance this work? How do we take it off the page and make it central to all of our work? Right?
Carol: And it may be that, they don't know, but they'll find a way . Right? I mean, the notion that someone knows someone there knows how to do all of this.
Jeanne: No, exactly. And, and I mean, I think this is where, honestly, this is where the collective wisdom really is valuable. It's not just performative. It's not just to get buy-in, all that. Right. Where we actually need a cross-functional group of people who are seeing the work relating to different stakeholders, and, and are able to come together and say, and get a 360 on this issue. how this strategy is actually playing out,
Carol: Right? Yeah. And, and two, frequently what I've seen in organizations where they bring those cross-functional groups together. The meetings, all they are are updates and they, and somehow they think that by everybody knowing what I'm doing, that somehow they'll be a through, somebody will figure out a through line on all of it. Yeah, yeah. No, this is, instead really, if I understand what you're saying. The issue, the strategy, the, whatever it is, in the, in the center. And then having lots of people to have a conversation about how we do, how do we make this real together? .
Jeanne: That's right. And I found myself as a facilitator, and this takes good facilitation and, and this is a skillset, right, that we need to build inside organizations that shouldn't only be consultants every two years or three years. And, and what I'm realizing, another thing I'm realizing as we roll this out, Carol, is that that's part of what we're doing is teaching people how to host good meetings, how to have strategic conversations, right? How not to. Fall back into project updates and departmental updates, right? We have staff meetings and other devices for that. This is a space not so, I mean, it is for information sharing, but to the extent that it's in service of an ambitious prompt. Like where are the gaps now between this language on the page and what we're doing in presenting to the world, right? That's an important prompt. it's not an indictment of anybody. These strategies are supposed to be pulling us towards our best work. Where are we? Right? And people having the space, the safe or brave space to talk about that. The other thing I wanna say about it is I think that in the move to share power more to distribute decision making, more to focus on race equity more. I think a lot of executives and senior leaders are giving spaces away rather than showing up to those spaces differently. And what just org design is saying is, I want you in the room. in a 25 person organization, the executive director often is the person. with the most, at least, certain kinds of visibility into the larger market, the ecosystem, the partnerships, right? So instead of that executive director saying, what, I, I know everyone hates the management team, and I, I've been hoarding power and blah, blah, blah. So here, create a pod called, strategic vision or something. No, I, what I want you to do is show up to that table differently. I want you to show up to that table. as a strategic collaborator and hopefully a mentor and as someone who can share information, but also hear feedback from other roles and have discussions. Right. So I, I say all that to say that I think this is also about how we hold power in organizations. As you say, it is about creating more equity and giving more people proximity to strategy, which is really giving people proximity to. right? And it's creating accountability for those leaders. So rather than sending a bunch of junior people off and hoping they come up with a valid recommendation, which is what we see so much, right? No. You create a different space. You invite them to the table and educate, edify, engage, and create that strategic capacity beyond your management
Carol: team. And when you're coaching leaders to help them show up differently as you're describing. What are some of the behaviors that they need to unleash?
Jeanne: Well, I think there's, we can frame these as caretaking or we can frame these as more nefarious. Right. But I, I think, and it's, it's a mixture of both, as . Right. But I think that executive directors, even in social justice spaces, even people who profess to be on the journey do struggle with not being the expert all the time and not quickly. and definitively correcting things that aren't right. , there's a, there's a, a 10 a tendency, I think in executives to be, and I was this too, to be activators to be No, no, no. It's not that it's this, right? No, no, no. I just met with them yesterday. It's not this, it's that Right. To try to constantly correct the record. And, and, and I think that's part of it is, let the conversation happen. But again, bring your knowledge. but I think there's a difference between bringing your knowledge and trying to get everything in line with how it should go. Right.
Carol: And that's, well, I would say the difference. Yeah. From, from groups that I've observed one of the simplest things would be for the leader at, whether they're executive director, co-director, or head of the department, or whatever it is, or, yep. Chair of the board or whatever. Just to not be the first person who talks
Jeanne: some real simple tactics there. Wait.
Carol: Yeah. Wait and listen. Wait. Because as soon as you've put your thing in, well, everyone's gonna glom onto it and I don't think, I don't. I think especially if you've been in a leadership role for a long time, you may forget what that position brings and the impact it has on the people around you. That's right. And, and you've gotten so used to them behaving that way. You think that you're acting as a peer when No, you're. That's right, that's right.
Jeanne: And really the truth is you don't know everything. you don't know everything about, you might know everything about, who's gonna be the next board chair. , there's things that no one else knows about the organization perhaps. But these conversations are about strategy. And if your strategies are truly compelling, if they are truly pulling the organization forward, there is a lot you don't know about how to get there. Right? And if you're telling me that there's nobody on your team who can participate in a conversation about that gap, about that, unknown, about that, what's next? Well then you have a hiring problem. I mean, then, then you haven't recruited people to where the work is going. And that may very well, sometimes be the case. Part of what happens when we, when we are willing to organize conversations around strategy, is we may realize that we haven't even recruited to those strategies or those strategies are evolving. And again, our departments are stuck in sort of functional definitions of success. Did we get the donor mailing out? Did we retain 30 per, what did that mailer say ? Right. Or does it reflect where the work is going? Right. That is not always, there isn't a place always to create that accountability. And that's the accountability I'm looking for is are we all moving towards where the work needs to be going? Right.
Carol: And I think that could be a recruiting issue, but I also think it can be, a, just a willingness. Develop folks. That's it. And I also think at least what I've observed is, and, and well, one, I wish I knew as much as I knew when I was 18 and 22, right? Because I knew everything then. and you were gonna forever, which I learned no less . But, but I, I also, but I've also heard a lot of folks and I've experienced this myself, of, they've been in a leadership role for X amount of time. They look out and they're like, no one's ready to be where I am forgetting. When they stepped into that role, whatever number of years ago that was, did they feel ready? That's right. Were they quote unquote ready and no, they've, they've, they're now benefiting from all that experience, all the mistakes they've made, all the wins they've had, and then somehow expecting the people that they're, that are not in those roles to somehow have that same experience. And if not, then they're not ready. That's it. That's right.
Jeanne: Well, and I, I, I said a few minutes ago that I think structure matters a lot. I mean, I, I actually believe that organizational design is now a leader, I think should be an explicit executive responsibility. Our traditional structures, they don't serve. Young people, very well. They are not promoting enough people of color. They are not inherently strategic. So to me, this is a leadership problem, right? And we can't just say, oh, I'm just gonna, tweak around the edges or create some task forces now. And then I think we have a structural problem, right? So obviously that's why, that's why I'm addressing this. And I think we have to get serious about what structure we should be accomplishing. And there's a few things I think it should accomplish. I think it should literally be accomplished, getting people proximate to. So, you don't necessarily have to use my process of tables, but if your structure has 70 or 80% or more of your people not proximate to strategy, then it's not a sufficient structure in my view. Right. It should be accomplishing leadership development. If you are not able to promote from within and promote diversity from within, then people are not getting, as you just said, what they need. Which is proximate to strategy, proximate to expertise, proximate to key relationships, internally and externally. And if your structure is not delivering that to people, then it's not working right. And certainly race equity and d e i in general, if your structure is not working for people of color, right? If it's not working for young people, if it's not working for trans people, that's on you . there's something not working. And so to me, we wanna sit down and say, okay, well here's this org chart. What is it accomplishing in terms of the goals I just said, right? Is it designed just because that's what I inherited? Is it designed for efficiency? Is it designed for functional expertise, as you said a few minutes ago? Just because I'm a good marketing officer, does that mean I should be. Respect, what is on the management team? Like what does that get us? Right? What is it delivering for us? So I, that's what I want to see people do is say, what is this structure delivering for us and what feedback are we getting at? Do people like this? Is this invigorating ? Right? Do our younger people like it? Do our people of color like it? Do we feel strategically aligned and is our structure helping us get there?
Carol: Yeah. And one thing with structures, I mean, I feel like over the years I, I, I can't think of an organization that hasn't had somebody say, oh, we're so siloed. Yeah. And the fix for that has to. Has been to reshuffle everyone into new teams, but my experience is usually they just end up in new silos. So how, what, with this idea of bringing multidisciplinary groups together around focused on a strategy, how often are you then thinking about, do we have the right tables? Do we continue with these tables as you're calling them? These, these groups, right. Or. Do we need a new set? Given our circumstances now, and this I can
Jeanne: only predict and hope. Okay. Because I don't have enough . I'm only a year in, but my, the way we're setting them up is with an assumption of evolution. Right. Okay. That this is our best understanding of the strategic conversations we need to be having now. , just as we've been talking about, we want strategies that are clear and, and discerning. We also want them to be agile, right? And we also may realize that certain people have come to a table and they've participated and it's been productive, but maybe their time is better used. , somewhere else. Again, it's not a job to be on the table, right? You're bringing your work and your perspective to a cross-functional conversation. It's possible that people will wanna step out of that at certain periods because something else is consuming them or, so we want the table space. We want tables to be permanent. There are always tables, but not the specific tables themselves, right? There should always be. cross-functional spaces that are dedicated to understanding and advancing strategy, but what they are and who's on them, I think will be more, more agile, more dynamic. And
Carol: how are, how are the groups finding the time and space to, to even dedicate to those? Because I think so. The unfortunate situation that too many organizations are in is that they feel like they're over, they're overwhelmed by what they're trying to do right now. That's so then to, to, to be doing something like this or doing it differently, really feels impossible.
Jeanne: Well, you've hit on one of our, one of our major resistance sort of threads. And of course what we're trying to do here is prove a negative, right? We cannot quantify the amount of conflict and waste of time. Mm-hmm. that exists because people are not strategically aligned. Right. In fact, probably, a great deal of what people are doing when they're not doing the work is trying to clear a path for the work or figure out if they're doing the right work or figure out why that. Project is happening when they thought they were doing this, and, and we can't even quantify it. It's so much the water we're swimming in. But the hypothesis of course is that investing a few hours, every two weeks or three weeks in resetting on what we are doing? Why are we doing it? How it manifests in our key bodies of work is going to pay. exponentially in that being smoother work between meetings. Right. Again, I think we put so much emphasis on one-on-one supervision and sort of traditional HR structures that and I don't care how great your supervisor is, they cannot approximate hearing. 10 people unpack, explore, advance strategy. I mean that, that's like a masterclass every couple of weeks. That's what we're looking for, right? It has to be pr, it has to save time. How we end up measuring that is something that I'm very interested in. Right? And it'll initially be qualitative, right? Asking the table participants has this. provided more clarity, more smoothness. Has it facilitated better collaboration? have you gotten in front of things that used to blow up a lot, that's the stuff we wanna see, right?
Carol: Yeah. I, I, I imagine that as, and soon this analogy won't work anymore because people won't remember having to actually turn a dial on a radio to get the signal to come in. Mm-hmm. But if you're just all static, if there's so much static in the organization, you're wasting a huge amount of time and effort just trying to. get a clear signal through all of that static. And, and I feel like when I'm, I'm typically working with groups that are a little bit more traditional, once every couple years. Big process. Mm-hmm. But the thing that they talk about as being energizing and exciting is how much they learn from other people. That's it. The kinds of conversations that they get to have in that, that they don't typically have, the connections that they see. By being in, in, in, in cross-functional groups and different groups through the whole process. So, to be able to build that into more of a regular pattern instead of just every three years for a, for a big momentous thing. I mean, there's probably a need for a little bit of both, but um, oh, certainly. Mm-hmm. Yeah, that, to, to be able to bring some of that in. to me. Yeah. I can, I can intuitively see the benefit and then it's mm-hmm. right, as you're saying, like, how, how do we help people? How do we start measuring it in a way that is compelling? Yeah, that's right. And
Jeanne: I, I mean, one other thing I would add, there's a beautiful free resource actually that you can find online. Came out last year called Turning Towards Each Other, a Conflict Workbook or and I, I think we are at a time where there is heightened conflict inside organizations, and one of the points that. Workbook makes it that some of that is actually conflict about strategy. It's not named that. Hmm. But it's actually people in conflict about what we're doing, why we're doing it, whether it's credible, whether it's consistent with what we're, if we're walking our talk. That's a lot of the conflict that's going on in organizations right now, and there isn't, again, one-on-one supervision is not gonna solve that. Right. We need a space to say, Hey, there's a gap. or I'm not feeling, this communication strategy is consistent with what we're saying over here. Like there needs to be a place that's cross-functional where we can explore that. And so another thing that we hope is, is, that this is not preventing conflict, but creating a productive space for people to debate how these strategies get expressed.
Carol: Yeah. So they can engage in it. I was listening to something recently about, different levels of conflict and, and when it gets to what the person termed high conflict, then people are just dug in and they're, they're in those polarizing my way or your way. I'm right. you're not right. But when you can. so then it's, it's probably the conflict that most people think of, and the one that they shy away from. And that feels very unproductive cuz it is unproductive. Right. But there is, there are, if you can create spaces for people to be able to. Not necessarily be in positions yet around one way or the other. Exactly. And explore it together. I think that's exactly, that's
Jeanne: the difference. I, when I was an executive director, I, it, it was a time at the organization where we were intentionally going through a lot of change. But, what happens in change management is what you just said, is that unless there are spaces for people to debate and, and vent a little bit about the strategic dissonance they're feeling people get put into camp. right? In people's minds. There's the people who get it. There's the people who don't get it. Oh, don't even go to her. She doesn't get it. she doesn't, well, get it. There's no space to get it, and then it be, as you say, then people get labeled as either old guard, new guard, get it, don't get it. And then there's, there's so little that's possible in terms of collaborative change work.
Carol: Yeah. Well, none of this is easy but inviting people in is just, just think about it and experiment with it a little bit. So I end each conversation with a random icebreaker question that I pull from a box. So one I'm gonna ask you is if you were stranded on a desert island and you could choose one person to keep you company, who would it be? The, so
Jeanne: This is supposed to be like a famous person. Doesn't matter. It could be anyone. I mean, obviously I would choose my partner . And I'm not just saying that in case they listen to this. But if you want a more sort of global answer that's not a personal relationship. I would pick A poet, and I was just thinking about the poet who I always bring up, it seems like in the last few months Natalie Diaz. Yeah. I would pick somebody who could keep the world magical through their language.
Carol: Mm. Okay. All right. Thank you. Well, what's coming up? We've been talking about what's emerging in your work, but what, what are you seeing over the next year or so? What, in terms of all this new work that you're, that you're doing and the, the Yeah. Projects you're working with. Yeah, I'm, you
Jeanne: Now, what I'm really excited about is different. Organizational profiles, right? So it's called just org design. So it's clearly designed with organizations who think of their work as in some way in service of justice. And so, that's the large catchment that we're in. But what I'm really interested in, Carol Carol, is different profiles of that. and we also think that tables may in fact work across organizations and, and really support coalitions and collaboration across organizations because this is a software that can track who's at that table, what choices are we making, what are the agendas for future meetings, which is such a lot of work. Keeps people from doing collaboration externally well too. So, I'm, we've got a pilot client who's more of an organizing group who I think may go in that direction where it's internal, but then can also create a bridge to some of their key partnerships. So, looking for different client profiles that are under the large umbrella of justice work but have different. Existing configurations and different kinds of strategies that will benefit from really well structured and, and software supported consistency around really centering strategy.
Carol: Yeah. Cuz I, there's only so much any one organization can do in any of these fields, right. So that's supporting those larger collaborative initiatives coalitions. It's where so much of the work is now happening, so that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. All right. Well thank you so much. It was great. Just enjoyed the conversation. I definitely could talk to you about this stuff all day, so we won't do that.
Jeanne: Thank you so much for this. I really appreciate it.
Carol: I appreciated Jeanne’s emphasis on the interconnection between your organization’s strategy for the external environment that supports your mission and the internal – that in fact – also supports your mission. That it is all interwoven and once amplifies the other and both sides and intentions are needed. I also appreciated her description of crisp strategy. There is a lot of emphasis on being emergent and agile in today’s environment – and rightly so. Yet by clearly defining and crisply setting your intentions, you know what you are pivoting from if you need to pivot. That the strategy is specific and clear – not vaguely neutral, not trying to offend anyone. And that they are specific within the capacity and financial realities of your situation – not just about wishful thinking. Without it you are not really pivoting and being agile – you are just spinning in circles.
Another point that I really appreciated was her description of the work she is doing to help organizations integrate their strategy into their day to day work through an interdisciplinary approach. When I am working with clients and in the process of discovery, when I interview and listen to staff, board and other key stakeholders – so often the issue of silos between departments comes up. And by creating spaces for cross-functional teams to discuss specific strategies and how to show up in their daily work, it can also become more real for everyone – instead of strategy just being something we do at a retreat every couple years. That departments or project teams are fine but insufficient. And creating spaces – or tables as she calls them – to talk about how day to day choices that are constantly being made reflect and integrate the larger strategy of the organization.
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 Jeanne Bell, 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 Natasha Devoise 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.
Elevating Engagement with Amanda Kaiser
In episode 68 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Amanda Kaiser discuss:
Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement strategist and author of Elevating Engagement: Uncommon Strategies for Creating Thriving Member Communities. As a researcher, author, and co-creator of the Incubator Series and the New Member Engagement Study, she is at the forefront of exploring how member and attendee engagement is rapidly changing within professional communities.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Amanda Kaiser. 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. Amanda and I talk about engaging members especially in today’s shifting realities. We explore why organizations need to shift from solely focusing on the value they provide and give equal emphasis on the experience they are creating, why focusing on how people are feeling at each stage of engagement is so important, and some simple things folks can do to improve the experience of their members and volunteers.
Welcome, Amanda. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Amanda Kaiser: Thanks, Carol. It's so great to be here.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would, what would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Amanda: Oh, that's really interesting. I feel like, as a recovering marketer, I need to have that one pithy sentence, but I don't, I'm gonna go on a quick ramble here. My career journey is really squiggly like everybody else's. And, I started out at Crayola. And then eventually moved into my people, which is the association community, and, and worked as a director of marketing for a national association and, and loved it. And while I was there, I wanted to do a bunch of member research and we didn't have the budget and the, the CEO at the time said, well, you call our members and you talk to them, which I was really afraid of doing at the time. But the more, the more I talked to our members and interviewed them. The more I started actually loving the work. So I opened a qualitative research agency for associations and conducted about 477 interviews, about 33 research projects, and I love that. But the thing that kept drawing me was the importance of member engagement every single conversation, no matter. The type of association, , the, the, whether it's professional or trade and where people were at their career level. But every conversation kept coming back to member engagement. And the more I thought about it, the, the more I wanted to just move into what is member engagement? How and why it doesn't work sometimes and why it does work sometimes. And, and that's that, that's kind of. Sorry that was a lot longer than a short squiggly answer.
Carol: Well, our careers are long. Are long and squiggly, at least mine has been. So, yes, definitely appreciate that. And I mean, building on that interest in, in member engagement, you recently published a book called Elevating Engagement on Common Strategies for Creating a Thriving Member community. What would you say are some of the common mishaps or mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their member engagement?
Amanda: Yeah, so I don't think that associations are alone in this. I think it's happening at organizations and just about every single industry you can imagine from the really, really big ones to the really, really small ones, and that is so there's a formula for engagement, and the formula is value plus experiences equals engagement. And for decades now, I think we've been all banging the drum on value. We've got to have the right value proposition. Our value has to change with our members' needs. We need to be able to communicate value. We need everything's value, value. And man, we've all been leaning into that really hard.
And the thing that is the biggest opportunity for us now is to start I don't know, imbuing experiences into all of that wonderful value. So yes, we're, we're, I think the biggest opportunity is for associations. And not just associations, everybody, but associations we're talking about today is to really start punching up the creation of positive experiences for our members.
Carol: And I have folks who are in more traditional nonprofits as well as associations in the audience. And I think, but I think the same principles really apply, maybe you have a membership program, but maybe it's you're, you're. Your volunteers that you're trying to engage or, or different constituencies that you're trying to engage and, and thinking about those in different ways. Can you say what you, you talked about the equation of value plus experience and I can imagine, thinking about, of my experience of being inside organizations. Yeah. It was all about, what, what. What's the next conference gonna look like? Who's speaking? What's the next white paper that we're publishing? What's the next course that we're rolling out in terms of workshops or training or e-learning? And so very focused on content delivery, on knowledge helping people increase their skills, their knowledge , and I think I was on the learning side when I was inside the organization, so we did approach, experience somewhat from the lens of trying to incorporate adult learning principles into the whole thing.But I, I don't know that we put it front and center. So I'm curious how you see, like, how is that different? How, how would people know? , if we're gonna have those be more equal. What does leaning into experience look like?
Amanda: Yeah, so everything you just mentioned is critically important. we, we need to have the, the learning and we need to have the keynote and we need to have the hotel, and we need to have all of that when I'm talking about experience, there's so let's just, cuz we're talking about events, so let's, let's just talk about one of those places where you can add an experience that maybe people get and sometimes maybe people don't get. It might be inconsistent. And that is at the registration table. So for really big conferences there's huge registration booths and like a whole lot of lines. And then for maybe a small conference or a chapter, you see the registration table, and sometimes when we're working behind the registration table, we're trying so hard to get people their badges and their bags and their, and their programs really quickly that we just, we're just, we're doing the transaction. We're just trying to get everybody served. And, and the experience part of it is, can you, can you do it with some small talk? And if you can't even do it with some small talk, that's totally. Can you at least do it with a smile so that, that's, that's one example of how you just add in an experience in the course of doing everything else that you're doing. And there's, there's other things, you know associations and nonprofits, they do have these fleets of volunteers, whether you call them a volunteer or not. And, and so another thing that you could, that you could do that's relatively easy is you could say to your speakers, let's say you've got 50 speakers. For the time that they're at the podium or on the stage in, in a way, they're sort of speaking for the association and you can say to them, Hey, we've got a member culture, or We're trying to have a member culture that is. Open and generous and kind and enthusiastic and energetic. And can, can you, can you try to model that? Just try to, keep those, keep those adjectives, keep those emotions in, in your brain, and as you're speaking, just try to model that. And, and I think a lot of your speakers would, and that's just, one, one more away. That, that you can add some experiential stuff into the stuff that you're already.
Carol: Well, and you named having a member culture and people and someone being able to name even what their intention is around that. And I don't, I just wonder how many organizations have even spent any time thinking about what member culture do they wanna cultivate?
Amanda: Yeah. So we are all about talking about STA staff culture, but communities have cultures too, right? Members definitely have cultures too. I think there's a, there's a couple of ways to, to get at that. And one of the things that I love to do is I love to sit back and say, okay, so at each of the member stages, how do we want our members to feel? And so, you can, you can do this at a staff meeting or you can do it at a board meeting. You can say, hey new members are joining and at the one year mark how do we want them to feel? Or the day after they join, how do we want them to feel? And, answering that question will start to help you get not only that experience, but also the culture part of it. Because, because in order for us. To have the feelings that we want them to feel, likely there's, there's a, there's a, a culture that is supporting that, and I guess some, some, some examples of when I, when I first glommed onto this culture idea was when I did a bunch of research with chapters, so chap members of chapters, and the one story that kept coming back to me over and over and over and over again. I'm a brand new member, and I decided to go to my very first chapter meeting, and I, I walked into the room and, and all, and it hadn't, the event hadn't started yet and everybody was sort of like clustered at the front talking and I didn't know anybody and I was so awkward and it just felt so ugh. And so I found a seat and tried. appear like I was listening in on their conversations and I just, I just never went back. And, and so that's, it's a cultural thing. The new member is perceiving cliquishness and it's probably not happening at all. But, had there been a culture of welcoming a new face and introducing them around, then that thing wouldn't have happened.
Carol: Right. I mean, the people who are all catching up with each other at the front of the room who haven't seen each other for a month or whatnot aren't thinking that they're being exclusionary or that they're coming off as cliquish, but the fact that they didn't have, and so a simple thing I would imagine that, that they could have done would be to intentionally have someone, or several, someones on the lookout for new people to be able to, welcome them, introduce them to people. But yeah, I think I just have that intention. And, and you talked about also the, the, the assembly line that goes to a big conference or even a, like you said, even a small conference, there's often. That volunteer or or person, whoever's doing the managing is much more worried about, did I get everything in the stuff that I'm supposed to hand to them? Versus I'm interacting with a person, they're nervous about being here. How can I make that experience a little more enjoyable, welcoming and helping them navigate that first interaction?
Amanda: Yeah. Another way to think about it is it's a transition. So your memory is coming in off the street and then maybe they just flew all day and they had to catch a taxi in there, or maybe they had a Dr a drive through downtown Washington, DC and, and they're just frazzled. And so, so sometimes it's helpful to think like, oh, let's help them make that transition from perhaps grumpy or at least super tired and frazzled too, being ready to be their best self when they go ahead and enter our event.
Carol: Having some empathy for where they've been or putting, putting yourself in, in their shoes and, and you talked about the stages, kind of, of a, of a member journey. What, what are some of those and, and what are those key points where, or organizations can do a better job of, of creating the culture that they probably do think that they are creating or want to? Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, so, so I identified six stages of the member journey, and the first stage is to observe and so at that point, members join. And what they're doing is they're looking at everything. They're looking at your websites, they're looking at your emails. They might read a short article or watch a video, and they're just, they're just taking everything in. The second stage is assessed. And so at that point, they're taking a lot in and they're starting to ask themselves this question and that question. Is this the community of people like me? Is this for me? Am I gonna be proud to be here? Do I think sometime in the future I'm gonna feel like I belong? Like I found friends, like I've found colleagues. The third stage is participation. And so at this stage they've an, they answered that question like, oh yeah, there's a lot of potential here and I want to be. And so they dip their toe in the water and they participate and it's just a little thing. They might come to a virtual event and write a little note in the chat. They might rest, yeah, write in a comment on social media or on an article. It's just a little dipping the toe in the water that contributes to another stage, and that's when they're ready to start bringing much more of themselves. And so your contributors, contributors. , they're your speakers, they're your writers, they're the people you're interviewing. They might do short videos for you. They're all of those folks. And an under leverage stage is collaboration. So as we advance in our careers, We start bumping up against thorny, hairy problems, really difficult problems to solve. Problems that that just, they, they just keep showing up year after year after year. And what folks at that stage of their careers like to do is they like to get together with others and problem solve. They don't necessarily wanna listen. Stage on the stage anymore, they want to work together and problem solve. And so sometimes associations lose their members at that stage because they're not necessarily offering a lot of problem solving activities. And so those, that group that's really invested in solving a problem, might splinter off. And then the final stage is lead. And lead is what I would think of as your typical volunteers, however you define them. But in the book, there's a lot of folks that want to lead. They wanna volunteer, but they can't volunteer in the shape of the volunteer box that you've put them in. And so I talk a lot about how you open up volunteerism to a lot more people who are really ready to step into that role. So, at each stage you asked that question of like, where, where are the barriers that association should be on lookout for. And what I try to do in the book is really identify when people make the no-go decision to engage and when people make and why people make the, the yes decision to engage. And so, it's a little bit different at every single stage. However, the through line running through it all is usually an experiential thing. Usually there's something going on where people stand back and they say, oh, Oh, no, I, I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like these are my people. Even if everybody has my title, there's still a million ways that you can thank them, these are not my people. I don't feel like my contributions are wanted, I don't feel supported. And then, the reverse is true. So the reason why people stay is because they say, oh, This is my community. I am super proud to be here. I want to collaborate. I want to give my time. I want to give my ideas. My ideas are valued. I'm supported, and all of those wonderful things.
Carol: What are some of those things at the, at the very beginning stages that observe and assess? And I love that question and I didn't fully write it down, but is this the community? Well, I, where will I feel like I belong? And just thinking about all the different groups that I've been part of. Associations that I've joined and then dropped out of I don't think that I ever necessarily said that specifically, but it certainly, if looking back on the ones that I'm no longer participating in it would be that sense of even after trying, still feeling on the outside. So that's such an interesting topic, and of course, there's so much conversation now in the broad, broad, more broadly around inclusion and, and how people either feel included or not. But yeah, just that experience made me feel like these are my folks, or these are not my folks. It's pretty visceral.
Amanda: It is. And it's quick. You start to observe and you assess super, super quickly, and that's what members talk about. One of, one of the, the things that was a real big surprise for me, Is when I worked for an association, there was, there was this, this thought that you had a year to engage them before they made the decision to renew. But in my research, what I'm finding is they make the decision to engage and then consequently the decision to renew. really quickly, maybe as quickly as three days, maybe as quickly as three weeks. But it's, it's within those first couple of touches that they're making the decision to renew, which is pretty amazing. But I know what you're talking about. So when I first started this business and started my speaking career, I felt like I needed to do some brushing up. And I decided to join Toastmasters, and there's three clubs in my local area. And somewhere along the way somebody said, Hey, go to all of the clubs and just figure out which one you like. And they were all fine, but the one that I went to had the very best new member experience. So I showed up for the very first time and they had a welcomer at the door. Person chit chatted with me and asked me why I was there and what my speaking goals were, and then they took me 10 feet and showed me the bagel and juice table, and then they walked me another 10 feet and found me an empty seat, and it introduced me to the person right next to me. And then that person took it away and, and asked me more questions, and, and there was, there was no, none of that. . Ooh, awkward. How do I fit? Where do I go? What should I do? How do I fit in? None of that. They, they, they took care of it all. It's, it's, and it's, and it's really interesting how quickly you can say, oh yeah, the, these po these are, these folks are great. They're gonna be my friends.
Carol: Yeah. And it's amazing how that act of I've been so. Events, and I've probably been guilty of this myself, where somebody asked me a question, I'm a staff person, and I'm like, oh, it's over there. Versus, oh, let me take you over there and make sure that you, you find it. Yeah. And that. What will probably be three minutes or five minutes, depending on how far the thing is away makes such a difference because then you're, you're arm in arm with the person, you're next to them, you're, you're, you're with them on their journey and they feel supported. Yes. I love that. What are some things that, so we've been talking a lot about events, and of course things have changed a lot around events. Not everyone, not everything's in person these days. I'm actually finding that I'm doing a lot more of my networking through the Zoom screen than I am in an in-person event. But what are other ways that organizations can create that sense of welcome outside of events in that critical beginning period.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you asked that question because I love virtual events. I know, I know There's a lot of people out there that are like, oh no, zoom fatigue. One more zoom. But, but for me, I love presenting. I love interacting. I love being in the virtual room just as much as I love being in person. So I got together during the deep dark doldrums of Covid with my partner's, matchbox Virtual Media, and we can, we. We ran a series called the Virtual Networking Incubator, and there's actually at the end we wrote a report that talks about how you make really engaging virtual meetings. And then we wanted to take that environment that was, so difficult in virtual to do really good virtual networking and then apply it back in person. So now that we've done it, it's really difficult. What are the learnings that we can take back in person? And, and so a lot of, what we learned was the, the, the, the tone. So there's the welcome when you come into the room, but then there's even the welcome in the tone setting before you even come to an event or before you log onto a webinar. Or any virtual event. So what we were trying to do is we were trying to have a super participatory event. We knew we wanted a lot of psychological safety. We want, because we were experimenting, so we wanted people to feel free just to shout half baked ideas off the top of their head. And we went into it, very much defining how we hope for the culture. Would emerge and we started at the very beginning. So every, every single email that went out, we tried to make it super kind, super funny. If we made a mistake at any point, we totally would fess up to it and we're like, Hey, we totally made this mistake and that's okay cuz we're all experimenting here. so there we did a lot of things like that. And then when we, when we started having the event, We, we just, we leaned hard into the chat. So if I was talking, we had 150 people, which was awesome. But it also posed a bit of a problem because now we're trying to network with 150 people. And so my solution was, let's lean real hard into the chat. And, and so we would do, lots of warmups and progressive participation and just, really thinking about. How do we get even the most introverted of introverts feeling super comfortable to play with us? And so yeah, I, I guess the, the quick answer is, start thinking about how you welcome new members at the first possible point. if, if the very first touch they get is an invoice or receipt, what can you do? Warm it up, make it more surprising, exciting, something maybe, maybe you, maybe you don't send that receipt first and you send them a quick, loom that's 30 seconds of you just saying, Hey Carol, so glad that you just joined. just, all of those things. And, and I'm sure that there are some big associations and big nonprofits listening to this right now and saying, oh my gosh, we've got 10,000 new members joining every single day. We can't possibly do that. Well, there's some really interesting technology I think that will help you scale those things and still have the, still have an experiential common component that makes people feel like, oh, this is a great organization. They're so warm and kind and wonderful.
Carol: Yeah. To me, what I, what I'm hearing is really about humanizing that experience. So it's not, you're not just another email to deal with or another name in a database, but you're, there's an actual person behind that and, and they have hopes and, and. Goals for themselves that they're trying to achieve through joining. And, and just taking a little bit more time to recognize who's on the other side of that email can be so important. You talked about the participation stage where people are just starting to dip their toe in. I think the last stages contribute, collaborate, and lead. To me, those are the more obvious ones, the folks who are, who get super involved. And, and then, then they prob once they're involved and they have a good experience, you probably have them for life. Maybe not. But it feels like that participation stage is a real critical inflection point.
Amanda: It is. So let's talk about online communities because that I think is the most public demonstration of what your member culture is. And I am a huge advocate of highly moderated online communities, and I. In, in, in the, what the moderator brings to an online community is the moderator mo models. They model how to be a good online community participant. And, and so I love to see, and I've been a, a, a part of a couple of online communities where the moderators, and sometimes it's one, it's, the owner of a company or, or the CEO. Or the community manager, or sometimes it's, it's sort of a fleet of trained moderators. And, and what they do is they are welcoming new members and they are also they're, they're raising up ideas. So let's say somebody contributed a really good post, but nobody responded in the background. They might be going and saying, Hey, hey, Bob, I know you've got something to say about this. Here. Here's the link. Can you jump on? Or they might wait a few days and they might say to the whole community, Hey, Mike just said this really interesting thing and I'm, I'm just gonna bring it back to the forefront and, and ask you guys, what, where are you on this? I think this is a really interesting thing. So the reason why I think highly moderated communities are so important is that a lot of times if you've got an online community, New members are starting to get that digest and they will read that digest. And that's another, cue of like, oh, okay. so-and-so reacted a, a little bit harshly that, that feel, that fe just feels like that was, somebody maybe got slightly ashamed here. I'm gonna hang back and watch a little bit. And if it happens again, then I know it's a dangerous thing to be part of this community. The other thing is, moderators can't tell when people are posting for the very first time and they can support them in, in a lot of different ways. They can say, oh, that, so glad to see you here posting. I know we've got a lot of really, you know thoughtful people here in the community who are gonna answer your question and. and, and that just, that just, it helps to, it helps new members to be validated. It helps them to be welcomed. It helps, it makes me feel good when somebody shines a light on their post or their reply back and, and lets them know that Yeah. You know that like, Hey, I'm, I'm on the right track. It's always nice to have that.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important because I feel like at least in my experience, especially for associations that have been around for a long time I, in, in a lot of instances in the way I've experienced that the online communities, is that they've been something that just got added on. Oh, well we need to do this because it's an easy way for people to participate, but it's often a corner. Nobody's really supporting it. And what I see as a real contrast to that is a lot of for-profit organizations creating communities saying that their c. Focused and actually doing a much better job of really doing what you're talking about in terms of cultivating that online community and, and pulling people in. And it's just so interesting when I go to association conferences where I feel like I've been hearing this gloom and doom about associations and membership and all of it. And, and then on in the for-profit field, this whole thing is growing. Field of organizations, creating communities around their expertise, their brand, a person. So it's an interesting contrast.
Amanda: Yeah, that's why I am, I am, I am so hot on some, this really big opportunity for associations to. To take on the role of being. So one of the, the, the drum that I've been beating lately is have everybody in your association become a Chief Experience Officer. You don't have to give them that title, but this is the mindset I want everybody to start thinking about being a Chief Experience officer. And, and today I was, I was writing an article and I, and what I wanted to do is what I wanted to point to. big companies, big brands, not because they're big and they have a lot of resources, but because they're well known, and so everybody, everybody could sort of say yes, this is a company that has where everybody, from, from the CEO, all the way down to the person that stocks the shelves. This is a company where everybody has taken on the role of chief experience officers. And so I, I thought about it and I thought, I would say Trader Joe's is one of those companies, and I would say Apple is probably one of those companies. And, then I was floundering a little bit and I came up with a couple of more examples, but one of the things that really struck me was. For the examples that I did come up with, these folks are absolute, these companies and brands are leaders in their industry. They're leaders in their vertical. There's nobody else like them. They've set themselves apart and they've done it because not only are they offering value, the value has to be there, but they're also making sure that they offer experiences and they're empowering. Staff offer these really great experiences or motivate their staff, or they're building a culture that, where they're celebrating the, this idea of, you know, customer, consumer, engagement. And so for associations that are starting to feel like, oh my goodness, in, in my, in my profession, in my industry, all of my sponsors are starting to nip at my heels. And, we were starting to have a lot. A, a lot of competition. We associations are perfectly, perfectly positioned to lean into the experiential part of things. And when we do that well, there's a lot of support to say, Hey that, that really sets you apart. It sets you apart so much from all of your other competition.
Carol: And what's so interesting about those two examples is that really the businesses that they're in are so transactional, right? Yes. Groceries and electronics, I mean, to in, in, could be the most vanilla thing. At all. But then they do have, it is a very, very different experience to go to a Trader Joe's than any other grocery store that I, I normally go to Right. So, I was very excited when one moved into my neighborhood where we hadn't had one for a long time. So, yeah. Yeah,
Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Totally. I. So I've gotta tell this, this story of Trader Joe's. My favorite aunt was at a Trader Joe's, and she always gets this one salad dressing. And she went in and the salad dressing wasn't there. And so I think there's, some, somebody, stocking broccoli or something and she said, oh my, my favorite salad dressing, do you happen to have any outback? And the person said, oh no, it wasn't selling well. And so we actually discontinued it. And I can't imagine what was on my aunt's face, but I, I'm, I'm sure she, Devastated and that that person said, but we've got this new flavor and people are raving over it. I'm gonna give you a bottle when you get to check out, tell them that I gave you this as a sample and they won't charge you for it and you can try it out. And we're really so sorry that we discontinued the one that we love. But I hope you love this one too. I can't think of another place where that would ever happen. And so, there's, the, the person stocking broccoli is Trader Joe's chief Experience Officer. And, and I just, I just love that because. It, to me, when I say, Hey, everybody can become the c e o, it's, it's not just for the C-suite, it's for, it's for all of us. And, and I like to, whenever I'm talking about membership, a lot of times people will talk about strategies for member engagement and then everybody will look at the membership people. No, no, no, no, no engagement experiences. It's for everybody in the association. If you are in accounting, you are, you're, you're having, you. Contact with members, if you're in it, you're having contact with members. If you're in research, of course you're having contact with members. And so every single one of us can be a Chief Experience Officer.
Carol: I also appreciated how you described Opportunities for those smaller, you, you, you had mentioned before the big boxes that we've put volunteers in and expected them to sign up for a three year term, a very heavy commitment. But something like being a part of a team of moderators on an online community would be a much lower lift and easier for someone to say yes to.
Amanda: Yes. Yeah. So When a new member, I'm gonna get back to the volunteer thing through the new member lens again, when a new member joins, one of the things they love to do is they love to see people like them. And, so I conducted a piece of research called the New Member Engagement Study with my partner's Dynamic Benchmarking. And one of the things that we found compared to the first time we conducted the research, which was four years ago, Is now. So four years ago, associations did these new member webinars, like a new member welcome webinar, very static, not much interaction between the members and the person giving the webinar. Sometimes they were just prerecorded. Now those have evolved so much. Associations are, they're leaning into responsiveness. They're leaning into connection. I love what I'm seeing here because a lot of these, they were calling them virtual onboarding events. And so new members will come to these events. And a lot of the hosts are saying, Hey, tell me a little bit about yourself and what are your goals and why did you join? And they're taking all of that information and then constructing, maybe a little bit of a tour. Like, oh, I, you, you talked about this. Maybe you'd be interested in our salary survey. Or, or, Hey, let me, I'm gonna drop a couple of links into the chat for some articles. I think that you would really. . But what they're also doing is they're, they're naming Chad ambassadors. So maybe there's somebody who's been in the association for six months or a year, they're really excited about their very first volunteer activity. But they can't, of course they're not gonna be a board member or even a committee committee member yet, and they, they don't want that yet. They, they want, maybe something a little bit more practical. And so we can invite them to be chat ambassadors and we will train them and we'll, we'll tell them what a chat ambassador does. And so, . So there's, a, a six month member, one year member talking to brand new members about welcoming them, pulsing up their ideas, bringing things to the attention of the person who's speaking. So, so, there's, there's a lot of there's, there's so many cool roles that. Members would be delighted to do it because it's fun and exciting and interesting for them. And that would also be really helpful for our organizations.
Carol: Yeah, and it's so interesting. It makes me think of a program that we ran At the association, the last association that I worked at, and it was a very intensive year long professional development for early career folks. And when we first started it it was a coach mentor to one to many models. And when we first started, , all the mentors that were being recruited were, 30 years in the field, 25 years in the field. And over time, what we found was that the coaches who were much more successful were five to 10 years ahead of the folks who were in the program because they could still remember being new in the field and having to learn all the acronyms and having to, , not being sure about things. Someone 35 years in, that's a distant memory. So I love that idea of just six months if you can, you can contribute. You're still remembering what it was like to be a new member. You're still feeling new yourself, but you're just a little bit further ahead of the person that you're helping out at that onboarding. And that in an interactive onboarding event. Cuz I, when I said that I have been doing a lot more networking virtually when organizations have taken. It was already a poorly designed learning experience in person and then plunked it online. It made it even worse. But when, when there is intention about how it's designed and how the conversations are being cultivated, and, how everyone is, is actually feeling like they're part of, part of a. A group versus standing off and looking at something it's, it's totally different.
So I'm gonna shift gears now coming to the end here. And we talked about Trader Joe's. So at the end of each conversation, I ask a random icebreaker question. I now have two boxes of random icebreaker questions that I ask. So we were talking about Trader Joe's, so my question for you is, what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Oh,
Amanda: Gosh. Okay, so I'm probably dating myself at this point, but I did a semester abroad in Australia. And while I was there I traveled in, into the bushes. They called it, with a guide and a bunch of other novice Americans, and it was, I think it. earlier, right about the time that Crocodile Dundee had become super, super famous, and man, our guide leaned into that. And this guy, I, oh gosh, he, he found grubs, he found all kinds of things and cooked it over the campfire. So I, I, have proudly sampled my own Australian grub.
Carol: Well, okay, I'm impressed. I'm impressed. . So, what's coming up for you in your work? What are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Amanda: Yeah, so we've, we've been talking a lot about it, and that's the, that's the book. So I, I took all of this research, all of these experiments that I've been doing over the last 10 years and wrote, tried to pour everything that was into my brain out into a book. And so the book has been published. It's out there on all of your favorite online book sellers Worldwide. And it's called Elevating Engagement uncommon strategies for creating a Thriving member community. It's a pretty quick, quick read. I'd, I'd say about two hours-ish. And in what I, what I wanted to do is I wanted to make it engaging. So there are. There's lots of stories in there, and there is a, my fictional hero, her name is Kat Taylor. She actually demonstrates or you get to walk through every single stage of engagement through Kat's eyes. And what Kat is, is, is really an amalgamation of hundreds of stories that are just like hers. And so you, so you really get a sense of. How, how members are feeling at every single one of these stages where they're making that so critical. Go, no go decision to engage.
Carol: And I can attest it is, it is a very accessible and quick read. But there are lots and lots in there and so many actionable Approaches that, that is, that are built in. And I love following Kat on her, on her journey through her professional, professional life through the book. So, well, thank you so much. Thank you, Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you. This is, it's so delightful to talk to you.
Carol: I appreciated how Amanda described the common experience of someone trying out your organization for the first time. Do they feel welcomed? Does the welcome extend beyond a quick hello, here is your name tag at the registration desk? Think about the events you hold – could you have 1-2 people designated to keep an eye out for newcomers and engage them in conversation and help introduce them to one to two people at the event. I also appreciated her point about the often missed opportunity of purposely engaging and moderating your member online community. For associations, this is often one of the most immediate and obvious benefits that the association offers. I have been a member of online communities and message boards that are dominated by a few frequent posters. When those who engage frequently are pretty homogeneous – the cases I am thinking of it is a couple white men who post long treatises in response to questions. What they offer is often useful yet it can create the impression that there isn’t room for other voices – or if you do not have time to write 3-4 paragraphs you might as well not bother. The for profit memberships I am part of seem to all prioritize having a community manager. This person posts open ended questions regularly prompting and spurring group conversation. More active community managers might pay attention to who is posting for the first time and immediately respond so when a person takes the chance to shift from lurker to engaged they have a positive experience. They might also tag people in the community to ask how they are doing or when they might have a perspective to offer for an inquiry. Curating the community a little more can help intentionally create the culture that Amanda talks about and avoid having the culture determined by a few frequent posters. This could be a volunteer role that you prepare folks for and have a team of community managers rather than just 1 paid person.
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 Amanda Kaiser, 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.
Get that Money Honey with Rhea Wong
In episode 67 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Rhea Wong discuss:
Rhea helps nonprofits raise more money. Though she has deep experience with institutional, corporate and event fund-raising, she is passionate about major individual donors and helping organizations to establish individual giving programs. She has raised millions of dollars in private philanthropy and is passionate about building the next generation of fundraising leaders. She has become a leader in the New York nonprofit community and is a frequent educational commentator in the media. She has been recognized with the SmartCEO Brava Award in 2015 and NY Nonprofit Media’s 40 under 40 in 2017. Rhea lives in Brooklyn with her husband. When she is not raising money for causes she loves, she can be found hosting her podcast, Nonprofit Lowdown, promoting her newest book Get that Money, Honey! or onstage as a newbie stand-up comedian in downtown Brooklyn.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Rhea Wong. 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. Rhea and I talk about how founders have to shift their thinking if they want their organization to grow, what rocks and pebbles have to do with nurturing donor relationships, and how accidental fundraisers can build their confidence.
Well, welcome Rhea. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Rhea Wong: Thanks so much, Carol. It's so fun to be here with you.
Carol: I have to say thank you for back in the day when you actually had me on your podcast before I had started mine, and it was part of what helped me have the courage to step out, and launch my podcast. So thank you for that.
Rhea: Oh, you're so welcome. I love it. I feel like the more the merrier we all need. good voices out here sharing knowledge. So awesome.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I like to start out each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do and what would you describe as your why, what, what motivates the work that you're, that you're focused on?
Rhea: So sort of different iterations. So I started as a 26 year old executive director in New York City. And first at 26, I knew everything right? But in retrospect, I don't know whose idea it was to hire a 26 year old. Anyway, I talk about this a lot, but on my first day on the job, I did two Google searches. Google Search. One was, what did this executive director do? and Google search too was, how do you fundraise? Because I was that clueless.
And so over the course of 12 and a half years, my team and I built up the organization from 250,000 a year to just a little bit under 3 million in private funds in New York City. And it was a great ride and, and I really credit a lot of folks helping me in a really great team, but I also just thought, why did it take me 12 and a half years to figure this out? Like I'm a smart person. Surely this should be.
And what I found is that a lot of people have been put in these positions as executive directors or even development directors without ever having received formal training. I called them accidental fundraisers, right? And so in the next iteration of my career, I am doing it for the 26 year old me that was super clueless. I mean, I Googled, I got meetings with anyone who would meet with me. I sort of cobbled together what I would consider an MBA in. And fundraising. And the truth is the world needs a lot of healing and the folks who are doing the healing don't have time to waste to figure it out, like I had to figure out how to fundraise to bring the resources to the work. And so I do what I do because I remember what it feels like to be in. A seat and feel such a sense of responsibility and yet feel so clueless and alone in how I'm supposed to do this.
Carol: At least at that point there was Google for you to tap into folks beforehand, probably were, were flailing around and, and having less, less easy access to, to ways to learn. But I love you. Taking that and really streamlining it cuz, right. Why, why should it take anyone that long to really get good at what a it's a basic function for most nonprofits. Although it's rarely why people go into the field or go in and, or want to do the work that they're doing. it's often around. They wanna move a mission forward. They have a, they, there's something that, I was talking to somebody yesterday and she got started because X, Y, Z thing really pissed her off and those kinds of things. Mm-hmm. are the things that draw people into the field or have them start organizations or join organizations cuz they wanna make that difference and yet without money, without funds to and resources. There. There, there's. you can pursue a mission, but you're just so much more limited in your scope. So really being able to step into fundraising is so important. So what would you say to people? What are they, what are the first things that they have to learn as they're, getting, getting better at fundraising and a, and advocating for their cause?
Rhea: Before I answer that question, can I just respond to Sure. Absolutely. Cause I think it's really important if you're 100% right and this is usually the curse of the founder. So in, in a sense, I'm a little bit of a founder as well, but nobody starts a nonprofit cuz they're excited about fundraising. I totally get that right. On the flip side though, I think people who start nonprofits have to really come to terms with the fact that they're starting a small business. Mm. And a small business does not run without revenue.
And so, As you are growing an organization, especially if you are the executive director, you have to recognize that what got you here won't get you there, right? Your job is no longer, I, I like to say pet the panda bears as just a. a cheeky way, like your job is not to pet the panda bears anymore. Your job is to bring in the resources to hire people, to pet the panda bears. And where I see a lot of folks stumble, particularly founders, is that they have not upgraded in their own minds what the job is now. Like they realize, they don't realize that the scope of responsibility has changed because they're so connected to this vision and identity of themselves. It's like, well, I'm just the one who pets the panda bear.
And so that's where we see a lot of founder syndrome, like people who failed to build an institution around the idea. And so without a clear strategy for revenue, without an institution, you just have a hobby really. It could be a well-funded hobby, but it's really just a hobby. And so that's for all the folks out there listening, especially the, the founders in the eds, you are my people and I love you to death, but also. You have to run it like a business because it is a business.
Anyway, To get to your point though the question about what are the things that people have to know I mean, there's so many things, but I think so many things, right? So many things. But, one of the first training I do with the folks that I work with is around money mindset. So I think. Carol, I know you and I spoke about this, but we operate in such a scarcity mindset in the nonprofit sector. Like, oh, we can't afford that. And even the word is, is a negative, a nonprofit, right? We don't have enough time. We don't have enough money, we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough. No, we can't, can't, can't. And so what that does is it puts us in a survival mindset. And so when we get into a survival mindset, that's when we get reactive. That's when we get stressed, that's when we get transactional and we treat people like they're walking ATMs. And so the thing that I really want to get across to people, is that the job is not about chasing people down and extracting money from them. The job is to attract. Partners and inspire them and compel them to give because who they are in the world is intertwined with what you do as an organization and that there's an ever-growing cycle of growth and learning and interconnection.
Carol: I was just talking to someone recently about what they termed the ladder of engagement and, and I was actually reflecting on the number of. Newsletter, email newsletter lists that I'm on for nonprofits. And when I receive the number of invitations that I have to donate mm-hmm. But how few invitations I get in a really concrete way of how to get more involved and, and volunteer with them so that they, I would actually learn more about the organization. They would learn more about me. to me, to my mind, I probably would also be more motivated to give more versus mm-hmm. the 10th email that they've sent me for donations. So I love that. What you're talking about, about that interconnection.
Rhea: Well, the other thing too is I think, gosh, Cal even began, but so many nonprofit people have no expertise in marketing, which like, why would you? Right? I mean, that's not what the job is. But there's a concept of marketing of a nurturer sequence, and what a nurturer sequence is, is you're literally nurturing the relationship. And so what. Talk about a lot with my nonprofit clients if you have to think of all the communications that you're putting out as pebbles and rocks. Pebbles are the nurture sequence. Pebbles are the stories that you tell. Pebbles are the invitations to come to an event or volunteer or anything that builds trust. The rocks are the actual tasks. The thing, the mistake that I see people making all the time is that all they're throwing out are rocks. All they're throwing out are asks without the pebbles of building the trust and nurturing relationship, and fundamentally, Trust equals donations. So if you haven't done the hard work of building my trust in you and building my relationship to the organization, you have not earned the right to ask me for a donation because you have not gotten the trust.
Carol: And I, the, the image of people throwing rocks at me is not very inviting.
Rhea: That's true. Well, just think about like a pond, right? Like a big splash. So your, your rocks are like, they make a bigger splash, but you need the little pebbles to agitate the surface. I dunno if this is the best analogy, but the point being that you can't be throwing rocks out all of the time because people get tired of that. And also you. Established enough trust. You haven't established a relationship. You were just talking to me as if you're just extracting and like, by the way, 10 emails sent to me to ask me for money does not make it more likely that I'm gonna send you money. Right.
Carol: Right. And no. I haven't necessarily responded as they want me to. But, and probably because it is feeling transactional on my end.
Rhea: I mean, I think the other mistake, and I think it's a function of being so deep in this scarcity mindset, is that fundraisers, and I get it, fundraisers are getting it from both sides, right? They'll probably have an ED sitting on top of them or a board sitting on top of them being like, bring in the money. And then you have donors on the other side and, and you're just, you're in the middle. We so often think about what we want as a nonprofit. I like my fiscal year. I wanna do this. Me, me, me, me, me. It's the rare nonprofit that thinks about the donor. Like, what does the donor want? What does the donor experience, what do they want to achieve with their money? Right? Like, we all want something in the world. Good or bad, right? Like maybe I care about the pan bears, or maybe I wanna think of myself as the person who is in conservation or whatever it is. But how often do nonprofits actually ask me like, what do I want to achieve with my money? Like, why would I give to this organization and how is it aligned with my values and my purpose? And so, I think we as fundraisers need to think of ourselves as facilitators of our donors' experience. we're, as philanthropic advisors as opposed to, extractors of resources.
Carol: And I love that idea of a facilitator of an experience because that that would, if, if someone were thinking about it that way, they'd provide. different ways to have experiences with the organization and, and not just that one that keeps getting, drum drum, drum on. So, that facilitation is a really interesting idea.
Rhea: I mean, it's like, why, like why is Disneyland the happiest place on Earth? Like it's, and they're making money and make no mistake about it. But I would submit. it's because they've really thought about how to make a magical experience. And when you go to Disneyland, you're essentially buying an emotional experience, right? And you're like, what? Fine, go on the rides, whatever. But you're buying awe. You're buying magic in a sense. And I think as nonprofits we really have to orient ourselves to asking like, what kind? Experience, what value are we offering our donor? By being a donor with these NPSs? That doesn't mean I get the experience of getting like 10 more emails asking me for money. Like, that's not, that's not why I give money. And like also, I'm actually, I'm also pissed off at the donor. Like when I give to particularly political, political campaigns, I'm calling you. Hey, what's the thanks I get for donating? Oh, I get 50 million more people asking me for money cuz you sold my email address. Like that does not inspire trust and confidence.
Carol: Amen to that. Amen to that. Where have you seen organizations do a good job in creating that experience? Maybe that magical experience that you're talking about.
Rhea: Honestly I don't know that I, I can point to an exemplar. Let me think. I mean, look, how about good? Let's say good. I mean, what, I'm, I'm just gonna, everyone says, I'm just gonna call it Charity Water does a great job, and I, I'll tell you why. So, From a communication standpoint, most nonprofits put too much information on their website. It's very confusing. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. When you go to Charity Water, it's very clean, it's very straightforward, and they answer three questions. What problem are you solving? Why should I donate to you? So it's about competency and transparency and what's in it for me. And so if you scroll down and it's like, oh, well you can be part of our, peer-to-peer giving thing and it's really about building a community around an idea.
And so, I mean, I think Charity Water probably does the best job of understanding that. Are designing around a donor experience and a donor emotion as opposed to making it about them and about talking about what they need or what they want. Because in a sense it's sort of irrelevant. And like, here, I wanna be really, really clear because I, I know I might get some pushback here from people who are donor-centric versus community-centric. And I, I'm not gonna step into those muddy waters. Fundamentally, what I'm advocating is, is being empathy centric, right? We all have stories, we are all the main characters of our own personal movie, and there's space for all of it. But if I'm a donor and I don't feel appreciated, if I don't feel. Like I am part of a community. If I feel like you're just looking at me like I'm a walking track book, I'm gonna take my track and go somewhere else.
Carol: Actually as you were talking, I was, I was thinking about the whole move towards community centric fundraising, which I'll, I'll have to admit, I don't know a ton about. But I like that rephrase of empathy centric fundraising. So it's, and that can be e e e empathetic for any of the people involved in the whole experience.
Rhea: That's exactly right. I mean, I think there are a lot of things that I agree with in community-centric fundraising. Like, I think, I think that there have been a lot of toxic behaviors in the sector around, treating the donor like they're a savior. Like that's not, we, we're not, we don't need saviors, we need partners. But the thing that makes me very uncomfortable about community centric fundraising, and I'm part of, slack channels and all that is. There feels like there's an undercurrent of hostility towards people who have wealth. And I just wanna be really careful that we are not falling into this trope of like, well, rich people are bad and they did bad things to get their money. I mean, the truth is like most wealthy people in this country are first generation wealth creators. They're entrepreneurs. They made their money. Most of them did not do bad things to get their money. And, and yet I think in American society, the last great prejudice is against people who are wealthy. Like, we see villains that are wealthy and I mean, the truth is money is not. Money doesn't change anything. Money is just an amplifier. So if you are a good, generous person with no money, you'll be an even better, more generous person with money. If you were a stingy miserly person without money, you're probably gonna still be a miserly stingy person with money. Right? So I fundamentally believe that money is an amplifier of what's already there. And so this went on a weird tangent, but I, I, I would really caution. Who are talking about community centered fundraising to be careful that we're not demonizing people of wealth.
Carol: And just for folks, can you just give a brief definition of what community centered fundraising is?
Rhea: So it's an interesting model of fundraising. It's coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and it's really a reaction. The tradition of donor-centric fundraising, which is about making the donor the hero of the story and the center of the story, and really putting the community at the center of the conversation. I would actually Nuance it a little bit. I think the work needs to be at the center of the conversation. And I think of it like stone soup. Like everyone has a part to play. Everyone can bring a little something and we create something better together. And so, and I think in the Community-centric fundraising world. I think there are a lot of interesting conversations that are happening, particularly among younger philanthropists and what their responsibility and obligation is to decolonize wealth. So I think there's a lot of interesting ideas coming out, a lot of which I do agree with. I think the tricky piece for me is that I've actually never seen it done in practice. To me, there's a lot of theory behind it. But anyway, if there's anyone out there listening who has seen this done in practice, let me know. I'd be thrilled to talk to you and possibly have you come on my podcast.
Carol: I mean, I think there are a lot of pieces in that, where folks are questioning a lot of them. I'm strongly in the commonly held wisdom about this, that, or the other in the nonprofit sector, which I think is really healthy to mm-hmm. to critique that and, and look at it and say, how can we do this differently? But I appreciate we're, we're back to stones and rocks and pebbles with your stone soup of everyone having a part in it, and how can we all work together. So, and, and talking about how money is an amp amplifier, I would say I've, I feel like I've heard power described that way as well. That you really, know, really learn about someone's character when they have power, mm-hmm. and it wasn't, isn't the power necessarily that did it. Their character that they bring to them, that level of responsibility that they have. What do you, what would you say helps folks who may be reluctant or accidental fundraiser fundraisers, what, what are some things that help them be more successful in stepping into that? You talked about money mindset. Are there other things that folks need to address? Is to, to become more confident, more comfortable in that?
Rhea: Well, you can definitely take my course. So I am a fundraising accelerator. But it's so funny. When I started fundraising I heard this commonly held piece of advice, like, listen for the gift, listen for the gift. And I was like, I don't really know what that means. And the truth is, giving people the space to talk about themselves and what they want in the world and what they desire and what and who they are in the world is really important. What's equally as important, actually more important is that. There are really three levels of listening. The first level is I'm listening with an, with an agenda, and unfortunately that's where most of us reside, right? So I'm listening to you, Carol, but really I'm just filtering through with my own agenda and for what I want to hear. The second is listening with no agenda, so really just being fully present. And then the third is listening for what's not being said. And I'm gonna credit Jason Frack for this. I did not come up with this. I think as a fundraiser, if you are positioning yourselves not as an extractor of resources, but as a facilitator of an experience, then I think you calm your lizard brain enough to at least try to get to level two listening. Because at the end of the day, this is a, this is a people business, and if people don't like you, if people. Trust you. If people don't feel connected to you, you're probably not gonna go very far in this business. and I, as much as I think that people like to put a lot of philosophy and psychology behind it, the truth of the matter is people do business with people that they like, the people that they know, people that they like, people that they trust. And so be the person who is. Trustworthy. Be the person who's likable, be the person that people want to spend time with. I mean, it's pretty basic.
Carol: And that what, what, what, what is not being said? So I'm trying to think of how I can put a question together, so what's not being said here that you would wanna tell people about?
Rhea: The idea of what's not being said is actually really, really hard to do. It takes a lot of energy and it takes, and here I'm gonna get a little boo cuz I'm a Californian. That's just how we are. But it takes quieting the voices in your own head. How often are we really fully present? And so what's not being said? It's your reading tone, right? Like we communicate a lot with our voices, we communicate a lot with our body language. We communicate a lot with our energy. And so if I'm in a meeting with you and your, your mouth is saying one thing and your body language is saying another, like, do I have the courage to be like, Carol, I'm just, can we just pause for a second? It seems to me that, you're saying, And I'm getting something else. Can you tell me what's happening for you? But it takes a level of sensitivity and a willingness to step into something outside of the script to have that authentic human conversation.
Carol: That's, that's taking a risk, right? Because the in, in pausing, noticing, asking the person about it. And then I think where I, when I've done things like that, where I've made the mistake is that I haven't then just been quiet. Hmm. To allow them to decide whether they not wanna say anything
Rhea: Like, we're so afraid of silence, right? I mean, I, I'm, I'm guilty as well, but we, we like to rush in cuz like, we don't want uncomfortable silence. The other thing too that I would really say, particularly to new fundraisers out there is please, please, please, please stop the pitch. Ditch the pitch people. Now let me nuance that. I think it's important to have a pitch for you. Have the salient points boiled down in a concise way. That part of the pitch I agree with. The part of the pitch I disagree with is how we teach people. Like you just need to like to throw that pitch out at people and like to splatter them with it, right? I mean, I've raised millions of dollars. There's no magical combination of words. I'm going to say that. It's going to convince you to give me a gift. It is. It's a conversation and so I think the reason. especially young fundraisers, rely very heavily on the pitches that they're nervous about. And so instead of actually connecting as a human, I'm just gonna memorize like these, five slides and exactly what I'm gonna say to avoid making a mistake or avoid an uncomfortable situation or avoid being vulnerable myself.
Carol: I feel like that is something that, really, could be applied in so many different situations. I'm thinking of it. instances where folks are going to see their legislator or, or legislative staff too, and they go in, they've got their talking points, and they're gonna talk at the person. Or even, someone who's a consultant or vendor or whatnot, comes in and gives you a pitch on why they're the great ones and you should hire them. And I think of a situation where I was working in an organization and we were looking to do branding work. And we had a couple different firms come in and one came in very much with the pitch model. They just. Gave us a fancy slide deck and talked to us. The other folks came in. They had nothing. They had no presentation. They spent the time asking us questions, listening, and responding. We began how they would work with us, but really Their approach was learning more about us. And I feel like that, or in, in sales, in fundraising, in advocacy, all these different arenas where you're, where your ultimate goal is to try to influence someone. When you come at them hard like that, the rocks that you were talking about before it, it's just a turn off and you just stop listening. But Oh, if you come in with questions and, and have a conversation with someone and want to know more about them, it's just a totally different feeling.
Rhea: Well, and, and I would also say with questions, like, actually listen to the answer. I mean, I, there you go. We ask questions. I mean, I, I have to tell you, Carol, I was once on a podcast. and literally the person had sent me the questions in advance and she just went through the questions like, like a robot. And I was like, I could literally say anything right now. And you wouldn't change the cadence of this conversation because in her mind she was just like going through the questions and it was very off-put because ostensibly though she was asking questions about me, there was no. Like there was no connection there. it was. Okay. The next question you were like, she was lobbing tennis balls at me and I was like, okay, I, the, we are not having a conversation it felt like an interrogation actually
Carol: Right, right. So there, there is, there is nuance in that, in that if you're all, and then I think at that point it's probably nerves again. Mm-hmm. and wanting to do it right and like, let me get through. but the focus is on yourself. Cuz it's like, I can. That's right. Control this by asking all these questions versus let me be in this conversation with you, hear what you're saying, and respond to it in some appropriate way.
Rhea: I mean, I have to tell you, you, I had one of the most incredible interactions I had as an executive director. I met this guy, he was very successful, a finance guy, whatever and I went into the conversation, I was super nervous. I was just thinking about like, okay, basically like how do I not screw this up, right? Cause I was like, I feel like I have one shot here. But I decided, and, and to his credit, he actually helped this along, but we actually had this really connecting conversation and it wasn't about the non-profit. It was about how he was on the board of his college and why he was on the board of his college and how going to this college had meant so much to him. And just like this opportunity to be. With another human being and just learn about who he was and, and, and put aside my own nerves of like, oh gosh, he's this super successful finance guy who has so much money. Right. And we were just humans and it was an incredible conversation. I came away incredibly energized.
Carol: So connecting it, as you said before, it's really a people business. And it's all about, cultivating those relationships.
Rhea: Definitely. Well, I, I think too, the reason why people get so nervous is it, it's all about that scarcity mindset. That's just this belief that, like, this is the last person I'm ever gonna talk to who might fund our organization or might give us a gift, or might give us a donation, like the truth is, it's probably not the last person you're ever gonna talk to. And not all donations are meant to be yours, right? Like if I talk to you, Carol, and I tell you about my organization, I learn about what you're interested in. And it turns out that you're really into saving the whales and that's not what we do. My job is not to convince you. My job is to say, Carol, that is wonderful cuz the world needs people to save whales too. Can I make an introduction to some people who are doing that work or at the very bravo. So glad that you figured that that's the thing that you wanna do and, go forth and do that. So I just think we have to let go of the desperation, ? So a lot of the times when we go into conversations like, I need to convince someone to do the thing that's like, That's like going on a date and convincing someone that we need to get married. I'm like, I don't even know you like that. Like what? Stop trying to push things. Like maybe it works out, maybe it's right, maybe it's not. But we need the space to be able to figure out if we like each other.
Carol: It reminds me of the small group that I was working with, and they were shifting from that all volunteer stage to having staff. But they were still very much in that scarcity mindset around board recruitment. Mm-hmm. And so it was like each new person that they met, they asked them to be on the board. And that's like, oh no. Asking someone to marry them. Like, no, you need to get to know this person. They need to get to know you. You need to know whether they're gonna show up and do what they say they're gonna do. Are they interested in your organization? Lots of different things. And so what are all those little pebbles as you talked about, what are all those little steps that you can provide people to, to give, have a way in if, if it is the right organization and cause and, and thing that they're really passionate to contribute.
Rhea: I talked about this a lot, Carol. So I love the dating analogy of people who have listened to me. No, it's number one, desperation is a stinky perfume. So I'm, I'm married, I've been married for a long time, but once upon a time I was single and I would go through these periods where I couldn't catch a date to save my life. It was just like a dry spell, right. And the minute I was in a relationship, everyone wanted my number. And I was like, what's up with that? Like, where were you a month ago? and it was because of the vibe I was putting out, right? Like when you feel secure, when you feel confident, when you feel just sort of in integrity with yourself, like that's very attractive and people want to be part of that. But when you're desperate and you're like, well, you go out on a date with me, will you be my boyfriend? It's like, no crazy person. I like to calm down.
Carol: Well, right. As you were talking about the, the other conversation where, you felt like this is my one shot. That just, that it's like, it just, even, even just saying that I feel myself tensing up, and, and so where you're calm and confident in your, in your, in your own power.
Rhea: Just comfortable in your own skin.
Carol: Absolutely. Exactly. Exactly. So at the end of each episode, I like to ask an icebreaker question that I pull out of a box. So I've got one here for you. Oh, how fun. Which, which famous person I you're, you're in New York, you're in I think, Southern California right now. Maybe, maybe not Southern California.
Rhea: No, I am in southern California right now. What
Carol: A famous person have you met? And, and any level of fame is fine
Rhea: oh, okay. I'm gonna share the story. I hope, I hope this doesn't get back to me. So, I am a big Game of Thrones fan and Peter Dinklage lives on my block. So for those of you who don't know his Tyrion Lannister, and I have for the longest time. Tried to befriend him and he is not having it. he's not having it. He's not having it. I mean, so I see him walking his dog. I'm walking my dog. I try to be super cool, like, oh hey neighbor, good morning. And he is like, not unfriending, he'll say hi, but like he is just not trying to be my friend. So I don't know if I could say that I met him. I definitely have interacted with him where, Tried to have interactions with him, and he is not about that life. So Peter Dinklage, if you're listening to this, I am your neighbor. I'm not a weird stalker, but we should definitely be friends
Carol:. Sounds good. And a dog. A dog is always a good way to get to know people. So what do you,
Rhea: So wait. Okay, wait, quick story. So he has a dog and I have a dog. My dog has passed away, but anyway, I have a dog and I was like, oh, I'm gonna be in, like, we're, we're gonna be dog friends and then we're gonna see each other on the walk and then like start chit-chatting. But then, My dog decided to have beef with his dog and started yapping at him. And I was like, dog, dog. I, I don't ask for anything except for this one thing. You could have gotten me in with Peter Dinklage's dog, and it was a tremendous failure. So like, then I had to cross the street when I saw him and his dog because my dog was being a jerk. So sad times with the dogs.
Carol: Well, you can blame it on the dog then. Poor, poor puppy. I know you're a cutie. I know. Or was, I'm sorry to hear he passed away.
Rhea: That's it. Stevie Wonder. Well, we have a new love Stella, but Stevie will always hold a special place in our hearts
Carol:. Yes, absolutely. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're
Rhea: Good question. So I, as I mentioned, have a fundraising accelerator. So I'm actually promoting my cohort now. And this is ideal for executive directors and development directors who are accidental fundraisers who wanna learn how to get out of the transactional into the and what else? I have a book that came out last year, so I'm still out in the world promoting that. What else? I'm doing some speaking and training around the country, so that's a lot of fun. But I continue to have my podcast and my weekly newsletter. So there are lots of ways if, if you want more of this action, there are lots of ways to get it.
Carol: Definitely. Remind me what the book is.
Rhea: Oh, get that money, honey
Carol:. All right. I love it. I knew it was, I knew it was a good title. I knew it was a good title. Get that money.
Rhea: It's so funny when I put it out to a group of pre-reads, someone responded like, I don't know what you should call it, get that money, honey. Because as a man, that feels alienated to me. And I was like, I hear your feedback and I respectfully override it.
Carol: That is always our prerogative with feedback. Right. It's just information. We don't have to follow it all. I hear you and well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk with you.
Rhea: Thanks so much, Carol. It's a lot of fun.
Carol: I appreciated what Rhea said about cultivating an experience as a fundraiser for a donor. Truly being present in the conversation, putting away the script and truly listening. Listening for the gift instead of jumping in with your talking points and your pitch. Very few people want to be pitched to. They want to have a conversation. And know that you are really listening to their answers so that they can connect with you as another human being.
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 Rhea, 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 Natasha DeVoise of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We always 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 66 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Katherine Turner discuss:
Katherine L. Turner, MPH (she/elle) is the founding President of Global Citizen, LLC consulting firm that strengthens inclusive leadership and effects organizational transformation and social impact by advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, public health, human rights, and global competence. As Adjunct Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, she teaches and mentors global leaders on leadership, global competence, and other topics.
Katherine provides strategic leadership on global advisory committees, has founded and led boards of directors of nonprofit organizations, and won awards for excellence in leadership, teaching, public health, and advocacy. She is an internationally-recognized executive consultant, coach, thought leader, speaker, author, and change agent who has worked in English, French, and Dutch across all sectors in over 50 countries to deliver high-impact results for a better world.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Katherine Turner. 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. Katherine and I talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in a global context. We discuss how the fields of diversity, equity and inclusion and intercultural communications and competence intersect and also how they do not, how globalization and shifting demographics are shifting the field, decolonizing international humanitarian efforts, and how to help people move from awareness to action.
Well, welcome Katherine. Welcome to the podcast.
Katherine Turner: Thank you so much. It's great to be here, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Katherine: That's such an important question. Well, I would begin with my background and my accident of birth, if you'll call it that, that, being born a white middle class person and being, gaining so much unearned privilege and power as a result of that and definitely has had a strong impact on my, my values and my perspective of myself in relation to my life, which is around that I, I did gain so much unearned privilege and I have benefited so much from that and that I just want to work throughout my lifetime to try to create more equity and to equalize that. And then certainly as a queer lesbian, my identities in those ways and the kinds of experiences and discrimination that I've experienced have certainly informed a lot of my work, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then having a biracial son with a multiracial queer family. That is a blended family with my ex-partner who's African-American and her partner who's African-American, and my current partner who's white and our son who's biracial, that as a multiracial queer family, so many of the experiences that I and my ex-partner and my current partner and our son and are, are co-parents are, have experienced, have really informed a lot of our understanding of the world, and again, the kinds of changes that I'm looking to affect in the world to. According to my company's tagline, create a Better World, for a better world, for my son and, and really for all people. And then I grew up with a very global upbringing, so my family moved around a lot in general, and we lived in London, my middle school years. We also share a history with you on attending the American School in London, London for three years. And my family traveled a lot during that time and. and since then I have lived and worked in a number of different countries. And so that has really informed my understanding of myself as having a global citizenry identity and also viewing everything really from a global perspective. So that has a huge impact on, on the work that my firm does and. And then my family, just on a personal level, just my, my grandparents had, had such a profound impact on me as well as, of course, my parents. And, they really raised us with a strong sense of ethics of most of all integrity. AndI've raised my son with that really firm belief, that integrity, our integrity is our most prized trait and possession and that we, that we need to work throughout our lifetime to embody integrity. And so that's always been number one for me. And that said, I also grew up in a family, a white family that didn't talk about our whiteness, didn't talk about race at all, that that raised me to think that it was. Impolite or not nice or wrong to notice, even notice or let alone talk about race and ethnicity and, and differences. And so that has also really informed my convictions and my commitment to proactively addressing systemic racism and other forms of systemic oppression and discrimination. and I have an aunt who's developmentally disabled. And, and so she also, just growing up and, and seeing her, how her life and, and all of our lives have been affected by her disability has really informed my understanding and my compassion and my. Desire to create a better world for people with differing abilities. And I've just always been a systems thinker too. So I approach problems and solutions from a systems perspective. So that informs the work that my firm does around affecting systemic, broader systemic changes. So I think it's in terms of my upbringing and then also my nature and personality just have really lent themselves well. Being a consultant, running a consulting firm and specifically doing this work around diversity, equity, and inclusion or d e I as well as global intercultural competence and global public health. Yeah.
Carol: There are a lot of common intersections that we have. And yes, and part of the, we, we, we, we found out by accident that we had actually been at the same school overseas together in London. Exactly. During our middle school years. But I just learned another one, which is you, you have an aunt who's developmentally disabled and mm-hmm. I have a brother who's developmentally disabled. Mm-hmm. And I feel like that. I, I also grew up in, in a white family that did not talk about race, that where it was impolite to pay attention to it and all of those common things that you described. But I did grow up with the younger sister of my brother who's deaf and autistic and developmentally disabled, and so was able to see. And experience how the world treated him differently and how he did not fit into systems and all of those things. And I think then also having that international experience certainly enabled me to understand that culture exists and that everyone has a culture and that they all have different assumptions. And to be able to see that in a way that when you're in. and you never leave it. It's very hard to see. And, and one thing that you talked about, you talked about and I, I really appreciate how you grounded your why. And I think really when it comes down to it, everybody's purpose is and what they're doing comes from all those experiences. You're, you're, you're growing up, your family those, those important influences. Your cho , your chosen family as an adult. thinking about the blended family that you have. I'm also thinking about my grandson who has multiple sets of grandparents mm-hmm. and three distinct cultures that he's interacting with. Mm-hmm. through, through that, through those groups of grandparents. So , it's just a different experience that he will have even from mine. So, Appreciating all of that. And one of the things that you talked about was doing d what's called in the United States generally, as I understand it, diversity, equity, and inclusion work. And then also working globally around global competence and intercultural communications. And I've probably been more aware. The field of intercultural communications first and then had learned more about diversity, the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And as I learned about both, I was curious about how each field had developed while they're working in many ways on similar issues. I feel like there's a, there's a very different perspective d e i being rooted in. I, I think if I'm, if I'm correct, the, the. history, the particular history of the United States and our history with racism. But then applied in an organizational context to try to mitigate that. And then, Intercultural communication probably comes out of the experience of, of a previous generation of folks like you and me who either grew up overseas or worked overseas and have that and probably more likely to be white or an elite from an international different country. and yet there's some things from each field that they're mm-hmm. that over overlaps. And then, and I've also experienced where people have no idea that one field or the other exists. Exactly. , I'm curious, I'm curious about your experience with that.
Katherine: Yeah, I've, I've had similar, similar experiences and it is curious to me, I've always felt that I've straddled these worlds and, and many worlds. And that's one of them. Can serve to play as, as a bridge builder between them and to help people understand the interconnectedness of people as well as concepts. And so yeah, certainly when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion work and understanding that people and companies use different acronyms and language for that. Sure. So sometimes it could include DEIJ for justice or DEIA for accessibility, et cetera. The alphabet soup. The origins are around the realities of systemic oppression and, specifically racism in the US as well as gender sexism and gender equity work in the us. So a lot of the anti-racism and gender equity work has really informed me. I feel that it started more with focus on diversity and then gradually started to encompass understanding that it's, while it's important to have, it is important to have representation and a diverse mix of people. In any workplace or community , diversity is important and not sufficient to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. And so then that recognition of inclusion and then ultimately working towards equity, that even with inclusion where when we take actions to ensure people are feeling fully valued to part. That still doesn't account for the historic and present day discrimination and disparities that exist because of systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of systemic oppression. And that in order to achieve equity, we need to recognize those historic and present day disparities and take specific actions to address them and provide the opportunities and resources that people who have been discriminated against need in order to actually. Achieve equity and that we know will have achieved it when race or gender or other identity markers like that are no longer a predetermining factor for outcomes. And so that's, that's really important. And yet, as you noted when I was years ago, when, when earlier in the field, When I would participate in or facilitate d e i conversations sometimes people in the US would challenge me when I would bring in a global context or want to have a global conversation around d e I and even feel that I was trying to minimize the realities of systemic discrimination and racism specifically in anti-black. System in the US context. To me, having grown up internationally and really understanding, seeing the, seeing issues through a global lens, it's impossible for me to even think about the history of slavery and anti-black discrimination in the us. Without putting it into a global context, because literally obviously black people in the US , came originally from Africa and, and, and then all of the centuries of movement and political and economic and social and other phenomena that has resulted to us being in the situation we're in, in the US and that there are so, Parallels around systemic discrimination in different countries, and I find it incredibly valuable to learn from experiences in different countries and to apply those lessons across the globe. That we have so much to learn in the US from others, what the experiences and wisdom in other countries and vice versa. I think that because of our history of. Thisin the US we're often really indoctrinated to believe that the US is the best country in the world, that we are superior, that we have all the answers. And that's a lot of the work that, that my firm does around global competence is helping people who have been, as all of us who were raised in the west and indoctrinated with this, this false belief to understand that there, there's so much that we have to learn from people in other countries and systems in other countries. And similarly in. Global intercultural competence, again, goes by different terms fields as you do not. A lot of that has come out of thought leaders who grew up with an international, with international experiences or who held positions in which they were working internationally, and then developing models and frameworks and concepts and understanding of intercultural skills or competence, what the elements of those are and what they look like. And how to teach them and how to learn them and how to practice them. And even as global citizens, we have our own global competence model, the framework and curricula that we use in our training. And yet when we look at the history, as you noted, Many of the earlier pioneers, if you will, of and I guess I'm using that term significantly in the intercultural competence fields were predominantly white western people with an international upbringing or ex or professional experience. And there had not been until more recently an understanding and an incorporation of equity. and justice within those models and frameworks. And so as you noted, there really has been historically a disconnect. I wouldI've written papers, journal manuscripts, and I've been a keynote speaker and done a lot of speaking and writing and. Thought leadership and consulting in each of these areas. And yet the communities and fields have been quite distinct until more recently, I would go to conferences and address, talk about the interrelation with intercultural or global competence and d e i and people would give me, looks like these are completely separate fields. And similarly, again, in the d e i space, like the example I shared where people would, some, some people would sometimes question me bringing a global lens and even my motivations for doing that. But, more recently, I think given the popularization of equity and the, and the greater understanding and awareness, and hopefully as we're working on action more recently around equity, I think there has been more understanding and more interconnectedness among those fields.
Carol: Where are you seeing the common points or the interconnections? Where are you seeing people make those, make those links?
Katherine: Yeah, such a great question. Well, first of all, I think that with increasing globalization and increasing. Population diversity. So in the US for example, we're when we think about people who are currently living in the US who are born in other countries who are at the highest point in over a century, and those trends are only going to continue. So when we just look at the demographic data, On populations in the US and populations in many countries, the world over because of increasing GLO migration, because of globalization, more people are moving to other countries or continents for work or for. Sanctuary or for other reasons. And then forming families that are increasingly across CU cultures or countries. And then having children who are increasingly multicultural that the population, the demographics are shifting and we, in the US and people in other countries are becoming increasingly international. And because of migration and diversity and, and multiethnic and multiracial. And so these sh this also affects a shift in cultures, obviously. And and those numbers also that who's in the majority that they, for example, the US will be a, a majority black and brown country you buy, or before the year 2045. So this is affecting huge cultural changes and I think more and more people are recognizing Global, the global nature of all issues, including DEI. And then in the intercultural or global competence fields, there has been the move towards and in other fields, in the humanitarian sectors and, and in the global nonprofit. And development sectors. There's been an increasing awareness around decolonization which at its roots is about recognizing the systemic oppression affected by worldwide colonization and the lasting impact of that, and the need to to identify and work to mitigate the effects of colonization in all of the work. People do internationally, whatever the sector is, and, and those are different terms, but they're still speaking to an understanding of the root causes, history, causes of systemic oppression, the lasting impact in the ways that oppression has been. Inculcated into all of our institutions or major institutions and into our cultures and the ways that we think and act, and then a need to identify and work to disrupt that, which is. Parallel to the work that we're doing around anti-racism, around sec , gender equity and gender around sexual orientation, gender identity and expression around accessibility for people with differing disabilities, et cetera. So, I think people are starting to understand those root causes and, and consequences and impact, and that the solutions on a systemic level are somewhat similar.
Carol: Yeah, thinking about that history, it's always gotten to me that when I hear folks from Europe saying, oh we don't have those racism problems that you have in the US Wait a second. Where did it start? Who were the colonizers? Who came over here and then colonized? The folks who were the integral parts of the entire enslavement system. All of the countries in Europe, and then all of the ripple effects , Some of them having them more directly because of migration and, and , who's come to live in the countries, for example, in, in the UK. But yeah, that just like, wait a second, . Absolutely. It's, well, and then when different, there may be different particularities, but there's so much that's, that's in common there when you're working with organizations that are, that are. , take steps towards the decolonization that you're talking about in that international context. Can you, can you gimme some examples of what's a useful place for people to get started?
Katherine: Yeah, I think first of all, just having accurate information to one methodology that I had helped to develop in a previous role when I was a global senior health systems advisor and manager at, at IPAs, which is an international nonprofit working on women's sexual reproductive health and rights and was a values clarification, attitude, transformation methodology. That's really about helping people understand. Replace inaccurate information with accurate, factually correct, accurate information. And then also really undergo a deep process of identifying and identifying their core values and then linking their core values with their beliefs and their attitudes and their actions. And that's, that's an important methodology that we. But just awareness raising as a, as a starting place for many people in particular, like you and I were describing at the beginning the way the, the situ, the circumstances that we're born into the identities that we have been born into or that we have acquired over our lifetime. For those of us who have identity, identity markers that are part of the dominant group, whatever that group may be, and that's gonna be different in different cultural and country contexts. The kinds of privilege and power that we experience is oftentimes invisible to us unless we take actions to really understand what they are. And then again take actions to work to interrupt. And so there are many people going through the world who don't really aren't aware of the kinds of power, privilege, and power that they're experiencing on a daily basis because of their skin color, because of their gender identity because of their sexual orientation, et cetera, because of their ability, et cetera. And so just having that awareness and, and, and helping people to disrupt that. ignorance, not using that in a pejorative sense, but literally not knowing, not understanding and then inciting people or encouraging people to understand the impact that that has on other people. And I think once people start to understand that by. Moving through the world in this unaware way They are, we all are saying and doing things that can unintentionally in most cases. Some people are intentionally doing harm to others, but in most cases people are unintentionally saying and doing things that are causing harm to others. And once people realize that they're having that impact on others, however unintentional, however good intention, their intentions are, however good their intentions are. Most people are going to feel a deep sense of distress or at least discomfort or distress over this knowledge that they're inadvertently doing that, and then are, would be motivated to want to make changes. And then once people understand that's at an individual level. Once people understand at a more systemic level, the ways that systemic oppression has been, again, institutionalized and is con and is, is continuing to cause harm and discrimination towards people. Even if the people in those institutions are not conscious of perpetuating those injustices. , they will feel motivated to want to, as affect systemic changes in order to create an opportunity f where everyone truly has e equitable resources and an opportunity to advance. So I think it's about appealing to, I, I, I believe that at base, at coremost people are good and want good for others, and that we just need to help them understand how. the ways that we're currently thinking and the ways that we're currently acting may be contrary to our values or our beliefs about what's good and right in the world and what our role is in affecting goodness, positive change or affecting harm. Andwhere do we wanna land on that side? And again, I believe in my experience that most people want to do better. and, and then are motivated and, and, and just may not know, ha, may not know what harm they're causing and then may not, or the, the, the level of harm that they're causing and then may not know what to do about it. And that we need to give them the knowledge and the tools to help them align their values and their intentions with their, with their practices.
Carol: Yeah, I I, I saw an article, or I just read the headline in the New York Times of why d e i training doesn't work, and I feel like I will read the article. So I'm, so, I'm a little more informed than what I'm about to say, but just from my experience, I, I think that sometimes or, or maybe too often folks get to that awareness stage, but, The, the next step isn't taken to help people practice well, what, what would I do differently? They might be told to do this, that or the other. But then when you're in that instance of. An uncomfortable person says something that makes you feel uncomfortable and you, you, you're feeling like you wanna say something, but you're just frozen. Like, how do you get yourself outta that and, and to be able to take some action? What have you seen help people move beyond just awareness to, to being able to feel like they're equipped to, to manage a difficult situ.
Katherine: Yeah, it's a great question. So a number of things. So again, one, just being able to recognize, having the, the self-awareness to recognize in the moment what's happening. And , for many of us, it's only in hindsight or when someone else brings it to our attention that we recognize that something we've said or done has caused harm. Or again, that by doing nothing. in a system that has been designed to favor white people or light-skinned people and oppress brown and black skinned people and indigenous people, that by doing nothing, we are also causing harm. That it's, it's, it's, it's not enough to, to do, to do nothing or to not intentionally do harm to others. That's not, that's not enough because of the way the systems have been designed. And. again, a deeper recognition of that and a, and an acceptance of that. And then, Having people really practice is also helpful to give people opportunities. Some of it is providing some of the language during global citizens training, we will provide some phrases that people can use to interrupt a situation in the moment to give some training on bystander intervention so that , when you're in a situation where you have inadvertently caused harm to someone else, and. Just have realized it or someone else has brought it to your awareness or you witness that a microaggression or a harmful act or comment has just been made. What are some words and what's some vocabulary that you can use? And then also that mindset of commitment. So in addition to giving people the language, in addition to providing scenarios, in addition to giving people opportunities to talk in small groups, even possibly do. Role plays to actually practice it. Because what's true is the more that we practice saying the words, the more that we practice being courageous and intervening, the more comfortable we're gonna become with it. I wanna come back to comfort. And then setting commitments and intentions that we know from the evidence or from the literature, that when people form behavioral intentions, we're more likely to act on those intentions. So in my training, I always ask people at the end to identify what are actions that you will commit to, to do from now on as a result of this training or a result of your a. That you will affect, that you will begin to affect. What can you commit to doing starting today? And then also putting in place what we know is a very. Tried and true method, which is accountability structures. So forming accountability partnerships or groups or as a team or as a leadership group. Again, setting your commitments and then creating accountability structures so that you have shared your commitments and your goals with others. You're, you're checking in with each other with your accountability partner, your.
Support each other when you're running into roadblocks or challenges and, and having people who you can really, who can help you work through those challenges and figure out how to do your intervention in a more effective way. And then as always, checking in. On how you're doing. So asking for feedback and that requires leaders and, and everyone to be more vulnerable and to say, I'm in the process of learning some new skills around intervening. It doesn't feel comfortable to me at the moment. So I'm gonna be practicing these new skills and let me know how I'm doing and, and invite feedback. Is really important. And so all of those techniques are valuable. And then this issue of comfort, which when we think about Tema Ocon and, and others' important work around white supremacy culture, and by white supremacy culture, I mean the full continuum of white supremacy. So in its most extreme egregious form of the KKK and neo-Nazism and all the ways. White privilege and power have been institutionalized and then internalized that we inadvertently perpetuate it and that we could be white people, and it also can be black and brown people or people of color who inadvertently perpetuate white supremacy culture. And one of the traits of white supremacy culture is this belief that we have a right to comfort that somehow. We should not be made to feel uncomfortable. And that's something that I think is really important that I work in my coaching and my consulting with companies and leaders to really have people question this and, and challenge this and lean into a. Are accepting of discomfort. And so often I've, I've been incorporating more somatics or embodiment into our work at Global Citizen. And so I'll often begin a training or a workshop or a talk with asking people to take a moment of mindfulness. A moment of awareness about their bodies and how they're currently feeling in their bodies. And then throughout the training or the workshop or the talk to be aware of what sensations are coming up for them. What are they noticing in their body? Where are they noticing it? What is the. The feeling, the texture, the color, the width, the breadth, the depth of it. And to, to use that information as an, as an important, that noticing as an important source of information about what causes them to feel light and joyful and excited and positive. What causes them to feel distress or discomfort and where there is discomfort to notice. , what the nature of that discomfort is, and then to go back to it later and explore it more so that they can understand it and use that information to inform their actions in the future. And that's, that's a really powerful way of disrupting white supremacy culture and also of helping all of us to become more integrated beings. Because I really believe in one of them. Egregious effects of white supremacy culture is that it has caused those of us who have internalized it to become disembodied, to become, to separate our, our minds and our bodies as though they're distinct from each other, rather than to bring our whole body selves into our lives and work. And so that's something else that I'm. interested in incorporating into our work and also to helping more people to become more fully integrated in this way. And that I think that has, can have a powerful societal impact as well. Yeah.
Carol: There's a, there's a lot in, in what you were talking about, but that, that sense of disconnection that is so, ingrained in white American culture Northern European culture as I experienced it, that very distinct of, Separation, but then also vilification of anything to do with the body. Mm-hmm. So I do appreciate how more and more folks are bringing that to the fore and helping people learn more so that they can be better integrated. And and, and part of the, the description of white supremacy culture to me, in some ways is a description. , any supremacy culture. Mm-hmm. , there are aspects of it that like that right, to comfort anyone who in whatever context and, and not allin some context. The, the, the, as you said, the, the markers, many contexts, the markers of our identity are gonna be in common with who's in that elite group but in some contexts not. And, and so some of those things around right to comfort or power hoarding or maybe some others I think are gonna be pre prevalent and, and, and noticeable in any dominant group in a culture. Absolutely. So it's an interesting thing to think about as well. Well, and
Katherine: a lot more to explore because that has been something that I and my firm are actually really working more on understanding and. And incorporating it into our work. And We are planning to do some work around decolonizing d e i and understanding and advancing d e I with more global perspective and global understanding about how they're under, how they're experienced and understood and practiced in different contexts. And that even the ways that we're approaching d e I may be inadvertently perpetuating. Colonization and there needs to be a decolonization process.
Carol: Can you say more about that, what that means or what that looks
Katherine: like? Yeah, so even just a, a lot when I'm working, I work with a lot of international organizations and so even when we are. Doing our work together. So I haven't really talked a lot about our process, but we always begin with an assessment. So we'll look at secondary data, like any data or survey, survey data or other employee engagement survey. Or demographic data of employee data that we can look at, as well as employee handbooks and bylaws and any organizational documents. And then we also will conduct interviews with key stakeholders, focus group discussions. Obviously there's my observations as I'm working with organizations and. Pulling all of that information together into an assessment of what is the current state of an organization or company. And then doing strategic visioning and planning with the leaders to, to understand what have we learned from this strategic assessment that would inform your strategic vision of where you want your organization to be. And then what are the strategies and steps that we need to put in place to help you work towards that incrementally and. Attaching some success metrics and ways of measuring where you are currently, and using data as much as possible, and data broadly defined as much as possible to understand your current state. And then attaching success metrics to your goals and strategies so that you can measure progress over time and know what, what progress you're making or not making, and then change your strategies accordingly. And so as we're undergoing these processes, another important thing. Step that that we do is to ensure that in our collaboration with our client partner, that we usually are working with a couple of key people in some organizations that might be a D E I. Working group or council that is a representative group of employees who represent different demographics, if they're international or national, different geographies, different levels and roles in the organization, different divisions. And so that's, that's a really key part is that we. Are intentionally selecting a diverse group of people that we're collaborating with who are gonna bring diverse lived experiences and perspectives to the issues. But even in the ways that we work sometimes, getting back to your question is that There's so many ways that white and Western and sometimes those terms can be interchangeable. That white and western ways of working don't work for people in different cultural and country contexts. So some of it is. when we're having a live conversation and we're facilitating a live conversation. So some of what's come up in some of the international companies I work with is for people for whom English is a second language. , hearing a question in the moment and being asked to respond, to give their responses in the moment. For all of us who speak multiple languages, when you're doing it in not our primary language, that's incredibly challenging to be able to understand the question. , think critically about our responses and formulate our response in a secondary or third or fourth language for us. And so being able to provide people with. Questions in advance so that people can have time to think about them, to start to formulate their responses in advance. Also, providing multiple avenues for people to provide input on a given issue. So sure, live conversation is an important one, one important means, but also it could be a survey where for some people, Formulating their responses in writing may come easier in different languages than saying it verbally, and then even in the moment again, providing questions in advance. So what I'm doing now is when I'm going to be doing a training or a workshop or a meeting with an international group, I'll provide the questions that we're gonna be discussing in advance so people again, have a chance to think about them in advance. And then even in the moment giving people the option if it's a virtual session with responding verbally or in the chat. We might have a shared document or a jam board or some other software that people can write their responses in, and that's usually gonna give them a little bit , again, a variety of options to give their responses. So that's some of what we're talking about when we say how to create more globally competent ways of approaching our work together. And then not everyone is going to want to share in live sessions. So even as we're. Co-designing or co. For example, one of the groups I'm working with is an international nonprofit organization and we're co-developing a training series with the d e i working group that comprises representatives from all over the world. And so, in our shared document. , we're, we're creating, we're offering drafts, giving people opportunities for feedback over longer periods of time, having live meetings to check in on how we've incorporated their feedback. Doing multiple rounds of this, where again, people have multiple avenues more time and more advanced notice in order to be able to formulate and provide their.
Carol: Yeah. And I think those are, those are really things that one could do in any context to, to be helpful. For sure. Recently Microsoft has so many accessibility things built into their products and was at a retreat where I accidentally, I, I wasn't paying attention. I accidentally turned on the closed captions and people were just like, oh my God, look at that. And it was great because even in the back of the room they were able to see, they may not have it, it just made that easier, whether folks had a hearing challenge or not. So little there are a lot of ways in which it, it, it, it comes back to that, I guess that sense of universal design when you make it better for. Folks with challenges, you're actually making it better for everybody.
Katherine: Absolutely, yes. Yeah. And as a hearing impaired person, I find that incredibly helpful. Also, that closed captioning really does help me ensure that I can really grasp everything that's being shared. Mm-hmm.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So just to shift, shift topics now here at the end at the end of each episode, I ask a, a, a, a somewhat random icebreaker question that I have a, I have a box of them that I pull out. So what does the first 30 minutes or hour of a typical day look like for you? Hmm.
Katherine: Yeah. So I do a little bit of mindfulness in the morning just as I'm awakening just to again, center myself in my body and and to take just a notice of how I'm feeling doing a little bit of stretching as I age, I'm finding that. Some routine stretching throughout the day and first thing in the morning have been helpful. Certainly looking at my calendar and, and anticipating the day ahead kissing my partner even this is in no particular order. kissing my partner and um, and playing with our dog and hugging my son. Good morning. And having breakfast these are all. All the usual showering and dressing and preparing for the day.
Carol: Well, that sounds like a lovely way to start the morning. So, yeah. I've started recently with reading and then getting out nice and getting some exercise and some stretching. o, yeah, it's mm-hmm. I'm finding it's really lovely to be able to start the day a little bit slower. Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. than in the past. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast. What's my pleasure? What's, what's coming up for you? What's, what are you, what are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Katherine: Yeah, so one of the areas is what I had mentioned earlier around global citizens and our interns and, and team are going to be doing some research, some assessment, and then some great information sharing with global audiences around decolonizing d e I and understanding. Both DEI concepts and frameworks, and also implementation and practices from a truly global perspective and a more globally competent perspective. And. continuing our ongoing work around global citizenry and global competence. So Global Citizen also has our Global Citizens in Action Leadership Program for young people, and we're always looking for organizations and groups to collaborate with on that. We have curricula, we have interns who assist with the facilitation, and we're always looking for organizations that are serving young people. and would want to collaborate with us because they know the young people they're working with would benefit from this education and training on global citizenry and understanding ourselves as ethical global citizens. And we're working on a project currently about bringing some of the curricular content that we have on this to social media and so engaging. Engaging with TikTok and YouTube and Instagram micro influencers to collaborate on spreading more of this kind of education on global, global citizenry and diversity, equity and inclusion in social media. And of course just our ongoing work on d e I, global competence and global public health are near and dear to my heart. I'm also an adjunct professor at U N C Chapel Hill at the Gilling School of Global Public Health, and I recently collaborated with my colleagues on writing a chapter. For a textbook for public health and healthcare leaders on leadership textbook and wrote the chapter on d e I and cultural Competence for Leaders. And so I'm always excited about it. Doing consulting and coaching with leaders because of course change always begins with leaders and so the more that we can help leaders become more inclusive and effective in their leadership, the more that will affect those changes at a broader organizational level. And I really believe that by intervening at the organizational level, we are also affecting systemic changes because people bring what they're learning in their workplaces out into their families and communities and all of the organizations that they're engaged with beyond the workplace. So as always, it's focusing on affecting change and transformation at every level, the individual, the interpersonal, the institutional and the systemic levels.
Carol: So I love, I love the combination of focus on leaders and their impact on organizations and culture. And then also working with young people, to equip them with skills earlier on in their lives. Career so we're not having to hopefully have as much mitigation maybe to today . Exactly. Let's start now. So I love that combination. I love that combination. Well, thank you so much. It was a great conversation. I really appreciate you coming on.
Katherine: It's been my pleasure, Carol. And thank you. Thank you for hosting this wonderful podcast and thanks for inviting me to join you. I really loved our conversation.
Carol: I am really curious about where Katherine’s work on decolonizing DEI work goes and what emerges from it.
After our conversation I looked up the article in the Times that I mentioned. It was for one an opinion piece. I will link to it in the show notes. The headline if you want to read it is “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good? By Jesse Singal. One of its main points is that there has not been a large study to demonstrate the impact of diversity training. And how the training can sometimes actually reinforce stereotypes and racial bias and create a backlash when they are mandatory. Since most training happens within organizations – private for profit and nonprofit – it is not surprising that no large study has happened – someone would have to fund the study and gain the cooperation of all those folks. It would be great if such a study or multiple such studies were to happen because I can’t imagine practitioners want to create, offer and implement programs that don’t have the intended impact. But I also feel like a lot of the stories about DEI have that bent and it is certainly an attention grabbing headline. In fact – the Times had a podcast episode in 2021 with almost the same title. In the end I think they do a disservice to the people doing their best to address the deeply embedded social ills and inequities that exist. And no, training is not going to shift hundreds of years of history and culture making. Should we look for and emphasize what works – sure. Yet we need to start somewhere.
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 Katherine, 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 65 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lisa G. Hazirjian discuss:
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help progressive change makers develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School. You can reach Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important Links and Resources:Transcript:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lisa Hazirjian. 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.
Lisa and I talk about public policy advocacy for nonprofits. We explore how anger and sadness can be a catalyst for action, how nonprofits – specifically c3s in the US – can incorporate advocacy into their work and to further their mission, why it is so important to think about why your issue could matter to a decision maker – from their point of view, some simple steps you can take to start building a relationship with policy makers, and how to identify and build a ladder of engagement for your supporters
Welcome Lisa. Welcome to the podcast.
Lisa Hazirjian: Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Carol: I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Lisa: A lot of answers to that question, but they really all come back to two things. One of which is really at, at a few key points in my life needing to find an outlet for a lot of sadness and anger during times of loss. And the other being my training as a historian, I did a career change. I have a PhD in modern US history and I studied social movements and public policy and how they influenced one another. And the moment when all of that came together Was 2008. The moment really lasted about six months starting with a tenure track job offer which was great. Except at the university where I was offered a job. This is back before marriage equality. And I would be moving with my partner now, my wife and the university didn't offer domestic partner benefits and that. Could have been a big issue. And so I asked if they might be able to come up with some way for my wife to get onto the university's health insurance policy. I pointed to a couple of examples of other universities that had made these kinds of accommodations. And long story short the response, I got a few days. The immediate response I got was being yelled at, which was not good. But the ultimate response was being told the university is no longer considering your candidacy for this position. And I. That was very upsetting as you can imagine. And this was 2008 and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands because the contract I had had just ended. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing, but. I was approached and asked to pull volunteers together for the Obama campaign to have a presence at the Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival and I did that. And I did that specifically. Because Barack Obama was a candidate who, although he did not at the time support marriage equality yet he did support an employment non-discrimination act that we still don't have. Still trying to get what's now the Equality Act passed. But for me, this was a way, not just to get something for myself, but to get something for everyone to fight, to have a president who would sign a much needed non-discrimination act. And that became the thing that I put all of my emotions into for the next several months. And really saw a lot of the things I had studied coming into action in terms of what it means to do.
Marshall your leadership skills in a way that draws in hundreds of people to build the collective power you need to achieve a goal, which in this case was getting Ohio for, for the campaign. After the campaign I took some time to take stock and realized that I should build myself an off-ramp from academia and an on-ramp into professional advocacy work.
Carol: I feel like that's an off-ramp that a lot of people are exploring these days. But that's a different conversation.
Lisa: I would say it is a different conversation. And I can recommend someone to talk to you about that.
Carol: I appreciate that story and I do think that a lot of advocacy work does start with something you're angry about or something that pisses you off, or sadness or any of those things that can be a catalyst to, okay, well I can sit in this, or I can try to move things forward and. Said, have things be different for me, but have things be different for a wider group of people, which is, which is so important. My exit from history, I was a history major back in college, was much less dramatic than yours. I was doing my thesis for my BA and at the library, the big library downtown in Philadelphia and reading magazines from the late 1800s. I was looking at the role of advice being given to women on parenting in that time period in Germany. And I found that I was allergic to old paper. So a life of being an art for sure was not going to be in my future. So, not quite the same, but got that commonality, that background. So as you said, you've shifted into doing political ad advocacy work and, and helping people with their political campaigns. With, with nonprofit organizations, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about what's allowed, what isn't allowed. What would you say are some of those, some of the biggest misconceptions that you run into in terms of advocacy work and organization, non profit organizations that you work?
Lisa: It's interesting. I mean, I think plenty of people before me have said that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is this idea that nonprofits can't do policy advocacy. And that's just absolutely not the case. Of course they can. And I would argue they should, right? Nonprofits have a lot more knowledge and experience in a whole range of fields than our areas where public policy is made than most of the people who are making those decisions. And when nonprofits bring their voices and bring the voices of the people they serve into those conversations. To try to advance policies. They're really doing a service to everyone cuz it's not like lawmakers can be experts on everything, none of us can. AndI'm, I'm not an attorney and if I were, I would have a disclaimer that I'm not giving legal advice. But, but the short of it is that, As long as you aren't endorsing a particular political candidate doing anything to try to affect the to try to elect person X over person y it's very likely that you're perfectly legally compliant. And it's nearly impossible for most organizations, even full-time advocacy organizations. Run up against the IRS limits on how much time and money you can spend on advocacy. But that misconception aside, cause that's one that comes up over and over. I actually think another really really major misconception is, progressive nonprofits can't get anything done unless Democrats are in power. Or the flip side of that, that having democrats in power means that progressive nonprofits can get things done. Neither one of those is completely true. And, both of them miss the reality that there are a lot of things competing for attention at legislatures, and at the end of the day, it's anyone's ability to influence those decision makers that matters.
And there are a few things that nonprofits can do that can really help with that. And one of them is simply, Having supporters who are constituents of those key lawmakers and the other is speaking their language. So when I was executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network I, I did not harbor any illusion that many of the Republican lawmakers in control at the North Carolina General Assembly were going to be moved by A lot of the things that motivated me, the fact that I had lots of gay male friends living with HIV, for example. But I did think that they would probably be moved by the idea that it would be great if our kids could grow up in a world where, once they are adults, they're not worried about HIV. And that in the meantime it'd be great if the state wasn't spending as much money dealing with HIV. And having those messages that resonated with the lawmakers really, really made a big difference.
Carol: A couple things. Obviously our conversation is all grounded in the context of the United States. I do have folks who listen to the podcast from around the world. So for this topic, it's all within the particular laws and institutions that we have here. You mentioned the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, that's what it's called. And I think the limits that you were talking about also are particular to one type of nonprofit, which is, I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing the most common is the c3 within that code. And then of course our politics in terms of our two-party system and all of that. But with all of that in mind I think about what you're saying, taking all of those particularities of the US aside, what you're talking about or really thinking about what matters to the decision makers that you're trying to speak to, and share your message. Share your, trying to move things forward, getting in their shoes, thinking about how they're looking at things where there might be common ground. I mean, that's something that folks could do
Lisa: anywhere. Absolutely. No, that's, that's exactly right. And , I have some colleagues in Canada who, who I've talked with about similar things , and different particulars about how the government is structured, what parties might be called, et cetera, but the same basic principles. And I would add that, a lot of these tips for doing better public policy advocacy also apply to just any mission advocacy, including fundraising. I think many of us have had the experience of sitting down and trying to figure out how to translate how we talk about our work and our mission in the day-to-day. The language of whatever major funder we might be applying for funding from and just , speaking their language is half the battle there.
Carol: What matters to them and, and how do you, I mean, so that, that. What are some of the, specific or concrete steps that people can take to start being able to shift their perspective and get a better understanding of the folks that they're trying to influence?
Lisa: So I mean, always sort of trying to ground ourselves in who's our audience. Who is it? Who, whose help We really need. Because if it was just us , right? If it was just our staff, our board, the people we serve, the people on our email list, then we could just mobilize everyone and do it. But when we need to persuade. People who are on that, on the outside of that us, that we really need to think about who are these people? And , these days it's not that hard. Everyone's got a website. It's , you can start doing things. I think one step that is really useful is to. To do like a really quick survey of the people who receive your email. Your email blasts and simply asks like, Hey, do any of our policy makers at the local level, county, state, or whatever the kinds of divisions of government might be in other countries? Because. a good chance that there are people who are receiving your emails, who do have relationships.
And that's important in two ways. The first being they're really gonna know and understand those people a lot better. And second many times the best messenger is somebody who already has a good relationship. With that lawmaker. Sothat's, that's just one, one really simple thing that people can do.
Carol: And all those steps that you take to build, build that relationship, start to get to know the person. And I was listening to another podcast last week, and this was more in terms of kind of. , business networking and, but the person had a, had a principle of no ask before one year of, of being in relationship with that person. So not like, okay, I'm gonna knock on your door and I'm gonna ask you immediately for something that, that and, and she used the word political capital, although it wasn't, highlarge p and I don't know what you think about that or. . It, it, that's just, that's just one framework for thinking about it. But what I did appreciate about it was that you need to invest something in that relationship before you're asking something of the person.
Lisa: So, I mean, I would not wait a year, not wait a month. Okay. If you need something, you ask, but I, but I definitely concur that it is always better to start building a relationship before you need something. And I, I recently, well a little while back wrote a blog piece that the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits put out. It actually came out shortly after the November election here in the US and it was simply a sort of , why and how to congratulate the people who just won. And , basically saying like, this is a great opportunity just to get on their radar, tell them a sentence about what you do, what you care about, make sure you're gonna get their emails. And it's just, it's going from being a complete stranger. To have that initial point of contact, which can be really important later on when something comes up and you and you really need to have a more substantive conversation. .
Carol: So I think some other things I really appreciated that post of yours and cuz it's so simple, right? And anybody can, any, can, anybody can do that. But not everybody's going. Which will be the differentiating thing. And then other simple things ofcel helping, celebrating wins, and thanking someone for, for lots of different things. Just all those little bits and pieces that you can do to start cultivating that relationship.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Carol: Are you saying some of the big mistakes that people make?
Lisa: Well, one of the biggest mistakes I've made and have really learned from is Limiting trying to do everything ourselves and limiting opportunities for other people to get involved. , the reality, I, I love that part of your tagline is that, that this podcast is for progressive nonprofits and associations, organizations , wanna achieve big things without being martyrs through the cause. And I have definitely been in positions where I have. Worked myself to the brink of needing to be admitted to the hospital for rehydration and rest. And that is not healthy and it is not sustainable. But it's not necessary either. The reality is that whatever it is that we're doing, whatever.
Mission is whatever our immediate goals are, there are other people out there who want us to be successful and there are a lot of people out there who wanna help and we just need to ask. And the reality is that when we give people. Strategic opportunities to help out at whatever level of engagement works for them.
Whether it's , let me take three minutes and do something, or let me take three hours and do something once a week. Or let me take three hours one time in my life. Whatever it is, that gives us so much more capacity. to get things done. And so II, I think one of the most important things that any organization can do is think about the best ways to engage their supporters more frequently in more meaningful ways.
Carol: , and I appreciate what you're saying around, it's not necessary, but I would also say especially in this work and probably any work, the more people you have involved, the more effective you're gonna be anyway. Oh, absolutely. But I see a lot of times like organizations that let's say they're an environmental organization and they do environmental education and they have this assumption.
So we bring these kids out, they're doing environmental education, they're gonna talk to their parents, and their parents are gonna become advocates for the environment. And it's like, there's so many leaps between the one to the other that , maybe one or two of the folks will have that ultimate outcome.
But if there's so many little breadcrumbs that you could, you could, or. . Steps that you could offer people, but I find it's hard PE for people to think of what those little steps
Lisa: are. Sure. And I, so, yes. And . Okay. . I, I think that there are a, another mistake I see a lot are organizations who have a ton of ideas, let's do this thing and let's do this thing.
And here's another thing we can do, and here's another thing that we can do. And all of, and some of those ideas can be fabulously creative and innovative and do a good job of leveraging their strengths, but they aren't necessarily attached to a core strategy. To achieve a particular campaign milestone or particular goal nor are they attached to a more overarching organizational goal of building long-term power.
And , I, I, I want to destigmatize the word power because the reality is, Power is what you make of it. And having the power to make the world a better place in whatever way your nonprofit or association is trying to do should be celebrated. And one thing that I help organizations do is take a step back, and this is a place where my training as a historian really helps.
Even though you stopped in those archives , you can understand that as a historian you develop this perspective that is simultaneously very long range. And has a ton of attention to details of how change happens over time. Like that is very much what historians do. And it's what successful advocacy organizations Do if they're doing a great job of developing strategy, is they think ahead a few years down the road to the impact they wanna have, and they backfill and think about, okay, well we can't.
We don't have the resources we need right now. We don't have the capacity we need right now to achieve this big thing that we wanna achieve by 2025, let's say. But we can get there. Let's think about the steps to take to get there. And it could mean just growing the number of people who. Who are part of your organization, who you're in dialogue with, who you can mobilize in support of a goal.
It can mean building out, cultivating a group of people who can talk to the media and be effective storytellers on behalf of your organization. It can. People who can bring some specialized skills that you need. You brought up an environmental piece. It could be that you need the capacity to just get water samples from across the entire state.
And it turns out that. That's something where you can teach everyday people to go out and help be water monitors. I have very little expertise in this. I'm just using this as an example. Sure. . .
Carol: I was thinking about what you were saying, and I think one of the things that the nonprofit sector does not struggle with is a deficit of ideas.
And a deficit of things that they could do or ways that they could try to move their issue forward. But can you give me an example of when folks have taken those ideas but really built a strategy to move their issue forward, and how they've engaged people.
Lisa: You like the pregnant pause? . . Well, I, I'm gonna give you an example that I know well which again, is drawing from my own work with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. When I was hired I was the, the first The, the first full-time staff person the, the first executive director staff of one, and the first thing I did was ask like, Who, who are we?
Who are all the people who've ever been involved in this formerly all volunteer thing, and it was a list of 243 people who I either was able to find an email or a phone number for. And I started building and I, I started building for a very particular need that we were aware might be coming down the pike.
A program that at the time was called the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had There have been funding crises in many of the states in the US including North Carolina that resulted in waiting lists and and we were anticipating a state budget battle that I needed to prepare for, and I knew that No matter how great a one pager I developed and no matter how much of a collegial relationship I was able to form with the heads of the Health and Human Services appropriation subcommittees that at, at the end of the day, I was gonna need more to convince them.
And, and so I started tapping the people who we already had as folks who had ever done something and using them as my starting point to recruiting more people across the state, just needing numbers and also needing breadth of coverage, particularly in the district. Of the legislators who sat on that super important health and human services appropriation subcommittee.
So I was very intentional about going to those particular corners of the state and finding constituents of those specific people so that when the moment came around, I kept on chasing after Nelson dollar trying to talk to him, and he kept on not talking to me. and I kept on trying to schedule an appointment.
We had a, a list, a deep list of people who lived in his district and we mobilized them to make phone calls into his office. And , gave them a little bit of training about what to say on the phone. And I gave it a couple of days, and then I went back to the office to make an appointment and the legislative aid said, oh , we've been getting a lot of calls about that issue.
Let me fit you into his schedule. And II, I mentioned this because a lot of us who got a lot of education might have some letters after our name, are under the illusion that all we have to do is, is. Develop a compelling argument. But actually we need to actually force people to listen to our argument.
And , I I I like to say that there can't be persuasion without the pressure to actually listen to you. And so that's a case of doing that base building, that intentional base building to create the pressure for a key legislator to. and that
Carol: base building. I mean, I'm on a lot of newsletter lists and, and , get advocacy alerts.
And some I respond to and some I don't. And I, I don't consider myself , someone who's really that, that that'sI've, I, I would say probably I'm a reluctant advocate. And so even something like that, I feel like. It takes some steps to get people comfortable to pick up the phone, send an email, do any of those things, and contact decision makers.
And it is one of the things that we talked about beforehand, that, that. I think it is relevant in a lot of different circumstances is this notion of a letter, a ladder of engagement. And you talked about before the kind of thing someone can do in three minutes, or maybe it's three hours in a week or maybe it's three hours one time.
Can you talk a little bit more about that and, and kind of. cultivate your base. That's a, that, that, there's a lot of things that could go into that Right. To actually have it be successful.
Lisa: Sure. . No, I would love to talk about that. And, and, and I will say that when I was with, with N C A N, with the AIDS Action Network, just about every board meeting my staff and I would tell a story about that.
Explained the roles of in the end it was me and a community organizer and a communications person. And we would tell a story that demonstrated what each of us did in the organization. But it also talked about our ladder of engagement. And the story would go something like this. , it would go something like Our community organizer went to this event in the community and met a bunch of people and had conversations with them and moved some of those people from being members of the general public to being people who we had the ability to get in touch with.
By getting their contact information, getting them signed up to receive our emails. And at the same time he invited them to become part of our volunteer team, where we would ask people if they would make a commitment to. Devote three hours one time in the next three months to helping us out. And so we wanted to give people a sense of, we're not asking for your whole lives, but we also don't wanna bother trying to get you out to things if you're not thinking that.
, sometime in the next three months, don't wanna do this. And that was. The beginning of us explaining our ladder of engagement, the first rung is simply putting your foot on that bottom rung and saying let me get on your email list. Let me get on your text list. Here's how to hear from me.
But maybe you might grab on higher on that ladder and say, what? I have this intention of becoming a volunteer and stating that And then we would move people. And , I would say the next real step our communications person would move people from being signed up to getting people to take that first click action.
The getting people to respond to an action alert, getting people to share something on Facebook and. and we, we really developed a few different ladders of engagement and one of them was more of a base building lane of volunteering with us at community events to do the same thing our community organizer had done.
Go around with clip petitions, postcards, et cetera, and bring more people involved. And another piece was more storytelling oriented. Get people involved in telling their stories about why our work mattered to them, and why the policies we advocated for were important in their lives. But the basic concept is to have a predefined.
Set of steps that people can take from not being anywhere on the ladder to climbing up that ladder to positions of. Increasing responsibility and importance to the success of what you do? I personally am okay with letting people skip a few steps. Sure. But, not be all the way at the top. Because having those steps is important for getting some proof of concept that somebody is going to be reliable and be effective at particular things.
And there's also a certain amount of skill building that one wants to do. If you have someone who's volunteering as a phone banker you want them to be really good at it before they host their own phone bank and need to support other people who are doing it for the first time.
Carol: Well, I love the specificity of, of that.
, the email one, I think , or contact information. I think a lot of people are probably already doing building their list, building how they get in touch with people. But that next step of the way that you talked about three hours in the next three months it's memorable for one.
And it's possible to, it's, it's. I mean, it's a commitment, right? It's not nothing. It's not, I'm just gonna ask you to do this little thing that doesn't really matter to you. It's, it's, it's more than, It's something you need to advocate and actively say yes to. And yet it's not so huge that it becomes you get paralyzed by, oh my God, they're asking me to do something and I'm not ready.
. And I, and I love the idea of also that , through that One, you're seeing who does step up. And then two, you're having a chance to build their skills as they, as you, as you go. And then also , seeing, do they follow through? Do they say what they're gonna do? , and I think that's applicable in so many different parts of the work that nonprofits do.
Ofsomeone may be trying to build their board and I often talk to groups about, okay, so get them involved in some other way. A committee, a campaign , some specific things that you can see how they are to work with. Do they follow through? Do you have to chase after them? , what, what?
What's, what's their work style? Does it fit, is it contributing, is it draining? Before you ask them for something really big, that could have just a huge impact on your organization. Oh
Lisa: my gosh. Well, that is excellent advice You're offering Carol , but there's another piece that I wanna put out there.
So, and, and really just talking with youI remember. The community organizer who was on staff when I ultimately left CAN he reminded me one day that. The first time he met me, he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and I was a guest speaker in a class he was taking.
And that was his first awareness of me and what I was doing. And he waited tables at a local diner. andI bumped into him there and then he showed up as a volunteer. And was someone who I saw had some real natural abilities in this area and got him involved more. And then he had a job where we were coalition partners and , I.
And finally I was able to hire him at, at one point. But so he went all the way from being a member of the general public in a classroom. And getting involved as a volunteer and then being a volunteer leader to ultimately being staff. And I, I, one thing that I'm really proud of to this day about the program that we built and what our supporter engagement program looked like is the number of people who.
Were involved as volunteers or interns who now work in the field. It's actually a really great way to build the profession, a really great way to help people build their leadership skills.
Carol: Absolutely. And I helped an association build their ladder of engagement. And this wasn't from a policy point of view, but from a volunteer leadership point of view.
And it was just okay, you have the first step is to become a member, maybe, or maybe even the first step is to come to an event that the association holds or, or even. Well, I guess the first step before that would be it'd be in the field and , be, become aware of the organization, come to an event.
And then use the resources of the organization to step up to volunteer to be a presenter or write something for, and it could be at the local level or, or regional level. And it's just like one small step, as you say, after another of taking increasing risk. Responsibility. And then in that case for that person building their visibility over the course of their career and their leadership skills.
But I think it's also one of the things that we tried to do, as we were mapping that volunteer leader experience and also thinking at each step, what is, what is the person. , not only what they're contributing, but what they're gaining through that experience of the, the, and, and being explicit about the skills that they're able to learn.
As they go and how, what they're doing ultimately is contributing to that bigger picture.
Lisa: Well that, that piece is huge. And one thing that's always been important to me whenever I do any training, well first of all, I always believe that if you have volunteers, you need to actually spend some time training them before you just throw them into whatever they're doing.
But then, yes, please . For me, the training should always have a why as well as a how. Hmm. And have the big picture of what we are doing because here's how this little thing that we're gonna be doing fits into the bigger picture. And then with, with the, how I like to have let me explain it.
Let me demonstrate it. Let's have your role play it. Let's evaluate. Okay, now you're ready. And I think that that is super important to the quality of volunteer experience that people have as well as being important to helping to really build those skills. , to me, one sign of a great volunteer program is an intention of.
Of having this ladder of engagement where a volunteer who's come three times Has an opportunity to say, yes, I would like to take on the next level of responsibility where I can be the person who trains and coaches new volunteers doing the same thing. And that expands the organizational capacity so much.
And These are still folks who might just be giving three hours a month. If you have 10 people doing that, that's a huge amount of capacity that you're adding. .
Carol: . And okay. I said that this might happen at the beginning and now it's
Lisa: happened and I apologize because my, I was thinking about
Okay. I was thinking
Lisa: about the, because I'm a parent, I can't turn off my phone, so
Carol: No, no, it's no worries. . That, that association situation and. Oh , I've lost it. Oh, well. All right, so you were talking about the next levels of responsibility and the ripple effect. So , when you ask people about those things it really creates .
You're, you're, you're creating more and more ripples that they, that they can contribute to. And I think another thing that you were talking about, the why and the how I I. I work with groups helping them with their strategic planning and, and it's a, it's a process, right? There are lots of steps to it.
And one of the things that I've realized recently is that I, it's so obvious to me what the why is that I forget to, to tell people. The why of all these steps that we're taking through the process. And so I had an instance recently where there was a, there was just a real misalignment of expectations because I hadn't done a good job of explaining why.
And I think for any of us who do the thing that they do you get to be very familiar with it. And it all seems just as obvious. I don't know what anything is, and so it's easy to forget. So I appreciate that of course
Lisa: Of course. And what, even though I said it as I just listened to you, I realized that what you are saying applies to a situation I am in right now.
Carol: Well, I think I'm gonna make it my mantra for 2023, the why and the how , not just the how. Well,
Lisa: Great, great. It is good, it is a good mantra. I just need to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just. That particular one.
Carol: Right. Right. And I, I, what I also appreciate about what you're talking about, we started talking about , decision makers that you're trying to influence and looking for how, where the commonality is. But I think it's really with your base, it's also looking for what, what's gonna. Influence them to take action. Those, those smaller steps that you're asking people to take. And some people I was thinking also, I was focusing on skills, but. Some people may be very motivated by that. Other people, it may be other things of, being part of a community that's, that's, that's taking action , seeing those and, and you, I think it's, it's hard to go to wins cuz. I don't know, policy campaigns, there's often, it's, it's often a very long process before you really get the big triumph. So finding those small wins as you go to keep people moving and motivated, but thinking about different things that will engage people and motivate them. People at the same time of being strategic, of not trying to do all the things for all the people.
Lisa: No, I mean that, that's right. And, and listen, you're very much in touch with the reality that That policy change can be glacial except when we don't want it to be Right. like having this bullet train of bad policy coming right at us .
Carol: Although the people on the other side will probably think, well actually we've been building towards that for the last 50 years.
Lisa: No, and and, and you're exactly right. You're a hundred percent right about that. But , I think that The way I and other people who have volunteered have experienced these policy campaigns. Part of the win, again, is just the opportunity to be helping them, let me try that again. I think that for a lot of people, the win is simply being able to do something with other people to help move closer to that eventual win. And because of the isolation and the frustration of being by yourself, being frustrated by something and just feeling helpless. That's terrible. I hate it. , other people hate it. And so for me, and I'm like, look, let's just, let's create, create ways to bring folks together. And I'm, I'm thinking about back, I think it might have been 2016 when the North Carolina legislature passed HB two, which. National press. It was one of these anti-trans bills. And I was pissed. Lots of people were pissed. And , I decided, all right, I gotta do something. What can I do? What's, what's gonna be helpful? And I decided just to take some skills. That I had learned in, in other campaigns to do some grassroots fundraising to try to unseat some of the co-sponsors of that odious bill. And so I just put together this little , grassroots fundraising thing where I invited people to join me. I had a friend who was able to. Like the community room and her neighborhood for us, I did a little training. We made phone calls just to our own personal contacts, and we raised about $5,000 one evening for some of these candidates to help get them elected. And , in the grand scheme of a campaign for State House or state Senate, that's not a ton of money. But it's also, A significant amount of money. And We all felt like we helped with getting a few good people elected, but also it just meant that we could all be in a shared space and do something ourselves. And everyone we called to help make a donation was also someone who we knew was feeling like, oh, this HB two thing stinks. I wanna do something, but I don't know what to do. So it had those multiple layers or ripples as you said, that reallyI knew that, wellI can donate money, but I, I have onlyI work in the nonprofit sector, how much money can I possibly donate? Well , but I know people and they can donate and they know people and they can donate. Right.
Carol: And so again, that's that . Pulling people in as you talked about, you don't have to do it all yourself. Absolutely. And that actually part of the joy is. Doing it together. . And bringing people together and creating that sense of community. So I really appreciate that. So I'd like to end each episode by playing a game where I ask you an icebreaker question from my little box of icebreaker questions. So we were talking about skills before. What's a skill that you learned when you were young that you would say that you still use today?
Lisa: I'm such a different adult than the kid I was. But there's a really obvious answer. Okay. So the skill that I first used when I was in the fifth grade was simply the skill of not accepting that something has to be the way someone says it has to be. Hmm. And I'm, I'm thinking of a kid, a boy. This is important to the story. A boy from my neighborhood who is in my grade at school decided that girls couldn't play in the fifth grade softball game. And when pressed by me for a reason, why, coming up with this excuse that you had to have a glove, me saying, well, why can't we just borrow gloves? People who are at bat and him saying You have to have your own glove. And so goodie two shoes, I cut recess, to go home and get my own baseball glove. Which I did. But then when I walked out of the door, instead of making a right to go back to school, I made a left. We went to our neighbor's house and knocked on the door and asked to borrow their kids' gloves and went down the street and did it again. I walked back to school with my arms full of baseball gloves. And so at those, those skills of not accepting injustice in the world, doing something so that I get justice for myself, but also taking the step of making sure. , other people have justice too.
Carol: I love that story. That's perfect. I mean, here you were in fifth grade, ? Yep. It's taking, standing up for something you believed in and then doing a neighborhood canvas to collect resources for your cause. . I love it. That's great. That's great. So what are you excited about? What's, what's coming up next for you in your work? What's emerging in the work that you're in?
Lisa: So I am super excited. I have decided that 2023 should be my year of being part of more teams. And I'm excited about a couple of ways in which I see that happening. One is already happening, which is that I'm going to be leading a team of nonprofit. Professionals from various parts of North Carolina where I'm based and leading them through a three month a three month workshop, advocacy academy that we're calling it to help them develop advocacy campaigns that also help them build long-term power. So that's super exciting to me. And then I'm, I'm really trying to vision into existence. A few more partnerships with organizations and really on the lookout for organizations that are ready to move beyond that. Oh, we've got an idea, we've got an idea. And instead get into the mode of saying, Let's put a pit in this and think about what our desired outcomes are, what we need to get there, actually put together a campaign strategy, take steps, learn the skills we need. And I'm open to doing training and strategic planning, and that's stuff that I've been doing for years. But I, I've recognized that the work that is most fulfilling to me is when I. Have a more sustained engagement with an organization and really be embedded in that team for at least three months to really work alongside folks and ask the questions that prod people and make observations and congratulate people on their great ideas and help make things successful. So I'm, I'm excited. Looking forward and embracing that work. All right. Well,
Carol: Thank you so much, Lisa. It was great having you on the podcast
Lisa:. Hey, this was awesome, Carol. Thank you so much as well.
Carol: I appreciated how Lisa described intentionally building a ladder of engagement. Recognizing that there are a lot of people who want to help and want to get involved but maybe don’t know how. How to shift someone from an email on your mailing list to someone who more actively shows up for your organization. I appreciated the specificity of her ask – are you willing to do something in the next 3 months. And then provide a menu of options – something that takes 3 minutes, something that takes three hours. And by building a pathway of slowly increasing involvement and responsibility you provide folks a way in and you also have the opportunity to get to know them and vet them. See whether they follow through. Do they show up? Do they do what they say they will do? Do you have to chase them? I have seen smaller organizations want to invite folks on to their board immediately. First being on the board should be just one way to be involved in the organization – even if it is an all volunteer group. And you are taking a huge risk if that is your first ask of folks. It is a big ask for one so one that likely folks who don’t know you that well will say no to. AND you don’t know the person very well either and don’t know how they will or will not contribute to the work of the board. Find smaller ways for folks to be involved. Invite non-board members onto board sponsored committees and work groups. And realize that not everyone is going to make their way all the way up the ladder – some will be perfectly happy showing up for a one off event occasionally or responding to an action alert. And this ladder of engagement can be for advocacy – but it can be for a lot of other things as well. I am on a lot of email lists for organizations that I support. And I get a lot of donation request emails from them. What I don’t see as often is small ways for me to get involved highlighted or featured. Most organizations put a lot of time into thinking about how to make it easy for me to give them money. Not as many organizations have put the thought into making it easy for me to give them time in meaningful ways. This is a big missed opportunity.
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 Lisa, 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. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. 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 64 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Sarah Olivieri discuss:
Sarah Olivieri is a nonprofit leader like you who used to spend days and nights asking questions like: “how do I get my board to work with me and not against me?”, “how can I raise more money for this important mission?” and, “how can I show up and love my job as much as I love this mission?”.
Sarah has over 18 years of nonprofit leadership experience. She was the co-founder of the Open Center for Autism, the Executive Director of the Helping Children of War Foundation, and co-author of Lesson Plan a la Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago with a focus on globalization and its effect on marginalized cultures, and a master's degree in Humanistic and Multicultural Education from SUNY New Paltz. As the founder and heart behind PivotGround, Sarah helps nonprofits become financially sustainable world changers.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Sarah Olivieri. 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. Sarah and I talk about how to set up systems and processes in your organization so that your work as leader and the work of your staff is made easier, how to have a productive team meeting, and how to assess and be realistic about your current capacity.
Welcome, welcome to the podcast. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Olivieri: It's a pleasure to be here, Carol. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I'd like to start out each episode with just finding out from the person I'm talking with, what, what drew them to the work that they do and, and what would you describe as your why? What motivates you?
Sarah: Oh, man. I think for most people who work in a nonprofit or work with nonprofits, the fact that every day, no matter how bad things are in the world, when I wake up, I basically get to say, I'm already making the biggest impact I could probably make. And my work trajectory is only about doing more of the same. And that feels really good, when times are good and when times are bad. And I think a lot of people fall into nonprofit work. They have a calling. When I was young, I went to this independent private school that had just started. It was very small, not at all like a prep school, but very education focused. How can we be more human focused and skip forward till I'm out of elementary school. My mom ended up taking over the school. It wasn't her background, but it was one of those nonprofits that was about to go. It had a great mission. It had done great work with kids, but from a business perspective, it had just been run to the ground and was on the verge of closing, not paying their staff. And my mom was one of those people who said, well, I'll try. And she did, and it turned into a job and she grew this. School. And so then skip forward a number of years where I'm working at a nonprofit and it almost went under, it had a bunch of problems and I was like, well, maybe I'll try taking on that and I'll take on this other piece. And my mom was there saying, you can learn bookkeeping and you can do this. And once how to manage the finances and manage the people and manage the prom, You're sucked in really deep, pretty quickly. So that's kinda like how I get started, how I got started, and there's lots in the middle. That's the short version.
Carol: It's been interesting for me as I've talked to various people through this podcast and other places, how many folks have some experience in their childhood that leads them, especially often folks talking about that role model of a parent doing something either, engaged in the community or engaged in some way with service. Politics, whatever it might be, stepping in where there's a vacuum and making things happen and making sure that that resource didn't go away for children, so that's awesome. So I'm curious, as a former executive director of a nonprofit, what would you say was your favorite part of being an executive director? I feel like there's this big generational shift going on finally with new people coming into leadership and. I hear from a lot of younger folks that they're, they look at the job and they shy away from it because it just seems so, like undoable without like a real level of personal sacrifice. So I'm curious what was the upside? What did you appreciate about being in that role?
Sarah: Well, before I answer that, I have to say the secret from my clients who are mostly not young people, they feel the same way. When they come to me, they're like, I hate my job, but I also don't wanna quit. But we'll go into how we get everybody out of that. My own experience as an executive director was something I really enjoyed. Setting things up, scaling things up, making things run better. And even though I didn't know what I know now, I was already pretty good at. This whole thing about systems and processes and making things run better because that is the thing that ultimately makes the job not painful. And I really, really believe that being an executive director can be fun. And it probably helped that I had this example from my mother who had started out in this organization that was in complete chaos, working a lot of hours, and by this time, When I was an executive director, she was at the tail end and she would tell me, I work four days a week partly to, cuz she was older and partly to save money for the nonprofit. And she said, really, I spend a good chunk of my time playing solitaire on the computer. And that was a good thing. What it meant was she had everything running like a well-oiled machine. And now she kept an eye on everything and whenever anything did come up, she was available. She had that time built in. Right? It wasn't just she was goofing off playing solitaire. She kept, that's how she kept herself busy while she kept herself available to deal with things. And that's so important. And I had that lesson early on that you should not be filling every minute as an executive director. Of your job up with tasks and projects and because if you are, you're doing it wrong, you're doing it wrong and great systems, having a great team is how you do that. And so, because I was good at that early on, I was setting up programming, I was attracting great staff who were doing great things. I was attracting funding. Both grants and major donors and a real community quickly formed. And I'm a lover of delegation, so, spreading out the work amongst a lot of people, made everything run quite well. It wasn't perfect, but I certainly was able to enjoy my job. And that to this day, like that's what I. For all executive directors. I mean, your job, it, there's a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems to be solved, but it should feel joyful and it shouldn't feel like opening up your veins and just bleeding for your non-profit until you're dead.
Carol: Right, right. My tagline for this podcast is, working for progressive nonprofits and nonprofit leadership without being a martyr to the cause. So, for sure. And I just wanted to pick up on a couple things that you said. You talked about systems and processes and I, I don't think that's the first thing that most people think of when they think of nonprofits. They think of passion and mission and vision and all of that, but I'm a systems and process person too, so I appreciate those and. And it's not right. As you said, it's not for the I think oftentimes people get real, don't wanna set those up because they feel like they might be restrictive first. Second, they're always thinking about the exceptions. The 20% that doesn't fit into the process. And I feel like I often am talking to folks about how we can identify the 80%. Normally it happens that you can, that you can predict and is that regular or there are some things that are within your control, like how are you doing your fundraising, how are you doing your marketing, those kinds of things. That, that is, that. You can just decide what the cadence is. And then also having that margin, right, not filling up every hour so that you do have the flexibility to be able to respond when things pop up. But, how do you experience it with clients in terms of helping them or helping them think through those systems and processes?
Sarah: So, skip forward a whole bunch of years and I've worked with a lot of nonprofits in, in addition to working in nonprofits. And what I realized, I love all business, first of all. So like, as much as I love non-profits, I also love business. I love how people come together to create things that are bigger than what any one person can do. And all of the, the glue that makes that happen and all the functioning, which is systems and processes. What I have learned is there are some key ways of operating that everybody can implement. And I used to think, oh, well it has to be customized for each organization cuz everyone's different. Well, as much as everyone wants to feel like they're a special snowflake. There are a lot of things right that you don't need to reinvent and that actually can work out of the box for you. The for-profit industry has done this already numerous times. They've created methodologies and frameworks and systems for running a business that help people run better. And so I set out to make the same thing, but specifically for non-profits cuz most of the for-profit methodologies have like Making a profit built in as like this just assumed principle which is not true at a nonprofit, we may very well sacrifice profits. We can have profits, but we also might sacrifice profit for mission. So I've put all those pieces together in an easy-to-implement way. But when I hear my clients think about systems, and so one is I'm telling them, here's this easy way to do it. Like you don't have to be a master chef in order to follow a recipe, right? Right. So I like to get, say, here's the recipe, follow it. And then they do, and then it works. And then they're like, oh my God, my stuff is happier. And wow, I just took my first vacation and like I stopped working on weekends. Like, what is this magic? Let me keep following the recipe. And I think for most people, that is magic and they don't need to become a master chef. But we can also talk about. I would consider myself a master chef. I'm making recipes. We can go into what that is. But if for those of you who have that thought of like, ooh, processes, like that sounds restricting, then you have just experienced a bad process, a great process. Frees you up to do, right? We talked about the 80%, the 80/20 rule. If you've heard of it like it's like 20% of the work does 80% of gets 80% of the results. But then there's also like, what is that other 80% of the work? So if you can clear that 80%. Off and get it all running like a well-oiled machine. Get it off your plate. Now you can spend 20% of your time focused on like the really forward stuff. Usually that involves a lot of thinking and problem solving. Right. And that's what your solitaire moments are about. I'll call them. As doing, having that brain time to really think through how. Move something forward that no one has figured out before. And I love seeing people get that time back in their day and then the results that that gets is phenomenal.
Carol: Can you give me an example, one of those recipes?
Sarah: Sure. So a really simple one is how to run a team meeting. We have numerous types of meetings in the framework that I teach. Well, not that many. We actually only have three and the most basic one that typically replaces your staff meeting. I call it an issues meeting, but there are a few key things in it that are probably different from what you're doing right now that make the meeting way, way better. If I could see your audience right now, I'd say raise your hand if you have wasted time wasting meetings or you hate meetings, and probably most of you would be raising your hand, right? So one of the things we do, it's the same agenda every time, and probably one of the most important things we do is we identify the issues that are facing the team, but we don't discuss them when we identify. And everybody has to get trained in, don't just launch into talking about this issue, or we'll be stuck talking about issues all day long. Step two is we're going to then decide which is the highest priority issue. And then step three is we're going to then talk about that issue, make sure we understand it and work through it until we've identified a solution that basically we all agree will work and then we can assign somebody to go implement it. And so by being way more intent, Systematic about the priority that we work through our issue. Is a game changer because first people are like, oh, we actually produced something. We produced a solution in this meeting. That's great. But when you do it consistently, like replacing your staff meeting, initially, most organizations have this, like all these issues, like a long, long list. But a lot of those issues are usually symptoms of a higher priority issue. So often what happens is as you tackle the highest priority issues first, a lot of the issues that were on your. Just diesel resolve on their own because you hit the core underlying issue and then you don't even have to worry about tackling them. And the list gets short, short, very, very fast. Because of that, you're not just tackling issues meaningfully, but you're eliminating a lot of the issues because you got to what was really going on.
Carol: That's the common practice or habit that you described to people, like they name the issue and then we start talking about it. I'm on a volunteer team right now where we're having that exact challenge and I'm planning at our next meeting to bring it up as one of our habits that's not helping So I, I might, I might borrow that and say, well, I think we, we actually do have a list of our priorities, but, but, or a list of our issues. I don't know that we've done a good job of prioritizing them or even thinking about how we're gonna sequence this so that it makes sense to tackle one after another. So, but that habit of like, we bring it up so we have to talk about it, like, take a moment, put it on, put it in the. Folks don't call 'em parking lots anymore on the bike rack. Someone else that I talked to recently said, don't call it a parking lot or a bike rack because that's the place where those things go to die, but call it an on-ramp or the runway of the things that we'll get to as we get down the runway. So, fundamentally, I mean people spend so much time in them and so many of them are so poorly designed that it's, it's sad that folks have to be stuck in those, and, and it's some, there's some easy things that you can do to, to make them just a little bit better.
Sarah: And I would say a lot better. It's actually not learning how to do business well as a for-profit or a non-profit is not rocket science. And some small easy tweaks. If you find the right ones and then really implement them, it can make dramatic results. And I'd say the hardest thing is adjusting to that new meeting or actually it's not so hard, but it takes some time. And for those of you who are like Brene Brown followers, like all of her work comes into this learning to bring, be vulnerable enough to bring the real issues, create that culture where people feel. To bring that real issue to the table, that underlying core issue, and then also training your team and getting everybody used to interrupting each other, saying, oh, Or interrupting themselves. Like I interrupt myself all the time. Like I started talking about the issue. Excuse me. That's ok. I started talking about the issue. I'm gonna be quiet now cuz it's not time to talk about the issues, it's just time to stick them on the list. And that takes a little bit of adjusting because usually we're told not to interrupt each other. But after a few times of giving everybody permission, anybody's allowed to interrupt anybody. Who starts launching into talking about an issue when it's not time for it yet.
Carol: And I, the other thing that I like about what you were describing is that it, it get, it gets clear what we're doing at this moment. And I, I try to do that when I'm working with, with groups cuz, during a strategic planning process that I, that generally what I work on, There are points at which you're exploring, where you're opening everything up, where you're imagining, where you're visioning, and you're maybe getting like even a little bit really out there beyond what is really feasible. There's a time for that, and then there's a time a little bit later in the process to cut it down and, and put some criteria on what's gonna be more feasible. What, what do we have the capacity for? What, what's really gonna move our mission forward in a different way. But being clear about what you're doing in each meeting, in each session, in each portion really helps people have.
A more constructive conversation and feel like they, they, they knew what was expected of them so they could show up in a, in a helpful way. a hundred percent. So you, you, and I'm gonna use your words, you work to help nonprofits become financially sustainable, world, world changers. What would you say is really the key to achieving that with an organization?
Sarah: So for nonprofits specifically, there are three key areas that I think they need to be focusing on. First is capacity. Right. So that includes who's on your team, how many team members you have, how much money you have. Although money is usually a byproduct of core capacity. It's not the capacity itself and how aligned that team is, right? So the bulk of what makes up. Our organizations are people really, so right. Who are the people and how well do they work together and are they the right people on the team? And a lot of building that capacity has to do with creating great alignment. And that really means understanding who you are as an organization, how you behave, and then attracting people who want to behave in the same way. and all work together. So we can do a lot too. Capacity by making sure we have the right people aligned in the right way, and great systems and processes for keeping them gelled together as a well-oiled team. So capacity, right? And then actionable strategy, I always say actionable strategy. Which should be assumed, but there's so many people who have strategies that they aren't taking action on. And so just to quickly define some terms, to me, a strategy is a set of goals with a set of actions that you're going to take to achieve those goals. And in the method I teach called the impact method, we always have our highest level strategic goals tied right into our tasks day to day. And it goes through. In the impact method, we actually do strategic planning every two months, and then we map out a two month work plan. We check on that work plan every two weeks, and then each, each two week chunk everybody has their tasks that they're working on for those two weeks. So that's what I mean by what a really actionable strategy looks like that's like dialed in and people aren't flying off doing other things. And then the third piece, which is not true for all businesses, but is true for most non-profits. So if your non-profit has a mission to solve a problem that has never been solved before, so if you're working to end hunger or homelessness, Or solve mental health issues, any of those things. You have to be great at innovation. And to be great at innovation, you basically need some sort of built in process for improvement. You have to be able to experiment and improve and try things and, and have room to fail. That's where the capacity comes in and modify. So really having those three things, capacity, actionable strategy, and a continual process of improvement is what it takes to really have success as a non-profit.
Carol: No, those sound like definitely three key key areas that I'm often working with clients on as well. And one, one I wanna go back to cuz with, with capacity and what we were talking about before, when you can set things on a, on a process and, and make it easier, you're not having to constantly decide, you kind. For me, when I have a good process, I know it's working well because I, I'm not experiencing that decision fatigue of having to make all sorts of little choices and like you said, then have time freed up for that bigger thinking. But what I see groups do, and there's a lot of pressure to scale up is each time they, they, they do something smarter and they create a little space instead of taking that time to think or think big? Differently one not necessarily bigger, they add more, add more, add more. And so, while the, the kind of, the promise is if you work smarter, you're not gonna have to work harder, but then people add more, so they're still working harder. Mm,
Sarah: mm-hmm. So I think some of the ways that I tackle that one is in the process of improvement that I teach. It includes this concept of respite and we also, I also just talk about brain space all the time. Mm. So part of it is about this concept of how we work when we work. But in another part of that is how you define the roles in the organization. So I'll talk about respite first. So, I already said like, we work in these, we do strategic planning every two months. So it's a two month strategic cycle with many two week tactical cycles built in. If you put that into a 12 month calendar year, you will find that there are four extra weeks left over which you totally gain back in efficiency and probably many times over. And so actually built into the framework as a thing is respite. And respite are those extra four weeks. They're not really extra where. Organizations, I teach them to build this into their way of operating, and this is separate from vacation time. Respite is where you're not working on a goal, a big goal or a project you might totally shut down. You might just do minimal operations. Some organizations do all four weeks at once. Some do a week here and there. Some who really like vital, life or death services will scatter different people's respite. So like. What am I thinking? Like overlay it so that no, nothing is ever quite shut down as much, but starting to really like, use a new piece of language, right? It's not vacation. I intentionally didn't use the word rest, although it's designed to allow our brains to have that time. But I call it respite because it's not a word we use a lot in our everyday lives. So introducing that as an important concept and a thing that you're gonna schedule in is really key. And then when part of actually what I think of it as a capacity piece is how you design your team. And a lot of people call this an org chart. I take a slightly different approach because the traditional org chart is really. Who is in charge of who, and I think to run any business better, what we really need to be thinking about is what are the functions of this organization Like, what if it were a machine? What are the pieces of the machine? What outcomes do we need for each of those? Pieces of the machine to be produced and then just who's in charge of those outcomes. And to me, that's what makes me a leader in an organization. We talk about roles that are very, like brain based versus roles that are, we call, I say hands based, but it's like doing the task versus being, trying to get a result that you're not, don't necessarily have control over. And just as a side note, I find, those who are leaders, In many ways, are people who they're, they're built for being responsible for things that aren't in their control. like a parent, right? Like parents are natural leaders. Are they forced leaders? Because you're responsible for this, a kid and you're not really totally in control of the outcome. But you've agreed to be accountable for it nonetheless. Within all these functions of what makes a nonprofit run, there's a really important role of, I call it visioning and innovation. And then you start to see that, especially if it's a CEO or a founder, is often owning this role of literally visioning and innovation and they, that role requires a ton of brain. Or we can call it my mom's solitaire time, right? Like you need to be paid to be just thinking, because that's how we innovate with a lot of thinking and problem solving. And so we start to embrace this as a valued role in the organization as well as a valued activity that everyone's participating in.
Carol: So, as you were saying there are, there, there needs to be that downtime in organizations and I think culturally we're so conditioned to always add more. Yes. And so I love the idea of just taking those. Not even take more, protecting those for extra, those extra four weeks. And, and designating them for some downtime, for some respite for thinking time and, and or just, just not, not doing, doing, doing so that you can. And I, I feel like. I don't know what to do. Well, we all think all the time. If you've ever tried to meditate, you find that out real quick. But if I'm concentrating on it, it doesn't necessarily work. So doing something easy, like solitary, as you talked about, helps just like the brain relax and then you start associating different things and then, it's like, why? We get our best ideas in the shower or on a good walk or something like that. But I definitely appreciate what you're, what you're sharing with people because the tendency so much is to just pile on new things.
Sarah: And, in the way you work too. I referenced a couple times, like, we work in these two week sprints and I teach all my clients to do. That is the, one of the first things they realize. Oftentimes it's the first time they've written down all the projects they're working on at one time. And literally we use a Kanban style, meaning like we put each of our projects that are in progress in a column and the ones that are coming up next to another column, and once it's visual and I just tell them the rule is you can't work on more than three projects at once. And if you wanna go faster, you should only work on one project at once. And it's visually there in the column, you see the boxes stacking up in the column, and people start to realize, What can they actually get done in two weeks? And they start to see that the impact of overloading their plates, of adding more and more and more at once is actually slowing them way, way down. And so as they realize that and see it in a visual way as well, they start to go, oh, Less is more right? Less at a time is faster. I will complete more projects in a two month period if I'm only working on one or two at a time. And they start to realize that a lot of the things they think they're adding that are just little things are huge things like we need to rebuild our. I can say it so easily, rebuild websites, projects I used to build websites professionally. They are multiple projects in one, and your website is never done. So they start to realize, like, understanding how to pull things apart and understand the true load of what's on their plate. And that has all sorts of positive ripple effects. Like oftentimes I see, board members start to really understand why this organization needs more resources and, and leaders start to really understand, oh I do need to be fundraising a lot more because I'm totally underestimating the true load. That we're either carrying or that we're not caring, but we need to be doing, if we're gonna make a dent in solving whatever the problem of our mission is.
Carol: And I think the other thing that doesn't get calculated when you're thinking about projects and some people's work, is, is, is project focused. But other, there's always those things I have to do every day, something I have to do every month or every week. And those regular, repetitive, those things that you systematize, those become invisible in those, those planning out all the stuff that has to happen. And so, Being mindful and remembering you've gotta block space for them, just those regular things as well, is really important.
Sarah: Totally. And we track those and I have a number of ways that I teach my clients to track them, so it's not time consuming just to track them. Right. Sure. You don't wanna spend more time tracking them. No. Them. So, but it can be as simple as every two months, each team member, just like estimates, like what percentage of my work time is taken up by recurring tasks. Mm-hmm. And when they're at 80%. They don't have, I tell them once you hit 80%, you don't have time for any projects, and this is the time to hire or have the one project of streamlining so that you can get that 80% back down to like 50%, 60%, something like that.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I like to ask an icebreaker question, and since we've been talking about processes and systems, I'll, I'll choose this one. So what do the first 30 minutes of your typical day look like?
Sarah: Oh, coffee definitely, and I journal most days. It can vary. I have a son, I'm a single mom, I have a son, so there's usually getting him. I do what I need to do to be ready to get him ready for school and then face my day. But I will share. When I was newly a single mom and launching a business in the most crazy time of my life, I had this, I called it like my super routine, and it took about 30 minutes. I did 12 minutes of meditation, usually with my son sitting in my lap watching cartoons. He was a toddler at the time. I did the seven minute workout on my phone. And I took a quick shower and there is nothing like, even though each thing was short, there is nothing like a little bit of intentional just, brain time. That's that brain time, right? I gave myself that brain time. I had probably a little more brain time in the shower too. And a little bit of body exercise and just that little bit of self-regulation, self-regulation took me through the hardest times in my life. And. With energy and strength, it was great. Awesome, awesome. And it took about 30 minutes. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
Carol: We can optimize those things for sure. We can, or, or just fit in a little bit and you can fit in more later if, when you have, when you have time and space, but at least doing a little bit each day is really grounding. So what's coming up from you? What are you excited about and what's emerging in your work?
Sarah: Well, I continue to offer the Thrive Program, which is where I take CEOs from non-profits who wanna be like me. I wanna learn everything that Sarah's teaching and work with her every week.
So I continue to love offering that program. I'm really excited to be coming out with a new program called Pivot this year. Access to all of the curriculum I use in the Thrive program, but aren't ready to dive in with all the support and wanna just try some stuff on their own. That'll be coming out in 2023. And also I continue to do this board retreat that I developed in a number of board training related to it. To really help boards get engaged. It comes with a new job description for the board. And the results from that have been so fantastic that I'm very excited to get it out there. And it's, it's, I'll just give you a sneak peek of some of the ways it's so different. I no longer have boards. Approving budgets, and yet they're more engaged with the finances than ever before. I have boards not participating in fundraising, and yet board members are more engaged in helping with fundraising than ever before.
And I have boards really starting to understand. Stand some of this, like how nonprofits work stuff so that they can truly be supportive and have their leadership teams back in a way that just feels great to CEOs and never ever hints on overstepping or micromanaging.
Carol: Awesome. Well thank you so much and thank you for coming on Mission Impact.
Sarah: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
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.