In this podcast episode, Carol Hamilton and Susan Kahan discuss the importance of donor trust and nonprofit accountability. They challenge misconceptions about fundraising, such as the focus on overhead costs and the belief that it is a necessary evil. They argue for reframing negative attitudes towards fundraising in order to build confidence. The conversation also addresses the "overhead myth" in the nonprofit sector and emphasizes the need to invest in staff and create a healthy organizational culture. They discuss the challenges of asking for larger donations and stress the value of building relationships and learning from others in the field. They also highlight the importance of building a culture of philanthropy within nonprofit organizations and using donor feedback to improve programs. Overall, the conversation emphasizes the need for effective fundraising strategies and the importance of transparency and accountability.
(00:00:01) Donor Trust and Nonprofit Accountability
(00:06:05) The Overhead Myth
(00:12:19) Building Confidence in Fundraising
(00:18:07) Building Relationships in Fundraising
(00:24:13) Building a Culture of Philanthropy
(00:30:47) The Challenges of Nonprofit Fundraising
Carol Hamilton: Getting donors to see beyond supporting your direct services can be challenging. What is my money going to be used for? is the question that is driving this concern. Donors want organizations to steward their gifts well. The myth persists that the smaller the overhead percentage the better the nonprofit organization. Yet in reality an organization needs staff and a wide range of infrastructure from communications to finance to operations to run well. Skimping on these foundational elements – paying well trained staff fairly, ensuring they have what they need to do their job well, that systems are up to date and well integrated – does not actually achieve what donors want – a fully realized group of people working toward an important mission. The pressure to fit within an unrealistically slim overhead budget leads to many of the things that I frequently talk about on this podcast – not being able to support staff in a way that promotes a healthy organizational culture. Obsolete structures and processes and ultimately contributing to the burnout many are trying to recover from. Mission Impact is the podcast for 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 strategy consultant.
My guest today on Mission Impact is Susan Kahan. We explore what the overhead myth is and why it is still getting in the way of organizations doing their best work. What it means to create a culture of philanthropy within your organization. As well as the power of practicing big asks and the importance of curiosity in fundraising. Mission: Impact is brought to you by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector brings you whole-brain strategic planning, mapping, & audits for nonprofits and associations. We combine Left-brain strategy and analysis + right-brain wisdom about human complexities for a proven, whole-brain, whole-organization process through which every stakeholder thrives. Reach out to us for support and facilitation of strategic planning, mapping your impact, auditing your services and getting an organizational assessment. We especially love working with staffed nonprofits and associations with human centered missions.
Well, welcome Susan. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Susan Kahan: Thanks, Carol. It's great to be here.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you, or what would you describe as your why?
Susan:Well, again, thank you so much for having me. I'm really honored to speak to you today. And I would say, what drew me to my work is that I really love helping people and I love connecting people to the right thing that they care about. So, in fundraising, I'm a fundraising consultant. In fundraising, it's all about finding people who care about something and giving them the opportunity to do something about it. And there's no greater thing that you can do, in my opinion, than donating to a cause. So to be able to help nonprofits find those people, to help the people who care about those causes and give and do something is really something that draws me in. And the final thing I'll just say is that there's this Hebrew proverb that has always meant a lot to me, which is that if you save one life, you save the world. And so to me, that's why I care so much about philanthropy is that if you can just save one life, you're, you're my you're, you're doing so much. And so I think that that's what compels a lot of people who work in nonprofits and in philanthropy. And that's definitely why.
Carol:, a couple different things come to mind.
As you were talking I often, love to quote Mr. Rogers and it's like, look for the helpers. I was talking to one of my sisters, and she said, I read the paper and she's a diligent newspaper reader. And she was like, I get so depressed, and I wish at the end of each article they're like, okay, here's all the depressing reality, but here's three simple things you could do.
Yes. To address that issue, right? Yes. So you're not feeling so helpless. And I love the idea that even if you may not have time to volunteer, you may not be able to fit that into your schedule right now. You may not be able to be an activist. Yes. But, you probably can donate to an organization in some way.
Yes. And, what, what's the thing that really connects to what's important to you? And then how can you find organizations that match that? And I'm curious, there's a lot of, I think when people think about donating to organizations, there's a lot of fear around, how will my money be used and mm-hmm.
So what do you say to donors? In terms of them? I, I, if they're not familiar with an organization, ways to, to look for an organization that will meet what they're trying to achieve, but then also to have some kind of. Sense of this organization is doing good work?,
Susan: That's a great question and I think it's becoming more and more important.
I think we're seeing just nationally, not just for nonprofits, but, for the government , different things that people in general in the United States have less trust in institutions. So I think that that is a big hurdle that our sector has to overcome. Think about it, because you're right that there're, I think, more questions than 20 years ago, definitely 50 years ago.
, and how is this nonprofit using my money and, and I want more of a say in it. So I do think that that's something that we all need to think about in a way that. Probably wasn't considered or as valued as much. So I think from the donor side, you should be looking for, do they, are they on Candid and GuideStar?
Do they share their finances? Do they have a board of directors that's clearly listed? Do they, do you see their staff even listed or. At least some of their staff because, putting up faces to who are the people behind this, I think that shows some credibility. I think you can, hopefully the nonprofit on their website or when you talk to someone they share, their past accomplishments.
We hear a lot about impact. So what does that look like? And again, that shouldn't be something too specific because we wanna make sure that nonprofits have the opportunity to run and, and develop programs. I do think that they should be able to share updates, regular updates on what they're doing, who they're helping, who they're serving.
So those are the types of things as a donor to look for. And again, it's about, okay, I care about this cause what is this nonprofit doing about it? So let's say I care about climate change. Well, That can mean a lot of different things. So, there, and there are a lot of nonprofits that are working on the issue of climate change.
So what specifically does this nonprofit do on this topic of climate change? From the nonprofit standpoint, I'll also just say that I think you need to have a conversation with your donors and you also have to explain to them, unless it's a restricted gift, and that's a whole other conversation, but you do need to let them in and.
See what you're doing. Give them opportunities to be involved and trust that they can understand how things work, and have a conversation with the donor about that. And donors, I think it's important that they understand that, their $5, their a hundred dollars, Not all of that will go directly out.
It might be used towards the dreaded overhead, which I think is a huge myth that we need to debunk that overhead is a bad thing. Our staff deserve to be paid well. They deserve to work in nice places, they need technology. Technology has costs, all those things. And so I think it's, it's, it's a conversation that needs to be had between the donors and nonprofits.
Carol: Say more about that overhead myth because what, when I was thinking about you, me, you mentioned Candid and that's a website where you can look up every nonprofit in the United States and Right. See their, their tax form that they're required to, to publish and make public as long as they have a budget of a certain size.
Right. And all sorts of information is available there. But then candid and then organizations have. Layered on that, all sorts of more ways to enhance their transparency. And so organizations can earn, I don't know, I think, what it is, up to the platinum level of their transparency. They're,.
And, and it's just all the different information that they're sharing. But there are other, good, good housekeeping seal of approval websites. Yes. For nonprofits, yes. But some of them to my mind, are, are, are feeding into that. Overhead myth of, saying basically this is a good nonprofit because they only spend X percentage on overhead and everything else goes to quote programs or the people that they're serving.
Right. Can you explain to folks why that isn't necessarily a great idea?
Susan: Oh my goodness. I could, I could talk for days on this topic. It really, it riles me up because I think, donors feel, I want my money going to the cause and Sure, I agree. I get it. But let's, again, I'll take an example of an organization.
Let's say you have a shelter that helps people who have been affected by homelessness. Okay? And so you're saying, I care about this issue. I see it in my community. I wanna do something about it. I'm gonna donate to this shelter. Okay, well not all that money is gonna go into housing. Some of the money's going to go to paying for marketing the services to get people to go there.
And what does that mean? That needs to go to paying for the salaries if you don't have the people to operate and then the people to run the place. If you don't have the people paid to be there. Then you don't have a shelter. You could talk about utilities, electric bills need to be paid. How do those get paid through donations?
You could talk about having a website. Websites cost money. You need to pay for these things. You need a database to track your information, to track your donors. These. All have our expenses. And, I think those who work in the nonprofit get frustrated cuz we hear about, well, what's the percent that's going to quote unquote overhead?
And it's like, who cares? I mean, I don't understand why this is a number that becomes a priority because especially I'll say from the outside, someone who's not involved in the decision making of the budget, you tell me what's the right percent, should it only be 10%? Okay. Should it be 25, should it be 30?
Should it be five? Like, how are you coming up with these numbers to say this is what makes sense for this specific organization, if you think about your house household, for example, you, you earn a certain dollar living, you maybe have income in various streams. Maybe you have investments, whatever it is.
But let's say you have a monthly budget, however, that gets determined. How would you feel if someone who had no idea your circumstances were to say you're spending too much on groceries? I mean, it's none of their business, so I, I feel very personally affected by this, cuz I think it's hard to judge someone else's budget when you're not really involved in the decision making.
Now I will say, I don't think we wanna go, We, we, we, we don't wanna go too far and, and not have a lot of the money go towards quote unquote programs or, the people served. But I also think it's important that our staff are paid well because staff turnover costs a ton to nonprofits every year.
And we want our, most people don't go into nonprofits because of the salaries. So, I, I don't think we're overpaying our staff. I don't think that's a problem we should worry about.
Carol:, we talk a lot on this podcast when I'm, I'm talking to other guests around how we can make the whole process of working in an organization feel healthier.
, like the more that you cultivate an inclusive and healthy organizational culture, the more you're gonna be able to do in terms of pursuing your mission. And the less. You're worried about the chair that's broken. Yes. And the computer that's too slow. And so ,It's finding that sweet spot.
But I think the emphasis has been way too much on, we're gonna, we're gonna slim all those things. And it, and it, and over time, of course there's another extreme where we need to also have all those. Systems in place so that you're paying attention to any financial malfeasance and the fiduciary responsibility of the board.
Exactly. But the reality for 99% of organizations is that they're feeling squeezed to make due and. That actually can get in the way of them being more effective in pursuing those programs and providing the best services that they can and, and, really taking a holistic approach. So, I'm there, I'm there with you on the whole it's, it's just a.
I can understand why people grabbed onto it as a metric. Mm-hmm. But it can really screw things up in some weird ways as well.When people try to, like, make their budget look like that, and it's like, well, no, you wanna invest in the people who are gonna, who are, who are. Essentially make the nonprofit.
Susan: So,Well, and I also think that, I don't even know what the benchmark is because I, I find it silly personally, but, there's these benchmarks. So you should have your overhead only, I don't know, 15% of your total budget or whatever the number is. And I'm not recommending that number at all, BEC, but I think, an organization that's a national organization with.
10 different offices across the country and 200 staff is gonna have very different needs than a one office, 10 person staff and, or someone that, again, they have a physical, a facility where people come to, to do, whatever versus, like the. To compare how budgets should be made.
I mean, again, there's so many variables. There's so many variables. So to just say, well, here's a number that we can compare, app, apples to apples. Well, does that actually make this apple better? I, I, I think it's, I think it's sort of,
Carol: We wanna be in the, let's make the apple better business.
Susan: make the apple better.There's nothing I could take away. Make the apple better. Don't worry about comparing apples.
Carol:. That's funny. So when you're working with people inside organizations on helping them get more comfortable with fundraising what would you say? What are some things that help people step towards that?
Cuz I think I've, I've said before that very few people get into the nonprofit sector in order to raise money and raising money is necessary.
Susan: Yes, yes. So true. I, again, it's sometimes I've seen in organizations where fundraising is seen as sort of the. Dirty, evil, like, like the ne or necessary evil, and it's like, what about this is evil?
I think first of all, we need to change that mentality, talk about overhead is a problem. Also saying that fundraising is a necessary evil. Of course we have funds, of course, things cost money. Of course, you need to find ways to get the money. I, I don't know why. I mean, it's like a company. Of course you need sales, you need to operate.
So again, I think some of these, the way we talk about it needs to change. But in terms of confidence building, I think that that is a really important part because if you are more confident, you'll be better at most things that you do. And so much of fundraising is about relationship building and getting to know people.
And if you come across as. Not confident or insecure or unsure of it. Talk about lack of trust in a mission. I mean, if I were to say, well, I guess we need the money and will you donate? And I mean our organization is okay. I mean that no one will give. But if you say, look, we are solving this problem and we are really having an impact on this work, and I know this is something you care about and I want you to come along and help us make a bigger impact.
I mean the difference of what that can do to connect with your Don, and notice I didn't talk anything about dollars, that is what is so important. So, confidence, confidence, confidence. And to get there, I think there are two main things. One is practice. I didn't just get to these words and know these things on my first day, but just like anything else, you need to practice.
You need to observe how other people do it. I speak in a very specific way and that serves me and it's authentic and it's true to me. And Carol, you have your own speaking style and you speak your way, and someone else would speak some other way. It's important that you practice and learn your speech.
Speaking style. And then the second thing, it's about communication, persuasion, listening and developing those skills really well. To get to know your donors, to get to know how to talk about your organization because it's not just about a mission, it's not just about talking about the programs, but it's about sharing stories and connecting those stories in a way that someone can say, I wanna be part of this.
I wanna do something. Cuz you're getting them to. Do something. And I think that those skills can be learned. Another skill I would say is perseverance as a fundraiser. I was just on a call earlier today and we were talking about how hard it is to hear rejection. And it is, it's really hard to hear rejection and it, it, it.
It can really dampen your confidence, but you've gotta persevere. There are other people, other companies, other foundations, other institutions out there that do wanna support us. Our mission matters. I just need to keep going.
Carol: What do you, what are some things that you would say help people kind of
build that confidence? So you've talked about that practice and I'm wondering What are, I mean, what are some things that people can start practicing to help them?, so get more comfortable with their, their elevator pitch or their talking points, or that it sounds more natural and isn't just like, okay, I'm reading my script to you.
Susan: Well, the first thing is to speak out loud. That's the first practice. Whether it's o, you record yourself. On Zoom, I do this. All the time where I will record a pitch or something to myself, and then I watch it back and you say, oh, is that what I sound like? Or do I do this weird thing with my eye?
Like you, you'll be amazed, recording yourself speaking. You just, there are things you've never noticed, so that, or even talk to yourself in the mirror, like literally saying these words, prac and practice saying, if you're gonna ask for a gift, maybe you've never asked for a gift over a certain amount.
Say in the mirror to yourself. Carol, thank you so much for your past support. Will you give a gift this year of a hundred thousand dollars? And just practice saying that because just by saying, being comfortable with using big numbers. Cuz sometimes you, you're gonna make a big, hopefully you're making a big ass.
I think that there's just, there's nothing like that. I think observing others is also a great tool. Learning what to say. I think writing stories, knowing your story, why are you connected to the mission? Knowing the different success stories of the organization and I think being prepared with great questions.
Again, this is about building relationships. So what types of questions can you ask your donor when you meet with them? How can you be a curious and interested person? I think curiosity is really important. So those are some of the things I would think about when it comes to practicing.
Carol:, it's funny that you talk about, recording yourself and then listening. Mm-hmm. On, on, I guess I should have anticipated this, but doing this podcast, I know, before the episode gets released, when I'm working with my audio engineer, I'll listen to a, to a version, the first draft of the episode, and I am now aware of that.
Apparently I have a slight stutter. Apparently a lot of people do. Yes, or I'll say or, or so, or all the filler words that you say, you, you start to become aware of your patterns of speech that you would not be aware of at all. Yes. And it certainly has. By hearing myself over and over, I still say those words.
They'll, they'll be in this episode too. Sure. But, I also, I feel like I've been able to become a little more fluid and just by having these conversations I. Get more comfortable in expressing those thoughts, following with the conversation, being a better listener. All of those things have been unexpected benefits of doing this.
And so I loved your point around curiosity and following the conversation and, and cuz people, most people think of fundraising, they think of that big ask. Like, that's all they think about when they, for those of us who don't do it, Uhhuh. And that's why I'm like, okay, I don't wanna do it Uh Huh, but all the other things go into building that relationship.
So what are some things that you feel like help people step into that? And you talked about observation too, for an organization where this. Person might be the first person that's doing fundraising for them. What are some other ways that they can have that chance to observe if there isn't somebody already D in the organization doing the work?
Susan:, that's a great question, and I think it's pretty common actually, where there's maybe only one quote unquote fundraiser official person in a development role. I would encourage them to think about, Can they network with someone and see a, a director of development or some, someone like that at a similar type of organization?
I, I would, I'll say most people wanna help other people. I have a couple of things. I, I say a lot and one of those donors wanna be generous when they can and people wanna help people when they can. And so, it's true. If, like Carol, if I, I was an, I am a newer consultant in nonprofits, then I know you are, Carol, I know you've been doing this a little while longer, and if I had reached out to you over LinkedIn, we didn't know each other at all, but I had found you and I had said, Hey Carol, I'm new to consulting.
Could I, could we take it? 15 minutes. I'd really love to talk to you about your experience. I'm sure you would say yes. I think you did say yes, I'm sure we had that conversation at some point and I think it's absolutely the same thing within the fundraising world, and I think, you can try to get sort of an unofficial mentor to have someone to talk to.
They've been through it, I would, again, I would look for an organization that's similar. So that's one thing I would consider. The second thing is Community foundations can be really helpful in finding resources for you. So they also, again, wanna help their local community. So again, I would go to your local fund community foundation but sometimes they can connect you with someone.
Great. And then there's also AFP chapters, which again are, there's national, there's local, and AFP has had, its. Ups and downs. But overall I've found AFP to be a great resource. Again, great networking to find other fundraisers and I think it's really important to, to have your crew have your people who know what you're going through, who you could say, Hey, I'm having trouble writing this fundraising appeal for giving Tuesday.
Can, what's worked for you in the past? And I bet most people who work in fundraising will have an answer to that. So I think sort of finding your, your people and, and. Again, and I'll also say it's really important as a fundraiser to be able to reach out to someone you don't know. And I think that if you're not comfortable with doing that to a potential donor, then the number one thing you should work on is reaching out to someone you don't know and starting a conversation with them.
And this might be a great way to practice that cuz they're not a donor, they're someone in the field.
Carol:, I love that point of Building that network of peers and, and people who are just a little bit further ahead of you, or maybe even a lot further. Further Yes. Ahead of you in terms of your learning and your network and using that as a way to practice reaching out to people.
Mm-hmm. And it's so funny you're talking about informational interviews when you first get. Started, and in a way that was part of the genesis of this podcast because mm-hmm. I was starting out as a consultant and so wanted to connect with consultants. I was having lots of conversations and, and I thought at one point, well, I should be recording these and I should be sharing them with other people.
Now we're not talking about the business of consulting. Right. But. It, it has just provided a great way to connect and, and build a network. And, and, 99% of the time people say yes, they wanna have the conversation. And, and. They're also, and you mentioned AFP, can you mm-hmm. Can you say what the acronyms stand for?
Susan: I'm sorry. A FP is Association for Fundraising Professionals. Okay. And they have chapters locally around the United States and Canada. And they have, whether it's. Meetups in person or webinars or affinity groups. I'm based in Chicago and they have a really robust chapter here.
But I know they do in other parts of the country as well. They're quite a large organization
Carol: and I think they have chapters we'll look, we'll look it up to see whether they're beyond the United States as well,
Susan: I know they're in Canada for sure. I don't know beyond Canada as well, but they do have chapters all over.
Carol: And of course with the internet, a lot of things are now online and people can access them from anywhere. So geography isn't exactly as much of a barrier as it might have been in the past. Absolutely. So beyond the individual, let's say, you're, you're newer, but you're now, you're, you're a couple years in, you're getting more confident in your personal approach to fundraising. Within the whole organization, what, what are some things that really c create conditions of success for an organization to, really build their, their fundraising approach?, I
Susan: Think about a few things. One is donor stewardship is so, so important. And I think, we talk about the culture of philanthropy sometimes, and, and what does that mean? That means where the entire nonprofit values supports accelerates the role of donors within the organization, sometimes it's like, oh, It just, the development team works with the donors. We, we don't have to, we're in finance, we don't have to work with them, but really, everyone should be thinking about your donors as investors, your donors as your clients, maybe your, your buyers, your purchasers, also stakeholders, you don't want, I. To be completely reliant in terms of decision making on your donors. That is not their role, but you do wanna make sure that they feel valued and appreciated. So I think one thing in terms of donor stewardship is how can you get people from throughout the organization to a. Be aware of fundraising. So talking about big goals are met, or if there's a big fundraising campaign, make sure everyone knows about it. Make sure that they hear the successes, the challenges, the feedback, if, let's say multiple donors reach out. They're like, we're really having, we heard about this new program and we're really, it doesn't sound great, or whatever the feedback is. You hear things once, okay, like, that's one person's opinion on a program. But if you hear something repeatedly in, in a lot of donor calls, then that's something to really take to the team and say, this is what we're hearing. For better or for worse, I think, again, sharing that feedback is really important. And I think the other thing, another way to get people involved throughout the organization is to do what you could either do like a phone-a-thon. So having everyone call donors to ask for a gift, which can get people to understand, even asking someone who's already given before to ask them to renew their $25 gift can actually be really hard. Or you could do something like a thankathon as well, where everyone gets, again, everyone in the organization from top to bottom is responsible for calling, they get their list of donors and they are calling just to say thank you and you can do that too. And that can be a great way to get everyone involved in the process. That's something you can also do with your board. But in terms of other things, I think it's thinking about how we can thank our donors in other ways at events and newsletters and, just wherever there's opportunities to say thank you. Cuz as a reminder, donors do not have to give, even if they've been giving for 10 years at significant levels, they do not have to give again. And it's all voluntary. And so I think that reminding everyone about that is really important.
Carol: It's interesting that you talk about the culture of philanthropy because I, I think when I was working inside organizations and I was not on the fundraising side, it did feel like it was kind of, oh, that's those folks' job, ?
Right. So I love the idea of the thankathon. I mean, that seems like a really. Fun and uhhuh, nice way to give people a baby step into Yes. The process and get everyone involved and get them knowing donors, and it's also just really interesting that I, I heard someone describe this as the three-legged stool that nonprofits have an interest in.
Business model is that a for-profit organization has something they're selling and they have. People who buy it, and it's a very direct relationship. Yes. And in nonprofits most of the time, there's some purpose. Oftentimes, if it's about direct service, then a group of people that the organization is helping who can not, the whole reason that they're, that the organization exists is that those folks cannot, pay for those services.
And so then you need third parties to be. Supporting and, and providing revenue, whether it's individuals or, institutional fund of right funders, corporate, all, all, absolutely. Government, all those. And so you, it ends up with this odd relationship between who's giving the money and, and who is, Working on behalf of the organization Right.
And who's being impacted by the mission. And so it can get a little goofy in terms of who's making decisions about what and who's paying attention to who, but mm-hmm. But it's, it's important for people to remember that because, Especially if they come from the for-profit sector where they're used to that more direct relationship.
Mm-hmm. It takes a little while to figure out how does this all go
Susan: together? Right, right. And, I think just having an understanding of the money doesn't just come. The money, even if you've been a strong, large organization. Every year. I'm gonna guess that's because you have a strong, large development team that's making sure those gifts keep coming in.
It does not just happen and you cannot lie. Right? It doesn't happen by magic. It is, you cannot rely on past success for future donations. So I think it's like the,
Carol: the warnings on the stock market, right?
Susan: Oh my goodness. Yes. So I think, the other thing, if I could just, for people who aren't in fundraising to, to think about, when you donate to something you're donating because you're trying to help something in the future, you, that there's a continued need moving forward.
You don't donate because of some past success. So maybe you had an incredible year, an incredible success. Successful whatever campaign, whatever it is that your organization did last year, that does not make a donor give again. They have to know, well, what are you doing now?, what are you doing for me lately?
It's like that. So you have to keep thinking about as you're communicating, as you're marketing, as you're, Giving feedback on what you wanna tell people what you've done. That's how you build trust, which is the question from the start. But as you move forward, you need to think about how you can tell them where we are headed and how you can be a part of that.
And that's why you should donate.
Carol: And so that's where I come in, where I help the group figure out where they're headed and, and why they wanna move forward in that. That's right. In that way, in terms of strategic planning. So exactly on, on each episode, I ask each guest, what permission slip would they give to nonprofit leaders or I.
What would they invite them to consider to not be a martyr to the cause, like I like to say, and as they work to cultivate a healthier organizational culture. So either a permission slip or an invitation and what might that be from your point of view.
Susan:Well, I think that is such a good question. I love that permission slip.
And so what I would say is to remember that, again, at the beginning we talked about overhead and how chances are you're squeezed for cash and squeezed for resources. I'm, again, not every nonprofit, but a lot are. And so remember, and if you're not squeezed financially, maybe you're squeezed with your time.
That, again, I'm gonna assume a lot of that is true for a lot of your listeners. I would say you can't do it all. And so to just acknowledge you cannot do it all. Like, if you can't, say like, and again, something I said in the beginning, you can't save every life, but you can save one life. What one thing can you do?
What one place can you start with? And so I always say start with what you're great at. Start with your strengths. Start with what's easy for you, and build on that and give yourself some grace for the things that you can't get to. That's okay. There's always tomorrow. There's always another way of thinking about it, but you can't do it all and start with what you're great at.
Carol:I appreciate that. I feel like that's become the mantra of this year's series of podcast interviews. Okay, good. It's all like, what, what are you focused on? What can you, what do you, what do you do really well? What are the, what's the one, two, or three things that you're really gonna move forward and, and time to let the rest of it go.
. So where can people find you? How can they be in touch?
Susan: Great. So again, my name is Susan Kahn and I am the founder and principal of Sapphire Fundraising Specialists. And so you can find email@example.com or on LinkedIn. And my last name is spelled k a h a N.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much, Susan.
Thanks for coming on the podcast. Thank you,
Susan: Carol. It was great to talk to you.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Susan, 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. 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 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Stu Swineford discuss:
If you know me, you’ll know I’m never one to shy away from an opportunity to grow and take on new challenges.
For example, I started my marketing career as a copywriter and ad man. But one day, when my graphic designer colleague didn’t show up for work, I evolved (very quickly) into a designer. After all, I was the only other person in the building who knew how to turn on the Mac.
Since then, I’ve performed virtually every role in the digital marketing production lifecycle – from strategy and concepting, to design and development, to QA/QC and everything in between.
Along the way, I realized that I get the greatest joy from helping others achieve their goals. In a way, you could say I’m making the world a better place, one frustrated professional at a time.
These days, I’m in love with purposeful, conversion-focused digital marketing strategy and execution. That, and doing ridiculous things outdoors – usually where oxygen is limited.
When I’m not helping entrepreneurs and executive-level professionals, I can be found traipsing around the woods near the cabin in which I have lived with my wife and menagerie of pets since 1993. There I watch movies, read, and polish the details of my latest (possibly ill-advised) master plan for world domination.
If you’re interested in pulling me out of the woods for a coffee and talking shop (or hearing how I managed to actually run 100 miles in one go), please send an email my way (firstname.lastname@example.org), give me a call (303.825.4441), check out the podcast (relishthis.org), or grab a copy of my book, Mission Uncomfortable.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Stu Swineford of Relish Studios. Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Stu and I talk about the nonprofit marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be, why it is important to really be able to articulate what makes your organization different, and why many nonprofits struggle with the attract phase of the marketing cycle
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
All right. Welcome Stu. Welcome to the podcast.
Stu Swineford: Thank you so much for having me on Carol. I'm really excited to talk with you today.
Carol: So I like to start out with a question around what, what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Stu: That's a great question. I think that it comes down to my initial motivation, [it] was opportunity. I was working as a sales guy at a bike catalog company back in the early nineties. And had been working there for a couple of years. And one day the owner came to me and said, Hey, do you want to go to lunch? And I thought, well, this is a weird way to fire somebody. But we went on a bike ride for lunch and during that ride invited me to help them with copywriting. So at the time I was just being, I was just a sales guy, but they needed some help writing copy for the county business. This tells you how old I am. We're talking about actual physical catalogs back in the day. So I raised my hand and said, yeah, that sounds great. I think that sounds like fun. So I became a copywriter in about six weeks. After that the graphic artists decided that she no longer wanted to work there and just stopped showing up. So we had a catalog that needed to be completed and gotten out the door in about three or four weeks after that. And I thought to myself, well, I know how to turn the Mac on. So maybe this is something I can do. So I raised my hand and said, how about I take this on and see about. Being a graphic designer and all of a sudden at about the age of 23 or so, I found myself as the director of marketing for one of the top three catalog companies in the states at the time. So it was really an opportunity that drove me initially to marketing. From there, I really was able to, Work for during the.com boom, and worked for a number of agencies and eventually found myself in a position where I decided that I knew enough to be dangerous, to run my own business. And so started relish studio back in 2018. I'm one of the co-founders of, and, and partners at relish studio. And we were able to refine what we do to bring a little bit of a different take to it where we recognized that. We had the most fun. And we did our best work when we were working for companies who had something more in mind than just making money. It wasn't just buying the owners next yacht or, or Porsche or something like that. There was a mission behind what these companies were doing. And so we really pivoted what we do to try to work with purpose driven businesses, nonprofits, people in that, in that zone who. Who really do have a little bit of a giving back mentality. So that's what we try to do here at relish studio. So I think that's our, why being able to serve authentically one of my declarations is I exist to serve and and so I really have embraced that and, and, and that's what gets me up.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah, I, I can, I can relate to that story because I feel like when I first moved into the nonprofit sector, I had a little bit of a background of doing some Well, they were actually advertorials and it was also in a, in a physical magazine that got sent to people who, who did a radio talk shows back in the day, then moved into the nonprofit sector because I wanted to really support causes that I believed in, but it was also a little bit of the case of, oh, well, she can write, so she should do marketing. Like, or, and she's organized so she can manage production. it was very much falling into it and, and, not moving out of the, out of the circles fast enough when it's like, well, okay, you, and and I've since moved away from that, but I feel like for a lot of people in the non-profit sector they may not come to their role with a huge amount of background or, they may have some basic skills. Don't have a degree in marketing or business or, and they're having to learn as they go. So where would you say is a place to start for folks who, they, they somehow end up with that title. But aren't really, don't necessarily have a real huge background in, in the field for a, for a small organization.
Stu: That's a really fantastic question. It's like marketing a marketing title through necessity and opportunity there. Right. I think that. So we have a blog post that actually has gotten quite a bit of traction over the years that just talks about the marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be and understanding that there are a thousand things that you can do in any given day. The best plan of action is to pick one and do it really well. And then you can move on into other options, understanding also where your audience is going to play. I think that there are a lot of people who feel forced into social media. They may not be comfortable with it, or, they're, they're trying to do all of the things in social media instead of just figuring out which one will have the most impact and going there. So we always try to start with values, vision, mission making sure that there's a good understanding, a good solid understanding of, of what makes your organization different. And then really rolling into the audience, who are the people who are going to support your organization. And where do they go to get information where they go to engage and, and start there? So for example, in the nonprofit world, the boomer generation is still one of the most powerful. Donor pools out there. But there are a lot of new social media platforms out there that are exciting and fun and people want to play in. But, for example, putting all of your eggs into the TikTok basket with. Your organization and the donor pool is really in the, more aligned with the Facebook basket or even direct mail or email basket is something that you want to consider. So just make sure that you are hitting things hitting the people where they should. There are programs out there to help with coaching. In fact, relish studio has a coaching program as well, where we help budding marketers learn more about marketing and, and become more adept at being able to fill. Role within their organizations. So I'd say that going out and trying to seek out those types of service opportunities or learning opportunities would be another, another place to, to start as you're dipping your toe in the marketing.
Carol: Yeah. And you make some great points there. I mean, one of the things that, as I was thinking about our conversation today, I was thinking about was, with marketing today, there are just so many different options, different directions that people can go in different channels. And so starting about thinking, who are you trying to reach? Who you're trying to educate or inform about what you're doing, what your organization is doing and then where they hang out and go there. And instead of, “oh, well I'm comfortable writing, so I'm going to do a blog,” but no one's going to come to it or, from your own comfort level of like, “oh, I have fun on Instagram and I'm going to go there.” [Try] thinking about it from the other person's point of view: where are your donors – or potential donors – and how can you reach them where they're at?
Stu: One of the things that we've done, we have a blog but one of the things we recognized is, it's really challenging to get people to come to your site for a “regular blog” type of scenario. So we looked at a couple of ideas and in one of those was why don't we go where the audience is. And so I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn basically putting material there. It can be, it can be reused on the blog. So it's not like you can't use that material on your site as well. And we've actually seen a strong growth in both organic and redirected traffic from LinkedIn to our site. So, I think that what I really recognized was I was able to reach a larger audience. If I went to where they were actually hanging out, rather than asking them to come, come join me wherever.
Carol: Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing that you talked about right, there was just the ability to use one thing, but re put it in different places, repurpose it. And, and I think that that's a great opportunity for organizations, especially when there's, they're stretched so thin. They don't need to be in that constant turn of, we’ve got to create something new all the time, what's the take, the one thing, and how can you use it in five different ways? So if somebody were to try to do some more repurposing of what they're already producing, what are some ways that you would talk them through thinking about.
Stu: Well, a podcast is a great example. You can start with an audio or a video explanation or discussion or conversation. And from that, you can get a variety of different materials. So I have a podcast called Relish. It's about nonprofit marketing. And I have conversations with nonprofit leaders and experts in the field who bring a lot to the table in terms of opportunities to just have discussions around, around marketing and how people can do a better job. So there's one asset there, which is the podcast itself. That podcast theoretically can be broken into sound bites. If there are nice little quotes in there, those can be leveraged on social media. You can put a sound byte out that is a teaser to the show that drives people back to the podcast. The transcript of the podcast becomes an opportunity to create written content that can be used in a variety of different ways, both on social media and on a blog et cetera. In fact, what are the, one of the ideas around starting the show was that I would get a book out of it, out of it. I'd have, let's say 52 conversations. And from that we had a book, essentially. I have not yet written that book, but it's certainly there and the opportunity there to take what started as an audio recording and. pretty quickly enables you to repurpose that material. in a variety of different ways to, to get the most out of that one piece of media. I am also always on the lookout during my show for blog opportunities and ideas. And so we leverage it that way as well as send out an email about the show, send out an email with that, with those blog post opportunities. So, we're repurposing what started as one conversation into a whole variety of different materials. We also publish the audio to YouTube as a video. I know there are a lot of podcasts out there that record video for their shows as well. So, there's just a lot, a lot of ways to to take one piece of media and make it really like.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, I started including transcripts of the interviews. My initial motivation was just around accessibility in terms of the deaf community who obviously can't listen to a podcast. But I realized there was someone who was listening who said “No, I love the fact that you do transcripts because I don't generally listen to podcasts, but I love reading the conversation.” So it makes it accessible to folks whether they have a challenge in the way or not. So yeah, then all those things that you're talking about, how can you springboard from that one piece? What do you see as the biggest challenges facing nonprofits when it comes to marketing and getting the word out about the work that they do?
Stu: Well it really depends on the non-profit the maturity level of, of, of each nonprofit, I would say. I think that non-profits tend to have a real challenge in the attract phase. So if you consider our idea that there are essentially four major phases of a stakeholders life cycle: attract, bond, connect, and then inspire. Within those, you can break it out into a little more granularly where people need to know about you. So they need to find out who you are. They need to then develop a sense of liking you where they're like, okay. Yeah, this is a person I'm interested in continuing to follow trusting you. So providing proof that you're doing a good job or. social proof that demonstrates that that is what you're doing. And then we move into the connect phase so that those are part of the bond of the attraction phase. We move into the connect phase where they're really being able to try and buy. So, small offers, small opportunities to have a value exchange. Usually that's an email. It starts with time for value. And then you escalate that to perhaps an email address for value. And then eventually that becomes a financial transaction where you're actually getting a donation. And then or, or a purchase, if you're a nonprofit actually has a product that they can sell. And then we move into the inspire phase, which is essentially once you have established that financial, transactional relationship moving into the inspire phase is really getting those people to shout your praises, to spread the message to reach a wider audience, as well as repeat. So you're taking a one-time donor and turning them into a second time donor, turning them into a monthly donor. Maybe getting their business involved and having. Those relationships grow into something that's bigger than what it first started, which might be a simple $20 donation. And so, so really I think some of the big challenges lie in that attract phase. What are the things that we can do as a nonprofit to get the word out and encourage people to come learn more? What are those offers? What are those things that are going to get people to. To say, oh, I want to learn more about this. And that tends to be I think one of the, one of the biggest areas of challenge is, is just starting to, how do I, how do I get in front of the right people to get them to come to my site or to learn more about.
Carol: So, what are some things that you've seen organizations be successful in, in terms of that attract phase or that, just building some awareness around the work that the organization is doing.
Stu: I think that organizations, one of the things that we see organizations of almost every type struggle with is how to position themselves as the guidance story. All of us want to be the hero in our own stories. And most organizations fall into that trap where, when they talk about themselves with. When they're attempting to talk to their audiences, they tend to talk more about themselves than their audiences and fail to really see opportunities to reframe that narrative where the audience becomes the hero of that story. And it's a challenge in the non-profit space because people are out doing really good work. They are out there, changing lives and. Perhaps saving lives. And so it's, it's pretty easy to fall into that trap of, we do this type of language. I think reframing that narrative and doing the best that you can to put it into that perspective of where your donors are, where the people in that audience are framed as the hero of that story. So trying to figure out what their motivations would be to donate to your organization, what is inspiring them to fill that role and then framing your narrative around that is one, one way to just start that process certainly as I said a few minutes ago, making sure that you're, you're in the right place to be starting. Those conversations are important as well. I would recommend that every organization out there do a survey of their constituents or their stakeholders and just find out where, where they go to get information, what social channels are they on? Where do they go, how do they even like gathering information? So, I like to read, but I don't want to watch a video. And that'll really inform not only. Where to go, but what media type to to leverage in that place in order to, to get in front of the right people and, and and create materials with that, they'll be interested in engaging with,
Carol: Can you give me an example of turning that around that reframe that you're saying of being the guide versus the hero in the story?
Stu: Yeah. So an example in the nonprofit space might be, let's say you are a, let's say you're an organization that builds trails and advocates for trail use in in a certain area. One of the ways that you might re-frame that conversation. So instead of saying, Hey, we help save the trails and keep them clean. And ready for all of the access that people might want. You might want to reframe that in the perspective of, if we know that you are passionate about trails and want to keep them safe. So by donating today, you help w you help keep this area's trails open and accessible for all.
Carol: Yeah. So it's turning it around again. I mean, just like you were saying at the beginning where it's, go, go where the folks are, right. Rather than where you want to hang out and then put them in the center of the story instead of, instead of yourself. Yeah, just really appreciate that you talked about maturity levels of organizations, kind of. I'm curious what you see. Well, obviously there, there are organizations that are early on small as they get bigger. What are some different things that you see as opportunities as, as organizations grow to maybe, I don't know whether it's necessarily to expand their marketing, but maybe do it differently as they.
Stu: Yeah. So I think as organizations grow and this can be any organization you have, have built up an audience, you have built up a base of clients or donors or stakeholders that have raised their hand that are ready to continue to engage. With your organization, if you just ask them. And so the lowest hanging fruit tends to fall into that inspire phase where it's way easier to get a donor to donate again than it is to take someone through that entire journey of attracting, bond and connect and get them to donate for the first time. We, as people love shiny new things, it's just, for whatever reason our brains are geared toward how exciting it is to land something new. So it's a little boring to go back to Stephanie or Jim or, or, or, or Gail and say, Hey, would you be willing to do it? Would you be willing to donate again? Could we turn you into potentially a monthly donor? That just isn't as exciting in our brains, but it's an easier opportunity. So two things there first is. Yeah, it's way easier to get someone to donate again than it is to get them to donate the first time. And the second thing is those people also have demonstrated their interest in your organization and their desire to help your organization. And so even though. Even if they aren't able to donate again right now, they will probably be willing to share your mission with their networks. So that repeat and refer area is something that we see as more available to a mature organization, because you've just simply been around for longer. And you have those connections built up versus a startup, nonprofit who right now doesn't really have a whole lot of opportunity to re-engage donors if they, if they're just starting to get them.
Carol: Yeah. And what comes to mind is the phrase, “oh, you're just preaching to the choir.” Well, you need the choir yeah. Those folks that continue to, to show up maybe at your events, maybe, participating in programs, donating all of those different things. And so making sure that you're treating the choir well is, is, is important
Stu: Well to extend that metaphor, the choir sings really, really well.
Carol: Right. And how can you help them see broader, broader audiences?
Stu: Exactly, exactly. And a lot of times that's just giving them something to say, that social post and sharing it, writing an email that they can share with their, with their team, just, getting them one step down the road, saying, Hey. Feel free to modify this, however you'd like, but here's, here's some ways that you can spread this message a little bit, a little bit more effectively, and we wanted to help you help make that easier. That's certainly among the recommendations that we would have for that referral type of athlete.
Carol: Yeah, that, that point of making it easy for folks. I was with a group the other day, and a woman was talking about, she wanted to take action in this particular arena. And, she went on to a website. It was, this was around, advocating for voting rights. And she was motivated. She went. But there was just so much information on the website. It was so complicated. It just overwhelmed her and she ended up in paralysis. She didn't take any action, even though she was motivated enough to go to their website and try to read, but they, they didn't, keep it simple, they wanted to give the person all the information. And so, unfortunately it probably had the opposite impact that they actually wanted because she didn't end up making the phone calls that they were hoping that she would do or anyone who would show up on the website. Right. And was motivated to take action.
Stu: Yeah. We tend to fall into the trap of wanting to tell people all the things. And if we can focus on one thing at a time, this is why I've, I've gotten a little bit away from newsletters and have started focusing email outreach on a single idea and a single action. So instead of giving people a choose your own adventure, monthly newsletter, where, there are nine things that they could possibly do. Get interested in and maybe go exploring hitting people more frequently with more focused intentional single, single ideas. Emails have proven to be a lot more than that.
Carol: Yeah, I've seen that for myself. When I first started out, I did a newsletter where I went once a month where I shared both. I did a twice-monthly blog. And so I shared links to each of them. And after a year looked at my stats and every single month, the one at the top was the one that got opened more. I was like, well, and, and the one, one further down, just and so yeah, I went to one thing, one email, one thing and people are just so bombarded with information that yeah, I think that, that desire to tell you everything that. We've got a lot to share. We want it, we want to do that. But what, what's that one thing that you really want people to take away or take action on?
Stu: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. We've found that creating synergy between your email message and where you're sending people as well is super effective. And so making sure. the tendency is to be just like, okay, well we'll send them to the homepage. Well, once I get to the homepage, there's dozens of things on most sites that people can do from there. So even creating a single landing page, that is the action that we want you to take from that particular email is a really valuable exercise.
Carol: So what do you see as the opportunities for organizations as they're trying to connect with people, attract them, may do that bonding help them get to know each other, create that relationship. Really. It's not just about that transaction and then moving them to inspire what are some of the opportunities that you're seeing? Stay the course and don't get distracted with the shiny new things, or are there some new things that are coming along that people should be paying attention to?
Stu: Well, that's a one fun thing about marketing is there's always something new, something that's either falling out of favor because it's no longer really working or coming into favor because it's it's something that people are trying, I would say nonprofits have a tendency to lag in terms of what they are. They just don't have the bandwidth to stay on top of the latest trends. However, like I mentioned earlier, most of the donations are still coming from the boomers. At this point that'll, fairly quickly move into Gen X-ers. And it just tends to be the people with more. Less time left on the earth, as well as more income opportunities or more, more disposable income opportunities. Tend to give a little more, it's just, we tend to do that as we age. So I would say nonprofits should probably be a little less focused on the newest. Information a delivery mechanism or, or marketing channel and stay focused more on some of the things that are a little bit more tried and true. For example, email continues to be a very viable way to engage with some of the older populations. That's been something they're comfortable with. Email, if someone's on your email list, they tend to have raised their hand at some point. So they tend to be a little more engaged with you than just, something that happens to flow into their feed. I would say consistency is something that most businesses including nonprofits can benefit from is just creating content. Map a a roadmap for what the next six months look like develop themes around that, that a roadmap. So, maybe April is going to be, when you talk about this particular program, maybe when you promote some event or sweepstakes opportunity that you have et cetera, and then develop the content that's of help support that. And then just be, get really good at executing on, on that content. just be consistent about it when shiny things, I call it the shiny squirrel syndrome. When those things come up, put them, put them in a sandbox and be willing to explore those as future opportunities, but don't let those try to not let those get in the way of the plan.
Carol: Yeah, I appreciate the notion of, you don't, you don't need to be on top of all the trends and picking a couple of things, doing it well, doing it consistently. Those all can have multiplier effects. So yeah, I, I think that may be a sigh of relief for most people in the nonprofit sector where it's like, we're, we're, we're trying to do so many different things. And, and I mean, I think probably that those principles would work in a lot of different areas within an organization, oftentimes where I'm working with them around strategy. It's it's, it's also trying to figure out what are the. Couple big things that you're going to be focused on, not 95 different things that you could be doing within a particular space. So yeah it aligned.
Stu: You mentioned relationships earlier, and frankly, I see marketing as just relationship building, whether you're selling, trying to sell a widget or let's say a bottle of soda or trying to get someone to come on board as a major corporate donor, it's all about building relationships and getting good at having those conversations consistently. And making sure that those are authentic. And I would say if there's, if there's ever one thing to do for an executive director or a donation manager or, someone out there it's pick up the phone or get people on calls and ask them questions and develop relationships with them. even, even buying soda, for example, Coke and Pepsi and all those guys are out there trying to develop a relationship with a customer. And it may be a fairly easy relationship to develop, a dollar or whatever, however much a soda costs these days is not a heavy lift to get somebody to try something. But at the end of the day, you’re billing awareness. So not getting people to know who you are, getting people to like you, to trust you, to try to buy, to repeat your refer. that's that, that's that cycle that, that we want to get people into. And yeah, it's just about having authentic conversations is, is really, if there was one thing that every non. Leader or their team could do it, contact X amount of people and have good solid conversations with them every week. And just put a number to that and, and make sure you're hitting that.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just keeping the relationship and the conversation front of line. So even when you're, you're creating something that may not be in a conversation format and back and forth too. Remember that whatever you're sharing is only one half of the conversation. So what's, what's the other half that you went back to? So that back and forth I think is really
Stu: Yeah. And developing opportunities to just provide value, whatever that is. So we talked about content a little while ago. You don't always have to be, you don't always have to come up with the big story out of thin air to be a good blog post, if there's something that aligns with your mission that, in another organization, is doing, or that's interesting. I had a conversation last night about food scarcity, scarcity at a, at a meetup that I had appeared with some somebody and, there's information there that I could then share. I didn't come up with it. Found out about it. But that's like being the Maven, being the person willing to share that information. if you can just reach out to somebody and be like, Hey, I saw this article, it reminded me of you. Here's why you think it's important or why. I thought you might be interested. Let me know what you think and send that to an individual or send that to your list, in an authentic capacity that that's good.
Carol: Yeah. I actually love the parts of newsletters where it's, what we're reading right now or what we're listening to. And, and, some of my most read things have been my little, like, short reviews of books, et cetera, because people are always on the lookout for recommendations from people, as you said that from people that they trust and, and they know, have a similar perspective. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So at the end of each podcast, I ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. I have a box of icebreaker questions I pull them out of. And so I've got a couple here for you. I'll just ask you one. What I usually do is pick out three and then see where the conversation goes and see what I'm pulled to, pull to, to then ask. So what's the best advice that you've ever received?
Stu: Wow. The best advice. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be able to engage with experts in a variety of different fields: business, personal life. No even athletics. I just somehow managed to be able to spend time with world champions and, and people of that nature. So I've received a lot of amazing advice over the years. I think that probably the best advice I have that I could share is to be yourself. And if you can come to every conversation and every interaction as you are authentic and be interested and, and all of those things, but essentially coming from that from who you are you're going to feel more fulfilled and you're going to develop better, stronger relationships. It's that authenticity piece that I think is super important.
Carol: Yeah. And I think, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that goes for organizations as well. Right. Be themselves. Yeah, I think we're, we're social creatures and our antennae are pretty good for when people are faking it. Right. And they're not, they're phony or whatnot. And so, yeah, I think that that's, that's great. That's great advice. And we're always stepping into that. I think as we, as we continue to evolve, hopefully. Yeah, I hope
Stu: so. It feels to me like I've been around in the business world since, I mean, I guess I graduated college back in the early nineties. And so I entered the business world pretty, pretty soon thereafter, and for a while, there was a real trend to never show weakness and never, never be. demonstrate that things might not be going well. We're asked for help and, and I, I'm very encouraged and maybe it's just the people that I hang with, but I'm very encouraged to see at least among that group, people being more and more vulnerable and more and more willing to share both the good things and the bad things that are going on. I think that social media has created a situation where a lot of us argue. Given the opportunity to, to see how people may be struggling because they just put out the good stuff out there and just really understand that it's okay to be vulnerable. And when you can be yourself and show up in an authentic way good things happen.
Carol: Yeah. And with that, I think I appreciate it. I've heard it from Brene Brown of also being aware of who's earned the right to your story. Who's earned the right to, what levels of vulnerability. Are you, are you telling a story from a wound or a scar? So I think that that's also important when you, those, those big, big blanket statements don't, obviously it never works in every situation, but the more that you can, be willing to yeah. I recognize, and share when, when you're struggling and that. But you need help. Right. And asking for help, I think, is certainly something that I've had to step into and learn more about as I grow older. So yeah. Appreciate that. So what are you excited about? What's emerging in your work?
Stu: I think that is one of the things that I have been working on for quite some time. And it's really coming to fruition and I'm incredibly excited about it. It's something I spoke about a little while ago, which is this coaching opportunity. I love helping people. I love helping people be their best selves. And so being able to create a coaching program that puts me in a, in a. In a position to be able to help people in that capacity has been really fulfilling and I'm super excited to continue to expand that program. So, it's something that we have, I have several, several coaching clients at this point and And so it's really fun to be able to meet with them on a, on a regular basis and watch their progress and see how much they can come alive in, in the marketing space and be able to contribute to the growth and success and ability for their organizations to to expand that.
Carol: Yeah. So it goes back to that. You don't have to do it young. You don't have to go it alone. You can, you can get help.
Stu: Yeah, for sure. There are lots of resources available out there and I'm certainly available. And, and, if somebody would like to discuss some of the challenges they're facing or, or what coaching might look like, I'd be happy to chat with them about.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being on the podcast. It's been a super pleasure. I'm excited to be able to have this chat with you and look forward to talking with you soon.
Stu: Alright. Thank you so much. Thanks Carol.
Carol: I appreciated Stu’s point about thinking about all of your communications from the point of view of those you are trying to reach. So if your average donor is a Baby Boomer, spending a lot of time on TikTok probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Where do they hang out and how can you go to them? And then when you are telling your story – making yourself the guide not the hero of the story – putting the people that benefit from your work at the center instead of yourself. That can be a little tricky because you don’t want to be in the business of not respecting your clients privacy or using their challenges for inspiration porn. At the same time – how can you get yourself out of the way of the story you are trying to tell. I also appreciated Stu’s emphasis on keeping it simple. Asking people to do one thing – just one thing. When I am talking to people as part of the strategic planning processes that I support, I ask them if they had a magic wand and could change the organization in any way, what would their wishes be. So if I were to give myself the magic wand, it would be to have every policy person who writes policy updates and asks their constituents to take an action – write an email, call their representative to simplify their messages. And if they really want to share all the details – they would have two options – Click here for the highlight summary – that would have at most a sentence or two explaining – why they wanted me to contact my representative to vote for or against the bill and then provide a mechanism for me to do that. SIMPLE. Then they could include a second option – if you want all the details – click here – But right now – most of the advocacy communications I receive only have the second version. Maybe the policy people think it is the simple version – but to a layperson like me it is not. So yes – keep it simple and to the point! With that I should get to the point…
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Stu, his bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. I also hope of course that you subscribe so that you will get future episodes. Reviewing the podcast helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
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.