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.
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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 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.
Episode 07: This week we’re talking to Cinthia Manuel.
We talked about:
• the challenges nonprofits face in trying to make their services more accessible.
• What to think about before getting started with community engagement.
• Why Cinthia thinks traditional mentoring is backwards.
Cinthia Manuel is the CEO and Founder of Autentica Consulting, LLC. She specializes in Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Mentoring; and Multicultural Marketing. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and a first-generation Latina. She was named one of the 23 Business People to Watch in 2019 by the Portland Business Journal for her work contributing to communities of color through professional development, mentorship, and entrepreneurship. She is passionate about education and has worked with the Gates Millennium Scholarship Alumni Association, Hispanic Scholarship Fund, and the United Negro College Fund. She is a TEDx speaker. She deeply believes that building strong communities is key to creating a powerful voice that drives change.
Carol: So welcome Cinthia to the podcast. I'm really excited to have you. Thanks for being on.
Cinthia: Thank you so much for having me, Carol.
Carol: And just to get us started, can you tell listeners kind of how you came to the work that you're doing? Kind of what was your path? What was your journey?
Cinthia: Yeah, so I'll give you this super brief version.
But I actually started with a background in coding when I was like super young. And then I quickly, when I started doing internships in school, and in college, I realized that my other passion was marketing. And then I went on to do that for almost 10 years. And slowly, I ended up working for a health insurance company, a startup company that was in need of just, you know, people to come and get it going. And I had been working in the healthcare system and marketing for a few years at that point. And I said, absolutely, so I jumped on board and I got embedded into the startup world, I guess you can call it. And I was doing operations marketing and customer service sales outreach. And it was a really great way for me to explore what was out there and how my skills could be transferable in different areas. And so after that, what I really decided to enjoy in that job was how much I was connecting with the community and really transferring that information to develop the products and services we wanted to do. And so then later on, I ended up in another nonprofit organization. That was I had to set up a program for students at we were placing students of color in companies across the Portland metro area in Oregon, and I really was utilizing my negotiation skills or my strategy skills in that area and again, trying to bring onboard, what we were hearing in the community, what we're hearing from the business side as well as the students. A when I was having those conversations, a lot of the things that kept coming up was a lot and diversity, equity inclusion. And I was meeting with CEOs, VP, C's, etc. like managers in all different areas, all different industries. And they were asking us, well, how do we continue to have this conversation? How do we attract talent? How do we retain talent? How do we develop the talent? And I was like this is a little out of my range. And so then I decided to go back to school and get a certificate and a strategic diversity management from Georgetown University. Because I think I just wanted to have the lingo and be able to have those more effective conversations. And that's when I realized that that was truly probably one of the passions that brought together everything that I had learned in the past. And so now I am a consultant, I have my own company, I am Equity and Inclusion consultant and I love it so much because I have not only the freedom to be able to design what services I want to provide to the community that I care about, but also I'm able to continue to learn and be part of this bigger conversation that has happened in in the US.
Carol: And my listeners are generally nonprofit staff, board members, and association staff. And, you know, across our entire culture, folks are grappling with diversity, equity and inclusion issues and and we're recording this in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and it's only highlighting the huge inequities that are throughout our system, but for those organizations that are serving and wanting to I think people have been talking about this for a long time, but the progress forward hasn't been what we've, wanted, what would you say are the key kind of things that folks need to start thinking about and conversations that staff and board members need to start having?
Cinthia: Yeah, great question. Definitely think like you mentioned, this pandemic is kind of highlighting a lot of the areas where we still need to do a lot of work. I will say one of the key things you know, I mentioned a lot earlier, that going out to the community, and really talking to individuals. I think that one of the things when we implement policy, so great services that serve those in need. We often forget that there are inequities within those communities themselves. What I feel like I've seen a lot lately is policies that are like, they want to be equal, right? They want to be accessible. Yeah, that is one of the biggest things where they are failing, and accessibility. So I'll give you an example. Super quick. And this is more like a general example. But when we're talking about providing meals to students in schools they are saying, okay, you know, we'll give you the meals, we'll just come and get them at the school, but there are a lot of kids that don't have transportation to get to those sites. And then there might be only one. So a lot of the schools were saying, okay, we'll be open for breakfast, and we'll be open for lunch. So that means that they have to take two trips to figuring out if their parents are still working. What does that look like accessibility? The students that are special needs, what does that look like for them so I think one of the things when it comes to building policies or programs is really understanding the mix. Behind every single thing that could potentially affect somebody not being able to access some of the services.
Carol: Yeah, there's just so many assumptions built into, you know, the sudden move to okay students, all students are going to be learning online. Well, you know, what access do they have to a device that can access the internet? You know, what Wi Fi to folks have on the other end. I mean, it's just there's so many. I mean, we're having to make a really quick pivot, but at the same time, yeah, there's so many ripple effects.
Cinthia: Yeah. And I think especially when it comes to nonprofit because nonprofits are there to serve the community, especially right now in moments of crises and anxiety and stress. And also, I feel like we are uncovering a series of things that came along with what we're providing services for in those areas. And I think mental health is a big issue. Well, when it comes to how do you even process that you need some services? How do you know where to find information? I think a lot of the times, we also forget, what language do we want our communities to receive information from, like, my parents are mostly Spanish speakers. And right now, if honestly, if it wasn't for me and my sister who are home or English speakers, we wouldn't be there and wouldn't be able to get a lot of the information that they need. So I think that's another key thing. If you're an organization that is providing a service, you know, try to be able to help other communities even though they might not be your target market. And if you can bring language on board it, that’ll be a huge help for the communities too.
Carol: Right. So hopefully, organizations have a lot of those things set up already, but because it's hard to create all of that in a crisis, but it's so important. One of the things that you focus on Is his community engagement? What would you say is really key to effective community engagement?
Cinthia: Yeah. So when I think that, you know, I try a lot of different things, because I think one of the key components that I found when I was doing community engagement was gaining the trust of the individuals that I was actually trying to help or trying to reach out to. And that can make or break a lot of the programs that you implement. Because again, you know, I think nonprofit organizations, often we get an idea of like, you know, we see any, we want to fill it and we want to do everything we possibly can. And there are other organizations who are backing that up financially. But then we come to those communities and we're saying, Hey, you know, here we are, we're providing the service to you. And they might be like, I don't know who you are. Why should I trust you? And I think that sometimes organizations may spend a lot more time trying to gain that trust in services that have been kind of halted in some ways, when it should be all the way around, you should have gained the trust of the community you're trying to serve. And really be genuine. I think one of the things that I always talk about is authenticity. And people can read through your emotions and can read through your body language and your intentions. So I will say, be authentic, be honest, be caring and empathetic, but really gain that trust of that community to be able to really gain and extract their real needs that the community has and for them to be able to, to know that they can feel comfortable utilizing the services you're providing.
Carol: And almost being in partnership rather than being you know, a one down or that power dynamic of the organization. I think too many organizations, their first step towards you know, trying to center equity more is to start doing, if I haven't been doing engagement, taking that step. And just as you said without putting the people in the center and really starting to build that trust, it's going to feel, you know, it's not going to feel helpful to folks in the community. So what are some things? What are some practical things that folks can do to actually start building that trust?
Cinthia: Yeah, so one of the things I will say is that, so it might be, it may feel a little awkward, but, you know, so let's say that your nonprofit may provide meals, let's just stick with that. But I think that one of the ways to do that is to really engage in your community is to try to see if you can get engaged in other activities that our community cares about, other festivals where you need to be at, and not necessarily as a provider, not necessarily as the organization, building community. I think it's so important for them to see you for them to get to know other families for you to get to know people in the school district because a lot of times we don't realize, but healthcare organizations like hospitals or clinics, local clinics, especially, or schools are the ones who are sending individuals to specific organizations to receive the services. And so they are, they already have a build system, trust system with their community. So kind of going to them and saying, hey, we want to be part of this community. So how can we join you in this effort, right? And literally, you can even do events in the community for free but just information or like not not even selling their services at all. It's more about just saying, can I you know, can I join this organization and planting trees, can I go to an after school program and get to meet the families because once I've seen you people quickly understand and feel the connection. And like I said, I think a lot of the time we need to go to the source or what people are getting there, they already built it, they have a trust source from to, to just say, teach me about your community, right. Like, let me be part of this community. And I think the other thing, too, that I will say is when you're coming on, be yourself, don't, it’s not about the organization at a point, it's about the individual. And people see the individuals are part of the organization, which means that if they can trust individuals, they can trust organization,
Carol: Yeah, I think as you were talking that's definitely key what I was thinking about in terms of, you know, just remembering like to put away your organization hat and just remembering that it's person to person, communication and you're building relationship and
you know, just taking the time to have done your homework in terms of who else is already in the community where you can find allies where as you're saying people already have relationships and trust built, that you can build on. And then of course, you're going to have to build trust with those potential allies. But too often, I think, you know, we have so many small organizations trying to do great work. But they're doing it a little bit in a vacuum, and they're not seeing what else is, you know, what else is in their vicinity? Who else is doing work similar to them or maybe complimentary to them? And it seems like, I don't know we have such big systemic issues to work on that my hope for nonprofit organizations is to kind of get out of the idea of competition and really get into more of the idea of partnership and how can we complement each other. How can we, you know, work together, which is hard work. It's not easy to do collaboration. There's a lot of things that get in the way. But you know that that's my hope overall so that we can all have a greater impact. Where do you think organizations kind of make mistakes when they try to do that community engagement work?
Cinthia: What do they make ain't gonna really go along with what you mentioned earlier? That competition, right, I think is trying to say, trying to be driven by what they feel. They think the community needs, because a lot of the times I have had plenty of conversations in the nonprofit world with other nonprofits, especially healthcare, that was where I came from. And you know, people were saying, Hey, you know, we see this need, we see that people should get this in order for them to accomplish why, for example, in this number of organizations getting built and like you said there's already so much duplication of services. And also there are people then I think, to me, what it looks like is the more and more nonprofit organizations come up to try to serve the same community for the specific need, then you have people who are knowledgeable in that area is splitting it up into this nonprofit organizations, trying to help them come up, come up to speed or, you know, kind of build some momentum. And what happened, what happens is, yeah, you have this organizations that they're feeling in their heart, and sometimes based on the grants, that these are the services that they need to provide for our community that they might not really know very well or if they know very well, there may be their services that they're trying to provide are already a duplicate of other services that are already out there. I know in Portland a long time ago, when I was helping build, I was part of this organization that had nothing to do with nonprofits. But we were trying to provide data to them about homelessness, and how many people in Portland were homeless. And this is like four or five years ago. And so we started talking to all these nonprofits, about their services, because we wanted to compile them in one. We wanted to have a web interface where you can go in there and say, like, do you need access to showers who can provide access to showers, you need access to meals, like breakfast, lunch, and whatever. And what we started finding is what you mentioned earlier that there was a lot of application. And then the worst thing was nobody could keep track of an individual. So we were like, we were triple counting. Sometimes a person and one day, because one person will go to one place to get a shower. And then a few hours later, they will go somewhere else to get a breakfast meal. And then some morning on the afternoon we'll look at dinner and then the evening and then they’ll go there for shelter. And these are organizations who are saying, Oh, we have four people that utilize the service. Right. And in essence, it was the same person, but they couldn't tell it was the same person. So when they were applying to grants, a lot of the grants, were saying, well, we're seeing a huge intake on shelters. You know, because we have X amount of people asking for shelters, when in reality, it could have been the same person, but they just went to different shelters at different nights. So again, I think one of the things too, that I see a lot is when we're applying for grants. And like I mentioned earlier, sometimes the grants come with requirements or the saying, you know, we'll give you the money to do X. But you also have to make sure that you're collecting this other data. I think it's important to ask, when you're applying for grants, why are they? Why do they feel the need of that data is important or why do they feel the need to provide that additional service is important? Because I think a lot of times too, what happens is it distracts you from your reading your purpose and your real goal, because you're trying to meet the needs of the grant, the organization that is providing the grant, therefore, people feel are feeling overwhelmed, because they're like I gotta do what I feel is a need in my community, but I also have to meet the requirements for this grant, that, you know, is going to help us provide those services. So just, I think be really honest with organizations because as organizations that are providing the grants might not be in the front line a lot of the times and they're also going by what they, what data they're getting, what information they're being getting, as well, and it might not be the right. the right opportunity for a nonprofit that really wants to serve our community in a certain way.
Carol: Yeah, and of course, as you're talking about those data issues, and you know, there's been such a shift to try to shift from, you know, just counting output, so who showed up at what place of course, you know, there's huge privacy issues with with the scenario you just talked about. In terms of data, and, but also trying to as grant makers are trying to move towards helping organizations be able to measure their impact, that's a complicated thing. And it's hard, especially community based organizations for them to have the bandwidth. You know, literally and not literally, to take that on and really have a useful kind of data collection system that goes back to, and can feel like, right can feel like, kind of bureaucracy or, you know, why are we, why do we have to do this? Yeah. So, uh, you are a TEDx speaker, and your focus was on mentorship and you say that, that mentoring is backward. So I'm, I'm wondering if you'd like to talk a little bit about kind of, what do you think is baffling about the traditional approach and some thoughts in the mentoring area.
Cinthia: Yeah, no, thank you. Yes. So I did add TEDx on mentoring is backwards. So basically what I was coming from on that is that a lot of the times when we think about mentoring, we think, you know, we train the mentors, we're training the mentors for them to actually be helped them to be able to get to the next step. And what happens a lot is that, as a mentee, we feel like there's a couple things that are happening, right. So one, we're like when we asked for some support from a mentor, we respect them a lot. And we're also already grateful that they're giving us their time to engage with us. And so that investment is great but the mentor is trying to move an agenda based on what they think we need because we have come for the support. And so what happens is that a mentee is not being trained to actually manage their own mentoring relationship themselves. So we should be the ones, mentees coming to the mentor and saying, hey, Person A, I really need some support in this area. And this other skills are the time commitment that I'm asking for the support for me. And then the mentor should be the individual that we're asking for help from, she'll decide okay, so do I have the skills or the experience that this mentee is trying to go after, the mentor saying oh, I want to mentor you or companies saying so and so is going to mentor you Cynthia today when there might not be a connection in terms of understanding what my real needs are. So when I was saying the mentoring is backwards is because for the longest time, you know, we have invested so much money in companies and organizations and the community spend so much money meant like training their mentors to be mentored. But there's very little investment and actually helping individuals learn how to become mentees. Like, you know, for us, a lot of the one of the big questions I get is how can you really make the most of this? resource? Yeah. And you know what? Totally, and, like, a lot of us don't get training in high school or college about how to, you know, how do you plan your career? How do you understand all the skill sets that you have? How do you, you know, transferable skills. And I think it came to like, to me when I was working at the last nonprofit organization, helping students get placed into internships, I mean, they couldn't even sell them. And then when I said that they sell themselves as like, you know, they do the elevator speech, to really showcase their skill sets. And, you know, I was just like, we have not been taught to do that at all, like we kind of, we aren't on our own. And one of the big questions that I get asked all the time is, how do I, how do I ask someone to be my mentor and there was some way that the question keeps coming up all the time is because we are literally not trained to know and understand why we should be looking for a mentor that will work for us.
Carol: And I see parallels between, you know, our previous conversation where this is at the one to one level, right? It's about a mentor and a mentee. But if it's all about the mentor, and what can they provide, if you think of that, as the organization in the community, if you know that the traditional approach has been, it's all about the organization and what it can provide the community, let's flip that around and say, well, you know, helping and, you know, creating ways for the community say, no, these are the things that we need. And these are the things that the resources that we're looking for, in the same way that you want to help a mentee, you know, take ownership of that relationship and take ownership of you know, what they're trying to get out of it. Yes, it was interesting parallel.
Cinthia: Yeah, totally. I think a lot of people don't realize that right? Because for the longest time, I was one of those people that I can skip going to two individuals that were not only in a higher level position than I was, because I thought this is how you do mentoring, this is what we've been trained to do. We've been trained to look for those people that have the jobs that we dream of or have the profession that we want to go after. But in reality, like mentoring can be peer mentoring, it can be, you know, I took on my TED Talk, finding you're unlikely. So sometimes we get into relationships and relationships where there's not engagement because we feel like oh, well, the mentor doesn't really match with my style, or my expertise, and then the mentor thinks exactly the same thing. So that relationship doesn't really flourish as much. And then mentors are saying, you know, think immediately like, oh, that person wasn't into it, the person didn't when I get whenever we engage, when it should really be, they should really look at the other way, right? Then they can say, you know what, like, I'm gonna actually see why we're so on like in, and why can I actually learn from this relationship? Is there something that they know how to do really well that I don't? Is there information that they have that I haven't been exposed to? And so I'm trying to find, again, learning opportunities and those situations. And that's what happens. A lot of times, you have corporate programs, and they kind of match you based on the needs of the mentor, right? Like, when can the mentor meet where, you know, how much availability Do they have, you know, who's gonna leave that relationship? And that's why I think a lot of times mentors shy away from wanting to be mentors because they feel that our suitability is false within them. And the mentor mentee is suspected to kind of follow their lead, when again, it should really be all the way around.
Carol: Yeah, and I worked for an organization where we started out, the program started out as a one to one mentorship for emerging professionals in the particular field that that organization serves. And what we found over time is that it worked way better if we moved it to a group mentoring model. So we had a solid mentor, we ended up calling them coaches, you know, who had been in the field for a little bit longer, but then had a way of leading and facilitating a group of people. And so, you know, it gives you that many more chances to connect. Because when we did the first instance, where it was one to one, about a third of the people ended up having a great relationship, and they're probably still connecting with each other, you know, some maybe met one or two times but it didn't really work, and then it dropped off. And then, you know, maybe the other third never ended up getting in touch with each other. That just wasn't enough structure and kind of support for them all those tools that you're talking about. And it was so interesting to see that. Then we move to that group model, you know, you have that person who is a little further ahead, but then you also have the peer relationships being built as well. And so you know, they just have that many more chances to connect with somebody that many more perspectives. And the other thing that was really interesting, that we learned, we found worked better, which was surprising, was the assumption that at first when the when the program was built that, you know, we should be recruiting people who are super senior in the field, you know, they've been doing it for 35 years, you know, whatnot. And what we actually found was that people, maybe five to 10 years ahead of where those professionals were in there just that far ahead was a much better connection because they could still remember having to learn, you know, they could still remember, for the folks who have been in the field for so long they had long forgotten the experience of being new and having to go through that learning curve. So it was really interesting. All those assumptions that we had that we had to rethink.
Yeah, so, so I want to, at the end of each episode, I'm doing a little game with folks. I have a box of icebreaker questions. I'm really glad that other people have created lots of things like this, because even though I am a facilitator, it's not it's not my strongest strength. So I've got a couple questions here. And I'm just going to pick one. And so my question for you is, if you could solve one world problem, what would it be? Excellent question.
Cinthia: Exactly. So one world problem. I think it would be, oh, gosh, I will I think I'll be our. accessibility to opportunities when you graduate college. I think a lot of the times, like I mentioned earlier, that we don't prepare students enough, and what the real world looks like. And we expect them to act like they know automatically how they should survive. So for me, what I think is a world problem is because it does affect a lot of individuals and affects a lot of communities and I've been in that area for so many years and seen it repeatedly and even with myself as a first generation woman of color what that looks like. So I will say that will be the one problem I will want to fix is providing more real life experiences as you're going through college and high school. So then you know what to really spec and really know how to navigate the environment once you graduate in this and are able to be an adult.
Carol: I think that would be awesome. You know, I felt clueless when I was graduating about all of that. And you know, not a parallel experience in terms of being first generation. But you know, my mom was mostly a stay at home mom. So she hadn't gone through that. And I don't know, somehow we never got the memo of how to navigate so it took a lot of stumbling and a lot of meandering to figure it out. At the same time, I do feel like young people feel like they have to have it all figured out. And I think that part of that, part of your life is a little bit of that stumbling and meandering that where you learn, and you try different and I guess hope just hoping for folks that they're willing to try different things and know that, you know, over time, I mean, I feel like I'm, you know, I might have finally figured out what I'm supposed to do when I grow up. But yeah, it takes a while. It takes a wow, yeah, that would be a good one. So what are you excited about in terms of things that are emerging for you right now?
Cinthia: Oh, I guess what I'm excited about is, you know, really trying to figure out how to continue to find passion in what I do. Think you know, is it in the times that we're on right now with a pandemic, trying to really be creative and really dive into maybe, skills that I didn't really utilize as much in and connect reconnecting with people. I think that has been one of the things that I really have enjoyed the most is for some reason, you know, I always tell people like, oh, we'll come back we'll have coffee, we'll have learned. And you know, that happens very slowly. Because all the things that are on the way and with, you know, in this situation that we are right now, is like I'm automatically sending messages to people in the cyclists jump on zoom. And I think I'm learning so much more about individuals, how they're trying to cope with this situation. And it's helping me really understand a little more about who I am and, and really try to bring up a different perspective on how to look at things, opportunities, innovation, accessibility. And I think right now that just one is, is definitely a moment where I kind of feel that there's a lot of opportunity for growth. And it's also an opportunity for risk.
Carol: Definitely. So how can people find and get in touch with you? How can they find out about your work?
Cinthia: Yeah, thank you. So you can go to www.autenticaconsulting.com/ and that's authentic in Spanish and it's authentica. And yes, my website, you can find the things that I do there, you can definitely go to my LinkedIn is Cynthia Manel. And my Twitter is also Cynthia Manuel. So yeah, follow me as well. And, you know, hopefully we can connect and I'm happy to just have conversations about nonprofits equity, diversity and inclusion. I’m always happy to talk to new folks.
Carol: All right, well, thank you so much.
Cinthia: Thank you so much, Carol.
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.