In episode 53 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Reva Patwardhan discuss:
Reva Patwardhan is the founder of Greater Good Coaching. She works with nonprofit leaders who’ve followed their hearts into careers of service and advocacy. She helps them discover their innate strength, resilience and confidence, so they can use their careers to make the impact they want in their lifetimes. She has 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector as a fundraiser, communications director, lobbyist, board member, facilitator, coach and diversity trainer. Reva co-facilitates small experiential learning groups with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She chairs the Board of Directors at Rethink Media. She is a certified Integral Coach, and a member of the International Coaching Federation.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Reva Patwardhan. Reva and I talk about leadership coaching. We talk about what it is and what it is not, the extra challenges nonprofit leaders have in investing in coaching, why an organization’s mission can push people into a state of constant urgency and how slowing down can actually help them work better and more effectively, and why taking a trauma-informed, somatic approach to coaching is key.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome. Welcome Reva to the podcast.
Reva Patwardhan: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Reva: So I'm an executive coach and before I was a coach, I worked at a nonprofit for about 14 years. And I had a lot of different roles there, fundraiser, lobbyist, communications director. And in that time there, I realized that I had a real love of supporting the people around me. Even when they were doing jobs that I was not necessarily capable of doing. And I also really just had a great deal. So there were, like every nonprofit we had issues with burnout and not every nonprofit, but a lot of nonprofits have. Right. Hashtag not all nonprofits.
Carol: Just most.
Reva: Yeah. But I stuck around because I just really loved the people I worked with. I just admired them so much. They were so smart and so passionate and just incredibly committed and I believed in what we were doing. So that was just like all the magic components for me. So I decided to make a career out of that. And yeah, I really feel like the people who are actually out there trying to solve problems that we all face that are, they are not there's no. or a little profit motive, it's just like, I am here to try to solve this problem. Those are really hard jobs. And those are exactly the people that we need to be figuring out, like, what can we do for you? Right. And so I really feel passionate about asking, what do we need to be doing to make these jobs that are very hard and also very crucial, more sustainable so that we are not crushing the very people who are carrying. Our hope for us.
Carol: Yeah. A hundred percent. So I feel like coaching it's certainly become more prevalent in the for-profit sector. Yeah. And more well known. But I feel like there's still quite a few misconceptions about what it is and who it's for why it's important. So, how would you describe leadership coaching?
Reva: Yeah, leadership coaching and you're right. There is quite a gap that I've observed between the nonprofit sector and the corporate sector. The nonprofit sector for whatever reason is, has been behind. And really recognizing how important it is to invest in leaders, as individuals, as human beings. And that is what leadership coaching is. It's really investing in you. I think that's why it's hard for people. It's hard for an executive director to say, Hey, I'm going to spend some money on an executive coach because it's really for her. Right. it is for her in service of her mission. And when I coach with people, we do have the mission centered in our work, but it is for her and her ability and her passion and her values. That is part of the process of what we're doing to serve the mission. Right. So, in order to center your own wellbeing and your own development, I think it's a hard thing for a lot of people to do. We're very much conditioned out of that. And I do work with a lot of women but very much conditioned to, to not to always be giving to others, not to ourselves. And that is what coaching does. And I think what it is beyond that, I think it varies quite a bit. I think one reason why there's a lot of confusion about what coaching is because it varies quite a bit depending on who you work with, and there's a lot of great ways of coaching out there. And it really is a matter of finding your right fit. So I'm a big believer in figuring things out, talking to people and finding who's the person who resonates for you. The way that I work with people is I work with the whole person. That means we're talking about feelings, we're talking about the things that really matter to you. We there's room to talk about what's happening in your home life as well. Because you're the same person there. And we're always looking for what is life and work asking of you right now? What edge are you at? Where the way you did things before got you to where you are. Let's thank those methods. Let's honor that. And what new edge is life asking you to meet right now?
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate that. And I appreciate the whole, whole person perspective that, just going against that myth, that we park all that stuff at the door. When we come to work, it's all there. Whether we talk about it or not, it's all there. So one of the things that you focus on when you're, when you're working with nonprofit leaders is somatics. Can you tell me a little bit about what somatics is and how you incorporate that into your coaching?
Reva: Yeah. So when I work with someone somatically, what I'm doing is. The reason I do that is I find it's one of the quickest pads for someone to access their innate wisdom. So when I'm working with someone I'm not it's not consulting because I'm not providing you with a bunch of answers. I might offer ideas. I might thought-partner with you, but I'm not offering you suggestions. What I'm doing is asking questions to help you figure out and feel into what is right for you. And it's that feeling. That is the power of coaching. And I really see one of my goals as a coach is when someone walks away from their work with me, one of the things they've learned is how to listen to themselves very deeply. And what are the ways they can be with themselves? How can. , what, what ways of being with yourself and coaching yourself, can you practice and learn that help you learn how to get unstuck so that you become someone who, so everybody gets stuck, but do you stay stuck or do you know how to get yourself unstuck? And all of that is Starts with being able to really slow your mind down. And the container of coaching for that is really, it's a powerful container because that's what we're doing is we're slowing ourselves down and we're pausing. And we're noticing in the moment, right, as an emotion comes up or right. As something important was said, you're slowing down and saying what's happening there in the body. And what guidance can we get from that?
Carol: So somatics being about paying attention to what's going on in the body, not just what we're thinking. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I feel like, folks. It's always been there, right? Like we've always been in these bodies and yet, in our culture at least in the US context, there's been this mythical separation of our mind in our body. How much resistance or acceptance do you find when you're working with folks to step into that work?
Reva: Yeah, so I always meet people where they are. Right. I think that's really important. That's one of my core values and I don't push. Right. I respect people's boundaries. That's another core value and I do invite, right. And I find that most of the time, people welcome that because what they're experiencing in their day to day life is a lot faster. A lot of fast pace, a lot of rushing from one task to another. So what it often feels like is just having a chance to finally take a breath. And then it's like, okay, what is it like for you when you get to take a breath, let's just spend some time noticing. I don't experience people. Like I think part of it is because a lot of folks and this isn't true for everybody, but a lot of my clients do seem to get pretty quickly the value of tuning in. It's just, it's something we all innately are able to do. It's just that it's conditioned out of us. So when you Remi you're reminded suddenly that, oh, this is something I can do. Maybe you haven't done it since you were four, but oh, this is something that I can do. It's not , it's not wild or scary. It's just like, this is the thing I can do.
Carol: Yeah. And I feel like so many of the conversations that I have with other coaches, consultants doing different work, different work with organizations, PE individuals. Almost always some element of that. Let's just slow down for a minute. Let's take a pause. Let's take a step back. Let's try to pull you out of that rush, rush, rush meeting after meeting mentality that gives people just a little bit more space to think. Yes.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. And what if we could have that more and more in our lives. Right. Right. What if as a leader, I had the ability to pause and to actually say, I'm a leader in this organization and I'm gonna decide to actually program into my day to day and set boundaries, time to reflect and pause. And that is a priority because when I do that, I'm better at my job. And so part of the, and, and it sounds, I think a lot of times people are truly experiencing urgency in their work, right. There's urgency coming from somewhere, right. And often people are working with, or serving communities that are experiencing urgency. And so it sounds, it sounds really bizarre. or it can be like, who am I to slow down? Why do I get to do this and all of that stuff? But one of the things that can happen with coaching is you start to see, oh, this actually is gonna help me be more in service than I currently am, because it'll help me actually. See the forest rather than just the trees. If I'm constantly moving from one task to the other, I'm never able to ask the big questions, or if I'm asking the big questions, I'm not able to do anything about it. And there's the undercurrent of frustration there of, there are things I'd like to do and there's no space to do.
Carol: Yeah. Okay. And I think when the, when the leader actually does that, and then, people see that on their calendar or they talk about it, it starts to give permission for other people to also do that within the organization and, question this whole culture that we have of, Rush rush, rush, busy, busy, busy, every job description saying you must be comfortable in a fast paced environment, you know? Yeah. And I mean, what my little step in that direction is to try to stop, when it's the first part of a conversation and the hi, how are you? Oh, I'm, you know? Oh, it's been, so it's been so hectic. It's been so. Busy. I try to avoid actually saying whether it's true or not. Cause I just feel like it, it plays into this myth that we all have to live that way.
Reva: Yeah. I mean, I'm not gonna, I'm gonna be real. I also often live that way. Sure. I often also feel overwhelmed and rushed and all that stuff. It's just that I think one of the gifts of doing this work is I don't feel. As guilty about slowing down, because I know that I can't lead from that rushed place. I can get things done, but that's different than leading.
Carol: I haven't quite managed to let go of all of the guilt yet. I'm working on it.
Reva: I said mostly or something mostly. OK.
Carol: That sounds good. But it's gotten better. You also take a trauma-informed approach. And I feel like I am hearing this a lot with clients that I'm working with, that they're taking a trauma-informed approach with their clients. What does it actually mean to be trauma-informed?
Reva: It means being careful of your impact. Mm. I think it means having some humility and respect for the person that's in, that's in front of you. I think it's being aware that there is a lot of trauma, more so than ever, I think, in the world. And there are tools to help people. It's having a toolbox to offer people around that. And it's knowing your lane. So I'm not a therapist. And if I'm really, if I'm seeing real trauma with someone, then I'm going to refer them to someone who can, can help them with that. And when I say trauma, I mean like a level of trauma that I can't deal with, but there is a certain level of trauma we're all carrying, I think. And so everyone has to skill up for that. And part of it is respecting those boundaries. It's like, whatever defenses this person has, they're there for a good reason. And so let's not pretend they're not there for a good reason. And so I do work with people around understanding their defenses and slowly loosening them. But I work slowly, which my, one of my one of the things that I really believe in is in order to move quickly, you have to slow down, go move, slow to go fast. Right. So that is often the most effective way towards transformation is just having patience, continuing to meet whatever's happening in the moment. And not rush it, not push it because that's ultimately not gonna work anyways. Yeah. That's how I think about it.
Carol: Can you give me an example of what some of those defense mechanisms might be and, and kind how to, I don't know that skilling up that you talked about in that arena.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. So so I work with, so I work with people around emotions, right? So as you said, it's, it's the whole person who's coming in the room. And I see coaching as where we get to work with the human side of our challenges. And so if someone's coming in with a challenge and we're unpacking, what is the, what is the human part of this and focus on that. So there's emotions coming up. So I'm making space for those and we're, we're, we're we're unpacking that we're working with that. Like what's behind these emotions. What are some thoughts? Some, some mindsets or thoughts that are there. What are some wounds that need a little bit of space there? And if I find someone who, if I find that someone is, you know that's really hard to be with a certain emotion. I respect that. So we move slowly. So we titrate. So it's like, So what if you're just with this emotion for one second, just to see what it is, right. And then we back off, we intentionally back off. Right. So I might offer them something to practice on their own. That's just like just saying hello to this part of you that feels this way. once a day and then you just back away and then slow, very slowly increase. Capacity to be with it. So that's one.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah. So my tagline for my podcast is helping nonprofit leaders have greater mission impact without becoming a martyr to the cause. How do you see that show up with folks you work with and, and how are you trying to contribute to shifting this culture of overwork and extraction in the sector.
Reva: Yeah. So I'll tell you one of the things that I've been seeing a lot lately, And I think it was always there and I've just started to be able to begin to catch onto it more. But I've noticed that there are certain very prevalent, toxic dynamics in the nonprofit sector that when you are in the middle of that dynamic, when you're really a part of it, it can feel like a personal problem. Mm. Right. So something's going wrong. and in the organization, but because it feels like a personal problem, I treat it like a personal problem. So and so what happens there is if you, so if you imagine you're a leader, an E.D. and things aren't going right. And the thing that's not really feeling like the thing that's not going right is me. And my efforts to address it have failed. So what do I do? Like, what do you do in that situation is you hide it, you hide the problem right. If you blame yourself for the problem and you haven't been able to adequately address it, you hide the problem. And so you're then unable to do anything about it. Right? And so like some examples I've seen of this are Executives, who've gotten really good at hiding their overwhelm. And because they're, it's just become this really normalized thing that their funders don't fund overhead. And it's been like that for so long. That it's just a completely normalized culture where overwhelmedness and burnout are just normal. And so if you are overwhelmed or if you have a problem with being overwhelmed, that's a problem with you. Right? And so let's hide that rather than actually trying to figure out how to do it. You feel compelled to hide it. Another example is like so you have to say, part of your job is going to speak at, to represent your organization and your community at community meetings where there's politicians or whatever, and you feel very anxious about it. And you're ashamed of that anxiety. Well when it's not the anxiety, that's the problem. The problem is the fact that you are the sole member. You're the sole representative of your community. No one else in the room looks like you, you're the only person of color in the room, you know? And that's the problem because you feel ashamed of the anxiety. You're trying to solve the problem yourself. And trying to hide the fact that you feel the anxiety. It's actually very normal to feel anxious in that situation. That's not the problem. So I think people in this situation it's like, they're, they might be this is just ripe for a very ripe moment for imposter syndrome. So they might be thinking that someone else could be doing this job better. The person who was in this role before me did it better. And or or they might be thinking like, I'm the least competent person in this room, all of that stuff, which makes it feel like this is a problem with me. And so that's, and that's just paralyzing. So what I do is, I help people take their power back and find their voice. Part one by realizing you're not crazy. This is a genuinely hard situation. You are not broken. So taking your power back, finding the things that you can do in your immediate sphere to take action. And really, and just to the whole taking your power back thing, that's like, What I try to do is I try to help my clients see it for themselves. So it's not just me telling them. It's like, sure, help them see it for themselves and actually feel it actually feel the truth that, oh, oh, I see. It's not me. Right. And so from that place, you can take action. And the fact is most of these problems, they are much bigger than one person. So, and it may be a long game, but just starting the process of strategizing and, and planning out, how can you get more resources in this? Who can you reach out to? Who's gonna be your support system who are gonna be your collaborators and actually problem solving this. Right? So it's putting the problem where it belongs, which is in the collective. right. Not in the individual.
Carol: Yeah. And even some of the things that you talked about at the very beginning of who am I to slow down or who am I to invest in myself and get coaching goes to this whole mindset of if you're passionate about your, your issue and you have to give it all and this selflessness of the helper and that can be just a recipe for burnout. It's like here, here are the five steps to burnout. Here you go, go do these things, go believe these things.
Reva: Yeah, and I think there's also a recipe for burnout for the people in those jobs. And I think there is a wake up call going on for the sector. If it's not happening already, it's going to happen very soon because there is this emerging sense that people don't wanna put up with any of this crap anymore in their jobs. Right. And it's getting harder and harder to fill the position of executive director. In the for-profit sector, being a CEO is seen as this glamorous thing. And I think part of that is because part of that is like the ridiculous salaries and we don't necessarily want to model ourselves off of that. Part of it is that they have resources, they have support to do what they need to do. They don't. And so in the nonprofit sector, I think becoming an E.D. should feel, you should feel proud. You should feel proud of being an executive director or being a leader of a development director. Communication director any, any like any role, like doesn't just not just at the director level, but you should be proud. Anyone should be proud to work in the nonprofit sector, whether you're an entry-level fundraiser. I started out in the, as a door to door canvasser. We should feel proud of our work. Right. But I think one of the reasons it's very hard to feel proud of our work is because we don't feel appreciated. Right. And there is that undervaluing and a big part of that is not being supported in the work. Right. You're just allowed to flail. And so, and so people are saying, no, why, why, why would I do that to myself? You know?
Carol: Just the sense it's like never enough. Yeah.
Reva: And, but the fact is I think that we actually still need the nonprofit sector in this country. We live in this country where this is the way it's set up right now. And if we wanna be able to solve big problems, We have to be able to do work that centers on impact and not profit. We just have to do it. And maybe there's sweeping changes that need to happen, but this is where it is right now. And how do we not lose all our wonderful people?
Carol: Yeah, no, I am seeing that, that, and, and just hearing people talk about it, this underbelly of the sector, that's always, probably always been there. And various, I don't know, historical reasons for that. And just this mythology that gets exploited and folks are saying, no more. How can we do this differently? Doesn't have to be this way. But it's hard to step out. It's hard to step out and, and do it in a, you know, to work on being countercultural, right, even at the individual level.
Reva: Yeah. And that's why I do this work. It's like, okay. I, if I think that this is important work and I really want there to be people doing it, how do we support them? How do we find ways to make this work for them? If the mission matters then so do the people who are working for the mission.
Carol: Right. Yeah. All the people involved matter for sure.
So at the end of every episode, I play a game where I ask one moderately random icebreaker question. So I've got three cards from my little box. So if you, for, for any place that you visited, what's, what's a place that you would love to go back to.
Reva: Hmm. Bali.
Carol: Mm. Say more.
Reva: Oh man. So Bali is a beautiful place. Now I'm worried about promoting tourism to a place that maybe can't handle it.
Carol: Don't go to Bali, right?
Reva: I was there maybe 10 years ago, so, and oh, it was just, it was just the, the people are just very, were just very open and lovely. And the. The nature was just beautiful and gorgeous. And it, every, any time I go to a different country, I think I've been to India many times as well. It's my parents' mother country. I've been to Mexico, I've been, I've been, anytime I go to another country, I just feel a sense of freedom because I'm. It's like something about just like now I don't have to follow the usual rules here.
Carol: You have this, the sense of even when you're going, you're, you're breaking cultural rules in the other country. They give you a pass like, Ugh, they're a foreigner, but they don't know so, so you have a little bit of leeway and can yeah. And also like, people give you a little grace.
Reva: Yeah. Yeah. People give you a little grace and it's, it's more, it's just like, it's lovely to just get out of the water that I'm usually swimming in. Yep. It's lovely to get out. What I define or what we define as normal here. Sure. Just to leave for a while.
Carol: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. My parents first posting in the foreign service was in Indonesia. So we have many home movies from there and from Bali. This was before me, but I would love to go visit. I'm sure it would be totally different than when they were there in the 1960s. Yeah. But yeah, it's, it's a place on the list. So thank you. So what are you excited about? What's coming up for you in your, in your work and what's emerging?
Reva: Yeah, the thing I’m most excited about is my work with my one on one coaching clients. There is something so powerful about that moment when someone faces the truth of the challenging moment they’re in and starts to sort through, what are the things that are in your power to influence, and what are the things that are bigger than you that you can reach out for help on, and what starts to become more possible for you when you stand in an unconditional sense of your own belonging and the unconditional belonging of your community. It is really beautiful, powerful, transformative work and it is an honor and a joy to be able to do it. It is the thing I love doing more than anything and I feel blessed to be able to do this work. If anyone listening would like to talk to me about the possibility of working together please come to my website. I would love to talk to you. It's been a long time and I've been at this work for a bunch of years now. And I have a lot of new, a lot of new things to say, and I'm excited about saying them.
Carol: Excellent. Yeah. So what would you say are your top three new things to say?
Reva: Well, one of them is just seeing this relationship between imposter syndrome and the nonprofit sector's inability to address major problems that are sector wide or organization wide. And to see that imposter syndrome is not an individual problem, it's actually baked right into the structures of the nonprofit sector.
Carol: And our society for various identities, if you've been questioned your entire life yes, then you will learn to question yourself, yeah. In your capacity and when you have not. Yeah. Well, thank you so much. And thank you for all you do for nonprofit leaders. I really appreciate it and appreciate you having this conversation.
Reva: Well, thank you so much for having me. This was a lot of fun.
Carol: I appreciated how Reva described her approach for helping her coaching clients deal with uncomfortable emotions. It is not a matter of all in. It is a matter of step by small step – titrating is the word she used. – Meeting folks where they are and only going as far as is a little bit beyond their comfort zone – be with it for a little bit and then back off. I also appreciated her broader perspective on the toxic cultures that too often emerge within nonprofit organizations – overwork, overwhelm, and burnout. That when you are part of it – it feels personal, and it may seem like it is embedded in the personalities of those around you. And as a leader it can feel like a personal problem – which can lead to denial and avoidance and hiding from the challenge instead of addressing it. So instead by naming it leaders and staff can take their power back and address the elephant in the room.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Reva, her full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Episode 10: This week we’re talking to Heather Yandow.
We talked about:
• What gets in the way of nonprofits hiring consultants successfully.
• Why an RFP process is often not the best approach to having a great experience with a consultant.
• The trends we are observing in this time of disruption.
Scenario Planning: An article describing the process from MIT Sloan management school
Heather Yandow brings more than 20 years of experience as an outreach coordinator, coalition leader, project manager, and fundraiser to Third Space Studio. She helps organizations with strategic planning, board development, change management, leadership development, and going from good to great. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Democracy NC, ncyt: NC’s Network of Young Nonprofit Professionals, and the Beehive Collective (a giving circle). She is also the founder of Nonprofit.ist, an online platform for nonprofits to find the consulting expertise they need.
Sponsored by Grace Social Sector Consulting. http://www.gracesocialsector.com/
Learn about the Effective Online Facilitation, 4 week group coaching program.
Carol: Welcome Heather. Welcome to the podcast.
Heather: Thanks so much for having me. I'm thrilled to be here.
Carol: So just to give people some context. Can you tell me a little bit about what drew you to this work and describe your journey?
Heather: Yeah, so I started this work when I, when I kind of dig back into what really prompted it, I think about my parents always engaged in the community and that's just what I knew to do. So when I went to college I was really engaged in lots of different social activism there. I was part of the environmental group on campus. I helped to start a feminist group on campus and really loved that and thought I was going to be a math teacher.
I studied mathematics and thought that was my path. And then really started thinking about what if I could do all of this fun activism stuff as a career, and got really lucky and found that the statewide environment, because C group was hiring what they called it at the time an outreach coordinator, which was basically doing a lot of the same stuff I had kind of trained myself to do while I was in school.
And I did that work for a couple of years. And then they offered me to be the director of development and communications. So I got to move into that position and got a lot of great training and support and learned really how to do the fundraising. After seven years of doing fundraising, I still do it in my volunteer work, but decided I didn't want to do it full time.
And that's when I transitioned into being a consultant. And so I've done that work for about 10 years now. And I do strategic planning, leadership development, meeting design and facilitation work.
Carol: So funny that you said your original idea was to be a math teacher. Cause my first notion was that I was going to be a history professor and then did my senior thesis in college and discovered as I was in the archives of the library, reading these, I did a thesis on women, kind of the parenting things that were told to women in Germany, in the late 1800’s. And so reading these old magazines and discovered that I had a wicked allergy to mold. And so spending my life in archives was not going to be my future. So then I had to figure out what's next.
Heather: I love that. Yeah. It's one of my favorite questions. When I meet people who were in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, what did you major in? Because most of the time, people are not doing the work that they studied to do, particularly folks like us who were in nonprofits or as consultants.
Carol: I did discover anthropology in the last year and I feel like what I do now is essentially applied anthropology. All the, you know, Interviews that we do with people and the discovery and kind of seeing how groups work and seeing how culture shows up in organizations. So that's the connection that I have.
Heather: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Carol: So one of the things that you have started recently is an online platform to help nonprofits find consultants. And I feel like nonprofits often struggle when they think about hiring consultants. What do you think gets in the way?
Heather: I think a couple of things get in the way.
One is just not knowing where to find people. So I actually started nonprofits just in part, because I get a lot of requests from past clients and friends asking who do you know that does X, Y, and Z. Who do you know that has a background in mergers that also knows a lot about land trusts. Well, that's a very specific subset of people.
Yeah. So if you're a nonprofit leader, you may have a few connections, but you might not have a broad enough network. So you can find the right person who can really help you. Of course cost is often a barrier for organizations. And sometimes organizations that are new to hiring consultants are a little bit surprised by what our fees are that we are a lot of times covering all of our costs and those fees.
So you're paying not just what you might pay somebody for a salary, but you're also paying for our benefits and our office space. And all of those overhead costs are included. And then the third piece is that I think organizations often aren't really clear about what they need and why before they get into a first conversation with a consultant.
And sometimes I’m wondering whether I find that in those first conversations if the group feels like they've already decided what the solution is going to be.
Carol: They think that they know exactly what the challenge is and they think they know what they want. That also can be a challenge and, and having those first conversations gives you an opportunity to essentially kind of find the answer together, if you will.
Heather: Yes. Yes. I find that too. If I am sent a request for proposal and there is an 18 month timeline already sketched out with all of the different pieces that they want to include and they've really already mapped it all out. In some ways you're voiding my expertise.
I come to this as somebody who understands how to design processes, how to lead groups through difficult decision making, how to set up action plans. So I like you really to partner on that and to co-design. And part of that is really asking questions to get underneath. What, what is the real issue here?
So sometimes what we find with organizations, what I find is that. They ask for what they know they can pay for. Right. So we know that right. You can hire somebody to do a one day board retreat. And when you actually, when I get into conversation with somebody about that work, what I discover is they're having significant problems around accountability.
Or they've got some folks on their board who they just need to say goodbye to, or they've got some other really big culture problems and they aren't necessarily dealing with those head-on. They want to bring in an outsider, which is me to talk to them about what their roles and responsibilities are.
Maybe I do a little bit of assessment and to hope that that magically solves the problem. So, I see that with strategic planning. I see that with fundraising planning, all of that, these things that people know they can search for and find people. And so I often want to ask, want people to ask and consider before they come with those kinds of requests.
What's the real challenge you're trying to solve? What's the question behind this fundraising that, that clarity that you're talking about, but even if they don't have it going through the process of you know. We would be asking questions there and that helps a thinking process and helps kind of uncover what else is going on.
Carol: And I think even with those simple requests, can you just come facilitate our board retreat? I think there's often a lot of misunderstanding of, you know, just kind of thinking they're hiring a person to just show up on the day and make some magic happen. And of course, in order for that day to be a productive one, you know, you have to spend some time with the group talking to people, doing some upfront discovery so that you are designing a retreat that meets their needs, not just a generic retreat that's not helpful and not a good use of people's time.
Heather: Yeah. I have a great relation with an organization I've worked with over a number of years, four or five years ago. I did a board fundraising training. It was really well received. Folks had a great time. We did a little bit of role play about how to do a major donor ask, right everything. When I left that day, I thought that was a great retreat.
Well, they called back three years later and asked me to come do another training for their board around fundraising. And as we got into the questions I realized but they were still having the same issue as they were before I did the training. And so, because I had a good relationship, I finally had to say, I don't think the problem is that your board doesn't know how to do that.
I don't think they want to do this. And that's a different kind of challenge and a training doesn't always solve that challenge. It's like a board retreat doesn't always solve a challenge or a strategic plan isn't going to suddenly make your founding executive director share power. It can help. Certainly they can be designed in ways that help, but sometimes it's really scratching and getting into the what's the real issue here? What's going on.
Carol: Although I do think some of those processes help open the door and give us a safe kind of a safe place to start. So I was working with a group recently that, that did have that founder challenge and, and we were working on a strategic plan and ended up with one and I think, you know, going to give them a good one framework to move some things forward.
But the biggest thing that I think it did was create a space where an outsider could compile all the information, talk to everyone back what they said to, to me around these are the things that aren't working. These are the things that are getting in our way and help them have a tough time conversation about what are the roles?
What roles do we need to have on staff? What roles do we need to have with the board? Not to say that it's actually, as you said necessarily going to solve that problem, but I think it at least opened the door to where, before that all those conversations were probably happening, you know, pre COVID in the parking lot after a meeting or, you know, when somebody bumps into each other, you know, downtown or whatnot.
So it at least gets, yeah, it gets it started up what needs to be probably a much more drawn out intentional process that it's not, you're going to do a strategic plan and it's going to have solved all of these other challenges.
Carol: Absolutely. So with that instance where you did the training and you know, and, and that's often what folks will often ask for that, thinking that well, if we just get people to learn how to do the thing, they'll be willing to do it. And especially around fundraising that, I mean, I'm not a fundraising expert, but I certainly see that that can be very intimidating to folks. So when it was actually about not wanting to do it, what were some of the things that you did with the group to help address that challenge?
Heather: Well, then you've got to dig a little bit more into what's behind that. Not wanting to do it. And so some of that can be sussed out through some interviews. Some of that is, is some group discussion. One of the best discussion tools for that is actually something Kim Klein is a great fundraising guru, I saw her do, which is a comparison of how we feel when we give money and all of the positive emotions. Right? So when you're able to make a donation to a cause you really care about how does that make you feel? Lists all these great emotions. And then when you ask someone ready to make a donation to a cause that they really care about, how does that make you feel?
And oftentimes those are some that have really negative emotions. We have some, we have some shame, we have some anxiety we might have. It's around that. And so then comparing those two and really talking about why those are different and, and where that difference comes from. And, and there's a lot of anthropology, there's a lot of cultural feelings about money and who has it and who can talk about it and how they talk about it.
And so really getting folks to, to grapple with that and think about how their own formation around money happened. I think the last piece is making the why really clear. So sure. Board members understand why it's critical for them to do this work. Sometimes I see where organizations are kind of a victim of their own success.
So if you've got a super competent executive director and a great development director, and the board says, you know, next year, we're going to raise $5,000 and there's some support around that. And the board just doesn't do it. They only raised $3000, nothing happens and there's no accountability and the organization doesn't shut down.
Well, then the board really has not much impetus to do that really uncomfortable thing and actually raise the $5,000. So sometimes there's just getting really clear about this, and there's a number of ways to, to build a little bit more heat into the system, to get folks to move into that place that they think is going to be uncomfortable. And a lot of times folks understand once they get there, it's not.
Carol: So with the consulting, hiring practice, what would you say are some mistakes that you think organizations make when they, when they're first doing this? Or you know, even if they've done it before, what gets them, what mistakes do you think are the key ones?
Heather: So one of the key ones we've already talked about is really kind of prescribing the answer before you really understand the question. So you already figured out the process, but you don't really know the true why behind it. The stake that I see is not having all of the people in your organization bought in to both your definition or construction of what you want to address.
And that there's a need for outside help. So if you think there's a problem with accountability on your board and folks really getting things done, your board chair needs to agree that that is true. And most of your board, hopefully, but at least your board chair and your board chair needs to, we need outside help.
Because the last thing that I, as a consultant, want to do is walk into a board meeting where I am not wanted and they don't think they need me. That is not setting anyone up for success. So making sure that all the players involved in that could be staff, board, community members, that we all have a clear and shared understanding of the challenge and the need for help.
And then the third thing I would say is that not allocating enough staff resources. And I guess organizational resources in terms of time and attention. So sometimes there's a belief that if we hire a consultant, they're gonna magically go off into their office and create the most beautiful plan that ever was created and come back and present it to us and we're going to approve it and everything's going to be different.
And in reality, all the projects I do require significant involvement by members of the worker. Patient, whether that is one-on-one yeah. Time with an executive director, time at a board meeting, background information from staff. There's always a need to get their attention and their time and to really have them be part of the process.
So if an organization is at the same time, as we're doing a project, going through a capital campaign, hiring a bunch of people. If they work on elections and it's an election year or a census year, they just don't have the bandwidth. And so really thinking about how to stage those projects so that they can give it their full attention.
Carol: Right. Cause the project and the plan and it all needs to be the organizations and I, I go to the point of actually saying no, I'm not going to write your plan for you because if I do that, it's my plan. You know, even if you've been involved in all the conversations and in the meetings and it actually reflects all of your input.
Just that act of actually doing the draft yourself makes it yours and you have more commitment to it. And, and clearly involving people. Throughout the process ideally builds that buy in, but yeah, it really is about it being the organization's plan and you're helping them walk through a solid process to get some good outcomes, but it's gotta be, yeah, it's not about, can you go cook us up a strategic plan and come back. That's right. Deliver it.
Heather: Do you have any that you'd add to that list?
Carol: I have one and then it went, it's gone. It's flown out of my brain.
Heather: It'll come back.
Carol: It'll come back. Yeah, I think the whole RFP process can also be really problematic because I understand the need to kind of get a couple of different people responding, but even there you, you can still have had conversations with multiple consultants, ask them to put together a proposal based on the conversations without having to go through the strict process of an RFP which I usually think ends up with a different, with a better outcome.
Heather: Absolutely. I am anti RFP all the way. I think there's real value in an organization. Getting clarity on, as we already talked about what they need, how much money they might have when they want to do the work. But the process, particularly the very structured. So we put it out on X date. You have until a week later to send us your questions, we will compile them and answer them.
We will not be getting, having any conversations in advance of you submitting this proposal. Then we might do an interview or we might just pick you based on the proposal that tends to, to not produce the best results, what you get. There are the people who write the best proposals. It's like applying to college or applying to a job, but only ever looking at the resume.
And it doesn't actually tell you what you want to know. And so much of the work that we do as consultants is really about. Does our ethos match our culture, does our vibe match, you know, so you talk about, and I believe this too, that it's the, it is the organization's work to do, and we are there to create the container for them to do it well.
Well, that's a real ethos. And if you, as an organization's leader, don't have that too, then that's something we need to assess out early on in the process. So having those conversations and I agree, you know, you can have conversations with five people. It's probably gonna take you less time than developing an RFP, reviewing all the proposals, doing interviews, just pick five people and have conversations and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And how would you say, how would you advise Executive directors or board chairs as they're kind of going into this process of the kinds of things that they would want to ask consultants or the kinds of things that they need to be looking for as they, you know, not just the proposal, but getting into those conversations and, and maybe even if they do the more formal interview process, what are the kinds of things that you would say are important to pay attention to?
Heather: So I think if you, if you've worked with a consultant before, I think back to what worked well for you in that relationship and what you might have wanted to see differently. So if you're really looking for a consultant, who's a fantastic project manager and keeps you on task. Are you looking for a consultant that's really good at conflict management and having hard conversations, thinking about those things that are almost in between the lines of the official work that you really value in a partner.
Another piece of that is kind of organizational values and what are your consultant's values and are there pieces that overlap there so that you're really on the same page about why you want to do the work together. And then the last piece, I think sometimes I get asked for examples of work product.
Which is really challenging for me to provide. So what I often say to people is the work that I do, to transform organizations, so talk to people about what they do experience with me, and what's different about their organization after their engagement, that's the work product. So I think asking around the questions around who have you worked with.
Where, where you'd be doing similar work. Who can I talk to really getting and checking those references? Vibe values and references basically.
Carol: Yeah. So it's essentially kind of thinking through and listening for a fit when you're having those conversations. So are the questions that the person's asking you, helping you are you further along at the end of the conversation in thinking about the challenge that you're you're describing than you were when you began, and that would be well, that's the kind of shift that you want to, you're there to try to create.
Heather: Yeah. Yeah. You absolutely want somebody who is helping you think through. I also think in a lot of ways you want somebody who is going to show up as a partner. Who has, who brings expertise, but who really wants to be there with you walking alongside you. So this is obviously reflective of my own work as a consultant, but I build out free engagement to fit the organization.
I have things that work well that I bring into lots of engagements, but I don't have. Here's the strategic planning package and I'm just going to put it on top of everything I do. So I want to ask questions to know more about you as an organization and what works well. I want you to know that I'm going to be experimenting as we go and learning about you and shifting up.
The way that we're going to do the work in order to really meet your goals. And, hopefully you're okay with that. If you're, if you're an organization that's super regimented, we're not going to work well together. And I can tell, cause if you send me a 15 page RFP, we're probably not going to work well together. I'm probably not going to apply to that.
Carol: Yeah. So once you go through that hiring process and you've decided on something, what would you say are some things that are important as an organization starts to work with a consultant that can help make that be a more productive process for both parties.
Heather: Yeah. A couple of things. One is it's always helpful for me as a consultant to get some of the basic background information. So obviously I've looked at your website, I've read your RFP, or we've had a conversation, but grant proposals or reports are useful budgets. Honestly, tell me a lot about the organization and where you spend your money and what your activities are.
Annual reports, just those things that can get me kind of up to speed on the work so that I can ask better questions. The second piece is I think having a good launch meeting. Often that is with a small team, particularly if we're doing longterm strategic planning work, or even planning a training for staff, who's the two or three folks who are gonna come together and help shepherd this work at that meeting.
I often review the scope that I put together in their proposal. And we adjusted as a team here was my idea. And now we're actually in it. Let's figure out what we need to shift. Also sometimes in that very beginning phase, just having one on one conversations. So as an a organization figuring out who are the few people that we want the consultant to talk to, again, to get a better three 60 view of the challenge to really, and the players to make sure that they are leading off with a really strong background.
Anything you would add?
Carol: Yeah. So that's good cause sometimes I think people want to put every important stakeholder on that strategic planning committee. And I think that's a nice way to do both and to make sure that you're getting the input from all those important stakeholders. And, and there may be other ways that you're doing that as well.
But then also having a small enough working group that it's easy to. Set up meetings and there's momentum and things keep moving. So it's kind of nice both. And yeah, I think just sometimes people jump into the work they're so intent on you know, What the challenges are or whatnot, but I think just taking a minute and oftentimes this will come from the consultant just talking about how you work together, what works for you?
Do you have any pet peeves? What's your style? How do you like to communicate? You know, is it email? Is it a phone call? So that those things can fit together and just being explicit about those things, which I think so often people skip over can really help kickstart a good, a good process in the end, because this is a relationship, particularly with whoever the organizational lead is.
And he was a consultant. So I'm thinking about how to, how to make sure that relationship gets off onto a strong footing.
Carol: So right now we're in a you know, things are so uncertain. A lot of planning processes have basically come to a halt or people have canceled. Maybe they had a retreat coming up. What's your sense of whether people can or can't or should how, how they might approach planning when, when there's so many unknowns at the moment?
Heather: Yeah, it's a question that I hear executive directors really wrestling with right now. In fact, I was just on a call with a group, a peer support group this morning, and an executive director shared that their strategic planning consultant had said to them in March or April. They were trying to finish their plan.
That, that had been in progress for six months and feeling really guilty because they hadn't. And the consultant said right now you've got a circus. You can no longer focus on building the plane. You are dealing with really rough weather. And when you get to a place where you feel like you can fly the plane more easily, you can start building it again.
And so they have actually at this point, given the kind of work they do been able to stabilize and they have are coming back now to that strategic planning. I think for a lot of organizations, what would have been a longer term strategic plan is looking much more short term. It's looking so the end of 2020, maybe to the end of 2021, depending on where they are in the world.
So shortening timelines, not doing future planning when you're still in the midst of crisis. And then I also am seeing organizations use scenario planning a lot more, a tool that's been in our toolbox for a long time, but this is a time when it really matters. It really is, you know if you work in the school system, you have a scenario for, if kids go back, if kids go back for two weeks, if kids go back for a whole semester, and if you run an afterschool program for kids in schools, You've got a button you've had to have all of those different scenarios and having those planned out so that when it switches, you've got a plan that you can pull off the shelf.
We've already had some of those discussions.
Carol: Can you just say a little bit more about what scenario planning is for folks who might not be familiar with it?
Heather: Yeah, I think. Various standard definition would be thinking about creating kind of a matrix of scenarios. So you would think about what are a couple of different unknowns in your community that have a high chance of impacting your organization.
So I did this work a few weeks ago and the two variables we picked one was about how people were going to feel about the economy. Were they gonna feel like it was going down and hilly, going to feel like it was stabilized or maybe even going okay. The other axis we picked the other trendline we weren't sure of was, are we going to be kind of open or closed broadly?
Right. So are things going to be really open and we're going to be kind of back to normal or are we going to be quarantined or in our houses working from home. So in a very traditional scenario planning, you would actually put those on one, on an X axis and one on a Y axis. And now you've got four to five scenarios. What happens if the world is open and everybody feels really good about the economy? Well, bars and restaurants are totally full. Everybody's excited. Right? What happens if people are feeling really terrible about the economy and we're still all at home? That is our Netflix bucket, right? Like people at home with Netflix and cooking, being at home.
So figuring out those areas, whatever those are for your organization and then planning for each of the four, I'm really thinking about what might be true for us in each of those four scenarios. So that's a very traditional example in the school example I gave, there were the school system in North Carolina where I said we have an, a, a, B and a C, and we're going to pick one of these three.
So they've done that work already creating those scenarios for you.
Carol: So, what are some other trends that you're seeing right now, since you work with a lot of consultants across the sector and they're working with lots of clients. So I'm curious to hear from you kind of, what are some of the current trends that you're seeing in the sector?
Heather: So one of the trends I'm seeing is organizations, particularly 10 staff and under. Really saying, I'm not sure we need an office. We need the conference table. We need a conference room every once in a while. We needed a place to start our stuff, our swag, our records, but we don't need it. I need an office space, particularly in places where folks are traveling significantly to get to a centralized office.
And they've discovered that they can really do a lot of that work online. The second trend I'm seeing is that as kind of stress levels have risen, I have certainly seen particularly executive directors dealing with more burnouts and more burnout in their staff and just all of the challenges that come from having an overwhelm.
They’re anxious. That's maybe dealing with kids at home. So there's a lot of shifts in how people are thinking about paid time off leave alternative options for staffing organizations, but there's just this kind of increasing humanity that is coming out of this crisis. And then the third thing that's kind of related to that is I'm just hearing more and more chatter about how the kind of traditional nonprofit structure isn't working for people. And some of that is the board's not showing up well right now either micromanaging or being absentee, some of it is that we're throwing out lots of, of, of old norms that aren't working for us. And so some of those nonprofit norms are going to get thrown out, but I'm seeing a kind of increasing conversation about that piece as well.
Carol: Yeah, I'm thinking about that, but not really sure.
Carol: Cause it also feels like it's so embedded in, in all the systems the many, many systems that aren't working right now and, and the nonprofit sector has a lot of those assumptions built into. So yes. So at the end of every episode, I play a little game just to kind of shift things up a little bit.
So I'm going to ask you a somewhat random icebreaker question. And I had picked out three out of the box before, before we got on. So based on your scenario where if I, hopefully we won't be stuck in the, the economy is tanking and we're all forever and ever, but with that, what's your most recent, a guilty pleasure in terms of maybe binge watching a show or, or something.
Heather: Oh, well, My favorite. I don't know if this is a guilty pleasure, but in May I bought myself a blow up pool from my backyard and my absolute favorite thing to do. And I might do it this afternoon. If it doesn't rain, I will get in the baby pool with my Kindle and a glass of wine at the end of the day. And that just makes me so happy.
And I read a book that has no redeeming value. That just is pure floss and it's fantastic.
Carol: I don't think you need to be guilty about that. That sounds like a lot of fun. What are you excited about? What's coming up next for you kind of what's emerging in the work that you're doing.
Heather: Well, one of the things I'm really excited about in the nonprofits world is that we just launched a learning series for consultants around how to better incorporate race equity into our work.
And so I was sitting on a zoom with 50 consultants who are all trying to figure out how do we do this work better? How can we be in the work with people helping to raise these issues, helping to have careful conversations. So I'm really excited about that series and about the shifts that are coming for myself and my own consulting work and for hopefully lots of other people in those conversations.
Carol: That's great. And how can people find you? How can they can get info?
Heather: Yeah. So if you are interested in the consulting work I do, my company is called Third Space Studio, all spelled the thirdspacestudio.com. And if you're looking for a consultant or accountant or coach or other expert, you can find me at https://www.nonprofit.ist.
Carol: And we'll put all that in the show notes. So people will be able to get the links. Well, thank you so much, Heather. It has been great talking to you.
Heather: Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun.
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.