In episode 85 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and Mala Nagarajan discuss organizational development, compensation structures, and critical discussions within nonprofit organizations. They explore the limitations of market-based compensation, the concept of a thriving wage, and the importance of aligning organizational values with employee compensation. Mala emphasizes the need for transparent and comprehensive approaches to compensation, touching on various factors such as areas of responsibility, risk assessment, and the significance of understanding one's relationship with money. In addition they explore how to integrate compensating for the emotional labor required in a role. They discuss the complexities of legal considerations and highlight the need for organizations to reevaluate traditional practices to foster a more equitable and holistic work environment.
02:27: Creating equitable compensation models for organizations
04:50: Principles underpinning the work
08:16: The importance of interdependence
13:08- Transparency in compensation
16:21 Emotional labor and compensation
26:00 - Recognizing individual strengths and aligning them with organizational roles beyond just financial incentives
32:00 - Biases and values embedded in market-based compensation structures
37:00 - Implementing a thriving wage, distinct from a living wage
45:00 - The "conditions for readiness" necessary for successful implementation
53:00 - Assessing risk tolerance
Mala Nagarajan is a senior HR consultant who works with nonprofit organizations rooted in racial and social justice values. She is driven by a vision of strong organizations working collaboratively toward a common purpose and approaches her HR work with a values-aligned, people-centered, and movement-oriented lens. Mala is a consultant with RoadMap, a national network of consultants who work with social justice organizations. She helped organize RoadMap’s HR/RJ (racial justice) working group. Mala has developed an innovative Compensation Equity Process and Calculator™ that reverse-engineers supremacy out and re-engineers equity in. It’s an evolving approach accompanied with a custom tool that organizations can use to shift from a market-based to an anti-racist compensation model that centers those living at the intersections of multiple marginalized communities.
Important Links and Resources:
Mala Nagarajan - https://www.linkedin.com/in/malanagarajan/
Vega Mala Consulting | www.vegamala.com
Marilyn Waring TED talk on what the GDP misses -- https://www.tedxchristchurch.com/marilyn-waring
The MIT Living Wage Calculator: https://livingwage.mit.edu/
Hidden Brain episodes on budgets: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/money-2-0-why-we-bust-our-budgets/
Learn more about Mala’s compensation work here: Fund the People: Compensation Philosophy, NPQ-Compensation Equity: A Values-Based Framework & Implementation Guide, Top Tips to Stop Widening the Wealth Gap, Why Radical Human Resources is Critical for Movement Organizations, Equitable Compensation is a Risk Worth Taking, Brave Questions: Recalculating Pay Equity, Don't Put Metal in the Microwave and other Compensation Myths, Transforming the Workplace: HR Innovations, Pay Scale Equity Process and Calculator.
HR resources: RoadMap Consulting: Human Resources and Justice: Addressing Racism and Sexism in the Workplace. Washington Nonprofits: Workers in Nonprofits. The Management Center: Making Compensation More Equitable.
Carol Hamilton: Well, welcome Mala. Welcome to Mission: Impact.
Mala Nagarajan: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
Carol: I always like to start each conversation with just asking each guest, what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you? Or what, how would you describe your why?
Mala: I think I've been drawn to HR since my first job, or at least improving the workplace. I can remember getting involved in for my first job in how to make the workplace more amenable for everybody and welcoming and, then I think that another piece that's been a driving force in my why is my mom, who never held a paid W two job, but was often was a volunteer at a local library. And the immense confidence it gave her to be able to do some work and put books in alphabetical order, or she'd come to one of my jobs and help Scan or copy newspapers and just people feeling valuable and valued in the workplace and how meaningful it is just is so core. If it just feels like we get so much meaning out of what we're doing, what we're, how we're able to support others.
Carol: One of the things that you do, I think probably the main thing that you do is help organizations create more equitable compensation models for their staff. And that's really the most tangible way in a lot of ways that organizations value people. So it goes to that core that you're talking about.
What would you say are some of the principles that undergird that work?
Mala: I think that some of the principles that undergird the specific framework and model that I'm working on starts with being values-based. I'm trying to create a structure, a compensation structure that is relational. Typically in the for-profit, capitalist structure our pay is very individualistic.
We negotiate and we don't know anybody else's pay. I'm trying to adopt as a more relational one we're with nonprofits, they only have a certain amount of budget. They may be able to grow their budget, they may not be able to, but how do we have our compensation be in relationship to each other so that it's not so that there's equity? It doesn't have to be the same, but people wanna have some transparency in what our salary looks like. It also tries to, the structure or the framework that I use tries to embody interdependence and the interdependence of our work itself. It's very customizable and organizations can customize what they're valuing specifically based on the type of work that they're doing, the communities that they're serving. And really link the communities and the impact they're trying to have all the way to their staff. So how do you really value the types of ways that staff are connected with the communities that you're serving?
Carol: You talk about it being relational. Can you give me an example of what that might look like?
Mala:. My work in this aspect really draws from some work that my colleagues at the Roadmap social justice consulting network created. And this is like my Lisa Weer, Margie Clark, Rita Sever, Bridgette Rouson. Margie in particular had created a wage survey that was a collaboration between Roadmap, the National Organizers Alliance and the Data Center. And they surveyed over 215 social justice nonprofits. And what they found was that there was a relationship between the lowest and the highest paid person in the organization. When you keep those in relationship, there's something about the highest salary can't go up until the lowest also goes up. And when you're in that type of relationship, whatever you're doing to your salary is also benefiting other people. The typical, typical ratio between the lowest salary and the highest salary was somewhere around 2.2 to three times where the highest salary was two to three times the lowest salary. There's other ways that it can be relational. I know one of the clients that I work with. If somebody does negotiate a higher salary, they apply that negotiation to everybody at the same level. So it really shows that we're all, we're impacting each other, not just ourselves.
Carol: So I guess that that goes to that interdependence that you were talking about, and you also used the word transparency, which I feel like people use all the time and about all the things. Can you say a little bit more about what that might look like in an instance like this?
Mala:. I talk about transparency in that most organizations just have a number that is the salary or, or a range that is a salary for a particular job class or type of position. And what I talk about is -- we don't really know what goes into that number and taking it apart, reverse engineering, that whole number and kind of. Taking it apart, looking at the pieces that are going into potential pieces, potential compensation factors, and say of these factors, what are the ones that are really meaningful to us that we really wanna recognize and lift up? How do we look at it from an equity lens? Which of these factors are embedded in them inequity. For example, I think education is a good example. Education is not accessible for everyone. And if someone can do the job without a particular level of education, why put that level of education as a barrier? That's probably one of the most common ones that people cite.
But then we, we let organizations really identify what are the ones that are, what are the compensation factors that are values aligned, and then let's re-engineer that into the salary so people know what it's made up of. So at the very least, it's about we know what's in the salary, we know what makes it, makes up. We know what makes up the salary. Second, we know what the process is to do for the different aspects of compensation and, in very clear or transparent organizations, everybody's salary is known. I
Carol: One of the things that struck me when I was reading about the framework that you work with was, those compensation factors that you're talking about. Some of the ones were, I think a lot of folks who work, do this work are familiar with in terms of, what are the skills that are needed, what are the competencies, what's the education as you were talking about, but you were also in, in the description recognizing other kinds of labor such as, physical labor, people might already recognize that, but, more in terms of emotional labor. And I don't think that's typically been valued, recognized and certainly not compensated for, in many ways.
How, just at first, how do you define emotional labor?
Mala:. That's a great question and it's really sticky for a lot of people 'cause it's like, how do you define it as just, people being emotional or allowing emotion to be part of our workspace so that we're actually more whole. It's not just logical and rational, but also emotional. We draw from the definition of the sociological definition of emotional labor, so labor that the position itself requires where the circumstances that the position a position is required to be in may bring up emotions that the person in the position needs to put aside and respond in a different way. This could be care work, it could be, it's often associated with customer service, but it could be care work where people are like dealing with logistics for a conference and they're basically serving people to make sure they can get and enjoy the conference in the fullest manner that they can.
It could be folks who are dealing with crises. I think the typical example given in the sociology books is a police officer dealing with a crisis, but it really, in a nonprofit organization, can be the vicarious trauma that people are dealing with as they're directly serving the community with crisis management.
Or if they're working on direct action, and they're on the streets and they're having to deal with police. Or they're having to deal with opposition. Folks in, the mix making sure that everybody's safe, There's lots of different ways that one's emotions in the position based on the role that you have to serve. Might elicit other emotions and stress and stuff like that, but that part of your job is actually to manage that.
Carol: It is interesting that your very first example is just dealing with the logistics of a conference, which is a situation I've been in a lot of times and I don't know that I ever thought of it as care work. I thought when I heard that care work, I thought of the people taking care of my disabled brother, the people who took care of my dad as his health was failing before he died, and childcare. Those are the kinds of things that I'm thinking about. But when you put it in that frame, there's like, there's so much more that is actually care work. Can you gimme other examples of what that might be?
Mala:. There's one of the organizations I worked with. They were the ones who actually defined this logistical role as care work because they really expect that person in that logistical role to make it, it the smoothest experience for the participant as possible. 'cause they're dealing with member organizations. Another way that they redefined or, or, or split that apart is actually emotional labor.
They also created one that was around conflict management. Your relationship to conflict. And because they're working with lots of grassroots organizations, all their, all the people on staff at default, they have to be able to recognize when there's conflict between member organizations or our member representatives, or so they need to be able to recognize and be aware of that conflict.
They may not be the ones to do it. To address it, but they have to flag it and, and run it up to the next person. And then the other next person assesses the conflict to see what, what level of conflict is it. And they had different levels of people addressing conflict. The very highest level was someone who was helping mediate the. Emotional density of the conflict itself and actually being a mediator, negotiator supporting both or many parties to come to resolution and.
What a great way to recognize the labor that people are doing and also see it across the organization, across all the different positions. And at the very least, one of the things that we include in our framework is a level zero, which is everybody's responsibility in every single area of responsibility that's or compensation factor that's identified. There's a Level zero, which is basically What are the basics that are required by everybody?
For conflict resolution, it's knowing what my own conflict style is or the tendency that I have. It's knowing what are the things that trigger me. It is knowing how to, what different kinds of conflict there are.
Like recognizing that disagreement does not equal abuse. And, and, conflict does not equal abuse. Like actually recognizing that different manifestations that sometimes get confused as conflict but are different things.
Carol: You talked about it being values aligned, relational, transparent, and interdependent. Are there other principles that go into the framework?
Mala: I wanna expand on the interdependent 'cause I feel like that's super important. We don't recognize how our work is interdependent. And this model tries to again, embody that. Let's say communications is an area of responsibility that the organization wants to recognize as a function, the functional aspect of communications. You can have program folks and fundraising folks all have scores and communication because the program folks are feeding the information to communications so that, and Crafting the story. Like really bringing the stories from the community that the communications folks will be then disseminating. The fundraising folks need to also intersect with the communications function of the organization to make sure that the fundraising aspects of the communication are identified and that there's opportunity put in. So we're really looking at how are people collaborating with each other or working together to actually see some aspect forward, and really understanding how the different components different people in different positions are interacting with communications or if you're a program person or you're a front desk person and someone comes into the office and you wanna make sure that they're in the database in the CRM, so that communications folks and fundraising folks can have access to that data, that's part of your contribution. So those are ways that we're really putting it into the compensation system rather than just isolating it in a job description as one person's task to do.
Carol: Well, and it's funny 'cause I feel like so often organizations are complaining about or struggling with feeling siloed. And so it sounds like through that process you're actually mapping a lot of the interdependence that they may not even be recognizing is there and the collaboration that is happening and making it visible in a way that might not have been.
Mala: It's a pretty beautiful process when people are seeing it and, and I think it really helps people step up and own their work.
Carol: Can you describe the process that you walk organizations through?
Mala: That's a really good question. We've been in constant Development of our process .So in the beginning, about three or four years ago, it was just me and the person who had the HR function. And what I was proposing was just an HR intervention.
Mala: We didn't really have staff involved. It wasn't like a collective process.
It was like, okay, let's map out how work is happening and what might be just to get folks started and the basic structure of the compensation or the basic components of this compensation structure are, there's a base salary, and the base salary is not position oriented. The base salary is actually everyone from the ED to the entry level person getting the exact same base salary. And then from that, the areas of responsibility that you're holding will get added to that base. and so we started that with the very first organization that we were working with. But over time in the last two years, we've really shifted to a more organizational change process. What we noticed even though there was a good response to the compensation structure when staff were engaging with it. There was still a sense of people moving in the system individually. How do I get to the next highest level pay versus what's my best strength or what are my dependable strengths? What are the things that I want to increase my level of competency in? And how does that map in the system and how can I move both if I have, I might have financial goals and monetary goals, and that's great. But it's not just about that. It's also about what are you strong at and how can the organization and you be in alignment so that you're able to use your aptitudes and your strengths and not just have to become a supervisor in order to get more money.
Because we know not everybody is made out to be a supervisor,
Carol: Very few people are made out to be of.
Mala:. And, we know, from the Gallup poll, your manager is the most important person in your workspace and contributes to your employee engagement. Let's not put someone who's not really doesn't have that skill set in that position just so that they can get a raise.
Carol: Or doesn't wanna develop it. doesn't have the interest in developing it.
'cause certainly there's a huge challenge with having people access management training in the sector.
Mala: Now we're doing more of an organizational change process and we're continuing to develop that. I think we're getting a little bit more nuanced about it. One of the things I'm looking forward to this next year is really helping people to get to those Critical discussions that we never have in the workplace. My colleague Rochelle Faithful is going to be completing a discussion guide for organizations where they can really interface based on this process that we use, and then have critical discussions about. Do we wanna follow the market? Do we want to compete with the market or do we want to make sure our internal salaries are equitable in relationship to each other? And it's not an either or question. 'cause we actually need to do both.
Carol: What are some other examples of those critical conversations that organizations need to have?
Mala:. Am I working for money? Oh. Am I, is it, is it a work to, am I working to live or living to work? Right? Like, what are the individual values that we're coming into the workplace with, and what are the values of the organization that are different from ours? And how do we actually navigate? Different people's value systems within a workplace. So I, I think the easiest example of this also is, what does a workplace mean to us is so different based on generational differences and how, what events and our. Our lifetime has affected attitudes around work, right? And so we're really encouraging folks to come up with an employer philosophy that sets down where we wanna walk the line in terms of our workplace. And so you might come from a different generation or a different culture where work means something different. And this is how we're bringing people together around work. And what it means to be an employee in this organization.
Carol: I feel like that question is definitely very alive right now. Been having conversations with lots of different people about them renegotiating their relationship to work and what it means in their life and and there's so many cultural assumptions that come with that. Certainly the ones that I inherited were: Work is very central to your life. I'm trying to disentangle a little bit from that. But I, I love the idea of as an organization being really clear about, and not just having it be, -- we're adopting these cultural assumptions about what it means to be a quote, good employee or to show up well here in this space.
Can you say a little bit more? I think most organizations are used to if they, if they do any work around compensation, think about it from a market-based point of view, what are some pitfalls that are embedded in that standard approach?
Mala: I think one of my collaborators Sharon Davis just introduced me recently to Marilyn Warring's work. She's a New Zealander used to be a New Zealand parliamentarian and some work of hers in, in the seventies. She really talked about how the GDP is not a good example of productivity because it is only looking at growth on growth, which we cannot sustain. I think it was Donna Meadows who talks about systems, systems dynamics and like you. But there's limits to growth, right? Like meaning that the market is constantly looking to grow. And, it's constantly embedded in the market system, our values. So why is it that domestic workers and janitors and non-unionized farmers, agriculture, why are those professions valued less? Why is it that managers are valued more than the people that work under them? Is that an assumption? We want to adopt without question or do we wanna actually question it and say what is the importance of different people's work and how do we actually lift up unseen and undervalued work in the marketplace?
And how do we, typically it's women's work and people of color's work, black, indigenous healing, the different ways that we can come into the workplace, the different ways we have access to knowledge and in our culture, the dominant way of knowing something is this like a logical scientific method.
And there are lots of different ways of knowing and how do we actually learn from each other and bring that to the best of our ability to help the nonprofit organization to execute its mission.
Carol: You said before that it's not an either or, so it's not entirely throwing out the market-based construct, but it's looking at it and saying -- there are definitely values embedded in this. It's not neutral, The rhetoric is that it is neutral. like algorithms are neutral. No, they're not. They're all built by people,
I feel like the pandemic, I mean with who are the essential workers? Well, the people who are paid the least, who are least valued. And I, my most cynical self often thinks, my goodness, we value in terms of money that people who do the most harm in the world.
I mean like the people who do good on a daily basis don't get paid much.
And the people who are wrecking things get paid a lot.
Mala: It's so true. That's so true. It feels like nonprofits, if any organization or any sector is gonna change those kinds of default value systems. It's the nonprofit sector or benefit corps or organizations with a more of a stakeholder approach rather than a shareholder approach.
Carol: And of course as you said at the beginning, nonprofits, or, well, any organization is constrained by budget, but particularly social justice nonprofits are constrained and so they may have aspirations that they can't fully. Live out because of those, those funding constraints and, and just the money that's coming in revenue.
What are some of the other critical, it's very hard to balance it all.
But I'm really appreciating that people are taking a stab at it in a way that I don't think was true when I first started where it was all about what was outside, what was the mission, and very little attention to what was inside the organization.
That disconnect between. Our mission for creating this change, empowering women in the workplace. I literally worked at an organization whose mission was to empower women in the workplace and they would hire women in order to pay them as little as possible. it's like this little bit of a disconnect there.
Mala: exactly. Exactly. If nothing else, we have to get the mission aligned pieces. We have to be able to accomplish them inside of our organizations if we have any expectation of accomplishing them outside.
If we can't do it internally in our organizations, what evidence can we bring to, to say that this is possible,
Carol: What are some of the other critical conversations that organizations need to have? You talked about having a shared understanding of what it means to be an employee here and how we're approaching work.
Mala: One of the things that there's a whole bunch of what we call polarities that are happening in the workplace. An example is, oh, we had this great conversation about geolocation as a compensation factor. Do you adjust the salary for where people live? And so there's two aspects and like for some people it's like, no, you don't adjust it because people, that's somebody's personal choice where they live. And then for other folks it's like, well, we can't hire people in particular, we can't hire the best employee. They happen to be from San Francisco, so we need to pay them at the market level. That San Francisco salaries are at compensation are at. So those are kinds of questions like, where are the boundaries?
Where are the and there's actually upsides to doing either one, right? Paying at the market level based on the geography, or not paying. And there's also downsides for both. So how do we actually, as an organization, come to a more collective understanding and perspective of where those lines are?
Where do we cross the value line and start moving from where we're seeing the upsides of one direction, and then we're going into the downsides because we've, we've overvalued it to the neglect of this other perspective. Polarity Partnerships is a great resource for that. Barry Johnson is the one who created the polarity mapping. It's a great tool to have those conversations.
Carol: I love working with polarities because I feel like oftentimes, so often people can really get caught up in advocating for one side or the other, I mean like a classic one is in the sector, is that we should be working at the systemic level. We've gotta solve these big systemic issues. Just working one-on-one is not enough, yes, you can help each person individually, but the system's still there. It's not either or, it's both. We've gotta be working at both levels. Maybe not everybody is working at both levels. But people definitely get caught up in those.
Yes, we gotta do it. Market, yes, we gotta do it. Geography or no. but what is that method of looking at what are the values, but what are the benefits of each side? And then what are the pitfalls? And then trying to maximize the benefit on both sides and be mindful of the pitfalls.
But so often in cultures. The classic one that people are talking about and you're talking about right in, in this model is. The US culture and western culture has tended to be so over-indexed on individualism that the relational piece is missing. And so how do we, and it's not that we completely go to the other side.
Carol: It's that we, how do we find some balance between the two, which is always the most challenging,
Mala: Always the most challenging, always the most challenging. And one of the things that comes back to the question of the process that we use, one of the last things we build out for organizations is a calculator that actually allows people to do some what if scenarios. We're encouraging people to pay people a thriving wage rather than just a minimum wage or a living wage. And so like how do you, you actually test that with your budget? We give a calculator where you can set your base number and set your different compensation factors, how much money you're giving to each factor. And that allows based on the way that we are doing our system with the levels and stuff, to try different forms, try different amounts to get within the budget that you have. And if you can't hit a thriving wage for everyone this go around. We're encouraging organizations not to lift the ceiling until they bring people up to a thriving wage.
Carol: Can you describe what's the difference between a living wage and a thriving wage?
Mala: I use the MIT living wage calculator as a base. There's other cost of living calculators, but the MIT living wage calculator is an alternative to poverty wage. It's saying, how much do you have to actually earn to live in this place? But they're only looking at the necessities.
if you're targeting your pay level. To what one individual no children are at in the MIT calculator. For a given geography, you're actually only getting them the bare necessities. And so if there's one car accident, one car repair or some major medical issue that is gonna put your employee in An avalanche of financial strain and thriving wages. We're using, I think it comes from Elizabeth Warren, but there's a 50, 30, 20% budgeting rule. And the budgeting rule is 50% towards your necessities. 30% towards your just discretionary needs, and then 20% towards savings and retirement. Well, if from the MIT living wage calculator that for some particular area, it's $16 to meet the necessities. You can plug that number into the 50% and then figure out what the thriving wage looks like, at least around to get an approximation, to get us above water, to get all the employees working with some financial breathing space.
Carol: That's so huge because when I was a single mom and not making a lot of money, those, one-time things. That pretty much happened every third month. Oh my goodness. They threw such a curve ball into everything every time. And so I actually have an item in our personal family budget that is one time items.
And so I've been tracking for years how much that is, how much you need to budget for those, unexpected quote unquote things that you can completely expect to happen.
Mala: I love
Mala: I love that. I love that. There is a great Hidden Brain episode on something like that around the money and You episodes where they talk about like budgeting for the not budgeting for the unexpected expenses, but then recognizing that actually that unexpected expenses happen every year or every,
Carol: You just don't know when they're gonna
Mala: You don't know when
Carol: I dunno when the heater's gonna break or the washing machine's gonna break, but it's gonna break at some point.
Mala: And also if you want your, so there's the expenditures that are really critical for your daily operation, just being able to operate in your life, But there's also the money that you might need for relationship building. Like you want to buy your kids some books or take them to the library or get a special gift for your 16th birthday. So that's why we're shooting for the two times living wage as an estimate to get to 1.5 to two point the living wage as a thriving wage number.
Carol: And that being your base wage.
Mala: It doesn't have to be. Because usually it's a little bit tricky.
I, I'm not gonna say it's a little
Carol: a hundred percent, but.
Mala: not a hundred percent, but the lowest wage in the organization should be above that. And assuming that everybody has responsibilities that get tracked on the differential part of the scale, then It would be a little bit more than base wage. .
Carol: You talked at one point about, and I'm imagining some chart. This sounds like it can get really nitty gritty in terms of you have a zero, you have all these skills, competencies. But you used a different word for those compensation factors, which was so beyond what is typical, right, of what I just named all those different things named and then defining a 0 1, 2, 3, 4, I don't know how many, how high you go for, for what the different levels are for those.
And I would imagine that gets really granular, but at the same time. just be really eye opening for folks to what it actually takes to do each job.
Mala: It is. I would say that skills and competencies are actually part of why sometimes organizations will lift it out specifically, but we don't embed it in.
I think one of the things in our system is like, they look at how many years of school you need in order to get a job, and then that means you get more pay. In this system we don't make any assumptions. Let folks decide where they wanna put value and why. And so that they come together with some reasoning. So it's
Carol: What might somebody put value to that wouldn't show, we wouldn't show up in a typical scenario or a typical compensation process.
Mala:. I would say the majority of the compensation factors that we end up using for organizations are areas of responsibility. It's like where are people holding the work that the organization has to do in order to meet its mission? And it's functional. It's not positional.
Every position gets scored on every single area of responsibility. Some of those areas of responsibility are functional areas, could be leadership. Project management supervision. It could be fundraising, finance, program communications and external relations. It could be the unseen undervalued labor, like emotional labor, relational labor, JEDI work.
The work that people are doing to increase equity and justice within the organization or externally apply it to the work, the programming work that they're doing. There's a lot of different categories that they could pick from. There's also working conditions. When you have to, some positions have to be on 24/7. They have to be on call or there might be a category sometimes we use called that's about the level of vulnerability that you have in your work. If you have to stay in the front desk and you have to stay seated the whole time that can cause physical harm to you. You're vulnerable in that sense.
Or you might be exposed to blood if you work in a hospital or a health clinic and you're drawing blood from folks. It could be that you're. Community is being targeted for violence, and you are out there and you're the face of the organization. There's different things that can go into it.
It is pretty super granular, so we don't encourage really small organizations to use it wholesale, draw from it what is most important but at the end of the day. It tends to be best for organizations between 15 and 50 people. We have a couple of larger organizations that are interested in implementing it, and we're excited about figuring out how to do that well. But ultimately it's really about being much more transparent about what we're valuing and being able to right size the value of things that are overvalued in the market.
Mala: increase the value of things that are undervalued in the market.
Carol:. What things that help organizations be successful in this process?
Mala:. We have a set of conditions that we call conditions for readiness. I think the first thing is make sure your job descriptions are up to date. 'cause that is really important.
Carol: And that can, that can be a hurdle for a lot of organizations.
Mala: It can be. It is. And,you hit it right on the spot. There the conditions for readiness cover logistical conditions that are like job descriptions, making sure that you actually have fiscal health. 'cause if you're struggling for fundraising or budgeting, this is not the time to work on equity in the compensation system in this way. And then there are socio psychological conditions, which are around, can you have a conversation around the grief and trauma about money, trauma of money. There's growing research that the financial trauma that our ancestors and can transfer intergenerationally and so How we grew up affects how we're actually making decisions in the organization. We need to separate that out. Like, understand what is our personal trauma versus, and our personal fear around money, and how are we bringing that into the workplace?
What is good for the organization, what is not good for the organization? And then I'm forgetting the, the, the second, there's three sets, and I'm forgetting this third set, I think it's on our website.
Carol: Well, we'll put links to a lot of those things that you have in your signature so that people have all those resources that you make, that you very generously make available. So on each episode, I like to close out by asking each guest what permission slip would you give nonprofit leaders, or what would you invite them to consider to avoid being a martyr to the cause and as they work to cultivate a healthy organizational culture.
So either a permission slip or an invitation or both to nonprofit leaders.
Mala: Two things. I think one is: Understand your position with risk, regard to risk and understand if you're risk averse or risk taking. And understand what that impact is. Do you need to scale back a little bit on the risk taking? Do you need to increase your risk taking and understand where you are and what the organization needs based on its lifecycle and stuff?
The second is not every law is equal and the ramifications of laws are not all equal. And so sometimes we don't take risks because we're worried about legal liability. But the legal liability is a probability. If this happens, this happens, this happens, this happens, and this happens. And if we do it in this way, this way, and this way. But if you're not doing it in this way, in this way, and it's not, all these conditions don't meet, then you can actually take a risk that is not gonna be as harmful to the organization. Now, as an HR professional, I can never tell someone to not follow the law.
I'm not saying break the law. What I'm saying is that some laws have greater risks. So as an organizational leader, they can decide how they wanna approach that risk in a different way.
Carol: I feel like for a lot of people, the fear of the unknown on all those HR issues, tends to mean that people wanna be more risk averse. And then, that fear of doing it wrong will mean that, well we can't change any of this 'cause, we're tied in by the law. But what you're saying is there's more flexibility there than they might think.
Carol: All right. Well thank you so much. This was, so I learned a lot and I'll be excited to put all those links in so that people can access all those resources that you have on this really innovative model that you're working with to help organizations think differently about how they structure their compensation for their staff, which is just so fundamental.
Mala:. Thank you Carol, for the opportunity to talk to your audience and to have a conversation with you. It was really nice. Thank you.
In episode 76 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and Devon Lawrence discuss
Devon Lawrence is the Founder and Principal of Clark Lawrence Consulting, Inc. For 10+ years she has worked with non-profits of all sizes, both domestic and international, to advance their capabilities around development operations, fundraising events, project management and leadership. Her clients have praised her ability to be well attuned to the needs, opportunities, and challenges of non-profit organizations and her reliability as a source of guidance on fundraising and organizational development. Devon currently serves on the boards of the Bowery Residents' Committee (BRC) and Association of Nonprofit Specialists. She lives in New York City with her husband and two-year old son.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Devon Lawrence. Personally I love to step back and see the big picture, look at the wider trends that are happening in the world and help groups think about what the implications of those trends are for their future. To help them envision their future and then come to agreement about what are the big 3-5 things that are really going to help them move the needle on their mission over the next 3-5 years. I love helping them map out the elements of their organization and programs and get clear on why they do what they do and how they can demonstrate their impact.
AND just thinking of the big picture isn’t enough. Without a clear plan for implementation and action all the strategy in the world won’t actually get moved forward. So rather than thinking of strategy as a once in a three year event that includes planning sessions and retreats, thinking of it as practice is really the key. How are we integrating what we decided in our planning sessions into our more day to day work. That is what I talk with Devon about. She focuses on fundraising – and a lot of fundraising consultants also focus on the bigger picture – the fundraising strategy – but Devon does something different – she helps organizations create systems and implement systems that really make their fundraising work.
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.
Devon and I talk about what metrics and other aspects are important to track and monitor for successful fundraising, why that thank you note you been procrastinating about writing is REALLY important, and some of the differences across cultures in attitudes about nonprofits and philanthropy.
Welcome, Devin. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Devon: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Carol: So I always like to start out by asking the question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you, or what would you describe as your why?
Devon: Well my career started in non-profits. So my background was already there and then it was.
When I was introduced to consulting and being able to, to support nonprofits in a different way, that was what was exciting, being able to help more organizations and people out there than I was already through just, working in a full-time role. So it was the ability to, to share my skills and expertise with as many organizations as possible.
Carol: And you really focus on development and fundraising operations and project management. When you're working with clients, can you just say a little bit more about what that looks like?
Devon: Sure. So development operations, I like to say, is really the behind the scenes work. It's the systems, the processes, the structure that needs to be in place in order for an organization to be successful.
So, whether that's, working with. Development directors or executive directors on just, prospecting strategies as well as thinking about, tracking the, the data behind solicitations, cultivation, stewardship, coming up with the right processes for, acknowledgement letters, matching gifts, et cetera.
It's all of those pieces that are part of the puzzle to learn, I mean, to do. Go towards sustainability for an organization.
Carol: And it's funny cuz I, I feel like in a lot of cases consultants err on the side of being the bigger picture strategy piece. And, and that's where I am and .That's all great and you need that, but then, How do you actually make it work?. What are all the 99 steps that you have to think about and keep, keeping track of and making sure that you're maintaining all the things?. What are some of the things that we, you would say are common stumbling blocks for organizations as they're trying to set up those systems?
Devon: That's a great question and a lot of people just don't have it. The bandwidth or capacity. A lot of organizations, you're so focused on the fundraising itself and bringing in the money and reaching your goals, that it's, remembering to track and monitor all of your communication so that you can go back and say to this donor, yes, they made a gift of X amount.
On, a year ago, and we need to get back to them. But what were all those touchpoints in between so that we know, like what is their interest? What is it about our organization that gets them excited? What was the last meeting that they had? What board members do they know? It's all of those pieces that people forget about, but it's really important to come up with the right strategy and continue to engage with donors.
Carol: What are some of those things that you think are really important for organizations to track along the way?.
Devon: Communications. Absolutely. So when you think about a lot of people, a lot of organizations think of communications as not being a part of development. They might even be different departments.
But they really do go hand in hand because, every time that a prospect or donor is reading about. Or seeing something about the organization, that's something that works towards the cycle of engagement. And so communication is definitely one, like understanding what the different touchpoints are that they receive throughout the year.
And in many cases it is also tiered communication. So, donors at certain levels might be only getting newsletters or, just. A quarterly email, whereas donors at a higher level might be, might be receiving invitations to an intimate event or getting a preview of some project or program that's happening that maybe the larger audience might not be.
So keeping track of communications absolutely. Number one is, Following up as quickly as possible when someone makes a gift. So thanking them for their gifts, acknowledgement letters is a huge one. I've worked with clients that, and this happens to everyone at many organizations, is that you, it, it falls to the back burner and donors notice those things.
So, even if it takes 48 hours or two weeks. That's acceptable. But when it takes, six months, nine months, sometimes even a year, donors really do notice. And that can affect the relationship you have with them. So I would say those are some top, must, must haves, make sure that all organizations are tracking.
Carol: Yeah, and it's, it's interesting. I'm, I'm. I work with a group where we've been working together for a couple years, and this isn't a nonprofit, that's not the point of it, but there's some similar things that if we had set up some of those systems at the beginning to be capturing all this information and tracking.
We wouldn't be doing the cleanup that we're gonna. In the middle of trying to do it now. Like, oh yeah, wow. Let's have one spreadsheet where we keep everybody's email and who the primary contact was and are we getting their home address so that we can send them a thank you card. Absolutely.
All those kinds of things that it's easy to think about. After the fact. And then, to think about, well, where would it be easiest for us to ask for this information in the process when, like at a, at an initial gift asking for example, for that address or whatnot. Yes. So that you're not asking for it.
Like, oh, I wanna send you a thank you letter now, could you please send me your
Devon: address? Yes, yes. Definitely, and that's a good point because, I was thinking even bigger picture, but those are the small things that make a huge difference is the address, emails, phone numbers, being able to stay on top of where people are, even annually following up sometimes to just confirm with donors what their, what their contact information is, if anything has changed.
Those are all very important things to consider.
Carol: And it's interesting thinking about like, you're talking about those different tiers and. My husband and I donate to a variety of different organizations. One here locally and we recently got invited to an event.
Now we don't donate a huge amount of money, but we've been consistent. We've donated, yes, probably now for the last. Seven years or something, I bought some of their merchandise. I don't know whether we've gone to any events. I'm trying to even think maybe once. So I was a little bit surprised that we got invited to this event, but it made a big impression.
My husband ended up going. It was really experiential, very close to, really being able to get closer to their mission. So it is interesting to think about kind of, there could be lots of differences. Criteria that would push people into that next tier. What are some of the things Absolutely that organizations might be thinking about?
The obvious one is the amount of money. But are there other things that they should be thinking about, to be able to notice who their, their. I don't know, next level
Devon: givers are. Yeah. And it sounds like the organization you give to has they, they have everything in order that they're able to, to reach out to you.
And with that invitation, because that's actually a really good example is that even if your giving has been the same over a long period of time those, the donors that have been giving for. For long periods, they're as important as someone that comes in at a very high level for the first time and is giving to you.
Sometimes they're even more important because, I know a story from another colleague where she had a client that they had a campaign and the donor had been giving at a. Let's just, for the purpose of this podcast, just say $10,000 for a long period. And at the campaign, the person might have capacity to give more, but the organization was nervous to ask for anything, six figures or higher.
But the consultant said, well, why don't we just ask? And no one has ever asked before, she's, this donor's been giving for. many, many years and they asked for a million and she said, well, no one's ever asked me. And yes, I will. So, wow. It is, IM, it is very important to not forget about those who have been giving to you for a long time because, that just shows that they clearly have a passion and care about the work that you're doing.
And really, if you don't ask for more, you're never gonna know if they'll be willing to, to, to give it a higher level.
Carol: Right. What are some other things that get in the way of organizations really managing their, the, those backend systems?.
Devon: Hmm. The event is a big one. Getting sucked into like those big moments in the year.
Everyone has a gala. A lot of organizations rely on their gala as their main income for revenue and that can blind people from remembering that there's more to fundraising than just the gala and events and that. It's a lot of what happens outside of those, those big moments that are important.
And when you just focus on events which is, it can be great for some organizations to bring in a lot of their revenue for the year. But there's so much more potential if you utilize that, those opportunities outside of those moments. And engaging with donors and keeping track of all the information and the behind the scenes and the proc, like following the proper processes and systems really does make a difference to help you reach those goals.
Carol: And you mentioned events, galas and a lot of organizations have traditionally relied on those. What are you seeing with the impact of, covid having to go virtual? Are those events coming back?. Are organizations decided to pivot away from those?
Devon:. I've definitely seen them come back at least, here in New York and. I have actually had clients in other areas as well. But yes, in person is coming back, but virtual is still there. So it's maybe no longer that the main gala, the main fundraising event for the year, is virtual, but their other virtual opportunities and events throughout the year, because it's a great way to, to expand your, your network and your reach by having the virtual events.
But with galas, I'm definitely seeing in person and people are excited to, to be back in person again and to really like, feel the, Importance of the organization that they're supporting by being in that room with other people and seeing, being able to watch the, the videos and hear from people on stage.
Carol: So you've also worked with organizations internationally. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? Yes.
Devon: So I worked with a couple of organizations in Singapore. And it was a time when I, we had moved there for my husband's work and I had recently started consulting and I wasn't sure really what was gonna happen.
I still had some clients back here in the US but luckily just through connections, I was introduced to a few organizations that needed support. And it was very interesting because, The support that they needed was different from what I'm used to here in the us. The first thing that stood out was, nonprofits in the US and charities are thought of as two different things.
And usually, nonprofits are used in the broader, broader sense. And it was the opposite in Singapore. So they first think of organizations as charities, which not necessarily lessens them, but there's less of a responsibility that the community has towards supporting those organizations.
Most of the philanthropy was. Through church or so, religion or through medicine. So healthcare. And then outside of that, because Singapore as a country provides a lot of support to the nonprofits, the community really felt like it was the government's responsibility to provide them with support.
So when it came to fundraising for these organizations, they found it really hard. To get through to people to even understand why they should be giving. So that was very interesting to encounter. That was different from what I was used to.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, here in the States it's probably flipped, right?
Devon: Yes. We're
Carol: we're overly reliant on the nonprofit sector to Yes. Deliver services, government overly reliant. That's my own editorial, Editorializing, right?. And even, a lot of organizations get supported by the government, but not to the same degree that that .
There might be expectations in other countries. What other differences did you notice?.
Devon: Being that it was specifically Singapore was heavily expat. It was more so that the expats, the expat community were the ones that were supporting the nonprofits. Because again, just community-wise and culture that, specifically in Singapore, that. They didn't come from the background where, giving to nonprofits was was, was, was almost an expectation.
So I think that the expat community and the level of volunteerism that came from that as well, because many. In xFi communities it's usually because one of the spouses is going for work and then the other spouse, either, if they're lucky, then they are able to work. But sometimes getting those work visas is not as easy for the spouses.
So they put so much of their time and energy into the nonprofits there that was, I wanna say, Not so much more, but I was very impressed and blown away by the level of time and commitment that they all give to the organizations. I mean, the couple that I worked with, the couple organizations that I worked with were fully run and managed by volunteers.
Which we don't see as much over in the us. We have full-time staff, part-time staff at the minimum who are working for nonprofits, but it was almost fully run by, by the, the expats.
Carol: Yeah, so it might also almost be like, we turned the clock back 60 years and, and who was running nonprofits at that time here in the United States might have been more similar.
. And, and you also described them. Are described or seen as charities versus nonprofits, And, sometimes I think here in the US folks may think of that word charity in almost any, some kind of, has some negative overtones. What, what, what did you see?, what, how, how did people experience that in that context and in that culture?
Devon:. I wouldn't say there were negative undertones there, there was still a need for them. There's always a need for them. But people did, they, they would respect charities versus nonprofits and, and, they, they would give, but just the word nonprofit almost wasn't in the vocabulary.
It was very much a charity. And so just like you were saying, being from the US we, if you call a non-profit charity, they might be offended where, so that's what I was used to and I had to, teach myself to switch, to switch that vocabulary. But it was just more than SEMA semantics and being.
The language that they use around the organizations, but they were still respected. It was just that culturally, the, because the government provides so much support, it was less of an expectation of the community having to support them as well.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It's always interesting to explore those, those cultural differences and .
, just how words are used and. And attitudes and perspectives, all of that. I always, I always find that super fascinating. So we had talked before about some of the challenges that organizations have when they're trying to implement or maybe, build out processes.
Maybe improve their processes? What are some things that you see helping them really succeed in that, and make things work well?.
Devon: I am a big believer in CRMs and
Carol: say what a CRM is just quickly.
Devon: It is a, you can either, some say constituents, some say client, but it's a relationship management platform.
So there's. A ton of different ones out there. Razor's Edge, Salesforce, Bloomerang, Asana. There's so many now, but just a big, big believer in the importance of having a database, a system that is capturing and tracking all of your information in one central place. And being able to then, as I was talking about Using that information to help you with your donor engagement and cultivation, solicitation, all of your activities, to then be able to have a dashboard that shows you, how far you are towards your goals and how many, and that could be both, in revenue goals, but also in setting goals for, you want to, you wanna reach out to 10 people this week, you wanna make sure that you have communicated with a certain number of donors.
, helping you to set those goals so you can stay on track for your week, for your month, whatever it is reminding you when you send an email to someone or an invitation you haven't heard back that is a huge that is a huge benefit to like, to lead to, to success for staying organized and just staying on top of everything.
Carol: Now you used the phrase the CRM captures, but actually the, I think one of the biggest challenges that I've noticed with organizations really fully getting all the benefit of a system like that is. When the people don't do, don't take the time to make sure that everything's linked up and that email gets captured or .
Going back in and saying, okay, here are a couple notes from this phone conversation I just had. Yes. That habit forming can be really challenging.
Devon:. And it's also important to find the best CRM for your organization because they are not all equal in any way. for some, Salesforce might be best for some, something through Microsoft because that's already what you're using could be best.
But it's definitely finding what works for you. And also, some are better for events. Some are better for emailing, so it definitely is important to take the time and come up with the best, the best platform for the organization.
Carol: What are some of the things that organizations need to be looking at so that they can know, okay, this one is gonna be a good fit for us.
Devon:. I'm actually doing this right now with other clients, so I can think about just the process we're taking. So first it's Understanding what your vision is. So if you were to have a crm, how would that change the work of your organization? And it could be that it's only for fundraising purposes.
It could be that you also need to track your program information events, like I mentioned. It, whatever else there is. First thinking, big picture, like what is it that. You would need it for, for the organization, all the different ways that it would function. And then it's looking at the data you have and understanding what, like, from there, what your needs are.
It could be that you just wanna track contact information and email addresses the most important and of course, giving information. For others it might be that you need a platform that is connected or has connectability to A search engine. So to be able to search for different capacity levels and give you that research for the different donors to be able to have it within your system.
And then from there it's who is going to be managing it? Is every staff member going to have a hand in it? Is it one individual? Cuz all those things together just. Really make a difference in understanding what the best needs are for the best c r m for you.
Carol: So as we come to the end here at the end of each episode, I ask each guest what permission slip they would give to nonprofit leaders or what they would invite them to consider as they work to not be a martyr to the cause and they work to cultivate a, a healthier and more productive organizational culture.
What, what would your invitation or permission slip be for nonprofit leaders?
Devon: First of all, I love that question. And my answer would be to give your, to give yourself permission to take a break. That it's really important, everyone, especially leaders of org, of nonprofits and organizations, can get so caught up in everything, from your goal for fundraising events, communicating with donors.
But sometimes it's important to just take a break, take a step back and breathe and just take a look at everything around you within your organization and just remind yourself both of the great work you're doing and what you're, your mission and what, who you're working for and the people you're serving.
But also remind yourself of what your priorities are for that moment. Like, remind yourself of, whether it's monthly or quarterly, but just. What those priorities are, are you, are the projects that you're working on, line up with those priorities, but the only way to focus on that is to take a break.
Carol: I feel like so many consultants that I talk to want to give that, to organ to, To leaders. Let's, let's take everybody, take, give them that permission to, to take a break and take a step back and. Think about those priorities. So how can people find you? How can they be in touch?
My website is definitely www.clarklawrenceconsulting.com. And you can find more information about me, about what I do. There is a form to, to reach out to me on, on my website. So yes, all are welcome to check it out.
Carol: And we'll definitely have that link in the, in the show notes. So thank you.
Can find Devin there. Alright, well thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Devon: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Devon, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes.
I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support.
Mission: Impact is brought to you by Grace Social Sector Consulting. Grace Social Sector brings you whole-brain strategic planning, mapping, & audits for nonprofits and associations. We combine left-brain strategy and analysis + right-brain wisdom about human complexities for a proven, whole-brain, whole-organization process through which every stakeholder thrives. Reach out to us for support and facilitation of strategic planning, mapping your impact, auditing your services and getting an organizational assessment. We especially love working with staffed nonprofits and associations with human centered missions.
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In episode 73 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Cindy Wagman discuss:
Cindy Wagman is the President & CEO of The Good Partnership. She helps small nonprofits raise more money and reluctant fundraisers learn to love fundraising.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Cindy Wagman. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Cindy and I talk about how our social norms around not talking about money make it hard for folks to want to do fundraising, some of the common things that get in the way of success for new fundraisers, and how to start building your fundraising muscles.
Welcome Cindy. Welcome to Mission: Impact. Thanks so much for having me. I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Cindy Wagman: Oh my goodness. I feel like that is a question that goes, it's answer starts so many years ago. I've always been. Involved in the nonprofit sector. I volunteered when I was in high school. When I was in university. I ran the women's empowerment committee and raised money for local women's organizations. It's always been what I would say defines my experiences. So my university, when I look back at university, it wasn't the academics, it was my community involvement. So it's always just been in my blood and I actually am one of the few people who, when I was in university and I said, I wanna be a fundraiser. Most people fall into it. But I knew, and I have really, my only professional job has been a fundraiser until I started consulting and now I help other fundraisers.
Carol: What was it that made you decide, I wanna be a fundraiser?
Cindy: So, It's fun. Funnily, I met two people who were professional fundraisers in the same summer. I never knew that that was an option growing up. It wasn't something we talked about. When don't you talk about what, what do you wanna do when you're older? So I was working and there was a regular. I worked in the cafe slash home decor store and there was a woman who was a regular. Dan is her name, and she came in and we would always chat and she was a fundraiser. And at the same time I started dating someone who is now my husband and his aunt was a professional fundraiser. So that same summer just hit me in the face.
Carol: Which is cool. That is, I would say definitely unusual. Trying to even think of what would have been my first connection to, I did work in one of my work study jobs at college, working in the development office or the advancement office. I don't remember what they called them. Typically I think I. I filed donor reports. Mm-hmm. It was back to paper, paper and files. Oh, I remember that. So I did a lot of alphabetizing. Oh God. I don't think I learned a lot more about fundraising, but while I was doing it, except of course that keeping track of who your donors are was important.
Cindy: I remember when we used to have to dial in the monthly donations and press the credit card information with the keypad on your phone, on your landline to process all the monthly gifts. So I've been, I've been doing this a while, but it's cool. I have to say one thing as I look at my story and how I came to this work. It makes me very happy to see my own kids think about what they wanna do when they're older. And aside from like be a world famous soccer player, my one son is very much he is like, I wanna, I wanna run a food bank, or I wanna do, he's already thinking about charitable work, which
Carol: That is awesome. My daughter after doing a gap year where she did AmeriCorps and did City Year, she ended up in the nonprofit sector and, and now is just moving over to the Phil philanthropy side in terms of giving away the money instead of mm-hmm. Raising the money. But,so, so you work with small nonprofits on their fundraising and most people. Don't decide right. When they're in college to become a fundraiser, or even when they, when they start an organization or they join an organization they may not, put their hand up or maybe they don't move back fast enough. Exactly. Why would you say it's so hard for people to do a fundraiser?
Cindy: So this is a huge problem in our sector because most people don't wanna fundraise, and it's not just in our sector. I always tell the story, like, and actually my husband tells a story because I didn't remember it as well as he does, but we were at a wedding, a friend's wedding, and we were just chatting with people and, talking to, oh, what do you do? And when I said the word fundraiser, it. People had a physical reaction and like that, it shut down the conversation.
And so we have these pervasive stories about fundraising and money, both in society in general, right? Like you, polite conversations do not include talking about money. And so that makes our jobs a lot harder. But then in our sector we have this sense. Money is taboo or even, I mean, there's so many different stories around this work, we don't do this work. It's not about the money. We should be. I hear a lot of people saying we should be volunteering our time. I've actually had people ask me, oh, so you're a volunteer, like you volunteer? So all of that adds up.
And I think increasingly we have these stories about what philanthropy looks like, which generally is becoming in the public eye a sense of really big donations, millions multi millions, hundreds of millions of dollars donated. And so I think. Means that for you and I and the rest of us like normal people, there's a further gap between what, how we see ourselves and our contributions as philanthropists or how we see our generosity in our commitments to our community. And so I, when I introduced myself as a fundraiser, aside from people just not wanting to talk to me they don't understand what it is, I. They don't see it as relating to their lives. They say, oh, you're just gonna ask me for money, or they ask if I'm an event planner, which I'm not. So, it’s vastly misunderstood. And our brains as we grow into the people that we are, our brains develop shortcuts and patterns that keep us safe and familiar. And what that means is often our, like, if we have these stories about fundraising being bad, our brain is gonna tell us you don't wanna do that. And so we don't.
Carol: And yet, If we really want to have functional organizations somebody's gonna have to bring in some revenue. So what, what, what do you, what would you say helps people move beyond their reluctance or move beyond some of those stories?
Cindy: Absolutely. So I would say that meeting donors is a big one, very often. Project our own feelings and beliefs onto other people. So I think things, stories like, our donors are so fatigued who wants to stay for soccer? Okay. So we project onto other people our feelings and beliefs about fundraising that we just talked about, how we develop those. And so we don't want to, we see, we write the stories for donors before we get to know them. And so getting to know your donors, meeting people understand. When I say I have a donor meeting, most people think of asking for money. But I just mean getting to know your supporters, individuals, corporations, foundations. Why do they care about the work that you're doing? That is actually the number one thing I recommend because as we get to know our supporters, we actually get to see that they're much more like us than we think. And they're not these like multimillionaires out there in the world, that everyday people care about what we do. They want us to be successful in our mission. And they're willing to contribute and that starts to change those stories we have in our brains about fundraising and its utility in the work that we do.
Carol: I like that point that you made about, people we read in the news about these big gifts, and I'm blanking. It was the wife of Jeff Bezos.
Cindy: Mackenzie Scott. Mackenzie Scott.
Carol: Mackenzie Scott. Right. So you, we read about her gifts. Right. And we think, well, we can't do that. So what's the point?
Cindy: Exactly, exactly.
Carol: And we think, but what do you say to people around, around that story?
Cindy: I mean, listen, Mackenzie Scott is doing some really cool things around Absolutely. Philanthropy and power to her. But That's not the lifeblood of organizations. And when I present to a board of directors or when I used to work within organizations, like the number one thing I would hear people say is we don't know anyone who can give. And because we're thinking, I don't know anyone like Mackenzie Scott or I think I think Harvard like as of today, just got a huge gift, like massive. They renamed a school after this donor. But it's like, of course we don't know people like that. I don't know people like that.
But most of the generosity that I see in organizations comes from people who are already known to the organization. I've had donors who give $250 a year, eventually give $250,000 or who give 10,000 who end up giving. A hundred thousand right now. Those are big dollars for smaller organizations. We think we don't know these people, but chances are we do. And even if someone doesn't have the capacity, I mean, I can, this, I can get on a soapbox and talk about just because someone doesn't even have the capacity to give a hundred dollars, let alone a hundred thousand dollars, their gift is still really important to organizations.
And I, I actually wrote a thesis on this 20 years ago talking about the value of Engaging your community in giving so that they have ownership over the work that you do and you're accountable to them. And so often I see organizations make decisions on behalf of the communities that they serve, which I think is an incredibly disempowering act. So, Every dollar I think is important. And I think the act of giving is a very meaningful one for all of us to engage in, to build the world that we wanna, that we wanna live in.
Carol: Right, right. So what are some steps that would be used? Would you say that people can, can, can take to move through? I mean, I, I had said move beyond, but I'm like, well actually maybe it's, you just need to move through some of those stories or that projection that you're doing on, all the fears that I have about asking someone for money. Onto the donor and why they're there. What are some things that have started?
Cindy: There's, there's a couple things. I mean, the first thing is awareness. And like if you, if anyone's ever seen a therapist or gone worked with a coach like you have to. Be self-aware. You have to do the work and understand, because all of our stories are individual to us. They're, they come from the houses that we grew up in or the environments that we grew up in and our experiences and the people around us and how their influence on us. So we have to understand our own origin story and that usually, like you can do it on your own, but sometimes it's helpful to have some help with that.
So understand what your origin story is, and then you can start to see these false narratives. And then as I said, my favorite way to reverse those narratives is to meet with your donors, get to know them, and that process can be really simple. So often people get caught up in Who do I meet? How do I reach out to them? How do I have a conversation? And in reality, it's actually so, so simple. So who to reach out to? Who is the least intimidating for you? What is the path of least resistance? These meetings are like having these meetings are like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. So if it's easiest, I literally have worked with organizations who said, oh, well my aunt made a donation last year. I'm gonna start with her great monthly donors, board members, whoever. I just want you to start and get in the habit and reach out.
And my biggest advice around this is tell donors what your intentions are and follow through. So tell them what to expect and then deliver on that. So, for example, you're gonna tell them, what we're, I'm trying to get to know our donors. I really wanna understand why you support our work, and I want to hear from you about why this is important to you. And you have a meeting and you ask questions that align with that purpose. And if you're ever in a position, this is a tangent, but if you're ever in a position to ask someone for a donation face-to-face or at a meeting, you are going to tell them when you book the meeting. I would love to talk to you about a contribution or can we meet to talk about a donation so that again, you are telling them what to expect and then they're following through. So that's a side. But for this, the purpose of this, you're not even asking for money. You're just saying, I wanna get to know you. Will everyone say yes to a meeting? No. Is that okay? Absolutely. Find the people who are gonna say, And then have a conversation.
The best fundraisers are curious. So you can have a couple like starter questions or spark questions I call them that's kinda like, oh, tell me about how you first learned about this work. Better work. Or, tell me about why this work is important to you. And then just listen and have a real conversation. And that's it. It is. Simple. The magic is when you do it over and over and over again and you get to know your donors, you get to know them once, but then you can reach out and say, oh, it's been a few months since we last spoke. I'd love to catch up. And you start to build those relationships. And again, I'm not just talking about major donors. I'm talking, All your donors, obviously you might not be in a position to meet with them always all the time, but you wanna have a good sense of where your champions are, who's really passionate, and give everyone in your donor base the opportunity to deep, more deeply engage with you, with you and your organization by just inviting them that first.
Carol: When you said start with someone that's like the least intimidating, it makes me think back to when I started this podcast. Mm-hmm. And that's exactly what I did because it felt like a big thing to do. I mean, now by the time this episode comes out, it'll be, we'll be in 70 something episodes. But,I thought of like, who were five people that have no, I have no anxiety about having a conversation with, and even then, that very first one, I was nervous. I was so nervous before the conversation. So,it's so true about like start, make it, make the stakes low and then start building that muscle, that habit, that,that practice. exactly. I really appreciate it.
You also talked about setting expectations and that you would've actually told someone. When you get to the point where you're asking them for money, you've given, you've let them know it, they're not being sideswiped, they're not being surprised. Those people at the wedding, you can tell, tell them, calm down because my practice is that I would've told you. Exactly. I was gonna ask you for money. Exactly. So it lets everybody know what the purpose is.
Cindy: I have a friend, his name's Kipp. And I met him actually through work. Just, he supports a number of organizations that I have been involved with over the years. And every now and then we'll go for lunch and he'll say, okay, this organization just asked me for a coffee. What does it mean? And it gives him a donor of like decent means. I would say He is definitely not like,off the charts, but he gives substantially to organizations and it actually causes him anxiety when he's like, what are they gonna ask me for? And he tries to decipher and decode all of the stuff and like, is this, what do, what do I expect? And he wants to be prepared.
And so I, I'm such a fan of transparency and letting people know, and by the time, like if, if you say it to someone, and again, most people don't actually ask face-to-face in small organizations, it's actually not a dominant fundraising strategy. But if you are doing major gifts or face-to-face asking and they, and you say, I'd like to talk to you about a contribution, and they say yes to the meeting, They're not likely to say no to a gift. It's really then a question of how much and what's meaningful. And so that I just, I think it's so critical to build that trust with your donors and to really make them feel like they're part of a community. And that you trust and respect them in the way that you also, you are asking them to trust and respect you.
Carol: Right? Cuz he's anticipating being invited for coffee.
Cindy: But like, can you give to us this year? And like, sometimes the answer is no. And honestly, like he has I mean, the one thing I'll say, getting to know your donors is like, Feels bad when he has to say no or when his, and, and no one's gonna give away all their wealth. Even Mackenzie Scott is sitting like she's not going to be comfortable, her lifestyle's not going to suffer because of her philanthropy. Right. So everyone is gonna give, and they're going to, not everyone gives, but who, who the people who are giving are giving in a way that's meaningful and they want to, and it makes them feel good, but also they do have a limit. And if you're putting them in a position where they have to, where you haven't prepped them for the ask It actually makes the giving experience feel bad. And that's not what we want. We want them to feel good about these conversations.
Carol: And I feel like that bait and switch is actually what people think of. It's one of those stupid things that people think of when they're like, Ooh, I don't want to do that. It's, they don't wanna, they don't wanna manipulate people, or they don't wanna pretend that they're wanting one thing when actually they're gonna, oh, by the way,
Cindy: Exactly. It's buying a car, like, oh, and there's so many memes in comedy about this, but, I hate, hate, hate buying a car because you go in, then there's the list price, and then you talk to someone and then they negotiate it down. And then if you're still, then they bring in their manager to negotiate it down. Like, come on, it, it is, it feels icky. And I walk out of there and I think you don't respect me. And this is a game, and I don't, none of us wanna feel that way when it comes to our generosity. So . And I will say fairly, this is a.
Experience that our sector has reinforced, right? There are a lot of fundraisers who still do it that way, and so there's this stereotype, but we can be part of the change to make it a different experience for people.
Carol: What would you say helps people move from being reluctant about fundraising to being more confident in that role?
Cindy: What I think that. Getting a better understanding of what fundraising actually is. So as we sit here talking about these, like one-to-one asks, that is not how most organizations fundraise. It's through appeals, it's through grant writing, it's through, sometimes it's through events. Maybe there's some small events or fundraising. So Get to know your donors and get to understand how they give, like what are also the vehicles, what do they respond to? I'm telling you, most people are gonna respond to an appeal whether it's emailed or mailed or what have you. So know your donors understand what fundraising is and isn't. And the more you do these things, the more you start to see that again, we're all on this journey together to make the world a better place. And if we can be on the same team with that, fundraising's gonna feel a lot better for both the fundraiser and the donors.
Carol: You mentioned fundraising, isn't this, that, or the other? What are some of the misconceptions or what are some of the like, well, fundraising is not X that most people believe it is.
Cindy: Okay. So the big ones I get all the time. All the time, especially from boards. One is like, we just need to go ask the companies for money. In Canada, it's the big banks or whoever, like, we need to ask the big companies to give us money. And I think that the idea behind that is very much they're not gonna miss the money. They have it. And so, and it's a corporation, so I don't have to ask someone. And it feels, so there is this idea that like the, the companies are just sitting there. Loads of cash waiting to give it to our organization if only we ask.
That's generally not true. Most giving comes from individuals. Most, funding for, for nonprofits and charities comes from individuals. So that's one big misconception, and I'm not saying that you don't need, like, don't ask companies for money, but understanding how they give and understanding the different vehicles in which they give allows you to be more successful and find out what type of corporate giving aligns with your organization. As I said before, events like people think I'm an event planner. I get that a lot. Events are like the least profitable way to raise money. They have the highest cost associated with them. I have certainly run events in the past, but that's generally not how most organizations, again, are, are raising money. So like within individual giving, there's so many different ways within. Corporate, there's so many different ways, even with events like a big gala is not necessarily like I I, my favorite events are small events where there's like 15, 20 people. And I've done a ton of those. So it's just so much broader.
And the best fundraising again, comes from understanding your donors and how they want, what does a relationship with your organization look like? And also you have to balance that with what's meaningful for your organization and mission, obviously. Those two should be aligned. Otherwise, you're not really on the same journey, right? That's right. So you wanna make sure your donors are on that same journey and that there's alignment and then it's a lot easier to find out what fundraising makes sense for your organization.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I ask, I have a couple random icebreaker questions here. So. What would you say is one of the best gifts you've ever received?
Cindy: Oh my goodness. I'm a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for. I know. Actually, no. Okay. I am a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for because I usually, if I want, I'll buy it for myself. And I'm very particular about my style and what I like. A couple years ago, actually, I think it was in 2020, it was my birthday. It was a milestone birthday, and my team at work actually got together. It was during Covid. And they got together and they sent me this gift, which was like so bang on. I felt so seen and understood. And so it was a, just like a sweatshirt, like a concert sweatshirt from a band called Veruca Salt. If anyone from like knows from the mid nineties I happened to like a lot of like mid nineties female singer songwriters and like, not Riot Girl, but like Girl Rock stuff. And then they also had custom designs, it's so funny that the custom designed press on nails that were like in my brand colors. Cause I like, I, this was, I was doing my nails at home a lot cuz everything was closed and I'm in Toronto and we were shut down for a very, very long time. So I was like doing my own nails and all this stuff. I'm playing around with that and they know I love branding and like everything being on brand. That was the best gift I've ever received. That's
Carol: Awesome. That's awesome. I will definitely have to look up Ru salt, Ru salt and, and play a little bit this afternoon. So what, what are you excited about? What's, what's up for you? What's emerging in your work these days?
Cindy: So our network is growing. So for the last number of years we've been offering a service called fractional fundraising, which is kind of, Down for you. Long term, long term fundraising with someone very experienced, but only you get a fraction of their time. And this has been working really well with small organizations and so we're growing that network. They're not staff of mine, they're independent consultants, but I teach them how to consult. I teach 'em how to build their business, and I teach 'em how to deliver this service. And I feel like this is an idea whose time has come. We've tested it. There's demand. Small organizations need help.
And quite frankly, hiring inexperienced staff usually adds to their frustration and does not relieve it. And so getting them access to experience. Fundraisers who understand strategy and like to implement and do it at an affordable cost. And like to me it just, it's a win-win all around and it feels really good. So this is what I am super excited about and is a big focus in my life right now.
Carol: That sounds awesome. cuz it's, it's clearly important to come up with the plan, the plan and the strategy, but if you don't have the staff to implement it . Then that . It was nice but not great. Exactly. Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so much.
Cindy: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated what Cindy said about getting in your reps. And starting small – who is the easiest person for you to reach out to when you are getting started with fundraising? Who can you reach out to who already supports your organization to further cultivate the relationship? That principle of starting small and working upwards and outwards applies to so many things when you are developing a new skill.
It is why I love Duolingo – I have been learning Spanish very slowly over the past year and the Duolingo app has that very principle built in. Each lesson takes 3-5 minutes to complete. And I just have to do one lesson a day to keep my streak – I am up past 400 days now. Plus they build in all sorts of virtual gold stars and prizes into the process – and really they don’t mean anything – and yet – they keep me moving. So how can you celebrate your small successes along the way?
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Cindy Wagman, her bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 49 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lewis Flax discuss:
Lewis Flax specializes in assisting nonprofits and associations generate additional revenue. His hands-on approach has helped numerous organizations implement strategies and tactics to increase sponsorship, partnership, and other funding streams. His firm, Flax Associates, established in 2008, serves as a partner in driving revenue and results.
Lewis understands the challenges nonprofits face, both from an outside consultant's point of view and from the internal perspective of a nonprofit executive. Previously, Lewis served as a Vice President for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and served on the leadership team at Financial Executives International (FEI).
He is a certified instructor for Dale Carnegie Training (Winning with Relationship Selling) and an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Master Trainer.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lewis Flax. Lewis and I talk about sponsorships. We explore why companies are interested in sponsorships, some of the misconceptions, and why to create real value you will need to get beyond your traditional bronze, silver, and gold-level sponsorships.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Lewis. Welcome to the podcast.
Lewis Flax: Thanks, Carol pleasure to be here and looking forward to discussing sponsorship and the tie in with associations and nonprofits.
Carol: Absolutely. So I like to start at the beginning, I guess the sound of music inspires that, but start at the very beginning, but, but what w what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Lewis: When. First started working within the nonprofit world, realized when it came to sponsorship and how to go about it. When it came to how to structure and set up a sponsorship, when it came to how they go ahead and sell it, there was a lack of knowledge. There, there was a lack of awareness and the idea of how they work. Corporations and funders where they needed assistance and guidance. I felt a need or an urge to help, to give back through assistance and support. So I went to work for a larger consulting firm and then started my own firm in 2008.
Carol: All right. So you've been around the block a few times. So as you said, you work with nonprofits and associations on sponsorships. Just so folks have some context. Can you define sponsorship first?
Lewis: So sponsorship is where a company or an organization is paying a fee. Back to a property, the association or nonprofit where they're gaining specific benefits or specific rights which they value.
Carol: And what would you say motivates organizations to enter into those sponsorships? And I'm saying from the corporation side, what, what, what do they see as you a give get of what they're getting from that relationship?
Lewis: Sure. So they're aligning with an organization that can add value. So on the association side, often it's visibility awareness connection to thought leadership on the traditional non-profit side. It's aligning with a good cause, it's connecting with an organization which aligns with their values.
Carol: And what would you say are some of the key misconceptions that people have about sponsorships? You said that when you started there was a lack of knowledge. What are the things that you have to help people understand about those misconceptions?
Lewis: Sure. When it comes to sponsorship, often organizations on the nonprofit side look at, okay, well, put together a perspective. Especially now, given the pandemic things that have occurred, sending out a prospectus is not nearly enough, here's a standard offering of gold, silver, bronze, and this is what you get. That's not the way to generate higher revenue. That's not the way to customize your target in a way that's meaningful to a potential.
Carol: So what, what would you have organizations do instead?
Lewis: Well, there are a number of steps to take in working with different organizations. I walked them through a process that I term step up in terms of how to go about what it is that you can offer, whether a sponsor is interested in it, and then how you could structure your program to connect with the potential sponsors and align with your culture and your organization.
Carol: Can you give me an example of when you've seen that work well in terms of building that, building that relationship.
Lewis: Yeah. There are, there are many instances. So for example, with different associations it's well, what is it that they're offering? That's a value. So in working with one group, they have an awards program, safety awards. And for a sponsor, that's in a space where they're tied into safety. So say an insurance company or other types of companies. Well, if they can get involved with the safety program and they're providing insurance to the members of that association, all of a sudden it changes. Because if an insurance company is working with those who submit, apply or are involved in a safety awards program, well, they want to insure them. And if they can provide guidance as to how to handle safety procedures at a, in a manufacturing plant, or how to handle safety procedures in a different environment, that's who they want. So if they can get involved either on the selection committee or get involved in terms of articles on safety or debt involved in terms of working with an awards program that offers far more value than having your name and your logo on the website and on signage and pasted anywhere and everywhere. So when it aligns with what the company is seeking. And the specific association or nonprofit it's far greater. So I tossed out an awards program because I've seen that work a number of times.
Carol: What are some other misconceptions that you see folks have about sponsorships,
Lewis: Offering? They view it as a connection with a board member and the board member knows someone. And as a result, oh, we'll set up this. Offering and they think that that's the key value where the board member leaves and often boom, the sponsorship disappears.
Carol: So what would you say are some of the challenges that organizations are facing in terms of sponsorships and building those partnerships?
Lewis: New issue often that they face is the idea of corporate involvement and how we go about it moving beyond. Well, we can offer a webinar or we can offer a slot at a conference, or we can offer a table at a gala because those are just tools. They'll just tools in a toolbox, but what is it that the sponsor wants? How do they want to get involved? What's meaningful to them. And often on the association, nonprofit side, they only see it as well. What can we offer without thinking about it from the lens or from the perspective of the sponsor?
Carol: So what are the types of things that sponsors are often looking for?
Lewis: Normally it's going to, so with associations, are they interested in a specific regulatory area? Are they interested in reaching a set or tying in with a consumer promotion campaign? Or are they interested in an advocacy effort? What issues or challenges that the member base, the distribution list? What are the issues and concerns that they face and how can we respond or are addressed?
Carol: So again, can you give me an example of, of what your of those kinds of situations like th those, those values that they see
Lewis: Let's look at, let's say it's in the accounting space where the association is to provide information. Well, the accounting firms are going to have information on that regulatory issue. And if they can provide that information, be it in the form of an article, maybe a webinar, a conference presentation, a survey, and all of those could be tied together. That's where it's offering far greater value to the sponsor. And it's going to offer value to the association, assuming that they have authority and they best review what's presented and who's going to be presenting.
Carol: And from this, what mistakes do you see sponsors making when they, when they try to, make the most of their sponsorship in that partnership?
Lewis: Often they're looking at it as a short-term game. What we need to have X number of leads. Well, that's generally not how sponsorship works. It's often, well, if you're going to be involved, You're going to get out of it. What you put in for the sponsors needs to. So for example, if it's a regulatory issue where it's an advocacy campaign or it's a specific issue, well, do they develop content? They have resources. Do they have information? That's a value, not just a product demo. They have information. That's a value too.
Carol: So it's getting out of just a pure sales mode then, and thinking about what are the, yeah, what's the information, what's the thought leadership that they can, they can share and provide. And how about on, on the more traditional non-profits sometimes I feel like it's, it's easier to see the connections from an association point of view. But your more traditional nonprofits are also interested in engaging corporate partners. D do you see differences there between the two and, and approach?
Lewis: Yes. In the sense that. From the standpoint of how they go about. Often it's somewhat the same. Yeah. Associations are often looking at it. Both perspectives. Associations are often looking at it saying, well, they should want this. And it's visibility, logos everywhere. The traditional non-profits are often looking at it through the lens of board member connections and how to leverage those, if it's more well, them. So they should sponsor as opposed to what the value is from the company's.
Carol: And what are some steps that organizations can take to get started in this? If they haven't, haven't had a sponsorship program before, what are some of the basics?
Lewis: Sure. So I walk organizations through what, like turn on step up S and the S stands for, well, what's their current situation and looking at who they have as sponsors and who's within their sponsor. Now. And then also addressing the key challenge. What is preventing them? What is stopping them from establishing that sponsorship program? And that could be maybe there's a board resent. It could be that we don't know corporate decision makers. It could be. So one of those challenges, often organizations will, or nonprofits or associations will begin to set up their sponsorship program and, oh, we'll come back to those challenges later. We'll address that down the line and it's when they do. Those challenges are going to pop up again, those obstacles are going to come back and if they don't address that upfront or think through how they're going to address it, there's going to be an issue. There's going to be a problem. So the first step is to evaluate your current situation and figure out how you're going to move.
Carol: I feel like every, every consulting process starts with that first step of figuring out what that current situation is. And when I'm working with groups on strategic planning, that whole process of helping them also have a shared understanding of what that current state is, I think, is also a helpful step that consultants can bring to organizations that they may be. I know for me, when I'm working. Clients there's often a perception or almost a fear that there's such a breadth of ideas and perspectives. And then once you have a chance to talk to folks and get into it it turns out that there's actually a lot more common understanding and shared perspective than people realize.
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Carol: So what trends are you seeing in the whole arena of sponsorships?
Lewis: Yeah, the trends are, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of unknowns. So on both the association and nonprofit side, they're unsure how to move forward. And so what ends up happening is they don't do anything or they don't make changes. So the idea of making changes. And making shifts as to how they're going to approach things. The associations and nonprofits that are going to thrive are the ones that are willing to take those chances. I say, take those chances. They're willing to experiment. They're willing to test and Rocky dies that not everything will go right. And when I say God, everything will go, right? Whether it's an event, whether it's a webinar, whether it's a sponsorship offering, they're going to try something new and organizations recognize that they need to do that. A lot of them won't. So the key is to take a step, make an effort and, and on the sponsor side, there's a lot more awareness of when organizations do that, they respect them. They acknowledge that these are different times.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine that, at least in my limited experience, Of just observing what goes on in sponsorship programs from the sides, certainly in working in different organizations. I think what I've seen is a traditional model that's very very event focused often around an annual conference or some annual convening. And, since the pandemic with so many things going virtual there's not that same. I guess it seems traditional, like slack, the logo everywhere. It's just not the same in the online environment. So what, what shifts have you seen with that? with everything that folks have been contending with in the last couple of years?
Lewis: Yeah. When it comes to events, Organizations have learned. Well, if you're just focused on events, you're going to be in trouble because in a virtual environment, whether it's zoom or teams or whatever the format is, you can appease the exhibit hall of 500 people. You can appease a gala where you had a hundred and 150 tables. So moving beyond events is a big component of how these organizations should shift. So earlier when you asked me for examples, the idea of a safety program or a safety awards program, the idea of a specific regulatory issue, when it's focused on a theme or an issue it's for a greater, because then it's not event centric and organizations can be more effective. The issue is a lot of the organizations struggle with how to piece that. If the conference department doesn't talk to the group that handles webinars, it doesn't talk to the magazine area. It doesn't speak to the research area. It's a lot tougher and they need to navigate through that because the truth is if there's good content and it was featured in a magazine or. Well, why not tie that into a webinar? And then why not include that at a conference presentation? Why not tie that into a survey? Why not allow the good content for the good content from a specific source, perhaps a sponsor and others. And you connect that across the organization. It's far better for the organization and it's easier than to establish a stronger sponsorship program. So it's more about themes and concepts. Topics or issues that are of interest to the member base or to the audience. And when that's done, it's far easier to set up a successful sponsorship.
Carol: That's a really interesting flip and I think it, beyond just sponsorship, it goes to a lot that, especially associations are doing around, serving their members being current and getting out of the mindset of, the, the delivery channels of whether it's a conference or it's research or it's, the magazine. But what are the overarching themes of the things that people need to know about the things that are upcoming, the trends the current research is helping, helping people navigate all that without being so caught up in what particular channel that it's being delivered.
Lewis: Yeah, analog organization, they get that's where I mentioned the tools they get caught up in here's a webinar, or here's put your logo on or banner on our newsletter or here's some other offering. And it's all about slapping or pasting logos everywhere. Well, that doesn't offer much value. Whereas it's an awards program, or if it's a specific campaign or advocacy effort or a themed approach, you move away from the tools. Then you move towards what the customer wants and then it could be, and should be far more successful.
Carol: And when the customer wants what you're saying there, that would be the member of the organization. Which customer are you talking about in that instance?
Lewis: Okay. So if the sponsor is interested in conveying their thought leadership related to regulatory issues, X. And they're pitched, here's an ad in the newsletter or here's an exhibit booth or here's a webinar. Well, it's not connecting with them. Those are the tools. And they're interested in this regulatory issue. Well, can they get involved in that regulatory issue?
Carol: Right, right. What are some fears that you would say either staff or board members have about, especially for, I would say on the more traditional nonprofit side of bringing in private sector groups to their, to their organization.
Lewis: Number one is if we take corporate money, how does that impact us? And I'm a big believer that any organization, association, or traditional nonprofit, should stick to their values and their culture, and do not allow a sponsor to dictate or to determine how to handle something, their control, regardless of funding. That's, that's one, the and then secondly, for a number of organizations, if they take. Funds, what does that mean? How do they work with them? And to clarify ahead of time what those requirements are, what those values. So it's easier for them to set up a program that's going to be successful as opposed to just hit or miss and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine helping a group talk through what they're looking for in sponsors. So the, in the same way that you're talking about flipping the script and thinking about it from the sponsor's point of view and what value they're going to get out of it. But then from the organization's point of view, helping them think through. What is it that we want? Who, who do we want to partner with? Who do we want to give access and who do we not? And like having that conversation without individual sponsorship opportunities in the room, or in the conversation I would think would set them up to feel more confident in moving forward, to look for a potential organization. So it isn't just based on, as you said, the current board members that they happen to have, who they happen to have relationships with, et cetera.
Lewis: Yeah. I mean, when they set the parameters or the guidelines ahead of time, they're going to be far more directed and focused. And it's going to be easier for them to move forward as opposed to, well, we'll walk through the door and whether the company says they would do, and then the board or leadership is looking at that. And all of a sudden they haven't clarified their own values. They haven't clarified their own culture. They haven't set the parameters, they haven't set the guidelines. And often that leads to maybe not a problem at that point in time, but the problem down the line. Sure.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I play a little game where I pull out a Random, somewhat random icebreaker question. So the one I have, I have three of them sitting here. I always put up for you to just see what let's go to fit. I don't know if this fits or not, but we just, we've just moved into spring. And I think this will actually be being published sometime probably as we're moving more towards summer. But which season would you say fits your personality?
Lewis: Probably fall. And the reason I say fall is in my mind, it's beautiful outside because the leaves are returning the weather's a little cooler, more comfortable. I like to walk with my family. We'll hike and get outside and fall could be a rebirth and it's a change. It shifts. And I liked that. I liked that change. Yeah. The feel in the air. I like how things are changing. So fall follows my favorite season. I think it would describe who I don't think describes who I am. Yeah. I really enjoy fall. I enjoyed the change of seasons.
Carol: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We're just, I'm enjoying the, the, all the, all the. Flowers are popping up right now and the trees are blooming. And then yes, at the other end, when all the leaves are falling and you have that shift in the weather appreciate that. One of my sisters moved out to California and one of the things she missed the most about the east coast was having seasons so well, I really appreciate it.
Lewis: I was just saying, I love the different seasons. I love how in our area, in the Washington DC area, they're distinct and different seasons. And I liked that
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you and what's emerging in your work these days.
Lewis: It's interesting as we start to move, hopefully out of the pandemic and working with different organizations. So much for coming back to the fall, there's a bit of a rebirth, okay, now we need to move forward. And then in my role, it's looking at it through the lens of, no, you can't go back to the way you weren't doing it. Let's make those adjustments, those changes, and then move forward.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you, Carol. I liked the way you asked the questions. You asked me good questions and the follow-ups are on target in terms of what does that mean to clarify?
Carol: Yeah. Well, what I, one thing I appreciate about doing the podcast is that I'm always learning something new because I get to talk to people about their area of expertise and it's not necessarily mine. So I get to have a little mini-masterclass. So appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your perspective and all your wisdom on, on sponsorships. So thanks so much.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you for giving back to the association and nonprofit community by adding resources.
Carol: All right.
I appreciated how Lewis described how to work with your sponsors and potential sponsors to create more value – for your organization as well as the company. That it starts with conversations with the sponsor – what are they looking to achieve? How might you align in your efforts? And for both sides – the sponsor and your organization – that developing the relationship should be with the longer term in mind. If either party is just looking for short term gain they are missing a lot of opportunity and value that could be there. There is also more opportunity available if different parts of your organization are cross pollinating and talking – in an association – staff who are managing the magazine, staff who are producing webinars and other learning events. Are they talking and coordinating their efforts with a sponsor and a tie in? Of course always being mindful of whether a particular sponsor aligns with your organizational values.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lewis, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
In episode 48 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Chyla Graham discuss:
Chyla Graham is a certified public accountant with over ten years of experience helping nonprofit organizations realign and thrive. Chyla started her company, CNRG Accounting Advisory, to empower more nonprofit organizations. To date, she has secured over $2 million in funding for several organizations and helped many more streamline to better serve their communities. Chyla credits flying trapeze for keeping her physically and mentally strong, and reminding her that you can’t succeed in life alone. Every trapeze artist needs someone to be “on line” holding the ropes. Chyla likes that metaphor for trapeze and for business, and her greatest pride is being “on line” for her clients.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Chyla Graham. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Chyla and I talk about why it is important for nonprofit leaders to get comfortable with their organization’s numbers, why you have to consider the wider context when you are looking at your organization’s financial statements, and why it is so critical to connect your organizational goals with your financial goals.
Welcome Chyla. Welcome to the podcast.
Chyla Graham: Thanks for having me, Carol. How are you doing today?
Carol: I am doing well. I'm doing well. We're supposed to have rain all day and all day tonight. So it's just an indoor day.
Carol: Yeah. So I like to start each podcast with a question around what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why.
Chyla: What drew me to the work was, I think I'd like to say it's like the convergence of several things. So I have always been interested in numbers. I'm an accountant. It is the thing I do. It's always the thing I've been interested in and, or I guess more so like the idea of money, like, Ooh, this is a cool thing. And I went from, I was a. So I'd be the one I, Hey, Carol, don't you want to donate $500 and that was terrible at it. Absolutely terrible, but loved learning more about the work nonprofits were dealing with that money. And so that led me to say, okay, well maybe that's where I want to go. And also seeing the idea of Enron worlds com I, all of that was happening while I was in college. And so I was just like, So this is the thing. And so it really made me more passionate about helping non-profit leaders get comfortable reading the numbers, asking questions about their numbers, because I just, I was just like, this could be any of you.
Carol: Yeah. And that, that comfort level with reading the numbers, just asking questions about them. I feel like. Very few people go into the nonprofit sector to manage money. Right. If, if they did, they would've gone into finance and they would've made a lot more money. Right. So they want to help people. They want to help animals, the environment, and some cause. So what do you do to help people get a little bit more comfortable about interacting with them, the money that flows through their organization, then the numbers that keep track.
Chyla: I am nosy. So I think by nature, I'd like, tell you more about why you did the thing. And so I try to get them back to explaining themselves not from an idea of like, I'm committed. I want to know why you went to Starbucks. I actually don't. It makes no difference to me why you went to Starbucks, but I want them to be clear on why they went to Starbucks. I want them to be able to understand that. And so for me, it's being able to say to them, Hey, let's go through your chart of accounts. So we do several things, like as energy, we do several things. We do accounting services where we help them. We do some of that coding, but most of our work, I would say most of our clients are actually in the consulting and education space where we're speaking. Just talk me through these reports as you read them. And in that way, trying to highlight for them. In their own words. What is the thing that works or doesn't work for them in terms of reading the financials? If they're like that, actually I have no idea what any of these pages mean. I just know I get it every month and I'm supposed to present it to the board. And so in that way, trying to dig in with them to say, oh, well, tell me what questions the board asks, tell me what questions you have every month, even though you get these reports. And so trying to help them say, oh, Let me put a list together or what are the things that come to mind? Because sometimes we just don't know where to start. And I think if we start with like, well, what is the thing that comes up every month? Whenever I talk to these people, it gives us a good entryway to say, oh, all right, well, how could I reframe this question? Or what else would I, should I look at to like, get an answer to this question?
Carol: What would you say are some of the common questions that people have whether they are comfortable reading the financial statements or not, or don't even know what a chart of accounts is?
Chyla: Yeah, I would say the most common question is, do we have enough money? It's really all that call that everyone wants. And I was like, is there enough money and context, man? I like to say financial statements don't make a difference if they're not in context or in relationship to something. And so, well, I don't, I don't know if you have enough money. What is your, what were you planning on having? So how does this compare to what you budgeted that might tell us? Do you have enough money? Because we can see how far apart you are or should we be comparing this to blast? If, like month to month things shouldn't change. And so that's the, we were like, Hmm, we have a lot less than we did last month. We don't have enough money. So I reframed it in that way to say like, well, tell me what it is that you're trying to find out. Because some organizations it's not about last month, it's more about last year because they are pretty cyclical. And so they're like, same time last year. How did that look? This is the indicator. And one of the things we started doing more and more is. I'm trying to help clients come up with their own benchmark of how much money per month they should. They, they have directed as their target. I know I liked them for like three to six months. It makes me feel comfortable, but maybe for their organization, they're like three. That's not, it's not a comfortable place. And then trying to say, okay, A thousand dollars, a hundred thousand thousand feels too small for this example, a hundred thousand dollars in the bank. And each month you're expecting to spend 50,000 you're two months worth of cash. And so just saying like, let's do simple math on this. We have this much in the bank. We know, we expect to spend this much each month, let's come up with that calculation so they can say, okay, yes, we have enough. And because two months is comfortable or no, we don't because two months is just not.
Carol: Your firm offers accounting services, but you, as you said, you're more in the consulting and coaching and you really focus on strategic financial management. Can you say a little bit about what that is and why it's important for organizations?
Chyla: Yeah, so I think I'll share it. She does financial management. After the board has identified some goals. Cause it makes no sense for me to say, like, these are your goals. If your board is like, well, you actually have a different vision in mind. So after your board has identified what the goals are for the next year, next three years, having a conversation about, well, how does that impact our finances? So sometimes we see organizations who say we need to expand our programs. We want to be in this many vocations, or we want to serve this many more people. And for me, that begs the question of what would it take to get there? Does it take more staffing? Does it take more computers? Does it take, like, what is it, what are the pieces? The tangible pieces that it actually takes to get there and help them build out. Okay. Is that a realistic plan? Because sometimes we say. Self included, guilty of being, I want to do all these amazing things and, what is the budget? Actually, maybe we should scale back accordingly. And trying to help them reframe that to say, okay, if this is the goal, what would it take to build the infrastructure we need to get there? Because sometimes it's not even about, we need more people, it's I need computers that don't die on me. I need something that's faster, stronger, whatever it is. I'm really trying to say that. Let's think that through and let's plan ahead. And if we look at your, if the fundraising goal, we want to raise a million dollars. Okay, cool. Let's look at your current trends to say, how do we manage those so that we can think of what are some times we should be, be heavier in the fundraising? Because we know from a cash perspective, we actually need this money to show up. And saying, let's plan that three months in advance, next week we will not have any money. I don't know who would have known this. And I'm really trying to say, let's just take a step back. Let's take, think about all the goals that we have, all the big picture items and make that a real, realistic thing and say like, Pencil bank. What, what do you have for me? And I find that that makes it a little bit easier putting those trends together because sometimes organizations don't, when I say we have an April development plan, I know we need to fundraise. And I just know I have to hit this number. When do you need to hit some of this number though? do you really need to emphasize in the first quarter of the year? And say like, okay. In March, I need to be talking to Petra. Has owners submitting all my grant applications that have X turnaround time because in June is where we see a real. We're short on cash and we want to know we've had those conversations already, as opposed to saying, I know it's May 31st. Would you like to write me a check for tomorrow? Thank you. that's what I think of as that's your CJ financial management. It's helping them see the big picture, helping them plan out. When do we need to start some of these activities, especially if there's not already a plan in place, because maybe there are more people involved that we need to integrate into this plan and help them think. That board member. I need to give them steps like this. It's not just like, oh, you can just fundraise. No, no, they can't. Well, not necessarily. Maybe they can. And really saying like, we need to build this out as a plan, as opposed to just like this morning, I woke up with this really great idea.
Carol: Yeah. It's interesting that you talk about stepping back and seeing the big picture, because I feel like. And in a lot of ways, that's the role of consultants for pretty much any aspect of the organization, whether you're working on finance or fundraising or marketing or operations, it's often, let's take a step back. Let's see where we are. Let's look ahead, look back where, where were we a year ago? And just helping people pause and have some perspective on what they're doing. You talked about how context is really important. And obviously every, every organization is a little bit different, but are there some key financial things that board members and staff members should really be tracking for the organization? You've mentioned cash as one. Yeah. What other things are really important?
Chyla I would say. Looking at the trends of when are there peak seasons in terms of revenue coming in, even if that's not actually fascist more of the pledges idea what, what are those timetables? And also on the expense side, what's the timing of things, because sometimes we. We assume we have to pay for something earlier or later. And that's just the piece that causes more stress and angst. And I have, I've worked in the non-profit environment. I've, I've been on all sides. I've been the auditor. I've been the auditee I've been, now in the consulting space. And being able to say, actually, I'm going to call up this vendor and say, can we make this payment on this day? And really thinking about it, to say, Hmm, are there payment arrangements we need to be making I've there's one organization we support where their board wants to know about accounts receivable, because for them they want to know, is there someone on here that we have a relationship with that us as a board member, this is the way we could support. And really thinking if it pledges something that your organization does and your board members are helping you get those touches, how do you delegate to them? And how can you help them say, AR is really high and we would love you to, this is the place that you can think about. They should also be thinking about the relationship items have to one another. I said, I was, I've been in the oddest space before, and I remember one client. We had a good meeting, there was not anything intentional, like miss dealings or theft. But their finance director was still overwhelmed. It was just like I'm just going to put in a number. I think this is how much we should have. I think revenue should be about here. And I like to think about what's the relationship between the numbers. really trying to say like, well, in theory, if our donations went up, we should either see an increase in. Well, we should see an increase in accounts receivable. One of those two things should happen. And really trying to say like, okay, I didn't see an increase. What does that mean? Where, what happened to this magical money that we received and really try thinking through what are those relationships, same for, if our expenses are going up, does that mean we either have a high account payable? The people we owe. we have a new loan. Do we have, or less cash? . Have you seen the movie? All the Queen's horses. Okay. I can't remember what city in Illinois, but it's about theft and mismanagement. And what happened is the finance manager for this city is a small, small town. I mean, I was taking out loans for. And it was said that it was going to be for rotor repair and all these things, but the people kept writing over potholes and she kept saying to me, that was a great indicator. You're like, well, if we were getting loans to do repairs, why aren't the streets repaired? Right. Right. And just making those, you didn't have to do a math calculation. You didn't have to say, I need to know how much meat, how much we borrow. Exactly. But you could say, even if we're not seeing progress, it'd be, see the people outside. Like we all know construction on roads doesn't necessarily feel like it happens fast, but do we see people working? No. Well, what happened to the money? And just making those types of conclusions or relations to say, I might not be able to do any fancy math or any quick math, but. This number feels like it should go up or down, or I should see we have new hires or I should see, we've got more supplies in the closet, something to say, like, these things tell us that this isn't just a made up number someone isn't just like, oh, that looked like a good route. It's actually saying like, oh yeah, we got a lot. I see where that load proceeds.
Carol: Yeah. it makes sense. What would you say are some. Differences in the finances for nonprofits. it's important for staff members and board members to understand. , different from a for-profit organization. Cause a lot of board members, they, they, and then they may actually be recruited right. For their, for their business background. But what are those differences that are important to be aware of?
Chyla: Yeah. the first one that typically trips people up is the name of. And the statement of activity for a nonprofit is the income statement for a for-profit business. And remembering that language is like, what are we doing? Is it an activity? How do we make money? We did a thing. We made money or we lost money. remembering like, oh, what did we, what does that mean? And then the same financial position is the balance sheet. it's at a point in time. On this day, we have this much happening. that is a really easy place that people were just like, ah, I don't really know. Another thing that I think people should be mindful of is the commitments to. From donors. in the for-profit world, we are typically providing a service or providing a product and we can say, hi, I did this thing for you. Please pay me. And in the nonprofit world, we are really exchanging goodwill. We were saying, would you commit to supporting this message mission? And sometimes we say, like, we ask people to commit a pledge. And one of the things I like to say. When should you record it? like in a for-profit you'd be like, listen, they said they were, they started that contract is their end. And in the nonprofit space, you have to say, let's take a step back. If this person was unable to. What would our next steps be? If your next steps would be like, we are going to Badger them, we are going to make sure we get that money. Great record. Yes. That is revenue. That is yours. But if you're like, you know what, it's not worth it to lose a relationship. Or if you feel like we would lose a relationship over this and just don't, don't record it because in essence you're, if you're not going to follow through on it, or there's no requirements to follow through, you would say, no, that's not. There are instances you could definitely say like, okay, maybe we'll put a little buffer. We'll say maybe we won't collect some of it. And those are things that are for-profit businesses. that's a similarity. A for-profit business would be like, I messed up invoice you, but here's how much I probably won't get. And a non-profit in some cases would say the same thing to say, like, we are committed, we are going to follow up, but we recognize some of this. We might just not get it. And so being able to see. Have some of those conversations say like, are we allowing for any of these sites and you have a business background to say, like, see the invoices aren't going anywhere. And I don't know who these people are, I can't call them. should we just have a conversation as a whole to say, what are our thresholds? What's our risk tolerance? So that. they can be good stewards. That's part of why they came into this. They're like, I've got a big background. I know what it takes to collect some money. And I know sometimes maybe it's just not worth it to say, like, those are some places that they could really chime in and be a part of and have like an engaging conversation. I think another difference is that trips up everyone, even if they're in the for-profit world, becomes the idea of donor restrictions. And what, what does that mean? What do you do? And don't the restrictions just mean the donor said, you need to use my money to buy, to build a gazebo. You can't use it for anything, but this was evil. And that that's a donor restriction that is saying, well, you can only use it for this thing versus. Something that's not restricted where there's just like, here's some money if you'd like to buy it. Cause those are those, great. Like you want to pay salaries also. Great. And being able to say like, well, what, what is that? And why does it matter? It matters because more and more. We're seeing what I'm seeing in grant documents and donor documents. If you don't spend the money for the specified rean, or by the specified time, you need to return the money. And it's always good to have a handle on, Hey, what's money that we might either need to spend by a certain time. there might be a time restriction or purpose requirements or we might think about, do we have to return. And should we not count right now? Those are, those are pieces. I feel like we are constantly changing and have a nice, high-level idea of how much of this might mean we need to turn back and how much of this we have to commit to a cause. In some cases it might not be relevant. I say, because Debo, because I've seen it, I've seen where people are like I'm donating $5,000 for it. Cause Eva, and then no one else. maybe money for it. Cause he wants to, we're like, that is not enough money to eat. Can you call that donor and see if we can get that money unrestricted? And those types of things are really good. I'll be monitoring.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just in terms of those grant timelines and, and the time restrictions, it seems like that's something where, if you're running up against it, reaching out to the grant maker and seeing, can this, can, are you flexible on this, this, this, or, do or die can be helpful. I mean, I think the other one, the other mistake that I've seen people make is to interpret non-profit as no profit. Well, yes. And, and really believing like, oh, we can't make any money. We can't have anything left over. what, what do you, what would you say about that?
Chyla: I try to remind them what would you do in your house at the end of the month? And then rent was due the next day. You, that wouldn't be a comfortable place. And thinking of your organization in that way, we don't want to go to zero every month because the next thing will arrive. And really thinking of it as you're not hoarding. You're not there. You're not necessarily saying like, ah, we're just building our reserves for no reason. Everything has a reason. And they're identifying that we're building our reserves because we want to launch a new program in three years. And , no, we're not spending it today, but we know it's going to come up because it's part of our strategic plan or thinking through like our staff gets, it has to get paid like every, every pay period, right? Oh yeah. We should probably have some money in the bank to do that. reminding them that it's not about. Hoarding of resources. It's more about what is the timing of some of the things that we have coming up to complete our mission and what do we want to make sure that we do so that it's not a surprise? That's the whole point of having to think about how much cash we have so that you can do the unexpected. And part of some nonprofits is trying to think of better ways to do that. And sometimes that doesn't come with any funding and you have to say, we need to have the money on hand. And reminding yourself like this is to do something that a funder doesn't yet see the value in, but we do know it's important. And just reframing. This isn't an arbitrary number. We're not picking three months for no reason, we're picking it because where it's, if something were to happen and we want it to still provide the services that we do, we would be able to, and our community wouldn't go without, because suddenly we, we didn't have it. getting beyond ourselves and beyond like what people might perceive us to do. I think that's where that comes in. People are like, well, they're going to see that we have so much money. They will see that you are responsible people and thought to save money for salaries and for program materials. That's great. I would love them to see what you are doing.
Carol: Right, right. Yeah. it's all, it's all about. What's the purpose and what's the goal? What's the strategy? at the end of each episode, I like to play a little game where I ask a random icebreaker question. I have a box of them. I always put out three before the interview and then pick one. what's something about you that surprises people when they first hear it?
Chyla: Usually that I'm an accountant
Carol: Say more, say more.
Chyla: That is typically the thing that people are surprised about, which I find amusing. More because I think I get perceived as very pernal and high want to have a conversation with you. And I'm like, I am, I'm definitely an introvert. Definitely. But I manage it really well. And I'm like, I can do the people thing. And I remember I used to have a quote. I was like, I've met my word quota. I can't talk to any more people. I think that piece has been the piece that, cause I don't tell people, I don't usually tell people work. What are you doing? I'm like, oh. That's a boring conversation starter. it's usually the last thing I share about myself. And that's typically something that I'm like, oh, I did not guess that.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. I've, I've met a lot of accountants that did not fit the stereotypical mold of whatever, whatever people perceive of as and it's great. It's great. Yeah, and I also, I also saw something recently where somebody described themselves as a social introvert. And I was like, I can relate to that because I get it a lot too. Like people aren't you talking to hell with all these people. Yeah. But then I need to recover. I'm like,
Chyla: Saturdays are typically my day. I'm like, you want me to do things with people? Well, they would, they would be in my house? No. Oh, absolutely. I don't know if I can, at least when I come to my husband, like I can, I can manage this. But otherwise.
Carol: what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Chyla: We are doing webinars for our. Online course. So helping nonprofits get more money, greater impact by just being more transparent about their finances. I'm really just digging into, like, what does that mean? How does it look? Because people get scared. People get nervous. They're like, I don't know what that I don't want to do. I don't know if we should be transparent and you should. But helping them figure out what that framing looks like and what that means, because we've definitely. With our clients that we work with when they've been able to say, this is what we're doing with the money, or this is a thing that you're looking to build, we've been able to one, identify more resources available because wow, thank you for telling me what you were going to do. There's money available for that one thing. So that's that piece. And there's also just the idea of, there are some donors who just want that level of transparency and they're like, oh, you can tell them. Cool. Here's some more money. And so just being able to do that is really exciting. It's been a thing that's been in the works. I'm just like, oh, Kimmy. And I have to do it now. Oh, okay. So they interpreted to me 'cause like a sport infer and the food lever baker in me, it's like, I have a slice of cake that is ready. I'm like, you're going to do it. And then you're in a warm beer cake. So the caramel is nice and soft and runny. And you're going to be like, look, you've finished. The thing that you were really worried about. So that is what's out on the horizon.
Carol: So the, you mentioned the course, what's the, what's the course that you're offering. Yeah.
Chyla: So, well, the course itself will be about other sitting financial management from a nonfinancial perspective. So we'll go through the first year mission. Why? Because I feel like if you, if you forget, when you straight from that, it becomes really hard. You're like, why are we doing this again? And so just recentering your mission is in that conversation about budgets and finances and all of those things, and then thinking about your priorities. So how do we, how do we rank the budget? How do we think about the chart of accounts, all those things that indicate what matters to the organization. Then we go on to actually using some tools. And so I don't necessarily need anyone to become a bookkeeper or a QuickBooks expert, but being able to say, all right, I know what a bank reconciliation is and what I should look out for, because again, part of this is managing those people and just being able to say like, Where should this be? Or how could I reframe that question? Because sometimes it's hard to talk to your bookkeeper or accountant. Cause there's like, I don't know if he spoke the same language. I don't know what they're talking about and just giving them some tools to help frame that. And then finally, it's about storytelling. How do we look at the financial statements and rephrase some of the things? How could we show some things differently? So not changing any numbers, but just updating the presentations to something that's more. Palatable more understandable for the people who actually need to read them and make decisions based off of
Carol: That sounds great. That sounds like a really, really needed resource for the sector. So thank you for creating that. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk to you.
Chyla: Thanks for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Chyla’s point that as a board member you don’t necessarily need to be a financial expert but you do need to pay attention to when things don’t add up. Not just literally the numbers – but when the narrative does not match what is in the numbers. A staff person says donations have increased but the numbers don’t match. The story is we have taken out loans for more staff but no one else has been hired. Where is the money going? Often it is about paying attention and asking the hard questions. And it is often because the people tasked with managing the finances are in over their heads – not necessarily because anyone is doing any malfeasance. Although of course that does happen in the sector and you certainly don’t want to be on a board when the organization gets in the paper for fraud or embezzlement on the part of staff or volunteers.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Chyla, her full bio, the transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time!
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.