In episode 65 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lisa G. Hazirjian discuss:
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help progressive change makers develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School. You can reach Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important Links and Resources:Transcript:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lisa Hazirjian. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Lisa and I talk about public policy advocacy for nonprofits. We explore how anger and sadness can be a catalyst for action, how nonprofits – specifically c3s in the US – can incorporate advocacy into their work and to further their mission, why it is so important to think about why your issue could matter to a decision maker – from their point of view, some simple steps you can take to start building a relationship with policy makers, and how to identify and build a ladder of engagement for your supporters
Welcome Lisa. Welcome to the podcast.
Lisa Hazirjian: Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Carol: I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Lisa: A lot of answers to that question, but they really all come back to two things. One of which is really at, at a few key points in my life needing to find an outlet for a lot of sadness and anger during times of loss. And the other being my training as a historian, I did a career change. I have a PhD in modern US history and I studied social movements and public policy and how they influenced one another. And the moment when all of that came together Was 2008. The moment really lasted about six months starting with a tenure track job offer which was great. Except at the university where I was offered a job. This is back before marriage equality. And I would be moving with my partner now, my wife and the university didn't offer domestic partner benefits and that. Could have been a big issue. And so I asked if they might be able to come up with some way for my wife to get onto the university's health insurance policy. I pointed to a couple of examples of other universities that had made these kinds of accommodations. And long story short the response, I got a few days. The immediate response I got was being yelled at, which was not good. But the ultimate response was being told the university is no longer considering your candidacy for this position. And I. That was very upsetting as you can imagine. And this was 2008 and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands because the contract I had had just ended. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing, but. I was approached and asked to pull volunteers together for the Obama campaign to have a presence at the Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival and I did that. And I did that specifically. Because Barack Obama was a candidate who, although he did not at the time support marriage equality yet he did support an employment non-discrimination act that we still don't have. Still trying to get what's now the Equality Act passed. But for me, this was a way, not just to get something for myself, but to get something for everyone to fight, to have a president who would sign a much needed non-discrimination act. And that became the thing that I put all of my emotions into for the next several months. And really saw a lot of the things I had studied coming into action in terms of what it means to do.
Marshall your leadership skills in a way that draws in hundreds of people to build the collective power you need to achieve a goal, which in this case was getting Ohio for, for the campaign. After the campaign I took some time to take stock and realized that I should build myself an off-ramp from academia and an on-ramp into professional advocacy work.
Carol: I feel like that's an off-ramp that a lot of people are exploring these days. But that's a different conversation.
Lisa: I would say it is a different conversation. And I can recommend someone to talk to you about that.
Carol: I appreciate that story and I do think that a lot of advocacy work does start with something you're angry about or something that pisses you off, or sadness or any of those things that can be a catalyst to, okay, well I can sit in this, or I can try to move things forward and. Said, have things be different for me, but have things be different for a wider group of people, which is, which is so important. My exit from history, I was a history major back in college, was much less dramatic than yours. I was doing my thesis for my BA and at the library, the big library downtown in Philadelphia and reading magazines from the late 1800s. I was looking at the role of advice being given to women on parenting in that time period in Germany. And I found that I was allergic to old paper. So a life of being an art for sure was not going to be in my future. So, not quite the same, but got that commonality, that background. So as you said, you've shifted into doing political ad advocacy work and, and helping people with their political campaigns. With, with nonprofit organizations, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about what's allowed, what isn't allowed. What would you say are some of those, some of the biggest misconceptions that you run into in terms of advocacy work and organization, non profit organizations that you work?
Lisa: It's interesting. I mean, I think plenty of people before me have said that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is this idea that nonprofits can't do policy advocacy. And that's just absolutely not the case. Of course they can. And I would argue they should, right? Nonprofits have a lot more knowledge and experience in a whole range of fields than our areas where public policy is made than most of the people who are making those decisions. And when nonprofits bring their voices and bring the voices of the people they serve into those conversations. To try to advance policies. They're really doing a service to everyone cuz it's not like lawmakers can be experts on everything, none of us can. AndI'm, I'm not an attorney and if I were, I would have a disclaimer that I'm not giving legal advice. But, but the short of it is that, As long as you aren't endorsing a particular political candidate doing anything to try to affect the to try to elect person X over person y it's very likely that you're perfectly legally compliant. And it's nearly impossible for most organizations, even full-time advocacy organizations. Run up against the IRS limits on how much time and money you can spend on advocacy. But that misconception aside, cause that's one that comes up over and over. I actually think another really really major misconception is, progressive nonprofits can't get anything done unless Democrats are in power. Or the flip side of that, that having democrats in power means that progressive nonprofits can get things done. Neither one of those is completely true. And, both of them miss the reality that there are a lot of things competing for attention at legislatures, and at the end of the day, it's anyone's ability to influence those decision makers that matters.
And there are a few things that nonprofits can do that can really help with that. And one of them is simply, Having supporters who are constituents of those key lawmakers and the other is speaking their language. So when I was executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network I, I did not harbor any illusion that many of the Republican lawmakers in control at the North Carolina General Assembly were going to be moved by A lot of the things that motivated me, the fact that I had lots of gay male friends living with HIV, for example. But I did think that they would probably be moved by the idea that it would be great if our kids could grow up in a world where, once they are adults, they're not worried about HIV. And that in the meantime it'd be great if the state wasn't spending as much money dealing with HIV. And having those messages that resonated with the lawmakers really, really made a big difference.
Carol: A couple things. Obviously our conversation is all grounded in the context of the United States. I do have folks who listen to the podcast from around the world. So for this topic, it's all within the particular laws and institutions that we have here. You mentioned the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, that's what it's called. And I think the limits that you were talking about also are particular to one type of nonprofit, which is, I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing the most common is the c3 within that code. And then of course our politics in terms of our two-party system and all of that. But with all of that in mind I think about what you're saying, taking all of those particularities of the US aside, what you're talking about or really thinking about what matters to the decision makers that you're trying to speak to, and share your message. Share your, trying to move things forward, getting in their shoes, thinking about how they're looking at things where there might be common ground. I mean, that's something that folks could do
Lisa: anywhere. Absolutely. No, that's, that's exactly right. And , I have some colleagues in Canada who, who I've talked with about similar things , and different particulars about how the government is structured, what parties might be called, et cetera, but the same basic principles. And I would add that, a lot of these tips for doing better public policy advocacy also apply to just any mission advocacy, including fundraising. I think many of us have had the experience of sitting down and trying to figure out how to translate how we talk about our work and our mission in the day-to-day. The language of whatever major funder we might be applying for funding from and just , speaking their language is half the battle there.
Carol: What matters to them and, and how do you, I mean, so that, that. What are some of the, specific or concrete steps that people can take to start being able to shift their perspective and get a better understanding of the folks that they're trying to influence?
Lisa: So I mean, always sort of trying to ground ourselves in who's our audience. Who is it? Who, whose help We really need. Because if it was just us , right? If it was just our staff, our board, the people we serve, the people on our email list, then we could just mobilize everyone and do it. But when we need to persuade. People who are on that, on the outside of that us, that we really need to think about who are these people? And , these days it's not that hard. Everyone's got a website. It's , you can start doing things. I think one step that is really useful is to. To do like a really quick survey of the people who receive your email. Your email blasts and simply asks like, Hey, do any of our policy makers at the local level, county, state, or whatever the kinds of divisions of government might be in other countries? Because. a good chance that there are people who are receiving your emails, who do have relationships.
And that's important in two ways. The first being they're really gonna know and understand those people a lot better. And second many times the best messenger is somebody who already has a good relationship. With that lawmaker. Sothat's, that's just one, one really simple thing that people can do.
Carol: And all those steps that you take to build, build that relationship, start to get to know the person. And I was listening to another podcast last week, and this was more in terms of kind of. , business networking and, but the person had a, had a principle of no ask before one year of, of being in relationship with that person. So not like, okay, I'm gonna knock on your door and I'm gonna ask you immediately for something that, that and, and she used the word political capital, although it wasn't, highlarge p and I don't know what you think about that or. . It, it, that's just, that's just one framework for thinking about it. But what I did appreciate about it was that you need to invest something in that relationship before you're asking something of the person.
Lisa: So, I mean, I would not wait a year, not wait a month. Okay. If you need something, you ask, but I, but I definitely concur that it is always better to start building a relationship before you need something. And I, I recently, well a little while back wrote a blog piece that the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits put out. It actually came out shortly after the November election here in the US and it was simply a sort of , why and how to congratulate the people who just won. And , basically saying like, this is a great opportunity just to get on their radar, tell them a sentence about what you do, what you care about, make sure you're gonna get their emails. And it's just, it's going from being a complete stranger. To have that initial point of contact, which can be really important later on when something comes up and you and you really need to have a more substantive conversation. .
Carol: So I think some other things I really appreciated that post of yours and cuz it's so simple, right? And anybody can, any, can, anybody can do that. But not everybody's going. Which will be the differentiating thing. And then other simple things ofcel helping, celebrating wins, and thanking someone for, for lots of different things. Just all those little bits and pieces that you can do to start cultivating that relationship.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Carol: Are you saying some of the big mistakes that people make?
Lisa: Well, one of the biggest mistakes I've made and have really learned from is Limiting trying to do everything ourselves and limiting opportunities for other people to get involved. , the reality, I, I love that part of your tagline is that, that this podcast is for progressive nonprofits and associations, organizations , wanna achieve big things without being martyrs through the cause. And I have definitely been in positions where I have. Worked myself to the brink of needing to be admitted to the hospital for rehydration and rest. And that is not healthy and it is not sustainable. But it's not necessary either. The reality is that whatever it is that we're doing, whatever.
Mission is whatever our immediate goals are, there are other people out there who want us to be successful and there are a lot of people out there who wanna help and we just need to ask. And the reality is that when we give people. Strategic opportunities to help out at whatever level of engagement works for them.
Whether it's , let me take three minutes and do something, or let me take three hours and do something once a week. Or let me take three hours one time in my life. Whatever it is, that gives us so much more capacity. to get things done. And so II, I think one of the most important things that any organization can do is think about the best ways to engage their supporters more frequently in more meaningful ways.
Carol: , and I appreciate what you're saying around, it's not necessary, but I would also say especially in this work and probably any work, the more people you have involved, the more effective you're gonna be anyway. Oh, absolutely. But I see a lot of times like organizations that let's say they're an environmental organization and they do environmental education and they have this assumption.
So we bring these kids out, they're doing environmental education, they're gonna talk to their parents, and their parents are gonna become advocates for the environment. And it's like, there's so many leaps between the one to the other that , maybe one or two of the folks will have that ultimate outcome.
But if there's so many little breadcrumbs that you could, you could, or. . Steps that you could offer people, but I find it's hard PE for people to think of what those little steps
Lisa: are. Sure. And I, so, yes. And . Okay. . I, I think that there are a, another mistake I see a lot are organizations who have a ton of ideas, let's do this thing and let's do this thing.
And here's another thing we can do, and here's another thing that we can do. And all of, and some of those ideas can be fabulously creative and innovative and do a good job of leveraging their strengths, but they aren't necessarily attached to a core strategy. To achieve a particular campaign milestone or particular goal nor are they attached to a more overarching organizational goal of building long-term power.
And , I, I, I want to destigmatize the word power because the reality is, Power is what you make of it. And having the power to make the world a better place in whatever way your nonprofit or association is trying to do should be celebrated. And one thing that I help organizations do is take a step back, and this is a place where my training as a historian really helps.
Even though you stopped in those archives , you can understand that as a historian you develop this perspective that is simultaneously very long range. And has a ton of attention to details of how change happens over time. Like that is very much what historians do. And it's what successful advocacy organizations Do if they're doing a great job of developing strategy, is they think ahead a few years down the road to the impact they wanna have, and they backfill and think about, okay, well we can't.
We don't have the resources we need right now. We don't have the capacity we need right now to achieve this big thing that we wanna achieve by 2025, let's say. But we can get there. Let's think about the steps to take to get there. And it could mean just growing the number of people who. Who are part of your organization, who you're in dialogue with, who you can mobilize in support of a goal.
It can mean building out, cultivating a group of people who can talk to the media and be effective storytellers on behalf of your organization. It can. People who can bring some specialized skills that you need. You brought up an environmental piece. It could be that you need the capacity to just get water samples from across the entire state.
And it turns out that. That's something where you can teach everyday people to go out and help be water monitors. I have very little expertise in this. I'm just using this as an example. Sure. . .
Carol: I was thinking about what you were saying, and I think one of the things that the nonprofit sector does not struggle with is a deficit of ideas.
And a deficit of things that they could do or ways that they could try to move their issue forward. But can you give me an example of when folks have taken those ideas but really built a strategy to move their issue forward, and how they've engaged people.
Lisa: You like the pregnant pause? . . Well, I, I'm gonna give you an example that I know well which again, is drawing from my own work with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. When I was hired I was the, the first The, the first full-time staff person the, the first executive director staff of one, and the first thing I did was ask like, Who, who are we?
Who are all the people who've ever been involved in this formerly all volunteer thing, and it was a list of 243 people who I either was able to find an email or a phone number for. And I started building and I, I started building for a very particular need that we were aware might be coming down the pike.
A program that at the time was called the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had There have been funding crises in many of the states in the US including North Carolina that resulted in waiting lists and and we were anticipating a state budget battle that I needed to prepare for, and I knew that No matter how great a one pager I developed and no matter how much of a collegial relationship I was able to form with the heads of the Health and Human Services appropriation subcommittees that at, at the end of the day, I was gonna need more to convince them.
And, and so I started tapping the people who we already had as folks who had ever done something and using them as my starting point to recruiting more people across the state, just needing numbers and also needing breadth of coverage, particularly in the district. Of the legislators who sat on that super important health and human services appropriation subcommittee.
So I was very intentional about going to those particular corners of the state and finding constituents of those specific people so that when the moment came around, I kept on chasing after Nelson dollar trying to talk to him, and he kept on not talking to me. and I kept on trying to schedule an appointment.
We had a, a list, a deep list of people who lived in his district and we mobilized them to make phone calls into his office. And , gave them a little bit of training about what to say on the phone. And I gave it a couple of days, and then I went back to the office to make an appointment and the legislative aid said, oh , we've been getting a lot of calls about that issue.
Let me fit you into his schedule. And II, I mentioned this because a lot of us who got a lot of education might have some letters after our name, are under the illusion that all we have to do is, is. Develop a compelling argument. But actually we need to actually force people to listen to our argument.
And , I I I like to say that there can't be persuasion without the pressure to actually listen to you. And so that's a case of doing that base building, that intentional base building to create the pressure for a key legislator to. and that
Carol: base building. I mean, I'm on a lot of newsletter lists and, and , get advocacy alerts.
And some I respond to and some I don't. And I, I don't consider myself , someone who's really that, that that'sI've, I, I would say probably I'm a reluctant advocate. And so even something like that, I feel like. It takes some steps to get people comfortable to pick up the phone, send an email, do any of those things, and contact decision makers.
And it is one of the things that we talked about beforehand, that, that. I think it is relevant in a lot of different circumstances is this notion of a letter, a ladder of engagement. And you talked about before the kind of thing someone can do in three minutes, or maybe it's three hours in a week or maybe it's three hours one time.
Can you talk a little bit more about that and, and kind of. cultivate your base. That's a, that, that, there's a lot of things that could go into that Right. To actually have it be successful.
Lisa: Sure. . No, I would love to talk about that. And, and, and I will say that when I was with, with N C A N, with the AIDS Action Network, just about every board meeting my staff and I would tell a story about that.
Explained the roles of in the end it was me and a community organizer and a communications person. And we would tell a story that demonstrated what each of us did in the organization. But it also talked about our ladder of engagement. And the story would go something like this. , it would go something like Our community organizer went to this event in the community and met a bunch of people and had conversations with them and moved some of those people from being members of the general public to being people who we had the ability to get in touch with.
By getting their contact information, getting them signed up to receive our emails. And at the same time he invited them to become part of our volunteer team, where we would ask people if they would make a commitment to. Devote three hours one time in the next three months to helping us out. And so we wanted to give people a sense of, we're not asking for your whole lives, but we also don't wanna bother trying to get you out to things if you're not thinking that.
, sometime in the next three months, don't wanna do this. And that was. The beginning of us explaining our ladder of engagement, the first rung is simply putting your foot on that bottom rung and saying let me get on your email list. Let me get on your text list. Here's how to hear from me.
But maybe you might grab on higher on that ladder and say, what? I have this intention of becoming a volunteer and stating that And then we would move people. And , I would say the next real step our communications person would move people from being signed up to getting people to take that first click action.
The getting people to respond to an action alert, getting people to share something on Facebook and. and we, we really developed a few different ladders of engagement and one of them was more of a base building lane of volunteering with us at community events to do the same thing our community organizer had done.
Go around with clip petitions, postcards, et cetera, and bring more people involved. And another piece was more storytelling oriented. Get people involved in telling their stories about why our work mattered to them, and why the policies we advocated for were important in their lives. But the basic concept is to have a predefined.
Set of steps that people can take from not being anywhere on the ladder to climbing up that ladder to positions of. Increasing responsibility and importance to the success of what you do? I personally am okay with letting people skip a few steps. Sure. But, not be all the way at the top. Because having those steps is important for getting some proof of concept that somebody is going to be reliable and be effective at particular things.
And there's also a certain amount of skill building that one wants to do. If you have someone who's volunteering as a phone banker you want them to be really good at it before they host their own phone bank and need to support other people who are doing it for the first time.
Carol: Well, I love the specificity of, of that.
, the email one, I think , or contact information. I think a lot of people are probably already doing building their list, building how they get in touch with people. But that next step of the way that you talked about three hours in the next three months it's memorable for one.
And it's possible to, it's, it's. I mean, it's a commitment, right? It's not nothing. It's not, I'm just gonna ask you to do this little thing that doesn't really matter to you. It's, it's, it's more than, It's something you need to advocate and actively say yes to. And yet it's not so huge that it becomes you get paralyzed by, oh my God, they're asking me to do something and I'm not ready.
. And I, and I love the idea of also that , through that One, you're seeing who does step up. And then two, you're having a chance to build their skills as they, as you, as you go. And then also , seeing, do they follow through? Do they say what they're gonna do? , and I think that's applicable in so many different parts of the work that nonprofits do.
Ofsomeone may be trying to build their board and I often talk to groups about, okay, so get them involved in some other way. A committee, a campaign , some specific things that you can see how they are to work with. Do they follow through? Do you have to chase after them? , what, what?
What's, what's their work style? Does it fit, is it contributing, is it draining? Before you ask them for something really big, that could have just a huge impact on your organization. Oh
Lisa: my gosh. Well, that is excellent advice You're offering Carol , but there's another piece that I wanna put out there.
So, and, and really just talking with youI remember. The community organizer who was on staff when I ultimately left CAN he reminded me one day that. The first time he met me, he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and I was a guest speaker in a class he was taking.
And that was his first awareness of me and what I was doing. And he waited tables at a local diner. andI bumped into him there and then he showed up as a volunteer. And was someone who I saw had some real natural abilities in this area and got him involved more. And then he had a job where we were coalition partners and , I.
And finally I was able to hire him at, at one point. But so he went all the way from being a member of the general public in a classroom. And getting involved as a volunteer and then being a volunteer leader to ultimately being staff. And I, I, one thing that I'm really proud of to this day about the program that we built and what our supporter engagement program looked like is the number of people who.
Were involved as volunteers or interns who now work in the field. It's actually a really great way to build the profession, a really great way to help people build their leadership skills.
Carol: Absolutely. And I helped an association build their ladder of engagement. And this wasn't from a policy point of view, but from a volunteer leadership point of view.
And it was just okay, you have the first step is to become a member, maybe, or maybe even the first step is to come to an event that the association holds or, or even. Well, I guess the first step before that would be it'd be in the field and , be, become aware of the organization, come to an event.
And then use the resources of the organization to step up to volunteer to be a presenter or write something for, and it could be at the local level or, or regional level. And it's just like one small step, as you say, after another of taking increasing risk. Responsibility. And then in that case for that person building their visibility over the course of their career and their leadership skills.
But I think it's also one of the things that we tried to do, as we were mapping that volunteer leader experience and also thinking at each step, what is, what is the person. , not only what they're contributing, but what they're gaining through that experience of the, the, and, and being explicit about the skills that they're able to learn.
As they go and how, what they're doing ultimately is contributing to that bigger picture.
Lisa: Well that, that piece is huge. And one thing that's always been important to me whenever I do any training, well first of all, I always believe that if you have volunteers, you need to actually spend some time training them before you just throw them into whatever they're doing.
But then, yes, please . For me, the training should always have a why as well as a how. Hmm. And have the big picture of what we are doing because here's how this little thing that we're gonna be doing fits into the bigger picture. And then with, with the, how I like to have let me explain it.
Let me demonstrate it. Let's have your role play it. Let's evaluate. Okay, now you're ready. And I think that that is super important to the quality of volunteer experience that people have as well as being important to helping to really build those skills. , to me, one sign of a great volunteer program is an intention of.
Of having this ladder of engagement where a volunteer who's come three times Has an opportunity to say, yes, I would like to take on the next level of responsibility where I can be the person who trains and coaches new volunteers doing the same thing. And that expands the organizational capacity so much.
And These are still folks who might just be giving three hours a month. If you have 10 people doing that, that's a huge amount of capacity that you're adding. .
Carol: . And okay. I said that this might happen at the beginning and now it's
Lisa: happened and I apologize because my, I was thinking about
Okay. I was thinking
Lisa: about the, because I'm a parent, I can't turn off my phone, so
Carol: No, no, it's no worries. . That, that association situation and. Oh , I've lost it. Oh, well. All right, so you were talking about the next levels of responsibility and the ripple effect. So , when you ask people about those things it really creates .
You're, you're, you're creating more and more ripples that they, that they can contribute to. And I think another thing that you were talking about, the why and the how I I. I work with groups helping them with their strategic planning and, and it's a, it's a process, right? There are lots of steps to it.
And one of the things that I've realized recently is that I, it's so obvious to me what the why is that I forget to, to tell people. The why of all these steps that we're taking through the process. And so I had an instance recently where there was a, there was just a real misalignment of expectations because I hadn't done a good job of explaining why.
And I think for any of us who do the thing that they do you get to be very familiar with it. And it all seems just as obvious. I don't know what anything is, and so it's easy to forget. So I appreciate that of course
Lisa: Of course. And what, even though I said it as I just listened to you, I realized that what you are saying applies to a situation I am in right now.
Carol: Well, I think I'm gonna make it my mantra for 2023, the why and the how , not just the how. Well,
Lisa: Great, great. It is good, it is a good mantra. I just need to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just. That particular one.
Carol: Right. Right. And I, I, what I also appreciate about what you're talking about, we started talking about , decision makers that you're trying to influence and looking for how, where the commonality is. But I think it's really with your base, it's also looking for what, what's gonna. Influence them to take action. Those, those smaller steps that you're asking people to take. And some people I was thinking also, I was focusing on skills, but. Some people may be very motivated by that. Other people, it may be other things of, being part of a community that's, that's, that's taking action , seeing those and, and you, I think it's, it's hard to go to wins cuz. I don't know, policy campaigns, there's often, it's, it's often a very long process before you really get the big triumph. So finding those small wins as you go to keep people moving and motivated, but thinking about different things that will engage people and motivate them. People at the same time of being strategic, of not trying to do all the things for all the people.
Lisa: No, I mean that, that's right. And, and listen, you're very much in touch with the reality that That policy change can be glacial except when we don't want it to be Right. like having this bullet train of bad policy coming right at us .
Carol: Although the people on the other side will probably think, well actually we've been building towards that for the last 50 years.
Lisa: No, and and, and you're exactly right. You're a hundred percent right about that. But , I think that The way I and other people who have volunteered have experienced these policy campaigns. Part of the win, again, is just the opportunity to be helping them, let me try that again. I think that for a lot of people, the win is simply being able to do something with other people to help move closer to that eventual win. And because of the isolation and the frustration of being by yourself, being frustrated by something and just feeling helpless. That's terrible. I hate it. , other people hate it. And so for me, and I'm like, look, let's just, let's create, create ways to bring folks together. And I'm, I'm thinking about back, I think it might have been 2016 when the North Carolina legislature passed HB two, which. National press. It was one of these anti-trans bills. And I was pissed. Lots of people were pissed. And , I decided, all right, I gotta do something. What can I do? What's, what's gonna be helpful? And I decided just to take some skills. That I had learned in, in other campaigns to do some grassroots fundraising to try to unseat some of the co-sponsors of that odious bill. And so I just put together this little , grassroots fundraising thing where I invited people to join me. I had a friend who was able to. Like the community room and her neighborhood for us, I did a little training. We made phone calls just to our own personal contacts, and we raised about $5,000 one evening for some of these candidates to help get them elected. And , in the grand scheme of a campaign for State House or state Senate, that's not a ton of money. But it's also, A significant amount of money. And We all felt like we helped with getting a few good people elected, but also it just meant that we could all be in a shared space and do something ourselves. And everyone we called to help make a donation was also someone who we knew was feeling like, oh, this HB two thing stinks. I wanna do something, but I don't know what to do. So it had those multiple layers or ripples as you said, that reallyI knew that, wellI can donate money, but I, I have onlyI work in the nonprofit sector, how much money can I possibly donate? Well , but I know people and they can donate and they know people and they can donate. Right.
Carol: And so again, that's that . Pulling people in as you talked about, you don't have to do it all yourself. Absolutely. And that actually part of the joy is. Doing it together. . And bringing people together and creating that sense of community. So I really appreciate that. So I'd like to end each episode by playing a game where I ask you an icebreaker question from my little box of icebreaker questions. So we were talking about skills before. What's a skill that you learned when you were young that you would say that you still use today?
Lisa: I'm such a different adult than the kid I was. But there's a really obvious answer. Okay. So the skill that I first used when I was in the fifth grade was simply the skill of not accepting that something has to be the way someone says it has to be. Hmm. And I'm, I'm thinking of a kid, a boy. This is important to the story. A boy from my neighborhood who is in my grade at school decided that girls couldn't play in the fifth grade softball game. And when pressed by me for a reason, why, coming up with this excuse that you had to have a glove, me saying, well, why can't we just borrow gloves? People who are at bat and him saying You have to have your own glove. And so goodie two shoes, I cut recess, to go home and get my own baseball glove. Which I did. But then when I walked out of the door, instead of making a right to go back to school, I made a left. We went to our neighbor's house and knocked on the door and asked to borrow their kids' gloves and went down the street and did it again. I walked back to school with my arms full of baseball gloves. And so at those, those skills of not accepting injustice in the world, doing something so that I get justice for myself, but also taking the step of making sure. , other people have justice too.
Carol: I love that story. That's perfect. I mean, here you were in fifth grade, ? Yep. It's taking, standing up for something you believed in and then doing a neighborhood canvas to collect resources for your cause. . I love it. That's great. That's great. So what are you excited about? What's, what's coming up next for you in your work? What's emerging in the work that you're in?
Lisa: So I am super excited. I have decided that 2023 should be my year of being part of more teams. And I'm excited about a couple of ways in which I see that happening. One is already happening, which is that I'm going to be leading a team of nonprofit. Professionals from various parts of North Carolina where I'm based and leading them through a three month a three month workshop, advocacy academy that we're calling it to help them develop advocacy campaigns that also help them build long-term power. So that's super exciting to me. And then I'm, I'm really trying to vision into existence. A few more partnerships with organizations and really on the lookout for organizations that are ready to move beyond that. Oh, we've got an idea, we've got an idea. And instead get into the mode of saying, Let's put a pit in this and think about what our desired outcomes are, what we need to get there, actually put together a campaign strategy, take steps, learn the skills we need. And I'm open to doing training and strategic planning, and that's stuff that I've been doing for years. But I, I've recognized that the work that is most fulfilling to me is when I. Have a more sustained engagement with an organization and really be embedded in that team for at least three months to really work alongside folks and ask the questions that prod people and make observations and congratulate people on their great ideas and help make things successful. So I'm, I'm excited. Looking forward and embracing that work. All right. Well,
Carol: Thank you so much, Lisa. It was great having you on the podcast
Lisa:. Hey, this was awesome, Carol. Thank you so much as well.
Carol: I appreciated how Lisa described intentionally building a ladder of engagement. Recognizing that there are a lot of people who want to help and want to get involved but maybe don’t know how. How to shift someone from an email on your mailing list to someone who more actively shows up for your organization. I appreciated the specificity of her ask – are you willing to do something in the next 3 months. And then provide a menu of options – something that takes 3 minutes, something that takes three hours. And by building a pathway of slowly increasing involvement and responsibility you provide folks a way in and you also have the opportunity to get to know them and vet them. See whether they follow through. Do they show up? Do they do what they say they will do? Do you have to chase them? I have seen smaller organizations want to invite folks on to their board immediately. First being on the board should be just one way to be involved in the organization – even if it is an all volunteer group. And you are taking a huge risk if that is your first ask of folks. It is a big ask for one so one that likely folks who don’t know you that well will say no to. AND you don’t know the person very well either and don’t know how they will or will not contribute to the work of the board. Find smaller ways for folks to be involved. Invite non-board members onto board sponsored committees and work groups. And realize that not everyone is going to make their way all the way up the ladder – some will be perfectly happy showing up for a one off event occasionally or responding to an action alert. And this ladder of engagement can be for advocacy – but it can be for a lot of other things as well. I am on a lot of email lists for organizations that I support. And I get a lot of donation request emails from them. What I don’t see as often is small ways for me to get involved highlighted or featured. Most organizations put a lot of time into thinking about how to make it easy for me to give them money. Not as many organizations have put the thought into making it easy for me to give them time in meaningful ways. This is a big missed opportunity.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lisa, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 50 of Mission: Impact, Carol went solo to discuss:
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Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission: Impact. Today, I'm celebrating my 50th podcast episode. I'm going solo. I'm going to discuss why more money and more staff isn't always the answer. 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 more innovative. We dig into how to build an organizational culture where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
When I'm doing strategic planning, I often ask in my interviews and in focus groups, if you had three wishes for your organization and you could change anything that you want, what would you wish for? And frequently, I would say 90% of the people that I talked to say that they want more funding for more staff. why isn't that always the answer? I think it comes down to the assumption that more money and more staff is always going to be less work. And when it often doesn't our culture really emphasizes growth. Capitalism depends on growth. If the economy is not growing, even if it's just staying steady, folks, fear a recession. we have a proclivity to always want to grow.
And certainly growing your organization, having more resources to meet the demand. Further your mission addresses the needs that you're addressing. All of those are certainly good things, and I'm not arguing against any of those. I'm not arguing against scaling your organization to meet the needs. What I'm saying is that people fall into a false fallacy where they equate more staff and more funding as a way to get out of overwhelm, overwork and overcome. With the idea that if we just had more staff, I would have people to delegate to, I would have less on my plate, but what I have found and what I have noticed in all my years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the reality is that nonprofit leaders are very ambitious. They have big dreams and goals. Most vision statements, mission statements are way beyond what that organization can actually deliver. And growing is the only way to move towards that. As I said, the need is often greater than your current capacity.
When you grow, when you add them more staff, when you get more funding, it's authentic. Take on new projects, new programs, new services, you try to serve more people. You have a serve, serve additional audiences. You broaden your policy agenda. The work grows with the capacity. In the end you're still overloaded and overwhelmed. And running the organization actually becomes more complicated because you have more people and more things to keep track of. more funding, if we just had more money, everything would be fine. We could hire more people and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, in the scenario above where it does not lighten the load at all. And oftentimes funding rarely covers the full cost of those new initiatives, restricted funding. Doesn't contribute to your overhead. you're expected to find a match for your funding. And now you have more money to attract new reports, to write and new funders to please, as I said before, none of these are inherently bad goals.
I'm not arguing against them being able to serve more people and turn fewer people away is important. Being able to provide them with more comprehensive services, being more ambitious in your policy or research agenda. Having more staff to focus on fundraising, marketing, operations, HR, financial systems, all the things that it takes to run an organization. All of these are good things, but the assumption, as I said that I often hear embedded, is that if I just have more staff just have more funding. When I get that, I will finally be able to relax. Whether it's as a board member, as an executive director, as a lead program person or the development director. The assumption is my to-do list will be shorter. I can finally take that long postponed vacation. I can feel less guilty about taking care of myself, but unfortunately that's only true if you choose not to grow the amount of work with the growth in staff and instead redistribute the work for the pieces of the work pie to be small. The pie has to say the same size and mostly what's embedded in more staff, more funding is certainly growth and therefore does not get you out of the overall.
On episode 38. I explored a related question. What if you did less? If you haven't listened to that, I invite you to, and I also recommend Third studios, recent blog posts, headlines of “what if you did less,” that also looks at our current state of burnout and reflects on why just individual responses to the current state we're in is just not enough. I will post the link to that blog post in the show notes.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests. You can find a full transcript of the show as well as any links and resources that I mentioned 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 a 100 Ninjas for her production support.
And if you enjoyed this episode, I really would love it. If you would share it with a colleague or friend, we appreciate your help in getting the word out; and the easiest way to do that is to go to pod.link.com/mission impact. Again, that's podlink, mission impact one word, and use that URL to share the show. Then your friend or colleague can listen to the show on whatever their favorite podcast player. Thanks again. I appreciate your time.
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.
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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!
In episode 47 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Julia Campbell discuss:
Named as a top thought leader and one to follow by Forbes and BizTech Magazine, Julia Campbell is a nonprofit digital consultant on a mission to make the digital world a better place. Host of the Nonprofit Nation podcast, she’s written two books for nonprofits on social media and storytelling, and her online courses, webinars, and talks have helped hundreds of nonprofits make the shift to digital thinking and raise more money online. You can learn more about Julia at www.jcsocialmarketing.com/blog
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Julia Campbell. Julie and I talk about ethical storytelling – what it is and why it is so important for nonprofits to consider as they share stories of their impact, the misconceptions people have about social media and its place in your organization’s marketing mix, and why leveraging your owned marketing assets is key.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome, Julie. Welcome to the podcast.
Julia Campbell: Thanks so much for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with, what drew you to the work you do? What motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Julia: I have always been very attracted to social justice work and social justice issues. And when I was in high school, I was involved. I couldn't even vote, but I was involved in the Clinton gore campaign. I started a recycling program at my high school. There was no recycling program. I just have always been very involved in activism and changing the world for the better. It sounds simplistic and cliche, but I really always have been. And then in college I volunteered at several different places in Boston. I went to school in Boston. And decided to enter the Peace Corps. So I was in the U.S. Peace Corps, for two and a half years after I left, , after I graduated from college. And that was where I really worked, started working with international NGOs and other organizations, and also started fundraising and truly understanding what it takes to make a difference in a culture because I feel like, I feel like with the Peace Corps, especially. I'm just speaking for myself, but I also feel like this is a, this is almost a, how people perceive us is we do have this white savior complex where we go into these countries and we think we're gonna change everything and make everything better. And what I really learned was that you have to. Immerse yourself in a culture and listen and hear the stories and truly understand what's going on. And you can't just say I'm gonna come in here and build a well and raise a ton of money for a well, and then leave. And that really opened my eyes because a lot of the NGOs were doing that. So when I got home, I thought I'm going to work. For nonprofits, but really help them understand how they do fundraising, how they do marketing and, and if it is maybe harmful to the communities that they're trying to serve. So I've worked in domestic violence. I've worked in international relations. I've worked in early childhood rape ISIS centers. I've pretty much run the gamut from large organizations. I worked at Boston university where. I graduated. And then I've worked in really small organizations with tiny budgets. And I think the work that the nonprofit sector does is so incredibly vital, no one else is gonna do it. Okay. The government can't do it or won't do it. The private sector won't do it. So we're filling this really important gap and solving these problems. And I just feel really strongly that people need to be advocating for the sector. And I'm just, I'm just such a strong advocate for it.
Carol: I realized when I was looking at your bio that, that you were a returned Peace Corps volunteer, and I think you're probably at least the third guest that had that, that experience, that background,
Julia: We always end up a nonprofit don't we?
Carol: AmeriCorps, I really appreciate, the perspective that you got there helped you come around to how stories are used, and how they can be used for harm. There were a lot of common practices, , and I'm not a fundraising person, but, just observing, being in the sector in fundraising that now people are questioning and saying, that's really not exploited ethically. It's very exploitative, and so I'm curious about how you're helping organizations shift that and tell their story, but not take advantage of the people that they're actually trying to help.
Julia: There's an entire. tidal wave in the sector right now. I think because younger people are starting to take the reins and younger generations do not put up with things that we have put up with in terms of exploitation or unethical storytelling, unethical practices, and they will call you out. what we learned in terms of practices and fundraising, when we all, I didn't study fundraising, but I read a ton of books. I took a lot of courses. I went to a lot of conferences. Mostly predominantly taught by white people. What I learned was you have to pull these heartstrings, you have to tell these sob stories. You have to start from a place of, of deficit. And it's called deficit thought basically. So then I started to study. I didn't feel very good about it. And I started to talk to other people. That we're doing fundraising work and saying, no, there are stories of hope and inspiration, and there are, they don't need to be tied in a bow. You don't need to say, oh, everything's, , grand and Mary Poppins ask. And it's just, it's not the reality, but still, if you think of the Sarah Locklin, the arms of the angels where she's singing and there's all these abused animals around her. And it's the shots of these dogs and cats. And it's always played on cable TV and they, the, as BCA pulled that ad because they did raise money from it initially. But if you're constantly doing that storytelling, it. It's not only unethical, but it's very fatiguing and people get numb to it and people, they wanna turn it off. They grab the remote. There are whole stories of people saying, oh, that ad came on and I had to like, actually leave the room and I couldn't deal with it anymore. The other thing is the. Giving the person that is sharing their story agency and making sure that they understand that this is not necessarily their defining moment. This is just something that happened to them. The terminology now has really shifted. And I think it's interesting where we don't say. And I'm still working on this and I'm not perfect as well. We don't say homeless person, we say a person experiencing homelessness. We don't say domestic violence survivor, we say person experiencing domestic violence or person living with a disability or person living with misuse and substance abuse. The terminology has changed. We don't make the experience that someone is having be the focal point of their whole life and it doesn't define them. And then there are, there are all sorts of interesting studies and all sorts of people talking about ethical storytelling using terms like at risk vault, vulnerable. I think you can still use marginalized populations. It's changing all the time. I think it's interesting. And to me, I don't think it's about canceling people or telling people they're wrong. If they use a certain term, it just opens up a conversation for something that I think is really interesting. And I think the sector does need to do a lot of introspection into how we might have, we shared all of these videos of kids in Africa with bellies descended and flies around their face. And if you look at the work of charity water in particular, one of my, one of my favorite charities, you can love them or hate them. Their whole perspective was we wanna make giving joyous. We wanna make people happy. We don't wanna guilt people into giving. We wanna make people excited and proud to be a part of what we're doing, and that's gonna help retain donors. And that's gonna help people continue to give, because if they're constantly guilted into giving, it's not good, so we wanna make people feel great about giving and feel proud about being part of the cause.
Carol: One of the areas in addition to storytelling, or I guess it's not really in addition, it's a way to deliver a story. You work a lot with helping nonprofits with their social media and social media presence. And I feel like it's an area that can really trip people up. What would you say are some of the key things that people need to consider in pursuing a social media strategy?
Julia: They need to consider how much time it truly takes to be successful. We need to get out of this mindset that it's free. So Carol, I could come to your house and give you a puppy for free. I mean, I don't know if you want a puppy,
Carol: I got one of those free puppies and he cost me like $150, the first visit to the vet.
Julia: Exactly. And then walking every day and feeding them. It's like, technically, maybe having a kid is not free because of the medical bills, but you could technically have a child in the middle of the woods for free, but then of course, there's so much upkeep there's upkeep, there's taking care of what you've created. So I always give the analogy of the puppy because. Yes, it sounds great on the surface. It's free, but your time is not free. Your effort, your energy, your bandwidth, none of that is free. And then also of course, as we know now to really get more visibility, you do have to play the ad game. Whether or not you think it's ethical to pay Facebook. I'm constantly going back and forth on that, but there's also lots of other platforms, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok. There's so many other platforms that we can explore. So what I do, and I'll just summarize it really quickly, I teach nonprofits the four pillars of social media and management because, you can't say I'm just gonna get on TikTok without doing all four of these things. And so something else is gonna have to come off your plate. So the first pillar is Listening, going there, being on let's just take TikTok. For example, being on TikTok, listening, watching, lurking around following people, seeing what. See, like taking webinars, reading blog posts really figuring out, okay, what's going on on this platform? What would my audience wanna see on this platform? That takes time. The second pillar is Content Creation. You have to create the content and you have to create it specifically for the platform. What you put on LinkedIn is not the same as what you're gonna put on YouTube, it's not the same as what you're gonna put on Instagram. So you need to have that content creation strategy specifically for the platform. And then the third pillar is Community Management. This is following people, looking at who's following you, going in, responding to comments, responding to your DMs, interacting in conversations, going into chats, being present because social media is a two-way street. You can't just use it as a billboard or a newspaper ad. Then the fourth pillar is Measurement and Analysis. Really taking time. This doesn't take three hours a week to do measurement analysis. If you're on one platform, you can quickly just do a scan and say, are we growing? Are we not growing? What posts were popular, which were not popular? What happened this week? Just do a scan of it. And then the key with pillar four is the reporting out, because what we don't wanna do is do our work in a vacuum. And we wanna report to the board. We wanna report to the staff. We wanna report to executive directors because we wanna show them this is actually work. A lot of them still think it's tweeting about what you had for lunch. I have never once tweeted about what I had for lunch ever. I probably have put a picture of a cappuccino or something on Instagram, but I've never done that. And that's the whole misconception that this is not an actual job. This doesn't require actual skill, but it really does. So every time you think about it, should I be on this platform? Should I adopt another platform? Are you doing those four pillars? Are you accomplishing those on the ones you're already on? And then if you're not, you get, you get those ducks in a row before you jump on another platform.
Carol: When I was thinking about, just for my consulting practice, how I use social media and that the second, the first thing that you said of how much time do you have to. To give to it. I was like, okay, to be reasonable, I'm gonna pick one. I do LinkedIn, that's it.
Julia: And LinkedIn is great for B2B. Like that's the best place to go for B2B.
Carol: I just felt like the other places it's like probably not where people are hanging out.
Julia: , but, and also actually it's a really good point. I just had. A podcast interview with my friend, Angela Pitter, who's a LinkedIn expert. And what she said was, you have to think about what people are doing on the platforms. Like you said, they're not really on Facebook looking for people to connect with professionally. They're hanging out with their friends, they're watching cat videos. They're doing fun things with friends and family. They're looking at the AB pictures. They're not necessarily using it the way people use LinkedIn. So I think that's smart. I think that's a very smart, strategic move.
Carol: The only thing I practically go on Facebook for anymore is to see what picture I posted or what I posted eight years ago.
Julia: I like the memories to look at, I like memories. I always wish that I could get off Facebook. I can't escape it, but I have Facebook groups that I run. So I can't. Right. Exactly. I can't officially leave. Exactly, exactly. But I do, I do spend a lot less time on it lately.
Carol: And I think that for a long time I was just posting, right. Then I heard the phrase, the posting and ghosting, and that's a sense and ghosting. Then more recently just, I started doing the other things that you're talking about by actually getting in their comments ending on people's engaging and, it was more satisfying actually to, feel like you're, getting to know people that way. And actually, I think we connected originally cuz you had posted something about getting on podcasts and I was like, oh I've got one and we yeah. Talked to each other.
Julia: That's what I love. It's like an actual LinkedIn memory Michelle received. Right. Really? Yeah. I posted that. I said I'm really interested in being on more podcasts this year. I have my own podcast. I'm just putting it out there. I had so many introductions. The LinkedIn community is so generous and so welcoming and just so happy to make connections with other people. I found it to be a much warmer community than Facebook.
Carol: Which is ironic, right?
Julia: It's ironic, but all of the CEOs, they make their own decisions about what they allow on the platform and what they don't and what they make go viral and what they don't. And I think Facebook, especially the more provocative, the more angry you are, the more negative you are. That's what is going viral and getting eyeballs. And that's why that's what we're seeing.
Carol: One of the misconceptions that you talked about was that it's, well, it's just free. It's something that somebody can do on the side. What are some other misconceptions that people have about social media and their marketing strategies?
Julia: I think there's, there's so many, one that I would say is that it can substitute for other things that are working. Social media is really the icing on the cake. It's really one of those things that people have definitely built their business on. But how I feel about it is I feel like you should be using it and leveraging it to bring people into other owned platforms. So your email list, maybe subscribing to your blog. Making a donation on your platform. You need to be consistently bringing people over to your owned platforms because social media is rented land. They can and will and do pull the rug out from under us very frequently. Do you remember when Facebook pages started? I will never Forget this cuz I was working at a nonprofit and my executive director called me and said we have to get a Facebook page. And I was on it, , because I had, I still had my college account, so I could still like get on it. I wasn't in college at the time, but I had an EDU address and I said, I don't know, like, is this a marketing place? Is, is all college kids, like just talking about stuff, but. She said, no, it's gonna be free and it's gonna be, it's gonna replace websites and it's gonna be a free way that we can talk to all of our fans and followers. People still think that. And to me, I think if we look at the data, you really can only reach a tiny percentage of your fans and followers. You use social media, not to say that if you have built a community, you should leave, but we need to be consistently bringing people over to our email list and our own. Properties where we can then build a deeper relationship with them. And also you can bring an assumption you've earned and its permission based on your email list. You can bring that email list anywhere you can change providers. If you don't like this one provider, you can communicate with these people. You can use that as huge leverage. And if you, about the way. We use email. It's a much more intimate experience than social media, because a lot of us are spending less time scrolling on social media, but we still all spend the majority of our day in our inbox. A lot of us. So to me, I do teach social media marketing, and I think it's a fantastic way to reach new audiences and younger audiences and to do fun things and experiment and build ambassadors and, and really, advertise events, things like that. But I don't want people to put all their eggs in that basket. We have to have a multi-channel digital marketing strategy that also includes our website search engine optimization is essential. People are searching. People will never stop using Google. Maybe they will. One day Google became so popular and huge. We want people to be able to find us where they are. So the other misconception that is really popular is that you have to be on all the platforms and you have to just cut and paste what you do across all the platform forms. What I've seen now, the trend is people are two platforms. Maybe now I need to start doing that because I need to really start focusing on two platforms. I feel like I spread myself so thin and I think a lot of us do, but the trend now, if you go to influencers websites, or if you go to brands that are just starting out, they're not gonna, they're not gonna see the 27 little logos on the bottom. You're gonna see Instagram probably, and maybe Twitter. and that might be it, or maybe YouTube. It depends if you're video based or visual based, or if you're text based, like LinkedIn is fantastic for B2B and consultants, but I do see the streamlining as being a big trend and the going all into one or two platforms as opposed to being everywhere at once. And I actually think that's a gift to nonprofits because we can't be expected to manage, unless you're a full-time social media person, which very few nonprofits have you cannot be expected to do those four pillars that I talked about on seven different platforms every week. It's just not feasible.
Carol: You used a phrase, “your owned properties, social media is rented.” Can you say a little bit more about that? I don't know if people exactly get what you're saying there.
Julia: Say you have an event in person or virtual, someone signs up for this event, permission based. you ask them to come. They come. Whether it's on Zoom, whether it's in-person, they give you their contact information. You now own that contact information and you have it. And if someone goes to your website, signs up for your email newsletter on your little form that I hope you have on your website, if someone subscribes to your blog, if you have that old school, like I have on my blog, WordPress. People can subscribe to your blog. Those are owned. You own those, and you can take those wherever you go. Sure. people will unsubscribe and move and email addresses will bounce. And that's not what I'm saying, but you do not own. You can't upload your Facebook fans. And this is a big problem. You can't get the contact information from people that donate to you on Facebook. So what I would do is just take these tools for what they are. Raise money on Facebook, raise money on Instagram. Don't worry about the contact information, but don't put all your eggs in that basket. You own your CRM, your database, you could switch a database and still bring all those contacts with you. Your direct mail list. You own that. So. To me. I want us to build our donor files, our supporter files using these tools. These amplifying tools are what I call them, but we can't just say, okay, we're not gonna have a website or an email list anymore because we have Facebook. Remember the day that Facebook went down the whole day? I was actually running a fundraising, paying for a client and we had. Multiple posts that were gonna go out. We were gonna do a Facebook live. We had Instagram posts and we had to completely cancel all of it because both platforms were down for the entire day. And we had no control over that. So we had to rely on email and we still did a lot. We did things like a YouTube live, but what I learned was that we really cannot rely on this. Like, this is just a good to have, a nice to have, but we can't put all of our effort and all of our eggs in this basket, because what if it went down, like, I'm just thinking of Giving Tuesday. If Facebook went down so many nonprofits would've lost thousands of dollars. So it's good to have, you need to have it, but focus on the other elements of your marketing program that you can, you have more control over?
Carol: I remember when Facebook first started having the fundraisers, I think they were linking it, like it's your birthday, have a fundraiser. And so I did one and, I didn't realize at that point that the nonprofit that I did the fundraiser for wouldn't actually get any information about who donated. This is not helping them - it's helping them in the very short term.
Julia: I kinda have a different perspective on that, so I don't mean to interrupt you but, the way I feel about Facebook fundraisers is yes, it's not a way to build your donor file long term. You're not gonna get major donors and plan givers and like to build this funnel, but. I'm sure that a lot of your friends and family had not heard of the nonprofit. So they were exposed to a brand new organization and they gave because of you, , they didn't necessarily give because they supported the organization they gave because of your birthday. And then honestly, I've given for birthday fundraisers. And then I have on my own, looked up the nonprofit later and got on their mailing list and maybe got more information. So I really see birthday fundraisers as marketing. It's like a marketing piece. Interesting. Because think of your friends on Facebook, they all saw that, and then their friends saw that, like, if I donate to my friend Melissa's birthday fundraiser, I post about it and then my friends and family see it. So the way I think about it is it's much more marketing based than fundraising based. And yeah, you're never gonna build your whole fundraising program on Facebook. And what's, what's also interesting though. about Facebook. They developed that because you remember the ALS ice bucket challenge. I can't remember what year that was. There was no donate button on Facebook. So what Mark Zuckerberg saw, because I do believe that he is like, actually a diabolical. Like, I don't know if he's evil, but I he's, he's like a genius and I'm not sure if it's in a good way, but what he saw was. Oh, everyone's donating, but they're going off of Facebook. So I wanna keep everybody on Facebook. I don't want people going to als.org and making a donation and then maybe not coming back to Facebook. So he created the donate button, really? Not out of the goodness of his heart. I mean, they know we, they say. But it was to keep us on the platform. So they wanna be in all encompassing, all, one ring to rule them all thing. And that's always been the way that they've been thinking about things. So when we think about the donate button, there are no fees involved. Fantastic. The reason we don't get the donor information is because it was never created for us. It was created so that we would stay on the platform. And so that, I mean, it's a bad user experience. It's. If you get my data and then you start spamming me or you start soliciting me again, that's bad for me. And I would blame Facebook. So if we look at it from a business perspective, it makes total sense not to give the data because it would be a bad move for them. This is also how we just have to look at social media. We can't have color glasses because we have to understand these are multi-billion dollar businesses and the answer to them. They're shareholders. So that was a little bring of their own, but I don't think people know how the donate button came about. I think they thought it was interesting. Oh, they wanna do something good for nonprofits? No, they just wanna keep you on the platform. It's really true. It's totally true. Yeah. I'm reading that amazing book. , I can't remember who it's by. It's all about Facebook. It came out a couple of years ago and it's really eye-opening and pretty, incredibly amazing. So I teach it, I love it. I think it has power and potential, but I always take things with a grain of salt when it comes to these platforms. ‘Cuz I just think, okay, shareholders, shareholders, they're businesses. They're businesses. They're not nonprofits like we are. Yeah.
Carol: And I really appreciate the perspective of its amplification. It’s nice to have the extra, but it's not the core pieces. So one thing that's interesting when I'm, when I'm doing strategic planning with organizations, I feel like almost every group, one of the themes that comes out of all the conversations that I have with people is we're the best kept secret in blah, blah, blah
Julia: Are we though?
Carol: Now that I've heard it from so many different groups, I'm just curious, like how. I don't know, like, yes. How do you get over that? Is it important? Is it important for every group to be a household name?
Julia: It's not possible. I don't think it's possible. That's true. I think of the organizations where I live, some of the really small organizations, like I live in a town of 4,000 people and if it's a food bank, it's a village technically. And if it's the library here, it's not going to appeal like 4,000. It's kind, probably the limit. Maybe people that have lived here and moved, but you're not gonna get 300,000 Facebook fans. It's just not going to happen because you are serving such a small community and it's such a targeted niche thing. So we have to really tamp down our extra, I think, unless we are. Dealing with a cause that's in the news all the time, unless we are a national organization, unless we're an international organization. So we have to understand that. Not only can we not reach everybody, probably the majority of people are not going to support what we do. And that's so hard to stomach for a lot of organizations that have. This passion, the curse of knowledge, they know that what they do is important. They know that it's life changing. They know that they're making a huge difference in a lot of different populations, but there are people that don't agree with food banks. There are people that don't agree with homeless shelters. There are people that don't agree with arts programs. I mean, there are people that just, they don't care, they don't, and that we can't change that. So to me, I just want people to focus on who you have now and love on them and love on them and appreciate them, encourage them to spread the word like you. Did Carol have a fundraiser, tell your friends and family. They are your best marketers. They are your absolute best ambassadors. And then try to find more like-minded people, but don't get hung up on being the best kept secret because how many people can get on the front page of the New York times, not many. Even the front page of your local newspaper, it's pretty rare. So I really encourage people and marketers, especially fundraisers to love on the people that are there, because what happens is we get so focused on. Acquiring new people and new names and new donors. And then we neglect the people we have. And I just actually, who did I just have on my podcast? Julie Edwards, she's a fundraiser consultant. She was talking, she was saying that donor retention. It's something like 20% or at least in the last couple of years. So we don't focus nearly enough on keeping the people we have. We're constantly focused on the next thing, the next thing. And I really think we should do more to retain and engage the people that have raised their hand and said, Hey, I really like you, rather than just say, okay, we're 10 more. The like,
Carol: Cause you hear people like, oh, we're just preaching to the choir.
Julia: And the choir's amazing. If you get the choir singing together in harmony, get more people to get them to join the choir. Like you need the choir. If you don't have the choir, what do you, well, I mean, I'm not a real church goer, but I would say if you don't have a choir, you don't have a church. Like if you don't have people. Attending the church and their job is really to get more people to come and to, to make it an exciting, fun thing to do to invite people to say, we're having this great party over here. Do you wanna come? Oh, you don't wanna come right now? You can't come. It's not a good time. That's fine. The door's always open or, Hey, you wanna come? Here's some more information on how you can come to this party. And I think the whole notion of. Like beating people over the head with information and forcing them. And like we would, bring it full circle, manipulating people, guilting people. That's just not a sustainable way. It's like, you need to inspire people, get them excited, and then they're gonna spread the gospel for staying on this metaphor.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, overwhelming people with information. If I had a magic wand to change the nonprofit sector, I would somehow sum all the policy people and I would sit them down with the marketing people and, um, have the marketing people. help them simplify their message. So on all those advocacy emails that I get, I'm now saying this so that if a few people hear me, I want a, the highlight summary, like that has like a sentence behind it. Mm-hmm and then the second version is I want all the details. Then you can give me the version that the policy people will usually give. Yes, but I want to.
Julia: This is called TLDR for “too long, didn't read.” Have you ever seen that? Oh my God. Well, so sometimes people write emails and it's TL:DR. Yep. I've seen that where it's like, this is the too long didn't read version and it's two sentences. And then it's the whole rest of the email. If you wanna read it, go ahead.
Carol: I was talking to somebody who was interested in taking action on an item. Yeah. an issue. And she went to their website and she got so overwhelmed by the amount of information that was there. She just was paralyzed and didn't do anything. So it had exactly the opposite effect of what they wanted. Yes. Um, yeah,
Julia: This gives me a good idea for a blog post. All right. Excellent. Yeah, and we don't need more information. We need people to synthesize information for us. Yeah. And tell us why it's important. So you and I, we can Google everything all day. Every day. We do not need more information or data or statistics. We do need someone to tell us what it means and why it's important. And I totally agree with you, too many emails are just listing the data, but not giving me any context.
Carol: Yeah. And not giving me the simple “okay. And here's the next thing to do and I'm gonna help you do it.” So one of the things you talk about is future-proofing your organization. Can you say a little bit more about what you mean by that and how somebody might go about future-proofing?
Julia: I talk a lot about specifically future-proofing your marketing strategy, but I do think the. Principles would apply to me, my main idea behind this is to build a community that is excited and inspired by what you do. And that will follow you anywhere because tools and trends come and go. There's a clubhouse. There's this idea that something's gonna come up. TikTok and Snapchat the tools are not what's important. And I think when people hear me talk about future-proofing and trends, they get excited and they're like, “oh, she's gonna talk about the five tools that you need.” But actually the tools are really the least important thing. It's if you understand your audience and truly understand what they want. And just like we just said, if you can really distill your message down. Into the why and not focus so much on the how also if you're adaptable. So we have to be more proactive. That's a huge thing that I teach and that I advocate for rather than simply reacting. To change or putting our head in the sand and saying we can't fundraise because of XYZ, or we can't do this. We can't do that. We can't do this. Trying to be as proactive as possible around the things that you can control or the things that you do have in your wheelhouse. So, we can't control things like the war in Ukraine, we can't control things. Like I remember George Floyd's murder and, and the black lives matter protests and clients of mine had fundraising campaigns. They had marketing campaigns going on. You just have to say something like, trust your gut and say, okay. We're gonna be quiet now, but then not be quiet forever. Don't think because the world is constantly changing. I mean, the only constant is really change. Don't think because the world is so in upheaval that you can't, you can't connect with people. And then another thing that I teach is just to communicate more than you think you need to, you are not annoying people. If you are sending out relevant interest in communications that people want to hear. So, yeah, you're annoying me. If you send me five emails that are written the exact same way, just ask me for money. But if you're communicating with me weekly or twice a month, about the impact of my donation, about the problem, about the solution that you're providing, about things that you're doing, what should I know, what do I need to know? If you are becoming a thought leader and a go-to resource, then the tools don't matter. And, and. The method of communication doesn't really matter. So I think the only way to future-proof yourself is to become a real go-to resource and thought leader in your industry, even if it's tiny and small and not quote unquote sexy. Although I don't believe there are no sexy causes. I hear that all the time. I call this sexy well, sexy is in the eye of the beholder. As we know, like what I think is sexy, you might not think it is sexy. So I think that it's in the eye of the beholder, but really being able to understand your audience is what's important to them and what motivates them. And then just constantly be proactive in giving that to your audience. That's really the only way we're gonna get through. The next, I don't know, 5, 10, 15, 20 years of total upheaval and change.
Carol: Yeah. And that goes back to what you were saying before, really pay attention to the people who are already there. Who've already raised their hand. Who've already said they're interested. , yeah. Keep educating them. And, but it doesn't need to be a dissertation every time to give them the tools to spread the word, right. Like helping them be an ambassador. Yeah, I've been an ambassador and they don't, they're not necessarily, that's maybe somewhere where somehow it might actually be helpful, right? Like how do you, how would, what are some steps that you might be able to take to let other people know about the organization, et cetera.
Julia: Right. If you can't. I see Global Citizen as a fantastic example. I get their emails and honestly, there's great articles and information, but it's always like here's a step I can take this month, tweet this out, sign this petition, put this on Facebook, it's usually very simple activities like that. They do fundraising campaigns, but it's very rare. It's mostly here's something small you can do to spread the word about this and to help us, reach more eyeballs and more people that are interested and does it make you feel good? I mean, they're targeting a very, very young audience actually. They target a lot of college students and like Gen Z who might not have the ability to make a donation. I'm thinking of my daughter, she's twelve. She doesn't have a bank account. So she's on TikTok, but she still elevates the voices of people due to her sharing commenting, that's a huge deal to that generation. So you're building it up for them to care about these causes. It's a long term game here, and then when they become my age and then they can actually make donations. Hopefully they will have remembered that experience that they had. So I just see it as playing, playing a really long term game. There's so many different generations that we have to interact with now. I mean, I think there's like seven distinct generations right now. So we can't. We can't ignore the people with the money, right? The boomers, but we can't ignore the people that are coming up and that are really active in digital natives and are excited to spread the word and talk about it. So we just need to have different approaches. I think for, for both ends.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So at the end of each conversation, I like to ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. Yes. And so I pulled one out of my handy icebreaker question box. Yes. So if you could have any fictional character as your friend, who would you pick and why?
Julia: Wow. That is such an amazing, amazing, amazing question. Okay. I don't wanna think too long about this because I have so many books that I love. Mm-hmm , oh, I just had it in my brain and I lost it. Well, Right now I'm reading. Well, first of all, I should probably say cat is from hunger games, cuz I'm obsessed with hunger games, but I'm not sure she'd be such a good friend. So I dunno if she'd be like a really fun person to hang out with. But I'm reading station 11 right now. I don't know if you've read that. Mm-hmm so good and it's a TV show on HBOMax. So I would have Kirsten, the main character. I believe I would love to hang out with her. I think she'd be fun.
Carol: Yes. Yes. She is a really, really interesting character
Julia: Yeah. It's cool. Just such an interesting experience and she's just very Shakespeare and I think it'd be cool.
Carol: Yeah. And what was so interesting that, that book, and then the series was one of many. After some huge apocalypse story, but what I really appreciated about that one versus so many others, is that, sure there was some fighting between different groups of people, but that wasn't really the focus.
Julia: It's not like walking dead where it's just a bunch of oh yeah. People fight all the time.
Carol: And so many of the others, , after the apocalypse are always people fighting. And this one, I really felt like it was much more centered. People taking care of each other and I was that's what's actually gonna happen. Like yeah, sure.
Julia: People are gonna fight and be terrified. It's not gonna be Mad Max.
Carol: People are gonna take care of each other.
Julia: Oh, can I add one more- Jo of Little Women, obviously. Oh yeah, you gotta hang out with Anne of Green Gables. Okay. Now I've got a million of them.
Carol: We'll have a tea party with all of them.
Julia: Have a dinner party. That would be amazing. There you go. That's a great, great question.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. So, what's coming up for you. What are you excited about, , in your work these days?
Julia: Yay. I'm traveling a lot more for work and speaking. I am running my nonprofit social media summit again this year, November second and third. The registration page is not up yet, but we're really excited about that. I'm working with, , neon one CRM on. The third year of our summit, we did it in person in 2019, virtually last year. And we're doing a virtual this year again. , and my podcast, nonprofit nation, I absolutely love it. Some fantastic episodes and great guests coming up. So I just, I'm really, I'm feeling very positive for 20 me, 22. I really am. I think. I think it, I mean , I felt very positive about 20, 20 and 2021, but this year is our year. This is the year that it's gonna be. It's gonna be good, but I'm just feeling very, very positive and optimistic.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much. It was great. Thanks Carol. Great having you on the podcast and really appreciated the conversation.
Julia: Thank you so much anytime.
Carol: I appreciated Julia’s point about the marketing assets that you own vs your presence on social media. Whatever following you cultivate on social media – you only have access to them to the extent the algorithm puts your stuff in front of them. I was talking to someone recently who said they post on LinkedIn to broadcast what they are up to. But that isn’t really the case – because the LinkedIn algorithm decides whether it puts your post in someone’s feed or not. When you send an email to your list, you know you are sending it directly to the person. They may not open it and read it – but at least you know you have sent it to them. So your subscriber list, your donor list – these are all important marketing and fundraising assets of your organization. I also appreciated her different take on Facebook fundraisers – that they actually serve a marketing purpose by making more people aware of an organization they may not have heard of before. So even though the organization is not getting the donor information from the fundraiser – you are still getting them a little money in the short term and some visibility. Her advice to ‘love on the people that are there’ reminded me of Stu Swineford’s comment about the value of the choir. Both are saying – care for the people who already support you. Give them tools and resources to be able to spread the word. Don’t assume they know how to be a good ambassador for your organization – make sure you give them the resources and time to practice sharing your good news.
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 Julie, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Until next time!
In episode 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Stu Swineford discuss:
If you know me, you’ll know I’m never one to shy away from an opportunity to grow and take on new challenges.
For example, I started my marketing career as a copywriter and ad man. But one day, when my graphic designer colleague didn’t show up for work, I evolved (very quickly) into a designer. After all, I was the only other person in the building who knew how to turn on the Mac.
Since then, I’ve performed virtually every role in the digital marketing production lifecycle – from strategy and concepting, to design and development, to QA/QC and everything in between.
Along the way, I realized that I get the greatest joy from helping others achieve their goals. In a way, you could say I’m making the world a better place, one frustrated professional at a time.
These days, I’m in love with purposeful, conversion-focused digital marketing strategy and execution. That, and doing ridiculous things outdoors – usually where oxygen is limited.
When I’m not helping entrepreneurs and executive-level professionals, I can be found traipsing around the woods near the cabin in which I have lived with my wife and menagerie of pets since 1993. There I watch movies, read, and polish the details of my latest (possibly ill-advised) master plan for world domination.
If you’re interested in pulling me out of the woods for a coffee and talking shop (or hearing how I managed to actually run 100 miles in one go), please send an email my way (email@example.com), give me a call (303.825.4441), check out the podcast (relishthis.org), or grab a copy of my book, Mission Uncomfortable.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Stu Swineford of Relish Studios. Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Stu and I talk about the nonprofit marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be, why it is important to really be able to articulate what makes your organization different, and why many nonprofits struggle with the attract phase of the marketing cycle
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
All right. Welcome Stu. Welcome to the podcast.
Stu Swineford: Thank you so much for having me on Carol. I'm really excited to talk with you today.
Carol: So I like to start out with a question around what, what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Stu: That's a great question. I think that it comes down to my initial motivation, [it] was opportunity. I was working as a sales guy at a bike catalog company back in the early nineties. And had been working there for a couple of years. And one day the owner came to me and said, Hey, do you want to go to lunch? And I thought, well, this is a weird way to fire somebody. But we went on a bike ride for lunch and during that ride invited me to help them with copywriting. So at the time I was just being, I was just a sales guy, but they needed some help writing copy for the county business. This tells you how old I am. We're talking about actual physical catalogs back in the day. So I raised my hand and said, yeah, that sounds great. I think that sounds like fun. So I became a copywriter in about six weeks. After that the graphic artists decided that she no longer wanted to work there and just stopped showing up. So we had a catalog that needed to be completed and gotten out the door in about three or four weeks after that. And I thought to myself, well, I know how to turn the Mac on. So maybe this is something I can do. So I raised my hand and said, how about I take this on and see about. Being a graphic designer and all of a sudden at about the age of 23 or so, I found myself as the director of marketing for one of the top three catalog companies in the states at the time. So it was really an opportunity that drove me initially to marketing. From there, I really was able to, Work for during the.com boom, and worked for a number of agencies and eventually found myself in a position where I decided that I knew enough to be dangerous, to run my own business. And so started relish studio back in 2018. I'm one of the co-founders of, and, and partners at relish studio. And we were able to refine what we do to bring a little bit of a different take to it where we recognized that. We had the most fun. And we did our best work when we were working for companies who had something more in mind than just making money. It wasn't just buying the owners next yacht or, or Porsche or something like that. There was a mission behind what these companies were doing. And so we really pivoted what we do to try to work with purpose driven businesses, nonprofits, people in that, in that zone who. Who really do have a little bit of a giving back mentality. So that's what we try to do here at relish studio. So I think that's our, why being able to serve authentically one of my declarations is I exist to serve and and so I really have embraced that and, and, and that's what gets me up.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah, I, I can, I can relate to that story because I feel like when I first moved into the nonprofit sector, I had a little bit of a background of doing some Well, they were actually advertorials and it was also in a, in a physical magazine that got sent to people who, who did a radio talk shows back in the day, then moved into the nonprofit sector because I wanted to really support causes that I believed in, but it was also a little bit of the case of, oh, well, she can write, so she should do marketing. Like, or, and she's organized so she can manage production. it was very much falling into it and, and, not moving out of the, out of the circles fast enough when it's like, well, okay, you, and and I've since moved away from that, but I feel like for a lot of people in the non-profit sector they may not come to their role with a huge amount of background or, they may have some basic skills. Don't have a degree in marketing or business or, and they're having to learn as they go. So where would you say is a place to start for folks who, they, they somehow end up with that title. But aren't really, don't necessarily have a real huge background in, in the field for a, for a small organization.
Stu: That's a really fantastic question. It's like marketing a marketing title through necessity and opportunity there. Right. I think that. So we have a blog post that actually has gotten quite a bit of traction over the years that just talks about the marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be and understanding that there are a thousand things that you can do in any given day. The best plan of action is to pick one and do it really well. And then you can move on into other options, understanding also where your audience is going to play. I think that there are a lot of people who feel forced into social media. They may not be comfortable with it, or, they're, they're trying to do all of the things in social media instead of just figuring out which one will have the most impact and going there. So we always try to start with values, vision, mission making sure that there's a good understanding, a good solid understanding of, of what makes your organization different. And then really rolling into the audience, who are the people who are going to support your organization. And where do they go to get information where they go to engage and, and start there? So for example, in the nonprofit world, the boomer generation is still one of the most powerful. Donor pools out there. But there are a lot of new social media platforms out there that are exciting and fun and people want to play in. But, for example, putting all of your eggs into the TikTok basket with. Your organization and the donor pool is really in the, more aligned with the Facebook basket or even direct mail or email basket is something that you want to consider. So just make sure that you are hitting things hitting the people where they should. There are programs out there to help with coaching. In fact, relish studio has a coaching program as well, where we help budding marketers learn more about marketing and, and become more adept at being able to fill. Role within their organizations. So I'd say that going out and trying to seek out those types of service opportunities or learning opportunities would be another, another place to, to start as you're dipping your toe in the marketing.
Carol: Yeah. And you make some great points there. I mean, one of the things that, as I was thinking about our conversation today, I was thinking about was, with marketing today, there are just so many different options, different directions that people can go in different channels. And so starting about thinking, who are you trying to reach? Who you're trying to educate or inform about what you're doing, what your organization is doing and then where they hang out and go there. And instead of, “oh, well I'm comfortable writing, so I'm going to do a blog,” but no one's going to come to it or, from your own comfort level of like, “oh, I have fun on Instagram and I'm going to go there.” [Try] thinking about it from the other person's point of view: where are your donors – or potential donors – and how can you reach them where they're at?
Stu: One of the things that we've done, we have a blog but one of the things we recognized is, it's really challenging to get people to come to your site for a “regular blog” type of scenario. So we looked at a couple of ideas and in one of those was why don't we go where the audience is. And so I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn basically putting material there. It can be, it can be reused on the blog. So it's not like you can't use that material on your site as well. And we've actually seen a strong growth in both organic and redirected traffic from LinkedIn to our site. So, I think that what I really recognized was I was able to reach a larger audience. If I went to where they were actually hanging out, rather than asking them to come, come join me wherever.
Carol: Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing that you talked about right, there was just the ability to use one thing, but re put it in different places, repurpose it. And, and I think that that's a great opportunity for organizations, especially when there's, they're stretched so thin. They don't need to be in that constant turn of, we’ve got to create something new all the time, what's the take, the one thing, and how can you use it in five different ways? So if somebody were to try to do some more repurposing of what they're already producing, what are some ways that you would talk them through thinking about.
Stu: Well, a podcast is a great example. You can start with an audio or a video explanation or discussion or conversation. And from that, you can get a variety of different materials. So I have a podcast called Relish. It's about nonprofit marketing. And I have conversations with nonprofit leaders and experts in the field who bring a lot to the table in terms of opportunities to just have discussions around, around marketing and how people can do a better job. So there's one asset there, which is the podcast itself. That podcast theoretically can be broken into sound bites. If there are nice little quotes in there, those can be leveraged on social media. You can put a sound byte out that is a teaser to the show that drives people back to the podcast. The transcript of the podcast becomes an opportunity to create written content that can be used in a variety of different ways, both on social media and on a blog et cetera. In fact, what are the, one of the ideas around starting the show was that I would get a book out of it, out of it. I'd have, let's say 52 conversations. And from that we had a book, essentially. I have not yet written that book, but it's certainly there and the opportunity there to take what started as an audio recording and. pretty quickly enables you to repurpose that material. in a variety of different ways to, to get the most out of that one piece of media. I am also always on the lookout during my show for blog opportunities and ideas. And so we leverage it that way as well as send out an email about the show, send out an email with that, with those blog post opportunities. So, we're repurposing what started as one conversation into a whole variety of different materials. We also publish the audio to YouTube as a video. I know there are a lot of podcasts out there that record video for their shows as well. So, there's just a lot, a lot of ways to to take one piece of media and make it really like.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, I started including transcripts of the interviews. My initial motivation was just around accessibility in terms of the deaf community who obviously can't listen to a podcast. But I realized there was someone who was listening who said “No, I love the fact that you do transcripts because I don't generally listen to podcasts, but I love reading the conversation.” So it makes it accessible to folks whether they have a challenge in the way or not. So yeah, then all those things that you're talking about, how can you springboard from that one piece? What do you see as the biggest challenges facing nonprofits when it comes to marketing and getting the word out about the work that they do?
Stu: Well it really depends on the non-profit the maturity level of, of, of each nonprofit, I would say. I think that non-profits tend to have a real challenge in the attract phase. So if you consider our idea that there are essentially four major phases of a stakeholders life cycle: attract, bond, connect, and then inspire. Within those, you can break it out into a little more granularly where people need to know about you. So they need to find out who you are. They need to then develop a sense of liking you where they're like, okay. Yeah, this is a person I'm interested in continuing to follow trusting you. So providing proof that you're doing a good job or. social proof that demonstrates that that is what you're doing. And then we move into the connect phase so that those are part of the bond of the attraction phase. We move into the connect phase where they're really being able to try and buy. So, small offers, small opportunities to have a value exchange. Usually that's an email. It starts with time for value. And then you escalate that to perhaps an email address for value. And then eventually that becomes a financial transaction where you're actually getting a donation. And then or, or a purchase, if you're a nonprofit actually has a product that they can sell. And then we move into the inspire phase, which is essentially once you have established that financial, transactional relationship moving into the inspire phase is really getting those people to shout your praises, to spread the message to reach a wider audience, as well as repeat. So you're taking a one-time donor and turning them into a second time donor, turning them into a monthly donor. Maybe getting their business involved and having. Those relationships grow into something that's bigger than what it first started, which might be a simple $20 donation. And so, so really I think some of the big challenges lie in that attract phase. What are the things that we can do as a nonprofit to get the word out and encourage people to come learn more? What are those offers? What are those things that are going to get people to. To say, oh, I want to learn more about this. And that tends to be I think one of the, one of the biggest areas of challenge is, is just starting to, how do I, how do I get in front of the right people to get them to come to my site or to learn more about.
Carol: So, what are some things that you've seen organizations be successful in, in terms of that attract phase or that, just building some awareness around the work that the organization is doing.
Stu: I think that organizations, one of the things that we see organizations of almost every type struggle with is how to position themselves as the guidance story. All of us want to be the hero in our own stories. And most organizations fall into that trap where, when they talk about themselves with. When they're attempting to talk to their audiences, they tend to talk more about themselves than their audiences and fail to really see opportunities to reframe that narrative where the audience becomes the hero of that story. And it's a challenge in the non-profit space because people are out doing really good work. They are out there, changing lives and. Perhaps saving lives. And so it's, it's pretty easy to fall into that trap of, we do this type of language. I think reframing that narrative and doing the best that you can to put it into that perspective of where your donors are, where the people in that audience are framed as the hero of that story. So trying to figure out what their motivations would be to donate to your organization, what is inspiring them to fill that role and then framing your narrative around that is one, one way to just start that process certainly as I said a few minutes ago, making sure that you're, you're in the right place to be starting. Those conversations are important as well. I would recommend that every organization out there do a survey of their constituents or their stakeholders and just find out where, where they go to get information, what social channels are they on? Where do they go, how do they even like gathering information? So, I like to read, but I don't want to watch a video. And that'll really inform not only. Where to go, but what media type to to leverage in that place in order to, to get in front of the right people and, and and create materials with that, they'll be interested in engaging with,
Carol: Can you give me an example of turning that around that reframe that you're saying of being the guide versus the hero in the story?
Stu: Yeah. So an example in the nonprofit space might be, let's say you are a, let's say you're an organization that builds trails and advocates for trail use in in a certain area. One of the ways that you might re-frame that conversation. So instead of saying, Hey, we help save the trails and keep them clean. And ready for all of the access that people might want. You might want to reframe that in the perspective of, if we know that you are passionate about trails and want to keep them safe. So by donating today, you help w you help keep this area's trails open and accessible for all.
Carol: Yeah. So it's turning it around again. I mean, just like you were saying at the beginning where it's, go, go where the folks are, right. Rather than where you want to hang out and then put them in the center of the story instead of, instead of yourself. Yeah, just really appreciate that you talked about maturity levels of organizations, kind of. I'm curious what you see. Well, obviously there, there are organizations that are early on small as they get bigger. What are some different things that you see as opportunities as, as organizations grow to maybe, I don't know whether it's necessarily to expand their marketing, but maybe do it differently as they.
Stu: Yeah. So I think as organizations grow and this can be any organization you have, have built up an audience, you have built up a base of clients or donors or stakeholders that have raised their hand that are ready to continue to engage. With your organization, if you just ask them. And so the lowest hanging fruit tends to fall into that inspire phase where it's way easier to get a donor to donate again than it is to take someone through that entire journey of attracting, bond and connect and get them to donate for the first time. We, as people love shiny new things, it's just, for whatever reason our brains are geared toward how exciting it is to land something new. So it's a little boring to go back to Stephanie or Jim or, or, or, or Gail and say, Hey, would you be willing to do it? Would you be willing to donate again? Could we turn you into potentially a monthly donor? That just isn't as exciting in our brains, but it's an easier opportunity. So two things there first is. Yeah, it's way easier to get someone to donate again than it is to get them to donate the first time. And the second thing is those people also have demonstrated their interest in your organization and their desire to help your organization. And so even though. Even if they aren't able to donate again right now, they will probably be willing to share your mission with their networks. So that repeat and refer area is something that we see as more available to a mature organization, because you've just simply been around for longer. And you have those connections built up versus a startup, nonprofit who right now doesn't really have a whole lot of opportunity to re-engage donors if they, if they're just starting to get them.
Carol: Yeah. And what comes to mind is the phrase, “oh, you're just preaching to the choir.” Well, you need the choir yeah. Those folks that continue to, to show up maybe at your events, maybe, participating in programs, donating all of those different things. And so making sure that you're treating the choir well is, is, is important
Stu: Well to extend that metaphor, the choir sings really, really well.
Carol: Right. And how can you help them see broader, broader audiences?
Stu: Exactly, exactly. And a lot of times that's just giving them something to say, that social post and sharing it, writing an email that they can share with their, with their team, just, getting them one step down the road, saying, Hey. Feel free to modify this, however you'd like, but here's, here's some ways that you can spread this message a little bit, a little bit more effectively, and we wanted to help you help make that easier. That's certainly among the recommendations that we would have for that referral type of athlete.
Carol: Yeah, that, that point of making it easy for folks. I was with a group the other day, and a woman was talking about, she wanted to take action in this particular arena. And, she went on to a website. It was, this was around, advocating for voting rights. And she was motivated. She went. But there was just so much information on the website. It was so complicated. It just overwhelmed her and she ended up in paralysis. She didn't take any action, even though she was motivated enough to go to their website and try to read, but they, they didn't, keep it simple, they wanted to give the person all the information. And so, unfortunately it probably had the opposite impact that they actually wanted because she didn't end up making the phone calls that they were hoping that she would do or anyone who would show up on the website. Right. And was motivated to take action.
Stu: Yeah. We tend to fall into the trap of wanting to tell people all the things. And if we can focus on one thing at a time, this is why I've, I've gotten a little bit away from newsletters and have started focusing email outreach on a single idea and a single action. So instead of giving people a choose your own adventure, monthly newsletter, where, there are nine things that they could possibly do. Get interested in and maybe go exploring hitting people more frequently with more focused intentional single, single ideas. Emails have proven to be a lot more than that.
Carol: Yeah, I've seen that for myself. When I first started out, I did a newsletter where I went once a month where I shared both. I did a twice-monthly blog. And so I shared links to each of them. And after a year looked at my stats and every single month, the one at the top was the one that got opened more. I was like, well, and, and the one, one further down, just and so yeah, I went to one thing, one email, one thing and people are just so bombarded with information that yeah, I think that, that desire to tell you everything that. We've got a lot to share. We want it, we want to do that. But what, what's that one thing that you really want people to take away or take action on?
Stu: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. We've found that creating synergy between your email message and where you're sending people as well is super effective. And so making sure. the tendency is to be just like, okay, well we'll send them to the homepage. Well, once I get to the homepage, there's dozens of things on most sites that people can do from there. So even creating a single landing page, that is the action that we want you to take from that particular email is a really valuable exercise.
Carol: So what do you see as the opportunities for organizations as they're trying to connect with people, attract them, may do that bonding help them get to know each other, create that relationship. Really. It's not just about that transaction and then moving them to inspire what are some of the opportunities that you're seeing? Stay the course and don't get distracted with the shiny new things, or are there some new things that are coming along that people should be paying attention to?
Stu: Well, that's a one fun thing about marketing is there's always something new, something that's either falling out of favor because it's no longer really working or coming into favor because it's it's something that people are trying, I would say nonprofits have a tendency to lag in terms of what they are. They just don't have the bandwidth to stay on top of the latest trends. However, like I mentioned earlier, most of the donations are still coming from the boomers. At this point that'll, fairly quickly move into Gen X-ers. And it just tends to be the people with more. Less time left on the earth, as well as more income opportunities or more, more disposable income opportunities. Tend to give a little more, it's just, we tend to do that as we age. So I would say nonprofits should probably be a little less focused on the newest. Information a delivery mechanism or, or marketing channel and stay focused more on some of the things that are a little bit more tried and true. For example, email continues to be a very viable way to engage with some of the older populations. That's been something they're comfortable with. Email, if someone's on your email list, they tend to have raised their hand at some point. So they tend to be a little more engaged with you than just, something that happens to flow into their feed. I would say consistency is something that most businesses including nonprofits can benefit from is just creating content. Map a a roadmap for what the next six months look like develop themes around that, that a roadmap. So, maybe April is going to be, when you talk about this particular program, maybe when you promote some event or sweepstakes opportunity that you have et cetera, and then develop the content that's of help support that. And then just be, get really good at executing on, on that content. just be consistent about it when shiny things, I call it the shiny squirrel syndrome. When those things come up, put them, put them in a sandbox and be willing to explore those as future opportunities, but don't let those try to not let those get in the way of the plan.
Carol: Yeah, I appreciate the notion of, you don't, you don't need to be on top of all the trends and picking a couple of things, doing it well, doing it consistently. Those all can have multiplier effects. So yeah, I, I think that may be a sigh of relief for most people in the nonprofit sector where it's like, we're, we're, we're trying to do so many different things. And, and I mean, I think probably that those principles would work in a lot of different areas within an organization, oftentimes where I'm working with them around strategy. It's it's, it's also trying to figure out what are the. Couple big things that you're going to be focused on, not 95 different things that you could be doing within a particular space. So yeah it aligned.
Stu: You mentioned relationships earlier, and frankly, I see marketing as just relationship building, whether you're selling, trying to sell a widget or let's say a bottle of soda or trying to get someone to come on board as a major corporate donor, it's all about building relationships and getting good at having those conversations consistently. And making sure that those are authentic. And I would say if there's, if there's ever one thing to do for an executive director or a donation manager or, someone out there it's pick up the phone or get people on calls and ask them questions and develop relationships with them. even, even buying soda, for example, Coke and Pepsi and all those guys are out there trying to develop a relationship with a customer. And it may be a fairly easy relationship to develop, a dollar or whatever, however much a soda costs these days is not a heavy lift to get somebody to try something. But at the end of the day, you’re billing awareness. So not getting people to know who you are, getting people to like you, to trust you, to try to buy, to repeat your refer. that's that, that's that cycle that, that we want to get people into. And yeah, it's just about having authentic conversations is, is really, if there was one thing that every non. Leader or their team could do it, contact X amount of people and have good solid conversations with them every week. And just put a number to that and, and make sure you're hitting that.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just keeping the relationship and the conversation front of line. So even when you're, you're creating something that may not be in a conversation format and back and forth too. Remember that whatever you're sharing is only one half of the conversation. So what's, what's the other half that you went back to? So that back and forth I think is really
Stu: Yeah. And developing opportunities to just provide value, whatever that is. So we talked about content a little while ago. You don't always have to be, you don't always have to come up with the big story out of thin air to be a good blog post, if there's something that aligns with your mission that, in another organization, is doing, or that's interesting. I had a conversation last night about food scarcity, scarcity at a, at a meetup that I had appeared with some somebody and, there's information there that I could then share. I didn't come up with it. Found out about it. But that's like being the Maven, being the person willing to share that information. if you can just reach out to somebody and be like, Hey, I saw this article, it reminded me of you. Here's why you think it's important or why. I thought you might be interested. Let me know what you think and send that to an individual or send that to your list, in an authentic capacity that that's good.
Carol: Yeah. I actually love the parts of newsletters where it's, what we're reading right now or what we're listening to. And, and, some of my most read things have been my little, like, short reviews of books, et cetera, because people are always on the lookout for recommendations from people, as you said that from people that they trust and, and they know, have a similar perspective. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So at the end of each podcast, I ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. I have a box of icebreaker questions I pull them out of. And so I've got a couple here for you. I'll just ask you one. What I usually do is pick out three and then see where the conversation goes and see what I'm pulled to, pull to, to then ask. So what's the best advice that you've ever received?
Stu: Wow. The best advice. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be able to engage with experts in a variety of different fields: business, personal life. No even athletics. I just somehow managed to be able to spend time with world champions and, and people of that nature. So I've received a lot of amazing advice over the years. I think that probably the best advice I have that I could share is to be yourself. And if you can come to every conversation and every interaction as you are authentic and be interested and, and all of those things, but essentially coming from that from who you are you're going to feel more fulfilled and you're going to develop better, stronger relationships. It's that authenticity piece that I think is super important.
Carol: Yeah. And I think, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that goes for organizations as well. Right. Be themselves. Yeah, I think we're, we're social creatures and our antennae are pretty good for when people are faking it. Right. And they're not, they're phony or whatnot. And so, yeah, I think that that's, that's great. That's great advice. And we're always stepping into that. I think as we, as we continue to evolve, hopefully. Yeah, I hope
Stu: so. It feels to me like I've been around in the business world since, I mean, I guess I graduated college back in the early nineties. And so I entered the business world pretty, pretty soon thereafter, and for a while, there was a real trend to never show weakness and never, never be. demonstrate that things might not be going well. We're asked for help and, and I, I'm very encouraged and maybe it's just the people that I hang with, but I'm very encouraged to see at least among that group, people being more and more vulnerable and more and more willing to share both the good things and the bad things that are going on. I think that social media has created a situation where a lot of us argue. Given the opportunity to, to see how people may be struggling because they just put out the good stuff out there and just really understand that it's okay to be vulnerable. And when you can be yourself and show up in an authentic way good things happen.
Carol: Yeah. And with that, I think I appreciate it. I've heard it from Brene Brown of also being aware of who's earned the right to your story. Who's earned the right to, what levels of vulnerability. Are you, are you telling a story from a wound or a scar? So I think that that's also important when you, those, those big, big blanket statements don't, obviously it never works in every situation, but the more that you can, be willing to yeah. I recognize, and share when, when you're struggling and that. But you need help. Right. And asking for help, I think, is certainly something that I've had to step into and learn more about as I grow older. So yeah. Appreciate that. So what are you excited about? What's emerging in your work?
Stu: I think that is one of the things that I have been working on for quite some time. And it's really coming to fruition and I'm incredibly excited about it. It's something I spoke about a little while ago, which is this coaching opportunity. I love helping people. I love helping people be their best selves. And so being able to create a coaching program that puts me in a, in a. In a position to be able to help people in that capacity has been really fulfilling and I'm super excited to continue to expand that program. So, it's something that we have, I have several, several coaching clients at this point and And so it's really fun to be able to meet with them on a, on a regular basis and watch their progress and see how much they can come alive in, in the marketing space and be able to contribute to the growth and success and ability for their organizations to to expand that.
Carol: Yeah. So it goes back to that. You don't have to do it young. You don't have to go it alone. You can, you can get help.
Stu: Yeah, for sure. There are lots of resources available out there and I'm certainly available. And, and, if somebody would like to discuss some of the challenges they're facing or, or what coaching might look like, I'd be happy to chat with them about.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being on the podcast. It's been a super pleasure. I'm excited to be able to have this chat with you and look forward to talking with you soon.
Stu: Alright. Thank you so much. Thanks Carol.
Carol: I appreciated Stu’s point about thinking about all of your communications from the point of view of those you are trying to reach. So if your average donor is a Baby Boomer, spending a lot of time on TikTok probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Where do they hang out and how can you go to them? And then when you are telling your story – making yourself the guide not the hero of the story – putting the people that benefit from your work at the center instead of yourself. That can be a little tricky because you don’t want to be in the business of not respecting your clients privacy or using their challenges for inspiration porn. At the same time – how can you get yourself out of the way of the story you are trying to tell. I also appreciated Stu’s emphasis on keeping it simple. Asking people to do one thing – just one thing. When I am talking to people as part of the strategic planning processes that I support, I ask them if they had a magic wand and could change the organization in any way, what would their wishes be. So if I were to give myself the magic wand, it would be to have every policy person who writes policy updates and asks their constituents to take an action – write an email, call their representative to simplify their messages. And if they really want to share all the details – they would have two options – Click here for the highlight summary – that would have at most a sentence or two explaining – why they wanted me to contact my representative to vote for or against the bill and then provide a mechanism for me to do that. SIMPLE. Then they could include a second option – if you want all the details – click here – But right now – most of the advocacy communications I receive only have the second version. Maybe the policy people think it is the simple version – but to a layperson like me it is not. So yes – keep it simple and to the point! With that I should get to the point…
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Stu, his bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. I also hope of course that you subscribe so that you will get future episodes. Reviewing the podcast helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
Brief discussion of attempted murder from 26:27 until 26:38
In episode 43 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Travis Johnson discuss:
Travis Johnson is the host of the Nonprofit Architect Podcast. Travis shares his perspective as the former Vice President of Books by Vets; a board member at the S.H.I.N.E. foundation; he’s donated over $30,000; volunteered over 1,500 hours; raised more than $500,000; helped start 6 nonprofits; event coordinator; and published author.
Travis is currently serving as an active-duty officer in the United States Navy, married with two children, and on move #50. His humble beginnings include 36 moves before graduating high school at 17, 6 states, 5 foster homes, and surviving 2 murder attempts. Although this was very rough, there was always a person, group, or church willing to help him and his family. Now that he’s in a position to give back, he’s made it his mission to “Help the Helpers”.
Important Links and Resources:
Welcome Travis. Welcome to the podcast.
Travis Johnson: Hey, thanks for having me, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what motivates folks. So, what drew you to the work that you're doing now? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Travis: I have a why, and I just had this conversation right before we got on about a mutual friend of mine and this other guy, he's like, why are you doing all this stuff? And he replied because I'm allergic to being poor is like, why I'm doing so many things. That's not my why, but I thought it was a hilarious way to put that in context. But we're talking about the show that I had with the nonprofit architect podcast when I was growing. We had a lot of help and we needed a lot of help. I went through 36 moves, 12 schools, six states, five foster homes, and survived two murder attempts all before graduating high school at 17. And that means that we needed a lot of help, whether it was from individuals, churches, social services, or nonprofit organizations. You have a lot of credit to all the people that helped our family grow up there, the reason that we stayed sheltered close at the fed, and now that I'm in a place where I'm not in that scarcity of that survival mode, I'm able to give back. And I found out a way to be part of the community and being part of the nonprofit community, served on a couple of boards, donated a bunch of hours, and a bunch of money helped start a few nonprofits. And then I got stationed overseas in the kingdom of Bahrain. And I was like, how am I supposed to keep doing all this fun nonprofit work? And someone's like, well, you really have that podcast voice. You could probably connect and talk about some of this stuff. And I was like, Ooh, that would be cool. And, look through all the different podcasts that are out there. And there were some great conversations, but when I really didn't find that the top tier show was, was it really a show, like how do you set up a board? How do you raise money? How do you hold events? All these different things that apply to the nonprofit world. So I set out to create the premiere, how to podcasts for nonprofits. And we came up with the nonprofit architect podcast, helping build stronger nonprofits. And I view it as my mission to help health.
Carol: Well, I love that, that catchphrase. I was just looking at your website and saw that it helps the helpers, because I've used that phrase myself, that when I'm working with organizations, I like to work with people who are helping other people. And so I'm like many, many lines back in the chain of the helpers. But going back to that Fred Rogers, look, look for the helpers that, that really, When I'm wondering, what, what am I doing here all day? And I, that really helps me come back to center and think, it's, it's contributing to that, that entire ecosystem of folks who are doing all sorts of things to contribute to a better world. taking care of people day to day, all of that, all of the above. So I love that motivation. It certainly rings true for me.
Travis: Oh, absolutely. There's so many people out there doing, just going to work, helping their neighbors, helping the environment, helping animals. And if I, I can't help all of them, but if I can help them do what they're doing better, put a little bit more money in their pocket, help them understand their organization a little bit better, get a bit more focused. So they're able to deliver those services more efficiently, more effectively, and with less stress. All in.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. So one of the things that in addition to the podcast that you host yourself focusing on, how do you really think that nonprofits themselves should have their own podcasts? Can you, can you tell me a little bit more about that and why, why you think that?
Travis: And we can fill up a couple of hours talking about it if you want it to. First off I fell in love with podcasting while I was deployed. It is just such an easy medium to deal with. It's easy to get started. It's free to get started. If you've got a smartphone, you've got all the equipment you need to get started. And even I have production services and all that stuff, but even if you don't use me, like just getting started and falling in love with the process, that's, that's the way to go. Everyone that I talk to, everyone that I interview, everyone that I'm a guest on their show. I get to learn something. And if I'm the host, I get to ask all the cool questions that I want answered when you're in the nonprofit space, there's all these other organizations doing something similar to what you're doing, right. They're helping the same group of people. Maybe they're helping the same type of animals and maybe you're doing it differently. But what it does is. You're promoting the stuff that you're doing in your area, right in your local area. And there's people that are going to be listening and they're going to be like, this is really cool. I want to know how I can contribute. And it might be giving your organization money directly, or it might be connecting with an organization in their area that they didn't know is there. And they can now help out. The same thing that you want to help, maybe not your organization. It helps you build this huge, massive contact list. Every interview that you do, they're also sharing. So you guys are both getting the chance to leverage each other's network, all the audience that you've built, all the audience that they've built, you get to, You lend some of your credibility and some of your audience to them as an organization, and then all the people, because they're going to share the episode, all the people in their sphere of influence, they're going to hear about you. And it's such a fantastic way to grow your audience, to connect, to do better things on the personal. you go to a school, you go to college, you learn life experiences. Maybe you get into reading and maybe you listen to podcasts. Like you're listening to right now and they're going to teach you something. But when you start interviewing people, it's like having your own private masterclass with the experts. I got the opportunity to interview Asha Curran from Giving Tuesday, and learned a ton. Interviewed Alan Stein Jr. From raising your game. He's done leadership work with the late great Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and he gets to speak about leadership on the show. I got to interview Bob Burg, author of the Go-Giver series. It was just a fantastic man. I love his five principles for stratospheric success. And I got to interview Steve Sims. This is someone that does world-class events for millionaires and billionaires. He hosts, Sir Elton John's. Carpet Oscar party every year. And I asked him, I was like, what's the difference between the way for-profit businesses do events and the way that nonprofit businesses, like I got to ask him personally, instead of having to spend like $30,000 for his coaching, I get to bring them on my show. He gets to leverage my platform and I get to ask him for whatever the heck I wanted to. But if you're in the nonprofit space, And you're trying to get something accomplished, especially if it requires legislation, you can interview every single politician, every city council member, the mayor, the Senator, the Congressman state, and the federal level, the governor, you get to get them on your show on a record, talking about the thing that you both care about. Best part about it is when this comes up in Congress or for a vote or they're getting the committees ready. They're going to say this stuff, who do we know that's an expert, and they're gonna remember being on your show and you're going to get brought into the conversation to have that direct ability to affect the change that you want to see in the world with the people that can make it happen. It's such a fantastic way to leverage and do everything you want to do as a nonprofit, but that's not even the biggest part of this Carol. It's the big difference between a website people go to all the time, day after day, week after week, month after month and a website. Yeah. People only go through one time. The biggest difference between the two is new content. When you look at news, sports, social media, whatever it is, there's new stuff every day. And when you look at the vast majority of non-profit websites, it looks like a digital pain, but this is who we are. This is what we do. Here's our founding story. And that's great. And there's a sure, some donation plugin there so people can give you money, but they've got no reason to come back to your website. Unless you've created new content and reasons for, for doing that. So by adding a podcast or a blog or a blog or a YouTube channel to your page and creating that new content, all of a sudden people are coming to your page for other reasons. And realizing that the thing they care about is the thing that you care about and they can provide money directly to the cause of the thing that they care about. Because they found you through some other method and what a fantastic way to get people into your circle and to create real value for them, the person that large, the potential donor, the potential volunteer is by coming directly to you because of something that you've created.
Carol: Yeah, that's awesome. I wanted to follow up on a couple of different things you've talked about there. First is I just totally resonate with the idea that the podcast actually is a learning mechanism because I, when I started mine or even actually way before I started it, because, well, I won't admit how long it took me to get started. But when I first had the idea, I was sitting at a conference and listening to. A number of experts, consultants. Who've been in the field for a long time and were thinking about their legacy. And I thought, oh, wouldn't, I want to follow up with these people having kind of one-on-one informational interviews. And I thought, well, Wouldn't it be cool if I just shared that, if I just had the conversation recorded and then shared it with other people and, and that was the springboard for the, the podcasts that my podcast of yeah, exactly. That I could say, talk to interesting people. I'd be doing that anyway. The difference is I hit record and I work with some of them, do a little bit of editing and add some music and stuff, but beyond that, it's pretty simple. Right. It's what you would do in a virtual coffee anyway. And yet it can be valuable to a whole other group of people. So I love, yeah, so, it could be Just that, that, that instance of learning and continued growth. I think too often folks in organizations think about any content that they're creating a blog post, possibly a pocket. As, just as a way to get their message out, but all of those other benefits of the multiplying networks that you're talking about, the potential for relationship building. Having, as you said, your own private masterclass with really prominent people, all is beneficial. And, and for me, when I was doing my worst case scenario, What if no one listens to this podcast, I still could list all of those things as benefits. And luckily there are plenty of people listening. So thank you to all of them, all the folks who are listening. But I could list all of those benefits from the get-go even if, if my worst fear were to have.
Travis: You have nobody listened. Nobody showed up, the really cool part about it is, a lot of organizations have a problem with things like, what am I gonna post on social media? Like, what am I going to, I don't even know what to put out there today. If you do something like an interview show, thank you Carol, for being my guest yesterday. And I'm your guest today. Thank you so much. If Carol asked me 10 questions and I provided 10 answers. That's all the content you need to have a morning in an afternoon post each and every week. Right? So if you interview me, it’s January 6th. I don't know when this is going to be published. Let's just say it's next week. Carol asked me 10 questions, using a program that's free called headliner. And you can take a few minute clips out of there. Her question and my answer. And if you have 10 questions and answers, you have a morning, Monday morning and Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning or Wednesday afternoon for the whole week, from just a single conversation, you don't have to figure out what you're going to post. You just have to repurpose what you've created and all of a sudden that workload goes away. If you have a company doing the backend stuff for you, they create them all for you. And they can even schedule them out. So you don't have to even do anything. You just record the episode, you give it to the team and they do all the work.
Carol: I think that's another thing that people forget is the number of ways that you can repurpose. One thing that you've created. So you've talked about a lot of the benefits that organizations can see from doing a podcast from, the learning aspect of connecting with other people, networking with other potential partners highlighting all the interesting things. Obviously you can just interview people within, inside your organization and help highlight their expertise. Multiplying networks, having, having people they'll share you share you got to borrow people's audiences are stepping into their audiences and building relationships in that repurposing. What are some of the things that you see gets in the way of folks getting started? Because it might, it might seem intimidating to do a pilot.
Travis: It can be. And I'm sure when you started your show, I mean, you feel like there's a thousand things you got to figure out before you surgery. You're like, oh, what am I going to record this thing? When do I have the time? And who's going to do the production, can I do the production? Can I do all these things? What equipment do I need? What do I host it on? Can I change it? What am I going to name it? Like it can be. It can be a lot to be successful in this stuff. The main thing you need to do is say what your show is about and tell people how often you're going to do it. And if you keep the program on target about what it's going to be about, and you publish, when you say you're going to publish that builds credibility and authority and reliability. So I said, I'm going to do a weekly show, and I've done a weekly show each and every week I publish. And people come flocking in. They know that it might be providing the steps they need to be successful. So I've said what I'm going to do. And then I do it, which is great. If you look out there, there's all sorts of different production, quality levels. There's people on their phone on anchor, just chatting for a few minutes and then they call it good. A guy named Russell Brunson. Who's the co-founder of click funnels. Did this as a marketing podcast. He got in his car every morning, recorded on his phone on the way to work at 10. And it got to the parking lot and he hit publish and just let it go. He did this for like 400 episodes. He's gotten millions upon millions upon millions of downloads. No intro music, no outro music, no production quality whatsoever. He had quality conversations with himself and publishing. And allowed him to have this huge platform with millions of downloads. You don't have to get all crazy with it. You can write, you're going to get the Joe Rogan setup and he's got people setting up the sound and he's got the crazy microphone and he's got headphones and mixers and all these things. And they do it in a sound booth and a sound room, and then they take it and they put all this production value into it, make the sound, sound great, and all these things. And you can do that, but you don't have to do that. I didn't start with this fancy microphone. I started with the equipment that I have and started having good conversations and came from it from a curious point of view. And that's all that was needed. To start going to start showing up to have the audience grow and to provide value. It doesn't have to be crazy. People are like, well, we already do so much in the nonprofit. When are we going to have the time? Hey, I get it. But if you have someone dedicated to doing the interview, One day a month in the morning, lunchtime afternoon, evening, they sit down and record all the episodes for the month. They don't have to be crazy. not doing a Joe Rogan three hour long marathon. There's nothing wrong with his show, but some people just don't have the time and I don't blame them. Right. But you can say I'm going to do 10, 15, 20 minute episodes. And if you're going to do an interview, you set them all up on the same day. You do them back to back to back and. Yeah, two hours worth of work, record six interviews, and you've got six weeks worth of material. If you have a team that's doing the production, you give it over to them, they publish it, they edit it and they do all those things. So as long as you have the time to record, which is a two hour block, Sometime during the month, you've got your time set aside. So it's really easy to do. It can be free to start. If you use your cell phone, an anchor, you can buy the equivalent when you decide, you know what? We really like this thing because we want to improve the sound quality. People understand that you might not be the best interviewer when you start. I don't think I was the best interviewer when I started Carol. Were you the best interviewer?
Carol: No. I mean, I think that's been one of the, talk about learning from others, but you just, you also get better at this. Right. You get, you get more comfortable. It's not as anxiety producing as it might've been at the beginning. So yeah, you definitely get better and, and right. If there are lots of different options, you can do like the person that you mentioned, you're just doing a solo show short. Some thoughts on your own. You don't have to be interviewing other people. You can mix it up. Right. So, occasionally I'll do a solo episode. I mostly do interviews, but occasionally I'll, I'll throw one of those in a couple, couple of episodes ago. I did a best-of which was an interesting one because I found that it actually took more work than doing a simple interview, but it was a lot of fun too.
Travis: Oh, it's there. There's no, there's no rules, right? So you can have these as long or as short as you want them. There's there's people that do flash briefing. On Google or Alexa or Siri or whatever you have that are between two and 10 minutes. It doesn't have to be crazy long. It doesn't have to be all consuming. I posted a solo show on the fifth. That is like three quick tips, three reasons. I think every podcast needs their own website. And it's really quick. I go through the three tips, a program or something that's going to add value to the podcaster. There's three and a half minutes. What would he do? People are like, well, I just don't like the camera, I guess what? I didn't like the camera when I started. I like it now because with the right filters, I look, I mean, I'll look good. Like let's not pretend here. I'm joking. Of course. I don't know. I'm not that high on myself, but you can turn the camera off and just record audio. You can do this in your slippers and housecoat. Nobody cares. I've got a show on the veteran podcast. As a gal who talks about mule, military sexual trauma, and she's still active duty military. So all of her stuff, she's never shown her face. She's getting the word out there, talking about the thing that's important to her, but she's doing it anonymously. Like we don't know who it is. And she's able to do that because of the technology that we have. She interviews her camera and stays off the whole time and she gets the. Content that she needs to put out on episode and she's able to speak her mind and do her things and remain anonymous. You don't have to do video. You can do just audio only and put out great content. And why wouldn't you, but you can do it a couple of ways. You can do it solo. You can do an interview show like Carol's doing, let's be honest. It's probably the best. Like Carol doesn't have to do any work. She just asks a couple of questions. Is that guy in the hot seat or of the guest that does all the work, right? Carol's like, oh, tell me about this. And I talk for 20 minutes and he's like, this is great. Like, I don't have to do any work. You can do a co-hosted show. There's one like diapers and deployments. It's a co-hosted show. Two people, one was active duty, one was a military spouse. Talk about who had it worse. And then they bring on guests for part of the episode. There's people that do panel discussions, where the host is the guy and they asking, five, six people what they think about a certain topic. There's all sorts of different ways to do this. And the best part about. As you can change it. If you don't like the name of your podcast, you can change it in a couple of months. You don't like your podcast, or you can change in a couple of months, get in a fight with your co-host. You can do a solo show. You don't like doing it. Let alone starting the interview show. You can change it however you want to do it. But the whole thing. Is to just start. Most people that do start, they get about 10 episodes in and they're like, I don't have a million downloads yet. A fun fact, no one did. Right. Unless you're doing like… NFTs right now, I saw a guy's show. This was increasing by hundreds of thousands every day. Because of the new hot NFT space, but most people, 99.9999997% are not going to have that return. You have to come through, you have to do it on a regular basis, whether that's daily, weekly, monthly by way. Even if you did one a month, you would still have 12 pieces of content that you created. I recommend a weekly. Because think about Netflix when they binge like people get in, they want to listen to something. And if you produce one piece of content, it takes you 30 days to get your next piece. They're already on to some other show they've already forgotten about you. I definitely recommend at least one a week, but there's so many different ways to do this, but if you wait to make all the decisions or slog through all the possibilities, you'll never start. And if you do start, you want to commit to making 25 episodes. There's something like 2.5 million podcasts that are published right now. But 2.1 million of them haven't produced more than 10 episodes. So the people that are going to come on and be dedicated to the thing like Carol and myself, We're already in the top 20%, just because we have more than 10 episodes. I don't know where you're at in the standings and it doesn't really matter, but like I'm in the top 5% of podcasts in the world and I do a nonprofit show. Our audience just really isn't that big, but because then I'm showing up every week we can bring in week out bringing and providing value, valuable guests. You will be able to hear my show with Carol soon, probably in a few months, I've had a lot stacked up, but. If you do this and you stick with it and you stick to whatever your mission is, like, it's gonna pay off. And it's just so much fun thinking. Am I right Carol?
Carol: Yeah, it totally is. I have been having great fun. It's a great way to connect with people and, and yeah, I think that's really important to just have people. Go into it, thinking this is for the long haul. This isn't a short, this is not an easy short return thing. It's a quick thing that builds over time. And I've heard of, I've seen a lot of podcast spaces where they're like, just, just ignore the downloads. Don't even pay any attention to them. Just keep doing your thing, keep showing up. And then as you say, like try not to overcomplicate it. And that could be challenging in the nonprofit sector because it's not usually just one person making a decision. It's many people being involved. But. You know that you can just get started with as, as simple as set up as possible. Not, getting all involved with complicated equipment at the beginning are all good places, just that, what's, what's the what's good enough. Get it out there.
Travis: Oh, all this stuff builds over time. Especially if you’ve got a board. Money's tight, completely understood. Go with the free option to start with your phone, whatever earphones you have that have a mic on them and download the Anchor app. There's a couple. I'm not affiliated with Anchor. There's a couple of free apps that have a podcast hosting app that you can do it for free and get. Start creating content for your page and give people a reason to come back to your website over and over and over again. Don't just rely on outbound traffic, outbound, social media, direct mail. Don't just rely on those things. Give them a reason to come find you. Wouldn't you rather have volunteers showing up in your email and donors contacting you than having you have to contact all of them. Find a reason to create content. So they come to you.
Carol: So I'd love to finish every episode with a game where I play, where I ask one random icebreaker question that I pulled somewhat randomly out of a box. So I've got three sitting here. What would you say is something that surprises people when they first hear it about.
Travis: I mean, if, if it comes up in conversation, the murder attempts are usually pretty high in the list. Like, what did you do that people tried to kill you? It usually comes out. If I'm on video, I've got all this great stuff behind me. People are like, Ooh, what's that? Like, it was this thing. Like, you've got a Rubik's cube over there. Can you sell all of that? I had a guest stop, like in the middle of our thing, make me grab the cube and mix it. I can solve it. Any three by three of your weeks, Q in under a minute. So they're like, I have someone like, I want to see this Kenny be like, I've never seen it done in real life before, I've got my wings up here. I've got my sign that lights up. I've got the kingdom of Bahrain. I've got some awards from the Navy. Like this is from a war hammer from the veteran podcasts awards. All sorts of different things. People like you're so young, you've been in the military. How long have you just turned 40? They're like, holy cow, like I have no idea. Like how long have you been podcasting for this long? Like, have you had any success? I was like, well, four months after starting, I was number four in the U S and they're like, what? Like, I don't know. I don't know what it is about me or my life or what happens, but like, I've dodged death like six or eight times that I can remember that I can directly remember what happened and then not dying, obviously. I've been to all 50 states. I've been to 12 countries. I've got friends all over the world, especially I started meeting a lot of people doing the podcast and game, but if you're listening to this and you want to reach out to me, please do. But like, People in your area, meet him online, meet him for coffee, go meet people who will be so surprised to see all the amazing things that are right in your neck of the woods that you just never know. Because he never asked the question.
Carol: Exactly. Exactly. So, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you next?
Travis: Oh, let me tell you, let me tell you Carol. I know I told you yesterday cause you're on my show, but like we have created. The ultimate and complete podcast guide, which is available on the website or whatever, but we've taken that thing and we've created a course and you're like, no, there's a bunch of podcasters with courses right now.
We are the only course it's being revoked. Even professional podcasters get tongue tied every now and again. We're the only professional podcast group that has created a course that's going to be available at the college level that is being reviewed right now at Forbes business school. At the University of Arizona, you're gonna be able to take my college course and get college. For podcasting here, hopefully within the next like four or five weeks, it will be available online as the only professional podcast, or to have an actual course where you get college credit, which is just really, really, really amazing. anyone that's in business communications, journalism, marketing, entrepreneurship, the possibilities are endless, and you have the ability to get college credit from a podcast course. Come on. Who wouldn't take that? And why wouldn't you? That's exciting. And my official Navy retirement is March 1st, so I'm less than two months from retiring after a career of over 21 years.
Carol: Congratulations. And I think yeah, I am also stacked up with interviews, so this probably will be coming out just about that time. You'll be officially retired when this is published. So thank you. Thank you so much. It was great having this conversation and I hope. This inspires a couple of new non-profit related organizations to get into the podcast and game and, and share their wisdom, share their, their networks and get connected with people. So thank you so much.
Travis: Hey, thanks, Carol. And anyone listening hop on over to nonprofit architect.org. There's a tab in there. That's got all my stuff, but we also have the non-profit podcast network. We've got 15 shows: my show and Carol’s show, and a bunch of other shows that talk through all the things that go on in the nonprofit world and nonprofit game. Maybe you like my show, maybe you don't, but you're going to find something that you do like that does resonate with you at nonprofitarchitect.org. Thank you so much again, and thank you, Carol, for having me on. Thank you.
Carol: Thank you.
I am taking away several things from our conversation. The first is the versatility of the podcasting medium and the hidden benefits – I have certainly experienced what Travis talked about in terms of giving me a way to access many people, their expertise and perspective. I learn so much from each guest and each conversation. And he also makes a good point – that you don’t have to make it complicated to start. You can start with a smartphone. You also learn as you go and get better at interviewing, at spotting an interesting quote to pull out. One thing to remember with this particular marketing channel – it is a slow burn and takes a while to build an audience. It’s a long game, not a quick win. 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 Travis, their background and 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. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback. Until next time!
In Episode 42 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Marla Bobowick discuss:
Marla Bobowick is an independent consultant based in Washington, DC, has served as a Senior Governance Consultant for BoardSource since 2008, and is also a Standards for Excellence® licensed consultant. She has more than 30 years of nonprofit experience and a history of creative problem solving. Specializing in nonprofit management and leadership, she has extensive experience with board governance, strategy, and publishing. She has worked with nonprofit organizations of all types and sizes, including regional healthcare and social service providers, educational institutions (independent schools and colleges and universities), family and other private foundations, and local and national offices of federated organizations and professional associations. Previously, Marla was Vice President of Products at BoardSource, where she oversaw publications, online products, and research. During her tenure at BoardSource, she was an active consultant and trainer, developed educational curriculum, managed regional capacity building projects, oversaw the global program, and coordinated the annual conference. While at BoardSource, Marla managed Leading with Intent: A National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices. She was also a member of the working group for The Source: Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards (BoardSource © 2005). She managed “Governance Futures: New Perspectives on Nonprofit Governance,” a multiyear research project that culminated in publication of Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards (John Wiley & Sons © 2005). She is co-author of Assessing Board Performance: A Practical Guide for College, University, System, and Foundation Boards (Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges © 2018). Previously, Marla was an acquisitions editor at John Wiley & Sons, where she developed Wiley’s Nonprofit Law, Finance, and Management Series and the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fund Development Series. Marla holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, a master’s degree in business administration and a certificate in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University. She is a past board chair of Maryland Nonprofits and a past board member Calvary Women’s Services.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Marla Bobowick. Marla and I talk about the misconceptions that people have about nonprofit boards and governance, why shared leadership and governance is important to strive for, and why boards needs to shift their focus from hindsight to foresight 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.
Welcome Marla, welcome to the podcast.
Marla Bobowick: Thanks for inviting me. This'll be fun.
Carol: So I like to start by asking folks what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your, why?
Marla: I fell in love with the nonprofit sector by accident. I love being involved with people who are absolutely passionate about what they do and believe in it and get to live and act and work their values and passions. And I wanted to be surrounded by people like that. And my passion is the nonprofit sector and making it work better, which is a little wonky, but that's what I do. Yeah. The most people, when they think of the nonprofit sector, I think they, they think of that direct, direct service or, or, working on the front lines, but there's so many layers and I've often felt that I was a couple layers removed from, from those frontline folks, but it's all important work.
Carol: Your work focuses on nonprofit board governance, which is obviously very key. What would you say is the most common misconception about nonprofit boards?
Marla: Of course, I always think there's more than one answer to questions like this, which is, I think it's two extremes. It's either the board thinks they have all the power or they think they have none of the power and same from the CEO executive director point of view. And so. Undoing that misconception because I really believe in a notion of shared leadership and a governance partnership is forcing people to challenge a lot of their implicit or explicit assumptions.
Carol: And where do you think those two extremes come from?
Marla: I think it's sometimes the language that, that we in the sector that state laws say that the board is responsible for the mission. Well, they can't do that by themselves. They do it with the community that they serve. They do it with professional staff who are on the front lines. So there's language that says the board is responsible for it. Sometimes unfortunately it's more egregious, I pay for it. Therefore I get to decide what our priorities are. And I think executives over underestimate they either manipulate or overestimate how much power they have because they control information. And so board members sometimes feel excluded or executives don't want to give them too much information because they'll get in the weeds. And that creates a tension that is counterproductive.
Carol: Yeah. And I've definitely always wondered about that aspect and, and been in organizations where I've seen those dynamics playing out where it seems like in the, the, the way that conventionally nonprofit governance. Is taught and the models that people are using currently, there is a lot of power in, in that executive director role of, especially around controlling information and what information is shared, what information isn't shared that, can, can lead to some not great outcomes. So I'm curious about what your perspective is on that.
Marla: So I feel like I walk into a lot of boardrooms and there's this hope. Assumption that there's a nice, neat line in the middle of the sand. That's a bright line that says on one side is what the CEO and the staff do. And on the other side is what the board does. And when I walk in and say, the reality is it's a fuzzy line. It moves sometimes depending on the circumstances of the organization, either as it grows and changes over time or on the size and shape and nature of the organization. And the goal is to know where the line should be and agree on it for your organization at the moment in time. No, when you cross over and know when it's time to go back to your respective sides and that underlying that is the. Every decision you can make the case that should really be borders should really be, may be management and to say, What's the sequence of the discussions and conversations and decision making, as opposed to thinking it's all one or all the other, and realizing that almost everything really has to be done in partnership or together in some way. And it's the process about how do you do that? That is the way through the mass to see where the line is and what to do on terms of what's management and what's board work,
Carol: Can you give an example of what you mean by that?
Marla: So strategic planning is a pretty classic one, which is, again, it depends, the board has a role in it. I think of the board as bookends. They should be involved in the front end, the back end, but board members and the board in particular, can't do strategic planning by themselves. They need information from the CEO. They need information from the field. They need information from the frontline staff, from constituents and stakeholders. And it's gotta be an inclusive process. And often the executive and the staff are the ones that filter and synthesize and frame that information for the board on a regular basis. And together talk about what's the priority, what's the shift, what are our goals and what matters most? And some of those things about what matters most are going to be based on client needs. Others are going to be based on organization. so the client needs in terms of which programs, where should we grow, where should we shrink? How do we rethink what we do? Some of them are going to be on Operational issues about size staffing technology. Inevitably, every strategic plan has to improve operational excellence or systems. And that's really the purview of the staff and the CEO. But when you get to fundamental questions about sort of, are we really a hunger organization thinking of a food bank or are we really a poverty or anti-poverty organization? Those are philosophical conversations that have to be had by everybody.
Carol: Yeah, I definitely see when I'm doing strategic planning, I want to see it as a partnership between board and staff, because each is bringing different information, different perspectives and to really have buy-in for what those final strategic goals are going to be. Staff need to be involved in those conversations. So what would you say is the key to having healthy governance?
Marla: You need magic. So I'm a big fan of alliteration as a recovering book editor, but I think there's a combination of, I used to say, it's just, you need good. You need clarity, real clarity, and sharpness of focus on what you're doing. You need great communication and information sharing. I always say this is a little of the Goldilocks approach, the right amount, not too much information, not too little and at the right time. And I started to add to that list. You need real curiosity to break out of old habits and maybe COVID has brought this to the fore, but I also think it is just part and parcel of words in particular need to be with. Ask good questions and then work together to find the answers and executives who have a lot of the answers, and sometimes think it's their job to give answers all the time. Need to be curious about what's behind board members, questions, interests, responses, as opposed to being defensive. And the last one I would add as context, which is what does the organization need now? And in the future, knowing where you've come from. And the, I did this somewhere else. And you hear that a lot from board members, and you'll hear that a lot from executive directors to say what fits the culture, what aligns with the organization's culture and purpose and mission. So that it makes sense for this organization now and going forward. And I always say the end going forward, because board work is often hindsight and I wish there was more foresight with it.
Carol: Can you say a little bit more about what you mean?
Marla: So board meetings often happen and you get lots of information and reports. That is all about what happened in the past. What happened last month, last quarter, last year, and not a lot about the, what you see coming up in the next 3, 6, 12, 18, 24 months. And so how do you use it? And that's, that's the reality of information sharing because there's nothing, there's no data on what's going to happen next, but how do you use the past to inform conversations about wow, we saw. But they need an X during the last six months. How do we pivot to make more of that available? What are we going to stop doing so that we can put more staff onto this program? And so I think it's that using the past to inform the present, as opposed to saying pat yourself on the back and say, Hey, we just did a great job on this, or, oh my God, we're having a panic. Because if something didn't work, we should beat ourselves up and slash the budget to say, let's really think about what. Coming ahead and short-term, and long-term.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important. Especially around the communications piece. Cause that could be so tricky of a kind, you want people to be informed. It's challenging to get people to read things ahead of time. So you end up with a lot of reports, but as you're saying, that's all looking backwards and so, how can. Boards, carve out the time to have some strategic conversations, get, sometimes I'll talk to folks about, what's a, what's a question that you can have a half an hour conversation about that isn't necessarily about making decisions today. But opening up so that you're thinking about possibilities for the future is right. None of us can predict the future, but by just having that discipline of trying to look ahead and notice name and notice trends, et cetera can, can help. And I think having some a couple of questions to frame that up really helps people have those conversations because otherwise it's like, okay, well, are we being strategic? We're supposed to be strategic. How are we doing?
Marla: One of the challenges is that people are so prone to asking, yes, no questions as opposed to open-ended questions. And there is a time when you need a yes, no. And up, down, vote on something. I think you learn more from the boards when you can ask them open-ended questions, which is what worked, what would work better? What would you do differently? What did we learn from this? Where there is no, yes, no answer. And you can then pull out the nuggets of information that can inform things. And so as opposed to saying, will you approve this or do you agree with this decision learning to ask open-ended questions creates more discussion. And I think the more board members are given a chance to have productive and constructive conversation and discourse in the boardroom and not be talked at or to. Is healthier. So one of the mantras, I think I can brag about board source on this podcast is that when we were aboard board source, our rule is staff. When we presented to the board you had five minutes of the hour-long agenda item. They had them on our board and came prepared, but they had the materials in advance. You framed the questions for discussion, and we gave the highlights and then it was a board discussion. And they would ask big questions and they would offer different points of view, but it wasn't. I gave the report for 20 minutes or half an hour that they already had read. And then ask them, do you agree with that?
Carol: Yeah, that's so important. And it's really like those almost as if the report is laying the groundwork or setting the stage for having that conversation rather than yeah. Being talked out and then going, oh, whoops. We ran out of time for any conversation about this. Yeah. So, what are some other things that you see get in the way of kind of, of good governance? You talked about those extremes of like either the board that you may have all the power and none of the power. What are some other things that get in the way of boards that are just being talked at by staff?
Marla: It’s people. Boards would be great if there was nobody on them, nobody staffing them. Right?
Carol: None of us, we have any work. If there weren't any people in home,
Marla: We get in our own way as execs and board members in terms of not listening in terms of having preconceived ideas in terms of. Presenting a defense or offense for something as opposed to a conversation. And so I think it's, and I think board members, on the one hand, there's this push for efficiency. We want to be efficient. So we're going to run through a bunch of conversations or meetings. Or we're going to try and cover so many things that then there's no time for conversations. So I feel like board members and execs put up their own barriers, they bring a lot of baggage or and preconceived ideas into their board work and their work together. That, to say, taking time out to pause And find a way to say what's how we should be as a board and spending time on board purpose and culture can overcome a lot of the usual frustrations that go around boards, but it takes time. And often people don't feel like they have time for what board, something many board members do. We'll say it is navel gazing. And many execs would say it's not going to make a difference. But taking time out to say, well, is this a good use of our time? What's the most important thing we talked about? What could we do differently at the next thing? I just came from a board meeting this weekend where we finally have turned around the board. We've restructured it. We've got new board members on and somebody complained about one of the agenda items. Like, all we do is talk about fundraising. So I said, what do you want to talk about next? And I think that was the first time that the board had ever been asked what's of interest to you. And I think that's a healthy conversation and let the board own some of it.
Carol: Yeah, I think so often when I talk to folks, the whole question of slowing down and taking a pause and stepping back and thinking about, well, why are we doing things the way we're doing them? Or, is this really serving us? Always comes up and then there is the pressure of, we just gotta get through this. We've got so many things on our agenda. Yeah, I, I, to me, when. When I was on board. And, and in charge of putting together the agenda, I was always fighting. Well, it was us fighting might be a strong word, but there was a struggle often between us having all these different things to talk about and then being saying, well, We're really not going to talk about any of them. If we just try to rush through it all we'll just end up having to come back to it anyway. So could we have fewer things on the agenda so that we could really dig into at least one of them?
Marla: Well, I think that's a silver lining for boards during the time of COVID, which is, many were meeting more often, less often, but they were all meeting differently than they used to. And I think it is forced. One of the most important conversations, which is what does the board need to talk about and why, and what do we not need to have as a board meeting on a board meeting agenda. So to hear a lot of reports that there's not a lot of conversation about is a waste of everyone's time. And yet it has value. I understand when you're in a board meeting, like people aren't thinking about the organization as board members on a day-to-day basis, and they want to know what's new and different, but finding a different way to convey that or a more engaging and interactive way to talk about what's happening at the organization so that when you are together with the board, with the average of whatever 15 people. You are using everyone's time to the highest value, which is what's. How can we add value to the organization and help the executive and help advance our mission? No. Be not a board, his book club. Let's just talk about what you did last month and how great it was, but you're not actually contributing anything of, of intellectual or strategic value.
Carol: So, what are some of the innovations that you've seen come out this past 18 months?
Marla: I have been surprised and shocked and pleased at being able to do some board assessment, evaluate self evaluation, work online with doing the typical online survey and then presenting the results, and creating it as a separate meeting. Whereas if we were always meeting in person, it was an all day retreat. There was a lot of drama and anxiety around, oh my God, what are we going to do per day? Is it worth it, but to kick off a conversation in an hour and a half or two at a zoom meeting and talk about it and then parlay it into full board discussion. So it's almost like deconstructing what were retreats? Definitely missed the in-person social networking that happens when board members are together. No one get this wrong, I'm all for meeting again in person. But I think the innovation of saying we can call an extra meeting for an hour and a half and use it as a listening to her, use it for a discussion that doesn't require action. Use it to dig into one topic. So I think that's the notion of focus. Out of it. I think there's just a lot. I think people have realized how much information you need and what's the best way to present it. Because I hear all the complaints and I haven't heard them lately. That board meetings are just a bunch of presentations. So when you work on zoom. You have to think about how much presentation, how many Hollywood squares can I see, how many, how much is too much PowerPoint. All of that is a test to be rethought. The strain honestly, though, is that it takes a lot more work to organize a meeting like that on zoom than to do it in person. It can take a lot. It can, it doesn't have to, but even as a consultant who does this all the time to plan and design interactive meetings, it takes more of a.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, it's been interesting to me where you talked about deconstructing the retreat. I've definitely seen the advantage of breaking up. I do a lot of strategic planning and break up those processes into a series of two hour or three hour meetings where you're really just doing one piece of it. You're starting out with that. Okay. So, I've, I've done all those conversations. I've done that assessment. I've got survey data, all of that. Let me share that with you. Let's make sure. But that's it that we're going to do today. We're not going to try to get to the very end in one day and have that marathon that people have had before. So I've really appreciated that, that focus that that can be brought.
Marla: I've done something similar with orientation and I did this before. COVID with an organization that is very small and. It's a national organization and people just can't afford to come together very often. And so a couple of years ago, we started a three-part session of orientation. One session about the state of the organization. One session about the work of the board in one session. Planning for the next year, board action planning that then feeds into organizational planning and budgeting. And we've been doing it in these three-part sessions now, I think for three or four years. And it really is like there, it compounds it, it gives people time to think about it. They tag it on to an existing board meeting, so they're not creating more stuff. It's worked really wonderfully and I've watched the board come along. And the conversation, even if the session, the content doesn't change much, the quality of the conversation has improved. And in the beginning they didn't talk a lot. And now there's much more back and forth. It's much less hearing me talk, but to have board member to board member conversation. So I think things like breaking things down have been, has been.
Carol: Yeah. And I'm even thinking, in terms of all those presentations what, what, might've all been written reports before, you could just record a brief, the, the staff or the, whatever the report is and have those go out beforehand. So you watch them while they're doing the dishes or listen to them while they're taking a walk, it doesn't have to all be written materials. So there's lots of different ways that you can deliver whatever information people need to have to have the conversation.
Marla: I'm trying to think of other innovations I've seen. And I think it just has to do with better reports. I've seen a, like little they're, more logistical and operational about better way board members are getting in the execs, I guess, are getting better at organizing board packets and materials and online handbooks and resources. And I think this is the nature of the pandemic, but I think it's a healthy thing. And I've seen other execs do this often when they're new, which is communication between board meetings. Assuming you're not meeting monthly, which I rarely recommend. But that, they're like, here's an update from the staff on what's happening on the ground because board members, especially during COVID and especially if you're doing frontline work, want to know what it’s like in the office or the quote office. What are you seeing? And so they don't have to be long emails, but a, like, here's three exciting things that happened this month. And yes, it takes some time from the exec to do that, but to be strategic about it and balance it between operational and strategic issues and need, and mission has, I think, helped some board members feel better connected. I've also seen some really savvy execs have coffee hour sort of, much more intentionally one-on-one with board members or an open house, like just call and ask questions, schedule time on a, like once a month basis for just whats. So people can ask questions because I think with all the uncertainty around, going back to work or direct service needs or increases or decreases in funding. It's just a way to ask questions without feeling like it's the formality of a full meal. Yeah, I love that.
Carol: There are lots of different ways to do that communication, that isn't all in the box of a board meeting, but what are the different ways that you can poke people in and not have it be onerous either on the board members part or on the staff part, but to keep those lines of communication open. So on each episode I'd like to play. A game where I ask one random icebreaker question. My question for you is what book have you read recently that you would recommend and why?
Marla: One of the things they did during the pandemic was a virtual book club with people I've been in book clubs with over the course of my life, and none of us are in the same city. So it's been a blast. My favorite book was Deacon King Kong by James McBride. I can see you smiling. Not everybody can do that on the podcast. So it is a historical novel, if you will. We'll about, I believe it was the sixties in New York city and it had the, the Italian mafia on the Irish cops and the black drug dealers. And The Bronx or Harlem or Brooklyn, I can't even remember, but it had the best characters.
Carol: Character names for sure.
Marla: Absolutely the best names. And so it was incredibly relevant to the world today and issues of social justice and community. And yeah, just a blast to read. He's a wonderful writer. And we had some fun conversations about it, we were joking about that. So if you haven't read the book, the burning question in our head was what was the cheese that was left in the basement by that was left for the community in the basement of the boiler room.
Carol: I do remember it now. I do remember it. Yeah, there was just so it set in, in a, in a housing project. I can't remember what borough of New York and just all the intersections of community and. These characters. Oh my goodness. Yeah. So Donald has great characters, but the story moves too. So yeah. I love that.
Marla: I want it to be a movie.
Carol: Yes. I think it would make a great movie. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you. What's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Marla: It was amazing in the middle of the pandemic. I worked on a think tank research project about the principles of trusteeship which I did with the association of governing boards of universities and colleges. It's always a mouthful to say that and it really focused on what are the principles of would that make a great board member? Not a great board because the board is made up of a bunch of people. And as I said earlier, one of the obstacles to governance is people. And so it was really fun and amazing to tap into the wisdom of a bunch of college and universities per professor presidents and foundation executives to say what they had seen and to do this in the middle of the pandemic. When you thought colleges didn't even know if they were going to be open that semester. Folks, hundreds of volunteers from AGB we're on focus groups. And so really walking away with this sort of, how do you speak to the individual? I think it has made me realize how important it is to say, it's not just what a good board should do, but it's like, what can you personally do and do better as a board member and. I feel like that's a mantra that comes out in conversation, but not as explicitly as this project brought it into focus. And so really helping people see what you are doing to help or get in the way of yourself or others. Be part of a great board.
Carol: Is there a report or some summary of findings for that?
Marla: It’s coming. There is a big purple book that we did that has nine principles. They fall into three big buckets. I was a PI. Now it's a mandola because that sounds far more sophisticated than a pie. It was at Thanksgiving when we came up with a pie that has an inner circle of three pieces, which is understood by the government. Think strategically and lead by example or lead with integrity. And so that is what you as an individual should do. And then each piece of that pie has components built within it that get at your role as a. As a fiduciary of the organization. So you've got to uphold that they get a, what role you play on the board as a member of a team. Like not everyone is the captain or the center or the goalie. I'm a soccer fan. And then there is the, what do you do outside of the board and board work? That you do as a volunteer. So when you have special expertise or you show up on campus for an event or whatever it is that you're doing, that is not board work, but you do because you love the organization or you're passionate, or because you're a board member, but you have something to add that is not a governance function. And I think so. Yes, it came out as a book that you can buy from AGB. There is an article that I wrote for trusteeship magazine that I believe is free to anyone on the AGB website, agb.org. And the title is what board members are you? So it's again, it's speaking to you. And then there's a whole bunch of stuff that AGB is rolling out, but it really was this process of self-reflection and trying to make it and put it in the language that is accessible and not jargon. And that isn't shaming people or giving them commandments, thou shall do this, but that's say, we know this is hard and we know it varies from organization to organization, but there are some fundamentals that we think everybody should be capable of doing, or you shouldn't be on the board.
Carol: Awesome. All right. Well, we'll look for that so that we can put a link in the show notes, so, awesome. Thank you so much. It was great having you in love to have this conversation.
Marla: Likewise, thanks for including me and keeping up the good governance work. All right. Thanks.
Carol: I appreciated Marla’s perspective on how the work of governance is not always crystal clear about whether an issue or decision is in the realm of strategy or management. Those are two categories that are somewhat arbitrary and there is a gray area between them. Clear communication and trust between the board and the executive director and senior leadership can go a long way to make it safe for each group to ask the questions it has, get the information it needs and feel supportive of each other instead of so wary about whether they are stepping on each other toes or getting in each other’s lanes. The models may make it look super distinctive but folks need to realize that sometimes it is not. I also appreciated the point that boards needs to spend more time looking forward than backward. Too often so much of board meetings is taken up with reports – updates on work done by committees, staff, task forces, etc. Instead of using the time that everyone is together to have a discussion about a key issue – whether it is one facing the organization today or one that folks see coming down the pike. As much as you can get reports to people in another format than shared verbally in a meeting – whether it is a written update, a short video or audio message – there are lots of options to consider.
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 Marla, 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. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. Until next time.
This episode is part of the Culture Fit project that Carol recorded with her son-in-law Peter Cruz. In this episode, Carol, her cohost Peter Cruz, and their guest Damary Bonilla discuss:
Dr. Damary M. Bonilla-Rodriguez is a national leading authority on leadership development, especially as it pertains to diversity and inclusion. She delivers keynote addresses and presentations drawing upon her experience from roles in the non-profit, private, and government sectors, as well as her doctoral research. Her research about Latina leadership in the United States has served as the foundation for events, conference sessions, publications, and content development - to address the urgency of leadership development for a fast-growing population and create a pipeline of diverse leaders.
Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Social Work from the College of New Rochelle where she received the College President’s Medal, graduated with Departmental Honors, and was awarded the Sigma Delta Pi Spanish Award. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Organizational Communications and a Specialized Certification in Corporate Communications, both from the College of New Rochelle. Personal endeavors of overcoming statistics and accessing higher education, led her to earn a Doctorate in Education focusing on Executive Leadership from St. John Fisher College.
To change the political and leadership landscape for Latinos, Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez ran for State Representative in the 189th District of Pennsylvania in the 2016 election cycle where she became the 1st Hispanic to make a State ballot in Pike and Monroe Counties. In November 2019, she became the 1st Hispanic elected as School Board Director in the East Stroudsburg Area School District where she Chairs the Education and Negotiation committees. Passionate about supporting professional organizations, she is a Board Member of the Brodhead Watershed Association where she Chairs the Membership committee, Colonial IU 20 where she serves as Vice President, Prospanica NY where she serves as Vice President of Professional Development, Latina VIDA, Latinas on the Plaza and an Advisory Board member for several organizations including: The Board of Hispanic Caucus Chairs, Monroe County Children and Youth where she leads the Education committee, SciGirls, and the Alliance for Positive Youth Development. In addition, she was appointed by Governor Tom Wolf to represent the Poconos Region on statewide commissions on Redistricting Reform and Latino affairs (GACLA) where she Chairs the Education committee.
Dr. Bonilla-Rodriguez was recognized as a 2014 Coors Light Lideres finalist and the recipient of numerous awards including a proclamation from the NYS Assembly, the Proud to Be Latina Soy Poderosa award, and the SISGI Beyond Good Ideas Excellence in Nonprofit Leadership award. Her published written accomplishments include the books Ethics, Gender, and Leadership in the Workplace and Today’s Inspired Latina (Volume II), as well as contributing to the Huffington Post and being featured by several media outlets including NBC Latino, Chief Writing Wolf, and the Empowered Latinas series.
While, she is proud of her many accomplishments, she highlights her greatest as being the mother of eleven-year-old twin boys, Caleb and Joshua. She resides in Pennsylvania with her boys and husband Robert. Her favorite quote is: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” (Newton).
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez. This is one more in the Culture Fit series I did with Peter Cruz. Damary, Peter and I talk about the interconnections between having to code switch and imposter syndrome, the pressure of being “the only,” and her hopes for the upcoming generations. Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Peter Cruz: This week we have Damary. Hey Damary. How are you?
Damary Bonilla-Rodriguez: Hey, Peter. I'm good. How are you?
Peter: I’m doing well. For our listeners, could you just share with us some tidbits about your professional background and who you are?
Damary: Sure. So my background is I am a Hispanic woman born and raised in Spanish Harlem, New York. I've lived in the Poconos for the past 14 years. I'm the director of the leaders of color New York program, which is focused on building a bench of black and brown leaders in New York. I serve on Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's commission on Latino affairs representing the Poconos region as well as served on his redistricting reform commission. And I say that my most important job is being the mother of 11 year old twin boys.
Peter: That's incredible. As an expecting parent myself, that seems challenging.
Damary: Congratulations. It is challenging.
Peter: But in regards to your professional side of it when you were working with. Leaders of color who are trying to enter or establish their positions in, in, in mostly white dominated spaces. Just to jump us off, like what pressures do you see that exist to either code switch or similar, remove aspects of themselves just to like, I guess be taken seriously.
Damary: Your, so a topic related to leadership that is emerging for women and for leaders of color more now than, since it had been coined in the 1970s as the imposter syndrome. And this week, I've talked about it several times because women and leaders of color struggled to. I have the opportunity sometimes to achieve a formal title and position in society to climb the ladder of success, to penetrate the political sector. And once they do get there to really be able to maintain the status, if you will, because there are expectations that. You should speak a certain way or behave a certain way. Sometimes even dress a certain way. Right? For the women, we talk about things like, is it okay to wear hoops in the workplace and be still considered professional? For those of us that are bilingual, is it okay to use a little bit of Spanish or Spanglish? I was raised in New York City and we speak Spanglish. That's another language. And so just being able to understand where. And if you have to shut off some aspects of yourself, which then does not allow you to be your authentic self is a challenge in itself. Right. And then when you do get a seat at the table, how are you able to gain and maintain the respect of your colleagues, particularly individuals that may not be as qualified as you, but based on privilege, are at the table and absolutely feel like they belong. So the conversation around the imposter syndrome is you, you internalize those concepts and those notions that are just throughout society and or not, when you're able to leave those aside and push through what. Like you don't belong at this table or there's no room for you, then you're able to really show up as your authentic self and challenge the status quo. But that's a day-to-day struggle.
Carol: So often I feel like I mean sometimes, and certainly more nowadays they're, they're direct messages that are very clear and explicit about you don't belong, but I feel like a lot of times it's, it's much, it's more subtle, and oftentimes for the four people who are in the dominant culture who are white, who are white men, unfortunately, men that may not even realize that they're taking up as much space as they are taking up, or, assuming competence on the part of other colleagues that look like them or themselves in this.
Damary: Absolutely. The implicit bias in the professional setting is probably the greatest influencer of the environment of whether or not somebody feels like they fit in based on their gender, their sexual orientation, their their age, their race or ethnicity. And you're right. Sometimes people don't even realize because they have biases where everybody looks like them and talks like them. And here comes this individual that doesn't fit what they are used to. And sometimes they just don't know how to react. And I've heard comments from older white males at the same tables, as I am saying, things like you speak out of turn or your tone will not be tolerable. Sometimes I am seen as - and this goes for women leaders and then also people of color sometimes, and often, mostly women of color who are leaders, where you hear things like you're aggressive, or, you are abrasive or, you're, I've been called unprofessional. You're unprofessional because you speak up and you speak. But for me, it's conviction and leadership. You asked me about working with leaders of color and as a leader for leaders of color, I feel like it's my responsibility and I have to speak up and speak out. Otherwise what's the point of being at any given table?
Carol: You say you've been labeled aggressive and, studies have shown that, that same behavior, whatever people were perceiving of, how you were showing. That same behavior on the part of, of a white man would be labeled as assertive or leader, so the exact same way of being the way of showing up, it's just perceived and so different a way, depending on what your social identity.
Damary: Right. And that brings me back to the conversation about code switching, that we were starting to have around leaders of color, particularly when you're trying to fit in, you see yourself in a position to either compromise your identity in terms of not speaking about certain aspects of your life. We see that I'm not when it comes to the LGBTQ plus population, but then also in terms of shifting, if you're in certain places and spaces, You might try to adapt the way you speak, use words that you think will be more acceptable in that space versus when you are with family and friends and individuals that you feel comfortable with. Myself being in academia. Oftentimes I use layman's terms because that's how I best communicate with everyone at every level. But when I'm in the academic spaces, individuals are using big words. I know the big word. I know the meaning of the big words, but I choose not to use them because I'm a communicator and it's more important for me to be able to connect with all individuals at any level, whether they have access to formal education or not. So code switching and fitting in is really about making choices around how much of yourself are you willing to compromise in any given space or, or moment?
Peter: Yeah, and the thing that I wanted to just touch on briefly was just that. This is a thing that is universal regardless, because there are a number of people who are shifting careers or moving to different cities where, maybe if I move to a more progressive city, this probably won't be an issue. Or like, trying to escape it because it's, but the thing is that it's unavoidable in, in your experience, moving from a bigger city to the Poconos, being there for an extended period of time, like. What is that labor-intensive and trying to, I guess, use this for an Eichler, was it, I mean, cause that's the assumption.
Damary: It is labor-intensive Peter. It wasn't, it is. And, and it will be because these are the systemic issues that we talk about. So you're right. Regardless of where you are. There are geographic perceptions. So have you moved from the north to the south? There are certain expectations that individuals in the south have that somebody from the north may not be able to, to live up to. Right. So regardless of where you go, you have to realize that there are cultures within communities. There are people who have lived in certain areas for many years. So some of the issues that I have had to grapple within our community and I've been here 14 years are. Everything from speaking with an accent, which people don't realize, right. It's my New Yorker’s accent. And so I've been asked about, you know the way that I speak, where my from et cetera being labeled a transplant and, and not fully being. The white individuals who have been here for generations, who to me have a lot of wisdom to share in terms of the economy of the community in terms of the educational system and other systems that I want to be part of. And I want to help, and I've traveled the country. So I have a wealth of knowledge and expertise that now is starting to support our community. As I'm leading the diversity, equity and inclusion. For our school district. And so on, in December of 2019, I was sworn in as the first Hispanic elected to the east Stroudsburg area school district school board. And as the first, thank you as the first and as the only, you often have to educate people along the way about what it's like to be you about, what are the issues that are unique to people like you, in this case, students, educators, community partners, through. I also represent us on the board of the colonial intermediate unit 20, which is 13 school districts from Delaware valley out to north Hampton county and focusing on special education. And there I'm also the only Hispanic as well as the youngest and several others first and only. And there is pressure that comes with that. But for me, there is also a reward that I have the opportunity to help create a space that is more inclusive for individuals who are different. They don't have to be like me, but they just have to be different than who's been at that table before me.
Peter: And for people who are numbers like a first and only because I think that's like what's happening now. Right? Many organizations, many companies are having. First ever diversity equity, inclusion person, most commonly it's a woman of color because of the glass. What is it? The glass cliff taking over it. For those people who are trying to establish that type of environment, what are some key things that you have, like tried to implement that were unsuccessful or things that were successful right off the bat, that they should either try to replicate and make their own. But things that helped you get off the ground and establishing
Damary: that because of the individual, whether you're the person that is pushing for change or the person on the other side of the change certainly has. A personal lens on the diversity equity and inclusion conversation and thinking about what is my perception of diversity, how do I promote a more inclusive environment? How do I move the needle forward in my organization? My community and society broadly becoming more equitable and, and being able to serve everyone who wants to be served by this institution or deserved by, to be served by the institution. If we're thinking. School district or a nonprofit organization or a company with a target audience in terms of the organization, it's really about evaluating the policies and practices that are in place. Are those conducive to being an inclusive environment, are those conducive to moving the organization, the institution. Equitable practices or not. And then there's a level of buy-in that has to be gained from every individual at the organization at any given time. You're not going to get that buy-in all at once, but you do have to work with individuals in the respective. So that it becomes institutionalized. And then if you're the person that's pushing for the change or driving the change, you have to be patient, you have to be mindful and you have to be sensitive to meeting people where they are. And knowing that just because you want people to buy into DEI does not mean they will. And just because you want an organization. To take on this effort doesn't mean they will, or they can, they may not have the capacity, the expertise, right? The individuals on the team to be able to do this work comprehensively at least.
Peter: Yeah. I would just speak on, on my own experience that this also it's prevalent in. Corporations or organizations that are actually not white dominant as far as the people involved, because racism is so systematic that we, and white supremacy culture is just prevalent everywhere that we're just perpetuating it without really recognizing it. I remember being in a diversity equity inclusion meeting, and having someone say, well, we are all brown and black people, so where we don't have the same types of struggles, but that's furthest from the truth.
Damary: Absolutely. So you touched on a couple of things. One there's, there is racism and prejudice amongst like individuals, right? So within the Hispanic community, there are over 20 countries represented under that umbrella of Hispanic, Latino Latinex. Right. And there is racism and sometimes division. Even those countries, Dominicans and Puerto Ricans or Ecuadorians and, and, and the mannequins, et cetera. So we can not assume that just because it is a black or brown institution, these things are not happening, but also in terms of the tenants of white supremacy culture, when we think about perfectionism and that pressure, right, talking back to the imposter syndrome that we touched on a little bit ago, that pressure to be good at things, or to have to work harder, to be at certain tables because. I don't see a way in or nobody that looks like you has been there, or nobody in your family has achieved a level of higher education. I mean, I'm one of less than 4% of Latinas in the United States with a doctorate. I was raised by my grandparents who went to the first and third grade. They didn't speak, read, or write English fluently and what they did know, they self taught. Where would I have ended up if I didn't have the opportunity for mentorship for nonprofit organizations given. The space to know that these opportunities existed. And then at the college level, having advisors that supported me and Latinas that looked like me, where I learned that a doctorate was a possibility that wasn't anything I had ever thought about before, but I was open to the possibilities when I got to college, I was the first in my family to graduate college. So then my responsibility is to pass that along to others in my family and my community and society.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, it's because so much of what you're saying and just like I had experienced, I'm also Puerto Rican first in my family. I think when I graduated, I read this study that said like about. Three to 4% of Hispanics just like to go to college. And then of that three to 4%, about 8% complete. And it was just like very, very, it's just an immense pressure and burden to be the representative of everyone. So the simulation just has to come naturally because. shifted and navigated through these spaces. Do you feel like you could answer this? How can we, as you want, but do you feel that that is more existing in education or in politics?
Damary: Oh, this is a whole nother session, I think in both. So in, in education, in terms of access to education and being in this. The student, you do experience the need to assimilate frequently, because if you look around, you're often by yourself, right? And as you stated in terms of what the data shows, but the higher you climb in terms of formal education, higher education, the more likely you are to be the only one. So to finish the journey. So you, you find yourself having to adapt and shift along the way you find yourself having to identify with individuals that may not speak the same language or eat the same foods, but that you can still learn from and have some peer to peer mentorship with, to just make it through the journey and then using the opportunity to help others. In terms of politics, though, we talked about geography a little bit. So if you're in a place like New York city, you're going to find more. People of color in positions of elected leadership, right? However, if you're in places like the post. You're not going to see that. And though we did have an influx of people of color and particularly Hispanic people who moved to the Poconos in the last 20 years, they still have not fully penetrated those spaces. I ran for state representative in 2016 and became the first Hispanic to make a state ballot in Monroe and Pike county. That was just five years ago. That's the reality of what the data shows. Right. And then when I did get on the ballot and I was knocking on doors, I heard things like, you speak with an accent. You're not a NoCal. You should be home with your children because my five-year-old twins were on the campaign trail, handing out flyers and they really loved it. They love people. They love the energy. They say that they're going to run for office. So. That is where we're able to shift the dynamics. When we help our children see the possibilities that we didn't see, right? Because we didn't have the role models because we didn't have the opportunities or the experiences. Then we shift the dynamics because their generation, for my kids, they expect to go to college. They expect to run for public office. They expect to be elected to public office. That's a very different mentality than those of us that have had to really fight. And the fight for social justice is every. It's everything from the boardroom and the school district to, the, the boardroom in any of the organizations that I serve across the country. But even here locally, I was the first Hispanic to be elected to the board of the Broadhead watershed association and Hispanics care about the environment. However, There's a difference between individuals that come from the city who don't really understand, how do I help maintain the waters? How do I help contribute to protecting our environment? Right? So there's a level of education and support and connection that our organization knows is very important. And we've had informational events and have been deliberate about inviting diverse individuals to join. So when you talk about politics, sometimes issues like the environment may not be front and center when people of color do get to the table, because if you've grown up in an urban community versus the suburbs versus another geographic area, The priorities are different to that. I would say it's across the board.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, yeah, like we've been talking about it's all universal everywhere. I have one question that ties into it, but in regards to politics as the world kind of, becomes more progressive in a way. Right. I think the starting off point and the foundation is different based on geography, but The near future when your children maybe run for office or my child runs for office, who knows when in some near distant future, we hope you foresee it? Cause you were just interacting with the two people trying to tell you that you're not from here X, Y, and Z that the need in politics per se. Cause I think it lives out in the public. To Western than need to assimilate.
Damary: I hope so. And for the record, please plant the seed for your child, that they can and should run for office. I hope so. I'm the type of person who is very comfortable standing out, so I don't feel the need to assimilate personally. Just because I'm also patient enough with others to teach them what it's like to be me. And sometimes it does take more push than others, depending on the individual, depending on how receptive they are, depending on how much they actually want to learn about me. But I hope that we are making strides so that our children are able to show up as they're often. So because we use the word authentic leadership often, and, we want people to be authentic. We want people to bring their full selves. And yet when people attempt to do that, we center them. We don't want people to be their full selves. It just sounds like the right thing to say, especially when it comes to the diversity conversation. And, and so, right now the social unrest and the issues that we're seeing and, and in the media and that we're seeing play out in our communities, It's putting a sense of pressure and urgency for institutions and organizations to move some of those that you talked about, that yourself they're creating the diversity officer positions. I mean, across the board every day we see lots of posts. Some of those, even if not intended that way, are just to check off the box. That's what they're doing. Right. Because if the organization does not have an environment conducive as these individuals and we're forcing individuals to assimilate, then you're really just checking off the box. So I'm hoping, but I'm also an optimist. I still believe in a government for the people and by the people because who better to tell us what are the issues that they need to prioritize than the people going through those issues, who better to inform the social justice movements that we are promoting right now than the people who have lived marginalized for generations. Public incidents have happened over the past year or so. And global prices for these issues to emerge to the place where they are right now. So I'm hopeful, but I can't say for sure.
Peter: And that's usually, that seems to be the last question I asked, like, what are you optimistic about and what are you hopeful for? So I'm glad you addressed that stuff. Carol, do you have anything else?
Carol: I just want to say, I appreciate your persistence, you keep showing up, you keep being the one and only, which is that's a huge amount of emotional labor that you're taking on.
Damary: Thank you. Yes, it is. It's exhausting. I've been saying that a lot more lately. And so I'll, I'll share this with you in terms of, in terms of optimism, what I'm optimistic about is people being inspired by injustice to the point that they will step up to the. And take on leadership roles. And I've been talking a lot over the past year about how crises bring about leaders. And so you're either going to sit back and complain and just be bogged down by the crisis, or you're going to step up to the plate and ask what can I do and contribute. And that can mean getting engaged in your child's PTO, or that can mean running for office, or that can be. Anything in between, but it means that if you really feel compelled to see difference, you're going to be part of the difference. So what I'm optimistic about is that more people will be inspired by social injustice, by prejudices that they experienced or that they see others experience. And that, that will bring about more allyship in terms of diversity of racial and ethnic communities. Right. Because we can't sit around and just talk about white privilege and white supremacy, if we don't talk about all the privilege. I was born and raised in the projects in New York City. I'm a homeowner. My kids do not have the same experience that I had. And so understanding that I have privilege in a heterosexual family versus not understanding that my kids have privilege because of the socioeconomic status of their parents versus their parents growing up is important as well. So there’s just a lot of DEI dynamics that that we can talk about. So hopefully we'll continue the dialogue.
Peter: Yeah. Maybe we'll have you on when we talk about intersections.
Damary: Yeah, I'm leading a committee at work on intersectionality and coalition building.
Carol: All right. So perfect.
Peter: So that will be part two of our conversation. Thank you so much to Damary. Thank you for doing that. You don't want to take too much more of your time.
Damary: Oh, great. Thank you. And it's an opportunity to reflect, but yes, Carol, sometimes I'm exhausted. I woke up this morning thinking like maybe I need to throw in the towel on this, on the school board piece. And then I got a message on Instagram that one of my quotes was printed on a greeting card in this new company for. But for highlighting women of color and it, and, and it was exactly about how we remember your blessing, no matter what life circumstances you're facing. And I'm like, okay, I get it. I remember what I said.
Carol: It's terrible. When your own words come back to you. Right? My favorite is when your kids say it back to you.
Damary: That one's great. Especially when they're sassy about it. That's what awaits you, Peter, what mommy, you said? I know I said it. I know what I said.
Carol: Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.
Damary: Great talking with you both. We could've gone on for a while, so anytime I can hang out with you, let me know.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can learn more about Damary and her background, as well as how to connect with her in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. We also post the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes. 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!
An Invitation to do Less with Carol Hamilton
In this solo episode 38, Carol Hamilton discusses burnout in the nonprofit sector, what possible ways forward are, and how to stay engaged while prioritizing your own health.
Carol Hamilton: For so many check-ins recently whether it events that I've held, the recent nonprofit leadership round table or with client meetings, other webinars, and just checking in one-on-one with people when they do the check-in so many, so often I'm hearing, I'm tired. I'm exhausted. Most of us in the nonprofit sector, we're doing too much.
Before the pandemic, we worked too hard. We were sacrificing for our cause and then came this global state of emergency and we came into it without reserves our tanks on empty. This could be reserves in terms of energy. It could be literally in terms of money in the bank. And then we've been asked to do so much more over the past two years.
I'm sitting with the question of whether we can step back and ask whether another way is possible.
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 nonprofits, strategic planning.
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, and all of this. For the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
My thinking on this has gone, gone back for many years. in fact, I stepped into the organization development, stumbled into into the organizational development field when I was investigating the disconnect that I saw so often in organizations between the missions that they had for the change that they wanted to see in the world, and then how staff were treated inside the organization and how organizational cultures were built.
But more recently, I was doing a webinar on healthy cultures and talking about modeling a healthy behaviors and self-care for staff and. I was getting some pushback and eye rolls from, executive directors and perhaps, you're having that reaction right now. And one executive director stated, “I have to work 70 hours a week. Should I pretend that I don't to staff?”
And she stated it as if it was a fact as if it was something that could, she could not escape. But it's really a belief and it's a belief that drives so many of us. And I thought about it later. I thought about her statement a lot after we got off that call.
And I thought, you know, if you follow the logical conclusion of that is 70 hours a week, even enough. By doing that is the leader doing everything that they could do towards moving their mission,n forward? Sadly, probably not. For most of us, our organizational missions and visions are always larger than what we can reasonably accomplish.
If we're in direct service, we're unlikely to be serving everyone who needs our services, even as we work ourselves ragged. And other areas where the mission is movement or policy or educationally focused, the urgency can feel equally real. But the truth of it is that so much of it is arbitrary. People set those deadlines and people can change those deadlines.
So is 70 hours hours a week enough? Again, probably not even working 24 7 would probably not be enough to reach everyone who needs the services or all the possible projects to move your mission forward effectively.
But we know that we can't work 24 7. That's not humanly possible, but the truth is that working 70 hours a week, week in and week out, isn't sustainable either
We know that we will burn out and we know that we'll burn out our staff as well. And it's hard to be around martyrs. They're not a lot of fun.
We feel trapped in this. The system treats us like machines as if we are worker, we are not workers. We are not people. We are machines and we just have to keep keep our heads down and be as productive as possible.
But the idea that your worth Is really inextricably tied up in your productivity that you're constantly having to prove yourself, improve your worthiness through what you accomplish, what you achieve. That's the ethos of our culture,
but many people are starting to question that we're going through. What's being called the Great Resignation, , over 4 million people quit their jobs in August, September, and October.
And we probably haven't seen the end.
And that stepping back, people are stepping back to reevaluate their priorities. And even when we're working with causes and missions that are dear to our hearts at what cost are we doing that?
There's the outside, larger culture that prioritizes work over all things.
That treats people like machines, treats us like we're expendable, but then there's also our dedication to the causes that we work for
This summer. I read a book called Work Won't love you back: How devotion to our jobs keeps us exploited exhausted and alone by Sarah Jaffe. And the book, maybe didn't quite live up to its self-help title,
but she explores how the belief of following your passion and the quote that often gets said that if you love your job, you won't work a day in your life.
That that has led us down a path of being easily exploited. She examines, the eroding working conditions across industries and the unionizing efforts that are combating them, including in the nonprofit sector. And we're certainly not immune from these trends. And in fact, I would say that as a sector, we have may have already had them embedded in how we work long before anyone else.
We've been doing more with less. We've been putting up with broken office furniture, slow computers, hand me downs that serve as obstacles to our good work. And then we also have this belief system that we almost always must put the mission before ourselves.
Fobazi Ettarh I hope I'm pronouncing that name correctly.
Coined the term vocational awe when talking about librarians. And when I heard about this term, and this was a term that I came across in that book, by Sarah Jaffe, it seemed very relevant to the nonprofit sector more broadly.
“Vocational awe describes the set of ideas, values, and assumptions librarians have about themselves and the profession that results in notions that libraries as institutions are inherently good, sacred notions.
And they're therefore beyond critique in a piece that resonated by with some discomfort among many in the. At re argued that vocational law directly correlates with present pervasive problems in the profession, such as burnout, under compensation, job creep, and lack of diversity. How can the devotion to positive ideals go wrong at rare rights in the face of grand missions of literacy and freedom advocating for your full lunch break feels.
And tasked with the responsibility of sustaining democracy and intellectual freedom. Taking a mental health day feels shameful. All that vocational awe is easily weaponized against the worker.”
And I would pause it that the, uh, the rest of us in the rest of the nonprofit sector suffer from that same vocational awe in the face of
insert your very important mission.
Advocating for your full lunch break, feels petty or taking a mental health day feels shameful. How has, how has that vocational awe being weaponized against yourself and the end, your staff and your organization?
Unfortunately, so much of the literature around self care, or maybe just the way it's been described in the general media has been posited in our US culture, as an individual need to integrate into your life.
Like so many things, the onus is put on the individual to create the conditions for themselves and to thrive. But what can you do at your organization to make it part of the culture, the policies, the way leaders, model behaviors they want for themselves and staff? to create guardrails for everyone, rather than relying on individual staff, people to center their self care?
Leah Reizman. another study that I thought was interesting did a study of consultants, a nonprofit consultants for her doctoral work, and found similar patterns. One of her findings was that contrary to stereotypes about consultants. Most nonprofit consultants had their client's best interests at heart and took time to customize their work, to fit the context of the clients that.
But with this consultants often, often subverted their bottom lines and engaged in what she termed “moralizing money” in which consultants often gave more than what was contracted. Allowing scope creep to happen and modifying fees to fit the needs of clients instead of prioritizing their own needs. Their identification with the causes they support made it harder to charge their full fees. And for all of the work that they did on behalf of the organizations.
This struck me as just a continuation of that similar dynamic of the individual sacrificing for them. Accepting low pay, accepting long hours accepting, difficult working conditions, but could there be a better way?
As you think about your work in 2022, I invite you to consider the possibility of putting the people in your organization First. Creating organization, organizational cultures, that center humans with humanly possible workload. Cultures that create thriving instead of burnout.
And this might start by actually deciding as an organization, not just as an individual, to do less instead of working from your mission and your vision.
First, what if you were to start with, these are the resources we have. We have this many people. We have these many staff, these many volunteers, we have this much in our budget, this much in our bank account. What can we reasonably accomplish with those resources that move our mission forward, but does not sacrifice your staff or volunteers along the way?
This may seem simple, but in many ways feels radical to say. What if we did less?
I you leave you with the intentions that leaders who gathered from my recent nonprofit leadership round table had for their 2022s, they want to model healthy behaviors, encourage a happy and healthy, well supported staff.
One person saying if I take care of them, they take care of the mission. Letting go of the small stuff, prioritizing relationship building and advocating for manageable workloads.
I hope you get some rest over the holidays and plan now how you're going to integrate rest and rejuvenation throughout the rest of the year.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests on other episodes. I will put links to the resources that I mentioned during the show in the show notes missionimpactpodcast.com/ show notes. And I want to thank Izzy Strauss Riggs for her support and editing and production as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support of the podcast.
If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague or a friend. We certainly appreciate you helping us get the word. I'm wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season and a happy new year. And thanks again for listening.
Conflict and Culture with Anne Hilb
In episode 36 of Mission: Impact, Carol, her guest, Anne Hilb discuss:
Anne Hilb, MSOD is a community and culture architect, an expert at conflict resolution, and a champion of restorative and racial justice practices. As a community and culture architect, she partners with managers, executives, and front-line employees to repair conflict and restore trust so they can succeed and organizations can thrive. Her approach to this work is unique due to her blend of a decade of hands-on experience with more than a half-dozen degrees and certifications. Anne harnesses the power of circle and uses her deep listening skills to help build healthy workplaces. She develops deeply connected people and communities by leading with authenticity, transparency, curiosity, and care. Her work is centered around building confidence and accountability while mitigating blame, shame and guilt. When not repairing harm, working through conflict, and restoring trust, she can be found searching out the best taco, hosting circles, and spending time in nature.
Important Links and Resources:Transcript:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Anne Hilb. Anne is a community and culture architect, an expert at conflict resolution, and a champion of restorative and racial justice practices. Anne and I talk about why so often people wait too long to deal with a conflict or have someone help out or mediate. Why a first step to resolving a conflict is to define what the conflict is actually about and whether the parties are in agreement about that and why organizational culture is dictated by the worst behavior we allow.
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.
Anne, welcome to the podcast. I like to start each conversation with the question of what drew you to the work that you do, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Anne Hilb: Yeah, so, I was drawn into this work from a lot of different points of entry. I think my own experience of belonging or not belonging in probably more cases and wanting to promote healthy dialogue and use my skill set to create safe environments for folks is really my why. Because in a lot of ways I didn't feel like I saw that. And in a lot of ways, I also feel like or experience that rather. And in a lot of ways, I just feel like it's the best use of the gifts that I have from. Childhood and also from developing those through educational experiences, life experiences.
Carol: You often work with groups where there's a lot of conflict going on. Can, can you set the stage of what that might look like or a typical scenario that you might be walking into?
Anne: Sure. A couple of different sorts of groupings of those scenarios. And so conflict work is definitely my area of expertise, but I do, I do a lot of different work but in the conflict realm in particular, I'd say there's a couple of buckets, so it's usually. An incident, an incident of harm. Most often sexual harm I would say is what I get called into the oftentimes racial or sexual, but usually sexual harm these days. Two founders fighting or two or more founders fighting or senior, the senior level leaders and the mid level. Leaders fighting or having some big incident or just in general, poor culture or the senior level leaders or the leader not, not doing well with the rest of the organization. So again, those are sort of the three buckets. I'll give them a more specific one example. So Well, let's say that the founders are not doing well. And they call me in because they, for whatever reason, have reached a point of no return and they're deciding how we can continue? Right. Like, do we shut down? Do we buy each other out? It's just, it's no longer sustainable now it's affecting their home lives. It's really, really affecting their employees because they're screaming at each other. Or maybe they have decided to take a temporary close if they're a business that's a product business or like a restaurant or something. So they call me and depending upon the service, right? Because I offer different ones, they might need a mediation. They might need to come in and consult. They might even need to come in and do a circle for them. And so I'll come in and I'll work with them to work through what's going on.
Carol: For those mediations. What are some of the steps that you typically take to I don't know, bring the temperature down, I guess, between the two folks who are in
Anne: conflict. Yeah. So if it's a mediation, right, I'm going to do pre-work and talk to everyone first to find out what's going on the same way you would in any of the work that we do and find out. What success looks like ultimately, and really find out what the different perspectives are because one person might be thinking something's totally different than what the other person is, and they might be experiencing it totally differently. And also. What's really bothering one person might be completely different than the main thing that the other person wants to tackle is. And so one of the main things in conflict that's really important is to land on what the conflict is about. So, you can all be working on the same thing at the same time.
Carol: Yeah, it's interesting. I was on a board where we had a conflict between the two leaders of the staff leaders of the organization. It happened to also be a faith community where they went to mediation a number of times. And by the time climate got to us as the board, once we heard both sides of the story, if you will, it was almost. We couldn't find that common ground of figuring out the kernel or each person saw the situation so differently and described it so differently. It was hesitant, being in different countries, speaking different languages on different planets. It was, so it wasn't one where, where we ended up, the folks ended up staying ultimately over time. But one where we could find a good resolution. I felt like in that situation, we only have bad choices to make, but that was just interesting to just hear they are so far apart in terms of how they're seeing this situation. It was really hard to find that common ground.
Anne: Yeah, that's unfortunate. I think oftentimes folks wait and it's anything where we talk about preventative work, right? Like we, I mean, just last week I had a new computer installed. Right. And I'm thinking to myself, I'm talking to my tech person. I'm saying, this is really necessary. Like I, my computer works fine right now. And we're installing antivirus software on my new computer and I bought a new computer. Right. And I'm like, but this seems like a really expensive thing to invest in. And I know of course that I need to do that, but because I can't see it, it doesn't feel like it's necessary yet, but it, but I know that just because you can't see the embers of a fire that's burning in the wall. Doesn't mean that it's not possible to have a fire burning low and people wait until the flames are bursting through the wall to take care of it. And I think that's the issue sometimes with something like conflict is people wait until the whole building is on fire.
Carol: And another, another situation that you described or one where there is sexual harm, I'm assuming sexual harassment or racial harm. What steps would you take in entering an organization where that type of thing has been going on perhaps for a while, or perhaps it's part of the culture. Certainly we're seeing a lot of that in the news these days. But I'm curious how you approach it.
Anne: Yeah. Delicately definitely with Vanessa. Yeah, so I think I would say I approach every conversation and every client by asking a lot of questions. Right. So with sexual harm or racial harm but I'll start with sexual harm, I think Aye, try and find out more about the feelings and the facts more than anything, right? I mean, the facts are important and it's important to find out more about first, like what happened here and it's usually more about what's residual than it is about what happened in the first place. Because first and foremost, when I'm coming in, unfortunately it's usually after things have burned. Ideally folks would bring me in before that has happened to support a healthy culture. And unfortunately I usually get called in after the fact. So when that happens, I'm coming in and I'm Working usually with HR and the founders or the CEO. And typically when it's sexual harm, it happens to you more of the women in the workplace. And there has been someone who's caused harm. So we will. Group, group people into like, what assess, okay. What harm do you think has occurred and try and do some understanding of what's happening to those who feel that. They have been harmed. So oftentimes in organizations, there is a lack of understanding around sexism and toxic masculinity. So how do you group folks up so that they can speak in a way, the same way that when you do white cops, and caucuses for people of color and give them a safe space to talk about the culture of the organization. Right? Sometimes the harm has occurred in a different way where maybe the culture is such that it feels out of alignment, right? So conflict is a clash of ideas. And it's also to me when there's a lack of alignment, so. In organization development speed, right? A lack of alignment leads to difficulties, right? If there's misunderstanding or miscommunication, we know that something in the organization has gone amiss. And that means that we're saying that we have these values, we have these espoused values and we're not practicing those values in action. And that's going to lead to conflict because. We're saying one thing and we're doing another, were hanging up values on the wall and we're running around and living these other values or we're on zoom and we're, saying something or doing something that we can get away with because people don't know how to call us out on it in a virtual room, the same way that we can. We've with our physical bodies folks don't know, oh, I can leave this virtual space in the same way, because a lot of it is new. And so when that happens in a place where there's harm created with sexual violence, like let's say a leader. Creates an instance of sexual harassment and they're covered by the firm's lawyer. And now the leader leaves or gets pushed out. But the firm's lawyer is still there, which is why I've had this incident happen many times. And then there's all this animosity towards the lawyer because he's doing his job and also. Folks feel like, well, why are they still here once that all comes to light? So then you have this schism in what the firm says they stand for, especially if they're an organization that says it supports a women's issue. Right. So how do you then look at smoothing over the, the. Lack of alignment in a way that you haven't technically broken policy, but you have broken the, the values or the espoused values of the organization. So, that's an instance where you're going to have to work with folks in a way that gives them bullets. And those back to the foundation of what do we stand for? What's our mission and how do our policies, our processes and what we say we want to do line up. I don't know if that answered what you were asking.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I, I heard I'm not, I'm going to have to look up who it was that said this, because I, I heard this person at a conference, but they talked about how they saw things like sexual harassment as a, as a symptom of an unhealthy culture, rather than you know central. I don't know, it was just interesting to me. I don't know if, I don't want to put a bigger and lower thing, but it was interesting to me how they talked about it, as that's the worst manifestation or some of the worst manifestations of a really unhealthy culture, but what's underneath it. Is that, that culture, I'm curious to know your perspectives on that.
Anne: Yeah, I. I think it's an and also I think that culture is dictated by the worst behavior we allow. So, when we see one person, I heard on a podcast, the analogy of this, that in society, when we allow someone to litter, right? Like. And we don't call it in, then all of a sudden society becomes full of trash, right? Like it's very quick. I mean, like I leave a piece of trash in my car one day. This happens to me all the time. Right. If I take my piece of trash with me when I leave my vehicle, Then I'm pretty good about continuing that behavior. But as soon as I leave a water bottle, after I go golfing in my car, you can be sure that I have five water bottles in my car. Right. So very quickly that that behavior continues. And so as soon as we allow any pad behavior to occur, Then many bad behaviors accrue. And as soon as we disallow bad behavior and we say, no, that we don't have that here. Others are witness to that. And they realize, oh, we don't allow that here. Right. And so I really think with your question about sexual harassment, right? Like if you nip it in the bud, then. People know what the expectation is. And I think that there's a lot of debates about hiring for culture and all these things. And sexual harassment is one that's probably, and sexual harm is probably one that's very complex and nuanced to get into because. A person who will do something like that. There's a lot of complexities with that person. And we could get into all of those things. And at the same time, the cultural component of that is as soon as something that's inappropriate happens, it's absolutely imperative to. Say we do not allow that here. There's not going to be tolerance for that. That being said, there's a very big component of how we handle harm in this culture? Right? So condemning the deed and not the person and separating those, separating those things out. And The way that you handle a bad act versus a bad actor is also going to be something that's important and says a lot about your culture.
Carol: Yeah. And when someone's caused harm, one of the things that folks want often as an apology and we've seen again, I think in the news instances of really poor apology is what would you say goes into making a good apology that could actually move towards some resolution?
Anne: That's a great question. I think a good apology has three parts. A good apology says, I'm sorry. I take responsibility for that and here's what I'm going to do going forward. And here's what I essentially like learned from it and how I'm gonna use this as a learning example. Most people tend to miss it. One part of the apology or when they say, I'm sorry, there's lots of different ways to say, I'm sorry. Like I'm sorry. You feel that way is putting the responsibility back on the person or, I'm sorry, but, or I'm sorry. And here's what's happening, like, and trying to excuse the behavior of the defendant, you know. I won't go on. I'll just answer your question.
Carol: Yeah. I love it. Cause I think, yeah, any, any one of those missing and it's so easy, right? You can be in a conversation. When you are trying to say, you're sorry, did you actually see those for like going forward backtracking? But yeah, so I'm sorry. Plus the plus the taking responsibility, but I appreciate the third one, which is, what am I learned about it and what, how will I do things differently? Moving forward based on that.
Anne: Yeah. And that is, I will say from experience, incredibly hard to do. Don't feel as much remorse in the moment as you might want to. Like, I apologize this week I was on vacation with my family. I apologize to my sister or something. And it was incredibly hard for me to do that part when I didn't feel some frustration towards my sister at that moment. Because I didn't want to say that part. Right then. And so there's a lot of timing involved and apologies, I would say as well. And in a workplace scenario sometimes if you are, if there's pressure on you to apologize because of the HR aspect or the public relations aspect or whatever's going on. You can really make things worse. If the person is put under duress to a pod,
Carol: And it's interesting. I'm thinking of the timing and it takes a little bit, a little bit of time and reflection to know what you've learned and how you might act differently in the future. And so, you might manage to get the first part of the apology out and half of the second part, in a first go, and then it might take a little while to come back and be able to do it. Do the full thing and let me do, let me do sorry. Take it to try again. Yeah.
Anne: A circle once with, with young children, like kindergarten age and the parent and bought one of the parents involved with trying to force me to have one of the children apologize. And I said, I'm not going to force an apology because an apology, if it's not genuine, means nothing. And young people are often forced to apologize, and that is something that. Is ingrained in us as adults that, oh, well, apologize to your sister. And so an apology then comes to mean very little to us as we age as, as do many things that are rote. So. We say a lot of things and we lose their meaning, like, think about when you bump into someone in the grocery store. Oh, I'm sorry. Right. And so many of these things that are meant to have a great bit of meaning lose their meaning when we do them out of learned behavior.
Carol: Yeah. And one, one thing you, I wanted to follow up on that you talked about before was the instance of, well, maybe the incident didn't quite cross the line in terms of a policy, but there's still a ripple effect in terms of lack of trust or, or diminished trust or how people are working with each other. How, how, how, what are some steps to, to deal with those ripple effects?
Anne: Yeah. I would say, clarifying the role, I think is always a good first step in a lot of these interventions. Right. And helping folks understand. What everyone's role in the organization is to play. Sometimes people aren't going to like that. And it's important to acknowledge that individuals can hold their own feelings and those are important. And also that conflicting feelings can hold without creating a conflict. That presents a fight. So a conflict and a fight are different. And it doesn't need to rise to the level of tension that it did the first time, every time. Then I might say that, when you bring in someone who does what I do, they can help you to understand that not everyone is privy to information every time, while at the same time sharing information is helpful. And the more information you share the better while at the same time, that information is not Always going to be going to mean that everything is an open book for everyone, right? There are different ways to be transparent as leaders. And I think leaders think because something's confidential, that means they can't share information. So I think there are ways to say this is what's going on without sharing the details of it also. So you can say. We are doing X, Y, and Z, and not saying the specifics of X, Y, and Z, and then the employees that are not getting the specific details need to also understand that what was shared is enough and the building of trust can happen in better ways by sharing information transparently. But the expectation of transparency also needs to shift. And I think that those are the nuances of shifting culture that happens slowly and also break down that distrust that happens when something like sexual violence in a, in a community does occur.
Carol: I feel like transparency is one of those big words, like communication. Well, if we could just solve our communication issues, if we could just be transparent, everything would be fine. But yeah, I think, and I do think that people see it in an all or nothing context. So it's interesting that you're saying it's more of a continuum.
Anne: Yeah, absolutely. And I do think that that. Need better language around breaking down what their expectations are and the way to ask her what they need and the way to offer it. And when I say asking for what you need, I'm also aware of that. Those who would be doing the asking have much less power in the organization. So, the folks with formal power and titles need to really understand the power over that they have and, and take ownership over that. The understanding of that power, because I think oftentimes we are a manager or in the C-suite, or even just have informal, formal power or hurt in that we are positioned to take power in a manager position purely because of the type of role that we have, because it's a more formal desk job and it can roll into a manager position or because we have Privilege. And we tend not to recognize that. And so working on that, understanding in an organization or just as an individual is really important in order for these shifts to happen.
Carol: And you mentioned that there's a distinction on that. Between fighting and conflict. And for me, I probably use those words interchangeably. How do you see those as different?
Anne: So, like I said, I think conflict is to me, a clash of ideas or lack of alignment. So I see conflict as neutral. When I teach a course on conflict, I will say conflict can be positive, negative, or neutral, right? Like it, I can have a conversation with you where we're in conflict because we. Both are trying to decide where to go to dinner and you want Italian and I want Chinese and we're in conflict, but we're not fighting. And so when we're fighting about it, we're at odds in a way that we're really expending energy, that now we're in a duel, so to speak. And so you want Italian and I want Chinese. Maybe we leave one another angry and you go to Italian alone and I go to Chinese alone and we don't talk to each other for three days. Right. So we are at odds in a way that puts us in a really bad way with one another, as opposed to in the right relationship.
Carol: So it's a question of the intensity and emotions getting caught up in it. And, and I guess in that instance, each person digging in and then somehow taking personal offense and not wanting to speak to the other person over their dinner choices.
Anne: Yeah. And, and, and these aren't like terms that I've looked up in conflict management that I, this is just the way I'm calling it for this conversation. I'd have to go look at, I mean, maybe I know the conflict piece is definitely a neutral pot. conflict is not inherently a negative thing. Haven't looked up the word fight, like I'm, I'm relatively positive. This works
Carol: I mean, it's interesting though. Cause I think you, most people, when they hear the word conflict will assume that it's inherently negative.
Anne: Oh yeah, definitely. And that's the first thing you'll learn in any conflict workshop, every single person who teaches the work will write conflict on the board and say, what does the word conflict mean to you? And you'll hear everyone say all these negative words or draw pictures of dust clouds or fists. And that's like the first teaching of conflict that you'll likely learn in any course.
Carol: Yeah. And I think in our culture and the us in the dominant white culture yeah, we tend to be very conflict averse and tend to be afraid of all of those, all of those pictures that you just mentioned. Certainly doesn't mean the conflict doesn't happen, but with that tendency, how does conflict then show up?
Anne: Yeah. Conflict. Can be creepy and that it creeps in, right. I have a workshop called conflict creeps and to your point, it shows up in very passive, aggressive ways oftentimes. And I think. We often hear the expression elephant in the room because the expectations are not clear. Right. So I talked about lack of alignment. I think that that shows up a lot here. And, I would say that folks are often not seeing the covert ways that conflict shows up. They only see the overt ways that conflict shows up. So if it's not spelled out for them to your point, like in a fight, they think that everything is okay. And that's one of the reasons why I think that right now is such a moment because. I do believe that most people think conflict intentions are so high because they think particularly white, white folks are thinking that the workplace feels and the world or the U.S. I'm talking about the U.S. right now. Their world, I should say, feels like an unsafe place to them because everything is a quote unquote fight. And actually, I think there's a huge opportunity here because if they get it right and have constructive dialogue in a really open way, I think it can actually lead to less harm and less conflict then we were having before. I just think that way people were missing it because it was going on in a lot of ways, without their knowledge.
Carol: Yeah. So underneath the surface and covert or those embers in the wall, as you talked about before. So at the end of each episode, I'd like to ask a question where I ask a random icebreaker question. And so what is one family tradition that you would like to carry on to the future?
Anne: Hm, interesting. I think the first thing that comes to mind for whatever reason is that. My parents gave us contracts when we learned to drive like legit contracts, driving contracts made up by a lawyer that we had to sign. That had like 10 things on them. I have it framed behind me. And we had to know how serious something like this was. And I mean, my parents did a lot of weird things and I would like to carry that on for my kids so that they know the seriousness of. Big things. I mean, they did a lot of mile markers, things like that, but I just always thought that was really cool that they took that so seriously and imparted that on us. That, and I just remember the line that said, driving is a. Privilege and, and a responsibility and not a right. And if any of the following are not followed, then this privilege will be revoked.
Carol: Awesome. That's certainly getting really clear about expectations and communicating them very directly. I did some contracts with my daughter at various points along the way. She would remember better than I exactly what they were about. But we have, we did sign them. There were no lawyers involved.
Anne: We had friends that were lawyers.
Carol: I think getting things down on paper and having it clear can really really help lawyers get a bad rap, but in that way of just making it all clear what, what each party is expecting and is really important. Well what are you excited about what's coming up next for you and what's emerging in the work that you're doing.
Anne: Yeah. I'm really looking forward to a community that. I'm advertising for right now. There are some amazing women signing up called the confidence community. This particular one is for white women utilizing DEI in their work. And If you're interested, people are registering. Now, it's going to be amazing. I've been utilizing circle practices in my work for a long time. So really, really looking forward to sharing that with more women identifying folks and I'm Baltimore. I live in Baltimore city and we are working to be the first Equitech city. And There is an amazing entrepreneur community tech community in Baltimore. And they have This incredible group of folks building out this Equitech space. And Techstars is like the BC engine behind it right now. And I'm just really, really excited to be a part of what's happening with that work.
Carol: And can you define that term?
Anne: Aquatech? So the idea is that it's equity meets technology and they're working to put equity at the center of the tech work in Baltimore. So that rather than just doing diversity, equity and inclusion in technology work in Baltimore, they are trying to make it the first. Like a full equity city. And they're trying to be really thoughtful about how they are disrupting that and how they are thinking about the entrepreneurs that are already here. Baltimore is a huge hub because of Hopkins in the biotech sphere. The same way that Silicon valley is for chips. So. Really looking at how they can draw folks here as there's a new opportunity in the tech space because of everything that's been disrupted because of COVID and everyone moving around again. And it's just a really exciting time to see where folks are gonna land.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on.
Anne: Thank you. Great to see you.
Carol: I appreciated how Anne described the impact of an instance of sexual or racial harm – and even when technically a policy or the law has not been broken the trust within the team has been broken. There still is a ripple effect in the organization. Morale is impacted and trust needs to be repaired. As part of this I thought it was interesting how she described the residual feelings about those who were involved with managing the issue – whether it is the lawyer or HR professional or other organizational leaders. While the offender may be gone, trust in those who remain is likely much lower than before and it going to take a process of healing to move through the remaining feelings about what happened. I was struck by Anne’s comment that culture is dictated by the worst behavior we allow. What behavior are you allowing to slide in your organization that may be eroding the trust within your team and your organizational culture?
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 Anne as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Nora 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. Thanks again for listening.
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.