In episode 45 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Carolyn Mozell discuss:
Carolyn Mozell is the founder and CEO of Leaders Who Connect and Inspire LLC and knows firsthand how transformative it can be when leaders and employees treat each other with mutual respect, kindness, and a genuine desire to see each other succeed.
Carolyn served in some of the highest levels of local government leadership for over 25 years. Rising from executive assistant to deputy chief, she also knows that leadership is a privilege. It can literally change someone’s life. She’s seen it happen and she’s made it happen.
Now, Carolyn leverages her direct experience advising elected officials, cabinet-level leaders and activating diverse high-performing teams to help leaders in business, nonprofit organizations and government agencies do the same.
Carolyn’s journey through leadership provided clear evidence that people do not leave companies, they leave bad bosses. That’s why she is dedicated to working with organizations to provide consulting, coaching and professional development programs to strengthen leadership, retain and attract good talent, and improve workplace culture through a lens of Emotional Intelligence.
Carolyn is passionate about putting more kind leaders into the world. That’s why she helps leaders develop their emotional intelligence skills so that they can grow teams that work more collaboratively and employees who thrive and want to stay. She can be found facilitating conversations on leadership, emotional intelligence, and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to coaching clients on how to build a better team by being a better boss.
Clients appreciate Carolyn’s accumulated years of experience managing up, down, and across organizations as a former Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief and rely on her expertise to advise on what a positive workplace culture looks like for them, how to achieve it, and how to sustain it.
Carolyn is a graduate of the University of Maryland College Park, BA African American Studies, Public Policy Concentration, a certified DISC Behavioral Assessment Practitioner and a certified Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.
She is Vice President of Suited to Succeed and Dress for Success Greater Baltimore, member of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), and host of the "Use Your Powers for Good with Carolyn Opher Mozell” podcast. She resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Dawyne and adopted cat, Eva.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Carolyn Mozell. 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.
Carolyn and I talk about why everyone in organizations need to consider what their sphere of influence is and think about how they can contribute to making it better, why it is so important to share back the results of any survey or assessment with the people who participated and then to act on the information, and why it’s important to know what is critical for your self care so you can manage the energy you bring to work and your colleagues.
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.
Well, welcome Carolyn, it’s great to have you on the podcast.
Carolyn Mozell: Thank you so much. Great to be here. So
Carol: I like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you're doing? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your work?
Carolyn: Well, having served in local city government for decades. And I, and I, when I say decades, that just sounds like something my parents would say, but yes, decades I saw like so many problems that were caused by a toxic workplace. And the impact that it had on employees, the leaders and even the customers. And then it made it very clear to me that when your workplace is sick, your employees are sick and it's a vicious cycle that leads to an unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive work environment for everyone. So I started solving this problem through my own leadership, because I felt like it doesn't have to be this way. I have no desire to lead in a way that promotes or fosters an unhealthy environment. And I started just being, as I grew in leadership, started being more intentional about my interactions with people that basically led to me consistently leading with empathy. Compassion. Integrity and accountability though. And that helped to inspire a work environment where people felt seen and heard and valued, all those things that we as humans like in the field. And at the same time, created an environment where the organization is, in this case, the agency, so the agency was productive. So, I began to understand that. It was a win-win for everyone. And even the constituents, now that the workforce is happy, when they're out. We're interacting with the community, we'd get, we would always get a lot of good feedback about how our people are nice and professional and polite and get the work done. So I began to really understand that it didn't have to be the other way, that you can lead with compassion. You can, with empathy, then on behalf to be a model of integrity. Because otherwise your employees don't trust you. And they'll, they won't do it. They won't do that. As you say, they'll do FAC. And then you know that, but I always, always, it was very clear about we are here for business purposes because we are all here and our job to work. For an outcome. But so that was my way of having some compassionate accountability with people, just so being there for them, but unders pairing them up to understand that You need it to also get the work done. So now I work with leaders in Munis municipalities and nonprofit organizations who want to break that vicious cycle that leads to something unhealthy, unstable, and unproductive.
Carol: Yeah, and I so appreciate your statement around, when the workplace is sick, then, infects everyone else. Everyone else is sick too. And I love the turn of phrase, compassionate accountability, because it really brings both sides. Right. It's a ying yang of but we need both. And yeah. So your, your work now, you're really working with leaders. Foster those productive and healthy work cultures. And I think it's everything. It's something that everyone wants. A lot of people just don't know how they can contribute, how, or how they can make a change. And I really appreciate your story and that, you're in a big agency, you could, could look around and say, well, what can I do? But you decided, no, I have a sphere of influence. There are things. So there are ways that I can be there, ways that I can show up for my team and then the people that I'm working with. So, so how, when you're working with leaders, what are some steps that you take to help them see that, that they can start doing to cultivate that healthier work environment.
Carolyn: First I, I really always say that I consult and then I coach interactively because at first you need to understand you, you have to. Make sure that you are willing to uncover your blind spots that may be leading to this environment and be willing to have the blind spots exposed, of people that maybe you have a higher regard for et cetera, that the blind spots are being uncovered. Are going to eventually lead to that healthy workforce. So, be willing to uncut, get data to uncover blind spots. The first thing I always do is to have either an insight survey or assessments behavioral or, or emotional intelligence assessments to go in and just understand where people are so that we know where we're starting and get some baseline data. And then using that information to align that with your goals and all, and the most important thing is, involving people who are directly impacted in that process and whatever the recommendations will be in the process so that you're not faced with a situation where when you're done. People are like, I don't agree with that or I'm not doing that, you know? And I found that like having a representative, so to speak of all levels of the organization helps to give that insight more a more well-rounded insight so that even if like, 100% of the people are not going to agree all of the time, but at least you will get the representation from all of the levels of your organization to make sure that you are incorporating those diverse voices. And then after that, then it's time to always say you got, you gotta apply the results timely, just not be worse than going through, getting people to answer surveys or getting people to take assessments. And then. having meetings and then not doing anything with the information. Yeah, that's the same as, having, we talked about having a workflow committee or a task force and, you just sit the document on the shelf. And so I always encourage leaders to keep the communication consistent. And reliable because humans again, we all like reliability, and it's the same as businesses, businesses like reliability and, in humans like reliability. So, having people to know that, they're going to hear about the survey update or the next step. On Fridays from their leadership, is what I try to encourage them to do to establish some level of consistent communication. And it's all in one case, they would do it at their Monday staff meeting, but just having, keeping people engaged and letting them know that the process is resulting in some action and action that will be.
Carol: Yeah, I really appreciate it. It's so important that when you ask people to take their time to contribute their thoughts and, and answer a survey or do anything like that, that, that you do complete that circle and that a group of people looks at it synthesizes it, but that synthesis then goes out, back out to the folks who originally were asked the question so that they can, can see that they were heard. And, and yeah, that's, that's so important. So can you say a little bit about this, because you also do some executive coaching with leaders? Can you say a little bit more about what that is and, and how you work with clients in that situation? Yeah.
Carolyn: So the local clients that I've been working with so far are either in like a big government or a smaller non-profit. And when I have, but they're, they have been mid to senior level executives and they are, they, they are at a point in their. Career where they want to understand how to gain, influence to expand and their leadership. And so what I do, I help them with understanding how to interact better to gain that influence and using it again on like, improving their emotional intelligence and using disc assessments to help them understand how to, how they, how they are communicating. And if they're, if they're communicating what they intend to communicate or is, are people hearing differently than what they are trying to say. And, I learned that, through my leadership process, that was really important. And gaining influences, they'll always used to say, say what you mean and mean what you say, and, but you gotta be careful of what you're saying, you know? And so it's a whole, it's a whole self-awareness piece, as well as understanding how to communicate with different types of people.
Carol: Yeah. Sometimes those truisms are true.
Carol: So when folks are trying, you talked about self-awareness, you talked about being aware of how you're communicating with folks, is what you're intending to say, matching up with how people are hearing it. What are some other ways that leaders can start to be more intentional about growing their influence?
Carolyn: Well, they can be careful and intentional about the energy that you embrace into a conversation. The energy that you're bringing into a room, the energy that you're bringing into a meeting, it's always I would say you can't change the reaction of the other person, but you can always, always control how you respond to that other person. And so I always make sure that they are intentional about responding and not reacting and understanding what that means for them. And, if you know that. John, every quarter is gonna trigger you for some, will be because of what he's going to say or do in a meeting then, prepare yourself for that because you can't necessarily control. You can only control him to a certain extent, if you're directly you have that. If he started direct reports, then there's always that coaching conversation about, would be appropriate this and what he's doing, if there's anything inappropriate, but John, as his own personality, So, you, he, John just may communicate in a way that's different from how you communicate, but as a leader, you should just be, you need to be aware of that so that you can. The most productive output from John all while making sure that he feels seen, heard and valued. So, it's, it's, it all works. So if the change is believed, interchange, it bleeds together and, having empathy, having empathetic leadership can be exhausting. So always encourage leaders to make sure that they're taking care of themselves and that they are understanding what their balance means. I always see a lot of people say, oh, there's no such thing as balance, but we all have our own personal balance. There's no one definition for what balance means for you or for me or anyone else. Everyone has their own. Version of what balance means to them, but by whatever priorities they have in their life. So I always make sure that leaders take care, take, and have a routine to take care of themselves, whether it's meditation, whether it's, getting a good night's sleep, whether it's, time-blocking for your calendar to make sure that you are incorporating. Priorities that are going to make your life feel like you are living. As well as, having a professional life, because I know like when I worked at city hall, it just felt like my, like, it could be 24 hours, that because in the city there was always something going on. And so you just felt all absorbed in all of that. So I had to understand how to take care of myself so that I can go in and lead the people that I had to lead in, in a productive way. And show up with energy and show up, with my best version of myself, to encourage them to bring their best version of themselves.
Carol: Yeah. All of those things and, and, ideally you get, you can meditate and go to get a good night's sleep and get some exercise and have some time blocking and do all those things to create those guardrails that really. Help you stay centered so that you can show up with empathy for people. So, yeah, but it takes a lot of practice. And, then I think also for me obviously we all want to be more, we're, we're aspiring to be less reactive, more proactive and then things catch up. Right. And we get triggered. And so how do you recover from that and repair what might've happened?
Carolyn: Well, first as always, it goes back around to just being aware of those things about yourself and repairing those things. Again, different for everyone. Repairing could be that you are you, that you need to turn off your email at a certain time or that you need to, they'll schedule looking at your email at a certain time. It depends on what your circumstances are, but recovering are some of those things that you mentioned, exercising. I worked for a mayor who. That was her recovery exercise. We took exercising out of her schedule one, one time because of a conflict and it was a horrible afternoon for everyone. She could not show up as her best self. I tease about that all the time. I'm like, oh, I told her it's her executive assistant at the time. Please do not take exercise out of her schedule because she was just a barrel the rest of the day. And so, but that made me really understand that, being a leader. It's exhausting because you are trying to solve a lot of different problems and still have a life of your own. So you do have to have things in place to recover, like, going exercise, taking a walk, getting fresh air, being out in nature. And I learned over the summer, I've been very. Intentional about just trying different things over the last year and a half. And I, and I came across a coach who talked about grounding yourself and going and standing on like in the grass on seeing it with no shoes on and how that just does something to the body and makes you feel refreshed. And I said, let me try that. So over the summer I did that. It was awesome. I went out and stood on the patio and I just stood there. The neighbors probably didn't understand what was happening. I'm standing there in my bare feet and in the middle of the patio, not really looking at anything, eyes closing up, just absorbing all of the energy. And it was really refreshing because over this last year and a half or so leaders have had to rethink everything about how they're leading themselves and So, I tried to be very intentional and open about learning new things.
Carol: I love that. Cause I think of lots of meditations where I've had, where the instruction has been imagined, the, or, feel the ground that you're you're on and imagine how you're connected to the earth, but actually going out. Standing with bare feet and, in grass or wherever you can to really, really feel that. Yeah. That's interesting. What other, what other things have you tried out in this last year and a half of experimentation?
Carolyn: A night routine. So I had, and this was a, this was mostly actually recently I had a young woman on my podcast. You should power, so good. And she is, she dealt, she was a healer and a coach, a healing coach. And so she talked about the importance of a night routine to get sleep that would help to revive you and re-energize you and all, and some of the things she said, I tried and I was like, oh my gosh, I feel so good. And it was, there were several things to do, but you don't really understand the impact unless you're consistent with them. And so for me, I took my shower at night and she suggested like, take a nice hot shower and have the water just run on your phone. And that disliked does something. She has all her terms. So then you can check the podcast, but it does something to your body. And, it just promotes some sleep stuff for lack of a better term. Because that's not my area. And then, doing things that are going to make your next day more productive. So for me, getting my clothes out the night before now for me, I couldn't understand why I had so much anxiety around this when I wasn't leaving the house. Really zoom calls. Yes. But, then I would like recordings and stuff for some of my content. And so I had so much anxiety around, like, what am I going to wear? And then, I spend half the morning, like finding something and then. didn't want to iron. So I just really, so I, what I decided to do was like one Sunday. If I needed to put the clothes out and if I needed to iron something, iron it, then and sell them. That's taken care of, check it out off my list as I have something to do in the morning. So, she shows you how, like on the, on the back of your feet, the different pressure points that help to relax you. And so, I try some of that and that scene. To spark some type of relaxation for me and using an IMS to blackout the light. Now I'm married and my husband likes the TV on all night, all night. And, I grew up like that, but then I started somewhere along the way, I didn't have to have the television on. So having the eye covers really helped me to just get into my, getting to sleep mode and, oh, one important thing that almost everybody probably has. Well, if you have an iPhone, turn it on that night mode where the screen goes into more of a blue demo mode because she talked about getting yourself. Prepare for sleep and remove yourself from the light of the television of your phone and all that. But you're the fluorescent lights above you. And getting blue light glasses to help with that. I haven't purchased those yet, but that's one thing that I'm going to try. So there are like so many ways, so. Help yourself, but a lot of times we just struggle with getting started. So I, I've, I've gotten into a mindset where I make it uncomplicated and I just take the best next step.
Carol: The best next step. I love that. Yeah. Yeah, I think there's so much emphasis on creating a good morning routine, but people forget about the night routine and how you kind of, you, you, you think about it with kids, right? Like what's their routine for getting them to bed so that they can get to sleep well, we're just grown up kids. So, yeah, that's awesome. So what are some of the common challenges that you see leaders facing as you work with?
Carolyn: One of the biggest ones is dealing with people who are like bringing their personal problems to work and just dealing, not how to manage themselves personally in the workplace. And so they bring all their stresses and then they, that shows up in the work that they're doing. How they're interacting with people. And so helping people to manage that piece of their participation in the workforce and workplace is one thing. And then also helping people to. Understand how to work collaboratively, like in groups, without it feeling like a competition. And so, one of the things that I did with a client, I have. After we did the survey process, we put together a task force that I facilitated and it had various generations of people, diverse people in all respects. And so one of the things I laid out for them in the beginning is that as I always say, we're gonna, let's w we're going to jointly come up with our rules of engagement. And, so we listed about five things, about listening, respecting conversations, respecting differences, in opinion a grade to disagree, so, we, we just, we, we, we covered things that. We agreed to want to gather so that, as we were moving forward, the process didn't seem offensive or unfair or anything to any, any person in particular. And that, we were all, we just all remember when our rules of engagement were that we agreed. And we're able to have a very productive meeting with a very productive outcome. We got through the recommended survey recommendations and like two sessions. So the third session was just a tweak, But we were able to substantially get the work done and all, and everyone was really happy. And, those are the kinds of things that really make my work feel very gratifying knowing that I've gotten people. A diverse people able to work together for a common goal to achieve a common goal.
Carol: Yeah. Those, those having a conversation about those rules of engagement and how are we going to work together? And what do each of those things mean? Like what does respect mean to you? How does that show up? How do you demonstrate it? What, how am I going to know or what, what demonstrates to me that, that you're respecting me or listening to me or effectively communicating yeah, that, that work it, you know infrequently take the time to do it. And that feels like, oh, it's a big conversation, but they can use that, meeting after meeting to work productively together. And it's, it's just so, so helpful. Oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
Carolyn: Let's say one of the, one of the biggest benefits of that process that I just, was some of the middle management leaders. Stepping up to like continue the pro content, continue in the process and bring. And, like, because some of the work is included, the next steps included. We outlined the five goals that we would want to work on. And then the next step was like assigning resources to those at those arm recommendations. So, we had people step up to say, all right, I'll take this one. And then I'll go talk to this department and explain to them what this work has been about. And I understand how the capacity is for completing the work and getting this goal completed. And so it was really awesome to say, those leaders, like just raising their hands, like if there was no. No. Yeah. Like sometimes you'll, you'll say, well, who's going to do this. And then you hear pins dropping and all kinds of stuff. And, but then this case, it was like, I'll take this one. I'll take that one. I'll take this one. So, I was like, it's done. Our work is done.
Carol: Leaders who built leaders. They go, they go. Yeah. And the other thing you talked about in terms of people bringing their personal challenges into work. And I think that, it's gotten even more so, muddied with, with so many people working from home and us literally, being on video calls where you can see into people's homes. And obviously some people have. Manage that by figuring out how to, or having computers that can manage a virtual background or a blind thing, I've tried them. But for some reason, the, the, the Whatever it is with my hair. Like I disappear, like, so I can't use them. So I'm like, okay, here I am. This is, this is what's behind me. But yeah, I wonder what you've seen in the last, almost two years now for leaders that I feel like there's been a call to be more empathetic with everything that people are dealing with. And at the same time how, helping people set those bands.
Carolyn: Yes. And oh, I am like, this pandemic has caused us to have to reef. And everything, everything, we are just, at anything that you thought, anything that you thought about leadership, post I made free COBIT, has gotten twisted and turned and changed like ever. But the bottom line is that employers want to grow a workforce where employees don't leave and employees want to have a workplace where they can grow professionally and financially. So understanding that. Sprinkle some empathy around all of the challenges that people are experiencing. I've found that the best thing that leaders have been able to do in this environment is to just really exercise, flexibility, responsible flexibility. Now, again, Yeah, they have that compassionate accountability piece where we are here for the business purpose. But understanding that, your workforce and your poor employees are people who are the engines of your organization. If they all go away, you have no organism. So, so, so leaders have had to really be more flexible and especially the work from home piece and, and understanding how that impacts the work and, and. Wherever possible, making the environment flexible enough that a person could work from home or do a hybrid situation. But just making things more flexible and understanding that with the knowledge of knowing, everyone on the same page about the work still has to get done.
Carol: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. So you encourage everyone to put a little more kindness into the world. What, what inspired you to put that front and center? And I'm, I'm also curious what, how you put more kindness into the world.
Carolyn: So, so. What inspired me to, to create the podcast, use your powers for good that inspires leaders, managers, and supervisors, to put more kindness into the world, because through my experience, I saw how leaders build other leaders. And though that could go, you could be building positive leaders or negative leaders. And I haven't experienced back in like the late eighties. But one of my first jobs out of college, And I worked at the us chamber of commerce in the manager director there. She said I am right, I don't expect you to be in this job for more than three years. It was as a staff assistant. She said, I will expect you to be here for more than three years. And I was like, what job is this? I can't say more than three years. That was the whole, you go to a place and you retire. So I'm like, what the heck? So but what she said after that was, I'm going to give you everything. You need to be sunsetted. So it's up to you to use the tools that I gave you, the experiences that I gave you the opportunities that are put in front of you to be successful. And she did, and she gave me, she put me in front of people and, I was 23, 24 years old. Put me in. People that I would never think that would be a front of and situations, but she gave me the tools and, she allowed me to go to different trainings and, and to hone how to interact with higher level people at the time I considered. Because they weren't like chamber presidents from around the country. And so, I've never forgotten that and I never forgot that. And so that created a lead. And myself that paid that forward to other leaders, to other people that I was, I was developing into leaders. And so I have always led with a, so this is how I put my kindness into the world. I always lead. And whether it's in the workplace or in the personal and personal life, always lead in a way where, someone is left with an impression that is so. Heartwarming or inspiring that they feel compelled and inspired to do kindness for someone else, be kind to someone else or exhibit that kindness for someone else. And that really was like really I saw that in my recent work when I was in city hall. creating the people that were directly sat directly supervise, they went on to become leaders who, understood how to place empathy in their leadership, without it feeling like they were like gonna be a pushover and all that, because empathy, when people hear that, they think, oh, you're just a soft manager. I was very clear that we are here for business purposes, but I understand your situation. So let's solve the problem together. And so that you can get a productive outcome. We can still get the work done, but then it leaves the person. I gained a lot of loyalty through leading in that way. And so people showed up for me and I, I will never forget that. And I want all leaders to have that feeling. So that's why I want to inspire leaders, managers, and supervisors that put more kindness in the world through their leader.
Carol: Yeah. And I love that story that you tell because it demonstrates a lot of different things. One, she knew the reality that this was an entry-level job that, if, if you were, if she was doing things right, you weren't going to stay in. Cause you were going to grow and learn algebra. But the trust that she also put in you to say, let's, let's have you go here and there and do these different things. And the fact that you're telling your story, years later, it's pretty amazing. And then the ripple effects that you're talking about makes me think of it, is it the Maya Angelou quote of, my favorite. Yeah, we'll forget what you say, but we’ll remember how you made them feel and as a recovering, no, at all. I try to remind myself that every day.
Carolyn: I forgot that that's one of the quotes that I always have in all of my coaching that people are going to ever re they may remember. They won't remember what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. And that's it like, yo, that's exactly what happened from an experience and the eighties, So telling that story, it still feels that emotion around that.
Carol: Right, right. Then the way that she trusted you. Yeah. That's awesome. So one thing that I like to do at the end of my podcasts is ask one random icebreaker question that I pull out of a box. So the one for you today is in what way do you feel your childhood was happier than most? People's?
Carolyn: I didn't know we were poor. I never, I never knew we were living paycheck to paycheck. Until I went to high school and I went to for those who are involved, the Baltimore area, Western high school, an all girls high school and, and you're seeing a year, they're like, like they have so many activities that no one, everything required. They do everything that is required like a white gown or something. Outfit. And so I did not know that we did not have the resources to support that until I got to that time in my life. And my parents, my parents were awesome. They were awesome. But they, they, they, said it in a compassionate way, but they were pretty much like we don't have the money. And they said it in such a compassionate way that that just led me to go and get my first job in worry Rogers and raise my own money to do all this stuff. So then they wouldn't have the burden of doing that. And so, I always remember that, I didn't know, we were living paycheck to paycheck. I had everything I needed. And some of what I wanted and I think it didn't help that I wasn't a very needy child. So, I had everything I needed, some of what I wanted, we ate, I was, I was. A little baby, but my brother who was next in line to up for me was 14 years older. So they were like, my brothers, brother, and sisters were like stairsteps. And then I came like 14 years later. So have another story behind that. I'll go into that. But so I said, boys are pretty spread out too, so yeah, so I was like an only child. because they were pretty much not paying me any attention because they were teenagers. And then either the house, by the time I really got to any like, like elementary school. So, we ate together, my parents and I, we ate dinner together. I watched after school special holes. and I just didn't need anything. And, I felt safe and protected. So I never knew we were poor until high school.
Carol: All right. Well, thank you so much. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you?
Carolyn: Oh, wow. So I am going to be rebranding my podcast. Well, it's starting now. So anyone who wants to like, come on the podcast, I'm starting to do, I was doing all audio. So now I'm doing visuals because what I learned is like, people love seeing other people and I get, I got so much, I get so much feedback and people engage when they are, when they see me. So if anyone's interested in being a guest on the podcast, please reach out to me. Subscribe to my mailing list. All of this can be found on my website at www dot leaders who connect and inspire. And if you are looking for. The speaker or moderator I've recently met. I didn't know. You have plans. I plan. So who knew I was like a speaker or a moderator? I didn't. So recently I got asked to be a speaker and my reader at the Maryland association of counties con on winter conference. And I loved it. I did. That was one of those things that I did not know I would love, but I had done another event prior to that and I got my feet wet and now I'm just like, I love it. So, those are some of the things that I want to just explore more of, and especially in municipalities, because those are the people that I understand most and that I feel like, my experience. Yeah. Help inspire and lead to leaders, building other and other better leaders in. So the solos, those are some of the things I have coming up But I really look forward to connecting hopefully with anyone who wants to oh, one other thing. So I've been working with folks who, or having conversations with folks who are working in DEI, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. And, those are, those things are still evolving. And one of the things that has come up. Especially as a person who had to build the infrastructure for the city's program, that the law was passed and then had to be implemented. So I was one of them, I was the deputy that implemented it. And so. One of the things that came up for me as I left that process and started looking at how others were approaching it is the using emotional intelligence in that process. Because if I had to do it over again, that's where I'm going to start it with, like getting people prepared for all of these uncomfortable emotional conversations and helping them to understand how to interact with that. If anyone needs any, if anyone is in that space and is thinking that is something that they would be interested in exploring, I'm doing information gathering, especially what that means for municipalities and leaders.
Carol: That's awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast.
Carolyn: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated Carolyn’s comment about the best next step. Or I might make a slight edit – to a good next step. You may not really know whether it is best or not. But that approach pulls us out of trying to game out all the possibilities and pretend we can predict the future. It keeps us in action – just make one small choice about your next good step and it keeps you out of analysis paralysis. I also appreciated Carolyn’s perspective on being a leader who builds leaders. Confident leaders want to invest in those around them and contribute to their growth, learning and success. And this may mean they leave your team. Wish them well and know that by investing in them, your support will continue to have a ripple effect as they contribute in their next role. It can be challenging in the short term as you have to fill a vacancy – but you are contributing to the long term. And your mission of your organization is likely part of a wider movement – your investing in your teammates and what they go on to accomplish will likely contribute to that wider movement you care about. Be generous.
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 Carolyn, 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 with a colleague or friend. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. The easiest way to do that is to share pod.link/missionimpact – then your colleague can access the podcast on their preferred platform.
Thanks again for your support. 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.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Stu Swineford of Relish Studios. Welcome to Mission Impact, the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Stu and I talk about the nonprofit marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be, why it is important to really be able to articulate what makes your organization different, and why many nonprofits struggle with the attract phase of the marketing cycle
Before we jump into the conversation I want to let you know about a new thing that I am doing. I am hosting the Nonprofit Leadership Roundtable every couple months. During the Roundtable, you get to talk with your peers, share an opportunity or challenge you are having at work and get some peer coaching on the topic. The Roundtable is free and I host it on Zoom. The next one will be Thursday April 28, 2022. You can register on the Eventbrite site. We will post a link from the mission impact website. It would be great to see you there.
All right. Welcome Stu. Welcome to the podcast.
Stu Swineford: Thank you so much for having me on Carol. I'm really excited to talk with you today.
Carol: So I like to start out with a question around what, what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Stu: That's a great question. I think that it comes down to my initial motivation, [it] was opportunity. I was working as a sales guy at a bike catalog company back in the early nineties. And had been working there for a couple of years. And one day the owner came to me and said, Hey, do you want to go to lunch? And I thought, well, this is a weird way to fire somebody. But we went on a bike ride for lunch and during that ride invited me to help them with copywriting. So at the time I was just being, I was just a sales guy, but they needed some help writing copy for the county business. This tells you how old I am. We're talking about actual physical catalogs back in the day. So I raised my hand and said, yeah, that sounds great. I think that sounds like fun. So I became a copywriter in about six weeks. After that the graphic artists decided that she no longer wanted to work there and just stopped showing up. So we had a catalog that needed to be completed and gotten out the door in about three or four weeks after that. And I thought to myself, well, I know how to turn the Mac on. So maybe this is something I can do. So I raised my hand and said, how about I take this on and see about. Being a graphic designer and all of a sudden at about the age of 23 or so, I found myself as the director of marketing for one of the top three catalog companies in the states at the time. So it was really an opportunity that drove me initially to marketing. From there, I really was able to, Work for during the.com boom, and worked for a number of agencies and eventually found myself in a position where I decided that I knew enough to be dangerous, to run my own business. And so started relish studio back in 2018. I'm one of the co-founders of, and, and partners at relish studio. And we were able to refine what we do to bring a little bit of a different take to it where we recognized that. We had the most fun. And we did our best work when we were working for companies who had something more in mind than just making money. It wasn't just buying the owners next yacht or, or Porsche or something like that. There was a mission behind what these companies were doing. And so we really pivoted what we do to try to work with purpose driven businesses, nonprofits, people in that, in that zone who. Who really do have a little bit of a giving back mentality. So that's what we try to do here at relish studio. So I think that's our, why being able to serve authentically one of my declarations is I exist to serve and and so I really have embraced that and, and, and that's what gets me up.
Carol: That's awesome. Yeah, I, I can, I can relate to that story because I feel like when I first moved into the nonprofit sector, I had a little bit of a background of doing some Well, they were actually advertorials and it was also in a, in a physical magazine that got sent to people who, who did a radio talk shows back in the day, then moved into the nonprofit sector because I wanted to really support causes that I believed in, but it was also a little bit of the case of, oh, well, she can write, so she should do marketing. Like, or, and she's organized so she can manage production. it was very much falling into it and, and, not moving out of the, out of the circles fast enough when it's like, well, okay, you, and and I've since moved away from that, but I feel like for a lot of people in the non-profit sector they may not come to their role with a huge amount of background or, they may have some basic skills. Don't have a degree in marketing or business or, and they're having to learn as they go. So where would you say is a place to start for folks who, they, they somehow end up with that title. But aren't really, don't necessarily have a real huge background in, in the field for a, for a small organization.
Stu: That's a really fantastic question. It's like marketing a marketing title through necessity and opportunity there. Right. I think that. So we have a blog post that actually has gotten quite a bit of traction over the years that just talks about the marketing ecosystem and how complex it can be and understanding that there are a thousand things that you can do in any given day. The best plan of action is to pick one and do it really well. And then you can move on into other options, understanding also where your audience is going to play. I think that there are a lot of people who feel forced into social media. They may not be comfortable with it, or, they're, they're trying to do all of the things in social media instead of just figuring out which one will have the most impact and going there. So we always try to start with values, vision, mission making sure that there's a good understanding, a good solid understanding of, of what makes your organization different. And then really rolling into the audience, who are the people who are going to support your organization. And where do they go to get information where they go to engage and, and start there? So for example, in the nonprofit world, the boomer generation is still one of the most powerful. Donor pools out there. But there are a lot of new social media platforms out there that are exciting and fun and people want to play in. But, for example, putting all of your eggs into the TikTok basket with. Your organization and the donor pool is really in the, more aligned with the Facebook basket or even direct mail or email basket is something that you want to consider. So just make sure that you are hitting things hitting the people where they should. There are programs out there to help with coaching. In fact, relish studio has a coaching program as well, where we help budding marketers learn more about marketing and, and become more adept at being able to fill. Role within their organizations. So I'd say that going out and trying to seek out those types of service opportunities or learning opportunities would be another, another place to, to start as you're dipping your toe in the marketing.
Carol: Yeah. And you make some great points there. I mean, one of the things that, as I was thinking about our conversation today, I was thinking about was, with marketing today, there are just so many different options, different directions that people can go in different channels. And so starting about thinking, who are you trying to reach? Who you're trying to educate or inform about what you're doing, what your organization is doing and then where they hang out and go there. And instead of, “oh, well I'm comfortable writing, so I'm going to do a blog,” but no one's going to come to it or, from your own comfort level of like, “oh, I have fun on Instagram and I'm going to go there.” [Try] thinking about it from the other person's point of view: where are your donors – or potential donors – and how can you reach them where they're at?
Stu: One of the things that we've done, we have a blog but one of the things we recognized is, it's really challenging to get people to come to your site for a “regular blog” type of scenario. So we looked at a couple of ideas and in one of those was why don't we go where the audience is. And so I spent a lot of time on LinkedIn basically putting material there. It can be, it can be reused on the blog. So it's not like you can't use that material on your site as well. And we've actually seen a strong growth in both organic and redirected traffic from LinkedIn to our site. So, I think that what I really recognized was I was able to reach a larger audience. If I went to where they were actually hanging out, rather than asking them to come, come join me wherever.
Carol: Yeah, exactly. And I think the other thing that you talked about right, there was just the ability to use one thing, but re put it in different places, repurpose it. And, and I think that that's a great opportunity for organizations, especially when there's, they're stretched so thin. They don't need to be in that constant turn of, we’ve got to create something new all the time, what's the take, the one thing, and how can you use it in five different ways? So if somebody were to try to do some more repurposing of what they're already producing, what are some ways that you would talk them through thinking about.
Stu: Well, a podcast is a great example. You can start with an audio or a video explanation or discussion or conversation. And from that, you can get a variety of different materials. So I have a podcast called Relish. It's about nonprofit marketing. And I have conversations with nonprofit leaders and experts in the field who bring a lot to the table in terms of opportunities to just have discussions around, around marketing and how people can do a better job. So there's one asset there, which is the podcast itself. That podcast theoretically can be broken into sound bites. If there are nice little quotes in there, those can be leveraged on social media. You can put a sound byte out that is a teaser to the show that drives people back to the podcast. The transcript of the podcast becomes an opportunity to create written content that can be used in a variety of different ways, both on social media and on a blog et cetera. In fact, what are the, one of the ideas around starting the show was that I would get a book out of it, out of it. I'd have, let's say 52 conversations. And from that we had a book, essentially. I have not yet written that book, but it's certainly there and the opportunity there to take what started as an audio recording and. pretty quickly enables you to repurpose that material. in a variety of different ways to, to get the most out of that one piece of media. I am also always on the lookout during my show for blog opportunities and ideas. And so we leverage it that way as well as send out an email about the show, send out an email with that, with those blog post opportunities. So, we're repurposing what started as one conversation into a whole variety of different materials. We also publish the audio to YouTube as a video. I know there are a lot of podcasts out there that record video for their shows as well. So, there's just a lot, a lot of ways to to take one piece of media and make it really like.
Carol: Yeah. I mean, I started including transcripts of the interviews. My initial motivation was just around accessibility in terms of the deaf community who obviously can't listen to a podcast. But I realized there was someone who was listening who said “No, I love the fact that you do transcripts because I don't generally listen to podcasts, but I love reading the conversation.” So it makes it accessible to folks whether they have a challenge in the way or not. So yeah, then all those things that you're talking about, how can you springboard from that one piece? What do you see as the biggest challenges facing nonprofits when it comes to marketing and getting the word out about the work that they do?
Stu: Well it really depends on the non-profit the maturity level of, of, of each nonprofit, I would say. I think that non-profits tend to have a real challenge in the attract phase. So if you consider our idea that there are essentially four major phases of a stakeholders life cycle: attract, bond, connect, and then inspire. Within those, you can break it out into a little more granularly where people need to know about you. So they need to find out who you are. They need to then develop a sense of liking you where they're like, okay. Yeah, this is a person I'm interested in continuing to follow trusting you. So providing proof that you're doing a good job or. social proof that demonstrates that that is what you're doing. And then we move into the connect phase so that those are part of the bond of the attraction phase. We move into the connect phase where they're really being able to try and buy. So, small offers, small opportunities to have a value exchange. Usually that's an email. It starts with time for value. And then you escalate that to perhaps an email address for value. And then eventually that becomes a financial transaction where you're actually getting a donation. And then or, or a purchase, if you're a nonprofit actually has a product that they can sell. And then we move into the inspire phase, which is essentially once you have established that financial, transactional relationship moving into the inspire phase is really getting those people to shout your praises, to spread the message to reach a wider audience, as well as repeat. So you're taking a one-time donor and turning them into a second time donor, turning them into a monthly donor. Maybe getting their business involved and having. Those relationships grow into something that's bigger than what it first started, which might be a simple $20 donation. And so, so really I think some of the big challenges lie in that attract phase. What are the things that we can do as a nonprofit to get the word out and encourage people to come learn more? What are those offers? What are those things that are going to get people to. To say, oh, I want to learn more about this. And that tends to be I think one of the, one of the biggest areas of challenge is, is just starting to, how do I, how do I get in front of the right people to get them to come to my site or to learn more about.
Carol: So, what are some things that you've seen organizations be successful in, in terms of that attract phase or that, just building some awareness around the work that the organization is doing.
Stu: I think that organizations, one of the things that we see organizations of almost every type struggle with is how to position themselves as the guidance story. All of us want to be the hero in our own stories. And most organizations fall into that trap where, when they talk about themselves with. When they're attempting to talk to their audiences, they tend to talk more about themselves than their audiences and fail to really see opportunities to reframe that narrative where the audience becomes the hero of that story. And it's a challenge in the non-profit space because people are out doing really good work. They are out there, changing lives and. Perhaps saving lives. And so it's, it's pretty easy to fall into that trap of, we do this type of language. I think reframing that narrative and doing the best that you can to put it into that perspective of where your donors are, where the people in that audience are framed as the hero of that story. So trying to figure out what their motivations would be to donate to your organization, what is inspiring them to fill that role and then framing your narrative around that is one, one way to just start that process certainly as I said a few minutes ago, making sure that you're, you're in the right place to be starting. Those conversations are important as well. I would recommend that every organization out there do a survey of their constituents or their stakeholders and just find out where, where they go to get information, what social channels are they on? Where do they go, how do they even like gathering information? So, I like to read, but I don't want to watch a video. And that'll really inform not only. Where to go, but what media type to to leverage in that place in order to, to get in front of the right people and, and and create materials with that, they'll be interested in engaging with,
Carol: Can you give me an example of turning that around that reframe that you're saying of being the guide versus the hero in the story?
Stu: Yeah. So an example in the nonprofit space might be, let's say you are a, let's say you're an organization that builds trails and advocates for trail use in in a certain area. One of the ways that you might re-frame that conversation. So instead of saying, Hey, we help save the trails and keep them clean. And ready for all of the access that people might want. You might want to reframe that in the perspective of, if we know that you are passionate about trails and want to keep them safe. So by donating today, you help w you help keep this area's trails open and accessible for all.
Carol: Yeah. So it's turning it around again. I mean, just like you were saying at the beginning where it's, go, go where the folks are, right. Rather than where you want to hang out and then put them in the center of the story instead of, instead of yourself. Yeah, just really appreciate that you talked about maturity levels of organizations, kind of. I'm curious what you see. Well, obviously there, there are organizations that are early on small as they get bigger. What are some different things that you see as opportunities as, as organizations grow to maybe, I don't know whether it's necessarily to expand their marketing, but maybe do it differently as they.
Stu: Yeah. So I think as organizations grow and this can be any organization you have, have built up an audience, you have built up a base of clients or donors or stakeholders that have raised their hand that are ready to continue to engage. With your organization, if you just ask them. And so the lowest hanging fruit tends to fall into that inspire phase where it's way easier to get a donor to donate again than it is to take someone through that entire journey of attracting, bond and connect and get them to donate for the first time. We, as people love shiny new things, it's just, for whatever reason our brains are geared toward how exciting it is to land something new. So it's a little boring to go back to Stephanie or Jim or, or, or, or Gail and say, Hey, would you be willing to do it? Would you be willing to donate again? Could we turn you into potentially a monthly donor? That just isn't as exciting in our brains, but it's an easier opportunity. So two things there first is. Yeah, it's way easier to get someone to donate again than it is to get them to donate the first time. And the second thing is those people also have demonstrated their interest in your organization and their desire to help your organization. And so even though. Even if they aren't able to donate again right now, they will probably be willing to share your mission with their networks. So that repeat and refer area is something that we see as more available to a mature organization, because you've just simply been around for longer. And you have those connections built up versus a startup, nonprofit who right now doesn't really have a whole lot of opportunity to re-engage donors if they, if they're just starting to get them.
Carol: Yeah. And what comes to mind is the phrase, “oh, you're just preaching to the choir.” Well, you need the choir yeah. Those folks that continue to, to show up maybe at your events, maybe, participating in programs, donating all of those different things. And so making sure that you're treating the choir well is, is, is important
Stu: Well to extend that metaphor, the choir sings really, really well.
Carol: Right. And how can you help them see broader, broader audiences?
Stu: Exactly, exactly. And a lot of times that's just giving them something to say, that social post and sharing it, writing an email that they can share with their, with their team, just, getting them one step down the road, saying, Hey. Feel free to modify this, however you'd like, but here's, here's some ways that you can spread this message a little bit, a little bit more effectively, and we wanted to help you help make that easier. That's certainly among the recommendations that we would have for that referral type of athlete.
Carol: Yeah, that, that point of making it easy for folks. I was with a group the other day, and a woman was talking about, she wanted to take action in this particular arena. And, she went on to a website. It was, this was around, advocating for voting rights. And she was motivated. She went. But there was just so much information on the website. It was so complicated. It just overwhelmed her and she ended up in paralysis. She didn't take any action, even though she was motivated enough to go to their website and try to read, but they, they didn't, keep it simple, they wanted to give the person all the information. And so, unfortunately it probably had the opposite impact that they actually wanted because she didn't end up making the phone calls that they were hoping that she would do or anyone who would show up on the website. Right. And was motivated to take action.
Stu: Yeah. We tend to fall into the trap of wanting to tell people all the things. And if we can focus on one thing at a time, this is why I've, I've gotten a little bit away from newsletters and have started focusing email outreach on a single idea and a single action. So instead of giving people a choose your own adventure, monthly newsletter, where, there are nine things that they could possibly do. Get interested in and maybe go exploring hitting people more frequently with more focused intentional single, single ideas. Emails have proven to be a lot more than that.
Carol: Yeah, I've seen that for myself. When I first started out, I did a newsletter where I went once a month where I shared both. I did a twice-monthly blog. And so I shared links to each of them. And after a year looked at my stats and every single month, the one at the top was the one that got opened more. I was like, well, and, and the one, one further down, just and so yeah, I went to one thing, one email, one thing and people are just so bombarded with information that yeah, I think that, that desire to tell you everything that. We've got a lot to share. We want it, we want to do that. But what, what's that one thing that you really want people to take away or take action on?
Stu: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. We've found that creating synergy between your email message and where you're sending people as well is super effective. And so making sure. the tendency is to be just like, okay, well we'll send them to the homepage. Well, once I get to the homepage, there's dozens of things on most sites that people can do from there. So even creating a single landing page, that is the action that we want you to take from that particular email is a really valuable exercise.
Carol: So what do you see as the opportunities for organizations as they're trying to connect with people, attract them, may do that bonding help them get to know each other, create that relationship. Really. It's not just about that transaction and then moving them to inspire what are some of the opportunities that you're seeing? Stay the course and don't get distracted with the shiny new things, or are there some new things that are coming along that people should be paying attention to?
Stu: Well, that's a one fun thing about marketing is there's always something new, something that's either falling out of favor because it's no longer really working or coming into favor because it's it's something that people are trying, I would say nonprofits have a tendency to lag in terms of what they are. They just don't have the bandwidth to stay on top of the latest trends. However, like I mentioned earlier, most of the donations are still coming from the boomers. At this point that'll, fairly quickly move into Gen X-ers. And it just tends to be the people with more. Less time left on the earth, as well as more income opportunities or more, more disposable income opportunities. Tend to give a little more, it's just, we tend to do that as we age. So I would say nonprofits should probably be a little less focused on the newest. Information a delivery mechanism or, or marketing channel and stay focused more on some of the things that are a little bit more tried and true. For example, email continues to be a very viable way to engage with some of the older populations. That's been something they're comfortable with. Email, if someone's on your email list, they tend to have raised their hand at some point. So they tend to be a little more engaged with you than just, something that happens to flow into their feed. I would say consistency is something that most businesses including nonprofits can benefit from is just creating content. Map a a roadmap for what the next six months look like develop themes around that, that a roadmap. So, maybe April is going to be, when you talk about this particular program, maybe when you promote some event or sweepstakes opportunity that you have et cetera, and then develop the content that's of help support that. And then just be, get really good at executing on, on that content. just be consistent about it when shiny things, I call it the shiny squirrel syndrome. When those things come up, put them, put them in a sandbox and be willing to explore those as future opportunities, but don't let those try to not let those get in the way of the plan.
Carol: Yeah, I appreciate the notion of, you don't, you don't need to be on top of all the trends and picking a couple of things, doing it well, doing it consistently. Those all can have multiplier effects. So yeah, I, I think that may be a sigh of relief for most people in the nonprofit sector where it's like, we're, we're, we're trying to do so many different things. And, and I mean, I think probably that those principles would work in a lot of different areas within an organization, oftentimes where I'm working with them around strategy. It's it's, it's also trying to figure out what are the. Couple big things that you're going to be focused on, not 95 different things that you could be doing within a particular space. So yeah it aligned.
Stu: You mentioned relationships earlier, and frankly, I see marketing as just relationship building, whether you're selling, trying to sell a widget or let's say a bottle of soda or trying to get someone to come on board as a major corporate donor, it's all about building relationships and getting good at having those conversations consistently. And making sure that those are authentic. And I would say if there's, if there's ever one thing to do for an executive director or a donation manager or, someone out there it's pick up the phone or get people on calls and ask them questions and develop relationships with them. even, even buying soda, for example, Coke and Pepsi and all those guys are out there trying to develop a relationship with a customer. And it may be a fairly easy relationship to develop, a dollar or whatever, however much a soda costs these days is not a heavy lift to get somebody to try something. But at the end of the day, you’re billing awareness. So not getting people to know who you are, getting people to like you, to trust you, to try to buy, to repeat your refer. that's that, that's that cycle that, that we want to get people into. And yeah, it's just about having authentic conversations is, is really, if there was one thing that every non. Leader or their team could do it, contact X amount of people and have good solid conversations with them every week. And just put a number to that and, and make sure you're hitting that.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just keeping the relationship and the conversation front of line. So even when you're, you're creating something that may not be in a conversation format and back and forth too. Remember that whatever you're sharing is only one half of the conversation. So what's, what's the other half that you went back to? So that back and forth I think is really
Stu: Yeah. And developing opportunities to just provide value, whatever that is. So we talked about content a little while ago. You don't always have to be, you don't always have to come up with the big story out of thin air to be a good blog post, if there's something that aligns with your mission that, in another organization, is doing, or that's interesting. I had a conversation last night about food scarcity, scarcity at a, at a meetup that I had appeared with some somebody and, there's information there that I could then share. I didn't come up with it. Found out about it. But that's like being the Maven, being the person willing to share that information. if you can just reach out to somebody and be like, Hey, I saw this article, it reminded me of you. Here's why you think it's important or why. I thought you might be interested. Let me know what you think and send that to an individual or send that to your list, in an authentic capacity that that's good.
Carol: Yeah. I actually love the parts of newsletters where it's, what we're reading right now or what we're listening to. And, and, some of my most read things have been my little, like, short reviews of books, et cetera, because people are always on the lookout for recommendations from people, as you said that from people that they trust and, and they know, have a similar perspective. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So at the end of each podcast, I ask a somewhat random icebreaker question. I have a box of icebreaker questions I pull them out of. And so I've got a couple here for you. I'll just ask you one. What I usually do is pick out three and then see where the conversation goes and see what I'm pulled to, pull to, to then ask. So what's the best advice that you've ever received?
Stu: Wow. The best advice. I have been fortunate throughout my life to be able to engage with experts in a variety of different fields: business, personal life. No even athletics. I just somehow managed to be able to spend time with world champions and, and people of that nature. So I've received a lot of amazing advice over the years. I think that probably the best advice I have that I could share is to be yourself. And if you can come to every conversation and every interaction as you are authentic and be interested and, and all of those things, but essentially coming from that from who you are you're going to feel more fulfilled and you're going to develop better, stronger relationships. It's that authenticity piece that I think is super important.
Carol: Yeah. And I think, yeah, absolutely. And I think that that goes for organizations as well. Right. Be themselves. Yeah, I think we're, we're social creatures and our antennae are pretty good for when people are faking it. Right. And they're not, they're phony or whatnot. And so, yeah, I think that that's, that's great. That's great advice. And we're always stepping into that. I think as we, as we continue to evolve, hopefully. Yeah, I hope
Stu: so. It feels to me like I've been around in the business world since, I mean, I guess I graduated college back in the early nineties. And so I entered the business world pretty, pretty soon thereafter, and for a while, there was a real trend to never show weakness and never, never be. demonstrate that things might not be going well. We're asked for help and, and I, I'm very encouraged and maybe it's just the people that I hang with, but I'm very encouraged to see at least among that group, people being more and more vulnerable and more and more willing to share both the good things and the bad things that are going on. I think that social media has created a situation where a lot of us argue. Given the opportunity to, to see how people may be struggling because they just put out the good stuff out there and just really understand that it's okay to be vulnerable. And when you can be yourself and show up in an authentic way good things happen.
Carol: Yeah. And with that, I think I appreciate it. I've heard it from Brene Brown of also being aware of who's earned the right to your story. Who's earned the right to, what levels of vulnerability. Are you, are you telling a story from a wound or a scar? So I think that that's also important when you, those, those big, big blanket statements don't, obviously it never works in every situation, but the more that you can, be willing to yeah. I recognize, and share when, when you're struggling and that. But you need help. Right. And asking for help, I think, is certainly something that I've had to step into and learn more about as I grow older. So yeah. Appreciate that. So what are you excited about? What's emerging in your work?
Stu: I think that is one of the things that I have been working on for quite some time. And it's really coming to fruition and I'm incredibly excited about it. It's something I spoke about a little while ago, which is this coaching opportunity. I love helping people. I love helping people be their best selves. And so being able to create a coaching program that puts me in a, in a. In a position to be able to help people in that capacity has been really fulfilling and I'm super excited to continue to expand that program. So, it's something that we have, I have several, several coaching clients at this point and And so it's really fun to be able to meet with them on a, on a regular basis and watch their progress and see how much they can come alive in, in the marketing space and be able to contribute to the growth and success and ability for their organizations to to expand that.
Carol: Yeah. So it goes back to that. You don't have to do it young. You don't have to go it alone. You can, you can get help.
Stu: Yeah, for sure. There are lots of resources available out there and I'm certainly available. And, and, if somebody would like to discuss some of the challenges they're facing or, or what coaching might look like, I'd be happy to chat with them about.
Carol: Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being on the podcast. It's been a super pleasure. I'm excited to be able to have this chat with you and look forward to talking with you soon.
Stu: Alright. Thank you so much. Thanks Carol.
Carol: I appreciated Stu’s point about thinking about all of your communications from the point of view of those you are trying to reach. So if your average donor is a Baby Boomer, spending a lot of time on TikTok probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Where do they hang out and how can you go to them? And then when you are telling your story – making yourself the guide not the hero of the story – putting the people that benefit from your work at the center instead of yourself. That can be a little tricky because you don’t want to be in the business of not respecting your clients privacy or using their challenges for inspiration porn. At the same time – how can you get yourself out of the way of the story you are trying to tell. I also appreciated Stu’s emphasis on keeping it simple. Asking people to do one thing – just one thing. When I am talking to people as part of the strategic planning processes that I support, I ask them if they had a magic wand and could change the organization in any way, what would their wishes be. So if I were to give myself the magic wand, it would be to have every policy person who writes policy updates and asks their constituents to take an action – write an email, call their representative to simplify their messages. And if they really want to share all the details – they would have two options – Click here for the highlight summary – that would have at most a sentence or two explaining – why they wanted me to contact my representative to vote for or against the bill and then provide a mechanism for me to do that. SIMPLE. Then they could include a second option – if you want all the details – click here – But right now – most of the advocacy communications I receive only have the second version. Maybe the policy people think it is the simple version – but to a layperson like me it is not. So yes – keep it simple and to the point! With that I should get to the point…
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Stu, his bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. I also hope of course that you subscribe so that you will get future episodes. Reviewing the podcast helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
This episode is the final 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 Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis discuss:
Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis is a senior leader with over 17 years of broad-ranging experience in program management, advocacy, and community outreach. She has a passion for public engagement in STEM, and currently serves as the Executive Director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program, a groundbreaking healthcare and STEM pipeline program for West Baltimore youth. Dr. Grier McGinnis is a Baltimore, Maryland native where she still resides with her family. She enjoys exploring urban green spaces and volunteering to promote mental health awareness.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis. This is the last of the series of interviews I did in collaboration with my son-in-law Peter Cruz as part of our culture fit podcast project.
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.
Gia, Peter and I talk about the challenges young people of color face in seeing themselves in STEM fields given how historically – and currently – white male dominated the fields tend to be, how she found role models and mentors and has played that role for other, and how she sees the impacts of health disparities play out front and center in the work she does and how the news of police brutality impacts her students.
It has taken me a little while to get all these interviews for the culture fit project out so our conversation is from last year so some of the events we reference in terms of where we were in the pandemic reflect that.
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.
Peter Cruz: Welcome to Culture Fit, the podcast where we do our best to answer your diversity, equity, and inclusion questions that will help you navigate the professional landscape, especially when you are not a culture fit. I am Peter Cruz.
Carol: And I’m Carol Hamilton.
Peter: How are you doing?
Carol: I am doing well, managed to run and grab a little bite for lunch. So that was good.
Peter: Yeah. It's needed. I think the only thing that I've been snacking on are these foods that are good for health. White cheddar puffs. They're like healthy healthy Cheetos Cheeto puffs. Those are the only things like since the heart attack and stroke that I can snack on.
Carol: My favorite has been dried mango. We are now buying in bulk from Costco.
Peter: So now that we've got the snack plugs out of the way, this week we have Gia Grier McGinnis. How are you doing here?
Gia Grier McGinnis: Great.
Peter: Great. For our listeners, can you provide us some context on your professional background, who you are, where you from?
Gia: So from Baltimore city originally, I've had two overarching themes to my career. One is that like public and community engagement, the other is always with health science or the environment. And sometimes those two things have play together and sometimes I've done them separately on the. Right now, I'm the executive director of a program called CURE Scholars at the university of Maryland Baltimore system and healthcare pipeline program for west Baltimore, middle and high school youth. I'm also really into mental health advocacy right now. I'm on the board of NAMI, Maryland. And I know Carol, from my days on the Baltimore GreenMap board, which is about giving access to young people in the community to green spaces around Baltimore.
Peter: Could you speak a little bit about this? The fellowship program that you work with. Could you elaborate a little more on that?
Gia: So CURE scholars started back in 2015 and really the idea is we're trying to generate the next generation of STEM and healthcare leaders for the society to work on health disputes. We actually recruit youth at sixth grade level and we stay with those youth all the way through high school. It's a multi-year program. They're all recruited from the same three west Baltimore middle schools. Very close to the University Maryland at Baltimore's campus which is intended to be good neighbors to the west Baltimore community. And we both provide them with STEM activities year round, but we also have a social work team that helps them with social emotional support and with any barriers that the families might have anything from food insecurity to unemployment. We consider ourselves a wraparound program.
Peter: Great. And, and this is more for, I guess, exposure or would this lead into like, I guess, internships in the future?
Gia: Certainly. At the early grades, a lot of it's about exposure. They do like STEM labs and three science areas. But as they get older we partner with Youth Works, which is Baltimore city summer jobs program. We actually serve as an employment site. For their summer, they do get paid to do their STEM work with us. Once they hit high school level we also have a team that works on college career readiness. The goal is to actually walk them into competitive STEM majors on college campuses, or for those that maybe don't feel like college is for them to explore careers that may require maybe two year degrees with something more technical.
Peter: And, and for that being that STEM is, and I think we've all experienced this like as, as women or people of color. But STEM is a very white male dominated space. What are, what do you feel like are some key areas that you yourself or the program and the fellowship Tried to address and I'm like holding on for, I guess, the code switching, the amount of code switching that might, may need to be done or, or simulation at a fairly young age.
Gia: Yeah. I mean, so really what we're trying to do is, get them to see themselves as scientists. Like you are a person of color. You can be a scientist and it's amazing how many scholars will expose them to say a dentist or expose them to say a psychiatrist. I didn't know, black people could be like, like it's tough. It's like, of course, but to them, it's like, oh, okay. Right. That's a career I could have too. And it, it really actually works as a spark, like. A role model that looks like them, which is what we try to do in the program, is exposed to career professionals and they go, okay, like maybe I'll be a genius or maybe I'll be a nurse. Because I see that the other thing we started doing this year is we did a whole week last week on mental health. Trying to get them to learn about self care, trying to get them to learn about, breaking the stigmas on. Like, you can take care of yourself. You can understand that as a person of color, you're carrying a lot of stress. we had yoga sessions. We had a speaker come and talk about black male wellness. We then had a separate session for ladies. really trying to get them to understand. Yeah, stem fields will be stressful. And how do you prepare yourself? You can't change others a lot of the time, but how do you help yourself cope and how do you navigate life in general against stresses that come at you?
Peter: Yeah. Cause those are things that we're all kind of, and it'd be like don't escape those things, right. Like what have you learned from working in this, in this field and doing, like, even facilitating or coordinating these types of things, whatever you learned insofar as your own professional experience. And I mean, I could only assume having to assimilate or coats, which are under like, cause. discovering new things and new perspectives as we become more of a progressive society. Yeah. what are some like new things that are tricks of the trade, but you have even. Oh, like, I have a hot moment, like, oh, wow. I've been doing this my whole life where I probably shouldn't have.
Gia: Yeah. it was interesting. like I said, I grew up in Baltimore city and I always just had a natural interest in the environment and nature before I had a label for those things. And eventually I go off to college and it's Predominantly White Institution and in the environmental studies major, I am the only black woman in all of my classes. And I don't say it was like a bro culture. It wasn't, I mean, it wasn't, it was just, it was a small liberal arts college. it was very, everyone's very chill and Hey, white, white, white very small. And it was a huge culture shock right. Coming from Baltimore city, going to what was on the Eastern shore, Maryland. A small way. But it was like, the black community on that campus did the whole, well, white kids sitting together at the cafeteria, we sat together and stayed together socially and so very early, you learn like, all right, you need support systems. like, every once in a while you see a person of color. Be by themselves. And it's like, eventually they drift to the car. It's like, yes. Right, right. You need, you need us, we need each other. we, that was something very early. It's like, find, find your people both intellectually, but also culturally if you need to. And then as I move through life, I think the environmental fields become a little bit more diverse than they used to be. Well, all that tiny bit, like ma'am, there are more campuses that have the major and things like that. And people talk more about climate change and things like that. But yeah, I mean, when I graduated from that university, I was the only black graduate in that major. But what I noticed was right behind me was another black female. Like she declared like right, right in the class behind me and. That was great to see. Right. So if one person does it right. Okay. It's cool. If one person does it, like, okay, maybe I can do it now. And so in subsequent years, they're a little bit more people going through that program.
Peter: Do you feel like, as you reflect on that time being that you were the first and only. Is it a burden to be that type of a role model? Like, did you feel like you were a role model, even though you were in your mid, late, early?
Gia: Actually I didn’t. And I think that's, you don't really, you're not thinking about it. You're thinking about your own experience. You're not thinking about like younger classmates or and I just moved in spaces that I wanted to, like, I was very active on that campus. I was in student government. Again, like one of the few ran people and that, I just, I did whatever I wanted to. I studied abroad. I did all these things and other students were like, oh, don't, you just want to be black student union. It's like, I want to do everything like I do all the things. But no, I never really saw myself as like chili then or anything like that.
Peter: And when you shifted from guess university to then the professional landscape, like did your college experience in like defaulting and trying to find and establish support systems being that you go into the professional landscape and that it may not necessarily be the case, especially if you look a certain way.
Gia: it's interesting. , I graduated from undergrad and then I went to Washington DC for an AmeriCorps year. it did, they now call it, they call it a gap year now I don't know what to do. I'm going to do it. AmeriCorps is what I called it. And I did, I was working for an environmental health children's mental health network and there was a black female. She's now the ED, but a black female in that office. Again, a role model for me. I call her every once in a while when I'm stuck. But what happened was that the program was really keyed into environmental justice. I actually found by the environmental justice community in DC there is a great community organizer named Diamond Smith. He was really active in South African divestment,but had started this black peace and justice group in DC. So I was doing it. And by miracle work with the children's grandmother, not that work doing environmental justice work, but al doing this peace and justice work with this really incredible leader. I found it. My community of organizers and people that were really committed to inclusion and really loved it. That was a year where I was just like soaking in all sorts of social justice, overwhelmed with it. And it was that time. And I remember it was like the occupation they're all these, like, this is kinda like early two thousands and like DCU is exploding with all the anti occupation stuff. I was like, knee-deep in that. And then over here, I was knee-deep in environmental justice and health stuff. We're kids. And it was like an overload of social justice. And it was a wonderful, wonderful year. But then I was like, I want to go back to school. then I went back and That's a university culture for a couple more years.
Peter: And in that time, did you feel like the university culture had changed at all?
Gia: this time I went off to a totally different campus. University of Michigan. Big huge school. But within that, I was in the natural, natural resources school, which again, had a very small community of people of color in the environmental justice program they had there. And again, like, Here's community again, right this time, our environmental justice group that we're doing like work in Detroit and Dearborn and our mentors kind of, teaching their classes. And so again like predominantly white culture, but finding this group of people that really cared about environmental justice and, and really, thinking in and, and finding a home.
Peter: from your having a lot of experience of being one of few, what are some things that you tried to instill in the CURE fellowship or scholarship fellowship?
Gia: The scholars. And out of school time program, it's also considered a, what they call pipeline program. it's walking the youth progressively into a career field. But yeah, I mean, it's all about raising confidence, giving them platforms to lead, giving them platforms to present to others. one of the activities they do at the end of the year, say. Then called the SIM expo, where they get to present to their family and their community about a science topic they've picked and worked on in spring semester. this is like their time to like, stand up and introduce themselves like when you go to poster sessions at conferences and you could just see like the ones that maybe start out in the beginning of the year, super shy by the time they hit the expert or like, saying their names, shaking hands, eye contact. They stand up a little taller, which, again, like you need to develop that confidence to be able to navigate what's going to come next. a lot of it's about wrapping around them and saying, okay, you can do this. And you're just as smart as any other kid out here.
Carol: Yeah. And I was talking to someone this morning who described those public speaking skills and all the things you're talking about, this. It's really leadership skills.
Peter: And also for, because so far we've been talking about like from the leadership, if you have control over a certain environment, which more often than not, we do not, but if you do. Establishing an environment where these young people, cause yes, they are building up these like hard skills throughout this process, but the soft skills that they're also and needs that they're being that are being addressed are acknowledgement and recognition, which are like the most vital things to not feel excluded.
Carol: Yeah. I heard you just continue to come back to the notion of finding, finding community. As a, as a safe space and a place to, I dunno, hang out, be yourself, not worried that not, be on as a place to rejuvenate that whole importance of wellness. And how do you build those skills and practices that you can keep, keep on keeping on.
Peter: For those young people as that warm handoff like they transition and progressed through the full, through the program is what is alumni engagement? Cause I think like, being a part, when you're a college student being a part of a fraternity sorority, or a club, like you like to go back to those people when you need to do that type of thing exist or, or is in the process of being.
Gia: what's interesting with this is because the program's only five years old, our oldest scholars are juniors and we were literally building the program as we go. And we'll have our first graduates next year, which is super exciting. And we're already thinking ahead, like, okay, they're going to be first year students on college campuses. What can we be doing? How can we get some of them, the thread back and maybe do near peer mentoring with the ones coming behind them because they would be the best mentors the program has eventually as they get older. And so we're definitely starting to think about that. As we look to our first graduates,
Peter: That's exciting to make it. Like, I can't wait. Like I'm sure they are as equally as excited about the prospect of the world opening back up so that they could stop mething very large-scale
Gia: like that it's been hard, you, like the, the scholars you don't want line learning has been tough. I definitely think, yeah, next year. Looking forward to seeing them in person.
Peter: we've been talking for a minute. I only have another one question. Carol, do you happen to have any additional questions or can I ask the classic Peter question?
Carol: I guess I was just thinking that, that this year, even though I obviously, for the program for everyone, it's been a bit of a tough year. And at the same time, it puts all of those issues that you've been working on front and center in terms of disparities, in terms of health equity, or lack of equity. Even right now, as we're looking at the vaccine, roll out how that's not happening in, in an equitable way in Maryland. I was wondering how you're using what's going on right now to work with students and have conversations about it?
Gia: Absolutely. We both provide them a little bit of clear information about COVID as it's a science program. Of course let's learn about neurology. But also, some of them have had COVID. Some of the families have had COVID. I had COVID so just also sometimes, we'll get family calls that say, We have COVID and okay, well here's here resources that the university has. Like, here's how I'm, here are things you can do. And so we've definitely had it hit home for people, but also trying to use it as a teachable moment for science and stem. it is a great time for public health right now. But yeah we've also had, Things with the pandemic just affect families, economically, just unemployment. our social work team helped develop an emergency fund. we have this fun that parents can tap if they need emergency electrical assistance or help someone buy an oven the other a couple months ago. whatever we can do, and of course it was all a very quick pivot, right? we're, everything was a pivot, The pandemic hit and just all of a sudden we had all these new issues and al exacerbated issues amongst our network. And we really had to think about, okay, how do we continue to Pratt support virtually safely? getting people resources. yeah, it's been a really challenging year and then I'm looking forward to the herd immunity or the vaccine distribution pushing out.
Peter: Well, I'm about what we're first firstly, glad that you're doing well. I think the last question that we have is having experienced what you've had in the entire tidy of 2020. Also actually let me ask this question first. We, we address the pandemic, but In regards to the social unrest resurgence of black lives matter that impacted the young people that you serve and also you as a person.
Gia: Yeah. first of all, say this community was deeply impacted by. 2015, it's the protests in Baltimore that went through west Baltimore, it's almost like Freddie Gray all over again for these communities. And our scholars, they read the news. They're very up to speed on what's happening. Some of them express concerns for their own safety of traveling out in space as a person of color because they saw what was happening on the news and they're just like, should I even be going outside now? We brought in a speaker for them, so we could talk through after George , we did a social justice town hall around that, just to get them to talk about that and unpack that. But absolutely these young people are very aware about what's happening around them and their place in the world. And what does that mean for them and trying to figure that out.
Peter: Yeah. Cause it's like, it's one of those things where of course they can see the positive and then you get like, oh, I could potentially replicate that. But that's through my own, I guess, effort and like sticktoitiveness, but things like Freddie Gray, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, like those things can just happen without my knowledge. But also I could see myself with them as well. now then that transitioned, like, because you're building, we are building these habits as a society. Also your program, your. What are some things that you are looking forward to in the near future or, 2021 and beyond in regards to the program, societally, how the mental health of these young people.
Gia: Definitely looking forward to the end of the pandemic, but also through all the struggles of the pandemic, we've actually done some things that are a little innovative, like things that we never would have normally done had it not been for the pandemic. certain types of programming that we've never done before. All the things we're doing online are pretty neat. And so there's also this sense of, Do we go right back to the way we were or do we hybridize and go, actually that was pretty cool. What we did there, there and there. I also look forward to thinking more about, okay, what does crew styles look like with our curriculum post pandemic? Like, we used to have monsters. Huge events like with hundreds of people. are we still doing that? do we, do we figure out a different way to solve it or maybe we can do that, you know? I think it's actually exciting like this whole year of like, do you ever think differently? I think it has opened the door to be like, okay, maybe moving forward, we do do some things differently. it's actually pretty exciting.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, yeah, there's, we're at this intersection of like potential and like having been through so much. it's like, it's very exciting to actually like, be in the midst of history, if that makes sense. But yeah You don't want to hold up more of your time, I think. thank you so much for joining us. We truly appreciate it. And maybe we'll have you on after the graduation and see how that
Gia: oh, absolutely.
Carol: Well, thank you so much and thank you for all the work you've done.
Peter: Again, thank you to Gia. That was a great conversation and a lot of great insight on her work and her as a person and the journey that she's been on. I think some of the things that really stood out to me is the importance, like you mentioned, of community Wherever you go. It's important to have that support system and knowing that there are people who are going through the same journey as you who have the same concerns is always comforting in a very real way. When you go into professional spaces that you are truly the minority, she's another person who is one and only that it is very intimidating and scary. Kind of, for me at a younger age, I would probably avoid those spaces. Yeah, so, the importance of community and being recognized and acknowledged as a person, as a being, as, as someone who is different, because I think most spaces want to be like, oh, we're all family here. It's like, nah, we're all different. And that's okay.
Carol: Yeah. And I think when we pulled together our tagline. Podcasts and, and name. And when I was listening to that again, I'm thinking, oh God, I hope people don't think that we're kind of, advocating that people have to, be a culture fit or have to assimilate or have to take on these attributes. It's more a recognition that that's the reality. And a lot of people are navigating and Yeah. just that, that just acknowledging that reality. And how people have to manage those to survive and thrive.
Peter: It’s really like a spotlight on the struggle that we all go through. The mental gymnastics that we all have to play as someone who. Isn't part of the majority. And I think as we go and have more conversations, different people will have a couple of episodes where it's just us and talking about our experience and juggling all that. Yeah, the importance to, for stem exposure. And we're doing the importance for, I guess, The emotional and, and mental baggage that we have. Like we're exposing everyone to that. These are all very real things. And what you're going through is also just as real.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. In that support of a, of a group of folks going through it together to make it just a little bit easier.
Peter: Sure. All right. So. For us please send those over to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will see you at, yeah, we'll see you when we see you.
Carol: Thanks for listening. Bye bye.
Peter and Carol: Bye.
Carol: Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Gia, 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!
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!
In episode 40 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guests, Monique Meadows and Terrill Thompson, discuss:
Monique and Terrill are long-time friends and co-owners of Banyan Coaching and Consulting, where they partner with clients to create healthy, vibrant, and sustainable cultures through holistic coaching and facilitation. Our love for the natural world is integrated into all that we do. We invite you to tap into your inner knowing as we together transform and expand in ways that are electrifying, unpredictable and imperative. Monique is a lifelong student of energy healing, channeling and a Reiki Master. Terrill lives in a community on a permaculture farm where they draw energy and joy from producing food, nurturing healthy ecosystems, and offering respite to activists, artists, and organizational leaders. Both earned Master’s degrees in Organization Development from American University, where they were awarded Segal-Seashore Fellowships for their commitment to social justice.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guests today on Mission Impact Are Terrill Thompson and Monique Meadows. Terrill, Monique and I talk about what organizational culture is and why it so often trumps any policies and procedures that you may write, what it really takes to shift organizational culture, and what are some signs that an organization is really ready to engage in culture change? 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. Welcome Terrell. Welcome Monique. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Terrill Thompson: Thank you.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question of what drew you to this work? What motivates you and what would you describe as your, why Terrell, why don't you tackle that one first?
Terrill: My story of how I got into this work was I started as an executive director of a nonprofit and I was one of those EDS that really never should have been an idea right out of college. I got hired as an administrative assistant and then the ed quit. And so the board promoted me to be the ed. And in that experience, I learned a lot on the job and really loved the nonprofit sector. But what I was really passionate about was figuring out how to create and shift the culture within the organization. And so that landed me in graduate school, getting a degree in organization development, which is where. Monique. And then we have been, even though our degree and organization development is much more of a for-profit oriented degree. Most of our colleagues work in the for-profit world. Both of us have always been in the nonprofit sector and passionate about social change. And so we have just applied all of that learning, translated it into non-profit language and have been applying it in a nonprofit.
Monique Meadows: Yeah. So, so similarly, I come to this, having worked for social justice organizations for about 25 years now. And initially I was a development director, so I was responsible for raising the money and all that, which is so not what I'm oriented for. And we, I was part of a management team that was really. Struggling. And we brought in a consultant to help us and figure out what was going on and why everything was breaking down. And there was a moment where I thought, I wonder what he's doing. I was like, that's what I'm wired for. Right? Like how do we heal relationships? And how do we make sure that we're working together in ways that really foster collaboration and so, went to graduate school, met Terrell and yeah, I've been really loving it ever since.
Carol: Yeah. And, full disclosure: I went to the same graduate program, not in the, in the same cohort as the both of you, but and, and it, it somewhat of a similar thing that instigated B two. Moving into organization development was, yeah, working at a number of different nonprofits where they had incredible missions, incredible work that they were doing in the world. And, and yet there was this gap between. How, what the change that they wanted to see outside themselves, but then how they were treating, how we were treating each other, how, how the culture of the organization was. And so I didn't actually, I don't know when I finally, just started getting intrigued with. Why, why is there that gap and how could we work more effectively together and finally stumbled upon, oh, there's a field where people do things about this and I can learn more too. So yeah, so similar and. Your work really focuses a lot on that organizational culture change. Just to begin, how would you, I mean, and we've talked, I've talked a lot about organizational culture on this podcast, but I'm curious how the two of you define organizational culture. What are, what are the kinds of things that you're talking about and thinking about when you're, you're looking at an organization's culture.
Terrill: We define culture really broadly. Right? It's really, I mean, the essence of it is what does it feel like to work there? Right. Every organization has a different call. And the people who can most clearly see the culture are often the new folks, because once we're in it, we're just, it's like the fish in water that doesn't know they're in water. It's, it's all around us all the time. And so, newer people who are coming into organizations can often tell you a little bit more about the culture. The other thing is that oftentimes our practices and policies are really down that should define a cartoon culture, often contradict the culture. So for example, we'll see policies that say things like everybody takes an hour for lunch, but then when we look around the office, everyone's sitting at their desks, cramming food in their face while they're typing emails, right. And culture often Trump. Everything else. And so when we're looking at culture, we're really looking holistically, how are people behaving in the organization? How do they treat each other? What are the relationships like the level of trust? What is the culture around, what do we do about birthdays or holidays, all of that. Even how we dress is part of. Okay. And so we're really taking a broad approach. And when we enter organizations to learn about the culture, our processes, predominantly observation and talking with people, because while we do read all the policies and procedures, that's not going to tell us that culture, right. It's really about the people. The people make up the culture. Do you want to add anything to that money? Yeah.
Monique: Yeah. And so once we've done some of that observation, like we reflect back to the organization, like here's what we see. Right. Here's how you're relating to each other. How here's, how you're sharing information. Here's how collaboration is or is not happening. And it's fascinating to see how just the reflecting back, what we see, how that in of itself. The culture, right? Because as Tim said, there's the ideal that they hold and then there's what's actually happening. And so we're coming in and assessing that and reflecting back, really. So we start talking about energy, right? Really shifts the energy in the group and. Work with they're like, oh yeah, okay. This, this looks like us. And this isn't quite where we want to go. And so they're, they're ready to make some of those changes in some of the groups that we work with. Aren't right. And so our work is to, to meet them where they're at, so that we can help guide them through a process that turns their culture into the one that reflects their values and who they say they want to be.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's, that's where, I don't know there was, there was a point at which there are these cynical posters that came out when we, with the values thing and, and, and just the, the, the worst of what it could be. And, that's all a joke because so many organizations have gone through that process of, or maybe articulating values, but then, there can be that gap between what we think we are, but what's, what's really happening day-to-day.
Monique: And part of the thing that we've seen, that's such a challenge is that group say they want to do the organizational culture work. Right. And so they bring in folks and. When they realize that the depths of time, like the amount of time, like the commitment and the vulnerability that is really present, they shut down. Right. And so groups also don't always have the resources to really invest the time. Right. Folks are pulled in a thousand different directions. And so we found that to be one of the challenges. Are you really able to commit the time and the resources, the people power to be able to dig in and do this. And so some groups are like, yes, and some aren't able to, but, but that's where I think some of that cynicism comes, right, because there's so many starts and stops to this type of work, but it really does require just like really diving in deeply.
Carol: What are some things that can help? Yeah, I mean, I think realizing how long a process like that takes and how, how challenging it can be to shift culture, even when you want to, what are some things that help that process move forward and go more smoothly?
Monique: Well, the first piece of television mentioned a minute ago was that, we do the data collection, right? So we go in, we talk to folks, have focus groups, interviews, and really pull together what summarizes who they are. Right. And then we reflect back to them. What our work is, is to introduce concepts and models that resonate with them. Right. And use language, because we know when we're talking about culture, like there's some groups we can go in and work with. And they automatically, when we start talking about how our organizations reflect the natural world and they're like, yes, Instant resonance and we're able to do the work. Other groups were like, what the heck are they talking about? These hippies are crazy. Right? So, so we have that. Right? So, part of it is finding. Specific activities that resonate with the group and help them to connect in new ways and create a safe enough container where people are willing to take some risks with each other, because they're often we find there's a lot of injured feelings, right. A lot of hurt feelings, right. And a lot of old narratives. Become concretized and some of the systems. Right? So, what we do is let's surface this and find where the opening is, right? That's the piece like where the opening is so that we can go in and help shift. So it's really about making sure that we have exercises and activities that they're willing to engage in, right. That matches their culture and, and just moves them through the process. And I think part of it too, is at the beginning, like making it really clear. This is a process that is particularly long sometimes. Right. And so, are you already, and cause so gauging organizational readiness is a big piece of that.
Terrill: I'd love to jump in with a little bit about dating the readiness because a lot of our work is in racial equity and equity more broadly. And we often get organized. Well, we get a lot of organizations reaching out to us. So we're in a really fortunate position of being able to be really selective about who we work with, which is nice. But a big piece of that is really figuring out is the client ready to do the work that they say they want to do? Because oftentimes there's a belief that, well, we can bring in someone and do a few training sessions and that's going to shift our culture. And training is great as educational tools. They do not change culture on their own. They have to be embedded in a whole culture change process. And so we do a whole assessment process in our interview process to decide if we want to work with a client. And some of the things that we're looking for is do they have leadership who's really invested in an equity change process and are they willing to learn? And both of those things. And that means that they're going to make mistakes. And so are they able to handle making a mistake and learning publicly in front of their staff and are they willing to invest time and resources into this? And that includes staff time. And so most of our clients we've been able to work with set aside a portion of their time each week for every staff member to do equity-based. Right. And that ranges and the clients who our clients are doing 10%. So if you're 40 hours, four hours a week is going into really learning and engaging in an equity way that gets self-defined on what their learning curve is. We also know that we need to have access to the full organization. So any organization that says yes, but you can't work with us. That's a flag for us, because if you want to create culture change, it has to be organization wide or else. The default is to pull back to where you've been. So if you have any group that's not moving, it can pull the whole organization back. That's not to say that we can't do work with staff and board, just oftentimes we have to do it separately at first, because they're in two really different places, but we've gotta be moving. And the whole organization, and that can include volunteers depending on how engaged volunteers are in the organization. So those are a couple of the things that we look for. We also talk very directly about clients, about the need for transparency with us. So we need to know that clients are going to tell us for real what's going on when it's happening, not a month later, right? Because we, by definition of the work we do, we come in and stir the pot. Right. Which means that things are going to come up and if we're not informed, because we're not there day to day, we're not going to hear it at the water cooler, which I realize is different in zoom world, but we're not going to pick it up in that same way. And we need to know that information is coming to us so that we can address things in the moment. It's really important to us, to not be the consultant that comes in, stirs everything up and then leaves. We have seen that happen so many times and it's really, really damaging to organizations. So we take a slow and steady long-term approach with our clients. We would much rather have you move like an organization, move an inch and stay there. Then move three inches and go back to where you were. It's really about that slow and steady progress. Always moving in the direction of equity.
Carol: Yeah. A couple of points are built there. I, I thank you for going to the point of readiness, because that's exactly what I was going to ask you about. Like, what are those signals or what are the things that you're looking for to know that an organization is ready to, to engage in the type of work and type of culture change that you're talking about? And one of the things I really appreciated is when I think when. We're talking about culture, people, it can feel very amorphous for folks, but the fact that you get as concrete as we're going to need, X percentage of staff, time to be dedicated to this over a period of time is it. I think that that's what makes it, that makes it real for folks we're not going to, it's not just an add on, it's not an extra, it's not a special thing. And, and your point around, training obviously is important and education is important. And yet it's not sufficient to change culture. Can you say more about what you've seen in terms of stirring the pot? And then I think it's, sometimes it's even just opening things up and not having enough time for some closure that can also give people just. Either hurt or confused, or just like, what was that all about? So lots of different things that some negative impacts that consultants can have, if they're not careful or haven't haven't to really help the client understand, help the organization, understand what partnership is needed to really make the change that they're looking for.
Terrill: To clarify a little bit about what we regularly see coming into organizations is that oftentimes we very often are the second, third, fourth consultant group that a client has worked with. And the pattern that we see is consultants coming in, asking a lot of questions, getting folks to bare their souls about what's really going on there. And then. Moving out without real change happening. And so we're finding people are really discouraged, particularly folks of color who have just put themselves out on the line to say, this is how racism is impacting me in our organization. And then it falls on like it just falls. It doesn't get held. And so part of what our approaches is that the trust building has to happen. At, in par with the level of racial equity work that we're doing, if that makes sense. So we can't, we can't go in and do a race like racism 400 when trust is not present. Right. We've got to have the trust to hold what comes up so that when the group is ready to actually hold the experience, then we can bring that in and start to make those shifts. But it's really, really damaged. To open it all up, bring people's hope up and then nothing changes. Right.
Monique: And it's really, I mean, just the level of hurt that we encounter and some of these organizations post multiple groups of consultants, and this is not to, in any way, like denigrating the consultants. Right. Because, they may have only been able to come in and there was only a certain amount of time that they were given right there constraints that they're working with. Right. But it's. Remarkable. Like how. Just how much, how many tears there are, that's present right. In the, in these groups and for both the folks of color. And then of course the white folks have a lot of fear right around, am I going to say the wrong thing? It's just okay. Like, what, what are the, what are the lines. They do feel like they're constantly changing. Right. And so, so our work is, like I said earlier, it's like, we really do see it in a lot of ways as healing work and, and really creating a space for folks where they are willing to take the risks with each other. But first it means acknowledging that there's been injury. And whether that injury. Intentional or unintentional it's there. Right. And, and we've worked with some groups where they're, they're ready to acknowledge that and release it. Like we even sometimes have done work activities that are like released rituals, right. For people to really name it and let it go. And as long as it works, What the heck are these people talking about, but again, where we're exploring and experimenting too. And then we have those groups where it's like, they hold on so tightly to the injury. And so we move even more slowly. Right. But, but as we're doing. We're naming, like, here's what we're seeing. And here's what, so we're constantly reflecting back to them so that they first don't feel like they're crazy, right? Like this is actually happening. And what agency do you have? What power do you have within the system to make the changes? That's also a part of our work is to see at all levels within the hierarchy that there's some power there. And so how. With the role that you have, how can you move this along so that you can move closer to fulfilling your mission? And I think the other piece is around talking about culture in general, because it's so invisible. Often we find that folks can dismiss its significance, right? Like how much it really impacts, how far you're getting along in your work and how you're able to. Really fulfill your mission. And so naming it and, and really identifying this is why it's so important, and there are moments where you see the light bulbs go off and you're like, oh, okay. This is why we do this work. Right. But yeah.
Carol: And I can imagine coming in after multiple attempts with different consultants to, to move the needle and having things, not, move forward. I can imagine that For some organizations, and clearly as you're, as you're describing, it really ends up creating harm in the organization. And at the same time, I'm guessing that it's also part of what unfortunately helps organizations be ready to receive. Commit in a way that they perhaps weren't in the first or second or third try. Yeah, I just, I mean, that's the story I'm making up, but
Monique: They're like, okay, we gotta do it, the stack,
Carol: Or they thought, well, if we just have these three trades, then we'll be good. And well, no, that wasn't, that isn't quite it.
Monique: Yeah, we're very clear with organizations that we don't come in and only do training, but that's just not our style. We really want to go in and build the relationships and, and help folks see how the training applies to their work. Because sometimes there's this disconnect, like, why are, why am I getting this training, on equity? When we're doing something that's completely separate. So we work to really show how it's integrated in.
Carol: And you talked about the process of building trust and going slow. I'm curious, especially with organizations that have gone through a couple of these processes, probably, multiple people have already asked them many questions, had those focus groups and had those interviews talk to people. They're like, oh my goodness, are we doing this again? Do I have to tell that story again? I'm curious how you approach that in terms of helping people open up again. Or to, to really build that trust.
Monique: Well one of the things we do is just first put it out there. Like, we know you have been asked these questions multiple times. And so sometimes depending, particularly on the length of time, that's it? This is between when the last group of consultants came and when we were coming in. Sometimes we take the reports to the other consultants. And really put that upfront. Like here's what we already know about you. Right. And we want to build on that. Sometimes there's been a good chunk of time. And so we do have to ask those questions over, but again, it's just putting it out there and being really transparent about it. And one of the things that Terrell and I do Is that we're working with the groups so that the groups are willing and able to make mistakes, like we demonstrate that like, we, we are very in the moment with our groups and particularly, oh yeah. I was going to say virtually, but just across the board, we're very. Present. And so in the moment, there are times when we're making mistakes with each other or stepping on each other and we just put it out there, right. Just show, Hey folks, we are going to make mistakes together. Right. You've done this before. You'll keep doing it. And, and we, we can do that and move forward. Right. So it shows them that we're not coming in assuming that they're all wrong and we have all the answers. Right. We're making sure that they don't have that perspective. Cause we, cause we demonstrate it. But, but we really. We, we, we, I think I keep going back to things and things, but we just, we can, we name like here's what's happened already. Here's where we're going to go. And here's where we'd like to go with y'all. So I feel like I might've been repeating yourself.
Terrill: No, I'm going to repeat what you said too. Because it was too. Then, to not say again, it's like a big chunk of our work is showing up and being really present with people and being really transparent. And that alone builds a lot of trust. So when we come in and say, we've heard all of this, we know we're the fourth consulting group to come in. We know the other ones haven't been successful and we don't want to leave you in that place. So help us figure out how we can be successful here. People. They shift their tone. And when we show up as full human beings who make mistakes, who are learning along with the client, people trust us more because we're not robots and neither are they. Right. And so we need to be all in it together. I think another important thing is that we move because we move slowly. I think that helps build trust. And that includes in the interview process. So we have had, multiple months before we've ever signed a contract where we're meeting with different groups of staff to make sure that they're comfortable with the decision to work with us because that's, especially if staff have been really burned in the past, that's an important process because we want them to be. Comfortable with the decision to hire us. And if they're more comfortable with another group, then they should go with another group. We know we are not the best consultants for every organization out there. No consultant is right. It's about finding the right fit. And so we encourage organizations. In fact, we push really hard. If people reach out and say, someone referred you, we'd like to hire you. I didn't say you should really talk to a couple of groups and make sure that we're right. We have the right approach for your organization and where you are, and we can help with that assessment. But ultimately clients got to make the decision when more staff are involved in that, I think the better.
Carol: Yeah. And so you're, you're almost starting the process by, by having that Len lengthy kind of, pre discovery, if you will. As, as you're working through, should we even be working together? Right.
Monique: I remember in our program, one of the classes said that. Every point of contact with the organization as an intervention. Right. And so like, I keep that in mind, when we're doing the interviews and when we're doing the interviews to be hired in the interviews with the staff and look at each step, I remember that, right. So that we know that we're impacting the system right. Each time, each time.
Carol: Yeah. And I think just the, the part that I think for any consulting project that thinks, oftentimes at least in my experience, organizations think, well, I'm just gonna hire a facilitator and you're going to come in and help us have a good conversation. And don't realize there's that whole process of talking to a lot of people getting a sense of where you are. And then, being able to reflect back to them, This is what I'm hearing. This is the snapshot of your organization now, so that, so that there is a common ground of that naming that you're talking about of and, and being able to just that act of being able to describe the organization to itself, to be so that it can say, or the folks in it can say, Yeah, that resonates or that piece doesn't, but I could see, just to be able to start that conversation.
Terrill: So we try to engage staff at every step of the entire. Process it, depending on the size of the staff that has to look different, right? A four-person organization of 400% organization looks really different when we're talking about staff engagement, but that's also part of it. It's leadership does not have the answers, right? The answers need to come from the entire organization. And so we try to engage staff as much as possible, along the way to get a lot of feedback. What is their vision? What do they want to see? How do they want to shift themselves? And what, what training and education work do they most feel like they need? Right. So we can build all of that. And we really deeply trust that the folks in the organization are the ones who know best what's needed. And our work is really to help synthesize that and open the door for them to be able to do that work.
Carol: And how does that show up in terms of equity work? Because sometimes I feel like there's a stance in that work that doesn't necessarily have that trust that the organization knows what it needs.
Monique: Well, in terms of how we approach equity work to kinda, to, to build the trust that we've been talking about and to really open the minds and hearts of the folks that we're working with, we generally have the philosophy that well, one. Equity work w we don't only focus it on race. Right. We look at the multiple aspects of identities. And so as we do that, we invite people to look at the places where they have identities that are privileged identities and the places where they have identities. Oppressed. Right. And so in terms of the modeling and the transparency and that Terrell, and I do, like, we share like our full selves with folks. Right. And acknowledging that, I have certain identities that are very privileged. I'm U.S. born, English speaking. I live a middle-class life. Right. And I have identities that are oppressed, right. I'm black, I'm a woman. I. I have a disability. So, what we do is we invite people to look at their whole cells, not just through a single, a single lens. And that really shifts how the conversation happens for groups. Right? So you've got, white folks who are used to being in the conversation where they are the oppressor, right. I mean, that's, that's what we're working with here. And we're saying, well, actually, you're more than that. Right. like you have many identities that you're holding where you're impacted by systems that. Take power away from you too. So, we bring that conversation into a group when we're talking about equity and we find that for the folks of color, for the trans folks, for the LGBT folks, It's a, it's a new way of looking at ourselves. Right. And that is, I mean, it's, it's really powerful to be part of those moments where the group's like, oh right. Because there's so much fear going into conversations around equity. And so we've found that that type of approach that's what causes the fear goes away, but it definitely just creates Compassion for each other. Right. That's one of our values that we really work with, but like, how do we create more compassion within these systems so that folks can see each other as whole beings and not just, you are the oppressor. I am the oppressed, like, that we're more than that.
Terrill: That's great money. I would, I also would add that to your question, Carol, about like, Do we trust that the organizations have the knowledge internally? Right. And, and what we have found is that yes, because they know enough to know what they don't know, or to know that they don't know at all, if that makes sense. Like, no, I mean, none of us, none of us have that knowledge that we need to. Right. Right. But we hear a number of our clients are predominantly white organizations that are really early in their learning journey. And we can absolutely work with them to help equitable culture when they come to us and say, we're early in our life, when they have a knowledge that they're early in their learning and they have a lot to learn and they can help us figure out what is it that they need to learn to be able to create this culture. Right. That is, that is actually a lot easier to work with in the organizations that come to us and sort of say, well, we already know everything
Carol: Might be one of your red flags.
Terrill: Right. Cause we're all learning. There is no end point to an absolute journey, right? We are all on the journey. The organizations, individuals, teams, all of us consultants as well are on a learning journey. And so I think when we really open up and tap in, we do know what we need to learn and where we need to.
Carol: Yeah. I love that that compassion piece is key in the work, ultimately it's about being a better human being and that's certainly a lifelong should be, hopefully it's a lifelong, if you're like check I'm good. I'm a good person. I'm missing out on what you might be learning. Right. So at the end of each episode, just to very much shift the focus here a little bit, I do ask an icebreaker question as a facilitator. Everyone looks to you and says, well, what are your icebreakers? And, and I say, well, they're in a box. I have, I have a box of cards that I use. So to, to, to go pretty opposite of where our conversation has been, I'm going to ask you this one. If you could arm wrestle any historical figure, who would you choose and why
Monique: I'm like, who am I willing to lose?
Terrill: Okay. I have a response. Also, you can keep these deals to give you some time, Monique. So my answer would be Bayard Rustin, and because I would love to be able to be in his presence so that I could do anything arm, restfully shake his hand, whatever, but he has, he has been a role model for me forever. I mean, I think I was first exposed to his work when I was probably 18 or 19. I actually worked at a summer program for kids from LGBT families and one of our tent circles where the kids lived was the Baird rest. Circle. And so just to know, like he was such, he was the brain behind so much of what Martin Luther king was able to do, but yet he wasn't recognized for it because he was gay. And the fact that at one point Martin Luther king basically kicked him out of the movement and then said to him, nevermind, come back. I can't do this without you. I just think that the amount of adversity he experienced that kept fighting for the rights of his folks, of people, of color, of black people in this country, even as he was facing homophobia within his group is really. So much of what we're dealing with today as well, and that we have to bring that stick to it. of even though. We are not perfect in any of our movements there isms all over the place in our movements. We have to both be addressing those and continuing to move the work forward. It's not an, it's not an either or, and I feel like he held that and balanced that so well, thanks.
Monique: I would say Harriet Tubman. Yeah. I mean, there's so many reasons why I would be more than happy to lose to her, but the main thing is that I found out maybe about five years ago that she had seizures and I have epilepsy. Right. And so whenever I start to feel afraid of. Facilitating in front of a group. Am I going to have a seizure? I've got like those tapes start going. I remember her. And I'm like she, 17, 18, 19 times went back and forth and freed people, right. Led them to freedom with the, without meds, without comfort, without all the things that I have. And so I'm like Monique. Get over yourself like you, that the blood that she has, you have to, like, you're made of the same thing. And so like, I would love to just be in her presence and just soak up some of that power. Cause she was just, I mean,
Carol: Awesome. Awesome breaths, two very powerful people that yes, we're willing to, willing to lose our arm wrestling match with. So for the two of you, what, what are you excited about? What's coming up> What's emerging in your work these days?
Monique: Well, we were just starting in the second phase with an organization that is a very nature based organization. And we have the privilege of being able to work with them for like a year and a half. So we're really able to dive in deep with them and we can integrate all of our. Things like when we talk about the natural world and how that reflects what's happening within the organization, it's like we can do this in a really direct and explicit way with this group in a way that we can't with some others. So I'm so excited about where we get to go with them and, and how we'll get to go out and hug trees together.
Terrill: I'm also excited for the ability to have in-person retreats again, like I, I thought it was here and then it wasn't. And so I'm holding onto the hope that it will be here. Again. One of the things that we've learned over the last year and a half is that we can do really deep work remotely. And it really surprised me. I will completely acknowledge, I didn't think we could do it. And we have, and. It doesn't feed me as the facilitator in the same way, because we put people into breakout rooms on zoom and they just disappear and we have no idea what's happening. Right. And then they come back. And so to be in the room where we can feel the energy of the group in a completely different way and be fed by that, I'm really looking forward to being able to do that and cross my fingers. It will be relatively soon. Yeah.
Carol: Yeah. Although I do, I do love being able to hit a button and have everyone come back. Well, thank you so much. It was great talking to both of you. I really appreciate the time you spent with me and my wireless.
Terrill: Thank you. Thank you, Carol. It's been really, really fun and I'm really appreciative of the work you're doing and this podcast. Yes. Yes.
Monique: Yep. Fantastic. Thank you so much. Awesome.
Carol: I appreciated the unique perspective that Terrill and Monique brought to our conversation about organizational culture change. Especially that so often they are coming in after 2 or 3 or 4 attempts have already been made to shift culture. Those may have started with doing a few training sessions, perhaps a few facilitated conversations. And then wondering – why haven’t things changed yet. They underscore what it really takes – the full investment that is needed to change your culture and create a healthier, more intentional, more equitable culture. And why so often after several rounds of attempts, slowing down and attending to relationships – building in time for healing is so important. And showing up as full human beings who also have made and will continue to make mistakes is so key.
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 Terrill and Monique as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Izzy 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 39, Carol Hamilton looks back at the last year and a half of Mission Impact. Using clips from interviews with Tip Fallon, Nyacko Perry, Carlyn Madden, Kristin Bradley-Bull, Keisha Sitney, Rosalind Spigel, Stephen Graves and Nathaniel Benjamin, she examines:
Learn more about my featured guests:
Carol Hamilton: For this first episode of 2022, I am looking back. Over the past year and a half I have released 38 episodes. And I started interviewing for the podcast just as the pandemic started in March 2020. I also started another brief project that was going to be the podcast Culture Fit which I am fitting into Mission: Impact instead. Over those interviews issues of equity – diversity, equity and inclusion – and how these issues show up in organizations – especially nonprofit organizations have emerged frequently in our conversations. For this episode I am featuring some of the highlights from those conversations. I loved the chance to look back and listen to those episodes and look for some gems. While there was a lot more great stuff I could have included, I try to focus on a few themes that went across interviews. These themes included:
Tip Fallon: That's my belief in an underpinning, even in nonprofit organizations who may be providing social services or direct support in the community, in one sense, like those are still a, maybe not a microcosm, but they sit within a larger society in this larger society. If we talk about whether it's patriarchy or the racism or xenophobia or any of those things, but even sometimes just the, the capitalist mindset when the individualistic mindset that promotes a belief of scarcity, organizations and cultures are not things that fell from the sky. So we need to remember that people, maybe not us people, maybe generations ago made some decisions. Many of them very. oppressive decisions towards entire groups of races, of people that created a lot of these structures and organizations and hierarchies that we're living in then for today, what are our decisions and what are. The ramifications, not just today, but to borrow from indigenous mindsets and ideology, multiple generations down the line because we're creating cultures today that will last well beyond the 5:00 PM or 6:00 PM or 10:00 PM that a lot of people work
Carol: Nyacko Perry comments. On how the ways we work and measure productivity and accomplishment. Spring from roots. That would most likely surprise most of us
Nyacko Perry: Our structures in general in terms of business are based on white supremacy. All the way from our educational systems, our business structures, I was listening to the 1619 project. An amazing piece by the New York Times, that really looks into our history of slavery and also just the legacy of slavery. And one major piece is that a lot of our business structures are based on how the plantations were run. They had very complex systems, they had middle management and ideas about productivity and reports about productivity, of how. Feed a slave and have them be as efficient as possible. And we're extremely successful in that. So much of our. And America is based on that piece of our history in our life. So when I think about just structures in general, I'm like, yeah, like the whole thing, everything, which does make it difficult, I guess, to just live in society and to work in any system. I guess the rationale that I give myself is that I'm here to dismantle and to support in the transition and the change. But I think it's very important to just acknowledge where our structures come from.
Carol: The nonprofit sector certainly mirrors the rest of the culture in terms of who shows up in what levels of leaders. And on boards, there have been calls from major institutions in the sector for years to work on the issue. And yet the needle hasn't really moved much in terms of diversifying. I think a lot of it has to do with this notion, especially in predominantly white organizations of what's just about diversity and it's about numbers. Let's get at least one person, one person of color, one person with some diversity factor beyond a white and men and women. But then that underlying factor of how is the culture supporting that person to be able to be successful and really contribute in a meaningful way. Carlyn Madden sites. The study that I was referring to.
Carlyn Madden: Jean Bell, who talks about, I think it's called hire by higher and talks about some of the survey data on executive leadership in the nonprofit sector has not changed in the last 20 years. The demographics do not actually change.
Carol: Given the context that we live in and the stubbornness of the challenge. What can people do to move the needle? Kristin Bradley-Bull offers one possibility
Kristin Bradley-Bull: History is written by the so-called winner. Think that's all wrapped up in what you're talking about and one, certainly, of the primary opportunities for so many nonprofits is too. And especially ones that are white led is to really. Start listening a lot more to listen more deeply to stories from the communities that they are a part of, or not as much a part of it as they wish that they were because that's where so much wisdom rests. And it is in storytelling that many learnings, many examples of resilience and creativity and perseverance. Live and live actively, certainly in the nonprofit sector, how are we, how are we supporting? How are we supporting a system that, how are we supporting the larger system that isn't serving a lot of our community members? So I think there are lots and lots of questions and all of that. And some of what I take hope from is that piece around. We have activists and movements who are pushing. And so when the more traditional nonprofit sector is in good dialogue with movement folks, there's lots of zest. There, there are lots of aha moments. And so I think we just have to continue again. It's that porousness, it's that sharing of stories that. That helps others in the non-profits sphere or grassroots activists and people in the non-profit and the formal nonprofit sphere, as well as grassroots groups that are not , there's a lot of possibility and bringing all those folks into conversation, storytelling, deep, deep consideration of comments. Common interests, which is not necessarily the first thing that people recognize, but we have common interests in what I would call collective liberation.
Carol: Nyacko Perry speaks to this as well and goes beyond storytelling. To how it shows up with frontline staff. As well as leadership. And the connection. Or rather the frequent lack of connection to the community that is being served
Nyacko: People that are doing the really direct service are having. A real challenging time, especially around their income, more often than not, they're the least paid person, but they're the people that are really dealing with the direct work. And then there's a whole disconnect between the direct service people and the people that are really high up. And the other disconnect in that area is. Race. It's like direct service. That's where all the people of color work. And then as you go up, it's just all white. And that, to me, like, I think symbolically, I find disturbing I'm like, what is that about? And then also in terms of who they serve more often than not, it's people of color, people that we've represented with disenfranchised identities, and that's not reflected in the leadership of non-pro. And so for me, there's just this huge disparity and disconnect that I don't understand. And I feel troubled by more often than not the people who need help are people that represent disenfranchised identities. And why is it that we don't have those that represent those identities in leadership? I mean, that's where I see there's just a huge problem in that, but I mean, honestly, my friends that are a nonprofit when I've worked in non-profit, it's just, it's almost like it's normalized where yeah. The whole board is white. The whole leadership is white. They don't know what's happening. Like they're not connected to the actual experience of the people that they're serving, but they get to make the most important, most drastic. And, fundamentally for me, it's the people that are closest to the pain should be closest to the access and closest to helping to make decisions, and I'm pulling from my Congressmember, Ayanna Presley, but that's the thing we need to people who are representing that identities should be part of. The solution should be part of making those major decisions. And I don't see that. I rarely see that. And I think we know statistically, it's not there. It's like at all, we think it's like 0.05%.
Carol: Another theme I heard in our conversations was about assimilation. One of the challenges that I think few white people realize is the extent to which black indigenous and people of color BIPOC may feel pressured to assimilate. Into the white dominant culture to succeed. And the emotional toll that that assimilation takes every day. Tip describes this phenomenon.
Tip: It is internalized in us. We default to let me wear the mask because I know at least I may be able to survive in this space and maybe be able to foster some relationships with that and get my agenda across. And what I find sometimes is sometimes that math. There is a permeable boundary between the mask and us. Sometimes it seeps into us, I think at an unconscious level. I mean, we end up with ourselves and others unintentionally sometimes perpetuating some of the mask wearing in our organizations, but there's a generational divide as well. So even there, there is a little bit of tension just generationally. I mean, this is again a big generalization, but sometimes younger people are coming into the workforce. Now that I have a little bit more latitude and say, Hey, I want to wear my hair or even my clothing and appearance, or even my language in a style that seems authentic and natural to me. And we shouldn't be afraid to talk about this. So, Hey supervisor, like, can you call some of this stuff out? Because I don't really feel included. Supervisors might say, Hey, I've got to negotiate my boundaries with these funders or these community partners or X, Y, Z. And I'm trying to sort of toe that line and we're going to get more, what is it? Get more bees with. If you will. So like let's sort of not rock the boat or whatever the averages are. That's a little bit, a little bit much for the appetite and the culture of that organization. And so what we see in that situation is, is someone who says, Hey, this is what being authentic means to me. And because I don't feel I can be authentic. You, the organization, are not getting my best thinking. You're not getting my ideas about what's happening within this organization that I only have a purview about. And the system is losing out. The clients and beneficiaries are losing out as well. And then you have others in the organization who are essentially, I think, trying to survive in a way that looks like these masks are also a survival tool.
Carol: Keisha Sitney also comments on her experience, including how this approach is too often actually embedded. In leadership development programs designed for people of color. To help them succeed
Keisha Sitney: I led multicultural leadership development efforts at a national level for our organization. And there's sometimes where I felt like we were just teaching the diverse leader, how to be within this larger structure that is not necessarily welcomed. So teach you as a person of color to straighten your hair, to get in, get the interview, say the right things and do all those things. But how do we change the system? So that it doesn't expect me to conform in order to be successful, that I can be valued for. However, I look, if I choose to wear my hair this way, and I know that sometimes it seems like a small thing, but those small things, they just add up and there just seems to be many ways where as a woman of color, I felt like I haven't always been able to bring my whole self to work. So I do think that it's important that we allow folks to bring. Themselves and their culture and their beliefs to work and not have to hide who they are. those conversations is, is a key part of it,
Carol: That leadership development that you're talking about, it's essentially what, like refining, refining code switching, or basically teaching. With these realities, many organizations are trying to take steps to address the current situation. And there are many pitfalls and mistakes and traps that white led organizations fall into. I'm trying to take steps to diversify as well as become more inclusive and equitable. One of those mistakes is recruiting for diversity first, instead of attending to the culture that you're asking people of color to step into. Rosalind Spiegel speaks to this.
Rosalind Spiegel: They're white-led boards. And they want to have BIPOC folks as part of their leadership, which is great. And the. Depth that they skip is how do we prepare ourselves to welcome others into our board? And so you don't just start doing equity when you've got a BiPAP person sitting on your board, because then they leave in a year. And you wonder why Robert Gass, who does the art of transformational consulting. He's got a lot of great resources on the website, the social transformation project website it's called and educate. And it's basically a feedback loop. It's basically when you said X, I felt why, because. So this out and education is a way that organizations and boards serving staff can begin to practice what they preach. So let's say you, Carol and I are at our board meeting with a bunch of other white people and, or mostly white men say, and you say something and nobody pays much attention to it. And then like three minutes later, Charles says the same thing and people go, Hmm, that's good. Now I might, I'm sure you've never experienced that. Right. Never, never, never happened. So I might not catch it. Right. Cause I'm just as, as sort of susceptible to sexism as everybody else. Right. And white. Can tend to be a little competitive. So I may or may not. I may even notice it and not know what to say. Right. But if you've got something like a, a commitment in place for collaboration, engagement, respect, equity, whatever, and a mechanism like out and educating them, you could say, Hey Charles, when I said that three minutes ago, nobody paid any attention to it. And, and now when you said something, I noticed that people thought it was a great idea. And because of that, I'm feeling invisible or at that made me feel invisible and, or I might have the wherewithal to say, Hey, Charles I noticed Carol said that a few minutes ago, and I'm really glad you amplified it, but I'd kinda like to hear Carol's original thinking around that. The trick here is that, and here's sort of the thing about this ouch and education process is like the trick is for Charles to get. Oh, wow. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Right. I'm sorry. I missed that. I know we have a commitment to this and I'm going to try and do better next time. That's the right answer. The wrong answer is for Charles to go, oh, I didn't mean to you're misinterpreting me that wasn't my intention because that's a showstopper. So if the commitment is, let's practice these values. Then there's also commitment to learning from. I said, this thing, thank you for telling me this thing felt off to you and I'm going to try and do better next time, because we're all part of this team and we all want to make sure that whoever's part of the team feels heard.
Carol: The example that you were starting to talk about in terms of the social justice organization that you mentioned. And, then the black board member said, yeah, and we have all these values. We have this mission. We do this work and I'm still experiencing this. So I'm curious then what came out of that conversation? I don't want to guess what might've happened. So how does that become an education? Yeah. Yeah. And that gap, I'm sure people would just work. I could imagine how chagrin they felt. Wow.
Rosalind: I mean, it was a real gift. I mean, and that's the thing, for someone to say, Hey, like when you said X, I felt why it is such a gift that that person has given you. I mean, really it's just such, I mean, how else are we doing? I mean, we've all got our work to do. And so we're not going to be able to get any better unless someone is generous enough to point out where we're sticking our foot in it.
Carol: At the same time, taking the risk to point out the ouch and educate those around, around you takes a toll. Keisha Sitney describes the exhaustion of constantly being expected to speak up. And how she decides when and when not to take on that emotional labor
Keisha: It's exhausting to share. And there've been times when I'm like, I'm not, I'm tired of educating everyone else. I'm just going to do it. I've got to preserve myself. Diversity. Fatigue is a real thing, but I found relationships that are important to me. And I've found, I've really tried to develop those. Professionally personally, but by sharing, this is the impact of this. When I hear of another police killing of a black person, I think: that could be my son who's six foot four, and it could be my daughter who's 17 and just a black, young woman. It could be me. It could be my husband. Sharing conversations with folks. One of my colleagues said that really hit me when you talked about your kids and my kids, because it's always that family over there, but it's like, no, And you know that we have these things in common, but yet our kids can be doing the same exact thing and mine will be killed and yours will not. I can't speak for every person who I met who's like me, but I can tell you how this impacts me. I can tell you how this impacts my children. I can tell you how this impacted my family. I think that that's one way that I've tried to personally just make connections with folks and help them just see things in a different light.
Carol: Yeah. I appreciate that. And I appreciate also you're saying there just sometimes when I'm not, I'm not going to engage. I need to, I need to preserve myself.
Keisha: Yeah. Can't always, I can't always engage in conversations. It's not always fruitful. And there are some folks who it doesn't matter what you think, and I'm not willing to sacrifice myself for those types of conversations, we need to teach white people to be okay with people who are different. And, I know that there's a lot of, there are a lot of books and things talking about being anti-racist, but we have to continue to just work. Dismantling the systems. It's not just teaching one group how to be, or how to respond. It's educating ourselves on how things got to be the way they are. And we, they didn't just start with us here, here's the impact of those things. Here's how this group might've benefited from these laws and we systems. And then here's how this group may not have benefited
Carol: Another theme I heard was moving beyond the interpersonal. Looking at how things are done in particular, how hiring is done. How searches, especially executive searches are done. Impacts what the sector looks like. Carolyn Madden talks about how they are approaching. Executive search differently to address some of these issues.
Carlyn: What is required or that the conditions of executive search have to change. And so while the model that you're talking about, sort of the last 20 years, it's called executive transition management and they talk about. Prepare pivot and thrive. Don Tevye and Tom Adams and any Casey foundation. And all of these organizations came together to design this model, which is an effective model at the base of it. But the conditions around the model haven't changed. And so things that we do that are a little bit different, or a lot of my colleagues are starting to do the same, but we're very firm in that color transparency for all of our client, actually building out networks, multi-racial network, leveraging affinity group. Open exchange with clients, recognizing that often leaders of color don't have those sponsors, or we are reaching out to folks saying, who do in this space, that would be a good executive director, because there are so many white people in the sector in top leadership roles. Our networks are very homogenous. We know that I'm a white lady, you know where this is. But I'm a white lady, two white ladies talking to each other. but our networks are very homogenous. And so we have an open door policy that anybody that has questions about a search can call and talk to one of our associates about their interest in the role so that they can really prepare their. To be successful in front of that transition committee, also coaching transition committees on what are some best practices. So if a transition committee is hiring an executive director and says only executive directors can apply for this. Well, what we know to be true about the field is that there are fewer executive directors of color than white executive directors. And so we're already starting to limit the pool, like even just subtle things, right? How are we, how are we gender coding, job description? The studies say, not just in the nonprofit sector, but at large, Women are less likely to apply to a job that is masculine coded. So if your job description says things like aggressive goal achievements, women or women read that as like, well, can I aggressively achieve goals? So we use words like collaborate, not compete, thinking really about gender coding there. So boards often think that they can do it themselves. But again, what do we know about board? Many of them are predominantly white. So we look again at the some-odd network,
Carol: So given all these challenges internally in our mindsets. Implicit bias in her personally, culturally. Working organizations start to make changes. Tip offers thoughts about how we can manage and use ourselves in the situations that we find ourselves in.
Tip: I'd offer a couple of things first and foremost is compassion and understanding the system. And I think offering compassion to ourselves shows that we live in a very oppressive hierarchical system where we have to do a lot of things to survive and keep some of the basic needs met. So AEs is offering compassion to ourselves that, yet we don't have. I have ideal choice sets in front of us.
Carol: As we give ourselves and others, grace and compassion. Steven Graves talks about the importance of commitment. From the top of the organizations. The leaders of the organizations need to be committed to the work for change to happen
Stephen Graves: For shifts to be made in order for real change, transformational change to happen, you've got to have senior leadership commitment. Weber is at the top of the organization and has the most power. They have the most impact. Oftentimes they can control where energy is being in place, where resources are being placed.
Carol: Well, so much of anti-racism work focuses on the individual and interpersonal level. Stephen also talks about the importance of having good data to support your efforts.
Stephen: So a lot of times the mistake that people make in this particular aspect of diversity equity inclusion is because there's such an emotional tie and pull to it with feelings. And, I can trigger a lot of. People don't take a logical, maybe rational and evidence-based approach. And I think whether you're in the nonprofit space, whether you're in the corporate America space, whether you're in healthcare, like I said, You still need to be driven by data, collecting what we call real data, race, ethnicity, and language, data, collecting sexual orientation and gender identity data. Using that data to sit and drive real goals in terms of what are going to be some realistic goals that we can manage. And they can help us chart our path forward.
Carol: Focusing on equity. We'll most likely create some resistance. Stephen talks to this resistance and why it is an illusion to think of dei as somethings as separate and apart
Stephen: The advice that I would give to leaders when it comes to that resistance in terms of saying, okay, we've got to put this off because there's other priorities. It's saying, Hey, they, these are priorities within priorities. So wherever the conversation is, whether it's around COVID, whether it's around your EHR, electronic health care. There's going to be a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion within all of those priorities. Maybe you're building and expanding your practices, expanding a wind, getting your hospital. You've got to have some consideration for, okay, how are we going to make this accessible right, for a person with disability? How are we going to make sure that language at signage is translated in a way that folks can understand who don't speak English as a first language. So these D and D pains are going to be embedded.
Carol: To that point, Nathaniel Benjamin addresses the question of where responsibility for DEI should live within your organization.
Nathaniel Benjamin: DNI should be aligned directly to your senior leader, CEO or operator diversity is about your people. And it's about the experiences that these people leverage. So for me, if I were to create like the perfect organization, I always figure human capital in terms of your process. And you look at culture, you look at engagement and belonging, and then you look at diverse and all of those areas together. Is the strongest framework to create a human centric culture.
Carol: Keisha Sitney describes the brain spot. She sees in her organization. And what is giving her hope for the future?
Keisha: Might've encountered quite a few bright spots. I know we have a movement of leaders of color. Throughout the National Y we call it our multicultural leadership development group. And we have mentors and coaches and support, and we've created a safe space, similar to the employee resource group models, where you have groups of people that may be able to come together, work on policies, and you've got the affinity groups, those types of. But ours is more of a mixture of not just African-Americans with African-Americans. So you might see African-Americans Hispanic, Latinos, Asian, Pacific Islanders. You might have indigenous folks of which we need to improve our numbers nationally as an organization with regards to leadership or flooded communities. But for those of us who are members of those communities, finding the commonalities and being able to support one another and educate one another and develop our own cultural competence, just because you're a person of color doesn't mean that you're going to be culturally competent as well. And the things that we're asking from other groups that we should be able to model those things as well. So it's definitely a great support system. And we've seen a lot of folks who've been able to engage and advance their careers within our organism.
Carol: And with a final thought Tip Fallon reminds us that while we live in a culture. And with the history that we didn't necessarily make. And we are also making today's history. In small and large ways we can impact. And have ripple effects. That might mean a lot to the person across from you or in that zoom call you attend today.
Tip: Like we are products of history in a way of what we're living in, but we are also the creators of history. We're creating the history that those people will live in, in the future. That, that makes sense. So it's an invitation as well, to be intentional about. What are the cultures that we're creating both actively, but also passively, , when, when we show up and just where, where those choice points. And I think at the end of the day, the day to just hoping to find peace for me in a so for me media, a big piece of work is in some of our training, we use the term self, but just inquiring. How am I showing up? Not just what are my intentions, but what are my, what are the impacts that I'm having on my peers, my colleagues, those who might come to my nonprofit for services on funders, on the community at large, For others who have to make a lot of compromises in terms of their values and how they'd like to show up, it's just, what's in our locus of control that we can change. Sometimes we talk. About culture and it's our systems and it's big, it's complex. Like how could ever change this stuff. And for me, like the micro stuff matters a lot to those moments where we feel seen and heard and validated by a colleague. And I think those things really fill the tank. I think they give people hope and humanity that no matter what happens during the day, if you've got a really good connection with someone that can keep our tank full.
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.
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 Ariel Salome discuss:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
Important Links and Resources:
Ariel Salomé thrives on challenging assumptions and limiting beliefs, reframing challenges into opportunities. She possesses the uncanny ability to constructively disturb the status quo to the point where it opens the floodgates of possibilities, leading to transformation. For the past 18 years, Ariel has served as a training & curriculum designer, DE&I practitioner and group process facilitator. She just returned to California from Washington D.C. where she managed National Science Foundation grant-funded projects in STEM higher education reform, supporting the development of STEM faculty leaders across the nation. Ariel is now known as the “Corporate Healer” as she coaches and develops the next generation of leaders in tech as the PM for Leadership Development at Lyft. Ariel is also the founder and space holder for METANOIA, a spiritual community of practice. Ariel received her BA in Sociology and dialogue facilitation training at Occidental College. She completed ICF comprehensive coaching certification and doctoral-level training in human and organizational development at Fielding Graduate University. Her research and practice include transformative learning, ontological coaching, and the somatic release of intergenerational and racialized trauma. She believes that the world’s greatest problems can find solutions when we show up as fully human and fully divine.
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I am Peter Cruz and with all as always with me is
Carol Hamilton: Carol Hamilton, or you want to be here with you Peter and Ariel.
Ariel Salome: Great to have.
Peter: So just as an introduction, Carol has already mentioned our guests' names. So Ariel, tell us a little bit about.
Ariel: Hi, everyone. Thank you for having me. My name is Ariel Salome, and I always liked to lead with who I am, what I love, what lights me up and what I have to offer to the world. So I eliminate pathways for leaders to embrace their full humanity. Which in turn gives them the permission to give others around them to do the same thing. I craft experiences that turn on light bulbs and produce aha moments, but ultimately I'm a healer. So leaders are no longer called to be on blockers and closers, but the holders and the keepers of the mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing of their teams. And I believe that the world's greatest problems, including systemic oppression can find those healing solutions. When we show up for each other as fully human and fully divine.
Peter: Wonderful. How I guess to start us off is how it sounds like it's going to be a very lengthy answer and response, but how has 2020 impacted you.
Ariel: Well, 2020 has actually been good for me. Yeah. I, I, anytime I interact with my team, anyone that I have contact with is as you can tell from my introduction, fully human and fully divine, I advocate that we always show up in our full awareness of who we are as creators and as human beings. And so I just see this as an opportunity for consciousness and the expansion of consciousness. And what that means is that there are so many things that have been beneath the surface, just kind of bubbling, almost like a volcano. So 2020 was that push to get all of the lava to kind of pop out. Scary, right. Nobody wants to be overtaken by the hot magma coming from the center of the Earth's core. However, it's a natural process. It's a cleansing process and. The study, all climates are environments that have volcanoes such as Hawaii. there's a really, there's a beauty that really evolves after the cooling of the magma. There are particular plants, floral, and fauna that thrive in that environment. And I see this as a kind of evolution. So for me, I've landed in my career at a tech company. I worked for Lyft. I am the program manager for inclusive leadership. I also have my own coaching and consulting firm amid a NOAA experience. And I've had this kind of transformation of my own. So 2020 has been great. And I just see it as a healing opportunity for us as individuals and as a collective.
Peter: Yeah. It's certainly there, there certainly has been instilled, like, I think this is one of the first. Like I guess I've only been alive for like 31 years, but like in the mind, short time, just seeing how you're actually witnessing a lot of change and you're like in the action, you're actually being a part of it. Like, these are the things that people will read about, decades from now. So it's interesting, but also very foreign and unique and uncomfortable at times to be a part of it, like trying to question what you can do as an individual who may not be working in some of these professional spaces or, if you are a kind of a quote, unquote cog in a wheel at an organization. Like what can I do to try to steal the change? For those people, we will talk about like, I think leaders in those spaces. But for people who are kind of. Active members of the change, but may not have the power to instill it. What has been your experience with them? Like what are some words of wisdom for those people?
Ariel: Yeah. So let me clarify this. I actually think that everyone is a leader, so it's not just about where you sit in an organization, but you're the leader of yourself first. You're the leader of your family? You're the leader. Non-positional leadership is just as important as positional leadership. We all have a part to play in this kind of evolution. I love Benjamin Zander. He's an orchestra conductor, and he talks about leading. Any seat bets are in. So we know that in the symphony, those who are in the first chair I played the violin as a child. And so, being that first string is what you are in, in the first seat is what you aspire to.
But everyone in the orchestra has a part to play that is very critical and important. So it's really, I like to say, if you, if you bolster your own. Of self first, right? Where do I fit into this macrocosm of society and all of the societal ills and the structure that exists, where is my place? And I say that it just starts with education, educating yourself, enlightening yourself, and then. Spreading your own personal gospel after. Yeah.
Carol: And I loved how you described it. Kind of 2020 is the metaphor of the volcano and what's been bubbling underneath for a long time. And for some folks that. The question for 2020, why's why now? Why, why did it take y'all so long to have some awareness of what's been going on for a very long time. But there've been folks trying to do education and trying, building kind of a I don't know it's in some ways, like getting people ready to then this outside, I don't know. It's not really outside, but all these forces coming together in a particular moment, allowing company difference. Whoops. They want my pen allowing something different to happen. But yeah, it's been building for a long time.
Ariel: Yeah, there's a, there's a concept part, the law of diffusion of innovation.
And I believe Daniel Pink's book is the tipping point, or is that Malcolm Gladwell? I'm not sure it's one of them, but the whole point, the whole point is there's a scale by which people you have early adopters, and then you have the great majority. And I think we've just reached that majority. And so we're starting, we've seen the tipping point.
And now the rest is kind of like waiting for people's old ways to kind of die out. And with this, the oncoming generations to really carry these messages forward, because I think that the whole, the next generation of. And just like beings are gonna, Ooh, I do not feel like the amount of I guess I think because people who are, I guess, a little more resistant to the change will just feel like they're just overwhelmed with this wave and this rush.
Of change because I think the generation below me, like generation Z, like they are far more with it than I ever was at their age. And, they have the vocabulary, they have the quote unquote arsenal and, and I think, with millennials and gen X, so like as they're, I guess we're moving up in these organizations as well. So, and if we're trying to, I guess, More receptive to feedback. I think that's always something that I faced when I was an employee talking to someone much more senior. It's just that open door, that flexibility, that, that, that kind of desire to change and leave something better. Wow. I'm going to do my best to like, try to instill that change. Probably going to feel at a place because of what I've been used to in the professional landscape versus what everyone who's going to be coming up in their workforce. You mentioned how we all have different roles in this for people in regards to diversity equity inclusion, who may be part of the majority. And I think allyship and co-conspirator ship or terms that have been thrown out there. How, how can they act on their desire to be one of those people, but not knowing where to start?
Ariel: Yeah. Yeah. I like to say that it begins with cultivating courage. There's this level of like a zero F's that you have to give. And I like to consider myself to be a status quo disruptor. And I think if we take on that persona, if you will, to be a status quo disruptor, and just be like, you know what? This is. And it comes down to meetings. When you hear, interrupting emails, I've done that at previous employers, I've seen, I've been CC'd on emails and I've interrupted language that wasn't inclusive. I've been in meetings and I'm like, Hey, I haven't heard from so-and-so. Let's make sure everyone has. When I do leadership trainings for lifts and we do a word cloud in the beginning of our inclusive leaders training is where who's in the room and who's not in the room. So yes, of course, I'm going to keep referencing leadership because my personal philosophy is everyone is a leader and I do leadership development. However, Just for the everyday individual contributor. Who's not a people manager, just that, like I said, taken on that persona of like, if I see something I'm going to say something and, and it's, it's safer to do so now than it ever has been before. And learn. Go ahead.
Carol: What were you saying about stepping into courage and building those muscles for courage, because I think one of the I mean, one of the cultural values in, in white culture is being polite and, being conflict avoidant and skirting around the issue. And so you, you're having to step into something that's kind of counter cultural and, and. But I think it is in those small moments, right? I mean, there's so much culture. We talk about culture is kind of this big thing, but it's really made up in all of those small moments, interactions between people. How are you showing up? And so it goes back to that, each person can be a leader if they're thinking about how they're showing up and, and it may not be calling people out, it may be asking, asking that disruptive. It interrupts the kind of just status quo, normal, how we might go about.
Ariel: Yeah, absolutely. And we've witnessed that this week as a country, as a global community, when Meghan [Markle] and Prince Harry came forth to share their story, it took a lot of courage and it also showed like, this is real, you know? Yes. And everywhere. We have this culture of silence, because that's just the way it's been. I mean, if that wasn't one of the top themes of Megan's experience was this is how it is, everybody's gone through it, you know? And it's like, Does it really have to be that way, especially for those who like pledged awardees and fraternities I've always thought like, well, why do we have to keep doing it?
Carol: Just because it was done that you can't, we have the hazing and sororities and fraternities hazing in professions.
Ariel: Exactly. Yeah. Well, I had the, I had to do that. XYZ entry level person. So you got to do a hazing theory. Yeah. I just came from five years working in academia and higher education. The process of obtaining a PhD and becoming a tenure faculty member is just as fraught with hazing as ever. So with all of these, right. That's a theme that we're seeing. So why can we just ask ourselves why? And is there room for something else?
Peter: Yeah. And what's, it's like this history of modesty within like kind of like white supremacy culture, like. What do you, what are some, I guess, I guess maybe I'm asking for like a free lesson here, a pro bono lesson, but like for, for younger people of color who had to assimilate into these like institutions, how, like, what are some recommendations for them to like, kind of shake it off and, have, I guess the courage and build that stuff when they've kind of been beaten down.
Ariel: Yeah, I would say that. One tip, I would say, is find community and find your safe space. I have been fortunate to land in a place at Lyft that values people being their authentic selves and being able to bring their full selves encouraging, if you're in a position of leadership or an influencer in any culture, can you. Can you create a space or a safe for everyone to be themselves, to disagree on something and to move forward? I also, I also would suggest, imposter syndrome, I just came out of a lovely with Dr. Chayla white Ramsey taught. She taught imposter syndrome for the forum. Great, great group in a network of women who are teaching career development. And it's, it's a pastor syndrome is a really high experienced psychological experience for people of color. And then we also in whistling Vivaldi, the author talks about what it means to have a stereotype threat. They kind of all fit in the same category of what it means when this perception of who you are, because you're a member of this group that's underrepresented or that's melanated, or that's clear that, this. Somehow going to impact how you're able to show up, but how can you challenge even those internal narratives that because you don't quote unquote fit in one way that I did this for myself personally, because I am a spiritual mystic. And so I infuse that in everything that I do. So it's really hard to give an answer that does not have some type of spiritual undertone.
So I'm really big with affirmation. And one thing in my early twenties, when I was having a difficult time finding my place in my work style, and how to lead and how to build teams. I said, I bring value wherever I go. And I just kept saying that to myself because I was receiving these messages. Like you're not valuable, you're creating problems, there's chaos around you. And I was just like, you know what? That's not true. I'm not going to receive that near. I'm going to receive this narrative. I am going to create a narrative that I create value wherever I go. Another message that's pervasive. I don't know how this shows up in other ethnic groups, but from those particularly who are descendants of the enslaved Africans who were brought to America is this notion of you have to work 10 times harder to get half of what, the predominant group. I challenged that narrative. I was like, that's not true.
If I show up and do my best, I'm going to be rewarded. Now, a lot of people would be like, oh, you can't say that you're disregarding the experiences. Yes, they are very real experiences. But in our process of acknowledging that we are also divine beings and we have the power to create and shape our world, our world through our thoughts, actions and our. If I continue to tell myself, I don't have to have this pressure of doing 10 times the work of someone else to get half the recognition. I'm just going to be the best at being me and people are going to see it, the period. And that's, that's how I live.
Peter: Yeah. I mean, I remember like just some still, I guess, relatively new and relatively young and just like the workspace. Cause I'm probably going to work for another 50 years, but I mean, in words of affirmation are a big thing that I think we all struggle with, especially like when you are part of a minority because you're getting that culturally from your family, like you shouldn't, you need to do this and that and this and that. So you're like, okay, I need to confine that way. You get into the workforce and like, whoa, you're you only have so few doors open to you and your, your comments about your tone about like,
Ariel: Oh yeah. I had a conversation with someone and, and about tone. I was like, oh, I am an African indigenous woman. Yeah. Like that's the story of our life. They're like black women are sassy, they have a chip on their shoulder. I'm just like, that's your narrative. And I don't subscribe to that narrative. And I've had instances where I've been penalized because of someone's perception of being this tall five foot, 10, 200 plus. black women and I'm just like, this is just not the place for me.
Peter: Yeah, exactly. I definitely felt that as well. They're just by your appearance, just like how you, like, what role you'll play within the organization and whether or not you're serious. Like, I, there have been like, cause I'm like six, two was two 50 and like a Puerto Rican man. So, in the summer I get darker. So it was like, people would just, I think I'm a very intimidating presence or, maybe I'm authoritative or maybe like, people don't even want to ask me questions or do anything Slightly, but then it's like my whole professional career has been to dismantle that that's a burden that we have to live with. It's like, no, like all judgements that you may have are just like, no, no, that's not, that's not true.
Carol: I wanted to follow up on one thing you mentioned, you've mentioned stereo threat, a stereotype threat. And I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what that is and how that shows up.
Ariel: Yeah. So stereotype third is a concept that was developed in, illuminated in the book whistling Vivaldi, and the author studied what occurs for underrepresented groups. I believe he was, excuse me. I believe the author was studying African Americans. I'm not a hundred percent sure. But what happens when they sit down to take a test? So if there's a stereotype, let's use the model minority myth. So Asian Americans are told like, oh, they're good at math. So if someone keeps telling you you're good at math, you're good at math, your brain will actually trick you into believing like, Hey, I'm good at math. So the converse of - and let's clarify, we know that that is a myth and that is not for everyone, but the way that our brains work psychologically, we tend to internalize those messages that have been fed to us from the time that we pop out of our mother's womb, and we enter into the world. These messages subconsciously fit with us. So if the message that women or other minority groups are not good at. That way, or if the, even if the teacher, if the student has perceived that the teacher doesn't even think that they have capability, that impacts testing scores. So that's a stereotype threat. So it has nothing to do with someone's actual innate capability, but those subconscious, the subconscious reception of those stereotypes can hinder academic performance.
Carol: Internalizing those oppressive messages. And I guess one, one kind of slight window of hope that I think about is that given that, that all of these cultures and all of these messages, all of these systems were made by people. Then they can be made into new things and that, so I think starting to uncover that, actually this isn't just, it isn't, it doesn't just exist kind of beyond us, where we're either helping to perpetuate or trying to dismantle any of these systems, any of these ways of thinking in everything we do.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Peter: I think I only have one more question. So the question we ask every guest is: as the workforce had to shift in response to COVID and that vaccinations are being rolled out, so they can only have one, it's only safe to assume that there will be a return to normalcy, so to speak. What are you most looking forward to and optimistic about the post lockdown world?
Ariel: Hmm. That's a loaded question. That's a lot. I actually want to add something to a question you said. When you talked about what can people who are allies and co-conspirators do take another step. So here we go. Another step that allies can take is to normalize, calling out social identity, because what Carol has illuminated earlier around, what is the culture of whiteness? And what are some of them? Old ways that have been passed down from generation to generation are the silence or the hushing because as Carol said, it's being polite. It's not polite to talk about racism, not polite to talk about identity. So if we, I am Irish American. My family has been in this country for X, Y, Z numbers of generations. Or my family comes from Russia. My family comes from Italy. Right. And to embrace that within yourself. So call out like, okay there's this thing called whiteness. And I am a part of it because I don't call white people, white people. Just philosophically, fundamentally, I like to tie people to a land into a nation because that's who we really are. Whiteness is a social construction and it just so happens that people who do not have melanated skin get swept up into this construct of what it means to be white.
But we, there are European Americans. There are people who have. Just as there are people who have origins here in the Americas, the indigenous people, the tribes of those who are also nameless. So if we normalize, I am and I am X, Y, Z, queer black differently. Et cetera, et cetera. I'm Muslim, I'm Jewish, I am, all of these things; because colorblindness is at the root of it is an eraser. You're just erasing people's identity to say, oh, I don't see you because you're just a human. I was like, well, our brains are not set up to work like that. So normalizing calling out an isolating social identity is one thing that you. Find comfort with, and then celebrate, celebrate the differences because diversity is an excellent thing. Diversity is a beautiful thing. And some studies show scientific studies, mathematical studies show that when there are people from different groups who are together, you're going to find different solutions.
Peter: So it's like step one, normalized difference, and then go on to the next.
Carol: All right. Well, and I think it's beyond that, because what I've observed is: it's very easy for someone who is not white, just to name their identity first and foremost, as whatever group they are. Part of that is not white. It is not typical for white people to say I'm a European American. First it says, I don't know something that you can't see. I'm someone who grew up in this place or I'm the sister of a person with a disability, I'm many things that I have to tell you about that. I do not name the first thing that you can say, which is that I'm white. Absolutely. And I think that is what would be different if white people, also people of European descent in America started saying that first.
Ariel: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because we tend to that and that's the function of whiteness is that you don't have to think about what's your right. So you start looking and searching for all these other things. Like when we do this activity people are like, I'm a hiker, I'm a cook. I'm like, yeah. Right. Well, that's not really a social identity, but. Cool. Hey, you know so yeah, you start searching for all these other identities because it's invisible and privileges are invisible. That's what is created to do,
Peter: I think that's it.
Ariel: What was your closing question?
Peter: Oh, I'm just looking forward to the graft or mystic about anything. If there's something to look forward to, if not, then that's also fine.
Ariel: Well, one what I'm looking forward to moving forward, moving on from this point. The evolution and expansion of our consciousness as a collective. So go back to the volcano metaphor, or actually to use a metaphor of the purification of gold. Gold has to be heated so that all of the impurities can rise to the top and to be swept up. And so we're seeing, the, the, what has been impure in our thinking has been impure in our culture, our ways of living, how we're treating one another based on socially constructed identifiers. Like it doesn't mean. So I'm looking forward to the next generation's innovation. I'm a part of a conference that's coming up and this conference, or, and I shouldn't even call it.
It should be called an unconference, but the organizers of this event, the innovation that's coming out. We're not going to be virtual. We're going to be virtual, but we're not just going to sit in a zoom meeting and listen to people talk all day. I mean, the innovation that's coming from these ladies shouting out facets is absolutely amazing. I am so excited just to see what Springs forth from the collective, life is not going to be the same. So it is the beautiful and perfect time for innovation and evolution. If you, anyone who studies any astrologers, are telling us in terms of where the heavens and the stars and the planets are aligned. We're in the same position as the world was when we came out of the dark ages and went into the Renaissance.
Carol: Well, let's hope that this brings around a sauce.
Ariel: Pretty good.
Peter: But really the roaring twenties again. Well, thank you so much, Ariel. It was a pleasure having you. Thank you for having me hope to have you on sometime in the future. I think things are ever-changing so hopefully there'll be another new perspective that you could have, or a new thing that we could have your perspective on later.
Ariel: Yeah. Alright. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Peter: So again, thank you to Ariel. I think one of the things that I took away from that conversation was how, regardless of your position with an organization or company, you are a leader and you play an active role in. And installing change whether it's voicing up from, responding to an email, seeing some, it's kinda like that, that subway attitude, if you see something say something. So that was a very big takeaway from me. What about you?
Carol: And I think building on that, it's just thinking about for each person kind of what's their sphere of influence. So it could be with their coworkers, could be on their team. And write either you're kind of playing along with the system or you're, you're asking questions and, and helping people, perhaps he sees things a little bit differently questioning, the kind of commonly accepted norms that maybe aren't even that are so, so normalized that people don't even see them. So by asking some questions, you can help, help lift those things to the, to the surface from under the.
Peter: Yeah. It's like a, if, if you're naturally inquisitive, then the current work landscape is keen for like, it's just ideal for you though, because people get tired of people asking too many questions.
Peter: That's true, but that's not gonna just be like the old regime trying to instill its power, just like. Be quiet. Yeah. But yeah, for our audience and our listeners, if you have any questions that you'd like to send us for Carol and myself to answer and our guests of the week please feel free to send those to culture fit email@example.com.
And that's it, have a good rest of your day.
Carol: All right. Thank you so much. Thanks 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.