Over nearly two decades of working with nonprofit organizations and their boards, I’ve come to realize that there’s nothing very new under the sun. Now, I’m not one for going with “well, that’s just the way it is” or “this is the way we do it because that’s the way we’ve always done it”. But to respond to a challenge, you have to identify it and name it. So, as an alternative approach, here are the 5 Things You’re Guaranteed to Hear From Board Members AND some alternatives to the traditional thinking that goes with them. And surprise! You’ll find they’re all interrelated…
1. Let’s get a celebrity to (speak at our event, join our board, etc)
At some point in the life of every nonprofit, a board member will believe they’ve pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. They’ll share their best idea yet: Why don’t we get a celebrity who cares about our cause? Brilliant! This may be in response to attracting new board members, testimonials of the work but most often, as a compelling way to attract attendees for a fundraising event. This is, in fact, a terrific idea IF (and yes, that’s a big IF) you already have a celebrity that has been engaged with your organization, is passionate about your mission and is eager to be the marquee headliner helping you get folks to the table. Unfortunately, all too often I’ve seen well meaning boards go down the rabbit hole of searching out celebs only to find they’re not interested or interested in charging insanely high fees for their services.
The Alternative: Call me a realist and/or a cockeyed optimist but do you really want your attendance and engagement driven by a celebrity? What happens if next year you can’t pull in the same level of star-appeal? Why not do the work of highlighting the value of what you do? Share real and human stores of those impacted by their work (with their sign-off of course!) and let them be the stars of the show. They truly are.
2. Bill Gates would definitely support us
Closely related to the above is specificity around a particular celeb, uber-rich person or well-known philanthropist like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos (or better yet his ex-wife McKenzie Scott). The Gates Foundation does so much that nonprofits are almost sure that if he just got to know them, the money would flow. Quite possible but then comes the inevitable question: Does anybody know Bill Gates or (fill in the blank)? Crickets. Does anybody know anybody that knows Bill Gates? Crickets again. And so it goes.
The Alternative: Successful board development and subsequent fundraising comes out of deep commitment to an organization and their mission. When individuals connect with an organization, engage with its mission and those it serves, three things are likely to happen: 1)They’re going to get involved 2) They’re going to get curious or 3) They’re going to say no thanks (sometimes more politely than others!) If the first happens, the potential exists for that individual to give at their highest levels out of a sense of connection and passion for the work. If the second does, it’s the beginning of possibility. And if the third does: NEXT! Take enough prospective donors through the journey and you won’t be looking for Bill Gates.
3. We need more wealthy donors
I’m not sure where it started but the prevailing myth is that in order to contribute to a nonprofit, one must be wealthy. As a hunch, this thinking probably originates with the fact that charitable work grew out of the Puritan idea of tithing and giving a percentage of one’s earnings to social causes. And to be able to spare these funds, individuals have to be wealthy. For more on that history, I highly recommend either of Dan Pallotta books Uncharitable or Charity Case (both are great reads). Regardless, this is an ongoing topic and a wish uttered by most board members, not to mention fundraisers and Executive Directors. “Does anybody know anyone really, really rich??
The Alternative: This just isn’t true. Charitable support is open to anyone and everyone. Nonprofits tend to state a major gift as relative to their budget; however, we might do well to think of these gifts relative to the capacity of the individual doing the giving. I was recently enjoying Lynn Twist’s The Soul of Money (another great read). One of the most profound stories was of her day spent with two donors in two very different circumstances. She spent the beginning of the day with a corporate CEO in Chicago who didn’t blink at writing a $50,000 check without even knowing about her organization’s mission - the company was simply looking for some solid PR. She ended her day in Harlem with a woman who eagerly gave her last $10 out of her passion for Lynn’s cause.…I won’t lie and say I wouldn’t love $50,000 for the organization I fundraise for. But the truth is that if you can motivate someone to give their last $10, you can do it for any level. Get in front of enough prospects and you’ll be re-inventing your organization’s donor pyramid.
4. We’re not a fundraising board - we’re more of a brain trust
In my work as both a full-time fundraiser as well as serving as a coach and consultant, if I had a dollar for every time an ED told me that their board wasn’t a fundraising board, I’d be able to sustain my top 3 favorite nonprofits! While I can’t provide scientific evidence or survey data, my hunch is that no board member was ever recruited with the words, “Please join our non-fundraising board.” Rather, they’re typically told they’re there for their name recognition, brilliance and plenty of other non-financial assets they bring to the table. The financial support is either ignored or soft-pedaled.
The Alternative: OK, I’m sure I’m going to hear from you on this one but this is insanely simple. Recruit a Fundraising Board. That’s right. Say it three times loudly if you need to. When you’re recruiting, be upfront and clear about what you’re recruiting for. If in fact, financial support is amongst the top three of the roles and responsibilities, let them know. If that scares them off, perfect. On to the next candidate.
And last but not least…
5. Can’t we just do a fundraising event?
A little disclaimer here: I work a full-time remote role planning and executing both a grassroots fundraising event as well as a gala for Clearity. Clearity provides hope and support services for women with ovarian cancer and their families. I’ve also spent a good part of the last 14 years either doing the same with other organizations. So I love fundraising events. That being said, they are not a substitute for ongoing donor prospecting and cultivation. Events like a community walk can serve as the”front-porch” that introduces prospective donors to the organization. Endurance-based fundraising events, a personal favorite of mine, can marry the challenge of conquering a big-goal like a marathon, with raising a significant amount for a charity. And galas serve as a way to celebrate the accomplishments of an organization in a more formal setting with day-of opportunities to bring in more funds.
The Alternative: View fundraising events for what they truly are: A unique (and often fun and exciting) part of the donor journey. They are NOT a substitute for it. Board members can leverage these events as opportunities to follow up after the events when participants have a fresh and favorable impression of the organization. That is, in fact, THE reason to have the event in the first place. Often the cost, including hard expenses and staff time, limit the ROE. It’s the follow up and encouragement after the event that truly creates ongoing support.
One of the joys of coaching individuals in the nonprofit sector is seeing the incredible abundance of idealism, optimism, and support from friends and family. But as seemingly helpful as those components can seem, they can actually prove the most debilitating to the long term prospects of creating a successful charitable organization. Over my 20 plus years of working in the sector, here are what I’ve found to be The Top 5 Things Not To Do If You’re Starting A Charity:
Offer multiple programs: Nearly every time I meet with an individual who is considering starting a nonprofit, they have 2 or 3 or sometimes as many as 5 great ideas they want to put into action ASAP. Beyond that, they want to help multiple populations i.e. kids, women, the homeless, those without food and the list goes on. And they want to do it all in the first six months of getting into action. While that is the definition of wanting to be of service, it’s also almost impossible to execute on; particularly if you’re a solo-preneur (and most of the folks I meet are just that). Instead, ask yourself: What’s Breaking My Heart and Who Is It Breaking For? Serve those people in an extraordinary way. Serve them in a way that has a true impact on their lives. And it doesn’t have to be 1,000 or 100 people. Pick the program that speaks to your purpose and serve the number that allows you to do it well. Grow from there.
Assume the money will take care of itself: If I walk into a room and say “Who Loves Fundraising?”, usually one hand goes up (my own) and I’m met with awkward stares. Yes, truth be told, fundraising isn’t a popular sport. But unless you come with your own endless resources, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually need to engage in some type of fundraising. The good news is that these days, there are platforms such as peer-to-peer fundraising that can allow you to fundraise digitally as opposed to the direct face-to-face method. There is foundation funding which I would start in Year 1 but you may not see for awhile. The point is, regardless of the resources you start with, Start Fundraising right when you Start Serving.
Ask your friends and family to be board members: If you’re in the beginning stages of starting a charitable organization and realizing you may want or need a board, good thinking! But don’t make the mistake that’s often made. Whether you simply want individuals who can give you great ideas or may eventually need a true board of directors, take the time to find the right people. While your friends, family and spouse may be ready to sign up, in my experience, they’re rarely the right folks for the job. Seek out individuals, even those that may not know you (yet), that have what you’ll need to ensure success. What does that include? Time, Treasure and Talent is a popular term. For a bit more context, find those with the passion, subject matter expertise, financial capacity to support and willingness to connect you with other like-minded people.
Assume that competition is a bad thing: When I’m working with a new nonprofit entrepreneur, one of the first things I’ll ask them is who else is offering a similar program or service? However, I’m not asking from the mindset of competition being a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, I’m asking from the perspective of abundance. In other words, if an organization (or two or three or more) is offering something similar, there’s a good chance that there’s a pretty significant problem that needs to be addressed. Further, it means there’s most likely a complexity to the issue that either can’t or thus far, isn’t being addressed by just one nonprofit. And that intersection is precisely the territory where a nonprofit is needed and maybe even welcomed. With a world that has an abundance of very significant challenges, there can’t be too many opportunities to do good. The job of the successful social entrepreneur is to figure out what gaps in service may exist and how they can be filled.
Start a 501c3: Often by the time someone has sought out advice on starting a program with a social benefit, they’ve come to the conclusion they need to start a 501c3. While you eventually may go that route, it’s most effective to focus on creating the best possible program. You can still solicit donations by finding a fiscal sponsor that accepts them on your behalf for a small fee. This arrangement can be simple and created with a larger nonprofit. Beyond that, there are organizations who focus on helping new nonprofits grow often called incubator programs. I suggest this because somewhere along the way you may realize that your program can live quite comfortably as part of another nonprofit’s offerings. You also may find your offering works better as a B Corp (Social Benefit Corp - more on that another time). The bottom line is that the 501c-3 is the box or container for your good work. Focus on creating great work first and then spend time on finding the right container.
While there are plenty of other things to do and not to do, the ones above tend to pop up most frequently. If I can ever help you with creating a better world, reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org
A friend and client of mine was just about to get started in a new Executive Director role. I’m grateful and flattered that she frequently reads my posts so with her upcoming role, she suggested the post you’re now reading. The title is self-explanatory so off we go….
1. Don’t bring your playbook: We all have the event that worked perfectly at the last organization. We have the fundraising approach that just killed it somewhere else. And of course we have that board structure that was the perfect fit. Here’s the thing: While that event, fundraising approach and board development hack met the moment, that moment is past. Trying a one-size fits all has at best, a 50/50 chance of working at the new place. Instead of bringing out the old stuff, take your time, assess, and see what the organization truly needs. As my favorite old saying goes, just because you’ve got the perfect hammer, don’t assume everything (or nonprofit) is your nail.
2. Don’t assume your leadership style will work: Similar to techniques and strategies, just because the way you led at the last place worked, don’t assume the same exact approach will connect at a new place. An ED I was coaching shared the story of her transition from leading an affiliate of an international nonprofit with a budget of over 1 billion to joining a five year old organization striving to hit the $1 million mark. She had gone in with a pre-conceived notion of how she wanted to interact with the staff, who unlike her previous team, thrived on creativity, flexibility and failing fast. Fortunately she was able to adapt. However, the first several months were quite rocky as she tried to apply her highly structured approach that had worked at her prior nonprofit. After finding her footing, she noted that she was probably way too authoritarian and buttoned up in the early months at the younger organization.
By the way, with these first two, this isn’t a question about you as a leader, your prior successes or how you show up. Rather, it’s about what you do (or don’t do) with your new team. Think of newly retired Tom Brady. When he moved from New England to Tampa Bay, he had to figure out a whole new set of plays that would work with the new squad. Nevertheless, he’s a great quarterback and that didn’t change with the transition. (And don’t curse me if you’re not from either New England or Tampa Bay!)
And most of all….
3. Don’t be afraid to Lead! After all, that’s why they hired you. One of the Executive Directors I coach shared the story of the what she called her biggest mistake. She told me that while serving as an Executive Director for an International nonprofit, she was beyond frustrated with the board’s willingness (or actually unwillingness) to fundraise. I know - stop me if you’ve heard this! Anyway, after an extremely disheartening board meeting where she pulled out all the stops, she threw up her hands. She decided to write the board an email outlining five options for moving forward. What followed wasn’t very surprising. Crickets. Follow up two days later. More crickets. And on it went. The bottom line was that the board was not looking for a myriad of options or her analysis of them. Quite simply, they were looking for leadership. Her leadership!
If you’re a James Bond fan and you’ve seen the final Daniel Craig installment, the villain says something akin to: People love the idea of freedom but they really want is to be told want to do. I think that’s extreme and don’t agree. I truly believe people want and need freedom to make choices. However, organizations need and want leaders - that’s why individuals are put in leadership roles. While the organization may appreciate successes you had elsewhere, they see in you an intangible something they recognize as a guiding force and they want it. Give it to them!
If this “Great Resignation” idea is true, that means a couple of things. First, there should be lots of job openings out there for fundraisers (as well as everyone else!). One thing that has been documented for years is the level of rapid turnover rate for fundraisers. My hunch is that this is because when we’re in this process, we tend to hear what we want to hear i.e. our entire organization is committed to fundraising, our board is really engaged in development and on it goes. So, for those of you that are out there, I thought I’d do my part in hopefully helping you develop a better radar for what you DON’T want to hear. Here are my top 5:
1. You’ll be doing the fundraising. We don’t get involved in that sort of thing. That’s why we’re hiring YOU! Oh no you’re not! This is #1 for a reason. This is a clear indication that this organization views fundraising from the good old rainmaker perspective. We’re going to go out and find us a Rockstar, Lone Wolf, Hero (fill in the blank for the one man or woman fundraising show). Fundraising is always a team sport so look for organizations where all staff members view fundraising as vital to the sustainability of their work and mission.
2. We don’t have any money to pay a fundraiser so we’re hoping you’ll work on a commission basis. No thank you. Let’s start with the fact that this is against Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Ethics and Standards. There’s a good reason for this beyond the idea that working to ensure you’re actually paid something is a bad idea. It puts you, the fundraiser, in a conflicted position where you may be forced to do almost anything to bring in donations. This is also an indication that this organization lacks a gift acceptance policy - they’ll probably accept a gift from any source if that’s their only means of compensation. How to avoid this: Confirm there’s an actual salary. Nothing wrong with a salary and performance bonus but take a hard pass on commission deals. These days, most ads on Indeed and idealist indicate the compensation structure but if they don’t, ask before proceeding further.
3. We’re spending our last dollar to hire you and we’re hoping it will work out: Yikes... This is just a slight step up from #2. If this is the conversation, you may be talking to an organization that hasn’t given too much thought to their future and may be a fast-sinking ship. Congrats! You’re getting hired to see if anyone out there - individuals or institutions - would like to throw you a life preserver. I’ll never forget when the Executive Director of a nonprofit I was consulting for told me to start each proposal by noting we were in an emergency situation and they could fast track our proposal before we had to close our doors. Not exactly an inspiring message. The alternative here again parallels #2: Look for work opportunities where the fundraiser is being brought on BEFORE they need the funding and/or their capacity has grown.
4. What’s your Rolodex look like? Do you know some big donors you can bring over? Rolo-what? Beyond the reality that the last Rolodex might have been sold in 1996 - just a bit before the first version of the Palm Pilot came out - this should send you running for the hills. Donors aren’t customers that follow a professional around from company to company. Let’s get it straight: While it’s true that people give to people, those people are connected to an organization due to the impact of the work - not the fundraiser who may have done a wonderful job creating the culture of philanthropy that makes it an engaging and enjoyable process. Find opportunities with nonprofits that value the process of celebrating existing donors and finding new ones through engagement, cultivation and ultimately creating commitment.
5. We’re really hoping our board will start to step up...Me too! If I had a dime for every variation of this, I’d make some pretty hefty donations to my favorite nonprofits. This can take the form of “our board really isn’t a fundraising board”, “our board is in transition” and another favorite “ well, they give a lot of time but not money.” A conversation I have at least three times a week is helping nonprofit leaders realize that having a board that provides the leadership required is an ongoing process that takes courage and clarity mixed with patience and persistence. There are enough great books on board leadership so I’m not going to take space to describe what that looks like. What I will suggest is to ask the hard questions up front: Did you have 100% participation in board giving; Can you provide examples of board engagement in fundraising. Develop a list of questions to ask that gives you the comfort you need to know that the board leadership needed for your success is in place.
If you’re a fundraiser and you’re reading this, I have no doubt you could add to the list and may even have your own. Feel free to share more in the comments as it can only serve to help others as they explore.
I was pleasantly surprised the other day when one of my coaching clients said they wanted to talk about what a post I had written called Are You Ready And Willing To Share The Wonder Of You? I can’t deny that I was moved and in fact, I could feel my ego take a slight bow.
I know the cool thing here would be to say that I write because it’s cathartic. Or I write for me and I don’t worry about about the audience. Something along the lines of Coco Chanel’s often-noted quote: “I don’t care what you you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” I get it. That’s very artsy, hip and trendy. But I’m not that way at all. I can’t and would never deny that I’m always flattered when someone says the enjoyed something I wrote or that it had an impact on them.
But what she said next was even more intriguing. My client shared that she had listened to some of my music online. She added that she particularly liked an instrumental I had written called Fracaso. What made me laugh was that of the 20 or so songs that I’ve posted on Soundcloud, that one was made with the least amount of effort or thought.
In fact, I wrote and recorded it on the spot while participating in Michael Neill’s Creating the Impossible (CTI) program two years ago. By the way, if you’re looking to jump start your creativity, I highly recommend this wonderful program. You can learn more about it at https://www.michaelneill.org/cti/ - yes, another plug for coaches and programs I admire and have learned from...
Two amazing things happened during that program...
First, I did something that had been on my bucket list for quite some time: I launched a support group for individuals with Congenital Heart Disease. As a 56 year old that had open heart surgery when I was 10, I’m beyond grateful to have the healthy life I enjoy. I wanted to support others in doing the same and encourage them to take care of themselves.
Second, as part of my creativity game, I committed to creating something - a song, a post, or something else entirely - every day for 90 days. Frascaso was a two guitar experiment I wrote and recorded on the spot and honestly didn’t think much of it. Somewhat interesting and at best, it was an imitation of the instrumentals my favorite guitarist, Steve Howe had written. In the spirit of creativity and accepting success and failure, I got curious what the word Failure was in another language. Fracaso is the Spanish word for failure.
What’s my point in sharing the above? Really short and simple: We never know how our creativity will impact someone. Whether it’s a piece of art we create, a song we write, a post that we well, post, you just never know what someone else we see in it for themselves.
Finally, as I see it, There is no such thing as a Big or Small Impact. There’s only Impact and Being of Service. When a nonprofit leader I coach says “We’re just a small nonprofit”, it gets me on onto one of my favorite soapboxes: There are no Big or Small Nonprofit Organizations. I remind these leaders that impact isn’t determined by budgets, dollar signs, number of staff members or other standard determinations of scale. Rather, if their organization is having the impact on those they want to serve, that’s the key measurement.
I truly encourage you to share whatever your gifts are; whether it’s art, music, coaching, ventriloquism (I couldn’t resist as I still aspire!), basket weaving or belly dancing. And don’t think of those gifts as big or small! That’s not how you value them. Measure them by their power to reach, change and point someone in a new direction.
A nonprofit leader I coach recently started as the CEO of an organization that’s a significant step up in budget, staff and size from the charity she was with prior. From the outside, this new job might look like a random opportunity that presented itself at the right moment. It happens. The truth is; however, that her applying for, being offered and accepting this role was so much more. It was the culmination of a well thought out approach to to thriving in her prior role, building out the organization and it’s team (both staff and board) all while keeping an eye on the next ideal step in her career progression.
I’m highlighting the above as leaders often want to be coached on how to strike that delicate balance between serving at a high level in a current role while being mindful of what’s next. Since I believe this leader did such a masterful job of this, I wanted to share the best practices she utilized. If you find yourself in this inquiry, hopefully these suggestions will be helpful and support you in your career journey.
First off, the leader I’m referring to truly models intention, integrity and clear direction. When we first started our coaching work together, the first thing she wanted to focus on was helping her team grow and develop professionally. No agenda about her whatsoever - just a pure commitment to seeing the team she worked with be better and create results more effectively.
Ultimately, my client continued to make solid contributions toward the growth of her organization while casting an eye over the horizon. This is an art form: staying committed while having an inner knowing that it’s time to start thinking beyond the now. She achieved this by doing the following:
I've often joked that if I chose to, I could build my entire coaching and consulting business around helping Executive Directors in their efforts to have an outstanding board. And while much of my work is focused on young and growing nonprofits, the opportunity to do this work is much broader, spanning newer organizations to older and established national charities. Suffice to say, I rarely hear from a senior leader of a nonprofit organization anything along the lines of "Nope - no need to improve our board! We've got it all going on - 100% of our board members are hitting it out of the park on the three T's. They contribute their Time, their Talent and their Treasure. All good here." That's not to say that I don't run into or hear of boards that are more functional than others. For example, they might have a decent amount of all of the aforementioned T's. Or, they might have board members who lean into one or two of these components but have an obvious gap in others. But it's super rare - in my experience - to see a board that's hitting it on all three cylinders.
Why do I bring this up? Because I was recently discussing a board and its vast improvement in all three key areas with an Executive Director I've had the pleasure of knowing for a little over a year now. When we started our talks, one of the biggest challenges he faced was that while his board had lots of talent and minimal struggle providing financial support, they struggled with contributing much more than the bare minimum of time. And more importantly when they "showed up" that was pretty much it. They showed up, allowed the ED to fully run the show, and simply check the boxes. During our conversations, my coaching client and I discussed a number of strategies - one-on-one meetings, individual members goals, committee assignments and several others.
Here's the little twist in this true story. As I noted above, this ED and I have known each other for about a year. However, in terms of coaching, we worked together for about two months then, due to a variety of circumstances, there was a pause. We picked up again in November and it was just recently that we had the discussion about the significant strides his board has made in engagement and taking more ownership in outcomes.
How did the improvement come about? That's where I've got some good news and let's call it less good news. The less good news is that several of the strategies worked better than others but there was no one that jumped out as "the one." I'm not here to reveal the magic formula for board development. I'm still working on it but haven't uncovered it yet. The good news, in my opinion anyway, is that sticking with this plan of being patient, testing out things and reflecting on their success has paid off in a big and very noticeable way. But it's after a year of being patient and knowing that great boards - and true exemplary leadership - aren't built in a day, a week, a month or even a year. They are built steadily. Over time. On an ongoing basis.
Let's call this new formula for board success Time, Treasure, Talent and Time To Build.
Should I stay or should I go now?
- The Clash, 1981
Sure the Clash made this question pretty popular in 1981. But in fact, fundraisers are constantly asking themselves this question. This is borne out by the fact that the average turnover for development professionals is still in the range of 16 to 18 months depending on which of the myriad of articles you read on this topic.
This was on my mind the other day as I was speaking with a Development Director who had been with his organization for a little more than two years. As we chatted, he shared that even through the pandemic, the nonprofit he was with had met their fundraising goals and then some. He was especially proud of that achievement as many of his fundraising colleagues had seen significant declines in their revenue. Beyond that, he noted that his board of directors wasn't particularly effective. While three of the nine person board were pulling their weight - they both gave and got - the rest of the board really wanted to focus on governance. In my experience, this is the death knell for boards that are going to help their ED and development team fundraise. In summary, the Development Director was starting to feel that the job wasn't a great fit and that it might be time for a change. Yet, he wasn't sure and in fact, was very much on the fence.
Truth be told, the story I've shared above is not real. However, it many ways it is. It's actually a composite of the conversations I've had with both Development Directors as well as Executive Directors and it was done this way to maintain confidentiality and provide a broad overview of some common themes. Does any of it sound a little (or maybe very) familiar? The reality is that this is a much longer conversation requiring lots of thinking, a bit of stepping back to see where you're at as well time itself. Nevertheless, I thought I'd share a few of the key questions I often start with when this is the topic....
Have the reasons you joined the organization originally changed? Maybe you joined your nonprofit because you loved the mission. Or, perhaps you thought the CEO was an incredibly dynamic leader you could learn from and was incredibly inspiring. You might have even gone there because you saw all the seeds of a strong development operation that lacked the right person to nurture them (you!). These of course are just a few of the reasons I often hear when a fundraiser shares why he or she went to an organization. A solid first step in evaluating whether it's time to seek your next conquest is seeing if any of these or other reasons you joined have materially changed. And if so, what is the impact on you?
Have you done all you've set out to do? If you came to an organization to fulfill a specific goal, have you truly achieved that goal? Are there opportunities to do more and do they excite you? In my conversations, I often find that a fundraiser has gone to an organization as a next step in their career. That next step can be about the chance to raise a certain amount. For example, a fundraiser raising a $1 million budget is offered an opportunity to step into a role responsible for raising $3 million. Or a fundraiser is offered the chance to create a new program such as a major gifts program or launch a capital campaign. These are just two examples where a fundraiser can notch a very important career achievement. Does staying at the same organization offer equally compelling opportunities?
What's your gut (also known as your heart, intuition and inner wisdom) telling you? In my nearly two decades of working in the nonprofit sector and speaking with fellow fundraisers, I've noticed something consistently: By the time I'm having this conversation, the individual has usually made up their mind to move on to a new role. Sometimes they've already been offered it. Sometimes they're on the cusp of starting a search. Regardless, if they're talking about it to me (as a coach or otherwise), something is telling them that there's a fit problem - whether it's perceived or real. It's at this point that I'll typically tell the colleague, friend or person I'm coaching to go back and truly look at the first two questions but with a more realistic perspective.
If you find yourself in this quandary, I hope this can help encourage some thinking. But it should be just the beginning as opposed to your call for action.
This past Saturday I participated in a three hour training session for Braven, a terrific nonprofit I'm volunteering with. Braven's mission is to empower promising, underrepresented young people—first-generation college students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color—with the skills, confidence, experiences and networks necessary to transition from college to strong first jobs, which lead to meaningful careers and lives of impact. They do this in four cities including Bay Area, Chicago, Newark and NYC. You can learn much more at (www.braven.org)
This training was Efficient, Engaging and Energizing! If you read my stuff you know I love 3's of anything (see 3B's To Focus On) so there you have it! I'm grateful that some - maybe many - of the nonprofits I have the privilege of working with read my posts. If so, here are some best practices when training a new cohort of volunteers - these were all evident in the training I experienced. Let's go straight down the line.
Timing and Length: The training kicked off promptly at 10:00 am and went to 1:00 PM for a total of three hours. Not too much to give up out of a weekend. More importantly, all of the time was well spent. No filler. Just real content mixed with the opportunity for the volunteers to get to know each other as well as the key team members from the organization. More on that below:
Content: As noted above, the training was a valuable mix of the Why, What (Happens) and How. Specifically, the training started off by providing us volunteers with background information about the nonprofit and why it does what it does. In this case, since the organization deals with young people, the team shared the benefits to those we'd be serving when we serve in the role we're training for. Next, we took a deeper dive into how we'd be doing what we do. This included providing a full understanding of the dynamics of the program, the platforms, the technology and the resources that would be available to us. This included plenty of access to guides as well as yes, humans that could help us (yea!). Finally, we had the opportunity to test drive what we were learning in small cohorts. (Bonus: This gave us additional opportunities to build our network among the volunteering group).
Continuous Learning and Development: This was just the beginning of the training for what will be a full semester engagement. Too often I've seen volunteer training viewed as a one and done deal. Here's what you do now off you go and do it. Not here. After this first session, we have several more sessions before we begin the actual role. Once the real program commences, there is ongoing training as well as a liaison - an exemplary volunteer from last year - there to support us as we do our work.
Oh and other thing - GRATITUDE! While no one volunteers for the thank you (or the t-shirts, bagels or the other niceties), it's always nice to hear thank you. And we heard it from everyone on their team both during and after the session. Personally speaking, I felt beyond appreciated.
I look forward to continuing to share - and hopefully you've got a takeaway or two that you can add to your toolbox.
A few days ago, I was in conversation with Amy Soper who serves as the Director of Volunteer Growth for Women Doing Well (www.womendoingwell.org). Among the many things that has impressed me about Amy and this new organization is their approach to developing their team. Amy mentioned that in the beginning of this year, their President, Julie Wilson shared that their theme for this year is Pace. In other words; their leaders should be looking at their own Pace, helping others with their Pace, and even perhaps occasionally questioning the Pace of the organization and its growth.
Something about the word Pace immediately resonated with me. At a simple or surface level, I tend to think of the word as it applies to running, one of my passions. And in that arena, Pace is simply another way of saying how fast you’re going - or the average speed you were running for a given training run or race. Pacing can also apply to many other areas of life as we pursue personal goals as well as results we want to bring into the world. So, as Amy and I talked, we went a bit deeper.
Since this was actually a coaching conversation, Amy and I were discussing the priorities she was establishing for her new role. In terms of her work, we discussed what activities and relationships could contribute to the Pace of her recruitment and training of volunteers. As we explored, I found myself again paralleling this with running and improving your pace. I say this because I know intuitively, there are things that will help improve your pace. For good measure, a quick google search brought me to an article called 7 Expert Tips to Improve Your Running Pace. If you’re a runner, I encourage you to click on the link. If you’re not, stick with me, as there’s plenty beyond running coming up....
My point in sharing the above is that if you’re like me, there are times you struggle with priorities. You question whether doing more of this or less of that will get you to the results you’re looking to create. This is true whether it’s something as critical as your organization’s mission, a personal goal like writing a book or running a marathon or perhaps just finding some inner peace and calm. It begs the question of what you truly need (to do, be, or focus on) and what you can truly leave behind.
For example, to build your pace in running it’s worth focusing on your cadence, arm swing and body posture. You probably don’t need to worry about things like your height (you can’t change that anyway!) or running “harder”. The same goes for delivering on your mission. No doubt having quality programs helps, strong servant leadership can make a huge difference and a sustainable financial position is critical. At the same time, you could spend less time securing the best bagels for your fundraiser, having the snappiest website around and tweeting once an hour and still have a substantial impact on those you serve. And finally inner peace and tranquility? I’ll leave that to you but suffice to say getting stuck believing you are your thoughts and vice versa probably won’t help.
Like all good articles, you’ve got to have THE BIG TAKEAWAY and here it is. I created an acronym to help you as you work to find the optimum Pace in your world. I truly hope it helps.
P - Priorities; Have you identified what results you want to create and how critical it is that you create them?
A - Actions; Do you have a clear sense of what you need to do to create those results?
C - Clarity around Challenges; Have you identified the obstacles you’ll need to overcome and what you don’t need?
E - Effort and Energy; Are you truly ready to Expend the Effort and Energy?