Over the past few days I've struggled with my writing. As I chronicled last week, I took a break from my daily writing and good things happened. My mind was free and empty and the space allowed for calm and quietness. Eventually, new and inspired ideas emerged. It was fresh and unforced.
But this week, with the holidays upon us and a change in my usual routine, I had a new awareness. It was a need - an almost pressing need - to come up with Something Important to Say. Reflecting on my experience from last Friday through today, though I wasn't sure how it happened, my freedom was gone. I wasn't approaching writing with a willingness to be empty and see what would come. For whatever reason, perhaps it was the excitement of sharing my writing on Less Stress More Success, I had created pressure on myself to Come Up With Something Big.
If you're wondering about the point of capitalizing phrases like Something Important to Say and Come Up With Something Big, there is one. Quite simply, those were my thoughts on overdrive creating a whirlwind of judgement. Me judging me. My thoughts had gone on a Writer's Rampage. I was worried if whatever I wrote was Significant and Worthy enough for others to read.
This became a recognizable struggle through this morning when I started and ditched three different ideas for articles. One was about nonprofit work. Nope - not interesting enough. Then there was one about Success and why we deem it to be so important. I liked it but too light and not inspiring enough. I finally gave up after trying my hand at yet another Bye Bye 2020 article. I think we've all seen a few of those. Everyone gets it by now.
With a half hour before a coaching session, I meditated for 15 minutes, something I hadn't done since the previous week. While the meditation was focused on gratitude and I was appreciating the experience, suddenly I had the idea to write about this experience - exactly what you're reading about now. I grabbed the piece of paper I had set aside for coaching notes and jotted this down. All of the sudden, there was no judgement. My thought about Significance were still there. Yet I became quite comfortable recognizing that it was a thought. It might pass and it might not. Either way it was OK. All of the sudden I was comfortable in the silence. Rather, I was comfortable simply writing as a practice and as an exercise in creativity.
This isn't a pitch for meditation though I do recommend it. Rather it's a pitch to cut ourselves some slack. Nina Blackwood put it so well in "What If There's Nothing Wrong With You?" when she stated that we'll always come up short when we compare ourselves to others. It's even worse when we compare ourselves to ourselves. Personally, my thoughts had created an arbitrary bar for Significance (whatever that is!) that my writing had to hurdle over. I had forgotten the joy of simply creating.
It would be extra dramatic and in fact seem very Significant to say Never Again! I will never let my thoughts rob me of that joy! The truth is that probably won't be the case. For the moment though, I'm comfortable in the silence of having nothing terribly significant to say today, just a new awareness. And I appreciate your being here till the near end of this little journey.
We'll see what happens tomorrow...
This past Sunday, I was pleased to read Giving Billions Fast, MacKenzie Scott Upends Philanthropy for two reasons. First, at a time when nonprofit services are more in demand than ever, it was a win to read about this level of generosity. In summary, Ms. Scott gave over $4 billion to 384 organizations. I can't deny that a part of me is still wrestling with the question of whether there is a "better way" for the helping sector to thrive than being primarily dependent on donations. I won't go down the rabbit hole of that much longer discussion. For now, till we find that next way, nonprofits thrive (or don't thrive) based on the generosity of donors. And the reasons for support can range from outright altruism to the more transactional: marketing, tax benefits and other motivations. I look forward to tackling that question in a more robust way going forward.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Ms. Scott's giving was that it was done with no strings attached. After doing the requisite research on a broad range of charities, she made her gifts without the onerous reporting requirements that typically come with institutional giving. But reporting and restrictions aren't limited to the world of foundations. Individuals are free to ask for whatever they want - anything from naming to reporting to speaking opportunities at events. As a side note: Ms. Scott's gifts were made as individual, not foundation gifts so they weren't bound by the usual legal and tax requirements that come with foundation giving,
In any event, the operative and refreshing word here is TRUST. In a way that bucks the way much of philanthropy is done these days, she chose to place trust in those she gave to. As Ms. Scott went on to say, "Not only are nonprofits underfunded, they are also chronically diverted from their work by fund-raising and by burdensome reporting requirements that donors often place on them." The article then quotes Katie Carter of the Pride Foundation, one of the recipients, who stated "That mentality of trust is what we need in philanthropy".
I fully agree with all of the above. And please don't misunderstand. I am all for accountability and transparency for nonprofits. But I would add that the present challenge goes well beyond this critical question of trust. In my experience over two decades in the nonprofit sector, I've seen the focus of many funders move from creating results a.k.a. real change to measurement often simply for measurements sake. Intertwined with this question of how donors and charities can see themselves as partners on the same side of the table are the following questions about measurability that should be examined:
Are We Choosing Metrics Over Results? The answer is rarely as simple as a yes or no. But there are some clear symptoms: Are you and your team spending more time collecting data as opposed to looking at what the data means? Do meetings with donors put you on edge and have your team scrambling to fill in key metrics as opposed to being challenged to figure out whether the metrics have borne out the hypothesis for your intervention. These are some leading telltale signs.
Are We Learning From the Metrics? Is your charity simply collecting data or learning from it. One step further would be using these metrics to see what’s NOT working, owning and course-correcting for it. One of the other big challenges the nonprofit industry faces is an environment that rarely supports experimentation, risk-taking, and even (OMG) occasionally failing. Metrics should be used well-beyond fulfilling reporting requirements. Used strategically, they’re a resource for identifying how we can do what we do - but better and more effectively.
What’s the Right Balance? I’m not advocating that we step back to the days of simply “doing good stuff” with nothing but touching stories to share the impact of our work. What I am taking a stand for is awareness and finding that important balance between communicating the impact of donor dollars while ensuring that your charity always has its eye on the prize - Real Results that Change Lives.
What are your thoughts on trust and measurement in the nonprofit sector? I'd welcome your thoughts...
Over the weekend, my daughter called me out on my hesitancy to make a temporary move that I had been looking forward to. "What are you so concerned about?" she asked. "The stuff you leave behind is just stuff. You are doing this for the people in your life you need to be with." She was right. But then I added that I wasn't really prepared for this move. There were things to be done. Lists to be made. Boxes to be checked. Stuff to be researched. She asked when I would be prepared? Two weeks? A month? More? I realized what a powerful question she had asked. The truth is, nothing would have prepared me for this surprising opportunity I had in front of me. I wasn't prepared. I wasn't unprepared. I was simply hesitant to act and I had to get over it. Make the move. Figure it out from there.
I often see a pattern like mine when I coach. Maybe you've even experienced this yourself. You have an opportunity, an option - or sometimes a problem. Rather than act or make a move forward, you talk yourself into "preparing" or "getting ready" for whatever it is. This then morphs into a cycle of endless preparation. The preparing can involve any number of activities which have the deceptive nature of looking like important and valuable work. Sound familiar?
A couple examples: There are coaches I know who are always one certification away from going out and getting clients. They want to be sure they're prepared. I have a hunch that no matter how many classes or certifications they have, they still won't be quite prepared to create clients. I know individuals eager to make a social impact by starting a program or nonprofit. They need to watch one more inspiring documentary or webinar before creating what they want to see in the world. And for fundraisers, there are endless tools of preparation. Amp up the webinars, throw in virtual networking events, and all kinds of other learning opportunities and you could spend the rest of your career preparing to actually fundraise.
By the way, all of the above are a very real examples of the challenge of our believing our thoughts vs. acknowledging truth. When we take a step back and reflect, we can own the fact that our thoughts - or perhaps a story that we've been telling ourselves - has gotten in the way of our growth and progress. Perhaps in a previous situation, we took a leap of faith and failed due to a very real lack of preparation. If this becomes our story, our label and our thinking, we'll often find ourselves stuck in preparation mode. If however we can see the truth, this is a new situation with new variables, we can recognize the need or lack thereof for more preparing.
And please don't misunderstand. I'm all for preparation when there's a value to it. But all too often, I've seen activities like classwork and networking become the work instead of a resource to do the work. I also fully recognize that there are plenty of roles, events and opportunities we do in fact, need to seriously prepare for. For example, individuals that ascend to the senior levels of management often get there by learning their way to success. They do it by serving in a multitude of roles before reaching executive status. One more example (on a lighter note): As a committed runner, I wouldn't suggest anyone tackle a marathon without the proper preparation. In fact, one aspect of running I love is the importance of preparation and creating a foundation on which to build on. You start where you are - maybe it's 1, 3 or 5 miles. Then you go on to 10 to 12, 14, 16 miles and on it goes.
Here's my main point: There are so many actions we can take Right Now that will make a difference in our lives as well as in the lives of those we love, serve and care about. And often, there is no magical preparation for them. There is just the service and the opportunity.
I'll leave you with the question: Are you preparing for your life or living it to the fullest?
Just hold on loosely
But don't let go
If you cling to tightly
You're gonna lose control
- Hold On Loosely by 38 Special
About three months ago, I was inspired to start a new practice. In the interest of fostering my own creativity and dampening down my tendency towards perfectionism, I decided to start every day by writing for 15 minutes. But here's the kicker: whatever I wrote, I would share in this space. No edits. No reflection or rewriting. Immediate sharing.
I've often talked about the virtue of daily writing with those I coach and I've shared thoughts about it here. The kicker aspect was the scary stuff. The thought that I'd put out unedited and often not fully formed ideas terrified me. I'm now three months into the practice and the thought of sharing imperfect ideas, letting creativity fall where it may is now fine with me. In fact, I like it. Occasionally I truly love it. I've been grateful that some (no, not all) of the posts have generated interest, conversation and connections.
I recently realized however that there's been a downside. With my focus on making this a daily practice, on several recent days, my writing moved from a fun and exciting thing to do to a SHOULD DO kind of thing. Some days the flow wasn't there. On other days, I had a good idea that just didn't have legs. Yet, I pushed on. And on. I did so until last week when, inspired by a colleague who had a similar experience, I decided to just take a break. No post. No newsletter. Just a break to see how it felt and what would happen.
Shockingly, the world outside continued! My life continued as normal in almost every realm. Those same mornings where I typically meditate, read and write, I did the first two and enjoyed them. Then I just went on with my day. And guess what? Nothing happened.
Well, actually something did happen. Over the next two days, I had more compelling ideas come to me at the oddest moments. While I was showering. While I was running. While I was reading. While I was playing the guitar. No matter what I was doing, I made sure to capture the ideas immediately. I've now got a backload of ideas, half-written posts and maybe the beginning of a new book. All of that happened while I was on my break.
Here's my point: Over the last few months, I've come to realize that for me the harder I work at something, the harder it becomes. The beauty and simplicity is that the more we give ourselves space and don't push, the easier life becomes. Coincidentally, when I started a wonderful program I'm doing now with my coach, we (the participants) all chose a song that connected with how we approach things. I chose 38 Special's "Hold On Loosely". This was kind of an odd choice as I'm not a big 38 Special fan and have no prior connection with the song. Yet it seemed the right thing at the time. As I've continued in this place of learning, it has taken on meaning. The Holding On element connects with my commitment to doing and being what I want to do and be and creating the results I want to create. The Loosely part is the incredible secret sauce. Loosely allows for connection and commitment without gripping, tension or working at it too hard.
Whatever you're doing, see what happens when you hold on loosely.
In yesterday's post My Not So Secrets of Success, I shared that a valuable exercise is taking a set window of time i.e. two week to a month and tracking where your time goes. By the way that phrasing (if you didn't catch it the first time) is important. "Where your time goes" is a rather passive way of framing the idea. It assumes that for the moment, time is fleeting and you have little control over the where it goes part. And that's the point of the exercise. It's taking an inventory of your time before you decide what activities want to get rid of, keep and even do more of.
What's described above is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to owning your time instead of passing it. The most critical aspect of this exercise is identifying your unique value. It's that space you occupy where you are truly irreplaceable in as a leader, as a partner in a relationship, in the creation of a program and other aspects of your work.
Now you've got a picture of how you're spending your hours today, you can identify where you want to make valuable shifts that provide you with the opportunity to shine. This is the path to truly being of service and making your most valued contribution.
Yesterday, one of the nonprofit leaders I work with asked how things were going with the fundraiser I mentioned last week in UPSIDE DOWN: COURAGE AND CREATIVITY EVERY DAY. She wanted to know whether she had been able to turn things around in terms of balancing out her prospecting for new donors and upgrading existing donors. She wasn't the first to ask. I'm grateful people gained new insights from the post. My hunch is that the interest stemmed from the ease to which a solution came about. To summarize: We created alignment between the results she wanted to create and her daily practices.
Taking a bit of a deeper dive, we looked at the results the fundraiser was committed to, determined the actions that needed to happen, looked at where a shift in her perspectives and priorities could occur and co-created an action plan. This is a variation on an activity I often suggest when someone says they're struggling with time management. I suggest they take two weeks, track where their time goes - it's often into a few main buckets i.e. fundraising, program management, supervision etc - and report back.
Once they do the above, we look at the results they're committed to, possibilities for restructuring their time and shifts they may need in their thinking to support those changes. Equally important, we look at where they believe they add the most value in their organization. It's simple but not exactly easy. That's often why they've looked for support from a coach.
Here's my point: Anyone and everyone is welcome to utilize the information above. I haven't provided the Top Ten, Five or Three (or really any!) Secrets of Success. I simply hope this helps you. And if I can support you in putting into practice, please let me know. Because that's what it's all about. Putting into practice - not just getting the information.
As we were hanging up the phone, my wife looked over at me and said "I can already see the post that's going on Monday." She knows me too well - and particularly that much of what I write about (and always in an anonymous and confidential way) is inspired by real conversations with clients, collaborators and friends.
On Saturday afternoon, we were catching up with an old friend as we were driving. He was sharing his disappointment because he had volunteered to serve as a mentor for a prison re-entry program back in March. After numerous trainings, he had yet to be assigned to work with someone. My friend doesn't work in the nonprofit sector but understood that with the pandemic, the program had moved to a virtual platform. Yet, he was still frustrated as it had been nearly 9 months since he'd applied, gone through these trainings, contacted the program leaders but hadn't heard much back. It was understandable.
By the way, this isn't the first time I've written about what I believe is the appropriate way to respond to, treat and manage volunteers. I shared some ideas that I thought were important when I wrote Volunteering For Maximum Impact Part 2 several years ago, Yet, I felt it was worth exploring the topic again through the newer lens of virtual volunteering which has become the norm - or at least the temporary norm - in this pandemic environment.
Here are three quick suggestions for responding and keeping volunteers engaged even if your capacity is limited for the moment. And ironically, they're not terribly different than they'd be in so-called normal times.
For as long as I can remember, the term WIFM has been an essential part of training for anyone in the sales, fundraising and other related fields. If you're not familiar, WIFM is an acronym for (W)hat's in (I)t (F)or (M)e. In other words, if you're selling or promoting something i.e. a product, service or even a donation to your favorite charity, you should put yourself in the place of your customer/donor. Most importantly, as you're making your case, you should be thinking just that. What's in it for that individual. What benefit do they receive? How does it serve them?
Easy examples of the above come to mind. If you're suggesting a portfolio of stocks to an investment client - as I used to many years ago - you wouldn't attract them with the stocks. Rather, the attraction or the WIFM was the benefit of a happy retirement or funding a child's education. As a fundraiser, you'd steer clear of talking about how big an endowment could become because of a donor's gift. Instead , you'd focus on why your donor will feel an intrinsic sense of joy at having supported better education, ending homelessness or hunger - you get the picture.
As important as WIFM is, I wanted to look at something different today. I'll call it WIFY or What's in It For You. In other words, what's in it for you, the individual that's selling, fundraising or developing new clients? I'd even argue that this may be even more important than WIFM. If you don't have - or don't know - your WIFY, it will be extremely hard to be successful in your efforts.
Your WIFY is your purpose in doing what you do. It's why you get up in the morning. It's why you focus on the mastery of your craft. It's how you got to be doing what you're doing in the first place. If you work for a nonprofit, there's a good chance, this looks and feels like your personal connection to the work. If its coaching, its a profound love of serving individuals and helping them be their best selves. There's no one right description here. As one of my favorite coaches once told me, if it's true for you, then it's true for you.
In my experience, when a professional knows this, it ultimately becomes one of the most powerful parts of the case for working with them. It comes through with both subtlety and clarity in their sense of service and it makes their offering ever more attractive. If you can't fully and clearly define this, I'd challenge you to set aside time till you can clearly articulate it. It's well worth the effort and the exploration.
The other day, a fundraiser I work with was sharing that she's great at prospecting and bringing new donors on board. At the same time, she's been struggling to upgrade donors. Her existing portfolio of donors has stayed relatively flat with slight upticks here and there.
I was also impressed that she refused to use the pandemic as an excuse for her performance in this area. She acknowledged that one of the positives of this difficult moment is that she's seen increased interest in her nonprofit. With this in mind, we took a deeper dive into her daily habits and where there might be possibilities for change.
My client shared how she structures her day. She diligently starts by creating a call list for prospective donors and hits those calls first. This fundraiser follows this up by doing research and identifying even more prospects for the next day. After this, she spends time connecting with the clients, volunteers and staff that are part of the programs at her organization. This fuels her fire for their mission and realization of the vision. She wraps up the day by connecting with existing donors on cultivation calls.
Sounds like a pretty solid plan, right? Personally, as someone who loves and thrives on the prospecting process, I was impressed. Yet, when we took a look at her larger goal - to create a culture of giving at her organization, bring in more funds for increased impact through BOTH increased giving and new giving, we realized something was off. As happens in the best coaching sessions, my client had a key recognition: She was putting donor cultivation at the bottom of her priority list - looking back at the daily structure, that became obvious. It's often glaringly clear what priorities are when looking at how a day is spent.
The solution: We're honestly not sure yet. BUT, the new practice she's trying for the next two weeks is that she's turning her day upside down! She's going to reverse things and see what happens if she starts her day with a focus on existing donors and the potential for them to increase their giving. After this she'll move onto prospecting. Ultimately, she's living out the age old point that it's much easier, efficient and effective to keep and grow the customers (or donors in this case) we already have.
As I noted above, we're not sure if this is the complete solution to my client's challenge. But it is a starting point for change and the creation of something new. That's what I love about the work I get to do with nonprofit leaders: Being a witness to courage and creativity every day.
Over the past few days I've been having an interesting and surprisingly informative experience. I decided last week that I wanted to revamp my website and find a professional to do so. On Friday, late in the afternoon, I put an RFP on a national website and in the interest of supporting local business people in my community, I posted an ad on craigslist. I was very specific about what I want and don't want in terms of the design, platform and add-on services. I was instantly flooded with automated emails, phone calls and even texts.
I'll skip sharing about the first call I picked up - it was a nightmare. But the second call I picked up was engaging, professional yet pleasant and friendly - I was hooked. After a fifteen minute discussion, the individual and I agreed that on Monday at 10 AM, I would get a call from one of his designers. However, shortly after I hung up, I was surprised to receive what appeared to be an automated template telling me that, "we haven't spoken yet and we'd love to schedule a call." It was a little off putting but I understand automation and don't expect perfection. But then 10:00 came around. No phone call. I then got an email confirming our 10:30 appointment. That was curious. Again, no call came. It was all disappointing as I had high expectations of moving forward and not making this into a mega-project.
I'm guessing my little story above sounds like a bad Yelp review. But trust me, my goal in sharing it is positive: As both a fundraiser and coach, I spend a lot of time on the selling side of things. I'll remind you, I have a very positive perspective on sales. To me it's the transfer of my enthusiasm for serving to someone else. Being on the customer side of this experience was a helpful reminder of what I want anyone working with me to experience and know about me.
I'll save the specifics of the above but my main point for today: If you're going to be a seller, take the time every so often be a buyer. It's a very telling experience.