Get out of my dreams, Get into my car
These are the lyrics I kept hearing when Brie Seward, Executive Director of the Autism Society of Southern Arizona told me about her recent experience with one of her donors. I also have to admit that I love it when a post comes together so easily based on a live experience of one of my amazing clients.
I'll back up for a second to provide some context. As I noted, Brie leads the team of a terrific nonprofit. We've been discussing a few strategies for building out her organization's fundraising. We had been talking about how to really connect with her donors and in particular two critical meetings with long time donors she had coming up. She wanted to help these donors see they that meant more to her than simply dollars in the door. In fact, we had been discussing opportunities to connect through questions, alignment and most important, true and authentic listening. An occasional surprise or two doesn't hurt either (can you hear the foreshadowing???)
I was excited when Brie let me know that she had some great news to share on our next call. She said the meetings were financially successful and were the best she'd ever had. She mentioned she'd done a lot more listening than talking. She asked questions. She learned more about their business. She learned what was important to them as both sponsors of the Autism Society as well as growing organizations. Brie also mentioned that given that their meetings were virtual, she wanted to do something a little special.
When Brie's meeting started, her donor heard a knock on the door. His assistant then brought in a tray of cookies. Brie shared that since they'd typically met and had coffee or snacks together for their meetings, she wanted to create the same experience. So, she simply ordered up the tray and had it timed for their meeting. Expensive. Nope! But thoughtful as anything. You know it. And her donor absolutely loved it.
As Brie and I discussed her success, it was clear the need to get into her donor's world had connected in a very real way. She articulated it better than I ever could "You have to Get Out of Your Computer and Into their World." Immediately Billy Ocean's song popped into my head.
Besides my strange addiction to including aging pop songs in my posts, I really do believe that Brie's experience is one we can learn from. It's the simple idea of wowing our donors - or clients - depending on who you work with. It doesn't have to be pricey. And no, you're not buying their business. You're simply showing that you care, value the relationship and want to do something a little extra special.
So, in this age of virtual meetings, I'll leave you with Brie's question: How are you getting out of your computer and into your client's world?
After the disappointment and financial failure of Rocky V in 1990, Sylvester Stallone put out a series of well, let's put it politely, even more disappointing movies. He tried his hand at something like comedy with "Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot". He then went for something a bit more dramatic with "Oscar". He did several others before recognizing that his strong suit - and the place where his talents were more appreciated - were playing his signature characters such as Rocky and Rambo as well as other action-oriented roles. In fact, there are numerous less memorable projects he was involved in throughout his career - many more in fact than what he's best known for. Yet, those are the standout. That is what he's known for.
What are my credentials as a movie reviewer and why am I sharing the above with you? To the first question, I have no credentials - I'm merely sharing my fan-based opinions. As to the second question, I'm spending a lot of time in my hometown of Philadelphia these days. Philly is one of my favorite cities to run in and today I was doing one of the most inspiring routes that ends up at - you guessed it - the Art Museum and those steps that Rocky ascended so many times. So, my mind was on Stallone and the Rocky movies which I'm not ashamed to say are some of my absolute favorites. Reality based? Who cares! You can't watch them and not believe that dreams can come true - and more importantly, every one of us has the ability to make our own dreams come true.
And perhaps most important, what's my point? After those brief flirtations with other opportunities, Stallone moved back to the zone of action-oriented films. Ultimately, he doubled down on the whole Rocky-thing. He brought him back to the screen in 2006 with the well-received film "Rocky Balboa" even giving the character more depth with a plausible story of a late in life comeback (think George Forman). And Rocky was given new life in 2015 with the introduction of the Creed movies with the now elder boxer coaching his former opponent's son.
If you're tired of the movie stuff, we're done with that so stick with me. Take away all of the film stuff and what you have is a story above is a great example of recognizing our true nature (though I have a a hunch the actor never studied up on Syd Banks and the Three Ps). Stallone realized that he enjoyed the freedom to try other roles on. At the same time, he stopped running away from the type of acting and creative work that he seemed to embody and come so naturally to him with ease.
We can do the same thing. I am all about personal growth and development and especially taking on new challenges. I hope you are too - it's what keeps life really interesting. If I didn't like getting a little uncomfortable and helping others stretch, I certainly would be in the wrong line of work as a consultant and coach. But there is a certain beauty and ease to understanding, accepting and even leveraging our truest selves. That's the self that emerges when we're doing the work and the creating that comes to us as an extension of ourselves.
How do you know when you're in that magical zone? Here are a couple good markers - or at least what I've found to be true for me. You know it when time stops mattering. You're not rushed and you have plenty of time to do exactly what you're doing. You know it when there's no gripping and no tension. You know it when you find people asking you to do more of whatever your thing is (and they'll probably say something like "hey, that's your thing!).
The other point to remember is that you'll certainly know when you are NOT in that zone. Much like that "Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot" moment for Sylvester Stallone, you'll instinctually feel it when you're going against your true nature. And it's great to test those boundaries every so often to see where else we can make a difference. However, if we get that gift of knowing where we make our most impactful contribution and can truly be of service, there's much to be said for making that our life's work. I hope you are on the way to finding your inner Rocky.
Here it is the first day of the year and the first day of the rest of our lives. Or at least that's what I've been reading from many posts. Actually it's January 4th and after a solid week off of everything, I realized I hadn't made any mega resolutions. I had set some big goals for myself last year. I'm glad that despite what 2020 had in store for us, I achieved several of these like writing a book (to be published in about a week), recording several of my songs, and some running goals.
This year however, I decided to forego the whole SMART goal thing and go for what I hope will be more developmental goals. In fact, I like to think of the following as not so much as goals or objectives but as Being Resolutions that can support me in simply being the best version of myself - the one that can make the best contribution to my family, friends and community. Here's what I resolve to do in the coming year:
Slow down - way, way down. I like to think that if we learn one incredibly valuable thing each year, that's an important accomplishment. For me, the standout concept I was introduced to this past year was that of SLOWING DOWN. I am incredibly grateful to my coach Melissa Ford and her coach (and just an overall special coach, writer and speaker Steve Chandler) for encouraging this thinking. I know it's critically important because I struggle like crazy with it. But it's not just that I struggle - that would just be work for work's sake. It's that every time that I get past that struggle and actually SLOW DOWN, great things happen. In fact, I've learned that if I slow down and fully stop, really cool stuff happens. If you want to learn more about that, check out I Took A Break. Really Good Things Happened. So, my first resolution is to practice at and get better at Slowing Down. I'm not quite sure yet how I'm going to do it. Maybe I'll take an afternoon off in the middle of the week. Or I'll try a morning in the beginning. One thing I'm sure of is that some trial and error will be involved which brings me to Resolution #2....
Make more mistakes - and bigger ones! I could have also labeled this simply Be More Creative. The second most important thing I learned last year was that the more often I put myself out there creatively, the more creativity becomes a wonderful and joyful practice. While creating things i.e. music, writing, as well as drawing and painting (when I was a teen) has always been important to me, it's taken on and even a greater importance as I work as a coach and consultant. I find the ability to create something fresh and new - and not necessarily perfect - to be an incredible way to start every day. What's even more important, the willingness to do it in a way that truly reflects who we are as opposed to some previously created set of rules, is one of the best means of self-expression we can have. So, what does it take to get better at this? Quite simply the freedom to take risks, screw up every so often (as long as you're not hurting anyone!) and make put out big, bold and exciting things into the world. Will everyone love what you're offering? Nope. But some will. And as I learned as a musician, don't write your songs to please an audience that you're chasing. Create the music you love and eventually your audience will find you.
Strive to be incredibly - AVERAGE. Have an average day! Go get 'em - get that C! You are so amazingly average....Can you imagine finding joy, encouragement or enthusiasm if someone said any of these things to you in the beginning of the day? Probably not and it's understandable. Most of us are conditioned on the idea of having a killer day, getting an A on every test and simply being the best. The problem is that those are labels that too often hold for the short term and rarely hold consistently. As writer and author Michael Neill describes in "In Praise Of Average", you can create a remarkable life by striving for average yet consistent achievements every day. For example, if you're in sales, committing to just ten prospecting calls a day over 250 work days equals 2500 calls. Even if you're an "average" closer that only closes 1% of those, that's 25 new clients per year. Imagine doing that over a 30 to 50 year career. Or what if you want to commit to being a better friend, parent or spouse - doing one intentional act of goodness adds up quickly when you do it every day. You get the picture. My final resolution is to strive to be more average in the major areas of my life including family, community and work.
While these probably don't fit the model of your typical New Year's Resolutions, I'm kind of loving them. Why am I sharing them with you? Two reasons. First, I hope you (the reader) if you read my posts from time to time, will hold me accountable. Feel free to ask - or better yet call me out - if you find that I've gone into mass productivity or perfection mode. More importantly, if you haven't created your resolutions yet, give yourself a break - you still have 361 days to do so. I also hope that by sharing my goals, these can inspire you towards some new thinking, approaches and ultimately, a happy, healthy and utterly average (every day) 2021.
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.