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.
One issue I find myself speaking with clients about frequently is delegation. Or more specifically, the challenge of Effectively Delegating. There are a few common reasons that leaders hesitate to delegate but in an informal (kind of an accidental) survey, it seems the #1 reason is that it's simply easier for them to do the task that was to be delegated. This often stems from a lack of trust in the individual that would be taking up the task. And drilling down further, the lack of trust is from perceived incompetence or proven incompetence.
To illustrate, a leader was sharing how he questioned why a board member would genuinely want to help. I shared that I find the subject of volunteerism to be a fascinating subject as it brings up several dichotomies. First off, there's the whole idea of recognition. While we as nonprofit professionals spend lots of time, energy and resources thinking of how to effectively recognize our best volunteers and donors, I've been grateful to find a major irony here. Our very best volunteers and donors don't care about acknowledgement. They are there out of a true sense of service and giving. This doesn't mean for a second that it's not a worthy endeavor to show our appreciation. Rather it's one of the wonderful aspects about working in a field where we see true generosity in action. And for no other reason that service.
So how do we start changing the perspective on delegation? What if we recognized that when we delegate, it's truly creating the most giving form of service. As leaders (or managers, supervisors) etc. when we delegate, we're truly being of service by showing confidence in those we delegate to. We're saying "we trust you and value you". Equally important, we're giving those we delegate to the chance to live out their their possibility for growth, mastery and expertise. And in the nonprofit field, when we entrust our volunteers and board members with sharing our work, we're providing them with an opportunity to live out their generosity of spirit.
It might be a bit of a cliche but the above way of thinking about delegation is truly a Win-Win for all. Give it a try.
The other day I noticed a trend among the folks I was coaching. Several of them identified the need to be more intentional about both recognizing and celebrating their wins and that of their teams. In a moment where I'm also hearing plenty about burnout, the need for a break and other less than positive ideas, this is an important thing to recognize. It's also an opportunity to create a shift in both our own perspectives as well as those we work with.
First, let's tackle the Recognition aspect. How do you measure a win? In my experience, we tend to be pretty tough on ourselves. The win has to be tangible, measurable and "Big" in the eyes of many. In the nonprofit world, a win is typically measurable success in one of our programs, a successful event or getting that big donation. But does this have to be the case? Could there be value in celebrating new thinking, a healthy brainstorming session or even the acquisition of some smaller but still significant donors? How about a volunteer or staff member getting out of their comfort zone and creating a calling plan to reach out to five new donors in a very personal way? While these may not seem like the big game changers, these "little wins" add up to measurable long term wins for ourselves and our organizations.
Now, how about the Celebration. How do you celebrate? Everyone is doing the virtual happy hour but what can you do that's a different? When celebrating your own win, how about treating yourself to a half hour of time to think, relax or read? If you're celebrating something that was accomplished by your team, what could you do to help solidify relationships? Or when it comes to a single employee, sharing a favorite book or article that speaks to something they're trying to learn? These of course are just some ideas to get you thinking. My main point is that there are so many ways to celebrate if we can be creative.
Here's my end point: At a time when all of us could you use a bit more lightness and reasons for gratitude, let's identify more opportunities to celebrate and get creative about doing so.
Have a safe and healthy weekend!
Me: So, when you were writing songs, were there any rules you adhered to? Things like chord structures, progressions - things like that?
Jon Anderson (from Yes): No. Some of us knew that stuff. For most of us, we just did what felt right. What felt real to us in that moment.
Paul Westerberg (from the Replacements): What are you talking about??? Rules? We never paid attention to rules. There were times when we played a song six different ways on six different days.
Steve Chandler (an awesome coach): Write the book you'd want to read. Don't pay attention to the way you're supposed to do it. Leave the shoulds behind...
Me: Thanks guys. Thanks for reminding me to write what's real for me. That goes for writing books, posts and music.
The above "paper conversation" was yet another exercise in the Accidental Genius by Mark Levy. While my writing over the past couple days may seem a bit like a book report, I find that the best way to put new ideas into practice is to put them into action. I'd recommend that for anyone committed to change. And I do it here in the hope that my attempts at these things might help you if you're looking for new approaches.
But to the point of the conversation above, over the past few weeks I've gotten a bit caught up in whether there's a "right way" to write. I think this may come from being a musician. I've known since my early days of learning music that there are chord structures, progressions and melodies that work - simply put, they're pleasing to the ear. And there are plenty of books and articles out there about the right formula for writing an article or book that connects with the audience. For example, a typical how-to for writing is "Start with a Grabber". A grabber could be a shocking or inspirational quote, a brief story or something like "These are the top 5 mistakes people make when...". I have no doubt these things do have a wide appeal and can get the attention of a reader. I may even do them from time to time.
Anyway, don't get caught up in the identities of the people I'm talking to in my paper conversation. Suffice to say they're musicians and a professional coach that I have a ton of respect for and admire. More importantly, they're what I would call Originals. They do what they do in a way that leads and doesn't follow whether it's with the music they're written or the coaching they're offered and books they've written. Holding this little conversation was my way of reminding myself and you of one of my favorite sayings:
Don't be the next (fill in the blank with someone you want to be like). Be the first and best version of you.
Simply put: Be an Original