Nonprofit Management

  • Johnny reading
    The Johnny Reads by Third Grade Syndrome The Johnny Reads by Third Grade Syndrome

    The Johnny Reads by Third Grade Syndrome

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The Johnny Reads by Third Grade Syndrome

Here’s the story of Johnny: Poor Johnny didn’t know how to read.  And now he does.   Here are the things that helped him: Free breakfast at school so he wasn’t so hungry that he couldn’t learn Training provided to his teacher about supporting literacy Training provided to his principal that encouraged him/her to provide training to the teacher A mentor assigned to him through a mentoring organization who took him to activities focused on literacy A soccer coach who had Johnny help with taking attendance at practice A Tuesday afternoon reading session at the local library A full-time Americorps member in the classroom Some free books that were sent home with his parents An information sheet his mom picked up at the grocery store encouraging her to spend more time talking and reading with her child Interactive iPad apps provided by a local corporate partner of the school district   And here’s the challenge that I find endlessly amusing and frustrating.  Little Johnny was paraded out at four different fundraising dinners, included in 7 different organizational brochures, and described as a success story in 5 different grant reports. And meanwhile, Maria, Billy, and Aiden still don’t know how to get themselves through a book on their own. And let’s not forget Johnny himself or his parents, who may have played a small role in this reading miracle story.   The organizations, employees, board members, and donors behind each of these 10 interventions believe that it was their intervention that made the biggest difference. And I get it.  Who wants to work at an organization that represents 10% of the solution?  People want to work at organizations that are making a difference, solving problems, and […]

  • Dark Flowers
    The darker side of social change The darker side of social change

    The darker side of social change

The darker side of social change

Lately, the non-profit sector has been depressing me, which is a challenge because it’s the sector I have committed the last 15 years of my life to serve. And I feel like a traitor articulating this depression out loud.  Non-profit folks are supposed to be eternally hopeful, selfless, and optimistic change agents or martyrs who unconditionally believe in world peace and a just society, right? And here I am not only doubting, but expressing that doubt out loud.   But it’s impossible and unrealistic to be eternally optimistic in the face of real challenges, and it’s counter to our mission to create positive change to remain silent about obstacles. It’s human to question and doubt, and contemplate both light and darkness. Lately, the darkness of social change work has felt overwhelming to me.  My hope is that by naming some of what I’ve observed, we can create some new winds of change from the inside out:   There was some recent coverage about how donors give from the heart. This sounds like a great thing, but really it means that donors give to people they like, not programs that work. Or even programs that use their funds effectively.  It’s like people buy the commercial, not the product.   Funders chase what’s new.  New leaders. New ideas. New approaches.  But not brand new, because there are few funders who want to be the first in. From SMS technologies that will save the developing world to educational iPad apps for kids, there are always a million seemingly new ideas though hundreds of people invent them at the same time.   Foundations spend enormous time and resources investing in strategic planning and logic models, and to what end?  […]

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    Hold ‘em or fold ‘em: When to look for a new job Hold ‘em or fold ‘em: When to look for a new job

    Hold ‘em or fold ‘em: When to look for a new job

Hold ‘em or fold ‘em: When to look for a new job

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, younger baby boomers have held, on average, 11 jobs between ages 18 and 44. This same cohort has experienced, on average, 5.2 spells of unemployment. While the numbers for Millennials might adjust slightly up or down, this data drives home two simple facts: Over the course of your lifetime, you will likely spend time unemployed. Over the course of your lifetime, you are likely to switch jobs. What does this mean? It means that there is no shame in switching jobs, and while it may seem scary, it’s a to-be-expected part of managing your career. There are lots of reasons that it might be time to switch jobs: You have outgrown your current position and there is no place else to go. You have learned all there is to learn, and your job is so easy that it has become boring. In some organizations, there may be opportunities to advance – especially if you help identify and train someone to take your place AND have built a positive brand in your current role. But some organizations have specific roles that need to be filled, and need people in those jobs who enjoy what they are doing and do it enthusiastically. Maybe this isn’t you anymore. You want to explore a new area of interest or develop a new skill. I once had an administrative assistant who wanted to be a photographer. While there were possibly one or two opportunities each year where she could put these skills to use, her primary job was to be my assistant and manage my schedule – two things she really didn’t want to do. It was a tough situation because there was […]

Secrets to a Happy Fundraising Career (and a sane one too)

Development professionals are a unique breed.  We are a critical part of any nonprofit organization yet our work lives are necessarily externally facing.  We face intense pressures and high expectations, and while we are (often) compensated well for it, it takes its toll.  Within organizations, there are a lot of negative myths and misperceptions about development, fundraisers, and even wealth itself.  Furthermore, many executive directors have never held a formal development position, which can result in a major disconnect around development strategy and organizational priorities. It’s no wonder that according to a recent study by CompassPoint 50% of fundraisers are actively looking for another profession and 50% of executive directors report they can’t find high-quality candidates. As someone who has worked in development for 15 years in multiple roles at multiple institutions, there are a few things that I do to make sure that I stay happy and sane in my job. Find the kernel of truth.  Fundraising is all about integrity.  I look people in the eye and ask them for real money.  I can’t ask for funding if I don’t authentically connect to the mission of the organization and believe in the people who are hired to implement it.  Otherwise, I’m asking philanthropists – whether individuals, foundations, or corporations – to waste their money.  Whether you connect with a specific program, staff person, or story, figure out a way to make the asking authentic each and every time.   Build a kitchen cabinet.  If you are doing it right, fundraising is a lonely job.  Your relationships with external partners and prospects come first, not your relationships with your colleagues.  Throughout my career, I’ve always invested in peer relationships that can give me a […]

A pathway to entrepreneurship

Yesterday, The Enliven Project was named a finalist for an Echoing Green Fellowship, which is such an incredible honor for me personally and an amazing opportunity for The Enliven Project. Echoing Green’s fellowship program provides seed support to emerging social entrepreneurs who have “big bold ideas” to change the world.  It’s been around for more than 20 years, and has provided launch funding to some amazing organizations you might know like Teach for America, Freelancers Union, The Polaris Project, and City Year. I have never been a big fan of labels, and I didn’t think I was really an entrepreneur in any sense of the word. After all, I spent the first ten years of my career working for universities with big bureaucracies that were hundreds of years old, pretty much the antithesis of an entrepreneurial start-up. I consider myself more risk averse than the average entrepreneur, and with a career as the “person behind the person,” I wasn’t sure that I had the extroverted charisma and self-confidence that other entrepreneurs seemed to possess.  The stock market makes me anxious, I like systems, and I’ve never really invented anything (unless you count the orange juice maker I made in third grade). Plus, I’m well into my thirties and haven’t started up or spectacularly failed at something. There was no possible way that I could be a real live entrepreneur. But as I started to explore my history and actions, I realized that the sparks were always there, but they just hadn’t been cultivated through a path of entrepreneurship. For example, in third grade, my parents celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. So I came up with a plan to throw them a surprise party. I convinced […]

6 Things You Want to Know About Chris Cashman

Organizations are full of hellos and good-byes as people outgrow their roles, start new adventures, or find positions that are pretty much the perfect match for them.  No matter the reason for the departure, good-byes are always bittersweet.  Today I have to say good-bye to one of my favorite colleagues, Chris Cashman, who has led our communications department for the last year and a few months.   Chris is someone who has helped me survive the last round of transitions at work.  He’s been a partner, a confidante, a cheerleader, and most importantly a friend.  This is despite the fact that I was unnecessarily rough on him during the interview process – my only excuse being that it was summer and I was 8 months pregnant.  But now he has a really cool new job at Columbia University School of Business where he’ll help them tell their powerful story to the world.   I’m really proud of him for taking this next professional step, and hope that Columbia’s leadership understands what an asset he will be to their team. When Kevin left, I saluted him with the 10 Things I Love About Kevin Jennings.  In that same spirit – and especially because Kevin, Chris, and I were a great team – I wanted to leave you all with 6 Things To Know About Chris Cashman: 1.  He’s an analytical.  This is from People Styles at Work, which if you haven’t read, you should.  Basically, Chris was the only analytical on a team of drivers, which meant that he quite often prevented us from “ready, fire, aim” and shooting ourselves in the face.  Chris is always seeking to understand context, background, and approach in deeper ways, […]

The Zen Road Warrior

Business travel has been a part of my professional life since my very first job. There are periods where I travel once every couple of months and periods where I travel every week. And let’s face it, it is really hard to stay Zen on the road. When I was younger, I didn’t give much thought to taking care of myself while traveling and would pretty easily get out of balance – and usually come down with a bad cold and in bed for a week. Now, I am better at caring for myself emotionally and physically while on the road, and wanted to share a few tips that help me get through the planes, trains, and hotels. ; Water: Buy a lightweight water bottle and bring it with you at all times so you don’t have to think about finding and drinking water. When flying, they deprive you of oxygen and only pass through with the drink cart once – maybe twice – during the flight. You’ll feel like hell the next day if you don’t hydrate. Plus, who wants to pay $7 for the bottle of water they leave you in the hotel room? Snacks: I’m a six small meals kind of gal and I have a strange food hoarding disorder when I fly – maybe it’s those stories of long hours on the tarmac and running out of food on planes. Plus, I like to eat healthy, and that can be hard to find in a bag of cheetos. So if it’s a day trip, I pack my regular meals and snacks so I know I will never be without food and I’ll make the right choices during the day. I also […]

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    Workplace Rules:  Biting and Other No-Nos Workplace Rules:  Biting and Other No-Nos

    Workplace Rules: Biting and Other No-Nos

Workplace Rules: Biting and Other No-Nos

As is often the case, the basic principles that allow us to have happy and healthy lives don’t change much from the time we are tots to the time we are so-called adults.  One of the things I learned taking care of pre-schoolers is how important consistent and enforced boundaries are to creating an environment where everyone can grow, thrive, and have a good time. For example, biting.  I think we can all agree that biting is a no-no.  It’s not okay to bite other people, even if we are mad or upset.  That being said, toddlers often have a hard time expressing emotions and can get easily frustrated when things don’t go their way, and when that happens, they may use their little teeth in not-so-nice ways.  As such, any good and experienced preschool teacher or daycare provider knows how to prevent and manage biting. First, establish the ground rules: NO BITING. The rules apply to everyone – kids and grown ups – and they apply all the time, even when hungry and tired. Second, introduce ways to do handle frustration other than biting. Like sharing or taking turns. Or using words (which you may need to teach). Third, take responsibility for preventing bites from taking place. After all, it’s not entirely the toddler’s fault if he or she bites. If you know a kid gets frustrated easily, supervise them. Or provide special attention.  If they get cranky when tired or hungry, make sure they get a nap or a snack. A good teacher can read the room and see a bite coming down the pike. Finally, if a bite does take place, handle the situation rapidly and clearly. See #1:  Biting is never […]

Stuck in the Middle

 I’ve been told that, as a member of Generation X, I’m supposed to translate between Millennials and Baby Boomers in the workplace.  In other words, I often find myself in the middle, mediating, negotiating, and translating. Like most conflicts, it’s mostly about both sides being unable to listen without becoming defensive and buying into stereotypes instead of creating teachable moments.  As a Gen Xer, I find both Millennials and Baby Boomers slightly annoying yet quite charming in different ways.   I know that Baby Boomers can be rigid and hierarchical and Millennials can come across as entitled and lax, but I also appreciate the wisdom and experience of Boomers and the networked competence and insistent and innovative energy of Millennials. And since nobody asked, I thought I would lay out some advice on how to play nice in the workplace.   You don’t know what you don’t know. While its certainly possible for a newly minted college graduate to start a company or nonprofit, he or she would be wise to seek advice and input from people with more experience.  And a professional nearing retirement may not actually have his or her finger on the pulse of all the latest industry trends so it might be smart to run that plan by those who are more junior. Multi-generational organizations  identify blind spots and address them more effectively than those that are less age diverse. There is a place for innovation and for experience. Find a balance. Sometimes the way we have always done things is stale. Other times, it’s a proven method of success. Don’t try to innovate arithmetic. At the same time, there is always room for improvement, and sometimes old ways of doing things actually ARE stale. The Internet is so cool, but remember you need to know how to use it. Information – true and […]

Charismatic Wizards

The world has enough super stars. What we need is more ordinary people who find meaning and value in all types of roles.  We can’t all be cast as the lead in the play of life.  Even if we were, a lead without a cast looks strange and alone on stage. Without stagehands, tech, writers, and ticket sellers, we would all be waiting in the dark in an empty room with nothing to say.  Maybe I feel this way because of my semi-Hindu upbringing, but a story with a single lead is also a worn-out concept.  Why can’t life be more like the Ramayana – a story with many leads, many heroes, many plot lines, and many characters – instead of a hero saving us all from ourselves? Time and time again, young, idealistic folks tell me they want to change the world. Yet the only pathway they see is to start their own organization addressing small pieces of the puzzle or starting from scratch with a single idea that will “change everything.”  This is not to say that there isn’t value in innovation, but entrepreneurship comes with risks. The reality is not as glamorous as the idea. Running an organization means you are responsible for people and systems, not just ideas.  And innovation is not just about the idea – it’s about the execution of the idea, which is a combination of timing, luck, planning, and hard work. In my experience, the non-profit sector – and the individuals committed to social change – place too much emphasis on the visionary leader at the expense of the large teams and support systems those leaders need to be effective.  Charismatic leaders bring vision, energy, excitement to an […]