What to Expect From Me in 2022

Welcome to 2022, nonprofit leaders! To be honest, I am usually not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions — but these are not usual times…

This year marks nearly two years since the start of the global pandemic that rocked our worlds and brought on the biggest cultural shift many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Full stop.

As we dive headfirst into another year of the nonprofit sector’s new normal, the services offered by organizations all across the globe are needed now more than ever before. And, we all have a big fat opportunity right now to help lead our fellow humans through these uncertain times and help shape the future of nonprofits around the world.

It is so important to approach this opportunity with intention and have a clear direction for your nonprofit goals.

That is why I decided to take some time to reflect on my role when it comes to supporting your nonprofit goals in 2022 — and I have uncovered what I believe is my most important mission for the upcoming year.

In this short video, I share how I plan to help our sector reduce one of the most common problems faced by nonprofit organizations. So, click play to find out what I want you to hold me accountable to in 2022.

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Joan’s Top 5 Nonprofit Leadership Blog Posts of 2021

nonprofit leadership

Each of you began this year bleary-eyed.

On January 1, 2021, you were just coming off the heels of one of the most disruptive years the nonprofit sector has ever seen. Every year puts nonprofit leaders to this test, and this was never more true than in the year 2020.

The onset of the (still ongoing) global pandemic shook up our worlds, and it probably took everything you had to stay afloat.

But 2021 was just supposed to be the next day on the calendar. The vaccine presented a glimmer of hope that somehow things would return to “normal” when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day.

But most of the world did not yet have access. So it was more of the same.

On top of that, with our global economy still reeling from the pandemic’s lasting effects, this year brought an unbelievable need for your services.

So you did what nonprofit leaders do — you summoned energy you didn’t even think you had and made the decision to focus on the fundamentals.

You kept close tabs on your budget. You sought new ways to engage your board. You searched for resources where you could find them and found creative ways to bring more dollars in.

And you did all this in the service of a mission that means everything to you.

I know from all the emails and comments that I have gotten over the past year, that so many of you turned to the resources here on my blog for help. And for that, I am so grateful.

It has been a privilege to offer you advice and suggestions to help fuel your ability to work towards your mission and do your very best as a nonprofit leader and manager.

There are 5 resources in particular that nonprofit leaders like you found most valuable. As you prepare to head into the year 2022 (can you believe we’re almost 2 years out from 2020?) I thought it might be helpful to do a recap.

Check out this list and give them a quick read. They just might inspire some new ideas or insights that you can take into the new year.

Drumroll please…
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An Inspiring Hanukkah Message For Every Nonprofit Leader

We did it, nonprofit leaders. We made it to the last month of the year.

You’ve gone above and beyond all day long, all year long. That was true all day long, all year long last year, and in the years before as well.

But right now, you might be feeling like you are running low on fuel.

With the holiday season in full swing, I can not stress enough how important it is for you to take advantage of any time you have right now to rest, recharge, and replenish your energy.

I recently had time to do this as we began our yearly celebration of Hanukkah in my household. And as I took some time to reflect on the story behind this special time, I realized that there is a very important lesson for every nonprofit leader in the miracle of Hanukkah.

So if you have been feeling the nonprofit burnout creeping in lately, I invite you to watch this video to learn what it is. No matter what holidays or festivities you participate in during this time of year, this lesson just might be the inspiration you need to keep your passion for the work fully ignited.

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6 Ways to Thank Your Nonprofit Board Members

thank you nonprofit board

Do me a favor. Stop for a second and chew on this question: What motivates you to do a great job?

Is it the warm sense of accomplishment you get when you achieve a goal?

Or maybe you love the satisfaction of being able to say, “I did that thing!” — especially when that thing is something that you once considered impossible.

Now imagine your kid (or another youngster in your life) comes home from school with a test grade. They went the extra mile and worked and studied really really hard — and got an 87.

Do you go through the wrong answers with phrases like, “Oh, that was an easy one – you should have had that” or “With an extra hour of studying and you’d have cracked 90”?

Or do you celebrate their hard-earned 87?

I feel like a lot of staff leaders choose the first option when their board members get 87s…

You know, those times when they don’t exactly hit it out of the park, but at least you know it wasn’t due to a lack of trying?

I think far too often, staff leaders nag board members to study harder, to practice the foreign language that doesn’t come so easily to them.

Now I’m not talking about board members who are MIA, toxic, or those who have joined your board only to advance their career or boost their ego.

I’m talking about the rock stars who are always there for you, who initiate, and who lead. The folks who really try hard and are very busy but will step up if you ask.

These folks who often get painted with the same brush as toxic board members when executive directors have an expectation that all of them should get 94s instead of 87s.

You see it most when EDs nag their boards for more ticket sales, more big-ticket donors, or more work hours.

I think we do a lousy job of appreciating board members. Like really lousy.

You see, if you want high-performing board members, you have to motivate them. You have to celebrate the 87s.

So I reached out to members of our Nonprofit Leadership Lab to see if I could motivate folks to exercise this board gratitude muscle. To my delight, I was overwhelmed with responses. And I’d like to share them with you.

Not only will this give you some ideas on how you can offer more positive feedback to your board, but it will also give you a glimpse of what a high-performing board actually looks like.

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What It’s Really Like to Be A Nonprofit Executive Director

nonprofit executive director

One of my favorite assignments to give my undergrad students back when I was teaching Nonprofit Communications at the Annenberg School at the University of Penn was called “You Are An Alien.”

The instructions? Read a hard copy of The New York Times cover to cover through the lens of an alien, and tell me what you learned about women (as an alien).

That’s it. That’s the assignment.

It sounds silly, but the undergrad seniors really loved it!

You see, what they picked up on was often quite revelatory. They uncovered deep biases and victim narratives. They discovered that most “experts” are men and that most bylines are written by men. They noticed that the featured photos and print ads told a certain story too.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofit executive directors?

Well, recently I thought it might be fun to play a similar ‘game’ with those of you who are connected with the Nonprofit Leadership Lab on Facebook — so I asked the executive directors who follow us to tell me they are executive directors without telling me they are.

Some of what they told me was quite funny. And, some of it was good, bad, and ugly as well…

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5 Core Beliefs of Every Great Nonprofit Board Member

Board service is a really hard job to get right.

From managing full-time jobs to keeping up with busy home lives on top of their nonprofit board responsibilities, board members have a lot on their plates. That is why it is important to recruit board members who not only bring the right set of skills and resources to the table, but also the right mindset.

I know you’re probably thinking, “Okay sure, but what does that look like?”

Well, it starts with a deep legit passion for the mission — but it does not stop there…

Click play below to uncover the top 5 core beliefs of every great nonprofit board member:

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The 6 Attributes of a Highly Effective Board Chair

Highly Effective Board Chair Ted Lasso

Who would’ve thought?

Someone decided to make a TV show that centers around a genuinely nice person — incredibly optimistic about pretty much everything, generous and kind-hearted — and it’s a HUGE success.

We’re talking swept the Emmys last week huge.

The show’s title character, Ted Lasso, is hired to coach a team for a sport he knows nothing about in a country he’s never been to — all in the hopes that he will fail (he’s no dope and figures that out pretty quickly).

But does Ted get angry? Feel duped? Nope.

That’s because Ted is a “goldfish”. According to Ted, goldfish are the happiest animals on Earth — because they only have a 10-second memory. Goldfish can shake off the bad days without holding a grudge — because they can’t remember them.

Ted is our favorite goldfish. He’s not just kind, he’s complex and he’s philosophical. He carries an optimism combined with a keen understanding and curiosity about the people around him.

Plus it turns out that his super power is building teams.

And that is why I think Ted Lasso has all the makings of an effective board chair…. It’s true!

Let’s talk about why.
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An Easy Nonprofit Budget Template (+ How to Use It)

nonprofit budget template


It was my first day on the job at GLAAD. I sat down to meet with our then Director of Finance, and he nearly wept as I pulled my HP 12c calculator out of my backpack.

Why so much emotion?

At that moment, I didn’t know if it was because he could see that I knew numbers and that maybe, just maybe, I could help save the place…OR if he was thinking, “Holy smokes – she knows numbers. She’s going to get one look at these and get on the next plane back to NY.”

Turns out it was the former.

Now I want to be clear: I did not have a background in Financebut I didn’t have math anxiety either.

That’s because thanks to a most excellent boss over at MTV Networks, a really nice and awfully smart man named Mayo Stuntz, I learned something very essential — numbers tell a story.

Back then, numbers told us a story that led us to create the MTV Video Music Awards and then its Merchandising Program (pretty darned good stories they were too!).

These days, I meet at least quarterly with my business manager. As she ticks and ties the numbers, I ask tons of questions that usually go something like, “So what’s the story this year-to-date P&L tells me? What’s going well? Where are the red flags?”

When you ask the right questions and learn how to get to the bottom of the story, budgeting actually becomes really simple. Like a finance person I once worked with told me a while back, “It’s only a budget.” I laughed then (odd words coming from the lead bean counter), but now I get what she meant by this:

A budget is just a benchmark. A good, solid set of numbers that reflect what you know and what might be terrific estimates (as well as a few shots in the dark).

And as a nonprofit executive director, it is your job to make your best effort to create this set of benchmark numbers and then (here’s the really important part) tell the story behind the numbers in a way that all board members, regardless of financial literacy, will really understand.

To help you to do that, I have developed an easy-to-use nonprofit operating budget template. You’ll find a bunch of them on the internet but they are just that — templates. What I’m going to offer you is a basic template and also some advice on how to best use it to tell the story behind the numbers. Because as I said above, the numbers tell a story — but you need to learn how to tell it.

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Why Every Nonprofit Leader Hates Icebreakers (And Why You Shouldn’t)



You’ve all heard it: “Sure, we can do a retreat, but PLEASE no icebreakers!”

These words were probably uttered by a board chair or executive director whose sharing skills are about as good as mine were 15-20 years ago. That was around the time when I led my first nonprofit retreat as an executive director — I wasn’t big on sharing.

So you can imagine how terrified I was when I heard the request, “Tell us something the rest of the group doesn’t know about you.”

My heart thumped. My mind raced. Would anyone care about my vintage baseball collection?

Then, a staffer volunteered to share first, “I’ve decided to transition to become a man.”

I figured out two things at that moment. First, I learned that icebreakers can be very powerful. Second, I learned that I had to do better than my stinkin’ baseball card collection.

When it comes down to it, there are two big reasons why nonprofit leaders (and people in general) hate icebreakers:

  1. Most icebreakers are terribly, horribly awful. (read: they suck.)
  2. People don’t understand why they matter (and how powerful they can be).

The good news is that we can fix both of these in just one post! Seriously.

You see, these two problems are related. Once you figure out why they matter, you can design icebreakers that don’t suck and that meet their intended goal.

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10 Tough Questions Every Board Member Should Ask

tough questions board

Our Board Treasurer and Director of Finance were presenting our $5mm budget and back then (late 90s) there was always a conversation about the cost/benefit of direct mail.

Fair enough. After all, snail mail can cost a lot to send and the direct return is not often that great.

But then a board member brought up that “piercingly strategic” question. Yes, that’s sarcasm.

“So what is the cost of a first class stamp?”

We have a $5mm budget and this board member’s primary concern is the cost of a first class stamp? Talk about tripping over pennies on your way to dollars.

Two big takeaways from this story…

  1. Board members should ask questions.
  2. Board members should not ask every question.

So I thought I’d offer ten suggestions about the kinds of questions they should ask.


In this list, there is not a single softball question. And some of these questions may get the Executive Director’s hackles up.

Whatever hackles are.

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