An Inspiring Hanukkah Message For Every Nonprofit Leader

We did it, nonprofit leaders. We made it to the last month of 2021.

You’ve gone above and beyond all day long, all year long. That was true all day long, all year long in 2020, 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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3 Things I Wish I Knew Before Working For A Nonprofit

I get asked quite a lot if there were things I wish I knew when I moved from corporate America to working for a nonprofit. And indeed there are.

In fact, three of them come immediately to mind.

You see, before I became the executive director of GLAAD, I was in the entertainment business. As you can imagine, there are many major differences between these two working environments. From management styles, to the level of emotion and passion involved, to what really drives your bottom line.

Click play to hear the three things I really wish I knew before working for a nonprofit. My answers might surprise you:

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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)

 

icebrakers

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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How Even Workaholic Bosses Can Promote Workplace Self Care

workplace self care

I woke up this Monday morning and thought to myself: “Awesome! I got a lot done this weekend because we didn’t have any company.

Seriously Joan?

We are now well into the first summer after a terrifying pandemic in which seeing friends and family—typically an antidote for terror—was actually risky.

Now fully vaxxed, my house on the Jersey shore has been filled with the sounds of laughter, kids splashing in the pool, sandy feet, and corn on the cob.

In fact, here’s a picture of the remaining Garry originals after a hearty 4th of July dinner:

How great to be with people again!

With this image in mind, how could not having company be something to celebrate?

Well, when you’re a workaholic, having company interferes with your weekend activities. I know many of you will actually know exactly what I mean.

After all, I coach clients all the time on how their workaholic tendencies create cultures of stress in their organizations. Say all you want about how you promote workplace self care, but if you have ever sent an email at 5:55am on a Saturday, you have obliterated your credibility on the topic.

But I also know that you are overworked and that there might be reasons why you work odd hours. That’s why I’m writing this post. (I’m also writing it to remind myself to SNAP OUT OF IT!)

I have the simplest of tricks for you to try that I learned from my nephew during our wonderful 4th of July weekend together. This quick tip will help you encourage a culture of understanding and promote self care in your workplace.

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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.

But BE FOREWARNED!

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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3 Nonprofit Founders Who Have Transformed Their Boards

Grey background with one persons silhouette in the center connected by a web of 6 other people's silhouette's, one is being plucked by a hand coming from the bottom.

It bears repeating: Founders are remarkable.

You won’t catch them sitting idly by waiting for things to get done. They have this unique kind of social vision that enables them to spot the gaps that need to be filled and the problems that need to be solved in their communities.

But, things begin to get a bit more challenging for nonprofit founders the moment someone says, “I’d like to donate.”

If you’re like many founders, this is likely the first time you’ve even thought about building a board.

So where do you start?

Most founders start with what I call the “FOF” board. FOF stands for “Friends of the Founder”. I’m talking about your tight knit circle. Maybe family, or even chosen family–either way they are 150% behind your mission and delighted to say, “Yes!”

They probably have no idea what they’re saying yes to. Maybe you don’t really know either.

WHERE MANY FOUNDERS DROP THE BALL

Way too often, FOF boards develop into what I call a “Make Way for Ducklings” board.

So many founders make the mistake of filling their first board with ducklings – folks who say “let me know how I can help,” but are unavailable, unqualified, or just simply unsure of how to contribute.

Why?

Because it takes time to find board members you really need and the paperwork is due TODAY.

Your first board may start this way, but with a different perspective and some fine tuning, you can make something different happen. You can set your organization on the path to “built to last.”

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Balance Sheet? Income Statement? But I’m Not a Numbers Person!

hating the balance sheet

Thirty years ago, when I was an executive at Showtime Networks, I worked to get a pay-per-view business off the ground. Crunching numbers was a part of my work. I was not a CPA and did not have an MBA. Never took a class on budgeting or balance sheets.

And yet, for some reason, numbers have never made me anxious. In fact I was quite good at helping other execs make sense of the numbers. So good, in fact, that I was deployed for nine months to educate the members of the finance department on how to bring the numbers to life – to make them matter to the heads of business units – so they could make better decisions based on the stories the numbers told.

Ooops. I think I just leaked the moral of this story, the lesson in this post.

Have you ever felt the “heaviness of the lids”? I bet you have.

You know, that dozing sensation you get when you listen to a budget or finance presentation? That feeling that leads you to daydream about that thing you have to do for that person that you forgot to do yesterday?

Yeah, that. Let’s cure that once and for all. It’s time to get serious about bringing numbers to life.
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Is Your To-Do List Mocking You?

to-do list

Cindy Pereira basically runs my business.

She also produces my podcast and entertains me all day long. And I’m really lucky. I know it.

To know Cindy is to know that she is ambitious, and she gets more done in a day than any human I know.

But there are still things she just doesn’t get to.

One day I’m at her desk and a reminder pops up on her screen. Just two words:

Write novel.

I was weak with laughter. She returns to the office and I can’t even talk, I’m laughing so hard. I point to the reminder. She says, “Oh yeah, I have had that daily reminder for like years.”

Today I am not going to talk about your big hairy audacious aspiration and how to get it done.

I want to talk about those things on your to-do list that just keep showing up. They have been there for what feels like years. They never make it to the top of the list. You’re not putting them off because they are super hard, like “Call angry donor”.

These are regular things you are supposed to do. Every time you look at the to-do list they are there. Right where you want them.

At the bottom of the list.

For me, it’s “Update Database Contacts”. I see it on the list and I swear it’s staring back at me, judging me. I try to ignore it.

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

If I asked you if they were important, you’d say “Yes, BUT”. Yes, BUT I first need to focus on the IMPORTANT stuff higher up on the to-do list. And it happens again tomorrow. And the day after. The week after. The YEAR after.

Is there a way out? You can’t just take it off the list. You can’t really delegate it either. The task matters and you’re the one who has to do it.

Can you imagine how amazing it will feel to be able to cross one of these off?

I have some advice. I have conquered one of these beasts recently – cleaning up my contact database – and I believe my recipe could really help you.

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Do You Have an “Oil Can” Problem?

oil can problem

One aspect of 2020 that I think is overlooked is that the year brought out the adrenaline junkie that lives at or just below the surface of every nonprofit leader. The fixer, the problem solver, the person prepared to do whatever it takes.

My clients and members of our Nonprofit Leadership Lab are heroic every day but never more than the 365 days (or if you are a musical theatre fan, 525,600 minutes) of 2020. (Yes, I realize 2020 was a leap year, but I refuse to give it any more days. 2020 was long enough!)

You fixed, you problem solved, you leaped tall buildings in single bounds (nod to your Superman tendencies).

How are you feeling right about now?

A few months into a year in which you are probably feeling more optimistic (nothing like seeing ‘shots in arms’ to offer a shot in the arm for all of us).

But you’re really really tired right?

My daughter Kit had febrile seizures as a toddler that demanded an ambulance and an E.R. visit. Fortunately she grew out of them after age 3 but when they happened, they were scary as hell and we did whatever it took to keep Kit calm.

Not just Kit – her twin brother and her older sister too. We tried our best to keep calm while Kit’s seizure was on full display. We learned the drill and an ice bath in the E.R. settled things down quickly. We’d head home.

And Kit was all smiles, we’d tuck her into bed. And then Eileen (my wife) and I would fall totally and completely apart.

But not before having some kind of argument with each other about who knows what. Or going way overboard, criticizing our other kids about something that could barely qualify as inappropriate or even worth noting.

I see this behavior in my clients. Lots of misbehavior, uncivilized behavior towards one another, lots of misdirected anger. The craziness at home is now beginning to feel even more intolerable now that we can see glimmers of light about where 2021 might end.

It’s like me and Eileen after Kit was tucked into bed all smiles.

We were big ol’ messes.

I have some advice. Definitely not about parenting. But about how to lead when the adrenaline rush wears off. And about what I call an “oil can” problem.

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