It’s Time We Stop Treating Tech As Overhead

tech as overhead

I’m moderating a panel at an upcoming conference sponsored by Salesforce. They have some serious star power at this conference. Dr. Jane Goodall, Leslie Odom Jr, Amal Clooney.

And me.

Trying to squelch my imposter syndrome I recorded a panel last week with some fabulous nonprofit leaders. I was asked to moderate and we talked about tech.

We talked about what the nonprofit sector learned about tech in 2020 and what leaders need to do with that lesson in 2021.

In a prep conversation, I told the panelists about a client who, pre-pandemic, saw tech as being under the Director of Operations on the org chart along with HR and Finance. But as he moved through 2020, he saw that virtual learning was a vital part of his programmatic offerings and always should have been. By year end, his young and creative tech guy was a member of the senior team.

Time for a rant and a call to action.

We have pigeonholed tech as an operations function for way way too long. And because of how we have seen it, funders have seen it that way. Under that four letter word that is actually eight letters, OVERHEAD.

So today, let’s talk about one of the biggest things that should NEVER EVER go back to the way things were in our sector. Treating tech as overhead.

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An Old Family Recipe to Show Your Donors Love

show donors love

I am one of 27 first cousins. Yes, I am Irish. Through and through. County Westmeath methinks. Or maybe Cork. Maybe both.

Take any group of 27 people and among them you will almost certainly find helpers.

I hadn’t really thought of that until this past week. Most of the 27 know what I do and I’m quite sure some of them listen to my podcast, subscribe to this blog, and have read my book.

But to me, that’s not their primary identity. They are cousins. Family.

This past week I was with five of them during our post vax road trip to Atlanta to spend time with my mom’s identical twin sister, who is still going strong at 93 years young. There was a cookout, pickleball, many smiles, and even more hugs of the double vax variety.

Throughout conversations I learned, to no surprise, that I come from good Irish volunteer stock. Lots of it. And it was inspiring to hear about and also gratifying to know that the work I do has some meaning for those I hold dear.

Some families share old family recipes. But at my cousin Jeanne’s house, she and her wonderful husband Steve shared their best volunteer recipe.

And it’s a very good one indeed. Good for any donor level, good for a virtual or a socially distanced outdoor event.

For Jeanne and Steve, their organization of choice is the St. Vincent de Paul Society where they have volunteered for years. At some point I need to write about the remarkable Trello board that Steve built for the case management army.

The organization focuses its efforts on helping individuals with housing, food and utilities. I didn’t really understand all that St. Vincent de Paul does. I learned a lot.

They went to a donor appreciation event one year and thought it could have been better. But unlike those who do nothing about it, they offered to run it the following year.

And the best part? Those who give walk away with so much more than a thank you.

Ready for the (not actually so old) family recipe to show donors love?

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Why You’re Not Raising More Money

picture of a car with his mouth open and arms above his head holding money

If I had to point to the two most common questions I randomly get (about nonprofits anyway), it would be these:

  • Can you help me find board members?
  • Can you help me figure out how I we could be raising more money?

When I am asked the board member question, the smartass in me wants to ask a few follow-up questions:

You lost board members? When were they last seen? What were they wearing?

But there is a certain element of desperation in their voice so my sad attempt at comedy feels off the mark.

Today, I want to focus on the second question. In this post I am not going to tell you how to raise money. Forgive me if I got your hopes up. But don’t give up on me.

But here’s what I am going to do. I’m going to help you to dissect the question. Because that’s where the treasure will be found.

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A Small Nonprofit That Thinks Really Big

small nonprofit stories

Emily Klehm, the Executive Director of South Suburban Humane Society, asked me a question that seemed to come out of nowhere.

Why do you think so many women won’t leave abusive relationships?

I responded the way you might expect. Fear of the unknown. Codependency. Lack of money.

And those are all important reasons. But then she told me another one. In fact, apparently it’s one of the biggest reasons. And my jaw dropped.

Many women won’t leave abusive relationships because they won’t leave their pets.

AN ANIMAL SHELTER WITH A BIG VISION

Listeners of my podcast might remember Emily. In an episode called “Anatomy of a Crisis,” we talked about how a staffer of hers had reported that she had been held up at gunpoint and a dog had been abducted. And then the staffer went missing. The story got weirder and weirder.

Emily gave us a master class on navigating an organizational crisis and how to come through even stronger. This was an amazing episode and I strongly suggest you listen to it, if you haven’t already.

I caught up with Emily several months ago and learned that her tiny nonprofit had a new and outsized vision. And that she received a $6 million grant to bring that vision to life. Yes, I said $6 million.

Game changer.

So, you don’t get $6mm without a big vision. Wanna hear about it?

Spoiler alert: it’s really big, really innovative, and yes, it involves helping victims of domestic violence.Continue Reading

The Day After

They say that patience is a virtue. I don’t know who ‘they’ are, but I have never been entirely onboard with that. The reason is pretty simple.

Because nonprofit staff, board, volunteers, donors – I believe them to be society’s real heroes. Heroes like you. I consider you virtuous. But patient? Not so much.

Allow me to tease this out for you. For as long as you can remember, you’ve been unable to sit on the sidelines. You have been propelled to jump on the field. It may have started early on. Maybe you stood up for someone being bullied. Or shared your lunch at school with someone who said they forgot it (but you knew better).

I know you because I have been you. And in my work to fuel and feed your leadership, I feel this same sense of impatience. If I come up with one piece of practical advice in a private coaching session, I am a woman with a mission to share that advice in a blog post with you. Sometimes I can barely wait.

So I get it.

And I know you do too. Impatience fuels you, doesn’t it? In a way, it’s your superpower. It drives you to advocate for a cause, right a wrong, help a neighbor, level the playing field, fight for what is fair and just. Patient? Not you. Otherwise you might have sat on the sidelines instead of jumping on the field. This kind of work DEMANDS impatience.

Yes, impatience is your superpower.

Just not today.

Today, the day after a Presidential election that is too close to call, you need patience. And a big healthy dose of it. You went to bed not knowing. You woke up not knowing. And we are in for more not knowing.

It’s uncomfortable and unsettling. I’m sorry. I know you don’t live easily in this space. Me neither.

So my post today is not long and not complicated. I’m writing it because it might help you. And if I write it down, maybe I’ll help myself too. Because I’m struggling with staying patient today.Continue Reading

No Virginia, Development Directors Don’t Do ALL the Work

development directors

Hello my fellow nonprofit superheroes! Today, let’s take a very brief quiz.

There’s just one question.

Please read the following statements and put a mental check mark next to any you’ve heard somebody say. If you’ve heard something close, that counts too.

____ Board member: “We finally have a development person! Wonderful! Now they can stop hounding me for money!

____ Board recruiter to prospective board member: “Yes, technically there is a fundraising obligation, but don’t sweat it. We have an awesome development person.”

____ Development Committee Chair: “Our primary role is to monitor the fundraising efforts of the staff to make sure we hit our goals.”

____ Lead Program Officer: “My development director wants me to go out on an ask? Doesn’t she know how busy I am???

____ Executive Director: “I don’t get it. Why is my new development manager always at her desk? Shouldn’t she be out asking for money?

Ok, quiz time is over. Just the one question. I meant it.

So how many check marks did you make? More than one?

If you checked any of them at all, you have some rather unreasonable expectations for your development directors and I have a few important thoughts to share with you.
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Should This Organization Have Applied for PPP Funding?

ppp funding

Once upon a time in the land of COVID-19, there was an Executive Director who had to decide whether to apply for funds through the Payroll Protection Program (PPP).

Primarily, PPP funding offers small businesses and nonprofits a certain number of weeks of payroll as a loan (that may end up being forgiven by the government). It’s been invaluable in the nonprofit sector and has kept many doors open.

This E.D. has a large budget and no cash flow problems. In fact, the organization has a cash reserve. A gift from a family foundation for a sizable amount seems very promising.

But who knows what to expect? A fall gala projected to generate substantive revenue is in question. Like all nonprofits, there is so much uncertainty.

You may already have decided this org should NOT have applied for PPP funding. But there’s more to this story. And I’ll get into that in just a moment.

First, here’s what I want you to do.

Send this post to your board members as a pre-read for an upcoming board meeting. Ask everyone to be prepared to discuss. What would they do? Why? This will become incredibly instructive for your board about how decisions are getting made.

Alternatively, use this as a centerpiece of a leadership team meeting to dig into the role of the team in decision making.

OK, with that, let’s get into the full story…
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How Nonprofits Can Take Advantage of the 2020 Election Cycle

Listen up! The 2020 election presents a HUGE opportunity for your nonprofit. Here’s how to take advantage of it.

Let’s Play the New Year’s Eve Game!

favorite posts 2016

It’s nearly time to light a menorah, decorate a Christmas tree, do both or neither. You’ll spend time with family or with your chosen family. You will be nearly forced to stop working because the whole world slows down in the last week or two of each year.

At some point in these next few weeks you’ll have time to reflect – to consider who you were and what you accomplished in 2019.

I know. I know. You’ll say, “I can’t believe it. Wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day?” You might utter a few sentences that start with, “If only I…..” And, of course, given the political climate, there will be some jaw dropping and eye rolling.

Perhaps you will use my favorite phrase of 2019. “I can’t even.”

That came in pretty handy every time I read the news.

But I’d like to suggest that you play The New Year’s Eve Game at some point. It’s a very simple look back on the year. You need a way to capture a list of no more than 10 things.

List the 10 biggest things you did this year that make you really really proud to be a nonprofit leader.

That’s it. Just ten things. The biggest things to you – they don’t have to be earth shattering – they can be a small thing that is actually a really big thing. Review them closely, own them. Maybe when they feel right, write an email to your staff and board with your reflections about the list and thank them for the role they played in making that list possible. Let them all know how grateful you are that their passion and determination found its way to your organization. And that their fingerprints are all over each item on the list.

That email will mean the world to them.

Speaking of lists, I have one too. It’s a list of the blog posts I wrote in 2019 that my readers – people like you – seemed to like the most.

It’s not the same kind of list but it does give me pause to reflect on how lucky I am. Over 1 million views of my posts this year supported your work. And in this very crazy and kinda ugly world, I saw thousands of nonprofit leaders – board and staff – working to create a sense of fairness and beauty in a world that often feels painfully lacking in both.  And that makes me feel lucky indeed.

So holiday reflections, a few words of advice, and a list of posts folks found most useful this year. If you missed some of them, it’s a good time to catch up. I hope they help you.

Happy Holidays from a not-so-secret admirer.Continue Reading

The Best Nonprofit Career Advice I Ever Got

nonprofit career

What’s the best career advice you ever got? I really want to know!

It turns out I have a pretty mixed track record when it comes to giving career advice. A story for another day.

But you know who gives the best career advice?

My wife.

The advice she once gave me is a perfect example.

There I was at Showtime. Seemingly happy and successful and yet there was something gnawing at me. But I was clueless.

Until my wife offered the best career advice I have ever gotten.

“You would be a great nonprofit executive director.”

Not something I had ever considered but she made a clear case. “You have natural leadership ability, innate management ability, and you care really deeply about gay rights.”

She could not have been more spot on. A career move that was personally and professionally transformative.

It also began my nonprofit career.

So back to my original question. What’s the best career advice you ever got?

I decided to ask some real experts.

You might know I host a Facebook group for board and staff leaders called Your Thriving Nonprofityou should totally join us there if you haven’t already. This group – presently almost 30,000 strong – is definitely thriving!

A member of the group, Kersh Branz, asked a similar question.

142 comments later, here’s what I thought was the best nonprofit career advice I read…Continue Reading