Ep 93: Why Even a Good Executive Director Needs a Coach

nonprofits are messy

Professional development for nonprofit leaders – luxury or necessity? In this podcast I talk about how maximizing impact requires an investment in support.

What are the myths about the role of a coach? Some of those myths may stop a high performer from asking for help and hence stand in the way of an Executive Director being the best they can be.

Funny how it’s a given that sports players need coaches, but what about the CEO of a teen suicide hotline who may have every instinct and attribute, who may oversee dozens of volunteers, respond to texts, answer phones and literally saves lives… How important is it for them to be supported, sharpen their skills, and maintain their A game?

In this podcast I bust some of the coaching myths out there and learn the various ways to explore opportunities to grow and develop leaders; recognizing it’s not only about how good you are but how good you can be.

In this podcast

  • How critical is professional development for those folks trying to repair our broken world?
  • Attributes of a good coach
  • Attributes of a good leader
  • Do rockstar leaders need coaches too?
  • How does a long tenure affect your need for professional development?
  • Is planning a transition a solo sport?
  • What if you can’t afford a coach?Continue Reading

Bonus Episode: Small But Mighty Nonprofits (with Laura Zielke)

nonprofits are messy

Most folks are utterly clueless about the size and scope of the nonprofit sector. In fact it’s not really thought of as a sector. The 2019 report by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University reports nonprofits account for roughly one in 10 jobs in the U.S.! 

Remember this includes churches, synagogues homeless shelters, community centers, organizations that advocate for those for whom the playing field is not level. 

Our guest today is Laura Zielke who knows quite a lot about small and mighty nonprofits. As Director of Member Experience for the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, Laura is daily supporting hundreds of founders, executive directors, board members, and senior staff of small to midsize nonprofits worldwide. She shares her perception of their superpowers and kryptonite.

About Laura Zielke:

Laura Zielke is the Director of Member Experience for the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, a membership site specifically designed for Executive Directors, CEOs, Development Directors, Founders, Board Officers, and other senior staff of not-for-profit organizations worldwide. 

Laura is a successful entrepreneur and fierce advocate for small nonprofit organizations. Throughout her adult life, she has volunteered at a variety of nonprofits donating website design/administration, marketing strategy, and communications consultation. For more than 20 years, Laura has worked with for-profit and nonprofit leaders to clarify their message and spread the word about their businesses/organizations both in print and online. Although she has served on nonprofit boards, Laura’s true passion is supporting, encouraging, and caring for leaders of small (but mighty!) nonprofits on a daily basis in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab.

Laura works closely with Joan Garry, the Lab’s founder, to ensure members have regular access to experts in the sector and top-quality training resources—both of which are crucial for leading organizations from messy to thriving. She has privately coached a number of members through tense transitions, sticky situations, and unexpected challenges.

In this podcast

  • Jaw-dropping statistics about the nonprofit sector
  • What are the superpowers of small nonprofits?
  • How does proximity give smaller nonprofits an edge in crisis management?
  • Are close relationships in small nonprofits more of a superpower or kryptonite?
  • How does board member experience factor into the success of a nonprofit? 
  • What does it take to move the mission forward? 
  • What are the vulnerabilities of leaders of small nonprofits? 
  • What are some of the challenges that a smaller organization simply is not equipped to handle? 
  • How does learning what you don’t know and gaining the support of peers transform not only the leader but their organization? 
  • Finding community
  • What does nimbleness have to do with it? 
  • How burnout and loneliness can be kryptonite
  • Lack of money, need for control, misinformation and other stumbling blocks Continue Reading

Ep 92: The Lonely Nonprofit Leader (with Glennda Testone)

nonprofits are messy

You’ve probably heard of “Imposter Syndrome”. But have you heard of “Loneliness Syndrome”?

Today I tackle the case of the lonely nonprofit leader.

The stakes are high and so much rides on your shoulders. High stress and low resources plus the need to not share your vulnerabilities with certain audiences. Herein lies a perfect recipe for Loneliness Syndrome.

My guest, Glennda Testone, has found the cure. Glennda joined New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center as its first female Executive Director in 2009. We discuss her experiences as a nonprofit leader, including empathy, trust, and the root cause of loneliness.

What kind of toll does loneliness take? How can we overcome it and find like-minded people that can really help? What’s the antidote?

Tune in to hear more.

About Glennda Testone:

Glennda Testone joined New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center as its first female Executive Director in 2009. Since then, she has strengthened The Center’s programs for adults, youth and families, ensuring all LGBT New Yorkers have an opportunity to live happy, healthy lives. Testone recently helped launch a new Center brand and website, celebrated 30 years of service by the organization and completed a $9.2 million capital building renovation to transform the LGBT community’s home on W 13 Street. Testone also spearheaded the launch of innovative and groundbreaking programming at The Center for LGBT youth, transgender community members and LBT women.

Testone came to The Center from The Women’s Media Center (WMC) where she served as the Vice President for three years. Prior to the WMC, Testone was the Senior Director of Media Programs for the national Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Testone has appeared on CNN, FOX News and MSNBC, and has been quoted in outlets including Vogue, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Time Out and W Magazine.

She is a member of the Ending the Epidemic Task Force, which works to implement Governor Cuomo’s plan to end the AIDS epidemic in New York. Testone also sits on the CenterLink Board, the Executive Board of the City University of New York Institute for Health Equality and is a member of the Bronx Borough President’s LGBT Policy Task Force. In 2005, Testone won Syracuse University’s LGBT Foundation Award for Outstanding Alumni. In addition, she has served on the NYC Commission on LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth and was a Tenenbaum Leadership Institute Fellow at Milano, The New School for Management & Urban Policy.

Originally from Syracuse, New York, Testone has a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism and Philosophy from Syracuse University and a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies from The Ohio State University. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her partner and two French bulldogs. Follow Testone on Twitter @Glennda_Testone.

In this podcast

  • How loneliness is affected by the level of trust you have with your peers
  • How can a nonprofit leader overcome Loneliness Syndrome?
  • When you’re small, how do you find peers groups? Where can you build connections? How can peer groups help you test out ideas?
  • What is an E.D. group?
  • How to avert difficult transitions
  • How to handle confidentiality
  • The role and value of coachingContinue Reading

Ep 91: The Diversity Problem in Our Sector (with Diahann Billings-Burford)

nonprofits are messyNonprofits have a diversity problem. Big time.

One reason for this is that we’re not doing a good enough job developing a diverse leadership pipeline, especially when it comes to leaders of color (and in particular, women of color).

The Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead Study says people of color in the ED/CEO role have remained under 20% for the last 15 years. Another survey says unwelcoming racial environments account for 30% of attrition. The list goes on.

Eliminating racial discrimination, championing social justice and improving race relations is part of the role of the nonprofit CEO of RISE, Diahann Billings-Burford.

Diahann characterizes the challenges associated with women being raised to be humble in a society that has implicit biases. What is the trajectory that often leads women of color to an early exit from their leadership positions? What can we do to change that? And how can an organization make and embrace change?

I believe this is one of the most important issues facing the nonprofit sector today.

Tune in.

About Diahann Billings-Burford:

Diahann Billings-Burford, who has spent her career working in and lifting up diverse communities, is CEO of the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality (RISE). Billings-Burford most recently worked at Time Warner, as executive director, cultural investments, vice president of the Time Warner Foundation and for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as the city’s chief service officer, where she headed NYC Service, a division of the mayor’s office, engaging more than 1.3 million New Yorkers in a range of volunteer activities.

She serves on the National Board of Directors for buildOn, as well as on the boards of Philanthropy New York and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation. Billings-Burford earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Yale University and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

In this podcast

  • What does it take to be taken seriously as a leader?
  • The trajectory for women of color who secure nonprofit leadership positions
  • Start your journey with listening and assessing. Once you’ve found the ways you could improve what challenges arise?
  • Speaking truth to power
  • Being introspective and recognizing the value of making decisions that may feel painful 
  • How an overarching vision and plan work toward managing changeContinue Reading

Ep 90: Why People Don’t Donate (and What You Can Do About It) (with Phil Buchanan)

nonprofits are messyThere are so many people out there who want to make a difference in the world. Your nonprofit is a vehicle for them to do just that.

So why can it be so hard to get people (or foundations) to open their checkbooks?

One reason comes down to a simple word… trust. If they give you their hard earned money, how can they trust it will do the most good? How can you show potential donors why your organization is the perfect vehicle to satisfy their desire for impact?

Is it simply about providing more data? Showing a graph of donations spent on programs versus overhead? (Hint… it’s not).

Phil Buchanan, founding chief executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) tells us that defining high performance within nonprofits has a bit of a template.

In this podcast hear more about strategic giving and why you don’t necessarily need to be business savvy. Learn how you can achieve long term flexible commitments in an organization and communicate effectively so donors are confident they will see their dollars go farther.

Whether it’s data systems to track outcomes or finding ways to be in close touch with your mission, the importance of benefiting from knowledge that is widely available and educating your donors will help you execute your organization’s philanthropic goals.

About Phil Buchanan:

Phil Buchanan is founding chief executive of the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP), a nonprofit that conducts research and advises the largest foundations in the country, including Ford, Hewlett, Packard, MacArthur, and Rockefeller. He is a columnist for the Chronicle of Philanthropy, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Financial Times. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts.

In this podcast

  • How can your dollars have the most impact?
  • Philanthropic performance measurement in different fields cannot be compared apples to apples.
  • The issue of competition in a sector and why this is not a zero sum game.
  • How the desire for credit and attribution can trip you up.
  • Why focusing on overhead undermines efficacy in pursuit of goals.
  • What are the seven pillars of effective philanthropy.Continue Reading

Ep 89: Nonprofit Partnerships, Mergers, and Acquisitions (with Wendy Foster)

nonprofits are messyFor more than 100 years, Big Brothers and Big Sisters has created a massive “army” of champions and advocates at the ready (“bigs”) to support an equally massive army of kids (“littles”) for whom these adults are a lifeline.

Today, Wendy Foster, CEO of BBBS of Massachusetts Bay tells us about her work with nonprofit mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships.

Successful change management requires a vision of the end-result. In this podcast we discuss the ways in which the power of the mission and donor relationships work together to affect sustainable change, how to structure an equitable leadership after a transition, and how to merge different organizational cultures.

Find out how corporate partnerships can succeed and when they might fail. Learn the origin story of the successful partnership between Uber and Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

If you partner with any other organization in any way, shape, or form, this is a podcast you don’t want to miss.

About Wendy Foster:

Wendy Foster is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate in New England with a 70-year history of helping under-resourced children thrive through transformational one-to-one relationships with adult mentors. Since becoming CEO in 2009, she has led the agency to significantly increase revenue and the number of children served, with plans to double service in the next phase of growth. Foster is nationally recognized for her leadership and expertise within the Big Brothers Big Sisters nationwide network and has more than three decades of executive leadership in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Before transitioning to the non-profit sector in 2005, Foster served as a senior executive with America Online (AOL) and held management roles at a division of Time-Warner. She is an active leader in a number of community organizations, a member of the Massachusetts Women’s Forum and a Big Sister to Little Sister Shanell.

In this podcast

  • Transitioning from corporate to nonprofit.
  • Lessons learned in nonprofit mergers.
  • Being at the center of the wheel and how a collective effort is pivotal to execute on a great strategy.
  • Lessons learned on mitigating cultural differences between organizations.
  • How identifying what is needed from leadership in a local community contributes to success in leadership structure and balance.
  • Should the larger of two entities ultimately be in control?
  • How to make sure both parties are strengthened by a corporate partnership.
  • ERGs – The value of affinity groups in building relationships with corporations and make organizations stronger and more diverse.Continue Reading

Ep 88: Everything You Wanted to Know About Planned Giving (with Judi O’Kelley)

nonprofits are messyPlanned giving, which involves a major gift made either during the lifetime or at the death of the donor, can empower people to make larger charitable gifts than they could from regular income. This can be a fantastic way for nonprofits to raise significant funds and can greatly benefit both the organization and the donor.

Our guest, Judi O’Kelly, Chief Program Officer for the National LGBT Bar, teaches us the three things necessary for a donor to decide to participate in planned giving. She also tells us how to budget, who is involved, and what needs to happen for you to develop a strong planned giving initiative.

Learn who is most likely to engage in planned giving and who on your staff should be involved.

About Judi O’Kelley:

Judi O’Kelley is the Chief Program Officer for the National LGBT Bar. Judi joined the Bar’s team in 2017, and works on a broad range of programmatic initiatives including building the Bar’s law school affiliate program and supporting the work of the Family Law Institute (a joint initiative with NCLR). Judi brings nearly 25 years of legal and political experience working for equality within the LGBT community. While in law school, she worked against anti-gay ballot initiatives in Oregon; after graduating and entering private practice, she moved to Georgia and worked on behalf of local and national LGBT groups as a pro bono attorney, drafting and lobbying for successful non-discrimination protections and domestic partnership benefit programs for several Georgia municipalities, including Atlanta and Athens. In 2004, she served as President and Campaign Chair for the campaign for the Athens, Georgia area in opposition to Georgia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions, and continued grass-roots organizing and local political work after the campaign. Judi also was the lead plaintiff from 2004-2006 in the case of O’Kelley v. Perdue, in which Lambda Legal, the Georgia ACLU, and the law firm of Alston & Bird sought to strike down Georgia’s anti-marriage amendment. Judi then spent over eleven years on the staff and in senior management of Lambda Legal in roles ranging from Southern Regional Director, to Director of Life Planning & Planned Giving, to Deputy Director of Development, to Director of Leadership. Along the way she moved to Seattle, Washington, where she is involved with a number of local LGBT groups as the Bar’s West Coast outpost.

In this podcast

  • How the Executive Director and board chair must work together
  • How do you inspire skeptics?
  • Are you aware of organizational barriers and if so are you addressing them?
  • Must you have a planned giving officer? Can you afford one? What’s the ROI there?
  • Does the whole team need to be involved?
  • Does an organization have to be a certain size or age to be ready?
  • What questions might you ask your donors to help develop a lead base?
  • What giving levels are truly transformational for your organization and how do you reward and recognize at that level?Continue Reading

Bonus Episode: Nonprofit Workspaces (Joan Garry on the “Dear HBR” Podcast)

nonprofits are messyOriginally published on the Dear HBR podcast.

Does standard work advice not apply to you because you’re at a nonprofit? In this episode of HBR’s advice podcast, Dear HBR:, cohosts Alison Beard and Dan McGinn answer your questions with the help of Joan Garry, a nonprofit leadership consultant, the former executive director of GLAAD, and the author of the book Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits Are Messy. They talk through what to do when you’re trying to advance amid a leadership change, your job seems to change with sources of funding, or you’re unsure how to describe your work to people in the private sector.

Listen to more episodes and find out how to subscribe on the Dear HBR: page.

About Dan McGinn

Dan McGinn is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review. He is the author of Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed. He was previously a bureau chief at Newsweek.

About Alison Beard

Alison Beard is a senior editor at Harvard Business Review. She oversees the “Experience” section of the magazine, which guides individual managers in their careers. She previously worked at the Financial Times.

From Alison and Dan’s reading list for this episode:

Book: Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership by Joan Garry — “The single most important attribute of a nonprofit leader—board member or staff leader—the attribute that is most critical in helping you to untangle knots and the one that can move your organization from good to great—is joy.”

HBR: Nonprofits Can’t Keep Ignoring Talent Development by Libbie Landles-Cobb, Kirk Kramer, and Katie Smith Milway — “Some leaders fear that their leadership development investments will walk out the door. But recent CEB research found that staff members who feel their organizations are supporting their growth stay longer than those who don’t, because they trust that their organizations will continue to invest in them over the long term.”

HBR: Move to a Nonprofit? First, Ask Yourself Three Questions by Wayne Luke — “How does the work make you feel? Energized? Frustrated? Do you easily and naturally relate to the people you meet, both other volunteers and those representing the organizations? Have you reached a point in your life where the impact on people’s lives through what you do is more important than the professional platform from which you do it?”

HBR: Delivering on the Promise of Nonprofits by Jeffrey L. Bradach, Thomas J. Tierney, and Nan Stone — “Discussions about an organization’s intended impact tend to be iterative, inclusive (drawing in board as well as staff members), and incredibly hard. One source of difficulty: Legitimate needs invariably outstrip any single organization’s ability to meet them. So by clarifying its strategy and scope, the nonprofit is also determining what it will not do.”Continue Reading

Ep 87: True Confessions of a Five Star Board Chair (with Daryl Messinger)

nonprofits are messyI have met many first rate board chairs and even had a few during my tenure as an Executive Director, but my guest today is the entire package.

Daryl Messinger reflects on her 4-year adventure as the chair of the North American Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism. With a board of 200 representing the diversity of the Jewish movement in North America, she takes listeners through what it took to play what she calls the philanthropy sport.

We talked about goals, about shifting the culture of the board, about the unique nature of a board-CEO partnership when the CEO is a rabbi (and a Yankee fan), about managing crises, and about how to set your successor up for success.

My big challenge was to distill a highly successful four year tenure into a 35 minute podcast episode. There is a lot to learn and absorb.

About Daryl

Daryl Messinger is the Chair of the North American Board of Trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism, which leads the largest Jewish movement in North America. A dynamic leader with a track record of sustained involvement and success, she served as Chair of the Reform Pension Board, which serves Reform Movement professionals and has a total portfolio of more than $1.3 billion.

Daryl’s congregational lay leadership experience is extensive. She served, at the age of 36, as the youngest president of her then 1,100-member congregation, Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA. In addition, she has served on the board or as the chair of various other Jewish and secular not-for-profits.

Professionally, Daryl has had various roles in both communications and investment management organizations. She served as executive vice president and strategic consultant for WeissComm, an integrated marketing and communications firm, from 2004 until retiring in 2009. Earlier in her career, Daryl was an investment manager and partner of various funds managed by Glynn Capital Management, an investment advisory firm. She lives in Palo Alto, Ca. with her husband Jim Heeger and various grown children who occasionally boomerang back to their childhood bedrooms.

In this Podcast

  • Why leaders need to make introductions, identify people with capacity, and reach into their own pocketbooks
  • The value of paying more than lip service to shared leadership
  • Learning to delegate
  • Team building activities that foster understanding of your “big why”
  • How much does engagement grow resources – and how do you define resource?
  • The difference it makes to see yourself as a philanthropist
  • Which is more important, culture or strategy?
  • How do you define meaningful board engagement?
  • How uniformity of message contributes to cohesion across an organization
  • How important is it to set an example internally in order to reach bigger investors?Continue Reading

Ep 86: An Artful Approach to Social Media (with Robin Cembalest)

nonprofits are messyRobin Cembalest has more than 48,000 followers on Instagram (and growing). I just got started pretty recently on Instagram, so that feels like a lot of followers to me.

And so I was very interested to learn how Robin has built such a following as a social media and editorial strategist “for the art world and beyond.” She has a great feed!

But even more so, I was especially interested to find out how my fellow nonprofit leaders (that’s you!) can learn to bring a more artful approach to your social media outreach, to the huge benefit of your organizations.

We discussed the most important elements for a successful social media strategy, how to best use social media to tell great stories, and how the various social platforms differ in their messaging and audiences.

I sure learned a lot. I know you will too.

About Robin Cembalest

Described by artnet as “one of the leading lights of art-world social media,” Robin Cembalest is a journalist and editorial strategist. The former longtime executive editor of ARTnews, she has published widely in The Wall Street Journal and many other publications, and maintains her popular @rcembalest feeds on Instagram and Twitter. In her consulting business,

Robin Cembalest Editorial Strategies, she works with art-world clients to design and implement editorial and digital content. She also founded and directs the Niboristas, a mentoring and networking group for art-world professionals.

In this episode

  • Often, a picture has to tell a story by itself
  • Instagram as a diary of events
  • Building a huge following requires more than content alone
  • How to work within people’s attention span?
  • What language makes the reader want to know more?
  • How to design your message so the piece is demystified and inviting
  • What do the printed page and digital media have in common? Where are they truly different?
  • How do you get people to click on your link?
  • If you are not in the art world but instead you run a homeless shelter, how can the story of your mission be told through social media?
  • Who needs to be on Facebook? What is it useful for? Is everyone leaving?
  • The followings you build in one career will stay with you – keep that in mind
  • How far ahead of a launch or event do you need to build your platform?
  • What is the role of the board in social media?Continue Reading