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

Ep 85: Managing Rapid Growth – the Story of charity: water (with Lauren Letta)

nonprofits are messyI (and many others) have long held up charity: water as a prime example of how a nonprofit does things the right way. Their growth and impact has been nothing short of remarkable.

But the actual story of how this organization grew so rapidly in the first place is fascinating, and a premier lesson for every nonprofit that wants to grow and scale. Especially when you consider that the org was founded in 2006 with $1,100 by a 31 year-old former nightclub promoter who knew nothing about nonprofits. charity: water has raised $360 million with a staff approaching 100.

And so I was so thrilled to invite Lauren Letta, the Chief Operating Officer of charity: water, to join me on the podcast. We discuss how to staff up, how to best approach hiring decisions, how to align values and create culture, and how a founder can scale an organization beyond a personal story.

About Lauren Letta

Lauren Letta is the Chief Operating Officer at charity: water. Departmental oversight is the crux of the COO role at any organization, but what makes Lauren’s role unique is the way she bridges seemingly disparate aspects of charity: water – from the engineering expertise of the water projects to the state-of-the-art technology used by website development and marketing teams – to work in tandem toward a single goal of bringing clean water to as many people as possible.

Lauren first joined charity: water in 2010 as a consultant, drawn in by the organization’s creative, startup-like approach to solving a humanitarian crisis. Since then, Lauren’s role has expanded to include overseeing major campaigns, special projects and production, and she has built a team and a culture that values excellence and remains as committed to its mission 12 years as it was on day one. Prior to joining charity: water, Lauren worked in fashion and events, managing global campaigns for brands like Warner Bros., Saks Fifth Avenue, and Swarovski. Outside the office, Lauren enjoys exploring the New York City pizza scene with her husband and young daughter.

In this episode

  • When it’s time for disruption and how it can inspire supporters
  • How to get the right people on the bus
  • How important are titles?
  • The value of humble confidence
  • Do you really need to formally restructure? When is it safe to do so?
  • Mirror mirror on the wall – what’s not working?
  • Why it’s important to make your recruiting process crystal clear
  • What does it mean to be a CEO/Founder and how to scale beyond a personal story?

Continue Reading

Ep 84: Passion, Conflict, Diversity, and Leadership (with Parisa Parsa)

nonprofits are messyBe careful what you wish for.

You want a diverse work environment. And you should.

But then you had better prepare yourself to develop the skills to manage the conflict that accompanies passionate and diverse points of view.

And for most of us, conflict is not fun. We avoid it whenever possible. After all, it’s triggering to be told you are wrong.

While normalizing conflict might sound counterintuitive, the Executive Director of Essential Partners, Parisa Parsa, says training and equipping leaders to welcome conflict and meet difficult conversations is a way to build capacity, become sustainable and is critical to growth.

Ok, so even if you agree with this concept in theory, how do you move from dialogue to action?

Have a listen. You will find that this podcast will offer tools, techniques and mechanisms to respond effectively to conflict and extend beyond your current comfort zone.

About Parisa Parsa

Rev. Parisa Parsa is Executive Director of Essential Partners, advancing the work of the Public Conversations Project.

Essential Partners’ mission is to offer concrete skills and facilitation to communities in divisive conflict over issues of belief, identity or world view, and works nationally and internationally to train facilitators and equip communities for constructive conversations and more effective collaboration across difference.

Before joining Essential Partners, Parisa served in many roles in nonprofit and religious leadership. As an ordained minister, she served in community based ministry with the UU Urban Ministry in Boston, the Faithful Fools Street Ministry in San Francisco, and as the coordinator for a group of urban social justice ministries known as the Urban Disciples. She for 10 years was the senior minister of First Parish in Milton, MA. Throughout her career, she has taught at seminaries and mentored secular and religious leaders. She currently serves on the board of Meadville Lombard Theological School.

Parisa is originally from Iran, and was raised at the intersection of Islam and Christianity, Persian culture and American norms. She enjoys mixes of people, ideas and arts that bring about both friction and harmony, and learning from the ways we can engage our differences in service of creative, life-giving solutions to the world’s problems. She lives in Arlington, MA, with her husband Enrique Silva and their two sons. Together they enjoy soccer, music and movies. When she can, Parisa loves getting out to the theatre or into the woods.

NOTE: When we recorded this podcast Parisa was ED and has since left to pursue independent consulting.

In this episode:

  • Conflict resolution or disagreeing with respect and shared purpose?
  • The implications of an increase in the demand for people to be seen and heard
  • The pressures of inclusiveness
  • Being with each other versus being right
  • Staying curious while engaged in conflict
  • How you define conflict affects how you react to it
  • Can you move forward on organizational goals while working on conflict resolution?
  • Naming the tensions and “gray areas” in the moment
  • What are the responsibilities associated with stating that decisions are richer with a diversity of perspectives

Continue Reading

Ep 83: You’re Doing Meetings All Wrong (with Priya Parker)

nonprofits are messyImagine for a moment that your next board meeting is both ridiculously meaningful and productive. Everyone is engaged and leaves knowing their next actionable steps.

Sounds pretty great, no?

Creating transformative gatherings is both the topic of my guest Priya Parker’s book and a necessary narrative for anything from effective meetings, to conflict resolution, to killer dinner parties.

Written out of pain, frustration, and anger at gatherings that did not achieve their purpose, this author and founder of Thrive Labs, has become well known for her book The Art of Gathering and for her TEDx talk on purpose.

So how exactly does the desire to belong and become drive the process of a meaningful gathering and how can an aware leader design for that? What creates transformative experiences that makes meetings worth having?

Whether you are planning a wedding, a staff retreat or a family reunion, our guest today offers us invaluable and actionable advice on creating successful gatherings.

About Priya

Priya Parker is a facilitator and strategic advisor. She is the founder of Thrive Labs, at which she helps activists, elected officials, corporate executives, educators, and philanthropists create transformative gatherings. She works with teams and leaders across technology, business, the arts, fashion, and politics to clarify their vision for the future and build meaningful, purpose-driven communities.

Her clients have included the Museum of Modern Art, LVMH, the World Economic Forum,, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the Union for Concerned Scientists, and Civitas Public Affairs.

Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Parker has worked on race relations on American college campuses and on peace processes in the Arab world, southern Africa, and India. She is a founding member of the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. She has been appointed a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Values Council and the New Models of Leadership Council. She is also a senior expert at Mobius Executive Leadership.

Priya is the author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters (Riverhead Books, 2018). She is passionate about helping people create gatherings in their work and life that are transformative and meaningful for the people in them. She is also the co-creator of the 15 Toasts dinner series format and I Am Here Days. Her TEDx talk on purpose has been viewed more than 1 million times.

Priya studied organizational design at M.I.T., public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and political and social thought at the University of Virginia. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, Anand Giridharadas, and their two children.

In this episode

  • The magic of purpose
  • The correct role of PowerPoint
  • What happens when meaning comes from things versus people?
  • Can simply sharing information be enough to make a meeting successful?
  • What is the essential question a meeting must answer?
  • How to achieve better gatherings
  • What to think about when tackling content and process
  • How important is it to frame a gathering with an agenda?
  • When people have competing agendas

Continue Reading

Ep 82: Helping the Helpers

nonprofits are messy

There are a lot of small nonprofits. In fact, roughly two thirds of the 1.5 million nonprofits (in the US alone) have budgets of under a million dollars. Nearly 25% are under $250,000.

In these past two years I have had the privilege of meeting and working with thousands of amazing nonprofit leaders and they lift me up. Every. Single. Day.

In a world that all too often feels mean, divisive and downright broken, these folks remind me that there are good people in the world. Really good people in the world, tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges.

In this podcast, I highlight the story of some of the organizations and amazing nonprofit leaders that I have the honor and privilege of working with inside the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my membership site for nonprofit leaders.

In this episode:

  • Compassion fatigue
  • Research based bridge building organization that provides baby carriers and educational programming as a public health tool
  • Preparing students for college and supporting the parents
  • Helping kids stay in their extended family environment in Uganda
  • The Nonprofit Leadership Lab community that supports amazing nonprofit leaders all over the world
  • Mobile food pantries across by providing hunger relief that comes to you (on a bus!)
  • Teachers using curriculum in conjunction with performances to build community and create social change

Continue Reading

Ep 81: How to Grow a Movement and an “Army of the Engaged” (with Rashad Robinson)

nonprofits are messy

The power of a nonprofit is the size of its “army of the engaged” and the power THEY feel to be engaged in the work. Your army consists of your donors, your volunteers, your board, your supporters, your staff, your advocates. They all play a role.

Sure, strong leadership can lead to strong impact, but that’s not sufficient. As a leader, to grow a movement you need to communicate a clear mission and build an environment in which the actions of your army can lead to real change.

In this episode, you will learn how Rashad Robinson, President of Color Of Change, grew his racial justice organization from a staff of 6, a budget of $650k, and a solid but underutilized email list, to a staff of 40, a budget of $7 million, and a real “army” of 1.4 million people who have been ignited into action. Rashad and his team have built a true movement and he is here today to share what he’s learned.

About Rashad Robinson:

Rashad Robinson is President of Color Of Change, a leading racial justice organization with more than 1.4 million members. Rashad designs winning strategies to build power for Black communities: moving prosecutors to reduce mass incarceration and police violence; forcing over 100 corporations to abandon the right-wing policy shop, ALEC; forcing corporations to stop supporting Trump initiatives and white nationalists; winning net neutrality as a civil rights issue; changing representations of race in Hollywood; moving Airbnb, Google and Facebook to implement anti-racist initiatives; forcing Bill O’Reilly off the air. Rashad appears regularly in major news media and as a keynote speaker nationally.

In this episode:

  • The key to scale an organization and grow a movement
  • Using the model respond, build, pivot, and scale
  • Theory of the ladder of engagement
  • About Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws
  • Passion + Infrastructure + Belief = success
  • Setting the right kind of incentive structure
  • How does your echo chamber affect your communications?
  • The value of playing well in the sandbox to push yourself from an innovation and quality control perspective

Continue Reading

Ep 80: Why is Change So Hard? (with Lisa Lahey)

nonprofits are messyNonprofits want to change the world in ways large and small. That’s what we’re all about. It’s why so many of us joined the sector.

And yet, when it comes to bringing change into our own organizations, it’s really hard!

To grow the capacity to affect self change, or introduce sustainable change in one’s organization, it’s imperative that we should recognize our natural immunity to change, the language we use, and how the resulting discourse can develop highly functioning teams.

My guest, Lisa Lahey, has, along with her partner Robert Kegan, been studying change for decades and is here to offer you tools you can use to introduce change and make sure it lasts.

Lahey claims there are three forces of nature that can impact our ability to develop, grow and transcend the status quo.

In a dynamic world where transition is often needed, (think leadership transition, new E.D., transforming your board, making changes to the roles and responsibilities in your organization) the ability to become a leader who is aware not only of what they say but how they say it will go a long way toward ensuring change is possible.

About Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey is Co-director of Minds At Work, a consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world, and faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

She teaches in executive development programs at Harvard University and Notre Dame, and she is regularly asked to present her work throughout the world, most recently in China, Kazakhstan, and New Zealand. Her seminal books, How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work (2001), and Immunity to Change (2009) have been published in many languages. Lisa has been on the faculty of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference, and had her work featured in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Sunday Business Section, Oprah Magazine and Fast Company.

Lahey and long-time collaborator Robert Kegan are credited with a breakthrough discovery of a hidden dynamic, the “immunity to change,” which impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors. This work is now being used by executives, senior teams and individuals in business, governmental, and educational organizations in the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. Lahey and Kegan recently received the Gislason Award for exceptional contributions to organizational leadership, joining past recipients Warren Bennis, Peter Senge, and Edgar Schein.

For the past several years, Lisa has served as a trusted advisor and executive coach to leaders in the private and public sectors worldwide. A passionate pianist and hiker, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.

In this episode

  • How to recognize certain “defaults” that lower the likelihood of miscommunication
  • What does entropy have to do with organizations and how can it be mitigated?
  • Why is change so hard?
  • What is a language leader?
  • The effect of your inner dialogue on how you communicate outwards
  • Are we aware of how we talk?
  • The danger of limiting assumptions
  • The language of complaint and commitment
  • How is constructive or deconstructive criticism implicit in communication?

Continue Reading

Ep 79: How a Film Festival Impacts Community Building (with Evelyn Colbert)

nonprofits are messyIn the 34 years my wife and I have lived in Montclair, NJ, we have watched arts and culture blossom. That’s due in large measure to those who call this place home. People like my guest, Evelyn Colbert, who is one of the founders of the Montclair Film Festival.

A film festival is a different kind of nonprofit, with a lot of upfront energy and intensity. If it catches on, a festival can develop a year-round presence.

I wanted to know more about this rather unique nonprofit form, to understand the unique gap it fills and what I consider to be its superpower – its ability to build community. As the Executive Director of the SF Film Festival said, “Cinema is one of the most powerful community organizing tools we have.”

I thought you might like to know more about this too.

About Evelyn Colbert

Evelyn McGee Colbert is a founding board member of Montclair Film and currently serves as the President of the Board of Trustees. Ms. Colbert is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Montclair Kimberley Academy and is also a board member of the International African American Museum in Charleston South Carolina. She is an independent film producer and the Vice President of Spartina, a production company that she co-owns with her husband, Stephen Colbert.

Ms. Colbert was formerly the Director of Development for the Remains Theatre in Chicago and, prior to that, the Director of Development for the Drama League of New York. She is a graduate of the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York and holds a B.A. in English and Theatre from the University of Virginia.

She lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her husband, Stephen, and their three children.

In this episode:

  • What kind of town welcomes a film festival?
  • What is the requisite background to be on the board of an arts festival?
  • Who’s on first (development, capital campaign, committees…)?
  • The power of storytelling in cinema to build empathy and promote conversation.
  • Can a small town provide sufficient accommodations for a film festival?
  • What does a high-functioning board look like?
  • What are the challenges of sudden growth?
  • Finding new revenue sources that allow for stability.

Continue Reading