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

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, meetup.com, 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