Holiday Gifts for Nonprofit Readers

holiday gifts

Nonprofit leaders impress the heck out of me. Not gonna lie.

I call them superheroes for a reason. They raise money, recruit and engage board members, design programs, manage staff, and there are dozens of other important responsibilities they juggle.

But there is one thing that nonprofit leaders make time for that truly surprises me.

Wanna guess?

OK, time’s up.

The answer: THEY READ.

Nonprofit leaders are readers. They look for and consume books for the express purpose of thinking about their work in a smarter way, managing their time, and understanding what leadership is really about. They strive to be really really good at their jobs.

For this reason, we run quarterly book clubs in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab (my online membership program). Members are hungry for resources and always on the hunt for the “thing” that will solve a problem or improve performance.

So is there someone on your gift list this year who works for a nonprofit or is a dedicated board member or volunteer? Need some help finding holiday gifts?

Look no more. Any or all of the following books would be perfect to place adjacent to a box of Chanukah candles or under the glow of the family Christmas tree.Continue Reading

How My Recent Vacation Changed Me

vacation

I just had a real honest-to-goodness vacation. I’m still pinching myself.

Not one week. Not even two weeks. Three and a half weeks. Away. Not checking email. Not writing this blog.

And it wasn’t just the length of time that was remarkable. We traveled halfway around the world. The trip of a lifetime to Australia and New Zealand.

I learned a few things during my vacation. More than a few. Really important things that I need to share with you. They are kinda “Dorothy wearing the ruby slipper things” and I believe they will mean something to you. So, stay with me.

But I’ll start with a few basics.

There are five sheep for every one person in New Zealand. The genius behind the Sydney Opera House actually never saw it completed. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is just as thrilling as you might imagine (and they should call it something more than ‘great.’ That’s SO not a big enough word.)

The whole kangaroo with the joey in the pouch – it gives you goosebumps. And yes, everything in New Zealand looks like a set from Lord of the Rings (actually, I believe every nook and cranny of New Zealand was a set element from Lord of the Rings).

And lastly, Jupiter has moons and Saturn has rings. I saw them with my very own eyes.

But I need to tell you the biggest lesson I learned. And it does not require a trip halfway around the world.Continue Reading

Stop Feeling Guilty For Wanting to Work Less

A nonprofit executive director client of mine is headed out for vacation next week.

Re-read that sentence if you don’t mind. Note that the word “executive director” and “vacation” appear in the same sentence. Without the word cancel.

So we are headed in the right direction. Then I ask the key question. “Will you be checking your email while you are out of the country?”

The answer is pretty typical: “Maybe just a few times a day, but that’s all. I’ll definitely work less.”

Like I was supposed to offer a round of applause. Like “that’s all” is evidence of a remarkable commitment to self care.

She received no applause from me.  

“That’s all.” Let’s tease that out, shall we?  

  • That’s all… Because I don’t trust anyone else to take care of things?
  • That’s all… Because I have to demonstrate that I work really hard all the time?
  • That’s all… Because I’m a “pleaser” who has trouble saying “no”?
  • That’s all… Because just the thought of focusing on my own well-being makes me feel tremendous guilt?

I’m going to dive into this issue – this sense of guilt so many nonprofit leaders have about any kind of self-investment. It’s time for some tough love from Joan.

Continue Reading

The Best Book I Read This Past Year

useless meetings

Useless meetings? I have had my share. Bet you have too.

Back in my corporate America days I would find myself sitting in meetings that were just a pure waste of time.

Maybe the meeting was poorly led. Or the convener liked to hear herself talk. Or there was no agenda. Or the meeting got awkward for any number of reasons.

Later, as a nonprofit board member, I left board meetings thinking I could have called in, put the phone on mute and checked Facebook. I had learned nothing that I had not read in the written packet.

My technique for dealing with useless meetings? I called it “wood grain analysis.” My technique for disappearing from the room. A nice close look at the patterns and an opportunity to make mental lists about the work I should be doing.

And I’ll confess. I am certainly not immune to this problem here in my consulting shop. I have let staff members drone on (I did not want to hurt their feelings or embarrass them in front of colleagues). I have raced into meetings unprepared to lead it and pulled some agenda out of thin air.

We have all done it.

But during a recent break I discovered the antidote to this syndrome, and I felt compelled to share it with you.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

The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Nonprofit Leaders

nonprofit leaders

You are a nonprofit leader. Likely a type-A kind of person – pretty accustomed to getting 95’s on your book reports.

It’s one of the reasons you have historically found yourself in leadership positions – when there’s a need for someone to be in charge, it’s like a reflex you cannot control – up goes your hand.

You are also a learner. You always want to get better at your job.

Maybe there was a book report (or in your case a board report) you felt was like an 85. Not a grade you are accustomed to. You look for books or podcasts to hone your skills, manage your time, become an even more awesome leader than you already are.

In 1989, Stephen Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I mustn’t be highly effective because I didn’t read it until I decided to write this post. It has been a best seller for THIRTY YEARS.

Is that crazy or what? Thirty years.

So I figure he must be on to something. Thus, with a ‘tip o the hat’ to Mr. Covey, I’d like to share with you my own version of this: The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Nonprofit Leaders.Continue Reading

The 5 Pillars of a Thriving Nonprofit

thriving nonprofit

There’s a word I hear from nonprofit leaders more than any other.

Can you guess what it is?

It’s not inspired, lucky, or meaningful. I wish!

It’s also not frustrated or burned out. Thank goodness!

Here it is… the word I hear more than any other from nonprofit leaders….

Overwhelmed.

Ok, that’s probably not a big surprise. Leading a nonprofit can feel completely overwhelming. And the biggest reason is that it can be hard for nonprofit leaders to wrap their heads around all the things they need to attend to.

One of the more popular posts I’ve written was called “The 14 Attributes of a Thriving Nonprofit”.

Sure it was popular, but what was I thinking? Fourteen attributes? Really?

Fourteen feels like an awful lot of things to worry about. I’m not sure I helped anybody feel any less overwhelmed.

But here’s the truth. If you look a little bit closer you’ll see that in reality there are only five things… five pillars… that a healthy and thriving nonprofit handles really well.

Just five.

Get these five things right and your nonprofit will soar.

So are you ready to lighten your load? Feel some weight come off your shoulders?

Let’s dive into the five pillars of a thriving nonprofit.Continue Reading

7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

burnout

Riddle me this Batmen and women… What’s the number one issue nonprofit leaders ask me about?

Here’s a hint… It has nothing to do with a disengaged board.

You figured it out, right? After all, it’s in the title of this blog post!

Burnout.

How do I avoid it? I know I should take better care of myself. I know in my heart that I will be more effective if I am not running on fumes, but I can’t get my head to execute.

Sound familiar?

It sure does to me. I work incessantly. And so when I get asked about this, I feel like I don’t exactly have a wellspring of credibility.

So I decided to ask friends and colleagues and share some of their easy and terrific ideas with you. I’ve made them available as a free download.

––> Download 7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

But…

Before you have a look, take this quick quiz to see if you are in desperate need of self care.

Don’t worry. It’s short. I know how busy you are…Continue Reading

10 Creative Ideas for Nonprofit Staff Retreats

nonprofit staff retreats

Nonprofit staff retreats are really important. They’re a chance to step away from your regular day-to-day stuff and focus on the bigger picture. To remove yourself from the normal distractions.

They are also a significant investment of time and energy (and sometimes money). You should plan them with intention and creativity, and engage the staff in the design.

Think about the best staff retreat you’ve ever attended. I bet there was some creativity thrown into the mix. That keeps things interesting.

So if you’re looking for some creative ideas for your next staff retreat, well, I’m here to help.

Do not worry for a nanosecond. No ropes courses or “let go and we’ll catch you” exercises to be found here.

Actually the help is not coming from me alone. I’ll offer a few, but I cannot take credit for all of them. I dropped into the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my online membership site that supports board and staff leaders of small nonprofits around the world to ask for their creative ideas.

No surprise. They had some very, very good ones. These are very good people who are changing the world in ways large and small.

So here you go. Try a few of them on and see how they fit.Continue Reading

Nobody Warned Me About the “Executive Director 20”!

I knew what she meant the moment she hit “post.”

executive director stress

If you’re unfamiliar with the “freshman 15,” it’s all about that first year of college…. Too much pizza and beer. A lot of stress. And 15 pounds gained.

So this is the “Executive Director 20”.

Nothing in the Thriving Nonprofit Facebook group (my free Facebook group for nonprofit staff and board leaders which you can join here) has ever struck a chord quite like this. 371 likes and counting.

Plus, more than 80 folks weighed in with comments (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) I have a feeling they’ll resonate with you.

  • “Per year?”
  • “Or the one meal per 14 hour day which may be at 9 pm and will be fast food, because it’s easy and you’re starving. The rest is sugar and caffeine.”
  • “Grrreaattt. another job perk!”
  • “It’s all the drinking”
  • “Make it 40 for me!”
  • “Totally real. I think it’s from being chained to the desk for 40+ hours per week, stress, and being to tired to cook good food when I get home. Chipotle has been very accommodating since this job started.”
  • “Don’t forget the ED blood pressure meds & antidepressant lol or is that just me?”
  • “For me, first time ED following the founder… ED 35, migraines, bronchitis, six months chronic back pain, some other stuff I can’t remember. Trying to get some sort of handle on managing the stress and pressure, and loneliness.”
  • “The comments on this thread are crazy. I really thought it was just me.”

While some of these comments illustrate the sense of humor that I really appreciate in nonprofit leaders, others border on heartbreaking. Folks are working their asses off (hope I’m not offending anyone but that feels like the real deal phrase) and working themselves into the ground.

I get it. I know I work too hard too. Just the other day I wrote the words “self care” and for some reason my iPhone autocorrected to “self scare”.

Clearly, many of you are stressed out beyond all reason. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.

But what can we do about it?

Continue Reading