Small Nonprofits Are Anything But Small

small nonprofits

There is something wonderfully unique about small nonprofits. Sometimes they are one-person shops – not a lot of bureaucracy. There is often a camaraderie – together as a community you are fighting for clients, for their needs, for what is right and just.

Here’s what I have learned. The only thing small about a small nonprofit is its size.

But with that size also comes some unique challenges. Maybe you recognize some of these in yourself or your organization?

  • Your mission is bigger than your bank account
  • You believe you can’t ever take a vacation because if you missed even just a few days all the work would literally stop
  • You have an overwhelming feeling that everything rests on your shoulders but still think it’s easier to try to do everything yourself then ask somebody for help. Who would you even ask?
  • You feel frustrated about your inability to get the word out given your limited resources and time
  • Your board isn’t stepping up or is made up of the wrong mix of people. Or they mean well but they just don’t know what to do next.

Just this week, I got an email from an Executive Director of a small nonprofit – the board voted to close down the organization because of its inability and skepticism about raising money.

Board and staff leaders of small nonprofits throw their hearts and souls into the work, feel totally responsible, wildly overwhelmed, and far too often like the “man behind the curtain” – the imposter behind the Great and Powerful Oz.

And there’s another thing that makes it especially tough for a small nonprofit. Not a dime for outside help. No coaching, no consulting, no supportive community. Little opportunity to learn from others, to secure a mentor and feel more competent, in control and less alone.

It’s time to do something about this. Here’s what I have in mind…

Continue Reading

10 Truths Every Board Member Should Know

new board member

Let’s say you’ve just joined a nonprofit board. You’re flattered. You really love the work the organization does. You have a general sense of the role of a board member – something about ‘governance’ and yes, you probably heard the word “fundraising.”

But you’re also thinking to yourself: I bet I don’t know half of what being a new board member entails. Or even, what did I get myself into?

And now let’s say your organization has a harried Executive Director (this may be redundant) who really should have put together a strong board orientation but there just wasn’t time. And maybe the board members who recruited you soft-peddled fundraising or time commitment or all of the above.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Today I’d like to share a list of things I wish I could tell every new board member and every old board member.

But first I just want to say that if you do it well, it will be…

  • More work than you anticipated
  • More responsibility that you may have understood
  • A bit more frustrating that you considered

But most importantly, it will be a rewarding joy and privilege of the highest order.

So with no further ado here are the 10 things I think every new board member should know and understand.Continue Reading

How to Know When You Are Overdoing It

overdoing it

One of my early forays into therapy was in 1997 when I became the Executive Director of GLAAD. I remember my first day in my new therapist’s office and of course she asked, “Why are you here?” My answer came quickly. “I like to solve problems for people – I’m a helper – but I’ve gone overboard. Now I feel like I have to take care of all the gay people everywhere.” 

I bet many of you feel this way. Not necessarily about gay people. But about all the cats who haven’t been adopted, or the community center you know would benefit so many, or the marginalized groups you lobby for, or the communities of faith you support with your work.

It’s a lot of pressure. And as I have been known to say, a profound privilege.

I wish I had the antidote for the tremendous pressure and overwhelming responsibility.

I don’t. And I’m really sorry I don’t.

I know I have written posts and recorded podcasts about how to manage it but ok, I’ll say it. I am highly imperfect.

I pulled a fortune from a fortune cookie a few years back. I keep it with me. It kinda said it all. “The best advice to follow is the advice you give to others.”

My team will tell you I’m frequently overdoing it. I feel like so many people are counting on me. I remember thinking about all the gays and it would stress me out. Now staff and board leaders of 1.5 million nonprofits? OY. And that’s just here in the U.S.

It takes its toll. I work at the expense of my hobbies, my health, my relationships.

Crazy, right? People I don’t know take priority over my loved ones.

And so my wife and I (just the two of us) spent the last two weeks at a health boot camp. It wasn’t fun. And I am abundantly aware that only Type A workaholics select ‘vacations’ of this sort. Well, and also folks whose health is at risk. My wife and I check both boxes.

We reset our health. We ate without salt, sugar and oil. We were up at 6:30 am daily. An hour of cardio, an hour of strength training, an hour of yoga and then lectures about what happens to your body with age, with stress.

I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned. Few folks will have the privilege of spending two weeks as we did but I can share the lessons. Some of them are personal – most of these unflattering. Some more global – educational and hopefully helpful.

And while I write about these lessons from my own perspective (female of a certain age) they apply to all of us.Continue Reading

How to Be a Great Board Member

how to be a good board memberYou never know whom you are going to sit next to at a bar mitzvah. I had the great fortune of sitting with an older woman who, for decades, has seen board service as a part of her life’s mission.

Clearly, I liked Gloria immediately.

Then, when she told me she never misses my blog posts, I liked her even more.

After we finished kvelling about the bar mitzvah boy, we discussed her current nonprofit.

“I serve on a very challenging board”, Gloria said. She began to describe her board challenges. She was right. Challenging.

When she told me about what she was doing to improve her board, I was impressed. Gloria was smart and clearly understood the big problems facing the organization.

  • An E.D. who saw the board as meddlesome
  • A board that was in fact meddlesome (well, not really in a bad way… just over-involved in minutiae)
  • Board members accustomed to playing the role of staff on small, grassroots boards that were now on the board of a larger organization with a staff of 30 and did not adjust their roles accordingly
  • A board chair that was not leading

But then Gloria told me a story about something that happened at a recent board meeting, and it hit me. There’s a key problem that Gloria failed to mention.

The problem… is Gloria.Continue Reading

3 Tools Every Remote Staff or Board Member Needs

remote

Shh… I’m going to let you in on a little secret about Joan’s business while she’s not paying attention… Let’s keep this between you and me.

I’ll start with what you probably already know – Joan is a busy woman. Really busy.

It’s kind of amazing how much she gets done.

In addition to writing this blog, she has an uber-popular podcast. A gig on a weekly network television show. A best selling book. An engaged (and free) Facebook group called “Thriving Nonprofit.”

She consults nonprofits and coaches a few lucky individuals. She’s a keynote speaker at major nonprofit events.

Plus, she recently launched the Nonprofit Leadership Lab where nearly a thousand leaders – staff and board – are getting much needed and ongoing mentorship, training, and support. Joan creates much of the content for the Lab and is a constant presence in the Lab’s community.

[As an aside, we’re opening the doors to the Lab again soon. If you’re interested in learning more about it or joining the waiting list, click here.]

So yeah, she’s busy.

She’s able to do all of this because she has the right people on her bus.

But here’s something you might not know. For the most part, her company is “virtual.” What does that mean?

My daughter tells me to never use Wikipedia as a source (that’s what they taught her in school) but she doesn’t read the stuff I write, so…

Wikipedia says a virtual organization is “an organization involving detached and disseminated entities (from employees to entire enterprises) and requiring information technology to support their work and communication.”

In the nearly five years since Joan first hired my company to help her launch her business and build her brand, we probably haven’t been in the same room more than ten times. In fact, we worked together for more than six months – quite successfully – before we ever met in person. And that only happened because Joan invited me to guest lecture for her class at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oh yeah… did I mention that on top of everything else, Joan is also an adjunct professor at an Ivy League university? Busy.

It has become increasingly common for any organization to have remote staff and run virtually.

And when it comes to nonprofits, it’s in the DNA. After all, even if you don’t have remote employees (and you probably do) board members don’t typically work at nonprofit HQ.

Several folks in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab recently asked if we could recommend the best tools to help facilitate communications and project management when people aren’t in the same physical space.

And so today I’m going to share with you the three most important tools we use at Joan Garry Consulting, all of which are quite affordable.

Each of these tools can have a big and positive impact at your nonprofit.Continue Reading

Lessons on Creating a Legacy

creating legacy

Far too often, Matthew O’Reilly would sit in the back of an ambulance, rushing a patient to the hospital but knowing full well that the patient wasn’t going to make it. And the patient knew it too.

Often, the patient – a complete and total stranger – would look Matthew in the eye and ask the simple question: Will you remember me?

I saw Matthew’s moving TED talk live in 2014 and his words have stayed with me. They were heartbreaking.

Many nonprofits are started by families who have lost loved ones, often as a result of a tragedy, a health issue, a violent crime, a terror attack. Far too often, these loved ones were taken far too soon.

And so today I want to introduce you to two folks, Kari Pepper-McKeone and Todd Crawford. Both started nonprofits following a personal tragedy. You really need to hear their stories.

They have lessons to teach those who stand in similar shoes. And that’s a whole lot of us at some point in our lives.

Kari’s and Todd’s stories can help us make sense of those times in all of our lives when we ask ourselves these questions. How can I make sure that some good comes from this tragedy? How do I make sense of this? How do I create some kind of legacy?

Or the question that so many have asked Matthew O’Reilly.

Will you remember me?

Continue Reading

10 Nonprofit Blogs You Should Be Following

nonprofit blogs

Thank you for being a reader of my blog. I am so grateful that my posts resonate with you and so many other nonprofit leaders. Truly.

But this blog is hardly the only one you should read. There are a whole lot of really smart and terrific folks in the nonprofit sector that have an awful lot to share. And they write great nonprofit blogs.

So today I want to share with you 10 nonprofit blogs that are written by other people that you ought to be following.

But there really are a lot more than 10 great nonprofit blogs out there! Which ones should I mention? And so, I decided to get a little bit of help.

Last month, I launched The Nonprofit Leadership Lab, an online membership site for leaders of small to midsized nonprofits that want to take their nonprofits from “messy” to “thriving.” The Lab offers ongoing education, support, and community. We have nearly 1,000 members currently and registration will open again before too long so stay tuned. If you want to be notified when the Lab is opening again, you can jump onto the waiting list.

The Lab members teach me as much as we offer them. If I have a question, I post it in the Lab community and voila – an embarrassment of riches in terms of ideas and insights. The road absolutely runs both ways.

And so I decided to ask the Lab members to share their favorite go-to nonprofit blogs.

Here are the 10 they mentioned the most…Continue Reading

5 Ways to Expand Your Pool of Donors and Volunteers

expand donors

Do you ever feel like you’re always fishing in the same pond?

This week I gave a speech at the JDRF national conference in Chicago.

I learned some powerful stuff. For example, 1.25 million people in the country are afflicted with Type 1 Diabetes, or “T1D,” and there are 40,000 new diagnoses annually, largely in children. It changes their lives and their families’ lives forever.

Something about the conference felt like a family reunion. It kinda was.

Now I’m not saying that everyone there had a family member living with T1D but a heck of a lot did.

Here were hundreds of men and women, fierce advocates for the eradication of T1D. Wonderful people.

But when you are too insular it’s a big problem. Nonprofits must think more broadly about who to engage in their work and the challenges being insular can create.

I spoke to the Chief Development Officer and the page is beginning to turn. There is a growing realization that if you want to raise the kinds of funds necessary for critical research and for lobbying elected officials to push for more government funding, you simply have to fish in more ponds.

A lot of folks feel stuck in this way. They know how to ask the usual folks to volunteer their time or give money. But not how their nonprofits can expand the pool.

Pool… ponds… sorry for mixing my metaphors. But they just both work so well.

Here are five ways you can expand your pool of donors, volunteers, staff members, and board members too.Continue Reading

How to Keep the Right People On Your Bus

Right People on the Bus

I love working with schools. One of my favorite types of clients.

First, it happens that I like kids. Though – as an aside – the folks who work in management at schools tend not to actually deal with the kids all that often.

But there’s another reason I enjoy it so much. It’s because they do extremely important work, but there’s a structural issue that comes up over and over and makes things deliciously messy.

And you know I like to help clean up nonprofit messes!

What’s the structural issue? It’s that when teachers get promoted to become department heads, often they have never really been taught how to be good managers. They get promoted because they were rock stars at teaching. But that’s not the same thing.

Sometimes a young teacher-rock-star-turned-department-head with no experience managing now has former department heads reporting to her! Messy.

So in the spirit of school, I’m going to turn to one of our favorite metaphors in the nonprofit world… the bus.

I am not sure why the nonprofit sector uses the ‘bus’ as a metaphor so often. We have to ‘get the right people on the bus.’ We have to have a plan in case the executive director gets “hit by a bus.”

I blame Jim Collins for popularizing the term “on the bus” in his book, Good to Great. But it probably goes back further than that.

It’s not that we all love buses so much. School bus rides were loud, and without shock absorbers, nauseating. And then there are commuter buses and the bus drivers who seemed to have learned that the goal was to make the ride more miserable by hitting the brakes as hard and as often as they could.

The only people that ever seemed to have a lot of fun on a bus were the members of The Partridge Family. (And if not for copyright issues, that would be the image for this post).

But for whatever reason, we seem to be stuck with the bus. So let’s play the hand we seem to have been dealt.

Have you ever felt like you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of incompetent “do-nothings” and you always have to do everything yourself. At least if you want it done well? Maybe you don’t have the right people.

Board members don’t typically get performance evaluations and neither do volunteers. For staff, I do hope you do something that is constructive with each person each year.

But now I want you to throw all these people together on your bus. Metaphorically. Regardless of category.

And I’m going to show you:

  1. That your bus may be way better than you think
  2. A quick and easy way to assess the folks on your bus
  3. Actionable steps to make your bus a whole lot stronger and make sure you keep the right people in their seats.

OK, watch your step boarding the bus. Let’s do this.Continue Reading

A New Resource for Nonprofit Leaders

Nonprofits are messy. You may have heard me say that before.

And if you’re a leader at a nonprofit, you know that it takes a village. It’s impossible to do it all on your own… even if you ARE kind of on your own. And so many nonprofit leaders I hear from do often feel alone, overwhelmed, and awfully frustrated in their jobs.

But I truly believe that if you stepped up and took a leadership position at a nonprofit, you’re a superhero. And like any superhero, you need your Lois Lane or Mary Jane Watson. Your Justice League or Avengers… A group of fellow superheroes and supporters in your corner.

And that’s why I’m SO excited today to announce the launch of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab!

I created the Lab to help nonprofit leaders like you – both on the board and the staff – with the ongoing education, support, and community you need to thrive.

And if you could see my email inbox, you’d see how badly the sector needs this.

WHAT IS THE NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP LAB?

Rather than write a long blog post explaining what this is all about, I whipped up this fun animation. It’s just a few minutes long.

 

I hope to see you in the Lab!

I invite you to learn more and see if the Lab is right for you at http://nonprofitleadershiplab.com.