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.


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.

Why Can’t We All Get Along?

get along

While I generally like sports, I don’t watch much basketball. Maybe the NCAA college tournament as it nears the end. Baseball is my game. Always has been.

My dad was a Little League coach and I was his dugout sidekick. And then I went to school at Fordham in the Bronx, a stone’s throw from Yankee Stadium. I know a lot about the game. And about statistics.

But it’s basketball that actually captures my favorite statistic. The assist.

Simply put, you get statistical credit for setting the shot up, for making sure the ball gets to the open player who is free to make the shot.

Why don’t nonprofit leaders incorporate this mindset into their work? After all, most of you are in the business of assisting.

‘Assisting’ is actually a rather big theme in my How To Build A Thriving Nonprofit online workshop.

The workshop just started, it’s free, and it’s intended to help any leader at a nonprofit – board or staff – that can use an assist or two. It would be wonderful if you’d participate.

Here are just a couple of the comments people have left so far about the workshop. There are a whole lot more like these:

If you’d like to join us, click here to register for the workshop.

Connected to the workshop, I also started a Facebook group. And it’s been AMAZING! The assist percentage in the group is OFF THE CHARTS.

An ED posted her new logo and 25 folks (and growing) offered terrific feedback – about the logo itself, about getting board buy in.

Another leader asked, “When is it ok to say ‘no’ to your board?” You can’t imagine the quantity and quality of those responses.

So let’s talk about what happens to your organization when you start to emphasize the ‘assist’. And I’m thinking about two kinds of assists… 1) inside your organization and 2) within your sector or community.

But first, let’s discuss the five kinds of folks you meet a nonprofits.Continue Reading

Dear Joan: HELP! Our Entire Staff Quit!

“Dear Joan” is an ongoing series where Joan responds to readers who send emails asking for nonprofit advice, practical solutions, or just general therapy (Joan tries not to make direct comments on a reader’s psychological state — that’s called practicing without a license.) You can send your questions to Joan by clicking here.

staff quit

As part of my upcoming free workshop called How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, I created a Facebook group where I’ll be running Q&As during the workshop. More than 3,000 people have already joined!

The quality of conversation in the group has been terrific. Members have already helped each other:

  • Find 501c3-friendly financial institutions and great VOIP phone systems
  • Improve each other’s elevator speeches
  • Find resources to help with strategic planning
  • Prepare for a new ED position
  • Overcome burnout
  • Create systems to stay on top of grant deadlines, and so much more

And that’s just some of what’s happened in the last 24 hours.

(If you’d like to participate in the free workshop and Facebook group, click here.)

So for “Dear Joan” this week, I want to answer some of the messier questions posed in the group.

Let’s get to it…Continue Reading

Should You Run Your Nonprofit More Like a Business?

corporate vs nonprofit leadership

Is Family Feud still on TV? Saturday Night Live does a regular spoof but otherwise I’m not sure.

You likely know how the show works. People are asked a question and they have to guess the top answer given in a survey of 100 people.

So for example: “Name something your parents still give you.” The #1 answer was “money.”

I would have answered, “A headache.”

But I digress. Let’s play Family Feud!

Here’s the question…

Name the #1 reason nonprofits are different from companies.

This is tougher than you might think. When I ask people this directly, I always get a different answer. There are so many differences, the #1 answer may not be clear.

But I feel very strongly about the answer. In a moment, I’ll let you know what I believe it is ­– and why. But first, let’s talk about how they are the same.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….


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 wrote in the last year 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.

I’m going to dig into all five pillars in great depth during my upcoming free workshop called “How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit” which starts on May 10. If you’d like to join me in the workshop you can register here. I hope you will.

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

Small Nonprofits Move the World

small nonprofitThis blog is intended to help nonprofits of all sizes – big, small, and in between.

But working at a small nonprofit can be especially challenging.

I get a lot of emails from people at smaller nonprofits with questions about how to overcome their challenges. Just in the last week, I got emails from:

  • An Executive Director who can’t possibly take a vacation – ever – because if she missed a week all the work would literally stop
  • A sole staff member that could have oh-so-much more impact if only there was remotely adequate funding
  • A new ED who feels undermined by the founder and is thinking about quitting but feels conflicted because he cares so deeply about the mission
  • A senior member of a board that has been spending the nonprofit’s money on a PR contract with the board chair’s wife with sub-par results

There are more. A lot more.

Now, these challenges can happen at bigger nonprofits too. But in many ways, smaller nonprofits have it tougher.

Why? Because larger, well-funded nonprofits have the capacity to get outside help. They can hire consultants, fundraising experts, have their board get expensive ongoing training, spend for professional development opportunities.

Small nonprofits? Not a chance.

It’s a huge problem. And I’m committed to doing something about it.

I urge you to read all the way through so you can see what I have in mind.

Continue Reading