5 Signs It’s Time to Quit Your Job

quit your job

My wife Eileen once noted that she’d never heard a group of people talk more about wanting to leave their jobs than executive directors. Eileen does not suffer fools gladly. Her answer was simple. “Why don’t they all just get new jobs?”

Crazy, huh?

But why? Isn’t it a privilege to run a nonprofit organization? I always thought so. And I wasn’t a volunteer; I actually made a living. Of course I could always go find another job if I didn’t like the one I had.

Today I answer two questions: 1) Why is it that E.D’s might hate their jobs and 2) What are the tell tale signs that it might actually be time to do something about it?Continue Reading

Dear Joan: The Board Fired the CEO and Took Over!

“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.

board fired ceo

First off, thank you to the many folks who write with ideas for blog posts and who reach out with questions. The volume is quite overwhelming and I’m thinking a lot about how I can reach more people to offer the advice (and shot in the arm) they need. I’ll have more to say on that soon….

Today, I picked two different – but related – questions.

The first comes from the member of a senior staff who is concerned about the role of the board after a CEO is fired and the second comes from a CEO working through what appears to be dysfunctional relationship with her board chair.

What’s the common thread? It’s the relationship between the board and the staff. What it can look like if roles are not clear, if there is a lack of trust, if the board is not clear on its role, if the CEO does not lead.

One of the most important theories I have – as an author and a consultant – is that a thriving nonprofit should be like a twin-engine jet. Each engine – board and staff – must operate well independently and together.

Far too often, that is not the case. See Exhibits A and B below. Because I like to illustrate what the Board–CEO relationship does look like when it’s humming, I offer Exhibit C – a “tip o’ the hat” to a beloved board chair.



Dear Joan: Our Board of Directors has recently fired the CEO of our non-profit organization. There were legitimate reasons, and I do not fault them for doing so. However, there are now 2 Board members who have taken power and are overriding our COO and CFO (who is also the Interim CEO) in all decisions. The Board has secret meetings and is not transparent at all. We are all worried that the organization is not going to make it under this takeover. Can a board take over like this leaving the staff powerless?

– One of the Powerless

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How to Keep Board Members Engaged Between Meetings

keep board members engagedExecutive Director: My board members left our last meeting so enthusiastically, with long lists of commitments and a real sense of excitement. What happened to them since then? I need them!

Board Member: That last board meeting felt really great. I had the opportunity to hear from the people our organization really touches. It was so motivating and inspiring. I left with a long list of commitments. Oy, the list. It’s still sitting here. What happened to me?

In just the last week, several readers have asked for a solution to this very problem. How do you keep board members engaged? Seems like a pretty widespread issue. I’m guessing this happens at your organization, right?

But be fair. We all know what happened to your board.


Life smacked them right in the face.

Remember – this isn’t their day job. Board members fit in their volunteer gigs when they can. That might not be convenient for your organization.

So you can’t be mad at them for the fact that life gets in the way.

But you can improve the situation. You can keep board members engaged. I’m going to tell you how.

I call it the “Goosebump-a-Week Solution”.

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7 Questions Every Nonprofit Should Be Asking Now

nonprofit questions

When Donald Trump became POTUS, the world changed. It’s no longer business as usual.

Nonprofits across the country have spent much of early 2017 trying to understand what this change means for them. Will proposed spending cuts impact the mission? Will non-governmental funders step up? Will there be more people in need?

Regardless of your political bent, whenever there is a big change it can feel scary. Even paralyzing.

Strong and smart leadership is needed at nonprofits now more than ever.

Towards that end, there are seven questions that every single nonprofit leader – staff and board – should be asking itself right now.

Here they are…Continue Reading

3 Ways to Overcome Fundraising Anxiety

asking for donationsTime for a little exercise. Don’t worry – this one’s easy.

You’re sitting across from someone at lunch. The person has an interest in your cause and you’re about to ask that person to make a $500 donation.

Write down one word to describe exactly how you feel.

I bet I can guess what you wrote…Continue Reading

How to Take Your Leadership Game From Good to Great

This post is adapted from Joan’s new book Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits Are Messy.

great leadership

Imagine for a moment that you chair the Executive Director search committee on your board. You’re in the final rounds with two very different candidates.

One is well known in your community and would bring gravitas to your organization. He’s known to be a great fundraiser, but finance and management skills are not his forte and his background in media – your sandbox – is slim.

The other candidate is from corporate America. She’s basically unknown in your sector but is strong in your sandbox and is known for strong management. She has zero fundraising experience.

Your organization is in financial trouble. It’s so bad you may not hit payroll next week. Plus, you owe a quarter-million dollars to vendors.

Who should you hire?Continue Reading

The New Executive Director Was a Fraud

imposter syndrome

Do you ever feel like a phony?

I don’t mean in the Holden Caulfield sense of the word.

I mean you have this nagging suspicion that even though you’ve obtained a position of real authority; even though you’ve seemingly accomplished a lot; it’s all a farce. You don’t really know what you’re doing. And everyone is eventually going to figure it out.

You’re a fake. A fraud. An imposter.

For some, this insecurity can become as debilitating as a physical illness.

But guess what? You’re not remotely alone. Practically everyone feels this way. I know I do, at least sometimes. This feeling is so common it has a name. It’s called “Imposter Syndrome.”

Imposter Syndrome became a “thing” in 1978 thanks to two psychologists who described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”

There are plenty of remarkably successful people who suffer from it. You can read this New York Times article to learn more about it.

It will sound familiar, I guarantee you.

I call it “the man behind the curtain.” The image locked in our brains of Toto pulling the curtain back to reveal the meek man from Kansas who was no wizard at all.

And yet he was.

And so are you.

And as a nonprofit leader, you cannot afford to let Imposter Syndrome detract from fulfilling your mission. Too many are counting on you.

So today I want to tell you my own story of dealing with Imposter Syndrome and offer you some thoughts about how you as a nonprofit leader – board or staff – can beat this “thing.”Continue Reading

My Book is Finally Done! Now What?

I can’t believe it! It’s finished! I just sent the final edits off to my publisher and it’s finally done!!!

I’m popping the champagne – and I want to share with you some lessons I learned that are useful for any nonprofit leader with too much to do.

(And I also want to ask your advice about putting together a special launch team to work with me on getting the word out – watch the video to learn more!)

So what do you think… do you want to be on my book launch team? If you have thoughts about it, or want to apply, please go to this page and let me know!

And also, you can download a free chapter of the book right now and also sign up for free bonuses if you pre-order. All the information is available at www.NonprofitsAreMessy.com.

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January 20: How to Lead in Uncertain Times


The word I hear lately more than any other is uncertainty.

Here in the US, every four years on January 20 there is a change of power. It comes with the awesome privilege of being part of this great democratic experiment called the United States of America.

In my lifetime as a voter, there have been plenty of times when the guy I voted for lost. In fact, that’s probably more the rule than the exception. And no, I didn’t vote for the man being inaugurated this week.

But this feels different. I am anxious in a way I never have been before. More uncertain. Less because of the “who” as much as the “how” and what all of it says about the world we live in.

In this, I know I am not alone. Not at my kitchen table. Not in my neighborhood and certainly not among nonprofit leaders I connect with every day.

And the anxiety isn’t just coming from those who didn’t vote for him. I know Republicans who feel uncertain as well. Sure, they voted for our new President. But they’re not entirely sure what to expect going forward.

There’s a lot we all just don’t know yet.

But this blog isn’t about politics. It’s about nonprofit leadership. And that’s what I want to discuss today – how nonprofits are navigating a world turned upside down.

I have questions. I know a lot of you have questions.

– Has there already been an impact on the way nonprofits are doing things?

– How are nonprofit leaders approaching the uncertainty strategically?

– What’s the best way for nonprofit leaders to lead those in their organizations that are feeling particularly anxious or vulnerable?

I asked some folks in the trenches – five wonderful and diverse nonprofit leaders across sectors – to share their thoughts about how they are approaching the uncertainty in their organization and to offer a piece of advice on how to contend with the unchartered waters ahead.

One important note. The uncertainty does not rest solely in what would be called “progressive” or “liberal” organizations. And the list below is hardly representative. I do hope that folks of all ideological stripes will weigh in with comments.Continue Reading

The Key to a Successful Performance Review Process

performance review

We all know this person. Let’s call him Jeff.

At a glance, Jeff appears to be a high performing staff member. Yes, his ego is out the wazoo (what exactly is a “wazoo?”). But he cares about his department and his own success. Jeff is super smart, maybe the smartest person in the room.

But also… Jeff is not a team player. He gets away with behavior that is intolerable by any standards because he delivers. And he does deliver. But Jeff also seems to enjoy crushing his co-workers like bugs.

So riddle me this…

Is Jeff a high performer? Without a formal and effective performance review process, how would he know? I bet he thinks he is a high performer. But truly, he is probably more trouble than he’s worth.

Maybe your nonprofit already does a performance review for each and every staff member. If so, great! But maybe you think they’re not super effective and could be handled better.

Or maybe you’re just not doing them at all for whatever reason.

Either way, I have some critical tips on how to give a performance review the right way.Continue Reading