Ep 27: Confessions of a Terrible Board Member (with Eileen Opatut)

nonprofits are messy

What if a prospective board member looks great “on paper” but doesn’t pan out as the five-star board member you’d expected?

Is it their fault? Yours?

Is it possible to anticipate when it just won’t work?

Eileen Opatut has been an unsuccessful member of several boards and can help shed light on the experience from the board member’s perspective.

Today, Eileen and I try to answer some of these questions and tease out the subtle (and not so subtle) things that you can do to nurture and develop a board member with potential. We also discuss how to recognize when it was never going to work in the first place.

About Eileen Opatut

Eileen Opatut is a TV programming executive turned realtor/developer. She spent 8 years at the helm of The Food Network. Eileen is deeply passionate about a variety of causes and has served on several nonprofit boards. She’s smart, strategic, generous, and takes initiative.

Sounds like the perfect board member, right? And yet, Eileen has never once had a positive board experience.

In this episode:

  • Why being intentional is so critical for finding and bringing on prospective board members.
  • How a good orientation process can make a huge difference.
  • How much board communication is too much? Too little?
  • Characteristics that help somebody be successful at work but are detrimental to board service.
  • What a failed board member thinks you should look for in prospective board members.
  • The value of having non-board members on your board committees.
  • Advice on what to consider if you are approached to be on a board.
  • The importance of interviewing — for both the board prospect and the organization.

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Ep 26: Building a Culture of Optimism (with Steve Gross)

nonprofits are messy

Two brothers start a business selling t-shirts. They start with just $78 in the bank. They live out of a van and eat PB and J for 5 years. They aren’t just selling t-shirts. They are selling optimism.

The business takes off and really speaks to people who haven’t had the easiest road in life and yet still recognize that life is good. Yup, this is the origin story of the company “Life is Good”.

These brothers bring in their friend, Steve Gross; a social worker, who has seen the power of optimism to heal and bring joy to children who’ve been through tough times. Together, the three of them establish a foundation to harness the power of optimism to those who need care and those who do the caring.

We can all learn from this model how to avoid burnout, how to bring joy back to our work and how to connect more deeply with one another. You’ll love this podcast and its timing is perfect.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross is a social worker and the Founder, Chief Playmaker, and “Chief Executive Optimist” of the Life Is Good Foundation. He has devoted his career to the service of our most vulnerable children. Steve’s talents have been called upon to respond to some of the greatest catastrophes of our time, including the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and the 2012 Newtown school shooting. At the heart of his work, Steve helps others access their own playfulness so that they can build resilience and bring greater joy, connection, courage and creativity to their work and their lives.

Steve can also be seen as a panelist on NBC’s GIVE, a reality show that shines a light on nonprofits and the power and responsibility of philanthropy. I met Steve through this production – you may know that I am a regular panelist on the show as well.

In this episode:

  • The power of optimism.
  • The importance of narrowing the focus of your organization.
  • How to be a Playmaker.
  • Bringing the joy back to your work.
  • How passion, drive, and commitment can sometimes get you in trouble.
  • How to avoid burnout and nurture organizational optimism.

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Ep 25: Year End In T-Minus 30… (with Seth Rosen)

nonprofits are messy

That feeling…

It sets in just as Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close and you wake from the tryptophan haze. It’s something like panic. Actually it’s A LOT like panic.

You are a nonprofit leader – paid or unpaid. Maybe the chair of the development committee or the lone paid development staff member. And here’s what you know: most nonprofits see 30% of their revenue come in the door in the last month of the calendar year and 10% of THAT in the 48 hours of the year.

Have you planted sufficient seeds? Will you hit your year end numbers? Are you ready? Rather than play the game I call “Coulda Woulda Shoulda,” in this episode, Seth Rosen and I will offer you tips, tricks, and practical advice so you can play the new game I am calling “Can, Will, GOTTA!”

About Seth Rosen

My guest today is not really a guest. He’s a friend and also a colleague in my firm and I’m so glad to have him back for the 3rd time on the podcast.

Seth happens to be the happiest nonprofit consultant you will ever meet. He loves raising money, he is smart as hell, and he is addicted to the Real Housewives franchise.

This last little fact is something I do not hold against him.

In addition to blogging monthly, Seth has an exemplary career as a fundraising executive, most recently at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the world’s first and largest AIDS services organization – with a $30 million budget. His impressive resume includes work in education and global philanthropy through Malaria No More. His passion was the law and he has a law degree but he learned after practicing law for a bit that he had a love and a gift for raising money.

Today he shares this gift with us.

In this episode:

  • What nonprofits can do starting right now to make the most of end-of-year fundraising
  • At this point, is it too late for 2016?
  • The best ways to coordinate staff and board members around year end fundraising
  • How to compete with all the other fundraising requests donors get at this time of year
  • What to do if the cash is not in the door by 12/3

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Ep 24: Corporate Support the Right Way (with Julie Hirshey)

nonprofits are messy

The National Football League is one wealthy business. All the big sports are.

From football to basketball to baseball, athletes make money and team owners make money. And lots of it. Teams are worth billions, players pull in salaries in the millions…

As someone who thinks a lot about under-resourced nonprofits, there sure are a lot of potential philanthropic dollars here. A lot of potential for corporate support.

But in this episode you will learn about how sports teams — and corporations in general — have so much more to give than just money. Let’s think outside the box today.

Who is Julie Hirshey?

Julie Hirshey is the Director of Community Relations for the Philadelphia Eagles. Julie works to execute the team’s mission to serve as proud partners of the Philadelphia community. In this role, she leads the team’s efforts to support generations of Eagles fans and works to partner with non-profits throughout the region. She knows a LOT about capacity building, partnership, and the value of human resources.

I think you’ll really enjoy what she has to say and I hope it shifts your thinking about corporate support.

In This Episode:

  • How the role of sports in philanthropy has changed in recent years
  • What the Eagles do for philanthropy beyond giving tickets and autographed memorabilia
  • When building a wall is a good thing
  • Why the Eagles actually DO cover overhead expenses… enthusiastically!
  • Why corporations would want to build relationships with local nonprofits
  • How the right conference table can make all the difference

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Ep 23: Unlocking the Mystery of Foundation Funding (with Molly de Aguiar)

nonprofits are messy

Are you funded by a foundation? Do you want to be?

A lot of nonprofit folks seem to find foundation funding something of a mystery. What do funders look for? How do we find a foundation that is a good fit for our organization? My guest today is Molly de Aguiar of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation – a real-life foundation officer — and she will help us navigate this mystery.

Who is Molly de Aguiar?

Molly is a treasure at the Geraldine R Dodge Foundation here in my home state of New Jersey. The Dodge Foundation has supported leadership innovation and collaboration for a better New Jersey for the last 40 years. I’m all for that!

Molly herself leads the Informed Communities program – a program that supports a wide range of projects and ideas that explore the future of local journalism, focusing on collaborative reporting, community participation, and creative storytelling. Molly also leads the Dodge Foundation’s efforts to promote the value and impact of philanthropy in New Jersey. Lastly, she writes a great blog called “Philanthropy Sketchbook.”

In This Episode:

  • How to write a great grant proposal
  • Why you should be honest about the challenges your organization is facing, even when asking for money
  • What metrics are foundations looking for
  • The biggest reasons foundations say no
  • How to do your homework
  • The trend toward general operating support
  • What does good communication with your funder look like?

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Ep 22: The Art and Science of Asking for Money (with Brian Saber)

nonprofits are messy

Asking for money can be hard for many people. But why? Why do so many people find it terrifying to ask for money, even for organizations they care deeply about? My guest today has developed something I think is smart and innovative that really helps folks overcome this anxiety.

Brian Saber has spent his entire career asking for money for nonprofits. He’s done it all; from telethons, to university fundraising, to being an Executive Director.

Brian is a sought after trainer, coach, and consultant, both in the US and abroad. He developed major donor campaigns, conducts feasibility studies, creates training programs, and coaches top-level staff to take their fundraising to the next level. With his co-founder Andrea Kihlstedt, Brian founded Asking Matters, a consulting firm that trains people how to ask for money and motivates them to do well.

He helps people get away from feeling emotionally overwhelmed and gets right to the art and science of the ask.

Brian does not find fundraising terrifying – I don’t either. Actually, we love it and find it incredibly rewarding (and, yes, we are both sane). We will share with you how you can overcome your fears and be passionate about raising money for the cause you believe in. Have a listen and then put Brian’s great advice into action in your own fundraising efforts.

In This Episode:

  • What to do if you have no fundraising experience whatsoever
  • The 4 different asking styles
  • Why you might do your best fundraising with a partner
  • How to create an institutional relationship with your donors (and why that’s critical)
  • Rules for board fundraising

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Ep 21: The Happy Healthy Nonprofit (with Beth Kanter)

nonprofits are messy

Working at a nonprofit can feel like an express train to Burnout-land. How do we avoid what seems like an inevitable crash and stay mindful and healthy while doing such passionate work? That’s the subject of today’s podcast.

You know who is all over this topic? Beth Kanter. You know, one of the most well-known authors and bloggers in the nonprofit space. THAT Beth Kanter. She even has a new book on this very topic. So I reached out and she graciously agreed to appear on the podcast.

If you’ve worked in nonprofit for any length of time, you probably know exactly who Beth is. If not, her bio is below.

The scope of this subject is really broad. So Beth and I tried to narrow it down to the things you’d most like to hear about. Beth helps us with some straightforward and actually doable ideas about how to take care of ourselves while still doing important work in an often stressful environment.

About Beth Kanter

Beth Kanter is an internationally recognized thought leader and trainer in networks, social media and data. She is dedicated to the nonprofit space and particularly to helping organizations build the capacity to increase the scope and impact of their work.

Named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of Business Week’s “Voices of Innovation for Social Media,” Beth is the author of The Networked Nonprofit books as well as her new book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout.

If you don’t subscribe to her blog or follow her on social media, you will as soon as you’re finished listening to this podcast.

In This Episode:

  • The five spheres of self-care.
  • How to create habits that help prevent burnout.
  • Some quick wins you can do right now to get on the path to better self-care.
  • Four kinds of Executive Directors and their impact on wellbeing in the workplace.
  • Ways Executive Directors are inadvertently making things much harder for their staff.
  • How to implement “tech wellness”.

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Ep 20: Volunteer If You Want to Live Longer (with Pamela Hawley)

nonprofits are messy

We all know that volunteering helps a multitude of people in need, but did you know it brings amazing benefits to the volunteer too? Harvard did a study that determined that volunteering helps people live longer and healthier lives with 38% fewer nights spent in the hospital.

So if you want to live forever, become a volunteer!

I sought out Pamela Hawley, founder and CEO of UniversalGiving, to help us learn how to make volunteering a 5-star experience for all involved. UniversalGiving has matched more than $31 million worth of volunteer hours and has been featured on the homepage of Bloomberg, Oprah.com, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times; and has been acknowledged three times on Great Nonprofits’ annual Top Nonprofits lists.

Pamela is also a winner of the prestigious Jefferson Award.

The power of volunteerism is staggering. In this episode we discuss purpose, volunteering, and embracing the army of do-gooders that’s out there. Volunteering enriches the lives of the volunteers as well as the recipients of the good work they do. Let’s find out more about how to harness the power of volunteerism.

And as an added bonus, Pamela has an inspirational volunteer story that will literally give you goose bumps.

In This Episode:

  • What differentiates a good volunteer from a great volunteer?
  • How can we improve volunteerism?
  • Keeping volunteers both happy and effective.
  • What does success for your volunteer look like?
  • Investing in and grooming interns or volunteers to be leaders at your organization.
  • The volunteer skills that are the most in demand.
  • Tangible ways to show appreciation for your volunteers.
  • How to get people off the bench and onto the field.

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Ep 19: How to Give a Great Speech (with Elaine Bennett)

nonprofits are messy

We all know the difference between a great speech and a boring one. The one where you can’t wait to hear the end of the story vs. the one where you’re checking your phone.

How do you write and give a great speech that excites and inspires your audience about your organization? Today’s guest, Elaine Bennett, tells you how to do just that.

Whether you’re a staff leader, the development director giving a major donor pitch, or a board chair representing the organization, you need to be able to capture people’s attention and get them interested and curious about your organization.

In this podcast, Elaine Bennett offers really practical, actionable takeaways on how to improve your ability to give a truly great speech.

Who Is Elaine Bennett?

Elaine Bennett is an award-winning speechwriter who has worked with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (including Warren Buffett!) and has helped people in fields from financial and professional services to nonprofits and politics deliver better speeches.

She won the Cicero Award for best-written speech on diversity in 2011 for Barry Salzberg, the CEO of Deloitte.

She is so passionate about great writing that she started a coaching business, Bennett Ink, to help people create more of it.

Elaine’s stated mission is “To make the world more interesting one sentence at a time.” Elaine enjoys bringing unexpected touches to business speeches, using humorous anecdotes and bits of history to illuminate even the most serious topics.

She has a lot to teach all of us about delivering a terrific speech.

In This Episode:

  • The 3 elements of a great speech
  • A crazy connection that happens between the speaker and audience (hint: it involves brain waves)
  • 3 questions you can ask yourself to help you write your speech
  • The difference (with examples) between a gala speech that is “endured” vs. a memorable one people actually want to listen to
  • The 3 most common mistakes of speechwriters
  • How to overcome the curse of knowledge when writing a speech (or anything else)
  • It’s not enough to write a great speech… you also have to know how to best deliver it (Elaine gives advice on this as well)


Elaine prepared a special bonus for listeners of Nonprofits Are Messy. She wants to help each of you clean up and focus your communications, so she prepared a free guide that contains 5 specific tips you can use to help you write and speak more clearly and with more impact.

It’s called “Make Them Listen (To You!)

Request Your Copy Now

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Ep 18: Mission Control and Strategic Planning (with Liana Downey)

nonprofits are messy

Ah, strategic planning.

It seems like everyone views strategic planning with a sort of dread. I know I did when I was an Executive Director. Why? When you do it right, it’s game changing.

So how can we do better strategic planning without that sense of trepidation? How can we approach strategic planning in a pragmatic way that gets us back to our mission and helps us make the impact we set out to achieve in the first place?

That’s the subject of today’s podcast and I have an excellent guest to help us sort it out — Liana Downey.

Who Is Liana Downey?

Liana Downey is an internationally recognized strategic advisor, author, and speaker dedicated to social change. She founded the strategy group Downey and Associates to help organizations increase focus and change lives. In Australia, she led the nonprofit and government practices division at McKinsey and Company. Liana is currently teaching leadership and public service as part of the Masters of Public Policy program at NYU.

Liana knows all about strategic planning. She wrote a fantastic book on the topic — Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More and Change the World. She is an advocate and champion of making sure nonprofits and governments get the issue of focus and strategy right.

Hint: it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money or a consultant.

In This Episode:

  • Why is strategic planning so daunting?
  • Three reasons your mission gets out of control
  • An equation for measuring impact
  • When creating a strategic plan, how many years out should you look?
  • Why good planning doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money
  • How you can do it yourself
  • Why your plan might actually be better “half-baked”
  • Mistakes people make with strategic planning and how to avoid them
  • How to set “spine-tingling” goals that lead to “a-ha” moments
  • The importance of inviting people into your organization’s story and how that related to strategic planning

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