Ep 30: Nonprofits Are Messy… So What? (with Tim Harford)

nonprofits are messy

I like to say that nonprofits are messy; so much so that I made it the title of this podcast series as well as the subtitle of my upcoming book.

But not everybody agrees. In fact, a few people have even reached out to me to argue that by calling nonprofits “messy,” I’m doing them a disservice.

But here’s what I think they miss. I believe that within the mess comes opportunity. Rather than fight the chaos, we can embrace it and recognize that good things can rise out of it.

Apparently, the late David Bowie agreed with me 100%, as I learned from today’s guest Tim Harford, author of the terrific book, Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

I sought Tim out as a kindred spirit who believes, as I do, in the opportunity that exists in the passion that is messiness. He and I had a fascinating conversation about how organizations view the world versus how it actually is and how to embrace chaos to your advantage. I absolutely loved our conversation and I think you will too.

About Tim Harford

Tim is an economist, a journalist, a broadcaster, and the author of four books on economics. He writes a long-running column for the Financial Times, The Undercover Economist, which reveals the economic ideas behind everyday experiences. His new column, Since You Asked, offers a skeptical look at the news of the week.

But I was most intrigued by his book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. He is here today to talk with me about our shared belief in the potential of messiness and how to harness its power.

In this episode:

  • The importance of messiness, why we resist it, and why we should embrace it.
  • The world tends to value order and rules. So how can an organization shoot for messy instead?
  • Is a tidy desk a good sign of an organized person?
  • The operational case for diversity.
  • Given that so many nonprofit leaders feel like so much is at stake and they therefore cannot tolerate much risk, how can they still embrace messiness?
  • How to build your improvisational “muscle” and use it in your work.
  • The specific connection between messiness and the nonprofit sector: how to take advantage of it and not have it take advantage of you.

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Ep 29: Leadership Transitions: How to Avoid the Mess (with Don Tebbe)

nonprofits are messy

Every organization changes leadership at some point.

Perhaps somebody retires (lots of baby boomers have nonprofit leadership positions) or finds a new job elsewhere or terms off the board…

No matter what the circumstances, your organization will, at some point (maybe sooner than you think) go through a leadership transition.

A thriving nonprofit always has a transition plan in mind, no matter how strong the current leadership seems. But how exactly do you do this well? How do you keep your organization running smoothly through those transitional times?

To help us figure this out, I’ve asked Don Tebbe, an expert at planning successful leadership transitions, to join me today to give us all some great advice on how to navigate the waters of change.

About Don Tebbe

Don Tebbe literally wrote the book on this topic – several, in fact. He has led workshops for thousands of nonprofit executives facing retirement. Don co-founded an executive search firm that became a leader in executive transitions and succession. He has worked with thousands of nonprofits to find, interview and hire new leaders and knows this topic inside and out.

If you are going through a transition in your organization now, or think you might in the future (hint: that’s EVERYONE), you’ll get a lot of good information out of this podcast.

In this episode:

  • Recent trends in leadership transitions in the nonprofit sector
  • How to create a WRITTEN succession plan (and why it’s critical)
  • The single biggest mistake boards make in succession planning
  • The three things a board needs to do when confronted with a transition
  • Pros and cons of hiring internal candidates
  • What to do if you think you made the wrong hire

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Ep 28: Difficult Conversations in Uncertain Times (with Parisa Parsa)

nonprofits are messy

This week marks a major transition in the U.S. – a new president.

Whenever this happens, some people are thrilled and others are upset, anxious, worried. This is true even when a president is re-elected.

This year does feel different in some ways. Emotions are running higher than normal. So is skepticism. The country has become more polarized than it has been in a long time.

All too often, we’ve stopped listening to each other.

For my nonprofit clients who are feeling distressed, I remind you that the nonprofit world was created to help fill in the gaps where the government cannot – and perhaps should not – be involved. Whether those gaps will get bigger with the new administration, only time will tell.

But this does mean is that nonprofits are needed now more than ever. That strong leadership is needed more than ever. And that we have to start doing a better job of listening to each other.

It is with all of that in mind that I was anxious to have Parisa Parsa on the podcast. Paris is an expert in bringing people together and in this episode, Parisa will help us sort out how to have difficult conversations and find the opportunities in this challenging environment.

About Parisa Parsa

Parisa is the Executive Director of an organization called Essential Partners, a nonprofit that has worked for more than 25 years to facilitate difficult conversations. Parisa brings to us years of leadership experience, focused on training and cultivating others as leaders to build strong, healthy organizations.

Prior to joining Essential Partners, Parisa served as the Director of Congregational Development for the New England Unitarian Universalist Association, strengthening leaders and congregations through leadership development, and change management. An ordained minister, she has served in leadership roles for faith-based and social service organizations across the country.

She has fascinating insights into what is going on in our country and in nonprofits today.

In this episode:

  • Ways to stay grounded in times of chaos
  • Lessons from the Karate Kid
  • The keys to making a difficult conversation productive
  • How to use the Reflective Structure Dialogue (RSD) method to help facilitate better conversations
  • Advice for leaders moving into uncharted waters

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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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