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

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

The Best Way to Sabotage Your New Executive Director

sabotage new executive director

I hear a lot of crazy stories from readers, listeners and clients. A lot of them are about Executive Directors who feel undermined.

So riddle me this, Batmen and Batwomen…

Based on what people tell me, what’s the best way to sabotage the new Executive Director? You get 5 options…

  1. A board that micromanages the living daylights out of her
  2. A staff that can’t seem to get through a meeting without saying “Oh, we tried that before and it didn’t work”
  3. A board that makes poor choices about what to do with the former E.D.
  4. A staff that is still in love with the old boss and the new E.D. gets treated like the new evil stepmother
  5. A board that is quite clear that fundraising was never a priority before

Good list right? You can’t choose.

If you’re a board leader, maybe you read this and feel a touch defensive? And if you are an Executive Director you are wondering why I haven’t added (f) “all of the above.”

Sure. All of these items will indeed chip away at the motivation and/or credibility of an Executive Director.

But one thing is worse than all the others. And it shape shifts. It can look like a lot of different things and none of them – trust me – none of them are pretty. It creates nothing but mess. The last thing you need if you are trying to build a thriving nonprofit.

So what is the correct answer? Or should I say the very incorrect answer?Continue Reading

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”.

Continue Reading

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