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 that I’ve opened the doors of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab to new members!

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.

Just a quick heads up that if you think you might join the Lab, this registration period will close at midnight on Thursday, April 26th. This is so I can focus on the members instead of on marketing the Lab (which is very time consuming). So think about it, but don’t wait too long and miss the deadline.

WHAT IS THE NONPROFIT LEADERSHIP LAB?

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 https://nonprofitleadershiplab.com.

The Best Nonprofit Career Advice I Ever Got

nonprofit career

What’s the best career advice you ever got? I really want to know!

It turns out I have a pretty mixed track record when it comes to giving career advice. A story for another day.

But you know who gives the best career advice?

My wife.

The advice she once gave me is a perfect example.

There I was at Showtime. Seemingly happy and successful and yet there was something gnawing at me. But I was clueless.

Until my wife offered the best career advice I have ever gotten.

“You would be a great nonprofit executive director.”

Not something I had ever considered but she made a clear case. “You have natural leadership ability, innate management ability, and you care really deeply about gay rights.”

She could not have been more spot on. A career move that was personally and professionally transformative.

It also began my nonprofit career.

I’ll get a whole lot deeper into my story, including how I overcame some early major challenges (like having just $360 left in the bank, a quarter-million dollars in ancient accounts payable, and a staff of 18 with payroll due in just two weeks!) during my upcoming free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, which starts on Tuesday, April 17th.

The workshop is made up of a series of 4 short videos you can watch on your own time, along with nearly-daily live Q&A’s with me so you’ll have lots of opportunities to chat directly with me and ask all of your questions. And again, it’s entirely free.

–> Here’s some of what I’ll cover in the workshop.

When I’ve run this workshop in the past, it’s been absolutely transformative for so many nonprofits. I hope you’ll join us, and you can get more details and register here.

So back to my original question. What’s the best career advice you ever got?

I decided to ask some real experts.

You might know I host a Facebook group for board and staff leaders called Thriving Nonprofit With Joan Garryyou should totally join us there if you haven’t already. This group – presently 15,000 strong – is definitely thriving!

A member of the group, Kersh Branz, asked a similar question.

142 comments later, here’s what I thought was the best nonprofit career advice I read…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….

Overwhelmed.

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 will be digging into all five pillars in great depth during upcoming my free workshop called “How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit” which begins on April 17. 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

Nobody Warned Me About the “Executive Director 20”!

I knew what she meant the moment she hit “post.”

executive director stress

If you’re unfamiliar with the “freshman 15,” it’s all about that first year of college…. Too much pizza and beer. A lot of stress. And 15 pounds gained.

So this is the “Executive Director 20”.

Nothing in the Thriving Nonprofit Facebook group (my free Facebook group for nonprofit staff and board leaders which you can join here) has ever struck a chord quite like this. 371 likes and counting.

Plus, more than 80 folks weighed in with comments (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.) I have a feeling they’ll resonate with you.

  • “Per year?”
  • “Or the one meal per 14 hour day which may be at 9 pm and will be fast food, because it’s easy and you’re starving. The rest is sugar and caffeine.”
  • “Grrreaattt. another job perk!”
  • “It’s all the drinking”
  • “Make it 40 for me!”
  • “Totally real. I think it’s from being chained to the desk for 40+ hours per week, stress, and being to tired to cook good food when I get home. Chipotle has been very accommodating since this job started.”
  • “Don’t forget the ED blood pressure meds & antidepressant lol or is that just me?”
  • “For me, first time ED following the founder… ED 35, migraines, bronchitis, six months chronic back pain, some other stuff I can’t remember. Trying to get some sort of handle on managing the stress and pressure, and loneliness.”
  • “The comments on this thread are crazy. I really thought it was just me.”

While some of these comments illustrate the sense of humor that I really appreciate in nonprofit leaders, others border on heartbreaking. Folks are working their asses off (hope I’m not offending anyone but that feels like the real deal phrase) and working themselves into the ground.

I get it. I know I work too hard too. Just the other day I wrote the words “self care” and for some reason my iPhone autocorrected to “self scare”.

Clearly, many of you are stressed out beyond all reason. It’s not healthy and it’s not good.

But what can we do about it?

This topic is a big part of my upcoming free workshop, How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit, which starts on April 17. After all, you can’t thrive if you’re overwhelmed, stressed out, or if you feel completely alone. If you’re feeling those things, I invite you to please reserve a spot so I can help you.

I also want to say a few things about this here in the blog that I hope will help.

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It’s Time to Stop Using This Word

You know there’s a word I hear a lot from board and staff members of nonprofits, and it kind of drives me nuts. Actually makes me a little bit angry. Would you like to take a guess at what the word is? I’ll give you a minute. Why don’t you toss some ideas in the comments below? I’ll wait. The word that drives me crazy makes me kind of angry. One word. Almost ready?

The word is competition. When I first became a nonprofit executive director, I was floored at how often I heard this one word, competition. “Oh, she’s not gonna give to her organization because she already gives to XYZ org.” Or “What is that ED working tables at my fundraising gala?” Or the board members are bringing in news clippings or see things online where your colleague is quoted and not you. Right? You’ve been there.

So first, if your organization does not fill a unique gap in a sector or has some substantive overlap with another organization, could you just fix that? Address the problem, not the symptom. Secondly, considering an organization to be competitive misses the true essence of philanthropy. It was taught to me a long time ago by a mentor. She sat me down with her major donor list, we ordered in Chinese, and we looked through the list. She said, “Mary’s gonna really like what you’re doing,” or “Tom is in the entertainment business and he was really anxious for new leadership. I need to introduce you to those two people, and I think there are some others on the list too.” She understood what other leaders miss.

When you introduce people to the power of giving, guess what happens? It makes them feel good. Like, good good, like scientifically good. Like philanthropy actually releases dopamine in your brain, the neurotransmitter that creates pleasure. Amazing, right?

Here’s the other thing, is when you get invested in the sector, you care about a lot of organizations because the more you understand about how important the work is, the more you understand that it has to be tackled from different perspectives. So the big takeaway is that rising tides lift all those. Specifically, eliminate the word competition. Keep your mission clear and focused, and lastly, play nicely in your sector sandbox.

Share this video with your development committee, with your board, and remind them, “Please, all of you remember, you are part of a movement working to create real and lasting change.” You’re part of a movement, an orchestra of organizations, tackling the same issue from a host of different perspectives. Making real and lasting change, it takes a village.

Small Nonprofits Are Anything But Small

small nonprofits

There is something wonderfully unique about small nonprofits. Sometimes they are one-person shops – not a lot of bureaucracy. There is often a camaraderie – together as a community you are fighting for clients, for their needs, for what is right and just.

Here’s what I have learned. The only thing small about a small nonprofit is its size.

But with that size also comes some unique challenges. Maybe you recognize some of these in yourself or your organization?

  • Your mission is bigger than your bank account
  • You believe you can’t ever take a vacation because if you missed even just a few days all the work would literally stop
  • You have an overwhelming feeling that everything rests on your shoulders but still think it’s easier to try to do everything yourself than ask somebody for help. Who would you even ask?
  • You feel frustrated about your inability to get the word out given your limited resources and time
  • Your board isn’t stepping up or is made up of the wrong mix of people. Or they mean well but they just don’t know what to do next.

Just this week, I got an email from an Executive Director of a small nonprofit – the board voted to close down the organization because of its inability and skepticism about raising money, you could try this out to raise money on your own business.

Board and staff leaders of small nonprofits throw their hearts and souls into the work, feel totally responsible, wildly overwhelmed, and far too often like the “man behind the curtain” – the imposter behind the Great and Powerful Oz.

And there’s another thing that makes it especially tough for a small nonprofit. Not a dime for outside help. No coaching, no consulting, no supportive community. Little opportunity to learn from others, to secure a mentor and feel more competent, in control and less alone.

It’s time to do something about this. Here’s what I have in mind…

Continue Reading

Board Retreats Done Right

board retreat

Have you ever gone to a board retreat?

Close your eyes for a moment and think back to the last one you attended.

Maybe it was last year, maybe a few years back. Try to remember the basic contours of the agenda. Or better still, something that changed as a result.

Struggling?

Get in line. Here are some things board members have told me about their most recent board retreats:

“It was fine.” 

“I wonder if we ever did anything with the flip chart stuff and the action items.”

“I remember we had a really great strategic visioning conversation, though I’m struggling to remember the details and I have no idea if anything actually came of it.”

You’ve invested all this time and money. Your board members gave up a Friday night and full day on Saturday. And yet, just months later, they can barely even remember the agenda, much less any outcomes.

Wow. This is NOT OK!

Look, here’s the truth. Most board retreats really are just fine. They’re not disasters. If they were, board members would actually remember a whole lot more about them!

Really, though, most board retreats are wildly mediocre.

But we can do a lot better.

We can create board retreats that are valuable, memorable, and actionable.

That leave board members with a sense of camaraderie, pride about the work, and an urgency to be great ambassadors.

Today, I offer some practical advice and a downloadable agenda for a retreat that does exactly that.

==> Download the sample five-star board retreat agenda

Continue Reading

The Case of the Very Bad Event Speech

Transcript below:

So Joan Garry here with another question that comes up quite often from board and staff leaders of nonprofit organizations.

This one, and I like to think of them as cases, is the case of the very bad event speech.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? You’re sitting there, you love the organization actually, and you even had a glass of wine, so you’re predisposed, and the executive director gets up to start to talk. And she talks. And she talks. And then all of a sudden you start to see a lot of people heading back towards the open bar, and she’s still talking.

And in fact the speech is clear and passionate, but it goes on forever. You sort of lose the central point and it really slows down the pace of the event.

So I’m gonna offer you five steps in creating an event speech that I think should help you.

I’d begin with the most important one. People speak an average of 135 words per minute. Don’t ask me why I know that, I just do. I talk a little faster actually. So if you want a six-minute speech, and I think that’s exactly what you want, six to eight minutes, multiply six times 135 and that’s the number of words you should write for. It’s like a good sized blog post and that’s it. That’s the first one, is keep it tight and short. Leave them wanting more. Six, seven minutes maybe, 135 words a minute.

Number two, do not open your speech with thank you’s. Nothing will send people to the bar faster than that. I’d like to thank my board share, my board members, staff members, will you all please stand up? I’m already standing up and I’m heading to just check out my pal over at table number 16. Leave the thank you’s to someone else, the person who introduces you perhaps. Somebody else should do the thank you’s.

All right, that’s number two. So time, no thank you’s, here’s number three. How did you get involved? Bring the story to a personal note. I began as a kitchen volunteer here at project angel food back in 1986, and the people I sliced and diced with are my friends to this very day. You get it.

Number four, one fantastic story about the work. Don’t give me ten, don’t give me 12, don’t give me six, because I’m only gonna remember one, so just one, and make it count. Give it to me like I’m ten years old so I don’t miss it.

Number five, what are you up against? What’s the threat? What’s the problem you’re trying to solve? Don’t assume people know, and definitely don’t assume that people don’t understand the scope and magnitude of that problem.

And then my bonus is that every speech should call people to action in some way. Sometimes you’re asking for money. Sometimes you’re asking them to do more, to get engaged in different ways. But if you fire somebody up, don’t miss the opportunity to invite them to do more.

And that’s what a good speech should look like. See you next time.

The Case of the Disengaged Board

Hi, I’m Joan Garry, and I’m here answering questions that board and staff leaders of nonprofits ask me, everything from occasionally to all the time.

Here’s a big one. I think of these as kind of like cases, like I’m Nancy Drew. Today we tackle the case of the disengaged board.

Are you hungry for a board that’s more engaged? I bet you are. So here’s three practical ideas and a bonus suggestion. Whether you’re the frustrated Board Chair that feels like you’re knocking and nobody’s home, or the frustrated Executive Director who feels like every request is met with crickets.

  1. Remember that no board is monolithic, so find your stars and bring them together in an alliance. Take your list of board members, divide them ones, twos, and threes. Your ones are your rock stars. Find one or two of them. It doesn’t take much. Bring them together, make them feel like a million bucks, and engage them in the process of working with you to tip the board in the direction you want to go.
  2. Make board meetings count. They are your best opportunity to create first-rate ambassadors. You want to do several things. You want to enrich them, something that gives them context about the sector or why the work matters. You want to engage them. Ask them legitimately and authentically for their advice, ideas, and suggestions.
  3. Keep them informed enough so that they can share accomplishments of the organization with the people they encounter. If you can enrich, inform, and engage you can ignite your board members to be engaged ambassadors for your work.
  4. Keep things alive between board meetings, and by this I do not mean nag them to sell tickets to the next event. You can nag them, but it has to be mixed up with some enrichment, a victory, a story they can tell, a mission moment some people call it. You’ve got to give them. You’ve got to feed them between board meetings if you want them at the next cocktail party to say, “Hey, you know, my job is great but boy am I loving board service. Let me tell you about something recently that happened at XYZ org.” That’s how it works.

Now, here’s the bonus. At your next board meeting try something.

Ask your Executive Director, maybe it’s an executive session with just the ED and the board, ask your Executive Director to offer his or her thinking about what he or she needs from the board in order to be successful.

Ask her to be specific and flip chart it, then turn the tables. Ask your board, “What does the board need from the Executive Director and the staff in order to be successful?” Flip chart that, too.

Take those two flip charts and make that the primary central focus of the next agenda for your ED, Board Chair check in.

How do those things come together in a way in which the ED gets what is needed from the board and the board gets what it needs to be successful, because you as copilots of this twin engine jet that is your nonprofit have to really make those engines work in sync. I think an exercise like that could be really, really valuable.

If this was helpful to you, join us in two places. One, on Facebook, Thriving Nonprofit with Joan Garry. Join us any time. There are almost 11,000 folks in there who find the conversation useful and valuable, and you can always subscribe to my blog, weekly pieces of advice just like this at joangarry.com.

See you next time.

How Nonprofits Should React to the New Tax Law

new tax law

Is the new tax law making you anxious? You’re not alone.

What will the impact be? This question is coming up everywhere we turn – emails from readers, conversations at nonprofit conference room tables, and certainly in our Nonprofit Leadership Lab. In the Lab, it’s been such a big topic, we’re working to bring in a tax expert to help us make sense of it all.

(Side note: if you’re curious about the Lab, which is designed to support leaders at smaller nonprofits, there’s a lot of information available here.)

Will our worst fears be realized and way fewer people will donate? Or simply donate less?

Some have argued that wealthy people will have more disposable income and actually donate more, offsetting other potential losses. It’s possible that some – even many – nonprofits will see an increase in revenues this year.

For now, we can only speculate. Time will tell.

But one thing I know to be true is this. It’s time to take a renewed look at how we approach fundraising. Any strategy that relied on the tax deduction is going to be a whole lot less likely to work.

So what should we do instead? Here’s a hint… think about New Year’s Eve.Continue Reading