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, October 16th.

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 20,000 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 8 Habits of Highly Effective Nonprofit Leaders

nonprofit leaders

You are a nonprofit leader. Likely a type-A kind of person – pretty accustomed to getting 95’s on your book reports.

It’s one of the reasons you have historically found yourself in leadership positions – when there’s a need for someone to be in charge, it’s like a reflex you cannot control – up goes your hand.

You are also a learner. You always want to get better at your job.

Maybe there was a book report (or in your case a board report) you felt was like an 85. Not a grade you are accustomed to. You look for books or podcasts to hone your skills, manage your time, become an even more awesome leader than you already are.

In 1989, Stephen Covey wrote a book called The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I mustn’t be highly effective because I didn’t read it until I decided to write this post. It has been a best seller for THIRTY YEARS.

Is that crazy or what? Thirty years.

So I figure he must be on to something. Thus, with a ‘tip o the hat’ to Mr. Covey, I’d like to share with you my own version of this: The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Nonprofit Leaders.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 October 16th. 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

Your Board is NOT the Enemy!

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Small Nonprofits Are NOT Small

small nonprofits

I have a big announcement today. But first…

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.

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…

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A Simple Way to Conduct an Executive Director Performance Review

simple executive director performance review

Time and time again, I see boards dropping the ball on one of the single most important responsibilities they have – the annual performance evaluation of their staff leader.

It just plain makes me mad.

I do kinda get it when board members balk at fundraising. But an annual performance review? Really?

When I ask board members how they would feel if their bosses (at their day job) did that, I get the answer you’d expect. That would never happen.

In my executive coaching work with clients, it is so clear to me that Executive Directors do not receive the feedback they need to feel supported and to grow and develop in their roles.

I ask: When were you last reviewed?

I hear: Does a 20-minute coffee with the board chair count?

I hear: The board really doesn’t know what I do. How could they evaluate me fairly? I’d prefer not to hear what they have to say.

I hear: I had to all but harass my board chair to do SOMETHING. It was like 3 months late and kind of lame.

I hear: I was reviewed informally by the board chair before this one. Or maybe the one before that one.

I hear: Reviewed?

I believe there are many reasons that boards don’t conduct performance reviews – I outline a few of them here.

But let’s assume for the purpose of this post that it just all seems too overwhelming. Board members don’t know where to begin.

In that spirit I offer you a recipe for an effective, and very simple Executive Director performance review.Continue Reading

How to Conduct Your Executive Director’s Annual Review

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It’s Time for You to Do SOMETHING!

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The Move from Corporate to Nonprofit

new ceo with no nonprofit experience

We are on the cusp of a huge leadership gap in the nonprofit sector as more and more boomer leaders retire. Search committees and executive recruiters will need to look at more and diverse ponds for leadership candidates. As a result, we see (and will continue to see) lots of “fishing” in corporate America ponds.

Unfortunately, nonprofits are not always welcoming of folks without years in the nonprofit trenches. As a product, originally, of the corporate world, I remember that pretty well.

There were folks who saw me as unqualified, without the “chops” for the gig. I hadn’t paid my dues. I didn’t understand or appreciate the trenches and there was of course a risk that I just might attempt to inject an “evil” corporate paradigm into the consensus driven world of advocacy. This skepticism even found its way into the press.

Ridiculous, right? Infuriating, yes? Especially when this criticism comes from your own community, the one you have raised your hand to advocate for. I only wanted to help.

But there is no question – you absolutely can transition to nonprofit leadership and be successful with no prior professional nonprofit experience. I did it.

So, at the risk of overstepping, I’d like to tell you about a few of the lessons I learned and pitfalls I overcame. It might come in handy if you are hunting for a new leader or if you are this new leader I describe.

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7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

burnout

Riddle me this Batmen and women… What’s the number one issue nonprofit leaders ask me about?

Here’s a hint… It has nothing to do with a disengaged board.

You figured it out, right? After all, it’s in the title of this blog post!

Burnout.

How do I avoid it? I know I should take better care of myself. I know in my heart that I will be more effective if I am not running on fumes, but I can’t get my head to execute.

Sound familiar?

It sure does to me. I work incessantly. And so when I get asked about this, I feel like I don’t exactly have a wellspring of credibility.

So I decided to ask friends and colleagues and share some of their easy and terrific ideas with you. I’ve made them available as a free download.

––> Download 7 Ways to Avoid Burnout

But…

Before you have a look, take this quick quiz to see if you are in desperate need of self care.

Don’t worry. It’s short. I know how busy you are…Continue Reading