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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

10 Creative Ideas for Nonprofit Staff Retreats

nonprofit staff retreats

Nonprofit staff retreats are really important. They’re a chance to step away from your regular day-to-day stuff and focus on the bigger picture. To remove yourself from the normal distractions.

They are also a significant investment of time and energy (and sometimes money). You should plan them with intention and creativity, and engage the staff in the design.

Think about the best staff retreat you’ve ever attended. I bet there was some creativity thrown into the mix. That keeps things interesting.

So if you’re looking for some creative ideas for your next staff retreat, well, I’m here to help.

Do not worry for a nanosecond. No ropes courses or “let go and we’ll catch you” exercises to be found here.

Actually the help is not coming from me alone. I’ll offer a few, but I cannot take credit for all of them. I dropped into the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, my online membership site that supports board and staff leaders of small nonprofits around the world to ask for their creative ideas.

No surprise. They had some very, very good ones. These are very good people who are changing the world in ways large and small.

So here you go. Try a few of them on and see how they fit.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 October 16th. 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.

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

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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