The Best Book I Read This Past Year

useless meetings

Useless meetings? I have had my share. Bet you have too.

Back in my corporate America days I would find myself sitting in meetings that were just a pure waste of time.

Maybe the meeting was poorly led. Or the convener liked to hear herself talk. Or there was no agenda. Or the meeting got awkward for any number of reasons.

Later, as a nonprofit board member, I left board meetings thinking I could have called in, put the phone on mute and checked Facebook. I had learned nothing that I had not read in the written packet.

My technique for dealing with useless meetings? I called it “wood grain analysis.” My technique for disappearing from the room. A nice close look at the patterns and an opportunity to make mental lists about the work I should be doing.

And I’ll confess. I am certainly not immune to this problem here in my consulting shop. I have let staff members drone on (I did not want to hurt their feelings or embarrass them in front of colleagues). I have raced into meetings unprepared to lead it and pulled some agenda out of thin air.

We have all done it.

But during a recent break I discovered the antidote to this syndrome, and I felt compelled to share it with you.Continue Reading

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.

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’ve written 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.

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

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 April 3rd. 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.

Continue Reading

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.

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.

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