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…

THE BEST ADVICE COMES FROM THE TRENCHES

These are some serious pearls of wisdom offered by nonprofit board and staff leaders. There were so many to choose from. The ones below just really spoke to me. And I believe they will speak to you as well.

ON COMMUNICATION

Keep speaking your vision until you hear it repeated back to you. You may feel like a broken record but keep communicating that vision until your team, your board, your donor – start speaking it for you. Then you will know that they have made that vision their own.”

 – Bryan Thomas Muecke

“Assume positive intent (especially when dealing with email / text messages and whenever dealing with volunteers.)”

– Carrie Robbins Packard, Impact-360

“I had made things complicated by avoidance. Instead of criticizing, my boss simply said, ‘Jody, ALWAYS return the phone call.’ And after that, I always did.”

– Jody Smith, Newtown Friends School

ON LEADING PEOPLE

“Only hire people that you’d be happy to work for!”

– Mark Little, Habit for Humanity International

“Setting boundaries may be uncomfortable but it’s healthy and serves everyone involved.”

– Stephanie Doute, Outloud Photography

“When people tell you who they are, believe them.”

– Sandra Sheppard, West Side Community Services

“A good leader understands that if he or she is the smartest person in the room, that is a big problem.”

– Dan Osheyack, formerly of Time Warner Foundation

ON PERSONAL GROWTH 

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

– Laura Kunkle, Second Wind Management

“Leap and the net will appear.”

– Heidi Dressler, Threshold Choir (and a total rock star in the Nonprofit Leadership Lab)

“It’s not a life sentence.”

– Lori Abrams, The Valerie Fund

ON PRIORITIZATION

“Some of the boxes will fall off the shelf; catch the important ones.”

– Kristin Bakke, Lead Brevard

Beyond these, there were SO many more that were thoughtful, inspiring, and sometimes quite funny. You can see all of them here (you have to join the group first.)

MY THREE BIG TAKEAWAYS

  1. The very best advice is simple, memorable, and garnered through lived experience.
  2. Nonprofit leaders may be overworked, but they are smart, insightful, and have excellent advice.
  3. The folks in my Facebook group, Thriving Nonprofit, are a remarkable group of people. Come join us!

I really do hope you’ll join me for the How to Build a Thriving Nonprofit workshop I mentioned above that starts on Tuesday, April 17th. The videos will be available to watch (and share with board and staff) at your convenience during the workshop period (through 4/26). Thousands have already registered – consider joining them by registering at www.thrivingnonprofit.org.

Many of the insightful folks from above will be participating and it will be a great chance to connect with some of them. After all, it takes a village!

WHAT’S YOUR BEST NONPROFIT CAREER ADVICE?

Let’s keep the conversation going. You can never have too much good advice. What is YOUR favorite nonprofit career advice?

Remember, I’m clearly not the expert here on this topic so I’m counting on all of you!! 🙂

Let us know in the comments below…