A Little Sip of Something Good – Lessons in Self Care

Gamze Bozkaya

It was one of those days. Those days when you suddenly realize you are giving so much – and not getting replenished. You’re so tired but also kind of angry. Why do people just take? Don’t they see me at all? 

So, I went for a run. The trail was about as crowded as usual and I was lost in thought. About halfway, just before a big hill, a guy on a bike slowed down and held out his water bottle – offering me a drink.

All of a sudden, I had tears in my eyes. I was so touched by the gesture, even though I wasn’t dehydrated. I didn’t need water.

There is a sweetness in the offer of a gift, even if it isn’t something we need. Random-Generous-Guy-With-A-Water-Bottle taught me a two-part lesson:

  1. Freely offered gifts connect us. He offered what he had. It wasn’t what I needed, but it was still meaningful. When we offer what we have, especially to those that we care about, the gesture is sometimes more important than the thing itself.
  2. But these gifts don’t have to sustain you. You can honor the gift and still say ‘no thank you’, moving on to find the sustenance that you do need. Take the goodness that comes with what is offered, enjoy that effort and the spirit with which it’s given, have compassion – and then do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Trust yourself to know what you need.

If there is one thing we can say about the times we are in – they are dang stressful. Learning to balance action and self care is critical to well-being. Your actions matter, even if they seem small – the donation to a hard working nonprofit, your volunteer hours, the call to your senator, the difficult conversation with someone whose beliefs you want to understand, even just trying to keep up with the news. Keep doing those things, until it’s time to say, ‘no thank you’ and just keep running.

 

 

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3 “Simple” Steps

 

Whether you have a formal spiritual practice or not, most of us are seeking. We want to move forward in our lives in a way that is joyful. That means different things to different people, and at least for me, the very idea itself is constantly changing and evolving.

So often the advice out there feels rhetorical, loopy, or woo-woo, at best. So I’m always on the lookout for practical advice on what it means to seek and to grow. Gabrielle Bernstein was recently at guest on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast, and she gave the following three steps.

Side note: she says these are “simple” but I’m not totally sure that’s true. If this stuff was “simple”, we’d be done and over it already, right? So, in the spirit of embracing our complicated and not-so-simple lives, these steps are worth considering.

Gabrielle Bernstein’s (Paraphrased) Steps to Enlighten Your Life Today 

  1. Be willing and open. Admit that you need to learn and grow in a particular area or way. Then, be open to new ways of seeing or approaching that part of your life.
  2. Pay serious attention to the teachers, the guides and assignments. If you are open, learning opportunities will come to you. Be on the lookout. Take the work of learning from the world seriously.“We can be willing, but then go right back” to the distractions (ie our phones), bad habits, or destructive patterns.
  3. Show up for the assignments. This one is my favorite. Do the work – and pay attention. You don’t have to feel like you have the answers, but you do have to show up, listen, and take the assignments to heart.

Here’s a link to the full podcast (Nov 7, 2017), which also includes Marie Forleo (I dig her too) – enjoy!

 

**If you are ready to consider your next steps, face some of your blocks, and vision your future – let’s do it together! Contact me for in-person, phone or virtual coaching today. sally@sally.blue

 

 

 

 

Why I love Dia de los Muertos and Some Thoughts on Cultural Appropriation

 

 

I love Dia de los Muertos,

even more than I love Halloween. Halloween is spooky and silly and all about a new perspective on the familiar. There’s a special place in my heart for haunted houses, babies dressed as pumpkins, ghosts and goblins, and to the disgust of some, I even love candy corn.

 

But Dia de los Muertos heals me. Growing up in South Texas, across the dirt road from a cemetery, I was vaguely aware of the holiday. There were sugar skulls and pan de muerto at the local bakery, marigold petals seemingly everywhere, and vigils, music and candles carried on late into the night. And truthfully, I never thought much about it.

 

Even though I lost five family members over a short amount of time, it wasn’t just death that brought me closer to the meaning of Dia de los Muertos. The void was painful. But my family’s misery was more painful, watching those who were left disintegrate within their grief, unable to move past the death and loss.

 

We had no language for anything but sadness. There was nothing to help us move beyond being stuck in pain.

 

Then a friend invited me to his neighbor’s Dia de los Muertos celebration. The husband died a few years before and the whole neighborhood gathered to celebrate his life. I didn’t know him, but I felt like I did – people shared stories and laughed while the candles flickered. Instead of crying, we ate tacos, drank Coke in the bottle, and danced to his favorite songs. The alter in the living room was gorgeous and colorful and lively. I didn’t know him but his spirit and his life still touched me. Suddenly, I could see death as a part of life, and my heart began to warm.

 

From then on, whenever we crossed the Texas-Mexico border to shop – we used to do that easily, back in the day – I’d be on the lookout for my next little figurine, a colorful little play on death and life. Only a few of those bits of art have survived the many moves of my adult years. I bought a new one a few years ago when my little dachshund died – a dog skeleton wearing a glittery hat. Gus would definitely approve.

 

I honor and celebrate the day in my own way because it lets me claim what I love about those I lost –honoring their lives and their impact on me. I miss them still, but I keep them alive by sharing their stories, putting up their pictures, seeing them in me. Dia de los Muertos has taught me to see community in death. It has also given me a sense of humor about it – which is certainly something that my uncle, Papa Roy, would endorse. It is not something I learned from my family, but it is something I hope to teach my daughter.

 

Living in a multicultural society means we can learn from each other’s traditions, perspectives, and values. It also means we must honor those traditions that are not our own. The ‘how’ can feel sticky, especially as those traditions evolve and change. I believe it’s important to know what we are in danger of appropriating, to make the effort necessary to give context and respect. We can be inspired, changed and enriched by others – we should be – but it’s also our responsibility to do so without erasing the histories leading to this moment.

 

Dia de los Muertos may be new to you. If it is, by all means – buy the sugar skulls and the skeleton auto mechanic figurine that somehow looks a little like your Uncle Mike. Then take a minute to learn more about the holiday and its origins. I promise you – it will only make your experience richer.

 

Here’s some great places to start (or refresh!): http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/elviadiaz/2017/10/31/day-of-the-dead-dia-de-los-muertos-lesson-grandmother/815742001/

 

http://www.nola.com/food/index.ssf/2017/10/day_of_the_dead_is_an_importan.html

 

Training and Speaking and Learning

Oct 19, Texas CASA Institute, Galveston, Texas “Creating a Map: Engaging your Board In Fundraising”

Oct 20, Texas CASA Conference, Galveston, Texas “Beyond Tomorrow: Sustainable Leadership”

Oct 25, DivInc: A Pre-Accelerator Focused on Championing Diversity in the Tech Startup Ecosystem, Austin, “Fundraising with Sally Blue”

The Future is Holistic, Sustainable Leadership

In a recently posted blog “Is Holistic Fundraising a Thing? Can it be? A New Mindset For Fundraising Professionals”, that was shared by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Jennifer Harris talks about something that any lonely fundraiser knows; something that is misunderstood by so many organizations: the ‘place’ of fundraising.

But I think we can take it even further.

Harris explains how fundraising is the “connective tissue” of an organization – not something that stands alone, or worse, is hidden in some lonely tower until the gala begins or the budget is set.

Organizations, people and teams are holistic entities – they do not exist without the other. At the core, holistic approaches recognize that all parts are relevant and related. Harris notes that in a nonprofit, there must be individual recognition of the work (i.e. passion for the cause), organizational commitment to weaving fundraising into the framework and understanding of all parts of a nonprofit, and finally functional manifestations – teams must understand how their work is part of the larger whole.

I could not agree more.

Many (all?) fundraisers will also agree. If you’ve ever had a org budget presented and been told to ‘fill in the gap’, if fundraising’s role in your strategic plan is simply “raise more money”, if program staff have ever asked you why they don’t have more money for their programs, you know the pain of a fractured organization.

“…emergency funds or development staff may resolve an immediate need, but this too does not necessarily lend itself to long-term organizational health. In both instances, a holistic mindset and plan-of-action may prove more empowering, more strategic, and more sustainable. It may also lead to greater efficacy and impact in life and in work.”  –Jennifer Harris

But I know we can go even further. Harris mentions it, but the holistic care and nurturing of individuals is one of the most glaring deficiencies in our sector. Selflessness – to the point of true loss of self – is quite often the celebrated norm. While our people, their talents, passion, wisdom and experience, are our biggest assets, we often shy away from the types of support and care that can make the difference in how someone does their work, or even if they can continue to do that work at all. (Yep, I’m talking about the big B: “burnout”.)

So, how do we support our organizational leaders sustainably? For a start:

  1. Quit the Cult of Busy (and let your employees leave too) – I get it. We’ve all got a lot on our plate. But if you are wearing it as a badge of honor, or your default answer to “How are you?” is “Sooooo busy,” then you may have some priorities to consider. Isn’t there a passion project or good news – or even simply good weather – that you’d rather talk about? Your leadership in this will have huge implications on your team and their work/life balance. There’s plenty written about this topic and its importance. Here’s one I like from Johns Hopkins Health Review (2016): “The Cult of Busy”
  2. Call in the Coach – there is growing support in the nonprofit sector for something business leaders have used for years: coaches. The job of a leadership coach isn’t to tell you (or your direct reports) what to do, but to help support you in being the best leader you can be. It’s a great, cost-effective way to invest in your people. The Haas Jr Fund released a study on coaching effectiveness for nonprofits. Read it here.
  3. Get Quiet – breathe, meditate, chant, exhale at a stop light – however you can start learning to be still, do it. When we are constantly moving at a breakneck pace, we have no time to think, to listen, and to incorporate truth into our actions. Take a quiet pause and then return to the multitasking and ‘all the things’ – your heart will thank you.

What do you think? Can we holistically approach sustainable leadership, for our good and the good of the world?

What are you doing to sustain yourself or your organization more holistically?

So Simple, Too Simple?

So Simple

Clarity (in mission, in goal-setting, in messaging) is important for success.

In order to successfully raise money, chart progress, and declare victory, we have to be able to condense our message and simplify our objectives.

In a world of possibilities, who are we and what are we trying to do?

Some would take that idea even further, arguing that clarity is critical to success. I have camped in that spot. And I’m still sitting around that campfire. Mostly.

 

Image Problem

 It is no surprise that the nonprofit sector has an image problem. The larger world seems to think that our work is ‘easy’ somehow. It is work that can be done in spare time, with little training, or after retirement. Somehow, solving intractable social problems is seen as not ‘real’ work and that it can be measured purely by efficiency.

How many times have we heard people say that they want to get involved in nonprofits now that they are ready to retire and ‘slow down’? Ever wonder why the (ridiculous) overhead percentage myth remains, or why admin is considered ‘wasteful’?

Too Simple?

Maybe some of that image problem comes down to over-simplification.

Wanting to be seen as problem solvers, we have simplified ourselves out of the complexity of the work we do. We don’t readily talk about the fact that many factors affect our work. There are not often linear or 2-step solutions. Homelessness is a classic example. Solving homelessness requires way more than just putting someone in a house. A person cannot afford to stay, or have a chance to thrive, without addressing a host of other issues. Are they employable? Why not? If so, can they make a living wage? What do they need to support themselves? What about transportation? Are there health issues? Are there issues of abuse, physical, substance or mental, that must be addressed? And so on – people have complex histories and stories, experiences and backgrounds, none of which can be reduced to a one-size-fits all answer. The same can be said for education, for domestic and dating violence, for environmental issues, for animal welfare, for healthcare, for…well, you get it.

Complexity requires effort. It means that I can’t just pat myself on the back for volunteering with a hammer and some nails every once in awhile. I can’t make it better by just writing a check.

We set goals and we plot out metrics because we need a path through the complexities.

But if we want to change the way that many people view our work – as something ‘easy’, something that should not require computers, or expensive college degrees, or long term investment, or as less important than ‘business’, then we have to stop talking about the work we do as simple.

Whatever little bit you can give is fine. We’ll make do.

Unless all we want to do is make do – and not truly solve problems.

In this political climate, it is that much more critical that we work to tell the whole truth. With the abundance of fake news and twitter-sized explanations, we must establish a place as trusted experts in the work we do everyday.

As Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician and philosopher, once advised his students,“seek simplicity, but distrust it.”

Reflections: Marching, MJ, and My Kid in a Blazer

Being presidential

It’s the dawn of a new administration.

More people marched in protest the day after the inauguration than have ever marched before. Women and men around the world gathered in solidarity.

It’s empowering and exciting and exhausting.

It’s also frustrating. I ran into a friend walking her dog. When I asked what she thought of the Women’s March she said, “I have a lot of rage…at my fellow progressives.”

I was so sure she’d say “at Trump,” or about a certain issue, or even “at Trump supporters.” But her rage faces inward. I paused for a second, because I get it. I wonder the same things that she does – what more should I have done? And where were all these people four months ago?

For those of us out here trying to do good every day, it can feel like too much. I spent the first weeks after the election numb and tired. As the reality set in and the work of unraveling all kinds of social progress began, I was sick. Scared. Uncertain.

I know this for sure, and I know it in my bones: things have to change.

Change is messy and uncomfortable and uncertain. As I often tell my coaching and strategic planning clients – if doesn’t feel messy and difficult, then we aren’t doing it right. We aren’t really asking the tough questions, and we aren’t trying to name the elephant in the room. Change is supposed to be messy and scary.

And change, as Michael Jackson says, begins “with the (wo)man in the mirror.” I’m committed to taking a step back and examining more closely my own ‘why’. We have not time nor energy to spare. What cause is most important to you and what actions will have the most impact? In other words, can you dig deeper into what you are already doing and ask, is it the right thing? Is it enough? What do I need to change?

The beauty of the Internet – for all its challenges – is that we can hear other people’s opinions, and people’s responses to those opinions, and we can decide what we think for ourselves.

If you haven’t seen it, and you are curious, google #notmymarch. All I will say is, I don’t have time for Christie. I’ve spent too much of my life and career so far worried about Christie. Christie is not worried about me or the people that I care about or the equity that I believe in. Christie has a world of information at her fingertips and she chooses what to do with it.

I do have the time to keep checking my white privilege. Several people have also posted, and written, eloquently on the racism problem in feminism. (See bell hooks and this great list on Elle for a start – share more resources in the comments!) What does that have to do with the March? It was a peaceful protest, and while I support nonviolent actions, it’s important to unpack our pride at being ‘peaceful’ – recognizing the limitation of personal experience when it comes to political violence and what assumptions we make about how we will be treated. See Jahmelia Lindsay’s post on Facebook for more perspective.

At school last Friday, my daughter dressed as her role model: Hillary Clinton. When I asked her why she chose HRC, my kiddo taught me a lesson in leadership. She spoke eloquently of Hillary Clinton’s strength, that she kept going even when people said mean things, that she did what was right, and she tried to take care of people. My daughter is convinced that Hillary will get back up and keep fighting. There was nothing in her answer about the loss. It was all about the leadership.

Y’all – we can do this, and it’s going to take all of us.

Let’s get to work. #breadandroses

Who Do You Love?

Happy 2017 y’all!

2016 ended a little breathlessly – like we were waiting to exhale, hoping to avoid one last tragedy in the final hours. 2017 is off to a choppy start, too, and maybe this feeling is going to be very familiar over the coming months.

Like many of you, I’ve been trying to understand what is happening in our world and in our country, trying to process recent events, guess what is coming, and most importantly – determine how my work and my life can have the most positive impact.

The paradigm has shifted. But how?

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal offered some footing (“We Are Not The World” Jan 6) and the gist is that the political divides that we are so accustomed to – right versus left, conservative versus liberal, Democrat versus Republican – are sooo last century. This makes sense, especially when people on both sides of the aisle seem equally bewildered.

Greg Ip argues that the real divide is between Globalization and Nationalism, free trade, open borders, and multicultural interests versus national unity, identity and way of life. Nationalism is not a left or a right ideal – it can actually be both – just as globalization has been embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, almost unquestioningly, since at least World War II.

Ip’s essay took me back to my undergraduate days and a fascinating class that I took on nationalism. The course was based on a text called Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson (1995 revised edition). It had such an impact on me that I still have the book (ok, well I’m also sort of a book packrat, but still.) In class, I was startled to learn that nationalism itself was not that old of an idea and that it could take so many forms. Prior to Anderson, nationalism was seen as a negative – it drove people to war and genocide and gave voice to racism and xenophobia. Anderson recognized that there was also a hopeful side to nationalism.

“In an age when it is so common for progressive, cosmopolitan intellectuals (particularly in Europe?) to insist on the near-pathological character of nationalism, its roots in fear and hatred of the Other, and its affinities with racism, it is useful to remind ourselves that nations inspire love, and often profoundly self-sacrificing love,” Anderson wrote in Imagined Communities. “The cultural products of nationalism—poetry, prose fiction, music, plastic arts—show this love very clearly in thousands of different forms and styles.”

I appreciate this frame. We all know that the things that face us do not have easy answers and the Other cannot be understood in simple terms. It will be important to not just remember that balance exists – but to search it out, to try to understand it, to know the truth is never as simple as we want it to be.

I don’t have any answers yet – what do you think? Does this resonate for you?

Our Lady Bird Moment #afpPOV

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Fundraisers sit in an incredible position – somewhere between public opinion and the work being done on the front lines of nonprofit work.

From this position, we are more than just translators – we are educators, advocates, and the link that helps wanna-be’s become do-gooder’s. We are often tasked with filling the gaps of knowledge, understanding, and perspective. Maybe even more importantly, we see what’s missing. We know what questions that we wish people would ask. We see who doesn’t have a seat at the table.

As leaders, I’m calling you to believe in the unique perspective that only you have. Speak up. Ask the hard questions. Create spaces for innovative answers…

Read more about Our Lady Bird Moment here.

3 Things to Know This Election Year #afpPOV

Psst. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s an election year. What? I know. If you can’t say something nice, at least be glad that people are participating and paying attention.

But what does this mean for us, as professionals, and for the missions that we serve? Here are some interesting things to consider this election year.

  1. In March, Blackbaud released a research study entitled “Giving in an Election Year: How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofits”. There are some interesting takeaways from the study, namely that philanthropic giving actually seems to increase by those who give to political campaigns. So that idea that scarce donor funds are going to politics and not to nonprofits, isn’t exactly true. It’s also interesting to note that high profile election years might also be a good time to engage young donors. Read more and download the full white paper here.
  2. We’re all embarrassed by low voter turnout and often the people we serve are those most hurt by the lack of voice. It turns out that nonprofits can play a critical role in getting out the vote. When staff or volunteers reach out to their clients and supporters, they can increase voter turnout across all demographics. A recent Tufts study, in collaboration with Nonprofit Vote, showed increased turnout amongst Latino voters (5 points), black voters (10 points), and Asian-American voters (16 points). Also, those with incomes lower than $25,000 turned out at a rate 9 points higher. To read the full report, and help get out the nonpartisan vote, visit: nonprofitvote.org/engaging-new-voters
  3. Did you know that the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has the only philanthropy-focused PAC in the country? Your PAC is nonpartisan and works diligently on all issues related to philanthropy and our governing bodies. The charitable deduction? You bet. The IRA Rollover? Yep. Recently, the PAC mobilized grassroots efforts and helped ensure that the IRS rescinded a proposal to require nonprofits to collect social security numbers for all donors. Holy donor-centered, administrative-nightmare Batman! Just let the implications of that piece of proposed legislation sink in for awhile…

Finally, in this election season, in the midst of hash tagging, debating, crying, and obsessively refreshing your Twitter feed (just me?), also remember what Jason Sabo, @texassabo, of Frontera Strategy famously told us many moons ago, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

See y’all at the dome!

Sally Blue
Board President
AFP Greater Austin Chapter