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:
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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”
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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’?
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.”
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?
…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.
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.
- 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.
- 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-
- 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!
AFP Greater Austin Chapter
>> This post was written for the first installment of #afpPOV – an irregular viewpoints series for the AFP Greater Austin Chapter <<
The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) International Conference is always a treat. Over the last several years, the attendee base has broadened and diversified. This year in Boston, I met fundraisers from all over the US, as well as New Zealand, Columbia, Mexico, England, South Africa and lots of Canadians. It’s incredible to know that our community is so large and that so many people care about ethical, effective and professional fundraising. There has also been a steady and growing drumbeat as we begin to pool our collective wisdom to ask the tough questions about our sector – who are we, who do we need to be, how exactly are we going to change the world?
We had a great contingent from Austin this year. I look forward to hearing what they took away from the conference. Here are a few things that I’m still thinking about:
- It defies all the conventional teaching about branding, but I heard more than once, we’ve actually got to learn to let go of our brand. That list of brand standards that we guard so carefully? It may be time to loosen our grip. Accept the fact that you can’t control what your supporters do with your brand, your messages, your images, or your stories. That is a good thing. These assets are no longer something to be controlled at all costs. The sooner we can learn to embrace the interaction and the ownership our supporters have in our cause, the faster we can get real movements going.
- Likewise, to really motivate your supporters, educate them about the cause, not how to fundraise. (eek! I know – stay with me.) It’s about helping individuals get as close to the issue/change/recipient as possible. What are you communicating that gets in the way and just creates static? How can you share more of what you do and help your passionate supporters feel an urgent connection? If you are interested in learning from successful online organizations that fundraise effectively and sustainably, check out: Liberty in North Korea, Pencils of Promise, and Surf Rider.
- We really really have to blow up our silos. Fundraising can’t be separated from the rest of the organization. And organizations can’t be separated from each other. We will be more effective in making real change when the issue, not the organization or the department, is front and center. Kumi Naidoo @kuminaidoo, former head of Greenpeace and anti-Apartheid activist, gave the keynote on Day 2 and brought this point home. In explaining the urgency around climate change, he argues that the movement really set itself back by framing its work as an ‘environmental issue’ because it affects so many other things. An environmental disaster is a human disaster too.
- Sustainability in our sector was also a huge debate across sessions and keynotes. While we want to save the world, we also know that it can’t be done overnight. So do we plan for sustainability or do we sprint toward the solution? Can we do both, given our limited financial capacity, lack of R&D, and the necessity of constant consensus building and reporting? Kumi Naidoo told a moving story about his friend who died fighting Apartheid. When Kumi told his friend that giving your life was the ultimate dedication to the cause, his friend replied, “No. Ultimate dedication is giving the rest of your life” to making change.
- Kofi Annan @kofiannan, former Secretary General of the UN, was the first keynote speaker of the conference and he embodies the case for deliberate activism. (Seriously, just listening to him makes you feel like despite it all, everything’s going to be ok, providing that we get to work and get going.) He quoted a well-known African proverb that seems especially apropos as I come back to my favorite chapter and city: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Great blog post by Vu Le of Nonprofit with Balls.
Holistic sustainable leadership. Yes! Absolutely.
- You just aren’t doing it. That slight look of panic and exasperated eye roll don’t count.
- Everybody is waiting on someone else to start it. The CEO is waiting on HR. The board is waiting on the CEO. HR is asking questions but no one is answering. Leadership staff are getting a little testy. Committed donors are grumbling.
- Ain’t nobody got time for that. We are running a business here, paying salaries and changing the world. We are already working more hours than we should. There’s no time for one. more. plan.
- It’s both deceptively easy and so so hard. A quick Google search turns up checklists and templates, a paralyzing number of possibilities. But where do you start? How does it really happen? Who has time to do this??
- It hurts. We don’t want to talk about it, especially in front of our staff or our board. As staff and board, we don’t want to appear disloyal or greedy. We may be here precisely because of the person in the leadership role. Endings are hard and bringing it up feels like betrayal or picking a fight.
Organizations understand the need to have a plan, a strong leadership bench, and resources to ensure the future. But we all know that planning can be messy and intimidating.
Planning, if done well, can also offer growth and renewal for everyone on the team. Succession planning fails to get off the ground, not because isn’t important or because organization’s don’t need it. Succession planning is tough.
Working together, we are tougher.
Let’s talk about how I can help you get started or renew your stalled planning process.