Elevating Engagement with Amanda Kaiser
In episode 68 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Amanda Kaiser discuss:
Amanda Kaiser is a member engagement strategist and author of Elevating Engagement: Uncommon Strategies for Creating Thriving Member Communities. As a researcher, author, and co-creator of the Incubator Series and the New Member Engagement Study, she is at the forefront of exploring how member and attendee engagement is rapidly changing within professional communities.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Amanda Kaiser. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Amanda and I talk about engaging members especially in today’s shifting realities. We explore why organizations need to shift from solely focusing on the value they provide and give equal emphasis on the experience they are creating, why focusing on how people are feeling at each stage of engagement is so important, and some simple things folks can do to improve the experience of their members and volunteers.
Welcome, Amanda. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Amanda Kaiser: Thanks, Carol. It's so great to be here.
Carol: So I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would, what would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Amanda: Oh, that's really interesting. I feel like, as a recovering marketer, I need to have that one pithy sentence, but I don't, I'm gonna go on a quick ramble here. My career journey is really squiggly like everybody else's. And, I started out at Crayola. And then eventually moved into my people, which is the association community, and, and worked as a director of marketing for a national association and, and loved it. And while I was there, I wanted to do a bunch of member research and we didn't have the budget and the, the CEO at the time said, well, you call our members and you talk to them, which I was really afraid of doing at the time. But the more, the more I talked to our members and interviewed them. The more I started actually loving the work. So I opened a qualitative research agency for associations and conducted about 477 interviews, about 33 research projects, and I love that. But the thing that kept drawing me was the importance of member engagement every single conversation, no matter. The type of association, , the, the, whether it's professional or trade and where people were at their career level. But every conversation kept coming back to member engagement. And the more I thought about it, the, the more I wanted to just move into what is member engagement? How and why it doesn't work sometimes and why it does work sometimes. And, and that's that, that's kind of. Sorry that was a lot longer than a short squiggly answer.
Carol: Well, our careers are long. Are long and squiggly, at least mine has been. So, yes, definitely appreciate that. And I mean, building on that interest in, in member engagement, you recently published a book called Elevating Engagement on Common Strategies for Creating a Thriving Member community. What would you say are some of the common mishaps or mistakes that you see organizations making when it comes to their member engagement?
Amanda: Yeah, so I don't think that associations are alone in this. I think it's happening at organizations and just about every single industry you can imagine from the really, really big ones to the really, really small ones, and that is so there's a formula for engagement, and the formula is value plus experiences equals engagement. And for decades now, I think we've been all banging the drum on value. We've got to have the right value proposition. Our value has to change with our members' needs. We need to be able to communicate value. We need everything's value, value. And man, we've all been leaning into that really hard.
And the thing that is the biggest opportunity for us now is to start I don't know, imbuing experiences into all of that wonderful value. So yes, we're, we're, I think the biggest opportunity is for associations. And not just associations, everybody, but associations we're talking about today is to really start punching up the creation of positive experiences for our members.
Carol: And I have folks who are in more traditional nonprofits as well as associations in the audience. And I think, but I think the same principles really apply, maybe you have a membership program, but maybe it's you're, you're. Your volunteers that you're trying to engage or, or different constituencies that you're trying to engage and, and thinking about those in different ways. Can you say what you, you talked about the equation of value plus experience and I can imagine, thinking about, of my experience of being inside organizations. Yeah. It was all about, what, what. What's the next conference gonna look like? Who's speaking? What's the next white paper that we're publishing? What's the next course that we're rolling out in terms of workshops or training or e-learning? And so very focused on content delivery, on knowledge helping people increase their skills, their knowledge , and I think I was on the learning side when I was inside the organization, so we did approach, experience somewhat from the lens of trying to incorporate adult learning principles into the whole thing.But I, I don't know that we put it front and center. So I'm curious how you see, like, how is that different? How, how would people know? , if we're gonna have those be more equal. What does leaning into experience look like?
Amanda: Yeah, so everything you just mentioned is critically important. we, we need to have the, the learning and we need to have the keynote and we need to have the hotel, and we need to have all of that when I'm talking about experience, there's so let's just, cuz we're talking about events, so let's, let's just talk about one of those places where you can add an experience that maybe people get and sometimes maybe people don't get. It might be inconsistent. And that is at the registration table. So for really big conferences there's huge registration booths and like a whole lot of lines. And then for maybe a small conference or a chapter, you see the registration table, and sometimes when we're working behind the registration table, we're trying so hard to get people their badges and their bags and their, and their programs really quickly that we just, we're just, we're doing the transaction. We're just trying to get everybody served. And, and the experience part of it is, can you, can you do it with some small talk? And if you can't even do it with some small talk, that's totally. Can you at least do it with a smile so that, that's, that's one example of how you just add in an experience in the course of doing everything else that you're doing. And there's, there's other things, you know associations and nonprofits, they do have these fleets of volunteers, whether you call them a volunteer or not. And, and so another thing that you could, that you could do that's relatively easy is you could say to your speakers, let's say you've got 50 speakers. For the time that they're at the podium or on the stage in, in a way, they're sort of speaking for the association and you can say to them, Hey, we've got a member culture, or We're trying to have a member culture that is. Open and generous and kind and enthusiastic and energetic. And can, can you, can you try to model that? Just try to, keep those, keep those adjectives, keep those emotions in, in your brain, and as you're speaking, just try to model that. And, and I think a lot of your speakers would, and that's just, one, one more away. That, that you can add some experiential stuff into the stuff that you're already.
Carol: Well, and you named having a member culture and people and someone being able to name even what their intention is around that. And I don't, I just wonder how many organizations have even spent any time thinking about what member culture do they wanna cultivate?
Amanda: Yeah. So we are all about talking about STA staff culture, but communities have cultures too, right? Members definitely have cultures too. I think there's a, there's a couple of ways to, to get at that. And one of the things that I love to do is I love to sit back and say, okay, so at each of the member stages, how do we want our members to feel? And so, you can, you can do this at a staff meeting or you can do it at a board meeting. You can say, hey new members are joining and at the one year mark how do we want them to feel? Or the day after they join, how do we want them to feel? And, answering that question will start to help you get not only that experience, but also the culture part of it. Because, because in order for us. To have the feelings that we want them to feel, likely there's, there's a, there's a, a culture that is supporting that, and I guess some, some, some examples of when I, when I first glommed onto this culture idea was when I did a bunch of research with chapters, so chap members of chapters, and the one story that kept coming back to me over and over and over and over again. I'm a brand new member, and I decided to go to my very first chapter meeting, and I, I walked into the room and, and all, and it hadn't, the event hadn't started yet and everybody was sort of like clustered at the front talking and I didn't know anybody and I was so awkward and it just felt so ugh. And so I found a seat and tried. appear like I was listening in on their conversations and I just, I just never went back. And, and so that's, it's a cultural thing. The new member is perceiving cliquishness and it's probably not happening at all. But, had there been a culture of welcoming a new face and introducing them around, then that thing wouldn't have happened.
Carol: Right. I mean, the people who are all catching up with each other at the front of the room who haven't seen each other for a month or whatnot aren't thinking that they're being exclusionary or that they're coming off as cliquish, but the fact that they didn't have, and so a simple thing I would imagine that, that they could have done would be to intentionally have someone, or several, someones on the lookout for new people to be able to, welcome them, introduce them to people. But yeah, I think I just have that intention. And, and you talked about also the, the, the assembly line that goes to a big conference or even a, like you said, even a small conference, there's often. That volunteer or or person, whoever's doing the managing is much more worried about, did I get everything in the stuff that I'm supposed to hand to them? Versus I'm interacting with a person, they're nervous about being here. How can I make that experience a little more enjoyable, welcoming and helping them navigate that first interaction?
Amanda: Yeah. Another way to think about it is it's a transition. So your memory is coming in off the street and then maybe they just flew all day and they had to catch a taxi in there, or maybe they had a Dr a drive through downtown Washington, DC and, and they're just frazzled. And so, so sometimes it's helpful to think like, oh, let's help them make that transition from perhaps grumpy or at least super tired and frazzled too, being ready to be their best self when they go ahead and enter our event.
Carol: Having some empathy for where they've been or putting, putting yourself in, in their shoes and, and you talked about the stages, kind of, of a, of a member journey. What, what are some of those and, and what are those key points where, or organizations can do a better job of, of creating the culture that they probably do think that they are creating or want to? Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, so, so I identified six stages of the member journey, and the first stage is to observe and so at that point, members join. And what they're doing is they're looking at everything. They're looking at your websites, they're looking at your emails. They might read a short article or watch a video, and they're just, they're just taking everything in. The second stage is assessed. And so at that point, they're taking a lot in and they're starting to ask themselves this question and that question. Is this the community of people like me? Is this for me? Am I gonna be proud to be here? Do I think sometime in the future I'm gonna feel like I belong? Like I found friends, like I've found colleagues. The third stage is participation. And so at this stage they've an, they answered that question like, oh yeah, there's a lot of potential here and I want to be. And so they dip their toe in the water and they participate and it's just a little thing. They might come to a virtual event and write a little note in the chat. They might rest, yeah, write in a comment on social media or on an article. It's just a little dipping the toe in the water that contributes to another stage, and that's when they're ready to start bringing much more of themselves. And so your contributors, contributors. , they're your speakers, they're your writers, they're the people you're interviewing. They might do short videos for you. They're all of those folks. And an under leverage stage is collaboration. So as we advance in our careers, We start bumping up against thorny, hairy problems, really difficult problems to solve. Problems that that just, they, they just keep showing up year after year after year. And what folks at that stage of their careers like to do is they like to get together with others and problem solve. They don't necessarily wanna listen. Stage on the stage anymore, they want to work together and problem solve. And so sometimes associations lose their members at that stage because they're not necessarily offering a lot of problem solving activities. And so those, that group that's really invested in solving a problem, might splinter off. And then the final stage is lead. And lead is what I would think of as your typical volunteers, however you define them. But in the book, there's a lot of folks that want to lead. They wanna volunteer, but they can't volunteer in the shape of the volunteer box that you've put them in. And so I talk a lot about how you open up volunteerism to a lot more people who are really ready to step into that role. So, at each stage you asked that question of like, where, where are the barriers that association should be on lookout for. And what I try to do in the book is really identify when people make the no-go decision to engage and when people make and why people make the, the yes decision to engage. And so, it's a little bit different at every single stage. However, the through line running through it all is usually an experiential thing. Usually there's something going on where people stand back and they say, oh, Oh, no, I, I don't feel like I belong here. I don't feel like these are my people. Even if everybody has my title, there's still a million ways that you can thank them, these are not my people. I don't feel like my contributions are wanted, I don't feel supported. And then, the reverse is true. So the reason why people stay is because they say, oh, This is my community. I am super proud to be here. I want to collaborate. I want to give my time. I want to give my ideas. My ideas are valued. I'm supported, and all of those wonderful things.
Carol: What are some of those things at the, at the very beginning stages that observe and assess? And I love that question and I didn't fully write it down, but is this the community? Well, I, where will I feel like I belong? And just thinking about all the different groups that I've been part of. Associations that I've joined and then dropped out of I don't think that I ever necessarily said that specifically, but it certainly, if looking back on the ones that I'm no longer participating in it would be that sense of even after trying, still feeling on the outside. So that's such an interesting topic, and of course, there's so much conversation now in the broad, broad, more broadly around inclusion and, and how people either feel included or not. But yeah, just that experience made me feel like these are my folks, or these are not my folks. It's pretty visceral.
Amanda: It is. And it's quick. You start to observe and you assess super, super quickly, and that's what members talk about. One of, one of the, the things that was a real big surprise for me, Is when I worked for an association, there was, there was this, this thought that you had a year to engage them before they made the decision to renew. But in my research, what I'm finding is they make the decision to engage and then consequently the decision to renew. really quickly, maybe as quickly as three days, maybe as quickly as three weeks. But it's, it's within those first couple of touches that they're making the decision to renew, which is pretty amazing. But I know what you're talking about. So when I first started this business and started my speaking career, I felt like I needed to do some brushing up. And I decided to join Toastmasters, and there's three clubs in my local area. And somewhere along the way somebody said, Hey, go to all of the clubs and just figure out which one you like. And they were all fine, but the one that I went to had the very best new member experience. So I showed up for the very first time and they had a welcomer at the door. Person chit chatted with me and asked me why I was there and what my speaking goals were, and then they took me 10 feet and showed me the bagel and juice table, and then they walked me another 10 feet and found me an empty seat, and it introduced me to the person right next to me. And then that person took it away and, and asked me more questions, and, and there was, there was no, none of that. . Ooh, awkward. How do I fit? Where do I go? What should I do? How do I fit in? None of that. They, they, they took care of it all. It's, it's, and it's, and it's really interesting how quickly you can say, oh yeah, the, these po these are, these folks are great. They're gonna be my friends.
Carol: Yeah. And it's amazing how that act of I've been so. Events, and I've probably been guilty of this myself, where somebody asked me a question, I'm a staff person, and I'm like, oh, it's over there. Versus, oh, let me take you over there and make sure that you, you find it. Yeah. And that. What will probably be three minutes or five minutes, depending on how far the thing is away makes such a difference because then you're, you're arm in arm with the person, you're next to them, you're, you're, you're with them on their journey and they feel supported. Yes. I love that. What are some things that, so we've been talking a lot about events, and of course things have changed a lot around events. Not everyone, not everything's in person these days. I'm actually finding that I'm doing a lot more of my networking through the Zoom screen than I am in an in-person event. But what are other ways that organizations can create that sense of welcome outside of events in that critical beginning period.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I'm so glad you asked that question because I love virtual events. I know, I know There's a lot of people out there that are like, oh no, zoom fatigue. One more zoom. But, but for me, I love presenting. I love interacting. I love being in the virtual room just as much as I love being in person. So I got together during the deep dark doldrums of Covid with my partner's, matchbox Virtual Media, and we can, we. We ran a series called the Virtual Networking Incubator, and there's actually at the end we wrote a report that talks about how you make really engaging virtual meetings. And then we wanted to take that environment that was, so difficult in virtual to do really good virtual networking and then apply it back in person. So now that we've done it, it's really difficult. What are the learnings that we can take back in person? And, and so a lot of, what we learned was the, the, the, the tone. So there's the welcome when you come into the room, but then there's even the welcome in the tone setting before you even come to an event or before you log onto a webinar. Or any virtual event. So what we were trying to do is we were trying to have a super participatory event. We knew we wanted a lot of psychological safety. We want, because we were experimenting, so we wanted people to feel free just to shout half baked ideas off the top of their head. And we went into it, very much defining how we hope for the culture. Would emerge and we started at the very beginning. So every, every single email that went out, we tried to make it super kind, super funny. If we made a mistake at any point, we totally would fess up to it and we're like, Hey, we totally made this mistake and that's okay cuz we're all experimenting here. so there we did a lot of things like that. And then when we, when we started having the event, We, we just, we leaned hard into the chat. So if I was talking, we had 150 people, which was awesome. But it also posed a bit of a problem because now we're trying to network with 150 people. And so my solution was, let's lean real hard into the chat. And, and so we would do, lots of warmups and progressive participation and just, really thinking about. How do we get even the most introverted of introverts feeling super comfortable to play with us? And so yeah, I, I guess the, the quick answer is, start thinking about how you welcome new members at the first possible point. if, if the very first touch they get is an invoice or receipt, what can you do? Warm it up, make it more surprising, exciting, something maybe, maybe you, maybe you don't send that receipt first and you send them a quick, loom that's 30 seconds of you just saying, Hey Carol, so glad that you just joined. just, all of those things. And, and I'm sure that there are some big associations and big nonprofits listening to this right now and saying, oh my gosh, we've got 10,000 new members joining every single day. We can't possibly do that. Well, there's some really interesting technology I think that will help you scale those things and still have the, still have an experiential common component that makes people feel like, oh, this is a great organization. They're so warm and kind and wonderful.
Carol: Yeah. To me, what I, what I'm hearing is really about humanizing that experience. So it's not, you're not just another email to deal with or another name in a database, but you're, there's an actual person behind that and, and they have hopes and, and. Goals for themselves that they're trying to achieve through joining. And, and just taking a little bit more time to recognize who's on the other side of that email can be so important. You talked about the participation stage where people are just starting to dip their toe in. I think the last stages contribute, collaborate, and lead. To me, those are the more obvious ones, the folks who are, who get super involved. And, and then, then they prob once they're involved and they have a good experience, you probably have them for life. Maybe not. But it feels like that participation stage is a real critical inflection point.
Amanda: It is. So let's talk about online communities because that I think is the most public demonstration of what your member culture is. And I am a huge advocate of highly moderated online communities, and I. In, in, in the, what the moderator brings to an online community is the moderator mo models. They model how to be a good online community participant. And, and so I love to see, and I've been a, a, a part of a couple of online communities where the moderators, and sometimes it's one, it's, the owner of a company or, or the CEO. Or the community manager, or sometimes it's, it's sort of a fleet of trained moderators. And, and what they do is they are welcoming new members and they are also they're, they're raising up ideas. So let's say somebody contributed a really good post, but nobody responded in the background. They might be going and saying, Hey, hey, Bob, I know you've got something to say about this. Here. Here's the link. Can you jump on? Or they might wait a few days and they might say to the whole community, Hey, Mike just said this really interesting thing and I'm, I'm just gonna bring it back to the forefront and, and ask you guys, what, where are you on this? I think this is a really interesting thing. So the reason why I think highly moderated communities are so important is that a lot of times if you've got an online community, New members are starting to get that digest and they will read that digest. And that's another, cue of like, oh, okay. so-and-so reacted a, a little bit harshly that, that feel, that fe just feels like that was, somebody maybe got slightly ashamed here. I'm gonna hang back and watch a little bit. And if it happens again, then I know it's a dangerous thing to be part of this community. The other thing is, moderators can't tell when people are posting for the very first time and they can support them in, in a lot of different ways. They can say, oh, that, so glad to see you here posting. I know we've got a lot of really, you know thoughtful people here in the community who are gonna answer your question and. and, and that just, that just, it helps to, it helps new members to be validated. It helps them to be welcomed. It helps, it makes me feel good when somebody shines a light on their post or their reply back and, and lets them know that Yeah. You know that like, Hey, I'm, I'm on the right track. It's always nice to have that.
Carol: Yeah, I think that's so important because I feel like at least in my experience, especially for associations that have been around for a long time I, in, in a lot of instances in the way I've experienced that the online communities, is that they've been something that just got added on. Oh, well we need to do this because it's an easy way for people to participate, but it's often a corner. Nobody's really supporting it. And what I see as a real contrast to that is a lot of for-profit organizations creating communities saying that their c. Focused and actually doing a much better job of really doing what you're talking about in terms of cultivating that online community and, and pulling people in. And it's just so interesting when I go to association conferences where I feel like I've been hearing this gloom and doom about associations and membership and all of it. And, and then on in the for-profit field, this whole thing is growing. Field of organizations, creating communities around their expertise, their brand, a person. So it's an interesting contrast.
Amanda: Yeah, that's why I am, I am, I am so hot on some, this really big opportunity for associations to. To take on the role of being. So one of the, the, the drum that I've been beating lately is have everybody in your association become a Chief Experience Officer. You don't have to give them that title, but this is the mindset I want everybody to start thinking about being a Chief Experience officer. And, and today I was, I was writing an article and I, and what I wanted to do is what I wanted to point to. big companies, big brands, not because they're big and they have a lot of resources, but because they're well known, and so everybody, everybody could sort of say yes, this is a company that has where everybody, from, from the CEO, all the way down to the person that stocks the shelves. This is a company where everybody has taken on the role of chief experience officers. And so I, I thought about it and I thought, I would say Trader Joe's is one of those companies, and I would say Apple is probably one of those companies. And, then I was floundering a little bit and I came up with a couple of more examples, but one of the things that really struck me was. For the examples that I did come up with, these folks are absolute, these companies and brands are leaders in their industry. They're leaders in their vertical. There's nobody else like them. They've set themselves apart and they've done it because not only are they offering value, the value has to be there, but they're also making sure that they offer experiences and they're empowering. Staff offer these really great experiences or motivate their staff, or they're building a culture that, where they're celebrating the, this idea of, you know, customer, consumer, engagement. And so for associations that are starting to feel like, oh my goodness, in, in my, in my profession, in my industry, all of my sponsors are starting to nip at my heels. And, we were starting to have a lot. A, a lot of competition. We associations are perfectly, perfectly positioned to lean into the experiential part of things. And when we do that well, there's a lot of support to say, Hey that, that really sets you apart. It sets you apart so much from all of your other competition.
Carol: And what's so interesting about those two examples is that really the businesses that they're in are so transactional, right? Yes. Groceries and electronics, I mean, to in, in, could be the most vanilla thing. At all. But then they do have, it is a very, very different experience to go to a Trader Joe's than any other grocery store that I, I normally go to Right. So, I was very excited when one moved into my neighborhood where we hadn't had one for a long time. So, yeah. Yeah,
Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Totally. I. So I've gotta tell this, this story of Trader Joe's. My favorite aunt was at a Trader Joe's, and she always gets this one salad dressing. And she went in and the salad dressing wasn't there. And so I think there's, some, somebody, stocking broccoli or something and she said, oh my, my favorite salad dressing, do you happen to have any outback? And the person said, oh no, it wasn't selling well. And so we actually discontinued it. And I can't imagine what was on my aunt's face, but I, I'm, I'm sure she, Devastated and that that person said, but we've got this new flavor and people are raving over it. I'm gonna give you a bottle when you get to check out, tell them that I gave you this as a sample and they won't charge you for it and you can try it out. And we're really so sorry that we discontinued the one that we love. But I hope you love this one too. I can't think of another place where that would ever happen. And so, there's, the, the person stocking broccoli is Trader Joe's chief Experience Officer. And, and I just, I just love that because. It, to me, when I say, Hey, everybody can become the c e o, it's, it's not just for the C-suite, it's for, it's for all of us. And, and I like to, whenever I'm talking about membership, a lot of times people will talk about strategies for member engagement and then everybody will look at the membership people. No, no, no, no, no engagement experiences. It's for everybody in the association. If you are in accounting, you are, you're, you're having, you. Contact with members, if you're in it, you're having contact with members. If you're in research, of course you're having contact with members. And so every single one of us can be a Chief Experience Officer.
Carol: I also appreciated how you described Opportunities for those smaller, you, you, you had mentioned before the big boxes that we've put volunteers in and expected them to sign up for a three year term, a very heavy commitment. But something like being a part of a team of moderators on an online community would be a much lower lift and easier for someone to say yes to.
Amanda: Yes. Yeah. So When a new member, I'm gonna get back to the volunteer thing through the new member lens again, when a new member joins, one of the things they love to do is they love to see people like them. And, so I conducted a piece of research called the New Member Engagement Study with my partner's Dynamic Benchmarking. And one of the things that we found compared to the first time we conducted the research, which was four years ago, Is now. So four years ago, associations did these new member webinars, like a new member welcome webinar, very static, not much interaction between the members and the person giving the webinar. Sometimes they were just prerecorded. Now those have evolved so much. Associations are, they're leaning into responsiveness. They're leaning into connection. I love what I'm seeing here because a lot of these, they were calling them virtual onboarding events. And so new members will come to these events. And a lot of the hosts are saying, Hey, tell me a little bit about yourself and what are your goals and why did you join? And they're taking all of that information and then constructing, maybe a little bit of a tour. Like, oh, I, you, you talked about this. Maybe you'd be interested in our salary survey. Or, or, Hey, let me, I'm gonna drop a couple of links into the chat for some articles. I think that you would really. . But what they're also doing is they're, they're naming Chad ambassadors. So maybe there's somebody who's been in the association for six months or a year, they're really excited about their very first volunteer activity. But they can't, of course they're not gonna be a board member or even a committee committee member yet, and they, they don't want that yet. They, they want, maybe something a little bit more practical. And so we can invite them to be chat ambassadors and we will train them and we'll, we'll tell them what a chat ambassador does. And so, . So there's, a, a six month member, one year member talking to brand new members about welcoming them, pulsing up their ideas, bringing things to the attention of the person who's speaking. So, so, there's, there's a lot of there's, there's so many cool roles that. Members would be delighted to do it because it's fun and exciting and interesting for them. And that would also be really helpful for our organizations.
Carol: Yeah, and it's so interesting. It makes me think of a program that we ran At the association, the last association that I worked at, and it was a very intensive year long professional development for early career folks. And when we first started it it was a coach mentor to one to many models. And when we first started, , all the mentors that were being recruited were, 30 years in the field, 25 years in the field. And over time, what we found was that the coaches who were much more successful were five to 10 years ahead of the folks who were in the program because they could still remember being new in the field and having to learn all the acronyms and having to, , not being sure about things. Someone 35 years in, that's a distant memory. So I love that idea of just six months if you can, you can contribute. You're still remembering what it was like to be a new member. You're still feeling new yourself, but you're just a little bit further ahead of the person that you're helping out at that onboarding. And that in an interactive onboarding event. Cuz I, when I said that I have been doing a lot more networking virtually when organizations have taken. It was already a poorly designed learning experience in person and then plunked it online. It made it even worse. But when, when there is intention about how it's designed and how the conversations are being cultivated, and, how everyone is, is actually feeling like they're part of, part of a. A group versus standing off and looking at something it's, it's totally different.
So I'm gonna shift gears now coming to the end here. And we talked about Trader Joe's. So at the end of each conversation, I ask a random icebreaker question. I now have two boxes of random icebreaker questions that I ask. So we were talking about Trader Joe's, so my question for you is, what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten? Oh,
Amanda: Gosh. Okay, so I'm probably dating myself at this point, but I did a semester abroad in Australia. And while I was there I traveled in, into the bushes. They called it, with a guide and a bunch of other novice Americans, and it was, I think it. earlier, right about the time that Crocodile Dundee had become super, super famous, and man, our guide leaned into that. And this guy, I, oh gosh, he, he found grubs, he found all kinds of things and cooked it over the campfire. So I, I, have proudly sampled my own Australian grub.
Carol: Well, okay, I'm impressed. I'm impressed. . So, what's coming up for you in your work? What are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Amanda: Yeah, so we've, we've been talking a lot about it, and that's the, that's the book. So I, I took all of this research, all of these experiments that I've been doing over the last 10 years and wrote, tried to pour everything that was into my brain out into a book. And so the book has been published. It's out there on all of your favorite online book sellers Worldwide. And it's called Elevating Engagement uncommon strategies for creating a Thriving member community. It's a pretty quick, quick read. I'd, I'd say about two hours-ish. And in what I, what I wanted to do is I wanted to make it engaging. So there are. There's lots of stories in there, and there is a, my fictional hero, her name is Kat Taylor. She actually demonstrates or you get to walk through every single stage of engagement through Kat's eyes. And what Kat is, is, is really an amalgamation of hundreds of stories that are just like hers. And so you, so you really get a sense of. How, how members are feeling at every single one of these stages where they're making that so critical. Go, no go decision to engage.
Carol: And I can attest it is, it is a very accessible and quick read. But there are lots and lots in there and so many actionable Approaches that, that is, that are built in. And I love following Kat on her, on her journey through her professional, professional life through the book. So, well, thank you so much. Thank you, Amanda.
Amanda: Thank you. This is, it's so delightful to talk to you.
Carol: I appreciated how Amanda described the common experience of someone trying out your organization for the first time. Do they feel welcomed? Does the welcome extend beyond a quick hello, here is your name tag at the registration desk? Think about the events you hold – could you have 1-2 people designated to keep an eye out for newcomers and engage them in conversation and help introduce them to one to two people at the event. I also appreciated her point about the often missed opportunity of purposely engaging and moderating your member online community. For associations, this is often one of the most immediate and obvious benefits that the association offers. I have been a member of online communities and message boards that are dominated by a few frequent posters. When those who engage frequently are pretty homogeneous – the cases I am thinking of it is a couple white men who post long treatises in response to questions. What they offer is often useful yet it can create the impression that there isn’t room for other voices – or if you do not have time to write 3-4 paragraphs you might as well not bother. The for profit memberships I am part of seem to all prioritize having a community manager. This person posts open ended questions regularly prompting and spurring group conversation. More active community managers might pay attention to who is posting for the first time and immediately respond so when a person takes the chance to shift from lurker to engaged they have a positive experience. They might also tag people in the community to ask how they are doing or when they might have a perspective to offer for an inquiry. Curating the community a little more can help intentionally create the culture that Amanda talks about and avoid having the culture determined by a few frequent posters. This could be a volunteer role that you prepare folks for and have a team of community managers rather than just 1 paid person.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Amanda Kaiser, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. We want to hear from you! Take a minute to give us feedback or ask a question at missionimpactpodcast.com/feedback, and until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
Get that Money Honey with Rhea Wong
In episode 67 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Rhea Wong discuss:
Rhea helps nonprofits raise more money. Though she has deep experience with institutional, corporate and event fund-raising, she is passionate about major individual donors and helping organizations to establish individual giving programs. She has raised millions of dollars in private philanthropy and is passionate about building the next generation of fundraising leaders. She has become a leader in the New York nonprofit community and is a frequent educational commentator in the media. She has been recognized with the SmartCEO Brava Award in 2015 and NY Nonprofit Media’s 40 under 40 in 2017. Rhea lives in Brooklyn with her husband. When she is not raising money for causes she loves, she can be found hosting her podcast, Nonprofit Lowdown, promoting her newest book Get that Money, Honey! or onstage as a newbie stand-up comedian in downtown Brooklyn.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Rhea Wong. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All for this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact. Rhea and I talk about how founders have to shift their thinking if they want their organization to grow, what rocks and pebbles have to do with nurturing donor relationships, and how accidental fundraisers can build their confidence.
Well, welcome Rhea. Welcome to Mission Impact.
Rhea Wong: Thanks so much, Carol. It's so fun to be here with you.
Carol: I have to say thank you for back in the day when you actually had me on your podcast before I had started mine, and it was part of what helped me have the courage to step out, and launch my podcast. So thank you for that.
Rhea: Oh, you're so welcome. I love it. I feel like the more the merrier we all need. good voices out here sharing knowledge. So awesome.
Carol: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I like to start out each conversation with what drew you to the work that you do and what would you describe as your why, what, what motivates the work that you're, that you're focused on?
Rhea: So sort of different iterations. So I started as a 26 year old executive director in New York City. And first at 26, I knew everything right? But in retrospect, I don't know whose idea it was to hire a 26 year old. Anyway, I talk about this a lot, but on my first day on the job, I did two Google searches. Google Search. One was, what did this executive director do? and Google search too was, how do you fundraise? Because I was that clueless.
And so over the course of 12 and a half years, my team and I built up the organization from 250,000 a year to just a little bit under 3 million in private funds in New York City. And it was a great ride and, and I really credit a lot of folks helping me in a really great team, but I also just thought, why did it take me 12 and a half years to figure this out? Like I'm a smart person. Surely this should be.
And what I found is that a lot of people have been put in these positions as executive directors or even development directors without ever having received formal training. I called them accidental fundraisers, right? And so in the next iteration of my career, I am doing it for the 26 year old me that was super clueless. I mean, I Googled, I got meetings with anyone who would meet with me. I sort of cobbled together what I would consider an MBA in. And fundraising. And the truth is the world needs a lot of healing and the folks who are doing the healing don't have time to waste to figure it out, like I had to figure out how to fundraise to bring the resources to the work. And so I do what I do because I remember what it feels like to be in. A seat and feel such a sense of responsibility and yet feel so clueless and alone in how I'm supposed to do this.
Carol: At least at that point there was Google for you to tap into folks beforehand, probably were, were flailing around and, and having less, less easy access to, to ways to learn. But I love you. Taking that and really streamlining it cuz, right. Why, why should it take anyone that long to really get good at what a it's a basic function for most nonprofits. Although it's rarely why people go into the field or go in and, or want to do the work that they're doing. it's often around. They wanna move a mission forward. They have a, they, there's something that, I was talking to somebody yesterday and she got started because X, Y, Z thing really pissed her off and those kinds of things. Mm-hmm. are the things that draw people into the field or have them start organizations or join organizations cuz they wanna make that difference and yet without money, without funds to and resources. There. There, there's. you can pursue a mission, but you're just so much more limited in your scope. So really being able to step into fundraising is so important. So what would you say to people? What are they, what are the first things that they have to learn as they're, getting, getting better at fundraising and a, and advocating for their cause?
Rhea: Before I answer that question, can I just respond to Sure. Absolutely. Cause I think it's really important if you're 100% right and this is usually the curse of the founder. So in, in a sense, I'm a little bit of a founder as well, but nobody starts a nonprofit cuz they're excited about fundraising. I totally get that right. On the flip side though, I think people who start nonprofits have to really come to terms with the fact that they're starting a small business. Mm. And a small business does not run without revenue.
And so, As you are growing an organization, especially if you are the executive director, you have to recognize that what got you here won't get you there, right? Your job is no longer, I, I like to say pet the panda bears as just a. a cheeky way, like your job is not to pet the panda bears anymore. Your job is to bring in the resources to hire people, to pet the panda bears. And where I see a lot of folks stumble, particularly founders, is that they have not upgraded in their own minds what the job is now. Like they realize, they don't realize that the scope of responsibility has changed because they're so connected to this vision and identity of themselves. It's like, well, I'm just the one who pets the panda bear.
And so that's where we see a lot of founder syndrome, like people who failed to build an institution around the idea. And so without a clear strategy for revenue, without an institution, you just have a hobby really. It could be a well-funded hobby, but it's really just a hobby. And so that's for all the folks out there listening, especially the, the founders in the eds, you are my people and I love you to death, but also. You have to run it like a business because it is a business.
Anyway, To get to your point though the question about what are the things that people have to know I mean, there's so many things, but I think so many things, right? So many things. But, one of the first training I do with the folks that I work with is around money mindset. So I think. Carol, I know you and I spoke about this, but we operate in such a scarcity mindset in the nonprofit sector. Like, oh, we can't afford that. And even the word is, is a negative, a nonprofit, right? We don't have enough time. We don't have enough money, we don't have enough staff, we don't have enough. No, we can't, can't, can't. And so what that does is it puts us in a survival mindset. And so when we get into a survival mindset, that's when we get reactive. That's when we get stressed, that's when we get transactional and we treat people like they're walking ATMs. And so the thing that I really want to get across to people, is that the job is not about chasing people down and extracting money from them. The job is to attract. Partners and inspire them and compel them to give because who they are in the world is intertwined with what you do as an organization and that there's an ever-growing cycle of growth and learning and interconnection.
Carol: I was just talking to someone recently about what they termed the ladder of engagement and, and I was actually reflecting on the number of. Newsletter, email newsletter lists that I'm on for nonprofits. And when I receive the number of invitations that I have to donate mm-hmm. But how few invitations I get in a really concrete way of how to get more involved and, and volunteer with them so that they, I would actually learn more about the organization. They would learn more about me. to me, to my mind, I probably would also be more motivated to give more versus mm-hmm. the 10th email that they've sent me for donations. So I love that. What you're talking about, about that interconnection.
Rhea: Well, the other thing too is I think, gosh, Cal even began, but so many nonprofit people have no expertise in marketing, which like, why would you? Right? I mean, that's not what the job is. But there's a concept of marketing of a nurturer sequence, and what a nurturer sequence is, is you're literally nurturing the relationship. And so what. Talk about a lot with my nonprofit clients if you have to think of all the communications that you're putting out as pebbles and rocks. Pebbles are the nurture sequence. Pebbles are the stories that you tell. Pebbles are the invitations to come to an event or volunteer or anything that builds trust. The rocks are the actual tasks. The thing, the mistake that I see people making all the time is that all they're throwing out are rocks. All they're throwing out are asks without the pebbles of building the trust and nurturing relationship, and fundamentally, Trust equals donations. So if you haven't done the hard work of building my trust in you and building my relationship to the organization, you have not earned the right to ask me for a donation because you have not gotten the trust.
Carol: And I, the, the image of people throwing rocks at me is not very inviting.
Rhea: That's true. Well, just think about like a pond, right? Like a big splash. So your, your rocks are like, they make a bigger splash, but you need the little pebbles to agitate the surface. I dunno if this is the best analogy, but the point being that you can't be throwing rocks out all of the time because people get tired of that. And also you. Established enough trust. You haven't established a relationship. You were just talking to me as if you're just extracting and like, by the way, 10 emails sent to me to ask me for money does not make it more likely that I'm gonna send you money. Right.
Carol: Right. And no. I haven't necessarily responded as they want me to. But, and probably because it is feeling transactional on my end.
Rhea: I mean, I think the other mistake, and I think it's a function of being so deep in this scarcity mindset, is that fundraisers, and I get it, fundraisers are getting it from both sides, right? They'll probably have an ED sitting on top of them or a board sitting on top of them being like, bring in the money. And then you have donors on the other side and, and you're just, you're in the middle. We so often think about what we want as a nonprofit. I like my fiscal year. I wanna do this. Me, me, me, me, me. It's the rare nonprofit that thinks about the donor. Like, what does the donor want? What does the donor experience, what do they want to achieve with their money? Right? Like, we all want something in the world. Good or bad, right? Like maybe I care about the pan bears, or maybe I wanna think of myself as the person who is in conservation or whatever it is. But how often do nonprofits actually ask me like, what do I want to achieve with my money? Like, why would I give to this organization and how is it aligned with my values and my purpose? And so, I think we as fundraisers need to think of ourselves as facilitators of our donors' experience. we're, as philanthropic advisors as opposed to, extractors of resources.
Carol: And I love that idea of a facilitator of an experience because that that would, if, if someone were thinking about it that way, they'd provide. different ways to have experiences with the organization and, and not just that one that keeps getting, drum drum, drum on. So, that facilitation is a really interesting idea.
Rhea: I mean, it's like, why, like why is Disneyland the happiest place on Earth? Like it's, and they're making money and make no mistake about it. But I would submit. it's because they've really thought about how to make a magical experience. And when you go to Disneyland, you're essentially buying an emotional experience, right? And you're like, what? Fine, go on the rides, whatever. But you're buying awe. You're buying magic in a sense. And I think as nonprofits we really have to orient ourselves to asking like, what kind? Experience, what value are we offering our donor? By being a donor with these NPSs? That doesn't mean I get the experience of getting like 10 more emails asking me for money. Like, that's not, that's not why I give money. And like also, I'm actually, I'm also pissed off at the donor. Like when I give to particularly political, political campaigns, I'm calling you. Hey, what's the thanks I get for donating? Oh, I get 50 million more people asking me for money cuz you sold my email address. Like that does not inspire trust and confidence.
Carol: Amen to that. Amen to that. Where have you seen organizations do a good job in creating that experience? Maybe that magical experience that you're talking about.
Rhea: Honestly I don't know that I, I can point to an exemplar. Let me think. I mean, look, how about good? Let's say good. I mean, what, I'm, I'm just gonna, everyone says, I'm just gonna call it Charity Water does a great job, and I, I'll tell you why. So, From a communication standpoint, most nonprofits put too much information on their website. It's very confusing. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. When you go to Charity Water, it's very clean, it's very straightforward, and they answer three questions. What problem are you solving? Why should I donate to you? So it's about competency and transparency and what's in it for me. And so if you scroll down and it's like, oh, well you can be part of our, peer-to-peer giving thing and it's really about building a community around an idea.
And so, I mean, I think Charity Water probably does the best job of understanding that. Are designing around a donor experience and a donor emotion as opposed to making it about them and about talking about what they need or what they want. Because in a sense it's sort of irrelevant. And like, here, I wanna be really, really clear because I, I know I might get some pushback here from people who are donor-centric versus community-centric. And I, I'm not gonna step into those muddy waters. Fundamentally, what I'm advocating is, is being empathy centric, right? We all have stories, we are all the main characters of our own personal movie, and there's space for all of it. But if I'm a donor and I don't feel appreciated, if I don't feel. Like I am part of a community. If I feel like you're just looking at me like I'm a walking track book, I'm gonna take my track and go somewhere else.
Carol: Actually as you were talking, I was, I was thinking about the whole move towards community centric fundraising, which I'll, I'll have to admit, I don't know a ton about. But I like that rephrase of empathy centric fundraising. So it's, and that can be e e e empathetic for any of the people involved in the whole experience.
Rhea: That's exactly right. I mean, I think there are a lot of things that I agree with in community-centric fundraising. Like, I think, I think that there have been a lot of toxic behaviors in the sector around, treating the donor like they're a savior. Like that's not, we, we're not, we don't need saviors, we need partners. But the thing that makes me very uncomfortable about community centric fundraising, and I'm part of, slack channels and all that is. There feels like there's an undercurrent of hostility towards people who have wealth. And I just wanna be really careful that we are not falling into this trope of like, well, rich people are bad and they did bad things to get their money. I mean, the truth is like most wealthy people in this country are first generation wealth creators. They're entrepreneurs. They made their money. Most of them did not do bad things to get their money. And, and yet I think in American society, the last great prejudice is against people who are wealthy. Like, we see villains that are wealthy and I mean, the truth is money is not. Money doesn't change anything. Money is just an amplifier. So if you are a good, generous person with no money, you'll be an even better, more generous person with money. If you were a stingy miserly person without money, you're probably gonna still be a miserly stingy person with money. Right? So I fundamentally believe that money is an amplifier of what's already there. And so this went on a weird tangent, but I, I, I would really caution. Who are talking about community centered fundraising to be careful that we're not demonizing people of wealth.
Carol: And just for folks, can you just give a brief definition of what community centered fundraising is?
Rhea: So it's an interesting model of fundraising. It's coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and it's really a reaction. The tradition of donor-centric fundraising, which is about making the donor the hero of the story and the center of the story, and really putting the community at the center of the conversation. I would actually Nuance it a little bit. I think the work needs to be at the center of the conversation. And I think of it like stone soup. Like everyone has a part to play. Everyone can bring a little something and we create something better together. And so, and I think in the Community-centric fundraising world. I think there are a lot of interesting conversations that are happening, particularly among younger philanthropists and what their responsibility and obligation is to decolonize wealth. So I think there's a lot of interesting ideas coming out, a lot of which I do agree with. I think the tricky piece for me is that I've actually never seen it done in practice. To me, there's a lot of theory behind it. But anyway, if there's anyone out there listening who has seen this done in practice, let me know. I'd be thrilled to talk to you and possibly have you come on my podcast.
Carol: I mean, I think there are a lot of pieces in that, where folks are questioning a lot of them. I'm strongly in the commonly held wisdom about this, that, or the other in the nonprofit sector, which I think is really healthy to mm-hmm. to critique that and, and look at it and say, how can we do this differently? But I appreciate we're, we're back to stones and rocks and pebbles with your stone soup of everyone having a part in it, and how can we all work together. So, and, and talking about how money is an amp amplifier, I would say I've, I feel like I've heard power described that way as well. That you really, know, really learn about someone's character when they have power, mm-hmm. and it wasn't, isn't the power necessarily that did it. Their character that they bring to them, that level of responsibility that they have. What do you, what would you say helps folks who may be reluctant or accidental fundraiser fundraisers, what, what are some things that help them be more successful in stepping into that? You talked about money mindset. Are there other things that folks need to address? Is to, to become more confident, more comfortable in that?
Rhea: Well, you can definitely take my course. So I am a fundraising accelerator. But it's so funny. When I started fundraising I heard this commonly held piece of advice, like, listen for the gift, listen for the gift. And I was like, I don't really know what that means. And the truth is, giving people the space to talk about themselves and what they want in the world and what they desire and what and who they are in the world is really important. What's equally as important, actually more important is that. There are really three levels of listening. The first level is I'm listening with an, with an agenda, and unfortunately that's where most of us reside, right? So I'm listening to you, Carol, but really I'm just filtering through with my own agenda and for what I want to hear. The second is listening with no agenda, so really just being fully present. And then the third is listening for what's not being said. And I'm gonna credit Jason Frack for this. I did not come up with this. I think as a fundraiser, if you are positioning yourselves not as an extractor of resources, but as a facilitator of an experience, then I think you calm your lizard brain enough to at least try to get to level two listening. Because at the end of the day, this is a, this is a people business, and if people don't like you, if people. Trust you. If people don't feel connected to you, you're probably not gonna go very far in this business. and I, as much as I think that people like to put a lot of philosophy and psychology behind it, the truth of the matter is people do business with people that they like, the people that they know, people that they like, people that they trust. And so be the person who is. Trustworthy. Be the person who's likable, be the person that people want to spend time with. I mean, it's pretty basic.
Carol: And that what, what, what, what is not being said? So I'm trying to think of how I can put a question together, so what's not being said here that you would wanna tell people about?
Rhea: The idea of what's not being said is actually really, really hard to do. It takes a lot of energy and it takes, and here I'm gonna get a little boo cuz I'm a Californian. That's just how we are. But it takes quieting the voices in your own head. How often are we really fully present? And so what's not being said? It's your reading tone, right? Like we communicate a lot with our voices, we communicate a lot with our body language. We communicate a lot with our energy. And so if I'm in a meeting with you and your, your mouth is saying one thing and your body language is saying another, like, do I have the courage to be like, Carol, I'm just, can we just pause for a second? It seems to me that, you're saying, And I'm getting something else. Can you tell me what's happening for you? But it takes a level of sensitivity and a willingness to step into something outside of the script to have that authentic human conversation.
Carol: That's, that's taking a risk, right? Because the in, in pausing, noticing, asking the person about it. And then I think where I, when I've done things like that, where I've made the mistake is that I haven't then just been quiet. Hmm. To allow them to decide whether they not wanna say anything
Rhea: Like, we're so afraid of silence, right? I mean, I, I'm, I'm guilty as well, but we, we like to rush in cuz like, we don't want uncomfortable silence. The other thing too that I would really say, particularly to new fundraisers out there is please, please, please, please stop the pitch. Ditch the pitch people. Now let me nuance that. I think it's important to have a pitch for you. Have the salient points boiled down in a concise way. That part of the pitch I agree with. The part of the pitch I disagree with is how we teach people. Like you just need to like to throw that pitch out at people and like to splatter them with it, right? I mean, I've raised millions of dollars. There's no magical combination of words. I'm going to say that. It's going to convince you to give me a gift. It is. It's a conversation and so I think the reason. especially young fundraisers, rely very heavily on the pitches that they're nervous about. And so instead of actually connecting as a human, I'm just gonna memorize like these, five slides and exactly what I'm gonna say to avoid making a mistake or avoid an uncomfortable situation or avoid being vulnerable myself.
Carol: I feel like that is something that, really, could be applied in so many different situations. I'm thinking of it. instances where folks are going to see their legislator or, or legislative staff too, and they go in, they've got their talking points, and they're gonna talk at the person. Or even, someone who's a consultant or vendor or whatnot, comes in and gives you a pitch on why they're the great ones and you should hire them. And I think of a situation where I was working in an organization and we were looking to do branding work. And we had a couple different firms come in and one came in very much with the pitch model. They just. Gave us a fancy slide deck and talked to us. The other folks came in. They had nothing. They had no presentation. They spent the time asking us questions, listening, and responding. We began how they would work with us, but really Their approach was learning more about us. And I feel like that, or in, in sales, in fundraising, in advocacy, all these different arenas where you're, where your ultimate goal is to try to influence someone. When you come at them hard like that, the rocks that you were talking about before it, it's just a turn off and you just stop listening. But Oh, if you come in with questions and, and have a conversation with someone and want to know more about them, it's just a totally different feeling.
Rhea: Well, and, and I would also say with questions, like, actually listen to the answer. I mean, I, there you go. We ask questions. I mean, I, I have to tell you, Carol, I was once on a podcast. and literally the person had sent me the questions in advance and she just went through the questions like, like a robot. And I was like, I could literally say anything right now. And you wouldn't change the cadence of this conversation because in her mind she was just like going through the questions and it was very off-put because ostensibly though she was asking questions about me, there was no. Like there was no connection there. it was. Okay. The next question you were like, she was lobbing tennis balls at me and I was like, okay, I, the, we are not having a conversation it felt like an interrogation actually
Carol: Right, right. So there, there is, there is nuance in that, in that if you're all, and then I think at that point it's probably nerves again. Mm-hmm. and wanting to do it right and like, let me get through. but the focus is on yourself. Cuz it's like, I can. That's right. Control this by asking all these questions versus let me be in this conversation with you, hear what you're saying, and respond to it in some appropriate way.
Rhea: I mean, I have to tell you, you, I had one of the most incredible interactions I had as an executive director. I met this guy, he was very successful, a finance guy, whatever and I went into the conversation, I was super nervous. I was just thinking about like, okay, basically like how do I not screw this up, right? Cause I was like, I feel like I have one shot here. But I decided, and, and to his credit, he actually helped this along, but we actually had this really connecting conversation and it wasn't about the non-profit. It was about how he was on the board of his college and why he was on the board of his college and how going to this college had meant so much to him. And just like this opportunity to be. With another human being and just learn about who he was and, and, and put aside my own nerves of like, oh gosh, he's this super successful finance guy who has so much money. Right. And we were just humans and it was an incredible conversation. I came away incredibly energized.
Carol: So connecting it, as you said before, it's really a people business. And it's all about, cultivating those relationships.
Rhea: Definitely. Well, I, I think too, the reason why people get so nervous is it, it's all about that scarcity mindset. That's just this belief that, like, this is the last person I'm ever gonna talk to who might fund our organization or might give us a gift, or might give us a donation, like the truth is, it's probably not the last person you're ever gonna talk to. And not all donations are meant to be yours, right? Like if I talk to you, Carol, and I tell you about my organization, I learn about what you're interested in. And it turns out that you're really into saving the whales and that's not what we do. My job is not to convince you. My job is to say, Carol, that is wonderful cuz the world needs people to save whales too. Can I make an introduction to some people who are doing that work or at the very bravo. So glad that you figured that that's the thing that you wanna do and, go forth and do that. So I just think we have to let go of the desperation, ? So a lot of the times when we go into conversations like, I need to convince someone to do the thing that's like, That's like going on a date and convincing someone that we need to get married. I'm like, I don't even know you like that. Like what? Stop trying to push things. Like maybe it works out, maybe it's right, maybe it's not. But we need the space to be able to figure out if we like each other.
Carol: It reminds me of the small group that I was working with, and they were shifting from that all volunteer stage to having staff. But they were still very much in that scarcity mindset around board recruitment. Mm-hmm. And so it was like each new person that they met, they asked them to be on the board. And that's like, oh no. Asking someone to marry them. Like, no, you need to get to know this person. They need to get to know you. You need to know whether they're gonna show up and do what they say they're gonna do. Are they interested in your organization? Lots of different things. And so what are all those little pebbles as you talked about, what are all those little steps that you can provide people to, to give, have a way in if, if it is the right organization and cause and, and thing that they're really passionate to contribute.
Rhea: I talked about this a lot, Carol. So I love the dating analogy of people who have listened to me. No, it's number one, desperation is a stinky perfume. So I'm, I'm married, I've been married for a long time, but once upon a time I was single and I would go through these periods where I couldn't catch a date to save my life. It was just like a dry spell, right. And the minute I was in a relationship, everyone wanted my number. And I was like, what's up with that? Like, where were you a month ago? and it was because of the vibe I was putting out, right? Like when you feel secure, when you feel confident, when you feel just sort of in integrity with yourself, like that's very attractive and people want to be part of that. But when you're desperate and you're like, well, you go out on a date with me, will you be my boyfriend? It's like, no crazy person. I like to calm down.
Carol: Well, right. As you were talking about the, the other conversation where, you felt like this is my one shot. That just, that it's like, it just, even, even just saying that I feel myself tensing up, and, and so where you're calm and confident in your, in your, in your own power.
Rhea: Just comfortable in your own skin.
Carol: Absolutely. Exactly. Exactly. So at the end of each episode, I like to ask an icebreaker question that I pull out of a box. So I've got one here for you. Oh, how fun. Which, which famous person I you're, you're in New York, you're in I think, Southern California right now. Maybe, maybe not Southern California.
Rhea: No, I am in southern California right now. What
Carol: A famous person have you met? And, and any level of fame is fine
Rhea: oh, okay. I'm gonna share the story. I hope, I hope this doesn't get back to me. So, I am a big Game of Thrones fan and Peter Dinklage lives on my block. So for those of you who don't know his Tyrion Lannister, and I have for the longest time. Tried to befriend him and he is not having it. he's not having it. He's not having it. I mean, so I see him walking his dog. I'm walking my dog. I try to be super cool, like, oh hey neighbor, good morning. And he is like, not unfriending, he'll say hi, but like he is just not trying to be my friend. So I don't know if I could say that I met him. I definitely have interacted with him where, Tried to have interactions with him, and he is not about that life. So Peter Dinklage, if you're listening to this, I am your neighbor. I'm not a weird stalker, but we should definitely be friends
Carol:. Sounds good. And a dog. A dog is always a good way to get to know people. So what do you,
Rhea: So wait. Okay, wait, quick story. So he has a dog and I have a dog. My dog has passed away, but anyway, I have a dog and I was like, oh, I'm gonna be in, like, we're, we're gonna be dog friends and then we're gonna see each other on the walk and then like start chit-chatting. But then, My dog decided to have beef with his dog and started yapping at him. And I was like, dog, dog. I, I don't ask for anything except for this one thing. You could have gotten me in with Peter Dinklage's dog, and it was a tremendous failure. So like, then I had to cross the street when I saw him and his dog because my dog was being a jerk. So sad times with the dogs.
Carol: Well, you can blame it on the dog then. Poor, poor puppy. I know you're a cutie. I know. Or was, I'm sorry to hear he passed away.
Rhea: That's it. Stevie Wonder. Well, we have a new love Stella, but Stevie will always hold a special place in our hearts
Carol:. Yes, absolutely. So what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're
Rhea: Good question. So I, as I mentioned, have a fundraising accelerator. So I'm actually promoting my cohort now. And this is ideal for executive directors and development directors who are accidental fundraisers who wanna learn how to get out of the transactional into the and what else? I have a book that came out last year, so I'm still out in the world promoting that. What else? I'm doing some speaking and training around the country, so that's a lot of fun. But I continue to have my podcast and my weekly newsletter. So there are lots of ways if, if you want more of this action, there are lots of ways to get it.
Carol: Definitely. Remind me what the book is.
Rhea: Oh, get that money, honey
Carol:. All right. I love it. I knew it was, I knew it was a good title. I knew it was a good title. Get that money.
Rhea: It's so funny when I put it out to a group of pre-reads, someone responded like, I don't know what you should call it, get that money, honey. Because as a man, that feels alienated to me. And I was like, I hear your feedback and I respectfully override it.
Carol: That is always our prerogative with feedback. Right. It's just information. We don't have to follow it all. I hear you and well, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the podcast. It was great to talk with you.
Rhea: Thanks so much, Carol. It's a lot of fun.
Carol: I appreciated what Rhea said about cultivating an experience as a fundraiser for a donor. Truly being present in the conversation, putting away the script and truly listening. Listening for the gift instead of jumping in with your talking points and your pitch. Very few people want to be pitched to. They want to have a conversation. And know that you are really listening to their answers so that they can connect with you as another human being.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Rhea, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Natasha DeVoise of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed it, please share it with a colleague or friend. We always appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 66 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Katherine Turner discuss:
Katherine L. Turner, MPH (she/elle) is the founding President of Global Citizen, LLC consulting firm that strengthens inclusive leadership and effects organizational transformation and social impact by advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, public health, human rights, and global competence. As Adjunct Professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, she teaches and mentors global leaders on leadership, global competence, and other topics.
Katherine provides strategic leadership on global advisory committees, has founded and led boards of directors of nonprofit organizations, and won awards for excellence in leadership, teaching, public health, and advocacy. She is an internationally-recognized executive consultant, coach, thought leader, speaker, author, and change agent who has worked in English, French, and Dutch across all sectors in over 50 countries to deliver high-impact results for a better world.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Katherine Turner. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Katherine and I talk about diversity, equity and inclusion in a global context. We discuss how the fields of diversity, equity and inclusion and intercultural communications and competence intersect and also how they do not, how globalization and shifting demographics are shifting the field, decolonizing international humanitarian efforts, and how to help people move from awareness to action.
Well, welcome Katherine. Welcome to the podcast.
Katherine Turner: Thank you so much. It's great to be here, Carol.
Carol: So I'd like to start with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Katherine: That's such an important question. Well, I would begin with my background and my accident of birth, if you'll call it that, that, being born a white middle class person and being, gaining so much unearned privilege and power as a result of that and definitely has had a strong impact on my, my values and my perspective of myself in relation to my life, which is around that I, I did gain so much unearned privilege and I have benefited so much from that and that I just want to work throughout my lifetime to try to create more equity and to equalize that. And then certainly as a queer lesbian, my identities in those ways and the kinds of experiences and discrimination that I've experienced have certainly informed a lot of my work, especially around diversity, equity, and inclusion. And then having a biracial son with a multiracial queer family. That is a blended family with my ex-partner who's African-American and her partner who's African-American, and my current partner who's white and our son who's biracial, that as a multiracial queer family, so many of the experiences that I and my ex-partner and my current partner and our son and are, are co-parents are, have experienced, have really informed a lot of our understanding of the world, and again, the kinds of changes that I'm looking to affect in the world to. According to my company's tagline, create a Better World, for a better world, for my son and, and really for all people. And then I grew up with a very global upbringing, so my family moved around a lot in general, and we lived in London, my middle school years. We also share a history with you on attending the American School in London, London for three years. And my family traveled a lot during that time and. and since then I have lived and worked in a number of different countries. And so that has really informed my understanding of myself as having a global citizenry identity and also viewing everything really from a global perspective. So that has a huge impact on, on the work that my firm does and. And then my family, just on a personal level, just my, my grandparents had, had such a profound impact on me as well as, of course, my parents. And, they really raised us with a strong sense of ethics of most of all integrity. AndI've raised my son with that really firm belief, that integrity, our integrity is our most prized trait and possession and that we, that we need to work throughout our lifetime to embody integrity. And so that's always been number one for me. And that said, I also grew up in a family, a white family that didn't talk about our whiteness, didn't talk about race at all, that that raised me to think that it was. Impolite or not nice or wrong to notice, even notice or let alone talk about race and ethnicity and, and differences. And so that has also really informed my convictions and my commitment to proactively addressing systemic racism and other forms of systemic oppression and discrimination. and I have an aunt who's developmentally disabled. And, and so she also, just growing up and, and seeing her, how her life and, and all of our lives have been affected by her disability has really informed my understanding and my compassion and my. Desire to create a better world for people with differing abilities. And I've just always been a systems thinker too. So I approach problems and solutions from a systems perspective. So that informs the work that my firm does around affecting systemic, broader systemic changes. So I think it's in terms of my upbringing and then also my nature and personality just have really lent themselves well. Being a consultant, running a consulting firm and specifically doing this work around diversity, equity, and inclusion or d e I as well as global intercultural competence and global public health. Yeah.
Carol: There are a lot of common intersections that we have. And yes, and part of the, we, we, we, we found out by accident that we had actually been at the same school overseas together in London. Exactly. During our middle school years. But I just learned another one, which is you, you have an aunt who's developmentally disabled and mm-hmm. I have a brother who's developmentally disabled. Mm-hmm. And I feel like that. I, I also grew up in, in a white family that did not talk about race, that where it was impolite to pay attention to it and all of those common things that you described. But I did grow up with the younger sister of my brother who's deaf and autistic and developmentally disabled, and so was able to see. And experience how the world treated him differently and how he did not fit into systems and all of those things. And I think then also having that international experience certainly enabled me to understand that culture exists and that everyone has a culture and that they all have different assumptions. And to be able to see that in a way that when you're in. and you never leave it. It's very hard to see. And, and one thing that you talked about, you talked about and I, I really appreciate how you grounded your why. And I think really when it comes down to it, everybody's purpose is and what they're doing comes from all those experiences. You're, you're, you're growing up, your family those, those important influences. Your cho , your chosen family as an adult. thinking about the blended family that you have. I'm also thinking about my grandson who has multiple sets of grandparents mm-hmm. and three distinct cultures that he's interacting with. Mm-hmm. through, through that, through those groups of grandparents. So , it's just a different experience that he will have even from mine. So, Appreciating all of that. And one of the things that you talked about was doing d what's called in the United States generally, as I understand it, diversity, equity, and inclusion work. And then also working globally around global competence and intercultural communications. And I've probably been more aware. The field of intercultural communications first and then had learned more about diversity, the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion. And as I learned about both, I was curious about how each field had developed while they're working in many ways on similar issues. I feel like there's a, there's a very different perspective d e i being rooted in. I, I think if I'm, if I'm correct, the, the. history, the particular history of the United States and our history with racism. But then applied in an organizational context to try to mitigate that. And then, Intercultural communication probably comes out of the experience of, of a previous generation of folks like you and me who either grew up overseas or worked overseas and have that and probably more likely to be white or an elite from an international different country. and yet there's some things from each field that they're mm-hmm. that over overlaps. And then, and I've also experienced where people have no idea that one field or the other exists. Exactly. , I'm curious, I'm curious about your experience with that.
Katherine: Yeah, I've, I've had similar, similar experiences and it is curious to me, I've always felt that I've straddled these worlds and, and many worlds. And that's one of them. Can serve to play as, as a bridge builder between them and to help people understand the interconnectedness of people as well as concepts. And so yeah, certainly when we think about diversity, equity, and inclusion work and understanding that people and companies use different acronyms and language for that. Sure. So sometimes it could include DEIJ for justice or DEIA for accessibility, et cetera. The alphabet soup. The origins are around the realities of systemic oppression and, specifically racism in the US as well as gender sexism and gender equity work in the us. So a lot of the anti-racism and gender equity work has really informed me. I feel that it started more with focus on diversity and then gradually started to encompass understanding that it's, while it's important to have, it is important to have representation and a diverse mix of people. In any workplace or community , diversity is important and not sufficient to create a culture of inclusion and belonging. And so then that recognition of inclusion and then ultimately working towards equity, that even with inclusion where when we take actions to ensure people are feeling fully valued to part. That still doesn't account for the historic and present day discrimination and disparities that exist because of systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of systemic oppression. And that in order to achieve equity, we need to recognize those historic and present day disparities and take specific actions to address them and provide the opportunities and resources that people who have been discriminated against need in order to actually. Achieve equity and that we know will have achieved it when race or gender or other identity markers like that are no longer a predetermining factor for outcomes. And so that's, that's really important. And yet, as you noted when I was years ago, when, when earlier in the field, When I would participate in or facilitate d e i conversations sometimes people in the US would challenge me when I would bring in a global context or want to have a global conversation around d e I and even feel that I was trying to minimize the realities of systemic discrimination and racism specifically in anti-black. System in the US context. To me, having grown up internationally and really understanding, seeing the, seeing issues through a global lens, it's impossible for me to even think about the history of slavery and anti-black discrimination in the us. Without putting it into a global context, because literally obviously black people in the US , came originally from Africa and, and, and then all of the centuries of movement and political and economic and social and other phenomena that has resulted to us being in the situation we're in, in the US and that there are so, Parallels around systemic discrimination in different countries, and I find it incredibly valuable to learn from experiences in different countries and to apply those lessons across the globe. That we have so much to learn in the US from others, what the experiences and wisdom in other countries and vice versa. I think that because of our history of. Thisin the US we're often really indoctrinated to believe that the US is the best country in the world, that we are superior, that we have all the answers. And that's a lot of the work that, that my firm does around global competence is helping people who have been, as all of us who were raised in the west and indoctrinated with this, this false belief to understand that there, there's so much that we have to learn from people in other countries and systems in other countries. And similarly in. Global intercultural competence, again, goes by different terms fields as you do not. A lot of that has come out of thought leaders who grew up with an international, with international experiences or who held positions in which they were working internationally, and then developing models and frameworks and concepts and understanding of intercultural skills or competence, what the elements of those are and what they look like. And how to teach them and how to learn them and how to practice them. And even as global citizens, we have our own global competence model, the framework and curricula that we use in our training. And yet when we look at the history, as you noted, Many of the earlier pioneers, if you will, of and I guess I'm using that term significantly in the intercultural competence fields were predominantly white western people with an international upbringing or ex or professional experience. And there had not been until more recently an understanding and an incorporation of equity. and justice within those models and frameworks. And so as you noted, there really has been historically a disconnect. I wouldI've written papers, journal manuscripts, and I've been a keynote speaker and done a lot of speaking and writing and. Thought leadership and consulting in each of these areas. And yet the communities and fields have been quite distinct until more recently, I would go to conferences and address, talk about the interrelation with intercultural or global competence and d e i and people would give me, looks like these are completely separate fields. And similarly, again, in the d e i space, like the example I shared where people would, some, some people would sometimes question me bringing a global lens and even my motivations for doing that. But, more recently, I think given the popularization of equity and the, and the greater understanding and awareness, and hopefully as we're working on action more recently around equity, I think there has been more understanding and more interconnectedness among those fields.
Carol: Where are you seeing the common points or the interconnections? Where are you seeing people make those, make those links?
Katherine: Yeah, such a great question. Well, first of all, I think that with increasing globalization and increasing. Population diversity. So in the US for example, we're when we think about people who are currently living in the US who are born in other countries who are at the highest point in over a century, and those trends are only going to continue. So when we just look at the demographic data, On populations in the US and populations in many countries, the world over because of increasing GLO migration, because of globalization, more people are moving to other countries or continents for work or for. Sanctuary or for other reasons. And then forming families that are increasingly across CU cultures or countries. And then having children who are increasingly multicultural that the population, the demographics are shifting and we, in the US and people in other countries are becoming increasingly international. And because of migration and diversity and, and multiethnic and multiracial. And so these sh this also affects a shift in cultures, obviously. And and those numbers also that who's in the majority that they, for example, the US will be a, a majority black and brown country you buy, or before the year 2045. So this is affecting huge cultural changes and I think more and more people are recognizing Global, the global nature of all issues, including DEI. And then in the intercultural or global competence fields, there has been the move towards and in other fields, in the humanitarian sectors and, and in the global nonprofit. And development sectors. There's been an increasing awareness around decolonization which at its roots is about recognizing the systemic oppression affected by worldwide colonization and the lasting impact of that, and the need to to identify and work to mitigate the effects of colonization in all of the work. People do internationally, whatever the sector is, and, and those are different terms, but they're still speaking to an understanding of the root causes, history, causes of systemic oppression, the lasting impact in the ways that oppression has been. Inculcated into all of our institutions or major institutions and into our cultures and the ways that we think and act, and then a need to identify and work to disrupt that, which is. Parallel to the work that we're doing around anti-racism, around sec , gender equity and gender around sexual orientation, gender identity and expression around accessibility for people with differing disabilities, et cetera. So, I think people are starting to understand those root causes and, and consequences and impact, and that the solutions on a systemic level are somewhat similar.
Carol: Yeah, thinking about that history, it's always gotten to me that when I hear folks from Europe saying, oh we don't have those racism problems that you have in the US Wait a second. Where did it start? Who were the colonizers? Who came over here and then colonized? The folks who were the integral parts of the entire enslavement system. All of the countries in Europe, and then all of the ripple effects , Some of them having them more directly because of migration and, and , who's come to live in the countries, for example, in, in the UK. But yeah, that just like, wait a second, . Absolutely. It's, well, and then when different, there may be different particularities, but there's so much that's, that's in common there when you're working with organizations that are, that are. , take steps towards the decolonization that you're talking about in that international context. Can you, can you gimme some examples of what's a useful place for people to get started?
Katherine: Yeah, I think first of all, just having accurate information to one methodology that I had helped to develop in a previous role when I was a global senior health systems advisor and manager at, at IPAs, which is an international nonprofit working on women's sexual reproductive health and rights and was a values clarification, attitude, transformation methodology. That's really about helping people understand. Replace inaccurate information with accurate, factually correct, accurate information. And then also really undergo a deep process of identifying and identifying their core values and then linking their core values with their beliefs and their attitudes and their actions. And that's, that's an important methodology that we. But just awareness raising as a, as a starting place for many people in particular, like you and I were describing at the beginning the way the, the situ, the circumstances that we're born into the identities that we have been born into or that we have acquired over our lifetime. For those of us who have identity, identity markers that are part of the dominant group, whatever that group may be, and that's gonna be different in different cultural and country contexts. The kinds of privilege and power that we experience is oftentimes invisible to us unless we take actions to really understand what they are. And then again take actions to work to interrupt. And so there are many people going through the world who don't really aren't aware of the kinds of power, privilege, and power that they're experiencing on a daily basis because of their skin color, because of their gender identity because of their sexual orientation, et cetera, because of their ability, et cetera. And so just having that awareness and, and, and helping people to disrupt that. ignorance, not using that in a pejorative sense, but literally not knowing, not understanding and then inciting people or encouraging people to understand the impact that that has on other people. And I think once people start to understand that by. Moving through the world in this unaware way They are, we all are saying and doing things that can unintentionally in most cases. Some people are intentionally doing harm to others, but in most cases people are unintentionally saying and doing things that are causing harm to others. And once people realize that they're having that impact on others, however unintentional, however good intention, their intentions are, however good their intentions are. Most people are going to feel a deep sense of distress or at least discomfort or distress over this knowledge that they're inadvertently doing that, and then are, would be motivated to want to make changes. And then once people understand that's at an individual level. Once people understand at a more systemic level, the ways that systemic oppression has been, again, institutionalized and is con and is, is continuing to cause harm and discrimination towards people. Even if the people in those institutions are not conscious of perpetuating those injustices. , they will feel motivated to want to, as affect systemic changes in order to create an opportunity f where everyone truly has e equitable resources and an opportunity to advance. So I think it's about appealing to, I, I, I believe that at base, at coremost people are good and want good for others, and that we just need to help them understand how. the ways that we're currently thinking and the ways that we're currently acting may be contrary to our values or our beliefs about what's good and right in the world and what our role is in affecting goodness, positive change or affecting harm. Andwhere do we wanna land on that side? And again, I believe in my experience that most people want to do better. and, and then are motivated and, and, and just may not know, ha, may not know what harm they're causing and then may not, or the, the, the level of harm that they're causing and then may not know what to do about it. And that we need to give them the knowledge and the tools to help them align their values and their intentions with their, with their practices.
Carol: Yeah, I I, I saw an article, or I just read the headline in the New York Times of why d e i training doesn't work, and I feel like I will read the article. So I'm, so, I'm a little more informed than what I'm about to say, but just from my experience, I, I think that sometimes or, or maybe too often folks get to that awareness stage, but, The, the next step isn't taken to help people practice well, what, what would I do differently? They might be told to do this, that or the other. But then when you're in that instance of. An uncomfortable person says something that makes you feel uncomfortable and you, you, you're feeling like you wanna say something, but you're just frozen. Like, how do you get yourself outta that and, and to be able to take some action? What have you seen help people move beyond just awareness to, to being able to feel like they're equipped to, to manage a difficult situ.
Katherine: Yeah, it's a great question. So a number of things. So again, one, just being able to recognize, having the, the self-awareness to recognize in the moment what's happening. And , for many of us, it's only in hindsight or when someone else brings it to our attention that we recognize that something we've said or done has caused harm. Or again, that by doing nothing. in a system that has been designed to favor white people or light-skinned people and oppress brown and black skinned people and indigenous people, that by doing nothing, we are also causing harm. That it's, it's, it's, it's not enough to, to do, to do nothing or to not intentionally do harm to others. That's not, that's not enough because of the way the systems have been designed. And. again, a deeper recognition of that and a, and an acceptance of that. And then, Having people really practice is also helpful to give people opportunities. Some of it is providing some of the language during global citizens training, we will provide some phrases that people can use to interrupt a situation in the moment to give some training on bystander intervention so that , when you're in a situation where you have inadvertently caused harm to someone else, and. Just have realized it or someone else has brought it to your awareness or you witness that a microaggression or a harmful act or comment has just been made. What are some words and what's some vocabulary that you can use? And then also that mindset of commitment. So in addition to giving people the language, in addition to providing scenarios, in addition to giving people opportunities to talk in small groups, even possibly do. Role plays to actually practice it. Because what's true is the more that we practice saying the words, the more that we practice being courageous and intervening, the more comfortable we're gonna become with it. I wanna come back to comfort. And then setting commitments and intentions that we know from the evidence or from the literature, that when people form behavioral intentions, we're more likely to act on those intentions. So in my training, I always ask people at the end to identify what are actions that you will commit to, to do from now on as a result of this training or a result of your a. That you will affect, that you will begin to affect. What can you commit to doing starting today? And then also putting in place what we know is a very. Tried and true method, which is accountability structures. So forming accountability partnerships or groups or as a team or as a leadership group. Again, setting your commitments and then creating accountability structures so that you have shared your commitments and your goals with others. You're, you're checking in with each other with your accountability partner, your.
Support each other when you're running into roadblocks or challenges and, and having people who you can really, who can help you work through those challenges and figure out how to do your intervention in a more effective way. And then as always, checking in. On how you're doing. So asking for feedback and that requires leaders and, and everyone to be more vulnerable and to say, I'm in the process of learning some new skills around intervening. It doesn't feel comfortable to me at the moment. So I'm gonna be practicing these new skills and let me know how I'm doing and, and invite feedback. Is really important. And so all of those techniques are valuable. And then this issue of comfort, which when we think about Tema Ocon and, and others' important work around white supremacy culture, and by white supremacy culture, I mean the full continuum of white supremacy. So in its most extreme egregious form of the KKK and neo-Nazism and all the ways. White privilege and power have been institutionalized and then internalized that we inadvertently perpetuate it and that we could be white people, and it also can be black and brown people or people of color who inadvertently perpetuate white supremacy culture. And one of the traits of white supremacy culture is this belief that we have a right to comfort that somehow. We should not be made to feel uncomfortable. And that's something that I think is really important that I work in my coaching and my consulting with companies and leaders to really have people question this and, and challenge this and lean into a. Are accepting of discomfort. And so often I've, I've been incorporating more somatics or embodiment into our work at Global Citizen. And so I'll often begin a training or a workshop or a talk with asking people to take a moment of mindfulness. A moment of awareness about their bodies and how they're currently feeling in their bodies. And then throughout the training or the workshop or the talk to be aware of what sensations are coming up for them. What are they noticing in their body? Where are they noticing it? What is the. The feeling, the texture, the color, the width, the breadth, the depth of it. And to, to use that information as an, as an important, that noticing as an important source of information about what causes them to feel light and joyful and excited and positive. What causes them to feel distress or discomfort and where there is discomfort to notice. , what the nature of that discomfort is, and then to go back to it later and explore it more so that they can understand it and use that information to inform their actions in the future. And that's, that's a really powerful way of disrupting white supremacy culture and also of helping all of us to become more integrated beings. Because I really believe in one of them. Egregious effects of white supremacy culture is that it has caused those of us who have internalized it to become disembodied, to become, to separate our, our minds and our bodies as though they're distinct from each other, rather than to bring our whole body selves into our lives and work. And so that's something else that I'm. interested in incorporating into our work and also to helping more people to become more fully integrated in this way. And that I think that has, can have a powerful societal impact as well. Yeah.
Carol: There's a, there's a lot in, in what you were talking about, but that, that sense of disconnection that is so, ingrained in white American culture Northern European culture as I experienced it, that very distinct of, Separation, but then also vilification of anything to do with the body. Mm-hmm. So I do appreciate how more and more folks are bringing that to the fore and helping people learn more so that they can be better integrated. And and, and part of the, the description of white supremacy culture to me, in some ways is a description. , any supremacy culture. Mm-hmm. , there are aspects of it that like that right, to comfort anyone who in whatever context and, and not allin some context. The, the, the, as you said, the, the markers, many contexts, the markers of our identity are gonna be in common with who's in that elite group but in some contexts not. And, and so some of those things around right to comfort or power hoarding or maybe some others I think are gonna be pre prevalent and, and, and noticeable in any dominant group in a culture. Absolutely. So it's an interesting thing to think about as well. Well, and
Katherine: a lot more to explore because that has been something that I and my firm are actually really working more on understanding and. And incorporating it into our work. And We are planning to do some work around decolonizing d e i and understanding and advancing d e I with more global perspective and global understanding about how they're under, how they're experienced and understood and practiced in different contexts. And that even the ways that we're approaching d e I may be inadvertently perpetuating. Colonization and there needs to be a decolonization process.
Carol: Can you say more about that, what that means or what that looks
Katherine: like? Yeah, so even just a, a lot when I'm working, I work with a lot of international organizations and so even when we are. Doing our work together. So I haven't really talked a lot about our process, but we always begin with an assessment. So we'll look at secondary data, like any data or survey, survey data or other employee engagement survey. Or demographic data of employee data that we can look at, as well as employee handbooks and bylaws and any organizational documents. And then we also will conduct interviews with key stakeholders, focus group discussions. Obviously there's my observations as I'm working with organizations and. Pulling all of that information together into an assessment of what is the current state of an organization or company. And then doing strategic visioning and planning with the leaders to, to understand what have we learned from this strategic assessment that would inform your strategic vision of where you want your organization to be. And then what are the strategies and steps that we need to put in place to help you work towards that incrementally and. Attaching some success metrics and ways of measuring where you are currently, and using data as much as possible, and data broadly defined as much as possible to understand your current state. And then attaching success metrics to your goals and strategies so that you can measure progress over time and know what, what progress you're making or not making, and then change your strategies accordingly. And so as we're undergoing these processes, another important thing. Step that that we do is to ensure that in our collaboration with our client partner, that we usually are working with a couple of key people in some organizations that might be a D E I. Working group or council that is a representative group of employees who represent different demographics, if they're international or national, different geographies, different levels and roles in the organization, different divisions. And so that's, that's a really key part is that we. Are intentionally selecting a diverse group of people that we're collaborating with who are gonna bring diverse lived experiences and perspectives to the issues. But even in the ways that we work sometimes, getting back to your question is that There's so many ways that white and Western and sometimes those terms can be interchangeable. That white and western ways of working don't work for people in different cultural and country contexts. So some of it is. when we're having a live conversation and we're facilitating a live conversation. So some of what's come up in some of the international companies I work with is for people for whom English is a second language. , hearing a question in the moment and being asked to respond, to give their responses in the moment. For all of us who speak multiple languages, when you're doing it in not our primary language, that's incredibly challenging to be able to understand the question. , think critically about our responses and formulate our response in a secondary or third or fourth language for us. And so being able to provide people with. Questions in advance so that people can have time to think about them, to start to formulate their responses in advance. Also, providing multiple avenues for people to provide input on a given issue. So sure, live conversation is an important one, one important means, but also it could be a survey where for some people, Formulating their responses in writing may come easier in different languages than saying it verbally, and then even in the moment again, providing questions in advance. So what I'm doing now is when I'm going to be doing a training or a workshop or a meeting with an international group, I'll provide the questions that we're gonna be discussing in advance so people again, have a chance to think about them in advance. And then even in the moment giving people the option if it's a virtual session with responding verbally or in the chat. We might have a shared document or a jam board or some other software that people can write their responses in, and that's usually gonna give them a little bit , again, a variety of options to give their responses. So that's some of what we're talking about when we say how to create more globally competent ways of approaching our work together. And then not everyone is going to want to share in live sessions. So even as we're. Co-designing or co. For example, one of the groups I'm working with is an international nonprofit organization and we're co-developing a training series with the d e i working group that comprises representatives from all over the world. And so, in our shared document. , we're, we're creating, we're offering drafts, giving people opportunities for feedback over longer periods of time, having live meetings to check in on how we've incorporated their feedback. Doing multiple rounds of this, where again, people have multiple avenues more time and more advanced notice in order to be able to formulate and provide their.
Carol: Yeah. And I think those are, those are really things that one could do in any context to, to be helpful. For sure. Recently Microsoft has so many accessibility things built into their products and was at a retreat where I accidentally, I, I wasn't paying attention. I accidentally turned on the closed captions and people were just like, oh my God, look at that. And it was great because even in the back of the room they were able to see, they may not have it, it just made that easier, whether folks had a hearing challenge or not. So little there are a lot of ways in which it, it, it, it comes back to that, I guess that sense of universal design when you make it better for. Folks with challenges, you're actually making it better for everybody.
Katherine: Absolutely, yes. Yeah. And as a hearing impaired person, I find that incredibly helpful. Also, that closed captioning really does help me ensure that I can really grasp everything that's being shared. Mm-hmm.
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. So just to shift, shift topics now here at the end at the end of each episode, I ask a, a, a, a somewhat random icebreaker question that I have a, I have a box of them that I pull out. So what does the first 30 minutes or hour of a typical day look like for you? Hmm.
Katherine: Yeah. So I do a little bit of mindfulness in the morning just as I'm awakening just to again, center myself in my body and and to take just a notice of how I'm feeling doing a little bit of stretching as I age, I'm finding that. Some routine stretching throughout the day and first thing in the morning have been helpful. Certainly looking at my calendar and, and anticipating the day ahead kissing my partner even this is in no particular order. kissing my partner and um, and playing with our dog and hugging my son. Good morning. And having breakfast these are all. All the usual showering and dressing and preparing for the day.
Carol: Well, that sounds like a lovely way to start the morning. So, yeah. I've started recently with reading and then getting out nice and getting some exercise and some stretching. o, yeah, it's mm-hmm. I'm finding it's really lovely to be able to start the day a little bit slower. Mm-hmm. , mm-hmm. than in the past. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on the podcast. What's my pleasure? What's, what's coming up for you? What's, what are you, what are you excited about? What's, what's emerging in the work that you're doing?
Katherine: Yeah, so one of the areas is what I had mentioned earlier around global citizens and our interns and, and team are going to be doing some research, some assessment, and then some great information sharing with global audiences around decolonizing d e I and understanding. Both DEI concepts and frameworks, and also implementation and practices from a truly global perspective and a more globally competent perspective. And. continuing our ongoing work around global citizenry and global competence. So Global Citizen also has our Global Citizens in Action Leadership Program for young people, and we're always looking for organizations and groups to collaborate with on that. We have curricula, we have interns who assist with the facilitation, and we're always looking for organizations that are serving young people. and would want to collaborate with us because they know the young people they're working with would benefit from this education and training on global citizenry and understanding ourselves as ethical global citizens. And we're working on a project currently about bringing some of the curricular content that we have on this to social media and so engaging. Engaging with TikTok and YouTube and Instagram micro influencers to collaborate on spreading more of this kind of education on global, global citizenry and diversity, equity and inclusion in social media. And of course just our ongoing work on d e I, global competence and global public health are near and dear to my heart. I'm also an adjunct professor at U N C Chapel Hill at the Gilling School of Global Public Health, and I recently collaborated with my colleagues on writing a chapter. For a textbook for public health and healthcare leaders on leadership textbook and wrote the chapter on d e I and cultural Competence for Leaders. And so I'm always excited about it. Doing consulting and coaching with leaders because of course change always begins with leaders and so the more that we can help leaders become more inclusive and effective in their leadership, the more that will affect those changes at a broader organizational level. And I really believe that by intervening at the organizational level, we are also affecting systemic changes because people bring what they're learning in their workplaces out into their families and communities and all of the organizations that they're engaged with beyond the workplace. So as always, it's focusing on affecting change and transformation at every level, the individual, the interpersonal, the institutional and the systemic levels.
Carol: So I love, I love the combination of focus on leaders and their impact on organizations and culture. And then also working with young people, to equip them with skills earlier on in their lives. Career so we're not having to hopefully have as much mitigation maybe to today . Exactly. Let's start now. So I love that combination. I love that combination. Well, thank you so much. It was a great conversation. I really appreciate you coming on.
Katherine: It's been my pleasure, Carol. And thank you. Thank you for hosting this wonderful podcast and thanks for inviting me to join you. I really loved our conversation.
Carol: I am really curious about where Katherine’s work on decolonizing DEI work goes and what emerges from it.
After our conversation I looked up the article in the Times that I mentioned. It was for one an opinion piece. I will link to it in the show notes. The headline if you want to read it is “What if Diversity Trainings Are Doing More Harm Than Good? By Jesse Singal. One of its main points is that there has not been a large study to demonstrate the impact of diversity training. And how the training can sometimes actually reinforce stereotypes and racial bias and create a backlash when they are mandatory. Since most training happens within organizations – private for profit and nonprofit – it is not surprising that no large study has happened – someone would have to fund the study and gain the cooperation of all those folks. It would be great if such a study or multiple such studies were to happen because I can’t imagine practitioners want to create, offer and implement programs that don’t have the intended impact. But I also feel like a lot of the stories about DEI have that bent and it is certainly an attention grabbing headline. In fact – the Times had a podcast episode in 2021 with almost the same title. In the end I think they do a disservice to the people doing their best to address the deeply embedded social ills and inequities that exist. And no, training is not going to shift hundreds of years of history and culture making. Should we look for and emphasize what works – sure. Yet we need to start somewhere.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Katherine, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it! And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 65 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lisa G. Hazirjian discuss:
● Some common mistakes and misconceptions nonprofits have about policy advocacy
● Simple steps to take to get to know policy makers better and build relationships
● How to build a ladder of engagement for your supporters and volunteers
Lisa Hazirjian, PhD, founded Win Together Consulting to help progressive change makers develop strategy, build power, engage supporters, and leverage strengths to achieve their goals. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Studies, Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and Ph.D. in U.S. History from Duke University, and is working toward a Nonprofit Leadership Certificate from the Harvard Kennedy School. You can reach Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important Links and Resources:
● Win Together Consulting
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lisa Hazirjian. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Lisa and I talk about public policy advocacy for nonprofits. We explore how anger and sadness can be a catalyst for action, how nonprofits – specifically c3s in the US – can incorporate advocacy into their work and to further their mission, why it is so important to think about why your issue could matter to a decision maker – from their point of view, some simple steps you can take to start building a relationship with policy makers, and how to identify and build a ladder of engagement for your supporters
Welcome Lisa. Welcome to the podcast.
Lisa Hazirjian: Thank you so much, Carol. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here today.
Carol: I'd like to start out with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What would you say motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Lisa: A lot of answers to that question, but they really all come back to two things. One of which is really at, at a few key points in my life needing to find an outlet for a lot of sadness and anger during times of loss. And the other being my training as a historian, I did a career change. I have a PhD in modern US history and I studied social movements and public policy and how they influenced one another. And the moment when all of that came together Was 2008. The moment really lasted about six months starting with a tenure track job offer which was great. Except at the university where I was offered a job. This is back before marriage equality. And I would be moving with my partner now, my wife and the university didn't offer domestic partner benefits and that. Could have been a big issue. And so I asked if they might be able to come up with some way for my wife to get onto the university's health insurance policy. I pointed to a couple of examples of other universities that had made these kinds of accommodations. And long story short the response, I got a few days. The immediate response I got was being yelled at, which was not good. But the ultimate response was being told the university is no longer considering your candidacy for this position. And I. That was very upsetting as you can imagine.
And this was 2008 and I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands because the contract I had had just ended. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing, but. I was approached and asked to pull volunteers together for the Obama campaign to have a presence at the Cleveland Pride Parade and Festival and I did that. And I did that specifically. Because Barack Obama was a candidate who, although he did not at the time support marriage equality yet he did support an employment non-discrimination act that we still don't have. Still trying to get what's now the Equality Act passed. But for me, this was a way, not just to get something for myself, but to get something for everyone to fight, to have a president who would sign a much needed non-discrimination act. And that became the thing that I put all of my emotions into for the next several months. And really saw a lot of the things I had studied coming into action in terms of what it means to do.
Marshall your leadership skills in a way that draws in hundreds of people to build the collective power you need to achieve a goal, which in this case was getting Ohio for, for the campaign. After the campaign I took some time to take stock and realized that I should build myself an off-ramp from academia and an on-ramp into professional advocacy work.
Carol: I feel like that's an off-ramp that a lot of people are exploring these days. But that's a different conversation.
Lisa: I would say it is a different conversation. And I can recommend someone to talk to you about that.
Carol: I appreciate that story and I do think that a lot of advocacy work does start with something you're angry about or something that pisses you off, or sadness or any of those things that can be a catalyst to, okay, well I can sit in this, or I can try to move things forward and. Said, have things be different for me, but have things be different for a wider group of people, which is, which is so important. My exit from history, I was a history major back in college, was much less dramatic than yours. I was doing my thesis for my BA and at the library, the big library downtown in Philadelphia and reading magazines from the late 1800s. I was looking at the role of advice being given to women on parenting in that time period in Germany. And I found that I was allergic to old paper. So a life of being an art for sure was not going to be in my future. So, not quite the same, but got that commonality, that background. So as you said, you've shifted into doing political ad advocacy work and, and helping people with their political campaigns. With, with nonprofit organizations, and I think there are a lot of misconceptions that people have about what's allowed, what isn't allowed. What would you say are some of those, some of the biggest misconceptions that you run into in terms of advocacy work and organization, non profit organizations that you work?
Lisa: It's interesting. I mean, I think plenty of people before me have said that one of the biggest misconceptions out there is this idea that nonprofits can't do policy advocacy. And that's just absolutely not the case. Of course they can. And I would argue they should, right? Nonprofits have a lot more knowledge and experience in a whole range of fields than our areas where public policy is made than most of the people who are making those decisions.
And when nonprofits bring their voices and bring the voices of the people they serve into those conversations. To try to advance policies. They're really doing a service to everyone cuz it's not like lawmakers can be experts on everything, none of us can. AndI'm, I'm not an attorney and if I were, I would have a disclaimer that I'm not giving legal advice. But, but the short of it is that, As long as you aren't endorsing a particular political candidate doing anything to try to affect the to try to elect person X over person y it's very likely that you're perfectly legally compliant. And it's nearly impossible for most organizations, even full-time advocacy organizations. Run up against the IRS limits on how much time and money you can spend on advocacy.
But that misconception aside, cause that's one that comes up over and over. I actually think another really really major misconception is, progressive nonprofits can't get anything done unless Democrats are in power. Or the flip side of that, that having democrats in power means that progressive nonprofits can get things done. Neither one of those is completely true. And, both of them miss the reality that there are a lot of things competing for attention at legislatures, and at the end of the day, it's anyone's ability to influence those decision makers that matters.
And there are a few things that nonprofits can do that can really help with that. And one of them is simply, Having supporters who are constituents of those key lawmakers and the other is speaking their language. So when I was executive director of the North Carolina AIDS Action Network I, I did not harbor any illusion that many of the Republican lawmakers in control at the North Carolina General Assembly were going to be moved by A lot of the things that motivated me, the fact that I had lots of gay male friends living with HIV, for example. But I did think that they would probably be moved by the idea that it would be great if our kids could grow up in a world where, once they are adults, they're not worried about HIV. And that in the meantime it'd be great if the state wasn't spending as much money dealing with HIV. And having those messages that resonated with the lawmakers really, really made a big difference.
Carol: A couple things. Obviously our conversation is all grounded in the context of the United States. I do have folks who listen to the podcast from around the world. So for this topic, it's all within the particular laws and institutions that we have here. You mentioned the IRS, the Internal Revenue Service, that's what it's called. And I think the limits that you were talking about also are particular to one type of nonprofit, which is, I don't know the percentages, but I'm guessing the most common is the c3 within that code. And then of course our politics in terms of our two-party system and all of that. But with all of that in mind I think about what you're saying, taking all of those particularities of the US aside, what you're talking about or really thinking about what matters to the decision makers that you're trying to speak to, and share your message. Share your, trying to move things forward, getting in their shoes, thinking about how they're looking at things where there might be common ground. I mean, that's something that folks could do
Lisa: anywhere. Absolutely. No, that's, that's exactly right. And , I have some colleagues in Canada who, who I've talked with about similar things , and different particulars about how the government is structured, what parties might be called, et cetera, but the same basic principles. And I would add that, a lot of these tips for doing better public policy advocacy also apply to just any mission advocacy, including fundraising. I think many of us have had the experience of sitting down and trying to figure out how to translate how we talk about our work and our mission in the day-to-day. The language of whatever major funder we might be applying for funding from and just , speaking their language is half the battle there.
Carol: What matters to them and, and how do you, I mean, so that, that. What are some of the, specific or concrete steps that people can take to start being able to shift their perspective and get a better understanding of the folks that they're trying to influence?
Lisa: So I mean, always sort of trying to ground ourselves in who's our audience. Who is it? Who, whose help We really need. Because if it was just us , right? If it was just our staff, our board, the people we serve, the people on our email list, then we could just mobilize everyone and do it. But when we need to persuade. People who are on that, on the outside of that us, that we really need to think about who are these people? And , these days it's not that hard. Everyone's got a website. It's , you can start doing things. I think one step that is really useful is to. To do like a really quick survey of the people who receive your email. Your email blasts and simply asks like, Hey, do any of our policy makers at the local level, county, state, or whatever the kinds of divisions of government might be in other countries? Because. a good chance that there are people who are receiving your emails, who do have relationships.
And that's important in two ways. The first being they're really gonna know and understand those people a lot better. And second many times the best messenger is somebody who already has a good relationship. With that lawmaker. So that's, that's just one, one really simple thing that people can do.
Carol: And all those steps that you take to build, build that relationship, start to get to know the person. And I was listening to another podcast last week, and this was more in terms of kind of. , business networking and, but the person had a, had a principle of no ask before one year of, of being in relationship with that person. So not like, okay, I'm gonna knock on your door and I'm gonna ask you immediately for something that, that and, and she used the word political capital, although it wasn't, capital p and I don't know what you think about that or. . It, it, that's just, that's just one framework for thinking about it. But what I did appreciate about it was that you need to invest something in that relationship before you're asking something of the person.
Lisa: So, I mean, I would not wait a year, not wait a month. Okay. If you need something, you ask, but I, but I definitely concur that it is always better to start building a relationship before you need something. And I, I recently, well a little while back wrote a blog piece that the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits put out. It actually came out shortly after the November election here in the US and it was simply a sort of , why and how to congratulate the people who just won. And , basically saying like, this is a great opportunity just to get on their radar, tell them a sentence about what you do, what you care about, make sure you're gonna get their emails. And it's just, it's going from being a complete stranger. To have that initial point of contact, which can be really important later on when something comes up and you and you really need to have a more substantive conversation. .
Carol: So I think some other things I really appreciated that post of yours and cuz it's so simple, right? And anybody can, any, can, anybody can do that. But not everybody's going. Which will be the differentiating thing. And then other simple things helping, celebrating wins, and thanking someone for, for lots of different things. Just all those little bits and pieces that you can do to start cultivating that relationship.
Lisa: That’s exactly right.
Carol: Are you saying some of the big mistakes that people make?
Lisa: Well, one of the biggest mistakes I've made and have really learned from is Limiting trying to do everything ourselves and limiting opportunities for other people to get involved. , the reality, I, I love that part of your tagline is that, that this podcast is for progressive nonprofits and associations, organizations , wanna achieve big things without being martyrs through the cause. And I have definitely been in positions where I have. Worked myself to the brink of needing to be admitted to the hospital for rehydration and rest. And that is not healthy and it is not sustainable. But it's not necessary either. The reality is that whatever it is that we're doing, whatever.
Mission is whatever our immediate goals are, there are other people out there who want us to be successful and there are a lot of people out there who wanna help and we just need to ask. And the reality is that when we give people. Strategic opportunities to help out at whatever level of engagement works for them.
Whether it's , let me take three minutes and do something, or let me take three hours and do something once a week. Or let me take three hours one time in my life. Whatever it is, that gives us so much more capacity. to get things done. And so II, I think one of the most important things that any organization can do is think about the best ways to engage their supporters more frequently in more meaningful ways.
Carol: , and I appreciate what you're saying around, it's not necessary, but I would also say especially in this work and probably any work, the more people you have involved, the more effective you're gonna be anyway. Oh, absolutely. But I see a lot of times like organizations that let's say they're an environmental organization and they do environmental education and they have this assumption.
So we bring these kids out, they're doing environmental education, they're gonna talk to their parents, and their parents are gonna become advocates for the environment. And it's like, there's so many leaps between the one to the other that , maybe one or two of the folks will have that ultimate outcome.
But if there's so many little breadcrumbs that you could, you could, or. . Steps that you could offer people, but I find it's hard for people to think of what those little steps
Lisa: are. Sure. And I, so, yes. And . Okay. . I, I think that there are a, another mistake I see a lot are organizations who have a ton of ideas, let's do this thing and let's do this thing.
And here's another thing we can do, and here's another thing that we can do. And all of, and some of those ideas can be fabulously creative and innovative and do a good job of leveraging their strengths, but they aren't necessarily attached to a core strategy. To achieve a particular campaign milestone or particular goal nor are they attached to a more overarching organizational goal of building long-term power.
And , I, I, I want to destigmatize the word power because the reality is, Power is what you make of it. And having the power to make the world a better place in whatever way your nonprofit or association is trying to do should be celebrated. And one thing that I help organizations do is take a step back, and this is a place where my training as a historian really helps.
Even though you stopped in those archives , you can understand that as a historian you develop this perspective that is simultaneously very long range. And has a ton of attention to details of how change happens over time. Like that is very much what historians do. And it's what successful advocacy organizations Do if they're doing a great job of developing strategy, is they think ahead a few years down the road to the impact they wanna have, and they backfill and think about, okay, well we can't.
We don't have the resources we need right now. We don't have the capacity we need right now to achieve this big thing that we wanna achieve by 2025, let's say. But we can get there. Let's think about the steps to take to get there. And it could mean just growing the number of people who. Who are part of your organization, who you're in dialogue with, who you can mobilize in support of a goal.
It can mean building out, cultivating a group of people who can talk to the media and be effective storytellers on behalf of your organization. It can. People who can bring some specialized skills that you need. You brought up an environmental piece. It could be that you need the capacity to just get water samples from across the entire state.
And it turns out that. That's something where you can teach everyday people to go out and help be water monitors. I have very little expertise in this. I'm just using this as an example. Sure. . .
Carol: I was thinking about what you were saying, and I think one of the things that the nonprofit sector does not struggle with is a deficit of ideas.
And a deficit of things that they could do or ways that they could try to move their issue forward. But can you give me an example of when folks have taken those ideas but really built a strategy to move their issue forward, and how they've engaged people.
Lisa: You like the pregnant pause? . . Well, I, I'm gonna give you an example that I know well which again, is drawing from my own work with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network. When I was hired I was the, the first The, the first full-time staff person the, the first executive director staff of one, and the first thing I did was ask like, Who, who are we?
Who are all the people who've ever been involved in this formerly all volunteer thing, and it was a list of 243 people who I either was able to find an email or a phone number for. And I started building and I, I started building for a very particular need that we were aware might be coming down the pike.
A program that at the time was called the AIDS Drug Assistance Program had There have been funding crises in many of the states in the US including North Carolina that resulted in waiting lists and and we were anticipating a state budget battle that I needed to prepare for, and I knew that No matter how great a one pager I developed and no matter how much of a collegial relationship I was able to form with the heads of the Health and Human Services appropriation subcommittees that at, at the end of the day, I was gonna need more to convince them.
And, and so I started tapping the people who we already had as folks who had ever done something and using them as my starting point to recruiting more people across the state, just needing numbers and also needing breadth of coverage, particularly in the district. Of the legislators who sat on that super important health and human services appropriation subcommittee.
So I was very intentional about going to those particular corners of the state and finding constituents of those specific people so that when the moment came around, I kept on chasing after Nelson dollar trying to talk to him, and he kept on not talking to me. and I kept on trying to schedule an appointment.
We had a, a list, a deep list of people who lived in his district and we mobilized them to make phone calls into his office. And , gave them a little bit of training about what to say on the phone. And I gave it a couple of days, and then I went back to the office to make an appointment and the legislative aid said, oh , we've been getting a lot of calls about that issue.
Let me fit you into his schedule. And II, I mentioned this because a lot of us who got a lot of education might have some letters after our name, are under the illusion that all we have to do is, is. Develop a compelling argument. But actually we need to actually force people to listen to our argument.
And , I I I like to say that there can't be persuasion without the pressure to actually listen to you. And so that's a case of doing that base building, that intentional base building to create the pressure for a key legislator to. and that
Carol: base building. I mean, I'm on a lot of newsletter lists and, and , get advocacy alerts.
And some I respond to and some I don't. And I, I don't consider myself , someone who's really that, that that'sI've, I, I would say probably I'm a reluctant advocate. And so even something like that, I feel like. It takes some steps to get people comfortable to pick up the phone, send an email, do any of those things, and contact decision makers.
And it is one of the things that we talked about beforehand, that, that. I think it is relevant in a lot of different circumstances is this notion of a letter, a ladder of engagement. And you talked about before the kind of thing someone can do in three minutes, or maybe it's three hours in a week or maybe it's three hours one time.
Can you talk a little bit more about that and, and kind of. cultivate your base. That's a, that, that, there's a lot of things that could go into that Right. To actually have it be successful.
Lisa: Sure. . No, I would love to talk about that. And, and, and I will say that when I was with, with N C A N, with the AIDS Action Network, just about every board meeting my staff and I would tell a story about that.
Explained the roles of in the end it was me and a community organizer and a communications person. And we would tell a story that demonstrated what each of us did in the organization. But it also talked about our ladder of engagement. And the story would go something like this. , it would go something like Our community organizer went to this event in the community and met a bunch of people and had conversations with them and moved some of those people from being members of the general public to being people who we had the ability to get in touch with.
By getting their contact information, getting them signed up to receive our emails. And at the same time he invited them to become part of our volunteer team, where we would ask people if they would make a commitment to. Devote three hours one time in the next three months to helping us out. And so we wanted to give people a sense of, we're not asking for your whole lives, but we also don't wanna bother trying to get you out to things if you're not thinking that.
, sometime in the next three months, don't wanna do this. And that was.
The beginning of us explaining our ladder of engagement, the first rung is simply putting your foot on that bottom rung and saying let me get on your email list. Let me get on your text list. Here's how to hear from me.
But maybe you might grab on higher on that ladder and say, what? I have this intention of becoming a volunteer and stating that And then we would move people. And , I would say the next real step our communications person would move people from being signed up to getting people to take that first click action.
The getting people to respond to an action alert, getting people to share something on Facebook and. and we, we really developed a few different ladders of engagement and one of them was more of a base building lane of volunteering with us at community events to do the same thing our community organizer had done.
Go around with clip petitions, postcards, et cetera, and bring more people involved. And another piece was more storytelling oriented. Get people involved in telling their stories about why our work mattered to them, and why the policies we advocated for were important in their lives. But the basic concept is to have a predefined.
Set of steps that people can take from not being anywhere on the ladder to climbing up that ladder to positions of. Increasing responsibility and importance to the success of what you do? I personally am okay with letting people skip a few steps. Sure. But, not be all the way at the top. Because having those steps is important for getting some proof of concept that somebody is going to be reliable and be effective at particular things.
And there's also a certain amount of skill building that one wants to do. If you have someone who's volunteering as a phone banker you want them to be really good at it before they host their own phone bank and need to support other people who are doing it for the first time.
Carol: Well, I love the specificity of, of that.
, the email one, I think , or contact information. I think a lot of people are probably already doing building their list, building how they get in touch with people. But that next step of the way that you talked about three hours in the next three months it's memorable for one.
And it's possible to, it's, it's. I mean, it's a commitment, right? It's not nothing. It's not, I'm just gonna ask you to do this little thing that doesn't really matter to you. It's, it's, it's more than, It's something you need to advocate and actively say yes to. And yet it's not so huge that it becomes you get paralyzed by, oh my God, they're asking me to do something and I'm not ready.
. And I, and I love the idea of also that , through that One, you're seeing who does step up. And then two, you're having a chance to build their skills as they, as you, as you go. And then also , seeing, do they follow through? Do they say what they're gonna do? , and I think that's applicable in so many different parts of the work that nonprofits do.
Ofsomeone may be trying to build their board and I often talk to groups about, okay, so get them involved in some other way. A committee, a campaign , some specific things that you can see how they are to work with. Do they follow through? Do you have to chase after them? , what, what?
What's, what's their work style? Does it fit, is it contributing, is it draining? Before you ask them for something really big, that could have just a huge impact on your organization. Oh
Lisa: my gosh. Well, that is excellent advice You're offering Carol , but there's another piece that I wanna put out there.
So, and, and really just talking with youI remember. The community organizer who was on staff when I ultimately left CAN he reminded me one day that. The first time he met me, he was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and I was a guest speaker in a class he was taking.
And that was his first awareness of me and what I was doing. And he waited tables at a local diner. andI bumped into him there and then he showed up as a volunteer. And was someone who I saw had some real natural abilities in this area and got him involved more. And then he had a job where we were coalition partners and , I.
And finally I was able to hire him at, at one point. But so he went all the way from being a member of the general public in a classroom. And getting involved as a volunteer and then being a volunteer leader to ultimately being staff. And I, I, one thing that I'm really proud of to this day about the program that we built and what our supporter engagement program looked like is the number of people who.
Were involved as volunteers or interns who now work in the field. It's actually a really great way to build the profession, a really great way to help people build their leadership skills.
Carol: Absolutely. And I helped an association build their ladder of engagement. And this wasn't from a policy point of view, but from a volunteer leadership point of view.
And it was just okay, you have the first step is to become a member, maybe, or maybe even the first step is to come to an event that the association holds or, or even. Well, I guess the first step before that would be it'd be in the field and , be, become aware of the organization, come to an event.
And then use the resources of the organization to step up to volunteer to be a presenter or write something for, and it could be at the local level or, or regional level. And it's just like one small step, as you say, after another of taking increasing risk. Responsibility. And then in that case for that person building their visibility over the course of their career and their leadership skills.
But I think it's also one of the things that we tried to do, as we were mapping that volunteer leader experience and also thinking at each step, what is, what is the person. , not only what they're contributing, but what they're gaining through that experience of the, the, and, and being explicit about the skills that they're able to learn.
As they go and how, what they're doing ultimately is contributing to that bigger picture.
Lisa: Well that, that piece is huge. And one thing that's always been important to me whenever I do any training, well first of all, I always believe that if you have volunteers, you need to actually spend some time training them before you just throw them into whatever they're doing.
But then, yes, please . For me, the training should always have a why as well as a how. Hmm. And have the big picture of what we are doing because here's how this little thing that we're gonna be doing fits into the bigger picture. And then with, with the, how I like to have let me explain it.
Let me demonstrate it. Let's have your role play it. Let's evaluate. Okay, now you're ready. And I think that that is super important to the quality of volunteer experience that people have as well as being important to helping to really build those skills. , to me, one sign of a great volunteer program is an intention of.
Of having this ladder of engagement where a volunteer who's come three times Has an opportunity to say, yes, I would like to take on the next level of responsibility where I can be the person who trains and coaches new volunteers doing the same thing. And that expands the organizational capacity so much.
And These are still folks who might just be giving three hours a month. If you have 10 people doing that, that's a huge amount of capacity that you're adding. .
You're, you're, you're creating more and more ripples that they, that they can contribute to. And I think another thing that you were talking about, the why and the how I I. I work with groups helping them with their strategic planning and, and it's a, it's a process, right? There are lots of steps to it.
And one of the things that I've realized recently is that I, it's so obvious to me what the why is that I forget to, to tell people. The why of all these steps that we're taking through the process. And so I had an instance recently where there was a, there was just a real misalignment of expectations because I hadn't done a good job of explaining why.
And I think for any of us who do the thing that they do you get to be very familiar with it. And it all seems just as obvious. I don't know what anything is, and so it's easy to forget. So I appreciate that of course
Lisa: Of course. And what, even though I said it as I just listened to you, I realized that what you are saying applies to a situation I am in right now.
Carol: Well, I think I'm gonna make it my mantra for 2023, the why and the how , not just the how. Well,
Lisa: Great, great. It is good, it is a good mantra. I just need to apply it to all aspects of my life, not just. That particular one.
Carol: Right. Right. And I, I, what I also appreciate about what you're talking about, we started talking about , decision makers that you're trying to influence and looking for how, where the commonality is. But I think it's really with your base, it's also looking for what, what's gonna. Influence them to take action. Those, those smaller steps that you're asking people to take. And some people I was thinking also, I was focusing on skills, but. Some people may be very motivated by that. Other people, it may be other things of, being part of a community that's, that's, that's taking action , seeing those and, and you, I think it's, it's hard to go to wins cuz. I don't know, policy campaigns, there's often, it's, it's often a very long process before you really get the big triumph. So finding those small wins as you go to keep people moving and motivated, but thinking about different things that will engage people and motivate them. People at the same time of being strategic, of not trying to do all the things for all the people.
Lisa: No, I mean that, that's right. And, and listen, you're very much in touch with the reality that That policy change can be glacial except when we don't want it to be Right. like having this bullet train of bad policy coming right at us .
Carol: Although the people on the other side will probably think, well actually we've been building towards that for the last 50 years.
Lisa: No, and and, and you're exactly right. You're a hundred percent right about that. But , I think that The way I and other people who have volunteered have experienced these policy campaigns. Part of the win, again, is just the opportunity to be helping them, let me try that again. I think that for a lot of people, the win is simply being able to do something with other people to help move closer to that eventual win. And because of the isolation and the frustration of being by yourself, being frustrated by something and just feeling helpless. That's terrible. I hate it. , other people hate it. And so for me, and I'm like, look, let's just, let's create, create ways to bring folks together.
And I'm, I'm thinking about back, I think it might have been 2016 when the North Carolina legislature passed HB two, which. National press. It was one of these anti-trans bills. And I was pissed. Lots of people were pissed. And , I decided, all right, I gotta do something. What can I do? What's, what's gonna be helpful? And I decided just to take some skills. That I had learned in, in other campaigns to do some grassroots fundraising to try to unseat some of the co-sponsors of that odious bill. And so I just put together this little , grassroots fundraising thing where I invited people to join me. I had a friend who was able to. Like the community room and her neighborhood for us, I did a little training. We made phone calls just to our own personal contacts, and we raised about $5,000 one evening for some of these candidates to help get them elected. And , in the grand scheme of a campaign for State House or state Senate, that's not a ton of money. But it's also, A significant amount of money. And We all felt like we helped with getting a few good people elected, but also it just meant that we could all be in a shared space and do something ourselves. And everyone we called to help make a donation was also someone who we knew was feeling like, oh, this HB two thing stinks. I wanna do something, but I don't know what to do. So it had those multiple layers or ripples as you said, that reallyI knew that, wellI can donate money, but I, I have onlyI work in the nonprofit sector, how much money can I possibly donate? Well , but I know people and they can donate and they know people and they can donate. Right.
Carol: And so again, that's that . Pulling people in as you talked about, you don't have to do it all yourself. Absolutely. And that actually part of the joy is. Doing it together. . And bringing people together and creating that sense of community. So I really appreciate that. So I'd like to end each episode by playing a game where I ask you an icebreaker question from my little box of icebreaker questions. So we were talking about skills before. What's a skill that you learned when you were young that you would say that you still use today?
Lisa: I'm such a different adult than the kid I was. But there's a really obvious answer. Okay. So the skill that I first used when I was in the fifth grade was simply the skill of not accepting that something has to be the way someone says it has to be. Hmm. And I'm, I'm thinking of a kid, a boy. This is important to the story. A boy from my neighborhood who is in my grade at school decided that girls couldn't play in the fifth grade softball game. And when pressed by me for a reason, why, coming up with this excuse that you had to have a glove, me saying, well, why can't we just borrow gloves? People who are at bat and him saying You have to have your own glove. And so goodie two shoes, I cut recess, to go home and get my own baseball glove. Which I did. But then when I walked out of the door, instead of making a right to go back to school, I made a left. We went to our neighbor's house and knocked on the door and asked to borrow their kids' gloves and went down the street and did it again. I walked back to school with my arms full of baseball gloves. And so at those, those skills of not accepting injustice in the world, doing something so that I get justice for myself, but also taking the step of making sure. , other people have justice too.
Carol: I love that story. That's perfect. I mean, here you were in fifth grade, ? Yep. It's taking, standing up for something you believed in and then doing a neighborhood canvas to collect resources for your cause. . I love it. That's great. That's great. So what are you excited about? What's, what's coming up next for you in your work? What's emerging in the work that you're in?
Lisa: So I am super excited. I have decided that 2023 should be my year of being part of more teams. And I'm excited about a couple of ways in which I see that happening. One is already happening, which is that I'm going to be leading a team of nonprofit. Professionals from various parts of North Carolina where I'm based and leading them through a three month a three month workshop, advocacy academy that we're calling it to help them develop advocacy campaigns that also help them build long-term power. So that's super exciting to me.
And then I'm, I'm really trying to vision into existence. A few more partnerships with organizations and really on the lookout for organizations that are ready to move beyond that. Oh, we've got an idea, we've got an idea. And instead get into the mode of saying, Let's put a pit in this and think about what our desired outcomes are, what we need to get there, actually put together a campaign strategy, take steps, learn the skills we need. And I'm open to doing training and strategic planning, and that's stuff that I've been doing for years. But I, I've recognized that the work that is most fulfilling to me is when I. Have a more sustained engagement with an organization and really be embedded in that team for at least three months to really work alongside folks and ask the questions that prod people and make observations and congratulate people on their great ideas and help make things successful. So I'm, I'm excited. Looking forward and embracing that work. All right. Well,
Carol: Thank you so much, Lisa. It was great having you on the podcast
Lisa:. Hey, this was awesome, Carol. Thank you so much as well.
Carol: I appreciated how Lisa described intentionally building a ladder of engagement. Recognizing that there are a lot of people who want to help and want to get involved but maybe don’t know how. How to shift someone from an email on your mailing list to someone who more actively shows up for your organization. I appreciated the specificity of her ask – are you willing to do something in the next 3 months. And then provide a menu of options – something that takes 3 minutes, something that takes three hours. And by building a pathway of slowly increasing involvement and responsibility you provide folks a way in and you also have the opportunity to get to know them and vet them. See whether they follow through. Do they show up? Do they do what they say they will do? Do you have to chase them?
I have seen smaller organizations want to invite folks on to their board immediately. First being on the board should be just one way to be involved in the organization – even if it is an all volunteer group. And you are taking a huge risk if that is your first ask of folks. It is a big ask for one so one that likely folks who don’t know you that well will say no to. AND you don’t know the person very well either and don’t know how they will or will not contribute to the work of the board. Find smaller ways for folks to be involved. Invite non-board members onto board sponsored committees and work groups. And realize that not everyone is going to make their way all the way up the ladder – some will be perfectly happy showing up for a one off event occasionally or responding to an action alert.
And this ladder of engagement can be for advocacy – but it can be for a lot of other things as well. I am on a lot of email lists for organizations that I support. And I get a lot of donation request emails from them. What I don’t see as often is small ways for me to get involved highlighted or featured. Most organizations put a lot of time into thinking about how to make it easy for me to give them money. Not as many organizations have put the thought into making it easy for me to give them time in meaningful ways. This is a big missed opportunity.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lisa, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 64 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Sarah Olivieri discuss:
Sarah Olivieri is a nonprofit leader like you who used to spend days and nights asking questions like: “how do I get my board to work with me and not against me?”, “how can I raise more money for this important mission?” and, “how can I show up and love my job as much as I love this mission?”.
Sarah has over 18 years of nonprofit leadership experience. She was the co-founder of the Open Center for Autism, the Executive Director of the Helping Children of War Foundation, and co-author of Lesson Plan a la Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs. She holds a BA from the University of Chicago with a focus on globalization and its effect on marginalized cultures, and a master's degree in Humanistic and Multicultural Education from SUNY New Paltz. As the founder and heart behind PivotGround, Sarah helps nonprofits become financially sustainable world changers.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Sarah Olivieri. Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. Sarah and I talk about how to set up systems and processes in your organization so that your work as leader and the work of your staff is made easier, how to have a productive team meeting, and how to assess and be realistic about your current capacity.
Welcome, welcome to the podcast. Welcome, Sarah.
Sarah Olivieri: It's a pleasure to be here, Carol. Thanks for having me.
Carol: So I'd like to start out each episode with just finding out from the person I'm talking with, what, what drew them to the work that they do and, and what would you describe as your why? What motivates you?
Sarah: Oh, man. I think for most people who work in a nonprofit or work with nonprofits, the fact that every day, no matter how bad things are in the world, when I wake up, I basically get to say, I'm already making the biggest impact I could probably make. And my work trajectory is only about doing more of the same. And that feels really good, when times are good and when times are bad. And I think a lot of people fall into nonprofit work. They have a calling. When I was young, I went to this independent private school that had just started. It was very small, not at all like a prep school, but very education focused. How can we be more human focused and skip forward till I'm out of elementary school. My mom ended up taking over the school. It wasn't her background, but it was one of those nonprofits that was about to go. It had a great mission. It had done great work with kids, but from a business perspective, it had just been run to the ground and was on the verge of closing, not paying their staff. And my mom was one of those people who said, well, I'll try. And she did, and it turned into a job and she grew this. School. And so then skip forward a number of years where I'm working at a nonprofit and it almost went under, it had a bunch of problems and I was like, well, maybe I'll try taking on that and I'll take on this other piece. And my mom was there saying, you can learn bookkeeping and you can do this. And once how to manage the finances and manage the people and manage the prom, You're sucked in really deep, pretty quickly. So that's kinda like how I get started, how I got started, and there's lots in the middle. That's the short version.
Carol: It's been interesting for me as I've talked to various people through this podcast and other places, how many folks have some experience in their childhood that leads them, especially often folks talking about that role model of a parent doing something either, engaged in the community or engaged in some way with service. Politics, whatever it might be, stepping in where there's a vacuum and making things happen and making sure that that resource didn't go away for children, so that's awesome. So I'm curious, as a former executive director of a nonprofit, what would you say was your favorite part of being an executive director? I feel like there's this big generational shift going on finally with new people coming into leadership and. I hear from a lot of younger folks that they're, they look at the job and they shy away from it because it just seems so, like undoable without like a real level of personal sacrifice. So I'm curious what was the upside? What did you appreciate about being in that role?
Sarah: Well, before I answer that, I have to say the secret from my clients who are mostly not young people, they feel the same way. When they come to me, they're like, I hate my job, but I also don't wanna quit. But we'll go into how we get everybody out of that. My own experience as an executive director was something I really enjoyed. Setting things up, scaling things up, making things run better. And even though I didn't know what I know now, I was already pretty good at. This whole thing about systems and processes and making things run better because that is the thing that ultimately makes the job not painful. And I really, really believe that being an executive director can be fun. And it probably helped that I had this example from my mother who had started out in this organization that was in complete chaos, working a lot of hours, and by this time, When I was an executive director, she was at the tail end and she would tell me, I work four days a week partly to, cuz she was older and partly to save money for the nonprofit. And she said, really, I spend a good chunk of my time playing solitaire on the computer. And that was a good thing. What it meant was she had everything running like a well-oiled machine. And now she kept an eye on everything and whenever anything did come up, she was available. She had that time built in. Right? It wasn't just she was goofing off playing solitaire. She kept, that's how she kept herself busy while she kept herself available to deal with things. And that's so important. And I had that lesson early on that you should not be filling every minute as an executive director. Of your job up with tasks and projects and because if you are, you're doing it wrong, you're doing it wrong and great systems, having a great team is how you do that. And so, because I was good at that early on, I was setting up programming, I was attracting great staff who were doing great things. I was attracting funding. Both grants and major donors and a real community quickly formed. And I'm a lover of delegation, so, spreading out the work amongst a lot of people, made everything run quite well. It wasn't perfect, but I certainly was able to enjoy my job. And that to this day, like that's what I. For all executive directors. I mean, your job, it, there's a lot of work to be done and a lot of problems to be solved, but it should feel joyful and it shouldn't feel like opening up your veins and just bleeding for your non-profit until you're dead.
Carol: Right, right. My tagline for this podcast is, working for progressive nonprofits and nonprofit leadership without being a martyr to the cause. So, for sure. And I just wanted to pick up on a couple things that you said. You talked about systems and processes and I, I don't think that's the first thing that most people think of when they think of nonprofits. They think of passion and mission and vision and all of that, but I'm a systems and process person too, so I appreciate those and. And it's not right. As you said, it's not for the I think oftentimes people get real, don't wanna set those up because they feel like they might be restrictive first. Second, they're always thinking about the exceptions. The 20% that doesn't fit into the process. And I feel like I often am talking to folks about how we can identify the 80%. Normally it happens that you can, that you can predict and is that regular or there are some things that are within your control, like how are you doing your fundraising, how are you doing your marketing, those kinds of things. That, that is, that. You can just decide what the cadence is. And then also having that margin, right, not filling up every hour so that you do have the flexibility to be able to respond when things pop up. But, how do you experience it with clients in terms of helping them or helping them think through those systems and processes?
Sarah: So, skip forward a whole bunch of years and I've worked with a lot of nonprofits in, in addition to working in nonprofits. And what I realized, I love all business, first of all. So like, as much as I love non-profits, I also love business. I love how people come together to create things that are bigger than what any one person can do. And all of the, the glue that makes that happen and all the functioning, which is systems and processes. What I have learned is there are some key ways of operating that everybody can implement. And I used to think, oh, well it has to be customized for each organization cuz everyone's different. Well, as much as everyone wants to feel like they're a special snowflake. There are a lot of things right that you don't need to reinvent and that actually can work out of the box for you. The for-profit industry has done this already numerous times. They've created methodologies and frameworks and systems for running a business that help people run better. And so I set out to make the same thing, but specifically for non-profits cuz most of the for-profit methodologies have like Making a profit built in as like this just assumed principle which is not true at a nonprofit, we may very well sacrifice profits. We can have profits, but we also might sacrifice profit for mission. So I've put all those pieces together in an easy-to-implement way. But when I hear my clients think about systems, and so one is I'm telling them, here's this easy way to do it. Like you don't have to be a master chef in order to follow a recipe, right? Right. So I like to get, say, here's the recipe, follow it. And then they do, and then it works. And then they're like, oh my God, my stuff is happier. And wow, I just took my first vacation and like I stopped working on weekends. Like, what is this magic? Let me keep following the recipe. And I think for most people, that is magic and they don't need to become a master chef. But we can also talk about. I would consider myself a master chef. I'm making recipes. We can go into what that is. But if for those of you who have that thought of like, ooh, processes, like that sounds restricting, then you have just experienced a bad process, a great process. Frees you up to do, right? We talked about the 80%, the 80/20 rule. If you've heard of it like it's like 20% of the work does 80% of gets 80% of the results. But then there's also like, what is that other 80% of the work? So if you can clear that 80%. Off and get it all running like a well-oiled machine. Get it off your plate. Now you can spend 20% of your time focused on like the really forward stuff. Usually that involves a lot of thinking and problem solving. Right. And that's what your solitaire moments are about. I'll call them. As doing, having that brain time to really think through how. Move something forward that no one has figured out before. And I love seeing people get that time back in their day and then the results that that gets is phenomenal.
Carol: Can you give me an example, one of those recipes?
Sarah: Sure. So a really simple one is how to run a team meeting. We have numerous types of meetings in the framework that I teach. Well, not that many. We actually only have three and the most basic one that typically replaces your staff meeting. I call it an issues meeting, but there are a few key things in it that are probably different from what you're doing right now that make the meeting way, way better. If I could see your audience right now, I'd say raise your hand if you have wasted time wasting meetings or you hate meetings, and probably most of you would be raising your hand, right? So one of the things we do, it's the same agenda every time, and probably one of the most important things we do is we identify the issues that are facing the team, but we don't discuss them when we identify. And everybody has to get trained in, don't just launch into talking about this issue, or we'll be stuck talking about issues all day long. Step two is we're going to then decide which is the highest priority issue. And then step three is we're going to then talk about that issue, make sure we understand it and work through it until we've identified a solution that basically we all agree will work and then we can assign somebody to go implement it. And so by being way more intent, Systematic about the priority that we work through our issue. Is a game changer because first people are like, oh, we actually produced something. We produced a solution in this meeting. That's great. But when you do it consistently, like replacing your staff meeting, initially, most organizations have this, like all these issues, like a long, long list. But a lot of those issues are usually symptoms of a higher priority issue. So often what happens is as you tackle the highest priority issues first, a lot of the issues that were on your. Just diesel resolve on their own because you hit the core underlying issue and then you don't even have to worry about tackling them. And the list gets short, short, very, very fast. Because of that, you're not just tackling issues meaningfully, but you're eliminating a lot of the issues because you got to what was really going on.
Carol: That's the common practice or habit that you described to people, like they name the issue and then we start talking about it. I'm on a volunteer team right now where we're having that exact challenge and I'm planning at our next meeting to bring it up as one of our habits that's not helping So I, I might, I might borrow that and say, well, I think we, we actually do have a list of our priorities, but, but, or a list of our issues. I don't know that we've done a good job of prioritizing them or even thinking about how we're gonna sequence this so that it makes sense to tackle one after another. So, but that habit of like, we bring it up so we have to talk about it, like, take a moment, put it on, put it in the. Folks don't call 'em parking lots anymore on the bike rack. Someone else that I talked to recently said, don't call it a parking lot or a bike rack because that's the place where those things go to die, but call it an on-ramp or the runway of the things that we'll get to as we get down the runway. So, fundamentally, I mean people spend so much time in them and so many of them are so poorly designed that it's, it's sad that folks have to be stuck in those, and, and it's some, there's some easy things that you can do to, to make them just a little bit better.
Sarah: And I would say a lot better. It's actually not learning how to do business well as a for-profit or a non-profit is not rocket science. And some small easy tweaks. If you find the right ones and then really implement them, it can make dramatic results. And I'd say the hardest thing is adjusting to that new meeting or actually it's not so hard, but it takes some time. And for those of you who are like Brene Brown followers, like all of her work comes into this learning to bring, be vulnerable enough to bring the real issues, create that culture where people feel. To bring that real issue to the table, that underlying core issue, and then also training your team and getting everybody used to interrupting each other, saying, oh, Or interrupting themselves. Like I interrupt myself all the time. Like I started talking about the issue. Excuse me. That's ok. I started talking about the issue. I'm gonna be quiet now cuz it's not time to talk about the issues, it's just time to stick them on the list. And that takes a little bit of adjusting because usually we're told not to interrupt each other. But after a few times of giving everybody permission, anybody's allowed to interrupt anybody. Who starts launching into talking about an issue when it's not time for it yet.
Carol: And I, the other thing that I like about what you were describing is that it, it get, it gets clear what we're doing at this moment. And I, I try to do that when I'm working with, with groups cuz, during a strategic planning process that I, that generally what I work on, There are points at which you're exploring, where you're opening everything up, where you're imagining, where you're visioning, and you're maybe getting like even a little bit really out there beyond what is really feasible. There's a time for that, and then there's a time a little bit later in the process to cut it down and, and put some criteria on what's gonna be more feasible. What, what do we have the capacity for? What, what's really gonna move our mission forward in a different way. But being clear about what you're doing in each meeting, in each session, in each portion really helps people have.
A more constructive conversation and feel like they, they, they knew what was expected of them so they could show up in a, in a helpful way. a hundred percent. So you, you, and I'm gonna use your words, you work to help nonprofits become financially sustainable, world, world changers. What would you say is really the key to achieving that with an organization?
Sarah: So for nonprofits specifically, there are three key areas that I think they need to be focusing on. First is capacity. Right. So that includes who's on your team, how many team members you have, how much money you have. Although money is usually a byproduct of core capacity. It's not the capacity itself and how aligned that team is, right? So the bulk of what makes up. Our organizations are people really, so right. Who are the people and how well do they work together and are they the right people on the team? And a lot of building that capacity has to do with creating great alignment. And that really means understanding who you are as an organization, how you behave, and then attracting people who want to behave in the same way. and all work together. So we can do a lot too. Capacity by making sure we have the right people aligned in the right way, and great systems and processes for keeping them gelled together as a well-oiled team. So capacity, right? And then actionable strategy, I always say actionable strategy. Which should be assumed, but there's so many people who have strategies that they aren't taking action on. And so just to quickly define some terms, to me, a strategy is a set of goals with a set of actions that you're going to take to achieve those goals. And in the method I teach called the impact method, we always have our highest level strategic goals tied right into our tasks day to day. And it goes through. In the impact method, we actually do strategic planning every two months, and then we map out a two month work plan. We check on that work plan every two weeks, and then each, each two week chunk everybody has their tasks that they're working on for those two weeks. So that's what I mean by what a really actionable strategy looks like that's like dialed in and people aren't flying off doing other things. And then the third piece, which is not true for all businesses, but is true for most non-profits. So if your non-profit has a mission to solve a problem that has never been solved before, so if you're working to end hunger or homelessness, Or solve mental health issues, any of those things. You have to be great at innovation. And to be great at innovation, you basically need some sort of built in process for improvement. You have to be able to experiment and improve and try things and, and have room to fail. That's where the capacity comes in and modify. So really having those three things, capacity, actionable strategy, and a continual process of improvement is what it takes to really have success as a non-profit.
Carol: No, those sound like definitely three key key areas that I'm often working with clients on as well. And one, one I wanna go back to cuz with, with capacity and what we were talking about before, when you can set things on a, on a process and, and make it easier, you're not having to constantly decide, you kind. For me, when I have a good process, I know it's working well because I, I'm not experiencing that decision fatigue of having to make all sorts of little choices and like you said, then have time freed up for that bigger thinking. But what I see groups do, and there's a lot of pressure to scale up is each time they, they, they do something smarter and they create a little space instead of taking that time to think or think big? Differently one not necessarily bigger, they add more, add more, add more. And so, while the, the kind of, the promise is if you work smarter, you're not gonna have to work harder, but then people add more, so they're still working harder. Mm,
Sarah: mm-hmm. So I think some of the ways that I tackle that one is in the process of improvement that I teach. It includes this concept of respite and we also, I also just talk about brain space all the time. Mm. So part of it is about this concept of how we work when we work. But in another part of that is how you define the roles in the organization. So I'll talk about respite first. So, I already said like, we work in these, we do strategic planning every two months. So it's a two month strategic cycle with many two week tactical cycles built in. If you put that into a 12 month calendar year, you will find that there are four extra weeks left over which you totally gain back in efficiency and probably many times over. And so actually built into the framework as a thing is respite. And respite are those extra four weeks. They're not really extra where. Organizations, I teach them to build this into their way of operating, and this is separate from vacation time. Respite is where you're not working on a goal, a big goal or a project you might totally shut down. You might just do minimal operations. Some organizations do all four weeks at once. Some do a week here and there. Some who really like vital, life or death services will scatter different people's respite. So like. What am I thinking? Like overlay it so that no, nothing is ever quite shut down as much, but starting to really like, use a new piece of language, right? It's not vacation. I intentionally didn't use the word rest, although it's designed to allow our brains to have that time. But I call it respite because it's not a word we use a lot in our everyday lives. So introducing that as an important concept and a thing that you're gonna schedule in is really key. And then when part of actually what I think of it as a capacity piece is how you design your team. And a lot of people call this an org chart. I take a slightly different approach because the traditional org chart is really. Who is in charge of who, and I think to run any business better, what we really need to be thinking about is what are the functions of this organization Like, what if it were a machine? What are the pieces of the machine? What outcomes do we need for each of those? Pieces of the machine to be produced and then just who's in charge of those outcomes. And to me, that's what makes me a leader in an organization. We talk about roles that are very, like brain based versus roles that are, we call, I say hands based, but it's like doing the task versus being, trying to get a result that you're not, don't necessarily have control over. And just as a side note, I find, those who are leaders, In many ways, are people who they're, they're built for being responsible for things that aren't in their control. like a parent, right? Like parents are natural leaders. Are they forced leaders? Because you're responsible for this, a kid and you're not really totally in control of the outcome. But you've agreed to be accountable for it nonetheless. Within all these functions of what makes a nonprofit run, there's a really important role of, I call it visioning and innovation. And then you start to see that, especially if it's a CEO or a founder, is often owning this role of literally visioning and innovation and they, that role requires a ton of brain. Or we can call it my mom's solitaire time, right? Like you need to be paid to be just thinking, because that's how we innovate with a lot of thinking and problem solving. And so we start to embrace this as a valued role in the organization as well as a valued activity that everyone's participating in.
Carol: So, as you were saying there are, there, there needs to be that downtime in organizations and I think culturally we're so conditioned to always add more. Yes. And so I love the idea of just taking those. Not even take more, protecting those for extra, those extra four weeks. And, and designating them for some downtime, for some respite for thinking time and, and or just, just not, not doing, doing, doing so that you can. And I, I feel like. I don't know what to do. Well, we all think all the time. If you've ever tried to meditate, you find that out real quick. But if I'm concentrating on it, it doesn't necessarily work. So doing something easy, like solitary, as you talked about, helps just like the brain relax and then you start associating different things and then, it's like, why? We get our best ideas in the shower or on a good walk or something like that. But I definitely appreciate what you're, what you're sharing with people because the tendency so much is to just pile on new things.
Sarah: And, in the way you work too. I referenced a couple times, like, we work in these two week sprints and I teach all my clients to do. That is the, one of the first things they realize. Oftentimes it's the first time they've written down all the projects they're working on at one time. And literally we use a Kanban style, meaning like we put each of our projects that are in progress in a column and the ones that are coming up next to another column, and once it's visual and I just tell them the rule is you can't work on more than three projects at once. And if you wanna go faster, you should only work on one project at once. And it's visually there in the column, you see the boxes stacking up in the column, and people start to realize, What can they actually get done in two weeks? And they start to see that the impact of overloading their plates, of adding more and more and more at once is actually slowing them way, way down. And so as they realize that and see it in a visual way as well, they start to go, oh, Less is more right? Less at a time is faster. I will complete more projects in a two month period if I'm only working on one or two at a time. And they start to realize that a lot of the things they think they're adding that are just little things are huge things like we need to rebuild our. I can say it so easily, rebuild websites, projects I used to build websites professionally. They are multiple projects in one, and your website is never done. So they start to realize, like, understanding how to pull things apart and understand the true load of what's on their plate. And that has all sorts of positive ripple effects. Like oftentimes I see, board members start to really understand why this organization needs more resources and, and leaders start to really understand, oh I do need to be fundraising a lot more because I'm totally underestimating the true load. That we're either carrying or that we're not caring, but we need to be doing, if we're gonna make a dent in solving whatever the problem of our mission is.
Carol: And I think the other thing that doesn't get calculated when you're thinking about projects and some people's work, is, is, is project focused. But other, there's always those things I have to do every day, something I have to do every month or every week. And those regular, repetitive, those things that you systematize, those become invisible in those, those planning out all the stuff that has to happen. And so, Being mindful and remembering you've gotta block space for them, just those regular things as well, is really important.
Sarah: Totally. And we track those and I have a number of ways that I teach my clients to track them, so it's not time consuming just to track them. Right. Sure. You don't wanna spend more time tracking them. No. Them. So, but it can be as simple as every two months, each team member, just like estimates, like what percentage of my work time is taken up by recurring tasks. Mm-hmm. And when they're at 80%. They don't have, I tell them once you hit 80%, you don't have time for any projects, and this is the time to hire or have the one project of streamlining so that you can get that 80% back down to like 50%, 60%, something like that.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I like to ask an icebreaker question, and since we've been talking about processes and systems, I'll, I'll choose this one. So what do the first 30 minutes of your typical day look like?
Sarah: Oh, coffee definitely, and I journal most days. It can vary. I have a son, I'm a single mom, I have a son, so there's usually getting him. I do what I need to do to be ready to get him ready for school and then face my day. But I will share. When I was newly a single mom and launching a business in the most crazy time of my life, I had this, I called it like my super routine, and it took about 30 minutes. I did 12 minutes of meditation, usually with my son sitting in my lap watching cartoons. He was a toddler at the time. I did the seven minute workout on my phone. And I took a quick shower and there is nothing like, even though each thing was short, there is nothing like a little bit of intentional just, brain time. That's that brain time, right? I gave myself that brain time. I had probably a little more brain time in the shower too. And a little bit of body exercise and just that little bit of self-regulation, self-regulation took me through the hardest times in my life. And. With energy and strength, it was great. Awesome, awesome. And it took about 30 minutes. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.
Carol: We can optimize those things for sure. We can, or, or just fit in a little bit and you can fit in more later if, when you have, when you have time and space, but at least doing a little bit each day is really grounding. So what's coming up from you? What are you excited about and what's emerging in your work?
Sarah: Well, I continue to offer the Thrive Program, which is where I take CEOs from non-profits who wanna be like me. I wanna learn everything that Sarah's teaching and work with her every week.
So I continue to love offering that program. I'm really excited to be coming out with a new program called Pivot this year. Access to all of the curriculum I use in the Thrive program, but aren't ready to dive in with all the support and wanna just try some stuff on their own. That'll be coming out in 2023. And also I continue to do this board retreat that I developed in a number of board training related to it. To really help boards get engaged. It comes with a new job description for the board. And the results from that have been so fantastic that I'm very excited to get it out there. And it's, it's, I'll just give you a sneak peek of some of the ways it's so different. I no longer have boards. Approving budgets, and yet they're more engaged with the finances than ever before. I have boards not participating in fundraising, and yet board members are more engaged in helping with fundraising than ever before.
And I have boards really starting to understand. Stand some of this, like how nonprofits work stuff so that they can truly be supportive and have their leadership teams back in a way that just feels great to CEOs and never ever hints on overstepping or micromanaging.
Carol: Awesome. Well thank you so much and thank you for coming on Mission Impact.
Sarah: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
My passion is helping nonprofit organizations and associations have a greater mission impact.
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