Saturday, November 30, 2013

"I Y'am What I Y'am": Why You Should Always Hire for Attitude

I'm not a big Popeye fan (although I do love spinach!) but this classic mantra - "I y'am what I y'am." - is a great reminder of how to hire smart.

As a leader and manager, the most important thing you will have the privilege to do is to build your team.  And that starts with recruiting for and hiring the best talent.

But how to you find and know who is best?

Hire for attitude.  Train for skill.

According to Bill Taylor, Co-Founder of Fast Company, "over the years, as I’ve studied high-impact organizations that are changing the game in their fields, they’ve adopted a range of strategies and business models. But they all agree on one core “people” proposition: They hire for attitude and train for skill. They believe that one of the biggest challenges they face is to fill their ranks with executives and front-line employees whose personal values are in sync with the values that make the organization tick. As a result, they believe that character counts for more than credentials."

Every company, including every nonprofit has a specific culture, "We're innovators; we lead!" "We're risk averse; we follow!"

The only way to make good hiring decisions is to know what your organization (really) values and to find people who share them.  

This is easier said than done.  It's easy to get blindsided by credentials and hard to get inside someone's head in a few short interviews, but it's possible. 

In addition to asking interviewees about work experience, get them talking about their passions.  What makes them tick? How do they have fun outside of work?  What is their favorite movie or novel?  These questions, while seemingly irrelevant, can tell you a lot about a person's priorities.  And can help you discern whether or not they will enjoy working with you!

Also, talk to references of a prospective hire.  What were they like to work with?  What did they bring to the last holiday party?  What's the worst mistake they ever made?

"But what about skills?" you say.  "What about experience?" 

Of course, skills and experience are important too, although the literature is mixed regarding how important your GPA is to your success on the job.  No one is suggesting that you hire a super cool chemist to become your chief fundraiser.  And there is nothing wrong with assessing a person's track record. 

Still, don't fall into the trap of thinking that skills alone are enough, especially in sales aka fundraising and other customer-facing positions.  

To be an excellent and successful fundraiser you have to be Likable.  You have to be able to attune, i.e., read and mirror other people, understand what motivates them and react.  You also have to be upbeat, enthusiastic, and inspired.  No one buys stuff from an Angry Bird!

Like most customer facing positions, fundraising is a skill but it's also a mind-set facilitated by empathic and persuasive communication. These behaviors are better suited to some personalities than others.  Don't delude yourself into thinking you can train someone else (including your partner!) to be more curious, helpful, interesting, and kind.  It won't work!

As Popeye attests, and research shows, personality is hard wired at birth and changes little over the course of a lifetime.  We are who we are!

"Your personality is going to be essentially the same throughout your life...U.S. Air Force research on personality types that began in the 1950s shows.  For decades, researchers tracked their subjects by observing their behavior and interviewing their families, friends, and colleagues. The conclusion? Basic personality traits did not change, Davidson says. "Introverts were introverts, extroverts were extroverts. The descriptions were constant."

In short, if you want to get great results you've got to recruit and retain awesome people.  Do this by defining the personality traits and attitude necessary for new team members to succeed and find a way to rigorously assess and hire for that.



Sunday, October 20, 2013

6 Lessons Learned From Life With a GREAT Boss

A great boss is a gift. 

With over ten hours a day and five days a week spent on the job, working for someone who truly cares about you and gets the job done is priceless!

Who are these great bosses and what can we learn from them?

1. Great bosses care deeply about other people.

I know it's a novel concept but to be a great boss you have to actually care about the people who work with you and for you.  Put simply, great bosses like people!  They are curious about what makes their donors, volunteers, and employees tick. And they take time to get to know and understand others.

2. Great bosses know their stuff AND are always interested in improving.

Great bosses garner respect because they are highly skilled in their areas of expertise.  They do what they do really well, i.e. they are competent.  That said, they are not wedded to past processes or success.  Instead, they are open to experimentation and are always on the hunt for ways to improve. 

3. Great bosses get results.

I've never worked for a great boss who wasn't also successful in getting results.  At the end of the day, great bosses want to WIN but not at any cost and not for its own sake.  They want to win because they truly care about the cause.  This is what motivates them.  They do good work and are careful to craft the culture and processes, and nurture the people who can make the magic happen.

4. Great bosses ALWAYS take blame and ALWAYS give credit. 

Great bosses are always the first to admit mistakes when things go wrong.  That said, they are not pushovers.  They will take their teams to task but they do it privately and they do it with the aim to improve the work product not shame or criticize others. 

5. Great bosses don't need to be in the center of every miracle.*

They know that they are only a small pixel in a much larger, more magnificent print.  And they don't need to hog the stage.  They may even shirk the spotlight.  Instead, their greatest pride comes from watching others succeed and creating the conditions under which their team members, colleagues, and organizations can thrive.

6. Great bosses are bossy! 

Working with a great boss is not all rainbows, unicorns, and fairies. In fact, in my experience, great bosses are actually quite demanding.  The difference is that they are tough because they care so much about the mission and getting the job done not because they get a cheap thrill out of wielding their power.

What did your best boss teach you?  And what are you doing to become a better boss?



*P.S.  Thanks to AA (Oops! now AL) for reminding me that the miracle is ALREADY happening and I don't need to be in the center of it.  I only need faith.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saying NO_Part 2

"Begin with the end in mind." - Stephen Covey

Yesterday I talked about the cultural constraints, facing women in particular, that hamper our ability to say "no" and make the best use of our time, talent, and treasure.

But culture alone can't explain why decision making is so difficult.  We have to also take personal responsibility for this task. 

Even the most powerful and empowered women make bad decisions. We stay in jobs and marriages for too long.  We accept lower wages and less respect for our work.  We don't LEAN IN and ask for what we want and deserve.  Again, part of this is due to cultural programming.  But there is another culprit at work too.  Namely, we don't know where we are going.

In other words, we don't have a clear vision of the END that we are trying to achieve. 

My husband reminds me that the captain's lack of clarity creates chaos for the entire crew!  How can you steer the ship if you don't know where you want to go? 

It's obvious that without the end in mind, you will not have a good rubric for making decisions.

More homework: This week, take 15 minutes to write down your definition of success.  Finish the sentences below.  Then use these "mission statements" as a guide to better decision making, including saying "no!"

"In a year from now, I will know I am a success at work because I will ..."
"In a year from now, I will know I am a success at home because I will..."



P.S.  Thanks to Richard Perry for reminding me that beginning with the end in mind is critical for effective decision making.  In short, you can't say "yes" or "no" unless you know where you want to go!

Saying NO_ Part 1

"The art of leadership is saying no, not saying yes. It is very easy to say yes." - Tony Blair

My daughter is talented.  She was recently accepted into Show Choir at her school.  And she is up for a part in her first Middle School play.
The problem is she can't do both, because as her teacher so gently reminds her, "Sweetheart, you can't be in two places at once."
Thus, for the first time in her young life she is faced with hard choices.  And she is learning to say "no."
You may see this as a silly example of decision making.  Choosing between two great opportunities is NOT the end of the world.  But I disagree.  I think learning to say "no" to both good opportunities and bad is one of the hardest and most underrated skills in our personal and professional lives, especially for women. 
For women, the culture tells us that we should try to be everything to everyone, regardless of the toll it takes on our minds, bodies, and souls.  The culture tells us not to be too finicky because "this may be as good as it gets."  The culture tells us that it is not "nice" to be "uppity," driven, and ambitious.
But I say, "Bull!"
Saying "no" is one of the most powerful things you can do in your life, precisely because it opens new doors to new realities.  It also ensures that you are designing your own future vs. letting someone else architect your life. 
All great leaders say "yes."  They take risks, make deals, and embrace partnerships.  But they also ruthlessly say "no" to people, opportunities, and issues that suck their time and energy and don't help them to achieve their dreams, ambitions, and goals.
Your homework: This week, say "no" to two things that aren't moving you forward and don't make you feel joyful, i.e. that you don't want or need to do.  Build your self-confidence muscles and stand in your own power.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

The 5 Cs of Nonprofit Success

Stating the obvious here but running a SUCCESSFUL nonprofit is HARD WORK!

Here is a new rubric to help you (and me!) do it better!

What else would you add?  Please respond in the comments!

1. A Compelling Cause

In order to run a successful nonprofit you need a compelling cause.  But let's face it, some causes like some products are simply more compelling than others.  Just because YOU are passionate about a certain issue, ideology, or identity doesn't mean people will pay for it and/or work with you to realize your vision. The art and science of fundraising and managing involves ALIGNING your work with your DONORS' and EMPLOYEE's interests.

If you want your donors and volunteers to jump out of bed in the morning to help you, you've got to have a compelling cause.

Here are the questions to answer.

What are our most compelling programs and services and why?

What does our organization do to change the world better, faster, and cheaper than anyone else?

2. Great Colleagues

There is ample research to show that people who have close friends at the office are happier and more productive at work.

This just makes sense!

Wouldn't you rather spend 10 hours a day with people you like, respect, and admire?

Here is the question to answer.

What can I do as a hiring manager, leader, and employee to build a collegial atmosphere in my organization?

3. A Kick-Ass Culture

There is also tons written about the role that culture plays in making or breaking an organization and how leaders must PROACTIVELY and CONTINUOUSLY set about building the one they want.

A great culture is like a great brand. It is something you tend to every day by modeling your organization's values in the way you think, walk, and talk.

For my money, a successful organization requires a culture focused on ACHIEVEMENT and INNOVATION.

Here's why.  1) People want (and star performers need) to hit the right targets. They need to know where we are we going.  And they have to understand their unique role in making progress.  This is especially true in fundraising and sales.  2)  People want (and star performers need) the freedom and responsibility to think about ways to improve the business.  Encourage your team members to "stick to the knitting" and execute well.  But also give them license to look around the corner to see what is coming next.

Here are the questions to answer.

How can we reduce inefficiencies?

How can we better delight our donors?

What else (a mobile website, social marketing, etc.) can we put in motion today to get us ready for the future?

If you need guidance on culture creation and communication, check out The HubSpot Culture Code: Creating a Company We Love.  This is the benchmark. 

4. Fair Comp

If you read the research on what motivates employees, you will see that while compensation is not necessarily the most important driver of employee satisfaction, it is part of the package.

Pay people fairly so that they are not distracted by feeling or being underpaid. 

Nuff said! 

5. Cash

This is the biggie.  Sorry to state the obvious but you simply must have cash to run a successful nonprofit or for profit. Salaries, i.e., human bodies are not enough.  I'm dismayed at how hard it is for most nonprofits to answer this question - "What's the budget?" - when embarking on a new campaign or initiative.  (We are driving our vendors crazy!)

Cash is still king.

You need cash to tell donors about all the great things they are doing through your organization. You need cash to upgrade your software.  You need cash to enter new markets or find a new funding model.  You need cash to find new donors who may be interested in investing with you.  You need cash to train, reward, and celebrate your employees!

That said, cash is not a silver bullet. Plenty of nonprofits and for profits have squandered angel and other investments.

Here are the questions to answer. 

What are we doing to create a reserve or cushion to power our nonprofit?

Once we get more cash, how will we invest it STRATEGICALLY to ensure the financial health of our organization far into the future?



Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hold Hands, Stay Together, Have Faith. We ARE the Change We Seek.

I was so moved by the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington yesterday. Here is what I learned/remembered.

1. Peace is possible.  When we practice peace in our own lives, it reverberates. When we practice peace we also honor all of the activists who came before - King, Mandela, Parks, Ghandi, Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi.  Our heroes and heroines were/are persistent, firm, and unfathomably kind in the face of struggle. We can draw strength from their witness and learn to be warriors for good too.

2. People want to live in fair, forward-thinking societies where everyone can flourish.  Sometimes we just get scared and confused. 

3. Holding hands and staying close, especially during the tough times, is vital. We NEED each other.  We BELONG to each other.

4. The glass of our collective life is half FULL. Get out of your house. Get into your community. SEE the amazing work that others do. You will be humbled and inspired by ALL of the stories that are not in the news!

5. The Universe is on our side!  We just have to keep breathing and keep believing.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said,
"The arc of the morale universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

SO MANY people want a more just, humane, and joyful society and are willing to do the work of FORGIVENESS and COMMUNION to get there.  Let's hold hands, keep breathing, and move forward together!

The future is open.


Thursday, August 15, 2013


"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves...Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer."  
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Patience is a virtue but it is not mine.

I honestly can't remember being patient a day in my life.  It is not my default setting.    I have to CONSCIOUSLY work to SLOW DOWN.

My days are filled with ENERGETIC activity.

Like most things, this is good and bad.  I'm a fast talker.  Have a quick wit.  Am a quick study.  But I also MISS information and other people with all of my rushing around.  

My daughter makes me pay attention.  She SQUEEZES it out of my unwitting pores.
  • "Watch me dance."
  • "Listen to me sing."
  • "Can I ask you another question?"
Silvia Boorstein calls patience "unglamorous courage." Hmmm.  I do like the idea of being a warrior...

While I get that everything happens in its own time.  And aspire to the "if you love something, set it free" philosophy.  Patience is much harder to practice in reality!

How do you WAIT for the answers?  How do you remember to BREATHE in and out every day?


Friday, August 9, 2013

Play the Tape All the Way to the End and Other Advice on How to Make Better Decisions!

NO, this is not a post about 80s bands! 

YES, I am betraying my age!

But I LOVE this advice from one of my wonderful friends and wanted to share it with you.

If you want to make better decisions for your organization, career, or family, "play the tape all the way to the end."

For example, when vetting a new marketing or fundraising opportunity. Don't get swept up in delusions of grandeur and millions in new money and immediately sign on the dotted line. 

Pause. Ask questions. Pause again.

Write out all the pros and cons of the deal.  

  1. Talk to a cheerleader.  What could go right? We raise a ton of money for our mission. We get amazing PR. We attract even more funding. (We all get raises!)  Yippee!
  2. Talk to a devil's advocate. What could go wrong?  We get waaayyy off mission.  We squander precious resources. We are unable to execute the program.  We alienate current funders. #FAIL
  3. Seek expert advice. Hint: Expertise = Experience not Title! Talk to someone who has already traversed this road TWICE!
In short, "play the tape all the way to the end." And ONLY THEN make your "go/no go" decision.

I don't know about you but I often decide with my gut. I am intuitive and can literally FEEL the rightness or wrongness of a next move. But making decisions based on intuition alone can be perilous. 

Especially, in high risk (and highly emotional) situations, we need the discipline, tools, and criterion for good decision making. And we have to be willing to be wrong to get it right!

In Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (which you MUST read), Chip and Dan Heath remind us that,
"Overconfidence about the future disrupts our decisions.  It makes us lackadaisical about preparing for problems.  It tempts us to ignore signs of early failure. It leaves us unprepared for pleasant surprises...Fighting overconfidence means we've got to treat the future as a spectrum, not a point."
And we have no excuse for not doing our due diligence. (Say that 10x fast!)  There are great tools out there, including Decisive to help us walk carefully and CONSCIOUSLY through alternatives.

Predicting the future is a crap shoot.  There are ALWAYS surprises in life and work. But you significantly increase your chances of success when you spend time (breathing!) and thoroughly vetting multiple scenarios.

Here's to better decision making!

Thanks M3!


Friday, July 26, 2013

5 Signs You May Need to Get Your Ego in Check


It powers our actions. 

It enables us to get out of bed in the morning, make new friends, speak in public, and get to work.

Any leader needs a strong ego, especially social changemakers and entrepreneurs.  

Going against the grain, i.e., fighting injustice, forging a new path, or developing a new product or service takes serious strength.

But too much ego can also be a disaster!

It can make us lose our bearings, alienate others, and block out reality. 

Unsure whether or not your ego is getting the best of you?

Take this test.

If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may need to get your ego in check!

1. Do you think people are a means to an end vs. an end in themselves?  Hint:  They're not!

2. Have you stopped being curious and soliciting feedback from others?  Do you often assume you know best and are right?

3. Do you say "I" more than "We" when talking about your organization, company, or team?

4. Do you find yourself feeling chronically anxious or upset at work?

5. Do you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders?  And that you must forge ahead with super human force?

Again, if you want to change the world, you WILL have to stand in the face of the naysayers. And this means having strong convictions and believing in yourself.

But don't let your ego run you over.  Find a healthy balance between holding your own and making space for other possibilities.



Friday, July 19, 2013

You Are Pure Potential: Use the Stories of Your Life to Succeed

"So much of life, it seems to me, is the framing and naming of things." - Eve Ensler, In the Body of the World

The stories we tell define us. 

How we narrate the challenges and successes we face can make or break our resolve.

Are we going out of business or are we on hiatus while we retool for greater efficiency?

Do I stink as a manager or am I learning from my HUMANITY and getting a little better every day like everyone else?

Is the Civil Rights Movement over or evolving?

I'm not naive. 

I know that where we get to in this life is deeply influenced by culture and history and luck.  We are not magicians or time travelers.  That said, we can learn to control our own minds and power our self talk.

If you want to grow in self-awareness and live a fulfilling life you have to do three things.

a) listen to the stories you tell yourself 
b) determine if the are true 
c) create more empowering narratives for the future

The good news is that you don't have to do this alone!

A great boss, friend, or therapist can and should help you reframe your narrative, especially if it is holding you back or keeping you down.

Don't be afraid to reach out to others you TRUST for their insight, coaching, and support.  And don't be afraid to drop the Negative Nellies and bad influences in your life.

As my former boss used to say, "We are all pure potential!" Use the stories of your life to harness the positive energy and life force within you.  Don't create negative narratives that hold you back!

My best,


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Want to get better results at work? Love your people.

GOALS are important.  

Every succesful project, job, and relationship has a well-defined outcome.  Without goals we are rudderless.  And as the saying goes, "if you don't know where you are going, you may wind up some place else."

But PROCESS, i.e., how we get work done TOGETHER is vitally important too.

How many of us have worked in "winning" workplaces where people hate each other and tension abounds?

How many of us have left jobs where we loved the mission but couldn't stomach the office politics?

Regardless of whether or not you are "winning," HOW you treat people, i.e., how you lead (and follow), how you engage in conflict, and how you hire and fire can make or break your organization.

And that is because organizations are made up of PEOPLE and while people want to win, they want to be loved and respected too.

"Love?" you say. " I'm a manager, not a therapist." 

Don't be so sure!

According to Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory, people need four things to be happy at work.

- A chance to develop

- An opportunity for recognition and achievement

- Responsibility

- Meaningful work

Your job as a Manager is to help establish and align your team around shared goals.  It's also to create the systems and processes that enable folks to work productively.  But your job as a Manager is also to love or care deeply about your people and help them achieve THEIR dreams and ambitions at work and beyond.

Where do they want to be in five years?

What new skills are they dying to learn?

How can they take on more responsibility?

How do they want to be recognized for their contributions?

It may sound obvious but great management is also about building great relationships.  It's about helping others to be a little bit bigger and better than they were yesterday.

Get this part right and you will be half way there.  Get it wrong and you may be struggling to hit your targets all on your own.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Innovation is Overhead

My bestie, Laura Caligan, shared this brilliant thought with me today.

"Innovation is overhead."

If you want to ensure that your nonprofit stays relevant, which is code for continues to inspire funders, employees, and other key stakeholders. And achieve greater IMPACT in the world! Then you MUST innovate.


Because the world keeps turning!  Technology shifts, governments collapse, businesses go out of businesses. 

Don't believe me?

Borders. Kodak. Circuit City. May they all RIP.

You simply can't stay still and remain a success.

The challenge for nonprofits is innovation = overhead.  You can't develop new programs or services, change the way you communicate with constituents, update your brand identity, and overhaul IT without paying for it and this money goes to overhead, not programs.

There is currently much buzz in the nonprofit sector about changing the conversation regarding how to evaluate nonprofits.  Namely, some folks are tired of being judged by the percentage of their fundraising spend vs. the merits of their impact. Great!

If we want innovation in charitable organizations (and we do!) this is another reason to investigate how we think about overhead.  

Do we really want a dearth of innovation for the programs, services, and communities that need change most?

Your thoughts?


Sunday, July 7, 2013


"What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run until we drop?"
-  Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor

Meetings. Memos. Mail.

This is our life as Managers, Mothers - Mortals.

My husband is aMazed (ok, enough with the M's) when I share my work calendar with him.

"How exactly do you take a meeting and a call at the same time?" 

I'm so used to being over scheduled that I don't recognize the silliness of it all.

Don't get me wrong.  I like being busy.  Work, especially work you love, can feed your soul.  And like most women who work inside and outside the house, I excel at multi-tasking.  Sort of.

The problem occurs when DOING causes real exhaustion and isn't moving the ball forward. When all my activity starts making me feel worse.

At times like these it's important to STOP and reflect (or nap!) and answer Taylor's question above.

Who says being chronically busy is the path to living a good life?  

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist Nun, and one of my favorite "coaches" talks about busyness as a defense against living a wholehearted life.  

While we often complain about the chaos of our lives and how much we crave down time, stopping is scary.  It takes practice to be still and settle down.  DOING is a buffer against unpleasant feelings.

According to Taylor, "Anyone who practices Sabbath for even an afternoon usually suffers a little spell of Sabbath sickness.  Once you have finished the paper and a second pot of tea, you can start feeling a little jumpy...You can find yourself crying buckets of uncried tears over things you thought you handled years ago."

Still, compulsive activity is not the answer. Be brave. Take heart. If you center yourself in the present moment (even for one moment) you may experience unpleasant emotions.  However, you may also surprise and delight yourself!

I hope you make and take time to rest this summer. To play. To be with your family and friends. Or to simply sit quietly with yourself. 

Stopping is as important as moving if you want to live a good life.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Was it Enough?

Was it enough? 

This is the question that haunts me.

Lying in his hospice bed, as he wandered through the haze of his 89 years of life, this is the question my grandfather posed - "Was it enough?" 

I loved this old man deeply.  I loved his humor, his delight in talking to strangers, his love and hoarding of chocolate.  The way he could become deeply passionate about a leaf of lettuce or a cool refreshing glass of water, but I was dismayed and angered by his insecurity. 

Was it enough?

My grandfather's life included a tour in the British Foreign Service.  He enlisted and helped to evacuate Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.  Princeton Theological Seminary followed and he served for 8 years as Rector of an Episcopal Church in Roxbury, Boston. During the Civil Rights Movement he became Treasurer of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) - which changed the future for so many African Americans by helping to end American Apartheid.  To this day, my mother complains about missing the opportunity to meet SCLC's Founder and President, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..  While my grandfather hosted a press conference for Dr. King at their house, my mother and her sisters were (of course) sent off to school. :(

In addition to his career, he celebrated 60 years of marriage to my amazing grandmother. He is survived by an talented brood, (including me!) - four children, five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

His perfectionism was his driving force and his greatest weakness as is so often the case with us humans. 

He felt called to right the injustices that he saw in the world AND worried deeply that there was more he could and should do.

When he started to decline, my aunties began to audit his donations to the many nonprofits who solicited his support.  He was forgetful and gave every time he was asked, assuming every renewal letter was a new request for support.  He became friends with telemarketers.

Don't misunderstand.  He was a man of pleasure too. He took great pride in watching the Anglican Church elect Katharine Jefferts Schiori their first female bishop. And Obama's election to President of the United States made him weep.

His deep spirit of caring for others, particularly the forgotten and oppressed, and his desire to leave the world better was a powerful and destructive force.  He spent too much time away from family.  He became over-absorbed in work.  He missed important signals. He got sick.

Living a good life is complicated. 

As my dear friend Qui Moede likes to say, when quoting E.B. White,“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."

This is the conundrum.

I hope my grandfather made peace with the fact that he was not perfect and never would or could be. I hope he also realized that his contributions mattered.  They mattered very much.

Yes, Grandpa.  It was enough.


Monday, June 24, 2013


I've been thinking about email marketing lately. (I know.  Slow news day. :)

Raising money via email is still the primary way to raise money online.  

But how the heck do you do it well?

Here are my not so secret tips!

Acquire email addresses!  

You are doing this through your site, right?  But also consider acquisition through channel partners, like corporate sponsors and Care2. I've written a lot about this.

Write great copy!  

I'm a big fan of "1 email, 1 ask." Think Obama campaign. People are busy and don't have time to wade through rambling e-newsletters.  Also, giving your donors, advocates, volunteers, and clients CLEAR instruction on the 1 thing that they can do next is helpful.

Design a good email.

The great thing about email is that it costs pennies to test. Try including different images to boost response rate. Try killing everything but SHORT text.  See what happens!

Measure results.

At my organization, we track 4 metrics:
  • Open Rates - What % of people read our email?
  • Click Through Rates - What % of people were interested enough in our content to follow a link?
  • Response Rates - What % of people did what we asked them to do?!
  • Unsubscribes - What % of people never want to hear from us again? (Hopefully, this is always LOW)!

Check out the great infographic above from NTEN and M+R Strategic Services to see how your email efforts stack up!

What are your tips for better email marketing success? Reply in the comments.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


Like many leaders in the nonprofit sector, I have long considered overhead ratios - comparing the amount your nonprofit spends on administrative expenses aka fundraising to the amount you spend on programs - as a flawed way to measure the impact of nonprofits.

I'm pleased to see that Guidestar, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, AND Charity Navigator have all teamed up to take a look at this maniacal metric.

Check out the Overhead Myth below.

No one is suggesting that nonprofits be frivolous with our donors money.  Quite the contrary, we're suggesting that we - the leaders of charitable organizations - be empowered to make the best and highest use of our donors' investments by allocating donations such that they make the biggest IMPACT on critical issues, like ending global poverty, curbing climate change, and eradicating HIV.  

Sometimes this will mean investing programs and outreach and sometimes this will mean investing in infrastructure to run better businesses.


Friday, June 14, 2013


I'm terrified of flying.

Anyone who knows me well, knows this about me.  

It's embarrassing.

For the day and hour and minutes leading up to launch, I dissemble.

I feel sick. My palms sweat. My breath goes bad. 

My heart races. I yawn and yawn. For all intents and purposes, I feel like I'm falling apart.

I literally forget all that I know about being safe.  

I can't reach out.  I can't connect.  I can't remember who I am.

I go inside this very small, dark place where I wait and breathe and hold my belly to make sure that I AM still.

Leadership is like this sometimes .

It is painful and scary and vulnerable-making.  

As Pema Chodron says, "It brings you to your edge."

It makes you weep. It makes you lonely. It makes you FEEL your smallest self. It can also makes you soar.

Here's the deep irony.

I work for a global organization.

Literally and metaphorical my job demands flight.

I have to be in two places at once. 

I have to imagine and experience the world across borders.

I have to take off and touch down in foreign places.


This is a post about the POWER of being uncomfortable.  About living life on the edge. Of taking risk. Of dissembling. Of touching the dark places.

If you lead well, if you care deeply about any project, person, or place, you will experience terror. 

You will find your edges and in the darkness you will not meet rainbows and fairies.

And yet there is POWER in experiencing your most fragile, fearful self. In noticing and honoring just how weak you can be.

From this experience, you can die a little.

You can find the truth of your own humanity. You can connect with all of the other sentient beings out there who suffer just like you.  And you can enter into a deeper, kinder relationship with yourself and others.

Come fly with me. Come lead with me. Come find out who you really are.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lose the Lipstick: Your Brand is More Than a Cosmetic

I have the privilege of speaking again this year to the fabulous fundraisers at Women in Development of Northeastern NY.

Our topic?  Branding.

Branding causes undo confusion in the nonprofit sector.

My experience is that when you start talking about branding people assume that you've wandered off into the wilderness of marketing, technology, and design.  

Worse. They assume the conversation is beyond them.
  • "We know our website is out of date but we just don't have thousands of dollars to fix it."
  • "We'd like to create more video and use more pictures to describe our work but communicating is not our strong suit."
  • "We know our logo stinks but what can you do?"
These are the conversations that ensue and unfortunately, they miss the point because they focus solely on brand IDENTITY.

While presentation IS an important component of branding, the TRUTH is that your brand is NOT and NEVER WAS simply a cosmetic.

As my frolleague (friend and colleague) Larry Checco, author of Branding for Success and Aha!  Moments in Brand Management says,

"Your brand is no less than your organization’s DNA, not a cosmetic you apply to your organization to make it look pretty. It’s a true reflection of who you are and what you do. You can spend millions of dollars on marketing, and say anything you like about yourself. But if you don’t live up to your ‘brand’ in everything you say and do, then all you have is sizzle and no steak, and it won't take long for your target audiences to see the smoke and realize there's no meat.”
In other words, your brand is your organization's REPUTATION.

It's what people say about you and your organization behind closed doors.

You may have a slick website but are you making a real impact in the world? 

You may throw beautiful events but do you treat your employees, patrons, and volunteers well?

This is what people want to know and remember!

When we have conversations about branding for nonprofits, these are the questions that we have to answer BEFORE we change our fonts!

Great nonprofits think carefully (and spend money) to COMMUNICATE their impact and value.  But they also view branding as an exercise that starts from the inside out and involves soul searching.

Want to develop a great brand that garners more resources, relationships, and "real estate?"

Answer these questions first!
  • What does our organization do better than anyone else?
  • What is our impact in the world?
  • Why should anyone else care?
Then add the lipstick. 


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

To Video or Not to Video?

Video, video, video!  We love it.  We can't get enough of it.  Most important, we know that video can be a powerful tool for MOVING our stakeholders to ACTION for our causes.

Then why don't nonprofits use video more and make it the centerpiece of our marketing communications strategies?

Thanks to the kind folks at See3, YouTube, and Edelman, you can find the answer to this question and more in Into Focus: The First-Ever Benchmark Report and Guide for Nonprofit Video.  It's FREE!

Here are the key takeaways:
  • Nonprofits believe that video is important, and getting more important every day.
  • Organizations want to make more video, but aren't allocating the funds to do so.
  • It's hard to measure the ROI of video and that may be one reason that we don't use it more.
  • We have to change our cultures to embrace the importance of video.  In the same way that we had to be convinced to adopt online tools (like websites!) for marketing communications, we now need the buy-in to adopt video.
My addition: We need to know what we want our videos to DO!  See the great, graphic above from the report.  I hope you'll check it out!

Want some inspiration?

Watch the video below we did to thank our donors at The Global Fund for Children and share your best videos in the comments!



Saturday, May 11, 2013

You Can't Efficiency Your Way to Greatness and Other Stuff I Learned This Week From Some Killer Fundraisers

I had the privilege of spending Thursday with my fundraising and marketing peeps at Engage 2013: A Case Study Conference in Philly.  (Thanks, Margaret!)

It is always inspiring and validating to be with other practitioners in the field who are facing similar obstacles to fundraising growth.  And I was thrilled to meet (if briefly) Roger Craver!

OK, enough of the crowing...

I was particularly impressed with the case study by the fantastic folks at Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  Regardless of your politics, HRC is undeniably a fundraising and marketing powerhouse.  According to their 2012 annual report.  They grew annual income by 57% in 10 years - from $29M in 2000 to $46M in 2012.  (See below.)  As ALL fundraisers know, this is no small feat.

Here's how:

1) They are fundraising for a movement not organization.  - While listening to the HRC fundraisers, it is clear that they are truly invested in equality for all people, i.e. they are deeply invested in a CAUSE and this is what drives their work.  They don't talk about raising money for programming or operations (typical npo speak); they talk about raising money to fund a MOVEMENT.  This is not a semantic dispute.  My take is that when you are truly passionate about moving a CAUSE vs. funding an ORGANIZATION, you work harder, engage in tough debate, and take more risks because you have real change at stake.  You also have a much more passion when engaging donors. 

2) They ignore fundraising ratios - There is LOTS of conversation these days and an awesome TED talk (Thanks, Dan Pallotta!) on the problem of using overhead ratios as the key (or only) metric for organizational success.  Like all nonprofits, HRC struggled with the question of how to grow their fundraising machine and impact while keeping administrative costs low.  Their answer: "Ignore the white noise of charity watchdogs."  Instead, focus on YOUR movement building goals and staff and spend to that.  In a BOLD move, their board approved a $1M spend of reserves to grow their fundraising capacity.  This enabled the organization to acquire lots of new advocates and donors and get ready for success.

3) They treat their employees and vendors well. - It's well known that turnover in fundraising is DISMAL.  According to Campbell and Company, the average tenure of a Chief Development Officer (CDO) is 18 months.  YIKES!  It's obvious that this is BAD for business.  First, you can't win a movement in 18 months.  Second, turnover in key relationship-building positions means that donors inevitably get lost in the mix.  HRC has focused on bucking this trend by doing STAY interviews.  They figure out what motivates employees and execute against that.  They also treat their vendors as employees (two of the vendors on the panel were former employees of the organization) by inviting them to regular summits to discuss movement strategy, goals and challenges and to brainstorm and course correct. 

Every nonprofits WANTS to grow its impact and influence and change the world but few are willing to do the heavy lifting and take out-of-the-box ACTION to make it happen.  Many of us go small and stay on the hamster wheel hoping that doing more of the same will create change.  News flash: It won't. 

My favorite quote of the day: "You can't efficiency your way to greatness."

As the HRC case study shows, you also can't create big change without thinking big and taking bold action.

Thanks to HRC for providing an excellent example of what IS possible if we lead better, follow our instincts and do something different!



Saturday, March 2, 2013

Be a Heretic. Choose a Cause You Love. Lead.

Here is another inspiring TED talk for you.


I am trying to do this at The Global Fund for Children because I truly believe that ALL children deserve the right to be safe, healthy, happy, and productive, regardless of where they are born.  Don't you?

According to Godin, there are 4 things you need to do if you truly want to do make a difference in this life.
  1. Find something worth changing aka challenge the status quo.
  2. Find others who care as deeply about the issue/idea as you do (aka true believers) and CARE about them.
  3. Make it EASY for others to propagate the idea.
  4. Commit to your cause and commit to your tribe.
Now, GO FORTH and LEAD! 


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Watch This Video if You Want to Be Happier and Enjoy a Good Laugh!

I'm so happy to know that there is research-based evidence to suggest that being positive and happy is not only possible but an advantage to living a better life for yourself and others.

I hope you will watch "The Happy Secret to Better Work" by Shaun Achor above, check out the infographic below, and PRACTICE being more positive in life and work.



Monday, February 18, 2013

This is a Sweet Contest. How Do You Share Your Heart?

The post below is by Jamie Millard and the folks at

Whether it’s a heartfelt note before your first day at a new job or a declaration of love written in the clouds, people express their love and support for one another in big and small ways every day. This February, CaringBridge, the caring social network that keeps families and loved ones connected during any type of health event, invites people to submit those touching acts of compassion during the “Share Your Heart” contest.  

Watch the sweet video above and enter the “Share Your Heart” contest.
Visit to upload a photo, video or a written description of up to 50 words of how you share your heart with those you love and support. 

Any act of caring big or small is welcome. It could be a video hug for a sweetie, a photo of the flowers you gave to the neighbor, plastering someone’s room with cutout hearts or any other way to spread love in the world.

During the contest, visitors to can vote on their favorite entry. People can also share their submissions with family and friends inviting them to vote. The entry with the most votes wins two iPad minis—helping the winner stay connected with their loved one online.

Additionally, everyone who shares their heart on will be entered in a random drawing to win one of 10 gift certificates from Pear Tree Greetings, an online greeting card company that helps people celebrate life’s sharable moments.

The contest opens February 11. People can submit their acts of love and caring by March 1 and voting will be open through March 6.

Happy caring and sharing!