Giving Warmth

"If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. 
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. 
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. 
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody." 
~Chinese proverb

We are deep into the Season of Giving. Did you know most nonprofits receive half of their annual contributions from October to December? In the U.S., about one-third of all donations come in the month of December, with almost 35% of those gifts occurring on December 31st. 

We all know the saying “it is better to give than to receive.” We are taught to give and it feels good to help someone in need. But what drives people to give? While it is gratifying to know that we are helping, there are times when we ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?

In exploring this question, I came across Jenny Santi’s 2015 book, The Giving Way to Happiness: Stories and Science Behind the Transformative Power of Giving. The scientific answer is that giving stimulates a part of the brain that makes us feel good and gives us that “warm feeling” that reinforces our behavior and makes us want to keep doing it. Even when giving happens involuntarily, there is a corresponding positive neural reaction, but voluntary giving elicits a more pronounced warm glow. It’s the same for volunteering and helping someone in that way. A “helper's high” happens when people perform good deeds for others.

So, not only can you help someone by giving or volunteering this holiday season, but you can give yourself a nice warm glow at the same time!

Happy Holidays!

What's Next?

Here we are in December, after a year of Big Questions. This month, I’m starting a series of posts which will continue through 2019, focusing on change and transition.

I myself am in the midst of change and transition, having decided to become the interim leader of one of my client organizations for the next several months, while they search for a permanent leader. This is a big change for both me and the organization. This type of transition can be both scary and invigorating, and I am excited at the prospect of helping this group navigate a new phase of existence.

This opportunity has reinforced for me that change can be good. For myself, shaking up my consulting practice by taking on this responsibility is taking me into new territory. And for the organization, there’s a whole new world of possibility involved with a leadership change.

Stay tuned for more about my experience, and insights into change and transition. And please let me know What’s Next for you.

Happy holidays!

It's GROW Time!

It's back to school time, or back to reality time for those of us who have been in "summer mode" for several months. For me, it's back to the Big Questions!

This time the question is: How do you want to grow? Where would you like to create change, or create something new, or expand your horizons?

I've thought of a way to conceptualize this and I hope you'll try it as you work on your growth areas:

G = GOAL = where you want to be

R = REALITY = where you're at right now

O = OPTIONS = paths to your desired goal

W = WILL = your commitment to follow the path

You can use this as a template or guide in identifying where growth can happen. I hope you will, and I wish you luck along the way!

If you would like help in figuring out a growth plan, please be in touch with me.

Are You Working Too Hard?

This week's Big Question is brought to you by Dan Rockwell, the Leadership Freak, in his recent blog, The Effort Illusion: Hard Work is the Answer.  In it, he breaks down the Big Question into seemingly simple questions which are actually not all that simple.

In the work I do with CEOs, I find that I often ask these questions to help them clarify their role and responsibilities, and to keep them focused on moving forward. Almost always, the message is: More is not always better. As Dan asks, "How does the Effort Illusion hold you back?"

This summer, take a break, scale back, allow yourself to just think instead of do. See what happens.

Please be in touch if you want help with assessing this Big Question, or any of the questions I've been asking this year.


Starting To Improve The World

"How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."  Anne Frank

Today's Big Question: How are you helping to improve the world? Maybe not the WHOLE world, but your world, or the world of others?

I really want to know! 

What social causes do you support? Are you teaching tolerance or fighting intolerance? What acts of kindness or generosity do you perform on a regular basis? Which community events do you participate in? How do you nurture your employees? How do you nurture yourself? 

You really can start now- without waiting a single moment- to improve the world!

Celebrating Teachers

Today is National Teacher's Day so naturally the Big Question for this week is: Who has been your greatest teacher?

I have been lucky to have many great teachers in my life. One of my most memorable teachers was in 3rd grade. Mrs. Kalichstein was fearsome- in fact, I spent the summer before school making myself sick at the thought of having her- and to many students, she was downright mean. However, the stars aligned and she liked me, and I became "teacher's pet." Along with spelling drills that I can still recite today, Mrs. K was instrumental in making me feel self-confident, even though I was the smallest kid in the class. "Good things come in small packages" was her favorite thing to say to me, and it really made a difference in how I viewed myself.

Further along the line is the person who put me on my career path- Professor George Armelagos, medical anthropologist. His perspective on health, disease, and adapting ancient cultural beliefs for contemporary public health issues led me to public health. The rest, as they say, is what happened next.

I would be remiss if I didn't include my wonderful children in this tribute to my important teachers. Not only because they have actually taught me how to do things (like use a computer, or how to navigate social media), but because see the world through them has taught me so much and expanded my thinking in countless ways. 

Thanks to all the amazing teachers out there! 

The Five Pillars of Personal Leadership

"The greatest source of transforming the world is in transforming yourself."

This great quote is from a great podcast I had the opportunity to listen to the other day, with Professor Hitendra Wadhwa of Columbia Business School.  The 17-minute podcast focuses on personal leadership, with an emphasis on the personal qualities needed to become a true leader.

The pillars that Dr. Wadhwa identifies are:

  • Purpose or Drive: what compels you to do what you do -there has to be something that propels you forward;
  • Wisdom or Mastery: what you contribute to the conversation in knowledge, skills, or experience;
  • Interface between you and the world:  the emotional quotient you bring to your work- kindness, empathy, compassion;
  • Self-realization: your core insights - you don't need others' approval because validation comes from within; and
  • Growth: your potential to learn and discover.

There's also a Q+A part of the podcast, where Dr. Wadhwa gets into how someone knows they are a true leader, and how leaders keep growing (hint: surround yourself with inspiration). 

A final insight: positive change in your self and your relationships creates a concurrent change in structures. So if you are looking to create a great organization, look inside first.

Enjoy listening to the podcast, and please be in touch if I can help you become a better leader!

That Moment When Everything Changed

I'm sure we've all had this experience, though we may not have known it at the time it was happening. It's the moment when you did something, felt something, went through something that made you a different person. Your pivotal moment.

For many people I know, they'd say it was when they were told, "You have cancer." For some, it's when they met their life partner or became a family. For others, it happened upon reaching a particular milestone or goal. Or all of those things. The best thing about a pivotal moment- I think- is that you can have more than one pivotal moment in your life.

For me, everything changed in September of 1973 when I walked through the doors of Stuyvesant High School as a high school freshman. For those who don't know about Stuyvesant, it is an elite school in NYC, for which you have to pass an entrance exam. I was a better-than-average student when I took the exam, but I never thought I'd get in. When I did, there was no question in my mind that I would attend, even though it meant an hour-long subway commute. I even convinced my parents not to move to Long Island so I could go. 

I knew, somehow, that those four years would be pivotal. And they were, for many reasons. Most important for me was meeting friends from all over NYC, many of whom I am still close with, and being challenged by others even smarter than I was.  Although the work was often difficult, I never regretted my decision, and I am certain it was formative for me.

So that's my pivotal moment. What's yours? 

Je Regrette Rien

"One of the greatest regrets in life is being what others would want you to be, rather than being yourself."  Shannon L. Alder

Are there professional and personal situations I could have handled better? Of course. Are there people I wish I would have treated differently along the way? Most certainly. But I'm pretty satisfied with how my life has turned out. I can't say that I have no regrets, but I definitely don't live my life looking in the rearview mirror. I look at those missteps as learning experiences and try not to repeat them. 

How about you? What are your greatest regrets?


The Most Important Question

OK, here we go. It's almost the end of February and I've been asking some Big Questions. This week's is : What is the most important question you have ever asked yourself?

This is a tough one for me to answer. I ask myself a lot of questions, all the time. Most of them are rhetorical (Are you serious? What am I doing here?).  But one of the more common questions I ask myself is: What will I learn from this? Sometimes I ask this question before I decide whether or not to do something, and sometimes it's used as an evaluation tool. Success or failure, it's important for me to figure out what the experience has taught me.

How about you? What important questions do you ask yourself? I really want to know! 


What Inspires You?

This week's Big Question is: What (or who) inspires you? What makes it possible for you to hop out of bed each day, ready to do what you do?

For me, it's my clients. Through listening to them, observing them, and helping them I am motivated to keep doing what I've chosen to do. It's a constant reinforcement of why I decided to become a consultant and focus on the specific needs of smaller organizations. 

The leaders of these organizations are not just my clients- they have become my friends and colleagues. Their passion and dedication to making their communities better is all the inspiration I need.

Huge thanks to all of the wonderful people I have had the honor to work with! 

Lessons Learned?

This week we have a double whammy for you: two Big Questions to ask yourself.

Question number 1: What was the most important lesson you learned in 2017?  For me, it was that I am a resilient person. I wrote a blog about this back in September. I'm looking forward to seeing where this new understanding can lead me.

Question number 2 is: By the end of this year, what do you hope to know more about?  In my professional life, I hope to learn more about my clients (and potential clients) and how I can best help them. In my personal life, I'd like to know more about what the important questions are for me, and possibly get on the path to answering them.

I want to hear what you think about these two questions! Please be in touch. 

Life's Big Questions

For the next few posts, I'm going to do something I've never done before-  focus on a theme. I'm calling it "Life's Big Questions," and, like many things in my life, it is inspired by Oprah. Specifically, the January 2018 issue of O Magazine, which is all about asking yourself the right questions and where the answers can lead you. I am intrigued by the prospect of doing this as both a way to dig deeper within myself as well as learn how the process might work for my clients.

So the first question is "Am I fulfilling my potential?"

I'm going to be asking more big questions in the coming weeks, and I'm looking forward to sharing them (and the answers) with you. Please share yours with me, too!

The Gift of Receiving

Once again, t'is the season. There's often an undercurrent (or more) during this season of giving. Many people feel anxious, overwhelmed, or depleted by the holidays. The pressure to throw the perfect party, give the right gift, and always be "on" can be a drain.

A lesson I have tried to learn that comes in handy at this time of year is about receiving versus giving. Allowing yourself to welcome gifts, attention, assistance, compliments, and joy without the pressure of giving enables you to fully appreciate what is being given to you. In turn, you will feel more freedom in your giving to someone else.

Enjoy the giving and receiving this holiday season!

Note to Board Members: Ask the Right Questions!

One of the key responsibilities of board members is to ask the right questions of the organization they serve. By doing this, and understanding how the answers shape the organization's impact, they can help the organization succeed.

What are the right questions for board members to ask? Let's start with these:

  • What is our organization's mission?  Ideally, all board members should be able to quote and/or clearly articulate the mission, vision and values of the organization.
  • What are our key programs and services, and who do they serve?  Understanding and even experiencing what the  work of the organization actually is can provide valuable insight to board members.
  • What is my role in the sustainability of the organization?  Yes, we definitely want board members to understand what their financial commitment is (and, yes, there needs to be a financial commitment), but we also want board members to contribute by being ambassadors of the organization and sharing their enthusiasm with others.

If you as a board member aren't asking these questions, you should be. And if you are a board chair or CEO, you should be encouraging the asking of these questions and providing the answers so that board members are clear about their role on the board.

Please be in touch with me to discuss your board and how board service can have maximum impact.


What Do Nonprofits Need to Succeed?

Here’s some daunting news from a new survey of more than 3000 nonprofit leaders, staff, board members and donors:  Almost 80% of nonprofits struggle with leadership and management issues. Even worse, only 11% are prepared for growth and optimal impact.

William F. Meehan III and Kim Starkey Jonker conducted the study, “The Stanford Survey on Leadership and Management in the Nonprofit Sector,” to serve as the basis of their new book Engine of Impact: Essentials of Strategic Leadership in the Nonprofit Sector, which will be released this month. The survey was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil SocietyStanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR), GuideStar, and BoardSource.

Meehan and Jonker’s research on successful organizations suggest that there are seven essential components of strategic leadership that are needed for maximum impact:

·        Mission – a focused, defined statement of purpose;

·        Strategy – a strategic framework based on mission;

·        Impact Evaluation – a way to measure impact;

·        Insight and Courage – a commitment to considered and fearless decisionmaking;

·        Organization and Talent – the right people to move the organization forward;

·        Funding – the ability to build diverse and sustainable revenue relationships with the right donors; and,

·        Board Governance – a strong and effective board to provide direction.

Organizations that aspire to be high-impact need to develop strength in all seven of these areas, Meehan and Jonker said, and a deficiency in any one area can prevent an organization from achieving its goals.

According to the survey, the most common challenges for organizations are:

  • Over 50% struggle with fundraising and another 50% struggle with impact evaluation;
  • More than half struggle with weak board governance;
  • 27% demonstrate “weakness in strategic management,” such as, organization and talent, funding, or board governance, despite exhibiting strength in other areas

Further complications come from leadership and staff indicating that they don’t think their organization sets clear expectations for performance, rewards high performance appropriately, or provides consistent feedback on performance.

To read the complete study results, visit

What Does the Board Member of Your Dreams Look Like?

No two boards are exactly alike, so their desired board members need to be different as well. Finding the right board members is a process that takes time, and needs to be closely related to your organization’s needs.

In a fundraising webinar I participated in this week, Darian Heyman talked about three kinds of boards:

In Name Only: Boards where people lend their name, often so an organization can get off the ground and start to become credible. These board members might show up, but they aren’t going to move the organization forward in a significant way.

Working: Board members take the place of staff in young, evolving organizations. You can work on “big vision” strategy with this type of board, but their primary role is in helping the organization survive.

Fundraising: Board members are active in helping the organization grow in a capacity-building way. These board members have the ability to transform an organization through their giving.

You can see that each of these boards requires different types of board members to be successful. However, all boards need to cultivate board members who play one or more of these roles:

- Ambassador: builds relationships that can be beneficial to the organization

- Advisor: provides guidance as the organization grows

- Advocate: serves as a cheerleader for the organization

- Asker: raises money

Board recruitment can’t be accomplished successfully until you have scripted the vision for your future. It’s important to involve current board members in this strategic process, and use the vision to help identify others who want to join you.

As your organizations matures and changes, your board member needs will also shift. Getting the right people on the bus, as Jim Collins says, is essential to your organization’s fulfilling its potential. Finding the right people isn’t always easy, but taking the time to find the right people is time well spent.

Please be in touch with me to talk about your ideal board member, and how we can build the board of your dreams together.

Board Size: Does It Matter?

A new report from BoardSource, "Leading With Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices" includes findings on board size, which has declined steadily over the past 20 years.

The size of a board affects how its work is conducted, and different sizes work for different organizations. However, BoardSource believes it's possible for a board to be either too small or too large.

In general, it recommends that there be at least 5 board members, regardless of what an organization's bylaws require. Otherwise, the organization may not have enough skills and expertise to draw upon when making decisions. In addition, a board that's too small may have difficulty supporting and overseeing the CEO. And, finally, a too-small board might not have enough reach to create a strong fundraising network.

A board that is too big may find it challenging to have fruitful conversations utilizing all of its members. In this situation, many important organizational issues may get shifted to the executive committee, which can create a disconnect. Board members can end up feeling as if their participation is not values, and- even worse-  the board's ability to govern may be adversely affected.

The bottom line from BoardSource is that every organization has its own particular needs for governance, so board size needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. And of course, organizational needs change with growth, so board size needs to be a topic that gets discussed and planned for.

Please be in touch with me to discuss your board needs!