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! 


Leading by Humility

Definition of humility: having or showing a modest or low estimate of one's own importance What is the role of humility in leadership?  Jim Collins has said that most of the leaders of the great companies he studied in "Good to Great"  and other works were very humble men.  If a leader is one who rules or inspires, how are humble (i.e., modest or meek) people successful?

I think the answer is that a truly great leader focuses on the success of the organization, not of the self. If the organization grows, realizes its goals and achieves its objectives, a humble leader is satisfied.

What are some of the characteristics of a humble leader?

~ Trusts others to do their best- delegates tasks and authority

~ Invests in others- nurtures talent and cultivates other leaders

~ Admits mistakes- accepts responsibility without casting blame or making excuses

~ Thanks others for their actions- expresses gratitude and gives recognition

~ Recognizes their own limitations- knows when to look for assistance from others

~ Invites feedback- wants to improve

~ Diverts attention- shares success with others who played a part

Being humble doesn't mean being wimpy or weak. Demonstrating humility shows that you have a high level of confidence in your abilities and that you value others and their contributions. It encourages team members to express their opinions and do their best work, with the knowledge that they will be valued.

Any questions? Please be in touch with me at to learn more.


Talk Less, Smile More: A Lesson from "Hamilton"

In the first act of the hit Broadway musical, "Hamilton," Aaron Burr's advice to the young Alexander Hamilton on how to be more successful is: "Talk less. Smile more."  Upon reflection, I realized that I give the same advice to the CEOs I counsel on leadership. Being a good listener (talking less) is essential if you want your staff to feel comfortable with coming to you for feedback and guidance.  Being approachable (smiling more) is an asset in cultivating relationships with donors, board members and others important to the growth of your organization. Both work in tandem with other important qualities (integrity, humor, confidence and strategic thinking are just a few examples) to create a well-rounded leader who is capable of managing people, programs and growth.

If you would like to learn more about leadership, please be in touch with me at

You can download the original Broadway soundtrack to Hamilton on iTunes.  It's wonderful!


Helen Keller's Nonprofit Wisdom

We have all been placed on this earth to discover our own path, and we will never be happy if we live someone else's idea of life. ~Helen Keller

As a child, I was a bit obsessed with Helen Keller.  While she was a hugely important figure to me, I never thought I'd be quoting her in one of my blogs.  And I don't think that she ever intended for the quote above to be interpreted as nonprofit management wisdom. But it occurred to me upon reading her words that often organizations compare themselves to other organizations and are disappointed with what they see.

"How did they get that grant?"  "Why did so-and-so join their board and not ours?"  "How come we're not growing as much as they are?"  "Are we ever going to be able to have office space as nice as theirs?"

Of course we are all aware of the competition among organizations in the nonprofit space- for attention, for dollars and for survival.  Even in collaborations across organizations, there is often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) competitive thread.  We all want to believe that our organization is the best, fulfilling its mission and providing its community with everything they need.  But sometimes, reading another organization's newsletter, or attending another's fundraising event, there's that gnawing thought that you're falling short in comparison.

What do you do about this "grass is always greener" angst?  Well, here's a reality check for you: You don't really know what is happening behind the doors of their (more beautiful than yours) office. They might be struggling with major financial challenges.  They might have a seriously dysfunctional board.  They might be envious of YOU. They might be thinking, "How come they have such great social media presence?"  "How do they do so much great programming with so few staff?"  "Why are they always getting quoted in the media?"

It would be easy to say, "Stop looking over your shoulder at the other guys."  That's not what I'm saying.  Instead, be aware of the other guys.   There will always be other organizations that you look at as something you aspire to be, and there will always be other organizations breathing down your neck.  Competition can be healthy, if you look at is as a motivator.  Put your head down and focus on YOUR mission, YOUR community, and YOUR fundraising. Be an organization that other organizations are envious of.

Let's talk about how you can have the best organization possible.  Contact me at


Trivial Pursuit

In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily acts of trivia. - Unknown source

Do you find yourself preoccupied with the trivial, unable to take on the heavy lifting? Are you stymied by the morass of mundane tasks that need to get done before your "real" work can be accomplished?  Then the above quote is meant for you!

Work is not always about the big stuff- the glory.  It's more often about the little things- the guts.  Making your way through one to get to the other is all about having a plan.  And having a plan is all about having goals, and a path toward those goals.

It can be as simple as a daily or weekly "To Do" list that you  (with or without your team) actually check off as you go along.  Or it can be bigger and more structured, as in creating a strategic plan for your organization.

Regardless of the size of the plan, the point is: Get a plan. Don't be trivial.

Visit me at to find out what we can do together to help you on your path.

Enough is Enough

"If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough."  - Oprah Winfrey "Enough is enough is enough" - Paul Jabara and Donna Summer

Those of you who have read my previous blog posts know that I have chosen intentions rather than resolutions to set the tone for my year. (In case you haven't memorized them, 2013's was "Less judgement, more compassion" and 2014's was "Listen and learn").

This year's intention is "Enough."  In reflecting on this word, it became clear that there was more than one way to approach the concept of "enough" and its application to my work and my life. Enough, as in: Does what I am doing make me happy? Am I satisfied? How can I show my appreciation for all that I have that brings me what I need?

But also, enough, as in: What doesn't make me happy about what I am doing? What are my boundaries? What is burdening me or stressing me, and how can I make that go away? How can I create a world that is joyful and satisfying for me and others?

As always, I will be integrating this intention into my daily life, seeing how it affects my perspective and my actions.  I will keep you posted!

Please be in touch to discuss your consulting needs.





Am I a Great Consultant?

How am I Doing? There are many positive aspects to being a consultant: having diverse and interesting work, getting to know a variety of people, and balancing my time so I can make a 5pm yoga class are just a few.  But one of the downsides is that I don’t always get feedback on how well I am doing in my job of helping organizations grow and succeed in their missions.

What makes a great consultant?  I used my network of colleagues and clients to answer this question, and came up with this Top 10 List:

  1. Be as good at delivering bad news as good news. There’s inevitably going to be a time when you have to state a harsh truth to your clients. A great consultant is able to do this with honesty and sensitivity.
  2. Be able to turn your experiences into examples. A great consultant has theoretical and practical knowledge,      and can communicate both.
  3. Be able to use  your skills in a variety of ways. What works for one client may not work for another. A great      consultant uses their skill set to come up with practical and innovative strategies that work.
  4. Be able to simplify and explain a problem.  A great consultant can provide understanding and insight into a problem by using examples, graphics or metaphor.
  5. Be able to provide more than one solution to a problem.  A great consultant can provide multiple problem-solving possibilities, and can be relied upon to think creatively.
  6. Be self-confident.  A great consultant projects a sense of confidence in their abilities and knowledge.
  7. Be a good listener. A great consultant asks enough questions to get the full story from their client before offering      a response.
  8. Be a team player. A great consultant leaves their own personal goals at the door, and focuses only on their clients’ goals.
  9. Be your client’s most trusted asset. A great consultant develops strong relationships with their clients. Tell them the truth, using sensitivity and empathy, and work hard at ensuring they know you have their back.
  10.  Make it about them, not you.  A great consultant always puts their clients at the center of everything they do. You’re going to help your clients succeed. But you need to be humble and remember that the client is always the star.

What other attributes make for a great consultant? Email me your thoughts!

Innovation: Find Your Own Path

"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"  Ralph Waldo Emerson Many of the organizations I work with are small and, to some degree, struggling to grow.  Their efforts to fundraise, gain visibility, and expand their reach often stretch them to exhaustion.  In that environment, it's often difficult to contemplate innovation, but that's exactly what they need to do.  Pushing themselves to do something different- create a new program, introduce themselves to a whole new constituent group,  raise money in a creative way- is challenging but can lead to a whole new world of results.

One of my clients has decided not to do the "same old, same old" type of program development and instead is moving toward embracing their social entrepreurial side by creating a new app.  The process of bringing the app to fruition has introduced them to new people (including venture capitalists with funding!) and expanded their visibility in an entirely new way.  Their efforts are bringing new enthusiasm to the Board, who are embracing the project and working toward its implementation. brave enough to innovate, and see if you can forge a new path for your organization!


Generosity Transformed

Early on in my career, when I described what I did in my various jobs, people would often say, “Oh, so you’re a fundraiser.”  I would vehemently deny this (not that there’s anything wrong with fundraising!) because it just wasn’t the way I saw myself.  I didn’t actually ASK people for money- oh, no- but it was my responsibility to plan and execute a program, and it was necessary to have the funding for the program as well….so I went out and “found” the money.  How did I do this without asking? The answer is: I created relationships.  I went out and met with people.  I schmoozed.  I drank a lot of coffee.  I spent time getting to know them and together we figured out how they could best participate in supporting the organizations and programs I was working with.  Many of these relationships have lasted 20 years or more, and have traveled with me through my career, sustaining me and my work.

In their new book, The Generosity Network, Jennifer McCrea and Jeffrey Walker showcase this perspective in transformational fundraising.  By operating with the assumption that people want to make a difference, you can tap into their lives, listen to their stories, and channel them towards the worthwhile causes that they want to support, by creating connections.

What’s the best way to facilitate these kinds of connections?  How can you open up the process and allow the generosity inherent in people to flow?  A few suggestions from McCrea and Walker:

  • Ask the right questions: Get into a deeper, more meaningful conversation by asking questions that enable the other person to tell you about who they are, how they think, and what their values are.  Ask a lot of “why” questions to keep the conversation flowing.
  • Leave your ego behind: The conversation should not be about you and your organization.  And if you are meeting with a BIG NAME or celebrity, know that you can hold your own with them and that your story is as important as theirs in developing a relationship.
  • Be awake and aware:  I hesitate to use the term “mindfulness” but that is indeed what McCrea and Walker use in the book.  What this means is be open to all of the possibilities and new experiences that meeting new people presents to you.  Don’t have any preconceived notions or set yourself up for failure (or success).  Just let it happen and allow the relationship to take hold and grow.

This can have far-reaching effects on your organization, helping you to access the right board members, reach your target audience and, yes, improve your bottom line.

Good luck on your journey!