So Long, 2016

Be not the slave of your past-- plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whether you had a good 2016 or not, whether you've been naughty or nice, whether you celebrate the holidays or not- here's hoping that we all have a peaceful and healthy end of the year and a very Happy New Year!

See you all in 2017. New website and changes to come!

'Tis the Season for Board Giving

The title of this post is not entirely correct: it is ALWAYS the season for board giving! However, since many organizations are running their year-end campaigns, board giving is often included at this time. Board chairs and leaders have been known to complain that they can't get their boards to give. It's considered integral to the "culture of philanthropy" to have board members contribute to the support of their organizations. If they don't do it, how can we expect others to do it? The board should set an example for staff, volunteers, and other stakeholders.

How can 100% board giving be accomplished?

What seems to work best is for there to be a clearly articulated policy for board giving that is encouraged and enforced throughout the year. Yes, there can be a "give-get" policy or a sliding scale contribution, but it's most important for whatever policy there is to be documented and monitored regularly, and for all incoming board members to be aware of the policy, ideally as part of their job description. It is the board chair's responsibility to communicate with each board member about their responsibility, and to offer opportunities for training that support their efforts.

For more information on how to work with boards in creating a culture of philanthropy, please be in touch with me at

Good luck!




The Happy Healthy Nonprofit, Part Two

Last year, I wrote about a presentation at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference by Beth Kanter, where she talked about a book she was working on with Aliza Sherman, another nonprofit guru. That book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout, is now out and highly recommended. The premise of the book is that while nonprofits are mission-driven, they will only be at their most productive if their employees are happy and healthy. So often, self-care is the first thing to be crossed off the list when there are deadlines, details, and stress to deal with. On both an individual and an organizational level, many nonprofits have a long way to go in creating nurturing environments for themselves.

Sometimes, this "overdrive ethic" is valued and rewarded. Who stayed all night to finish the grant application? Who worked all weekend? Who hasn't seen the inside of a gym all year (or ever)? In addition, many nonprofit employees are doing emotionally draining work and need to nourish themselves even more, but don't allow themselves the time because their organizational culture does not allow for it. As one of the employees interviewed for the book said, "We are going to kill ourselves trying to change the world."

There are success stories in the book that help create a road map for other groups looking to do better.  The authors outline a few steps that every organization can follow to improve their culture and support their employees in a healthier lifestyle, beginning with raising awareness of the issue and educating employees about self-care. From that point, everyone can develop their own personalized self-care plan that can have measurable and trackable results, and share some of their activities with the group, fostering positive relationships within the organization that can help transform the culture.

I encourage you to read the book and let me know your thoughts at Happy and healthy reading!




What Can You Do?

For many of us, it's been a crappy week. It has been difficult to find the hope. It has been scary to try to reassure our families and ourselves that things will ever feel "normal" again. There have been many tears and not enough laughter. I don't have an answer for when we are going to feel better, but I wanted to share some of the things I've been doing that have helped me move forward, even incrementally.

First, friends and family are essential. We can make it through anything if we have the love and support around us.

Second, although Facebook has been a mixed bag of hate and hope, I have found the strength and the spirit of activism from my network to be important. We are going to need this! And, there have been some posts that have made me smile, if not actually laugh out loud. And photos of cute puppies. That helps.

Music has been a healing force for me. I've had the "Hamilton" soundtrack on replay for the past week (to be honest, it's been on replay since it was released, but no less helpful!). In addition to being simply amazing, there are weird similarities to the recent campaign and election.

I want to give a shout-out to two articles among the dozens I've read in the past few days.  One is a blog by Joan Garry, a nonprofit consultant I follow, about what really matters right now. The other is a column from Lion's Roar, a Buddhist website. While I am not a Buddhist, the commentary gave me some peace.

As a nonprofit professional, I find that doing my work brings me great satisfaction and joy. Helping to bring about change in the world is a powerful way to have impact and regain some control.

We can all have an impact. Whatever you do to find your path, I wish you peace in the coming days, as it all unfolds.




Making a Better You

I hadn't intended to post anything this week, thinking that people would be too preoccupied with the election to pay attention. But then I came across a post from Lolly Daskal that's a list of "10 TED talks to make a better you," and I just couldn't resist. There are talks on the list from Brene Brown, Tony Robbins, John Wooden, Dan Gilbert and many (well, 6) more fabulous people.

Her bottom line? That your life gets better when you get better.

Have fun watching!

Retreat to Advance

'Tis the season, apparently. I've been facilitating a bunch of board retreats lately, and it has been wonderful to see the varied effects on both staff and board. Oh, by the way, there are some people who have been calling their retreat an "advance." As in, advancing the work and mission of the organization. I'm really not a fan of this nomenclature, though I do appreciate the sentiment.

A retreat is defined as "a time to withdraw for the purpose of meditation or study."  I view retreats as an opportunity to be away from the usual so you can focus on the questions and issues that you don't have time for otherwise. It's a time for consideration of and rumination on the important things that you and your staff are facing.

So what are the essential elements for a successful retreat?

  • It must be a shared investment of time and energy. Everyone needs to participate in the planning and execution of the retreat. I always ask each participant to complete this sentence for me while I'm planning the agenda: "This retreat will be successful for me if ____."
  • Find a space that allows you all to feel comfortable and separate from the day-to-day experience. Not the office. Preferably not a conference room.
  • Hire a facilitator. Someone who can listen, synthesize, rephrase, clarify and strategically guide your conversation. Someone who can be direct and honest with everyone, including the CEO and board chair.
  • Don't overload the agenda. Allow your people to focus on the big picture by spotlighting it instead of burying it. Allow for socializing and relaxing by scheduling blocks of discussion time separated by breaks for everyone.
  • Require that the retreat be device-free. Schedule breaks that allow people to check in as needed, but not during discussion time.
  • Debrief as soon as possible afterwards. Your facilitator should be able to summarize the proceedings for you and provide a set of recommendations for followup on what was discussed and decided at the retreat.


Happy retreating (and advancing)! Good luck!

Please be in touch with me at so I can help you and your organization with your big picture.

Flipping the Iceberg

This week brings yet another great, relevant post from Vu Le on his Nonprofit with Balls site. This one's about leadership- the different types of leaders and how leaders can become more adept at "flipping the iceberg" or tweaking their own dominant leadership style to expand their capabilities. Noone says it better than Vu: "In the short term, if we only do stuff we like, we may be happy, because it takes a lot of energy to flip our iceberg, and it doesn’t always work. But in the long run, we are missing out on opportunities to develop effective leadership skills. 90% of leadership is about doing crap we hate (Or   maybe that’s just on Mondays and around gala time)."

Read the whole post, and enjoy!


8 Habits For Success

How many of these are part of your regular routine?

  1. Read every day: Keep yourself up-to-date on both your area of expertise as well as popular culture.
  2. Focus on high-level tasks: Keep the "big picture" top of mind.
  3. Make your health a priority: Do something every day to be your best self, physically and emotionally.
  4. Learn from people you admire: Someone in your field, a community leader, your father- anyone who has helped you become who you are.
  5. Plan your day the night before: get organized! Know what you're facing and have your strategy ready.
  6. Keep your goals in front of you: Literally. Write them down and keep them where you can see them.
  7. Take action, even when it's scary: Jump into that deep end and start swimming!
  8. Have a powerful and inspiring "why": Be able to tell your story to create action and change in others.


I have a #9 to add: Have fun! It doesn't seem as difficult or as much like work if you're having fun.


The 5 Types of Leadership Transitions

My last blog about succession planning got a great response, and I'm following it up with more on leadership transitions. During the organizational lifecycle, there are 5 types of leadership transition times- when it's more likely or inevitable that change will be discussed or occur.

In young, emerging organizations that are initially volunteer-run, the first major leadership transition is the first hire.  Often it's the Board who has been running things, and they inevitably get to the point where they don't have the time or expertise to move the organization forward. The challenges are then to clarify the leadership position, manage expectations, and recruit the right person.

Once an organization is more well-established, there are other types of transitions in leadership. When a CEO or ED decides to leave a well-performing organization, the challenge is to decide whether the incoming person should be replaced with a leader who is the same or different than the outgoing. A leader who helps an organization grow from infancy is not necessarily someone who has the skills (or desire) to manage a sustainable one.

For organizations that are not performing well, the transition may be at the request of the Board. Often, changing leadership when an organization is underperforming is not the best solution- it may only serve to postpone a hard look at the underlying issues that are causing the problem.

When an organization is in more dire circumstances and is in need of a turnaround, the transition may be to an interim leader who is experienced in managing a crisis and creating stability. An interim leader can help assess how to "stop the bleeding" and identify the right kind of person to become the next permanent leader.

Finally, "founder's syndrome" is not a myth! There are times when CEOs overstay their welcome and become more of a liability than an asset to their organizations. When they finally do leave, not only is it necessary to replace a long-tenured leader, but the culture of the organization is often in need of deep change as well. Even in successful organizations, replacing a leader who has had great impact can be very difficult, and may require the Board to work hard to identify the new direction for the organization.

Regardless of the age or stage of an organization, the Board's responsibility is to assess and address the specific needs of the situation, and to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.

If you need advice or help with leadership transitions or other organizational issues, please be in touch!

Succession Planning is Good Planning

The statistic that more than half of current nonprofit CEOs plan to leave their jobs in the next 5 years is sobering. But what's even more sobering is the companion statistic that only 34% of nonprofit organizations have a succession or transition plan in place. If one of the primary responsibilities of a nonprofit board is to ensure the sustainability of the organization, then lack of planning for the departure of the CEO is a serious problem. Leaders may leave because they are asked to, but there are many other reasons, some of them occurring suddenly and without notice. In those cases, an organization without a succession plan may be in a very bad way.

Thinking in advance about leadership transition can have a positive impact on organizations. Creating a plan while current leadership is still in place is essential to long-term protection, and should be part of strategic planning for every nonprofit. During the process, board members can have more insight into the actual job the CEO does, and how that role might be reimagined or reconfigured. There is also an opportunity for board members to reconnect with their own roles and become a more effective governing force.

When accomplished effectively, a succession plan creates a comfort zone for the board and CEO, and allows the organization to focus on achieving its mission.

Does your board need to talk about succession? Please be in touch with me at



To Be A Leader, Say No

The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.  ~Tony Blair Learning to say no is one of the most important steps to becoming an effective leader. Once you've adopted this vital 2-letter word into your vocabulary, you'll be able to manage yourself and your team better, and focus on the big picture issues.

Here are some things a good leader says no to:

  • overscheduling
  • mission drift
  • mistreatment of a team member by others
  • requests that are inconsistent with the organization's values
  • being asked to comprimise on quality


Need to learn how to set up some boundaries and learn to say no more? Please be in touch with me at

Voices of Nonprofit Board Chairs

The Alliance for Nonprofit Management's Governance Affinity Group has published an important research paper titled, "Voices of Nonprofit Board Chairs," intended to inform the field with first-hand perspectives on board leadership. Given the importance of board leadership to the success of nonprofit organizations, there is a remarkable lack of research or evidence to provide guidance.  As one of the few studies on board chairs, this research helps to answer two questions:  How do individuals prepare for their role as chair of a nonprofit board, and what do board chairs perceive their leadership roles to be in relationship to the board, the community, and the CEO?

To learn more about the study and its implications for practice, download the report here.

Please contact me if you want to work on your board's leadership at


How to Be High Impact

I spent a few hours this week reconnecting with a book that changed my professional life when I first encountered it several years ago. Forces for Good, written by Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant, lays out six practices that organizations seeking to have high impact need to adopt. The organizations covered in the book are responsible for catalyzing social movements, mobilizing people, and changing public attitudes and behaviors. These high-impact organizations not only focus on growth by building their infrastructure but also on how they can truly effect widespread change and tangible results, together with their collaborative partners. From their research, the authors determined that successful, impactful organizations focus on what happens outside their boundaries. They are OK with building a "good enough" internal organization and  putting most of their energy into being a changemaker externally, thus achieving more together than they ever could achieve alone.

What are these six practices?

  • Advocate and serve: High-impact organizations start out providing programs to serve their audience, but as they grow, they realize this will not be sufficient. They then expand their impact to advocate for their audience, providing an even broader platform for their mission.
  •  Make markets work: High-impact organizations do not function using traditional concepts of charity alone. They build corporate partnerships and other innovative business practices to leverage the market's power to further social change.
  • Inspire evangelists: High-impact organizations engage their communities in their mission and vision, and utilize them as ambassadors for their cause.
  • Nurture nonprofit networks: High-impact organizations collaborate versus compete with other organizations. They share their power and talent, for the greater good.
  • Master the art of adaptation: High-impact organizations make mistakes, but continue to adapt their strategies and tactics to stay relevant and advance their mission.
  • Share leadership: High-impact organizations have charismatic leaders who delegate well and empower others to lead. They are strategic thinkers and entrepreneurs who look for opportunities to share their strength in the pursuit of success.


How does your organization measure up in utilizing these practices? Do you want a high-impact organization? Let's talk! Reach me at




Candle or Mirror?

"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it " ~ Edith Wharton

Do you light the way for others or do you create a way to shine their light outward?  When you are the candle, you have the potential to spread hope and happiness to others. When you are the mirror, your own hope and happiness are reflected through your actions and behaviors.

Choose to be one or the other. Either way, you will be an agent of change.



To Be a Good Leader, Bring the (Com) Passion

Great leaders don't just possess smarts and directorial qualities. They also need compassion, for themselves and others. In this great blog for The Boda Group, Chris Charyk presents these seven qualities of compassionate leaders:

  • Adaptability: reacting to change and instability with a calm and understanding approach
  • Authenticity: words and actions are reflective of stated values
  • Focus: self-awareness enables the ability to concentrate on priorities
  • Connection and collaboration seeking: looking for feedback and support from their network and others
  • Tolerance for mistakes: understanding and openness about their own and other's imperfections
  • Balance: maintaining a healthy attitude toward work and the need for the well-being of themselves and others
  • Humor: keeping perspective on situations and not being too serious


How do you measure up?

I can help you be a better leader! Reach me at


Are You Too Comfortable?

#latergram to this blog post on getting out of your leadership comfort zone by Lolly Daskal, a leadership coach/consultant I follow. I particularly like this observation: "The end of your comfort zone is where your leadership begins."

In other words, you can't really be a bold and innovative leader without challenging yourself and moving past what is your norm. For change to happen, risks need to be taken. By questioning yourself and others, you stand up to the "same old, same old" and can forge a new path.

Happy reading!

If you are looking for new ways to challenge yourself and become a better leader, I can help. Reach me at