Category Archives: other

7 Tips for Becoming More Successful at your Nonprofit

Even if you’re an expert in online communications, fundraising and technology, knowledge alone won’t insure success at your organization.  Try these 7 tips to improve your effectiveness:

  1. Even if you’re already sharing useful data on social media, look for ways to specifically help your colleagues, especially those NOT in your own department.  Learn what their priorities are, and how you can help.
  2. Even if he/she doesn’t ask for it, keep your boss regularly informed about what you’re working on.  Schedule in person meetings when you can, don’t just communicate by email
  3. Attend all organization events, which will give you an opportunity to socialize with staff you don’t regularly work with
  4. If you attend a conference or other out of office activity, bring back the knowledge you gain to your nonprofit, whether or not they encourage you to attend or reimburse you for event fees.
  5. Document your work so that others can understand it.  It’s easier to do this on an ongoing basis then later when you move to a new role either inside or outside the organization.
  6. Let others know when you’re planning to be out – don’t surprise them with an out of office message on the day you leave for vacation.
  7. If your organization has multiple offices, schedule regular visits to other sites so you can get to know the staff there and learn more about their operations than you’ll ever get by email alone.

What tips would you add?

Lessons From A Great Man

Al Siegel

Alfred Siegel, Deputy Director,
Center for Court Innovation

A few days ago my organization lost our beloved Deputy Director, Alfred Siegel to a sudden heart attack.  At our office afterwards and at his funeral yesterday, there has been an outpouring of emotion like nothing I’ve seen for anyone I’ve ever worked with.  Clearly this was a man who had an impact on many, many people (see email from our director), even those – like me, he did not work with on a daily basis.

Why was Alfred so loved and respected?  It went far beyond his expertise in criminal justice, which made him the person everyone went to for advice.  From what I’ve learned especially in the past week, he cared intensely about all of his co-workers, regardless of their position in the organization.  The day before he died, a former colleague stopped by the office to say hello;  Al was preparing to leave for home but delayed his departure to chat with his old friend.

Most of us spend more time at work than we do with family and friends.  Yet we don’t always take the time to get to know our co-workers and to extend relationships beyond the office.  From what I’ve observed in my 2 1/2 years at the Center for Court Innovation, our staff are more than co-workers to each other – and everyone has been especially supportive since Al’s untimely departure.  These relationships don’t end when the job ends;  many who attended his funeral were past co-workers who he continued to stay in touch with.

I am fortunate to work for an organization where people truly care about each other.  I will strive to follow Al’s example to be more of a friend for all of my colleagues, not only those in my department or who I am working with on current projects.   Building relationships is the key to success both personally and professionally, and no one did this better than Alfred Siegel.

How Your Nonprofit Can Survive Vacation Season

Many of us take time off during the summer, but sometimes we can return to a headache if we don’t plan well.  One of my colleagues recently found out that she will soon need to serve on grand jury, which can last up to four weeks, much longer than customary jury duty.  Below are some tips for planning time off, whether it’s planned or unplanned:

  • Don’t wait until your out of office message arrives to let others know.  Send out reminders far in advance, and then again when the time approaches.
  • Ask others to cover for you while you’re gone;  don’t ruin your vacation for you (and those traveling with you) by promising to be available if needed
  • Prepare documentation to assist others who might not be as familiar with your work.  What’s second nature to you may be very foreign to others with very different roles in the organization.
  • I work as much with colleagues in other groups and locations as with those in my department.  Remember to notify staff in other departments who you work with regularly
  • Right before you take off, update your boss on status of your projects, even if you think they already know.  Don’t put them in the position of having to contact you while you’re away.
  • Your back-up may be outside of your organization.  Make sure staff know how to contact vendor support for software products you use regularly.
  • Use an office vacation calendar so that others can easily see when you’re planning to be away – and you can know when they’re taking time off.

Enjoy your vacation – and make sure your co-workers enjoy it too.

What Stage Does Your Nonprofit Operate In?

Tribal LeadershipTribal Leadership offers a fascinating look at the five stages of organization culture:

  1. Life sucks – staff are gloomy about everything, including their jobs.
  2. My life sucks – other people are doing OK but I’m not
  3. I’m great – I do great work but others don’t (but so what?)
  4. We’re great – I work with a great team of people and we do great work together
  5. Life’s great – My company is working together with other organizations to do great work

Dave suggests that most companies operate at stage 3; few are lucky enough to get to stage 4 and even less ever make it to stage 5.

The great takeaway here is that if we only rely on ourselves, we can only do so much.  It’s only when we form great teams that we really excel – and we can do even more if we partner with other organizations.  Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit spoke about this too.

Find out more at the Tribal Leadership website (you can even download a free audio version of the book).  Then learn how to play well with others – it can reach you to much greater heights than you can achieve by yourself.

Life After Hurricane Sandy

It has been a week that we will never forget.  I am back at work today for the first time since Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last Monday.  Although my home lost power for two days, I was much more fortunate than many who suffered much greater losses, some who are still without electricity and water.  I am thankful to those who have worked to repair the damage, and to a wonderful friend who put me up in her home.  I am especially sad to see the devastation to many waterside areas, such as Long Beach, NY where I often visit and consider to be my second home.

I am grateful to my colleagues at the Center for Court Innovation who kept in touch throughout the week and then worked to restore our connectivity so our office could re-open.  I am also encouraged at the many who have already volunteered to help others in need.

Probably the most frustrating part about this experience was the difficulty in staying in touch with others.  While I managed to keep some charge on my cell phone for two days by turning it off between phone calls, it was very difficult to get calls to go through.  So it took days before I could check on family and friends to make sure they were OK.

I also lost my car, which was flooded – along with many other automobiles that were parked in my neighborhood. But a much larger concern is that after Hurricane Irene last year and now Sandy, living through major storms may be the new normal for what we can expect in the future.  Is this something we can ever get used to?

A Few Words About Gratitude

Some of us may see Thanksgiving as the beginning of a long break from work.  Others may want to get a jump on holiday shopping by seeking out ‘Black Friday’ deals at stores or online.  Clearly this is a big ‘eating’ holiday, whether you spend it with family or with close friends.  But in my view, this is really not what the holiday is about.

If you work with a nonprofit, you’ve probably already started your year end fundraising campaign. Instead of focusing on the timing and wording of your solicitations, remember to thank your donors for their support, and tell them how their contributions have helped to benefit your constituents.  Also make the effort to appreciate your colleagues at your organization who work so hard year-round to support you and your nonprofit’s cause.

If you work for an organization that provides a product or service for nonprofits, thank your clients for having entrusted you to achieve their important work.  And take the time to fully understand how they serve their supporters so you can be an even better partner.

If you are in between jobs, don’t focus on how difficult it is to find your next position. Instead, be thankful that you have a roof over your head, you have people who care about you and you have enough to eat from day to day.  Many others are not so fortunate.

If you know someone who is alone or who is going through a difficult time, reach out to spend time with them during the upcoming holidays.

Take the time every day to be thankful for what you already have, not only on Thanksgiving.  It can make all the difference, no matter what your current situation is.

No Time for Complaints

With the recent doom and gloom in financial markets, reading the Wall Street Journal has  been depressing lately as the bad news accumulates. At a staff meeting at my nonprofit organization lately, our president tried to put a positive spin on our prospects even though we had to lay off staff earlier this year – as have many other large nonprofits across the US. I find myself working longer hours to keep my work current, as are most of my colleagues. With our savings seeming to decline each day, how can we avoid negativity?

In the same Wall Street Journal that has documented the financial crisis was an article this week From Attitude to Gratitude: This Is No Time for Complaints.   Despite the abundance of bad news, many of us who still have our jobs are “finding reasons to be appreciative.”  As has happened in my nonprofit, we’re being asked to take unpaid furloughs to avoid larger cutbacks.   We’re also feeling grateful that we still have our jobs (many others don’t) and are “finding reasons to be appreciative.”  I’ve already read Will Bowen’s wonderful book A Complaint Free World, and have ordered Jon Gordon’s  The No Complaining Rule, which specifically deals with reducing negativity at work.

What can we do to survive at our nonprofits during these turbulent times?

  1. Will Bowen advises us to pledge to stop complaining, criticizing and gossiping.  Minimize contact with colleagues who constantly talk about how hard things are.   Instead, be the person who points out what’s good.
  2. Use this time as an opportunity to roll out online strategies to reduce costs, such as replacing paper newsletters with enewsletters and making more use of web / phone conferences to minimize travel expenses
  3. Find ways to help others to deal with stress and increased work loads.  Understand that if someone seems a bit cranky with you, it may because they are struggling to get their projects done.
  4. Keep reaching out to constituents, even if they aren’t able to sustain the level of financial contributions they have in the past.  There may be other ways they can help.
  5. Find a way to vent your feelings, but go easy on your spouse.  My wife surprised me yesterday by pointing out that I have often frequently complained about problems at work, even when I thought I was staying positive.  Focus on what you have to be thankful for, not on what’s wrong.

The Wall Street Journal article ends by asking us to “write down three things we’re grateful for every day,” even if sometimes you can only come up with basics such as “oxygen, food and shelter.”  When an individual deals with depression, it feels like things will never be any different.  It’s important to keep in mind that although we’re not sure when conditions will improve, things will get better.  And as many self-help books I’ve read over the years have repeated, it’s not the situation that causes grief, it’s how you deal with it.

Let’s also be grateful that we work in the nonprofit sector, where we can see the benefits of what we do for our constituents on a daily basis.

A Not So Rosy Look at Nonprofit Salaries

As most of us in the field know, nonprofit salaries usually fall short of their counterparts in the private sector.  A new posting at Payscale, Nonprofit Jobs: Flexibility and Opportunity at a Cost, points out there are opportunities for late career changes and baby boomers to fill the gap in personnel recently reported by Bridgespan. The article also points out the advantages of working for nonprofit, and that shouldn’t focus only on compensation.

An especially interesting quote was from Roberta Chinsky Matuson who said, “the most challenging part will be for the employee to recognize that they will work with an extremely limited budget and resources.”  As a technology resource focused on online fundraising, I believe even the smallest organizations with limited resources always have options resources – even though it can be challenging.

Change Can Be Your Friend

I have always been intrigued by change, both personally and professionally.  Earlier this week I attended a presentation on Change Management at the NYC Chapter of the Project Management Institute, featuring Peter de Jager Some major points were:

  • The major changes in our lives involve getting married (or not) and deciding to have children.  In comparison, most changes which take place at our organizations are trivial.
  • When a change is presented / announced, the most natural response is ‘Why?’
  • Asking ‘if there are any questions’ to employees after a change has already been decided is of little value, especially if staff have had little involvement in the decision.
  • The process of how a change was decided upon should be openly communicated so that staff don’t feel that the decision ‘came out of nowhere.’
  • To be sustainable, change must be ‘your’ change.
  • Change doesn’t have to be difficult.  Change is often a positive force in our lives.

Peter described the change process model developed by Virginia Satirwhich traces the steps from the ‘old’ to the ‘new’ status quo, as well as the five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kuber-Ross.

While change has often been a challenge in my life, this session provided a useful reminder that it is a necessary part of life, and can be reframed to be viewed as a positive force, not a source of dread.

The Purpose of Networking

This week I came across an interesting posting on the Career Hub blogthat described networking as a career management tool, not as a job search tool.  I also received an email invitation to connect with someone on LinkedInwho said he’d only recently discovered the value of connecting with people despite having signed up on LinkedIn a while back.

Before the Internet (if my younger readers can imagine such a time), it was much harder to keep in touch with people.  Now, the problem is choosing which tool to use.  For many years I believed that excelling in your job would be enough to insure career success.  But now I’ve realized the importance of keeping up with your network,regardless of whether or not I am seeking a job change. I’ve actually started to enjoy the interaction and have looked for ways I can help others.  So while I work hard for my current employer, I also make sure I attend (and speak at) conferences, as well as participate in nonprofit email lists and keep in touch with my contacts.

Would I be open to a new job opportunity if one came along?  Yes.  But it is not my main purpose for networking.  I also find that my involvement with many people in other organizations gives me a broader perspective that I could never develop from working at any one firm.  I’ve recently started to subscribe to many of my peers’ blogs, and comment when I can.  As described in Never Eat Alone, networking doesn’t have to be difficult, it can be very enjoyable in addition to helping your career.