Why I chose to hang with the fishes over networking

I have a confession to make.

Last week I attended the Points of Light National Conference on Volunteering and Service (that’s a mouthful…) in Atlanta representing HandsOn San Diego as a Board member. It was a really amazing conference (check out #NCVS on Twitter for  highlights & nuggets of wisdom), I learned a lot and came back with a ton of new ideas and connections for HandsOn.

But, I did one thing that was totally off schedule and totally necessary.

I chose fish over networking, and it was amazing.

It was Tuesday evening, and I was halfway through this 4 day conference – lots of learning and networking and talking to other HandsOn affiliates had happened, and would continue to happen through the next day. As an introvert, while I did enjoy this, it was totally draining to me. Add that on top of the time change and I almost overslept every morning I was there!

Tuesday evening presented me with a choice: I could pay $25 to attend a Next Gen networking event at the World of Coca-Cola, which was right near the conference and chat it up with more of the next generation of service leaders….or I could pay $25 and explore the Georgia aquarium, which was also right near the conference, and hang out with these guys:

Sometimes you need alone time…this guy knows what I’m talking about.

I think you can guess which one I chose.

The networking event would have been great, and I heard from a few that it was, but I was really in need of some time to decompress and let all of this new information and these new people really sink in. So that’s what I did. I spent about 3 hours wondering around the aquarium, watching whale sharks and manta rays and beluga whales.

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Even with kids running all around, it was an amazingly calming place to be. It also happens that since the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world, it had been on my list of places to visit for a long time.

Apparently Finding Nemo is still cool, lots of "Look mom it's Dory!!" sightings.

Apparently Finding Nemo is still cool, lots of “Look mom it’s Dory!!” sightings.

This is not the first time I’ve chosen to skip a networking event or conference session to take a little time to myself. And I’ve found every time I do, I feel more refreshed and ready to continue absorbing names and information afterwards. Some people can power through a 4 day conference and never miss a beat, but for others like me a little down time needs to be built into the itinerary.

I recently finished reading Susan Cain’s amazing book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking. I was actually reading on the plane to the conference and laughing to myself as she explained funny (and awkward) situations that have happened throughout my life, that apparently are pretty common among introverts.

I’d venture to say that the nonprofit sector has a high percentage of introverts working in it – not everyone of course, there is and should be a healthy introvert/extrovert balance. But I’ve began to notice that in the nonprofit sector we seem to have an appreciation for leadership styles that lean towards the introverted side – quiet leaders can definitely find their place here.

I’d love to hear if you’ve ever made a similar choice, maybe not choosing to hang with fish instead of network, but have you ever decided you just needed time to yourself rather than another networking event?

3 Things You Can do Today to Move your Nonprofit Marketing Forward

I imagine in any given week, you and your staff are bombarded by “shoulds.”

You should be posting on every social media platform, everyday.

You should be calling news stations to cover your “story.”

You should start a blog.

How do you know which of those “shoulds” you really should be doing? Most advice you get that says you should be doing something, while well meaning, isn’t really a priority or best fit for your organization. There is no one size fits all marketing strategy, what works for your organization depends on your audience and your resources – particularly your time.

Marketing can be an overwhelming area of any business, but particularly in a nonprofit where we don’t always have the luxury of things like a budget – or even staff – dedicated to it. But it is important, to reach both your clients, volunteers, and your current and potential donors. And it’s not as hard as you think.

My goal is to make marketing less daunting and complicated. So here are three easy things you can do today to move your marketing forward. Each should take you less than 10 minutes!

1. Post something on social media that isn’t about you. If you look at your Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn feed and every post is promoting or talking about something your organization is doing, you’re missing out on a key component of social media. Being social isn’t all about you, it’s about the people around you too. Is one of your partners having an event soon that your followers might be interested in? Post it. (and tag them!) Is there national or local news about your cause or the people you serve? Post it. Just make sure it is actually relevant to your audience. You can use social media to position yourself as the go-to expert in your field just by sharing information beyond your next event or project.

2. Ask a client or volunteer to write about their experience. Hearing from other perspectives and from personal experience is great marketing. You could use this in your newsletter, on your blog/website, or on social media (triple bonus: you can use it on all of them!). If you can, give them a specific idea to write about, even a fill in the blank sentence (I started volunteering with ABC organization because _____. Now, I continue to volunteer because _____). You may not get the article back today, but reaching out to them is the first step!

3. Write someone a handwritten thank you note. And it doesn’t have to be a donor! Thank you notes don’t usually fall into the category of marketing, but the way I see it, any time you’re getting someone to think about your organization – you’re marketing. And I think word of mouth marketing (ya know, the kind that’s free…) is a nonprofit’s best asset. Sending a thank you note is incredibly powerful, and now the person who received it is thinking about you and feeling so good about their involvement with you. They just might feel moved to tell the next person they see about you! (“Have I told you about the work I’m doing/the reason I support ABC nonprofit? They’re so nice and amazing over there, and they’re really helping our community.”)

That’s it! That’s 3 small things you can do today (right now!) to move your marketing efforts forward.

Marketing can seem overwhelming at times, but remember it is really about building relationships with people who care about what you do. As long as you make an effort to reach out to them with quality information, you can ignore most of those “shoulds.”

Jess Green is an experienced nonprofit marketing & fundraising professional whose focus is on helping organizations and people amplify their passions & achieve their missions. Click here to learn more.

Taking the Leap: Why I decided to start my own business

You might have noticed a new tab that popped up on my site a few weeks ago – my new ‘Work With Me‘ page is live! Why? Because last month I made the intriguing, exciting, and terrifying decision to launch my own freelance and consulting business to help nonprofits and small businesses amplify their passions through marketing and fundraising.

I’d been considering this move for almost a year, and had even taken on freelance clients on the side while still working full-time (ever heard of the side hustle? It might be an important part of your new economy.). But, I just couldn’t muster up the courage to go for it – the idea of not having consistent, steady income is scary!

Then something changed, something major. Two months ago the nonprofit I work for made the decision to close its doors. It has been an exhausting few weeks mentally, emotionally, and physically. There is a certain irony also to the fact that I wrote a manual for dissolving a nonprofit (both legally and from a human relations standpoint) last year in grad school. I had knowledge to pull from and share – but that didn’t make it any easier. (And yes, I will be writing more about this later!)

At first this change was overwhelming to me. A friend of mine had a great analogy for what I was dealing with: it was like going through a bad breakup. All of the hopes and dreams I had for the future of my program were never going to happen. I was frustrated and kept thinking I should have done more. All classic symptoms of a breakup right?

Of course the first question everyone wanted to know about, which oddly was not the first thing I myself thought about, was – so what now? I received an amazing out pouring of support from my friends and people in my network, many sending me jobs daily that they thought I’d be perfect for.

But something didn’t feel right. I felt like I was being forced to date the day after my breakup and only added to my growing exhaustion.

Could I make an even bigger impact if I was able to share my skills and knowledge with multiple organizations instead of just one? Could this be a new way of fulfilling my own passion to help others succeed and achieve their missions? (and yes, small business owners have passion and mission too!)

After long conversations, a few glasses of wine, and more cups of coffee than I can count, I knew what I needed to do. I knew that I wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship with one organization – I wanted to play the field ;) 

Instead of looking at the closing of my organization as a failure, I changed my mindset and looked at it as an opportunity. An opportunity to learn, and opportunity to grow.

It’s the kick in the pants I’ve needed to just do it.

Which means…Jess Green Consulting is open for business!

My work is less strategy, more implementation as I’ve found many organizations have spent time and resources creating a great marketing, fundraising, or strategic plan only for it to sit in a drawer somewhere as they worry about the day to day instead of moving towards their goals. Often the reason this happens goes like this:

We just don’t have time!
We don’t have the staff for that.
We don’t really know how to start!

That’s where I come in and help you just get shit done. Move it forward, create the momentum needed to reach those goals you so painstakingly worked to create. And my work is not limited to San Diego! Thanks to the wonders of technology, most marketing and fundraising tasks can be done virtually. I’m a big fan of Google Hangouts these days – my cats often make appearance at my virtual business meetings :)

If your nonprofit or small business needs someone to come in and strike a match to light the fire that will grow to achieve your mission, I’d love to talk with you!

And my last bit of advice, especially for those of us who’ve chosen nonprofit as our career and life’s work: You can make your own path in this sector. (Click to tweet this!) It’s not easy – I just discovered the show Once Upon A Time and I’m totally having visions of fighting my way through the enchanted forest or dark jungles of Neverland right now!

But it’s worth it.

The Nonprofit Market Invasion – What are we going to do about it?

Warning: Some of the words in this post will make nonprofit professionals feel….icky. Stick with me here.

From crowd funding to social enterprise, nonprofits have a ton of new competition in our market. A market that’s already saturated by the thousands of well-meaning nonprofits we compete with everyday.

What is our market you ask? If you look at the nonprofit sector as a whole, we’re in the market of that feel good feeling. Click to tweet this!

When we fundraise we’re effectively asking people to give us their money in return for feeling good about making a difference in their community in some way. That’s what we’re selling to them. And of course they get a well written thank you letter to go with it :)

I know, we as a sector don’t like to talk about competition, and certainly not about fundraising as sales (cue the icky feeling I warned you about). But, if we’re going to survive the changes and disrupt the nonprofit sector we have to finally admit that marketing and sales are the same as communications and fundraising. We’re in business here folks, and we’re on the verge of losing our shirts.

I’ve had an itching concern recently about the nonprofit sector, specifically here in San Diego where I live, as I hear about nonprofits closing their doors left and right. In the past 3 years in San Diego, 3 large nonprofits have shut their doors – Volunteer San Diego in 2011, San Diego Hospice in 2012, and the recent announcement that the San Diego Opera will be closing its doors (or not…or maybe…I can’t keep up). And this doesn’t include the smaller nonprofits that have gone under – there are two closing right now that I’m intimately involved with.

It would be one thing if all of these organizations had similar missions and operated in the same place, but they are vastly different, widely supported organizations that almost all ran into a funding problem in one form or another – less donors, less corporate support, less ticket sales.

What is it going to take for us to wake up and see that we HAVE to change the way we’re doing things? People have so many options on where to spend their money these days – what’s their real incentive to give to YOU?

Let me lay out how these new competitors are invading the nonprofit market:

Social enterprise – that feel good feeling, plus cool shoes.

I’ve used Tom’s as an example before because its recognizable, but basically when someone buys a product or service from a social enterprise they not only get that feel good feeling, they get a cool pair of Tom’s shoes or Solo Eyewear sunglasses. They’ve one upped us with our thank you notes that now look kinda wimpy.

Crowdfunding is fundraising – same concept, just sexier.

Crowdfunding is everywhere these days, but in essence it is exactly what our fundraisers have been doing for years. Getting people to give small (or large) amounts of money towards a worthwhile project. And the popularity of crowd funding dispels the myth that tax deductions are a major reason people give, and points more towards people giving because they want to be a part of something.

There are plenty of other examples, but the big question is: So what are we going to do about it?

How are we going to change the way our nonprofits do business so that we can reach our ultimate goal: achieving our mission?

It’s not that this “invasion” is bad – I actually think it’s good, it’s a wakeup call that the nonprofit sector needs if it’s going to survive.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

I chased a shiny object…it was just a rock.

I’m on a bit of a syndrome kick after reading Tara’s article last week where she talks about nonprofits and “Precious Snowflake Syndrome” – which I find hilarious and so true.

This week’s syndrome is something I know we’ve all suffered from at some point. Shiny Object Syndrome is another malady that has long permeated the nonprofit sector. Symptoms include:

  • Your boss in a tizzy over the newest social media fad
  • Banging your head against a wall when the marketing committee changes strategy…again
  • Feelings of Hulk-like destruction building inside you when you hear the words “gala” or “you should just crowdfund” (by the way, can we just admit that crowdfunding is fundraising with a cooler name??)

Shiny Object Syndrome has the ability to lead well meaning nonprofits meandering through the woods in the hopes that they’re going to stumble upon the yellow brick road that will lead them to a magical place where all their dreams come true.

Money! Marketing! A perfect Board! All laid out nice and pretty.

We all know deep down that that’s not going to happen. And the more you change your strategy, the more you start over again with something new without giving the first idea time to test, the longer that yellow brick road gets. The farther you end up away from the place that you want to be.

I’m not immune to this, remember that time my text to give campaign flopped? It was shiny and pretty and seemed perfect. And then it wasn’t.

Treatments for Shiny Object Syndrome:

Take a deep breathe. I’m not kidding. Don’t let the anxiety of having to jump on that new shiny thing before it’s gone cause you to make a decision about a new venture or direction without thinking it through. You don’t have to immediately react – I promise it will still be there tomorrow!

Be open, but be smart. Some ideas that fall in your lap are good ones – great ones even, and you should be open to hearing them out and flexible enough to try them if they seem like a good fit. But the reality is, not everything that worked brilliantly for Nonprofit X is going to work for your nonprofit. You’re smart, you do this stuff for a living, no one knows your organization, your people, better than you – believe in that and make a good decision about what will work best for your mission.

Don’t get discouraged. Maybe you’ve already chased a shiny object and it turned out to be a lot of fairy dust like I did. That’s ok! That’s life. You learn from it, make some notes for the next people who will sit where you are now, and then you try again. It’ll hurt – your pride mostly – but you’ll get over it!

There is a difference between being willing to try new things, test them out and being ok with failure, and chasing every idea that comes through the door. I remember a few years ago sitting in a Board meeting as a staff member when the Board President said “We really need to be on this Twitter thing” and feeling 12 sets of eyes turn to me as the youngest in the room, because surely I knew what that was (I didn’t…) and could make that happen. That “shiny object” turned out to be a good idea, but I understand that pressure that sometimes comes along with the people around you telling you or your boss that you “have to do this.” It takes strength to throw back questions like “why?” and “how will it help achieve our mission?”

Have you ever suffered from Shiny Object Syndrome? 

What’s usually behind high frustrations in your nonprofit office

We’ve all been there. Those times (weeks, even months) where tensions are high in the office but no one can quite put their finger on why. They can point their fingers at whose to blame (not themselves of course), but aren’t sure how to get past the blame stage to move forward.

Maybe there’s an event coming up, so it must be stress. Maybe there is a big transition in the works, so it must be people don’t like change. Maybe its that the old way of of doing things isn’t working anymore, so it must be that no one has new ideas.

While some of these could be contributing factors, in reality the main issue likely boils down to communication.

Communication – and the lack thereof – is the cause of most office frustrations. This can be especially true if you work in a relatively small nonprofit office where it seems like communication should be easy. It isn’t.

And I don’t just mean communication from the top down, the sharing of information. I mean creating a culture of sharing information at all levels, and giving the opportunities to ask questions without fear of judgement. Good communication – sharing, listening, and questioning of ideas – can be a game changer in how your organization runs and achieves its mission. (Click to tweet this!)

So how can you fix broken communications? It’s part creating that culture, and part taking a good, hard look at your own communication style.

If your big event is coming up, are you truly communicating not only the importance of the event to you and the organization, but also your needs to others? This could be delegating or asking people to pitch in on certain tasks. When you do that, are communicating to them in a genuine way or out of frustration? They will react very differently to depending on your approach. You can’t fake being genuine, let your walls down and ask for what you need – you’ll be surprised at how often others just want to help you!

If there is a transition in the works, are the Board and leadership staff creating two-way, open communications with the rest of the staff and key volunteers? If they aren’t, the staff might be worried about their job security, or hurt that they aren’t being given then chance to contribute their intimate knowledge of the work it takes to run the organization. The more you try to limit and control communications in these situations, the more tension and worry you will create. People naturally make things up in their heads to fill in the blanks when they don’t have all of the information or the opportunity to ask questions.

If the old way of doing things (fundraising, program delivery, etc.) isn’t working anymore, are you communicating the need to change and the opportunity to grow? Yes, people hate change. But they hate it even more if they don’t get to be part of the solution and are instead just told “This is the way it’s going to be.” Be open to the possibility that program staff may have better ideas than executive staff, or at least be able to give a new perspective. Including them in the conversation can result in stronger, more well thought out ideas, as well as their buy-in to ease that fear of change.

Have you had an experience in your office where communications was the root issue? How do you handle these situations?

Disrupting the Nonprofit Sector: Changing Mindsets & Perceptions

Today’s post is a submission to the March Nonprofit Blog Carnival. This month’s theme is ‘how do we disrupt the nonprofit sector?’ Click here to read the other awesome submissions!

Imagine a world where students in high school dream of growing up to become doctors, lawyers, and nonprofit professionals.

They want to work in banking, or technology or in volunteer management.

They go to college and study marketing, sales, and fundraising.

A world where for-profit companies see nonprofits as true business partners, not just those people who ask for money and want things for free. Where nonprofit professionals sit on the Boards of for-profit companies to help make decisions in the same numbers that for-profit professionals sit on nonprofit Boards. Where we have a seat at the table for major discussions about local, state, and national issues not only to give a voice to those we serve, but to share our amazing, creative, resourcefulness with those who are affecting these issues.

The idea of disrupting the nonprofit sector is more than shaking it up like a snow globe just to see how it might settle into a different pattern. It’s about changing our internal mindset about how we do business, and changing the external perception that what we do isn’t really business.

Since I began my career in nonprofit, and subsequently pursued a Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership & Management, I’ve been asked the same questions that I know we all get asked from our well meaning family, friends, and those outside the sector.

How do you get paid?
But you can’t make a profit right?
Don’t the volunteers do all the work?

Considering the long history, size, and economic impact of the nonprofit sector in the US, why is it that so many people don’t know what we do?

We talk a lot about storytelling in the nonprofit sector. Telling our clients stories, stories of hope, stories of change, stories of impact. But are we doing a good job of telling our own stories? Our stories of managing volunteers who have no obligation to show up other than they said they would, stories of making tough business decisions that directly affect people’s lives, stories of funding out businesses by creating relationships where people give us money in return for that feel good feeling and a well-written thank you note. When we talk about what we do, we tend to focus on the mission of our work. As nonprofit professionals sometimes forget to tell people that we are just that…Professionals.

A friend of mine recently laughed when I told her I worked at an organization whose yearly budget was $1 million and that was the biggest nonprofit I’d ever been at. She works a big tech company and couldn’t even imagine being given a just a marketing budget for her department that was ONLY $1 million and ONLY for marketing. She asked, ‘How do you get anything done?’

And it hit me. We get things done because we’re driven, we’re resourceful, we’re creative, and yes maybe sometimes we beg. We run businesses on fumes and human energy, businesses that change lives. If we want to be valued by the community, corporate funders, foundations, donors, and volunteers, then we first have to value ourselves as not only passionate, but as smart, and resourceful, and pretty kick ass. We need to change our perception of ourselves, and get comfortable talking about our own business accomplishments, if we ever want to change the perspective of the rest of the world.

So what is it that we want the rest of the world to know?

Nonprofit is a tax status, not a business model.

Let’s all say that together…Nonprofit is a TAX status not a BUSINESS model. (Click to tweet this!) There’s been talk of “re-branding” the sector because the word nonprofit is misleading. The word isn’t the issue, it’s our mindset. Social enterprises are showing they can care and make an impact, while also making a profit. They’re being perceived as better business people, more entrepreneurial, because there not afraid to get out there and challenge the status quo. And if we don’t change our nonprofit mindset, if we don’t adapt it to the changes in the outside world’s culture, we will get left behind.

We’re more than just people with passion.

The nonprofit sector is vital to this country and everyone in it.  We need to change the misconception that working in nonprofit is something you do because you don’t care about making money, or you might do when you retire, or when you need a break from the “real” work world. To make that change, we first have to recognize why people outside the sector view us in that way. As nonprofit professionals we are anything if not humble, we often do this work because it’s our passion and we want to make a difference in our community and the world. Talking about your work from both the passion and mission, as well as the business perspective will help others see what you do as more than just “charity work.”

It’s time for the nonprofit sector to grow up. It’s time for us to own who we are an what we do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts! What perceptions and mindsets would you like to see changed, both inside and outside the nonprofit sector?

 

Quantity vs. Quality When Building Your Network

Business people communicating with each other against whiteWhen I first moved to San Diego there were two main things I was worried about: finding a decent apartment and working in nonprofit without having a network here. My husband quickly got the apartment thing worked out, but building my network was totally up to me.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a naturally shy person. I think I pass my awkwardness off ok most of the time, but I get really anxious going to events where I don’t know anyone, which was the case when I moved to a new city.

It took me 10 minutes of sitting in my car and another 5 minutes outside the door to convince myself to walk into my first YNPN San Diego event, and it was a really laid back event! Now that I feel more established here, looking back I see that I utilized two very different networking techniques that ended up working to my advantage even though I had no idea I was doing them at the time.

There are generally two ways you can spend your time networking:

  1. Quantity: Go to every networking event know to man and meet as many people as you can.
  2. Quality: Make connections with a few people, but spend more time getting to each of them one on one. 

Quantity will help you grow the size of your network, while quality will help you to strengthen your network. 

I’m not saying I didn’t build quality relationships in the beginning, I definitely did! But my focus was more on meeting as many people as I could and talking to them to get the lay of the land here in San Diego. I joined YNPN which has been one of the best ways I could’ve built my network – it even led me to my new Board position at HandsOn San Diego!

Focusing on quantity first helped me get my feet on the ground, and helped my awkwardness at networking events because I finally started seeing familiar faces! But I really like getting to know people better, and I tend to be much less awkward one on one over coffee or wine :)

When I started my new job a few months ago, I knew I wanted to take the quality route to get to know our volunteers and partners so that I could build trust with them and find out how I could engage them in ways that fit their needs. That means finding out who they are by asking the Board and other staff members, calling or emailing each of them, and setting up a time to get together. This definitely takes more time, but is worth it as I am now creating a really strong network of people who know me personally, rather than people who have just heard my name before.

So how should you spend your time networking? My suggestion is a mix of both, and often your quantity efforts will lead to quality relationships.

What do you think about quantity versus quality in building your network? Are there are networking techniques you use?

If you’re an introvert like me, check out this great article from Forbes – An Introverts Guide to Networking.