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.

Shopping for Good: Fashion and Retail That Save the World

Guest Post: Today’s post comes from Morgan Gray at Gray & Gabbanna! Those of us who work in nonprofit still want to look good like everyone else, so it’s always an added bonus when things we buy also benefit causes we love. I’m terribly unfashionable so I leave it to fashionistas like Morgan to point me in the right direction :) 

Fashion and philanthropy are two subjects dearest to my heart. As a politically conscious fashionista, I’m always hunting down organizations that specialize in beautiful, wearable, useful products whose proceeds benefit those in need.Companies who specifically focus on helping women and the poor are of particular interest to me. Here are three companies whose products and mission statements fit the bill perfectly.

Warby Parker

WarbyWho knew purchasing stylish sunglasses this summer could inadvertently help another country? Warby Parker donates a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need for every pair purchased through their Buy a Pair Give a Pair program.

Their new collection of $95 vintage sunglasses makes it easy. It helps that these sunglasses are very chic, too. I own three pairs already and intend to visit the website today in search of yet another pair to wear at the beach.

Warby Parker has a try-at-home for free program. You select five pairs; the company ships them to you. You decide what you like, you pay for it and return the rest. Meanwhile, someone who desperately needs glasses receives a free pair!

Warby Parker also partners with nonprofits that train low-income entrepreneurs to sell affordable eyeglasses.

Krochet Kids International

KrochetKidsBeing knitting and crocheting freak, I love Krochet Kids because it combines my love of crafts with my zest for fashion and social/political action.

Through Krochet Kids International, impoverished women of Peru and Northern Uganda initiate sustainable economic development by selling what they make online.

The three-pronged program includes jobs, education and mentoring: women learn a skill and how to market it. They then receive the opportunity to do so, at the same time developing the means to support their families and communities long term.

Through their website, both a retail shop and information hub about their organization, you can peruse hand-knit products for women, men and children. You can also thank the very woman who made the product you purchase.

People Water

PeopleWaterSimilar to Warby Parker, People Water is a for-profit that sponsors philanthropy through its sales. Outside of the fashion space, when you buy a bottle of People Water, an equal amount of fresh water is donated to someone in need.

Beyond this, People Water also repairs outdated wells and/or builds new wells in the third world countries.Their online shop features People Water apparel and accessories, the profits of which further clean water projects worldwide.

 

What other socially conscious fashion or retail brands are you loving right now?

 

Morgan Gray is a fashion enthusiast making her way into the blogging community. She enjoys all things fashion, beauty and decor and was inspired to share her tips and tricks by writing her own blog Gray & Gabbana.  

Perfection Paralysis: The death of everything awesome you ever want to do.

progress-not-perfectionYou know that feeling you get before you launch a new project or show someone that thing you’ve been working really hard on, or even just hit send on an important email…that feeling that maybe you should wait because it’s not ready yet?

That feeling is perfection paralysis – freezing up, not taking action because what you’re working on isn’t perfect…yet.

We can’t launch the new program, we still have so many little things to do!

 

I’m not going to publish my first blog post yet, I want to read it a few more times just in case.

 

I’ll go to that networking event next month, when I’m more ready to talk about the new business I want to start.

We’re always waiting for the right time or for things to be perfect. I know I do it, I’ve been doing it recently with my volunteers – not reaching out to them because our new brochure isn’t ready, the website isn’t where I want it to be, I’m not sure they’ll like what I’m working on because it isn’t finished yet…and on, and on, and on. I become a professional excuse maker when it comes to putting anything out into the world that I’m excited about.

And yes I get excited about launching a volunteer program :)

Deep down I know it’s just nerves and that I want everything I do to be the best representation of me and how I work. But at the same time, if I always make excuses or hold things back until they’re “perfect” no one will ever see my work or give a crap about my amazing volunteer program!

So how can you get past perfection paralysis and actually get stuff done?

Hit send/publish/go, and walk away.

The only thing worse than being paralyzed before you start, is being paralyzed after you start. Hitting that button and then sitting there staring at your computer waiting for all hell to break lose. It probably won’t, so use your time wisely and go do something else! Get your mind off of all the little things you didn’t do or wanted to change. You’ll find that most people won’t ever know about or notice any of those things you’re wasting time worrying over.

Put it on a shelf, and walk away.

That might sound like the opposite of what I’ve been saying (and that shelf could be a virtual shelf…), but if something is making you REALLY anxious and you’re REALLY struggling with it, maybe it does need more time to ripen. And that’s totally ok! Staring at it isn’t going to make it better. Put whatever it is away, and come back to it in a day or week. You’ll have fresh eyes and fresh ideas, and who knows maybe you’ll realize it is ready to go after all.

Celebrate!

Have a cupcake, a glass of wine, a little dance party behind your desk! Celebrate before, during, and after you’ve done whatever it is you’ve been stressing about. I find that some or all of those little celebrations help me get past dwelling on what could have been. You did something when you could have done nothing – and that’s more than most people can say!

Do you ever suffer from perfection paralysis? How do you get over it?

I’m hitting publish on this post even though I don’t think it’s perfect and could spend the next hour+ editing it… :) 

Money Mondays: Your Emergency Fund

Every other Monday we’re talking personal finance, because it’s important no matter where you work! Miss the first Money Monday? Click here to check it out.

piggybankEmergency funds. One of the least fun, but most important things to think about in your finances. Why is it not fun? Because basically you work hard to build it up and then it just sits around until something REALLY not fun happens like your car breaks down, or your cat/dog gets sick, or you get a really annoying traffic ticket…

The first thing to remember about finance is that everyone is different and every situation is different. Below are a few good articles that explain why an emergency fund is important, how to figure out how big yours should be, and to how to start building it. Since the financial experts have that covered, I thought I’d share the biggest mistake I’ve made with my emergency fund.

I made my emergency fund TOO accessible.

I started by having my emergency fund at the same bank as my checking account, which means with a few clicks I could transfer money into my checking and spend it. I became an expert at convincing myself that the dumbest things were an “emergency” when I was on a tight budget. “Emergency” dinner out with friends, because we didn’t get together that often. “Emergency” new clothes for a big event coming up. You get the point…

My solution – Move that account!

I’d been considering opening an account at a credit union for a while, so I went ahead with that plan but only opened a savings account. It earns a decent interest rate compared to other banks, I can still access it quickly when a REAL emergency happens, and it is much less tempting to take money out of it because I don’t see it sitting there every time I log in to my online banking where my checking account is!

I also set up an automatic transfer every time I get paid, so the money goes right into my emergency fund and I barely even notice. It was a little bit at first, like $20 every 2 weeks, but slowly I’ve been able to build up a nice cushion just in case I need it. Once I got it to the amount I wanted, I let it just hang out and earn interest!

I’ll admit, it’s totally anti-climatic when you hit your goal amount because you don’t actually get to do anything with it. But that money was crucial when my husband and I decided to take the plunge and move to San Diego, especially as he was looking for jobs the first few months. We put a big dent in it back then and have had to steadily work our way back up, but I know it’s worth it – it helps me sleep better at night too :)

Great articles on emergency funds:

Zen Habits - 21 Strategies for Creating an Emergency Fund, and Why It’s Critical
Dave Ramsey - 9 Ways to Build Your Emergency Fund
LifeHacker - Five Questions You Should Ask When Building an Emergency Fund
Work Save Live - 
4 Ways to Build Your Emergency Fund Faster

 

Do you have an emergency fund?
Have you ever had to use it?

Review: One Today, Google’s New Philanthropy App

one_today_logoGoogle recently hopped on the crowd funding trend by launching a new app called One Today as a way to connect nonprofits with new supporters and help them raise money. When I first heard about it, I knew I had to try it out. I was really curious not only to see HOW it works, but also IF it works in raising money and awareness for nonprofits – especially given my lack of success in mobile fundraising in the past.

Right now the app is only available for Android users and in limited release. You can request an invitation, which is exactly what I did. Considering it’s not yet available to everyone, I’m already impressed with the results it’s getting for the organization’s I’ve seen so far! Here are my thoughts, I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments :)

What is One Today?

One Today is an app that brings together people and nonprofits through the simple act of giving $1.

That pretty much sums it up! But it does go a step further than that by allowing you to also match other people’s $1 gift to a certain project of your choice, making their $1 go even further.

In true Google fashion, the app is very clean looking, no crazy buttons or features – it simply does what they say it does. Each day they feature one nonprofit project with an image, information about the project, and specifically what your $1 will help to do.

onetodayprojectIn the side bar there are also 2-3 other projects each day in addition to the featured project that you can check out and donate to. I haven’t quite figured out how they initially decide which projects are shown to you. Your profile set up doesn’t ask for much information, but I can tell as I’ve donated to projects in certain categories (animals, youth, etc.) I start seeing more projects that are in that category.

How does it process your donation?

The app connects to your Google Wallet account – as far as I can tell you have to have one of these to be able to donate through the app. You decide which projects you want to donate to and it keeps a running total of what you owe. It doesn’t process a transaction every single time you donate – that would be annoying to look at on my bank statement! Instead, after you’ve made a few donations it gives you a prompt to pay your balance – I got the first prompt at $4. Because it’s hooked to your Google Wallet account it takes a few taps on the screen and you’re done!

I haven’t used it as a nonprofit yet (I’m planning to this summer) but their website says that organizations receive a monthly payout. Even though new projects are featured every day, I can still access previous days’ projects in case I decide to go back and donate later. I would assume the majority of the donations happen that one day, but there are probably residual donations that trickle in as well.

Does it work?

Like I said, I’ve been really impressed with what most of the projects have raised already given that the app is in limited release! The majority of projects I’ve seen have raised between $250-600 on the day they’re featured, and it does seem that that number is rising as more people are getting the app.

What I love about Google’s One Today app is that it plays to people’s impulsive nature. Because the $1 donation amount is so small, almost trivial to most people, and the app is so easy to use I found myself donating to way more projects than I thought I would. Plus, the social aspect of matching other people’s donations is even more incentive to give. The first few times I donated to a project was simply because someone said they would match my donation!

The only improvement I’d like to see is for their to be a location based component. Some way for me to support nonprofits in my local community. Many of the projects seem to be international, and I’m personally at a place in my philanthropy lifespan (is that a thing?) where I want to give to local groups more.

It’s also interesting that there isn’t an easy way to share that you’ve donated on your social media sites or by sending messages to your friends who also have the app. This could be because they’re still testing it, so maybe that feature will come later?

Have you tried Google One Today? What do you think?

If you haven’t, check out the One Today site to learn more, request an invitation to try it, or sign your nonprofit up to participate – then let us know what you think in the comments!