We can do better

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My plan this week was to write a follow-up to Ben’s post from a few weeks back, “Relationships are where it’s at!” Then I watched President Obama’s eulogy for John Lewis.

If you don’t do everything you can do to change things… then they will remain the same.” -John Lewis

After watching, I reflected on the conversations I have been having with my two young-adult sons over the past couple of months.  I also thought about this work we are all so fortunate to do here in the social impact sector. Life-changing, life-saving work that matters.

The first time I heard President Obama speak was when he was running in the primary for Illinois Senate. It was at a time when I was contemplating a career change. One that eventually led to my first non-profit job. The words he spoke that evening that hit me square and have resonated with me since… “We can do better.”

And then, this week, as I was watching him offer his eulogy for John Lewis, he said this:

Ordinary people can come together… to decide it is in our power to remake this country that we love, until it more closely aligns with our highest ideals. What a radical idea. That any of us ordinary people can stand up to the powers and principalities and say no – this isn’t right, this isn’t true, this isn’t just.We can do better.”

I am well aware, because I see it on a first-hand basis day in and day out, that the people who work at and volunteer with the tremendous non-profit organizations in each one of our communities are committed to making a difference. And some of those organizations, thankfully, carry on aspects of Congressman Lewis’ life’s work. But as I was reflecting, both on a personal level and for my community, I couldn’t help shake those words… “We can do better.”

 Later on, President Obama shared the following call to action:

We have to continue his cause. If we want our children to grow up in a democracy – not just with elections – but a true democracy… we’re going to have to be more like John. We don’t have to do all of the things he had to do, because he did them for us. But we’ve got to do something.”

I know that I am personally not doing everything I can to change things for the better. I have more work to do.

If you are like me and you feel as though there is more you can do to help make our communities more equitable, more just… let’s do it together. John Lewis dedicated the entirety of his life showing us the way. What a great opportunity we have, individually and collectively, to honor his legacy.

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

The Power of ONE

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The Power of ONE

The race crisis recently came to my neighborhood. At the tender age of 13, my daughter, deluged with images and videos of the injustice to George Floyd, asked to attend the Black Lives Matter march in our small suburban community.

As the markers squawked across the lime green poster board I purchased, my older son discouraged us from going. “Don’t you worry about Covid? Stay home. Why do you want to go? One person won’t make a difference you know.” He went on and on.

But as we know, ONE person has made a difference in history. Plenty of times. Consider Gandhi, Kennedy, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Lincoln, Mandela.

Many development offices are sparsely staffed and some of us are on teams of ONE working from kitchen tables. No, your name will never find its way into a history book. Your insightful thoughts will not be printed on a poster. But still – YOU make a difference.

Every day, YOU are nurturing relationships with donors and securing gifts that will save lives and change lives. The missions YOU help reduce stress, enrich lives, bring nourishment, understanding and hope to the many people who rely on your nonprofit. This is the power of ONE person doing the right thing – day after day.

The news this week will no doubt include ugly realities reflecting these difficult times. But remember the words of Edmund Burke who said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Then, go out and do SOMETHING. Do what you know. Do what you can to contribute to a better, more just and loving world. Be a good Development Officer.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

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Necessity Is the Mother of Invention

This past Mother’s Day was the first time I hadn’t seen my mother in years. This was disappointing because our annual “girl’s weekends” with my daughter and me to visit her had become a tradition I looked forward to. We reinvented our celebration and visited using Facetime.  I guess it was better than nothing, right?

Then, I saw an interview with Eric Schmidt, the past president of Google. He discussed how positions are changing and said, “One way to think about this is that this one to two-month period has brought forth 10 years of forward change. So all of a sudden, the Internet is no longer optional. It’s fundamental …… Another example will be tele-health. 80 percent of the visits to doctors are right now in tele-health.” (Eric Schmidt transcript)

It made me wonder how we, as nonprofit professionals, will need to adapt in the future. For example, last week in a meeting with clients (on a Zoom call, no less!) we agreed we needed a video that we could create inhouse. I found myself saying than I am not an expert on making videos. I feel like I’ve grown and adapted a lot in my career, but not in that area – at least not yet.  One of the members said his high school kids could probably do it.

What?

High School kids?

Nooooo! I refuse to go the way of the dinosaurs stuck in a proverbial tar pit! So I quickly watched a YouTube tutorial about Apple iMovie software and was kind of impressed at how easy this could be. Yes, even me, a lumbering Sauropod, could probably master this software!

I share this with you only to help us all stay encouraged to embrace new things and new technology. Let’s look forward and anticipate what will be needed in the future months and years, in order to stay relevant with our donors and keep our nonprofits strong.

As Bob Dylan wrote way back in 1963, before many of us were born, “The Times They Are a-Changin’” and he was right.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

Your Best is Good Enough

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Your Best is Good Enough

For some of us, maintaining solid self-care habits – much less mastering the art of work-life balance – was a challenge before March 2020, right? There was always more work than time in the day and our phones and laptops made it all too easy to dive back in after returning home.

When shelter-at-home started several weeks ago, I assumed that I’d be able to increase my productivity – both professionally and personally – by leveraging (at the very least) my lack of commute time. All too soon however, the endless Zoom meetings and conference calls seemed to swallow up my days, leaving me with more follow-up emails and writing to do “after work” than before.

So now, not only was I not taking advantage of being at home the way I had envisioned, I was feeling less productive and more stressed. Then, one night, I read something that flipped the switch for me.

This was the start of a friend’s post…

“I’ve been seeing so many people seriously beating themselves up because they aren’t “maximizing” their time in quarantine by organizing their cupboards, repainting, developing a side hustle, becoming a piano virtuoso, exercising themselves into a lucrative career as a swimsuit model, etc. Everybody! Seriously. Stop. And breathe.” (HT, P. Duke)

So, I did. And it made a huge difference. It gave me the chance to pause, reframe my expectations and recalibrate.

I looked for some tips on how to take better control of my work habits and how to take better care of myself. (Two of the articles I found helpful are linked below.)

  • I cut myself some slack for maybe not knocking it out of the park every day.
  • I recommitted myself to eating healthy, getting enough rest, exercising and to scheduling in breaks to recharge between meetings or projects. (While I usually go for a short walk, one person I read about benefits from taking Nintendo Just Dance breaks!)
  • I also found that scheduling a start and end to my workday has offered me a greater sense of control.

I’m not pretending to be an expert here and realize that this is pretty much current conventional wisdom. Nevertheless, amidst so much change and uncertainty for all of us, I just wanted to share my own personal “discovery.”

If you’re feeling like you should be “doing more” or that your days seem to be spent on a never ceasing hamster wheel, I invite you to breathe, acknowledge that you’re doing your best and to know that your best is good enough. If there are steps you can take to make your surroundings or work habits more productive for you, great. If you’re not making time to take the best care of yourself (especially if you are also doing triple duty every day trying to juggle roles as a professional, parent and teacher), please do. IMHO, that’s the most important step of all.

If you’ve discovered a better way to WFH or if you have other strategies that you’ve found helpful, please let me know and we’ll share your ideas in a future post.

Take good care and take it easy on yourself. You’ve got this!

David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago

P.S. Here are the articles I mentioned:

 

Come on Team – Let’s Build it!

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Come on Team – Let’s Build it!

Last weekend, my family decided to take on an outdoor project.  After many days of rainy weather, I think we were all looking for a way to get outside and create something together. We built a firepit in our backyard and an area around it to sit and gather.  To create this area, in my opinion, was not for the weary.  My husband led the charge with the plans and the rest of us soldiered on as extra hands.  We hauled a LOT of rocks, 40 bags of slate, that in total, weighed more than a 1200 pounds.  It was a lot of heavy-lifting…sweat and muscle really went into the project.

Did we have some challenges? Yes. We needed rocks…WAY more rocks that we realized.  We needed to make-do with a tamper that was well-loved and not quite up to the task. We had a few spills of cement and a wheel-barrow full of rocks fall over before it reached its final destination. Yet, despite some of the roadblocks, when we were all done, we all felt so satisfied.  We built something beautiful, we stuck to the plan as best as we could, and we preserved until it was finished.  We raised a glass and patted each other on the back for a job well done and a team that worked well together.

So, you might wonder, what does this have to do with our work as development officers? Well, it’s about team work and how we set about to accomplish our current tasks and goals.  What is the role of the team at work – now in these new shelter in place times? Our Executive Director? Our Program Staff? The Board Chair? Our various committee members? How is each member of the team’s work now different than before?

During these shelter in place times, we have all had to be nimble and wear a variety of hats…even some new ones.  We aren’t collaborating and meeting face to face, but now rather operating through Zoom meetings, phone calls and emails.  Some of our priorities are shifting and changing as a result of a virus that is forcing us to do things differently, change gears quickly, be nimble and make adjustments, sometimes daily.

I suspect you are seeing more collaboration, more creativity, and overall, more help extended to get the job done to fulfill the mission of the work of the organization. I know this time isn’t easy, and there are days when the worry and stress level is high.  Big worries, like loss of revenue, or for some, will we be able to stay open to serve those that need us? Yet, even at those times, I notice more humor, more compassion and more understanding.  More creative planning and more conversations that we never anticipated.

What new things will we take with us when the world shifts back to the way we once knew it? So, for today, take time to reflect on your team working together in a different way – accomplishing things in a new way.  This is yet another silver living during these challenging times. For now, for today, I say…Applaud it. Celebrate it.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HPS Chicago

The Importance of Embracing Change

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The Importance of Embracing Change

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

–Albert Einstein

Intellectually, we know this statement by Albert Einstein to be true. Yet how many of us stick with the same fundraising strategies year after year – even despite red flags – and hope for different results? Recently, I worked with a client stuck in a cycle of special events that were in decline both attendance and dollar-wise.  One event in particular was hardest to consider changing. In its heyday, it was wildly successful and had taken on iconic status with many within the organization. But, attendance and net revenue had been steadily declining over the prior five years. One year, the event even posted a net loss. Still, the organization kept hosting the event, hoping the next year would be different.

Staff and some volunteer leadership wanted to eliminate the event, but top leadership admittedly were frightened to take that risk. To help staff build the case for significant change, we analyzed all aspects of the event. What were its primary goals?  Who were the audiences we were trying to attract? What were the positives we’d want to retain? What was the return on investment, in terms of both human and monetary resources?

We also did some benchmarking with other nonprofits, and performed market research on similar types of events. Were similar organizations having success with this type of event? If not, what types of events were successful for them? Were there external factors beyond our control contributing to the event’s decline?

From our research, it became clear that our client was not doing anything “wrong” with its event – the appetite for the type of event had simply significantly declined. The audiences we’d been trying to attract just weren’t as interested in the type of event as it had been years before. And, we learned that the time and money we invested in the event were not reaping the return we needed.

Our research verified what we suspected: we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect to achieve a different result. Indeed, the organization must make a significant change. Currently, we’re sharing our findings with the event stalwarts to help them understand change will be a bold, brave move that will keep us relevant with the audiences we want to engage. And, change will help ensure we achieve our fundraising goals.

I encourage you to examine your organization’s fundraising strategies – all aspects, not just special events. Are you stuck in any ruts? If so, make a change. While change is hard, it is absolutely essential to an organization’s long-term vibrancy.

by: Molly Galo, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Will “Radical Truthfulness” Make Your Nonprofit Stronger?

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Will “Radical Truthfulness” Make Your Nonprofit Stronger?

I caught an interview with Ray Dalio on 60 Minutes this spring. I had never heard of him. It turns out he’s not a household name. But he heads up the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, and is worth $18 billion.

One important philosophy of his company has stayed with me. That is, the concept of “radical truthfulness.”

You see Ray holds honesty above all other virtues. He has no patience for talking behind people’s backs or scrutinizing someone else’s decision after it’s been made.  If you have a thought to share at Bridgewater, it must be shared. That’s company policy. Period.

Ray has no room in his company for comments like we might sometimes hear after meetings such as:

“What do you think he meant by that?” 

“I don’t get it why are we doing things this way?”

“This decision is ridiculous. They are not looking at the data.”

“Well, nobody asked my opinion.”

No, at Bridgewater Associates comments like these have gone the way of the dinosaurs. With an emphasis on 100% transparency, there is nothing to say behind a closed door after the meeting.  That’s because it’s already been said out in the open. Yes, Bridgewater Associates actually video tapes all meetings in order to record the thoughts and contributions by their staff.

Here’s the link if you’d like to read the story

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ray-dalio-explains-his-principles-60-minutes/

Now, I am not suggesting that we, as nonprofit leaders, adopt this type of philosophy.  It is radical and uncomfortable for some. Even at Bridgewater there is a 30% turnover rate among new employees. But those who have stayed and adopted the philosophy, have helped this hedge fund make money for its clients in 25 of the past 28 years. So this approach must be having an impact wouldn’t you agree?

I believe we learn a lot by moving closer to this philosophy. At one of my clients we are embarking on change management. It’s been a good experience, but the staff is still feeling siloed in different departments and transitioning to a culture with 100% transparency is uncomfortable.  Through this process our team has begun receiving and providing feedback to each other for the very first time. This is a great first step, and I am hopeful for this nonprofit.

A stable, cohesive and well functioning leadership team is necessary for any nonprofit.  Especially while doing work in Illinois with the various challenges that our state presents.  But I am hopeful that the leadership team that I mentioned will strive to control what we can, and that includes our own interpersonal communication, attitudes and above all truthfulness.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Changing and Adapting

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This is the time of year where there are a host of transitions in our lives. Kids are back in school – some have moved up a grade, others have graduated on to junior high, high school or have gone off to college. While the school year is is in full swing now and kids and young adults are embracing new challenges and experiences, we also notice that summer has turned to fall and the “next season” is just around the corner. Our days are growing cooler and shorter, our evenings and nights are sometimes downright cold, and we find ourselves waking up in the dark now with many of us returning home in the evening without the long summer light.

All of these changes must make us adapt. At home, we are putting away our shorts and pulling out sweaters. Some of us are busy packing lunches for little ones or preparing care packages for a new college student. Our kids are transitioning to learning new things, meeting new friends and perhaps acclimating to a new school. Some are away at college for the first time and learning the ropes of what it means to be more independent.

In our development worlds, the end of summer and the transition into the fall and early winter also means gearing up for event season and our year end mailings. It’s heavy into implementation time as we now are a few months into our new fiscal year. And, that’s my point. We are just a few months into our new plans and it’s a good time to not only transition into some of the action items in our plans, but, to look at what needs to be tweaked and fine-tuned. Do we need to change things up? What are we doing to encourage new friends to support the agency? Are we connecting with our donors in the right way or do we need to adapt and change and try something different?

As we all know, technology has become an integral part of our every-day lives. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are a big part of our world. And, it’s ever-changing. For some of us who began our careers in the late 80’s (I know, I’m dating myself), the fax machine was revolutionary! It was the quickest way to get a message out. Today, we need to continually ask ourselves…what can we do to adapt and change to better communicate with our donors? Are we best utilizing all of the social media platforms that can help us engage with old and new friends? Is our staff well-trained to use all of these tools in our social media tool kit, so at the same time, we can balance the “touch” side of our work? Technology is not meant to replace good development work but rather, augment or add other channels in which we stay in touch. So, my fellow development friends, I encourage you to be chameleons in your work. Stick with the fundamental development work of building and maintaining relationships with your donors…but, adapt, change and be open to learning and thinking of new ways in which we can enhance our work.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

It’s a new year…time to get rid of the clutter!

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Happy 2018!  The start of a new year comes an opportunity to begin again.  Whether you are one who makes resolutions or chooses to ignore the time-honored tradition, January offers us a chance to take stock.  Is there something you want to do differently in 2018?  Do you have a change you would like to make?  Here are a few simple steps to help you make some progress.

Name it.

Identify what it is you would like to change or do differently.   Do you want to be more organized?  Do you want to dedicate more time during the day to strategic work instead of “busy” work?  Or maybe, as my colleague David noted in last week’s blog, you strive to be better about meeting with donors this year?

Take stock.

Start by taking stock.  Allocate some time to determine what is standing the way of achieving your goal.  My guess is that you are experiencing some sort of “clutter”.

Perhaps you have…

  • a messy desk or briefcase
  • too many “to-do’s” in your head instead of in writing
  • been preoccupied with a business problem or personal issue
  • a tendency to respond to every email as it lands in your inbox

Move forward.

Whether the clutter is physical, mental or emotional, tackle the clutter.  Perhaps this means allocating a few hours to clean and organize your work space, taking time each day to identify your top 2-3 priorities for the day, addressing that problem or issue that is draining your resources or simply giving yourself permission to only respond to emails at designated times throughout the day, devise and execute a plan to deal with the clutter.  From my personal experience, acknowledging the issue and  a path forward eases the burden.  So get out there and tackle 2018 head-on!

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Time for a Change?

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A few of my clients are in the process of reevaluating their major fundraising events, an exercise I think can be very beneficial, especially if it is approached in the right way and with the right spirit.  If your fundraising events are in need of review (or more importantly, a complete overhaul), here are a few steps you can follow.

First, be objective

The facts don’t lie.  Evaluate your event statistics going back at least 5 years: revenue and expenses, sponsors, number of attendees, etc. Identify trends, successes and areas of concern.

Then, be subjective

Our HPS motto is, “people support what they help to create.”  If you are considering making changes to your event (or more importantly, replacing it all together), it is imperative to seek input from your constituents.  Take time to meet with committee members, both current and past.  Consider conducting a survey or a few focus groups.  In addition to requesting feedback on this event, ask your constituents about events they have attended for other organizations and determine what they like (and don’t like) about those events.  What you will discover through this process is that, no matter what decision you make, your constituents will feel like they had a voice in the process.

Now what?

While change can be unnerving, it can also be refreshing.  Whether you are simply eliminating a silent auction or replacing an entire event, make the decision and move forward with gusto.  Communication will continue to be an essential part of the process going forward.  Recruit some “ambassadors” – key volunteers, staff members, etc. to help you share the good news.  Arm them with the simple facts regarding the change and provide them with some exciting details about the new event.

Give it time

If you are replacing an event or part of an event, it is a good idea to remind your Board members, your volunteers, and especially yourself that change takes time.  You may not net the same about of revenue in the first year.  You may also determine that the change you made was not the right decision or did not go far enough.  Consider this a process, be willing to objectively evaluate the outcomes and continue to make the changes necessary to grow your event and ultimately your constituent base.  And remember…change is exciting!

by: Susan Bottum Matejka, Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions