This month’s blog carnival is hosted by my friend and colleague Erik Anderson. Its theme: “advice to your younger fund raising self.” As such, and because you know I find most (non-grant related) directions optional, here is both advice I wish someone had given me, and also advice I’d like to give to my students, blog followers and those that I’m privileged to mentor. Please reach out and let me know if any speak to you.
Money is not Dough; It Will Not Raise Itself
If you want to be successful in this field, as either a leader or at any level of a development team, get comfortable asking for things for your organization that you would never request for yourself.
You may be one of those people that other people just give stuff too. I certainly am. Do I want an upgrade on my rental car? “Yes, please.” Would I like an extra scoop of ice cream? “That would be great. Thank you.” If you routinely have people offering you things that you didn’t ask for, or even consider asking for, awesome! This will be a snap!
If you’re not, you will have to cultivate the ability to ask for money and donations to move forward your mission. It’s for the kids, or the dogs, or whom/whatever your agency exists to impact. People who care about your mission will want to be engaged in its success; they may just need the vehicle to get involved. You can offer that entree.
For the CEOs out there: grant writing, event planning and individual giving are different skills sets. You have to know how to do or hire all three. If you go with hire, you will then have to do what the person you hire recommends. Really.
Where to Start is Where You Are
There is no perfect place to start. The first step is just that, one step forward. Figure out where you want to go. Figure out what it will take to get there. Plan backwards from your end goal. And start.
Charm is Not Enough, and Neither is Talent
You can be charming for 15 minutes; after that you’d better know something. I love charming people. I also love effective people! Charm alone is not enough, especially on the development team. Talent alone is not enough for any of our teams. We need both to make our teams work and our organizations successful.
It is not enough to be good, or even great, at your job. You also have to be on the team and moving the organization forward. If you aren’t, I can’t hire you. I can’t train you and you certainly can’t stay.
We are All only as Good as the Stupid Thing we did Yesterday
I’d love to tell you that your life’s work will be a sum total of your accomplishments, but it’s just not true. You can build something great, bring in tons of money and save the day, but if you did something really stupid yesterday, none of those will save you.
Only Write a Policy when you Need One, which will Never be to Avoid a Conversation
I love teachable moments. Tell me a story when something, anything, goes wrong and I’ll ask you the lesson. Teachable moments make us all better and have the added benefit of helping organizations avoid crises. They teach each member of a team to assess every stupid thing that goes wrong, in an effort to not have it repeated.
Crises are where most policies originate. Show me a policy and I can tell you the crisis that created it. Show me a job description and I can sometimes tell you what happened to the person who held that job last. We are all, myself included, much more transparent than we would like to be and when you’re paying attention you can often read what’s not said.
Most polices get written because there wasn’t a policy and that gap either left the agency or its clients open for something bad to happen. That is the perfect time for a new policy!
Having a problem with a staff member? That may be the time for a hard conversation but may not rise to the level of a policy. Never write a policy to avoid having a conversation.
Crisis Management is not Leadership
One my favorite Warren Buffett quotes is “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
It reminds me to be strategic in how I spend my time. There are a lot of leadership lessons that can be taken from this one statement.
Maybe it applies to staff, in which case the message would be to not spend a majority of your time trying to make a bad hire into a good employee. You should try certainly, but at some point, should your efforts prove fruitless, cut your losses, review your process, learn your lessons, and hire better.
Maybe it applies to how you spend your time. Do you spend your day patching leaks or changing vessels? Most leaders I know spend their days patching leaks, and they stare in wonder at those leaders that spend their energy changing vessels.
It’s a paradox. We have to patch the leaks and put out the fires, yet we also have to carve out the time to think strategically…even while the boat is leaking. And it may be leaking. In nonprofit speak that may mean there’s a grant due, a crisis in the program, a problem staff, a disengaged board member, an alienated donor or an angry parent. Some of those things may very well be happening, and happening simultaneously. There’s also an agency that you are responsible to steward and a mission that you are entrusted to move forward.
Even though it feels like it, You Are Not Alone
You are not alone. For those of us who have spent our lives in social services, it’s a phrase we have each repeated hundreds if not thousands of times. We say it to our clients all the time, but apparently the leaders of our agencies don’t hear the answer for themselves.
The way you feel today, right now, every nonprofit leader feels or has felt. I promise. Every CEO at one time or another has wondered how they’re going to make payroll, keep their job, or keep their sanity. Knowing you’re not alone won’t answer any of those questions but it will remind you that the CEO down the street of that agency you wish yours was as together as, feels the same way sometimes. You just don’t see it.
It All Comes Down to Values
Every day I have conversations with leaders and every day, at least once, I utter the phrase “it all comes down to values” and it does. If you can tell me what you value, I can tell you in what circumstances you’ll be successful, and in what circumstances you’ll be frustrated.
Where you sit determines where you stand. What you value determines how you lead, where you feel comfortable, where you’ll thrive, and where you’re likely to be the odd one out.
Your values have to match your organization’s values, which have to be reflected in their policies. When the three are not aligned, you will struggle. When they are, you will thrive!
We do not, in fact, all bloom where we’re planted. We bloom where we’re cultivated.
Do you have advice for your younger self, or for others in our field? Will you share? Did you find any of my advice instructive? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please offer your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats.