Slow and Steady Can Still Win the Race if the Course is Changed: Here’s How

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Change is inevitable. Especially in well-functioning nonprofit organizations, consistent reevaluation of your work, your staffing structure, and your resources is key. As the world changes around us, the work we do to serve our clients should change as well.

But change can be scary. Especially for people like me, workers who set up their processes and procedures and get into a groove. They know what they need to do figure out the best way to get to where they need to be. Those slow and steady turtles that often win the race – I am definitely one of those. Those folks take change the hardest.

But – it doesn’t have to be that way. Any time you need to implement change in your organization, remember there are turtles like me. Remember that involving us in the conversation (if that’s an option) is key to do from the beginning. If you can’t involve us in the decision making process, walk us through the justifications as to why these choices are the best for the organization. Explain to us why you’re doing what you’re doing and allow us to understand how we are key to the process. Make us feel like a valuable member of the team and show us why the changes will help us do our work, and help the organization in the long run.

Without that, the turtle can get lost. But with adequate explanation, the turtle just might surprise you and win that race.

-N.C.

Staying Authentic, Always

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My friend Melissa and I are going to be the keynote speakers at a benefit dinner on Sunday and our adrenaline is pumping! There are so many directions we could go with our talk, so many messages we want to portray. As the founders of a university student organization, we’ll have a whole bunch of eyes and ears ready to take in what we have to say on Sunday.

As I was thinking about what we could do for our speech, I tried to think about the best speeches I have ever seen – the ones that have made me laugh, made me cry, or really resonated with me and struck me to my core. I recognized a pattern: all of the speakers were authentic. They didn’t all speak the most eloquently or come from the same background. They knew the core message they wanted to portray and they went there, without apology. Melissa and I went off that concept and are sharing moments and stories from our childhood and our time together, in the hopes that our speech will be a little bit more of a conversation.

Thinking about this also made me realize the importance that staying authentic has in so many other ways and places. In the workplace, with friends, and even at home, being yourself will give you the most confidence and happiness in the end. It might be uncomfortable to always be completely open and honest and yourself (especially at work, with your boss), but let me tell you from experience that it’s worth it. Because you might actually get what you need. And even if you don’t, you know you tried your absolute best and can move on.

-N.C.

Shame in the Nonprofit Sector

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I just finished reading I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) by Brene Brown and I couldn’t help but think about the ways we should translate Brene’s ideas into the nonprofit sector. The book’s core is about shame – the ways it effects people, how it manifests in one’s actions, and how we can better address it as a society. Shame is not an easy topic to talk about, but that just proves how important it is.

In the nonprofit sector, emotions run high and resilience can become tough. We are all working our hardest to do the best work we can, and sometimes, we can let our frustration get the best of us and lash out on others. This is a defense mechanism – in our minds, by shaming someone else we are somehow lifting ourselves – but something that we should all pay closer attention to. A little bit of compassion can go a long way in the workplace, and will ultimately allow us all to do our best work in a supportive environment.

Brene’s work is very interesting and I encourage you to take a look and consider how shame plays a role in your life. Because the more self aware we are, the better work we can do.

-N.C.

Year Four of Nonprofit Chapin & Tough Conversations

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Today marks four years that I’ve had this blog and let me tell you, my third year was definitely my hardest so far. As you may remember, I received my Masters in Nonprofit Administration in December 2013, right before my blog turned three. I was inspired and ready to tackle some important issues about nonprofit sector effectiveness. And then… life happened. I got wrapped up in the day to day happenings of being a Donor Relations Manager at a very busy nonprofit and almost all of my thought about nonprofit efficiencies switched to wondering how I could stay sane at my job. Then… things clicked.

I realized that while I still had passion and interest in sector-wide issues, the issues I was dealing with on a daily basis weren’t as pretty, and were just as important (or even more important) to talk about. As nonprofit employees, we have a very unique set of challenges and issues to deal with. In years one and two of this blog, I focused more on posting about that. Year three, as I hoped to continue my journey into academia related to the nonprofit sector, unfortunately fell short. But I want to make a renewed commitment to come back to this blog and talk about the nitty gritty of handling yourself as a nonprofit employee. How can we all work hard, thrive, and still go home with some energy? I’m still learning myself, but I hope I can start some dialogue here to get us on the path to some shared ideas.

So, thanks for being patient with me. In year four I hope to tackle some important issues that we all deal with, and bring to light some not-so-pretty subjects. That’s the only way we’ll all get through this journey alive, and at the end of the day, we all hope we get out better than alive! We hope to get out thriving!

-N.C.

P.S. I updated my layout, headshot, About Me blurb, and About Me page – what do you think?

Feedback: It’s a Two Way Street

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While it’s easy to put foundations and other funders on a pedestal, these are the institutions that need the most feedback, argues Phil Buchanan in the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Foundation CEOs Need Candid Feedback to Succeed in Driving Change. This great piece, taking inspiration from Ford Foundation’s president Darren Walker’s recently released letter on his first year in office, discusses the pressure that foundation heads are under to perform and the need for feedback to ensure they are doing their best work.

I couldn’t agree more, and would argue that this idea of the importance of candid feedback can translate to any entity or person in power. Whether it’s your boss, your organization’s CEO, your local government or the president of the United States, people in power need to hear about the ways their decisions affect the people around them.

In fact, the more power one has, the more influence they have, and often (especially in the nonprofit sector), the less people are inclined to give feedback. The nonprofit sector has a mistaken culture of niceness where confrontation is avoided for the sake of being “nice” – when, in fact, lack of feedback is actually unkind. If you really care about the success of someone in power, the nicest thing you can do for them is provide them with candid feedback. No one is perfect, no matter how much power she has. So the only way to improve is by hearing from others.

Today, give your boss a piece of candid feedback. More times than not, instead of reprimanding you, she will appreciate you.

-N.C.

Keeping Open Communication about the Good and the Bad

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Last month in the Opinion section of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, two sector leaders wrote a brilliant piece: Keeping Quiet About Wrongdoing at Nonprofits Only Makes Matters Worse. The authors describe how nonprofit executives shy away from constructive criticism and healthy evaluation of wrongdoing in their organizations, and the reasons this has a negative impact on the sector.

Nonprofit organizations, just like any other organization, need to be consistently evaluating their operations and ensuring things are not only legal, but well-running. Nonprofits are essentially funded by the general public, and therefore have a responsibility to spend money in a fiscally prudent way. The leaders of these organizations have a responsibility to make sure this is happening.

Instead of shying away from wrongdoings, they should face them head on and talk about them publically. Being critical of ourselves in the nonprofit sector can only improve our position and respectability amongst our peers in the other sectors. If we don’t hold ourselves to a high standard, who will?

-N.C.

 

Do We Need Consumerism to Have Philanthropy?

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A recent piece in The Atlantic, Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?, initially caught my eye because of its provocative title. As I started reading, it kept my attention with its message of individuals criticizing and downplaying the importance of the nonprofit sector.

The piece profiles a few people who believe that philanthropy is most effective when folded into consumerism. People behind companies like PRODUCT (RED) and FEED believe that human nature is to want to shop, not to donate. So if we want to get the most amount of money from people, we must go to the source of what they do the most often – shop.

What this piece illustrates, and I agree with, is that this argument and point of view cheapens the importance of philanthropy. The third sector, just like the for-profit sector or the government sector, has a place in our society and has its own successes and challenges. Just because it doesn’t look like the traditional big business money exchange doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important role in the lives of many. I can’t help but wonder if these people have ever made a large gift to a nonprofit or even understand what fundraising means. By making these sort of bold statements, they are undermining the value that philanthropy has – not just for the nonprofit or the people served by the nonprofit, but also for the donors themselves.

“Philanthropy should imply a categorically different relationship with money than the one we have a consumers: something we embark on because we want to participate in a larger goal of improving the world and linking our values, histories, and resources with the needs of other people.” 

The feeling a donor gets when they give a donation is a completely different one than when a consumer buys a good. The donor gets to be part of the greater good and she gets to know she is making a difference in the lives of others who need her. That kind of feeling can’t be replicated by buying a shirt. That kind of feeling is because of the ripple effect that her money will make, ultimately changing the world.

-N.C.