The Secret to Becoming a Great Leader


Of all the self help tips I’ve read, all the leadership lessons that have been passed along to me, all the nuggets of life advice I’ve been given, I can sum everything up in one word:


We’re all different people coming to situations with different perspectives. We all have something to offer a situation and a good leader understands that. A good leader can listen to everyone that comes across their path and distill order out of chaos. But before they can make sense of anything, they must do just that: listen.

Listening isn’t something to be done passively. In fact, meaningful listening takes more effort and energy than speaking. Listening doesn’t just mean hearing – it means understanding where the person is coming from, what matters to them, and how they feel about a situation. It means hearing what they are saying but also perceiving their body language, tone, and passion. It takes unique abilities to listen well, and it just may be the secret to becoming a great leader.

Today, consider the situations you find yourself in. When communicating with others, are you truly actively listening, or coming to the conversation with your own agenda? It’s great to maintain focus when it comes to getting what you want, but be open to understanding other people’s perspectives as well. You never know, what you thought you wanted just might not have been the best thing for you or your organization.


Reactions to Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk


Nationally acclaimed fundraiser and nonprofit sector guru Dan Pallotta recently did a TED Talk entitled The way we think about charity is dead wrong – you can watch it here. There has been a lot of chatter about the Talk amongst the sector and people have started to ask my opinion of it, so I finally took the chance to sit down and watch the 18 minutes.

It’s 18 minutes worth watching, just so you can know what the hype is about, but from a nonprofit insider standpoint, it’s (mostly) nothing new. Dan details five ways the nonprofit sector is kept small: because of closed minded thinking about compensation, marketing, risk, time, and profit in the sector. I would say that none of these five points are anything I want to jump up and down about except the third one – risk – definitely something that the sector needs to switch its aversion to if it wants to get anything meaningful done.

The second part of the talk resonated more with me as a big issue that we should all stand up and pay attention to. He detailed the misconception that “overhead” is not part of the “cause,” and the fact that this misconception is ultimately forcing charities to not spend money on overhead and not expand and innovate in ways that are necessary to address such huge problems as the ones we are trying to solve.

Spot on, and I especially believe this as a fundraiser. Any activity that works toward the mission of a nonprofit: whether it is purchasing meals for the homeless, paying for lights at a shelter, or paying the salary of the marketing professional, should be considered part of the “cause.” The arbitrary designation of some of these expenses as more “worthy” than others of donations is ridiculous. In order to make real change in the world, we need to support all aspects of a nonprofit’s operation, whether it is directly touching a client or not.

I hope people come away from this Talk with that message at the very least. The next time you make a donation to a nonprofit, remember that they are the experts and know best where your support is the most needed. Give an unrestricted gift – you will do more for the nonprofit than you know.

“Don’t ask about the rate of [a charity’s] overhead, ask about the scale of their dreams.” – Dan Pallotta




I am thrilled to share a phenomenal report about the challenges faced by nonprofits surrounding fundraising. If you work in development or are a senior level employee at a nonprofit, you must read this! UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising is a joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that surveyed development directors and executive directors across the nation to understand their relationship to each other and to fundraising. The report includes insightful numbers on high turnover rates, skills and abilities around fundraising, and an entire section about nurturing a culture of philanthropy in organizations.

I believe the biggest takeaway from this report is that we must reframe what it means to raise money – whether that be by development directors, executive directors, or line staff. We need to have an honest conversation about money, what it means to all of us in society, and what it means to nonprofit organizations. Money, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is an incredibly taboo subject. People aren’t comfortable talking about finances in a really open way. It is not deemed to be an acceptable conversation topic. This is a problem when that is what fundraisers are supposed to do – talk about money all day. What does this mean for the success – or lack thereof – of fundraisers?

We need to get to a place where we all understand that money is necessary for nonprofits to provide the services they do, and without donors and their generosity, there would be none. We need to be comfortable to share that with outsiders when we are talking about our programs. We need each other – nonprofits need funds to run, and donors need causes to support and believe in. In the end, we will all win.

Please, read this important report and share it with everyone you know! It can have a great impact for people in need.


My Big Dream for 2013: The Nonprofit Version


I’m participating in the Nonprofit Blog Carnival this month. The prompt is what’s your big dream for 2013?

My big dream is much bigger than something that can be accomplished in the next year, but it’s something I hold very dear to my heart, and something I hope to advance in a big way in 2013, the last year before I get my Masters in Nonprofit Administration. I hope to advance the presence of the nonprofit sector in the public eye, and improve its reputation in all ways.

As much as I wish to believe everyone knows and loves the nonprofit sector as much as I do, that’s simply not the case. The public has a very small and often skewed perspective of what the nonprofit sector is. If it isn’t bleeding heart activists or starving children on television, it’s scandalous organizations that do things like Kony 2012 or stop funding Planned Parenthood. Unfortunately, like most things, people only hear about nonprofits when something out of the ordinary happens.

And for most nonprofits, ordinary is beautiful. Ordinary means uplifting people out of poverty, teaching children, caring for the sick, spreading awareness about being environmentally friendly, finding animals homes, and the list goes on and on. Spectacular things are happening every day. But people just don’t know about it.

And we know that people would care to know, because we know that the vast marjority of people give donations. Often, they are giving with blind faith, without knowing fully what the nonprofit is doing for the community. If they knew more, perhaps their involvement would grow.

It’s no one’s fault that the public isn’t fully aware of the sector. It just means that those of us who are its biggest champions have some work to do. We have to talk about our job more at parties, have open conversations with our friends about the organizations we know about, and continue to blog and speak about the sector. It’s a big job, but I know we can do it.

My big dream for 2013 and beyond is that the nonprofit sector is admired as a wonderful, professional, passionate subsect of our society that is contributing invaluable services to our community.



“Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” – Abraham Heschel

The other day, my grandmother told me something that made me feel really good: she told me I have dignity. It’s made me think about the ways I define dignity and how I carry it out in my life.

I looked up the definition of dignity, and it states:

  • self-respect: a proper sense of pride and self-respect
  • seriousness in behavior: seriousness, respectfulness, or formality in somebody’s behavior and bearing
  • worthiness: the condition of being worthy of respect, esteem, or honor
  • due respect: the respect or honor that a high rank or position should be shown
  • high office: a high rank, position, or honor

There’s a theme here… and it comes down to respect.

There are so many different forms of respect.

  • There is self-respect, which I’m happy is listed first in the definition, because I would prioritize it first as well. It’s about listening to yourself, not judging your feelings or emotions, and loving yourself for who you are. Which is truly the foundation upon all your future relationships.
  • There is respect for friends and family, making sure that instead of taking anyone in your life for granted, you appreciate and accept everyone for who they are and help them celebrate themselves… because that’s not something we do enough.
  • There is respect for others in the sense that leaders, and all of us, must respect everyone around them. This brings me back to a specific sentence when I developed my personal mission statement: “I incorporate leadership into my life by showing initiative, going for opportunities at full force, and always acting with respect for others.”
  • There is respect for the earth and where we have come from. We must take care of the world we are in, its plants and animals, as they cannot take care of themselves in the same ways we can.

Dignity plays a huge role in the nonprofit sector as well. We must always treat our clients with the utmost respect, to bring them up from challenging situations and instill in them the tools they need to thrive. In the office, we must treat our colleagues with respect. It can be difficult to always act with tact and grace when there are challenging personalities or differing opinions, but it’s critical for the success of your nonprofit.

My grandmother paid me a huge compliment by telling me that, and it’s something I will always remember. Dignity is not something to be taken lightly, and I appreciate that those I love believe I deserve it.


Why #GivingTuesday Is Important


Since you’re reading my blog, you probably already know what #GivingTuesday is. But in case you live under a rock (or are new here – welcome!), #GivingTuesday is a response to the consumerism of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday – a way to launch the upcoming giving season and celebrate the nonprofit organizations that make the world go ’round. You can learn more at the #GivingTuesday website here.

There have been a crop of critics to the #GivingTuesday movement, and they are actually coming from inside the philanthropic sector. This one, an opinion piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is what finally caused me to write this post. The author’s post argues that there is no concrete evidence that #GivingTuesday actually increases giving. In actuality, although it might spur people to give, it might mean that they won’t give their gift another time of year. He believes that because of this, #GivingTuesday won’t “work.”

The author is being too short-sighted in determining what success would look like for #GivingTuesday. You can even look to the mission of #GivingTuesday to explain this:

#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

While of course it would be good, I see nothing in that statement about increasing donations.

In fact, I would argue that the best part about #GivingTuesday is that the day’s conversation is about nonprofits, donations, and the change we wish to see in the world. While I whole heartedly believe in the nonprofit sector, I don’t believe that it has the respect it deserves amongst general society. The words philanthropy and donation simply aren’t uttered enough in the public eye. #GivingTuesday starts a global conversation about these important topics – it brings nonprofit organizations and philanthropy to the forefront – something that doesn’t happen often enough. The fact that we are talking about it at all is a win.

The author of that post said it himself:

I don’t think it will work. That’s not to say that I don’t think the idea will catch on. I think we’ll see a huge number of tweets and
Instagrams on Giving Tuesday. And I expect that the effort will grow each year. What I don’t think it will do is materially affect giving in any positive way.

I’d challenge him to think outside the box of what “affect giving” might mean.


Kindness in the Workplace

Here’s an interesting piece on kindness in the business world: Let’s end the paradox of kindness. And while this piece comes from a very different place than kindness with nonprofit employees, many of the points still ring true.

I really enjoy considering the concepts of kindness and niceness in the nonprofit sector. I personally pride myself on being both of those things – but thinking about them critically in the nonprofit workplace is very important. Unfortunately, we have a culture of being too nice. Because the main goal of the sector is to help others, which is something nice, there is a misconception that employees should bend over backwards for each other – so much, that professionalism is going to the wayside, people aren’t being honest in their feedback, and undeserving/inappropriate people are rising to the top (which is a huge issue, unfortunately: many of the CEOs I have worked with are a little nuts, and I think that’s why).

We need to redefine kindness. Instead of kind being false compliments and high pitched voices, kindness should be consideration, respect, and thoughtfulness – and it should be something we all strive for, not matter what sector we work in. I love the post’s point about the Goldilocks principle, getting kindness just right. Kindness is not all or nothing – it’s a very fluid concept that starts with a smile and often ends with mutual agreement and understanding. Kindness is about understanding that we’re all just people trying our best to succeed in the work world, and that’s enough.

Will you work with kindness today?


Modeling Unexpected Generosity

Not having a car has led me to greatly rely on others. Right after my car died, I assumed I would be taking public transportation and walking everywhere I went – but things have turned out very differently.

My friends and loved ones have been giving me rides and loaning me their cars. And no, not because I have asked. They have offered these things. And they’ve done even more than offer – they’ve insisted! Even when I’ve protested, said it’s way too generous of them and I couldn’t put them out like that, they have stood their ground and forced their generosity on me.

This experience has surprised me to say the least. While I have always thought the best of people, and believe people to be naturally giving and generous, this has far exceeded my expectations. I am incredibly grateful.

Which makes me think… if the tables were turned, would I be so generous? I’m not sure how I would have felt before. But I can tell you for sure that I will in the future. I’ll remember the place I was at and remember how I felt toward those who insisted that I accept their generosity. I’ll know that my friend isn’t expecting me to be generous, but because it will help her so much, I’ll do it.

The unexpected generosity I’ve been experiencing is going to go far. It’s going to go farther than just me. I will keep it going and it’s sure to spread like wildfire. Because once you have a taste of unexpected generosity, you can never get enough.


Does This Enhance My Life?

I’ve been asking myself that question regarding everything I choose to do lately. As I’m working full time and in school, and am blessed to have many friends and family around, I’m constantly being pulled in every direction when the only direction that really matters is my own. So, I’ve been working to frame every decision I make by answering a very important question: does this enhance my life?

The question can be interpreted many ways and in fact is very broad. Yes, there are obvious things, like work, that enhance my life because I get paid and can live the lifestyle I want. But there are more subtle ways my life is enhanced as well. Going to school enhances my life not only because it will help my career progress, but also because it’s sparked new curiosity in other parts of the nonprofit sector, it’s connected me to likeminded people, and it’s continuing to allow me to think critically about the sector and my role in it. Lunch with a friend enhances my life by allowing me to grow a friendship that supports me emotionally and mentally. Even something like accompanying a friend to an event – something that doesn’t appear to directly enhance my life – does, as I am supporting someone who will appreciate my friendship that much more.

I encourage you to think about the commitments you make in this context. Before blindly saying yes, ask yourself: does this enhance my life? Because while it may be a very worthy cause, if you overextend yourself, your contributions to the things that matter to you may be affected. And in the end, there’s only one thing that really matters: you.


31 Day Reset: Day 6 – A Balancing Act of Values

I’m participating in the 31 Days to Reset Your Life program at Happy Black Woman. The program is designed to help you evaluate your goals and priorities and think of them in the context of your life today and how you might be able to refocus on what’s important. Read on to learn about my experience with the challenge!

This was a difficult one!! Today we developed our personal mission statement. Rosetta quoted the following as the definition of a personal mission statement:

Your personal mission statement should be a concise representation of what’s most important to you, what you desire to focus on, what you want to achieve, and, ultimately, who you want to become. In its purest form, it’s an approach to your life, one that allows you to identify a focus of energy, creativity, and vision in living a life in support of your inner-most beliefs and values.

Um, yeah. That sounds really easy. No!!! This was difficult. But Rosetta told us to focus on our values and values in action to create this statement. Once I took each value and wrote out a sentence for it, things flowed a little better.

Well, it’s always changing, but here’s what I’ve come up with!

I always live with my values in balance, making sure everything that’s important to me gets the attention it deserves (and nothing gets too much). It’s important to me to always be a role model to others by acting with integrity, being compassionate and generous, and showing quiet conviction. I incorporate leadership into my life by showing initiative, going for opportunities at full force, and always acting with respect for others. I make a difference and will leave a legacy by paying it forward at every opportunity, creating big lasting change, and impacting others through my actions and attitude. It’s important to me to always be generous, always contributing to the nonprofit sector (with time and money) and being available to my friends and family. I make it a priority to spend time with those I love and who love me, deeply connecting with them and encouraging them to challenge me. I value learning from others and make it a priority to expose myself to new people and perspectives and put myself in new situations so I can form new connections.

I would love to hear your thoughts, especially those of you who know me and can tell me: do any of these things surprise you? Are there elements you think are obvious in the way I act? Unbelievable? I know how I feel, but would love to know what my friends and family think!