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Spreading My Leadership Wings

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Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.

One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.

I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.

Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?

Happy working, my nonprofit friends!

-N.C.

A Brand New Role in a Brand New City

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It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.

-N.C.

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.

The Giving Pledge: Don’t Hate

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The Giving Pledge, a movement with the goal of encouraging the wealthiest individuals to give away a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes, has been signed by more than 120 families in its nearly four years of existence. It has created some buzz about philanthropy amongst not only its target audience (the very wealthy) but also amongst general society. Whether praise or critique, people have talked about it.

A recent piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Giving Pledge Donors Gave Big in 2013 but Not Much for Today’s Needs, is an interesting critique of the pledge and its participants. It lists several issues with the Giving Pledge, including the allowance of giving to private family foundations (where money isn’t necessarily given to nonprofits for several years or even lifetimes) and the lack of opportunity to discuss where or why the money is given. There are some interesting points, but I disagree with the heart of the piece.

The simple fact is that the Giving Pledge means people are talking about giving. The buck stops there and that should be enough for us in the sector to celebrate it. As much as we fundraisers would like to believe the word philanthropy is widespread and well known, it simply isn’t true. And while it would be wonderful if the very wealthy were having discussions about giving strategically and collaborating with their peers, I’m just happy they are talking about giving at all. I understand the points in this piece, and I appreciate many of the critiques, but I believe that at the end of the day, the Giving Pledge is a positive thing for the sector.

Let’s continue talking about giving. Once it’s a standard in everyone’s language, let’s then discuss the ways we can improve. For now, there’s more work to be done at the heart of this conversation.

-N.C.

Singing Praises for the 2014 Gates Annual Letter

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Bill and Melinda Gates published their 2014 Gates Annual Letter last month and it’s a great read. They dive deep into three myths they believe block progress for the poor – poor countries are doomed to stay poor, foreign aid is a big waste, and saving lives leads to overpopulation. I’ll let you read the letter on your own – it has some thought-provoking, insightful content – but the letter’s content isn’t what I want to focus on.

I applaud the Gates’ for not only the important work they are doing with their foundation, but for the way they present it. They are passionate about certain issues and they bring them to the forefront of their communication. And, the world is listening to them. Our society has deemed them as worthy for us to listen to, because of their background, money, or otherwise. The Gates’ have a platform to use to advance whatever they would like to (or not at all), and they have chosen the work they do with their foundation as the work to shout about.

Not only do I like the fact the Gates’ do great work and talk about their great work, I appreciate the way they talk about the issues they are working to solve and the cross-sector work they represent. They don’t put types of people (or types of sectors) in a box or category, siloed and helpless. They talk about the issues and tell everyone there is work to be done. Whether you’re a nonprofit, for profit, or government, there is poverty in the world and it must be eradicated.

I encourage you to take a look at the 2014 Gates Annual Letter. Don’t worry about reading the entire thing for content (unless of course you’re curious about it), but pay attention to the tone of the letter and the way they are communicating. We need many more public figures to talk about issues that we can, and should, all be working on. Whether or not they wanted it, they have immense responsibility to address important issues.

-N.C.

Receiving my Masters in Nonprofit Administration

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My sister, me, and my mother after my graduation ceremony

On December 13, I participated in the graduation ceremony for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration at University of San Francisco. The 27-month program is designed for people working full time. I, along with my cohort of around 25 people, attended class after work, on Tuesday nights from 6:30-10:30. After 36 units and coursework in a variety of subjects, I completed my Masters.

Participating in the program certainly had its pros and cons. Other aspects of my life were put on hold while I focused on work and school. Living with constant reading, assignments, or papers hanging over my head was certainly exhausting. But all in all, I learned a great deal about a wide variety of subjects that I come across in my day to day work now and certainly will in the future. I had a smart, forward-thinking cohort, and I feel confident in the future of the sector because of them. I’m proud to have been one of them.

While my direct career path is unclear, one thing’s for certain – I will work in or around the nonprofit sector for a very long time. I believe so strongly in the work we do and the change we can and do make every day.

I want to say thank you to everyone who supported me while I was working on this Masters, including friends and family. But that also includes all of you reading this blog post right now, whether or not we’ve ever met. Please know that by reading, you are participating in the ongoing conversation about the nonprofit sector that we will continue. You have an important role to play in making sure the sector continues to get the respect it deserves. And for that, I say thank you!

-N.C.