Understanding Where You Want to Be and Getting There


As a nonprofit staffer, no one’s going to give you a formula to achieve your professional goals. While most bosses have the best of intentions to help you formulate goals, they often get caught up in their own work. They are focused on the important work they have to do and are trying to figure out the quickest way to get it done. Nonprofit staffers, as you might know, don’t have the luxury of time.

That’s why it’s so important for you to take the bull by the horns and do what you need to advance your career. This means tapping into some self-awareness about what you want. Here are a few steps you can take to learn what you want and understand how you can get it.

  • Figure out where you are: Before you understand what you need you must understand where you are. Think about how you feel every morning when you get up for work or every Sunday night when the work week is creeping up on you. Think about the elements of your job that make you happy or you avoid like the plague. Take stock of where you are currently to form your goals for the future.
  • Think about where you want to be: After you’ve taken stock, think about the elements of your job that you love. What type of role will allow you to do that all day, every day? From there, think about what your ideal professional life looks like. Take some liberty to dream a little bit here. Are you part of the management team? Are you a nonprofit ED? A consultant? Don’t think about where you are now, think about where you’d be if nothing else mattered.
  • Consider how to get there: Now it’s time to connect the dots. What are some steps to take to get from where you are now closer to where you want to be? Don’t get overwhelmed by the number of steps it might take or how unattainable things may seem. Create some steps that you can do tomorrow or next week or in this month. Don’t worry about when you’ll get there, worry about getting closer.

How are you going to achieve your professional goals if you don’t have them on paper? After writing them down and taking stock of your current position, you can understand how the two might connect. Maybe there are educational trainings you’d like to attend. Maybe you want to improve on your public speaking or leadership skills and want to do periodic presentations at meetings. After you identify these things, present them to your boss. Chances are she’ll support you. Anyway, what do you have to lose? But you have so much to gain.


Using Social Media in Your Strategy


Between the creation of the idea of “slacktivism” and the general questioning of the importance of social media in creating movements or change, there are a lot of people claiming that a Like on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter don’t mean much. “Clicking a mouse is so easy. Does it do anything concrete?” they question. Last week I came across this great piece on the role that social media can play in creating social change called Can a “Like” Save a Life? on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog.

The author outlines the ways that social media contributes to the larger good, by pointing out the unique things that social media platforms can offer to further nonprofit organizations. My favorite of her points was the power of influencers. No matter what the cause is, if you get the right people talking about it on social media, it’s gold. It’s just the same as offline communications.

I encourage you to read the piece. The takeaway I came away with was that online efforts should be one component of your marketing strategy. It’s not the solution to everything but it’s still important for you to incorporate. Whether you like it or not, many of our activity is happening online, so nonprofits better be there, too.


I Won’t Support My Grandma’s Nonprofit


I’m thrilled to share my second guest blog post with Nancy Schwartz’s Getting Attention! Helping Nonprofits Succeed Through Effective Marketing. The post, entitled I Won’t Support My Grandma’s Nonprofit, is all about the importance of innovation in nonprofit organizations. It can be very tough to innovate in any realm, as it’s easy to slip into the “tried and true” cycle of repeating what’s done in the past. Nonprofits have even more obstacles to innovation, with their accountability to the public in different ways than the for profit sector (proving success is not as simple as a bottom line with nonprofits). However, nonprofits are the ones that should be innovating the most because they are solving the biggest problems and doing the most important work.

Whoever heard of a movement, revolution, or even new invention that was a product of the status quo? If you’re solving social problems that haven’t been figured out before, what makes you think you can get to the solution without doing something new?

Check out the blog post here and think about the ways your organization is (or isn’t) innovating.


The Secret to Marketing to Millennials – There Isn’t One


I’m excited to share that I was asked by Nancy Schwartz of Getting Attention!: Helping Nonprofits Succeed Through Successful Marketing to write a guest post for her blog. The post went up on Friday and you can read it here. Since she’s asked me to do a series of posts from the Millennial perspective, I wanted to set the stage that the Millennial generation cannot and should not be generalized. In the post, I list some of the reasons this is the case, and what to do about it.

Readers, I want to share with you that the only reason this happened is because Nancy, who is a well known and respected nonprofit marketing expert, came across my blog and enjoyed my voice. I am thrilled to be entering this partnership, as I know it will be phenomenal for my name recognition and my professional development. I again want to stress the organic nature of this arrangement and the fact that you can easily get there too – simply by starting a blog! I write about whatever I want, whenever I want, in my voice… and it’s been recognized! Very validating!

Happy reading!


Stressed Out? Here’s What To Do About It

As our world becomes more and more fast paced, the role of stress in our lives is increasing. We are expected to get better results, faster, and more easily. This expectation carries over into the nonprofit sector. Funders, donors, and clients are expecting quality services to be readily available, effective, and easy to use. Nonprofit employees would want nothing less, and have similar lofty expectations and goals for their own work and themselves. They are passionate about their work and the people they serve, so naturally they want to deliver their services in the most efficient way possible and help as many people as they can. They work hard to achieve success and they take a lot of pride in their work. Unfortunately, when expectations get out of control, there’s a very bad consequence: stress.

I recently took a course in Nonprofit Human Resource Management for my Masters in Nonprofit Administration program at University of San Francisco and did my final paper on the ways that Human Resources departments can address the problem of the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. I first administered an informal survey (to my delight, I received 158 responses!), and the paper reviews some of my very interesting findings from this.

At the end of the paper there’s an addendum that is a short takeaway for Human Resources departments to take.

I wanted to share this paper and addendum on this blog because I see you all, my readers, as my community, supporters, and champions of the sector. You have seen that this is a topic I care deeply about, not just for my personal sanity but also for the health and sustainability of the nonprofit sector. We need to address this problem!

Click here to see my paper, and please let me know if anything great comes of it!



Autonomy’s Potential Pitfalls

As an intelligent, skilled, professional woman (if I do say so myself!), autonomy is something I highly value in the workplace. I’ve spent my time researching best practices surrounding my job, and I feel the experience I do have allows me to be able to be a perfectly capable worker. I love autonomy – I love being able to do tasks I want to do with the freedom to explore the elements that interest me or that I feel are best for the organization. I love supervisors who allow me that flexibility in my job.

As great as autonomy can be, too much autonomy can actually have negative side effects. Watch out for these additional factors the next time you find yourself working with a great amount of freedom.

  • As tough as it is to admit, managers usually know more than you. Bosses are higher on the food chain for a reason. Maybe they have more experience, more skills, or better insight. Make sure you check in with your boss on a regular basis to ensure you aren’t dropping the ball on anything. It will be better for your project in the long run!
  • Beautiful things happen when you get a team working together. There’s nothing quite like exchange of ideas. No matter who you’re working with, that person has a different perspective on things than you do. Although you don’t simply want to be in meetings all day, it is exciting and valuable to get others’ opinions on your projects.
  • Where’s the praise? Working autonomously can mean working in a vacuum, which can make it hard for your boss to truly understand the effort and work you are putting in to something. Make sure when you’re in this situation you can show the work you’ve done, so that you are properly recognized and appreciated. Because we all need a little praise sometimes!

In the long run, when you feel confident in your abilities, autonomy is one of the best elements of a perfect job. Just be sure to remember these elements too when you finally get there.


Your Boss is Less Stressed Out Than You Are

I recently came across this article about a stress study done recently that produced an interesting finding: higher level employees are less stressed than lower level employees. This finding jives with what I found when I did a study on the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. My data was self reported, unlike the article’s data which measured biological symptoms of stress, but nevertheless, the outcomes were similar – entry level employees were some of the most stressed out ones.

This sounds counter-intuitive at first. One might assume that with more responsibility comes more expectation, more to do and more stress. The study actually came to the conclusion that with a higher amount of control – something that higher level employees enjoy – the level of stress decreases. This is a great argument for the power of empowering lower level employees and instilling in others a sense of responsibility and ownership in their projects.

I have another idea. I’m not saying I’ve proven this in any sort of research project, but it’s just my postulation. We know that stress is most often self-imposed. I’d like to argue that higher level employees have more life experience and more awareness about how to manage stress. They have tools in their toolbelt and can identify when things are getting sticky.

Not to mention the concept that Millennials – the group that is entering the workforce right now at entry level positions – is made up of overachievers, perfectionists, and ambitious workers. We put very high expectations on ourselves, and that is manifesting in stress. And that needs to stop now!

I encourage you to be proactive about managing your stress, no matter where you fall on the food chain. I thought this article was interesting because it’s causing us all to think differently about what stress is and the role it has in the workforce and in our lives. It’s turned our traditional definition of stress on its head. And since stress is such an abstract thing that should really be paid attention to and analyzed, that’s just where it should be.


Not Your Average Millennial Report

Sometimes I get sick of the word Millennial. Yes, I realize it is strewn across my blog bio and header, and I am very proud to be an advocate for my generation, but sometimes I feel like we are over saturated with “studies” and “data” about “engaging Millennials.” I mean, we are all different people, with different values, personalities, communication styles, and backgrounds. Just because we were born in the same decade doesn’t mean we’re the same people.

And then I came across this post by Beth Kanter recapping Scott Gerber’s keynote from the Millennial Impact Conference (#MCON2012) and I was pleasantly surprised. Although the points still have some generalization to them, I felt as though many of the points actually combat the stereotypes that often come out of these “reports.” Here were a few points I especially appreciated.

  • Millennials are 24-7 generation. The Internet has caused this. Babyboomers think Millennials are lazy. We don’t work hard, we work smarter. We can get you new business at 2 am on Saturday by being on Facebook. We are a generation that doesn’t know what it is like not to have the Internet or a Microwave. The traditional workplace norm of a 9-5 schedule doesn’t work for us. I especially liked the point that we don’t work hard, we work smarter. There’s something to say about quality over quantity. That’s why I’m all about efficiency and effectiveness in my own work. If I’m doing a project in the way that’s been done before, but it’s tedious, I get much more annoyed than working on something the best way I know how.
  • Speak to Millennials. In the corporate world, there is a hierarchy that makes decisions. It’s top down. The upper generation of a company handles the younger generation. Babyboomers need to figure out what Millennials are inspired by your organization or mission and take the ball and run with it. They can be your internal Ambassadors. If you can find a Millennial brand ambassador, they will find and inspires thousands. When a Millennial is convinced of the value of something, they are steadfast to support it. They will share your posts, find your news, and advocate for you. But they can’t get there if you don’t talk to them.
  • Millennials want to do something that matters. Upon graduation, their dreams were burst because they didn’t get the corner office but the mail room. Babyboomers need to mentor these young people and treat them like equals, not grunts. Ask the Millennials, ”What is your opinion?” Many times those ideas won’t fit, but some will and that could lead to dramatic success. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a Millennial groan that they have to do administrative work I’d be a very rich woman. I want to shout to my peers – you have to earn your keep! This is a big problem, but this point is absolutely correct, that you can help Millennials feel better about their jobs by involving them in the process in other ways.

Instead of studying Millennials as if we are foreign creatures, think about the time we grew up in, the generation of our parents who raised us, and our background in general. Nine times out of ten this will be enough to help you determine our habits. I promise you don’t have to send out an electronic survey through Twitter.


A Millennial Approach to People Skills in the Workplace

USA Today did a great piece on the types of people skills leaders need in order to be successful (read the piece here). The article has some good, easy to implement tips on some small improvements to make on your people skills. The tips include making the employee feel more at ease, devoting all attention to them, and being empathetic. Yes, yes, and yes – couldn’t agree more.

All the tips listed are things that should be done with millennials. But the difference is that there is an additional goal. Millennials need to feel empowered to take what you’re teaching them and run. They need to feel like their voice is heard and you respect their perspective. Once you’ve demonstrated this, you’re golden, and a millennial will follow you anywhere you want to go.

Of all the tips, be fully present was probably my personal favorite. When I’m having a conversation with someone, I turn to them, look them in the eye, and show through my body language that I’m paying attention. I don’t understand people who can have conversations through cubicles without looking at each other! Even if I’m right next to someone, I always need eye contact.

The article specifically calls out young people as being underdeveloped in their face-to-face communications. Unfortunately, with the prevalence of texting and online communication, we’re pushing ourselves to always be multi-tasking. I think our generation needs a hybrid approach to communications, but one that is founded on eye contact. That’s the best way to instill confidence and demonstrate respect, and that’s the way we’ll really take direction and run.


Leadership at all Levels

According to Wikipedia (the premier source for information these days), leadership has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.” I happen to love this definition. So often when we think of leadership we think of the president, the CEO, the one in charge. But it’s so important to remember that leadership has so many more dimensions than that.

Here are a few reasons I love the Wikipedia definition.

  • No mention of being in a position of power. Leadership can happen anywhere you are – whether you’re the receptionist or the director. The key is the way you use your relationships and influence. Even as an entry level staff member you can be a leader. If you respect yourself and those around you, everyone will gravitate toward you. And with grace and poise, if you value everyone’s input as you make your own decisions, and demonstrate that you have sound judgment, you are a leader. Leadership happens outside of the workplace as well – it happens in friendships and with family members. When you take the initiative to do the right thing, you are demonstrating your leadership.
  • The end goal is a common task. We often think of leadership on a grand scale – changing policy, mobilizing communities, and affecting change. But leadership doesn’t have to only look like that. It can also be shown in everyday life. It’s simply showing others that it’s easy to do the right thing – that will be enough to affect change. You see leadership when someone gives a stranger their seat on the bus. When someone holds the door open for someone else. It’s these small moments that make up the big picture.
  • No mention of money. Again, leadership does not only happen when you have the ear of many (whether that’s because you have money or otherwise). It happens when you are sensitive to others and serve as a role model of how to live. That can happen on Wall Street or at the corner store. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have – you can be a leader.

This concept really helps me as I move through my career. I have not been in management positions in the workforce but I feel I have vast leadership experience, which has come from working with others and listening to what they have to say. Because a good leader does that first – listen.