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My Tips on Advancing Your Career as a Fundraiser

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

Fundraising is such an important element of nonprofit operations, and as long as there are nonprofits, there will be fundraising jobs to be filled. Fundraising as a career is a great choice, as there are a lot of directions you can go, so there is good job security!

That’s great news, but how do you keep advancing your career as a fundraiser? There are a few tips for helping keep your career moving.

Take full advantage of learning opportunities

Fundraising is a unique job because there is always something to do. There are always more people to reach out to, more donors to thank, and more collateral to make. Take full advantage of all of the activities you are doing, or could do, in your current role. Don’t stay stagnant – explore every facet of your position. If you have an idea, take initiative and go for it! Try new things and pay attention to things that you really love to do. That will give you a better idea of what to look for in your next role.

Explore your options

Once you feel ready to explore new challenges and opportunities, think about what aspect of fundraising you really love. There are so many, that fit with different skills and aptitudes, so think about what you’d like your days to look like.

  • Do you love relationship building? Think about Donor Relations, Major Gifts, or Strategic Partnerships.
  • Do you love events? Think about Special Events or Community Relations.
  • Are you very process oriented, or do you love data? Think about Development Operations or Donor Database roles.
  • Do you love to write? Think about Grants.
  • Do you love people management & have years of experience in fundraising? Think about becoming a Development Director.

Instead of just applying for any fundraising position you see, be thoughtful about what area of development you would like to go into next.

Network

What about if you’re not sure what area you want to go into, or you want more information? That’s where networking comes in. Find and identify people who have what looks to be your dream job, or close to it. Contact them to set up an informational interview or phone call. Keep the conversation brief, tell them what you are looking for, and ask about their experience. You can get a ton of insight from these conversations. And don’t forget to connect with them on LinkedIn!

And, we all know about those general networking events that are put on by various organizations. If you go to those, have a goal in mind. If you are trying to advance your career as a fundraiser, try to find others who also work as fundraisers and ask them about their career growth. See if what they share resonates with you.

Find mentors

I would not be where I am today without the professional mentors I have been lucky to have along the way. My mentors have been sounding boards that have encouraged me at the right moments and asked critical questions when I needed it. I can’t recommend mentorship highly enough.

But you can’t find a mentor out of thin air. The trick is, when you come across someone you click with (whether it is a boss or other professional colleague), to be vulnerable with them. Share with them your thoughts and fears about your career, and see how they react. If they are a good fit for mentorship, things will naturally fall into place (if you let them in). Don’t worry – we were all where you are once!

-N.C.

My Tips on Using Technology in Fundraising

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

Technology is a huge topic, and there are countless ways that nonprofits can use it. Today, we are just scratching the surface of some of the more basic components of how nonprofits use technology, but I encourage you to take a look at the resources at the end of this post for more.

Remember: just because a technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. Be thoughtful about what technology you choose – choose things that make your work more efficient or that enhance your donors’ experience.

As far as raising money goes, direct mail is still king for most nonprofits, but electronic communications are also important as they are an important component of relationship building.

Before we get into revenue generating activities, let’s talk about something super important: donor databases.

Donor Databases

Donor databases are important because they help you manage relationships. It’s a system where you can create a record of every donor to your organization and their donation history, and can contain a notes section where you can share and track other information. So, if you win the lottery tomorrow, your replacement will be up to speed on the relationships the nonprofit has with its donors.

It’s also a good checks & balances system to compare with your financial books – so it’s a good way to manage and steward donors’ money.

There is a huge variety of databases, so choose wisely! Do adequate research before you select the one you want. Think about what you might use the database for… the very basic functionality will be to record donors and their donations (including details like amount, date, method, and what appeal they respond to). But, there are other functionalities that you can also have. Do you want robust reporting, to track volunteer hours, manage your events, track campaigns and/or moves management? Think about all of your potential needs and find something that works with all of it.

Once you’ve found your ideal database, follow some best practices. Make sure you have standard data entry rules where consistency is the main focus. Do annual maintenance checks of things like duplicate checks and blank addresses – this will save you time in the long run.

Electronic Communications

Websites

Everyone has a website (I hope!), so we don’t need to talk about why to have one, but let’s talk about some things to make sure you have. Try to consider everyone who might be looking at your website: clients, donors, media, the general public. Do a delicate dance of addressing the needs of everyone. Make sure to have a Donate button in the top banner of every page on your website, that links directly to the transaction, not another website. Make it very easy to donate on your website.

E-newsletters

Much like donor databases, there are a wide variety of e-newsletter vendors available, so try out a few and see what you like. Many of them have built in analytics, so take a close look at those and use them to your advantage, doing A/B tests with subject lines and content to see what your audience responds to. This is especially helpful with fundraising emails, as you can see what resonates with your audience

Social media

Get on channels that your audience is on, not everything. Have a playful voice that rings true to your organization, but also feels authentic. Interact with people and make it feel like a conversation, acknowledge comments. But don’t stay on everything all the time, as that gets overwhelming. Try to check in daily.

As I mentioned up top, there are tons of ways you can use technology, and I encourage you to use the web as a resource. Check out the Nonprofit Technology Network (www.nten.org) and their spectacular conference, or participate in online webinars through places like Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org). Many tools will also have online communities and blogs that you can interact with.

And of course, if you want more in depth help looking at your technology (especially your use of your donor database – one of my specialties!), you can always hit me up.

-N.C.

My Tips on Staying Sane as a Nonprofit Fundraiser

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

We’re all working our hearts out to help improve the world, through the organizations we work with and for. But we can only give to others as much as we have given to ourselves, so it’s important to talk about how to stay sane and thrive as a nonprofit fundraiser.

Not taking it all on

Fundraisers have a tough job. They have organizations relying on them, and therefore people who receive services relying on them. After all, this work can’t be done without the funds to support it.

As someone who works in fundraising, it can be easy to take on the pressure, especially if budgets are not being balanced and money is not coming in. But this is too much to take on as one individual person. Fundraising is too volatile of a practice to have any one person to blame. You could work for hours on a mail piece that raises a small amount of money or you could get an unsolicited donation that blows everything out of the water. The point is, it is not solely on your shoulders if the money does not come in. You cannot take on the pressure that if your work does not produce the money you were expecting, you failed. There are too many other factors to consider. So let that go, and hopefully, that helps you feel better and stop worrying.

Communicating

A lot of stress comes from not fully understanding expectations, from your boss or your board. When there are misunderstandings, it can be a huge point of stress. Communicate as much as you can with your boss or your board about what you think your priorities are, what you are working on, and what you aren’t working on. That way, they can let you know in advance if they have a different idea. And you’ll feel better that you guys are on the same page.

Staying Organized

Lists…. Ahhhh. OK, I know not everyone is like me and feels better about their projects after making a list. But I know many of us are! Figure out what planning mechanism works best for you and stick to it. Do you like spreadsheets? Post-it notes? Whatever it is, stay organized as much as possible. Having something to refer to every day about your tasks can help you stay sane.

Taking breaks

Did you eat lunch at your desk today? How about yesterday? As much as possible, take breaks. If you’re able to eat your lunch away from your desk, do it! Getting out of your work environment can relax your mind and get you in a better headspace. Sometimes, it can even help you solve a problem. There have been many times where I have not been able to figure something out, I’ve walked away from my desk, and came up with the idea as soon as I sat back down.

Lunch breaks are nice, but there is something else equally as important: vacations. Make sure to schedule and go on vacation. Do as much prep work in advance, over-communicate to others when you will be on vacation, and set an out of office email for when you will be away. Then, don’t check email!!! Even glancing through will just get you back in the mindset of work mode. When you’re on vacation, don’t dwell on what may or may not be happening at the office. It will all get sorted out. And if it makes you anxious, tell one person you trust that they can text you with anything urgent.

No email outside of work

Speaking of email outside of work… try not to check it so much. If you heavily rely on that tactic now, try to wean yourself off. Go in phases… try not checking email from Friday night to Sunday morning, then all weekend, then no weekday evenings… once you get into the habit of not responding to emails on off hours, your coworkers will adapt to you.

In conclusion

At the end of the day, although we’re doing important work, many of our tasks have arbitrary, internal deadlines. If you’re coming up on something stressful, see if you can shift any of the timeline. Breathe, and remember you are doing great work!

-N.C.

My Tips on Mobilizing the Board for Fundraising

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

“I want to join your board of directors, but I don’t want to ask for money.” How many times have you heard that!? This month’s post – and podcast – helps you figure out what to do to combat that statement.

Boards come in all shapes and sizes. Some help out more with daily work because there are fewer staff, some are more strategic thinkers. Sizes range from 5-25, or even more.

No matter what, the board of directors of a nonprofit is responsible for making sure the organization is being fiscally responsible. This means making sure the nonprofit is spending money the right way, but it also means raising enough money to keep going.

But what do you do if your board doesn’t want to “ask for money?” We’ll talk through some ways that you can mobilize your board for fundraising without them outright asking for money.

How they can play a role in each part of the donor cycle

Fundraising isn’t just about asking for money. Donors go through a cycle, and board members can have a part of interacting with them at any part during that cycle.

  • Identify: Do your board members have friends, family, colleagues who might be interested in supporting the cause? Or, even people who are committed to supporting them as an individual. Or: if board members don’t want to tap into their personal networks, they can help with attending events for organizations like yours, and meeting others who care about what you care about.
  • Research: This is information gathering. Some of this is doing research online, but some of it is also just finding out more information about a donor or prospect – that could mean taking them for coffee or even just asking questions at an event.
  • Cultivate: This looks different depending on what your organization does, but this is the time when board members can often shine. It’s educating donors about the organization and the impact it is making. It’s sharing personal stories about their connection and experience, and connecting the donor or prospect with the organization. This is the friendraising portion of the donor cycle.
  • Solicit: There may be some board members who are comfortable with coming with a staff member on a major donor visit and ask, which is great. If they aren’t, they can write personal notes to go alongside appeal letters through the mail, to have a hand in the solicitation part of the cycle.
  • Steward: Stewardship is a lot of gratitude – saying thank you and showing them the ways their donation has made a difference. Board members can make thank you calls or write notes, and just keep donors informed about the organization’s work.

Systems & reports to help support your board

All of this work is for naught if it’s not being communicated back to the organization’s staff and put into the database. Build systems that are a fit for your board – some are more tech savvy and might want to fill out Google forms about donor communications, and some might want to fill out paper forms. It’s important to listen to what they want and build those – otherwise, they will never get filled out.

There are a variety of forms that can be created. One of the most important forms is a donor contact form, which is completed any time a board member interacts with a donor, and describes the communication on both sides. This is put into the database as a contact note.

Once the information from these forms is put into the database, a report should be created from the database that includes all of the information and is generated on a regular basis for board members.

A few last comments

Remember that your board is meant to help you. If you set up some systems and structures to support them, and show them the variety of ways they can get involved, they can be a force of nature for your organization.

Don’t forget, it’s always good to offer fundraising training to your board. Even if they are familiar with fundraising, there are always new insights to offer, and it can also be a good chance for people to share their wins in fundraising.

The important thing is to provide board members with information and resources they need to do their job – to an extent. Strike a balance between responding to these requests and taking care of other work. Focus on mobilizing the board to the extent that it will help you with your work because at the end of the day, the organization is what you’re all working for.

-N.C.

My Tips of Giving Donor Appreciation by Saying Thank You

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode about this topic, click here.

Happy New Year! Now that you’ve received a mountain of donations for your cause (hopefully!), it’s time to get down to business and say something important to your donors: thank you.

Before getting down and dirty with your donor recognition, let’s take a moment to remember why it’s important. In the everyday madness of running your organization, it can be easy to take your donors for granted. But saying thank you – and stewarding donors – will pay off in the long run.

Donor retention (getting a donor to give more than one year in a row) is vastly more cost effective than donor acquisition (recruiting a brand new donor from the general community). And the best way to retain a donor is to say thank you and illustrate the impact their donation made.

Now let’s get down to it. Before we talk about how you can say thank you immediately, remember that involving your board and other volunteers is critical. As a donor, receiving a call or note from someone who’s not getting paid by the organization is very powerful. Plus, you can’t do everything yourself!

Here’s a few ways you can say thank you to your donors immediately.

Phone Calls:

  • Consider doing a thank-a-thon. Depending on your group, you can do a lunchtime event with pizza or an early evening event with wine and cheese, and invite board members, volunteers, and program staff to make calls.
  • Prepare a script that your volunteers can go off of. Keep it short and sweet – name, affiliation with the organization, thank you for the donation, and perhaps a short comment about why it made a difference. Personalizing it is even better. Don’t forget to smile, too!
  • In the donor lists for your volunteers to call, and include: name, phone, donation amount or range, and year they’ve been donating since.
  • Save major donors to get calls from the board chair, executive director or other management staff.

Mail:

  • Send acknowledgment letters immediately (or as soon as possible, within a week), for tax purposes & immediate communication from the organization.
  • Prepare some inexpensive notecards – you can ask volunteers to handwrite some and return to you to send out.

Don’t forget to record all of this activity in your donor database!

Here’s a few ways you can create a culture of gratitude throughout the year.

  • Pay attention to your customer service. Make sure everyone in your organization is saying thank you to anyone who is a donor. If you’re sending an email, say thank you in the beginning and at the end of the message.
  • Try to recognize small moments like birthdays or donor anniversaries – donors are often only receiving solicitations from nonprofits, so it’s nice for them to receive other types of communications, even if they are informal.
  • Consider doing a mid-year stewardship mailing. Mid-year is a great time, keeping them updated on what’s going on and priming them for an end of year ask. Make the mailing directly related to your mission, and have fun with it!

These tips may seem obvious, but you might be surprised how many nonprofits don’t take the chance to say thank you beyond the standard acknowledgment letter. A little gratitude goes a long way, so make it a goal to implement even just one of these tips this year. You’ll see your donor retention rates improve!

And thank you!

-N.C.

Fundraising Tips for the Last Two Months of the Year

We’re in the home stretch, friends! We’re in the final two months of the year and we’re ramping up for the busiest part of the giving season. If you’ve found yourself here thinking – well what do I do to raise money? – you’ve come to the right place.

A few months ago, I was honored to be a guest on the podcast Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster (you can check out the recording here). Nathan and I had such a good time that he invited me back to talk about five tips of things to do before the year wraps up. Here’s the link for the new one: 5 Fundraising Tips for Q4. Because I have your back, I’ve written up some notes from what we talked about.

Let’s get into it!

  1. Think of a story that illustrates your impact.
    1. We’re all emotional creatures, and we love a good story. It’s a great way to draw people in and show your impact without telling them what you do with tons of jargon and fluff. In this story, try to get as specific as possible, describing the people involved and using descriptive language about the setting and the feelings. Show, don’t tell!
    2. You can use this story everywhere, whether in mail, email, social media, or even in person. You might feel like you’re telling the story over and over, but you won’t oversaturate your donors – your donors only hear a fraction of your messages, and will pay attention to even a smaller portion than that.
  2. Tell your story & communicate it out.
    1. If you have the capacity, send out a mail appeal. You can stick with a simple letter and donation envelope. Mail it out to donors from the past three years, and if you have the time, you can segment the list more and send more targeted communications.
    2. Definitely make time, however, to focus on electronic communications, email and social media. A few email tips: keep your email as simple as possible, from the subject to the text inside. Make it very obvious what you’re asking for in the email. Make sure the donation request is above the fold; while many people are accessing their email on their phone, it’s still important. Speaking of the phone, make sure your website is both ready to go and mobile friendly.
  3. Use Giving Tuesday.
    1. Giving Tuesday is an annual day of giving, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a fun day celebrating nonprofits and what they give to the community. Since we’re just a few weeks away, don’t spend too much time and energy on it – but at the very least, send out an e-blast with a donation button and post on social media (remember to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday!). If possible, find a donor or company who will match donations on that day.
    2. This is also a great day for a meme! Take an image from your organization (a cute animal, a beautiful outdoor setting, a cute kid) – and use language about impact, donating, feeling good, etc. Ask a young person if you need it! This is a fun way an intern or volunteer could help.
    3. Finally, check out their website at givingtuesday.org – it has tons of great resources.
  4. Use your board & other passionate volunteers.
    1. Ask your board to talk to their circles about the work your organization is doing. Make sure to send them details about your impact story so that they can tell the story themselves. Draft an email requesting donations that your board and other volunteers can send to their contacts.
    2. If there are a few extra passionate board members, have them follow up with donors who did not give their gift by the last two weeks of the year. If there are board members who are uncomfortable with asking, have them make some calls to say thank you.
  5. Say thank you!
    1. Make sure your acknowledgment letter template is ready and fits in with the message you set with your story. Try to get your thank you letters out as soon as possible. I’m not as much of a stickler to get them out 48 hours after receiving the donation, but sending them out within a week is ideal. Make sure your electronic acknowledgment message also reinforces your story.
    2. Try to have an attitude of gratitude while working with your donors. The end of the year can be a stressful time of year, and customer service is key in making sure donors have a positive experience with your organization.
    3. And extend that attitude of gratitude to yourself and the other staff or volunteers who are working tirelessly during this season. Saying a genuine thank you on a regular basis can mean a lot and make the work more enjoyable.

Speaking of saying thank you, thank you for the great work you’re doing. I hope you can take some of these tips and implement them to get your story out and raise plenty of money. Your cause is worth it, so it’s up to you to tell your donors and prospective donors all about how they can be part of it.

-N.C.

A Reminder to Never Stop Learning

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You know I always like to stay up to date with the latest and greatest goings on in the nonprofit sector… and that includes listening to podcasts related to the sector. One of these days I’ll post a roundup of all of my favorites (including the one I was recently a guest on!), but recently something special happened for one of them.

Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio just celebrated its 350th episode! Tony has put out an hour-long podcast every Friday for the past seven years. Amazing! If you’ve never listened before, I encourage you to tune in (Fridays at 10:00am PST) or subscribe and get the episodes straight to your phone. He always has really interesting guests, along with the regulars that he consults with, and talks through important issues for the sector.

I couldn’t let this momentous occasion go by without a congratulatory tweet, so I did one, making sure to include the episode’s special hashtag, #NonprofitRadio350. That tweet entered me to win one of their excellent prizes, and guess what?

I won the grand prize!

To my delight, because of the generosity of one of the podcast’s sponsors Pursuant, I won entrance into Gail Perry’s fundraising webinar series Create an Epic Year-End Fundraising Campaign, including seven sessions with some of the world’s top fundraising experts. While I have (a few!) years of fundraising under my belt, I will never stop learning more about fundraising best practices and how I might be able to jazz up my portfolio, so I’m just thrilled for this opportunity.

I want to say thank you to Pursuant and congratulations to Tony on such an amazing milestone! And encourage you all to subscribe to his podcast – it’s one of my favorites!

I’ll just be over here learning… 🙂

-N.C.

I’m On a Podcast!

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I’m very excited to share that I was recently interviewed as a guest on a podcast about social entrepreneurship! Check out the recording here. I had a great time chatting with Nathan about fundraising, the nonprofit sector, and other career hacks on his show, Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster.

Being on the podcast was a wonderful experience because it allowed me to reflect on some of the key moments of my life that have led me to where I am today. I got to share about how my mom shaped my approach to helping others. I talked about my experience interning at San Diego Grantmakers when I was in college, which opened my eyes to the path of fundraising for nonprofits. And I got to share the importance of one on one networking for long term success – that’s been such a huge part of my journey!

In addition to chatting about my path, it was fun to share tips I’ve learned along the way (resources I tap into and how I achieve my goals), my tendency according to Gretchen Rubin (I’m an obliger!), and even my love of The Real Housewives.

Take a listen and please share with anyone you think might benefit from what we chat about!

-N.C.

Celebrating Six Years of Blogging & the Next Chapter for Nonprofit Chapin

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I’ve been waiting to write this blog post for months. I’ve been waiting to make these career decisions for even longer. And today, on the sixth anniversary of this blog, I am ready to share what I’ve been thinking about for so long – my plans for the future.

Over my eleven years of working in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits I have learned so much. I’ve learned about the joys and the challenges of working in nonprofits, that there is always work to be done, and that at the end of the day, the work changes lives.

I’ve also learned to key in on the elements of work that I enjoy and that I’m really good at.

  • I have eleven years of experience of working in various roles in development teams, and have a real knack for thinking about efficient operations. I know how to effectively manage direct mail appeals, put together major gifts programs, write and report on grants, put on a gala, or maintain a donor database.
  • I love thinking about how teams work and supervising staff. Empowering nonprofit staff to do their best work – while taking care of themselves and their needs – is a real passion of mine.
  • I love working in periods of change and transition – I like thinking on my feet and introducing new solutions to problems. And I have a knack for being a calming force during a time of chaos.
  • I’d like to work with a greater variety of nonprofits. Ever since I got my Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I’ve been craving the ability to use the breadth of knowledge I received with a wide range of organizations.
  • I want more flexibility with my time. I’ve realized that when I work constantly, I get in a zone and more quickly burn out, not doing my best work. I want a better balance so that I can do better work.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about all of this, and had a bunch of informational interviews with people who have worked in development for a long time, and have landed on my next career move:

I’m looking to move into interim development director work.

I’ll help manage your development team, ensure your daily operations are taken care of and that money is raised, and even evaluate your current development program and make some recommendations. I’ll help during your search, help make a smooth transition to your permanent development director and then leave you to succeed.

With the constant state of turnover that many nonprofits find themselves in with this key position, I hope to fill a real need. Just because you’re between development directors doesn’t mean you have to put additional pressure on your current team or redirect someone else’s time. I can come in and help make sure everything runs smoothly.

My last full time day with my current employer is April 7. After some time off, I’ll be looking for jobs like this. If you hear of anyone who might need something like this, please think of me! I’ll be relying on my community of support – and that certainly includes you – to get me plugged in where I need to me. Many thanks in advance!!

-N.C.

Make 2017 the Year of Self Care

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We’re one month into the new year – have your resolutions gone to the wayside? Are you back in the rut of crazy, stressful days working away, with no time to think or take a breath?

I thought that might be the case!

And so, I wanted to remind you all of this brilliant piece in the Chronicle of Philanthropy: 10 Ways to Work Smarter in 2017 by Rebecca Koenig. Note the apropos use of the word smarter as opposed to harder. This piece has strategy and self-care all over it: two of my favorite words.

You should take the time to read about all ten ways, but here are some of my favorites and why:

  • Reserve time to work without meetings. I use time blocking in my calendar and it is the only way I stay organized and productive! I put most of the projects I’m working on as “Free” time in Outlook, but if there’s something you need to work on with no interruptions, you can always say you’re busy. A meeting with yourself is just as important (if not more) than a meeting with others.
  • Stop overusing social media at work. Can I shout this one from the rooftops? I’m definitely one to pop on all my social media channels during my lunch break, but if it’s not break time, it’s not Snapchat time. It’s easy to spend hours on Facebook, so don’t tempt yourself and don’t do it!
  • Build strong relationships outside of your office. Spending time with other people who work in the nonprofit world but not at your organization can be incredibly rejuvenating. It can make you feel like you’re not alone in your struggles, or make you realize how wrong something is. Either way, it’s a success. And it is very validating!
  • Accept imperfection. Made a mistake? Don’t beat yourself up about it. The more you stress over it, the more it creeps into the quality of your work. Mistakes are what make the successes even that much sweeter.

Brava, Rebecca Koenig. And here’s to a 2017 full of self-love!

-N.C.