Everyone Must Step Up: A (Short) Manifesto on Nonprofit Leadership

Feb 5, 2013 by

Two articles and a recent staff retreat have got me thinking about the changing nature of leadership and mentorship in nonprofits.

Jack Marshall’s article over at Digiday titled “What Millennials Want: Mentorship” was actually written from the perspective of the for-profit sector, but it was incredibly relevant to us nonprofiteers as well. Jack discusses agencies that “talk a big game about appealing to young staffers, [but tend] to fall down on the most basic of requirements: training them and helping them along in their careers.” He offers two core reasons for this 1) that traditional sit-down-in-a-room-and-get-trained models of staff development are either not useful or barely even used anymore (because of companies cutting corners, etc.) and 2) that most managers are stretched so thin that they don’t have time to spend with junior employees providing guidance and feedback.step up

While business may have only started seeing this trend in the last few years, nonprofits have been seeing it for decades. In the interest of saving donors’ money, serving more people and getting a high ‘efficiency’ score on all those nonprofit rating lists (most of which are bullshit IMHO – but we’ll save that for another post), nonprofits have consistently cut – or in some cases never even offered – training to their staff. And as a ‘middle manager’ myself, I can testify to being stretched too thin to spend as much time as I want with those I supervise.

At my organization’s recent mid-year staff retreat, we had some extensive discussions about professional development, staff evaluations and knowledge-sharing. And if I may be frank, we were able to come to very few clear conclusions. Why? Not because we didn’t try or because people aren’t interested, but because each individual within the organization has different needs and desires in terms of his or her professional development. I’d go a step further and suggest that the many of the younger staff members have an all together different view from the senior management of what professional and leadership development should look like.

Enter Trish Tchume, the National Director of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Her fantastic article on HuffPo titled “A Field Guide for Recognizing Millennial Leadership” was exactly what I was looking for in terms of a way to focus on solutions to the challenges presented above. In her post, Trish identifies transformational millennial leaders that are breaking down traditional notions of what a nonprofit leader looks like (both physically and reputationally). And they are doing it by doing what millennials do best: networking with others, crowd-sourcing solutions, ignoring ‘turf’ or toes that can be stepped on and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone, no matter whether or not they are ‘known’ in the sector.

We all must take part in being the change we want to see. Here what we can do make it happen:

  • Nonprofit organizations and senior leaders:
    • First, acknowledge the truth: the more you ignore and fail to develop your staff, the more they will put on their walking shoes and leave your organization behind. Not only does this significantly erode your nonprofit’s ability to execute its mission, but the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkley suggests that staff turnover often costs 150 percent of that person’s salary (translation: if that person makes $60K, you’re paying $90K to replace him or her). If the nonprofit efficiency ratings took those costs into account, they might actually be more helpful.
    • Second: institute training programs, even if its mostly staff training each other or attending very cheap local events. Even a couple each quarter can make a difference in terms of your staff’s productivity, knowledge and happiness.
    • Third: make staff development and mentorship part of your organizational culture – make sure both your managers and employees know that taking time for mentoring conversations is acceptable and even encouraged; mentor staff yourself; share your network with your employees and be open to suggestions for improvement from EVERYONE in the organization from interns to senior staff.
  • Managers
    • Push back when your time is assigned 100% to projects/programs and none to all to the other important work, including staff development. No one can realistically spend 100% of their day just on programmatic work (even eating lunch takes away from it), so make sure you don’t just accept when organizational leadership tries to do that.
    • Even when things are incredibly busy, do whatever you need to in order to prioritize staff development. Take time out for lunch with junior staff. Save time in meetings for non-programmatic topics. Go get coffee or a drink after work with your staff. Sit next to them on the airplane during travel and take some time to talk about their goals instead of just burying your head in your laptop. The list goes on.
  • Junior staff/millennials
    • Push for those training opportunities and then take them when they come. They may not be exactly what you need or want, but every one is an opportunity for growth or at least networking with your peers.
    • Ask for feedback constantly – Not just on the report you drafted or the email template you just built, but on your performance as a whole. Be proactive in telling your managers about your longer-term goals and aspirations. Ask lots of questions and ask for connections to others who can help. (After a while, you’ll train your managers to offer this without even soliciting it, so start now!)
    • Remember that things are changing and while you may be on the leading edge, everyone else is not. While you’re working on getting mentorship, training and feedback at the workplace, don’t forget about your personal/alumni/social networks. Volunteer or serve on a board with your peers (YNPN local chapters are a great option) and offer them constructive suggestions and feedback about their work – and ask for the same on yours.

Of course, these ideas just scratch the surface on what can and should be done to move the state of nonprofit leadership forward. What else do you want to see to bring the sector and its employees truly into the 21st century of leadership?

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Tips for a great cover letter

Jul 2, 2012 by

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post with tips for making your resume better, so I thought I’d add the obvious companion piece and talk about cover letters.

Let’s be clear: as someone who hires staff, I understand the utility of a cover letter. But as someone who has spent a large part of her adult life hunting for a job, I kind of hate them. If you do them right, they take up a tremendous amount of time and can leave you feeling emotionally drained. That’s why it takes me so damn long to write them. On the other hand, if you do them really well, you’ll definitely get an interview. Plus, you can’t NOT do them, so might as well write the best cover letters you can. 

Here’s how:

  • Keep it shortI talked about this in the resume post as well, but it bears repeating. In this instance, no matter how much experience you have, your cover letter should NEVER go over 1 page. Hiring managers don’t have the time to read more than a page and may throw your application out if you ask them to (I’ve done it before). Keeping it short saves you time and effort as well.
  • Use examples – When you read a job description, it should be pretty obvious what the employer wants you to do. Your job is to provide an example or three of how you’ve done one or more of those tasks, ideally in a way to describes how you overcame a challenge to accomplishing that task or how you did it on time and under budget. Employers are inherently selfish so explaining how you’ve jumped hurdles and still kicked butt makes them salivate.
  • Explain why you care about the organization and the job – If you’ve been applying to jobs for a while, this can seem difficult. How can you possibly explain yet again why you care about the mission of an organization? If that’s the case then do what I do: clear your mind and think about why you want to work there. (And no, needing a job to pay your bills is not a reason – at least not for someone hiring.) Have you been reading about the organization’s work lately? Do you have friends who have worked there? Is it your dream job? If so, put that into your cover letter in a clear but not overly-effusive way.

Do you have other tips and tricks? If so, I’d love to read them in the comments!


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Tips for making your resume better

Jun 4, 2012 by

A couple of years ago, I started a side hustle focused on career coaching – resumes, cover letters, and guidance for young professionals seeking to move up in their careers. It’s been a great experience as I’ve gotten to meet new people, learn about fields I knew nothing about and do what I love most, which is helping people. 

In that time, I’ve seen a number of resumes come across my desk, many with the same types of problems. Here are a few tips to help you avoid those problems (and if you want a personalized resume and/or cover letter review, contact me):

  • Make your resume as specific as possible – Include quantitative measures of your work if possible (i.e., amount of money raised, number of partners worked with, etc.). If you can’t get quantitative, at least get precise. I’ve read too many resumes where I’ve come away with no real idea of what the person actually DOES. Do you write grant reports? Do you make phone calls? Do you attend meetings? This may seem mundane, but employers want to know that you can actually do basic job-related tasks.
  • Create a long form resume that you use as a template – Unless you have 20+ years of directly relevant experience, your resume should NEVER go over one page. Period, end of story. The resume you submit to employers is not meant to encapsulate your entire career – just those parts most relevant to the job you’re applying for. So, keep a long form resume where you have everything from every job you’ve ever had and then drag and drop as needed based on the job description.
  • Use key words – Every job description has certain key words that appear over and over again. If you’re having trouble finding those key words, paste the text into Wordle and it will identify the words that show up the most. Then, use those words. Everywhere. Replace words you use with the words the description uses (assuming they mean almost the same thing); this provides a helpful visual cue to the person reviewing your resume and may propel you further along the path to getting that job.

Any other resume tips that have worked for you? Share them in the comments!

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Moving on up!

Mar 19, 2012 by

I’m really excited to share that I was recently approached about becoming a guest blogger at Opportunity Knocks, a national online job site, HR resource and career development destination focused exclusively on the nonprofit community. I’ve shared, used and borrowed from their resources for years so I was very happy to say yes! I’ll be posting there periodically and wanted to share my very first submission which went live on their website (and then was sent out in an email newsletter – even better!) a few days ago. To learn more about Opportunity Knocks, sign up for their newsletters, browse jobs and of course keep up with their excellent bloggers, head on over to their website.

Free Labor? Not Quite.

There are a lot of things that nonprofits have in common: tax status, mission-driven work, dedicated employees, and – the topic of this post – interns. The same goes for individual nonprofit professionals – at one time or another almost all of us have supervised interns.

Here’s what often happens: You ask for help and your boss tells you to hire an intern…but provides no further guidance or instruction because it’s easy. Right? Um, no. In fact I think that supervising most interns is actually harder than full time staff because they have very little experience and frankly they aren’t “beholden” to the organization by things like pay and benefits. So how do you make sure that the free (or even very cheap) labor provided by your intern doesn’t end up costing both of you a lot in wasted time, energy and frustration?

Here’s what you can do:

1) Calm down – Do not talk to your intern when you’re angry. In fact if you have any problems with your coworkers or significant others, don’t ever talk to them when you’re angry. You won’t be able to control your emotions or the conversation.

2) Write it down – What is the problem as you see it? How long has it been going on? What specific examples do you have of unprofessional behavior or work not getting done? Tip: if you don’t have specific examples, you may want to reexamine whatever you think is a problem to make sure it actually is one.

3) Schedule a private meeting – This is not the time for a hallway or bathroom conversation. It needs to be scheduled and it needs to be private; you don’t want your intern to feel ganged up on nor do you need to involve anyone above you during the first conversation.

4) Explain your concerns using “I” language – Telling someone about all the things he or she is doing wrong (even if you are correct) is a sure fire way to make him or her feel attacked and then defensive. Instead, frame your concerns just like that: as YOUR concerns. It is entirely possible that your intern is not aware of how his or her actions are affecting you so let that person know.

5) ListenSimple yes, but not always easy. Understand that something may be going on that you don’t know about – and the only way you will learn about it is by listening to what your intern is saying. Do not just smile and nod: actively listen, take notes if you need to and then repeat back what you hear to make sure you got it right.

6) Set up a plan to resolve the issue – Once you’ve said your piece and your intern has said his or hers, the next step is to figure out how to work on fixing whatever is broken. What do you need? What does your intern need? The next steps must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound; basically at the end of the following month (or whatever time parameter you choose) you should know whether each step has been achieved. This may be the most important part: your intern generally doesn’t have years of experience to fall back on so he or she needs very clear guidance from you in order to excel.

7) Follow up – After some time has passed, have another private meeting to talk about how things are proceeding. If things have gotten better, you can choose to continue following the plan you laid out or take a step back. If things have not gotten better, then it’s time to consider whether more serious steps are warranted.

I hope these steps will help you – and your interns – get even more great work done!

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How to get the money you deserve

Jun 15, 2011 by

You may remember a couple months ago I posted about a two-workshop series Alyssa Best and I were giving for women on negotiating salary (at the beginning of a new job and during the review process of an existing job). The workshops were a success and we’re planning offer them again in the future. The next time we may open them up for men as well which I think would be beneficial. For this particular workshops series though, we both felt it important to focus exclusively on women.

Why? Well consider these devastating facts from the book Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever (you can purchase it if you’re so inclined):

  • In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
  • Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women.
  • Women are more pessimistic about how much is available when they do negotiate and so they typically ask for and get less when they do negotiate—on average, 30 percent less than men.
  • 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary. [emphasis mine]

Like I said: devastating.

Women seem afraid to negotiate, they don’t tend ask for what they need and deserve when they actually do negotiate and then they end up with less money than men over the course of a life time. Consider this (also from the book):

  • By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
  • Another study calculated that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t. [emphasis mine]

Are you kidding??? $1 million more just for negotiating your salary! It seems easy right? So why aren’t women doing it?

When we asked the women in our workshops about barriers to negotiation, they cited several: many said they perceived negotiations as conflicts and wanted to avoid them; some said they actually thought they didn’t deserve more money than they were offered; others didn’t know how much they were worth and still others were so grateful to get a job offer (or have an existing job) that they didn’t want to present any resistance for fear that job might be taken away.

It’s easy enough for someone who has never experienced these barriers to dismiss them, but that doesn’t make them any less real for those who do. We offered all kinds of tips and solutions (if you didn’t come to the last workshops series, you should definitely consider coming to the next one. Keep an eye on my blog feed or Twitter stream for that announcement) and I wanted to share some specific tips to help you break down the barriers.

  • Negotiations as conflicts – Just to state the obvious: negotiations aren’t conflicts; the more you think of them as such, the more you will manifest confrontational behaviors yourself. Think of negotiations as conversations – two parties discussing each others’ needs and desires. Remember that the person you are negotiating with (i.e., the person who offered you the job or your supervisor at work) may be just as uncomfortable. If you can make the conversation pleasant and associate it with something less stressful like having a cup of coffee, lunch or just bracket the negotiation with informal chatting, it will seem much less confrontational.
  • You don’t deserve more money – This one may be the most baffling to me personally, but I can understand as a woman (and a nonprofit professional) how one could feel that way. First and foremost, you have to own your worth – you are good enough and dammit you deserve more money! If shoring up yourself doesn’t work, think about your family: if you have a partner, children or parents you may already be caring for them and/or contributing to the family’s income. If not, then chances are very, very good that you will someday. Moreover, once you get older you’re going to need to have something to fall back on; if you don’t make money now you sure as hell won’t have any when you retire (or you’ll just never retire and work until you die…not a pleasant thought).
  • You don’t know how much you are worth – This one is a little easier to tackle. First, do lots of research. There are tons of nonprofit salary surveys and websites that provide comparative salary info based on your location and job role – use them! Second, even if you can’t find the info you need you can figure this out yourself. How much do you need – bare minimum – to survive? Include rent/mortgage, transportation, medical expenses, utilities, food, toiletries, retirement and regular savings (yes these are basic necessities), etc. Then add in some extras: money for entertainment, for that vacation you want to take and for that weekly massage. With all of that, you have a basic line item. I’d encourage you to then add 20% or so to that line item to get a more well-rounded figure of what you’re worth. You work your butt off and you deserve to make money for it.
  • You are grateful for that offer or existing job – I can also understand this one given the ever present meme about the economy. But let me let you in on a little secret: I’ve done a lot of hiring recently and it has been VERY difficult to find a good candidate for these jobs. We need someone who can rub two sentences together to make a paragraph, has some sense of the kind of work we do and isn’t afraid to hit the ground running. I think these are fairly basic and yet we’ve still had trouble hiring. In the meantime, we’re struggling to try to cover the workload the new person will take on. What does this mean? By the time you get offered that job, you are the best candidate and the organization is desperate to have you start working. They are NOT going to say no or drop the job offer just because you ask for more money. Same deal if you’re in a job already: it costs thousands of dollars (probably 10s of thousands) for an organization to have to perform a whole new search, hire and then train someone new. They aren’t going to fire you because you asked for more money especially if you do kick ass work and have proven what you’re worth. And if they do rescind the job offer or fire you? You should count your blessings because that organization is obviously ridiculous and not worth your professional time.

What are some other barriers that you have experienced when negotiating? How do you build yourself up to prepare for that negotiation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Flick photo courtesy of user jollyUK
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