10 Ways to Supercharge Your Mission-Based Career

If you are anything like me, you might have a burning, churning passion for your work. I don't care what work you do. You could be a landfill operatorfuneral directordata entry genius, or life-saving champion for human rights. Anything you do can be done with the passion and thrill of devoting yourself to something that matters to you. 

This week, I posted the 3rd episode of No Nonsense Nonprofit, a podcast devoted to nonprofit practitioners and dabblers, wherein I shared 10 Ways to Supercharge Your Nonprofit Career. I based it on my own career experience, along with advice I've applied from super smart people. You can listen to it here. I also thought it would be nice to get a quickie version of it into the world for those of you who just want the facts, ma'am. I get that. That's my thing too. 

Getting down to business, here are the ten tips that have rocket-boosted my career and taken me from entry level to the top of my field in just a few short years. 

1. Be Insatiably Curious

Do you ever wonder how something works? Do you get excited about weird things other people don't even notice? Last week, when I was writing a post about my deeply soul-delighting meeting at the landfill, I realized that I've made a life of loving things most people avoid. I lived in a mortuary. I love garbage. I want to understand the plight of transgendered kids. I just did a Theory of Change workshop with MIUSA International last week, and was immediately fired up about disability rights and the identity of people with disabilities. I hadn't thought much about that before, but suddenly, I was deeply interested. 

Why? Well, I'm insatiably curious. I can't presume I know everything. I grew up very religious, in the way where you're taught you need to know the right answer to everything. When I got older, I realized that's impossible, and now I want to understand people I used to be forbidden to even entertain - my first gay friend blew my mind and allowed me to toss out all my agendas that used to cloud my relationships with people. It's a world full of different opinions, different experiences, viewpoints, and ways of being. I can always be open to that because I am interested and know enough to know that I don't know it all. 

What does this do for your career? Keeps you on your toes. You will not rest on your laurels for a second, because you always know there is something yet to be learned and discovered, a new innovation to pioneer, a new group of people to understand and reach, a new way to unleash goodness in the world.

Be curious, and you will harness the energy of the undiscovered, under-utilized and under-appreciated.

2. Look for Patterns in What You Do and Enjoy

A few years ago, I looked at my career and realized there are a few things - outside my normal job duties, that I always do in any job. For me, it involves understanding why we do what we do, and looking for ways we can do it better. It turns out, much of the time people do things they way they do them, just because it happened to be the way it was done. I can smell that from a mile away, and I question it. But I go a step further. I'm not a fault finding whiner by any means. I'm a "here's a way we could do this to improve efficiency/make more money/serve our customers and clients better/meet our funding goals more effectively..." person. I've written policies and procedures for almost every job I've ever had - on my own initiative. I've proposed ways to retain employees at a regional coffee shop, developed a school-wide behavior management plan at a private school, and developed entire programs, including all operating procedures for them at a nonprofit. All in my regular employment life. 

I've always been a consultant, I realized. I just used to be employed by an organization. I've always done this, and that is part of what makes it so natural for me to follow this career path now. 

See if you can find a thread in your own career. Do you always make your customers and clients fall passionately in love with your over the top customer service no matter your role? Do you always make the most incredible business forecasts, regardless of your rank? Do you always water the plants and when you leave, they probably wilt? Figure out who you are at work - in any job - and you will be on your way to maximizing your strengths, and delivering top-notch value to your employer or clients.

3. Invest in Your Own Professional Development

Look, I know investing in your own professional development might not be a popular thing to recommend. A lot of people suggest that you should always have your employer foot the bill for that, especially if you work in the nonprofit sector. There are legitimate reasons to abide by a self-imposed "no-investment" rule, if you don't think you'll see a payoff to it over the course of your career. I, however, can't think of any of them, because I strongly disagree.

If you take yourself and your nonprofit or mission-centered career seriously, you'll shell out some scratch now and then to invest in yourself. You don't have to spend a lot to do this. You can borrow a book from the library and invest the time in learning new skills and information. You could hunt down free webinars and learn just about everything you need to know to be amazing in the world. You could sit at the knee of a wise nonprofit wizard and glean their knowledge. I don't care what it is, just make the effort. 

If you sit around waiting for someone else to notice your genius and invest in you, you will likely wait forever. However, if you get curious about the skills you need to be successful, you'll pursue them with passion. If you do work in a nonprofit, you might even be able to get a grant or scholarship to get some of that sweet, sweet prof dev. When I found myself swamped with a million projects and rather stumped as to how to get ahead, I wrote a request to the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation and scored full tuition scholarships for me and 3 others to get a certification in Project Management. That was an incredible opportunity, and I'm so glad I did it - even though it took a ton of time. It paid off immensely. I didn't do that because someone looked at me quizzically and said, "Gee, you're so awesome, I'd like to invest in you. Looks like project management training would be helpful." No! I just knew what I wanted and went for it. 

If you can't get scholarships or grants, set aside a little money every month for a professional development fund. People who invest in themselves see returns. 

 

4. Know Your Value – and Ask for It

This is eternally challenging for kind-hearted people like you and me to understand. We work for nonprofits because we are, apparently, more interested in adding value and goodness to the world than we are interested in making it big or getting rich off our toiling. However. The nonprofit sector would be transformed for the better if kind-hearted people like you and me no longer acted as doormats and refused to work for peanuts. 

This is not just a nonprofit problem. It's also a problem women have, according to many reports that say women don't negotiate as much as men, and that's one reason we get paid less. At least, that's we hear in the news all the time. 

Here's the deal: If you don't ask for it, you won't get it. And if you don't know what to ask for, you won't feel confident asking. When you have identified who you are at work by noticing your patterns of behavior and contribution, consistently learn more because you're driven by insatiable curiosity, and are consistently investing in yourself, you become more and more valuable to your organization. You might stay there and make a path through the ranks - or you might go someplace else to advance (the latter is more likely, according to the 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, only 21% of nonprofit executive positions are hired from within!) - either way, you need to know your value. 

You can do this in a few ways. If you have access to a nonprofit salary survey that is local to your area, use that. A lot of professional organizations put these out to their members. You may have to pay for it, but some are free. A simple Google search will probably turn up a few options. It's worthwhile to look at, because you will be able to identify duties that are similar to yours, which will help you with conversations and negotiations about title, salary, benefits and perks. When you have more knowledge and you can site a way you came to your valuation of yourself, you have more power. 

Now. The ask. I have no idea, honestly, why it was easy for me to do this as my career advanced, but I have a hunch it was because I could find and use documentation to support my ask. There were a lot of times when I asked for more money - especially when I had significantly more duties than I previously had. It wasn't always easy. Because I advanced within the same organization, I had to work to de-anchor my boss and the board's understanding of my value. I started at a certain wage in an entry level position, so when I advanced to an executive level position, it was hard for them to immediately see the logic behind the sizable leap. It helped that I had invested in my own professional development and therefore had many more credentials in the field than I had when I started, and I also had information regarding comparable pay for comparable work at other organizations. Also, I wasn't afraid to advocate for myself to be paid what I was worth. I knew - and they knew - that I could take my skills someplace else to get paid more - and they wanted to make sure that didn't happen. So did I, really, because I loved that work. 

5. Be Adventurous and Make Your Own Opportunity

This recommendation is dependent on the one previous to it. If you know your value, not only will you get paid what you are worth, but you also have the confidence and the platform with which to make new opportunities for yourself. This is something that I have also come to naturally throughout my life, and until recently, I suppose I just imagined everybody else did this too. I don't know what gave me the idea that I could pretty much do anything I wanted to do, but I'm glad I picked it up somewhere, because it has made my life excessively interesting. When I say "Make Your Own Opportunity," I say it because there is not a single instance when I didn't ask for a promotion I wanted, and in fact, most of the time, I created a promotion for myself out of thin air. Well. Not thin air, exactly. Rather, it was investment in my professional development, performance that made a measurable difference in some aspect of the business or organization, and the confidence to be able to document the difference I made in order to prove my value. 

If there is a gap in the organization and you see it, think about how you might fill it. What would you need to learn and do in order to fill that gap? Do other people realize it's a gap? What do they need to observe and think in order to see it? And what can you do, if you want to create a new opportunity for yourself, do you need to do to help them understand the problem and why you are the solution to it? This is a place where good relationships come in handy - where top-notch performance in your job is essential - and where your passion for making the world and your business or nonprofit better is paramount. 

Making your own opportunity is an amazing thing to do, because most of the time, you are able to lift all boats while you do it. You can fill a massive gap with your prowess, while also allowing someone else to presumably take on the role and work you did in the past. I first did this in my last organization when I wrote a grant (again) to hire an AmeriCorps*VISTA, who took on management of the farmers' market I had managed in the past. While he was there, I used his genius to help develop the program to the point where it could financially support his salary, and we hired him at the end of his year of service. He was the first citizen in the amazing empire I worked to build when I was with that organization. I partly was able to make opportunity by taking on new projects and roles, and also by filling the void I would have otherwise left behind (or would have had to continue doing them all by myself, which would have destroyed my life). The other key to this factor, is that it was never only about me and my career interests and goals. I always deeply believed that it was in the best interest of the organization for me to serve in the new and expanded ways I proposed. And I was correct. 

6. Fail Fast

Try new things, continuously. Now. We are all, aside from a few peculiarly brazen people, afraid of failing. I'll be honest - I think we're especially afraid of failing at work. It's odd. Marriages fail, and businesses fail...we expect that stuff to happen, and those concepts are part of our language and culture. But when it comes to failure at work, we get kind of high strung about it. I know I did. For a really, really long time. 

However, it didn't stop me from still doing it. I didn't call it failing, but I did call it "trying." Here's the thing. We trick ourselves, oh so cleverly, into thinking that if we never try, we will never fail. We play it small and we play it safe. We hedge. We avoid making decisions. We become more and more risk averse. And we box ourselves in with our own rules and fear and paralysis. We think we are safe, because we aren't failing. 

Or are we? 

Failure may be the opposite of success, but hiding and skirting the tough decisions at work are certainly far from success. We need to understand the role of failure in our lives and work. Failure is a signifier that you tried something and it didn't work. Now you know. It's actually not so bad. 

"Fail fast" is a phrase borrowed from startups and the Lean Startup in particular. It means you build something, get it out there, test it with your customers (your customers can be anybody - your boss, your donors, your clients, anybody you define), see if it's working, identify why it isn't working, and decide whether to persevere or pivot. A pivot might even mean you stop doing something altogether. The important thing is that you have the information you need in order to measure whether your attempt worked or not. Fail fast is a way to get information you need to innovate and move your work, career and organization forward more rapidly and thoughtfully. It doesn't mean you go rogue and get reckless. It means you plan something, launch a small version of it (build a minimum viable product, as Lean Startup puts it), see if it works (measure), and decide what to do with the information you collect (learn). 

In my career, I built and launched a billion zillion things - sometimes extremely quickly. Some of those things succeeded, and some of them failed. The ones that failed fast and we could learn from were far better than the ones that died a slow death because we were all over-invested in some idea, or had a grant that kind of sort of paid for it, so we thought we had to make it work by our sheer force of will. When I learned how to fail fast, everything worked better. And it made a vast difference in my career (and the organizations I worked for).

7. Know When to Stay and When to Go

Of all the things that can stall your career, hopping jobs too quickly or staying too long are among the worst. There is something to be said for persistence. Put in your time, do your best, face your challenges, overcome them, and also...when you know you're done, know you're done. It's OK to be done.

I have a LOT to say about quitting. I talk about it constantly. I think quitting is great. When the time is right, you need to accept it, and go. In our culture, quitting is tantamount to failure. We think a quit is a fail. We are wrong. 

I drove by a church recently that had a Mike Ditka quote on its reader board: "You're not a failure until you quit." That's all well and good for a baseball game (baseball? Oh crap. I have to Google this now? Arrrgh!! OH. Football. Yeah, I don't actually care)...That's all well and good for a football match, but it's not true in real life. 

First of all, you are not a failure. You might fail. That doesn't define you. Let's stop labeling ourselves and others with words like "failure" or "quitter." That's ridiculous and self-defeating. Both failing and quitting are normal things that we do in life. Without them, we would just stay the same forever and never do anything worth making a movie about. Right? So, get over the completely useless thing where you call yourself names for quitting stuff or failing or anything at all, really. Nothing you do can change who you are. Just know that. 

Now, back to quitting. One of my dear, dear friends, and former employees faced a massive challenge at work. It was something that was intransigent, relating to certain personalities in the workplace, and it was beginning to look as though her job was untenable because in many ways, the job itself was set up to fail. She and I both cried in my office a lot during those days. One of the things she said, over and over, was, "I'm not a quitter!" She never did quit. She stayed longer than I did. I told her to quit. I thought it would be better for her. I didn't fire her because she didn't deserve to be fired. She was actually completely amazing and fabulous. What happened wasn't her fault. But what happened was also not healthy for her. In the end, when she left, it was good. It wasn't her choice, but she was set free. It also was painful. Leaving isn't always easy, and it doesn't always feel good. 

You know you need to quit when you are in a place where you feel discomfort. I mean, not just the discomfort of needing to grow a little, or adjust something and get better at something, or communicate differently, or get a coach, or get a counselor - but the kind of discomfort where you are physically ill, emotionally raw, filled with rage - that kind of thing.

You also are done when you have nowhere to grow. If you've already made all the opportunities you can make for yourself in one place, you might reach a ceiling. Don't let that stop you. Loyalty is wonderful, and - oh man, this is against everything my protestant upbringing taught me - you have to be loyal to yourself too. Be committed to your own advancement, not out of selfishness, but out of the determination to contribute as much as you can contribute to the world in your lifetime. That's why you're here.

Ultimately, knowing it's time to go can allow you to take a little time to take stock of what you're doing, how you're doing it, and what you want to do differently. It will help you wrap something up. It will help you know when enough is enough and how you might leave a legacy behind you at a place. It can help you walk forward in your life moving toward something instead of running away from something. So quit when it's time to quit - and double down when it's time to double down. Just consider it. Don't move through this stuff on autopilot. Your career depends on it.

8. Learn from Detours and Mistakes – No Regrets

Let's say you follow all my amazing advice, and you quit. Only to discover you wish you hadn't. We all have those moments of doubt, or checking in, when we wonder if we've made the right choice. I'll be honest - I used to have those moments all the time. I got really down on myself about detours, and thought they were always a bad thing and meant that I was a directionless flake. Worse, I thought other people thought I was a directionless flake too, which quite bothered me. 

The truth is, I'm not a directionless flake. I have a lot of interests (I'm insatiably curious, after all), and I want to try new things (I'm OK with failing fast, after all), so I challenge myself continuously. For a while, early in my career, that looked like a job hopping thing. In reality, it wasn't that. It was just my way of capping out somewhere and choosing to move to the next thing that would better serve my entrepreneurial approach to life. 

When it comes to detours, see if you can find something you learned on that strange path that you would never have seen any other way. See if you can figure out where that path led you, where you wouldn't have gone on your own. 

I believe this about life: every path you tread is where you need to be. Every day, I believe this more and more deeply. The only perfect way to live your life, is how you live it right now, today. Every choice you make is the perfect choice for you right now. Not because you're always right, but because your choice will always result in exactly what you need at this moment. It might not be a fun result, but it will be the result you most need. Harness your detours and unexpected deviances from your Big Life Plan. Let them speak to you. Learn from them. Appreciate them. Do not be ashamed of them. Let them shape you.

9. Set Big-Picture Life Goals, and Work Toward Them (or Let Them Happen)

I'm a HUGE FAN of goal setting. I used to be obsessed with it. Goals are fun and exciting - they give you something to work toward, to be excited about, to get all psyched up about! 

The way I used to approach goals was with a lot of pushing and forcing and shoulder to the wheel kind of working. I would set a goal, and then have all the mini goals between the result and where I was right at that moment, all planned out and pushed forward. It was OK. 

Last year, I was in a massive life transition, and one of the things I did about it was write a book. That's how most people deal with their problems, I realize. Part of my research for the book was to go through old notebooks. I fancied myself a songwriter and poet (good songs, terrible "poetry," says the adult critic in me). As I was looking for fodder for my book, Letters to Boys, I came across something that was equally interesting to me. Lists and lists of life goals. They were in many different notebooks and spanned 8 or 9 years of my life. All of them were a little different, but they all taught me something about life. 

Almost all of my Big Life Plan goals had been realized. I didn't go back to those lists until more than a decade after I had written them. I didn't really give them much thought. But, here I was, a writer (check!), finished with grad school (check!), a speaker (check!) and coach (check!). These dreams have been with me a long time, I realized. And I was living so many of them without even thinking about it. 

Such is the power of intention. I intended to do all those things. I knew I would. And yet, for some reason, those particular life goals lost the urgency I experienced in my daily life on smaller order goals. It didn't matter. They were still powerful enough to direct my life. In fact, those intentions - those Big Life Plan goals of mine - were so connected to the core of who I am and how I live in the world that they couldn't help but come true. 

State your intentions. Call them goals, if you want. Make plans, if you want. Mostly, be intentional about living into who you are. Your life will fall into place when you hear yourself and trust yourself.

10. Take Time to Care for Yourself

Speaking of hearing yourself and trusting yourself, my last recommendation for supercharging your career (and, let's be honest, just being a happier person), is to take time to care for yourself. You can't hear yourself when there is too much noise in your life. You can't trust yourself when you don't listen to yourself. You don't notice you are physically reacting to a life circumstance (a job you need to leave, or a relationship that must change) if you numb yourself and detach your mind from your body. 

I'm a nonprofit nerd (unite!), and chances are, you might be one too. We are notoriously bad at taking care of ourselves. I'm sorry to say it, but we just don't really seem to notice when we are teetering on the edge of burnout. We don't always realize when we are making ourselves sick. We often let our work overwhelm us to the point where we don't remember what other interests we used to have in the first place. Anybody can fall prey to this bad habit - even people who aren't nonprofit nerds. 

A few tips on this front: 

  • Find something you love to do - something that refreshes you. Do you like hiking? Go for a hike (ingenious recommendation, right?!). Do you like sitting by the river? Go ahead and do it. Do you like reading a book? Read. 

  • Make intentional time to invest in your own wellbeing. We fall for a trick all too often. It's a trick that says, "I don't have time for myself because everybody else needs me and if I take one hour away from all of the demands that are on me, the world will explode and I will die and everyone I love will die, and I will be alone in hell!" Or something along those lines. But the truth is, you can find ONE HOUR to be good to yourself. Take a hot bath, go to a yoga class, I don't care what you do, but for the love of God, make your life and health a priority. NOTHING else matters as much as your health and life. Don't wait until you get too sick to do anything about it to notice that. 

  • Connect with people. Talk about real things that are going on in your life. Be honest. Don't hide from the world. Yes, be judicious (I'm not, but hey, that's just me). But find your tribe and be with them. Love them. Let them love you.

  • Ask for help when you need it. There are so many times in my life that I have avoided asking for help at all costs. When I was 11 years old, I tried to impress a boy by doing some kind of gymnastic-ish move at summer camp. I hurt my wrist, but I was too embarrassed to tell anybody. That night, at dinner, someone passed me the salt, and when I grabbed it, tears started streaming out of my eyes. My camp counselor looked at me, horrified, and said, "WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR WRIST YOU HAVE TO GO TO THE NURSE RIGHT NOW WHAT HAPPENED?!" Turns out, it had swelled to about five times its normal size. It was sprained. I spent the whole day in misery when I could have gone and gotten a cool Ace bandage right away. I wish I could say I learned that very day to always speak up and get what I need, but instead, I kept learning that lesson for 25 more years. 

I truly hope these fabulous supercharging career tidbits are helpful to you! I'd love to hear your thoughts about career advancement and how you're doing it. 

Sarai Johnson is a purveyor of nonprofit wisdom, Amazon Best Selling author of two books, and the newly initiated host of the No Nonsense Nonprofit podcast. She wants to help nonprofit people make the most of their amazing work, and also secretly wants to transform the nonprofit sector for the better, one person at a time. OR a million people at a time, it depends on the activity. To see what Sarai does and to access her and her work, check out Lean Nonprofit, her consulting and coaching firm. 



“Everybody Has A Big But."

Let's talk about YOUR big but.

I need you to know something. It’s really important. It might change the way you think about the whole world – or at least, how you think about me.

I am a huge PeeWee Herman fan.

There. Now you know.

I feel better, getting that out there. It was a little hard to admit it to the universe like that, but I realize now, I have no shame. I never have. PeeWee Herman is in my blood.

It will not surprise you, then, to hear that one of the most important life lessons that has guided me throughout my childhood and up until this very day, comes directly from PeeWee’s Big Adventure. Well. A lot of life lessons come from that movie, actually, but this is the most important one.

In case you are not up to date on your PeeWee trivia (what is up with that? Please, go watch PeeWee’s Big Adventure right this minute. This blog will be here when you finish, I promise – did you know this was Tim Burton’s first feature film as a director and it was written by Paul Reubens AND Phil Hartmann? Seriously? It is HI-larious)…

Anyway, in case you’re not able to access this fine film just now, here’s the premise for this all-important life lesson:

PeeWee is in search of his beloved bike. He embarks on an epic journey to track it down, and eventually ends up at The Wheel Inn, a now (tragically!) defunct (as of 2013 – HOW DID I NEVER GO THERE???) truck stop surrounded by huge dinosaurs, in the tradition of 1960’s roadside attractions. He meets Simone, a beautiful French-ish waitress with big dreams, and an even bigger heart. And an EVEN BIGGER boyfriend, Andy.

Wow. I told you I love this movie. I could re-enact it for you sometime, so just let me know if you’re interested.

Now, on this fateful night, PeeWee eats a bunch of stuff in this diner, after getting ditched by his criminal accomplice, Mickey – (Mickey, see, he’s a loner, a rebel) – and PeeWee realizes his wallet is gone! Given her aforementioned big heart, Simone allows PeeWee to work off his tuna melt and a milkshake by washing dishes until the break of dawn (aw!).

She invites him to watch the sunrise with her from inside the head of a giant dinosaur.

While they’re in there, Simone asks PeeWee a question (and please, other PeeWee aficionados or people with access to Google right now – I’m internetless and I am HIGHLY unlikely to go back through this blog just to fact check my exact PeeWee quotes no matter how devoted I am to his awesomeness – bear with me, I’m paraphrasing).

So, Simone asks PeeWee, “Do you have any dreams?”

PeeWee begins to describe what sounds like a totally awesome dream, involving a snake wearing a vest, when Simone interrupts – “No, I mean a dream – something you want to do?”

He wants to find his bike, of course!

Simone wants to go to France. But she’s afraid of her huge, terrifying boyfriend, Andy.

PeeWee tells her she should just DO it!

PeeWee In A Dinosaur

Simone interrupts, “but…”

And here is the life lesson, from none other than PeeWee Herman:

“Everybody’s got a big but. Let’s talk about your big but Simone.”

What’s Your Big But?

You have a dream, right? Something that you know has been planted in your soul and maybe you’ve known it was there for a long, long, long time? Maybe you’ve had this dream as long as you can remember.

It’s something much deeper and more meaningful than wanting to have some specific job or some kind of status. It’s more than just external stuff. It’s something that you might have heard and listened to and moved on and achieved.

But more likely, you have a big but.

My big but was made up of at least these items, in no particular order, and certainly, this is not an all-inclusive list:

-          But, I need to get a REAL job…

-          But, I should be more responsible…

-          But, grown-ups don’t do that kind of thing…

-          But, that dream isn’t for me – it works for that person, or those people, but I’m not like them…

-          But, what about this obligation or that obligation?

-          But, I have a mortgage!

-          But, I have two kids…

-          But, people are counting on me at my job – they need me (this one is TOXIC – if you find yourself saying this, you need to call me right now because this will eat your soul, just a friendly warning)…

-          But, this just isn’t realistic…

-          But, nobody else I know is doing something that crazy…

It doesn’t matter what your dream is, what your story is – it’s likely that you are probably living a bit short of your potential, don’t you think? I mean, seriously – do you think you’ve reached your pinnacle? Is this what your life is meant to be – as awesome as it (hopefully) is – is this all?

Why do YOU have such a big but?

Sit for a second and imagine your dream. Remember it. Go back in time – be yourself as a kid – and really dig deep. What was your dream? Not the dream of being a movie star or a nurse – but what was underneath those external things? WHY do you think you wanted to be a movie star or a nurse?

I wanted to be a rockstar.

Here are some reasons why:

-          I have a message and I want to share it with anybody who will listen!

-          I love to create and inspire people with beautiful and meaningful creations!

-          I want to live in my strength and do something with my life that resonates with my natural talents and interests and loves!

-          I want to be everything I have potential to be – and I want to help other people do the same!

You might have noticed, I am not a rockstar at this moment. I probably don’t plan to be any time soon. We’ll see, though. Maybe I’ll pull a late in life career change for the easy-listening set. But at this point, I’m pretty excited about what I’m doing now.

Because, you see, my darling friend – I’m living my dream.

I have a message and I get to share it with anybody who will listen!

I get to create and inspire people with beautiful and meaningful creations!

I get to live in my strength and do something with my life that resonates with my natural talents and interests and loves.

I get to be everything I have the potential to be – and help other people do the same.

 

Those are the roots of my dream. I just had to start to peel away my BIG BUT(s).

One by one, they all fell away. Each one stood up to nothing – they were flimsy, meaningless, limiting for no reason, stymying.

 

So, ask yourself – what is your big but? What’s holding you back right now, today?

What are the roots of your dreams? What makes you tick, as a person – what drives you to contribute your special YOU-ness to the world? In whatever way you do?

And if you are living your dream – if you are being fully and completely true to yourself and all you were meant to be – I want to know about it. Because you probably used to have a big but.

Everybody loves an inspiring success story.

 

And if you’re not living that dream just yet? That’s OK. There’s still time.

But there’s not forever.

If you had one more year to make your mark on the world, what would you do? Who would you be? Where would you be? How would you spend your time?

Checking emails?

Going to meetings?

Me neither.

This week, I'm attending an incredible training event called Heroic Public Speaking. It's hosted by one of my business mentors, Michael Port, and some of his illustrious friends and colleagues. One of them, Dan Cordle, an NYU acting professor, rather rocked my world. Over and over again. 

And that's saying a LOT if you know me. I'm no actor. I played two villains in a couple of college plays, but the one might describe my performances was "hammy at best." In my defense, one of the plays was a melodrama, so hammy was probably OK.  

Acting, for me, has always been a mix between pathos and pretend, and a mask - an escape. It is the latter that doesn't become my performances...

Among the many gems he offered as he taught us how to perform - with HONESTY and transparency, and complete nakedness (yikes!) - was this: 

"It is when your desire outweighs your fear that you can achieve your biggest dreams."

And I was like, cool! I'm putting that in my PeeWee blog post. But seriously, it's true (OK, both the quote and my excitement that this fit so perfectly into something I had already been thinking about so intensely are true!).

The truth is, fear will always win. It will always trap you and hold you, and keep you from your potential. Until one day, you will look that fear, straight in the eye, and you'll realize you WANT your dream MORE than you are held by this fear. And at that moment, you will be ready to act. To move. To pursue. To become your BEST SELF. To invest in your own future, and live your own life. To hell with the fear. 

Because you are not owned by fear. And you are not defeated by fear. You are powerful, strong, capable. You are alive! You have this "one wild life" and you can choose exactly how you want to live it. No matter where you come from. No matter what you think is making it impossible for you. No matter how far away it seems. 

You can make that step, take that leap, be that person. 

So, let’s dream a little bit together. Let’s tap into your deepest and truest why and let’s unlock that dream in your heart. Let’s peel away the “buts” and let’s get you on the right path – the path you KNOW is your path. You’ll know it when you see it.

And you’ll know it when you don’t choose to walk down it – because you’ll feel like a big but. 

Don't be a big but, please.

Be a big YES! 

Millennial Cause-Leadership Tornado

Cause Leadership Tornado

If I told you that 94% of nonprofit Executive Directors are over 40, would you keel over in shock? 

I mean, we're talking a margin of error accounting for ED's who are UNDER 40! That's just rather insane. 

Well. The 2014 Board Source Governance Report was full of shocking and bizarre items like this - did you know 91% of board chairs are white? or that 89% of board members are over 40? or that watermelons are really a berry??. (The last factoid was one I remember vividly from my National Geographic World Magazine subscription, which I read voraciously as a child, but still - crazy, right? A BERRY?)

At any rate,  I, for one, think it's ridiculous that so few young people are represented in nonprofit leadership and governance. 

But let's take a second to talk about something EVEN MORE ALARMING (hard to believe, I know): only 34% of the organizations covered by the Board Source Report have a written succession plan. 

Given the fact that most ED's are over 40, this is completely and utterly insane. It would be insane no matter what age the exec happened to be, but in the situation we see now, we're really doing the social sector a serious disservice. 

A quick note to my friendly readers who are in their fourth decade. Look, if you're 40, I know you're not that old! I mean, I'm the one who choked on my tongue the other day when my friend had to gently remind me she was born in 1995 and had no idea what reference I was making to 80's sitcoms - (what is the world coming to when someone I'm talking to doesn't understand the nuances of the relationship between DJ Tanner and Kimmy Gibbler??)...but for the sake of argument, let's just say that maybe it would be good to have more nonprofit executives and certainly to have nonprofit board members (give me that, at least!) who represent the under 40 crowd. OK? Can we agree on that premise, just for the sake of getting through this blog together? 

OK, now that we're on the same page, let's talk a little bit about succession planning.

Nobody seems to want to talk about it. It's like Executive Directors I've known and loved have thought of succession planning as writing out their own will and testament. As if creating a plan for passing the leadership baton when the time comes to move forward with one's life is like engraving one's own tombstone. That seems a little...off...to me. What is it that makes succession planning so scary? So un-doable? So undesirable? 

Is it fear? Is it that we don't know what a succession plan even is? Is it that we think everybody else working in our nonprofits are a bunch of dummies who can't tell up from down and wouldn't be able to succeed a great leader anyway? 

Is it that nonprofits tend to be built around the cult of ONE person? Despite the governance structures and HR processes we (supposedly) put in place? We seem to be SOL when it comes to replacing our nonprofit leaders. Or planning for their graceful exits. Or shoring up the strength of our organizations to survive the wake of a transition (or to minimize said wake in the first place).

Succession planning is not impossible, or scary, or bad, or wasteful, or something you shouldn't be thinking about ALL THE FREAKING TIME! Of course you should! 

The way I see it, if we're honest, we can't keep living in a world where nonprofits with important missions are jeopardized every time an Executive Director transitions (which, apparently isn't often, according to Board Source, but which, inevitably will come!). We have to get smart, put on our big girl (or boy) panties and make a doggone plan. 

What can succession planning do for your organization? 

How about: empowering and investing in up and coming leaders? 

How about: delegating important responsibilities across the organization to free up executive leaders to think about and focus on the big picture, huge stuff that they need to focus on in order to grow? 

How about: investing in infrastructure, systems and processes to enable a nonprofit to survive without any single person currently making things work. 

How about: capacity. CAPACITY. 

See. When you start thinking about succession, about the future, about the "what if I were to move on from this place - what happens to all the things I manage right now? Who will write this report, or know how to do this process, or remember where the lock to the Post-It cabinet is?" Devotees will recall my dire experience with the otherwise lovely ED who locked the Post-It's away...and you will further understand how deeply this damaged my psyche, if you also realize that my brain functions entirely on Post-Its....

At any rate. You have to have a succession plan. Don't like it? Too bad. 

Yeah, I said it. TOO BAD! 

Get serious. Get honest. Get dreaming - what would you do, as a leader, if you could free your mind up a bit, delegate something, build something that will last beyond your tenure? 

Get thinking - what would you do as a practitioner - as a growing nonprofit leader - if your organization were willing to invest in you and your professional and personal development? Would you be willing to put in a few more years? Would you bring more of your passion and best-self to work? Would you invest right back into that organization with your loyalty and passion and time and smarts? 

This is a win-win-win-win situation. You win, if you're an ED and you need to find a way to transition without blowing up the world. You win, if you're a practitioner with your eyes on a bigger role and deeper impact. You win, if you're a nonprofit board member who doesn't want to have to pinch hit when the time comes for your ED to get on their merry way. You win, if you live in a society served by a bunch of strong nonprofit organizations who know what they will do when their current leadership moves on to the next adventure. 

I'm going to put up some resources about succession planning - both for current EDs and board members looking to create a plan - AND for existing nonprofit leaders and practitioners who would like to help create this plan. 

But before I do, I want to know your take on this. What do you think about the stats we see these days related to nonprofit leadership? What is your experience with nonprofit leadership transitions (or lack thereof)? Are you an ED ready to move on, but aren't sure what will happen to your legacy if you do? Are you a board member looking to create a little structure around things so you don't all go crazy if your ED decides to throw it all in and move to Alaska to be with the bears? Are you a practitioner who is looking for opportunities to develop your leadership potential and management skills? 

I want to hear from you. Comment here, or message me directly using the contact page. 

Respect Your Value, and Others Will Value and Respect YOU

There is a little trap we fall into in the nonprofit sector sometimes.

We mistake this definition:

non·prof·it (nänˈpräfit/)

adjective: not making or conducted primarily to make a profit.

(a BIG thank you to the 3rd grader who lives inside my heart, who told me to start my blog today with "Webster's Dictionary defines 'nonprofit' as..." I couldn't have done it without you!)

I digress.

We mistake this definition: "not making or conducted primarily to make a profit" to mean "no money ever, at all, not for staff, not for the organization, and ESPECIALLY never, no not ever, for overhead."

Right?

I've ranted and raved about this for a long time now, and if you've read anything I've ever written, you already know I think this is utter and complete nonsense. It's bad for our organizations, bad for our missions, and bad, ultimately for society.

If you starve your organization and your staff, you can't very well serve the starving people you have set out to help, now can you?

But, on a deeper level, a personal level - this way of practicing the public good we offer is sucking our people dry. It's taking their good intentions, mining them for all their worth, and leaving their souls looking like a West Virginia mountaintop that's been turned into what amounts to an upside down molehill, full of fetid water. No offense.

Maybe a little offense.

You see, when we don't respect the value of the services and solutions we provide to the world and to our communities and tribes, we disrespect the value of the humans working for our missions. We take them for granted. We ask them to "do more with less." We demand their full attention, their time, their energy.

And in return, we ask them to be happy with the meager pay we offer (around 30% lower than similar jobs in the private sector)...and if they're lucky, they get some kind of benefits too! Yay!

Of course, there's the satisfaction of a job well done, and of giving your life to a higher purpose - there's that. This is definitely worth something. Most people in the nonprofit sector that I have had the pleasure of working with are driven by this higher purpose, of this bigger cause that lasts beyond their lives and careers. That is AWESOME and it can't be underplayed. I'll give you that. 


But there is still a huge problem I can't ignore

If you starve your organization and your staff, you can’t very well serve the starving people you have set out to help, now can you?

If you like this post and want to know more about how to build capacity so you can provide a more "charitable," let's say, work environment for your staff - or for yourself!, sign up to get updates about my new program, Grant Magnet, at the link above.

Learn more about grant magnet with the video above.

Learn how I multiplied my organization's budget by 7x in less than 7 years with this free webinar! Be there live on February 11, 2015 at 10AM PST to get in on the 30 minutes of Q&A at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The problem is...if you don’t value your own organization, your own mission, your own PURPOSE, why should you expect anybody else to value it?

The problem is, when you get right down to it, if you don't value your own organization, your own mission, your own PURPOSE, why should you expect anybody else to value it?

Why do you think people want to give you money so you can do this work? What makes you think that it's OK for them to imagine that investing in YOU, in your staff, in your administration is not valuable? Only money that goes "directly to the mission" is money well spent?

Shouldn't everything you do be in support of your mission? Isn't your administration there to make sure your organization is viable, and run well, and stable? What's so freaking wrong about that???????

Are you telling me that we want to make sure every nonprofit is barely hanging on, running on fumes, just lucky to make payroll (if they can even afford to have staff in the first place)? This is OK with us? This is effective mission support?

Clearly, it's not.

And not only is it wasting our incredible potential in the nonprofit - I mean, FOR PURPOSE - sector - it's destroying the very people who are the lifeblood of this good work.

Burnout. Health crises. Financial crises.

If I had my way, EVERY nonprofit would have a single common criterion for employment: if you work here, you should not be able to qualify for our services.

I get solidarity, yeah sure, but you know what's better than just solidarity?

Aspiration. Inspiration. Proof that you CAN have a better life. Our nonprofit people can and should be EVIDENCE of this!

And it starts with you. It starts with your thinking, your beliefs.

If you don't value yourself? If you don't value the people working with you or for you? You are stealing from your mission. You are selling your purpose to the lowest bidder. You are working against your own purpose.

You don't want that, do you? That's not who you are, is it?

So. If you can't get money, you might be able to get time. If you can't get time, you might be able to get some flexibility. If you can't get flexibility, see if there is something you want or need that you CAN get. And then, here's the hard part:

ASK FOR IT.

Let's practice.

I'm your boss. I will use a deep and imposing voice so I can be as intimidating as possible.

Me (your boss): Hi. Waddya want?

You (being strong and bold): Hi boss, you look great today, did you do something new with your hair?

Me (softening up): Why, yes, I am growing out a pixie cut, the worst fashion disaster known to man, but thanks for noticing. I'm really self-conscious about my lady-mullet right now, but...do you need something?

You (extra bold): Yes. See, I'm feeling kind of (insert your feeling - drained? stressed? ok, but could be better?), and since the work we're doing is SO important to me, I want to make sure I'm at my best. I was thinking, it would really help me out if we could work out (more pay, better benefits, a flexible schedule, more time off - use your imagination - think before you ask - what do you REALLY want? If you don't know, you definitely need to spend some serious time on this).

Me (being bossy): Wellllll, I don't know. We're really strapped right now. And I forgot to tell you we have this awesome new project and I wanted you to take the lead on it! We're all working extra hard right now and...

You (being assertive and bold): Yeah. I am really excited about that project, but I need to be honest with myself and you right now. In order to be really amazing, I need (repeat your request)...

Me: OK, I'll see what I can do.

You: Thanks, boss, you're the best!

And, scene.

I'm not going to tell you it's easy, that it will go over well, that other people will understand what the heck you think you're doing and where do you get off being all healthy and crap. They won't. Especially if you are working in what I like to call a "co-dependent organization." This is where everybody works extra hard to cover their bases, maintain control at all costs, work harder than they have to because they are terrified they will lose their jobs, or that they're not good enough, or that their bosses will get mad, or that other people will have to work harder if you don't work harder...etc... Sound familiar?

Yeah, it probably does.

The truth is, if you start to take up the space you deserve - the space you need to be healthy and well - the world will shape itself around you. Your environment will change when you change.

Change is HARD! It is not something that comes easily. And sometimes it has consequences you didn't foresee or didn't think you'd want.

But guess what: you MUST value your own input, your own purpose, your own well-being. Because if you don't, nobody will do it for you - and worse - you will fail to serve your purpose and mission in life, and in your job. That's pretty crappy if you ask me.

I want to challenge you today to take a few minutes to sit still and be quiet and turn your thoughts inward for a little bit.

What is your value? What is important in you that you offer the world? Why are you worthy of respect and love? Why should you get satisfaction and purpose in your life? What is it that is valuable about you that nobody sees? What is it that is valuable about you that YOU don't see?

If you come up empty handed, try this. 

You care about other people, right?

That's probably why you're doing the work you're doing. And, I would imagine, if you care about people, you have compassion for them. Compassion that is human, that isn't condescending, that is genuine and pure. You see someone who is suffering, and you hurt with them. You meet them where they are and you want to give them a hand up. Right?

Think about a time you felt compassion and love for someone else. Think about a client, a child, anybody who has been vulnerable to you, and for whom you felt this pure compassion.

Dwell in this feeling for a few minutes. Relive that compassion and care for that person.

Once you feel it, REALLY feel it, look at yourself with these compassionate eyes.

You matter just as much as that person mattered to you. You are just as important and valuable as that person. And you have this value and this importance because you exist. You are a human - you matter. You are valuable because you are valuable. It's a self-completing circle.

Your value doesn't come from what you DO. What you PRODUCE. What you GIVE. It comes from your BEING.

Tap into that value, that deep, existential value.

And go from there. Be strong, hold that value, and be true to it.

And as you learn to do this - you will bring EVEN GREATER value to the mission you serve, to your purpose, and to your life and the lives of others.

Be well, value yourself, and demand that others hold that value too - lead by example by valuing yourself.

What the World Needs Now Is...

For You To Get Off Your Butt and Make Some GOOD Happen! And Make It Count.

I know. I’m constantly in your face telling you about how the nonprofit world needs a shot in the arm of this or that or why it’s lame and why it can be so much MORE than it is right now.

I get it. I’m really a fanatic about this stuff.

I’m hoping you might be one too, which is why I assume you are reading this blog post…

Here’s the deal. The world is a mess. People are enslaved all over the world. Billions of people lack adequate food, water, shelter and education. Poverty runs rampant right here at home. Mental illnesses hobble people in their tracks and there’s little we do for them as a society to help them get well.

That’s true. All of it. Right now.

And that’s why it INFURIATES ME to see how we run our nonprofit businesses these days. Because, like it or not, nonprofits are businesses.

We ask timidly for money (grants, donations, handouts). We shrug our shoulders when we don’t get it. We do more with less (gag!).

We keep running ourselves and our entire organizations ragged with more work and more need and more demand and fewer resources.

And we just think this is normal. It’s the way of the world. Nobody invests in social GOOD, do they?

Nobody thinks the “least of these” – the people and places we serve, our causes – are worth more than the scraps and crumbs they throw our way, right?

Nonprofits need to just suck it up and keep trucking this way, mirroring the plight of the very people and places they have set out to serve! Right? RIGHT?!?

Wrong.

W. R. O. N. G.

No way.

We For-Purpose people? We?

WE HAVE TO DO ONE BETTER.

We owe it to our causes, our people, our places – the things that matter most. The poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak, the smallest of the small, the dirtiest of the dirty. We owe it to these people, these places – to do better. TO INVEST. In ourselves. In our work. In our organizations.

We owe it to them to build a stronger foundation from which our work and efforts spring. We owe it to them to create a solid infrastructure within our business so we can provide them with effective, powerful results! True change, true transformation will only be sustained if it is planted in the fertile soil of a stable, strong, self-determined business.

That’s not waste. That’s not extravagance. That’s BEING RESPONSIBLE.

Who do you answer to?

Funders?

Government agencies who regulate you, who provide you with money to do your work?

Or, do you answer to your people?

Your places?

Your actual, tangible, real results?

Do you know what your results ARE?

Do you know whether those results even matter to the people you’re trying to help?

You’re not just doing stuff and hoping it helps, right? Are you??

If you are. Just stop.

Really stop, and look at your world for a second. What have you built? What are you building? Are you just toiling away and barely scraping by – in your life, in your organization? Are you really building something that will last? Are you creating a world where you and the people you partner with are sustained – fulfilled – made whole in the work you do?

Or are you exhausted. Out of ideas. Out of resources. No better off than the people you’re trying to help. And you don’t know what to do next?

You don’t have to stay this way.

My mission, my personal, real, secret mission in this world? You want to know what it really is? It’s going to sound crazy, but just hear me out:

My mission is to work with people like you, to rekindle your passion, to find your spark, to anchor your skills and abilities, to build and define YOUR true mission – so together we will transform the nonprofit sector.

That’s it. No big deal.

:)

The nonprofit sector is just an imaginary entity made up of a few million people like you and me. People with a heart for something bigger than themselves or their paychecks. People who see a need and want to meet it. Who are creative, determined, generous and passionate.

You are one of these champions! If you are reading this far, heck, you ARE a champion.

You can be a change agent, not just for the people you serve and care about, but for the entire sector you’re employed within, or want to be employed in, or volunteer for, or serve on a board for – what EVER your role – you can create something better. Something STRONGER!

I believe that nonprofit people, the really dedicated ones – the ones who even burn out and get stuck or move on – I believe that you were born with a purpose. With something to give to the world that is more than just your natural value for existing (which is a thing too! If you do nothing else, ever again in your whole life? You still matter. You still have value – you know this because you think other people have value, don’t you? I assume so, or I can’t imagine why you’d devote your career to working in the nonprofit sector!).

Your extra work – the things you put your hand to – the cause you serve – that stuff is all BONUS for the world. It’s the gift of you PLUS the extra gems you have in your soul. And you want to share that good stuff! You want to find it, mine it, refine it and share it. You are a wealth of goodness. Somewhere in you, you know this is true.

Today, I want to ask you to do something. I don’t really ask for stuff all that often – I’m mostly trying to give you value – encouragement, information, tools, etc…

But today, I want to ask you to do something big.

I want you to take five minutes, just five – more if you want, but at least five – to find your mission. What is YOUR personal mission?

It has taken me a while to really figure out how to put to words what my mission is, but I did it through a process. I’ll tell you how I did it, so you can try this if you get stuck:

I started with my tagline “nonprofits are businesses, too. Run yours like a boss!” That tagline came to me the moment I launched Lean Nonprofit, LLC. It spoke to me. It made sense.

So I asked myself “why?”

What does this mean? I wrote a series of statements, and asked myself the same thing over and over, until I got to the core of what my mission – my message – really is.

Some people call this exercise “5 Why’s.” I call it “As Many Why’s As it Takes Until You Know You’re Done.”

Now. Start with something you think is true about why you do what you do, what you think you care about, what you think you’re doing. Then, ask “why” over and over and over.

I’ve put a worksheet for you here, with my example in it, to get you really rocking. You can download it for free, and use it to your heart’s content.

Then, one more teeny thing – once you have it down – once you know your mission: What are you going to do about it?

Write down at least ONE thing you will do, right now, this day, this minute if you can – what are you going to do about your mission? How are you going to live it, STRAIGHT UP – out loud, up front?

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

Then, my last request?

Go. Do. It.

All my raging love!

Sarai

P.S. Tomorrow I’m putting on a free webinar called “Secrets of Strategic Success.” It’s all about how you can make your PERSONAL and ORGANIZATIONAL mission(s) sizzle and get real in the world. I hope you’ll join me! If you can’t make it live, sign up anyway, and I’ll send you the recording. You don’t want to miss this one! Sign up here. 

P.P.S. Only 9 more days to get the great REALLY EARLY BIRD rate off the already reduced rate for Get Strategic NOW! The intensive online strategic planning program based on my best-selling book, "Strategic Planning That Actually Works."