The Nonprofit Roundtable's Future Executive Directors Fellowship exceeded my expectations. When I applied I was at a point in my career where I could imagine running an organization in the future. I had no real idea what the role of the executive director looked like and what kind of skills I would need to be successful at it. The leadership skills that I learned have proved invaluable to me in my new role as President of BlackStar Consulting LLC.
During the program, fellows have to complete a stretch assignment that challenges them to develop a skillset that will be beneficial in their role as an executive director. For my assignment I chose fundraising with a focus on foundations and individual donors.This project connected me with one of my future business clients. I have also applied that knowledge in my teaching as an adjunct professor of fundraising and resource development.I anticipated being surrounded by some of the most talented and thoughtful up-and-coming leaders in our area, but their skills and the quality of ourdiscussions were even better than I could have hoped. Every session provided valuable information for leading a nonprofit organization, which provided me with tools and strategies I utilize to this day. The facilitation was structured without being confining and the presenters were very knowledgeable. Pairing each fellow with a current executive director was also very helpful.
Participation in the fellowship also gave me a connection to the Roundtable and their affiliate organizations. Finally, you will develop very good friends and colleagues over the course of the fellowship. I made connections with people that I never would have imagined but am incredibly grateful for. Every moment in the fellowship is time well spent, and you will leave with a solid understanding of the expectations, realities, and responsibilities of being an executive director.
I strongly recommend this fellowship to anyone that is interested in taking his or her career to next level.
On Friday, March 21, 2014, I showed up early and excited for Covenant House Washington's Sleep Out: Young Professional Edition. I must admit, that it took a lot to psych myself up for sleeping outside, overnight, on the cold sidewalk, but I was definitely ready by the time I reached the registration table that evening. As soon as I arrived, I was greeted with a special energy from the enthusiastic and engaged staff and volunteers. I immediately wanted to join in and do my part.
After check-in, I met up with my friends from Team Light Up the Night, and joined the other sleepers for a delicious dinner. Next, we took in a very impressive talent showcase presented by some of Covenant House Washington's youth. I noticed, early on, that there was no sense of lack or despair that one might expect to find at a center for homeless and disconnected people. On the contrary, I witnessed fullness, purpose, happiness and hope in every encounter.
The most impactful part of the event was talking face-to-face with some of the youth during the roundtable discussion sessions that were facilitated by staff members. The talks focused on dispelling myths and misconceptions about homeless youth- they were eye opening! And, once we left them to tour the outreach facilities, I felt a real connection had been forged.
Then, came the sleep-out: the portion from which the evening took it's name; the hook we used to raise money and awareness; the part I told myself I was finally ready for. As we grabbed our sleeping bags and cardboard slabs, we began thinking of every excuse to put off actually going outside and resting on the concrete for an entire night.
It was hard to sleep and during our time outside. We reflected and talked with one another about the realness of the experience. I knew that participating would be an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of homeless youth, but I had no idea how much being there would change me.
As the sun came up that Saturday, which also happened to be my birthday, I found there was no place else I'd rather have been than on that sidewalk.
Claude B. McKay, 31, is a kindergarten teacher at the Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy in Washington. He raised more than $2,050 for Covenant House programs during his Young Professional Sleep Out experience.
We were thrilled to be able to attend the Nonprofit Roundtable's CommMission
event last week at the offices of the Center for Association Leadership
offices. The theme was "Leveraging Communications" and there was a fabulous panel made up of Jim Dinegar, Laura Meyers, Ilir Zherka, and Debbie Jarvis.
President and CEO, Board of Trade
You know that you are in for a treat when Jim Dinegar shows up with a bag of props worthy of a magician's act, and he did not disappoint. On the topic of "Maximizing your Voice in a Changing Marketplace" Jim detailed a communications strategy that is ready to go at a moment's notice, with a clear and concise message that is unified across all fronts of the organization.
The first step is to "Be a Better Speaker", the value of which is often overlooked within the current communications office. We live in an age of Twitter and Instagram, but being able to tell your story in person in an effective way is vital. Secondly, as Jim illustrated with the arrow that he somehow got onto a metro train this morning, you must have a point. Be succinct but confident, and tell the story in such a way that it appeals to your audience in a way that they can relate, always having your team ready and on message for whenever an opportunity arises. In developing that message it is crucial to be solidified as an organization, and as the box of Eggos that were next on Jim's menu demonstrated, not to waffle. You have to present your issues and arguments in a way that is the same every time, so that wherever your organization is referenced it is clear what you do and who you serve.
Finally, the Windex, to remind us that you must be clear in all of your communications about your nonprofit organization. One of the biggest pitfalls for communicators is to try to ramble and tell too much of the story, so it is important to pare down that story to something that is interesting and enticing for your audience to take the next step to engagement with your organization. Pull them in, but never ever bore them.
CEO, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington
Everyone has heard the phrase, "all press is good press," and Laura Meyers spoke to how to truly make that a reality, addressing "Turning Crises into Opportunities", which is something every communications professional in any sector would like to be able to do. For Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, that crisis came when the Susan G. Komen foundation decided to defund the organization nationally. When that happened they went to work, highlighting the tremendous amount of preventative health care, pre-natal care, education, and counseling that they provide for thousands of DC area residents.
By being ready and having an effective crisis messaging strategy already in place, Laura and her team were able to take what was potentially a damaging media event and turn it around through effective storytelling and a unified message. She advised that for all nonprofit communicators that find themselves in a moment of crisis large or small to behave as if everything that their organization says or does will be viewed in the worst possible light in the media, and then take decisive action to mitigate the crisis. If you are able to keep on mesage you ensure that you control the one part of media coverage of any event involving your organization, which is what your staff and board say when asked for their take.
Executive Director, National Conference on Citizenship
Ilir spoke on the topic of "Integrating Influence into your Brand" and drew heavily both on his experience with NCOC and his former job as the head of DC Vote. Oftentimes "thinking outside the box" is not necessarily what is needed to draw attention, as was evidenced in a DC Vote campaign built around dancing Hippos outside congressional office buildings. As news of the campaign began to reach the media, the phone began to ring, but rather than the evening news it was angry funders who felt it was making the organization look silly. A valuable lesson was learned, that one of their main audiences, their funders, put a lot of stock in being seen as an organization that should be taken seriously. DC Vote developed a new strategy based around small acts of near civil disobedience such as silent protests outside congress. They used these as a set of what Zherka called "Baby Steps" leading up to the April 11 protest when Mayor Gray and multiple members of the City Council, including current mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells, were arrested in an act of true civil disobedience to highlight the city's lack of representation in Congress, becoming a landmark moment in the struggle for DC Voting Rights.
Essentially Ilir said that there is a general 5 part strategy to good communication in the name of advocacy:
- Talk about what you need: Do not be afraid to say what it is that you are seeking to have happen, and what steps must be taken in order to acheive success.
- Take Baby Steps: Find ways that your organization can build up to a crucial media or communications moment with small acts that build attention around your issues.
- Strike While the Iron is Hot: When you have that moment, be ready, get your message out.
- Communicate Success: Be sure you can show ways that you have been successful in moving toward your goals.
- Stand for Something: It is vital that you know what it is you stand for, and always base your communications and actions on that unified message.
VP of Corporate Citizenship and Responsibility, Pepco Holdings
A familiar face to those longtime Washingtonians from her days as an anchor at NBC4, Debbie brought a unique perspective to the CommMission gathering on media relations called "Partnering with Media to Change the Conversation". Hearing this from someone who has been on both sides of the nonprofit communicator and media outlet divide was informative and thought provoking. One thing that she emphasized was to know your media audience and have an up to date media list, but not to always wait until you have a story about your organization to develop a relationship. Once you have targeted media professionals that you think would be amenable to covering issues and stories that relate to your organization you need to cultivate a relationship with them. This means interacting with them on social media, picking up the phone and calling them, and sharing items or pieces that you find that you think would be of interest to them. If you can build the relationship to a point where your media contacts see you as both a source and an expert when it comes to the news that is pertinent to your organization, you are likely to have your own stories covered.
Jarvis secondly emphasized that you will not be discovered, you have to tell them about what you are doing and why it is relevant. It is up to you and your communications team to seek out the opportunities that you think are the right vehicle to tell your story, and then you have to tell it well. Storytelling is integral to a communications strategy that involves the press, so once you have the audience be ready to respond with a succinct and clear message or story. If that is through press coverage, or paid advertisement, or even as small as a retweet or mention in a blog post, having a presence in the media is crucial to a good nonprofit communications strategy.
This blog was contributed by Will Simpson, the Assistant Director at CEDC.
“People say 'It's as plain as the nose on your face.' But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
-Isaac Asimov, I, Robot
Not to toot my own horn, but I have always had a knack for working with others. It comes from my background in theatre where a show's success depends on everyone involved. But when I transitioned to my career in nonprofits, I found out that collaboration takes on a new meaning in our sector. I found out that what I had been doing was child’s play compared to the large-scale projects at work in our community.
Allison and Madeline at
CommMission: Leveraging Communications
Last year, N Street Village and DC Central Kitchen started a partnership to increase the number of women in DC getting professional culinary training. Miriam’s Kitchen and Pathways to Housing DC work together to end homeless through advocacy and rapid re-housing. GUIDE program and Family Services, Inc. worked tirelessly for two years to effectively merge and increase the number of clients served. And those are just a few of the many examples I’ve witnessed.
What these people and partnerships have taught me is that collaboration is not just about working together. Collaboration means you respect the other perspectives around the table and value their place in changing your own. Truly collaborating with someone requires that you respect the knowledge they bring to the table and not only tolerate, but look forward to, the times when they prove you wrong.
Because of the Roundtable, I now go to every meeting assuming I know the least in the room. I go in knowing that my perspective is just one of many, allowing everyone else to share their thoughts, and giving myself the permission to consider them as seriously as I consider my own. And it is with this lesson that I will take on my next challenge as the Community Manager for the Council on Foundations. At the Council, I will help launch a brand-new social network for foundations called the Philanthropy Exchange.
When I came to the Roundtable in 2012, I knew the importance of working together. I was an avid collaborator because I knew I produced better work through partnering with others. But that, I realize now, was still focused on my own achievement and my own goals. The importance of collaboration doesn’t lie in the results of your partnership, but the respect you hold for the other person holding up that mirror. It’s accepting that you could have missed something as obvious as your own nose, and welcoming their help in finding it.
Thank you to everyone, far too many to begin to list, who have helped me during my time here. I am so honored to have played a part in our alliance, and I promise that I am not going far. Please stay in touch over LinkedIn or Twitter, and don’t hesitate to contact me at any time.
I looking forward to seeing you all at the Annual Meeting!
Allison Carney is the Strategic Communications Manager for the Roundtable.
Collaboration is integral to nonprofits' DNA. It's a value, a practice and essential for impact. Yet, in my experience, it's extremely challenging to invest the time and space required to seek agreement. I think most people want to work through differences to make better decisions, struggling with clumsy tools and competition for time and space.
I spent last year in New Zealand researching social enterprise start-ups. One of the ventures that I discovered was Loomio, a tool that makes it easier and faster to make collaborative decisions. Loomio impressed me because the platform was so practical and the team developing it so creative. In less than 2 years, Loomio is catapulting across the globe - currently in 30 countries. The Greek Direct Democracy Alliance is using Loomio for a national dialogue before the next regional elections. Hungarian students are using it to improve higher education. The Wikimedia Foundation, the organization behind Wikipedia, uses Loomio to manage internal decisions. The municipal government in Wellington used Loomio to revise its alcohol policy, engaging diverse stakeholders rather than the "usual suspects" who typically show up for town meetings. People with disabilities are taking a more active role in designing their care using Loomio. Networks are shaping shared strategy much more quickly on Loomio and boards are co-creating decisions with clients and partners. Families are planning elder care and neighbors are organizing to improve safety. It is truly incredible how many different types of users find Loomio an accessible, easy and fast way to make better decisions together.
Loomio is free, open source software. This month we are launching a crowd fund campaign to build a full-featured mobile interface so anyone, anywhere can participate in decisions that affect them. We get many requests for more customization, so the next version of Loomio will also have features that organizations can adapt to their specific needs through a subscription.
We invite you to try out Loomio to see if it adds value for your needs – Loomio.org. Since I discovered Loomio, I'm using it with almost every client, with my family and the students I teach at Brown. I am validating my hunch about collaboration – people can discover common ground pretty quickly when barriers of time and space are eliminated. With better tools to enable collaboration, we can speed up our urgent work for positive change.
This blog was contributed by MJ Kaplan, who joined the Loomio team in January. For her "day job" MJ leads Kaplan Consulting, supporting people, organizations and communities to translate intentions into results through Kaplan Consulting. MJ teaches Social Entrepreneurship at Brown University and in February was awarded the Cordes Innovation Award by Ashoka U in conjunction with Brown's Social Innovation Initiative.
Last week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced one of the largest reductions of military forces (both active and reserve components) since World War II. Many in uniform will be quickly separated from the military and find themselves returning to civilian life with little or no transition time. Historically, our military has been reduced after every large conflict dating back to the Revolutionary War. What is unique about this drawdown is that it is solely comprised of volunteers, drawn from a small segment of society. Our challenge is that these veterans often return home undetected without being properly reintegrated into the fabric of their communities. Conversely, our communities miss the chance to capitalize on the talents of our veterans. In short, our nation and our Veterans must reconnect.
We all share a responsibility to provide support and needed services to all veterans; commensurate with the task they were given – to defend our Constitution and protect the Homeland. At the same time, we have an opportunity to reconnect, reintegrate and capitalize on the tremendous talents our veterans and their families offer. Veterans bring a winning ethos. One of teamwork, mission accomplishment and dedication. They are wired to serve and ready to be future businessmen, government leaders, educators and servants in our community. We must go beyond simple statements of gratitude- "thanks for your service"- and move to to actions which help veterans find a job, get a place to live, build relationships, continue an education, and serve the community after their service. The local community is the lynchpin to this reintegration.
In an effort to share this positive narrative and offer best practices across sectors (public, nonprofit and private), the Georgetown University Center for Public & Nonprofit Leadership will host a panel discussion on Friday, March 21st, 2014, from 10am-12pm, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. The panel represents a small sample of great initiatives in Veteran reintegration. The audience is a cross section of key leaders who are actively involved in Veteran's issues from nation- building to community- building. Continental breakfast begins at 9:00am. Click here for more details.
Click here to RSVP -space is limited. Hope to see you there!
This blog was contributed by John D. Sims, COL, USA (Ret), Visiting Practitioner at the Georgetown University's Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership.
When I started A Wider Circle in 2001, it was after consulting with many shelters and other nonprofit organizations in the region, looking at what was being done to help those in need. As we began serving, we reached out to many of these organizations to see how we could support their efforts and partner in service. This spirit of collaboration and partnership has always been at our core, leading us to say yes to hundreds of government and nonprofit agencies that need the services we provide, and, in turn, who help us serve those who come to us for assistance.
I have been thinking about these partnerships since I got the news this week of being selected as a 2014 CNN Hero. That is because this honor really belongs to A Wider Circle and the many partner organizations with which we work throughout the Washington region.
Our mission is to end poverty. But that will never happen without collaboration between community organizations and support from regional institutions like the Nonprofit Roundtable, which does so much to advance its allies' work in health and human services, education, the environment, the arts and more to improve the quality of life for all residents of our region. As they often say, the Roundtable solves problems none of us can solve alone.
When I founded A Wider Circle, I did not anticipate that we would get more than 450 calls a day, or that more than 10,000 volunteers would come each year. I knew we would charge hard, uncompromising in our efforts to help our neighbors rise out of poverty. I knew this work could not be done any other way than all-out, for poverty is widespread and in need of a movement, not just an organization.
At the same time, I did not expect to develop the multitude of relationships that A Wider Circle has formed with colleagues who share our vision and are willing to do whatever it takes to move their clients out of poverty. Take, for instance, Pathways to Housing DC, which is devoted to moving chronically homeless people from the streets of Washington, D.C. into their own apartments. A Wider Circle helps to furnish many of those homes. In the District, we also work closely with Community Connections, Green Door and other mental health organizations. And since we serve clients who are escaping domestic violence, we frequently get referrals from House of Ruth and DASH.
We get calls from nonprofits as far away as Fairfax and Baltimore and from groups located just around the corner from our Silver Spring offices. Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless recently asked for assistance for its new Safe Havens for Veterans Initiative. We responded by providing furniture that will enable eight formerly homeless veterans to move into the first of these new facilities. As I write this, I am looking out my window as a Montgomery County nonprofit partner receives several beds that will be in their client's home tonight.
There is one thing I hear about my job that bothers me more than anything. And the strange thing is, it’s usually meant as a compliment. Some people look at my work highlighting nonprofits, and they tend to say the same thing: “It’s so great that you’re out there giving a voice to the voiceless.”
I usually respond by furrowing my brow and shaking my head.
It generally becomes clear to me that they do not have experience working with a client who is having trouble, and if they do they are looking at it the wrong way. The people who are characterized as “voiceless” could be those experiencing homelessness, struggling with mental illness, or even stopping by a food bank to get a week’s worth of food. But I would never characterize them as voiceless. Nonprofit clients are struggling, to be sure, and they are in need of support, but they have their own voices. They do not need someone else to create their story. They know their story. They spend every minute of every day living it.
What they need is an audience.
As nonprofit communicators, we do not speak for them. We do not invent their plight. We do not embellish or exaggerate their hardships. We find their stories and we point big arrows in their direction. We draw eyes and ears to it and say, “You need to hear this! This is important!”
We may repackage, we may polish and refine, but I have never seen my job as creating someone else’s voice. The people our region’s nonprofits serve are strong, resilient people who have gone through an immense amount of struggle. My job, as a nonprofit communicator, is to underscore the importance their story carries and use it to help make change in our communities.
You see, we do not create a voice for the voiceless. We repackage these stories, amplify them and spread them to create the highest amount of impact possible.
So if you’re a nonprofit communicator, the next time someone tells you that it is so great you are giving a voice to the voiceless, I urge you to correct them. Let them know you do not give a voice to the voiceless. Tell them that you provide an audience to those who are already speaking.
Are you a nonprofit communicator? Then join us for our CommMission: Leveraging Communications event on March 12th or our Nonprofit Communications Networking Happy Hour on March 11th!
Allison Carney is the Strategic Communications Manager for the Nonprofit Roundtable.
My son, Christopher, is a speed skater.
In one of his earlier races, Christopher faced a fierce competitor who was older and more seasoned than he. During the race, Christopher kept turning around to look over his shoulder at this other racer, who was gaining on him. As they circled the track again and again, he kept looking back, and as a result, he fell behind into second place.
Christopher was devastated. “Why did this happen, mom?” he asked, “My time has always been quicker than his.” I looked at him and I told him, “You cut yourself short on time by turning around to look at your competitor instead of focusing on what was best for you to win the race. You need to run your own race.”
The same principle applies to the nonprofit sector.
As nonprofits, we are constantly comparing ourselves to private businesses in terms of results. But instead of focusing on best practices we limit our salaries, opt not to invest in employee development, and tout low administrative costs. And, in so doing, we slow down our own progress. Society says nonprofits do good, they don’t make a profit. But the truth is, the good we do adds value to our community, and that is our profit.
The same idea is central to Uncharitable by Dan Pallotta. He underscores the importance of investing in so-called “overhead” like compensation and advertising. He writes, “To say that it is a bad expense is like saying the launch pad is a bad expense, because it is really the rocket in which we are interested.” By refusing to label ourselves the “anti-business,” we allow ourselves to use the very same tactics that have helped many businesses succeed.
Once Christopher stopped caring about the other boy’s performance, he began to focus on what he needed to do to be his personal best. He invested in developing his personal best, not simply what could get him ahead of the other guy. And, as a result, his speed increased. His form improved. Race after race, he won more and more often. By not comparing his performance to everyone else’s, he allowed himself to soar.
By reinforcing a philosophy where nonprofits are the anti-business, we inhibit ourselves from utilizing the very practices that have built our economy. As nonprofits, we need to disengage ourselves from this stereotype, and unleash the power of doing good and doing well.
Join us for our Annual Meeting on May 20th to hear Dan Pallotta speak more about Uncharitable and learn about what we have in store for our strategic plan for the next 5 years.
Also, see Dan at WRAG’s CEO Coffee and Conversation
series on May 19th.
What is your role at the Nonprofit Roundtable?
I have been the Membership Associate at the Roundtable since October of 2013. I handle all of our membership dues, as well as all of the IT needs of the organization. My days are filled with lots of Salesforce and the occasional question about why someone’s calendar isn’t syncing!
Why are you interested in nonprofits?
Ever since I got involved in the nonprofit world I have felt this passion for the sector that I never felt for any other job that I’ve held. Seeing the benefits of the work that nonprofits do every day is a rewarding experience that I don’t think any other job can offer.
How would you describe the culture of NPRT?
We are a really hard working, supportive, and fun group! Everyone I have met through this organization so far has really impressed me with their knowledge of, and passion for, the nonprofit sector.
What was your first job?
My first job was at Starbucks back home in NJ. I loved it so much that I decided to work at another Starbucks location near my college while I was in school. Like any service industry job, it had some pretty ridiculous moments! But hey, I can order an iced quad venti 2 pump sugar free vanilla soy light ice latte correctly.
What brought you to the Roundtable?
My outgoing Executive Director at my job before this actually told me I would love it here and that there was an opening that fit my skill set well. I came in for one interview and was so impressed by Amy and Malcolm, and their passion for their work, that I just knew I would love it here. I also love the mission of the Roundtable and I think that collaboration is absolutely the key to success for nonprofits.
If you were an animal, what would it be?
Ummm, obviously a tiger. No explanation needed. They are awesome. I got a house cat because it was as close as I could get to an actual tiger.
What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
Cookie Dough...so good.
Mac or PC?
Mac! 100%. I worked at the Apple Store for 2 years :).