This last month, I had the great pleasure of launching my own brand out of a decade in nonprofit capacity building and mindfulness. It's been an exciting journey to say the least. But people keep asking me, "Where did you come up with the name?" Well, let me tell you my story.
I have worked in the nonprofit sector for about 12 years. Been a volunteer, fundraiser, board president, founder and executive director. Through out all of my experiences, I have found a common theme to be true. Nonprofits don't invest enough the time in training and supporting their fundraising staff.
Rather, they insist that their staff wear many hats. After months and years of voiced concern, fundraising staff begin to grow weary and underappreciated. They start looking elsewhere and eventually move on. This misdirected culture can and needs to be resolved. Leaders and Managers in nonprofits need to start embracing a culture of refinement within their skill sets. Recognizing what their employees are really good at and allowing them to grow in that over time will produce more successful and longer serving employees. Employees who feel elevated in their skills will build deeper relationships with donors, will work diligently to follow ethical practices and will grow in their ability to lead in the future.
Refining our Practice(ROP) is all about providing organizations and their fundraisers with access to great resources that will help them become the best philanthropists they can be. How do we do this? Through low cost, high impact workshops filled with contemporary best practices and social development tools that fundraisers can then hone throughout their careers.
I believe Refining our Practice has three main components to it.
For more information about how you can Refine your Practice, check out my Public Speaking and Workshops Page where you can partner with me to speak or do a workshop!
Over the past couple of years, I have started doing more workshop presentations again. This has allowed me the opportunity to really hone into the needs of my fellow philanthropists in today's workforce and create material that is beneficial.
I have had the pleasure of using 6 Hat Thinking in all my recent positions and teams i have worked with. This powerful tool is something that many of us use everyday without even thinking about it too often. It's an emotional intelligence tool that allows peers to speak freely among each other and employers to create a culture of buy in for projects and products without promising anything.
I was pleased to present on this topic as a breakout session at the 2019 Central Illinois Conference on Volunteerism.
I am pleased to announce that I will be presenting on this topic at 2 upcoming events.
October 9th, 2019 at the Volunteer Center of McHenry County's workshop on
Working Across Generations and the Six Thinking Hats
February 5th, 2020 at the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce Leaders in Action series.
It's pride month. Simply put, we are taking the focus off of shame and putting it on pride. But the real opposite of shame is love. That's the beauty of the pride celebration.
But pride has its place as well...
I have worked in the nonprofit sector for about 12 years now. It's where I started my career and where I will end it. I believe in the power of us all individually and collectively doing good. But as I reflect this pride month on where my community has come from and is going to, recent research has shown me that there is still a disparity in workplace for gay men and women.
In 2001, researchers Sylvia Allegretto and Michelle Arthur showed alleged evidence that gay men in relationships earned 15.6 % less than heterosexual men in relationships.
In a study done by Gregory Lewis published in 2013, he found that gay men with college degrees make 8.6% less than straight men with college degrees. While this disparity is significantly less than the for profit sector, it is still alarming none the less.
In 2015, Joe Pinsker from the Atlantic wrote an article called "Unequal Pay: The Gay Wage Gap." In the article he notes a study done in Gender and Society that in Canada, gay men with partners made 5% less than straight men with partners. What is important about this study is that gay marriage was legalized 10 years prior to this article.
These studies not only are a cue that as the nation moves to revisit and one day pass the The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 1944, we must still fight for LGBTQ equality as well. While pride isn't the opposite of shame, it is a feeling everyone should have in the workplace when it comes to their capacity to change and make things better. Workplaces are not masculine spaces, and therefore should not be paid as such.
The role of executive director (ED) is tough, especially in the nonprofit sector. For those of us who have shared in this experience, we can validate the late nights pouring over spreadsheets, the constant phone calls throughout the week and sometimes weekend and the pressure to lead, fundraise, manage and market all at the same time. Not to mention the countless speeches, rubber chicken dinners, hiring's, firing's and major changes in philanthropy that we must keep up with.
These and many other facts of the job have made it less attractive over the years. Story after story of how the role has taken over that person’s life have begun to sink into the next generations mind as we enter our time to lead. Fewer millennials have an interest in leading in a position that is so restrictive and time consuming. The current generation fought tirelessly for social change. The next generation of leaders will need to fight for social acceptance.
So how do you persuade millennials to step into executive director roles when its time?
Bring it back to the conviction that got you the job. Find that core belief about the population you serve or about your abilities as an innovator again. Start allowing that to guide your speeches, your team meetings and your affiliations.
Put into place your succession plan. Like in your personal life, you wouldn't leave your family to deal with your affairs and just take off. Put into place a constructive plan that identifies 3 things.
What does this look like?
Marketing is something that I believe all of us in the nonprofit sector can say has been dropped in our laps at certain points in our careers. So, we go to work marketing our brand, our stories and how you the donor fit into that. But we forget our other audience. The future leader. The executive director role has a marketing problem…. but it doesn’t have to.
Progressive Philanthropy. This is a culture that I have worked very hard to encourage in the last 2 years with the various organizations I am supporting. It stems from 12 years’ experience in the field of fund development and donor engagement. It has morphed as I have learned and mentored others. It sits on a bedrock of universal values that guide my policy making. But what does it look like? For me, there are 3 keys to my philosophy of progressive philanthropy.
The first is impartiality. It is critical that we as fundraisers hold objective, fair and consistent approaches for collecting and evaluating information. Furthermore, we then must use this impartiality to treat all people and causes with equity. If done habitually, this should be the first thing donors see and trust about us.
The second thing is an affirmation through personal giving of a dedication to the philanthropic sector. Leading by example is one of the first things we are taught it takes to be a truly deserving leader. But leadership is about followership. And what better way to follow than to give generously of your treasure. This is an area in which all development staff, volunteers and board members can be challenged and grown.
The third thing is a mindfulness within relationship building. While most of a major gifts or volunteer coordinators job description is to build relationships that will lead to a sustainable monetary gain for their organization down the road; officers of these roles need to practice mindfulness as well. Attention to birthdays, life situations, relationships and quality of life are important factors to have in donor file. Networking events are a great way to practice mindfulness. Simple phone calls during off seasons to check in on donors and see how they are can be mindful acts.
Progressive Philanthropy isn't a buzz phrase that we can just throw out from time to time. It needs to be a series of practices that be believe in and work to habitually duplicate in our colleagues and our donors. It is a rejection of an individualistic ideology in fundraising and an acceptance of a philosophy that asserts the well-being of all involved as equal.
Today we talk with author and non-profit capacity builder, Jordan Debbink. He discusses the inner workings of the non-profit world, and his experience in leadership.
Have you tuned in to part two of my interview with the Business Confessional? "Today we're back with Jordan Debbink. He shares a useful multi-step tool on introducing change to an organization!"
I started my life in a small town outside of Bucharest Romania with no father and a mom who had two kids she couldn’t take care of. To that end, there were moments as an infant that I would spend time alone, crying on a counter when my mother went to work. Eventually I was put in an orphanage. But as we all know, the orphanages in the 90’s were crowded with children who needed to be held and loved. So, I adapted and learned to soothe myself from a young age and in affect, numbed myself to the nurturing I should have been getting. This numbing continued after I was adopted. Adoption is a wonderful thing, but it is still another change. And for a child who had to learn how to adapt on his own while still in infancy, it was traumatic. I would cry when I was held, I rocked myself to sleep, and when I woke up from my nap I would play contently on my own. There were many times that I would have rather spent in my room alone than with the entire family. One time while driving with my adoptive mother, I heard a story on the radio of a mother who sent her child back to their native country because she couldn’t “deal” with the behaviors. I remember sinking in my seat; making myself as small as possible thinking, I don’t want that to happen to me.
All my life I have struggled with something called reactive attachment disorder or RAD. RAD presents itself differently to everyone. Some form unhealthy affections and connections towards individuals and use it to manipulate them, while others take everything on themselves and refuse to ask for help for fear of disappointing others, losing control or being abandoned. I am of the later nature. Therefore, I’ve struggled to trust others initially and have spent most of my life working to be one step ahead of everyone else. I wouldn’t ever dare be caught off guard and disappoint someone I love. At the root of both versions though, the individual just wants to be seen as they are and not spoken for as if they were already broken.
As a child of adoption who was diagnosed with RAD, I spent much of my time in therapy to no avail. Like so many other mental health issues, RAD at first was not well understood, and best practices of the time were very damaging. One such therapy that did exist in the 90’s was holding therapy. What happens, is that the parent or counselor takes the child in their lap and holds them tightly to make eye contact and maintain physical touch. It was thought that this could make up for lost time. But what studies have shown is that this is a very damaging. Because you are taking a child who already struggles to trust those around him and you are teaching him that it is ok to submit to the will of another person. But thankfully this experience didn’t put me off to therapy as a support. It did however reinforce the numbness within for me.
Adopted into a religiously conservative family I was always taught to help others first. Furthermore, if you had problems, you didn’t talk about them, you dealt with them internally and you stayed focused on helping others. The plus side of this, is now I have a successful career in philanthropy. The negative, is that I never really learned how to ask for help. So, when I came out to my parents at 16, I didn’t really know what I was asking for. I even went through several months of conversion therapy. And from there the numbness within strengthened itself. In some ways, I was the perfect vessel for the useful lesson of “helping others first”, because I was already well equipped to help myself in every way. But it meant allowing other to make decisions for me that, at the time went untested.
For me, I already felt constantly at odds with the people who saved my life. And coming out gay, only enhanced that. So, it was easy to fall back inside the closet. Numbing myself to who I really am and putting on the front that was more acceptable. Living in that numbness was easier than the feeling of abandonment.
5 years later, I found myself working in an incredibly rewarding career teaching adults with intellectual disabilities…but every day I hated myself. At this point there were two defining moments in which the numbness started to wear off. Christmas day 2016, I remember sitting around with my family and we were sharing moments from the year. It came around to my turn and I remember having a moment of such clarity and grief. I said…. I hated who I had become this year. Silence. I am going to go back to therapy and get help.
The second instance in which that numbness started to fall away was when my livelihood was threatened when it came out that I was gay at work. My life changed after that. No longer were the years I had spent in service to the school and the students of any credit to them. I instantly became unnecessary to their greater mission. It was another moment for me in which, had I not spent the year previous getting support, I would have allowed this treatment of me to go unaddressed and my numbness to take ahold again. So, after some incredibly difficult conversations, I left that toxic environment.
I believe in a world where I can help others, but only because I push the boundary of my personal
development and growth first. I recognize that my RAD has its struggles, but it doesn’t have to take up
all my time and exhaust me. Eventually the numbness wore off for me. And underneath it all I was still intact. And for the first time I was able to sit in everything we as humans are meant to feel. Shame. Joy. Greif. Delight. And a value. More than sitting in each of these feelings though, I found a purpose and place for them in my life.
And so, as I close I have one final thought It is ok for you to help yourself first. It is ok. I love my parents and it wasn’t their fault there wasn’t better information to support them in raising a child with RAD. But we do not live in that world today. Today, we live in a world where there is an endless supply of knowledge to be digested by parents that will support them in raising children with mental health issues. Mistakes were made. These words were said at a time when admitting a mistake was a sign of strength; not weakness. And so, we must move forward in conversation. And those conversations should include the hopes, dreams, thoughts, questions and concerns of the individual with whom the diagnosis is concerned. Because if we choose to include them and provide a safe space for them to share and truly believe them; then perhaps we can stop the numbness from taking an effect for so long in the next generation.