View from a conference exhibitor's booth

20160511_134455I love conferences where non-profit professionals get together, especially ones where the organizations are from similar backgrounds and missions. This week I am in New Orleans as an exhibitor at Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s (BGCA) National Conference. I thought it would be fun to write a few blog posts from my vantage point as a conference exhibitor (e.g. things I see, hear, etc). Then in next week’s post, I want to share an AH-HA moment I had from a conversation I had with another exhibitor. (Note: if you are reading this post and at the same conference, please swing by the booth and say hello).
Observation #1: The buzz & energy is palpable
From my booth, you can feel the buzz, especially when people pour into the exhibitors area after a big inspirational general session. For example, yesterday afternoon the big buzz was about “Year of the Teen.” People who washed into my booth were talking about it. I was able to overhear people passing my booth engaged in discussions about teenagers. It was the “topic du jour.
Why was this the case? Simply said, it was because BGCA used their bully pulpit to share their case for support on this important issue with their local affiliates. Here is the session description:

Keynote speaker Dr. Shawn Ginwright will discuss the need to place healing and hope at the center of educational and political strategies, and share how ‘teacher-activists’ in community organizations and stressed schools are using healing strategies to help youth become powerful civic actors.

I get goosebumps just reading the session description. AWESOME!
Observation #2: Hope, optimism & change are in the air
People wash into your booth when you exhibit at conferences. It is simply how it works and why exhibitors pay to exhibit. Organizations have needs for products and services, and exhibitors hope to fill those needs. What I most love about this “speed dating dance” is hearing people’s stories.
Here are just a few quick hits from yesterday:

  • One organization just acquired an old church. Now they are wrestling with whether or not they need a capital campaign consultant to help them raise the necessary funding to renovate the facility. As they tell their story, the words almost sizzle with energy when they talk about the possibilities and all of the new things they will be able to do.
  • Another organization is writing a grant for a community gardening program they operate. Their kids are engaged in healthy eating, sustainable gardening, entrepreneurial activities involving sales of vegetables, etc. They now plan on acquiring a bus in order to distribute their produce to food desert areas that lack access to healthy foods. As I listen to the fundraising professional describe the business opportunity for me (e.g. to help them develop a business and marketing plan), I could hardly get a word into the conversation. This person was working on two hours of sleep. She was racing a grant deadline and was super charged up and passionate about this program.
  • An old friend stopped by to say hello. I’m not sure how long he has been his organization’s CEO, but I’m confident it has been at least two or three decades. Our conversation was all about the planned giving activities he has been involved in throughout the years. He doesn’t want to retire until he sees some of the fruits of that labor. To say there was anticipation and excitement threaded throughout that conversation would be an understatement.

I could go on and on . . . I just love the energy.
Obervsation #3: Old friends and fellowship
People passing by my exhibitor booth are engaged in conversations, but it looks different from most typical conversations I see back home. What I’m seeing looks deep, thoughtful and engaging. I suspect it is because many of these non-profit professionals are old friends who haven’t seen each other for a while (perhaps since last years conference).
Friends and colleagues are:

  • sharing successes and failures
  • talking about the future
  • getting caught up on personal things (e.g. family)

I love that I just used the word “family” in my last bullet point because that is what I see from the vantage point of my exhibitors booth. It is one big family reunion, which is simple #AwesomeSauce!

If you have never exhibited at a conference, you may not know that there is a fun dynamic at play among exhibitors. There is a “we’re all in this crazy sales game together” feeling. There is also a family reunion atmosphere for some of those who only see each other at these conferences and have developed friendships throughout the years.
Sometimes when attendees are in session, exhibitors start visiting each other’s booths to visit and sharing information. Next Tuesday, I will share with you a story about an exhibitor who washed into my booth and how that interaction resulted in an amazing AH-HA moment for me as it relates to the intersection of programming and resource development.
Do you have any fun conference stories that you want to share? Please use the comment box and tell us about it. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Philanthropy is emotional. Is your agency embracing this reality?

philanthropyI was on the phone yesterday talking with Pamela Grow over at The Grow Report about a toolbox project I’m currently work on. During that call, she shared an emotional donor story, and my response was simply “philanthropy is emotional“. For whatever reason, I haven’t been able to get neither Pamela’s story nor my simply conclusion out of my head. Whenever something like this happens, I always take it as a sign from the “blogger gods” that I need to write about it.
So, that’s what you’re getting this morning . . . a handful of stories and examples from my life to prove the point that philanthropy is emotional and ask what you’re doing about it. Hopefully, you can share a few stories and examples of your own.
What exactly is philanthropy?
I know that when I think of “philanthropy” my mind immediately wanders to non-profit organizations and charitable giving. However, the concept of philanthropy is much more expansive than just money being donated to agencies. The following is a simple definition that Google spit out at me when I asked:

Philanthropy is the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, “promoting the welfare of others” includes volunteerism, advocacy in addition to charitable giving.
live unitedOur United Way friends totally get an A+ on this one because they’ve been running around for a decade now telling us to LIVE UNITED which encompasses the following ideas:

  1. Give
  2. Advocate
  3. Volunteer

I guess when I step back and look at the bigger picture of philanthropy, I can’t help but wonder how it can’t be an emotional activity. After all, the act of reaching out to help someone else and expecting nothing in return is a selfless activity that is rooted in love and caring. Both of which are emotional. Right?
My first tearful national conference
youth of the yearMy first Boys & Girls Club national conference was in New York City in 2001 literally months before the terror attacks.
During one of the general sessions, the 2001 National Youth of the Year stepped to the big stage and told his story, which included:

  • a father who had died
  • a mother who was addicted, in prison and infect with HIV
  • a Boys & Girls Club that became home
  • hope and inspiration

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
His story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
A donor’s tears
tears2Fast forward to one of my first engagements as an external consultant. I was assisting with an organizational assessment and conducting interviews with board members, volunteers, collaborative partners, donors, former donors and various other stakeholders.
The organization was experiencing a number of pain points and found itself under scrutiny by the newspaper, television stations, and its supporters. As if this wasn’t bad enough, those who the agency served were starting to organize and protest.
I had the privilege of interviewing someone who had “done it all” including:

  • program volunteer
  • fundraising volunteer
  • board member (I believe two different stints on the board)
  • donor

There she sat, sharing her perspective on the current state and desired future state of the agency, and there were lots of tears.
Why was she crying?
Simply said, she understood the importance of the agency. She had witnessed and participated in the transformational gift this organization provides its clients. Her tears were rooted in frustration and fear.

  • Frustration that the current issues haunting the agency were getting in the way of fulfilling its mission.
  • Fear that the current issues might permanently close the doors and impact clients.

Her story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
An executive director’s tears
tearsI often find myself standing in parking lots after meeting “kicking stones” with staff, board members, volunteers, etc.
After one meeting, there I was in the parking lot with the executive director and their eyes started to pool with tears. It would be simple for me to chalk those tears up to:

  • being “sideways” with the board president
  • tight cash flow
  • inability to expand services
  • pressures being brought by partners to build organizational capacity
  • powerlessness to be able to give hard-working staff a raise

In reality, this executive director was thinking about opening up a job search and leaving the agency because they weren’t sure that they were the right leader to solve these challenges  The stress was eating them up.
The tears stemmed from the fact that they saw program staff, volunteers, and clients as part of their extended family, and the thought of leaving was akin to divorce or death.
Non-profit staff dedicate their lives to promoting the welfare of others. They are usually donors. They typically work for a lot less than what they could earn in the for-profit sector (by choice). They see, touch, hear, and feel “mission” on a daily basis.
This executive director’s story illustrates the power of philanthropy and demonstrates how emotional it is for people.
What are you doing?
Are you on the same page with me now? Do you believe that philanthropy is emotional? If so, then what are you doing to infuse emotion into the following functions at your non-profit agency:

  • marketing and PR?
  • resource development and fundraising?
  • board governance?
  • staffing?
  • programming?

One of my favorite non-profit PSA commercials is the one featuring Denzel Washington talking from his heart about the roots of his philanthropic spirit. Every time I see this commercial it brings tears to my eyes. Click the video or YouTube link to view this iconic public service announcement and bear witness to another emotional example.

Please take a minute or two to scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences about an emotional philanthropy story. It is the holiday season and a time to give. So, why not give the gift of inspiration to your fellow non-profit colleagues?
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The power of writing it down

inkWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking at posts from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

First let me start this O.D. Fridays post with an apology to DonorDreams blog readers.

For the last week, I’ve been in St. Louis with hundreds of Boys & Girls Clubs from the Midwest and Southwest regions. What an amazing conference with inspiring stories and talented board volunteers and staff members! Hats off to the national staff who planned and executed a flawless conference plan.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for me and this blog platform.

I didn’t post anything on Monday because my ride to St. Louis picked me up at 5:55 am, and I also missed the mark on Thursday because I needed to be in my exhibitor booth at 7:00 am.

Here are all of the things I’ve been trying to balance this week:

  • Writing for the DonorDreams blog community
  • Managing and staffing my exhibitor booth
  • Organizing and facilitating a training track
  • Networking
  • Working with other clients back home who are under contract and in need of attention

For those of you who know me, I usually balance competing projects fairly well. So, why did this week turn out so messy? Why did I drop the ball and not blog on Monday and Thursday?

I think some of the answers to these questions can be found on John Greco’s July 23, 2013 johnponders post titled “Ink It“. In this post, John drills down on the following Chinese proverb:

The faintest ink lasts longer than the best memory.”

Heading into this challenging week, I didn’t write anything down. I was operating with everything in my head.

I am not just talking about the power of task lists and calendars.  This has everything to do with brain science and in some instances personality types.

Now let’s take a 180 degree turn and about-face with this idea.

If you buy into what John talks about in “Ink It,” then what are you doing to encourage your:

  • staff to write things down?
  • board volunteers to write things down?
  • donors to write things down?

Again, we’re not necessarily talking about task lists and time management, which is how I started the post.

What if your board members were asked to write out their personal action plans for the upcoming year?

What if donors were asked to write out their personal stories about why they support your agency? What if you published those testimonials on your agency’s blog or Facebook page?

Would the result be a deeper sense of engagement?

Would board members be more likely to follow through on what they commit to doing? Would donors end up increasing their contributions?

I dunno . . . but if you buy into what John says about the act of writing something down, then these are questions every non-profit professional should be asking themselves.

Have you ever asked donors to share their story in writing? What was the result? How did you use it? What about engaging board members in writing out their commitments as part of a future focused action planning process centered around your strategic planning process?

Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

A side note of appreciation

Throughout the week at the Boys & Girls Club conference in St. Louis, I’ve been approached by countless numbers of people asking me about this blog.

Just last night, I was dragging myself off of the elevator on my way to another late night bedtime when a fellow passenger (who I’ve never met and don’t know), said “You’re that blogger! I missed your post this morning.

I just want to take a moment to sincerely thank all of you who subscribe and read this blog. I very much appreciate your time, loyalty and complements.

It is easy for me to get into that “Fred the Baker” from Dunkin’ Donuts mindset of “It’s time to make the donuts.” However, this week reminds me that this blog and your daily work is all about mission-focus, your clients, and making this world a better place.

Thank you to those of you who re-inspired me.

I’m also glad that I’ve written all of this down in ink so that this inspiration won’t fade too quickly.  😉

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847