Renee Rubin Ross will explore considerations for organizational planning and models that have helped nonprofits to build plans that support their work through recent shifts.

Full Transcript:

Renee: All right.

Steven: Okay, Renee, I got 1:00 Eastern. Okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Renee: Yes, please. Sounds good.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Good morning if you’re out on the West Coast or somewhere in between. If you’re watching the recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter where you are. We are here to talk about organizational planning, specifically in times of uncertainty, which is kind of normal now, so we’re talking about it. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang. Thanks so much for tuning in. We got a good hour in store for you here. Let’s dive into it.

We got a couple of housekeeping items before we get going. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and I’ll be sending out the recording and the slides later on this afternoon. Might already have the slides. There was a reminder email about an hour ago, but if you missed that, don’t worry. We’ll get you everything. We won’t leave you hanging. So if you have to leave earlier or maybe you just want to review the content later on, just be on the lookout for an email from me later on today.

But most importantly, please feel free to send us in your questions and comments along the way. We’re going to try to save some time for Q&A at the end. So don’t be shy. We’d love to hear from you. A lot of people already introduced yourself in the chat. I love it. Go ahead and do that if you haven’t already. We’d love to hear from you. You can also send us a tweet. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed in case you want to send this a tweet over there. We would love to hear from you, so don’t be shy.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks, you newbies. We do these webinars a couple of times a week, usually on Thursdays, but lately we’ve been doing multiple sessions a week. We love doing these webinars. They’re always free, always really good content, good education, great speakers. Today is no exception by any means.

But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, just real quick for context if you’ve never heard of us, we are a provider of donor management software, so you can check us out. We’re pretty easy to find online. You can watch videos and see what we’re all about. But don’t do that right now because we are welcoming back a friend of the program. She did a great webinar for us back in, I think it was late April, maybe early may, somewhere around those time. Time has no meaning. That’s okay. We got Dr. Renee Rubin Ross joining us. Renee, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Renee: I’m doing great. Thank you.

Steven: Yeah. This is awesome to have you back. Great session on how to run really accessible virtual trainings, which is . . . it was an awesome session. We had so many good kudos about it. We wanted to have you back quickly. We’ll send out that recording in case you all missed that first session. I’m betting a lot of you saw that first session, which is why you’re here to hear from Renee again. But if you don’t know her, check her out, she’s over at The Ross Collective. She’s the founder there. Also super involved in the nonprofit community over in San Francisco where she’s joining us from. She’s actually the director of the Cal State University’s East Bay, I should say, version of the Cal State University, their nonprofit management certificate program, which she’s actually teaching one of the sessions tonight.

And I don’t think it’s too late for folks to get involved with that, so we’ll send some info about how to get hooked into that. She also teaches board development, grant writing, covers a lot of different great topics. And is just a super awesome person. She’s real passionate about diversity and inclusion, which is kind of one of the reasons we became fast friends. And is just a super awesome wealth of knowledge there. So I don’t want to take any more time away. Renee, I’m going to stop sharing my slides here. I’ll pipe down and let you take it.

Renee: Wonderful. Great. Thanks for the intro. And I’m going to go to my slides. You got them?

Steven: Looks like it’s working. There we go.

Renee: Okay. Good. All right. Hello, everybody. Thank you for joining. So just a little bit about me, my firm is The Ross Collective. I’m based in Northern California. I work on strategic planning and governance for nonprofits, and really my work is about designing and leading inclusive conversations that empower people. And that’s what I’m going to be talking a lot about today in terms of planning. Okay. I saw this image and it just felt like it captured this moment that we are in right now. Here we are in the middle of the clouds and the lightning, and I had a poll that I wanted to have you participate in. So, Steven, are you able to . . . Okay. Cool.

Steven: Here you go.

Renee: Here you go.

Steven: We’re hoping it’ll let you choose multiple answers, but if it doesn’t, sorry. It’s my fault.

Renee: So this is a two question poll. So basically, if we were in normal times, what planning would you be doing that you’re not doing now? And then the second question is what are you planning now that you never thought you’d be planning? Thanks, everybody, for voting. And yeah, it looks like about two-thirds of the people have voted at this point. Oh, wow. It looks like it’s been about a minute. So let’s see . . . Steven, should we give everybody about another 20 seconds?

Steven: Yeah. We’ll give them 20 second, and I’ll launch the second to that. Second one’s coming, folks. Don’t worry.

Renee: Oh, okay. I see. Okay. There’s going to be one more question after this. We are learning about technology. So you should see one question on your screen. So yeah, we are in normal times and it was kind of hard to figure out what word to use exactly.

Steven: Okay. Here comes the second one, Renee. Here we go.

Renee: Okay, great. Great.

Steven: Here we go.

Renee: Okay. So second question, what are you planning now that you never thought you’d be planning? What are you planning now that you never thought you’d be planning?

Steven: Looks like the virtual offerings is the biggest one there. It’s a first.

Renee: I know. Virtual offerings, remote work. Yeah. So people say they can’t pick more than one.

Steven: Yeah. That was my mess up. Sorry about that.

Renee: Okay. All right. Well, I guess pick your top choice here. And we realize that there may be some other ones that come up too. Do you want to give this one another 20 seconds? Great. Okay. Wonderful. So thank you, everyone, for participating in the poll. So question one . . . Oh, wait. Can you go back, Steven, to the other . . . Let’s see. To the previous question?

Steven: Yeah. Let me try.

Renee: Okay. Okay.

Steven: Here we go. Here’s the results of the first question.

Renee: Right. Right. Right. Right. So if we were in normal times, what planning would you be doing that you’re not doing now? And it looks like strategic planning was the top choice followed by fundraising program and then going into sustainability. And second question was about what are you planning now that you never thought you’d be planning, right? And people talked about, if you can go to that one . . . Well, sorry. There was only one choice. You can only select one, but the top choice was really moving to virtual offerings and then going into other issues such as procedures of remote work or organizational longevity. And the reason that . . . Thank you, you can take these off. The reason that I bring this up is because we have . . . I just wanted to point out that as I mentioned, many of the people that I’m talking with now are saying that they are feeling blocked about planning, and part of that is I really wanted to start out by acknowledging how much work people have been doing and that we have been doing a lot of planning. So that’s just to say, we have been doing a lot of planning. Some of it has been in areas that we didn’t expect.

Okay. So as I said, many of my clients and the people that I work with are saying that we’re the challenge that they’re feeling, that many of us are feeling is we’re blocked from planning right now. And I want to ask you in the chat box if you can indicate, does this resonate with you, and what’s difficult about planning now? So you can just type in the chat, what’s difficult about planning now. We got a yes. Right. It’s hard to plan for the unknown. Absolutely. Right. Right. So people are saying there has been so much change. It’s really difficult, not knowing what information you’re going to get from the state. Everything is really unknown.

Thank you for all of these comments. Sounds like this definitely resonates with many of you. And I think there’s . . . Let’s see. So there’s kind of a combination of internally feeling like which direction are we supposed to head and then also this kind of external environment, which is very uncertain and causing uncertainty and the need to try to figure a lot of things out. Okay.

All right. So a couple of outcomes of this presentation, at the end of this webinar, you will be able to identify some blockages to planning, explore some questions that will help you start planning, identify some approaches to planning and uncertainty and learn about how some organizations are doing this now. And I want to be really clear that I am sharing an approach to planning and acknowledging that we are in a time of uncertainty. As I was thinking about this morning, I was thinking, “Wow, what if I could say, here’s the roadmap to planning right now?” And I think that would not feel honest because it feels like every day we’re trying to figure out the path is. So there really isn’t a roadmap, but what I’m sharing here are some principles that could help you in planning, going forward.

My agreement with you, and every time I present or teach, I like to share agreements. And it’s really about how we’re going to be together for the next hour. So share content that many social sector leaders find useful and stop periodically during the webinar to make sure that you’re with me and get your thoughts. How can you benefit the most as much as you’re able to participate? And I know this is a really great group and love to chime in and participate, and that’s fabulous. You will get more out of it. We’re learning together. So I always take an inquiry stance. There’s no silly questions. If you have a question, definitely put it in the chat and we’ll see if we can find time to address it. And I always say the more that you are able to be present, the more that you will benefit from the content being shared.

Okay. So back to back to the storm, which . . . And so part of what I wanted to say is that we are in a moment of uncertainty. It is normal at this moment at times to feel like it’s really, really hard to plan. And many, many people that I speak with now are feeling that they’re hitting these kinds of blockages to planning. So really, the, a), first step is to acknowledge those blockages, and I’ll be talking more about this. But it’s also a moment where there’s an openness to change. And I want to encourage, as much as we are feeling blocked, in this moment of uncertainty, we’ve already, as you talked about, as you indicated in terms of the things that you’ve planned that you didn’t anticipate having to plan, we’ve all managed a lot of change already in the last six months. And there’s an openness to new ways of doing things and new ways of thinking. So I really want to encourage you to use that openness. And here’s the question that I am encouraging people to think about right now, how are you using your power to work towards justice?

We’re in this stormy moment and we might feel a tendency to curl up in a little ball, get away from the rain and thunder, but really want to encourage, strangely enough, in this hard time, this is a time for big questions. We who are working inside of organizations have this moment of opportunity. I’m going to use these words, big and small. Obviously, this question up here is a big question. And I guess the overall takeaway here is really, have some big visions right now in this moment, have some big visions and then think about the small steps that are going to move us towards those visions.

So what do I mean, using your power? I’ve worked with a lot of organizations and they say, “What kind of power do we have? We don’t have any money. We don’t have any time. What do we have?” And so I really want to flesh that out. So, first of all, you have the power to convene people and move them towards a shared goal. So you have people who are listening to you and you can use your power to bring them together and collectively improve our world. We’re living in this moment of feeling more separate due to social isolation, due to what’s happening, due to uncertainty. And you really . . . this power to convene people is significant and it can give people hope and purpose.

Okay. Second of all, your power to affirm your organizational values and bring them more deeply into the world. There’s no question that this time has made us more aware of inequality and racism and racial inequalities. And some organizations that I work with are talking about the value of building a race equity culture, and that’s a culture that acknowledged that wants to work towards race equity, and that’s the condition where one’s racial identity has no influence on one’s opportunities. So, again, we’re at a moment of change. And if you notice that this is within your organizational values, I would encourage you to celebrate and amplify that.

Third, the power to spread and amplify love, care, and compassion for all. Unfortunately, it feels like we are in a moment with a lot of hate and fear. And we can’t ignore that. And yet I believe what we pay attention to expands. So our organizations, many of them . . . hopefully, all of them are bought in your mission, trying to build better worlds. And you can really use these ideas of the love, care, and compassion that you are trying to spread and make bigger, you know, to boost your work and also to improve the world for yourselves and for the people that are connected to your mission.

I want to call out the work of Trabian Shorters. Some of you may have heard of Trabian Shorters. Trabian Shorters talks about asset framing, right? And this involves not using words like at-risk or marginalized, but talking about communities in terms of their aspirations and contributions and honoring the agency and energy of each person. So this is really another way, if you start talking about what are people trying to do in the world, how do we listen, how do we hear what our clients are working towards, and how do we amplify that by showing that we care about our clients and we care about building a more just an equitable society? And third, the power to acknowledge and name what you see, whether that’s inequality, racial, injustice, or suffering. Again, going back to the storm. Oh, and I will say that one more time. And the person that I mentioned was Trabian Shorters, Trabian Shorters.

Going back to the storm, some economists have mentioned a K-shaped recovery for the pandemic where the wealthiest people in our society are prospering and life has gotten a lot worse and a lot harder for millions of people, especially black and brown people, people of color. Nonprofits, many nonprofits are sitting at the groove of the K, right? Maybe some of your donors might be these people who are going up, but your clients are some of the people who are going down or who are increasing in their struggles. You have the power to call that out and to name it, and amplify it, and look for solutions together. So how do you do this?

And those of you who are hikers might be familiar with this image. This is called a duck, and what it is is if you go on a hike, you will see someone might take a small pile of rocks to show the next person who comes on the trail the way forward. So they’re like breadcrumbs but in rock form. So what are some paths forward? First of all, to plan now, I suggest focusing on four things, energy, values, going slow and small, and then lastly, the larger nonprofit landscape. So I’m going to explain each of these.

So, first of all, energy. It’s really important given the moment that we’re in to keep checking the energy of your people, right? We are all going to have times where we feel like we’re back in that storm and then we can come out of the storm. And one of the ways that we can do that is by just naming what’s happening. So as you are working on planning, you need to check your individual energy of your team, create space in meetings and out of meetings to support one another. It’s funny, but sometimes just by saying, “Here’s the struggle I’m having. Here’s how I’m blocked,” then we can start to move together towards solutions. And that’s an energy thing.

So second of all, checking your group energy and similarly build in rituals to name and process the challenge of these times. It’s not going to work to, you know, to bury your head in the sand and say, “All of this isn’t happening.” I really encourage people to name the challenges and as we name them, we can work on them. There’s a lot of information out there about mental health, about self-care, and we’re going to all need to, in these uncertain, stormy, chaotic times, we’re all going to need more time, both as individuals and as organizations to take care of each other.

And third, find out what the group has the energy to work on. So some of the organizations that I work with are building plans, but they’re acknowledging that it’s going to take longer to build those plans. And some of the plans are evolving, and that’s okay, but it’s a matter of, we’re going to keep planning, we’re going to think about how we need to shift our program and vision and values, and we’re going to stay together on this work so that we care about it and have ownership over it and can put it into the world.

Second of all, focusing on values. And a lot of organizations that I’m working with are looking at how are we achieving our mission now, given changes, what part of our work needs to be updated? Are there opportunities for new collaborations? I think that the values are a source. As long as we stay true to our values, they really are a source of energy and of wanting to move work forward.

And third, this idea of planning slow and small. And so I said, big visions, small steps. Acknowledge the group capacity to plan and manage change. We can do it. We can move our work forward. We’ve already planned a lot, and we can keep thinking about making connections between what we observe, what we’re learning, and how we need to shift our work and plan. Build group trust as a source of strength and go smaller.

And I wanted to mention here . . . some of you may have heard of this book, Adrienne Maree Brown, “Emergent Strategy.” This is really the idea that strategy, that we own strategy, that strategy comes from what we learn inside a group, and that we can take the wisdom that is emerging from our learning with our clients. Thank you, Steven, for putting that into chat. And we can take it out from there to build positive change. Emergent strategy draws on nature to, and some of the patterns of nature to think about how can we be better in the world. So, yeah . . . And also the idea that we build trust inside of organizations, we build a kind of community that we would want to have, and then we amplify out from there.

And lastly, I feel like I would be remiss if I did not say that we need to be focusing on the larger nonprofit landscape. The election is two months from today. Nonprofits cannot endorse a candidate but can encourage people to vote and can hold educational events related to their mission. And it can do advocacy if it is a small percentage or a limited percentage of their budget. You should know that that generally speaking, more people donate money to nonprofits than vote, right? So just let that sink in. More people donate money to nonprofits than vote. And this is a really important election. We can all be using our power to encourage our stakeholders to vote.

All right. So want to ask you based on what you’ve heard here, which needs most attention in your organization? Energy, values, slow and small, or the larger nonprofit landscape? Okay. So I see slow and small, energy, values, energy. Slow and small. Interesting. Interesting. Yeah. So there’s a variety. Yeah. Slow and energy. I would say the ones that are winning are energy and slow and small. Yeah. And I mean, I think that each of these, so energy is really about, as we’re inside the storm and we’re getting, you know, getting pounded around, how do we keep finding some kind of center that is going to help us to be productive and to move our visions into the world. Great. Thank you. All right.

What I wanted to talk a little bit about is some models that I’ve seen for this work. So a couple of different models, three kinds of samples that I’ve seen, one is about financial scenarios. Second one, strategic pillars to align your work and values and third, shifting to serve the community. So, first of all, financial scenarios. One San Francisco-based legal organization that I work with came together and created three financial scenarios for the coming year, and they included, based on their financial projections, one would be, we’re going to receive 75% of our revenue, the second one, we’re going to receive 55% of our revenue, and the third one, we’re going to receive 25% of our revenue. And they are based on possible grants that might come in and they went through and created spreadsheets that would show how their budget would happen in each of these cases.

As you can imagine, this was not an easy process. I looked at their, you know, looked at the spreadsheets. It’s not easy to project in your mind how you would run one-quarter of yourself as an organization. But it led to some hard and honest conversations about the essence of the work of this organization. And one thing to say is that it also led to a feeling of strangely enough, or maybe not strangely enough, a feeling of greater confidence in the organization because the organization financially went from maybe being reactive to the external environment to being proactive and saying, “All right. We’re going to think about what might happen next and plan for it.”

So this is something, if you have not done this already, I would recommend creating scenarios, having this conversation among your board of directors and senior leadership. This is really a best practice. And the good news for this organization is that . . . I reached out to them to find out what happened and apparently they have gotten all their funding for the . . . or they’ve gotten the funding they expected and so they’re not going to need to run any of these scenarios, which is great. But this is a really a good practice to think about, a good exercise in considering what’s going to happen next and how you’re going to manage it and prioritizing.

Okay. Second of all, so creating strategic pillars to align your work and values. La Cocina is a business incubator based in the San Francisco Bay area. They have a multiyear incubator that helps food entrepreneurs create their own restaurants. It could start as a food truck, but some of them in the end become restaurants. But to create their own food-based businesses. And this is really about working with people who might be immigrants to create their own businesses. What they found out in the pandemic was because of shifts and the shelter in place, they’re not, at this time, going to run a whole new incubator, instead, they’ve shifted their work from being a new food business incubator to supporting current program participants. And they built some strategic pillars, including resiliency and regeneration for current businesses, advocacy, and education, and organizational stability.

So this is really a case of going back to their values and thinking about what are we trying to make happen in the world? In the case of La Cocina, what they’re trying to accomplish is really the support for business incubators. And so they’re thinking about given the resources that they have now, how can they best do this. Again, by stepping back to say, “Okay, things have changed. How are we reacting to those changes and how are we planning for them,” the people, all their stakeholders, their donors, their staff members have greater confidence in the organization. And, you know, and more ownership over what’s going to happen next. So that’s some of the values of doing this kind of planning.

And last example is East Oakland Boxing Association, based in East Oakland, they have an afterschool program for kids in the neighborhood. And they were not able to run their afterschool program due to shelter in place restrictions. And what they decided is our focus is health. Our focus is, and our values are . . . what we’re trying to bring into the world is the health of our community. So because of that, what they’re now doing is offering weekly food distribution for community families. So their work has shifted, but their values are the same. And what they are working on is based in those values.

So this is . . . I’m going to stop here what I wanted to share, and I’m going to see what . . . Oh, let’s see. So a couple of . . . just to review three principles, use your power as an organization. You have the power to convene people, to bring people together, to give them hope at a really hard time where people are feeling that they are in the storm. Second of all, to focus where needed and third, thinking about other models and how those out of their models might inform your work. So wanted to ask you, based on what you’ve heard here, what is one next step that you would like to take as a result of this webinar?

Okay. So thank you. So I see begin developing a strategic plan, do the financial scenarios, working on core values, meeting with staff to discuss how to make changes, connect with the team and evaluate. Great, great. Yeah. Looking at those financial numbers. And by the way, thank you. These are terrific. And, by the way, I want to mention that, you know, I put three examples in the PowerPoint, and I reached out to another, maybe five organizations to see what kinds of planning they were doing, and they weren’t doing a lot of planning. So I could have had the three examples, and then some of the other ones that are not yet doing that planning. And so I really want to encourage, if you’re one of those five, or maybe, you know, thousands who are not yet thinking about this question of how are these changes impacting our organization and what can we do with our power to connect with people, to convene all of that. I really want to encourage you to begin to work on that.

A little bit more about my work. I am at The Ross Collective. There is, if you want to sign up for my newsletter, I’m really passionate about building equitable boards of directors and planning, and happy to, if you want to learn more, I do send out a newsletter roughly monthly. I want to open it up to questions if there are questions now.

Steven: Yeah. We’ve got a few in here. But first, thanks, Renee. This was awesome. It’s always good to have you on. It feels like a nice cathartic pep talk every time I hear you talk. I like hearing it. And we’ve got a lot of people saying similar things here in the chat, it looks like. We’ve got some questions in here. Lawrence here was reading my mind when you were talking about going small. Could you kind of pull on that thread a little bit? Because that seems sort of counterintuitive in today’s culture when everyone’s trying to accomplish great big things. What does it kind of look like to think maybe [inaudible 00:38:36] on something?

Renee: Right. I mean, I think strangely enough . . . yeah, I think that it’s easy to get overwhelmed because of how much uncertainty we’re feeling because of all, you know, the storm because of our environment. And actually, that’s the time where it’s really helpful to just think about, like big picture, what am I moving towards, but then in the small picture, what are a couple of steps that are getting us there right now? And, by the way, I mean, again, this is where . . . You know, I lead participatory processes for groups. I really believe that we know a lot more than . . . we, as a group know so much we know about our clients and their needs, we know about what’s happening in the community out there. So start surfacing that knowledge and wisdom and then think about what do we want to do about it? And are we taking the right steps? Right?

Austin, the people who . . . and this is really, you know, why I care so much about building boards that have people of more diverse races and have a deeper awareness of race equity is because the people who know about the problems, you know, need to be in part of that conversation too. So starting small is really “Okay. What do we know today?” And let’s talk about that, let’s, you know, get this conversation flowing and then what are some small steps we want to take based on the problems and challenges that we’re seeing right now? Yeah. Does that answer your question?

Steven: Yeah. Makes sense for sure. Here’s one from Whitney, talking about checking in with your folks and then checking in on their energy. What are some ways you can do that, especially now that we’re in kind of a virtual world and, you know, I imagine a lot of those things would have been done in person, maybe one on one or in a group setting. How can we tackle that now when maybe Zoom is the only method we have of seeing and hearing someone?

Renee: Yeah. I talked about this in my webinar last time and it still applies, you know, that you can start your meeting with a minute to breathe. You can start every minute with a time to breathe. I’ve also seen teams do polls where it’ll be, how are you feeling today? You know, from five is super stressed, one is completely relaxed, and you know, and so that everybody gets to turn to check in. I will say, and, you know, I’ve been running a lot of Zoom meetings. My experience is that it’s really important to let people talk in small groups, people participate in different ways, and having too many meetings with too many people on Zoom, you know, like having too many 20 person, or 30 person, or even 15 person meetings without having time for a smaller group listening and check-in will sap some energy. So make sure you allow for those small group exchanges or even one, you know, one-to-one yeah.

Steven: Yeah. Somebody is saying here they do a 30-minute water cooler chat on Monday morning and also do individual check-ins with leadership. It seems to be working for them. I love it.

Renee: Yeah. And I mean, again, I think just this goes back to compassion, right? And that it also goes back to this idea of like what’s in our organizations is what we send out there. And so how do we deepen our compassion for each other so that we can then have that energy, you know, to interact with compassion with our clients, with the people that we’re meeting, even with, you know, any kind of people working on policy, so all with the whole range with our funders, with our donors, all of that. But we need to have so much compassion for each other because of, you know . . . because we need to send it out to this world, which is so much in need of this at this time.

Steven: Speaking of, kind of starting at the top. What about the board? You’re obviously a board expert and teach about governance and board involvement. What role do you think the board should play in this whole process? Is it active? Is it getting out of the way? Is it maybe a combination at certain times? What can the board do to kind of help out with this?

Renee: Well, before the webinar started, we were talking and I was saying, “I’m in the middle of teaching board development actually this week and next week,” so thinking a lot about what boards do. Okay. So a great board can really understand the needs of the community and how your organization can conserve those needs and be your fierce, you know, advocate, supporter, fundraiser, community supporter for that work. And also a great board can really be strategic in the sense of looking ahead to what’s going to happen next or what might happen next and how do we want to respond to that?

And I do think, you know, it’s not a coincidence that this organization that I mentioned, it was, you know, the board and senior staff that got together and designed this financial scenarios because sometimes for the staff, it might be . . . for only the staff, it might be pretty painful to say, “Oh, my gosh, how can we possibly build a scenario that represents, you know, 25% of our work?” For the board, you know, being able to Zoom back a little, all right, this is responsible financial management as much as it’s not . . . it doesn’t necessarily feel good, but at least we have it and then we can figure out, you know, if we . . . We will be so happy if we don’t need it, but if we do, you know, then we will have it. But it also helps us to understand again, what are our values? What are we trying to bring into the world? What’s most essential about our work?

Steven: Love it on a similar note, any advice for people who are maybe brand new to the organization? We’ve had a couple people chat in that they just joined the nonprofit they’re working for, and they want to get these things going where maybe there hadn’t been a planning process or maybe there was and it had kind of fallen by the wayside. What about those newbies who, you know, you kind of have to strike a balance between not rock rocking the boat too much, but also not just kind of, you know, being passive about it either?

Renee: These webinars will be online, so send your people the webinar. I mean, I think a lot of what I work with with boards is . . . the first step is some kind of assessment where you say, “Okay. What are we aiming towards and how are we doing at that?” Right? And my assessment includes questions . . . my current assessment that I’m using includes questions about how do we feel about the racial makeup of our board, how do we feel about the gender makeup of our board, male, female, and all of these different kinds of questions. Because the assessment is a way to say here’s what the priorities are. And then you’re not just getting to one person’s opinion, this kind of anecdotal one person’s opinion versus another person’s opinion, you’re really getting to, “Okay, what is the overall feeling of the group here” in terms of what’s working well and what’s not working.

I think that, you know, it’s about learning. How can we learn what, you know, what some best practices are, what we need to do to be more responsive to the pandemic, to calls for racial equity, to, you know, all of this kind of work, let’s just keep learning and then let’s think about, again, small steps that that can move us in a positive direction.

So if, you know, Steven, this came up in our conversation last time too, because it’s like the hope is that the leaders that you work with would be open to learning. And some are and some aren’t. But I think that, you know, individually, let’s say, we’re going to try to move this forward with some different kinds of levers.

Steven: Makes sense. I had a couple of people just comment that their organizations have actually reached out to either the community they operate in, maybe community leaders or community members and also nonprofits that are similar to them in other parts of the country.

Renee: I love that.

Steven: Is that something you recommend and have seen work? Yeah. Can you talk about that a little?

Renee: Yeah. Sure. Absolutely. Again, I think this goes back to . . . I mean, that’s why I talked about, you know, this is really about the work that you want to bring into the world. And so you don’t need to go at it alone. And, by the way, I mean, when I teach my course on grant proposal writing, I always say like, your proposals are actually judged better when you show that you’re working in partnership with other organizations. The kinds of problems that we are trying to solve now are extremely complex and the more that you can show that you are connecting with other community, organizations that you are collaborating to solve problems together, and that you are sharing ideas, I mean, again, it’s that learning and learning from each other, and, you know, and also amplifying some solutions, which is really, really needed given the noise out there, you know, that’s kind of pushing things down. So we got to push things back, push that positive stuff out more.

Steven: I love it. A couple of people have mentioned that their organizations have undergone really drastic changes very quickly, like loss of funding, like catastrophic loss of funding where maybe all of their, all their revenue just suddenly stopped. Is there a difference between this process in kind of normal or maybe not so great times versus like, you know, dumpster fire times, you know, not to make light of it, but we’re in big trouble really quickly. What can we do to kind of, you know, shift or assess, or put a new plan into place?

Renee: Right. Okay. So that’s such a good question. Well, I think that, you know, going into this, I’m sure that the statistic has come up in some of your webinars, you know, many nonprofits, were in, you know, I would say, what was it? More than 50% of nonprofits didn’t have, you know, a three-month or a six-month reserve so many nonprofits that are already . . . were coming into the pandemic in a challenging financial situation. And yes, some, I mean, there’s been a range of impacts. Some organizations are getting more funding for their work, especially if they’re in something like health. Some organizations are . . . Well, but there’s also an increased need. I know at the beginning we saw someone who worked for a food bank I mean, there’s incredible, you know, this information about increased hunger, evictions, so a lot of struggle out there.

So, yeah, I think that that both are true. And, again, I would say, no matter where you are, the responsible thing to do is to start these conversations. If you haven’t had them already. “Okay. We’re in this situation, we have lost this funding. What do we want to do?” And the answer might be, we want to go out and find some new donors. The answer might be, we’re not going to be able to remain financially sustainable. We want to merge with another organization. We feel that the work we’re doing is critical. We’re going to have to pass it on to another organization to continue since we don’t have funding for it right now.

But this . . . I mean, organizations should always be looking at these kinds of questions in terms of what do we want to focus on, how do we create a shared agenda so that people feel ownership over the work going forward? That’s always important. It feels like it’s more important now than ever because . . . I mean, I think at the beginning of this, there were these situations that came up where I’d go to somebody’s website and they be talking about something that had no basis, like, “Okay. We’re going to be holding the dance classes at 5:00 p.m.” It’s like, “What?” You know, like, you need to start updating your work right now because, otherwise, you’re not even making sense. So, yeah.

Steven: You kind of anticipated the next question, which is this idea of maybe action paralysis where it seems like you can kind of go overboard and maybe you’re constantly making assessments and things like that. And maybe that gets in the way of the progress. Is that something you’ve seen happen and are there ways to kind of avoid that pitfall?

Renee: Well, I think that goes back to that idea of big visions, small steps, right? Yeah. Again, and this came up at the beginning. It is an emotional time, and so as much as you want to be responsible, but also really, you know, take it slow enough that you’re considering some different possibilities. I know that I heard from organizations who were looking at some financial challenges and thinking about possibly having to close down, and, you know, I would push back a little bit and say, “All right. Are there some other options out there? Are there some other directions you can move?” You know, what are all the range of possibilities before you, in that emotional state, make some quick judgements or quick decisions that are going to have really big impacts.

Steven: Very cool. Very cool. I feel like we could talk about this all day, Renee, but I know you’ve got many, many more hours of classes to teach at. This is just your first. There’s just a warm-up act for you. And you’ve already been really kind with your time. Any final thoughts as we kind of wrap up here? I definitely encourage people to sign up for the newsletter if they do nothing else. I always enjoy when I see that in my inbox because there’s really good stuff in there, but how can folks get more ahold to you?

Renee: Right. Right. Yeah. I would love to stay in touch. Please sign up for my newsletter. As I said, my passion is in building equitable nonprofit boards, and that’s something that I’m going to be working on in coming months. So, again, if you want to learn more about that and the process of doing that, definitely sign up for the newsletter so you can learn more. And, again, I put my LinkedIn on there. If send me a connection request, let me know who you are because . . . otherwise, yeah, I am more likely to accept if you do that.

And, you know, I just think this . . . it’s hard to know what to say as I said at the beginning. We are in that stormy moment. There’s no denying it. To deny it and to be sort of like Pollyanna, it’s not going to work. It’s not going to work for us. It’s not going to work for our staff, for our organizations, for our clients, for anybody. So instead, it’s a matter of acknowledging that, but then really holding onto how do we go forward in a way that treats everyone, each person with, you know, with justice, and respect, and compassion.

Steven: I love it. Great way to end it there. Thanks so much for doing this, Renee. This is awesome to have you.

Renee: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Steven: We’ll be sending out all the goodies, the recording, the slides. I’ll include Renee’s last webinar that she did earlier in the spring for us if you didn’t catch that one, because it’s a good listen. And also you can just set that in like it’s a podcast and do your dishes or do some [chore 00:56:13] or whatever. It’d be a good listen. And speaking of . . .

Renee: I always love connecting with Bloomerang. You just have a great, you know, it’s a lot of fun. Good audience too.

Steven: Yeah. Good audience. And I should say . . .

Renee: So thank you for all those wonderful participations.

Steven: Yeah. Thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know you’re super busy, but it’s always good to see a lot of awesome questions and participation there. And we got some great webinars coming up. Speaking of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Dr. Robin Stacia’s coming back. She did a session for us earlier in the spring. She’s coming back to kind of do the second half of it on the 9th. We’ve got some other webinars even next week. That’s not the only one, but I wanted to highlight this one. Join us if you’re free. I know it’s a holiday week coming up with Labor Day if you’re here in the States celebrating. We’ll be sending out an invite to this tomorrow so you can kind of get your registration in before the holiday weekend. But if you’re not free, there’s lots of other sessions you can check out. Got some really cool topics coming up. I think we’re scheduled out through December now already, which is hard to believe. But we’d love to see you on, on another session. This doesn’t have to be the last conversation.

So we’ll call it a day there. Like I said, look for an email from me later on with all the goodies, and hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, stay healthy. We need you all, and hopefully we’ll see you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.