Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Nonprofit Strategist: Making Nonprofits Click

My newest "Nonprofit Strategist" column is up at Benchmark Email's website, and I hope you'll take a look. This month I'm talking about Ori and Rom Brafman's book Click: The Magic of Instant Connections (Broadway Books, 2010). They didn't write this as a business tome, per se, but the concepts that they present about how we interact and connect with others are interesting ones for the professional and the personal worlds.

From my post:

Now, I'm one of those people who believe that we meet the people we meet in life for a reason. There are just too many people in this world for us to be meeting the ones we meet for no good reason ... hence the people we meet need to matter.  Call it karma, fate, providence, whatever you want.

But this clicking business ... I always thought it was sort of serendipitous, a bit of magic. As it turns out, magic is actually part of it but there is more psychology involved than one might think.  What's even more fascinating is that it is actually possible to create these moments because in almost every instance when we click with someone, the same five factors (or, "accelerators") are generally at play.

If you have anything to do with donors or volunteers or organizing special events or dealing with people, read the entire post ("Making Nonprofits Click") here.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day Means When You're Among the Long-Term Unemployed

Exactly nine years ago this week, I was in Toronto's Pearson International Airport sitting next to the co-creator of Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

We were returning from the same global women's conference, one that would change how I viewed myself, my profession, and the world. At 35, I had just been appointed the first-ever executive director (and first and only paid staff member) of a women and girls foundation. A part-time position, my new job was the perfect balance for my desire (and, yes, need) to work and the need to be Mom to our then-2 year old twins. I remember feeling intoxicated with this work and in love with this fundraising career of mine.

As we waited to board our planes, the energy of the conference remained. I complimented Marie on her keynote speech. We talked politics, about Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day, about my toddlers. To her, I was probably just another person in an airport but I remember feeling heady, proud, and professional.

Nine years later, Toronto seems like a lifetime ago.

Something that happened to a different person.

I was different then.

I am even more changed now.

* * *
At least once a week, my 11 year old daughter asks about Take Your Daughter to Work Day.

(In her world, her brother is left at the door.)

She talks about this incessantly. About the projects she'll be working on. About the people she'll be meeting with. About what desk she'll sit at and of course, where she'll go for lunch.

I used to be part of these conversations.

I'm not anymore.

* * *
It has been almost a year since I was laid off.

After the foundation job that took me to Toronto, I took a position as a fundraiser for a domestic violence organization. Stayed there five years. We moved for my husband's job during that time, which increased my commute by 2 hours a day. I stayed, mainly because I loved the work and the people and because I was fortunate to have a supportive boss who allowed me to create a flexible schedule and work one day a week at home. I will always, always be grateful for that.

But at some point, dumping $125 down your car's gas tank each week isn't sustainable (public transit and car pooling wasn't an option) and I took a nonprofit job with a child abuse agency much closer to home. My role was to write grants and to increase awareness for the organization, and the result was the best fundraising year they'd ever had.

And a year later my husband was tapped for a better position - six hours away. Here in Pittsburgh. Where we knew nobody and the job hunt would start again. From scratch.

During a recession.

* * *
I didn't mind the $20,000 pay cut.

It was a job when hundreds of thousands of people didn't have one.

It wasn't perfect, but I was going to do my best at this, and I truly believed I did.

But sometimes your best isn't good enough for people who want the impossible.

And sometimes you aren't the right fit for people who expect perfection.

And sometimes you don't ask the right questions when you don't realize you're being lied to.

Regrets? Yeah, you could say I have more than a few.

But I also have some words of advice from a mentor from a long-ago internship, someone who believed in me and who still does, who once told me for very different reasons that we make the best choices we can based on the information we have at the time. That's the best we can do.

It has become my mantra.

* * *
At dinner the other night, the kids announced they had to interview someone in their family about their job.

What if nobody in their family has a job, I thought.

They both called dibs on Daddy. The assignment was "Math in the Real World" and how that grown-up used math in his or her every day job. They started peppering The Husband with questions while I silently cleared the table.

"You're not angry that we picked Dad, are you, Mom?" Boo said. "Because, you know, you kind of don't have a job."

"I'm not angry, baby," I said. "Not about that."

* * *
We live in a country of haves and have-nots.

Those who have dealt with long-term unemployment and those who have not.

Those who have not known this life leave know-it-all comments on blog posts like this and tell people like me to stop mooching off of the taxpayers and to just go get a job already at Wal-Mart and that I really must not be trying hard enough and that there's no excuse and maybe I'd have a job if I didn't blog so damn much and have I thought about going back to school to learn a trade and have I tried nonprofit XYZ because you know, those nonprofits they are ALWAYS looking for fundraisers, they're always hitting people up for money, ha, ha, ha, and there are so many of them here in Pittsburgh (I know, I've either sent my resume to or interviewed personally with 27 of them) and oh, by the way, congratulations because this is what you voted for when you cast your ballot for Obama because Romney would have fixed this mess and given you a job by now.

Or they'll say that it is just a matter of time, that I'll find something, that I need to meet more people here, that  it's all about personal connections. And then the personal connections really do make that call or send an email and the result is the same because a dozen other personal connections have pulled the same strings, with bigger favors attached.

Those who have known what long-term unemployment is like or who are living this life with me, well, you understand that I am lying when I say that it doesn't matter whether I can Take My Daughter or Son to Work today, right?

That it doesn't hurt when your child comes off the bus and tells you that half her class was at their parents' workplace today?

You understand what I mean when I say that this fear goes deep, that you worry at what point does a parent's long-term unemployment become something imprinted on their psyche, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Maybe you see the anger, too, from your child who calls your former employer names and tells you that you were too good for them anyway.

And that you swear you can see yourself diminish more every day in your child's eyes and that even though you know they will understand when they get older, that seems like such a long, long time from now and you would do anything in the world to stop that from happening.

* * *
My daughter is still talking about how many of her friends weren't in school today because of Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. ("A lot of people were absent," she reported.)

(The Husband was home sick so he was out of commission.)

I tell her again about how I met the woman who co-created Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day. How we sat together in the Toronto airport. I sound like an aging football jock, talking about my glory days when I used to raise thousands of dollars for women and families.

It's not much, but it's all I have this year. I see the disappointment and I tell myself that Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day doesn't matter, but it does because so many kids are in the same situation of having a parent caught up in long-term unemployment. So many, many families are like ours, or worse.

And that disappointment is what gives you the motivation to continue on, to slam refresh again on the job search board; to contact yet another colleague from 1995 on LinkedIn; to go to that networking event and the one next week and the one the week after that; to not take it personally when the place that you had two interviews with never calls you back; to pitch that editor with your freelance article; to cold-email that guy on LinkedIn who said he needed a content writer in hopes that maybe he'll be the first client for your freelance business; to ask that friend if they know anyone at a nonprofit who might need a grantwriter; to downsize and dumb down your 20 years of experience on your resume, removing anything that makes you look overqualified; to try and do whatever it takes to keep your head above water and to keep going on.

It's what fuels your belief in this city of steel that has reinvented itself time and time and still time again, that makes you inspired by its bridges, and that makes you hold on to the hope that while this may be just one day, better days will come shining through.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pittsburgh Nonprofit Entrepreneuring Youth Helps Ignite Students' Dreams

Pittsburgh has been getting all kinds of accolades recently for being a hotbed for entrepreneurs.

If you're a Pittsburgh-area middle school or high school student with a great business idea and aspirations of soon being your own boss, one nonprofit wants you to envision yourself among them.

Entrepreneuring Youth (known as E Youth) is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization that helps young people learn about business creation and experience ownership. By partnering with educators, parents, and youth work professionals, they use entrepreneurial learning to help students create opportunities, build abilities and gain confidence.

It's a wonderful nonprofit organization here in our city, giving students opportunities to think about a future that they may have otherwise believed to be out of reach. When I first moved to Pittsburgh, E Youth President Jerry Cozewith was one of the first people I met. We sat next to each other at a Pittsburgh Technology Council conference, and Jerry was extremely gracious, helpful, and supportive to me as I began to find my way professionally.

A few weeks ago when my new friend John Chamberlin of Rock, Paper, Scissors Chute LLC asked me to consider writing a blog post to help promote what E Youth does so well and their upcoming Ignite Possibilities event, I eagerly agreed.

At the Ignite Possibilities business expo, scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday, June 6 at The Rivers Club, Downtown, some of the area's brightest middle school and high school entrepreneurs will have the chance to showcase their businesses to Pittsburgh's civic leaders and business people. It's all part of the George W. Tippins Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the Tippins Foundation and named in honor of one of Pittsburgh’s most successful entrepreneurs, inventors and financiers. (That would be George W. Tippins.)

Most importantly, says my friend Jerry Cozewith, it's about what the possibility of owning a business can represent to someone exploring what they want to do in life and the skills needed to get there.

"The Ignite Possibilities event serves as a celebration of youthful entrepreneurship and the positive life lessons it fosters," he said. "Each year our attendance grows as more adults learn about the initiative and spirit of self-motivation being cultivated among our young people."

"Constructive competition is an integral component of E Youth's innovative programs," Cozewith continued.  "The competitions provide entrepreneurship students a unique opportunity to hone their marketing, presentation and communication skills, network with local business leaders who serve as competition judges and coaches, and compete for seed capital grants to support their business or academic goals."

During the pre-event reception, several young business owners will receive seed capital awards to launch or grow their business. The first-place finisher will earn a trip, sponsored by E Youth, to a national competition conducted by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)  in New York City later this year. Last year, that distinction went to brothers Jesse and Josiah Council, ages 14 & 15, co-founders of J&J's Soothing Cream. They finished as national runners up, earning $5,000 to invest in their education and their business growth.

Learn more about Entrepreneuring Youth by visiting The Igniting Possibilities event is free, but registration is needed. To register:

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Foolin' with the Pittsburgh Bloggers: A Guest Post from BeezusKiddo

Today, as part of some April Fools shenanigans with othePittsburgh Bloggers, nobody is where they are supposed to be. Meaning that, today I'm featuring a guest post (cross-posted from my personal blog, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) from my new friend Elizabeth Collura. She's an attorney, wife, mom, and one of my favorite local bloggers. 

Elizabeth's blog, the awesomely-named BeezusKiddo, has been one of my favorites since we moved here to Pittsburgh because she, Mr. Beez, and Baby Beez seem to do ALL THE AMAZING THINGS in this city. I've gotten so many great ideas from her blog. (And for my bookish friends, if you were thinking that the Beezus part refers to the Beverly Cleary character, you would be right.) 

And now, without further ado, please welcome Elizabeth from BeezusKiddo

Springtime Outings with the Beez Family

The weather man tells me that this week there is finally hope of Spring returning! Perhaps this frightful winter weather won’t be permanent after all!

Life being what it is, with errands and laundry and what not, it’s hard to find time to just relax.  But with the hopes of spring around the corner, I’m itching for some adventures.  If I had a whole day to spend just chillin out maxin relaxin all cool, this is how I’d spend it:

We’d start our day out with a hearty breakfast.  Pancakes at the Dor-Stop? Yes, please!

Next we’d head into Oakland. The first order of business would be a visit to the Carnegie Library. Baby Beez could read and play in the kids area, while I read a magazine and Mr. Beez surfs the internet.  No visit is complete without checking out an armful of bedtime stories, and a stack of Dora and Elmo videos too.

After the library, a visit to Schenley Plaza would be in order.  In the summertime, they offer monthly family day events where carousel rides are free, and there are activities like face painting, balloon animals and caricatures.  We are also big fans of the frequent free concerts and theater performances in the Plaza.  Even when there isn’t a special event going on, the charming carousel is well worth a spin.

After all this, it would be time for Baby Beez and Mr. Beez to take a nap.  If I knew what was good for me, I’d take a nap too…but I just can’t help myself. So I’d head out to the Allegheny River for some quality kayak and podcast time.

And after everyone is well rested and I’ve cleaned the river water smell of myself, we would trek back to the North Shore to take in our beloved Buccos.

We’d each be treated to our favorite snacks: French fries for Baby Beez and Mr. Beez, and Quaker Steak BBQ wings for me.

Hopefully the Pirates will score some runs and we can see the fireworks.  We know those Bucco’s well enough to have well-practiced loss scowls.

But maybe this year? Right? I think it’s time for a winning season! Happy opening day, yinz!

OK, yinz see what I mean? I'm exhausted just reading that! I've never been to the Dor-Stop nor the main branch of the Carnegie Library. I had no idea that there was a carousel in Schenley Park, and maybe if I get myself to a Pirates game this year their record will change. (Hope springs eternal, right?) Four great Pittsburgh ideas in one post. Thanks so much, Elizabeth!  As part of the April Fools Pittsburgh Bloggers event, I'm guest-posting about what to do when "You've Lost That Blogging Feeling" over at Will Reynolds Young's blog. 

Photo Credits: Top photo taken by me, March 30, 2013, Pittsburgh as seen from the top of the Duquesne Incline. All other photos by Elizabeth Collura. 

Links to other participating Pittsburgh Bloggers and their posts are here: 
Making Rainbows for The Steel Trap
The Steel Trap for A Librarian’s Lists & Letters
A Librarian’s Lists & Letters for Prettyburgh
Prettyburgh for Oh Honestly, Erin
Oh Honestly, Erin for everybody loves you
everybody loves you… for The Great Scott! Blog
The Great Scott! Blog for jelly jars
jelly jars for Glitzburgh
Glitzburgh for Pittsburgh Hot Plate
Pittsburgh Hot Plate for fooding with Emily
fooding with Emily for ‘lil Burgers
‘lil Burgers for Red Pen Mama
Red Pen Mama for Crank Crank Revolution
Crank Crank Revolution for Yinz R Readin
Yinz R Readin for Beezus Kiddo
Beezus Kiddo for the betty and boo chronicles (obviously ....)
the betty and boo chronicles for Will Reynolds Young
Will Reynolds Young for Tall Tales from a Small Town
Tall Tales from a Small Town for Ya Jagoff
Ya Jagoff for Sean’s Ramblings
Sean’s Ramblings for Love The Burgh
Love The Burgh for Primped in Pittsburgh
Primped in Pittsburgh for Making Rainbows

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

How Two Words Can Change the Tune of Your Nonprofit Organization

The Nonproft Strategist (also known as my monthly column for Benchmark Email's blog series) is live on their site today. In it, I talk about how just two words need to be the linchpin of your development program and how National Volunteer Week gives you a chance to put this into action for little to no cost.

I'd love for you to check out the post and share your thoughts either here or there.

How Two Words Can Change the Tune of Your Nonprofit Organization.

Special thanks to my friend Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan of Sweet Tooth Communications, LLC for being part of this month's post.

Previous Nonprofit Strategist columns:
3 Ways to Turn Your Nonprofit's Presence into Presents 
Blogging: The New Professional Networking Event

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Helping Youth Express Themselves Through the Arts

Gabrielle S. Cerminaro was a talented artist, a incredibly creative and giving spirit. As the website for the foundation that bears her name states, "Art was her second passion. Making a difference was her first." 

She came by these traits naturally: getting her beauty and artistic talent and compassion from her parents. I was lucky enough to work with Wendy and Sam many years ago, right around the time when Gabrielle was born. Probably even before. They were (and still are) generous and fun, business leaders who were supportive of students still finding their way, mentors enthusiastic about our lives, and so damn creative. They danced with The Husband and me at our wedding. They are - despite decades and distances later - people we are proud to call friends to this day.

When Gabrielle passed away in August 2011, my heart broke. For them as friends and parents, of course, but especially for the loss of a vibrant young woman and for those who would not get to know Gabrielle and her art.

I also knew that her family and friends would find a way to honor Gabrielle's memory while combining her twin passions of art and giving back.

When funding gets cut for the arts (as it often does in our schools, or our nonprofits, or in our communities), it reduces the promise of young people who have tremendous talent.Gabrielle's Arts Foundation is changing that; their mission is to help give youth opportunities to express themselves through the arts.

Since the Foundation has been established, the grants have already started to make a difference. Here's what it has accomplished in just the past year:

Gabrielle’s Arts Foundation has supported St. Augustine Academy for Girls in Norristown, PA by sending a number of girls to the Wayne Art Center for summer art camp. These girls have little hope in their lives and the camp helps to make a difference.

The Gabrielle Cerminaro Memorial Award
Each year through the Wayne Art Center there is an award given honoring Gabrielle. This award is given to a student during the juried student show. This award enables a student to continue their pursuit of the arts.

Wayne Art Center 
Through the Wayne Art Center, Gabrielle's Arts Foundation gave two scholarships for freshman students at Conestoga High School (CHS). These students were selected by the faculty of the art department at CHS keeping in mind the mission of GAF. Both students were "thrilled to be recipients and [have been] propelled into a life of art."

Tyler School of Art  
Joining forces with Tyler School of Art (TSA) and CHS, GAF was proud to sponsor a senior to experience TSA’s summer boot camp. CHS faculty selected this student, supporting the mission of GAF. Students immersed themselves for two weeks spending time creating images for their portfolio that will distinguish them as an exceptional artist. They learn what admissions counselors look for in a portfolio and how to present themselves! This program helps to encourage and support an 11th grade art student to pursue their dream of art school.

Just as Gabrielle did, by pursuing her passion for the arts.

Just as Gabrielle would have undoubtedly continued to do.

Gabrielle's birthday was yesterday, February 19. She would have turned 22. Instead of mourning her loss, her family is celebrating her life and legacy this weekend with a fundraiser this weekend for Gabrielle's Arts Foundation.

We are celebrating Gabrielle's 22nd Birthday
February 24 from 4-7 pm, upstairs at the Berwyn Tavern.
625 East Lancaster Avenue
Berwyn, PA 19312

Free appetizers, drink specials, and amazing giveways from local businesses.Bring whomever you would like! We will have a donation bucket - every dollar counts to help youth express themselves through the arts. 

Donations may be sent to:
Sovereign Bank
Attention: LuAnne Lunger
123 West Lancaster Avenue
Wayne, PA 19087
Your donations to the foundation are tax-deductible.

For more information: 

"To Thine Own Self B Tru"
mural by Gabrielle S. Cerminaro 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Introducing The Nonprofit Strategist

I have a new writing gig, starting today, with the folks over at Benchmark Email. They've kindly asked me to join their superb lineup of guest bloggers and I am thrilled.

I crowdsourced the idea for the title among my Facebook friends, who seemed to like "The Nonprofit Strategist" best out of the possibilities I proposed. The Benchmark people even made me a snazzy graphic for this new column.

On the 12th of each month, I'll be there talking about issues of interest to nonprofit professionals: fundraising, communications, social media, and much more. Today's post is Blogging: The New Professional Networking Event, about how blogging, if done well and strategically, can have just as much impact for nonprofits as attending networking events. Maybe even more.

I'd love for you to check today's post out and let me know what you think.