Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CreativeMornings Arrives in Pittsburgh!

For a few hours on Friday morning (before we would learn the horrible news, before our hearts would be broken), several dozen of Pittsburgh's most creative people gathered at The Andy Warhol Museum for a party.

The occasion was, appropriately enough, the first ever CreativeMornings Pittsburgh.

According to their website, CreativeMornings is a global breakfast lecture series for creative types. Each monthly event is FREE and includes a 20 minute talk plus coffee. (The java is always important.)

And by global, these events are truly global - happening in every possible corner of the world. Which makes it kind of perplexing that Pittsburgh didn't have a CreativeMornings before Friday ... but that's part of what I've fallen in love with about this city.

You see, in the year and a half I've been here, I've learned that Pittsburgh is the kind of place where if you have an idea for something, there's usually someone (or several someones) saying, "that sounds awesome!" or "let's try that together!" or "how can I help?" or all of the above.

Seriously. Pittsburgh is honest to God the most creative place I've ever seen. We're chock-a-block with brilliant entrepreneurs and innovators and such artsy techy literary funky type people usually have multiple fantastical things happening at once.

That's what happened when Kate Stoltzfus (Plumb MediaYinzpirationPropelle - see what I mean?) was inspired to bring CreativeMornings to Pittsburgh.

The result? A fun, mentally invigorating and inspiring morning, thanks to Spark (the sponsor) and a presentation by Nina Barbuto of assemble.

After coffee and networking in the spacious lobby of The Warhol, the group gathered in the lecture hall where Nina told us about her background and the launch of assemble. She then challenged us to think differently about learning. Every day at assemble, Nina's team is "making learning a party" for kids by providing them opportunities to make connections through art and technology projects. She and other collaborators host "Maker Parties" where kids "can engage their intrigue while making physical and nonphysical learning connections."

Learning doesn't end when we leave school; in fact, it's the opposite. We can learn everywhere, in every possible setting, in every possible way. As creative types, Nina emphasized that we can do that too, in all aspects of our work. The question then becomes this:

Thanks, Kate, and the CreativeMornings Pittsburgh team for not being afraid to try this new idea out here in our city. I'm already excited about the next CreativeMornings Pittsburgh (Kate announced that it will be on January 11) and seeing what will happen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Use Giving Tuesday to Do More Than Give

It's a reality of our over-consumptive society that, while a noble idea, Giving Tuesday is never going to inspire the frenzy that fuels Black Friday and Cyber Monday. We're never going to see people camping out in tents for a week just for the privilege of giving to their favorite charity.

(If only, right?)

We're not always very public about our charitable pursuits, are we? We find out almost by accident that our colleague is on a local board. We rarely talk about the nonprofits we support and certainly not what we give to them.

It doesn't have to be that way. #GivingTuesday is an excellent start.

This whole thing of #GivingTuesday got me thinking. What would happen if we didn't need the holiday season to be prompted to give? What if there was a #GivingTuesday every week? 

Most donors (regardless if it is a large corporation or an average Joe and Jane) approach their charitable giving somewhat like this:  there's usually a personal connection with the cause, perhaps a friend or a family member asking for a donation (for a walk/bike/5K a thon, for a golf outing, for a Gala) or perhaps it is a charity that has helped you or someone you love (your alma mater, the hospice that cared for Grandma, the no-kill animal shelter where you adopted Spot).  Aside from the connection to you, the donor, generally the causes don't have much of a connection to one another.  Most of the time, you write a check or make an online donation, you get an acknowledgement of some sort (hopefully!), and you don't hear back from the organization on what your gift accomplished - until it's time for the next solicitation.

For corporations and foundations, the process is slightly different - although not really by much.  In such cases, grantees are often required to complete standard, one-size-fits-all, boring as hell reports showing how the grant "made a difference" or "had an impact."  More on that in a bit.

Those of us who are fundraisers or otherwise connected to the philanthropic world have probably heard of Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits by Leslie Crutchfield.  It received a decent amount of buzz in our sector when it was published in 2007. Crutchfield's 2011 book Do More Than Give: The 6 Practices of Donors Who Change the World isn't a sequel, per se, it is "inspired" by its predecessor - meaning that, the same practices that turn nonprofits into high-impact organizations can also be used to transform individual, corporate, and foundation donors into high-impact (or catalytic) philanthropists.

Along with John Kania and Mark Kramer, Crutchfield et al suggests there's a different way (six of them, actually) for donors to make their gifts have more of a strategic impact.  It starts with the common-sense suggestion of focusing on one cause.  Maybe it's education or the environment.  Maybe it's a health care issue.  Maybe it's something that's affecting your community or a global crisis.  Whatever it is, don't spread your giving around; choose a problem or an issue that matters to you.  You can still give to various nonprofits focused on that particular cause, mind you, but having your efforts focused strategically on one issue will lead to the likelihood that more of an impact will be made.

As a fundraising professional, I initially bristled at such a suggestion - but quickly recovered when Crutchfield, etc. advised that foundations and corporations (and even individuals) set aside a portion of their annual giving dollars specifically for the types of requests - the personal asks, the Gala that benefits the community organization you've been supporting for years.  They're not advocating that these requests and equally worthy causes get tossed into the circular file (whew!), but that they just be aligned with others in your field of focus. 

Then, after you've committed to your cause, it's time to put the first practice in action: advocating for change.  People often confuse advocacy with lobbying, and Crutchfield gives a concise, clear explanation of the difference and what types of activities are permissible. Blending profit with purpose, forging nonprofit peer networks, empowering the people (particularly those who stand to benefit from the changes the nonprofit is working toward), leading adaptively, and learning in order to change round out the other 5 practices. 

Stories of corporations and foundations (big and small) that have done (and are doing) this kind of work successfully are plentiful in Do More Than Give.  Crutchfield takes her reader through the various steps that the organizations undertook in order to impact an issue in their community or halfway across the globe.  The term "catalytic philanthropy" (or "catalytic philanthropist") is used often and by the end of the book, you begin to see how different the world would be if there were more catalytic philanthropists in our midst. 

Fortunately, regardless of how much money you have to give, it's easier than you think to become one.

Starting today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For Thanksgiving: N.J. beach house, memories of dad survive storm

This morning, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published one of my essays as part of its Page 2 feature on ... well, page 2. It's a personal piece about our simple family vacations at the Jersey shore and a special memory of our last trip "downashore" (as we Philly folks say) with my dad, who passed away suddenly at the age of 44. When I wrote this, I was feeling incredibly grateful that Hurricane Sandy spared my aunt and uncle's beach home, and I couldn't help thinking if there was a connection. 

I'd be delighted if you took a few moments to read it here: Storytelling: N.J. beach house, memories of dad survive storm. 

Below is the picture of the Strathmere street (before high tide) that my brother sent me in his first text message. The house is a block or so up the road. 

Wishing all of you and your loved ones a wonderful Thanksgiving, with many blessings always.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Podcamp Pittsburgh is This Weekend! (I'm Going ...Are You?)

I'm starting to realize that living in Pittsburgh means making some choices - especially on the weekends.

Especially this weekend.

There are a ridiculous number of amazing-sounding things going on this Saturday and/or Sunday in Pittsburgh. Actually, that's true of many weekends here. Honest to God, I've never seen a city with so much to offer as this place does.

This Saturday and Sunday at Point Park University, you can take part in what sounds like a great conference: PodCamp Pittsburgh 7. (Registration is still open.)  What exactly is this?

Wonderful question (as a certain political candidate would say). Anticipating such, the @pcpgh peeps put together The Beginner's Guide to PodCamp Pittsburgh, from where I cut and pasted this from:

PodCamp is the most awesome thing in Pittsburgh.
But if you really want to get specific…
PodCamp Pittsburgh is a social, new media conference. It started in 2004 and was originally built around podcasting (hence the name PodCamp), and has since grown across North America. PodCamp Pittsburgh has also evolved into a study of information sharing online and how it affects us in different ways every day.
At PodCamp Pittsburgh, you’ll learn how to get started (or how to grow) sharing what you do with everyone else in the world through voice, video, pictures, text and other forms of media. You’ll find out what (and how to use) the latest tools others are using to accomplish great things.

In other words, don't be like me and see the word "pod" and think that this is a podcasting only type of thing.    Clearly, it's not.

Did I mention that PodCamp Pittsburgh is FREE? Yes ... free. It's supported by volunteers, of which I will gladly be one on Saturday while also attending several sessions. (You can see the full schedule of sessions, their descriptions, and speakers here.)

I'm incredibly excited about this. PodCamp Pittsburgh is the perfect opportunity to make connections among those in our city's traditional and new media scene and it is exactly what I need right now. Maybe it's exactly what you need, too.

Leave me a comment if you'll be there or follow me on Twitter @thefirmangroup. Would love to meet you and say hi!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Blog Post: "To Immigrate is an Entrepreneurial Act": Partnership for a New American Economy in Pittsburgh

I'm the first to admit that mine is your fairly typical, Caucasian, suburban (this-could-be-anywhere) kind of life. Single family house on a cul-de-sac, two cars in the garage, livin' what we all thought was once the American Dream.

There is not, I'm sorry to say, much diversity in my life. (I'm working on that.)

Since moving here over a year ago, I've learned that this is a characteristic I share with my new city of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh's working on that, too.

Yesterday I headed Downtown, where One Young World was in full gear (and you could definitely sense the Summit's energy and excitement). I was just a few hundred yards away from the OYW action at the Partnership for a New American Economy, hosted at the spectacularly gorgeous August Wilson Center by several partners including Vibrant Pittsburgh, the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh Technology Council. At the event, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl signed a pledge supporting national immigration reform.

Partnership for a New American Economy is an initiative headed by several prominent business leaders and mayors, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Robert Feldstein was representing Mayor Bloomberg's office at the Pittsburgh event yesterday.

Feldstein compared the immigration experience as similar to starting a business.

"To immigrate is an entrepreneurial act," he said.

That resonated with me. Deeply. At first I was confused as to why it would. After all, it has been generations since my family immigrated to this country.

But then I realized why.

I'm still trying to get better connected here in Pittsburgh. And, since being laid off in June, this is very much of a career transition time for me, of exploring new opportunities and all options.  Either way, it feels extremely entrepreneurial, of forging my own way, of deciding what path is the best fit.

I was at the Partnership for a New American Economy event helping out Melanie Harrington's team from Vibrant Pittsburgh. Since August, I've been a participant in Vibrant Pittsburgh's New Arrivals Bridge Program, which aims to connect newcomers in Pittsburgh with key business, civic, and social contacts to fully embed them into the community.

The New Arrivals Bridge Program is a pilot program, now in its second year. It is probably one of the most diverse initiatives I have ever been involved with. It has led to discussions at the dinner table with my kids about the interesting people I'm meeting, the countries they hail from.

In our house, this is a good thing. Dare I go so far and say it's a needed thing.

After arriving back home from Downtown to my little suburban cul-de-sac, I was still thinking about the remarks we heard yesterday at the Partnership for a New American Economy event when my 10 year old daughter announced that she made a new friend at school yesterday.

"Oh, really?" I said. "What's her name?"

"Adni," she answered. "She's from India. She was sitting all by herself on the swings, so I went up to her and said hi. I told her I was the sort of person that didn't judge people."

"And what did she say to that?" I asked.

"She said, 'I can tell that about you.'"

Yeah, I think we're onto something here, Pittsburgh.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl addressing a crowd of business and civic leaders gathered at the August Wilson Center for The Partnership of the New American Economy press conference event and pledge signing. 

Panel discussion at The Partnership for a New American Economy event at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh. The discussion was moderated by Robert Feldstein of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Office. 

Some press coverage of the event: 

Pittsburgh Mayor Ravenstahl Supports National Immigration Reform, Attraction of Foreign born Entrepreneurs to Spark Economic Growth and Job Creation - Global Pittsburgh News, 10/19/2012

Mayor calls for immigration reform, 10/19/2012

Ravenstahl joins national push for immigration reform - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/20/2012

Mayor Ravenstahl supports national immigration reform - 90.5 WESA Pittsburgh's NPR News Station, 10/19/2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Blog Post: Pittsburgh Welcomes One Young World

If you're walking around Pittsburgh today through Sunday and it feels like our city just got a little bit bigger - in the number of people, in the sense of global spirit - there's a good reason for that.

It has.

Today, Pittsburgh officially welcomes more than 1,500 delegates from almost every country in the world for the One Young World summit. This is an international, four-day summit designed to bring a youthful perspective to global issues - not to mention, President Bill Clinton will be in town to give the keynote speech - and it is all being held right here in the City of Bridges!

It is a tremendous accomplishment for Pittsburgh, and as Bill Flanagan of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development writes in his article "Best of the World Welcomes One Young World," many entities made this happen.

As Bill also says, One Young World also presents an opportunity for Pittsburgh, which has struggled with issues of diversity. Partners such as the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Vibrant Pittsburgh (which I am involved in as a participant in their New Arrivals Bridge Program 2012) and Visit Pittsburgh - and more - are working diligently, creatively, and collaboratively to find solutions to these and other issues.

When I first heard that One Young World was coming to Pittsburgh, I knew I wanted to find a way to become involved. I've gained a lot from my experience so far with Vibrant Pittsburgh, so when they asked for volunteers at a related event tomorrow, I offered to help out as a small way to give back.

The good thing is that we can all be part of the spirit of global goodwill, understanding and peace during the next few days by doing the very things we as 'Burghers do best:

Smile. Be helpful if someone needs directions or assistance. Welcome a stranger. Lend a hand.

The whole world is watching.

Melissa M. Firman is a writer, fundraising professional, editor and blogger based in Pittsburgh, PA. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blog Post: PittsburghGives

Pittsburgh is an incredibly giving city - and today, October 3, 2012, our philanthropic nature and generosity is on display until 11:59 p.m. through PittsburghGives.

It's an amazing effort that is an initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The aim of this initiative is to:
  • Increase the level of knowledge about nonprofits in our region
  • Leverage or increase individual funding or organizations or an issue in our community
  • Spotlight the charitable trends in our region. Where are people giving?
Contributions made by 11:59 TODAY (and today only) to eligible organizations that primarily serve Allegheny or Westmoreland Counties in southwestern Pennsylvania will receive a pro-rated portion of a match pool. It's a great opportunity to make your gift, no matter what the amount, have a tremendous impact on some deserving nonprofits in a critically needy time.

Click here for more information about PittsburghGives. Thank you!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

3 Ways to Turn Your Non-Profit's Presence Into Presents

I was recently tapped to be a guest blogger for the folks at Benchmark Email, and I'm incredibly proud to be among the contributors they have on their site. (Seriously, to share the same screen as Chris Brogan?!)

My first post is part of Benchmark's "Presence for Non-Profits" series. I'd love for you to check it out and let us know what you think.

Here's the beginning:

When I saw my friend’s text, I immediately went into cruise director mode. (Those of you who are children of the 1980s like me can just call me Julie McCoy for the remainder of this guest post.)

Coming to Pittsburgh next week! Never been. No idea what to see or do.

I was thrilled with the possibility of catching up with my college friend, meeting his partner and showing them the highlights of my new city. Knowing their interests, I sent a Facebook message back with suggestions of places to see – museums, cultural attractions, historical sites.

While looking over my list, I realized that I hadn’t been to any of these places.


So, in making my list for my friends, what was I relying on to try and make sure they would have a great time here? ... continue reading 3 Ways to Turn Your Non-Profit's Presence Into Presents here. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Martha, My Dear

Cabrini College, taken by me during Alumni Weekend ~ June 2010

There are, in this world, people who through their work become so connected and so synonymous with a place that after many years (decades even) it becomes impossible to think of one without the other.

We all know just such a person, though, don't we? If you're lucky, like me, maybe a few such gems have fallen like stars into your life.

Martha was one of those gems, one of those shining stars.

* * *
Back in the late '80s, our part-time jobs in the Office of Public Relations at our small Catholic college were to do whatever was needed. And whatever was needed included such glamorous tasks such as typing memos (on actual typewriters!) and stuffing envelopes until our fingers became serrated from paper cuts.

Sometimes we were sent over to Alumni Affairs to help them out if they were busy - which they also often were. This became more than a job, more than busywork, more than a much-needed paycheck for our ... ahem, only-the-good-die-young Catholic college weekend pleasures.

I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the people surrounding my 19-year-old self would become my future references and my touchstones who would keep me personally and professionally grounded.

Martha was all of those.

As the Director of Alumni Affairs of our small Catholic college for nearly 30 years, we kind of knew it was Martha's job to pay attention to us as students (and, later, of course, as alums) but we kind of forgot it was her job. She made it seem easy while making us feel special. Always with a warm smile and an abundance of time for the students, no matter how busy she was, Martha took a genuine interest in our classes and our love interests. She was as much immersed in our lives as if she was our roommate. For years afterward, whenever we met, she would share in our college memories as if she lived them alongside with us.

That's because she did.

Another thing that I had no way of knowing at the time:

I never expected to become a Director of Alumni Affairs of a small Catholic college, one that fiercely competed with my own alma mater, no less. Like many people of my generation who became fundraising professionals, I'm one of those who "fell into" the profession - as if it was something of an accident, as if the job is akin to quicksand, ready to devour you and sink your soul.

In my days as an alumni director, the mid-late '90s in development and fundraising found us all on the cusp of change. We tried making sense of it all. We needed a little help from our friends, as The Beatles famously said - but not just any friends. No. Friends who understood the intricacies and the demands zinging from many, and the long hours and the behind-the-scenes-but-always-on nature of the work. We needed friends who had the same issues, who invented and reinvented all the wheels and who knew the names of every one of the spokes. We needed help flossing through the murk and the ethics and assuaging our personal emotions and profound hurt amidst the hubris of others; we needed to see others who endured, who came out the other side tested, a bit battle-worn but stronger for the fight.

As the seasons shifted on our respective stately, mansioned, and rotunda'ed campuses, we became known as The Catholic 7, representing the alumni directors of seven small Catholic colleges in the Philadelphia suburbs. Ours was a sorority of sorts (with a guy or two thrown in) and our quarterly meetings ones where we gathered for sustenance of every kind - food, laughter, and the comfort of knowing there were people to help us work through our unique professional challenges together.

The Grande Dames of the Catholic 7 were, we all knew, women who had held the role of alumni director at a small, Philadelphia area Catholic college each for decades.




And then me, just a year or two into my job.

Collectively, they had lifetimes of experience on me, yet they welcomed me to the roundtable. My ideas were listened to and in turn, I soaked up their words of advice and wisdom as if it were the Holy Spirit speaking.

They mentored me, taught me all I know about donor relations and stewardship, but no one in the Catholic 7 did this moreso or better than Martha. Of all of them, it was Martha with whom I had the strongest connection, for this once-her-student worker-stuffing-envelopes-now-professional-colleague relationship was a unique concoction. One part bemusement, the other part pride, in that circle I was hers: a graduate of her college, a product of her office. All I wanted to do was to make her look good, to make her proud.

Martha died yesterday morning and I felt a part of myself crumble. I was sitting in a hospital as The Husband was undergoing surgery as the news streamed through my cell phone from college friends. I realized again how lucky I was to have known Martha in the different roles I've played - a student worker, an alumni volunteer, a professional peer and colleague. I thought of my days with the formidable women of The Catholic 7 and hoped that their institutions of Catholic higher education, like the one I'm a proud graduate of, realize just how many riches untold and uncounted are owed to their alumni director. They stand today on the seeds sown by these often unsung women.

As we mourn Martha and share our memories and heartbreak, we remember how special she made us feel. And we realize that in our sadness, she has stealthily done it once again. She has made it seem so easy. By connecting us in our grief, she has strengthened our everlasting and unchanging bonds to each other - for in the end, that's all any of us have - while bringing us right back to our roots and to where we spread our wings to fly.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

#givingskivvies Takes More Steps Toward Its Goal

Yesterday I told you about #givingskivvies, the project I became involved with kind of spontaneously through my connection with several Pittsburgh bloggers. Through the power of social media - our blogs, Facebook, Twitter - we're trying to raise $1,000 (or more!) to provide new socks and underwear for the clients at Light of Life Rescue Mission here in Pittsburgh.

The Mission, which offers a variety of life-changing services to people in need, is in desperate need itself of clean socks and underwear for the men, women and children it serves. As of this morning, the bloggers' efforts have raised $710 toward our goal - in just one day!

As a fundraiser, I'm always fascinated to see how organizations handle aspects of their development efforts - and last night, one thing impressed me greatly about Light of Life. (Remember, I didn't know anything about this organization - never heard of it, even - more than 24 hours ago.)

After our day of blogging and tweeting and Facebooking, the above photo arrived on our various feeds. A simple photo, really, of socks.

With this caption:

Just heard from a few of the guys who received new socks and underwear! They wanted to pass on their thanks. One man said, "Under the circumstances we are in, we are grateful there are folks who want to help out with the difficult situation we are going through. We are blessed and grateful." Another said, "It is such a blessing just to have a clean pair of socks to wear!" Thank you, friends, for donating! You make a difference at Light of Life!
Brilliant and perfect. As a participant in this effort, I certainly wasn't looking for any acknowledgement of my effort ... but from a supporter's perspective? That's exactly the kind of spot-on acknowledgement that's needed for social media. This was a campaign that was organized quickly, organically, from the grassroots level, from one person to another. The thank you needed to be a personal one - a recipient to the donor. And Light of Life hit all the marks with that, in just a few lines and in a speedy fashion.

Here's how you can help #givingskivvies (including if you're not in the Pittsburgh area):
  • If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you can drop clean, new, unused socks and/or underwear off at Light of Life. Their address is 10 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
  • Yet another option would be to purchase items online at a place like Target or Walmart and have them shipped to Light of Life, 10 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. (I made it easy for you. The links go right to the underwear pages.)
  • Spread the word to others about this need. Share this info or blog post on Twitter, Facebook, or blog about it yourself. If you share it on Twitter, please use the hashtag #givingskivvies
Thanks for caring.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Giving Skivvies

I have a 10 year old son. Those of you who have kids or relatives or students around this age (or who can remember being around kids this age) know that this is prime-time for bathroom-related talk. High atop that list?


Quite frankly, I never really gave much thought to underwear before my kid started cracking jokes about it and reading the Captain Underpants series of books. Our new hero.

Because, really, we don't think too much about underwear except for when we don't have any, right?

It's one of those things that we tend to take for granted. It's only when the laundry piles up for an extra day or two, or we hope we don't get into an accident because our skivvies are a bit too worn around the edges, that we realize we'd better get ourselves to Target and buy a new pair.

And so we do. Simple as that.

But for the homeless, that's not so easy.

At the Light of Life Rescue Mission on Pittsburgh's North Side, a nonprofit organization that has been offering a variety of services for poor and homeless men, women, and children for the past 60 years, they are in need of new underwear and socks for their clients. Many of the people they serve are in recovery from addition and have mental health issues. They are completely out of underwear and socks and are in desperate need for new underthings.

That's where you and I come in.

I recently became connected via Facebook with several Pittsburgh bloggers who, just this morning, together created #givingskivvies, a campaign to raise $1,000 for Light of Life to purchase new underwear and socks to distribute to their clients in need.

Here's how you can help (including if you're not in the Pittsburgh area):
  • If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you can drop clean, new, unused socks and/or underwear off at Light of Life. Their address is 10 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.
  • Yet another option would be to purchase items online at a place like Target or Walmart and have them shipped to Light of Life, 10 E. North Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.  (I made it easy for you. The links go right to the underwear pages.)
  • Spread the word to others about this need.  Share this info or blog post on Twitter, Facebook, or blog about it yourself.  If you share it on Twitter, please use the hashtag #givingskivvies
Please consider helping out with this worthy and wonderful cause.  Just one dollar would help buy a pair of socks or underwear for a person in need.

Captain Underpants would be proud.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Finding My Spark and Hustle, part 2

It has been more than a week (almost two, now) since I attended Tory Johnson's Spark and Hustle conference here in Pittsburgh and I am still thinking about it.

(That's the sign of a good conference, right?)

Much of that had to do with the people I met and Tory herself. A lot of that had to do with the speakers we heard from, and the rapid-pace format of the day.

Yes, the format. Having worked in the nonprofit fundraising and communications field for 20 years, I've been to a lot of workshops and conferences. A LOT OF THEM. And this one was refreshingly different. We came to Spark and Hustle because we wanted to hear from Tory (check!) and to hear from others (another check!). I looked at the schedule of speakers, expecting the usual breakout sessions and, seeing none, wondered how they were going to fit all this in.

I need not have worried. These ladies had everything covered - from fitness, to branding, to sales and marketing, to social media, to the dreaded accounting and bookkeeping (which was anything but dreadful). And, best of all, no breakout sessions ... which meant we didn't miss any presentations. (There were, however, a few speakers/presentations that I missed and/or don't have many notes on, so I'm just going to highlight those that I do.)

Dr. Vonda Wright
After remarks from Tory (you can read what I wrote about that in Finding My Spark and Hustle, part 1), we heard from the invigorating Dr. Vonda Wright, who charged us to find our mantra, that one word that defines us and what we do as businesswomen. (Examples: For Disney, their word is MAGIC. For IBM, it's THINK. For Vince Lombardi, it's WINNING. Vonda's word is MOVE.)

This is different, Vonda said, from a tagline. A mantra is for you. A tagline is for your customers.

She also advised aspiring entrepreneurs (which is not a job but rather "a philosophy of working") to "be willing to eat tuna." Most interestingly, she told us that 70% of how we age is controlled by us and only 30% is genetic. I found that fascinating.

Dave Yunghans, Constant Contact
We then heard from Dave Yunghans, Regional Development Director for Constant Contact. I happen to be a Constant Contact devotee, having used it to create and produce e-newsletters for the last five years or so. Love it. We spoke about the need (still!) for email in a world that is seemingly dominated by Facebook and Twitter.

Dave spoke to us about the trust factor in online purchasing.

"People will never buy anything from you until they trust you," he said (in, I might add, a Philadelphia accent, which this Philly girl was beyond delighted to hear in this corner of Pennsylvania).

See, I trust this guy already.

Dave provided several eye-opening statistics in his talk:
  • 81% of people trust recommendations or online opinions. 
  • Only 36% trust advertising (all forms of it). 
  • Marketing used to take 7 "touches" to reach someone. Now, it's 33. 
  • The average person has 234 Facebook friends. 
  • Email that contains video is opened 30% more than email that doesn't. 
We can rise above the ordinary in small and large ways, Dave said, and he gave some great examples of that. Engaging with one's audience happens in small doses, and happens over time.

He also said that "hope is not a strategy," to which I tweeted that for a lot of nonprofits, hope is sadly very much their only fundraising plan. (I'll be doing a blog post on that at some point.)

Rachel Blaufeld, Back'nGrooveMom
Rachel Blaufeld of BacknGrooveMom (standing, in orange) being recognized by Tory Johnson.
At Spark and Hustle, I was thrilled to meet two local bloggers. I've been reading Rachel Blaufeld's blog, Back'nGrooveMom for a few months now. Same with Chaton of Chaton's World. Both ladies were at Spark and Hustle, and it was great to be able to put faces to ... blogs. They were delightful, and I hope our paths cross again soon.

Rachel was instrumental in bringing Tory Johnson's Spark and Hustle to Pittsburgh; initially, the Steel City wasn't on the company's radar at all and Blaufeld convinced them to include Pittsburgh on their 20-city national tour. In this picture, Rachel is being recognized by Tory for her efforts.

Rachel also spoke later in the conference. "Your network is really bigger than the biggest ad," she said. We all have such a powerful network and I think sometimes we forget that.

Dawn Brolin, operator of Professional Accounting Solutions, and Stacy Kildal, founder of Kildal Services, LLC, both selected by Intuit GoPayment.

Accounting + Bookkeeping + Finances + The afternoon spot of a conference that is guaranteed to put people to sleep = A recipe for disaster, right?

Not with these ladies. Check out the photos to see how Dawn Brolin and Stacy Kildal took to the stage, with Lady Gaga's "The Edge of Glory" blaring at top volume.

THESE ARE ACCOUNTANTS, people. And they were absolutely hilarious. I want these ladies as my accountants and I'm willing to bet that every one of the attendees at Spark and Hustle do, too. Best takeaway from their session was giving a client an engagement letter right at the very beginning of the relationship, stating, among other things, "here's how you pay me."

"Walmart gets paid right away," said ... one of the ladies. (I forget which one; I was probably too busy laughing.) "You should too. Am I right?"

Wild applause.

They spoke about technology and how we're moving toward a "zero data entry world." (More wild applause.)

They really need to take this on the road. (Well, I guess they kind of did, with Spark and Hustle.) They've got accounting gold, right here.

Rebecca Harris, Director of the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University
Among the people I was thrilled to meet was Rebecca Harris. (Especially, as I wrote in "Any Road Will Take You There. Maybe." I tried to take one of her classes almost exactly a year ago!) She has such a wonderful reputation here in the Pittsburgh area. At Spark and Hustle, she spoke about the fears that keep us from starting a business, including the fear of
  • failure
  • change
  • hiring
  • selling
  • taking chances 
  • (and probably many more.)
"We have to take risks," Rebecca emphasized. "The person who risks nothing, has nothing. These fears are actually causing havoc in your life and you have to overcome them."

At this point, I had to leave in order to pick up the kids from camp on time (The Husband was out of town on a work retreat) but not before I heard one more piece of advice from Rebecca.

"You are not a product of your past experiences, abilities, or behaviors."

That keeps so many of us held back, doesn't it? Especially those of us who have been downsized, laid off, fired. I thought about this as I drove home, how this really does play into the fear and the notion that we're not good enough and makes us scared to take risks. I know that has been true for me.

No more, I decided. Whether it is work or whatever it is, we all have the power to reinvent ourselves, to find our own spark and hustle.

Starting now. Today.

  As I mentioned in my previous post, I took Tory Johnson's advice and boldly asked for what I wanted ... a signed copy of Tory's newest book (Tory Johnson's Spark and Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now) to give away to one of my blog readers. If this is of interest to you, leave me a comment on this post to be entered to win a copy. (If you left a comment on the previous post, you can leave one on this one too, to double your chances.)

I'll draw a winner next Monday, August 27.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finding My Spark and Hustle - part 1

At first glance, you wouldn't think that Tory Johnson and I would have much in common.

Yeah, that Tory Johnson, the one pictured with me here. That Tory Johnson, she of the bestselling author fame (more on that at the end of this post) and of the Good Morning America contributor, and founder and CEO of Women for Hire, and Spark and Hustle and more.

But as I listened to her story yesterday here in Pittsburgh during her last stop on her national, 20-city Spark and Hustle tour, I quickly realized we had much more in common than I thought - right down to being mothers of twins.

It has been an ... interesting summer, one that I've spent reflecting, questioning, writing - and yes, job-hunting as a result of The Layoff back in June. That layoff made the answering of the "so, what do you do?" questions yesterday at Spark and Hustle a bit awkward, but I realized that a good many of us were in similar positions as mine.

Even someone as successful and as accomplished as Tory Johnson.

"Sometimes you don't voluntarily give up the paycheck," Tory said in her opening remarks, referencing being fired 20 years ago as a publicist from NBC News. "Sometimes the paycheck gives up you."

Even after subsequently getting another job, there was always a sense of "a nagging panic" which was "the pain of a pink slip." The thing that Tory couldn't shake was that she would always be working for someone who had the power to say that she wasn't needed or wasn't good enough.

She knew that she had to make a change, which led to her founding her company Women for Hire and then Spark and Hustle.

Yesterday, in her fast-paced, no-nonsense style, Tory dispelled many of the common myths about starting a business:

you don't need to have an MBA (Tory didn't finish college);
you don't need to have a fat Rolodex (Tory didn't know many people)
you don't need to be tech-savvy and have a fancy office (she had an AOL dial-up account and baby twins crawling afoot)
you don't need a lot of money ("we've all seen people with a lot of money not be a success.").

What you do need is a spark, an ember of an idea, something that awakes your passion - and the hustle.

It is "all about the hustle - the decisions you make each day," Tory said.

That led into Dr. Vonda Wright as the perfect first speaker. In a separate post, I'll talk about her and the other speakers (which included one of Pittsburgh's most inspiring and well-regarded business leaders, Rebecca Harris of Chatham University's Center for Women's Entrepreneurship; the awesome Rachel Blaufeld from Back'nGrooveMom who was instrumental in bringing Spark and Hustle to Pittsburgh, and Stacy and Dawn, two absolutely hilarious ladies who made accounting systems seem downright fun). Intermingled between the speakers were remarks by Tory - it was a jam-packed day - and I'll cover it all in my next few Spark and Hustle posts. But one more thing!

One of the things we learned was that we have to take risks and to ask for things we want. So ... I asked Tory if she would consider providing an autographed copy of her book for me to give away to one of my blog readers. She gladly agreed, and I am incredibly grateful.

You will want to read this if you are a small business owner or considering becoming one. Simply leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win an autographed copy of Tory Johnson's latest book, SPARK AND HUSTLE: LAUNCH AND GROW YOUR SMALL BUSINESS NOW.

More to come.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay (Book Review)

Originally posted on my personal blog 4/19/2010.

The Generosity Plan: Sharing Your Time, Treasure, and Talent to Shape the World, by Kathy LeMay
copyright 2009
240 pages

It's National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and I can't think of a better time to talk about Kathy LeMay's new book, The Generosity Plan.

Actually, I could talk about Kathy LeMay and her work on any given day of any given week.  As I mentioned previously, I first met Kathy at a Women's Funding Network conference in Toronto in 2004.  Even while battling the flu (or some such horrible illness), Kathy inspired all of us with a speech where she admitted that she'd just written a sizeable (for her) check to WFN and in doing so, proudly proclaimed herself to be a philanthropist.

To the hundreds of us gathered in the room, it seemed that Kathy had been considering herself a philanthropist for years.  She certainly had the background, from her work as a volunteer in refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia and launching a successful consulting practice.  But what looked so easy to us in the audience really wasn't, as she writes of that transformational experience in The Generosity Plan.

"To me, writing $25, $50, and even $100 checks wasn't enough to say, 'I am a philanthropist.' Philanthropy still meant big money.  It wasn't until I turned thirty-one years old - after seventeen years of activism everywhere from Massachusetts to the former Yugoslavia - that I stepped in front of a crowd of four hundred at a philanthropy conference and, with my body shaking, named myself a philanthropist. The minute I said it, two women jumped from their chairs and cheered .... One woman said, 'That speech was the permission I needed to make philanthropy my own.'"  (pg. xv)

(Can I just say on a personal level how absolutely so cool it was to see this speech that I attended - and which remains one of the best I have ever heard - mentioned in this book?)

Kathy writes that we all have that power within us to become a philanthropist, to support the causes we care about regardless of how much or how little we have to give.  It doesn't matter if we have five million dollars or five dollars, if we have five days a week or five minutes a day.  What matters is being bold enough to take that first step toward becoming your own definition of a philanthropist.

"Boldness asks you to come out of your comfort zone, if only for a moment.  How do you know if you're stepping into boldness? You know you are being your best bold self when you feel excited, nervous, and hopeful in the same moment. You know you are being your best bold self when the action you are about to take will change you inside. Again, bold doesn't have to be big and flashy, but it should be daring for you. When you are bold for you and your own life, you can feel the change. When you are bold for something bigger than you, you make change." (pg. 147-148)

What if we want to be bold, to do something more meaningful with our gifts, but don't know how to get started - or even what causes we are drawn to? Kathy shows us how.  She takes the reader step-by-step through examples in her personal life and others, and from there, the reader begins to learn how to create his or her personal generosity plan based on causes and issues that you were attracted to as a child, or ones that were important to your family, or those impacting your life now.

She also gives concrete suggestions for working that plan and for developing a network of support for when staying the course becomes difficult. Because, as in any relationship, there is a cycle to one's philanthropic giving and involvement, especially when "our" cause gets swept up in the latest issue that the media or a particular celebrity is touting.

"...the real change happens over the long haul. The difference is made when we stay the course with our cause versus getting involved in everything that becomes visible or high profile. Staying the course lets you know that your vision is sound, your boldness intact, and your authenticity is front and center. Staying the course means that you will be there for your cause through the good times and bad, successes and drawbacks, wins and losses, and ups and downs. Staying the course means you truly believe in what you say you believe and you will stand in this effort for as long as it takes." (pg. 151)

We make all kinds of plans in our lives, Kathy writes, but yet most of us fail to plan thoughtfully for our charitable giving.  How many of us know how to research a nonprofit organization we're interested in supporting, beyond reading its website or annual report?  (Hint: Charity Navigator and GuideStar are great for this.) Or what to look for when we do find this information?  So often, our giving is done sincerely (the raffle tickets purchased from the neighborhood kids, the box of Girl Scout cookies bought from your coworker) but not purposefully in a way that can make a strategic, meaningful, transformative impact on our world and those in need. 

As someone who has spent her entire professional life encouraging others to be generous with their time, talent, and treasure to a variety of nonprofits, The Generosity Plan is a helpful book for nonprofit volunteers and donors.  If you're new to the idea of philanthropy or volunteering, or if you've been involved in charitable causes for years, there is no shortage of suggestions.  Indeed, there is something in here that everyone can begin to use immediately, in our own way and through using our own talents and giving of our own treasure, on the path of being a change agent for our world.

Visit Kathy's website, The Generosity Plan, for more information on the book, other reviews, and upcoming events where she will be speaking. 

FTC disclaimer:  I borrowed this book from the library, and although I consider Kathy a friend and am admittedly a bit of a fangirl of her work, I was not compensated in any way for this review.