Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Nonprofit Catch-22

Those of us in leadership positions in the nonprofit world often get advice that we should run our organizations “Like a Business.”  More often than not, the person giving us this advice really has very little to specifically recommend.  If we press them, we hear that we should: 
  • “Be more efficient” and, 
  • “Lower our overhead.” 
When asked how we can achieve these economies, we are inevitably advised to:  
  • “Get volunteers to do back-office functions like HR or IT services”, and/or 
  • “Ask for in-kind donations for things like space or computers.” 
This phenomenon is called the Nonprofit Catch-22:  When a nonprofit is instructed to be more like a for-profit business by utilizing essentially nonprofit practices that no self-respecting business would ever implement if it had any intention of doing well or growing.

At my nonprofit we often sit around the lunch-room table pondering what we would do if we were, in fact, a for-profit business.  We know that we are not a revenue producing enterprise with profits available to invest back into our business model.  We know that we serve low income families, an overwhelming percentage of which have incomes less than $10,000 a year.  We know we are totally dependent on donations that as much as possible must go straight to our clients.  So we realize these revenue dreams are pipe dreams* but that doesn’t stop our wishing and hoping.  

     So here is our list of the Top 3 Things we would do if we had the revenue to do it, with no one constantly harping on us to keep our admin/fundraising percentages so cripplingly low: 
  1. Aggressively Drive “Sales:" We would fill our offices with an ever-growing group of exceptionally talented sales staff who would recruit thousands of volunteers and solicit millions in donations.  We would pay them more than our nonprofit competitors and as much as any for-profit business in town.
  2. Fiercely Advertise the Need & our Outcomes:  We would plaster our brand all over town.  We would create amazing marketing campaigns that would make us the Nike of youth development services.  This would generate thousands of volunteer recruits and millions of dollars in donations. 
  3. Innovate with Wild Abandon:  We would direct a huge percentage of new revenue into program improvements, enhancements and innovations that resulted in 100% effective mentoring relationships for all kids in our community.    
All of this activity would result in our organization moving the needle so quickly on building the assets youth need to grow up successfully that within 2 generations we will have put ourselves out of business and then go on to solve an equally troubling social problem for another nonprofit cause.  

We know that “the problem is massive in scale and we are tiny up against it,” but we also know that only the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who can actually do it.  


*Pipe Dreams, that is, until we figure out what our Girl Scout Cookie is....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Lisps, Public Speaking and Braces

March 2015
You may have heard that people fear public speaking more than death. Well, I can attest to the truth of that. Let's face it, most of us don't think that death is imminent. For most of us it's not, but put us on a stage and ask us to speak, and  theoretically we wish for death instead. Or at least to be spared the horror that is public speaking, a fate perceived as worse than the sweet release of death.

Not only do I totally relate to this fear of speaking in public, but for me it has had even more negative historical connotations. When I was a kid I had a lisp. In elementary school I took "speech classes." This means that not only was I made fun of for the lisp, but also for the fact that I got taken out of class to "go learn how NOT to be a retard." These are vivid childhood memories. Kids are assholes. 

I worked really hard in speech class and eventually learned how to properly pronounce my "s's" and "th's" - for the most part. I developed a couple of fun facial tics in return, but it was a good trade.(1)  I slipped up every now and then- most often when I was excited or angry or talking fast, which I do in general. When my ex-husband and I would argue, I would inevitably lisp at some point and he would seize the opportunity to make fun of me.(2)  Sometimes this would make me laugh but more often than not it would just totally piss me off. I don't think most people noticed the slips, though.  It wasn't something I really shared, or talked about day to day because in my life I've traditionally just moved on from one challenge to another without time for looking back. 

In high school I got braces and for the first year (of 5 years of braces) it was pure torture. Believe me, I was very grateful that my parents were able to afford those braces because I a) wasn't sure they could afford them, and b) I had every reason to believe that that the braces were going to transform me from "Snaggletooth-Vampire" (3) into normal person. But anyone who's had braces knows the indignity of trying to figure out how to wrangle your lips around those metal brackets every time you open your mouth without spitting all over yourself or someone else. Add Recovering-Lisper to the mix and it can spell disaster. Although I often felt as if I'd regressed to the first grade, in the end I managed to muddle through it. 

In a stroke of bad luck, however, this past winter I got the news that I needed more orthodontic work as I approached half a century.(4)  At first I was reluctant. 

Dentist: "Perhaps you should see an orthodontist."
Me: "No way."
Dentist: "It could help with..." (Suffice it to say the list is long).
Me: "No Way in Hell."
Dentist: Shrugs and instructs his assistant to "give me literature." 
Me: "This is not fair." (5)

My excuses were numerous and compelling: It's a pain, it's expensive, my problems can't be that bad. Zoe might need braces soon! But I finally agreed to do it when I found an orthodontist who promised me we'd be done in less than 12 months. And the insurance would cover half! So, this past March I got the "Uppers." 

It's been Hell.  

Which brings me back to the public speaking. Something I've dealt fairly successfully with is the fact that there are lots of public speaking requirements in my job. Over the years I've managed to maintain control of the overwhelming fight or flight response that takes over my body whenever I step up to the podium, onto the stage, or worse in front of the camera. A fear, which I may remind everyone is shared by like a gazillion people. 

I've researched and used all the techniques: being uber-knowledgeable and prepared, rehearsing until I've practically memorized the material, picturing the audience naked. I had even progressed to the point that in certain situations I could "wing-it."  This was victory indeed. 

I don't usually share with people that I am a) prone to lisp, and/or b) that I fear public speaking. Life has taught me that  admitting to a weakness is usually unnecessary.  But these late in life braces have pushed me to the edge. This sucks. 

I dealt with the fear of getting up in front of people (which started over 20 years ago when I was called on for the first time to do it, with no warning, omg) the same way I dealt with the lisp/speech therapy:  I worked at it. I took it one step at a time. This is why most people don't know about the crushing fear when they watch me at a luncheon or see me on the news. But lemme tell you: however irrational it is, it's there. It's an on-going process to conquer the fear. The fear that I'll slip up and lisp. The fear that I'll slip up and lisp on stage or on camera. My relatively normal fear of public speaking magnified 10 times over by the risks of the speech defect and the imitations of the speech therapy. That I thought I'd had under control. 

Until March of 2015, as I'd said, I'd been dealing with it. Even winging it. But the new braces, and the associated need to figure out how to properly wrangle my lips around those metal brackets, once again, in order to form ANY word, has me nearly unhinged. All my coping mechanisms have fallen by the wayside. I've taken to delegating the responsibility. I'm having a hard time even smiling for the damn camera- for a picture for the love of God. It's ridiculous! 

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. A few days ago I had an appointment with my orthodontist (6) and he spoke these sweet, sweet words: "I think we're almost done here." 

Me: "We Are?! Really?!" 
Orthodontist:  Nods sagely.
Me:  "Squeak!"

Yes! He had me make an appointment, so in 20 days I am scheduled to get the  "Uppers" off. This isn't the end of the story of course. Although the evil "Uppers" are soon to be history, and I will then enjoy 9 glorious brace-free days, I still have to get the "Lowers" done. 

But, whatever. I'm concentrating on looking forward to those 9 brace free days. I should schedule a bunch of speaking events. I'm thinking that the "Lowers" can't be anywhere nearly as bad as the "Uppers." The "Lowers"  have gotta be better. Right? Right....?!

Say Cheese! 

(1) Most notably my sexy Elvis-type-sneer when I'm self conscious or nervous or even thinking hard. 
(2) Reason #101 he's an "ex"
(3) Kids are assholes
(4) 50 is the new 25 
(5) My Family Law Attorney: "Life is not fair." He wasn't actually there, in my dentist's office but I automatically hear him now whenever I reflect on the unfairness of life. That was his go-to response as he cashed my checks. 
(6) I plan to reveal his identity after it's all over...