Jul 292015

I’ll let you in on a secret – I haven’t been sleeping so well this week.

Usually, I fall asleep about 10 seconds after my head hits the pillow and sleep like the dead ‘til 6:30 or so, when my internal alarm wakes me up.

Not so much these days – it’s taking me forever to fall asleep, I’m waking up several times during the night, and I wake up feeling sluggish and tired.

Yes, part of it is this dag-blasted heat and humidity, which makes me toss ‘n turn.

But mostly, it’s because I am trying to manage competing priorities.


As a single Mom who’s run her own company, I like to think that I have this juggling thing D-O-W-N! I set aside blocks of time in my calendar for working in the business (billable hours) and working on the business (product development, marketing plans, etc.), leaving myself enough breathing room to have QT with my son, feed the cats, keep us in clean laundry & restock the fridge. I even manage to squeeze in some self-care and some play time!

What’s tipped me over the edge? My shoulder.

Yup, a body part has sent me straight into overwhelm.


Long story short, I fell down some stairs in April and dislocated my left shoulder. Since it popped back into place and I didn’t experience any tingling, I figured it would just heal over time. (Wrong!) Four weeks later, I finally picked up the phone and called my doctor. Turns out I’ve torn both my rotator cuff and the labrum (cartilage).

And yes – you have my permission to cringe and say “ouch!”

Since I saw my doctor at the end of May, I’ve had one set of x-rays, a fluoroscopy and an MRI, seen my chiropractor and massage therapist on a weekly basis, made visits to two specialists (I’m trying to avoid surgery) and spent more time that I care to count driving to appointments, in waiting rooms, and sporting johnnies. I’m hopeful that I can make a full recovery without surgery, but it’s thrown my schedule into a tizzy! And I haven’t even started PT yet!


Tonight, as I was throwing a load of laundry in the dryer, I found myself thinking of every last thing I had to do, my mind racing around like a chicken with its head cut off. Then I remembered – this is exactly when I need to surrender.

When my life gets crazy like this – particularly when it’s something I can’t control – all I have to do to feel better is let go and walk away.


I know this is counter-intuitive.

When we’re busy, we feel like we have to work harder. Push beyond our limits. Stay put until the tasks on our list are complete. But let’s not forget the Law of Diminishing Returns – there is a point at which the benefits gained are far outweighed by the amount of time and energy you’re investing. Most of us reach this point sooner than we will readily admit (says the Queen of Stubborn! 😉


One of the best ways for me to get out of my own head is to be in nature. So I went out into the back yard and spent some QT with my garden. I watered all the flowers, bushes, veggies and herbs, staked up a few tomato plants, plucked the flowers off the cilantro plant, and took note of how many tomato and pepper babies we have.

While I was out there, I made sure to breathe in deeply and fully; to take in the scent of the water, the flowers and the plants; to feel the water and plants on my skin.

If my mind started racing again, I concentrated on my breath – breathe in, breathe out…

I also reminded myself that the Universe did not bring me this far to drop me on my head.

After an hour, I felt completely calm, peaceful and fully restored.


I’m still not sure how I’m going to fit 3 PT appointments/week into my schedule, but I trust that if I’m taking care of myself, everything else will fall into place.

And I’m pretty sure that I’ll be sleeping well again, starting tonight.


What do you do when you’re feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Do you allow yourself to take a break, to walk away? Or do you push past your limits and keep going? Do you book time for YOU on your calendar?

There are things we can do to restore peace of mind, even while on the job. We can take a tea or coffee break with a co-worker, walk around the block, shut our door and listen to some nice music, meditate, do a visualization, or simply enjoy the silence. We’d love to hear about the tools and strategies YOU use to restore your peace of mind even in the midst of overwhelm!

And keep your eyes open – soon, we’ll be publishing an e-book on Reversing & Avoiding Burn Out!

 July 29, 2015  Posted by at 3:53 pm Miscellaneous Musings
Jun 042015

This week, I’m in Washington, DC, presenting at the National Network for Social Work Management, which is being attended by hundreds of nonprofits professionals from across the country. I’m struck by the incredible opportunity this conference presents to inspire one another, share ideas and cross-pollenate, so I thought I’d write a piece on collaboration this week!

There are many compelling reasons to collaborate. Since the economy took a nose dive in 2008, we’ve seen plenty of funding cuts at the government level. Due to a wobbly stock market, foundation earnings have been unpredictable, which has had an impact on grant distribution. Corporations have pulled back somewhat on giving. Individual giving decreased. Although we’ve seen an upward trend in most of these areas as of late, we’re not out of the woods yet!

These conditions have forced some agencies to make difficult decisions about maintaining services and staff. Meanwhile, demand for the services offered by social service organizations has increased – sometimes significantly (for example, this past year, one of our clients served nearly 4,000 new clients in their food pantry).

When people are stressed, they tend to tense up and close down. Organizations are no different. During times of duress, our instinct is to hunker down, stay close to home, not try anything new. In other words, maintain the status quo. However, in order to survive – and thrive on the other side of this down-turn – agencies must open up, take a deep breath and survey the landscape for opportunities to grow, to reach out. It may seem counter-intuitive, but now is the time for expansion, not contraction.

The goal of opening up is to create strategic and perhaps “odd” partnerships that will help expand the scope, impact or reach of a project or program, or help reduce costs (e.g., sharing back-office expenses). Consider these three levels of partnership:


  • Cooperation – the organization offers some sort of support (distributing a notice, use of space, copying, etc.) for your program but does not play a specified role in it.

  • Coordination – each organization contributes something to create something larger than they could on their own. For example, a homeless shelter that does not provide food services might team up with a soup kitchen to make sure that guests have access to nutritious meals.


  • Collaboration – the true meaning of collaboration is that each organization takes a mutual risk for mutual gain; each organization is equally at risk, but the end product – the opportunity created by the partnership — is richer than the outcome either one could have created separately.

Before establishing a partnership, it’s important to be clear about the potential strategic advantage we’ll gain by doing so. This step will help us define the nature of the partnership and identify our desired goals and outcomes. I’ve found that when entering into a relationship with one or more agencies, it’s helpful to utilize a Memorandum of Understanding or Letter of Agreement. This document can help clarify the roles and responsibilities of each party, and provides a foundation for mutual accountability. It also prevents a host of problems!

Another type of partnership is one in which one agency serves as a Fiscal Agent or Sponsor for another. This is a legally-binding relationship, and there are important things to consider before entering into such an arrangement — including the track record of the host organization and the history between the two organizations. When establishing a Fiscal Sponsorship, it’s important to be sure that the host organization will:

  • Maintain separate bookkeeping or line item in budget for the funds
  • Provide monthly fiscal reports – to both boards – and
  • Engage in an annual audit.

It’s also important to establish the means by which your organization will have access to and control of funds. I know one agency that found out – the hard way – that their fiscal agent required 30 days’ notice and a Purchase Order before they’d hand over the money. Needless to say, this was a problem when it came to meeting payroll!

Regardless of the nature of the partnership, all parties involved need to share mutual goals, make a similar contribution and be clear about the desired outcome: to expand the reach, breadth or scope of services. Some examples of creative partnerships include:

  • Oak Hill Community Development Corporation, of Worcester, MA, partnered with Friendly House (a community center), St. Vincent Hospital, Union Hill Elementary School and the Worcester School Department to create the CityScapes camp, which provided 125 low-income children with the opportunity to attend six weeks of camp for a nominal fee.

  • Northeastern University has partnered with a downtown Boston hotel to run the Northeastern Conference Center, which is also home to its Department of Continuing Education.

  • The steeple at First Baptist Church, Worcester, now houses a cell phone tower, which generates revenue for the church. They are also renting out many of the spaces in the church (classrooms, meeting halls) to Worceter Polytechnic Institue, which is right next door. 

Putting your creativity to work, what might you accomplish through creative collaboration?

We’d love to hear about what creative collaborations you’ve entered into! Hop on over to our Facebook page to share them!

 June 4, 2015  Posted by at 3:46 pm Miscellaneous Musings
May 282015

One of the most precious resources we have is our staff. Yet burn-out is at an all-time high. In a recent survey of 16,000 nonprofit employees around the country, 3 out of 4 executive directors reported that they plan to leave their jobs in the next five years. Sixty-nine percent of all employees surveyed reported increasing frustration with their career.

When morale is low, so is productivity.

Cultivating more productive staff requires more than providing clear job descriptions, well thought-out work plans and first-rate supervision. To get the most out of what our staff have to offer, we must help each staff member understand his/her specific contribution to the organization’s mission. Research shows that when employees understand and feel valued for the role they play, they will go the extra mile — with enthusiasm — to get the work done.

While long hours, low wages, lack of upward mobility, level of sacrifice required and failure to invest in staff and training are among the top reasons for burn-out, lack of acknowledgement is the #1 reason these survey participants cited for job dissatisfaction.

Recognition of a job well done is, above all other factors, the key to motivating staff.

Here are some low-/no-cost ways you can accomplish this on a regular basis:

1. Praise your employees when they do a good job. Think about the last time someone praised or appreciated you. It felt good, didn’t it? For each staff member, identify the specific actions or tasks — even the routine ones — that you find admirable and compliment them on it. For me, these are usually the tasks that they do well that – if I had to do them – would drive me batty!

Praising the ordinary helps keep our staff motivated to perform even mundane tasks well. Simple statements such as “You’re doing such a great job!” can make a world of difference. When we praise our employees, they know we’ve noticed their efforts. This helps them feel that their job is meaningful — and when people find meaning in their work, they’re more likely to give 110%.

2. Recognize and respect diversity. Acknowledge the various holidays or special occasions that are celebrated by your staff. One way to do this is to allow for a “floating holiday” or flex time to accommodate staff members who may celebrate holidays on days when your organization is open.

Another is to move to a “Total Time Off” (TTO) system where people get a certain number of hours off per year and can use them as they like – for sick time, vacation time, to celebrate holidays, attend a child’s school function, etc. While TTO requires a certain level of coordination and cooperation, it provides employees with the greatest degree of flexibility and autonomy to meet their needs and helps reduce work/family tension. When the diversity of your staff is recognized and respected, employees will respect the organization in turn.

3. Show interest in your staff. Ask members of staff about their families, hobbies, upcoming or past weekend, or a special event. Be sure to be friendly — not intrusive — and respect those who may wish to keep the details of their personal lives to themselves. We need to do everything we can to support a work-life balance. Consider including family members and friends in an agency outing – something as simple as a cook-out in a local park – or inviting them to an event. By showing a genuine interest in employees’ personal lives, we send the message that we care about them as a whole person, not just as a worker.

4. Offer staff members flexibility. Provide as much flexibility to each employee as possible. If it’s imperative that the office be open during certain hours, post a calendar so that people can balance their time off with that of other employees or for them to trade shifts or days, or to make up time by working at home on an evening or weekend. Allowing flexible scheduling sends the message that employees’ family and personal obligations are valued.

5. Present staff with small tokens of appreciation. Know the interests of staff members well enough to present small gifts or cards that are reflective of their personalities and/or job duties. These gestures will brighten their day and motivate them to keep up the good work.

One of my favorite bosses of all time used to leave us little cards or trinkets on our desks from time to time. Although I left that job in 1991 to attend grad school, I still have every last one. Another favorite moment was the hot summer afternoon when our bosses told us to stop work and come to the conference room, where they’d set up an ice cream sundae buffet. When we were done with our ice cream, they told us to go home. These were small gestures, but they meant a lot.

6. A simple “thank you” can do wonders. These are two of the most powerful words in the English language and go straight to the heart. Saying (and meaning!) “thank you” builds staff loyalty, which in turn builds stability. An appreciated staff is a motivated staff and, therefore, a more productive staff.

When we show our employees that we appreciate their hard work and dedication, they are motivated to continue the good work for our organization, even when the going gets tough. Every positive comment helps boost an employee’s self esteem. When we do this on a regular basis, we might find that our staff starts thanking us and showing us more appreciation in return.

Putting these measures into action will help attract and retain quality staff members, who understand and are eager to fulfill their role in helping to realize the mission of the organization, and are willing to go the extra mile to get the work done.

We’d love to hear from you! What do you do to keep your staff motivated and productive? What lessons have you learned over the years that others might benefit from? Feel free to post your ideas and comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NewEra4NonProfits?ref=bookmarks

We look forward to hearing from you!

 May 28, 2015  Posted by at 3:43 pm Miscellaneous Musings