Archive for category Letters to a New Director

Letting the Mistakes Go

One of the hardest things about being a new director is facing all the mistakes I make. Especially those mistakes where I know I could have done a better job if I just had more time to plan and consider my response.

Part of the learning curve in a new job is that my to do list just comes at me way too fast. And if I let the mistakes pile up, they start to weigh on me. And then I’m more tentative the next day, more indecisive, questioning my judgment. I don’t have time for this. And it’s not actually helpful.

I’ve instituted a new routine at the end of every work day. It’s especially helpful to mark the end of my day since I’m working at home. But it’s greatest use is helping me reflect on my day, learn what needs learning, and then let it go. The next day, I feel more free to keep trying, keep learning, keep screwing up, and keep learning some more.

I reflect on these five phrases

  • I forgive myself for any pain and suffering I have caused myself or others due to my own ignorance and confusion.
  • I ask forgiveness from all those whose pain and suffering I have caused due to my ignorance and confusion.
  • May I show love for the world by loving myself, just as I am.
  • May I be happy and free.
  • May I take what I learned from today, and use what I have learned to benefit all beings

Then I list five things I learned during the day

  • I need to have energy going into this weekend. Remember it’s better to be present than prepared.
  • Scary calls never seem to be as bad as I anticipate
  • I can speak clearly about my concerns, and it actually helps everyone.
  • People need rest. More than I think.
  • Just starting to jot down a messy list can magically turn into a polished PowerPoint presentation.

Often these learnings aren’t just from my mistakes – I am gathering information about what’s working so I remember not to get stuck by phone calls or fear of speaking.

Also posted for me to reflect on every time I sit at my computer: “Remember: There is no amount of self care that will magically make this situation easy. Some situations are just hard. Keep breathing. Relax into greater wisdom.”

Do you have daily practices that help keep you sane? What works for you?


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Entry Wishes

Enter as you wish to be in it. Exit as you wish to continue. – Havi Brooks

As I enter this new role as an Acting Director, what qualities do I want to have in the role?

Grounded power, ease, insight, compassion, sovereignity.

How does my approach change if I enter as I wish to be in this role?

I notice and celebrate the places of ease, the places where my insight and sovereignity make a difference. I bring compassion to the harder places, and ask myself “What action demonstrates my grounded power? What brings ease?” I tell these stories too.

What can I do now to set things up for entry?

I have enlisted a lot of help for clearing out all the old stuff that continues to come up. I have set up a lot of self care practices, from meditation to eating well to seeking out nourishing friendships to keeping my room extra clean since it’s now also my work space. These things all support me in having access to grounded power, ease, insight, compassion, and sovereignity.


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Whoosh! The Bottleneck Was Removed

Just last week I sat with pools of dread, unsure how this Acting Director business would unfold.

It’s unfolding with a quick rush of energy. When a bottleneck is removed, things flow more quickly than normal. Work to shift staff and projects into place – work I thought might take a couple of weeks – was complete in three days.

The layer of dread has lifted, revealing a well of unprocessed frustration, anger, and inadequacy. Frustration and anger at past work situations where there was too much work, too much hard, not enough resources, not enough capacity. Inadequacy when I left that anger unexpressed, internalized it, and then endlessly analyzed “what’s wrong with me that I can’t handle this?” It’s still sitting heavy in my chest, just to the left of my sternum. My heart burns.

Slightly Future Me knows how this gets resolved. She is on the other side, the side where I’m not bringing quite so many unprocessed feelings to the table. The side where I’m expressing my frustration and anger appropriately, as a way to set clear boundaries and forge strong opinions.

What does Slightly Future Me have to say?

SFM: Oh! I am so much closer than you think. I’m so close, we barely have anything to talk about.

Me: But it feels like there’s still so much chest pain. It’s hard to believe that won’t take weeks to clear.

SFM: Remember the whoosh of energy when a bottleneck is removed? It’s not just about the organizational bottleneck. You’ve removed an internal bottleneck, a big one we’ve been working on for ages. Things that seem like they should take weeks are going to be done in days.

Me: Is there anything I can do to keep supporting it?

SFM: Meditation – just sitting with it and letting it unwind. Maybe try those trauma release exercises too.

Me: Is there anything else I can do to leave you little presents to make your day better?

SFM: Our weekend plans fell through … it would be lovely to make some new ones. And shimmy pop! And spend some time mucking in details this week – clean out the inbox and the phone messages please! Also, we should schedule a conversation with a slightly-future-version of me. Our next challenge is another layer of inadequacy around connecting with great spiritual beings who we need to call on for help.

Me: I thought we were already working on inadequacy? And it was going to be resolved soon?

SFM: Yes, we’re working on inadequacy/anger. This next layer is inadequacy/needs. There are lots of aspects of inadequacy for us to deal with. One of the many perils of living in a capitalist culture, with 24/7 media telling us that we aren’t good enough.

Me: Grrrrrr.


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Welcome to the Club

The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you could picture your intuition as a person, what would he or she look like? If you sat down together for dinner, what is the first thing he or she would tell you? – Susan Piver

I have actually met my intuition. Or at the least the midwife to my intuition. Her name is Sharon and she has an uncanny knack of making me say the things that are true, no matter how scary or irrational or confusing they might seem. She’s seen and felt and heard so much, it’s impossible to surprise her. No matter how crazy, everything is held.

Sharon has a mother’s body, strength in soft folds, every inch loved for its purpose and its magic. Her confident gray hair, kept long and straight, grows naturally without the overstyling of products or scissors. Her grounding eyes reflect piercing kindness and tender insight. Even before words, her presence softens my own anxiety, straightens my gaze, and grounds me into what I already know to be true.

Today she would say, “I know that you’ve read that poem by Oriah Mountain Dream, that one that says ‘What if it truly doesn’t matter what you do but how you do whatever you do?….What if the task is simply to unfold, to become who you already are in your essential nature- gentle, compassionate and capable of living fully and passionately present? …. What if the question is not why am I so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?'”

And I would say, “Sometimes I read that and think it means I should stay right where I am, that unfolding is a stationary task, a rooted flower opening to the sun. That it is my job to accept what life has delivered to me, to make do with what is rather than chasing after what could be.”

Sharon smiles, “Unfolding is also sometimes like unfurling a sail and letting it catch the breeze to see where it takes you.”

I sigh resignedly, “And I’m the only one who knows when it’s time to take root and when it’s time to sail.”

Sharon’s deep belly laugh fills the restaurant, other people turn to see what’s so great about our conversation. “Welcome to the club where we start really being who we are! I have no idea where it will take you, but get ready for a seriously fun ride. And I promise you that the company on this ride is fan-fucking-tastic.”


I’m participating in the #trust30 challenge to reflect on quotes and writing prompts from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance. I hope to develop more trust in my writing, more self reliance that what I write is worthwhile, even if just to me.


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What I Learned about Fundraising (And Connecting on Social Media)

I’m excited that I was invited to submit a guest post for the Community Resource Center‘s e-Newsletter and blog. Here’s the post where I talk about what I learned about fundraising at Southwest Colorado’s Rural Philanthropy Days in June.

I think my favorite part is an updated bio! I sort of hate writing bios because I do so many things – how do I capture all of who I am in 3 sentences? And even if I capture what I do today, 3 months from now I’ll be a whole new person doing a whole new set of things. I feel like I’m on constant re-write. Writing a bio is a great exercise in at least trying to capture a slice of who I am for others to get to know me. It’s also a great exercise in knowing what’s most important to me, and what I should perhaps drop.

For today at least, here’s who I am:

Dawn Haney is a community organizer, social justice activist, and nonprofit consultant. She’s currently working with a range of folks, from sexual violence advocates and circus freaks, to meditators and fiscal policy geeks. She brings playfulness and piercing analysis to every situation, seeking to reframe the problems we face into grand opportunities to bring about the change we wish to see in the world. Follow her on Twitter: @dawnmarissa and at her blog, Rooting Nonprofits.

While I’ve been working bit by bit on this blog, I’ve stepped up my social media presence after getting inspired at Rural Philanthropy Days. I’ve been connecting more regularly on Twitter lately, posting some of my favorite online reads. If you are new to this blog, I hope you’ll check out some posts and subscribe by email or RSS. Let me know if you have anything you’d love to see me post about!


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Marketing & Sales – Not Just for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

I am taking Ramit Sethi’s Earn1K course – a highly detailed, to-the-point course on how to earn your first $1,000 on the side as a freelancer. I’ve been contemplating doing more freelance work for over a year, but couldn’t seem to get serious about it. So I dropped $1500 to learn from the best – Ramit and his team of freelancers have figured out how to make their own way in the world and make a good living while doing things they love to do. Who better to help me get the life I want, than people who already have the life I want?

Part of why I am paying the big bucks to take this class is to learn entrepreneurial culture. Nonprofits are notoriously bad at thinking like a business – much less like a start-up. The best nonprofits cultivate many of the same entrepreneurial elements that Ben Casnocha highlights: “the free wheeling spirit, the self-reliance, the fearlessness, the celebration of youth, the permanent fresh start.” I skipped all the business classes in 9 years of college, and then jumped into government and nonprofit sectors that pride themselves on not sullying themselves with business ideas. So I missed out on how to market, how to make a sale, how to make supply meet demand. I’m taking this course so I can learn the language and thought processes of entrepreneurs by submersing myself in their culture.

I’m learning that marketing and sales are not dirty practices of scoundrels. It’s incredibly important to my nonprofit that survivors of sexual violence actually hear about the support we provide. And that once they hear about the services, that they are able to get past their barriers to picking up the phone to ask for help. This is all marketing is: letting people who could use your services know that you exist to help them. This is all sales is: helping people get to the point they can say, “Yes, I want your help.” We have a thing or two to learn from the basic tactics of sales & marketing.


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Chief Culture Officer

The American corporation is bad at culture. It’s good at management, finance, technology, and HR. It’s getting better at innovation, cocreation and social media. But culture? It still pretty much sucks at culture. – Grant McCracken, author of Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation

In theory, social justice nonprofits should be MASTERS of culture. Many of us have changing culture as part of mission – ending oppression, changing attitudes about sexual violence, fostering acceptance. This should be a venue where we outshine corporate America. We should all have that “Chief Culture Officer” who keeps a pulse on how our internal culture is doing, and knows how we can continually seek opportunities to position ourselves within larger cultures to create change.

Anti-Violence Funders Shouldnt Be Known for the Their Economic Abuse

Anti-Violence Funders Shouldn't Be Known for Their Economic Abuse

Yet we suck just as much at culture as the corporate folks. I’ve seen too many nonprofits with internal cultures that are cesspools. Who play out the dynamics of whatever they are trying to end. Maybe anti-violence nonprofits are the worst of the bunch, or I just ran into a bad patch of them. I’ve seen leaders who spend agency money on vacations and lunches, a coping mechanism developed for years to try to cover up their shame and guilt. Or funders whose interactions with grantees are best understood through looking at the Power & Control Wheel that describes an intimate partner’s abusive behavior, including blaming, emotional abuse, and threats.

At SASO, we did not have a Chief Culture Officer per se. But we had regular check-ins about our agency’s culture (we called them Anti-Oppression meetings, because we were most concerned about how the culture of the agency had become one that privileged white middle class heterosexual women over all others). And the attention paid to culture mattered. It made a difference. When we started these meetings, we were a staff of 3 white middle class American women between ages 25-35. Two years later, those 3 women have moved on and the agency has added 2 staff., making space for the staff to be 80% Latino (including 40% foreign-born), 40% male, aged 20 to 40+, and with broader class diversity. With a more diverse staff, they can be more responsive to opportunities – from the more privileged opportunities of having a City Councilperson on staff, to the more marginalized opportunities of knowing when immigrants are being targeted for raids or violence. The agency is more in touch with culture.


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On Floundering through the First Year

I floundered a lot more in my first year as an Executive Director than I needed to. I needed a coach, a mentor, someone who could be that sounding board I needed, who was completely outside the organization I worked for. I felt unqualified for most nonprofit leadership trainings that existed. One I looked at longingly required 4 or more years of nonprofit experience. I’d worked in the nonprofit sector all of 11 months when I got the promotion to ED at the tender age of 28.

I’d like to think my inexperience was unique, but small nonprofits in rural communities often take a chance on the bright, enthusiastic, and young. When the alternatives are:

  • a used car salesman who has no executive skills and no connection to the mission,
  • an “experienced” nonprofit professional who half the board already knows and hates, or
  • a bright young professional who cares deeply about the mission and shows promise for leadership
  • Social justice organizations are GREAT at seeing the possibilities in someone!

    While I was grateful for the opportunity and felt I was more than capable of doing the job, I also wasted a lot of energy just feeling lost. Feeling like there was no one else who understood my unique position. In a hierarchical organization, the Executive Director is often a lonely pivot point balancing the interests of board and staff, between the organization and the community, and between what funders will pay for and what clients need. When I looked to other Executive Directors for support, I found people who had more experience than me and were struggling with a different set of issues. I also found these people to be more comfortable with maintaining the status quo of how their organization operated, rather than changing how their organization responded to the community.

    I’d love to be able to go back in time, send my current self as a mentor to my former self. There were so many times I just needed to hear, “Trust yourself. You know what you are doing.”


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Scarcity vs. Abundance

Does your nonprofit operate from a belief in scarcity?

Scarcity: There’s not enough money, not enough time, not enough resources to get everything done. We’re competing with other nonprofits for money and volunteers, so we have to be careful to make sure we don’t give away all our secrets. We need to keep accumulating more money, more volunteers, more power to make a difference. That’s the way the game is played if you want to make a difference.

The visionary fundraiser Lynne Twist says: Scarcity is a MYTH. As she raised money for over 20 years at The Hunger Project, she spent time with people with plenty of money – three-plus generations worth of money – she saw that they still felt there was not enough money, that they needed more. They still bought in to this belief in scarcity. There was never a point at which they said, “Ahhhhh. Enough.”

What would take for us to say we have enough? When we start looking, there really is no particular dollar amount that allows us to rest in having enough. (If you have one, I’m curious to know what it is!). Instead of waiting for that perfect dollar amount to come in, what if every day we started to cultivate a mind-state that we have “enough”? That by sharing our strategies and our resources, we don’t limit our share of the pie. We make the pie larger. What if started treating money like water, as Lynne Twist says, “a current, a carrier, a conduit for our intentions”? We may or may not raise any more money, but we would certainly work with more ease.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Fundraising from the Heart workshop with Lynne, DO IT.


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Nonprofit Evolution

I’m not the only one out there thinking that nonprofits must evolve in order to succeed. The NonprofitNext Initiative is exploring the trends of what nonprofits will become in the next 5 to 10 years.

Heather Carpenter highlights their work on her blog:

The nonprofits that will survive are the ones that “can think creatively about: partnerships, networks, organizational structure, business models, alternative financing, crowdsourcing, mobalizing, decentralized action, transparency, diversity and inclusion.”

In order for nonprofits to truly sustain themselves into the future, they need to:

  • Embrace adaptive leadership;
  • Put people first and build human-friendly culture;
  • Think and plan on a systematic level;
  • View technology as an accelerator;
  • Move away from traditional power structures, and;
  • Move beyond the culture of scarcity.

These points form many of the same concerns I have for the nonprofit sector:

  • Put people first – we can’t end sexual exploitation by exploiting the labor of our workers.
  • Move away from traditional power structures – business-based hierarchies in nonprofits have dismantled our broad-based grassroots movements.
  • The culture of scarcity keeps us in silos that compete against each other, rather than organizing together to raise all boats.

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