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My bad

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That last post was supposed to go to my personal blog. I haven’t been able to write in here ever since I had to (temporarily, I hope) give up the nonprofit thing in pursuit of fixing my brain stuff.

Peace and love and good tidings!

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resolutions

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New Year’s Eve is my favorite holiday. I absolutely revel in the entire cheeseball affair. I love spending the evening with friends; I love the optimism; I love the promises that haven’t fallen by the wayside yet. I love the possibility of the next year stretching before me like fresh, untouched snow. I love the ritual of toasting the future. I love the sense of forgiveness and the palpable feeling of pressing forward with open eyes. I love that at the stroke of midnight, for the first time all year, everybody is synchronously in the moment. Think about that. We aren’t a Buddhist society and that just doesn’t happen on a regular basis. 

And I love the resolutions. The energy and excitement of planning always outstrips the slog of the follow-through, but nonetheless, there they are: a list of ways in which we’re planning on growing, on learning, on proving we’re not dead yet. It’s a way of affirming that we are still children, still in school, still shifting and connecting our delicate and beautiful little neurons. There are mountains to push and tiny habitual rivers to re-channel. Our New Year’s resolutions are the flowers that we lay at the alter of neuroplasticity, our prayers to the gods of the brain. 

The nature of my religion, if I have one, is rooted in my wholehearted faith in that entire wormy mess of fibers and synapses. New Year’s Eve, for me, is the most sacred and spiritual holiday. And my resolutions are the tokens I scatter to the wind to show my appreciation for the dynamic reminder that for the duration of our lives, we never have to finish. We can always have more: more knowledge, more compassion, more love. More artistic skills or musical ability. Our minds, in tandem with the unsullied future, are a limitless wealth of opportunity. 

That’s awe-inspiring. 

That’s why I write New Year’s resolutions. 

Oh, nothing.

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…Just daydreaming about what the future Great Exchange office will look like, and deciding that it will most definitely contain a puppy room. Good thing we have some inspiration:

 

puppy room inspiration

Martha and Truman, one of my family’s dogs

On Rejecting Best Practices

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rejecting best practices of marketing

This stock photo man in a business suit has something to say to YOU!

Have I told you? I’m in marketing.

As part of my day job,  I write. I write  a lot.  I write more articles in one month than the number of posts that exist on this entire blog,  because it keeps the company website’s content fresh, and it’s a major part of proving to Google that a site is still relevant. That’s an excellent strategy for a business, and I’m not saying those articles aren’t useful for people. They are. But a side effect of doing this is that through the research process, you start to spot when people are churning out content on the pretext of giving advice.  Think about how many times you’ve clicked on a blog post called “The Ten Secrets to XYZ,” only to realize that the ten “secrets” are the same rehashed platitudes you’ve already heard. That “secret” part? It’s kind of a dead giveaway that someone is baiting you into reading their blog.

Here are some other ways people may trick you into reading writing-that’s-not-writing:

  • A controversial headline followed by an article that proves not to be all that controversial
  • Anything that compares a business-related topic (sales/marketing/managing a team/etc) to a completely unrelated popular television show,  event, movie, or public figure
  • Lists, sometimes accompanied by bullet points (ha!)
  • Infographics. Some blogs do them beautifully; everything else is pretty much useless.
  •  Any “new trick” related to Facebook or Twitter. I promise you, you’ve already heard it.
  • And I really, really hate to say this, but be more wary of blogs that aren’t a “leader” in the industry. Sorry. I’m not trying to pick on the little guys, because I’m one too. It’s just that NPR is usually a more credible resource than Joe Schmoe’s politics blog, and SEOMoz is a better resource than some random marketing guy who’s trying to get his content noticed. We all start somewhere, but you don’t have to start there with us. That said, if you do notice a little guy who has something particularly interesting to say, it can be really fun to follow them and see where they end up.

So now that I’ve told you why not to read my blog, here’s why I think you should:

Because I don’t update very often, at least not these days.You’ll never see a “filler” post on here, and if you do, call me out on it. What this means from a marketing standpoint is that my blog is a little more likely to go unnoticed by the search engines*, but what it means from a “me” standpoint is that I can focus my time on my nonprofit, and also on making sure the words that flow from my brain to my fingers are the ones I’ve been meditating on. And in the midst of noise and ceaseless streams of content, I do have faith that quiet writing still has a place. Plus, I think this journey is fun, and maybe you will too.

A common writing exercise back at Smith was to go through old papers and omit every needless word, and sometimes I wish I could do that to the entire internet. But in the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing that when I write here, even though it rejects best practices, it means I actually have something to say. And I really do think people can still get by on intuition and heart, rather than on rehashing and repacking somebody else’s advice.

That said, you can expect more hilarious hijinks here soon, as The Great Exchange begins to hold its first meetings and I attempt to fold various elements of mindfulness practices into the program. So check back!

*Caveat: that viral little Kony2012 post still pulls in a lot of people, which I think is another testament to quiet, thoughtful writing.

Four Things I’ve Learned About Nonprofits From My For-Profit Job

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I’ve spent a good portion of past two weeks absorbing new information as much as any human can without spitting it out her pores. My new job has been fun, rewarding, and overwhelmingly illuminating. And while I’ve kept careful detail of all the technology-related information I’ll need to know in order to do my job as well as I can, a deeper part of me has also been making note of what I’ve found in this job that I haven’t found in my previous work with nonprofits. This is not an insult to any of the nonprofits for which I’ve had the pleasure of working; but it is eye-opening. I promised I’d continue to apply the lessons from my new job to the process of starting a nonprofit.

So here, then, are my first (but not last) lessons. The top five for-profit tactics I’ve learned that every nonprofit should emanate:

1. Value (and reward!) your employees, with both feedback and criticism. 

My boss is a busy guy, so he doesn’t check in with me more than is necessary, and he trusts me to operate independently, just as any nonprofit would. But he also gives me positive feedback. When he tells me I’m doing a great job, I believe him. Why is this? Because he reviews almost every assignment I send him. I know this sounds unfeasible for most CEOs or nonprofit managers; but especially in the “ramp up” or “learning” phase, it is critical. I feel respected, I feel aware of where my strengths and weaknesses are; and moreover, I feel held accountable. I want to do a great job because it gives me a jolt of adrenaline whenever my boss tells me I am doing so. And if you think that’s silly, well, you’ve clearly never been praised by a teacher.

Nonprofit managers are notoriously strained for time. I understand this more than anybody, and I also sympathize. But it takes 30 seconds a day to let your employees know they’re doing a great job. It takes five minutes more to review a small portion of their work and let them know if they’re on the right track. Schedule this time into your calendar and don’t ignore it when the reminder crops up: it could just make the difference between an employee who works her heart out, and an employee who is convinced she is creating echoes into a void.

2. Focus on results.

Every nonprofit is aware of what they’re looking for on a high level; otherwise, they wouldn’t have a working mission statement. The difference is, for-profit companies pretty much literally live or die on their results. Results are so much easier for profit-driven companies, as I’ve previously noted. But that doesn’t mean for-profits don’t have a game plan. It’s there, and it’s impacting their results, and they measure it. And when it doesn’t work, they get rid of it: even if it’s an employee or initiative they love. Please take this with a grain of salt, because nobody is heartless, least of all nonprofits. But at some point rationality must prevail, and if that 5k you organized just isn’t raising you money, even though the handful of people who run it love it, it’s time to cut the program and begin a new thought process.

3. Sell, sell, sell.

Here’s the point at which I feel like people are going to begin taking issue with my opinions (please leave comments if you do!) The entire point of a nonprofit is that you are harnessing yourself to a goal that isn’t sales-driven, a purpose that exists for the sole purpose of making a select group’s world a much, much more livable place.

In the nonprofit world, my strengths used to lie predominantly in the “grantwriting” aspect. I absolutely loved creating complex, emotion- and fact-driven images that illustrated why were were doing what we were doing, how it worked, and what we needed in order to be even more successful.

There are no grantwriters in the for-profit world. The expository beauty of the what, when, how and why falls to the marketing specialist (that’s what I do now). However, there’s this other critical branch of the for-profit industry: the salespeople. Bear with me here, because I understand your reservations about sales. But the fact is, these people are active, they are dynamic, they are personable, and they are out every single day with people who may be interested in their product or service. They are building relationships and they are addressing needs as they happen.

Grantwriters simply don’t have the capacity to do this. But does your nonprofit have salespeople? Does your nonprofit have people who are on their feet, addressing donors, telling them why their money should be directed through various channels, telling those donors what they can expect in return? Not always. And given the amount of business my current company’s salespeople secure, I’d say assigning someone to get out there–not just write grants–is a huge priority.

4. Don’t expand before you are ready to.  

This difficulty is paramount for both nonprofit and for-profit leaders. Both types of leaders have an endless stream of ideas, and it’s entirely possible that each new idea is as great as the last. Nonetheless, the for-profit company I work for has an explicit purpose. It is growing exponentially; but only to address that initial, primary purpose. It is not embarking on new initiatives, not now, and maybe not ever.

Were I currently running the Great Exchange full-time, I know this would be an immense challenge for me. As much as it seems like the world is tapped out on ideas, almost every person I have met has come up with a new one. I certainly have. But to work the new idea into the fold of your old ideas before they have even taken root? Well, here’s the analogy that’s coming to mind: it’s like planting seeds, only to suffocate them with more seeds before the first ones can grow and flourish. It simply can’t be done.

For some strange reason, my current for-profit knows this better than my prior nonprofits, and I think it’s because their income base–and therefore their results–are so focused. Expansion is great. Focus is greater.

And here’s a bonus, just for the nonprofits:

5. Create a profit whenever (and wherever) you can.

This is so important. Do not rely on grants and donations. Do not rely on grants and donations. Do not rely on grants and donations. There are plenty of intelligent, articulate, heartfelt people who will be able to tell you why some nonprofits should only rely on grants and donations, and I suggest you research Kjerstin Erickson, founder of FORGE, who wrote one of the most compelling arguments about this that I’ve read in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Kjerstin’s main point is that, given the population she works with, expecting a profit would be an unnecessary burden.

However, most nonprofits can come up with an earned income strategy that would work with their mission seamlessly. For example, my ultimate goal for The Great Exchange is that they start a business that emulates SCRAP in Portland, an organization that inspires creativity while recycling discarded products from around the Portland Metro Area. My other two inspirations, unlike SCRAP, are both disability-related: Full Life Coffeehouse, a coffeeshop that employs exceptional people with disabilities; and PHAME Academy, a performance-based nonprofit that teaches theater to developmentally disabled adults, sells tickets, and then generates the most inspirational, heartfelt performances an audience could ever hope to watch.

At the heart of these organizations lies a practical need to procure an income–by selling art supplies, coffee, or tickets–and therefore funding. Will this profit fully fund the organization? In some cases, yes, and in many cases, no. But it displays innovation and self-sufficiency. And this, combined with grants, donations, and “sales people,” will make the difference in your nonprofit success.

So there you have it, the lessons from my two-week point with my for-profit company. Please leave any questions or criticisms. More later; I promise!

Break

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My mom is in the hospital after having an aneurysm on Saturday morning, so I’m taking a break from blogging and, well, most things. Everything looks like it’s heading in a positive direction and I’ll be back in Portland on Thursday. I’m really worried, but I have a good intuition that she’ll be able to get through this. There’s not much else I want to say in this venue, besides that this has been an intense reminder of a lot of important things, and my anxiety about the little stuff has momentarily disappeared.

This has also been an example of the unique ability my sister has to assess a situation and be strong through it. She’s really inspiring everyone else do do the same. I value her emotional intelligence as much as I’ve ever valued anyone’s intellect, and it’s really shining through in this situation.

The outpouring of support and positivity has been amazing. Can’t wait to report back soon with good news!

The Winning Design

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All of the South by Southwest stuff happening this week means I’m probably not going to be as faithful to my little blog, but I did want to share The Great Exchange’s winning logo design after a bit of deliberation.

The Great Exchange's winning logo design

It’s this one! Those are now my official brand colors, too. I decided on it awhile back, but I just realized I never mentioned it. I love how warm and open and inviting it is, and a lot of the organization is designed around bridge imagery (see “bridging event” on The Great Exchange Glossary). As my close friend Marius said, “In this logo, exchanges are done in the light of the heart…The light of the heart has something very spontaneously warm about it, watching, embracing, and lighting all potential activity in the picture.”

Here’s a screen shot of the Great Exchange’s landing page:

The Great Exchange landing page

 

I’m quite happy with it, for a site I built myself (from a WordPress template…I’m no web designer). The internal pages aren’t so awesome yet, but they do convey the right information.

Design is really important to me, so this will continue to be a work in progress. But for now, it’s a relief to have a web site I feel comfortable directing people to.

More later!