Friday, December 17, 2010

A Week In Review

End of the week thoughts and queries on several themes as informed by my week:
  • If you have a job in this horrific economy, what are you doing to keep it? What about the job--or having the job--makes you grateful? What about your employment status makes you complacent?
  • If you are looking for work, what are you doing that truly sets you apart from ordinary, or in many cases, sets you apart from the many candidates who are overqualified for the same position you seek?
  • Getting stuck in a cycle of negativity happens to all of us. What does it take to get you out of the cycle? What's on the other side for you?
  • When you are done...finished...over it...what does it take for you to proudly, from the place of self awareness and clarity, act on it? You've made your decision so act on it.
  • Volunteers are amazing! In our time-strapped society, to give freely of time is extraordinary. What lights you up about the volunteer work you do? If you do not volunteer (typically: "I don't have the time"), what will it take for you to find the time to enrich your own life by being of service to your world (for free)?
  • Planning is not easy. In fact, planning can be exhausting. And at some point we need to stop the planning and begin the doing. What do you notice when the cycle of planning continues...and continues? How do you break the cycle? What is it about the doing that is being avoided?
  • We are measured and held accountable in countless ways in life. And, we measure and hold accountable too. A lot! What's all the resistance to measurement and accountability about? We do it and yet we don't want it. What's being held so deeply here?
  • There is the actual doing the job and then there is the way in which we do the job. What do you do and what is the way in which you do it? How aligned are the two? If they are not aligned, what can be done?
  • There is a vast difference between capacity and willingness. You may or may not have the capacity to do something and you may or may not have the willingness to do something. It's the combination or alignment of the two that tells the story. And your story is...?
  • What did you learn this week? What totally new, mind altering thing did you learn...something that took you to a place you had never considered before? What's next?
  • The older I get I realize that to be truly independent I am surrounded by people and support. In other words, independence is not a solitary existence, it is a way I carry myself, a belief system, a freedom that comes from connection. What do you know about independence?
  • Turning deep, personal pain into triumph and blessing is remarkable. pain is real and needs to be experienced. It's life. And yet, to be able to turn that pain into a blessing, a tribute, a law, an awareness is inspiring. How have you turned your pain into an inspiration today?
  • Maintaining physical health and well being can be challenging in our lives. And yet, having a healthy, well balanced body is essential to having a good life. We forgo the essential for the inessential. We know we have to make these biological entities last a lifetime (not at all long when we think about it!) and yet we make choices daily that potentially shorten the shelf-life of the body. How aligned is your value for your body, your hopes and aspirations for your life, and how you treat your body?
And how was your week?

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

We Can Do Better

This fundraising campaign called BuyLife, for the organization calling itself "Keep a Child Alive," leaves me cold! Everything about it strategically and tactically is just wrong. Wrong! It's not clever, edgy, ironic. It's just bad.

A simple breakdown of the campaign: A wide range of celebrity-type people will cease all fan contact (being promoted as a "sacrifice") through their social networks from December 1, 2010 until $1 million is raised (collectively) for the charity. From the campaign website:
How many real lives can be saved by sacrificing a few digital ones? Millions...

Starting December 1 - World AIDS Day - the world's most followed celebrity Tweeters are sacrificing their digital lives to help save millions of real lives affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India.

That means no more Twitter or Facebook updates from any of them. No more knowing where they are, what they had for dinner, or what interesting things are happening in their lives. From here on out, they're dead. Kaput. Finished.

But they don't have to die in vain. And they don't have to stay dead for long. Just watch their Last Tweet and Testaments, and buy their lives back.

Every single dollar helps Keep a Child Alive fight this terrible disease. And when $1,000,000 is reached, everyone will be back online and tweeting in no time.

You can even join the fight yourself by sacrificing your own digital life. If Khloe and Kim can live without Twitter for a few days, maybe you can too.

Together, with a little digital sacrifice on our parts, we can give millions of real people the care, love and hope they deserve.

We can give them life - the one thing none of us can live without.
Simply stunning!

Fundraising campaigns centered around celebrity are very tricky. These celebrity-driven campaigns will succeed (or not) based upon the public's affection for the celebrity and the authentic connection between the celebrity and the charity.

As evidenced in this campaign, the public has an incentive NOT to give: These celebrities will be silent until the $1 million dollar goal is reached. To the general public weary of the over saturated celebrity-driven culture, this is the best money people do not have to give.

Screen cap of the campaign at 10:30 AM, approximately 35 hours after the campaign began, showing $160,310 raised so far

The focus of the campaign is on what the donor will not get (your favorite celebrity Tweet, for example) and says nothing specific about what the donated dollars will do for the charity and the people the charity serves. Donors do not give when threatened with deprivation (No Tweets for You!), rather donors give when convinced their gifts make a difference by credible organizations and they feel valued for making the gift. Donors don't want to give to dead celebrities; they want to give to living people with real needs.

The ad campaign depicting living "dead" celebrities in glammed up casket shots is just creepy. The photos are not attractive nor do they tell a story about the cause or the charity benefiting from this campaign. They really aren't all that provocative, shocking. They aren't even disturbing. They are just creepy.

Since when is "sacrificing" digital use the "ultimate sacrifice"?

The campaign makes light of death, dying, sacrificing, giving, buying. I believe in an appropriate context even darkness can be light, but not here. The campaign asks: "If Khloe and Kim can live without Twitter for a few days, maybe you can too." In the context of this ad campaign, is this levity really compelling? Appropriate? Funny?

The on-line medium for giving has been grossly underutilized! And most celebrities under utilize the value of their celebrity for good. What would be possible for children with AIDS if these celebrities used the breadth of their virtual social networks and the power of their celebrity to reach their followers with a message stating why they sincerely believe in the cause, why they actively support this particular organization, why they are making a meaningful financial contribution to the charity, and then urgently inviting their fans to participate. How many children will die from AIDS while these "dead" celebrities participate in this empty gimmick?

Message for leaders of non-profit organizations:
  • Your fundraising campaigns are a reflection of you, your image, your reputation, your creativity, your authenticity, your need, your effectiveness, your programs. What do your current campaigns say to you about you?
  • Celebrity endorsements mean different things to different people. Ultimately, a celebrity lending his/her celebrity as a fundraising tactic is viewed quite differently than a celebrity who actually volunteers and gives money to the charity they endorse. What do your celebrity endorsements say about your organization? For scale, a "celebrity" can be a local visible person of note. Same impact.
  • Sometimes our ideas miss the mark. Badly! If you run a campaign (or develop a program, or approve a policy...) that misses the mark, how do you know it? It's that "yeah, but..." moment that is often ignored: "Yeah, the campaign is good, but..." What do you notice when the "but" is present? What do you do? "But" is usually a warning to check your gut!
I have seen some bad fundraising moments in the non-profit sector; this is a new low!

We can do better than this!

P.S. World AIDS Day, December 1st of any given year, was designed to be a solemn, reflective day about the millions of deaths so far, the tens of millions of people infected with HIV today, and filled with a global education and prevention messaging. When did the World AIDS Day "brand" become so watered down to now include the salutation "Happy World AIDS Day"? Really?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Sacred Cows

I have been to India twice. Once as a college student studying abroad and once for a summer with my then ten-year-old son to retrace my steps thirty years earlier. I love India for many simple and many more complex reasons. It is a country that has been home to me and where I have roots.

One of the most life-changing experiences I had as a college student in rural India was living with a cow shepherd and his family for a "home study" program. He, and they, spoke no English. I spoke very little Gujarati at that time. Their lives and culture were completely unfamiliar to me. I was a mystery to them and to their community. My entire experience living with this family was hard work and it changed me. Side note: as I reread this post up to this point, I get reflective and my words become jumbled...chaotic...and I am reminded that India is just that, a chaotic jumble that cannot easily be described with words.

My host father--Mohanbhai--and I got on extraordinarily well. And he was eager to teach me everything there was to know and experience of his home and family, his village, and his shepherd community. All of our communication was through the earnest attempt each of us made to speak a foreign language and the exhausting use of hand signals and other non-verbal communication tools we had available. And we communicated very successfully!

India and the rich life I lived there comes forward for me quite often, and sometimes quite unexpected. For example, yesterday a client of mine was describing the poor board governance skills of some members of the board by describing the behaviors as "entrenched" and "sacred cows." These sacred cows were longstanding issues/behaviors exhibited by officers of the board that went unchallenged because of the fear of upsetting these volunteers who were also major donors. I smiled at the warm India memory stirring in my spirit. Way back then, through large, animated hand gestures and sounds and a passion from his soul, Mohanbhai taught me about sacred cows in the Hindu faith, and the holiness of cows all over India, especially the few dozen in the yard just beyond where we were speaking. It did not take much to understand how these sacred cows dominate life, conversations, actions, belief systems, ritual, faith. At this particular conversation, what Mohanbhai was trying to describe to me was that even sacred cows get in the way.

In India, it is not easy (and sometimes impossible) to live with sacred cows. They walk down the street. In traffic. They will sit on the stoop of a shop or wander into the school yard. They are noisy and their size is pretty intimidating at times. They deposit waste everywhere. And yet, these gentle creatures are everywhere and they are sacred. Do not disturb. Do no harm. Walk around. Ignore. Some even have dots of red powder on their foreheads or garlands of flowers around their necks because someone stopped the sacred cow to get and give a blessing! Sacred cows...

So this client and I talked about sacred cows as metaphor for some board-related issues. We discussed the presence of behaviors we tolerate, the presence of certain volunteers or leadership styles we enable or indulge, the existence of programs or traditions or practices we do because it's what we do. We talked about how sacred cows require our respect or acknowledgment, but not our inaction. Even the cows of India eventually get moved along with a poke of a walking stick and a continuous beep of a car horn if they block traffic too long. But only after they are blessed with a prayer! I believe India is quite effective (for the most part) at honoring sacred cows while also advancing life, business, faith, progress. The sacred cows are noticed, acknowledged, honored, and moved along!

What are the sacred cows in your organization (or relationship, job, family, etc.) that you notice? How do they show up? What sacred cow is in your way that you feel so reluctant to do anything about for fear of upsetting it? What are you accepting or tolerating simply because you always have?

Perhaps it's time to get your walking stick, poke the sacred cow, and move it along!

Now go!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fire away!

A local discount store had this content on the cover of its recent sales circular in the newspaper:

"I appreciate complaints.

I really would like to know what you think of our you've been treated, the quality of our merchandise, the fairness of our prices, the good deals you've scored, the times you've been disappointed...for without your feedback, we can't make things right...for you or for our employees. Thanking you in advance for your comments, both good and bad.

Why solicit complaints? If we are doing something that irritates or offends you, it probably irritates or offends other people. I know we have plenty of room for improvement and that our customers see things and experience things that we can't. If you share your information and observations with us, we have a CHANCE to correct them. We think that's a "win-win" deal.

Praise is also makes it worthwhile emotionally, which probably is almost as good!"

The invitation to customers to support this company being better at its work couldn't be clearer. I love that! And I wonder, what our growth as people and organizations would be like if we openly encouraged complaints. Not the focus group or "put your anonymous note in the complaint box" type of complaints, but serious, thoughtful, inspired complaints that are offered as a tool for us to grow, to change, to rise up, to be better! And what would it be like to allow people a moment to vent also, a clearing moment, "getting something off of your chest" kind of venting so that when the energy has passed, a constructive complaint can emerge? What are we afraid of? What holds us back form leaping in? All we have to do is listen!

In the non-profit world, the stakes are too high for everyone to simply "take my business elsewhere..." when a complaint (or series of complaints) goes unaddressed. Organizations must make it a regular practice to collect information from supporters and respond to it. Quickly. Authentically. And on the flip side, supporters of non-profits must kindly, productively, honestly, helpfully offer up ways for the organizations we support to grow while standing by, not threatening to leave, being a part of the change we wish to see. And complain we must!

Supporting a non-profit is typically relational, not transactional. I am invested in a non-profit organization becasue I am in realtionship with it, its staff, volunteers, and other supporters. It is important to me and central to my life. I feel very different about my relationship with my clinic or library or community center or school than I do about a department store or supermarket or utility company. While the for-profit institutions may call me a member or valued patron and my business may be valuable to their bottom line, my relationship with them is pretty thin; I purchase what they have. I do recognize how many for-profit institutions do a much better job at appreciating my business than others (I suppose the relationship can deepen, actually create some loyalty--thanks, Costco!), but for the most part, I am not invested in their success or failure. With the non-profits I care about, I really care...enough to speak up when they are great and when they fall short. And I stick with them!

So complain today! Get it off your chest. And what would it take for you to offer your complaints in a manner that deepens your relationship with the person or organization receiving your complaint? What would it be like for you to complain and feel better and create an opportunity for the other person to grow (vs. alienate them with your words and energy)?

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


It doesn't have to be complicated! Really...really!

Often the resolutions to our challenges are right in front of us. It would appear--especially for those of us affiliated with the work of non-profit organizations--that it is our belief the resolutions, in order to be effective, have to be more complex, detailed, tested, expensive, debated, focus-group approved, consensus made, stakeholder engaged, consultant-driven. We have convinced ourselves that reaching out to the problem solving industry is better than accessing our own common sense and intuition. Think about it!

Now, it is true, some challenges we face require additional support. Big support. And, sometimes the resolution to what feels like a major institutional problem is just plain and simple:
  • Offering a contract to the new hire may help them to stay longer and alleviate your fear of an abrupt departure.
  • Hiring an electrician to relocate the electric outlet which will enable the computer to be moved so that the greeters' backs are not facing guests as they enter the building.
  • Adjusting or amending your strategic plan (or Bylaws, for that matter) when it fails to inspire or organize people toward goal achievement.
  • Requesting that a disengaged board member step down prior to the completion of a term.
  • Replacing meeting mechanics (i.e. Robert's Rules of Order) with a dose of healthy facilitation skills, hearty discussion, and a clock to keep time.
  • Treating anyone in your midst as a potential donor and using every gathering of people as a cultivation opportunity.
  • Keeping it real...simple...real simple.
It is pretty typical that the biggest challenges are resolved with the simplest solution, the solution that is intuitive and readily accessible. It is our belief that the resolution has to be bigger (smarter? expert? expensive?) that keeps us from actually resolving what ails us. We fall into a cycle of avoidance, overwhelm, fear, perfectionism, procrastination when we know--in our hearts--that the solution we seek is right in front of us. This does not have to be complicated.

Think about your challenges for a moment. Give them some order, biggest to not biggest (rarely are our challenges viewed as small). Now consider the biggest challenge and what you know is the resolution. Go deep. You probably know the ways to address the challenge. Now think about what you are actually doing to address the big challenge. What is the gap between what you know/intuit and what you are actually doing? What would alignment between the two look like to you? What are the barriers in the way of your intuition coming forth and resolving the matter? When you say "yes" to an overly-processed solution, what are you saying "no" to? What would simplicity look like?

Take the biggest challenge on your list and resolve to resolve!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Word for the Day

What are you grateful for? What does gratitude feel like for you? For me, gratitude is more than offering "thank you"...yet that is a start. What does an expression of gratitude look like to you? What gets in the way of offering gratitude? Or acknowledging gratitude? Or receiving gratitude?

Think of a gratitude that you wish to offer. Got it?

Now go do it!

Monday, September 6, 2010


I am my family's historian. It is a self-appointed position that I love. I am the keeper of the family tree database, a process that began over 35 years ago on scraps of paper and index cards and is now tracked on an elaborate database. I scan old photos that are then appended to individual records. I get mysterious documents and photos translated from their original languages (usually handwritten Yiddish or Old Russian). I search for vital documents on web sites and in libraries and court houses. This past summer I spent two weeks in Poland on a genealogical trip of a grand scale visiting the villages of my ancestors. I track down distant cousins on the Internet and make visits and telephone calls to collect information and solve mysteries. I am really serious about this project. My hobby is my passion.

And what I am deeply aware of when indulging this passion (almost daily!) is the depth of my passion for this hobby. I am totally committed. I am in it! When I am in pursuit of a genealogical fact, I can get lost in my effort for hours...the world is blocked out...I am in pursuit of something important...a resolution...mystery solved. I notice my focus is clear and directed. I also notice, depending upon the fact-chase I am on that my heart begins to race and I my body speeds up (I type faster on the computer keyboard). It feels very "hunter"-like, as if being in pursuit of big game. Adrenaline. Hunger. Goal.

This project has been a powerful metaphor for many aspects of (my) life. And today I am aware of how my individual efforts (daily research, collaborations, dedicated pursuits) have created a body of work. Years of research tasks have begun to show a full picture of a family. There is something very individual, singular about the work with something very collective in the result. In the same way, there is something very individual about life in a family while also being a very collective, group experience. Big picture. Goal. Eye on the prize.

So, the learning for me today is to remember the small pursuits--tasks, efforts, achievements, ideas--can add up to something bigger, richer, more complete. Research becomes a body of work. Raising many small donations becomes a new facility at a wildlife sanctuary. Making multiple employment inquiries leads to a new job. Falling repeatedly on the snow leads to mastery of jumps, grinding rails, and a half-pipe on a snowboard. Attending years of school leads to high school (and college) graduation. With each birthday, there is wisdom (hopefully) and some gray hair. The challenge is to execute the individual efforts with a conscious nod to the collective goal.

What are you passionate about, so passionate that you get lost in it? What do you notice about your body when you are indulging this passion (heart racing? focus?)? Think about your individual or daily efforts and how they contribute to a larger collective goal. What is easy, familiar to you? What is difficult? What motivates you when the goal seems so far away or incredibly difficult to achieve? It isn't only the successes that leads to the goal; what does it take to be okay with the collective failures that lead to growth and learning? What are your doing today, or this year, or for years in service to tomorrow?

Enjoy the day!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Pursuit of Joy

I have a new acquaintance (quickly becoming a friend) who is a talented, educated, experienced, skilled professional in her non-profit field. She is fantastic. And she has been stuck in a rut professionally. I know she is a success--meets her goals, contributes positively to the cause and culture, leads--but she would describe her existence as joy-less. Something is missing.

It took some time. Then the shift happened.

Perhaps you can relate: There are those moments in our lives when we have had enough of our circumstances being the way they are and we make a change...a deliberate, conscious, intentional shift in the dynamic in order to create a new dynamic. We stop waiting for something to change and we go out (or inward) and make the change! My friend did this. She stopped waiting and she started making. It did not take long before the new job, the new home in a new state, the new challenge was created. She stopped living from the place of managing circumstances she did not like and began vigorously shaping her desired life and circumstance. Re-frame!

It wasn't easy, I'm quite sure. Big results require big effort.

And in this case, she chose to shift away from "what can I do to make this situation more tolerable?" to taking a big risk in today's unstable economic climate and pursue a job where she can make a real impact and feel real passion and joy. Big, scary, "what the hell am I doing" kind of effort! To be fair, I am all for the need to sit still and examine our current states of being in order to mindfully shift energy, resources, time into more fruitful areas. But quiet exploration must yield to real work, to sincere effort, to doing something!

Name your rut, your stuck place right now. What is holding you back (for you in the non-profit world, the answer is not "money")? What do you really know about this place? Now imagine the shift to something else, a different place, a different perspective. What will it take to get there? Name some action you can take to get closer to this new place. What are you willing to "spend" in order to get there? What will it "cost" you to stay where you are? what are you willing to do in order to be who you want to be?

My friend wanted to find joy. Pretty simple conceptually, yet achieving the goal (finding joy) is loaded with practical and emotional weight. Finding joy requires various levels of risk, perseverance, and a sense of humor. What else?

What do you want?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tough Times

A major study produced by Guidestar about the financial health of America's non-profits in the first half of 2010 was released today (7014 respondents) and it contains great validation and little surprise. In short:
  • Charitable contributions decreased greatly.
  • Fewer individuals gave.
  • Gifts from individuals were smaller.
  • Demand for services increased modestly.
  • Foundation grant awards decreased.
  • Foundations made no major changes in their grant making processes.
  • Number of funding requests remained the same.
  • 2010 annual budgets increased slightly over 2009.
  • Budget reductions are due to reductions in activities and services.
  • Volunteerism has stayed the same.
The full study--The Effect of the Economy on the Nonprofit Sector--complete with charts and graphs, can be found here.

It is a tough time out there for nonprofit organizations! But you already knew this... Yet, I am convinced, if you meet the challenge of the times with new perspectives--for leadership, staffing, measurement, donor stewardship, fundraising, service delivery, strategic planning, board management, volunteer recruitment, message management...everything-- you will come through in a better place.

What are you learning from these times? You have a solid sense for now...what's next? Try removing money (funding, fundraising, etc.) from the equation for a moment...what's going on in your organization? Here's the creative, new perspective part...what solutions can you come up with that do not require money (funding, fundraising)? Money is just one of the many tools you have available to deliver the services you are committed to; what are the other tools you have available and how well are you using them?

The inward journey during a time of external chaos is worth exploring. Give it a try!

And give me a call if I can be of service to you.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Make It Up

I just returned from a month of travel and have now completed many of the tasks that lingered in my absence. A terrifically satisfying accomplishment: Cleaning and organizing my office! In the stacks of paper waiting to be filed, I found a paperclip holding three random notes. I do not recall the origins of either scrap or even why the content was important at the time.

Maybe there is some wisdom to share.


Make up your own philosophy.
Invent your own story.
Free up your own imagination.
Create your own self.
Perfect your own flaws.
Follow your own evolution.
Believe in your own team.
See your own ability to change the world.


Utility. Trust. Pleasure. Virtue.


Don't be a conveyor of information. Use the information. Impact.

My dear coach friend will often ask "So what do you make up about it...?" I love the freedom in the question, the freedom to be creative, not to have to know it all, and to find value in the discovery.

So what do you make up today?

Friday, May 28, 2010


I have a theory. More and faster and instant communication portals and devices do not make us better communicators. We just have more and faster communication portals and devices.

The origins of my theory this morning: I have a contractor completing a year-long project at my home who is getting quite lazy and we are literally 6 hours from completing the job. The last few months have been horrible trying to get his attention on finishing the job. I make a phone call to the business number. Voice mail. I make a phone call to the contractor's cell phone. Voice mail. I send a text to the cell phone. No answer. I send an e-mail to the business. No reply. FAX. Nothing. E-mail marked urgent. Nothing. Contractor drops by unannounced. Promises to come back Friday. No show Friday. No call. No text. No e-mail. It is an endless loop of communication devices. Until recently, these modes of communication worked just fine.

No doubt, I am frustrated by this situation with my contractor (a bit cranky, really). And the M.I.A. contractor is one example of millions in a day. I also notice people texting others while sitting around a table together. I notice the commuter train filled with loud conversation on cell phones; no one is talking to one another. I notice pedestrians walking down the streets having animated conversations into cell phones. I notice an inordinate amount of time spent in front of a computer screen. I notice 90% of all connection with any charity is via an electronic communication. There is a lot of connectivity without much meaningful connecting.

None of the technical access points available to anyone make a difference if the users of the devices aren't committed to the people generating the words being communicated. We're so busy being connected that we become more disconnected. Our lives have devolved into 100 letter status updates and not to fulfilling promises, obligations, contracts, agreements. What would it be like to spend less time managing the number of messages and devices and more time managing the relationship with the person on the other end of the device? In other words, it's not the managing of the message or the device that matters as much as managing the relationship with the messenger and recipient!

I am not device-phobic. Really. They come in really handy at times. Many times. What I notice though is that when we lose the human connection with one another we are not nearly as engaged, committed, present, or successful. We hide in the transmission (or exchanges) and the more devices that exist between people, the more places to hide. There is a huge paradox here: The more connected we are the less connected we are. The relationship becomes about how often and in how many ways we miss one another and not actually those times we connect.

Our lives, our relationships, our businesses, our organizations, our boards of directors, our communities, our friends, our kids...we fail when we forget that the device is merely the conduit for people to connect. It's the relationship that matters! Isn't it funny that the now vintage telephone service advertising said to "reach out and touch someone" and there was no reaching or touching involved?

How important is technology to you? What are your core "technology" values? What do you do to manage and balance the real and the virtual worlds in which you live/work? If you rely upon technology to communicate, what do you do that makes the communication effective? Authentic? Connected? What would be possible if we unplugged just a bit?

NOTE: Contractor has never returned to the job and has been replaced.

Enjoy the day!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Love, Sister

Sitting in the boat with my son, comfortably in the driveway!

One year ago I was given a boat for my birthday by my sister. So much for gift cards! Notice the name of the boat?

It is a sweet 18 foot power boat that will be moored right in front of my home for the summer season. In the ocean...with daily tides...and Nor'easter storms...and hidden rocks that reveal themselves when the tides go out. What might be a fun experience for experienced boaters feels terrifying to me. I am out of my comfort zone entirely. And determined to make it work!

So this is what I make up:
  • New opportunities may require learning new skills. Lots of them.
  • Sometimes fun is not easy.
  • Owning a boat requires relying upon others with expertise. Doesn't most anything require leaning into others?
  • Boating has its own language and culture. Parts of the vessel, laws and courtesies of the sea, deep history. Foreign languages can be learned and cultures can be adopted.
  • There are GPS devices, sonar devices, maps, and the power of observation available to me to avoid rocks in the way. My fear of the rocks may be bigger than the rocks themselves or my ability to navigate around them.
  • Storms come and go. Like just yesterday. A big wind event with hours of drenching rain. And today, sun! Anchor and cover the boat securely. Automated bilge pump is in place. Be patient. Be prepared.
  • This boat has a singular purpose--having fun. Sweet return on the investment.
  • What I am afraid of now, will be familiarity later. Fear will give way to caution and then awareness.
No doubt, having a boat can be a powerful metaphor for life, relationships, work, family, teams, organizations. Each day I look out at the boat I am reminded of this fear I have and what it takes to feel more comfortable, to be in relationship with it (the "it" in this case is the fear, not the boat). Being in relationship with my fear and using my fear as a place to begin growing and learning is not easy and humbling. It's the big goal--having fun on the water!--that keeps me in the game.

The boat is my teacher today. What teaches you something of value in your world? Find a metaphor and play with it!

Thursday, May 6, 2010


In a recent coaching session a client wondered to herself out loud: "What would I leave this state of bliss for?"

Oh, the places that question can take you. What would you leave your current state of being for? What's there that you don't have/feel/see/want here? What do you know about your personal bliss? What matters to you about it? If not bliss, what?

Have a look!

Monday, May 3, 2010


My community north of Boston has been included in the emergency restricted water use program since Saturday evening. The report is that the main water pipe supplying fresh water to 2 million people in over 700,000 homes broke. The flow to the broken pipe was stopped and now untreated water from a different reservoir is flowing to the affected homes and businesses. Since the water is untreated, it must be boiled or otherwise treated prior to consumption. Lake water is better than no water, I suppose.

Within moments of about 6:30 PM Saturday there were automated phone calls from the town, emergency "crawls" across the bottom of the television screen, Facebook postings, text messages, and a wide range of other delivery systems describing the end of the world. And we were so calm. The secret? Be prepared.

Our process was pretty straight forward: Gather the one-liter plastic water bottles from the cabinet. Go to the cupboard and get the water purifier device as well as the water purification tablets leftover from our backpacking trip across India. Begin a system of boiling tap water in the tea pot and filling all available pitchers. Place anti-bacterial gel dispensers on counters and in bathrooms. Briefly collaborate with teenage son about a healthy protocol over the next few days (weeks?). Be prepared.

And so far, it has been a breeze. The only complication is remembering not to drink water while in the shower spray.

I was raised in earthquake-ridden Los Angeles where having your "earthquake kit" supplied and ready to go was a fact of life. While you could not do anything about the earthquakes themselves, you could manage your life, your safety, and your survival if you were adequately prepared. Back-up food supplies, bleach, blankets, first aid supplies, the car always adequately gassed up, spare cash, a transistor radio, an emergency call/evacuation plan...very straightforward. I can recall sitting on the rubble of my home in 1994 moments after the infamous Northridge Earthquake, only a few miles from the epicenter, boiling up a pot of tea while assessing the damage and waiting out the aftershocks. The pre-dawn quake was quite terrifying but the aftermath didn't have to be. Be prepared.

So what? Well...what if restricted water use was simply a metaphor for "emergency" or "things will happen that are out of your control" or, as my house contractor likes to call the "Oh, s**t moments"? How prepared are you for managing the really important emergencies in your life, the kinds of emergent issues that are really, vitally important? What does ease look like in moments like this? How do you keep yourself together?

And beyond the impact of broken water mains or earthquakes, think about the catastrophes of life and living: A broken heart, a sick body, an unplanned divorce or employment disruption...increase in college tuition, the roof leaking, a board chair resigning, a major event being rained out...the economic recession, volcanic ash in the air canceling air flights, a war...a death, a birth, a diagnosis, a crisis of faith. Anything can (and will) disrupt our lives and escalate into a major crisis if we are not mindful of preparation and holding the value of ease.

Anticipate. Plan. Anticipate. Plan. Ease.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Class of 2010

I am very aware of the young people in my life who are graduating from high school, graduating from college, or taking big steps in the "what next" of their lives in the next few months. Lots of 'em! What an awesome experience to witness these young talents, tapping into their skills and resources, to make it in their worlds.

Every day there appears to be a fierce determination to begin the rest of their lives. Graduating from high school. Getting into college. Paying for college. Graduating from college. Joining the military. Entering a trade school. Getting married. Taking a job. Joining a service learning program. Traveling. Something is up!

I make this up--To be faced with the economy, the world condition, the Internet, competition, increased cynicism and unrest, endless choices and opportunities, globalization while, at the same time, to be exploring adult independence can be confusing, troubling. I trust the young people taking these huge steps in their lives are aware of the incredible challenges in front of them and I hope they find balance between these challenges and the extraordinary possibility and optimism they must also be feeling.

While these moments of opportunity are milestones and significant achievements, they are but singular experiences--of millions--they will have adapting and reinventing themselves over their entire lives! Life is truly a fluid, changing, adaptable, organic, evolving, unfolding, out-of-control experience. It is not quite what we plan for it to be. And knowing this can be incredibly cool and liberating. Or not.

One of the greatest challenges I have faced personally and that I see with my clients--individuals, partnerships, and teams--is the difficulty being okay with changing, adapting, being fluid. It seems as though our rigid way of thinking takes over and to simply evolve would upset the plan [Goals. The strategy. Direction. Schedule. Itineraries. Deadlines. Program. Agenda. Outline]. There has to be some way of balancing dreams and reality without that being a bad thing, a sell-out.

What's your plan? What's the big idea? What would it be like to just go with the flow? When you think about the barriers to going with the flow, what are they? What do you notice? What would be possible to look at the world with the fresh optimism and possibility of a graduate? What could you learn from a graduate today? What advice or wisdom would you offer a graduate today? What do you do to align endless possibility with the structures that keep your life contained?

Congratulations, Graduate!

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Tale of Two Saturdays

On Saturday, February 20, one of my clients raised a lot of money for her non-profit organization. So get this--in this crippled economy and after key internal leadership transitions she capably managed a large event team that raised over $625,000 (over 65% increase over the year before) and reduced the expenses by over 20% (total expenses for this event were 28%!) all the while making dear friends and generous supporters for the cause. And remarkably, she created a deep and lasting relationship between the four event co-chairs and her organization. What a day!

On Saturday February 27, exactly one Saturday later, I was at my sister's home an ocean away. She lives on Maui. Yet the morning was a frenzy, waking to tsunami sirens and a panicked family. A lot of fear in the home and all over the islands. The news reports were alarming and the requests to the citizens of Hawaii were clear: prepare for the worst. At 11:19 AM we would experience the full impact of a surging sea on Maui's north shore.

The worst never came. Nothing.

But whether a planned fundraising benefit or an unplanned natural disaster, I am aware of some important take-aways:
  1. Be prepared. Have a "Plan B" for quirky audio/video or if a speaker is stuck. Anticipate challenges and problems and course correct before they unfold. Have back stocks of batteries, light sources, non-perishable foods. Keep the car full of gas. Have cash on hand. Have supplies of extra medications and a first aid kit.
  2. Have a network of close and capable people nearby. Look after one another. Trust. Care. Show up and do what needs to be done. Be easy and kind. Acknowledge one another.
  3. Have a plan. Know who is available and the roles they will play. Know who has responsibility and/or authority. Know who is the decider of last resorts and on which issues. Know where there is higher ground. Know where there is temporary shelter. Know where there are passable roads. Know who the point person is to be called on when needed.
  4. Keep your wits. Sometimes stress looks controlling or impatient or short tempered; it's just stress. Sometimes fear looks controlling or impatient or short tempered; it's just fear. Sometimes behaviors have nothing to do with you and are just natural expressions of a larger thing. Roll with it in the moment. Clean it up later.
  5. Stay focused, busy, on task. In some cases, doing something is better than doing nothing. Set a goal. Dream big. Be Mission-driven. It is pretty simple--One Saturday, raise money. The next Saturday, stay safe.
  6. Debrief, reflect, and grow. Review what worked, what was useful, what was skillful. Deconstruct events to learn for the next time. Celebrate and savor success. Know when to move on.
Perhaps you can replace the topics of fundraising event and tsunami preparations with any number of topics and see the value of the take-always I listed. For non-profit leaders consider how the take aways listed can support your strategic planning process or board leadership recruitment efforts. How might the list aid your management of staff or volunteers? Think about it...

I wonder what this coming Saturday will hold.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Be the Change

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Some highlights from the full report include:
  • Women volunteered at a higher rate than did men across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics.
  • 35- to 44-year olds and 45- to 54-year olds were the most likely to volunteer. Volunteer rates were lowest among persons in their early twenties and those age 65 and over.
  • Whites continued to volunteer at a higher rate than did blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.
  • Volunteer rates were higher among married persons than those who had never married and those with other marital statuses. Parents with children under age 18 were substantially more likely to volunteer than were persons without children under 18 years of age,
  • Individuals with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to volunteer than were those with less education. Among persons age 25 and over, 42.8 percent of college graduates volunteered,
  • Most volunteers were involved with either one or two organizations. Individuals with higher educational attainment were more likely to volunteer for multiple organizations than were those with less education.
  • The main activity volunteers performed for their main organization was most frequently fundraising, followed by collecting, preparing, distributing, or serving food.
  • Most volunteers became involved with their main organization after being asked to volunteer, most often by someone in the organization. A slightly smaller proportion became involved on their own initiative; that is, they approached the organization.
Volunteers are a special breed of person. And organizations that know this to their core, enjoy greater impact and sustainability. Volunteer management (and donor relations) is not always easy, but it is primary to our work in non-profit organizations. I believe strongly (and it is my experience) that we manage and use our volunteers consistent with what we believe about volunteerism. Think about this. There is a qualitative difference between volunteers who are treated as "free labor" and those who are enrolled by organizations to be citizen partners in the organization's mission. What do you think?

What is your guiding philosophy about volunteers and their service to your organization (this question is not as simple as it seems)? What do you know about your organization's volunteers and why they volunteer for you? Who are they and how did they come to find you? When you recruit new volunteers, what is your strategy? What kind of accountability do you hold your volunteers to and how do they know?

Go volunteer today...or hug one in your midst!