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    Finding Organic Connections: The Key to Fundraising Success

    Guest Blogger: Jonah Halper


    In the dating world, most long-term relationships aren’t born out of pure coincidence — the connections and relationships occur organically. What this means is that if you are looking for a real relationship, then you probably won’t have the best odds of finding one at a bar or nightclub. Why? Because those venues aren’t conducive to deep, meaningful or connected conversations.  Instead of relying on random connections or the luck of the draw, you are much more likely to find a better match if mutual friends make the love connection. You trust your friends, and if they recommend someone to enhance your life, you are much more inclined to take their word for it and go out with their suggested match. This works both ways. The person of interest is also more inclined to say “yes” to you as a blind date knowing you share mutual friends.
    In the philanthropy world, the same rules apply. It would seem that common sense would dictate that a fundraiser should hob nob at charity events, the golf course, or any place where monied people go to hang out. You may get lucky, but not in any consistent or reliable way. The reality is that you should turn your attention to your existing relationships to identify and engage new supporters. Just like dating, asking for an introduction or getting introduced by existing contacts, provides a layer of credibility you could never accomplish on your own, and gives you a foot in the door that wouldn’t likely happen if you simply met the prospect at an event or conference with no advance introduction. Your best resource for identifying quality prospects come from those you already know well. They may be family, colleagues, or existing donors. They know you, and what you stand for, and asking your connections to open up their contacts to you will always be the most sure-fire method for expanding your reach and connecting with prospective new donors. This is why the board of directors of your organization is critical to the fundraising process. A successful development officer leverages the connections and relationships of the volunteers, donors and board members.
    Because your existing relationships are the key to your fundraising success, remember these 3 things:
    1. Find a reason for the intro beyond their wallet. No one will introduce you to their friend just because they are wealthy. Does the prospect care about special needs? The environment? Does the prospect own a particular set of skills or experience that would provide value to the cause? Do the research before you ask for an introduction, as it will greatly increase the odds of getting the referral when your friend understands why the introduction is meaningful.
    2. Reinforce your pitch with the role the common friend plays within it. Remember, your connection came through a common friend. Make sure you use that to your advantage. Opening a special resource room in your school? Tell your prospect how your common friend has been involved in that exciting experience. 
    3. Don’t aim for a one night stand. Asking the prospect for money on the first date is the equivalent of asking for a quickie. You may get some instant gratification, but it will diminish the odds of you getting a long term relationship. Your ultimate goal should be to make the prospect your partner, and that requires your ability to listen and learn so you can provide them with a meaningful experience. An experience of value TO THEM.
    To learn more from Jonah Halper, join him on Monday, April 28th at 2:00pm est for his presentation on Date Your Donors: How to Attract and Engage a New Generation of Philanthropists. For more information go to

    Making a Bar Mitzvah with Less Stress: The 5 Secrets of Savvy Delegators

    March 16th is my twins’ b’nai mitzvah. That’s 4 days away. And as you know, regardless of whether the big day is a ceremony followed by a buffet brunch (like ours) or a booming blow-out that rivals the Vanity Fair Oscars party, there are a million things that need to get done in advance of it. So when I delegated to my son Jacob the design of the photo montage, which traditionally shows as many friends and family members as you’ve ever taken a picture of, matched with a sentimental and upbeat soundtrack, I was thrilled that he agreed to take it on. Until….

    Until I realized that he thought pictures of his twin sister crying or in diapers should be well represented. Until I realized that his tolerance for low-resolution images was much higher than mine. And until I realized that his choice of music was, shall we say, more explicit than mine. I was about to take back the whole project when I remembered one of my own Secrets of Savvy Delegators: “Clarify expectations up front, plan for check-ins, then get out of the way”. In other words, rather than panicking that he wouldn’t do it the way I would do it (which he wouldn’t), I sat him down for an expectations conversation, where we covered a few ground rules: 1) No pictures that embarrass anyone; 2) if you can see pixilation in the photo, shrink it or skip it; and 3) no music with lyrics that would make a grandparent blush. With that start-up information shared, and a schedule of frequent check-ins planned, I put the montage out of my mind so that I could focus my mind on everything else I couldn’t delegate.

    Here are four other secrets of savvy delegators:

    1. Delegate to the right person when the stakes are high. While many folks are more focused on the “bar”, we are more focused on the “mitzvah”. So while the party playlist might not be perfect or the decorations may not be sophisticated, getting the service as right as we could in terms of both accuracy and intimacy was critical for us. What this means is that we delegated the design of the service and the preparation of our children to one of our closest, most trusted friends – who also happens to be a rabbi. Anyone can be in charge of the balloons, but not anyone could be in charge of helping our kids’ embrace this day as a milestone, and helping us have the event feel special and sacred.
    2. Distinguish between responsibility and accountability when delegating. Even as much as we trust our rabbi and friend to deliver on his responsibilities, we are still accountable for making sure that the kids do their preparation. We are still accountable for making sure that the service is inclusive. And we are certainly accountable for making sure that our children’s interest in and commitment to leading a life of good deeds and loving behavior towards others and a belief in something lasts beyond 13 years old. None of those things can be delegated.
    3. Stop seeking positive reinforcement for being overwhelmed. “Deb, how are you guys DOING with everything going on?” has been the topic of most chats with my friends and family over the last few months. And while I appreciate the recognition that this is a crazy time for us, I am actively avoiding the desire to seem busier than I actually am. Yes, it is very tempting to play the burdened victim here, and hope that people would send me certificates for Massage Envy and some take-out dinners, but that’s not the truth, nor is it the message I want to send. Yes, it is a lot to do. But my husband has taken on a huge number of tasks, and our kids are carrying their weight. So I am very clear in letting people know that it is major AND manageable. And that I am important but not indispensable.
    4. Don’t give away all the fun stuff. Delegation is supposed to make your life and work easier, not harder. It kept my motivation up throughout the boring parts (like planning the seating arrangements – a task I couldn’t delegate but one that aged me by several years) to know that I got to pick the menu because I really, truly care about the food. Nobody was taking that off my plate, so to speak. So there will be bagels and lox and baked ziti and macaroni and cheese and rainbow cookies and…and….yum. How do you know that there’s something you should keep for yourself? When someone says to you, “I can do that for you,” and you think to yourself, “Nope – that’s mine.” Which is probably what I’ll say about anyone who tries to touch my rainbow cookie!

    So whether you are planning next quarter’s business activities, your company’s annual staff retreat or a major family milestone, use the Secrets of Savvy Delegators to make your next project feel doable rather than dramatic.

    Want to learn more savvy delegation secrets to help you manage your team, your work and your life? Join me for a one hour Virtual Presentation, “Delegate without Drama” this month, and 10 other topics throughout the year! Register here:


    NY Style Underground Fundraising

    By Orit Ramler Szulik

    “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

    At a certain point you get numbed by the stories, no matter how tragic they sound. Stop #1, a lady with a

    can in her hand steps into the subway and begs for money because she has AIDS and 6 kids. Stop #2, another lady with a walker and a box attached to it, begs for money because she is blind and homeless. Stop #3, a young man begging because he lost his wallet and he needs money to get his next subway ticket to go home. Stop #4, a Vietnam veteran with a box hanging from his neck begging for money because he tragically lost both arms – he touched my heart and got some spare change! You get the picture, as one comes up the other goes down, and the people on the subway continue their journey while avoiding eye contact with the beggar, as if nothing is being asked from them. Once in a while, someone will reach out to their pockets and graciously but hesitantly will contribute to the cause.

    And then there is stop # 5, a guy in his mid 50s joins us on the subway and changes the rules of the game. He sits on a huge speaker box and turns on his old electric guitar. He spots a sweet young boy who is sitting next to his mom, and he starts singing to him with a smile, while improvising the lyrics ”the boy in the hood” and speaking directly to him. Smiles now start to show up, people are no longer invisible to the rest. One by one, I could see smile after smile. We started looking at each other and staring at the man singing, it was a kind of a magical awakening that we all welcomed. Who doesn’t want to feel good? Who doesn’t want to feel the “hope” in the midst of all the sad stories we heard so far during our ride? Once the man is finished with the boy, he doesn’t stop, instead he turns to my beautiful daughter and starts singing to her, to “the white lady with the gloves”. Our smiles grow bigger; we look at him as he makes eye contact with each one of us. He is not rushed, he sings during stops # 6, 7 & 8. He stays with us, he engages everyone in a way that you don’t want the ride to end. This guy has a personal story too, but he chose to share with us a different side of him, and to show us how we can keep singing and bringing joy to our lives. He chose not to share one more sad story of a declining life with no hope. He wanted us to feel good, he wanted to remind us that there is joy that can be shared, he wanted us to see what he is capable of doing when he has food and a place to sleep. All of a sudden, people started opening their wallets, all with a smile on their faces. People were not looking for small change, they were going for bills, they were happy to give and it was contagious. This man wasn’t a talented entertainer or singer, he was too a subway beggar but one who understood fundraising!

    All of those beggars who stepped on the subway before Stop #5, imploring for help with moving personal stories, made us feel compassion, pity, and even guilt when they stepped down taking nothing from us. We are generally not committed to stories that we don’t know whether we can trust, or to causes that we don’t know if our contribution will have any positive impact, or things that don’t make us feel the joy of giving. We usually don’t appreciate being pushed or rushed to give, or to feel invisible to the one asking us to give without even really noticing us. We don’t give very often or much because of guilt, or to every single sad story or cause we hear. We are selective in our giving, and the way we feel when asked will determine much of our philanthropic decisions, even how we distribute our small change.

    Wikipedia describes begging as “the practice of imploring others to grant a favor, often a gift of money, with little or no expectation of reciprocation.” On that subway ride I was reminded of the many solicitations I receive year after year, when I’m begged by known non for profit organizations, who support great causes, but they choose to just get on the subway with their story and avoid eye contact. They don’t care about me but just about what they have to say, and then step down on the next station and let the next one step in. I’m numbed to those solicitations! If only they chose to stay longer on the ride and connect, if they just decided to share with me the joy of their impact in a more personal way, if they chose to follow up and deliver on a promise, if only…I would connect faster and stronger.

    I always remember the prominent doctor I was soliciting for a capital campaign years back, who told me “I won’t belong, so I won’t give”. My frustration led me to ask him “I’m curious, do you belong to everything you give to, or do you give so others can belong as well?” It was the turning point to a major gift. The man stayed quiet for a while, and then he said that he never thought about how others will benefit and feel by having that building, and that thought made him feel good. It is selfish to think that we only give to causes that make us feel good, but giving also has the right to be selfish, as we decide to share what we earned with hard work. When we give, that’s what we want to get in return: a good feeling!

    The guy on stop # 5 gets it. He took his time to develop a relationship and connect with us, his “prospective donors”. He told us in his own way that he cared about us as much as he wants us to care about him. He made us feel good and offered us the opportunity to start the day with a bright smile while doing good.

    According to Wharton Professor Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take”, the world is filled with takers, givers and matchers. Takers are those who like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity — the mix of give and take — in their favor. Unlike takers, givers reflect a reciprocity style that is “other-focused”: they focus more on what others need than what they need. The final category of Grant’s three reciprocity styles is the matcher, who strives to achieve a balance between giving and taking. The guy on stop #5 took my bills and gave me a good feeling and a smile.

    That ride on the NY subway to Time Square, became a reminder of the basics of fundraising: simple, personal, joyful, doable and when done well, beautiful!


    Three Reasons For What’s Holding Us Back

    A few years ago, I was at the gym working out with a trainer. He and I had been working together for over a year. He knew me well. He knew when to push me and when I just needed some encouragement to get through a particularly rough workout. This day however was different. He set up a circuit for me to do with lots of different activities. Push this. Pull that. Lift and squat some heavy stuff and throw it across the room. I was half way through the circuit when he put me in front of a box and said jump on this. I looked at the box which was no more than a foot off the ground and looked back at my trainer and said what are you crazy (with an added exploitive or two)? He said no, just bend your knees and jump. I bent my knees and couldn’t do it. I was paralyzed with fear. I took a deep breathe and bent my knees again and again I couldn’t do it. This is crazy I thought to myself it’s a foot off the ground. I practiced jumping next to the box. I can jump that high with no problem. Why couldn’t I just jump on the box?
    If you’ve ever watched any weight loss show, you’ve seen contestants season after season get stuck in front of that box. But what is so different about this exercise? What is it about this box that it leaves so many people paralyzed with fear and crying in a big heap of a sweaty mess.
    The box is a really good metaphor for life and after much analysis I’ve come up with 3 reasons on what’s holding us back from jumping onto the box in life and in the gym:
    1. Fear of Failure – The irrational fear that we will not succeed. So what happens? We don’t even try because….(the millions of the things that run through our head). If you look at failure as just an opportunity to try again until you get it right, it takes some pressure off of you and gives you permission to learn as you go. Success isn’t necessarily completing the task at hand. Success should be defined as accepting wherever you are in the process and pushing forward through each step till the end.
    2. Leap of faith– The act hurling your body onto this platform requires you to believe that what you are about to do will all work out. If I jump, I will land squarely on this box. When it comes to doing something for the first time we make up excuses in our head that limits our abilities to take the leap. We combat all the voices by looking around to see if other people have done the same activity successfully. How did they do it? What did it take? If we can answer these questions, usually it’s enough for us to take the leap.
    3. Can’t let go– For most of us the idea of letting go feels like a loss of control. Losing control puts us in a state of panic and extreme anxiety. We fear if we can’t control the outcome something terrible will happen which is often rooted in our need to be perfect.
    We can’t let go of something if part of you believes that you are better off with “it”. The “it” is serving another purpose and until you understand the need that is being met you won’t be able to let it go.
    Over the years I’ve stood in front of that box and some days I make it my bitch and other days it gets me and I’m that person crying in a big heap of a sweaty mess. What I know is that when I’m unable to do it, if I take a quiet moment to look inward there is always something going on in my life that is feeding into my fear of failure, my inability to take a leap of faith or my need to control something. What’s different today then a few years ago, is that now I can understand what’s holding me back and deal with it head on.

    When the Beatles and the Platters Meet at Starbucks

    It was a regular morning and I was listening to the radio before pulling into our local Starbucks. One of my favorite Beatles song was playing; “All the lonely people”. It is kind of a depressing song to start the day with;

    ”Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?” But nevertheless, it’s a Beatles song and I was caught in a sentimental moment. I got out of my car and still had that song playing in my head as I entered Starbucks and was ready to order my beverage. It was a busy shift and the line was long. I was looking around and all of the sudden an answer came to my mind “This is where they belong…the lonely people, right here…at Starbucks” most of the people who were sitting in the comfortable couches were sitting alone. They were, of course, plugged in to their smartphones, listening to music and with their eyes on the screen. They looked busy. While I was still standing in line a wonderful song from the 50’s began playing at the Starbucks speakers, pushing aside the Beatles song. Does anybody remember The Platter’s famous song, “The Great Pretender”?

    It goes by “Oh-oh, yes, I’m the great pretender

    Pretending that I’m doing well

    My need is such, I pretend too much

    I’m lonely but no one can tell…

    And a “Eureka” moment occurred; I was looking around at the lonely people, trying to look busy, pretending they are not alone. I thought to myself, everyone here can drink their coffee at home (and for much less money), why is it that they come here and sit here in public to drink their coffee? To me the answer is, to either meet other people or to not be alone. However, being plugged to their devices, they are preventing themselves from creating these human interactions that will eventually help them not be alone.

    I got my beverage and left the store, I kept thinking how attached we all have become to our smart devices and the “added value” these little things are bringing into our lives. It used to be a means to make a phone call, then it became our day-timers, calendars and watches, then it also became our camera, later it became our emails, internet, pharmacy, bank, games and so much more. But the biggest thing of all is that it became our friend! We are never really alone, as long as we carry it with us.

    That is a scary thought to me.

    A couple of months ago I was planning to take my daughters on a road trip to Zion National Park (only two and half hours drive from our house). We were meeting a girlfriend of mine and her kids and were ready to hit the road, but then, I realized that I couldn’t find my phone. I remembered that the battery was running low and must have died, which made it even harder to locate it around the house. I was looking everywhere but couldn’t find it. Being concerned about driving in the dark, I decided to go ahead and leave for our two-day trip without my phone. I called my husband and told him not to bother looking for me as I am off the grid. Wow, 48 hours without my iPhone (didn’t take my laptop either) was such a liberating experience. All the gurus are talking about being in the present, doing meditation, and all the techniques to get our brains to quiet down; it is all so very simple – forget your smartphone somewhere! Giving yourself a break from the on going and demanding relationship that we have with these devices can generate a great sense of Zen and much more.

    Not having my iPhone for 48 hours increased my attention to the magnificent nature I was surrendered by and elevated the depth of conversations that I had with my daughters and friends. Now I will be lying if I told you that I wasn’t a bit itchy from time to time, looking for my phone, wondering who might be needing me and what updates I might be missing, but being truthful I also knew that in the moments of “needing” the phone, I was also trying to avoid something else. For some people this “something else avoidance” could be having deep conversations, having to listen to other people’s opinion, doing some soul searching, reflecting on events, planning ahead, connecting with strangers, and even feeling an emotional pain. For some people, as soon as there is a glimpse of an emotional pain (a memory of a negative experience), we want to shut it down quickly. Almost like swallowing a “happy pill” to take the uncomfortable feelings away; our smart device is doing just that. I wonder what an impact we can have over our lives, if we don’t shy away from these feelings. If we do let ourselves be vulnerable and exposed. Being in the moment, even if it is sad and lonely. Feeling the real feelings without sugarcoating them. My two cents on this matter is that we can actually do miracles in our emotional progression. Being in a Starbucks alone and unplugged will invite other people into our lives. It can be a smile from another person, an eye contact, an expression, maybe even a conversation. If only we take the time to look at other people and initiate a connection, we might have a huge impact on a stranger’s day and perhaps even a stranger’s life. The power of human interaction can never be replaced by our smartphones. Having a stranger smile and say to us “Good Morning”, cannot be done by our phones. (No. Siri doesn’t count).

    When the Platters and Beatles wrote their songs (back in the 50s and 60s) they couldn’t possibly have imagined that their songs will be “meeting” on a random morning in a Starbucks. However, they did raise awareness about the human need to feel connected to another. There are so many great things that technology has brought into our lives, including the smartphones, but let us be cautious with the emotional dependency that we might develop toward them. After all, as Thomas Merton said, “Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”


    Twas the 8th night of Hanukah and I looked at my menorah and realized something was missing from this holiday. I lit the menorah each night, check. I said all the prayers, check. I sent some gifts to my youngest family members, check. So what was missing? I was cooking dinner and I realized there was a lack of latkes this holiday season. Every year I complain about the amount of fat, oil, and yummy fried potatoes I eat but not one has crossed my lips this year. I wish I could say it’s because I’m on a diet and have lost a few pounds but no that holiday weight creep has already found me thanks to a brownie recipe I made from Pinterest. I had a moment of deja vu back to Erev Yom Kippur when I was sitting in synagogue thinking about what life was going to be like in the upcoming year with my new career. I was prepared for challenges but what came to my mind I wasn’t prepared for.

    It dawned on me that my job as a non-profit Jewish professional afforded me a level of engagement in my religion that was easy and comfortable. Over the past 20 years, I never once thought about things like what will I do for Sukkot, Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Hanukah. My Jewish identity was wrapped up in my job. I was fully engaged in Jewish culture through activities, holiday observances and weekly kabbalat Shabbat at our JCC. I lived and worked in the Jewish world but only attended synagogue on occasion. I felt fully engaged and full from all the latkes!

    As I sat there thinking, the Rabbi began his sermon. I was fully expecting the usual ask for money, political speech or why we need to be behind Israel sermon. It was not any of those things. To my surprise, he began speaking about engagement at the synagogue. My first thought was “Ok, this is weird!” My second thought led me to start thinking about “now what?” I no longer work at a JCC and will have to actually “work” at finding ways to be engaged in Jewish life. I realized this is actually what most Jews have to do and shouldn’t be that difficult. Right? Wrong!

    There’s a lot competing for my time. Now that it’s not my job to be at the Havdallah Hayride or Chanukah Choopla, will I make the effort I wondered?

    Rabbi Robinson said it beautifully. “You want to be here, you want to make a connection. You’re good at connecting with others—you have a circle of friends and loved ones, and have no trouble schmoozing in your given circle. But when you come here, you’re alone, and miserable. Not because someone treated you explicitly poorly, and not because you’re not committed to the idea of being a part of the synagogue—you’re here, after all. But there’s a lack of engagement, a lack of comfort, a lack of connection. So you come, you have some chitchat, and you leave disappointed rather than renewed.” It was like he was talking directly to me. So where do I belong? I’m an intermarried gay Jew with no children. If you have a group that fits that description, please call me, I’d love to hear from you! I’ve read a lot of the articles written about the Pew study and all I keep thinking is “I am the Pew Study results”. I’m intermarried and my Judaism is based more on culture than in religion. Since I have no children, I don’t need the synagogue for Hebrew school. So why should I join? I’m not my parent’s generation who believed that we as Jews should belong just to belong. I believe it’s important to be involved but I’m not going to join just to say I’m a member.

    Hanukah was my first Jewish holiday not working at a Jewish organization and I had so many opportunities to engage or even make latkes at home (Oy, the smell of oil is too much for me to deal with) but I didn’t. I realize now that I’m going to have to make a serious commitment to myself to engage in the community where it once was just easy and frankly part of my job. I’m calling this a HanukahFail but only temporarily as I know my next opportunity to engage comes every Shabbat.

    A Feast of Gratitude and Miracles: when the turkey meets the latke

    Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis ofhowmuchyouvebeengiven”  –  MarelisaFabrega
    I was very skeptical aboutmiracles,andneverparticularlygrateful for what I had as I always believedIworkedhardandIgotwhatIdeserved. Itook everythingforgranted.It all changedwhenIalmostlostmymominacaraccident. Althoughthedoctorssaidtherewasnotmuchtheycould do,theykeptfightingforhersurvival.Sincethen,IbelieveinmiraclesandImespeciallythankfulforgoodhealthand forthemiracleworkersoutthere.Thisyear,Hanukkah andThanksgivingbroughtitalltogetherforme– someonesharedwithmeafewdaysago.
    IvealwayscelebratedHanukkah sincethedaymysaba(grandfather)gavemethesameHanukkiahImstilllighting40plus yearslater.WiththatHanukkiah,mysabagavemethe wonderfulgiftoftradition.IloveHanukkah,thecelebrationanditsmeaning.Ilovecelebratingmiracles,notonlybecauselifeitselfisone,butbecauseIbelieveinthosewhocreatemiraclesandapplaudthosewhokeepbelieving.
    WhenImovedtotheUSA,15yearsago,IlearnedallaboutThanksgiving,ajoyouscelebrationofgratitudethatwaseasilywelcomedin ourfamilytradition.BeinggratefulissomethingthatmyJewishrootshavealwaystaughtme,fromthemorningprayerstodifferentritualsduringtheday.Judaismisa religionthat constantlyremindsustoappreciatelifeanditsgifts.IloveeverythingaboutThanksgiving.Icelebratethegoodandthechallenging,asone without the other cannot exist, and Im thankful forbeingaliveand be able to overcomewhateverlifebrings.
    Thisyear,ThanksgivingfallsonthefirstdayofHanukkah,a rare fact that onlyhappenedoncebefore,in1888.Ibelieveitiseasytocelebratebothtogether,notonlybecauselatkescangowellwithcranberrysauce,ortheturkeycanlookniceonatablenexttotheHanukkah candles,ormaybe because both areacelebrationoffreedomfromreligiousoppressionandpersecution.IbelieveHanukkahandThanksgivingcancomplementeachotherinabeautifulway:beingthankfulforthemiracleoflifeandforthosewhomakemiracleshappen!
    Thatinsightsharedwithmea few days ago mademethinkaboutsomanythings,butmostly aboutthemiracleworkers.Itmademethinkaboutallofuswhovolunteerindifferentorganizationstomakethedifference,andthosewhocontributewiththeirdonationstogivehopeandabettertomorrowtoothers,theoneswhoworkinthenonforprofitsector,andthepoliceofficersandthefirefighters,andtheteachers,doctorsandnurses,thesoldiersdefendingtheircountry,andallthegoodpeopleinthisplanetwhoonewayoranotherdecidetomakeitabetterplace.Anyonewhostillbelievesthatsomethinggoodcanhappenifweatleasttry,nomatterhow devastatingrealitycanbesometimes,isamiracleworkertome.Andtothatmiracleworker,IwilldedicatethisThanksgivingthat this yearisholdingthehandofHanukkah,acelebrationtofeelgratitudefortheirmiracles,dayinanddayout.Aneternalgratitudeforkeepingtheoilburning!


    Haveahappyholidayandalifefilledwith latkesandturkey,miraclesandgratitude!

    It takes a team

              “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”   -Hellen Keller
    “I’m overwhelmed” – my client, who works in a high-profile leadership position said, almost breaking down

    . “It feels that I’m doing everything by myself. My support staff is either new, they all have an attitude, or I simply can’t trust them to do things the way I need. The systems in place are not working. I can’t even see anymore where I’m going and when I do I feel I will never get there because I get distracted by other things that I need to take care of!”.

    I’m almost sure that by now you’ve heard about U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, who became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. She swam for 53 hours without a break, more than 100 miles in the open ocean! At first I thought the news was about a crazy lady, and I didn’t pay much attention to this huge accomplishment. For some reason, when my client said  “I don’t see where I’m going”, I mentioned Diana Nyad to her, and I realized that I do actually admire her, not only because of her endurance and perseverance to go after what she wanted – at 64 years old!, but  also because among the many important decisions she had to make, she knew that her goal couldn’t be achieved by herself.  When Diana waded ashore she said  “… it looks like a solo sport, but it is a team”, her victory was a true team effort.
    After each try, over the past 35 years, Diana consulted with experts on how to do better the next time so she can remain focused on her goal, and that’s how she started building her team.  The support team accompanying her included coaches, physicians, technical personnel, a boat crew, accompanying kayakers, and equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her to keep sharks away. There were also divers standing by to deal with sharks in case they came close, and researchers who developed a topical anti-jellyfish cream especially formulated for the long hours she would spend in the water.  A boat also dragged a line in the ocean to help keep her on course. A pulmonologist was part of her team to help her with asthma she had developed on a previous attempt. There were also observers recording everything, handlers who put food in her mouth and wrapped her ankles with tape at night, kayakers handled her water bottles, divers adjusted the hood on her protective jelly fish suit, and a navigator and operations chief among others. This team of professionals made sure she was focused on her goal and nothing interfered with her mission, they kept the waters clear of sharks, jellyfish, distractions, and currents, all for her. Thanks to her team, Diana Nyad always knew where she was going, and she remained focused on getting there.
    Bottom line, you can jump into the unexpected and giant ocean alone, with the intention to get ashore safely, but the chances are you will be hurt, exhausted, lost and even might drown in the process. You heard this many times and you know it, great achievements demand more than what one person can deliver. With no exceptions!
    Think of the talent you need to bring together in order to achieve success. We all face some sort of currents, storms, jelly fish and sharks. No more excuses: yes, the reality is that a team approach may take longer, but in the long run teams achieve better results than going alone. Yes, it is true that you don’t choose everyone on your team and many times you inherit them, but there is training and checklists to assure efficiency. Yes, there is attitude, but it can be addressed. Yes, not everyone is motivated, so motivate them. Yes, you don’t always have a budget for a good team or a team at all, but you can be creative and outsource  some of your work or work with volunteers and if you can’t do even that, be your own advocate by planning ahead and don’t jump in the ocean if what you can do well is jumping into a pool. Yes, you think working with others is one more complication, but really? Be a good leader and make it work, or just know that it is your choice to feel like drowning, but it is an option you can change as soon as you decide.
    From my experience working with my own teams in the past, I learned a few things that are important to remember:
    – Move from support staff to a team mind set. Ownership and knowing that my success is yours, motivates everyone.
    – Every member of a team has a different role, but what makes it a team is that everyone adds to the success of the mission. Collaboration is key, and helping each other is a must, but for everyone on a team to be focused on one specific area is what guarantees success.
    – Surround yourself with people who know what you don’t know, who are subject experts. Hiring people that add to your success is a no-brainer.
    – Respect your team and listen to them. Trust is key in every team, and a precondition for any team to succeed.
    – There should be people on your team for different stages of the process, those who will help you get ready, those who will be with you during the journey, and those who will follow up. Make sure to have support all along the way.
    Nyad came out of the ocean with her face bruised, swollen and sunburned. Even though she had the best possible team, her journey was extremely challenging. But who said it would be easy? The main thing is to be prepared and know that regardless of how difficult it will be you have a team ready to weather the circumstances with you and they know what to do to help you accomplish your mission.
    Diana shared  with the media that she was determined with each stroke forward to “push Cuba back, and push Florida towards” her. Think about the following questions:
    – Which one is your Cuba and which one is your Florida? Be clear from where to where you are going.
    – Who do you need on your team to keep the sharks and jelly fish away? Who do you need to fight currents and storms? To make sure you don’t get lost? To keep you doing what you need to do without distractions?
    – What will it take for you to make it happen?


    Just as Diana Nyad, the speaker for the USA Oracle Team, who recently had the greatest comeback in the history of sailing and won against the Emirates Team New Zealand tweeted: “On your own you’re nothing, but when you’ve got a team like this around you, they make you great”.

    The Mission: No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise

    “No wise fish would go anywhere without a porpoise.” Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


    For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I have been a very strong advocate of the “NO MONEY NO MISSION” school of thought.  I have even gone so far as to argue (much to the chagrin of many of you) that the money must come before the mission.


    Well, today I have a surprise for you.  I am going to devote this blog to, wait for it, THE MISSION, or, in the immortal words of Lewis Carroll, THE PORPOISE!  After all, you cannot raise any money without a solid and meaningful mission presented to the public in the form of the mission statement.  After all, it is the mission statement that is supposed to communicate your entire purpose.  And you want that to be done in one (OK, maybe two) clear sentences.


    According to Peter Drucker, the guru of all things management, “a mission statement should fit on a T Shirt”.  According to Jane Stein, a mission statement should give you goose bumps as it communicates the purpose of your nonprofit agency.  And add to that the need to speak to the dreams for the future for the organization, the need to describe what the organization does and how it does it and for whom, the need to be your marketing and public relations rallying cry and you have the perfect mission statement.


    I will bet that if you were to ask the board of your nonprofit organization at your very next board meeting to write the organization’s mission statement exactly, no more than 5% of the board would be able to do it without cheating.  I am also sure that no one, and I mean just about no one (even the CEO/Executive Director), can write down what should be the single most important set of words in the many, many, many words surrounding your organization.


    So, what are you going to do about this?


    Here are three suggestions:
    1. Hold a contest.  Engage not just the board but the full staff, clients, stakeholders in the community, in writing a new mission statement.  Find a great prize (donated, naturally). Get some good old fashioned public relations on the project (remembering that PR is free).  This project would serve several purposes as it could possibly be an opportunity for a local reporter to visit your organization and really see what is going on (all good stuff of course) and it will get the word out about your work in a new and different way.  Added benefit….more positive responses to your fundraising efforts!
    2. Have a board retreat. Begin the retreat by looking at exactly what it is that you do. I call this “filling in the mission wheel.  Do all of your retreat work.  Then end the retreat with the rewriting of the mission statement.
    3. Institute a “Mission Moment” at the very beginning or the very end of every board meeting. This is a three to five minute slot on the Agenda where either a client, a staff member or a volunteer (leadership volunteer or just one with a good story) shares that story with the whole Board.  The beauty of the “Mission Moment” is three-fold: it gives everyone a new elevator speech, it will, over time, be so special that Board members will arrive on time just to be sure not to miss the moment (or they will stay to the end of the meeting to not miss the moment…You get to use it to help the attendance issues of your organization by putting it first or last to fix those late-comers or early-leavers problem that you might be experiencing), and of course it will begin to point out to everyone just what the organization’s mission really is….thus helping that whole rewrite of the mission statement thing we have been taking about!


    And so, you will begin to find yourselves swimming in a more solid direction?  Because, Lewis Carroll”s wisely grinning Cheshire Cat said it best: “If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.”  Your mission statement will take you exactly where you were meant to be going.


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    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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