How To: Know When to Outsource for Talent

On Sunday I wrote about the process of finding out about myself through my non-profit. One crucial aspect of this was figuring out what talent I possessed, what I could learn and master, and what are the things that I needed to outsource to someone who had more time and talent.

I never studied law, nor do I ever want to. So when my organization needs legal advice, we seek someone outside of the organization. None of us know how to build a database, so when my girlfriend offered to create one, I jumped at the chance.

Last Wednesday I discussed how to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges of your organization. After figuring out what the weaknesses are, you have to go deeper. What can be fixed by training the staff? Who should learn what skills? What areas should be consulted on or outsourced?

If your organization is strapped for funding like mine is, its understandable that you would want to try taking on all of the problems without outside help. With no outside help, some things will turn out great, but other times you do get what you pay for. You also never know if a professional is willing to donate their time or offer you a big discount. We met our accountant at an event that was related to our field, and he has been working with us for several years for a very discounted rate.

As much as you wanted to, if you have a small organization, you can’t do everything in-house without losing out on quality and/or sanity. No one is good at everything, and there is always someone outside of your organization who has the time and talent.

Really focus on the networking opportunities that you may possess. Do you have an aunt who is a lawyer? Does she know someone who specializes in non-profits? Do you have a family friend who is tech savvy? A cousin who is in marketing? Anyone and everyone has the potential to be a resource.

There is always the potential for rejection, but finding someone to create financial statements or a social media plan is worth 10x the amount of rejections you might receive.

Good luck!

Finding Myself Through My Non-Profit

I celebrated my birthday this is past week, which has put me in a retrospective mood. How did I get to where I am today? Who am I now compared to who I was last year, or 5 years ago? What have been the main components that have shaped the course of my life?

Obviously the answers to these questions are long and in-depth, and not quite relevant to this blog. However, one of the quintessential parts of my life has been co-creating and running my own non-profit.

I have learned about myself through the successes and failures, the tweaking of the mission, and learning new skills. I found out that I could build a website (nothing fancy, but pretty damn good if I say so myself).I learned that we needed a financial adviser and accountant, and that speaking in front of people wouldn’t kill me. I now have the ability to see what skills I am able to learn, and what would make sense to outsource to more talented people.

Most importantly, I have learned where my true passion lies. Growing up, I had no idea who I wanted to be; I wanted to be an astronaut, photographer, writer, and psychologist,  but none of those professions seemed to truly fit me. Even in the beginning of forming my organization, I couldn’t feel it driving me. Luckily, it didn’t take too long to click for me. I honestly don’t know exactly what was the catalyst to this revelation, but something sparked within me that changed my life for the better.

Creating my non-profit has allowed me to find myself amidst the rubble of my self-doubt and listlessness. It gave me a purpose that brought together my many passions. It allowed me to see the many talents I possess, and what I can offer to the world.

I am infinitely grateful to have this organization and the experiences that have come with it. I know that I am making a positive impact on the world.

It’s who I am.

How To: Evaluate Your Organization With the S.W.O.C. Method

The S.W.O.C. technique is probably one of the most helpful skills I learned when I was in graduate school. Learning to evaluate your organization or program using the S.W.O.C. (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Challenges) method allows you to pick apart what is working in your organization, what opportunities you have, the weaknesses of your organization, and the challenges you can face. This is also a great to use if you are expanding into a new area and want to form a clearer picture of what you have or need, what you need to overcome, and what is working in your favor. My favorite method of organizing the SWOC is in a chart, as seen below:


What strengths does your organization have? What do you bring to the table? This can be monetary resources, talent in your personnel, what you can bring to partnerships, or anything else that you can view as a positive within your organization.



Where in your organization do you need to improve? Are you lacking in a certain area (ie finance)? Do you not have enough constituents to make an impact? Your outreach is lacking? This section is great for pointing out areas within your organization that needs improvement.



What external factors exist that will help your organization prosper and sustain itself? Does the geographic area you are working in lend itself to your mission? Does the local and/or national government support you? Are there a lot of funding opportunities? Try to think of all of the assets available to you outside of your organization.



Are you working in a country with a corrupt government or poor infrastructure? A lack of funding for what your organization does? Is there an over saturation of non-profits with similar missions in your geographic area? Not enough non-profits working where you work? This section can help you identify new strategies to overcome obstacles that you’ll face in the field.


Make sure your organization is well prepared. Good luck!


You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling

In the past, I have talked about not burning yourself out on participating in too many projects. What if you are feeling burnt out by your own organization? Has the spark of passion in your mission flickered out?

We don’t do easy work, and I have seen many domestic and international non-profit/aid/foreign service workers get jaded by governments, bureaucracy, or by the ‘lack’ of progress seen. We get questioned about why we work with those people in that country, when we could obviously be working with people in country X. We are told that constituents  are undeserving  because of a certain prejudice they hold, or just pure ignorance.

That’s enough for anyone to feel like giving up. I know I’ve lost that loving feeling for my organization from time to time. Trying to stay positive in that midst of a wave of negativity has tempted me to throw in the towel more than once. We need to focus on what drives us, not what tears us down. The most important people to think of are who we are working with and the communities who are grateful for what we do.

When I get bogged down by pessimism or red tape I try to go to the core of my passion: the answer to WHY I run an organization without funding for a salary.

The answer could be abstract, but for me the majority of the time I seek out tangible pictures. Whenever I lose my drive, I try to look at pictures from my organization. These pictures of the people we work with re-energize me, strip  me of my pessimism, and focus me back on the mission.

Whether you have a picture, a saying, or a song, you need to have something that draws your passion back and reminds you of your organization’s goals and how important your mission is.

Remember, even if your day sucked and you are feeling disenchanted, you are a driving force behind feeding the homeless, creating quality education, fighting disease, and many other worthy causes.

Chin up. Focus on the mission. We couldn’t do it without you.

How To: Deal With Rejection

On Sunday I talked about funding and how we define success as a sector. What about rejection? Funding through sponsors, donors, or grant makers can be very difficult to acquire; getting a person to volunteer their time and talent is also extremely difficult. You are going to hear no many more times than yes, whether you are asking for people, money, or resources. People are busy, and foundations receive a plethora of applications.

No one wants to be turned down, whether it be a partnership, sponsorship or funding opportunity. Rejection is unfortunately a huge part of non-profit life. There are many reasons why organizations and people might say no, but it is important to know to deal with and react to rejection.

Don’t take it personally.

I know this is easier said than done. When you work hard on a grant, program, or event, you want everyone to get on board and be as passionate about it as you are. When organizations or people say no, it has very little to do with you as a person. Having someone say no to a proposal does not mean they are against you, your organization, or its mission. There are many deserving groups worthy of time and talent, and not enough resources.

Try to get the reason for the rejection. If a person can’t make it to an event because of a prior engagement, make sure they stay on the list for the next one. Funders can be extremely busy, but it never hurts to ask for feedback on your grant proposal. Maybe there were just too many applicants and not enough money to go around. Maybe you forgot to include some crucial information. Maybe it’s just subjective criticism. Turn the rejection into a learning opportunity, and never burn bridges. Just because they said no today, doesn’t mean they’ll say no next month or next grant cycle.

Ask away… and good luck!


Rethinking How We Define Success in the Non-Profit Sector

Last week I read an article by Jordan Levy about the Ubuntu Education Fund, and how that instead of rushing to outcomes for the sake of results and funding, that we as a sector should acknowledge that positive and lasting change comes gradually. He states:

Our success stems from this comprehensive approach. We strive to address every facet of poverty, helping 2,000 children attain financial independence and lead healthy lives. Our commitment to children ‘from cradle to career’ gives us the courage to push back against the ‘bigger, faster, and cheaper’ mantra, to acknowledge that progress often comes incrementally, that real change requires sustained and sometimes expensive services. And, most importantly, it lets us redefine success as outcomes rather than single interventions. Who’s with us?

My organization works in the United States and also in one other small country (in less than 10 schools). Especially with our international programs, finding sustainable funding has been extremely difficult. I have no doubt in my mind it is because of the relatively micro nature of  our programs. It has been suggested to us numerous times that we should expand into other countries. Sometimes, I feel that, if my organization got a dollar for every time we were asked why we didn’t expand into a multinational organization, we might have the funding we needed to sustain ourselves.

We need to monitor and evaluate ourselves in order to produce the best programs that we can. However, why are the organizations with the largest metrics applauded? Sometimes without looking at the quality of the program? Personally, I have found that working on a ‘micro’ level has helped my organization hone our mission and pay attention to quality; I know for certain that expanding into multiple countries would diminish our work. I’m not saying that large groups shirk on quality, but we need to change the definition of success equating to X amount of people attended or fed, with the highest number receiving the most funding.

Sustainable change rarely comes from cheap, quick, and easy fixes or actions. In my experience, however, those are the type of projects that get the money. Funders want to see quick results, and they want digestible numbers to pass onto their backers. We as a sector NEED to continue to work, piece by piece toward sustainable goals, and remember that we are working with and for people and communities. We can do more than single interventions. We have the capacity and ability to be more than nice looking numbers.

When we work toward our mission in a comprehensive and responsible way, the true impact will speak for itself.

Who’s with us?

How To: Look at Your Partnerships

Partnerships between non-profits can be a great way to take your organization to the next level. Sharing resources lowers costs and increases personnel who share a similar passion and working towards a common goal. Like a romantic relationship, both partners need to put relatively the same amount of effort into the partnership. Also, both or all partners should be receiving an equal amount of benefits from the agreement.

In non-profit partnerships communication is essential. What are you putting in to it? What is the other organization putting into it? How are you benefiting from this partnership? How are they benefiting? Who will be making sure that all sides stay on target and accountable?

When partnerships fail, however, things can get toxic. One sided partnerships will only lead to disaster; all organizations will be left with bitter feelings and not much accomplished. Like romantic relationships, ‘sticking it out’  doesn’t work if both parties aren’t willing to fix the problems. Both sides can become resentful, and most likely aren’t getting what they are supposed to out of the partnership. Even if it seemed convenient or was working well in the past, if a partnership is no longer working it is time to end it.

Ending partnerships can be extremely difficult. My organization fell into a trap of entering a partnership of convenience without properly evaluating how we were going to benefit. When we did end it, things became personal and nasty very quickly. Sadly these things happen. I’m infinitely grateful that my organization was able to maintain composure and respect, because in the long run, our common constituents took our side.

If possible, you need to not burn bridges. In my case that was impossible, but you need to maintain a level of respect and composure throughout the situation. The non-profit sector can be like a small town. Burning a bridge or being nasty could set off a chain reaction you weren’t even aware of.  Even when it’s difficult, stay classy.

Through my experience the best advice I could give is to write everything out, and assume nothing. Whether you are best friends or colleagues, writing out all of the terms of the partnership will help you maintain healthy, respectful, mutually beneficial goals. Also, allow you and your partner(s) to reevaluate the terms of the partnership after a set period of time. Organizations change and evolve and so should partnerships; nothing has to be stagnant nor permanent.

Be open-minded, communicate,  and stay respectful. Good luck!

Why I Fight to Stay Positive

I’m very lucky to have a girlfriend who reminds me that my goal for this blog is to create a safe and positive space for LGBT* non-profit folk. She has had to remind me quite a bit as of late. I’ve gotten fired up about a lot of national and international news; all I’ve wanted to do is to rant and rave about how people are assholes and why everything is terrible.

As much as it tempts me to be pessimistic about the world and the non-profit sector, I will continue to struggle with forcing myself to stay positive. Honestly, it’s a daily struggle. The World Vision controversy of last week had me leaning towards writing a piece about how aid organizations and non-profits who use religious affiliations as an excuse for homophobia are detrimental to the non-profit sector. As much as I want to, I can’t focus on it, and writing about it here will get nothing accomplished besides getting me more angry.

How do I stay positive, knowing that people would condemn me and dismiss my work because of my sexual orientation? I remember that the work that I am doing has a major positive impact on the world. My work is not devalued by organizations like World Vision or conservatives in Congress. I am making a positive difference in the world, and no amount of hate will stop me.

Do I still get pissed off by bigots? Of course.  I have days where all I want to do is focus on my fears of being outed, or getting kicked out of countries for being a lesbian, or not getting funded by an organization that turns out to be homophobic. Honestly these fears have kept me up at night countless times over the past five years. Why do we live in a world that would actively negate our humanitarian efforts because of our sexual orientation?

The sad fact is that we do, but that negativity cannot consume us and shape our work.  People like us need to keep fighting for water development, education, women’s rights, and all of the other noble causes that exist. If we overwhelm ourselves with the hate spewed at the LGBT* community, we cannot put our best work forward.

My main goal working in the non-profit sector is to make my little corner of the world a more positive and equal place. I can’t do that while bottling up resentment toward organizations and people who are actively discriminating against me. I know what my organization is doing for the people I work with. That is what I force myself to think about.

I can’t change the world for the better by focusing on the homophobia and institutionalized discrimination that exists in the non-profit sector. I can change the world by continuing my work and making sure my organization is helping people in the best way possible.

I need to believe that by staying positive I am becoming a better person, and thus a better humanitarian.

How To: Craft an Elevator Pitch


I find that breaking down a mission or project to a thirty-second pitch is extremely difficult. There are so many different and amazing aspects of what my organization does. How can I possibly include everything I’ll need?

Having the ability to schedule a meeting with a potential donor or partner can be very challenging. When an opportunity presents itself, even if it is for only a minute, it is good to have a pitch prepared to introduce the organization and ask for what you want.

What should you include in a pitch?

It really depends on who you are talking with and why. Are you trying to create a partnership? Gain a sponsor for an event? Fund a program? Recruit a new board member? Tailoring your pitch to the situation helps you focus on the key points you need to address. The three most important things I have found to include in a pitch are:

  1. Mission Statement (1-2 sentences)
  2. What you are asking for (1 sentence)
  3. What’ s in it for them? (1-2 sentences)

Be clear and concise!

Obviously what you say is important, but how you present yourself and your pitch also influences your success.

I’m a chronic mumbler. My brain moves through thoughts very quickly and my mouth has trouble catching up. Also, talking to new people can cause me moderate to severe anxiety. To make the best pitch I can, I have to remind myself of these steps:

  1. Rehearse your pitch in front of a mirror. This will help you keep a steady, clear pace in the future.
  2. 30 seconds isn’t as quick as you think. Time lasts longer than you think. You want to fit a lot of information in a short period of time, but don’t rush through it so quickly that the person you’re talking with can’t understand you.
  3. Speak passionately. If you don’t show how much you care , no one else is going to become interested.
  4. Have contact information at the ready. Whether you get a yes, no, or maybe, you want them to have your contact information, and you want to get theirs.


Sometimes people say yes, sometimes they say no. Other times you might get completely blown off before you can begin your pitch. The non-profit sector can be unpredictable. Having a pitch rehearsed helps you always be prepared, whether you cross paths randomly or at a planned event. A great pitch shows you know your organization inside and out, and will instill confidence in whoever you are speaking with.

Remember, the worst that could happen is that they say no. Get out there and good luck!