Trust Me, I Know What I’m Doing

I have been job hunting for a while, but I’ve only recently gotten called in for interviews. I’ve noticed that while people are impressed that I co-founded my own non-profit, my organization is appearing to be a double-edged sword.

I always get asked if I am going to continue my work with my organization. Yes, I am very loyal to my non-profit, but if you are paying me, I know where my priorities lie. I’m not going to spend my time at your office working on my non-profit, and then have to explain why my work for the office isn’t finished. I rock at time management, and I am used to doing non-profit emails at weird hours of the night. I went to graduate school, had two-part time jobs, and managed my non-profit. It may get a little crazy, but I do know how to handle it.

Also, I’ve been asked multiple times about what writing skills I possess. With my non-profit I’ve had to learn how to write everything from proposals to tweets to brochures to donor letters. This is probably going to sound arrogant, but if there is a type of writing that an organization needs, I’ve probably written at least 20 versions of it.

My favorite question is how I would deal with working underneath a person since I’ve  been my own boss within my organization. First off, I’ve had other jobs, and I certainly wasn’t not the head of the companies. Also, between board members, constituents, and my co-founder, there is a lot of people I have to answer to. It would be great if I sat on a throne and listened to only my thoughts… but even when I’m my own boss I have to report to and be accountable to multiple people.

There is a plethora of reasons why I’m lucky to have created my organization. One of these reasons is how I’ve been able to learn so many skills that are applicable inside and out of the non-profit sector. I’ve written grants, built websites, managed shipping logistics, coordinated volunteers, and so much more. I’ve had to report to people, and have people report to me.

I know what I’m doing, and it’s frustrating that I’m having difficulty ‘selling’ my skills to other people.  I know it’s a part of life. but having to constantly convince others you’re qualified for a job you already do is beyond frustrating.

Hopefully, as I continue the interviewing process, I will become more equipped to ‘show off’  my skills in a way that is appealing to companies and other non-profits. I know I’m awesome, I know my organization is awesome, I just need to get other people to see what I can bring to the table.

How To: Create a Brochure

Having a specific brochure geared to a specific audience can be a great way to market your organization to a target group of people.


1. What questions would this audience have about your organization?

2. What parts of your programs would appeal to this group of people?

3. How would they benefit from your organization?

4. What are you asking this group of people to do? Participate? Volunteer? Donate?

5. What is the best way to get in contact with your organization?


1. The less text the better

  • Cramming as much text in as possible is hard to read.

2. Use headers

  • The easier it is to scan, the better.

3. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures.

  • People like to see the people who are a part of and benefit from your organization.
  • Don’t just tell people what you do, show them.

Happy designing, and good luck!


Curbing My Enthusiasm

I’ve written about not burning yourself out with causes outside of your own organization, but I’ve been finding that I’m needing to turn down the effort I’m putting into my own organization. This has happened to me before; when I first built my non-profit’s website, I think I went from its inception to launching the site (with a full 15 pages) in less than 60 hours. Our website was certainly quite basic at the time, but powering through to complete it in that short period of time burnt me out, and was completely unnecessary.

Over the past several years there have been moments where I have had to curb some of my manic tendencies; when I start a project or try to brainstorm a new idea for a program it’s hard for me to stop or concentrate on anything else. My brain becomes a non-profit hamster wheel that doesn’t stop, and usually picks up the pace when I should be asleep.

This past week we had a 24 fundraising campaign, and I was tempted to stay up through the whole 24 hours and push through surviving on caffeine and show tunes. It honestly made perfect sense to do this, until mentioning it out loud to my girlfriend. A part of me knew that it was a horrid idea and I would never stay awake for the full 24 hours even with copious amounts of caffeine. And if I did manage to stay awake, it wouldn’t have been pretty.

I understand these bouts of overdrive mode are not healthy, and are not necessarily conducive to completing something well and on time. It’s really hard to curb these tendencies. There’s still a tiny part of me that wants to believe that my organization’s success relies on the need to sacrifice my health. This thought process was formed through years of struggling with my mental health. I thought that the more I suffered, the better the output would be.

I didn’t stay up the straight 24 hours. Was the fundraiser as successful as I wanted it to be? No. Would it have been better if I stayed wake the whole time? No.

I enjoy putting myself into my organization, but I am still learning how to not go into extreme overdrive to the point where my non-profit is a great priority than my health. Where to draw the line is staring to become clearer, but it’s still difficult to not pass over it and keep running.

Honestly, a part of me still feels guilty if I don’t burn myself out completely on a project. If I don’t pour every ounce of myself into my organization how will it be a success? Would people question my passion and my loyalty?

I need to come to terms that, no matter what I do or how passionate I am or how much effort I put forth, someone is always going  to think I should have done something differently. I know what I put into my non-profit, and so do a lot of other people. Especially our constituents. So at the end of the day, if I put forth a solid effort and our constituents re happy with my work, then I have nothing to worry about.

I’m truly happy with the amount of work I put into my organization, and I need to give myself a break for not wanting to stay up for 24 hours straight on a fundraising binge.

I need to keep reminding myself that I am doing my best, and that I can still kick ass and take names within healthy boundaries.

How To: Create a Strategic Plan

Every organization needs a 5 year strategic plan. Mapping out your non-profit’s goals will give your staff, volunteers, board members, and donors a clear understanding of where your organization is, and where it wants to go.

1. Table of Contents

2. Executive Summary

  • This is a basic summary of what you will be including in the strategic plan.

3. Background and History

  • Include the what, where, why, and how of your organization’s creation.

4. Direction

  • What is the strategic direction of your organization?
  • What do you want to get accomplished in the next 5 years?

5. Mission Statement

6. Vision

  • What is your organization’s definition of success?
  • What would need to happen to make your non-profit obsolete?

7. Core Operating Values

  • What are the core operating values that influence the culture and public image of your organization?

8. Financial Support

  • What are your funding sources?

9. Use of Services 

  • Who are you serving?
  • Where are you serving them?
  • How are you serving them?

10. Critical Issues

  • What is crucial to operating your non-profit and its programs?

11. Organization’s Bylaws 

12. List of Board of Directors 

  • How are they selected?
  • What are they required to do?

13. Environmental Scan

  • A brief summary of opportunities, threats, strengths, and weaknesses of your organization

14. Goals and Objectives

  • A general summary throughout the 5 years
  • A break down per year, per program

15. Monitoring and Evaluation

  • What monitoring and evaluation framework will your organization use to effectively measure the effect of your programs?

16. Organizational Structure

  • List of staff and positions

17. Budget

  • For each year listed in plan (projected or proposed)


Good luck!

Dealing With Pain

Whether it’s a tattoo or a sprained foot, people always want me to gauge my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Not to pat myself on the back, but I’ve always had a high pain tolerance. If you can tell that I’m in pain, I’m in a lot of pain.

A couple of Fridays ago I had the misfortune of landing very awkwardly into a pot hole after stepping off of a median. Luckily, I only suffered a bad sprain on the top of my foot. This experience got me thinking about my injuries abroad, and the time which has shaped how I deal with pain.

I’ve injured myself many times throughout my travels, but nothing compares to the hike I endured in my final days of studying abroad. It has almost been 6 years since that experience, but I still use it as my gauge against physical and emotional pain. The first hike own over three mountain peaks wasn’t all that terrible. I was insanely out of shape, and it took me twice as long than it should have to reach the campsite, but for all intents and purposes it wasn’t that bad.

However, the night before heading back to civilization, I tripped over a large rock. (In my defense it was pitch black at the time.) I pulled a hip flexor, which isn’t that terrible of an injury if you get to rest it. Unfortunately we were set to start our hike back up the next morning. A group of us had to move excruciatingly slow because of various injuries in the we all had.

After hours of using my other leg to put all of my weight on, both my legs felt useless. A hike that could be finished in one day had to be split into two. Sleeping on a hill with rocks digging into every part of me definitely didn’t help heal my injuries. For some reason, I was feeling optimistic that morning. We had made it that far so we should be in the clear for the rest of the journey.

I forgot that we had to deal with the cliffs of insanity. You have to climb a bit, turn a corner and there are more cliffs. And so and on and so forth, till you believe that you will be spending eternity climbing those cliffs. At this point it was excruciating to put any weight on either legs, but with the help of a tall German who was pulling me up the cliffs, I made it through that portion.

Even when we got to the clearing (the final stretch), I had to switch off an on from being carried to the car. I don’t remember how much time it took to get to the car after the cliffs, but I know that I had reached past physical limits I didn’t know existed, and if I wasn’t granted the human instinct of survival, I’m sure that I would have collapsed into a heaping pile of tears and refused to move.

On a scale of 1 to 10, that experience was a 37.

Now, whenever I bust a foot or accidentally burn myself, I get through the pain by reminding myself that I survived that hike, so I can survive this. I have struggled emotionally and psychologically since that experience, but I think there is a part of me that remembers that in the face of extreme adversity, I pushed forward and refused to give up on myself.

I’m sure I will face many more challenges in my life, but I know that I’m strong enough for almost anything if I could survive that hike.

How To: Create a Post-Event Strategy

Last Wednesday I talked about planning an event. This week I would like to discuss how to create a plan to engage donors and attendees after the event ends.

Make sure everyone is properly thanked  for their support (via mail, email or phone calls) using your list of attendees and donors and their contact information. I find that a hand-written note is the most effective means of thanks, but if time and money don’t allow it, make sure that the expression of thanks is personal.

Next, make sure your list of attendees and donors is transferred to whatever database your organization uses. Uploading and keeping track of these people and their contact information may be tedious at first, but it will definitely be beneficial in the future. Your attendees and donors are obviously interested in your organization, but if they aren’t kept in the loop, support could fall by the wayside. Not because of their lack of interest, but people are busy.

Invite people who haven’t already done so to “Like” your Facebook page and to “Follow” your organization on Twitter and Instagram. The more you keep people involved, the more likely they’ll continue their support.

Events are meant to create long-lasting supporters for your organization. It’s crucial to make sure that attendees feel wanted and are important to your mission.

Get planning, and good luck!

Romanticizing the Past

There was a four-year gap between when I first studied abroad in the country my organization works in and when I was able to return. As time went by after my studying abroad experience, I began to look at my memories through rose colored glasses. I didn’t intentionally put those rose-colored glasses on, but there were some aspects of my original adventure that go warped.

For example, why didn’t we explore the country more during the day? Most of our classes were at night and had plenty of time in the middle of the day to be outside. When my co-founder and I returned to the country four years later, we tried walking around the middle of the day for meetings. In four years I had forgotten that the weather there was either hot and humid, or just really hot, especially in the middle of the day; we weren’t being lazy students, we were trying to prevent heat stroke.

When we came back, the whole country felt different. Which makes sense after four years, but it still took me by surprise when our favorite restaurant was gone and our favorite bar installed a disco ball. These things do seem small, but they were part of the glaring realization that time had changed this country, our organization, and us.

We were no longer treated like students, because we weren’t students anymore. A part of me still misses being coddled by staff and other groups, and a part of me is terrified that these people now see me as an adult and one of their peers. It was certainly easier for me as a student. I didn’t have the responsibilities of a non-profit weighing on me. I got to take fairly easy classes while volunteering in a school (a future partner school). Some days when I’m stressed about a logistical or funding problem, I pine for the days where being a student was my number one priority.

But then, I remember what my organization has accomplished over the past 5 years, specifically all of the strides we have made in establishing ourselves internationally. I realize that I have grown up a bit when I see and appreciate the respect we have achieved in our sector, and wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I’ve learned that looking at the past through a positive lens is great, but to not let it diminish what has been accomplished closer to the present. I can learn from the past, but appreciate who I am now. Wishing for a simpler time is folly, because life was never simple and the present is not something I should resent. The past may feel like the glory days, but I have a feeling that five years from now I’ll probably be talking about 2014 with the same reverence as I do with 2008.

Just like my organization, I need to learn from my past (and not be stuck there), be grateful for the present, and get excited for the future.

How To: Plan an Event

There are many types of events to plan for: online auctions, galas, 5Ks, golf tournaments, etc, but there are core planning techniques that will help make your event a success.

  1. Pick a date. Knowing when your event is going to be gives you ample amount of time to plan and organize.
  2. What type of event would most benefit your organization?
  3. How long is the event going to run?
  4. What space do you need? How much will it cost?
  5. Who are you inviting? How many people are you inviting?
  6. How are you inviting people? What marketing materials will you need?
  7. Is admission going to be charged? How much profit do you want to make off of this event?
  8. Is entertainment involved? What kind?
  9. What food are you providing? Where are you getting it from?
  10. Is anyone speaking at your event? What contacts do you need?
  11. Will there be an auction? What type of items are you looking for? How are you getting these items?
  12. How will you staff the event? How many volunteers or staff members will you need?
  13. Will there be a way for attendees to donate via cash or credit card?
  14. Are there any materials you want to give attendees? (i.e. Thank you cards)

Probably the best thing to do while planning an event is to double and triple check everything and with everyone. Make sure the entertainment knows when to come and that volunteers show up and are trained. It may seem a tad neurotic, but people and services can fall through the cracks very easily if they aren’t monitored.

Get planning, and good luck!

Sort of Out: Coming Out Through Studying Abroad

A lot of my LGBT* friends knew pretty much their entire lives, or at least since puberty, that they were queer. I wouldn’t say that figuring out I was a lesbian at 20 is completely late to the game, but comparatively to my queer circle, I felt like I showed up to the party pretty late.

Of course, it would take me traveling half way across the world to figure out my sexuality. In hindsight, the signs had definitely been there for me. I had considered boys aesthetically pleasing, but I thought then if I waited long enough, the physical and sexual feelings would emerge. Also, looking back on my female friendships and my obvious crushes, I still shudder and shake my head.

I finally let myself start to see the truth of things when I was studying abroad my junior year of college. There were only five of us in our program, and luckily we all got along; we all became very fast friends. There was only one boy in the program, and I started on my usual course trying to convince myself that I had a crush on him. As much as I tried, nothing more than friendship felt right. There was, however, a girl in our group that I was very attracted to, I just wasn’t admitting it to myself. This girl was smart, kind hearted, and hot, very hot. Again I tried to convince myself that a same-sex attraction was just close feelings of friendships.

The trip was life changing , so obviously I felt strong emotions toward my new friends. Afterwards geography separated me from of the group, and I almost convinced myself of my success.

It finally took an interaction with an old high school friend a month after returning that led me to my sexual revelation. Not initially of course, because that would have been too easy.  We snuggled the whole weekend while in the mountains, but it was finally that Sunday coming home that reality smacked me upside the head.

People have asked me why it took me so long for me to register, and I have asked myself the same question many times. Why did it take a study abroad trip across the world and back for me to figure it out? Why was I keeping myself blind to my obvious reality? There were points in high school that I flirted with the idea of being attracted to girls, but I buried it away from my conscious thought.  I didn’t want it to be an option, so I made myself not see it.

Studying abroad made me see, learn, and re-learn things about who I am as a person and what I wanted to get out of life. This experience mapped out my passion for education, development, and non-profit work. Most importantly, it made me feel again. For too long I blocked myself off from my emotions and the world. By traveling abroad I let myself go free, and I let myself be. It was the beginning of a long and continuous journey of learning about and loving myself.

I’ve found that when I am the most open and true to myself, the happier of a place I am at. Being true to me has been amazing, terrifying and difficult, but absolutely incredible. I am eternally grateful for the experience I had. I shudder to think about the shell of person I would be today without it. That semester was the catalyst toward finding myself through all of the facades I built.

Some people in the LGBT* community have known since the beginning, others, it takes a little bit longer. For me, I almost had to be smacked upside the head with my own sexuality. We all have different journeys. For me, it took the long way around the bend, I couldn’t be more grateful.