Always Room for Improvement, Always Room to Grow

It’s hard to deal with people who don’t agree with you, who are narrow-minded and are shallow. Who don’t believe in the causes you believe in, and think who you are is a sin. These people are easy to write off as hopeless with no chance of redemption and beyond saving.

Most of the time I would agree with you. I normally don’t have the time nor the energy to spend on ignorant and bigoted people. I can’t shout at the world for not thinking my organization’s mission isn’t important. I don’t have the courage to correct every homophobic comment I hear. It’s not my job to correct people, and most people don’t want to be corrected.

But, there are always those people who can surprise you. People who you never would expect to grow learn expanding their view of the world.

No one was ever outwardly homophobic in my family. It was kind of a “hear no evil, see no evil” mentality growing up and going to Catholic elementary school in the 1990s.

There were, however, those little pieces and tidbits I heard growing up that shaped my idea of how my dad thought of gay people and homosexuality in general. The old family joke was that my dad didn’t want my mom to put a rectal thermometer on my brother, who was an infant at the time, because it would make him gay. As a kid that had much more of an impact on my sexual identity than I was even consciously aware of. Deep down every time I heard that story I felt like my dad was someone who not be supportive.

When he converted to Catholicism I think it made that fear even stronger. I didn’t know I was gay at the time, but when my dad was becoming a deacon I became even more anxious over something I wouldn’t let myself understand. I don’t think religion is naturally oppressive, but the brand of Catholicism that was forced upon me in school was hateful and repressive. I was being told in school that gay people didn’t actually exist because “God didn’t make mistakes”. My dad became more and more associated and intertwined with an institution that was hateful.

I didn’t come out to myself until college, and I really didn’t feel like waiting around before coming out, but I was terrified of coming out to my dad. I was shaking and having a full-blown panic attack while coming out to him, which took about an hour to complete.

His reaction? He was hurt that I thought that he would react badly and reject me. I didn’t have the words to describe to him all of the little things that had paralyzed me with fear. At that point his views on marriage equality and gay rights were far from perfect. He wasn’t against any of it, in reality, he really just didn’t understand. After explaining things to him I could see him starting to change for the better.

It certainly wasn’t an overnight process. It’s been almost 6 years since I’ve come out to him. We still have discussions about Catholicism’s views on anything and everything. I love that I get to explain to him the different parts of the gay movement and why it’s important.

He’s learning from me, and he’s open to new ideas. He understands that there isn’t a conflict with being religious and accepting me for who I am.

I’m not saying that everyone is going to change their mind or that they’ll become magically open-minded. Probably most people aren’t worth your time, but that doesn’t mean that you should write off everyone. There are going to be some people who are actually worth being patient with as they grow.

If you asked me ten years ago if I thought that my dad was capable of that much progress and growth I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m so glad I was wrong.

Finding the Good in Bad Situations

I was born and raised in Philadelphia. The city has always felt safe to me, which unfortunately was shaken with the gay bashing that happened in Center City a couple of weeks ago.  While this has shaken my feeling of safety in my city, I’m going to focus the positives that have come from this terrible situation. The fact that the internet came to together and identified the culprits was amazing. Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims said it perfectly:

“One of the things I’ve learned is that sometimes it takes a horribly negative experience to get people out of their seats, for them to be active and engaged. It’s not necessarily because they’re opposed but because they aren’t aware of the need. So we are going to be sure to utilize this horrible event to make sure that they hear about it. I’m going to be bringing two people with me who will be able to tell them all about it.”

Now three people are being charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and criminal conspiracy.

Sims has also vowed to take the Philadelphia gay-bashing victims with him to the state capitol to spur attention to the pending bill that would re-add sexual orientation and gender identity to state hate crime laws.

If people didn’t come together to figure out who these people were, they would still be at large. I’m glad that something positive is coming from this terrible incident, and that there are people in the world who would work together to find the bashers and help bring them to justice. And I’m glad that hopefully in my home state that hate crimes will soon include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The world can be a really crappy place, even in places where we should feel safe; at least there are people who still shine a light into darkness and fight for what is right.

I’m glad that we can work as a community toward making something good out of a terrible situation.

Dressing the Part

Luckily I have been going on several interviews for positions in the non-profit sector. Unfortunately, I haven’t been offered any of these positions. Feedback has shown me that my resume , experience, and interview answers have been on point. Which is great… and extremely frustrating at the same time. If I was doing something obviously and inherently wrong throughout my job search I could fix it. Is there something about how I’m presenting myself that is working against me, at least on a subconscious level?

I don’t think that any person interviewing me is actively thinking that I don’t ‘look’ experienced enough, but I do have a younger looking face. Also, I’m always extremely aware of how I look going into an interview as a woman. Women who wear no make-up are sometimes deemed unprofessional while women who wear too much make-up are written off as air heads. I feel like this dichotomy  is intensified in the non-profit sector. If I don’t wear make-up, its assumed that I don’t look like I’m taking the interview and organization seriously, but if I do wear make-up it could seem like I don’t fit into the non-profit culture. Is wearing a dress too girly, but wearing pants not professional enough?

Also, when I’m wearing pants and a button up shirt (my favorite go-to for interviews), I’m starting to become more concerned that with my short hair, that I look too gay. That if I don’t look feminine enough, that there is a bright sign over my head that is flashing LESBIAN in big bold letters.

Again, I really don’t think any of my interviewers are actively think that way, but it’s still something that is probably hindering my job search.

However, are there subconscious decisions  being made about me that are ruining my changes of getting a job in my field? I don’t think that my appearance is the only reason I haven’t gotten a job, but constantly being selected as 1 of 5 people interviewed out of 120 applications, then not getting the job over and over again, it makes me wonder.

Hopefully the tide will turn, and my efforts will pay off soon. In the mean time, I just have to keep plugging along, and wishing for the best.

How To: Find Board Members

To become a non-profit, the IRS requires that your organization has some form of governing body. Most of the time, that governing body is a board of directors. The “Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards” listed by BoardSource are:

  • Determine the organization’s mission and purposes
  • Select the executive staff through an appropriate process
  • Provide ongoing support and guidance for the executive; review his/her performance
  • Ensure effective organizational planning
  • Ensure adequate resources
  • Manage resources effectively (the buck stops with them, ultimately)
  • Determine and monitor the organization’s programs and services
  • Enhance the organization’s public image
  • Serve as a court of appeal for unresolved issues or complaints
  • Assess its own performance

The most important thing to remember when creating a board or looking for new members is to utilize your network. The three main categories of networks are people you know (1st circle), your first circle’s network (2nd circle), and people you don’t know who are passionate about similar causes (3rd circle).

1st Circle

  • Dedicated volunteers – Communicate the fact that you’re recruiting board members through your newsletter, word of mouth, emails and social media
  • Donors
  • Friends and Family
  • Organizational partners

2nd Circle

  • If you already have a board, ask your current board and staff for nominations or recommendations
  • Ask members in your 1st degree circle if they are aware of anyone who would be interested
  • Reach out to those beyond your nonprofit, like youth, or people in business or from other organizations
  • Make sure that communications going out to the first circle are easily shared with people outside of your direct network.

3rd Circle

  • Contact new organizations and volunteer centers that teach people how to be effective board members and then match them with nonprofits who need them
  • Use board or volunteer recruitment web sites like BoardNetUSABoardSource, and VolunteerMatch.

Happy searching, and good luck!

It’s Out of My Hands

In the past week my organization has been dealt a blow. We usually travel to X in the Fall, but there has been a serious outbreak of disease in the area. Usually organizations like the WHO or Doctors Without Borders have a timeline for containment, but in this case, no timeline exists. The disease is extremely contagious, even when symptoms aren’t showing, and can be caught through bodily fluids, including sweat. There is no cure, and also tends to have a 50-60% death rate.

Unless it gets under control, it looks like it we would be unable to go. I know I have no control over the situation. There is nothing within my power that will improve the situation.

I feel helpless and frustrated.

Having to sit and wait and watch is making my skin itch; knowing that there is nothing I can do makes me physically ache. A part of me wants to say screw the consequences and go any way.

But what good am I if I get sick? Or if I die? Death isn’t a 100% guarantee, but it’s a high enough risk to not logically risk my life to ease my impulsive desires.

Valuing my life over my organization is actually a relatively new concept for me. I know that my life and my health trump going into dangerous areas, but there is still a tiny piece of me that hasn’t been convinced. What if I completely cover myself 24/7?  What if I don’t touch anyone? Isn’t it worth the risk?

Logically it’s a resounding no, but my emotions and feelings twist it into a lukewarm maybe. I don’t want to die a martyr. I don’t want to die period. But the idea of not going feels like a huge cop-out, even if the risks extremely outweigh the benefits of going.

I wish I could regale you with some grand revelation about self-worth vs. sacrifice, but the truth is I think I’ll always have a small part of me that would throw caution to the wind despite my best interests. I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by people who can knock sense into me and remind me that I know that certain risks don’t benefit me or my non-profit.

And who knows, maybe the situation will be contained, and it’ll be safe to go.

How To: Make Cold Calls

There are many reasons to make cold calls, but this will focus on the need to introduce you and your organization before blindly emailing or mailing a partnership or funding proposal.

Before you make the call, make sure you have a plan of what you are going to say, and how you are going to say it. Whether you have a script in your head or written down, it’s important to include these things in your call:

1.  Show and Tell

Who are you as an organization. A well crafted and personalized elevator pitch would give who you are calling an understanding of what your organization does.

2. How does your organization connect with who you are calling?

Whether you are asking for money or a partnership, organizations and people want to know why you think that your non-profit and their organization would be a great match.

3. Have a reason to call

Whether it be strictly an introduction, a meeting or a chance to talk, you want to have a reason for the call that is outside of the proposal. Companies, organizations, and people in general like to have a ‘face with a name’, so offering a chance to meet up makes the proposal more personalized.

5. What do you specifically need? How can they provide that?

6. Ask to send them a proposal or materials.

People unfortunately can have short memories. They might think your organization is a great candidate for funding or partnership, but there are many distractions that can arise that will put your non-profit out of their mind. Sending materials will reinforce the conversation that you have had.

Good luck!

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.

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!