Category: leadership

NonProfit professionals why you and your charity need to be on Linkedin

I have to admit when I first set up a LinkedIn profile for myself – I really didn’t get the platform. It seemed like just a glorified online resume. Now I appreciate what the platform does for me personally as well as what it does for our charity. I interact a lot more with other professionals on this platform than some of my other personal social media channels. For our organization we will often post job ads on LinkedIn but we also know that if we post a job ad on our website and a few of our staff who are on LinkedIn re-post the link to their own network we will get quite a few more click thru’s as well as more applications. I personally will try to reach out to people who work in the sector. I am a nonprofit organizational leader so I know at some point I will be recruiting non profit finance people, fundraisers, social workers,  non profit marketing staff. If I hear about someone who works in these areas who has a good personal reputation I will reach out to them on LinkedIn, I may not have a job today- but when I do I want them to see my ad. Anyway, in the video below I talk about some of the reasons- you as well as your organization should be engaged on LinkedIn.



You can’t have a great charity without “FUN”

A lot of what we do as charity leaders- is pretty serious business. Also the people we help or work with are often going through very serious at times dire situations. As a leader it is important to create a culture where fun or some laughing occurs- both on the part of your staff and volunteers as well as for and with the people you serve.

Richard Branson’s Business Advice

Okay I have to admit -I stumbled onto this link by mistake. I saw a tweet from Richard Branson saying something about you don’t need to “strive” in business. At least that is what I thought it said -so I clicked on the link. This did not seem like something Branson would say and of course her didn’t. I had read the tweet wrong and was posting a blog post of Richard Branson’s favorite business quotes about the need to strive in business. The video below lists some of these quotes. Really when I think of the times where the charity I run now had accomplished the most,the

board and management were definitely “striving” -there was a willingness to reach out just a little further than your grasp. One of our board members Jim had joined to board to help us with a capital campaign. One of our board members asked Jim ,how do we know what size gift is the right size for us to commit personally to this campaign. Jim would tell our board your gift should hurt just a little. For a campaign as important as this you should give just a little more than it feels comfortable to give- it should be a “stretch gift”. In the for profit or non profit world if you want to do something impressive you need to stretch or strive a bit more than you feel comfortable with.

Leader’s should never take themselves too seriously

I don’t think nonprofit leaders should go out of their way to make themselves look foolish by any means, but I think providing a little levity can also be a good thing. Those who work in the nonprofit sector know how hard our staff and our volunteers work. Many of us are surrounded by people who we become quite close to going through hardship, stress or illness. Our own leaders train our staff how to personally cope with this stress while still remaining effective, supportive and empathetic. Many nonprofit staff are familiar with trying to solve the worlds problems with limited and scarce resources. Our fundraisers would tell you how hard they work to raise much needed revenue so that we can fulfill our important missions.

This all sounds pretty grim- but the reality is most days most of our staff would tell you how great it actually is. With that said I personally feel that a leader should never take themselves too seriously and occasionally they should be willing to do something that puts them at risk of seeming a little foolish. Clearly they should not do this just to look foolish, but of course they should be willing to do this to further the mandate of their organization or its ability to remain sustainable.With all that said, last month I decided to take my own advice and not take myself too seriously. The video below was taken on parascope last month and is a point of view video of me running our Rock the House Run in Ronald McDonald’s shoes- enjoy

Team Ronald

I am not sure that organizational leaders for a charity should take themselves too seriously. We do quite serious work, but the ability to have a little bit of fun and even take a little bit of personal embarrassment can be character building. One of our MarComm staff members said to me recently “when you dyed your hair pink and shaved it bald to raise money for the House and the local chapter of Make a Wish-we knew we could probably get you to do almost anything.”  Subsequently I was a willing participant in a fundraising stunt where I had to have a 5 km race with Ronald McDonald at our annual Rock the House Run. Both Ronald and I both raised pledges and the challenge was mainly geared at drawing attention and awareness to our new version of our peer to peer fundraising pledge pages. The stunt was a success as we did raise a little more incremental revenue for the event, but mostly because our pledge fundraisers were able to help us double the ROI for the event. The pledges also become the biggest source of fundraising for this event. In the past our sponsorships and our registrations had made up the majority of the revenue. Both sponsorships and registration went up that year but pledge donations still became the largest source of revenue.

Locally right now the price of oil is down, oil and gas is a major driver in our local economy. When the economy is depressed charitable organizations need to think creatively and be willing to try new things. For leaders of these organizations this is really a good time to personally use your influence to try newer and more innovative fundraising approaches. At this year’s Rock the House run I suppose I couldn’t just race Ronald again, watch the video below to find out what my team has cooked up for me this year.

More on Social CEOs

Three years ago I was a social media skeptic. I couldn’t really understand what benefit social media could have for a charity, little own why their CEO should be engaged on social media. If you have read some of my other blog posts you can see how radically my perspective has changed. Now I view social media as an important tool for nonprofits and their leaders. A little while ago one of the radio stations I listen to was talking about job positions that are likely to go away in the future and “social media expert” was one of them. Initially I was a little surprised by this, and I am not sure that we will see these types of positions going away in the near future. The reporters rationale for this prediction was that soon professionals, spokespeople and leaders of organizations will really need to become their own “experts” and will need to become adept at managing their own social media for the benefit of their organization. Makes sense, I suppose you don’t see companies posting for email experts or telephone experts, and social media is after all becoming just one more way to communicate with your users and stakeholders.

Getting back to the skeptical about social media thing, since my perspective on social media has changed so much; I am always on the lookout for other charity CEOs who are active on social media. I am most interested about those who share their perspective on it. Now at times reading these blog posts can be a fairly biased study as CEOs who are not active on social media would not be blogging about it, therefore most are likely to view social media in a positive light. Nonetheless I did come across an interesting blog post written by Simon Blake. When describing how social media is changing our landscape Blake (2014) describes;” It shifts how we connect and communicate with those around us and has huge potential to amplify our voice with and on behalf of users. It has created new boundaries between us and our staff, trustees, funders, service users, friends and between our personal, social, private and work interests and lives. It makes us more open to scrutiny, challenge and praise. It potentially makes us ‘fair game’ for the media, for partners, our objectors and our supporters for more hours each day, more days each week and more weeks each year.”

Blake goes on to describe;” Social media also makes it less possible or desirable for us to rely on well-polished press releases, sentences well-crafted by others with perfectly formed opinions.” For the most part I would say I am a fan of well-crafted messages with polish and professionalism. However to Blake’s point there is something to be said about messages and interaction that is a little earthier. Many nonprofit organizations work very closely with and for people. I think there is something that inherently resonates with our stakeholders when they feel they are hearing the “real “story about what we are doing for children, or families. Not the polished messages are not the real story or the truth, but there appears to be an authenticity or a genuineness to content that does not feel so prepared.

Another one of Blake’s quotes that resonated with me personally is:”…social media is revolutionizing the way we lead, the way we live and the way we connect with ourselves and others. It is changing the way we in the voluntary sector expect to achieve change and create the better world we seek. That makes it a big deal.” I think he is right- it is a big deal. Being engaged in social media allows us to hear from stakeholders and amplify our cause’s message in a way that has not been available to us at any other point in history.
Blake makes the further points :”….that is why we must embrace social media as CEOs – leading our organizations to maximize the benefits it brings in helping us achieve the change we seek. Who better to experiment, make mistakes and give others in our organization the permission to do so themselves?” Clearly maximizing the benefits to our organization is an important reason a nonprofit CEO to engage on social media. Additionally as Blake points out, it is a new way to exercise leadership. Managers and leaders have known for some time that if you want your teams to be innovative you must create a culture that does not punish people for making mistakes. As soon as you become overly punitive of mistakes you will shut down any form of risk taking which essentially shuts down creative thinking and innovation. A great way to reinforce your teams willingness to think creatively about better ways to fulfill or maximize you mission is to model some of these things yourself.


Blake,S (2014) Why social media is important for Chief Executives as retrieved from:

Catching Your Staff doing a great job


          I have had a few messages about the Top 5 updates I do with my board that I described in the blog post below:

I actually do an update that is similar with our staff group, we call it simply DYK or did you know. It is really important for us to have our teams or departments work well together. For the most part our staff are pretty good are rowing in the same direction. I am a little biased but I think we have more than our share of good luck in attracting great people to work in our programs. However in any organization there can always be more or better communication. From time to time staff members in one team may feel that they are not getting the recognition that members from another team are, or that their team works harder or has fewer perks than members of another team. We wanted a way to recognize what people were doing really well, but also a way to communicate across our whole team what their co-workers were doing well. As Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson say in their book The One Minute Manager – “Catch people doing something right” and tell them about it. The DYK was kind of based on this notion; we wanted to catch people doing great work and celebrate it across the organization. Like the Top 5 for the board we wanted the information to be sound bites or headlines so that our staff would read it, and remember it.  I send DYK items via email to all the staff Friday afternoons around the time I send the Top 5 to the board.

           I don’t see all the great work our team is doing first hand every week, so my managers will email me items about their staff member’s activities. As well any member of our staff team can send me items. Some of the items are home run outcomes or behavior and some are just small things people do to make our work a little more effective. All of the items in some way make us more sustainable, make the service we provide a little better for kids and families, make our organization better/more effective in some ways or make a co-worker job a little easier. By encouraging all of our staff members to contribute items at some point in the year- makes it everybody’s job to catch co-workers doing great work.


Blanchard, K. & Johnson, S. (1982) The One Minute Manager: New York: William Morrow & Co,

Small doesn’t mean you can’t be great: Nine things to pay attention to if you want you charity to be great.

     Brinkerhoff in his book on the subject talks about the concept of stewardship as a concept of leadership. He reminds us:” …in the not for profit sector, organizations actually belong to the communities they serve, the leaders have temporary stewardship over their assets.” He goes on to describe:” The key concept here is this: as a steward your job is to manage  your not-for-profit with the same care , the same attention to detail, the same level of responsibility that you would give to someone else’s property- because that’s the reality.” Your” not-for-profit is not, in actuality yours; it really belongs to the community and you are the temporary steward of its resources.”  What is really exciting is Brinckerhoff goes on to describe nine characteristics of nonprofit organizations that allow you to be successful, attending to these characteristics will enable your leadership to be good stewards and maximize your fulfillment of your mission. Here are Brinckerhoff’s nine characteristics of successful nonprofit organizations:

A viable mission

A business like board

As strong well educated staff

Technological savvy

Social entrepreneurship

A bias for marketing

Financial empowerment

A compelling vision

Tight controls

            Before I go on to describe these characteristics a little, I would suggest if you are on the board or an executive in a nonprofit organization, Brinckerhoff’s book is worth a read. Actually all his books are worth a read and a re-read. Brinckerhoff has done quite a bit of work for the Global RMHC organization, and as a result the Ronald McDonald House leaders have had more than a few opportunities to listen to Brinckerhoff speak on a number of topics important to nonprofit leadership.

Viable Mission

Having a viable mission is pretty straight forward. We are all involved in our organizations because we want to carry out our mission. Most of us are not interested in building one more widget ,we want to make a difference for people and we want to change our world. Your mission and your mission statement need to describe in an achievable way how you will make a difference for people and how will you change your world. Brinckerhoff reminds us the statement itself must be :  “ short, easily memorized and quickly (and often) quoted.”

A business like board

          I would like to think I am an expert at all aspects of running an organization or nonprofit, but the reality is I rely on other peoples expertise and advice. Some of this I get from my staff who are experts in their own areas, but a great deal of this I rely on from members and past members of our board. Nonprofit organizations need to populate their board with the best and broadest skill set they can achieve. This is necessary both for the advice, counsel and decision making they bring to the organization as well as the new relationships they will bring to the nonprofit.  Brinckerhoff suggests:” Business people are individuals who understand cash flow, feasibility studies, budgeting, human resources, and marketing. These people keep you true to the second rule of not-for-profits which is “No money-no mission.”

          I worked with our sister House in Northern Alberta as their Executive Director for about four years. When the two boards started “sharing” me I meet a board member who had been on the board almost 20 years (there were no limits on their board terms in their bi-laws- this is a topic for a whole different post). He used to describe to new board members when he was asking them to join RMHNA. “It is the greatest board in the world, you don’t have to do any fundraising, or make donations, you don’t have to do anything just come to a meeting once a month and have a free dinner”. If you have someone like this on your board and you are the CEO- you need to have some provocative conversations with your president and the board member.

A strong well educated staff

            As nonprofit organizations our human capital is our most important asset. For many NGOs it is the resource we spend most or a great proportion of our revenue on, in terms of salary and benefit expenses. However for small nonprofits we can be tempted to spend less on competitive wages and as a result have less qualified employees than other charities in the sector. Additionally it can be hard to invest in staff training and development as these investments are exactly that “investments” and the benefits and outcomes for direct service are not always or immediately observable.

            Most of the RMHs in Canada were built and started in the 80’s. For decades most were run like little mom and pop shops with little focus on hiring staff with any specific education or training. Most didn’t have a lot of staff and their employees seemed to be selected from the local bridge club. Most don’t operate this way anymore, we can’t not only if we want to deliver our mission but also if we want to remain completive with our charities in our market. You could write endlessly on this topic, but if you want to be a great organization you need to hire people with the right degrees to do the right job, and you need to continuously invest in on-going staff development.

Technologically Savvy

          Brinckerhoff (2004) tells us;” Intelligent use of technology can increase productivity resulting in much better stewardship of the communities resources.” If you have read any of my previous posts you will know that I am a fan of using new on-line tools to enhance your marketing and fundraising.  The good thing about new technology is that it is always improving and changing which in general means it gets cheaper and becomes more accessible and affordable for smaller charities. This however is also the down side of new technology as well; you have to determine when the right time to jump into a new technology or tool is. Sometimes being an early adopter can give you an advantage over other charities in your marketplace, sometimes early adoption just means you pay more for “glitchy” technology. Marketing and Fundraising are not the only areas to be technologically savvy. Charities should consider if new technologies can offer them improvements in their direct service delivery, the accounting, volunteer management and outcome measurement. 

In my next post I will talk about the remaining characteristics of a successful nonprofit




Brinckerhoff, P.C (2004) Nonprofit Stewardship: A better way to lead your mission-based organization:

            New York: Fieldstone Alliance