We don’t need to tell you that COVID-19 has created, well, a lot of challenges. But today’s guest, Joan Garry, also points out that it has created a lot of opportunity in that it has given us the gift of time. By using this time to creatively engage donors, volunteers, and other key stakeholders, she suggests you can come out stronger “on the other side.” So listen in for tips and ideas on how to create high touch engagement while staying socially distant.
Listen to the Episode Here!
Website: Joan Garry Consulting
Website: Nonprofit Leadership Lab Website
*As of publishing, the webinar is not yet live. Please check back for that great resource. In the meantime, find out what the best nonprofit organizations do really well and gain access to dozens of resources that can help you improve everything about your organization when you download Joan Garry’s free guide to The 14 Attributes of a Thriving Nonprofit.
Perry Monastero’s LinkedIn
(2:28) What Joan wishes funders knew about their grantees
(5:17) Why you need a digital presence, even beyond COVID-19
(10:16) Now is the time to strengthen your relationships
(13:53) Give the gift of the ask
(17:25) Creating high touch engagement while staying socially distant
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00):
Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. Today’s guest is Joan Garry, an internationally recognized champion of the nonprofit sector. She started her nonprofit career in 1997 as the executive director of Glad, one of the largest LGBTQ rights organizations in the world. When she started, you got to hear this: there were only 18 staff members and, believe it or not $360, in the bank. I’d be willing to bet that was not enough to cover the payroll for those 18 staff members. In the eight years, she was there, she grew the organization to 40 staff and a budget of $8 million. And I have to say, this is every nonprofit’s dream: a $1.5 million in cash reserves. When she left Glad, she went on to found the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, which is a community of nonprofit leaders. And she also founded her own consulting company, Joan Garry Consulting. I’ve always said for those of us that are former chief executives, consulting always seems like the promised land. And so that’s often what we transition into. Now, in addition to these pursuits, Joan maintains a blog on her website, joangarry.com. She has authored Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership: Because Nonprofits are Messy. And, believe it or not, she also has time to host her own podcast, which if you’re not subscribing to, you should: Nonprofits are Messy.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:30):
Joan and I have many areas of overlap. We both do consulting. We both coach. We both blog. We both host a podcast. We also both do a lot of work with boards. And we’ve got some similar areas of expertise like LGBTQ+ organizations. Combined we have faced nearly every imaginable problem a nonprofit could face. We have tried multiple strategies to address those problems. I won’t say Joan has done this, but I will say that not all of my strategies have worked out and I have had to pivot and figure out some other strategy. And so we’ve seen the variety of outcomes that come out with those strategies. So I thought that we could bring our combined knowledge to this episode of the podcast to discuss the state of nonprofits today, some common dilemmas that we think nonprofits are facing, and I have no doubt that we’re going to touch on boards as well. Hey, Joan, welcome to the podcast.
Joan Garry (02:25):
Hey Dolph. It’s delightful to be with you.
Dolph Goldenburg (02:28):
Thank you. I’m so thrilled to have you on. I want to just start by asking: what do you wish funders understood about their grantees?
Joan Garry (02:38):
Oh, good question. I love a good question. You and I are both in the business of working with nonprofit organizations and do a lot of strategy work. So you’d probably agree with me when I say that the key about strategy is not in the answers, but in the good questions. So I’ll grab your good question and go. I think funders know a lot about nonprofit organizations, so I want to tip my hat to folks who are out there, who are generous and philanthropic, and say that a lot of people really get what nonprofit grantees are all about and what they need. What do I wish? I’m going to go with two things. I wish that funders would pay more attention to the relationship between the grantee’s staff and the grantee’s board. It is my philosophy that a really good nonprofit is kind of like a twin engine jet. And there are two engines. There’s a staff engine and a board engine and sitting in the cockpit is the executive director and the board chair. And I wish that funders would spend more time hanging out in that cockpit, understanding the needs, the challenges and the opportunities from the vantage point of those copilots. I have seen so many organizations that struggle because of challenges at the board level, some of which are created by the board, some of which are created by the staff. We can talk about that later. But I just want funders to help organizations build two solid engines.
Joan Garry (04:12):
The second thing I wish funders knew about grantees may seem a little out of left field, Dolph. But I am more and more convinced that social media, digital outreach, your website, how you engage and mobilize people online has nothing to do with overhead. That your ability to engage and mobilize and bring people close to your organization is actually core program work. It’s not overhead at all. And I really wish that grantees could make that case more cogently to funders and that they would hear that. We are so past the days of the website as sort of the storefront and that the digital presence an organization has and how it uses it is the core to its power, core to its ability to have an impact. And, I’m sorry, I I’m tired of people saying, “Well, I can’t do that because my funders, they don’t cover overhead.” I’d like to see us bust that myth.
Dolph Goldenburg (05:17):
I’m right there with you on the overhead piece. I’ve also got to jump in and say, especially now, you and I are both sheltering in place because COVID-19 is happening. It’s May. Especially right now, organizations without a digital presence, don’t have a presence.
Joan Garry (05:33):
Oh my goodness. It is absolutely correct. And it is the way, separate and apart from the good old fashioned way, which is that thing that used to have a dial tone: the phone. It is the way to keep your people close. It is the way to in fact, grow the number of people who know about your work. As troubling as these times are and as much as nonprofits are struggling, they’re doing remarkable, heroic things on small budgets. And it is what feeds me during this time. People might say we’re a little bit short in the world of leadership, but not at all from where I stand. And I’m sure that’s true for you as well. There are 1.5 million nonprofits in this country. And if you take the E.D. and the board share of each of them, and what is it, 12.3 million jobs in the nonprofit sector? These folks are super heroes right now and the stories of what they are doing on limited budgets and decreasing resources, that is leadership any way you slice it.
Dolph Goldenburg (06:40):
Oh my gosh. I could not agree more. I’ll also share though, I think some funders felt burned in the eighties and nineties by the overhead of technology and marketing as the internet was coming in. And I think some funders have not yet moved past that sense of, “Gee. You know, in the early nineties, we had lots of organizations pitching us these great technology solutions and they didn’t work out. And so we don’t really fund technology solutions anymore.”
Joan Garry (07:07):
That may be true. You and I were talking about this before you hit the record button, but a lot of this rests at the feet of the leadership of the organization. How are you going to talk about your work to a funder? How are you going to make the case for what a digital presence means, how central it is, and frankly how central it was three months ago, not just because of the now of COVID-19? I really think that executive directors need to be really thoughtful about how to make the best possible case for funding in a way that educates and inspires their program officers and their funders. We’ve been doing a lot of conversations with clients about whether or not you can ask for money now in the middle of all of this. And some people have to, and then they do. But what you have to do is come, not from a place of scarcity or begging, but from a place of, “I’m at point A right now. And I see point B. It’s out there ahead of me. And I want to go there because I have a wait list. Or because I know hearts and minds are changing and I need a bridge to get from A to B and I need you to help me do that.” But if there isn’t a really great picture of B, it’s going to be harder. This is why I talk a lot about the best leaders being great storytellers, because that is, to me, what differentiates the person who runs an organization from the person who leads one.
Dolph Goldenburg (08:37):
Absolutely. In terms of how organizations are communicating with funders, I do feel right now that there are institutional funders, like foundations and some government agencies, that are actively looking for good solutions they can invest in. If an organization, especially one that has been funded by them before, approaches them and says, “Hey, in order for us to be able to do digital outreach that allows us to achieve our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals this year, we need to implement this app or revise this on our website. And here’s what that’s going to cost.” I think there’s a ton of foundations out there right now that are going to fund that.
Joan Garry (09:13):
It’s very funny. This morning I was up early. I’m interviewing the head of the Walton Family Foundation for my own podcast next week. I’m really anxious to understand how big foundations are thinking about things from bailouts, to recovery, to capacity building, to how to get nonprofits back to the fundamentals. I was thinking a lot about people who run small nonprofits. Nonprofit Leadership Lab is an online membership site that I run for board and staff leaders of small nonprofits. And we’ve got about 3000 members from around the world. I hear it all. Should I call my program officer to ask for emergency funding? And the answer to that question, for me, is: What’s your relationship been like with your program officer? And have you cultivated and stewarded the relationships that matter in your organization? And this is one of those things that there just never seems to be time for.
Joan Garry (10:16):
I’m not saying when the pandemic is over, the only way I can describe it as sort of like “on the other side.” So, on the other side, the strong nonprofits will have taken advantage of this catastrophic time to begin to do that cultivation and stewardship and bring their people close. So that in that next moment of challenge or opportunity, there’s a real relationship there that it is not transactional. That’s what I’d really like to see happen. Michael Hyatt, the leadership guru, talks about what challenge makes possible. And I see a lot, I’m sure you do too, I’ve been seeing a lot of that possibility. But I also think much of the strength of the next chapter for nonprofits will rest in good old fashion fundamentals.
Dolph Goldenburg (11:15):
Amen. I was quoting Harvey Mackay just yesterday with a client. He wrote a book called Dig the Well Before You’re Thirsty. And I think that when you’re thinking about having conversations with program officers or major donors, this is not the time for someone to hear from you the very first time. This is the time for you to be having conversations with people that you already have relationships with
Joan Garry (11:38):
Completely true. I’ve been preaching this a lot and we talked about it a little bit earlier: the importance of a board of directors. The board that is currently in the midst of this crisis, hibernating or frozen or some combination thereof, can be called into action as additional ambassadors to bring your tribe close. I was a huge fan of this before the COVID-19 crisis. Give each board member a portfolio of donors or volunteers or program officers. And right now just get on the old-fashioned phone, and call them. Ask them how they’re doing, thank them for their support, and have a story at the ready in case they want to hear one. No ask, no solicitation. That’s it.
Joan Garry (12:31):
I had a member of our Leadership Lab who did this from the Brooklyn Children’s Theater, and the donor said, “Boy, you must be struggling.” And she said, “We are struggling. We actually have moved from a performing arts. We’re going to do a kid’s movie.” And the donor said, “That’s really smart, but I’m sure you’re struggling. You know, I’d really like to talk to my wife, can you call me back tomorrow?” Now she didn’t make an ask. All she was doing was checking in on him. She called that donor first thing the next morning, as any good CEO would do, and the husband and wife made a $50,000 pledge on the phone. That’s what happens, right? Build those relationships, steward them. This is how. And boards can do exactly the same thing. And by the way, if you actually create a stewardship program with your board right now, 12 months from now, those 10 people in that person’s portfolio are lay-up, renewals. Lay-up renewals. And then what happens is your board member has tasted the success of making an ask. And that’s gold,
Dolph Goldenburg (13:34):
I totally 100% agree with you. And I think it’s such a simple thing to implement. It really just starts by sharing your major donor list with all of your board and asking, “Who do you know?” So if they’ve already got the relationship, if they already know five people, that’s half of their list of 10 right there. To me that is such a simple thing to do. The other thing I wanted to jump on, though, you talked about that couple, that the very next morning made a $50,000 gift. And I actually think there’s a unique group of donors that are essentially recession resistant. And it’s the group of donors that have a donor advised fund they control. And I think way too many of us in the nonprofit sector are afraid to ask for money right now, but not everybody is hurting. And as I said, a lot of our major donors actually have donor advised funds. They’re not worried about, “Oh, we can’t spend out of our donor advised fund because we may not be able to pay our mortgage next year.” They can’t use their donor advised fund for that anyway.
Joan Garry (14:32):
I’m with you about this, Dolph, about who can be philanthropic at this time. And I don’t even think it’s just folks with donor advised funds. So my friend, Sylvia, who was the board chair of a big organization called God’s Love We Deliver for a long time. She’s sheltering in place on her own and not going out to eat. And she’s a theater goer, and she’s not spending money on theater tickets. And so she’s taken that money and she’s donating a little bit here and there. She’ll get an email from somebody and she’ll say, “Oh yeah, I love this organization” and boom, $50. So remember: some people are actually saving money. Now Sylvia is retired. So she has some of that, but she’s not a person of great wealth. The second thing, you’re absolutely right, is it that there are people who really want to help and are able to. Hopefully there are some of those folks in your circle of stakeholders.
Joan Garry (15:26):
I think the last thing to remember, and you referenced it: I’d never been in the nonprofit world when I started at Glad. I had never asked anyone for money before in my life. Not even my mother. Actually, especially not my mother, because I knew that she would say no with a little edge. But my development director at the time, who is still a dear friend, Julie Anderson from LA, said to me, “You know, it makes people feel really good to give money to causes they care about.” And being the ultimate pleaser personality that most nonprofit executive directors are, I was like, “Really!? Okay, let’s do this!” And so you also have to remember, you’re giving somebody an opportunity to feel a sense of meaning and purpose.
Joan Garry (16:07):
And I have to tell you, in a time like this, where I can’t walk around outside without a mask and gloves on. Where most people are living with some form of chronic anxiety disorder. Where I have had to come to grips with the fact that I’m out about a lot of things in my life, but I’m now officially out as an older American with underlying conditions. So I have a big fat bulls-eye on my behind. I am at a place in my life where I am about as vulnerable as I feel like I have ever been. And one of the reasons I love what I do is because it fills me with a sense of meaning and purpose and hope. That’s what you can do for a donor. That’s what you can do for a volunteer. Make the space safe and have somebody do some meal prep or whatever it might be. Or figure out a way to get a volunteer involved remotely. You’re giving them a gift, the gift of meaning and purpose and hope. And right now, those things are in short supply and people are desperate for them.
Dolph Goldenburg (17:23):
Oh, without a doubt. I wanted to throw out a tip for folks. It’s not a tip that I have, I stole it from someone that you and I both know: Richard Burns. Richard would publicly talk about doing this so I’m not doing anything that I think he’d be embarrassed by. He was the E.D. over at the LGBT Center in New York for about 25 years. He created this ritual where he took an hour every week to call prospects and donors. Because, as CEOs, we always have a way of putting that off. Sometimes we have anxiety, even though we know it’s going to be great experience. And so he used to have someone in on his development team come and sit with him. That person would hand him his call cards and just sit there be his accountability partner to make sure he did it. But whatever trick it is that we need, just an hour a week with your donors, whether you’re the chief executive or the board chair or a board member, makes such a big difference
Joan Garry (18:24):
I run this large membership site and I can’t have touchpoints with 3000 people. So my digital marketing partner introduced me to an app called Bonjoro. And it is a way for me to send a customized video via email to any one of my 3000 members. And so every Wednesday my team sends me my Bonjoro list, which is sitting right here on my desk somewhere. It might be something we learned about one of our members who had had a bad day. Or one of our members had a baby. We just brought in a couple of hundred new members the other day. And so we’ve identified a couple of them to welcome and tell them to let us know what they need. It’s a one way communication for sure. But the open rate, the click through rate, is off the charts. I can rattle through about 20 of them in about 25 minutes now that I’ve got the hang of it, it’s just a quick one minute video. They feel really, really wonderful for people to receive and it’s easy for the CEO of a large organization. Look for those ways that you can engage with people in new ways. That is one of the things that sheltering in place has caused us to think differently about: how we connect and stay connected.
Dolph Goldenburg (19:59):
I’m actually going to have to check out Bonjoro and I may have to suggest that to some folks. That is such a great idea. I have one client whose executive director took a day the last week of the year and wrote “thank you” on the whiteboard. And then wrote the donor’s name below and took a selfie and texted it to them. It feels personal because it’s coming from someone’s personal cell phone. And I thought that is such a golden thing to do. And what’s more, a lot of the donors would text back.
Joan Garry (20:32):
Back in the very early days of Glad when we didn’t have a lot of money in the bank we were talking about holiday gifts for donors. And I refused to send the donor a coffee mug. I didn’t have the money for it. As God is my witness, as long as I was the CEO of a nonprofit, we would never said coffee mugs. And so Julie, my development director, said, “Let’s just make a really cool, clever holiday card. And then you just write personal notes to all donors of X amount and above.” We took our kids skiing and neither of us ski. So we just sat at the lodge and I had my Irish coffee and I just started writing notes. I didn’t realize that there were like 250 notes I had to write. And so that was a lot of Irish coffees and a lot of notes. But we send them off. And as it turned out, the note cards arrived concurrently with another large LGBT organization’s coffee mugs. And you know you scored when you get a thank you note for your thank you note. But I can’t even tell you how many notes I got saying, “Thank you for your thank you note. And thank you for not sending me a coffee mug.” High touch is everything. And it’s a really ironic thing that you can actually create high touch even if you are socially distant.
Dolph Goldenburg (21:54):
Oh absolutely. You 100% can. And creativity counts. It 100% counts.
Joan Garry (22:01):
Totally right. Before you didn’t have enough time. Time precludes creativity in some ways. If I don’t have enough time, I just have to do things the way it’s gotten me this far, whatever it is. Now we’re at this different place where whatever it is that’s gotten you this far probably isn’t actually going to get you wherever you want to go. I’ve had people who’ve said, “I never used to start my staff meetings asking people how they were doing. And now, because I’m on Zoom, we do that. And I feel like I have much more of a team than I did before.” Well, duh!
Dolph Goldenburg (22:33):
Absolutely. I think in terms of being high touch and being creative, it’s also just so critical that it’s authentic to us. If you’re not someone who takes selfies, don’t do the selfie with a whiteboard because it’s not authentic to you. Admittedly, I’m not a huge selfie person. So I probably would not do that. But for years I’ve loved sending people birthday cards. I don’t buy three generic birthday cards. Whenever I’m in a store, I’m like, “Ooh! Birthday cards!” I’m always looking for birthday cards. And some of them I actually make myself. I now have a birthday card list of 700 and something people. And every Sunday I sit down for about an hour or so and I write cards to people.
Dolph Goldenburg (23:15):
Some people I’ve not talked to in six months, but I send them this card. I’ll also share with you that this is genuinely me. I’m a crafter, which is also why I make some of the cards. But I also go on usps.com and I buy stamps that I like, such as modern art stamps. And so when you get a birthday card from me, it looks like a real personal communication because it is, and it has an actual note to the person in it. And I love doing it. It’s genuine to me.
Joan Garry (23:47):
I call this “channeling your inner cousin Jean.” So my cousin Jean lives in Atlanta in Duluth. And she’s always been the most thoughtful person in the room. My three kids are in their twenties. They generally remember my birthday. So I generally get a phone call. But my cousin Jean sends me a card and it arrives on my birthday, which means she had to actually think and know that my birthday was coming up. The second thing she does, which is really, really swell and is so cheap: she knows that Mr. Rogers is kind of like my spirit animal and so she’ll get on eBay, get a vintage Mr. Rogers book, and have it sent to me. It costs $2, $3, something like that. And, you know, the book just says you are special, that’s it. And it’s golden.
Joan Garry (24:43):
For nonprofit leaders, time is not your friend in some ways. You think everything is urgent. You have to run as fast as you can to save as many people as you can in the shortest possible span of time. And if we have learned nothing else, I’d like to think that we’ve learned that the work is a marathon and not a sprint. And we’ve got to stop and pause and we’ve got to take care of ourselves. We’ve got to take care of our own. We have to nurture our tribe. We have to be thoughtful. We have to be generous. All of those things, by the way, that led your listeners to say, “I would like to be a nonprofit leader,” right? But I think about this all the time. All the attributes that make nonprofit leaders are the core attributes that will get any of us through this: creative, generous, problem-solver, can’t sit idly by, all of these things. These are the attributes that are going to make the difference between the people that come out on the other side of this and feel a sense of gratitude and joy and the people who actually feel victimized by it. I really feel like your listeners can literally lead the way
Dolph Goldenburg (26:00):
Absolutely. We in the nonprofit sector are part of the solution. And it’s why we’re in this sector. Because we want to be part of the solution. We’re not bystanders.
Joan Garry (26:08):
Not at all. Nope. We are not at all happy to sit out in the stands. We want to be on the field. And I just want to say that whether it’s by writing a check or volunteering or however you can engage people at this time, people are really hungry to get the hell out of the stands and they admire you for being on the field. And if you invite them to come onto the field and give them a kind of a way in, that’s a gift to them,
Dolph Goldenburg (26:35):
Absolutely. Joan, I want to make sure we save some time for the off-the-map question. This gives listeners an opportunity to learn a little more about you as a person. And so I have to ask you, how did you come to sing with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus?
Joan Garry (26:55):
Okay. That is an off the map question. It’s actually Joan-went-off-the-map by doing that. So I left Glad in summer of 2005 because my kids were in junior high and moving into high school and I knew the road would not be easy. I think older kids need you more than younger kids in some ways. I was thinking that I was really going to miss being a part of the LGBT community in a formal kind of way. I also knew that I was going to need some self-care because if I thought taking care of LGBT people was a lot to carry, dragging three kids through high school is just a climb.
Joan Garry (27:34):
And so I wanted to do something that I had not been doing a long time, which was singing. I worked with a major gifts officer at Glad, Peter Kayborn, who’s in DC in the nonprofit education field now. His husband was the E.D. Of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. And I was just joking with him one day and I said, “You know, I’m going to need a community when I leave Glad. Maybe I should talk to your husband about joining the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus.” And we started to laugh and we just started to scheme it up. And, and then I thought, “Well, why couldn’t I?” It’s such a remarkable community of people. So I decided to audition. I have a good singing voice. I think they also really needed a tenor one. So I don’t think it’s all about me.
Joan Garry (28:18):
And it was something I could do every Monday night and if there was drama at home or a homework assignment that needed to be done, I just wasn’t dealing with it for that three and a half hours. It also became something of an homage to my dad who was a singer in the Greensboro, North Carolina Barbershop Chorus. It was 200 guys in lime green tuxedos who sang barbershop. And he did it every single Monday night, also. I never thought about it until after he passed away that I had followed in his singing footsteps. He was also a tenor one, I think. And then I jokingly say that it was an opportunity for me to learn how to stick out and blend all the same time. And it’s a really wonderful, wonderful group. It also has wonderful traditions. Music is a really, really powerful way to communicate. It’s not just about its beauty. I actually just love harmony. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m a good manager. I like teamwork and I like the diversity of voices. And in the case of a chorus, that’s a literal thing. I also have always believed that music can move people. And I think that that’s been true of the gay choral movement for a really long time. And I considered myself to be very privileged to be a part of the chorus for the couple of years that I was there.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:44):
Wow. That is such an awesome story. I cannot sing to save my life so I have such admiration for people who can. And that is just such an amazing story. I love it because that was definitely an out-of-the-box, off-the-map experience for you as well.
Joan Garry (29:58):
It totally was.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:59):
Well, Joan, thank you for spending time with us today. I’m just so grateful. I want to make sure that Listeners know how they can get ahold of you. They can go to your website, joangarry.com, which is your consulting firm’s website. From there, they can access your blog and your acclaimed podcast, Nonprofits are Messy. They can learn more about your book and they can also find the link to nonprofitleadershiplab.com. And that’s the link: nonprofitleadershiplab.com. Both of these websites will help you, Listeners, gain the practical knowledge you need to make the world a better place. To get out on that field and make the world a better place. Additionally, Joan is providing our Listeners with access to a free webinar about her thoughts on the future of the nonprofit sector and steps you can take now to come out stronger than ever before. That webinar is expected to go live June, 2020. So make sure you check that out at nonprofitleadershiplab.com. There is more information up and available now. Joan, thank you so much for joining us.
Joan Garry (31:05):
Hey, thank you for the work that you do in bringing voices to the sector and helping leaders gain greater insight and fueling the leadership of our movement. It’s really important. So thank you, Dolph.
Dolph Goldenburg (31:16):
Thank you. Listeners, if you are too busy looking up YouTube videos of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus, and by the way, they’re really good so you should look up those videos. But if you did not catch all of those links, don’t worry about it. You can find a transcript of today’s conversation with Joan and all of the links we discussed on our website, successfulnonprofits.com. And if you loved today’s show, please take a moment to share it with a friend or a colleague. And if that’s not your style, if you’re not a sharer, well, I wish you were. But if you’re not a sharer, leave us a review on your streaming app of choice. That, Dear Listeners, is our show for the week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
Dolph Goldenburg (32:02):
I am not an accountant or attorney and neither I nor The Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for tax legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified, licensed professional about such matters.