“When two consultants get together, it’s usually a joyful conversation”
Carol Hamilton, the principal consultant of Grace Social Sector Consulting joins Dolph on today’s episode. With over 25 years the nonprofit sector and three as a consultant, Carol brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise for our listeners.
During the episode Carol shares with us her thoughts and experiences facilitating peer coaching between executives, interim executive director positions, creating impactful board retreats and applying design thinking to nonprofit programming.
Download the episode now and join these two consultants in a joyful conversation that may be just the inspiration you need to resolve challenges in your own organization!
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(9:30) The benefits of peer coaching with cohorts of executive directors.
(11:15) Managers guiding their team to solving their own problems.
(15:35) Why your nonprofit would want to invest in an interim ED while transitioning.
(20:15) Using board retreats to focus on and resolve organization-wide concerns.
(26:05) Creating the right mindset and environment during a retreat.
(30:12) How consultants enforce best practices and the benefit of the outsider role they play.
(32:20) Applying Silicon Valley’s concept of “design thinking” to answer strategic questions.
(35:20) How design thinking saves nonprofits time and money.
Episode 139 Transcript
Dolph Goldenburg (00:00)
Welcome to the successful nonprofits podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenberg today. Listeners, I have the pleasure of hosting Carol Hamilton who is the principal consultant of grace social sector consulting. Carol helps nonprofits and associations become more strategic and innovative for greater mission impact. Specifically, she helps organizations get creative, get focused and get strategic. Carol works with teams and organizations to envision their future strategic direction. She takes a practical approach in our work and helps organizations think through kind of the key to achieving and creating their own future. Carol’s got more than 25 years of experience. Um, and she frequently trains on leadership strategy and innovation topics. Interestingly enough, Carol and I have been traveling in similar circles for years. So we both have a lot of professional nonprofit experience. We both have been doing consulting. Um, I think we’ve both been doing consulting Carol for about three or four years.
Dolph Goldenburg (01:11)
Me for about five or six years. We at different times went through the board source certification for board or governance training. And I have this strong sense that Caroline, I also have some very similar approaches. So before we welcome Caroline, let me also just share with you all a little bit about my mindset around nonprofit consulting. I do think that Carolyn, I have very similar approaches. I think we’d probably have very similar life philosophies and obviously we’ve got us similar backgrounds, but I don’t view Carol as competition and I kind of want to share why I have an, generally speaking, I have an abundance mindset. And so in my own home state of Georgia, I think there’s like 70,005 Oh one C3 nonprofits and like Carol, I’ve got a multi-state consulting practice. So at any given point in time might be I’m, I might be in LA and Phoenix and then New York and then Fort Lauderdale and then back in Atlanta.
Dolph Goldenburg (02:14)
And I think that’s similar for Carol as well. And any given point in time she has, she might be in Maryland and then Philly and then New York and then Seattle and doing other types of consulting in other cities. But, so I have an abundance mindset. There are lots of nonprofits that need the type of consulting that Carol offers and that I offer. So I don’t view her at all as competition when she comes on. I really welcome her coming on and her perspective and gosh, I hope that you get as much out of today’s conversation as I know Carolyn, I will get in terms of joy because whenever two consultants get together, it’s typically a pretty joyful conversation. Hey Carol, welcome to the podcast.
Carol Hamilton (03:00)
Thank you so much and thank for that very generous introduction and I appreciate your description of your mindset. I think it’s one that really serves all of us. Uh, we try to work with our clients. I’m not in fundraising consultant, but we try to work with our clients and in terms of having that abundance mindset as well. So I really appreciate that.
Dolph Goldenburg (03:17)
Well, it kind of like you, I also don’t really do a lot of fundraising work. Every now and then I will have a former client who asks if I can do something very specific around fundraising planning. Um, and because I know that client really well, it just makes sense for me to do it. But I don’t actively go out and look for fundraising work cause it’s not something that I, I really specialize in. But I think whether you are a fundraiser and executive director or consultant, for me like a bud, this abundancy mindset is just so really important. So if as an executive director, you think, Oh my gosh, if my partner, um, nonprofit gets a grant of $50,000, that means we didn’t get that $50,000 grant. To me, that shit, that’s just the wrong mindset. Or Oh my gosh, if this amazing team member goes over to another organization, we lost this great team member. You know, there are lots of great people that can come and work in our nonprofits. So from my perspective, it’s not a, it’s not this scarcity. It really is. We live in a world where there’s so much opportunity for you and I as consultants, but also for the nonprofits we work with. Absolutely. Absolutely. So, um, I kinda thought it might be nice for us to just kind of acknowledge that you and I both have some Philadelphia connections. It’s my adopted hometown and I think you went to college there.
Carol Hamilton (04:37)
I did. I went to college right outside of Philadelphia. And, um, I’ve also had the opportunity, uh, to do some work, um, recently in Philadelphia working with a network of conservation organizations that are all across the Delaware River watershed, but a lot of meetings in Philadelphia. And for me, it’s been amazing to see the transformation of that city from when I was there back in the day. Um, and, and to now, it’s just a booming and bustling and Scott’s a much different energy than it did probably, you know, I won’t name the number of years ago, uh, that I was there.
Dolph Goldenburg (05:15)
[inaudible] admittedly, I do know there was a period of time when even residents would call a Philadelphia. And now when you’re in Philly, and I felt this way when I was there, I was there in the knots. Now when you’re in Philly, Oh my gosh. It’s just, it’s such a beautiful city, full of culture and vibrant sidewalk, you know, walking and, and, you know, type of life. It’s just incredible.
Carol Hamilton (05:38)
Yeah. It really shows you what bringing the people back to the, to the built infrastructure can really do. Because when I, when I was there, I, um, my last year of college I did a, um, a thesis and I was going down to the big public library that’s, that’s close to where people, you know, run up the steps to do the Rocky Rocky. And, uh, I would go there on the weekends and it was just a ghost town. And now, you know, there are people everywhere. They’ve done so much to build out their, their biking and walking infrastructure. It really brings the life, uh, back to the city, which is really wonderful to see.
Dolph Goldenburg (06:12)
And, and listeners, just so you know, um, Philadelphia tourism and convention Bureau has not sponsored this episode of the podcast. You know, we don’t commoditize it, but one final plug for Philly before we actually talk about, uh, Carol, what is it we’re going to talk about today? One final plug for Philly. If you love art, Philadelphia has more public art per square mile than any other city in the United States, more than New York, more than LA, more than Chicago. If you love public art, Oh my gosh. You could literally go to Philly and just wander around the streets and see world-class art.
Carol Hamilton (06:48)
Absolutely. And some wonderful specialty museums as well.
Dolph Goldenburg (06:53)
Yeah. So now I am going to have to approach Jeff Garcino over the convention and visitor’s Bureau and be like, Hey Jeff, come on. Do you gotta sponsor this podcast? Look over everything we’ve done for you here. Um, but so I’d want us to dive a little bit into the work that you mentioned you’re doing with a group of conservation executive directors in the Philly region. Uh, can you just share a little bit about that? And, and I think I read a blog post on your website about that.
Carol Hamilton (07:20)
Yeah. So I’m doing this, I’m in partnership with an organization called the Institute for conservation leadership, and they’re, they’re really the leader in, in bringing a human perspective to this collaboration. So it’s a collaboration of organizations that spans four States. Uh, the whole Delaware River watershed, which, um, I’ve certainly learned a lot about, includes Pennsylvania, um, Delaware, New Jersey and New York. Uh, so actually in New York City, depends on the Delaware River for a large portion of its water. Um, I’m certainly not a conservation person. I, you know, we’re the folks in there try to help people, uh, do collaboration effectively and, um, think about how they work with others, how they work beyond their own organizations. So, you know, you talked about that, uh, uh, that abundance mindset and I think all the work that, um, the nonprofit sector is moving towards in terms of more, um, organizations coming together to try to, you know, work in a synergistic way to, to create a greater impact.
Carol Hamilton (08:29)
Um, it’s also hard work, right? I mean, a lot of funders want that to happen. Everyone sees the natural logic of collaborative putting, coming together and, and pooling your resources. Not only pulling your resources but aligning around, um, shared goals. Uh, but it takes work and it takes time and it takes time to build the trust between the different organizations to learn each other. And it just like on a team who brings what strengths, who brings what connections, um, and all of that, it just takes time to weave that together and have it be an effective collaborative.
Dolph Goldenburg (09:07)
Carol, my own experience, both as an executive director but also as a consultant that works with a lot of executive directors. Probably one of the loneliest positions in the nonprofit sector is it is ed. And so in addition to this group of conservation EDIS coming together to find synergy, I bet there’s a lot of pure support that’s going on in the group as well.
Carol Hamilton (09:28)
Yeah. So we actually built-in. Um, and I partnered with a colleague, um, to, to deliver a program embedded within this collaborative of, uh, uh, actually, you know, specifically supporting a cohort of executive directors. And we just wrapped that up. And definitely, um, one of the first things that folks said was, you know, the sense of loneliness and isolation in being in that leadership role. Many of them were newer executive directors and so they were used to being part of the team, not leading the team. And so making that shift in the mindset of, okay, I’m not, I’m not just part of the gang anymore. I’ve got a set direction. I’ve got to work with a board in a different way. Um, so building that community so that they could have Onyx conversations with each other about the challenges that they were facing.
Carol Hamilton (10:22)
Uh, we specifically built it in through a methodology called peer coaching, where we gave them some tools to be able to have some really productive conversations, um, that where they were, they were able to, uh, help each other think through the challenges that they were having. Um, not necessarily giving each other advice. Actually we tried to steer them away from that, but more, um, you know, one of the questions that you might ask yourself in this situation or, you know, help them ask that person questions that, that really prompt their thinking and help them come to a new conclusion, a new way of thinking on scene, a particular situation that then they might be able to say, okay, and now my next step is X.
Dolph Goldenburg (11:06)
And I will say, whether you’re talking pure coaching or engaging someone like yourself or myself as a coach, I think that’s the tough part of coaching is holding back and not saying, okay, you should do a B and then jump over to F and G. but really instead asking the right questions and helping people find what’s right for them and their own truth and not, Oh, well, the, here’s exactly how I would pursue the issue that you’re currently struggling with.
Dolph Goldenburg (11:31)
Absolutely. And we also, um, not only was it useful in that moment, working with that person and working with their peers and building that network and building that trust, but also, um, letting them know that doing this in this context, we’re helping you practice a different way of being a boss. Yeah. It’s funny, I was
Dolph Goldenburg (11:54)
already nodding yes. Because I’m like, Oh yeah, I totally see where this is going. Once you’ve got that skill, you take it into your own organization. Sorry.
Carol Hamilton (12:02)
Well, and being explicit about that, that we’re offering this up. That this isn’t just what you use here at this program, but rather than always being this fix it person and always being the, solve the problem person. And, and naturally people end up in leadership roles because they’re good at that. And so to unlearn always being the solution can, and I found this when I was, you know, was in a, in a management role for the first time. Um, you know, I had to train myself to not always be trying to solve the person’s problem, um, and help them learn how to solve it themselves. Um, and so really doing that we were, we were explicitly trying to say, and this is something that you can bring back and work with your staff so that you’re really building their skills rather than building their dependence on you in terms of, and then building your over sense of overwhelm of, Oh my God, I’ve got to solve everyone’s problem. We’ll get yourself out of that. Get yourself into a more of a coaching and coaching in a very specific way because a lot of people think about coaching as kind of that side of the, you know, side of the team of, you know, X position, go here and Y position. Go there. A little more directive and this really being around, um, helping people, uh, asking those probing questions to help them further their thinking.
Dolph Goldenburg (13:22)
And I love the fact that you’re encouraging people to take that coaching approach back into their organizations. I do. And all the listeners know this, I do a lot of interim executive director engagements. And so almost every year that I’ve had my consulting practice, I’ve done at least one interim ed engagement. And whenever I step into one. And I think, I think this is common for a lot of reasons, even if it’s not the organization’s culture, uh, at a time of transition team members, staff members are really nervous and so they want some certainty. And so, especially early on, uh, and, and this is also true I think for new executive directors, but early on as the interim, people will come to me and say, Dolph, I have this problem. What do you want me to do as opposed to tough? I have this problem. I, I’m thinking about these two or three different possible solutions.
Dolph Goldenburg (14:14)
And if is the interim, I’m like, Oh, well I want you to do a, and then C and then F I set myself up. Whereas you just said, I’m always this fixer. But if instead, I say, well, what are some of the solutions you’re thinking about? And then I ask, you know, some questions, things like, well, what are some of the possible drawbacks or unintended consequences if you do your option a versus your option B. Okay. What are some of the possible benefits of option a versus option B? W w you know, which one’s gonna cost more, which one’s going to take more of your time, but really you help them probe own answer and then hopefully come up, have them really take that agency and make that decision and come up with, Oh yeah, I need to do a, or I need to do a cross between a and C or whatever it might be. But so I, I love that you’re helping these executive directors through by becoming peer coaches to be better bosses in their own organization.
Carol Hamilton (15:14)
Yeah, and I think, you know, sometimes any, any tool can be overused. So they’re going to be times in which the, the executive director just needs to set direction and, and, and you know, it’s all about balance, right? It’s all about being able to kind of be adaptive and, and, and, and show up in a way that’s going to be useful in that moment.
Dolph Goldenburg (15:37)
Oh, absolutely. And, you know, to continue the coaching metaphor, if you’re a swim coach and you’re coaching someone who is in the middle of the pool drowning, yeah. The first thing you’d have to do is go and pull them out of the pool. Right. So, you know, so, so standing at the edge and offering them some advice while they’re, while they’re breathing in water is probably not a really good coaching technique.
Carol Hamilton (16:00)
Yeah. So I’m curious. Um, I, I love, I love that you’ve done those interim roles and I think not enough organizations give themselves the kind of, the grace of allowing that transition to happen and allowing someone to come in, in an interim role, um, so that they have time to kind of process a transition rather than leaping from, you know, one executive director and one way of doing things into a, you know, the, the next one. Okay. You’re up next. Um, so I’m, I’m curious about how, like, how that experience has been and, and, uh, you know, what you’ve seen is the benefits for the organizations that have been willing to, to have you come in, in that capacity.
Dolph Goldenburg (16:41)
So I, I do have to admit, I, I am an evangelist for interims and [inaudible] and, and not just because I do them and, um, all unless I’m an evangelist too, you know, and I was gonna say like an, unless the listener is a first time listener, um, all the other listeners now, I am not a religious person really at all. Um, but you know, if you think about an evangelist, I am an evangelist for interims and, and um, yeah, I’ve got some self-interest because I do interims, but I really believe that bringing on an interim helps ensure a much smoother transition. And I think this is true, whether you’re $150,000 organization with a very small budget to hire an interim or a $10 million organization with a larger budget to hire an interim. And, and kind of like when you’re looking for your chief executive, the amount that you are able to spend will certainly impact who you might get as your, as your next chief executive.
Dolph Goldenburg (17:33)
There’s value regardless of, of what your budget is. And I also think, um, you know, my, my, my, the two reasons I tell middle, there’s probably 20, but the two big reasons I tell organizations they should think about an interim. The very first one is if you have an interim, you can hold out for the right candidate because the board and the staff experience pain when there’s no one in that seat. And so as an organization, you are much more likely to, to, if you do not have an interim, to fill the position with somebody who’s not an ideal fit. And frankly, the second reason is no matter how great the prior executive director is, and I, you know, and I was a permanent Dee for 12 years as a permanent ed, I had blind spots and the, and the dysfunctional thing, and this is just baked into the nonprofit DNA, the dysfunctional thing is that the organization morphs around my blind spots as an executive, as a permanent executive director. So if you have someone who’s been there five or 10 or 20 years, the organization has morphed around that. And, and so this is an opportunity to bring in someone with specific expertise in the area that the organization needs to strengthen in.
Carol Hamilton (18:44)
Absolutely. And I think it gives, it gives the organization a little breathing room and I think you make a great point around not feeling kind of taking off that pressure of the pressure to hire right away cause, um, we’re looking at some work of a, another consultant. She was looking at what, um, what do you know, organizations that really do, you know, from an assessment point of view have a very healthy culture. And one of the things that they do is as is, is to be very intentional about hiring. And so it’s, it’s very much kind of a slow hiring process. You might have a faster offboarding process because you, you, you acknowledge quicker that there isn’t a fit. But I think, um, you know, giving the organization some space to, to really first be clear about what they need next and then to go find that person. I think it’s, it’s a great benefit and you know, just for organ organizations that are smart enough to do that, uh, they set themselves up for success.
Dolph Goldenburg (19:46)
Right. And I love Carol, the very gentle way that you just said, hire slow, fire fast. That was such a gentle, gentle, I love, I loved your approach and how you said that. That’s awesome. Now I know that you’re also doing a lot of border treat work and what has been your experience in terms of doing board retreats? What’s working really well? What, you know w w what are some of the issues that boards sometimes experience that trip up their board retreat?
Carol Hamilton (20:14)
Well, I think you know, some of the basics of has the organization, uh, in most organizations do a pretty good job or are they focused in on orienting their board members, um, into the work of the organization. But have they spent the time really educating their board members, um, about what is the role of a board? What are the responsibilities of a board? Um, how do they contribute in that way and what’s different than what the staff do? And really being clear about those roles and responsibilities. So, you know, with the, some of the retreats that I’ve done, we’ve either been looking for, you know, to, to, to build, um, you know, to have the organization build a strategic direction, either kind of shorter-term, 12 to 18 months or longer-term, three to five years. Uh, but then also, you know, uh, bringing board and staff together to have a conversation about, uh, I’ve worked with one board, they had some really good practices around, um, doing an annual assessment.
Carol Hamilton (21:18)
And so they had a great groundwork in terms of, um, they were regularly checking in on how they’re doing and they saw some of their indicators start to drop and they weren’t in the, you know, the yellow or red zone yet they were still good, but it was less than, than optimal. And so they said, well, maybe it’s at some time we need to kind of pay attention to this and get it before it really becomes a problem. And so it was facilitating a conversation between board and staff between what are the expectations, what’s working between each group, what does each bring group bring to the, to the mission of the organization. And really what came up was each organ that each side was a little bit afraid to have the conversation about, you know, what are the expectations. Um, and so that opened up the op the possibility to have that conversation and frankly it, and, uh, the result was they found out that they were both worried about the same thing.
Carol Hamilton (22:13)
And so they then could come together to come up with a solution that was going to work for both sides of the party. And it was around, you know, what’s the level of decision making that we want to have the board focused on and what needs to just be at the staff level. Um, and part of that was a new executive director had a different style, wanted a more participatory style. The previous second of director had been much more of a take-charge, let’s just do it. And so adjusting to all those different things. But, the fun part was actually when it was kind of the reveal of, Oh, you’re actually both worried about the same thing.
Dolph Goldenburg (22:48)
Right? Absolutely. I, part of what I love about what you just said and I’m in full alignment with you on this, is that the board of treat is this amazing time when the boards can step out of, it’s okay, here’s what we do at every meeting. We approve the minutes, we reviewed the financials. Oh wait, this is the third quarter we got to do the budget. Oh, what? This is the second quarter. We got our view, the nine 90, uh, you know, this is the ed, uh, the executive director review. It’s the fifth, fourth quarter. There is no fifth quarter. Doff you know, this is the fourth quarter. Um, you know, it’s time for the ed review, but you know, like there’s some things that are just kind of business as usual. Either they happen every, every meeting or they happen regularly every year. And that board retreat, even if it’s only once a year is a time for the board to step out of that and say, what two or three things do we really want to focus on and have deeper conversations, not, not interrupted by things like all we need to review the financials.
Dolph Goldenburg (23:46)
We’re not interrupted by, we need to, um, re, uh, vote on the executive director’s review and compensation.
Carol Hamilton (23:53)
Absolutely. And I think, um, you know, it’s really helpful when organizations have a regular practice around that. And I think, um, I’m seeing more and more executive directors be and working with their board chairs to be, um, more mindful about how they structure the regular board agenda to ensure that, um, you know, that, that there is time carved out. Maybe it’s even labeled like this is our strategic issue that we’re gonna discuss. We’re not gonna, we’re not looking to make decisions right now. We’re just having a conversation to open things up. I think about things differently. And to have that as a regular piece of an agenda or um, a regular piece around education where, you know, we’re gonna we’re going to dive into a topic. Maybe it’s an issue-oriented, unrelated to the work of the organization. Maybe it’s um, you know, working on this specific aspect of being a board. Uh, so that can show up in different ways. But, um, kind of not having that retreat just be a one-off, but really building it into the regular practice of the organization as well.
Dolph Goldenburg (24:59)
I’m so glad you said that. There’s one organization I’ve been doing their annual board retreat probably since my first year of being a consultant. So about five years maybe. Yeah, I think I’ve, I think I’ve done it about five years, done their board retreat and for the last couple of years they are now at a point where at every board meeting they have what they call [inaudible]. They have their topic meeting. Um, and so, you know, and so these are, these are literally, they take half of their time, half of the time that the board meets and they really explore a topic inside the meeting. And I’ll share with you once they started doing that, their board retreats are so much deeper and so much better because they’re already being strategic. Now can I share with you the one radical thing I do? Um, uh, in, in, in, in my, in my board retreat contracts, I actually put this in my agreement in the board retreat. Um, and, and it’s kind of radical and uh, and I’d love to get your, your take, cause you might be like doll, that’s just stupid. So I, and I’m, you know, I, I’m fine being challenged so I’m fine with you being like delve, that’s just stupid. But let me share with you the one radical thing that I do. And every board retreat agreement consulting agreement, I have a clause in there that says the board agrees to not hold a meeting at any point during the day of the retreat.
Carol Hamilton (26:17)
Hmm. I think that’s a, that’s a, that’s really smart cause it’s, even though it is good to have those times during regular meetings to, to think differently, you really need to create some boundaries around the retreat and how this is a different experience so that we can show up differently and, and, and, you know, go deeper, get to know each other better, build that trust, do all those things that, that will serve the organization the coming year.
Dolph Goldenburg: (26:44)
And, and I’ll also share with you, because my experience and I’ve learned everything the hard way, and I learned this in my first couple of years of consulting, in my experience, when the board wants to have a retreat, it’s because something is now on fire and they’ve made this sudden decision. They need to talk about this fire. And what happens then? First of all, number one, the meeting never takes the 15 or 30 minutes they think it’s going to take. It always takes an hour or 90 minutes. And now we have less time for the important work of the retreat. Second, it changes the entire tone of the retreat. So whether you start the day or at lunchtime, you decide to talk about this issue that’s on fire, suddenly that’s what everybody’s thinking about. And no matter how much you’re trying to focus on things that are a high tactical level or a or a or a lower strategic level.
Dolph Goldenburg (27:32)
And when I say lower, you know, from my, I, I typically, you know, um, typically with board retreats, unless it’s part of a larger strategic planning process, we’re not doing a five-year plan, um, just at the retreat alone. So, you know, so essentially, you know, but, but focusing on things that are our higher-level issues, now you’re focused on the fire and every high-level issue you’re going to talk about deals with that fire. Um, I will also share with you, Carol, that every single organization signs the agreement. They don’t have any question about it and it, Oh, and almost invariably in a, typically, typically it, it, I’d say it’s 50% of the time, about 10 days before the retreat, I’ll get an email from the board chair. And your and your people don’t. People don’t, people don’t know. That may not know that we can see each other.
Dolph Goldenburg (28:16)
I see you’re nodding your head. I got an email from the board chair, the executive director doff can we meet for just 30 minutes during lunch? And because it’s in the agreement, I’m able to say, well, it’s in our agreement that you’ve agreed not to do this. And the reason it’s in the agreement is, in my experience here, all the negative things that will happen, I’d like to suggest that you all at the retreat either schedule a time in the following week to meet to discuss this hot button issue, or if it’s really genuinely on fire that you talk about it in the next 10 days. But no, at the retreat, if I’m the person facilitating your retreat, we’re not going to have a point meeting.
Carol Hamilton (28:52)
Yeah. And that’s a, I think there’s so many reasons to do that. And I think part of it is just, you know, how our brains work when we’re in a state of threat and we’re thinking about all the bad things that will happen where we’re literally our, our, our thinking narrows, our perspective narrows. We go more black and white. Uh, we can’t be creative when we’re in a state of threat. And that’s biologically because you know, that person that you talked about before, you know, you’re not going to send advice to the person drowning in the pool. Uh, they gotta just focus on that one thing. And so you really can’t have those bigger picture and more expansive strategic conversations when you’re in a state of threat.
Dolph Goldenburg (29:39)
I’ll also share with you that sometimes that clause in the contract also provides some cover for the chief executive because, because sometimes it, the email will come from the chief executive and it’s sheepish, it’s goes like: Dolph, We know that you don’t think this is the best practice, but can we meet? And then I’m able to say, well, it’s in the agreement and you’re not going to have a meeting that I’m really sorry, but it gives cover for the chief executive so they can go back to their board and say, well, we did agree that we weren’t going to do this.
Carol Hamilton (30:09)
Well, I think we, you know, consultants play that role a lot of, um, being able to either nay, you know, let’s say you’ve done a lot of work before a a meeting to talk to everybody and, and, and get perspectives, do interviews and focus groups and all of that. And um, uh, you know, as a consultant, you’re mirroring back to the organization what everyone has told you. You’re not making up something new. And at the same time you may be able to name an issue or you know, start an uncomfortable conversation that everyone’s been willing to tell you individually. And then now you say, okay, let’s have this house. Uh, everyone’s talking about it. They’re not, they may be talking about it in the parking lot, not after, you know, after the meeting, let’s get it, let’s bring it into the meeting. And into the retreat and have a conversation about it. And so, you know, you, you play that a little bit of an outsider role of being able to bring those things that are uncomfortable and so the people can work through them.
Dolph Goldenburg (31:07)
W we, uh, we both have spent time, as you’ve already said, in the Quaker city of Philadelphia, and Quakers refer to that as speaking truth to power. It’s one of the things I love about being a consultant. You know, I, I have a limited engagement. I can, I can be completely and totally truthful with somebody’s board. And if the board doesn’t like it, they can just not hire me again. And I’m okay with that.
Carol Hamilton (31:30)
And it, you know, it, it provides cover for the executive director who maybe knows that an issue needs to be addressed, but they don’t, you know, it’s just easy. You can take the hit for them,
Dolph Goldenburg (31:42)
eh, eh, uh, absolutely. Um, I, I seem to recall, Caroline, when we invited you on, we were actually going to talk about design thinking, um, and how it’s used to foster innovation in an organization. And I feel like a heel because we have not talked at all about design thinking. So we should probably spend just a few minutes talking about design thinking and part so that way, um, uh, my colleague Isaac has not like Dolph, I’ve prepped you for this entire conversation on design thinking and, and what did you do? You went, not only did you go off course, but you threw me under the bus in the process, so we don’t want to do that.
Carol Hamilton (32:17)
Yeah, so for those who, who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s an approach that originally came out of Silicon Valley. It came out of actually product development. Um, and, but it’s morphed over the years and it’s really a, an attitude of people have maybe heard the term agile or maybe they’ve heard lean startup. They’re all ways to help us, um, move more quickly to, to action, uh, and, and not get stuck in a long extended planning process. So, um, it’s around, uh, you know, defining a, a design challenge, if you will. What’s the question that you re, that’s what’s a strategic question that you need to ask. And then, um, doing some research and then, and then jumping into a brainstorming where you’re looking for multiple different solutions. So oftentimes or, uh, you know, especially in our culture, we, we want to come to the one right answer as quickly as possible.
Carol Hamilton (33:24)
And this is a really, um, kind of going against that to say no, come up with a couple of different possibilities. Don’t even go to the point of piloting anything. Just do some, some, you know, what they call a prototype. Uh, for, you know, when I’ve done this with organizations, it’s looked like, um, you know, we’ve, we’ve thought about, I’m thinking of about a particular segment of the people that we serve. Um, how can we, what can we serve, how can we serve them differently? Really spending time to get to talk with them and get an understanding of their unmet needs. And that’s not by asking them the question, what do you need? Cause rarely can people actually answer that in a useful way. They all either tell you what they think you want to hear or they’ll say some aspirational thing that sounds great, that they actually, when you offer it to them, won’t they won’t follow through with.
Dolph Goldenburg (34:15)
So I, I just gotta jump in real quick. Um, and this, this completely relates, but, um, cause we think about design thinking for nonprofits and you say when you ask people what they need, it’s ah, you’re often not getting the answer you want and I’ll share with you, uh, when you ask nonprofits, and I’ve done some work with associations that work with nonprofits. When you ask nonprofits what they need, the number one thing is always money. But that’s not, that’s not really, that’s not really the question you asked. You didn’t ask could you use more money and cause there’s all these other things that result in you having more money. Sorry, I had to jump in there.
Carol Hamilton (34:50)
Right. And um, you know, so yeah, when I, I often use the, those, uh, you know, if you had a magic wand and are there are three things that you could change with your organization? Um, if they say time and more time and more money, um, I say, okay, I’m going to give you three more wishes because everybody thinks, uh, and, and, and so they’re not, you know, uh, they’re not as key while they are key obviously, but they’re not, you know, what, what else can we think about? So it’s really about looking at those different iterations of, of, and different prototypes and then it testing with the people that you might do that with as soon as possible. Uh, rather than, you know, spending a lot of time and resources, um, to build out something as, as a pilot, which has been usually kind of the smallest size that that has been typical in the nonprofit sector.
Carol Hamilton (35:44)
So this is much spending much less money and much less resource, um, in order to, and, but getting in front of people and getting feedback from them. So the way that we did this when I, when I, when I did this was to actually draw a stark storyboards. So we’re kind of drawing, almost like a graphic novel of like, what would the experience look like, what would the program offer, you know, X person would do this. And then this. And then, you know, had a number of different things of those, uh, different concepts that we were testing and then testing them with [inaudible] people. Um, and in doing that we with only, you know, some flip chart paper and yes, we did go to the expense of having an illustrator take our, what had been our little, you know, stick figures and made them look slightly better. Uh, but really not investing a lot. And then immediately being able to get some feedback to say what actually is going to be, you know, what’s going to work for people. Um, and what are they excited about.
Dolph Goldenburg: (36:48)
Okay. Very cool. And I’ll share with you these from my perspective as we, as we think about design and as we try to, and we essentially try to try to see whether or not a design works and we try to make it fail pretty quickly. Um, that’s a pretty appealing approach to a funder to say, you know, we don’t need a lot. We, you know, if, if we can get four or 5,000 or 10,000, we can figure out whether or not this is gonna succeed pretty quickly. And then we might come back and ask you for money for a pilot.
Carol Hamilton (37:16)
Right? And so the, you know, the time invested is the resource that’s invested is really the staff and, or volunteer time doing that research upfront, doing the brainstorming, um, and then testing things with folks, uh, and, and not a lot more. Um, and we, you know, when we, when we did this, we were able to see, you know, we have five or six different concepts, um, have people rank them so we could really see which we’re kind of going to the top. And then even within those, we asked them, well, what would make this work even better for you? So having them kind of be in the, in the design process with us and for one, uh, you know, when you’re, when you’re designing something, you can get really excited about a particular element. Uh, you know, on your team you’re like, Oh, this is gonna be so great.
Carol Hamilton (38:04)
We’re gonna build this leadership program and it’s going to have this awesome online component. And then you get in front of people and they’re like, well, I love the leadership program but I’m, I know I’m never going to access this online piece that you’re talking about. Just that saved the organization. You know, if we’d gone, if we’d gone forward in the traditional way, we would’ve built it all out before we even invited anyone in. And so doing it differently by those comments from folks one day, some, some, some feedback we’re able to save the organization thousands of dollars of what would have been, you know, elaborate development.
Dolph Goldenburg (38:43)
I absolutely agree, and it’s interesting, one of the things that I know that I’ve seen a couple of organizations do is they’re floating an idea for a program. And so they market it as if it’s already up and running and then they see how many people sign up. So, you know, so they’ve actually not created the program. They’ve not hired staff. They just want to gauge the market, you know, the market interest, prospective clients, how many people are really interested in it. And, and it is interesting because there are times that organizations will go, wow, there’s not the demand for this. We thought there was, or okay, we’re not marketing or correctly, whatever it is. Uh, and, and you’re right, it saves them from that, that pain of, of, of getting the money creating. I actually, you know, building out the staff and building out the program and then having to go back to the funder and say, Hey, sorry, this was, this was a no go.
Carol Hamilton (39:33)
Yeah. Yeah. I think if people get really excited about a particular idea and you know, if they run all the way through it and then, you know, there’s a big launch and then it’s crickets, like, Whoa. And then typically what I’ve seen is that it gets blamed on, but we’re just not telling people, you know, it must be the marketing. We’re just not communicating this well when actually, you know, someone came up with a solution before they really defined what the problem was that they’re trying to solve for folks or they’re solving a problem that’s not actually that important that people who might be a nice to have, but it’s not a not something that’s really a burning need.
Dolph Goldenburg (40:11)
Right. Absolutely. Well, Carol, I want to save just a few moments for us to ask you the off the map question and I understand that during some portion of your undergraduate years, you spent time studying in West Berlin and for folks who do not remember the world before 1990 which is now a significant percentage of the United States population. I’m sorry Carol, but, but it does mean that you and I are aging. But for those folks who don’t remember the world before 1990, there used to be a wall between East and West Berlin and East Berlin, of course, was controlled by the Soviets and a West Berlin was often thought of as free Germany. So Carol, tell us a little bit about what you learned living in West Berlin.
Carol Hamilton (40:56)
Well, it was a really fascinating experience and I mean, there literally was a wall around the city, um, and it, and it, uh, cut through. Um, you know, before the, when the city was occupied after world war two, the city was portioned into four sections of the allies, the Russians, I guess it was the French, the English and the, and the Americans. So the three parts that were the Americans, French and British became West Berlin. So, um, you know, yeah, there was a, there was a no person zone. Where there people up in towers, it looks like a prison looking into East Berlin. Uh, the experience of going over into East Berlin and, and, or I traveled between West Berlin and over to West Germany. And so that you had to take a train that went through East East Germany and it would give you, would, the train was stopped.
Carol Hamilton (41:55)
And the East German police, um, and I guess, I don’t know whether it was their secret service or Staci was there. Um, their secret police will come through and check everyone’s ID. I’ve never seen, I’ve never been so intimidated as in my life as, um, you know, going into East Germany and handing over my ID. I really am this person. So it was, it was intense. And, uh, we talked about that ghost town of Philadelphia a few years ago, but boy, um, East German cities under that period also, people were not out on the street. They were home. They weren’t at their work. They, they, they, you know, it also had that kind of ghostly feeling. It was a fascinating place to be.
Dolph Goldenburg (42:44)
Mmm. And I just have to reflect, uh, Caroline, I don’t know your politics. I’m unabashedly progressive and liberal and I’m unabashedly progressive and liberal on the podcast because frankly, I really don’t want clients that are, that have conservative client organizations that have really conservative views. Um, but so, um, I do find it a little bit ironic that in 19, I think it was 1987 or 1988 when Ronald Reagan was like Gorbachev tear down that wall. And I’ll let me say I’ve never voted Republican, but, um, I find it ironic that the Republican party, which 30 plus years ago was like tear down that wall is now the same party that says build a wall. Yeah. You have got to be kidding me.
Carol Hamilton (43:28)
Yeah. It’s we’re in this hall of mirrors of just weird stuff going on in the, and the, the, you know what, the collaboration’s not the coverage. No. Uh, collusion with the Russians now it, yeah, it’s craziness. It’s crazy.
Dolph Goldenburg (43:47)
Well, Carol, it has been so wonderful spending some time with you today. I am super grateful that you came on to share with our podcast listeners. Now listeners, if you heard Carol and you think maybe your organization could use the help of grace social sector consulting, you can find her firstname.lastname@example.org and of course it is included right in the show notes for today’s episode. There are many useful and free resources that you can get when you go to gray social sector.com so first of all, make sure you check out the mission impact blog. Carol is doing a great job of blogging regularly, a frankly better job than I’ve been doing the last few months. So it’s an active blog and you can get some great information there. And at that blog, Carol shares her knowledge on topics that all nonprofits can relate to, things like how to build your strong board, how to create, engage in engaging meetings.
Dolph Goldenburg (44:47)
So when you go to our show notes, we will also link to the blog on her website. Hey Carol, thank you so much for coming on.
Thank you so much. This has been a really fun conversation.
If you missed Carol’s URL and couldn’t write it down. Although it’s great social sector.com I literally just did that from memory, but if for some reason you can’t do that, we’ve got you covered. Just visit successful nonprofits.com defined Carol’s information in our show notes. I encourage everyone to take a long vacation every year because it is an important part of self-care. When this episode is released, my husband and I will have just started our three-week vacation in Australia. We’ve rented a camper van and we will explore Australia’s Western coast while also hopefully reliving some of my favorite moments from the movie Priscilla Queen of the desert, and let me just say if spending weeks with your spouse in a 100-foot room on wheels does not sound like a great vacation to you.
Dolph Goldenburg (45:51)
The hats. Okay. I just hope that as we’re approaching the end of the year, you take some time for a meaningful break from your day to day responsibilities, whether you’re a board member and executive director, a development director, or anyone working in the nonprofit sector. It is just critically important that you take care of yourself. And let me say, when I say taking care of yourself, I don’t mean a long weekend, I mean a multi-week vacation. If you’re like most of us, it takes a week to stop thinking about work. So if you take a two-week vacation, you really only got one week off from work and if you take a three-week, you only get two weeks off from work. Now, if a multi-week vacation is not in the cards for you this year, I’d like for you to consider making that your 2020 new year’s resolution. Either way, I do also want to hear your new year’s resolutions and believe it or not, we are going to share some of our listener’s resolutions and our annual new year’s episode.
Dolph Goldenburg (46:52)
So if you would like your resolution to maybe be featured on the podcast, here’s what I need you to do. You use an audio recording app on your phone and record your resolution and an MP3 or WAV file. Now before you sit down to record that, I want you to also think about three things. First of all, make sure you’re recording in a quiet place. It will be difficult for us to edit out the sounds of the subways, traffic, crowded restaurants, barking dogs, screaming children, et cetera. So find a quiet place and record there. Second, please keep in mind that the resolutions that we’re going to be airing and actually including in the show will be very low on self-promotion and high on honesty. So if it seems like it’s just self-promotion for your organization or your consulting practice or whatever, we would be pretty unlikely, um, to actually include that in the show.
Dolph Goldenburg (47:51)
Having said that, make sure you at least include your first name and your city and you can also include the name of your organization if you want all that school. So please make sure you do that. Now once you are happy with the recording, just share it with Isaac, our special projects email@example.com. He will send you a quick reply to let you know that your submission has been received and we will follow up to let you know if it’s being included in our new year’s episode. And last but not least, if you enjoyed today’s show, do me a favor and hit the subscribe button on the podcast platform that you love to use. And by the way, if you really love the show, give us a rating again on the same platform. Thanks so much listeners. That is our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
I am not an accountant or attorney and either I or the gold rule group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice cause material has been provided for informational purposes only, 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.