FALL 2017

Dear readers,

Emily and Julie asked me to write the intro for the fall quarter’s Northwest Nonprofit Notes.  Or maybe I offered.  I can’t remember which way it happened.  It doesn’t matter.  I eagerly said yes because it meant a sneak preview of all the articles.

And what helpful articles they are!  With a running theme of “check yourself before you wreck yourself,” the articles in this edition contain thoughtful ideas for practicing self-awareness and shifting our perspective to find better solutions.  Each article also contains practical, concrete steps and exercises to do so. 

Sara Lawson kicks it off with an erudite article on how, if you want to succeed in collaboration, it’s important to make room in the process for the more uncomfortable side of the coin, conflict.  It’s a must read for anyone doing coalition-building work. 

Donna Bellew tags in with her article containing practical facilitation techniques to help you reframe your circumstances, gaining new perspectives and finding better solutions.   These techniques provide a structured, safe way to identify and address areas of conflict, disagreement or discomfort.  A safe space to express hard things?  Yes, please!

My article illustrates how one’s own relationship with money impacts his or her ability to ask donors for gifts.  It also contains a quick exercise you can do to gain greater understanding of your intrinsic values around money so you can check yourself before you wreck yourself when it comes to soliciting donations.  This article is the first in a series because, it turns out, there’s A LOT to say on this topic. Stay tuned for more.

Julie Edsforth’s article offers a reflection on leadership transitions involving founders, and draws on her own experience as a founder who successfully transitioned out. Anticipating your organization’s needs and mapping out a strategy will help you avoid the pratfalls and pitfalls that we’ve all heard about when founders leave.  Julie shows you how. 

Emily Anthony completes the set by describing how you can put your best foot forward in your cover letter.  How many of us have read dismal cover letters that made us despair of ever finding the right candidate?  Conversely, how many of us have applied for a job and worried that your application would be lost in the pile?  Emily’s advice ensures that cover letters stand out from the crowd in the best possible way. 

My hope for you is that you are able carve out a few, quiet moments to read and reflect on these articles.  And then, check in with yourself and your organization before moving forward into this busy time of year.  You’ll be glad you did.  You may even prevent a wreckage from happening as a result.

Happy reading!



I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool: Ideas for strengthening your capacity to navigate conflict (while also seeing each other as human beings)
Fall 2017 by Sara Lawson

Ladder of success

In Collaborating with the Enemy, author and facilitator Adam Kahane shares a meaningful anecdote about the challenges of navigating conflict, especially where people have longstanding reasons for distrust and disagreement. In the early 1990’s, as South Africa started negotiating a transition from apartheid toward democracy, one of Kahane’s South African colleagues shared an idea that encapsulated the challenges ahead: “Faced with our country’s overwhelming problems, we have only two options: a practical option and a miraculous option. The practical option would be for all of us to get on our knees and pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and solve our problems for us. The miraculous option would be for us to talk and work together to find a way forward together.”

This joke captures the common—and often quite reasonable—fear that finding a way through conflict will be impossible. Often, even the suggestion of trying to find a way through is met with skepticism and cynicism. And yet, in this particular situation, a cross-section of deeply entrenched opponents (establishment politicians, opposition leaders, mine owners, trade unionists, tribal leaders, etc.) were able to negotiate a relatively peaceful transition to a new constitution and a democratically-elected government. And while the transition has been imperfect, challenging, and incomplete in addressing the legacies of apartheid, it is a powerful example of our ability to work together across vast differences.


The Power of Perspective: Three ways to change your problem solving perspective
Fall 2017 by Donna Bellew

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” 
Wayne Dyer

Many of us may be familiar with the parable of The Elephant. In the story four people are blindfolded and lead into a room with an elephant. When they come out they are asked to report on what they found.  One said it felt like the trunk of the tree, another said it felt like an enormous leaf, the third said it felt like a solid wall and the last one said it felt more like a big snake.

All were relating accurately their experience of the same thing (the elephant), from different perspectives, because they were touching different parts of the elephant.

Of course, the moral of this story is that perspective is everything.  If this is the case, how can we as staff and board members look past our own limited perspectives to find the best solutions to solve big hairy problems, or lead our organizations to the next level, or resolve conflict that might be getting in the way of our success?


Money Matters. Or Rather, Your Perception About Money is What Matters, Part 1: How your values, hang ups and perceptions about money affect your ability to fundraise
Fall 2017 by Dani Beam

Customer Service

We’ve all been there, but sometimes it really hits you that, as fundraisers, you’re asking a major donor for a large gift, the size of which is not something you would ever be able to make yourself.

I remember, early in my fundraising career asking a donor for a $300,000 gift.  At the time, I was recently out of grad school and doing a precarious balancing act between making student loan payments, paying rent and having a stocked refrigerator.  It was a good month when I didn’t have to use my credit card to cover end of month expenses before my next paycheck arrived.  I barely had any savings, let alone $300,000 that I could give to someone else! At the time, I was constantly anxious about money and worried that I didn’t have enough. 

During the ask, I felt vulnerable and inadequate.  What right did I have to ask someone for such a large sum when I had no experience with that kind of money in my own life?  How could I challenge someone to give so much when I’d never be able to do the same? Could the donor see how stressed and anxious I was about my finances as I talked to him about his?

Navigating Founder Transitions: Three take-aways from reflecting on my experience 
Fall 2017 by Julie Edsforth

Executive Director Leaving?

I was 29 when I co-founded Powerful Voices, and 40 when I left my post as Executive Director in 2006 – a formative 11 years for sure. I remember them fondly as the “blood, sweat and tears” years.  Prior to transitioning out, I spent about 9 months planning, coordinating, strategizing… agonizing if I’m being honest…about passing the baton to the next Executive Director.  I didn’t worry about whether the organization needed a new ED – I knew it was time for a new person to be the Executive Director. But I worried about many other things: building a financial cushion, retaining as many donors and funders as possible, passing along the minutia of everyday operations that lived mostly in my head, and worrying that no one in their right mind would be willing to take on the job as it had evolved under my leadership.    

Since my transition out, Powerful Voices continues strong (in year 22!) and I’m in year nine as a nonprofit consultant, often on issues of executive and founder transition.  With each executive transition project I work on, especially when it involves a founder leaving, I inevitably reflect on my experience: what went well, what didn’t, what have I learned, and how can I share all of this with my clients who are facing a founder transition.  While this article will not provide an exhaustive list of all the things to do and think about with founder transitions, three take-aways stand out for me, shared here with the hope they are helpful to those who are stewarding an organization through a founder transition.

To Whom it May Concern: Your Cover Letter Could Use a Little Work
Fall 2017 by Emily Anthony

To whom it may concern

To whom it may concern: As a frequent recipient of innumerable cover letters, I feel certain that you will agree that I am the ideal candidate to author an article on how to write an excellent cover letter. In my vast experience . . .

Are you bored yet?  I am! And when you read dozens of cover letters in a single week as I often do, it quickly becomes clear that in many cases the writer is just as bored as I am.  True story: I once got a cover letter with a passionate argument for why I should hire this candidate to raise money for the Boy Scouts, due to the impact they’d had on him throughout his life. Trouble was, the job I was hiring for was not with the Boy Scouts. This was not a case of forgetting to change the name in the cover letter, it was a full-on ode to the Boy Scouts, clearly intended for someone else. I called him and said, I think you sent me the wrong cover letter, no worries, it happens! But if you still want to apply for this job, you should send me another letter.  “Do I really need to take the time to write another one?” he asked me. “Don’t you pretty much already know what you need to know about me?” Well, now I do, yes! Call me crazy, but his response gave me an inkling the job I was calling about wasn’t that important to him . . . and as a result, his application was not that important to me.