20 April, 2013

Spring Cleaning...and Spring Donating!

Even though there is the occasional cold night or light frost on your windows in the morning, I know I feel the itch already for spring cleaning. I hope you are gearing up for it as well!

With spring cleaning comes the inevitable garage sale and donation of stuff. My message to you is to consciously donate. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Ericka, that’s ridiculous, of course I think before I donate – I care about the community and want to give back”. I know you are – and this year I encourage you to be a little more intentional when deciding what and to who you donate your gently used items.

If you have professional suits and even casual dress clothes that you wear to the office, think about donating them specifically to organizations that support men and women going back to work.

For all other clothes – casual, shorts, t-shirts, etc, if it has stains, rips holes or is “well-worn”, IT IS OK TO THROW IT AWAY OR REPOURPOSE IT. I’m giving you permission for two reasons: 1) volunteers at the location you donate to have to go through all the clothes – if it is not in wearable shape, it goes in the trash anyway, and 2) it shows respect for others in need by tossing your thread bare mowing shirt – just because someone is need of a shirt of a pair of jeans doesn’t mean they should receive something that is practically destroyed.

Now before some of you remind me, “Ericka, beggars can’t be choosers,” I know. But think of it from a person’s point of view that has to thrift shop to make ends meet. You might wear your beat up pants to paint in but would you wear them to work or send your kid to school in them? I don’t think so. Go ahead and throw the well-worn clothes away or if it is recyclable or repurposeful, then do that if it makes you feel better. Check Pinterest or the internet for ideas in repurposing old clothes.

Another tip – if an organization serves a specific population or has a specific mission (back to work for men, office work for women, children 6 months – 5 years, etc.) try not to donate items they won’t use. The staff and volunteers time is taken up by sorting these items out and fining them a proper home.

Getting rid of that ottoman or older bed frame? Great! Same sort of rules apply in terms of wear – throw it away if it is broken, too stained, ripped or beyond repair.

Some organizations will pick up larger items for free if you call ahead. Check your community for any organizations that have specific needs for larger items, such as refrigerators, beds, stoves, and sofas, like half-way hours, housing developments and others.

Also know that because of hygiene concerns or bed bug concerns, some places my turn down donations of bedding or mattresses. Don’t be offended if your donation is turned away because of this – they turn everyone’s away for fear of outbreaks of bedbugs in group living situations.

When it comes to child furniture or baby beds, check your local and state laws to see if other baby items are prohibited from being donated or re-used. You may have to check for recall information or check to see what the newest safety standard is in case the furniture you might not have a safety feature you should let the organization know about. For more information, go to http://www.cpsc.gov/onsafety/2011/06/the-new-crib-standard-questions-and-answers/

Consumables are very hit and miss when it comes to donating. They can sometimes be the worst thing to donate. Think twice before you consider donating anything such as:
·         Shampoo/conditioner
·         Soap
·         Make-up
·         Cleansers/cleaners
·         Baby powder
·         Deodorant
·         Toothpaste/toothbrushes

If you have new items, say from your latest hotel stay, these are fantastic to donate! Emergency shelters, children’s homes and other group housing can use these, especially when they have last minute intakes who may not have anything.

If an item has ‘turned’, discolored or the bottle has sunken in – THROW IT AWAY! If the company has changed packaging since you got the item – THROW IT AWAY! To be frank, if you think its gross, it is gross. Generosity and eagerness to give is always appreciated, but if the item donated is in that condition, it ends up being thrown out anyway. Do the organization, its staff and volunteers a favor – toss or recycle on your end.

Now, I’m off to clear out some stuff in my basement – I need the storage space! Happy cleaning and happy donating!

28 February, 2013

Time is of the Essence

Time is a funny thing when it comes to nonprofits - we forget it has value and depending how you use it, can have return. 

To be honest, I sometimes cringe when a volunteer, staff member or board member mention their organization is going to have a fundraising event. Now before you start up your comment or email, events ARE a great fundraising and publicity tool for nonprofit organizations. But before digging in too deep, think about a plan first - if the potential return financially and publicity wise compared to not only the cost but the time needed to plan and implement are a positive outcome, go for it! If not...think twice. 

Here's a few pointers when it comes to time and events: 

Don't reinvent the wheel - and when I say that I don't mean to scrap the 5K or silent auction because the other nonprofit down the street is doing it. What I mean is find checklists, ideas, timelines, charts, duties, etc. from other organizations, books, other volunteers and colleagues. Again - all about saving time, and increasing your return for the time you are spending to do the event. There are plenty of resources for finding tools to make your job easier. Check some of the links I have on the blog for resources.

What can you let go of? - if you organization has done a great job of recruiting,training and retaining volunteers, you should have a good core group to help you out. Don't be afraid to delegate and then hold them to it. Volunteers should be realistic what they can do so if you or they feel they can't handle the task, assign it to someone else. Know yourself well - what can be managed by delegating vs. doing the task yourself, in terms of saving time. 

Meeting, smeeting - if you don't need a meeting, don't waste your time and others. Do individual check ins with folks to mark things off your list. When you feel the need for a group powwow, have one. But make sure to have an agenda, keep it to the discussion you need to have and get the work done. 

And just because I want to share, there are three things that either get looked over or are talked about WAY too much - save time, keep it simple and plan well: 

Food - food can 1) make or break your budget and 2) make or break your event. When it comes to budget, pick something that fits any theme you have but make sure your ticket price will make up for the cost. Don't skimp but don't go overboard. Bad food will leave a bad impression. Many people who come to a fundraising event do not come for the food, they come because of your mission or the person who invited them. But there are people who do come for the food - don't turn them off by picking a pasta dish with little to no meat because it saved you $5/person. Otherwise, they may not open up their pocketbooks for your organization.

Keep it fun! - Folks are there for a good time, not hearing someone drone on. If you are presenting awards, keep it fun and interesting - not reading bios word for word that are printed in the program. Fun facts about the nominees might be something to share instead. If its more of a dinner event, maybe with a silent auction, get a very charismatic personality to make statements and presentations. 

Price points are not just for sales - the donors you have in the room will vary in what they give. Offer different sponsorship levels, auction items, suggested donation levels, etc. so those who may give you a $1,000 gift aren't stifled by an auction item that's only valued at $400.

Get people in and out  - The worst thing you can do to your guests is make them wait. Have more volunteers at the check in table and coat check, if you have one. You need your guests in the main event asap and out the door when they want to leave. 

I hope these tips are helpful and save you time! Good luck with your next event. And if you need assistance, don't hesitate to call.

19 October, 2010

Trying to lead with Authenticity

This week in my Leading in Community Course, we were asked to describe how we lead with authenticity. I thought I would share with you all:

This week we move into the Authenticity Frame as we continue to look at how our values, decisions, and behavior affect others as we lead in community. Focusing solely on the Authenticity Frame and using Lead with Authenticity (LWA), briefly explain how you lead wtih authenticity. Which of the LWA assessments resonates most fully with your uniqeness as a leader (e.g. personality type, conflict style, etc.)? What are the difficulties in leading with authenticity? How do you overcome them?

It is my belief that an organization can only be as effective as the people in it. A strategic manager or executive must transcend themselves for the benefit of the whole organization for mission, values, initiatives and impact. As I further my career working with nonprofits in a very changing sector, I want to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me to excel as a strategic thinker to prepare for the desired career in nonprofits as an authentic leader.


Values in my mind are one of the most important aspects in being a successful authentic leader, employee and volunteer, as this drives many other aspects discussed in this assignment. The core values I work to maintain are Ethics and Transparency, Empower Others, Share Knowledge and Value Others. If strategic management is focused on mission, values, strategic initiatives, and impact, the core values I strive for relate to each. Ethics and transparency have been particularly important to me as a nonprofit professional, particularly in fundraising. To show my nonprofit employer and other nonprofits I volunteer or consult, I maintain a membership with and promote use of three professional associations: Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), American Association of Grant Professionals (AAGP), and Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (CCVA). Through these organizations, I am held to annual commitment to ethical standards and codes. By adhering to these, it fulfills the values of an organization and allows me to fulfill strategic initiatives in the most transparent way possible. Empowerment of others has also become a core value in my work. Authentic leaders recognize their capacity will not address every need in an organization and thus surround themselves peers that build a team to address the strategic initiatives of the organization. Empowering others to make decisions and accomplish tasks is not limited to those who surround a leader but also those up and coming in the nonprofit community. I look for opportunities to share my knowledge and access to information so that other nonprofit professionals can better fulfill the missions of their organizations.

Social Skills

While I do not place all my self-interpretation and understanding from personality tests, I do pay attention to general findings as they relate to the dynamics of a situation. I have found my Myers Brigs profile to be insightful and helpful in dissecting my actions and work. After taking the Myers Briggs typology several times, I maintain the INTJ profile (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging) as it does affect my social skill and how I work with others. I recognize I’m very much an idea person and thus have to work with others to come up with the details to make ideas become functional. Being an INTJ has also been instrumental in working with others in a nonprofit setting, as the INTJ type serves with good will. This enhances my ability to work in the nonprofit sector to guide others in the mission of the organization.

Leadership Skill

A growing need in most organizations, and an opportunity where I have developed skills, is the ability to be a leader in a multi-generational environment. The ability to work with those younger and older than me as well as showing others as a leader how to work in a multi-generational environment has been one of the beneficial leadership skills during my career. In utilizing it, it has enabled me to lead groups in completing activities as they relate to the organization’s strategic initiatives.

Aside from this particular leadership skill, I find myself to be a leader who values other individuals and their contribution to the work, solicit input and ideas from others to make the work stronger, and try to remain a servant and authentic leader in all that I do. I would consider myself a collaborative leader. When placed in a capacity of formal leadership, I feel I can provide appropriate leadership for strategic management. However, within my current work capacity, I unfortunately do not have the appropriate leadership level of responsibility, so I try to fulfill these leadership qualities as best I can in the situation I find myself. I find that in my volunteer career, I am able to utilize this much more effectively, allowing for truer authenticity as a leader within the organizations with which I am involved.

08 February, 2009

What's the point?

So I've been thinking, what's the point in this blog? What I'd really like to accomplish is just general access and awareness.

Right now I'm back in school and was asked to work on a personal philosophy of leadership. And for most, including me, this is truly a challenge. Most of us have not really thought about putting our thoughts to paper in terms of how we view our leadership skills or our philosophies - and trust me, I had not either!

So in terms of the nonprofit world and how I view my "leadership" within it, I thought I would share some of what I worked on for the assignment, as I think it will give you insight as to where I plan on going with these Chronicles:

From part of my assignment: Critical types of knowledge (and means of acquiring this knowledge) necessary to effective leadership

For many years, to be effective in the nonprofit sector meant knowing who your clients were, their needs and what services you provided that served their needs – and for most, that is all the knowledge that was necessary. But over the years, the knowledge level for someone to succeed as a nonprofit leader has grown exponentially. This has been driven, for the most part, by outside forces such as the federal government and the IRS, state governments, the private sector, and the general public as clients, volunteers, and donors. The nonprofit leader has to understand the basics of business management, financial controls, board development, fundraising, program development and evaluation, marketing and public relations, and if in specific fields of providing service, there are additional laws and regulations that have to be followed.

And I feel I have been no exception, especially as I have recently become a nonprofit consultant. Clients look to me and my colleagues to be able to provide this knowledge and access to information; access being a key word to this analysis.

While professionally I have not been paid staff of very small (by budget) nonprofit organizations, I have worked as a volunteer, consultant and partner with many small nonprofits, especially in eastern Kentucky. For them to be able to compete for funds, volunteers and leaders, this broad knowledge base is particularly critical for success and providing the best for those in need. But as we can all imagine, this access is key to gaining knowledge. And while there is the great world of the internet that we all rely on now, the vast part of rural Kentucky and other states don’t even have access to anything other than dial-up internet or expensive satellite internet. Even to pull up a 20 page PDF request for grant proposals may take several hours, let alone the resources to make the responsive proposal competitive.

I don’t ever consider myself to be the holder of all nonprofit information by any means, but I feel I have the responsibility, consultant or volunteer, to bring as much information and resources as I can to the table for an organization, particularly the small, rural ones. I think, regardless of discipline, we sometimes take for granted most of us in urban communities have the ability and means to gain critical knowledge needed to achieve the organization’s mission at the tips of our fingers.

I feel that over the next few years, as nonprofit management and nonprofit leadership programs at higher education institutions continue to increase, it will be incumbent upon those in key leadership positions of the programs to conduct outreach efforts. Students in these programs can be a conduit of knowledge to those who have limited access and in turn, giving the students opportunities to engage in hands on work.

05 February, 2009

So, you might ask, "What is a Causehead?"

Well, this is an interesting story.

Because of all the causes/organizations/nonprofits that I'm involved with, I'd always be talking about them at the dinner table with family. "Poverty this, Homeless that, Get donations for them, These people are slighted"....the list could go on.

But my mom and sister, who are very loving people, never the less, liked to take "advantage" of these moments. Knowing how I would react to stereotypical or blatantly ignorant/bigoted statements, they would intentionally say something off color to get my reaction (note: they truly don't mean the things they say, they just say them to get me riled up). Needless to say, I would start talking about a law that would unfairly limit benefits to those who were in need, how an organization was working so hard to meet demands on services but still falling behind or describe the plight of a particular group.

One night, after a particularly passionate 'rant' of mine, my sister blurts out, "God Ericka, you're such a causehead". Thus I must give credit to her for this word that I so affectionately use in reference to myself.

I didn't think too much about that word until about a year ago. Many friends and colleagues were hinting here and there that I should do some sort of consulting or at least hang my shingle out there to help others, whether I got paid for it or not didn't really matter to me. I tried for weeks and weeks to think of what I would call such an organization or business. I was driving through downtown Lexington one day after work and at the corner of Main and Newtown, it hit me - "Causehead". It is still a work in progress. And while life, work, school and volunteering everywhere does put a hamper on time, I'm sure you will see something with it eventually.

So until my next post, go out and be a "causehead" yourself. Someone wil be very thankful you did.

A grassroots goodnight,