Working with Nonprofit Millennials

Millennials are everywhere, and they’re not all baristas… some of them have spilled into the nonprofit sector. While there are hundreds of articles on LinkedIn you can read about engaging with or managing them in the workplace, I have for you six easy tips for working with millennials:


  1. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.
  2. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.
  3. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.
  4. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.
  5. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.
  6. Treat them like you would every other human. They are entitled to nothing.

So there you go. Now you know how to reach the unreachable generation. Stop Snapchatting them; they have email like everyone else.


Donors and Pets

I was recently talking with a nonprofit board about the importance of continuously and consistently engaging with donors. “Because it’s a good thing to do” wasn’t cutting it, so I attempted a metaphor.

There are steps in the donor cycle — identification, cultivation, solicitation AND stewardship. It’s not solely about asking for money. Not that asking isn’t important, though it’s not where you generally spend most of your time. And it most certainly shouldn’t be the only time your donors hear from you. You go to an ATM when you need cash, not your supporters.

But where were we? The metaphor, right.

For anyone with pets, one thing you do with some frequency is take them to the vet. Sometimes for illness, others for a routine checkup. Either way, most people probably travel to the vet in a car, and for some, it’s the only time little FooFoo goes in the car. So when little FooFoo sees the car, little FooFoo knows what’s up.


Other people take their pets for car rides all the time. To the store, to the park, to pet play dates, etc. In those instances, when little FooFoo sees the car, it may just not be a wholly traumatic experience. In this metaphor, here are the players:

  • Little FooFoo: Your donor
  • The Car Ride: Your engagement with the donor
  • The Vet: The once-a-year solicitation

This seemed to resonate with the group. And it’s not meant to be silly, it’s reality-based. Long gone are the days when one touchpoint a year is adequate with your supporters. In a time when information is available in a flash — and over one million nonprofits are vying for the same dollars — your people need to hear from you. You need to take them in the car with you all the time (or at least often), and not just to the vet.

You’re doing a new program in-line with some of your donors’ interests? Shoot them a note! You just voted on a great new board member who will help really boost some aspect of your work? Let your donors know! You reached some sort of epic programmatic or financial milestone? Tout it!

There is such a thing as over-communicating, though we’re in the field of feel, and our donors are engaged for reasons of personal significance. More often than not, I’ve found if people don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you — either directly or by unsubscribing to your mailing lists. We have such opportunities to be stewards of our organizations’ missions, and in doing so, can be really great stewards of our donors.

So let’s do ourselves a favor; let’s take little FooFoo all over the damn place. The more familiar with the car ride, the less stressful, and you may just clean up less pee along the way — and isn’t that the goal?


Getting it Done > Your Title

I’ve mused on the idea of “getting it done.” Go with me now please on another journey: worry about getting it done… not your title.


Friends, Romans, countrymen… in the grand scheme of things, your title is insignificant. As nonprofiteers, the identifier on our business cards should be infinitely less important than the work we do — unless you are the Minister and your business is Silly Walks — though nevertheless, often the opposite is true.

For me, this idea became obvious just about three years ago. At that point, I had spent over a decade building up my experience and titles — coordinator to manager to program director to director — and then, shifting careers, overnight I again became a manager. Only then did it really begin to gel for me: my work was simply more important than what followed my name in my e-mail signature. [Note: this was around the same time I realized I was not seasoned]

Look, I won’t begrudge anyone for being proud of their accomplishments. If you’ve put in the time and energy, and have ascended to a certain position which carries a certain title, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. #CelebrateSuccess, or whatever. But your title isn’t the whole of your job, so #chill with the self-aggrandizement. “Leadership” titles are important, as they identify achievements, tenure and hierarchy. Though at the end of the day, they really don’t mean much — if there are 1,400 Assistant Directors of Silly Walks at an organization, what does that even mean?

Another way to look at this is considering personal aspirations. By this, I suggest, the trajectory of one’s career shouldn’t necessarily be tied to ascending titles. I’ve taken a particular path which came with marginal title bumps, though now (as an associate director) in many ways I’m having a far more meaningful experience than I ever did with “higher” titles.

If it’s not clear, this is something that really bugs me. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even ask new acquaintances about their work or titles. At the end of the day, I believe titles say more about what people think about themselves rather than anything else. Instead, I prefer icebreakers like “[So and so], what’s your passion?” I like how this throws people off, and gets them a little off their high horse.

So next time this idea of titles presents itself as a potential topic of discussion, just remember:



Be On Time, Leave On Time

I like to think I’m unique, though there are so many ways in which I’m not. I’m not the shortest man on the planet, I don’t have the tallest hair. However, many professional experiences are solely mine, and where I find the latter most comically true is in some of my experiences in nonprofit fundraising.

Those in development (fundraising) may be familiar with the idea of the “reverse ask.” Picture it — you’re out with a donor, having a great talk, enjoying your coffee, then right as you’re about to shift into solicitation mode… the tables turn.


I hilariously remember once, a colleague and I visited a prospect at her home to discuss supporting a cultural initiative. After about one hour, my colleague gave me the look, implying, “alright, let’s do this, let’s get ‘dat money.” Misreading the room, I changed the subject — and took the donor up on her offer for cookies — which extended the visit another hour.

So there we were, entering hour three, and just as we’re about to make our ask, the donor pulls out some papers and flat out reversed the conversation — she asked us for financial support of a project she was producing. It was truly artful.

The colleague and I no longer work together, but we’re dear friends, and to this day we joke about that experience. We shake our heads in jest and say:

“Never take the cookie.”

But really what I mean is: in any given situation, know when your time expires. As nonprofiteers, I find this is something we do exceedingly poorly. Time as a gift, or at least a non-renewable resource, and it helps to fully know how much you want to offer any person or situation. It’s as respectful to leave on time as it is to be on time. When I feel something stretching longer than it should, I like to say, “So-and-so, please allow me to give you back as much of your day as I can,” which is usually understood and acknowledged.

So, folks, unless the purpose of your donor visit is to talk about pastry philanthropy, take it from me and don’t take the cookie.


Work-Work Balance Tips

Based on absolutely zero research, and having consulted no experts, I’ve followed in the footsteps of every “thought-leader” ever, and concocted a short-list of benign power tips for being successful on the job. These will change your life, and truly create a scalable value-add to your work-work balance. But first, a completely gratuitous, incorrect, mis-attributed quote.

Wishing upon a star is not a completely formulated plan, but it leads all the fish to water.” – Michelle Obama

1. Show up relatively on time, as in mostly exactly on time, though sometimes late, but also sometimes a few minutes early, so it looks unpredictably rational.

2. You don’t need to re-make the office coffee if you don’t technically finish the whole pot; always leave just enough for about 2/3rds of one more cup so it’s the next guy’s problem.

3. No matter what she says, Sharon* is always going to gossip about your business, so be careful what you say around Sharon.

4. Taking one online HR class absolutely makes you qualified to navigate the intricacies of the workplace; you can prove this by showing folks the certificate you received.

5. Don’t listen to what those sour grapes say; a casual dress code totally makes up for having to deal with a horribly toxic work environment.

* This is also true for Jenni, Nick, and some Heathers


Get it Done > Getting Credit

I have a multi-faceted philosophy on work, which often begins with: worry about getting it done. One of those facets, specifically, goes: worry about getting it done… not who gets the credit.

I grew up with a relatively no-nonsense approach to work. If something needs doing, you do it. No big fuss, no big reward. It was therefore strange entering nonprofits ~15 years ago, where I continue to find myriad colleagues who require great recognition for tasks big or small. [If you have 2 minutes, this video paints a clarifying picture.]

I’m getting at the concept of humility. In my short career, I’ve spanned public programs to administration to fundraising, and I’ve done those things at cultural institutions, universities and beyond. At the end of the day, I’ve often found colleagues — irrespective of the sector — unable turn on a dang light switch without exorbitant self-aggrandizement, either in person or on social media. More on that, here.


This also speaks to the idea of “me” instead of “we” — or “I” instead of “our.” As in many fields, much of our work as nonprofiteers does not happen in a vacuum, and fewer things get under my skin more than people taking singular credit for joint efforts. I don’t care if it’s something big like your organization’s 5k run-walk or annual luncheon, or something simpler like cleaning up a database — if you’re in it for yourself, my feeling is you’re generally in the wrong industry.

Maybe this kind of behavior is inherent. Or maybe you learned it, working for a few bosses who always stole the thunder you deserved. Either way, it’s a disappointing characteristic, and for the savvy among us, it’s totally obvious. When people tell me tales of how they individually accomplish something, I respond with inquiries about the micro-steps of which I know, for sure, they were not part. I’m passive-aggressive AF, and there’s only a “me” in “team” if you rearrange the word. Even then, it would spell “at me,” and if you take unwarranted credit, I will come at you, bro.

come at me

So next time your nonprofit — which is staffed by what? people — does something totally stellar, make sure you take a look around and consider the fine folks who helped bring the thing to fruition.


Dear Potential Collaborator

Dear Potential Collaborator,

I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to work out between us. I appreciate all the time and energy it took for you to copy, paste and send me the same “respectful request” email you sent to everyone else in town, but your public program idea is, well, terrible.

I know it would be the “perfect alignment of our organizations’ missions” and even more pointedly, “a guaranteed, easy way to garner media interest and earned revenue.” But truthfully, if I agree to do this, you would drive my staff absolutely bonkers before we even sign the MOU.

Now don’t get me wrong. Somewhere, in some corner of this giant metropolis, are a few people who would find this thing interesting. I wholly believe that. There is a cadre of hipsters, somewhere, who would actually spend their hard-earned money to come see this “cultural,” poorly conceived, far-too-lengthy imagination mind screw. But it’s just not going to happen in collaboration with me or my staff.

You might ask yourself, “How could you say that? Do you know who I am? Did you not see the critically acclaimed (well, one guy with a blog) ground-breaking event I did three years ago at my cousin’s nail salon? Have you even bothered to read the 12-page artistic statement I attached as a Microsoft Publisher file?” Well, no. It’s definitely a “no” to all of that.


Even if I, my colleagues and the community thought this was a good idea — which, again, we don’t — there’s the whole issue of funding. Specifically, how you want my organization to front all the costs, grant-writing and venue space (an investment, I believe you called it) only to then split all revenue equally. Seems totally legit to me…

And another thing. I know your brother-in-law works with the chairman of my organization’s board and, as such, you may be tempted to ask said board chairman to strong arm us into this collaboration behind my back. However, engendering goodwill that will not. I can’t stop you from doing such a brazenly unfortunate thing, though I will plenty mock you for it with memes on social media after this whole ordeal is over.

So let us recap, if you don’t mind:

  1. This is a bad idea
  2. You want us to do most of the heavy lifting
  3. You’ll probably find some sneaky way to make this thing happen, irrespective of blatant disinterest

In closing, I’m very much looking forward to working with you on this truly transformative partnership. It will be the bane of my existence, and the most effort I put into anything this fiscal year, for the absolute least possible return.