May 04, 2022

POV: A Joint Conversation

With a slight twist, my blog this month will include a conversation between Brandy and me. Brandy is UNA’s Director of Community Relationships and in her role, she works closely with all our members. Together she and I manage the Help Desk at UNA which means we field a lot of messages from leaders, frontline workers, board members, and community members about nonprofits. Over the past year, there have been some frightening trends bubbling so we wanted to chat about what we are seeing and hearing. The overall hope is to have us collectively think about ways that we can get ahead of some issues.

You can watch a recording of our conversation or continue along with the transcript.  

Kate: “What are you hearing from our members about lately?”  

Brandy: “I talk with and support our members in a multitude of ways daily, but there are three discussion topics that come to the forefront of conversations regularly: 

  • Where to post and find candidates for positions that have been open for a while. These conversations usually move away from where to post, to being focused on what is in the job description. Removing buzz words from a job advertisement can have the biggest impact (fast paced work environment can also mean to candidates that you are understaffed deliberately, saying things such as “we are a family” can also mean to candidates that they will spend more time at work then with their own family, stating that there is competitive pay when candidates see what other employers offer and the pay is not competitive, etc.) 
  • Where to find funding, including how to find the right people to talk to, where to source potential funding opportunities, and what can be done to diversify funding streams. 
  • Ways to engage the board of directors, both the new members and returning members. These conversations usually begin with how to engage board members in fundraising, but quickly turn to discussions on how each individual is engaged in the work of the nonprofit and how their unique skill set can be maximized.” 

Kate: “That’s really interesting Brandy. I love that you talk about buzz words and compensation disclosure so openly with our members. What are the reactions you are hearing when you bring those items up?”  

Brandy: “This is a difficult process to work through, not only are we challenged to meet the expectations of candidates, but we are also held accountable to the policies and procedures of our organizations. The reactions range from acceptance and empowerment to make the changes necessary, to discussions on ways to bring leadership into the conversation. What I try to emphasize is the things we have control over. For example, if you are not able to update policies and procedures right now, what if you considered the job post differently? Rather than a job description, what if it were formatted to read more like an advertisement? My biggest goal is to help our members find ways to rethink the ways we have always done things into our new way of work and what our society needs from us. I know and respect that this is a shift that we are all working on navigating and together we can find a way through it.” 

Kate: “What are some of the pressure leaders are facing right now?”  

Brandy: “To be competitive in the job market right now, leaders need to increase pay. Many leaders know this but have not had access to the capital to make this a reality. This is a two-sided problem for many as well, because not only do you need to increase the pay for candidates, but you also need to increase the pay of current employees. This becomes further exacerbated by the limitations from funding sources to allow for the monies to go towards staff compensation as this is seen as overhead, but without the staff the mission cannot be achieved. This is why it is so important for the public to donate to nonprofits they know and care about, as private donations are not restricted and can be used to improve pay and benefits for the staff.” 

Kate: “So tell me Brandy, what would you want pre pandemic Brandy to know about this time we are living in right now”? 

Brandy: “Prior to the pandemic I never thought we would be having so many conversations around work-life balance. The need to be flexible and understanding of the whole person who comes to work is one of the most important aspects we should be focused on. Remote work will not only become a norm but will become a highly sought-after work environment. This will be difficult for us to transition to but will be necessary for the sustainability of our missions.” 

Brandy: “Now it’s your turn Kate. What would you tell pre pandemic Kate?”  

Kate: “The realities of remote work and serving different geographies is not something that requires too much thought and planning. At least not in the way we thought about it when UNA was doing its strategic planning for 2020-2022. In that document we had this whole section mapped out for connecting better with rural regions and creating rural infrastructure so that we could provide better, more consistent service. As an organization, we laid the best of plans and we really thought hard about how to make it all work. And part of me feels like we overthought it. But we acted in a way that we knew. Pre pandemic Kate had no idea that this transition to remote work and virtual programming, that the pandemic ignited, would in fact break down the barriers we had for our members in rural communities and along the Wasatch Front. “ 

Kate: “As a leader some of the hardest things I experience are making sweeping decisions that impact everyone. Shifting to remote work is one such example. I’m curious Brandy, how has the shift to remote work at UNA helped you focus and/or adapt to this new existence?”  

Brandy: “Being remote at UNA has made us more accessible and able to connect with nonprofits all over Utah. Prior to the pandemic our services were available in-person only and we were brainstorming how we could be more virtual. This shift created the opportunity and necessity to move us online and we are reaching more people and nonprofits than ever before. Personally, I have really appreciated not having to drive so much, saving time and money on gas by walking from my kitchen to my home office to start my workday. I will say that I had to learn how to turn off work at the end of the day so that I could be present for my family. Now that I have learned how to balance this, I find that my time is more wisely spent at work so that I can maximize my time with loved ones.” 

Kate: “As a leader I am finding that these past two years have shown me that there really are different ways we can work and that the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ approach needs to be dusted off and tossed. What is an example of a policy that all should adopt?” 

Brandy: “Hybrid work, including looking at each position at the organization and determining if the position can be done outside of the office and potentially outside of “normal” office hours. And this may not be for all nonprofits, but if you are thinking about opening a position to be remote and want to expand your applicant pool to other states you will need to look at the hiring requirements of the state the candidates are in or that you will be recruiting from. UNA members have access to free HR legal consultation to help with this.” 

Kate: “We have really had an awakening regarding the many ways that we engage in paid work. I am personally loving the important emphasis that work-life balance has had. I am so grateful to be part of a team that shows grace and respect for one another. But I also know it’s not always sunshine and roses out there. So it makes me ask this of you Brandy, off the top of your head do you have 1-3 things that nonprofits should just stop doing right now that would help their staff?”  

Brandy: “Please stop being scared to talk about pay. Create transparency around compensation and benefits, including posting pay with all job postings and having honest conversations among staff about compensation. Also, unpaid internships. Create a plan to stop this, these programs devalue the contributions of interns while also placing undue financial burden on them to meet the needs of life. One last thing, if it is at all possible, look at the values you have in your organization. Are these visible both externally and internally? If you have not identified these or they are not visible to those you serve (both staff and community members), consider bringing in an outside facilitator to help identify and instill them into your work. Your staff will appreciate it and the community will see your efforts.” 

Kate: “Nonprofits by nature are mission focused, generally focusing on the clients we serve, and what I see often is that employees and culture are often overlooked. Am I just dreaming this?”  

Brandy: “I don’t think you are dreaming this at all. Many times, we are so focused on who we serve and the value we bring, but do not make that same commitment to the people who make our missions come alive. Our values should be both external and internal in focus, so that everyone who is touched by our mission experiences the best of us.” 

Kate: “The world is starting to shift back to pre-pandemic activities, like coffee and lunch meetings. What are some things we need to consider?”  

Brandy: “This is not a popular term, but the “new normal” includes being aware that not everyone is able to go back to the way it was. Eating food together is a great way to build relationships, but also taking into consideration that not everyone is able to do that can be just as beneficial. Please be understanding of others who would love to meet in-person but cannot participate in activities that were normal before the pandemic.” 

Kate: “Brandy I really appreciate your comments about participation in meetings. Because I hear you – there really is no substitution to connecting with someone in person. There is a certain vibe and feeling you get being around other humans and animals. But what has really struck me is the need to balance the productivity of an in-person meeting, especially around food. At these types of meetings, where we’re asking people to travel, to take notes, to be prepared with all sorts of answers to questions that are not yet known, then expecting that person to remember everything they said they’d act on. This seems like a tough balancing act.” 

Brandy: “It is tough, because we want to connect and get to know each other more. But maybe we can rethink how we do this and the goals we want to accomplish? Instead of a working lunch, what if we knew the goal was to get to know one another better so instead we go for a walk through a park? Then set up a virtual meeting to go through the work needed to make the work come alive. Once again this is a shift in how we think about relationship building in a post pandemic world, but maybe a refocus on the purpose of what we do and how we do it will help to balance both the needs of our organizations and the needs of the humans we bring into our work.” 

Kate: “I will say this: virtual/remote world really has had an unforeseen negative effect... we have eliminated all that drive and processing time forcing us to feel compelled to schedule back-to-back.  

Brandy: “I am totally feeling that! Trying to not be led by my calendar while also meeting the expectations of those we serve is a daily balance. I will say this though, if it is at all possible designate days as no meeting days. At UNA we have no meeting Fridays and I love that I have a full day to get things done and collaborate with my colleagues. We also schedule two weeks in the year that we call our dark weeks, where we do not have any meetings and are able to focus on big projects, getting caught up, or taking care of the things we just don’t always have time for. I really think this comes down to being okay saying ‘No’ and setting time for you to not be in meetings to empower yourself and your team to take care of those nagging tasks and/or the too deep email inbox. I will say this though, it is not perfect, and you need to hold yourself accountable (and leaders need to lead by example).” 

Brandy: “Being a leader is really hard. Running an organization is tough, I can see it in your face, and I’ve known you long enough to know there is likely a lot that I don’t know about the challenges of your position. But I want to know, if you could tell all the nonprofit Executive Directors and CEOs in Utah one thing, what would it be?” 

Kate: “I’m 100% going to give more than one thing here. Speaking freely here is my advice:  

  • Trust your team. They will have your back. 
  • Unless it is absolutely required that you work outside of your regularly scheduled shift, do not work. That means – no emails, texts, or events. And if those things are required, adjust during the week. Your personal life and your family deserve your attention.  
  • Delete your work email from your phone. But do keep the calendar connected.  
  • Pandemic or not, extending grace to yourself and others is so important, and it will go a long way when you most need it.   
  • Use your PTO – All of it! Book time away now. Your future self will thank you.  
  • Your staff are following your lead. They mimic what you do. They treat others the way you treat them. It is all cyclical. Be the leader you needed and wanted when it was the most difficult time in your life or the most inspirational time in your life.”