2023 Washington State Nonprofits Conference Field Notes

  1. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Tuesday
  2. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Wednesday
  3. 2021 Washington State Nonprofits Conference: Thursday
  4. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 1
  5. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 2
  6. 2022 Washington State Nonprofit Conference Field Notes: Day 3
  7. 2023 Washington State Nonprofits Conference Field Notes
  8. Poll results and question themes point to nonprofit website struggles

Welcome & Keynote – How to Take Care of Yourself & Thrive in the Post-Pandemic Nonprofit Workplace

Meico Marquette Whitlock, MindfulTechie.com

It’s a small world! I was happy to see Meico again so soon after attending and room-hosting his session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) last month 😃

Meico shared a recipe for his vegan chili. I look forward to trying it out when the weather gets colder!

We started with a guided breathing exercise. It felt great!

Top hybrid work challenges: Uncertainty, collaboration and tech overload, work-life balance, and hypercomplexity

The pandemic has increased the use of hybrid work and screens. This has sped up a lot of our lives and work, with increased information to consume, tools to use, and more demands on our time and attention.

Interestingly, there is a huge disconnect between employee and leadership beliefs around remote work productivity.

How productive are you really? 87% of employees report they are productive at work. 12% of leaders say they have full confidence their team is productive
Source: “Hybrid Work is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?” from Microsoft, September 2022

Of the conference attendees who took a pre-conference survey:

42.9% work remotely and in the office. 42.9% only work remotely. 14.3% work in the office all the time.

Meico shared an interesting recent framework from the US Surgeon General about workplace well-being.

I’m really into reviewing my week and planning the next, so I was very interested in his tips for planning a day or week:

  • Set intention for success
  • Set clear priorities to achieve the intention
  • Where on the calendar will these priorities happen?
  • What can go on the “To-don’t” list (a “parking lot” of tasks to do later)

I really like the idea of the “to-don’t” list and will be adding that to my weekly review.

When collaborating with people, use these questions to set good expectations for availability:

  • When will I be available for work? Non-work/screen-free time? Focus time?
  • Tell people the best way to reach you when it’s urgent and when it’s not urgent
  • How soon should people expect a response?
  • When will you be available remotely vs. in-person.
  • What collaboration tools to do you use? (Project management, document storage, calendars, appointment scheduling)

Regarding the “cameras on or off” question for Zoom calls, ask what the goal of the meeting is and whether cameras need to be on. For some people, having cameras on can be an accessibility accommodation while other people with anxiety issues may struggle with cameras on. It’s important to be clear with participants to help everyone make the best decision for the group and meeting purpose.

Meico talked a lot about the need to be intentional about meetings and avoid unnecessary meetings. He shared a great slide about reasons to have or not have a meeting (which you should think through before scheduling!):

Yes meeting

  • Building social bonds
  • Rapid decision-making
  • Very details or complex topics
  • Emotionally charged discussions

No meeting

  • No clear intention or agenda
  • Status updates or reporting
  • Feedback requests and approvals
  • Key decision-makers can’t make it

I also really appreciated the person in the chat who shared the power of pre- and post-work for meetings. Successful projects need all the types of work listed in the reasons to have and not have meetings, so structuring work around meetings with clear outcomes is really important.

Another good way to help people avoid work stress is email scheduling. When sending emails after-hours, schedule them to send during work hours so people don’t bring in new stress with them at the start of the day.

Flipping the Pyramid: Egalitarian Alternatives to Traditional Nonprofit Governance Models

Tara Vitale and Jacob Ferrari, Apex Law Group

I have a number of clients that have recently moved to Co-Executive Director models, and so I was very interested in this subject in hopes of learning more about what my clients are up to and the changes they’re going through!

Since this was a presentation from two lawyers, they were specifically looking at how legal concerns impact organizations working to shift their governance models.

It was interesting to see the models of the ~50 session attendees:

Bar chart showing answers to "What type of governance model does your organization have?" 62% traditional. 19% considering new models. 8% implementing a new model. 5% established new model. 5% revisiting new model.

What are traditional nonprofit governance models?

Traditional nonprofit governance model diagram. "Board of Directors" is at the top. The board contains officers and committees. The Executive director sits between the board and volunteers, employees, and members. All of those things are then above the Community.

The traditional nonprofit model centers the organization (which risks the organization’s existence becoming what the organization is most worried about, rather than the mission). Shifting to center the community means not just better incorporating community voices in nonprofit governance, but also recognizing that any single organization is only one supporter and actor in a broad, diverse, community.

The legal requirements for incorporated organizations in Washington can be seen as a major cause of the traditional model’s tension with community because boards are legal required to act in the interest of the organization.

At a high-level, there was a lot of overlap between the conclusions of this session and the opening keynote: Expectations and clear responsibilities are so important! Sometimes that just involves a relationship of two people, but other times it’s an entire organization.

“Nice Racism”: Pitfalls to Look Out for as You Continue Your DEI Journey

Mikala Lain of Alexander Hamilton Scholars and Cassie Whitebread of Healing Equity United

This meeting started with some good expectations. I always enjoying seeing how people approach these and the small differences in phrasing. I posted a similar slide from NTC last month which is interesting to compare (in the “Co-Creating Collaboration Agreements (That Center Equity)” session).

Expectations slide with list of 11 items. Be your own boo. Create space, accept space. We're not here to play the Oppression Olympics. We're discussing white supremacy as an ideology. Prioritize Black, Indigenous, and People of Color voices in discussions. Say it messy! & Assume good intent, but name impact.

“Nice Racism” was a term coined by Robin DiAngelo*, the author of White Fragility.

Nice racism results in personal complacency toward anti-racist efforts while upholding material consequences. We won’t work toward systemic change if we don’t even recognize, much less acknowledge, that we play a role, one way or the other.

Robin DiAngelo in Nice Racism

* An important point from the presenters: Robin DiAngelo is not without her critics. She is a white woman who has earned lots of money from publishing ideas that have often been developed by people of color. She’s also been criticized as focusing on interpersonal racism at the expense of discussing structural issues. She has an accountability statement on her website.

The presenters tied the idea of “nice racism” to classic criticisms of white liberals by Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin, the “Seattle freeze”, and microagressions. They asked people in the room to respond to the question “What do you think nice racism looks/sounds like” and people gave tons of great examples. Here were some that jumped out at me:

  • “I’m not racist, but…”
  • Avoiding conflict
  • Calling people “well-spoken” and “articulate”
  • Deflecting call-ins and call-outs
  • Soliciting feedback from people of color but not incorporating it into final decisions
  • Words without action
  • Lack of “fit” as a reason for excluding a person

For people not familiar with “calling out” vs. “calling in”:

Calling Out

  • Interrupting bias immediately
  • Does not engage the other person in a dialogue & sometimes involves risk (especially for folx of BIPOC identity or other oppressed/marginalized identity)
  • Common strategy for calling attention to actions by high—profile individuals, institutions, etc. that cause significant harm
  • Might happen in the moment (in person, over Zoom, etc.)
  • Often occurs on social media platforms (tied into cancel culture)

Calling In

  • Said without judgment, shaming or attacking
  • Requires an increased level of vulnerability and bravery
  • When you have capacity/desire to build a long-lasting trusted interpersonal relationship
  • Uses the framework: “When you do [describe behavior], I feel and the reason I feel this is because… [describe what’s going on for you
    based on an experience you’ve had in the past]
  • Ground your reasoning in impact—what is the impact of that behavior on YOU?

Some examples of “Nice Racism” from the book Nice Racism:

  • Expecting BIPOC people to be interested in and skilled at doing any work related to race
  • Being involved in your workplace equity team without continually working on your own racism
  • Blocking racial justice efforts by continually raising a concern that your organization is “not ready” and needs to “go slow” to protect white people’s delicate racial sensibilities

So how do you get rid of nice racism?

Slide screenshot: As a team, take time to foster brave spaces for normalized feedback & authentic relationship building.
  • Commitment to self-awareness & self-accountability
  • Community intention of continuous learning
  • Open & regular acknowledgement of power dynamics
  • Consideration of the whole person on a day to day basis

We can’t dismantle white supremacy culture and nice racism without feedback! This is something I’m very interested in increasing in my own consulting work.

Awesome Tool Alert!

A couple months ago, I saw someone mention Windows PowerToys for its built-in color eye dropper (a tool to select any color on your screen). PowerToys has a number of small little tools including another great one that can keep your computer awake on a schedule or indefinitely. But my absolutely favorite new tool is the “Text Extractor”. The tool lets you highlight text in images and then puts the real text on your clipboard! It’s amazing for extracting real text out of Zoom slides or infographics.

Remember that it’s better always better to use real text rather than images. But when other people do it, the Text Extractor can help you copy the text.

6 Smart Strategies for a World-Class Website

Ricardo Ibarra, Market Your Mission

It’s always interesting to see a colleague present about the work that I do, so I went to Ricardo’s presentation to learn about someone else’s approach! I appreciated a lot of the tips he shared, and also had some thoughts and ideas that I wanted to share in response. I’ll clearly call out the ideas that are mine.

To start the presentation, he asked a great question: From looking at the first screen of your home page, could a 5th grader tell you what your organization does? Way too many organizations use the top of their home page to promote an event or news item that only makes sense to the most committed followers. The home page should be the welcome mat for your organization. Use the first screen of your home page to welcome new people and set the tone. Only then, will people know enough about your work to engage.

The 6 Strategies

  1. Your website tells an exciting story

We make decisions based on emotion and justify with facts later. Nonprofits need to overcome the “risk” people feel in giving time or money.

Ricardo recommends doing storytelling using a framework of the hero’s journey by centering the donor or volunteer as the “The Hero” of their own story. Then your organization becomes “The Guide.” Finally, “The Plan” is a set of clear steps that outlines how a person can become involved and the benefits to themselves. This is definitely a strategy that I see many nonprofits use, especially sites that are primarily targeted at donors, and I know that it can be very effective in raising money and generating engagement for organizations.

My thoughts: In the spirit of offering constructive feedback, my first reaction to this suggestion is that it’s in tension with a lot of the values and principles of Community-Centric Fundraising—”We treat donors as partners, and this means that we are transparent, and occasionally have difficult conversations”—and there are significant risks to centering donors’ interests and emotions. Obviously, a successful nonprofit needs to motivate their community to support their work and achieve their mission. The big question is: can we cater a donor’s emotions while also addressing the root causes of social problems in which they may be complicit? For example, many rich people give a small percentage of their income to charity while benefiting from massive tax cuts and expensive accountants that creatively work around the tax code. Especially in areas like poverty and hunger, we could make a much bigger difference in society by funding social programs with increased tax revenue rather a patchwork system of under-funded nonprofits. To be clear: those nonprofits are absolutely needed right now and do good work. The big question is how can we feed hungry people now and end hunger in the future. Can you tell a story about a heroic donor and also call them in to fix the systemic problems?

One thing I really loved about Ricardo’s presentation was focusing people on clearly describing what they do and implementing those changes in bite-sized steps! “Set aside time each week to review one or two pages of your site to ensure you’re positioning your organization as the guide rather than the hero.” Finding ways to constantly make small improvements to your site—whether those improvements are accessibility, design, new features, or removing information and features(!!!)—is possibly the #1 thing you can do for a successful website.

  1. Your website is organized and easy to use

Ricardo next talked about organizing your website and suggested using a combination of people (audiences) and programs. Ricardo and I both love doing card sorts to help figure out a site’s “information architecture” and someone in the chat shared the excellent Nielsen Norman Group’s article on card sorting.

My thoughts: When doing card sorts, remember that staff are rarely the primary website audience and so their “logical” way of organizing a site is usually not representative of external audiences. I would add a warning that your website navigation should never match your org chart and using “audience-based navigation” doesn’t always work either.

  1. Your website delights with consistent content

This is such a good point! As it came out in the chat, many people are putting lots of effort into social media while not posting on their websites. Posting consistent, bite-size content that tells the story of the impact of your work is an effective means of engaging supporters and is great for SEO too!

Posting news to the website is a huge missed opportunity and I recommend people flip the formula and post on their website first before amplifying their content reach with email and social.

  1. Analytics

Google Analytics can help people get a sense of where traffic comes from and what type of response new content

  1. Your website builds your email list

Bold claim (with context 😉): “Nobody wants your newsletter.”

Instead, write emails as if writing to a friend. Based on studies he’s done, he found that very few people reach even the 2nd section of an email newsletter. So focus your emails down to one idea per message and send those consistently.

  1. Your website is well-designed and appealing

Maybe my favorite point of the presentation: Design is important but should be one of the last things you work on. Design is a tool to support your audience engage with your content.

And that was Day 1 of the 2023 Washington State Nonprofit Conference. Tomorrow I’ll primarily be participating in an online “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) Q&A in the conference app. I’m excited to hear the questions people bring and provide as much good free guidance as I can. I’ve been running a poll in the conference app for anyone viewing my session, and I’ll be excited to share the results tomorrow!

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