Episode 82: Budgets are essentially plans, in numbers – Strategic planning for nonprofits with Carol Hamilton

When you think of strategic planning, what comes to mind?

Hours locked away in a conference room, working through scenarios and exercises that, in the end, will produce a document that feels ok at the time, but you know will rarely see the light of day once the session is complete? Or a valuable exercise that aligns your team, creates thrust for your organization, and builds an actionable plan to keep you on track for the short- and longer-term?

There is often fear associated with strategic planning — a fear in investing time, energy, and money in an exercise that, for many, doesn’t seem like it produces a great ROI and isn’t helping you engage your stakeholders.  

But here’s the deal…  When done well, strategic planning is an invaluable tool for any nonprofit (in fact, organizations of all types) to help them reach their goals. Strategic planning aligns visions with budgets, builds an action plan, and helps reorient your mission around your stakeholders and their needs. 

My guest today is Carol Hamilton, the Principal at Grace Social Sector Consulting. She is absolutely great and her and her organization has a lot of invaluable tools and resources to keep nonprofits on track and help them weather the inevitable transitions every nonprofit experiences during its lifespan. 

Our conversation centered around how to build a great plan that helps you avoid falling into traps and what you can do to quickly get out of a trap if you do get caught in one. 

I think the best quote from the conversation was that “budgets are essentially a plan in numbers.” 

There is a lot of invaluable information on this episode and I hope you enjoy it. 

Here we go. 

Grace Social Sector Consulting

Mission Impact

Have conversations with your decision-makers and identify what criteria they deem good. Use these as a screen for important decisions, to get to good enough instead of perfect. 

Listen to the podcast here:

Carol Hamilton: For, you know, the, the budget and the finance, like how are we going to pay for all these things we want to do is that people forget that a budget is essentially a plan in numbers. You know, and so take your strategic plan, your big goals, what are the numbers that are gonna need, you know, you’re going to need to support that.

And so that may inform part of your implementation, right? Like we know that we have this initiative that we really want to go after, but we know that the first step is that we have to get funding for it. So you know, that can inform, you know, your timeline in terms of what, what action steps need to be taken.

Are you looking for ways to shorten your marketing, learning curve and help your organization survive? Welcome to relish this, the purpose marketing podcast, a show for purpose focused leaders who want to use marketing techniques to fuel their organization’s growth. If you’re a returning listener and you haven’t subscribed already, we’d love to have you also please consider leaving a review wherever you listen to podcasts.

Now here’s your host, author and marketing specialist. Stew swine Ford.

Stu Swineford: Hey, everybody’s due here. Every nonprofit is a plan and sometimes you just need a little help creating that plan. But really if we are embarking on a journey with no real understanding of where we’re going, it’s going to be a real challenge to get there.

And that’s what my guest today Carol Hamilton does is she helps nonprofits with strategic planning, leadership, transitions, et cetera. She is the principle of grace social sector consulting. Carol is super awesome. She has a lot of really great processes that she can help nonprofits deploy in order to make sure that they stay on track as well as help them during those transition events that are really going to happen for every nonprofit.

She has just a great. Capacity for understanding how people tend to fall into, into traps and how to get them out of those traps and our conversation today was great. We really talked about all sorts of things. One of the best quotes you may have already heard is a budget is essentially a plan in numbers.

I really think that there’s a lot of fantastic information for any nonprofits. To glean from our episode today and hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did. Here we go,

Carol Hamilton: Carol,

Stu Swineford: how are

Carol Hamilton: you today? Good. It’s good to be on the podcast.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much for joining us on the relish this today. I’m very excited to talk with you about all of the good work that you’re doing over at grace, grace, social sector consulting. I know you work with the non-pro. Space and, you know, in helping them with strategic planning and leadership transitions and all of those great things.

So I’m so excited to hear all about

Carol Hamilton: it. Thank you so much,

Stu Swineford: bill. Tell us a bit about how you got into the nonprofit space, how, how you landed in this zone.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. Actually relatively early in my career. I, my very first job out of college, I worked for a small company that actually helped people get on talk shows.

And those were radio talk shows back in the day. And I’m sure they’d say still do and TV talk shows, but You know, being a private company, they, they took all comers. And so I was helping, you know, helping publicize a whole range of ideas and perspectives. And some of them I definitely could get behind and some of them, I was like, nah, I’m not so sure about this.

So, so yeah, just having kind of learned that, that, that was something that I was, I was pretty good at it just in terms of writing and. And managing kind of publications and stuff. I said, let me go do this for, for people and causes that I believe in. And so that’s how I got my start in the, in the nonprofit sector.

It also coincided with me moving back to Washington, DC, where I’m from. So this is kind of nonprofit central with, with, you know, Many many local organizations, of course, in the region, but also of many national organizations that have their headquarters here. And so most of the organizations that I worked for over the course of my career before I went on, out on my own, in terms of consulting were at the national level and they, they were national.

It was the national headquarters of, of those organizations.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, DC is definitely the hotspot in terms of, of getting in front of those kinds of organizations. Yeah. And it it’s, I would have to echo your, your thoughts there. We it’s, it’s really interesting how. When you have great people to work with and for how easy it is to get out of bed to do that work every day.

Carol Hamilton: Oh yeah, for sure. So I started out doing, you know, a little bit more actually of, of the kind of work that you do. And. And I, you know, I was probably one of those folks that you would help out because it was, I just fell into marketing. I didn’t really know much about it. And so I had to kind of teach myself, but over time, I, I just became more and more interested in you know How people were working together and how we can be more effective in terms of moving the mission forward and, and all the things that make organizations work so that drew me to kind of move over to the organization development and strategy side of things and, and, you know, kind of first step towards that was moving into professional development and training and learning.

And then, and then into consulting. So.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, that’s great. So what’s your process? How do you, how do you start working with a new nonprofit to help them with their strategy?

Carol Hamilton: Yeah, so, I mean, oftentimes I, you know, I’m, when, when I’m starting out with a group we’re working with a smaller group of people.

It’s oftentimes the edge, the, the executive director, the board chair. So first, the first step that I really have them take. Is to just put together a strategic planning committee usually, or a task force. And again, that, that is usually a pretty small group. But that’s not the group that ends up doing the planning and that I think people get confused about that.

They think that we set up a strategic planning committee and we kind of hand it off to them to do the plan well. And when I’m working with. There, that group is really there to shepherd the process and help me and help the plan move forward to keep kind of keep the, everything moving forward and make some key decisions along the way.

But then you know, the next step is for him to work with that group, to have them think about their ecosystem, you know, who were those key stakeholders that they need to talk to, to talk, to get input from. And then You know, oftentimes, you know, having conversations with those folks, whether it’s through interviews, through a set of focus groups I might be, you know, working with them to design a survey of different constituent groups to get input.

And all of that kind of creates a baseline for those planning conversations where I can then send, take all that information that I’ve heard from so many different people. And You know, come together with a, it’s really just like a snapshot of where the organization is at that moment. So, you know, what are their strengths?

What are their opportunities? What do people see for them in the future? And. I present that as at the beginning of any kind of planning session, which was, is usually with a larger group of people. It could be the entire board and staff, depending on the size of the organization. It might be a subset of, of staff.

But I really encourage groups to have You know, have as many people as possible be part of those planning conversations, because just because the more that people are in the conversation, the more they recognize themselves in the final plan and the final decisions that get made and the more, you know, more committed they are to actually make those happen.

And I think that’s one of the things that, that trips organizations up is that they. They’re like, wow. That’s like, it could be really unwieldy in terms of, you know, how many people are involved. And so how do we, how do we slim that down and kind of make it more manageable and it might feel more manageable.

But you know, what they lose out is is that, that the buy-in that they’re building through everyone being involved.

Stu Swineford: Gotcha. So you try and to bring on as many stakeholders as possible within the organization to just make sure that everybody is, is tracking and isn’t on the same, you’re in the same boat and kind of rowing the same direction, at least as you’re, as you’re helping them develop that.

That action plan.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. And so oftentimes the, the external stakeholders, won’t be a part of that planning meeting. You know, that’ll be more internally focused board and staff. But through that process of those conversations, those focus groups, those surveys, you’re getting input from a whole, you know, from a broader perspective from not just inside the organization, but outside as well.

And that can really help inform you know, How people realize how different people perceive the organization and kind of what they see as their strengths and their core competencies, that

Stu Swineford: kind of right, right. That’s, that’s just really cool way to, to make sure that you have, buy-in kind of throughout the process and it’s not, you’re surprising a bunch of people at the end with, well, here’s what we figured out and away you go.

It just sounds like it really creates buy-in throughout.

Carol Hamilton: Well, yeah. And that’s, that’s the, that’s the the purpose and the, the design. Yeah, because I’ve seen too many organizations where they, you know, I think, you know, in a, in, in a more traditional model and, and old, you know, kind of old, older thinking about governance, there was a very, very bright line between the board is all about strategy.

The staff is about implementation, but the truth is. You know, the board brings a variety of perspectives, but the staffs are the people who are doing the things they today. And so you really need both of them in the conversation. And, and so, you know, if, if you just have the board create the strategy without any meaningful engagement of staff, and then it’s kind of handed down to staff, I’m sure people will do, you know, it’s their job, they’ll do it, but they, they may not have the same commitment that it, that if they’d been in the conversation, you know, the.

Decisions and goals might end up being created, but just having been part of the conversation, seeing how the conversation kind of emerges how those decisions get made. I think you know, Folks just naturally are, are more ready to say, okay, let’s get to work and make this happen. Cause I think the big fear that, you know, one of the big fears that people have when they do strategic planning is that, you know, it’ll just be something that gets left on the shelf.

It doesn’t, we’ve spent a lot of time and energy doing something and we didn’t end up actually following the plan or doing much with it. And I think the more that it’s kind of top down and. And there are only a few people involved. The more you increase the likelihood, unfortunately, of that happening,

Stu Swineford: right.

Of having taken all this time and energy and investment and just have it be something that, a box that you ticked as opposed to something that you actually execute, execute upon. What are some of the other pitfalls that, that people can, can avoid if they, if they’re aware of them and and, and, and ready to ready to move beyond those challenges?

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. So when I, when I’m working with groups and I, you know, take them through those and, and, you know, nowadays we’re doing them all online. So it’s a, it’s a series of sessions instead of like a day long retreat or a day and a half retreat, which I’m, I’m really seeing. Kind of valuable, and we can talk about that in a little bit, but just in terms of those pitfalls, you know, once you end up with those big goals, okay, we’ve got, you know, our three, three, no more than five big, big goals that we’re going to be pursuing over the next couple of years.

You know, we’ve identified action steps. We’ve identified a success criteria. I think Groups can, can trip themselves up when they, when they try to get too tied up in the details. I really encourage groups to just focus on that bigger picture plan for that longer time period, three to five years, and then to take that and to say, okay, This is our year one implementation plan.

And that’s where you really get down into the nitty gritty of, you know, the smart goals. If we’re going to do this by X time and so-and-so’s responsible for it, et cetera. And coupled with that to have a a review process. Okay, we’re going to check in with this at six months, you know, a year, see how we’re doing it.

Also see, not just progress, but like maybe we need to make some tweaks. So I think when groups can get caught up in trying to decide, who’s going to do what in year three. And I feel like that’s just a waste of time and energy. Like you don’t know what’s going to be into, who’s going to be there, how far you will have gotten any of those things.

So. For the operationalizing of the plan for that implementation plan, just do it in, in at most one year chunks and, and really get into the details there. You know, so I think that that all. Mitigates another pitfall, which is, you know, to have that kind of big plan that then doesn’t get operationalized that, that doesn’t somehow is, you know, it’s kind of over in some other category doesn’t fit into how you do your regular planning, how you do your budgeting, how you do your staffing for forecasting.

So making sure that there’s a connection between those two things. And, and, you know, build in have figuring a way to Bring the strategic plan into all of those regular parts of your operation so that you really do operationalize it. So those are a couple I think that are, that are key, you know, making sure you have the right people in, you know, the a large group of people involved in different ways at the beginning.

Not trying to decide exactly what you’re doing in year three and then, you know failing to operationalize the. Those are a couple of biggies. Yeah. It sounds

Stu Swineford: like there’s sort of a standardization component that, that is required to make sure that you have success where you’ve, you’ve created processes.

And those are kind of normalized, I guess, within, within the organization. As opposed to trying to, to change everything at once. Is that, is that what I’m hearing a little bit,

Carol Hamilton: right. Or making sure that you’re linking the two so that your, your strategy and then those operational things are connected.

So I think one of the things, you know most I, I was actually talking to a finance person on my podcast last week. You know, I think one of the big disconnects for, you know, the, the budget and the finance, like how, how are we going to pay for all these things we want to do is that people forget that a budget is essentially a plan in numbers, you know?

And so. Take your strategic plan, your big goals, what are the numbers that are going to need? You’re going to need to support that. And so that may inform part of your implementation, right? Like we know that we have this initiative that we really want to go after, but we know that the first step is that we have to get funding for it.

So you know, that can inform, you know, your timeline in terms of what, what action steps need to be taken.

Stu Swineford: Yeah. That’s a really interesting way to think about it. In terms of like all of the, all of the planning that you put together is just another, another way to look at how to execute on that. So when you have a budget, that’s just essentially you know, a way to.

At the plan and where, where you see bigger numbers, that may be where there is additional effort or, or additional. You know, stuff that needs to be done in order to get that completed. I like that that kind of shifted in mentality because I think people kind of look at numbers or they look at these things as, as not part of you know, the overall.

Methodology to, to how, how we’re going to get from point a to

Carol Hamilton: point B. Right. And I mean, you know, for most nonprofit organizations their biggest line item is their people, you know, all the, the, the investment that they’re making in people. So that may be one big lump number, but it’s going to represent a whole bunch of different activities or programs that the organization is pursuing.

And so You know, helping people understand the connection between those two and, you know, again, in, in strategic planning, like we wanna, we want to start this new program or we see this new opportunity, you know, ultimately in that implementation plan. What what’s going to be needed in terms of staffing to support that.

Where are you in terms of capacity? I mean, I think another, another pitfall is when you know, the, the plan is just all pie in the sky. It doesn’t at all recognize what’s already on people’s plates. And just thinks that you’re going to pile more and more on top. And most, most folks are pretty maxed out.

We certainly know over the last couple of years, there’s just been so much talk about burnout in the sector. And so one thing that, that, that unfortunately, organizations. Aren’t as good at is, is through that process, deciding what they’re not going to do or what they’re not going to do anymore to make room for something new.

If it’s not just, we’re going to, we’re going to find new staff to do this new thing, right?

Stu Swineford: Yeah. That’s a, that’s actually a good point in terms of planning is also taking a look at all of the things that we’re going to stop doing. I actually just went through my one-year plan. I try and do that on a, on a weekly basis is take a look at how I’m, what I, what I thought I was going to do starting the first of the year.

And one of the sections that that has been pretty effective for me is, you know, what are you going to continue to do? And what are you going to stop? Yeah.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. One of the exercises I love doing with people is that then I’m borrowing it from someone else. And I don’t know who, who, who designed you created it, but the stop start continue, right?

Like what do we want to continue doing? When do we want to start doing and what do we want to stop doing? And yeah oftentimes if that’s a real issue like that may come up in the, in that first part where you know, when I’m talking to everyone and they’re like, we have no. Space to think strategically because we are so overloaded.

And so it might be that at that point with, with that kind of information about where the organization is that they need to do something different than a strategic plan, right? It may, they might need to do something that I call a strategic portfolio review, where they actually look at everything they’re doing.

Come up with some criteria of, you know well, th there’s some criteria that you can really measure, like what’s its impact. And then also look at the financial impact of each of those activities. And there’s a way to kind of map it out of, you know, the things and, you know, the, the classic consultant to axis you know, matrix thing where you’ve got in one corner, you’ve got your, your things.

Really mission aligned. And they also are positive in terms of financial impact on the organization. And then to the opposite of those things that. You know, are not that mission aligned and actually are costing the organization money. And they may be things that, that were in the past. Things that really you know, were really relevant a couple years ago, but just aren’t as relevant or not as many people are coming.

And so, you know, if it’s a fee for service kind of thing, attendance has dropped. And so. Now costing the organization money. And then even the things that you know, are, are designed as fundraisers. Are they actually making money for your organization? And I’m not a fundraising person. So just that caveat, but you can take a look to say, Two things like how can you make your gala or whatever kind of event you might have that many organizations have?

How can you pull that more closely into your mission and, and really educate, use it as an opportunity to educate people about what you’re doing and get them excited about your mission and also, you know, how can you manage costs? So that you’re really actually, you know, It actually is a fundraiser just to break even, or a great shower, a nice event.

So yeah, so that’s a process that really helps groups look at what they’ve got going on right now and help them make some decisions about what they might like let go of and what they want to invest more in and grow. Because it’s the thing that’s really both. Clearly aligned to mission, but also healthy in terms of a financial sustainability point.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, absolutely. And really looking at both the kind of direct and indirect benefits of those types of events. I know galas

Carol Hamilton: indirect costs of those events. I think that’s so easy for people to think about. You know, this is in the before times when events were, you were dealing with food and napkins and catering and locations and all of that.

But people are very. Good at keeping track of all those direct costs, but they forget to do any kind of S or can forget to really take a look at how much time, how much, you know, time and energy is this taking from staff from volunteers. And is it, is there, is there a balance between those?

Stu Swineford: Yeah. And not just the, the big number that comes in at the end of the night which is always exciting.

But just making sure that that big number is also You know, not only profitable on a nightly component or standards standpoint, but also looking at, at the excitement that’s generated and, and trying to measure that as well, because there’s certainly that kind of long-term, you know, somewhat intangible that that, that is a benefit.

I do know that people get pretty excited about. In-person gala events and things of that nature. And they certainly are a lot of fun, but just making sure that we’re looking at all of the, all of the pieces of that puzzle.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think that kind of processes. Well, again, I’m not a fundraising person, but like, you know, golf tournaments used to be super popular.

Right. And, and as a fundraiser and certainly it can be a fun event, but when you look at how is this aligned with our mission for most organization, there’s not going to be much alignment. So, you know, how can you create your events in a way that, that also support moving the mission

Stu Swineford: forward?

Yeah, absolutely. You creating alignment in all of this aspects. And we talk a lot about. You know, partnership alignment as well. And it’s like, you know, non-profits a lot of times have, have people coming in offering you know, kind of sponsorship money or sort of talking about partnership opportunities and, you know, those have the, the.

Positive effect when they hit on a variety of different levels. So when you do get you know, an infusion of cash, that’s amazing. But when that infusion of cash can also be tied to you know, some kind of mission alignment piece where it’s not just a company coming in trying to greenwash something or, or, you know, take care of a PR problem.

But, but making sure that things are. Are aligned that the audiences are aligned, then you get the most benefit out of those, out of those engagements in those you know, those, those true partnership opportunities. They’re not just a sponsorship. It’s a two way, two way street. That’s when those things really start to shine.

Carol Hamilton: Oh yeah. Yeah. And you know, just to be also, you know, cognizant of. What yeah. What else is the organ that is that potential partner doing? And, and, you know, are they, are they helping or hindering our mission if they’re working against your mission and yet they’re giving you money, that’s really not going to not going to help you that much in the long-term, even though will help you in the short.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, for sure. It’s it’s something to just keep in, in in the back of one’s mind when they’re, when, when you’re starting to have those conversations and really get into the, into the details. Yeah, just making sure that there’s there’s good, solid alignment. There is certainly something to consider.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. And I actually, one of the things that I like to make sure that, that client, that the groups that I work with also have when, when we’re, when we’re done, you know, not only a plan, but something I call a strategy screen. I didn’t actually call it sad. It was dubbed by LaPiana consulting and I borrowed, borrowed their methodology, but it’s basically a way to again, it’s, it’s kind of separating setting the criteria, setting how you’re going to make a decision from the decision itself.

So You know, having the group brainstorm, what are all the criteria that they would want to use to make a decision about some kind of strategic thing that pops up as an opportunity or as a challenge, because inevitably as soon as you’re done with a, with a plan, something else is going to pop up, right?

If in the last few years, haven’t, haven’t taught that, that us, that I don’t, I don’t know what will and. So this, this will be things like, you know, alignment with our mission you know, impact on reputation, our brand moving our advocacy agenda forward. Let’s say, I mean, it just depends. It’s going to depend on the, the organization what exactly those those criteria are.

And then creating essentially like a rubric of, yeah. One to four. One is it, there’s no alignment at all four. There’s like the most alignment you could possibly happen and, and kind of qualifying each of those criteria. But then by having that tool, something like that partnership opportunity that you’re talking about you might have someone who’s super enthusiastic on your board.

Who’s bringing it forward. Who, who, you know, Built on a relationship that they have. And so without that tool, it becomes about that, right? It becomes about that. Person’s enthusiasm, their relationships, all the things that they see as benefits and being able to have a tool that you’ve already built before you’re having that conversation helps.

Helps have a more consistent process, but also helps kind of depersonalize it and, and, you know, okay. These are just the things that we use to be able to make that decision. So it mitigates a little bit that, that tendency of groups to, you know, follow the most eloquent person, the most persuasive, the most, you know, the most influential and, and lets them have a little bit more of a An even handed conversation, if you will, about the pros and cons of an, of any kind of opportunity or challenge that pops up.

Yeah. I think

Stu Swineford: that’s great. I, you know, creating opportunities to just slow things down a little bit and be more thoughtful. You know, it’s something I’ve been working on quite a bit, personally. I, I tend to suffer from that shiny squirrel syndrome. Challenge myself. And so I think having a system and a process in place to address those, to address those items, as they arise, give yourself the opportunity to act quickly on, on things that are very, you know, that, that do pass that initial test.

You know, so have some flexibility because there may be things that, you know, that either happen or, or opportunities that do come. Across one’s path on which you want to be able to be. You know, flexible and, and able to move quickly. However, if everything it falls into that category then all of a sudden, you know, you don’t have a plan anymore.

You’re just reacting. So I think that’s great. What are some of the other tools I know non-profits, everybody gets really excited about tools. What are some of the other tools that you have developed or, or found over the years that that. You see, as a huge benefit for kind of this strategy process.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. So well I think the, the strategic plan itself and, and, and having the discipline to have it be a couple pages, not a tome is, is important because I think again, you know, the. Planning process. When people, when you say strategic planning and people start to groan, I think it’s mostly because they’ve been in processes where they’ve ended up with something like that.

And you know, It’s so big and complicated that no one ever looks at it again. So just keeping the plan pretty high level. But also like decide to defining what you think are your, what defining how you’re going to measure success. And that could be literally in terms of metrics and measurement, that could be progress.

Like, how are you going to know that you’ve succeeded or made progress on this particular goal or these particular actions? So it’s part of in how you structure the plan and then the process more than a tool that you use to to continue to come back to it, see where we are, see what needs to be adjusted.

You know, cause I think the other thing that, that people kind of get caught up in is like, well, this is our plan and we can’t change it. Well, no, I mean, It was a plan made at a particular time with a particular group of people. And you know, hopefully it’s in a word document or a Google doc. Like you can edit it.

It, you know, it can change again, not to not to be changing every minute, because then you’re just, you know, you’re all over the place and, and nobody knows what’s going on. But not to get stuck in this idea that it’s unchangeable The we’ve talked about. The strategic portfolio reviews are really taking a look at all the things organization is doing at that time and what value they’re bringing and what might you know, need to be let go of, or, and that can go happen in a couple of different ways.

Cause I think that’s the hardest thing really is for. It’s so hard for groups to stop doing something that they’ve always done. But you know, it could be that there’s another group that could take over a program. That’s that’s that they’re more well positioned for that and, and connecting with the community that you no longer do or something, or, you know, it could more from it’s the original intent.

Programmer thing was to be a fundraising event and it doesn’t, it’s not actually raising money anymore, but there does, but it does bring value to important, important constituency. So how can you change it so that you meet the need for that, those important constituents, without assuming that it’s. Raise money for you.

Like, so what, how could you change it to lower costs and, but still really be important to those folks? So there, you know, it’s, sometimes it’s just saying, no, we’re not going to do this anymore. And sometimes it’s, it’s thinking about those things in a different way. And then the, the, the strategy screen I think is super helpful.

So those are a couple of things that you know, I’d like to work with groups on to help them build them. And then I think, you know, another one is mapping your impact. So, you know, sometimes people will call this a theory of change. But and, and. They can be very sophisticated. They can all be also be relatively simple of just, you know, what’s our end goal.

What are we trying to do? And then what are the steps that are going to take, take to get there and mapping out what you’re currently doing and asking the question? You know, what are all the assumptions that we have about, you know, what we’re doing? So a lot of times let’s, let’s make this more realistic.

Let’s say an environmental group. Oftentimes they’ll be, they’ll have some component of environmental education and oftentimes they’re doing that with youth and their ultimate mission is to have those people become advocates for the. But there are a lot of steps from having people go and it could be a recreation thing, go kayak on the river, or do a cleanup on, you know, earth day or whatnot to them actually.

You know, writing a letter to their, their representative around some advocacy issue. By mapping out that impact. You can question whether, whether the actions you’re taking are actually ending up with a result that you’re hoping for. And if not, what can you put in between to really help people move from that cleanup to, to that advocacy role?

And what else do they, what else, what other supports do they need to kind of help them move along along that path?

Stu Swineford: Right. So you’re making assumptions that somebody that you take out on the river is going to eventually write a letter or donate or whatever the thing is that you want them to do, but really making sure that all of the, all of the steps are, are aligned to toward that goal where you, you know, you’re taking those actions along the way too, to make sure that they’re there.

You have taking those steps that they’re actually you know, moving down that path.

Carol Hamilton: Yeah. And it’s likely going to be a subset of those folks. Right. But you could, but it might be, you know, thinking about that, that recreation event. And if you’re only thinking of it as a recreation event, then you know, first you’re giving everyone the safety’s talk at the beginning, but what ways are there for you to start?

You know, actually educating people and raising their awareness about the issues and about how they might actually be able to affect change. Yeah.

Stu Swineford: Are you letting people just leave at the end of the day or, or a final kind of wrap-up where you, where you say, Hey, you know, we’d also like you to take this action or, or, you know, come back to participate on another project or whatever the thing is, right.

Yeah, just making sure you have that process in place.

Carol Hamilton: Right. I’m thinking kind of thinking it through. Yeah. Because I think for people who are in it, that next step is really obvious, but for people that you’re just introducing, it’s not.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, for sure. So what are some of the things that I know that you work with with kind of.

You know, when, when there’s a leadership change at a nonprofit, I know that that’s something else that you help with. What are, what are some of the things that you would recommend nonprofits keep in mind as they are going through a leadership leadership

Carol Hamilton: change? I think again, you know, in that process, you’re going to go through a similar what, what, what, when you’re doing it well.

And, and, you know, ideally working with either a consultant with a search firm, whoever you’re working with to kind of support that process is it you’re taking that time to do, do an assessment of where the organization is? So that’s kind of the first step of a strategic plan, but it’s also helpful really important when you’re, when you’re going through that leadership transition.

Usually when I’m doing that with groups, the time-frame is a little shorter. I’m actually, they may the, the, the leaving executive director. You know, sometimes will come to me wanting to do a strategic plan and then happened to mention, oh, but I’m retiring in a year and I’ll say, well, actually let’s back that up.

Let’s do an organizational assessment. Let’s yes, you want to leave a plan on a solid foundation for the new person, but you also want to leave, you know, let them then. Embark on a strategic planning process, you know, once there have kind of a solid footing so that it’s, it’s, it’s their plan and not yours.

So oftentimes you’re planning out maybe a year, a year and a half, just so you, you know, you have the first six months of the new person kind of mapped out depending on, on what’s found in that organizational assessment, it may make sense for a group to have an interim executive director come in.

And help clean up some if there’s, if there are problems if the person leaves suddenly you know, that may, might, may help not feel have everyone feel the urgency of, oh my God, we just got to have to get a body in there. That’s always a bad place to be when you’re hiring to help the, the board go through a process so that they really think about what do they need next?

You know, what have they really appreciated about the current executive director, but what do they need in their next phase? And depending on, you know, there are different kinds of transitions. You know, one that I worked with recently, they, the person was particularly beloved and had been there for quite a while.

So she really had an imprint on. The organizational culture, the expectations around board and there, you know, how they work together, her particular leadership styles. So part of the work with that board was just helping them recognize that that is one leadership style and the next person will probably have a different one and, and just kind of be mentally and emotionally, ready to accept a different way of interacting with a new executive.

So I think helping people just realize that there are a lot of emotions that go through transitions. I think, you know, when we think certainly in our culture, we’ve, we’d like to pretend that we leave our emotions at the door at work, and of course that’s not true. And, and so just letting normalizing that.

You know, transitions, there’s some anxiety, there’s some fear. There may be some, there’s probably some excitement. It’s all there. It’s one day it’s like fear and dread and the next day is excitement. You just don’t know where you’re going to be on that roller-coaster. Right. So yeah, so those are some of the things, I mean, groups can get started on succession planning.

I think it’s one of those things that’s hard to prioritize because you. But very important. It’s one of those important, but not urgent or for most groups. But you know, even, especially with long-term founders or long-term executive directors, you know, just remembering, you know, they’re not going to be with the organization.

Forever. Nobody is. And so how can you start preparing, setting up processes? So, you know, so the, you know, you know what the steps are going to be when that, when you need to start working on it. And. You know how can you start cultivating leadership within your organization? So you know, so things are not all on one person starting to do some cross training.

What documentation do you have? Do you have any of your systems documented or is all the information in this person’s head? You know, those kinds of things. We actually did this in our family. My, my brother’s developmentally disabled. And we realized as siblings that we are gonna, we’re going to have to take over, right?

When, when when our parents could no longer handle everything. And of course they’ve been doing that for so long. And I feel like this is such a parallel to most, a lot of long-term executives. And we’re in that phase where so many long-term executives are now retiring and these, these leadership transitions are happening more and more.

And we actually, we, we, you know, the first instinct is like, well, just go ahead and write everything down so we can know it. Well, they didn’t even know where to start. You know, because they’ve been doing this for so long, it was so natural, so they’d forgotten half of it. So we actually split up all the areas that we needed to know about.

And luckily I have several siblings and my daughter helped out too. And we interviewed them about each of those. So I interviewed, I can’t remember. I think it was the health history, my other. One sister interviewed about the finances. Another one interviewed about the organization that supports him. So we kind of split up all the different categories and did these interviews to actually kind of get that knowledge download and it re it was amazing how well it worked.

Cause I just know that if we hadn’t done. There would have been so much knowledge that we’d lost you know, when they passed and you know, just for very practical thing, we needed to be able to take care of my brother. And so how do you take care of the organization and how do you help people do that kind of knowledge transfer?

It’s it’s it’s such a challenge, I think in organizations, especially when everyone’s moving so fast and got so much on that.

Stu Swineford: Well, and everything has to happen today. Right. You know, you start to feel like, well, I don’t have time to document because it’s going to take me twice as long to write it down than to just get it done.

But really making sure that you carve out a little bit of time. You know, every day or every week. And, and coming up with a plan for that, I think is, is part of the, part of the process.

Carol Hamilton: It’s part of that whole succession planning is how are you going to document.

Stu Swineford: Yeah. What are those buckets that people should be kind of considering?

Carol Hamilton: Well, I think one of them is actually getting a realistic kind of first, just starting with what does the executive director do and then taking a look at that. And I’m thinking about is, is this a sustainable. Or is this the job of several people, you know, because oftentimes, and or what are the things that the executive director is doing currently, that, that matches really well with their strengths and their interests, but isn’t a hundred per cent necessary for the next leader to do.

So it’s kind of again, decoupling, cause I mean, ideally when someone’s been in a role, it starts to, you know, it starts to. The organization finds a way to really magnify their strengths. And so they have them doing those things. Right. But it doesn’t mean that every person who’s ever in that role is going to need to do exactly the same things.

So really starting with that job description. Documenting what that person is doing. And this could be, you know, in terms of those interviews, like, well, what’s a day in the life. You know, what’s a, what’s a week in the life, which is more, more likely, right? Cause most, most folks their, their jobs are not the same every day to get a sense of what are all the different things that they’re doing.

And then just start to ask the question of is this absolutely necessary to be in this role? Right.

Stu Swineford: Right. Cause I bet there are a lot of activities. You know, all of us do on any given day that are not really very aligned with the role that we, that we serve for, for our

Carol Hamilton: organizations. Yeah. And I mean, a lot of times, especially in smaller organizations, you’ll find that everybody reports to the executive director is that necessary.

Are they a good manager? Do they have time to manage? Is that what you want them focused on or is it, would it be better for the organization to create a deputy or a COO role? A chief of staff role that that really is internally focused to allow the executive director to be much more externally focused.

So just starting to ask those questions of, you know I was working, I was talking to somebody and they, they, they described how they wrote all the grant applications. Well, it was a small organization, so, you know, somebody had to do it, but did it have to be the executive director? Probably not. So just, just looking at those things, I think that’s a great place to start.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, that’s great. I was involved with an organization last year that had an executive director transition and I think. That. I mean, there were a few things that, that I believe took, took everybody by surprise. And one was just how challenging it was to find you know, the right fit for, for the organization.

And so, you know, how long the actual search took? We just did not, I don’t think that we had any You don’t real strong understanding of how long it was going to take to actually get, get the right person to fill that position. And, and certainly having done a little planning prior to would be, would have been, I think,

Carol Hamilton: beneficial.

Yeah. And I think, oh, you know, especially for, for board search committees When it does take a lot longer than they expected. They’re, you know, they’re volunteers, they’re probably worn out by the end of that process. So another piece that gets lost is really planning for that on-boarding process for the new person.

How are they going to be supported? How are they going to get up to speed? How are they going to. Most importantly, really get connected to all of the important relationships for the organization. And as more and more organizations are really wanting to center equity in their, their search processes you know, Questioning, what is that right fit?

Like, does the person have to have been an executive director before? I mean, we know that the field has been very white dominated. Most, you know, most people in the executive director realm boards are often high percentage white. And so if you are. Prioritizing one and two recruits, a person of color.

They may not have had the opportunity to be an executive director before. So what are other roles that could, what, what are the, really the skills that you need for that role versus the titles and experience too? And then what are they walking into and what support are they going to have as they took artistic seed?

So that You know, I think a mistake that organizations can make is to think it’s just about the recruitment process and forget that their culture may not be supportive and maybe very white dominant in a way that they’re not cognizant of. So those are some other things that that groups need to be aware of as well.

Stu Swineford: Yeah, so many things. It’s good to have someone like you who has kind of walked through all of this more than once to help people, help people understand all of the pieces and help guide them in, in all of the, all of the challenges that, that every nonprofit is actually. Know either going through or we’ll probably go through at some point or another.

Carol Hamilton: Right, right. Yeah. So having that guide along the side, I think is very helpful. Yeah, for

Stu Swineford: sure. So I know you have a podcast. I know that you also have a website. What are, what are some ways that people can find you and follow you and learn more about how to, how to more effectively run their nonprofits?


Carol Hamilton: So the podcast that I host is called mission impact. You can find that. Pretty much any, any podcast hosting place, you go get listened to your podcast. So if you’re, you’re a podcast listener, which you are, if you’re listening to this conversation yeah. Find me at mission impact. Otherwise you can find me@gracesocialsector.com and love to hear from.

Stu Swineford: Well, thank you so much. I love having conversations and talking about things, but I also want to inspire action. One of my parts of my declaration is that I, I am unbridled action. And so helping people figure out what they can do after listening to a show is something that I’m really interested in.

If you had somebody take, you know, listen to the show and have some takeaways, what, what would you have them do? After listening to them,

Carol Hamilton: Yeah, I think the thing that I would have them do would be to have a conversation with whatever group is in charge of making important decisions for the organization.

Senior staff, staff board, and have that conversation about what are the key criteria that we need to think about when we’re thinking about a decision. I think that you can have a pretty short conversation and come up with a list and come up with a way to, to use that as a screen for your important decisions.

So I think that, and I think it’s also like what’s the next. Good action and not get so worried about worried about best and right. So that you can keep momentum, you know, keep moving forward.

Stu Swineford: I love it. That’s, that’s a really great way to reframe things. I think we all have a tendency to seek out.

Perfect. And at some point, at some point, you know, perfect is the enemy of done getting things to, to good enough is pretty important and then iterating. So, yeah. Thank you so much for being on the show today. I had such a good time talking with you, Carol, as always. And I look forward to hearing what’s next

Carol Hamilton: for you.

Well, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thanks for being on. All right, bye bye.

Stu Swineford: And there you have it. Another great episode of relish this. Thanks again for listening. You can find past episodes of the show@relishthis.org. And remember if you liked what you heard today, please subscribe and leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts.

For more information on purpose. Grab your free copy of my book. Mission uncomfortable. How nonprofits can embrace purpose driven marketing to survive and thrive. Get your copy now@missionuncomfortablebook.com. Thanks again for listening. Come back next week. Won’t ya.