Engagement Training & Development

A Special Anniversary Worth Sharing

I’m excited to “share” that 10 years ago this summer my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits, was published.

[Note: this was the second – and last – business book I wrote, disappointing my son and husband who pushed for a trilogy. Sorry, guys!]

I was encouraged by my nonprofit colleagues to write Share of Mind, Share of Heart given the favorable response to my first book on workplace engagement. The new book’s content was based on three foundational nonprofit principles I learned through extensive experience both personally (as a frontline volunteer, board member, and board chair) and professionally (as a marketing & organizational advisor, workshop instructor, and facilitator):

  • Mission matters – it provides organizational focus and intention.
  • The people behind the mission also matter – the employees and volunteers who impact the brand.
  • People’s passion for the mission should not be taken for granted – it does not ensure their continued commitment.

In an easy-to-read format, the book shares the insight and practical tools needed to engage employees and volunteers. This short actionable guide also includes thought-provoking questions and worksheets readers can use to apply the concepts in their organizations.

Share of Mind, Share of Heart was introduced on my blog (It’s Here! Help for Engaging Nonprofits’ Most Powerful Assets) in July 2012 and was later recognized as a Winner of the 2013 Small Business Book Awards.

Even post-pandemic, this book’s evergreen content is a valuable guide for nonprofit staff and volunteer leaders who want to strengthen their organization’s engagement from the inside-out.

Consider it an affordable investment and inspiring gift you can share with the nonprofits you care about. Limited print copies are still available through Firefly Bookstore.

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Garrison Keillor

[Photo by Toby Bloomberg of her beloved dog, Max, reading Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits. Such a smart dog!]



Engagement Training & Development

Blog-Inspired Nonprofit More Than a Relative Success

It all began with a popular blog.

Cousins Shane Burcaw and Sarah Burcaw Yunusov had the idea to start a nonprofit while in college.  Their dream was inspired by Shane’s “Laughing at My Nightmare” blog where he posted his “funny, absurd, and at times, gut-wrenching” experience living with a severe form of muscular dystrophy.” His message was “no matter what life throws our way, there is always a reason to laugh.”

Sarah describes their family’s experience:

“Shane and I grew up in a family that was always laughing [and] we learned how incredibly powerful humor was when dealing with adversity … His blog was basically just an extension of the mindset instilled in us by our family. It’s about the hilarious and crazy experiences Shane has had living with muscular dystrophy, but more than that, it teaches readers that a positive attitude can help them effectively cope with stress and adversity.”

Bolstered by the positive response to his blog, Shane and Sarah’s nonprofit, Laughing at My Nightmare, Inc. (LAMN), was officially launched ten years ago with a dual mission to “teach children that all people deserve kindness and respect, regardless of their differences, while also providing free equipment to people living with muscular dystrophy.”

I was first drawn to LAMN because I had a cousin with muscular dystrophy. Getting to know Sarah and Shane and seeing their passion and commitment in action, I became a strong advocate, supporter, and mentor.

Besides promoting understanding and acceptance of diversity to students in hundreds of schools, Laughing at My Nightmare, Inc., has given more than $500K in adaptive equipment/assistive technology to those in need. It also launched a COVID-19 Resource Relief program to help members of the disability community deal with the extra burdens imposed by the pandemic.

In honor of Laughing at My Nightmare, Inc.’s 10th Anniversary, this post is dedicated to Shane, Sarah, their families, and all LAMN supporters. Congratulations!

To learn more, check out Shane Burcaw’s books:





Volunteers Get to the Heart of the Matter

Q: How would you facilitate a meeting-of-the-minds between two competitive nonprofits?

A: Very carefully.

That was my challenge when I was asked to facilitate a special meeting of two organizations striving to enhance their impact in their community: one was a local affiliate of an established nonprofit and the other was a grass-roots start-up. Both groups were dedicated to helping people with cancer.

Concerned with competing for limited donor and volunteer resources, the established nonprofit felt threatened and candidly admitted they wanted the new organization to just “go away.” Fortunately, they accepted the new group’s invitation to sit down together and explore how they could co-exist to serve the community.

Focusing on what matters

I remember my feelings of trepidation as I prepared for the joint meeting – I was a facilitator, not a peace-keeper! But my fears dissolved after interviewing several volunteers from each organization. Their message was clear and consistent: “We don’t care who we work for as volunteers, we just want to eradicate cancer. So find a way to work out your differences.“

These volunteers provided the critical reinforcement and reminder both nonprofits needed to hear: purpose supersedes politics. It also proved to be the perfect framework for a dynamic and fruitful dialogue.

I’m happy to share both organizations took the volunteers’ message to heart as they continue to successfully co-exist and collaborate in their efforts to help people with cancer.

[Image by Lou Kelly from Pixabay]

“Hi, this is a truly candid auto-reply you wish you’d thought of first”

“Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day …” Margie Donlon, psychologist

This is why I’m sharing this post from Vu Le, a respected nonprofit professional, writer, speaker, and founder of Nonprofit AF. I love his bio that says, “Vu’s passion to make the world better, combined with a low score on the Law School Admission Test, drove him into the field of nonprofit work, where he learned that we should take the work seriously, but not ourselves. There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.”

Fortunately for us, that someone is Vu. Here is his post, shared with permission, and abridged for space. Enjoy!

Honest email auto-replies you can use during these challenging times by Vu Le

Hi everyone. The past few months have been ridiculous. If you’ve emailed me, you literally got this auto-response back:

“Hi. This is an automatic reply. Due to parenting and homeschooling two small children, I will be slow to respond to emails. And I’ll be honest, I may forget to respond completely. If something is urgent, please call or text me. Thank you. Vu.”

This has actually been extremely helpful to have in place, as folks have been a lot more understanding when they hear from me three months after they email. Things are not normal. We all need to be a little more honest with one another in our communications. With that in mind, here are some auto-responses I drafted to serve as inspiration for you all. Feel free to adapt them to suit your needs:

General: “Hi, thank you for your message. This auto-response is to let you know that due to the pandemic, election anxiety, and other factors, it may take me some time to respond if I ever get around to it. If you need immediate assistance, I hope you find it somewhere.”

For parents of small children: “Hello, this is an auto-response. I am a parent with small children, so I am constantly exhausted and frazzled and it may take some time before I get back to you. My kids are a joy and it is so wonderful to get to spend so much time with them. It’s like getting to eat your favorite ice cream! But a whole gallon of it! Every day! If something is urgent, it’s best to call me, but keep in mind that there will be screaming and crying and the smoke alarm might go off during our chat because Chloe might be trying to set the couch on fire again. I look forward to a conversation with an actual human adult, so please call me! Especially if you understand these new ways that kids are being taught how to do second-grade math!”

For exasperated BIPOC folks: “Hi, this is an auto-reply letting you know that as a [Black, Indigenous, woman of color, etc.] I am exhausted by the relentless assault on my safety and chance at happiness these past four years, and also since always. It might take me a while to get back to you because I’m tired of fighting and deserve a break so I am just going to be growing hybrid flowers on Animal Crossing New Horizons and making them into hats. If you are white, especially if you are a cisgender straight white dude, here’s my Venmo and Cash App so you can pay for some of the emotional labor I’ve had to do to educate you about various stuff over the years.”

For grantwriters putting up with BS: “Thank you for emailing me. This is an auto-reply. I will get back to you as soon as I finish these 18 grant proposals that for some reason are all due next week. Despite the pandemic and the threats to our communities, many funders continue to operate as if things are completely normal. Which is why I still have to answer inane-ass questions like ‘please explain your organization’s history, mission, vision, values, evaluation strategies, and recent successes in 100 words or less.’ Thank you for your patience…unless, you’re one of these funders who are forcing nonprofits to waste our time, in which case, screw you. (Haha, just kidding. You know, grantwriter humor and all. Please give us money!)”

For nonprofit directors: “Thank you so much for your message. This auto-reply is to let you know that I received your email and that I will get back to you as soon as possible. However, right now we are dealing with multiple challenges, including cashflow issues, Zoom fatigue, and general stress and chaos. Half the team is gone due to furlough and layoffs. Also, since the office has been empty, there is a mice infestation that started attracting rattlesnakes. Thank you for your understanding. If you would like to donate to our Rattlesnake Relocation Fund, please click the donate button on our website.”

For overwhelmed DEI consultants: “Hi, this is an automatic reply. If you are contacting me for a training or facilitation on undoing racism, advancing equity, etc., there is a 6-to-12-month waiting period. Y’all should have done this way before it was popular to do so. Feel free to contact another consultant, or else let me know you want to be on this waiting list. Meanwhile, use this time to find money, because this is exhausting for me so it’s not going to be cheap for you.”

For existentialists: “This is an auto-response. I will try to get back to you as soon as I can. But what exactly is the point of doing so? Life is a loose collection of primal screams echoing in the Void. As Heinrich Böll once said, I am a clown…and I collect moments.’ Are we not all clowns putting on the makeup of professionalism, collecting moments of productivity and meaning to display in gaudy curiosity cabinets for other clowns to gawk at? Your email and my response are nothing but a series of ritualized actions to distract us from the horrors of inevitable oblivion.”

Thank you, Vu! You can read more of his posts at Nonprofit AF. [Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash]






Nonprofits: What to Do About National Volunteer Week During COVID-19

One serious consequence of the current pandemic is that many nonprofits are unable to rely on volunteers as a significant on-site resource. In Coronavirus & Volunteers: Your Guide for Managing Uncertainty, Tobi Johnson describes this challenging situation:

“Leaders of volunteers must often balance competing priorities – the needs of volunteers, the needs of the organization, and the needs of the communities they serve.

“In many cases, organizations can’t simply shut down their facilities. And, front-line workers who rely on volunteers to supplement their work are forced to choose between having an extra pair of hands and risking disease spread to clients, co-workers, volunteers, and the families of all.”

What does this mean for National Volunteer Week being observed April 19-25, 2020?

I intended to survey nonprofit leaders about their plans to celebrate volunteers this year but posts on my local Nonprofit Agencies COVID-19 Group Facebook page were (and still are) so filled with desperate requests for masks, gloves, food, and other critical mission-related supplies that I didn’t have the heart to ask them.

Understand volunteer motivation and why it can’t be taken for granted

People don’t volunteer for the sake of being recognized. They dedicate their time and talent because they’re attracted to an organization’s mission — they want to be part of something that matters and know their efforts make a difference. As I wrote in my book, Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits:

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”

That’s why COVID-19 isn’t an excuse for not recognizing volunteers. So what can you do?

Volunteer appreciation during the pandemic … and after

A sincere and simple “thank you” message to your volunteers is what’s needed to acknowledge their continued support of your organization and mission. This can be part of, or in addition to, any special COVID-19 communication update(s) you share with volunteers and stakeholders.

Many volunteers are frustrated in not being able to directly serve as they did pre-pandemic and would rather be side-by-side with your staff than sidelined. You may also acknowledge this in your thank-you and, if applicable, offer virtual and other alternative options for them to continue supporting your nonprofit.

When the pandemic is over, many of your volunteers will be more than ready to return. You may also find yourself with new volunteers motivated to serve.

And next year, we can look forward to having have more volunteers to recognize and time to participate in more formal volunteer appreciation efforts.

[Title image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay. Thank you card image by Howard Riminton on Unsplash.]

Customer service Engagement Marketing Training & Development

Building Connections and Engagement in “Smart Women Conversations”

Connecting and engaging people in the workplace with LEGO® … just one of many fascinating topics shared in my video discussion with Smart Women Conversations’ host Yvonne DiVita, respected blogger, serial entrepreneur, and my former publisher who remains a dear friend.

Yvonne launched Smart Women Conversations to “inform, educate, create laughter and share stories of reinvention” as part of her passion to “inspire and educate smart, talented women eager for business success today.”

I’m honored and humbled to be among the impressive women interviewed in this special series and invite you to read Yvonne’s introduction or just watch and listen to our conversation below.

To learn more, please visit Nurturing Big Ideas and check out these other Smart Women Conversations.



Think Beyond “Giving Tuesday”

I have mixed feelings about Giving Tuesday. It’s timely in reaching consumers and making it convenient for them to engage in the “spirit of giving” at the beginning of the holiday spending season. It also adds to consumer frustration with increased solicitations through direct mail, special events, and online requests (e.g., GoFundMe campaigns, Facebook birthday requests, etc.).

I know fundraising professionals who aren’t excited about Giving Tuesday, yet feel compelled to participate for fear of missing out.

Beyond the Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a designated day for giving, every day presents an opportunity to recognize the value of all who give their money, time, and talent.

Why donors give …

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” Charles Dickens

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

“Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.” Anthony Robbins

“A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.” Winnie-the-Pooh

What makes donors special …

“Donors want to make a difference in the world.” Simone Joyaux, nonprofit consultant & author

“A donor is a special type of person … who is willing to share their usually hard-earned resources to help others in need or to support a cause that is near to their heart … to improve the quality of life for others.” Michael Wilson, Lehigh Valley Community Foundation

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” Anne Frank

For all these reasons:

“Each donor, large and small, should be treated as a precious jewel.” Lona Farr, ACFRE

[Special thanks to Lona Farr, Robin Flemming, Debra Khateeb, Bernie Story, and Sarah Yunusov for contributing these quotes.]


5 Ways Nonprofits Can Effectively Engage Employees and Volunteers

“Mission matters. The people behind the mission also matter, and their passion for the mission can never be taken for granted.”  [from Share of Mind, Share of Heart: Marketing Tools of Engagement for Nonprofits.]                                       

This is why engaging staff members and volunteers involves special care beyond just a “recruit ‘em & recognize ‘em” approach.

How do nonprofit leaders and managers effectively attract, develop, and retain talent? They succeed by intentionally creating a positive workplace culture. Here’s how.

1. Learn about your employees and volunteers: who they are, their interest in serving your organization, and their expectations of working with you. Ask them:

  • What appealed to you to join our organization?
  • What inspires you most about being here?
  • What do you expect to give and get from serving as an employee or volunteer?
  • Would you recommend this organization to others?

Also conduct exit interviews with people who voluntarily leave your organization so you can learn more about their employee or volunteer experience.

2. Clarify and clearly communicate what your organization expects from its staff and volunteers and what they can expect from you. Be honest about what everyone’s commitment entails.

3. Provide the necessary tools and information people need to best serve your nonprofit. This includes orientation and training; sharing the mission, vision, strategic plans, and goals; program overviews and updates; etc. Also consider how operational or policy changes may impact staff and volunteer efforts, and communicate any changes and the rationale behind them in a timely manner.

4. Recognize and acknowledge your employees’ and volunteers’ value. While designated “holidays” like Employee Appreciation Day and National Volunteer Week provide an opportunity to celebrate the people who serve your organization, it’s important to let them know they’re appreciated throughout the year.

5. Proactively listen to your staff and volunteers – ask for their feedback and ideas – and respond appropriately.

Nonprofit employees and volunteers are precious resources. Treat them carefully and with the respect they deserve.

Engagement Musings

Not So Different – Helping Children Understand

He’s a writer of a popular blog, a book author, and sports freak.

He’s cofounder of a growing nonprofit that helps others live better.

He’s an in-demand speaker for audiences that range from elementary schools to universities to pharmaceutical companies.

He loves to travel with his girlfriend and his family.

He’s Shane Burcaw, and his new children’s book about what it’s like living with a disability was just released. 

This book is so Shane

Based on the questions he’s typically asked (Why is your head so much bigger than the rest of your body? …  How do you play with your friends? … Do people ever make fun of you?), Shane explains how he lives with spinal muscular atrophy. He describes why and how he relies on his family and friends to help him get dressed, shower, eat, and go to the bathroom — written in his inimitable style — with humor, directness, and a positive attitude.

Shane advocates the “power of positivity” in his writing and his nonprofit, Laughing At My Nightmare, to help others better cope with stress and adversity. Shane wrote his new book to help children understand that people who look different aren’t so different after all.

So many of the social stigmas that people with disabilities face could be squashed if we were able to instill in young people the idea that we are all different; we have different strengths, weaknesses, and abilities, and that’s not just okay, it’s beautiful.” 

I highly recommend Not So Different: What You Really Want to Ask About Having a Disability and have already bought several copies: one for my personal library and the others to share.

It’s a great gift idea for children, schools, and libraries.


Engaging Conversations with Volunteers

“Volunteers … work not for money but because they want to give back, make a difference, change the world.”  Sally Helgesen

While the need to give of themselves may motivate volunteers to get involved, it doesn’t ensure their continuing commitment. What keeps them involved is the quality of their experience with an organization.

The best way to understand your volunteers’ experience is to engage them in conversation. This can be done in individual conversations or, if you manage a large group of volunteers, through roundtable discussions or surveys.

Engaging conversation starters

Ask these key questions to learn what your volunteers think – and how they feel – about your nonprofit:

• What is it about this organization that appealed to you to get involved?

• What about this organization keeps you involved?

• What do you expect to give and get from your volunteer involvement?

• What do you enjoy most about your volunteer experience?

• What suggestions do you have to improve the volunteer experience?

• Would you recommend this organization to other volunteers?

What to do with volunteer feedback

Listen carefully and acknowledge your volunteers’ value – both in serving your organization and in sharing their thoughts with you. Collective responses to the first four questions provide important insight to reinforce volunteer engagement and may be used in your messaging to recruit new volunteers.

Responses to the last two questions will help you identify concerns that need immediate fixing and those that need to be addressed in the long term. Share and communicate any follow up to let your volunteers know that you heard them.

Volunteers are precious resources. Listen to them and treat them with the respect they deserve.