Mind Mapping for Type A’s

I am a list person through and through. I have notebooks filled with neatly lined pages, precise handwriting in only black or blue ink (NEVER pencil – the horror!), and nary a doodle in sight. You could say with strong confidence, just by looking at my notebooks, that I am a Type A.

So when I started preparing for the workshop I’m hosting for The Shift in several weeks, I started a list on a fresh page in my notebook. I listed three concepts, one after another, and I was done. There was no room physically on the page for brainstorming or thinking outside the proverbial box without messing up my neatly scribed lines.

Then I saw a blog post about mind mapping and decided to throw all caution to the wind, pulled out some neon paper, and started scribbling away. To my surprise, ideas kept coming. I jumped around the page, adding circle after circle, and ended up after thirty minutes with a much more robust concept of what my workshop would cover than just a few lines on a page.

Mind mapping is visual, expandable, understandable, limitless, and applicable to almost anything. For five seconds of entertainment, just Google mind mapping and see what beautiful creations people have made. Mine isn’t that pretty but it works!

My creatives out there are nodding their heads like, yeah, no kidding, I’ve been using visual, non-linear thinking since I was a kid.

But my challenge is for the Type A’s. One of the first things I ask when we get on a call together is: What are the biggest challenges of your job/business/organization right now? Ask yourself that question today and instead of writing a list, pull out a blank sheet of paper and mind map it!


3 Ways to Tackle Interruptions

Abila (accounting and other software creator) recently did a study of trends and challenges facing nonprofit professionals which also apply to our social enterprise and entrepreneur friends.

Has anyone out there ever done any task outside of your functional area?

Do you have a vague title like “Operations Manager” which basically means that you’re everything to everyone all the time?

Yeah, I’ve been there.

Abila’s study tells us that the biggest challenge to nonprofit finance professionals is interruptions from other departments. We spend over double the amount of time we’d like responding to inquiries for small bits of information as our colleagues are planning, budgeting, compiling donor reports, and managing their own functions.

So how can we tackle this culture of interruption? Give your employees all the information they need proactively so those one-off requests are few and far between.

Here’s how:

  1. Consistent information sharing. How proactive are you in providing information to your leadership, managers, and teams on a regular basis? Do the key stakeholders in your organization receive and understand the financial statements that mean the most to them on a monthly basis? I know we all get busy, but we need to be consistent in getting relevant financial information out to the relevant parties every month. Let’s empower our employees with the data they need to act and think like owners.
  2. Customized dashboards using the right tools. Speaking of giving out the right financial information, do you simply click a couple times in Quickbooks and email out multiple page reports of numbers that mean nothing to your team or leadership? This may be checking the “send financial statements” box but, frankly, an income statement with 75 lines likely means nothing to your Program Director or Chief Creative Officer. Let’s do better! How about a one-page dashboard (maybe designed nicely in PowerPoint?) that shows the highlights, just the information your team needs to make informed business decisions.
  3. Predefined finance debriefs or roundtables. One final way to head off interruptions is to set up scheduled finance meetings where you provide context to the team around the numbers. Like, “our revenue was below projections this month because the grant we expected didn’t come in…” or “our sales were ahead of schedule this month which will affect our cash flow in this way…”. The numbers mean a lot more with some words behind them!

So what do you think? Do you think you’d reduce your interruptions by implementing the above steps? Give it a shot next month and see how much more empowered your employees are when armed with financial information!

Or maybe you have no interest or time to compile a monthly financial dashboard and could use a little help – give me a call and let’s chat!


How to network like a boss

Oftentimes, managers will get promoted into a department and inherit a team of diverse personalities and working styles. We learn about the group and do our best to lead them. Sometimes, we have the privilege of building our own team, either through organizational growth or turnover. This is my favorite!

One of my favorite teams I’ve ever worked with was comprised of one long-standing employee and three others I hired over the course of three years. In the interview process, I tried my best to gauge culture fit. How would these different people interact with the rest of the team? I assessed this by including the rest of the team in the interviews and then relying on gut instinct. In a couple cases, I took chances on people who weren’t the perfect candidate on paper but had the drive and culture fit I was looking for. They were two of the best hires I’ve ever made.

One way to build a solid team is to get to know people in the field so that when a job opens up, you immediately think of a couple people who could be a good fit. Time saved! Yes, I am referring to the dreaded networking.

As a well-documented introvert (I’m an INTJ in Myers-Briggs), the work networking makes me break out in an instant sweat. Talking to strangers?! My worst nightmare. But as a newbie to the community, I was forced to get out there in order to build friendships, clients and business partners. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Start with one person. There’s got to be one person out there that you feel comfortable speaking with. Tell them your interests, learn theirs, maybe document it in Excel and ask if they know anyone else you could speak with. Living in Ohio/the Midwest for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised with how willing people were to chat.
  2. Send cold emails. Again, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the responses from cold emails. Make it personal – share something about yourself and what interests you about them – and take a chance. What’s the worst that could happen? They don’t respond? I’ve had about a 40% response rate from cold emails sent to organizations I’m interested in working with. Not bad!
  3. Mine your LinkedIn network. Connect with those you speak with and if they don’t offer an introduction to someone you’re interested in, simply ask! People are so deeply connected they often forget who they’re connected to. LinkedIn is your BFF (and the app is great to surf while you’re mindlessly watching TV at night.)
  4. Don’t ask people to coffee to “pick their brain”. People are busy, and if the person you want to know is hugely successful and intelligent, they probably have better things to do than simply hand you their hard-earned knowledge. Bring something to the table! Maybe you want to volunteer for the nonprofit where they sit on the board or maybe you could offer their company your SEO services. Whatever it is, make it dually beneficial.
  5. Attend those dreaded networking events. A couple months ago I got invited to a women’s networking event. I pursuaded my friend to join me but after a hard day, she bailed, leaving me to walk into a room of women all alone. I stood awkwardly looking at my phone, face turning redder as more women entered and started chatting. I sent an emoji-filled text to my husband, then promptly put my phone away and marched over to a table and sat down with two women. I introduced myself and my business and lo and behold – we had a connection in common! Door: opened. This was SO outside my comfort zone – trust me – but I left that meeting with two dozen business cards, motivation, inspiration and confidence.
  6. Keep in touch. Don’t let your one Starbucks rendevous be the only time you connect. Drop them an email when you see a news article about their industry. Congratulate them if you see they’ve been promoted. Share job openings at your company.

Building a network isn’t easy. I’ve been in Cincinnati for two years and while there was a period where I set weekly networking goals (e.g. send emails to three new people, have coffee with one new person, find one event to attend), I’m constantly keeping my ears open for shared interests and commonalities. It’s a long-game, people. Go forth and meet!

Connect with me on LinkedIn!


Focus in 2016

Congratulations on surviving the first work week of 2016 and hopefully enjoying the first weekend-between-two-work-weeks as well.

Did you make resolutions this year? Or did you perhaps assign a word to your year instead?

This year I’m using both a word and resolutions to guide my year. I relish the opportunity to use my brand new notebook and pens and essentially write a plan or a guideline for my year. I’ve seen the statistic floating around that only 8% of people keep their resolutions but perhaps it’s the Futuristic in me that uses my resolutions to keep me motivated year-round. I’ve also been known to make a dozen resolutions, accepting nothing but perfection in each – thank you, Maximizer.

My 2016 word is FOCUS.

Our world throws so much stimuli at us constantly that it takes a concerted effort to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. Have you ever found yourself starting an email, then opening your web browser to search for something, clicking over to a blog you’ve been meaning to check, writing another sentence on the original email, calling to schedule a doctor appointment, then checking your bank account balance and returning an hour later to finish that initial 3 sentence email?

If that’s not inefficient, I don’t know what is!

So instead of creating a list of fifteen different resolutions to “focus” on this year, I only have three and I plan on putting my all into making those the absolute best I can.

  1. Build this business. I’m working with some wonderful organizations and in conversations with others that I hope to add to my roster this year. I am grateful that I can provide my expertise to amazing nonprofits around the globe and want to expand capacity this year. I’m working on some speaking engagements to share what I’ve learned so far with other leaders and professionals which is a stretch beyond my comfort zone. But isn’t that where we create beautiful change?
  2. Gain more financial strength. Those student loans aren’t doing anyone any good (unless you’re the lender, of course).
  3. Practice yoga at least once a week. I’ve found a wonderful yoga teacher I truly connect with and that hour in a dark, warm room is therapeutic. I get to move my body while keeping my mind completely still. For someone with ideas swirling throughout my head constantly, this is a beautiful treat.

What’s your word this year?

(Check back next week for the scoop about audit prep! Audit season is quickly approaching for all of you December 31st year-enders and it’s never too early to start preparing.)



How to actually WORK from home

I have never known anyone to turn down the chance to work from home. Snow flurries outside? Yup, I’ll work from home today. Repairman coming to fix the hot water heater? Work from home day! I think we all get so excited to work from home because we could save 2+ hours without a commute, there’s little pressure to spend time getting ready (or even shower at all!) and we have peaceful, uninterrupted time to work. This is especially helpful when you have a massive spreadsheet or another detail-oriented task that requires concentration.

And with the bounty of technology in our globally-focused lives, it’s feasible to operate completely remotely. I’ve managed teams in Connecticut, Nepal, Afghanistan, Malawi and beyond from my cozy little home office, and while I do value face time, there is not much that can’t be accomplished via email and Skype. In fact, I recently found a nonprofit whose entire staff is remote, and my financial leadership model is built on a remote CFO.

We all have limited budgets and traditional “overhead”-like items – rent, phones, internet, maintenance – can eat away at our resources very quickly, thus taking it away from those we serve. If we don’t have a pro bono office space, remote workers or a “distributed team”, looks more and more attractive as a cost-efficient model.

But working from home can quickly turn into “working” from home if you’re not careful. The kitchen will be calling your name for a mid-morning snack which will remind you that The Price is Right is on at 11am which turns into working from the couch which turns into an afternoon nap, missed conference calls, an overflowing inbox and only goes downhill from there.

But it doesn’t have to be so! Here’s how to stay focused and on task AND gain more time back into your day:

Set your schedule. Have to be at the office at 8am? That’s when you should plan to be online. That does NOT mean you roll out of bed at 7:55am, pour a cup of coffee and sit down rubbing your eyes. No, you do not have to wake up at the same time as you would if you were commuting but give yourself enough time to wake up, wash up and clear the morning frog from your throat before hopping on your first call of the day. Set an end time and stick to it too – put an event in your calendar every day at 6pm. The alarm will go off and you’ll be reminded to shut down, go for a run, spend time with the family or whatever you do to unwind.

Create a home office space. Maybe you live in a big suburban house and have a whole room for a home office. Excellent! But what if you live in a tiny shoebox apartment and barely have enough room for you and the dog? That’s okay too. Set up a space where you can work, free of distractions – even if it’s the kitchen table. Clear the clutter, set up your computer, mouse, phone and notebook and boom! Instant home office. Please do not work from your bed or the couch. You won’t feel or sound professional and motivation flies right out the window when snuggled in your down comforter.

Incorporate fresh air and/or variety. As an introvert, I could hole myself up in my office all day, every day and never miss human contact. The extroverts out there need movement and energy to keep them motivated throughout the day though. Take a lunchtime walk or spend the morning working from a coffee shop. You’ll get just the right amount of interaction without the constant distraction of people stopping by your office to chat.

Use the tech tools at your disposal. For conference calls, use the video function of Skype or Google Hangouts, rather than just a call (remember, you should be washed and dressed so video shouldn’t be a problem!). Use the chat function for quick comments or questions, just as you would pop your head in someone’s office. On the other hand, don’t overcompensate and over-communicate just to prove you’re actually working. Your boss and colleagues will know you’re engaged in your work by your high-quality deliverables.

Are you ready? Let’s get to work! (Not “work”!) How do you stay efficient and focused at home?

The Secret World of Work-From-Home-Moms



Nonprofit lessons from Mount Everest Base Camp

Five years ago this month, my husband and I embarked on our honeymoon adventure across the globe to trek to Mount Everest Base Camp. We initially thought we’d go to Belize – I still have the Fodor’s Belize guide on my bookshelf – but once I realized I’d travel to Nepal shortly thereafter for work, it was a no-brainer. We could go to the beach anytime, but an adventure to the world’s tallest mountain? Once in a lifetime.

We flew to India less than twenty-four hours after our nuptials then caught the next flight to Kathmandu where we spent a few days exploring, before flying to the world’s most dangerous airport, Lukla. It’s not exactly how most newlyweds begin their life together (essentially camping for two weeks, sans showers) but it was the perfect leap into marriage for us.

I thought, as a tribute to this amazing trip, I would share a few tidbits from my journal as well as life lessons learned (which are also applicable to the nonprofit world!).

Day 1, Kathmandu to Lukla:

This morning we woke up, ready to brave the flight to Lukla and begin our trek. The domestic airport scene was chaotic but we managed to trail after our guide and make the flight. The plane was tiny – room for only fourteen people – but the airline actually had a flight attendant on board to pass out caramels and cotton balls, presumably to stuff in your ears if the pressure bothered you. The place was rickety and old, many seat belts didn’t work and it was HOT. The flight was relatively uneventful thankfully but landing in Lukla really is as scary as they say, especially when we noticed the thick cloud cover as we approached the airport. The runway is very short and ends in a large brick wall, so if the brakes fail, you’re toast!

Lesson learned: Trust that your leader (the pilot) will forge the right path for your organization.

Day 2, Lukla to Namche Bazaar:

We had to cross many suspension bridges along the path today and I was terrified. I’m not afraid of heights but there’s something about walking across a swinging, shaking football field-length metal structure, hanging hundreds of feet over boulders and rushing, freezing water that makes me nervous. My husband, of course, trotted across them taking pictures left and right while I tiptoed across, scared silly.

Lesson learned: We all approach problems differently but often with the same end result. Respect others’ approaches so together you can be successful.

Day 3, Namche Bazaar:

This morning we rose to the sounds of Lady Gaga at the Liquid Cocktail Bar downstairs around 5:30am. Breakfast was scrambled (powdered) eggs, fried potatoes and toast which my husband loved and talked about for days. After breakfast we hiked outside of town to a mountain village about 350 meters above Namche to check out the world’s highest airport. The word “airport” is a bit generous, as it was really just a massive field, and when we finally huffed and puffed our way to the top, the visibility was less than 50 feet. It was a big disappointment but did make for some interesting photos and decent acclimatization to the elevation.

Lesson learned: Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Put forth 100% effort into the trek and you may be surprised by the end result.

Day 6, Lobuche:

The first part of the trek was fairly level, but then we hit it: a very rocky ascent, no clear path, very steep and never-ending. And we were at well over 15,000 feet. It was by far the most grueling part of the entire trip. At the top of this killer mountain, we found dozens of graves and memorials of people who’d died on Everest – the scene of these memorials surrounded by the killer peaks was incredibly serene.

Lesson learned: Get some perspective. For us, this was a quick jaunt to Base Camp on vacation, while for others this was a site of death and memorial. Honor others’ experiences.

Day 7, Mount Everest Base Camp:

Lesson learned: Immerse yourself in victories, large and small. Put down the phone and take time to reflect on your triumph and lessons learned before your next adventure.



Meetings: From Ineffective to Efficient

Ah meetings. Aside from emails, they are probably the bane of any 9-to-5’ers existence. At the beginning of a new job, meetings are a great way to get to know your colleagues and take copious pages of notes to help you learn the ropes, not to mention they fill that empty time when you don’t quite have your own projects yet. Fast forward a few months, though, and you have a full to-do list, an exploding email inbox and not enough time in the day to effectively handle it all. Then, the ever-dreaded meeting request pops into your inbox and you’re one step away from losing it.

Why do we react that way to meetings, groaning to our colleagues as we plop down at the conference table for the fourth time that day?

Because meetings, when not managed properly, are a colossal waste of time and energy. Organizations need collaboration and face-time, but leaders need to work harder at maximizing this time together so everyone walks away feeling accomplished.

For starters, here’s how:

  1. Stop having meetings for the sake of having meetings. I know we get a lot of emails too, but if you simply need everyone’s okay on a decision you’ve already discussed, send an email and be done with it.
  2. Set a time and agenda and stick to them. Unless it’s a strategic brainstorming session, meetings should not last more than an hour and should have defined structure. We tend to repeat ourselves or digress after sixty minutes when we could be back at our desks working on our action items.
  3. Change up your meeting location once in a while. Your office, the conference room, Starbucks and the cafeteria all create different vibes that will keep the group feeling fresh and energized. Caffeinated beverages don’t hurt either.
  4. Close those laptops. I know many people take notes on their computer but it may not always be the most effective. Other meeting attendees can get distracted by the clickety-clack of the keys and the question of whether or not that person is actually listening to you as their face is buried in their laptop. For the note-taker, it can be hard to ignore emails popping up on the screen, especially if you’re not actively engaged in the meeting.
  5. Honor your attendees. As an introvert, I often shut down during meetings filled with extroverts who are thinking aloud and spouting out ideas left and right. I spend those meetings jotting notes and thinking to myself, but my ideas often go unheard because by the time the extroverts are done, the meeting is over. As leaders, we need to honor the different personalities in the room – ask the introverts for their opinions when you notice them thinking quietly, ask the room to silently think for a couple minutes before tossing out ideas.

Bonus: Have you heard about the walking meeting? I have yet to try this but love the concept. We all have heard that sitting is the new smoking but it’s truly hard to avoid. I am a big note-taker so I wonder about the logistics of jotting down ideas for further consideration or remembering action items.

Edited to Add: I found this great article about choosing the perfect meeting venue. Let’s all get out of the office for a meeting this week!

Have you had a walking meeting and what was it like?

What is your favorite, most productive meeting experience? What about the worst or most inefficient meeting you’ve ever attended?