Episode: 108 – Co-Creating Leads to Nonprofit Innovation with Tucker Wannamaker
[00:00:00] Stephanie Skryzowski: Hey there. If you’re looking for the 100 degrees of entrepreneurship podcast, you’re in the right place after a hundred amazing episodes, we’re changing things up to serve you the most inspiring content in a fresh new way. Thanks for being here and keep listening.
Welcome to the prosperous nonprofit, the podcast for leaders who are building financially sustainable and impactful nonprofits and changing the world. I’m Stephanie Kowski, a Chief financial Officer and founder and c e o of 100 Degrees Consulting. My personal mission is to empower leaders to better understand their numbers, to grow their impact and their income.
On this show, we talk to people who are leading the nonprofit sector in new, innovative, disruptive, and entrepreneurial ways, creating organizations that fuel their lives, their hearts, and their communities. Let’s dive in.[00:01:00]
Hey everybody. Welcome back to the Prosperous nonprofit. This is Stephanie and I am very excited for this interview as I am for all my interviews. Today I’m talking with a friend and a client of ours, Tucker Wannamaker. And our conversation today was so good. Tucker is just such a thoughtful leader and facilitator and the way that he approaches nonprofit leadership and nonprofit strategy and just the sector as a whole just comes from such a thoughtful, intentional, mindful place.
So he’s a, not a consultant, he’s more like a coach. I’m gonna read you his bio in just a second. Our conversation today really hits at some of the biggest problems facing our sector, and a lot of it is around burnout. And he had a phrase that I loved that the demands on us as individuals, as leaders, as organizations, and as a sector [00:02:00] exceeds the resources available.
And does that not just. Sum up, like everything that we feel about our work, the demands on all of the things exceed the resources. And so it’s really interesting. So he talks a lot about the causes of why are we burnt out as individuals, as organizations, as a sector, and what can we do about it? And his solution is co-creation.
So he talks all about what co-creation means to him. It’s such a shift in this top-down leadership approach to move towards this more co-creating approach. And it’s exactly what he does at his organization, thrive Impact. So I’m excited for you to hear this episode because I think there’s gonna be some stuff that you can take away and implement in your organization immediately to have a more like co-creative environment at your organization and try to combat some.
This systemic burnout that [00:03:00] we are all feeling. So let me read you his bio so you know exactly who I’m talking to, and then we’ll get right into the episode. Tucker Watermaker is working to help solve nonprofit leader burnout. As the c e O of Thrive. Impact burnout is the enemy of creating positive change.
Every impactful nonprofit leader deserves to thrive as individuals personally and professionally so they can have the impact our communities need from them. In his 13 years in nonprofit work, Tucker has received numerous awards for his work in fundraising, marketing, and philanthropy. He’s worked with organizations like the Red Cross, United States Olympic Museum, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Ashoka Youth Service America, and many local nonprofits across the country.
A little about Tucker. He rides an old 1980 ve. He has four kids that are radical. He loves taking them skiing, bike grinding and hiking. The best. His wife, they just celebrated 18 years of marriage and still call each other best friends. It is adorable. And just side note from Stephanie here, I can say [00:04:00] that it is adorable because his amazing wife, Julie, works with him at Thrive Impact and I get to chat with her every single month.
So she is fantastic and he is right quote that he loves. If you wanna build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tests and work, but rather teach them to long for the. Immensity of the sea. Beautiful. Okay, without further ado, now you know a little bit about Tucker. Let’s get right into his episode.
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the show. I’m super excited to be here today with my friend, Tucker Wannamaker Tucker,
[00:04:37] Tucker Wannamaker: welcome. Oh, it’s so good to be here with you, Stephanie. I love it. Yeah.
[00:04:42] Stephanie Skryzowski: So we’ve known each other for a while, I think, and we’ve worked together and I’ve gotten to be a part of some of the things that your organization does, and it’s awesome.
So I’m really excited for this conversation. I would like you to tell us a little bit about your journey and what your [00:05:00] organization does. Like how did you get to where you are?
[00:05:03] Tucker Wannamaker: Hmm. Well, I guess as a, in a brief nutshell, our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout, and we’re called Thrive Impact. And the reason why we’re called Thrive Impact is because, because I’ve been a burned out nonprofit leader before, and I remember many, many moons ago, I, I owned a marketing company and I ended up selling it and, and went to go work full-time into nonprofits.
I had started a nonprofit with some of my friends in Colorado. To raise money for wildfire relief efforts. And I learned, I just had this bootcamp around like, what is a 5 0 1 in the first place? How do you even give money away? What is philanthropy? Well, what’s the purpose of a board? And then I went, uh, moved to DC and, uh, worked inside of, uh, a few different nonprofits as the head of communications and the head of fundraising.
And, uh, and, and one in particular, it got complet. Uh, just fried. I went into it wanting to quote unquote, change the world, or at least ch you know, help, [00:06:00] help, you know, create impact and positive change right in the world, in the lives of people that were serving in this organization. And I ended up leaving.
You know, I was the sole breadwinner at that point of a family of six in dc. I had four kids. And, uh, you know, the, the way that this organization worked, which I realized was not abnormal, uh, was quite, uh, normal many times, is that the, the work that this organization was trying to put out in the world was not how they lived inside of their organization.
And mm-hmm. And it was just this like, um, I also learned, I was also a little too idealistic myself and was realizing how many things that I needed to re reflect on myself. And so, anyway, long story short, uh, there were so many factors involved that I’ve now unpacked a lot since then. And I met a gentleman named Kevin, um, who at that point was the c e o of the, he had just stepped down as the CEO of the American Diabetes Association.
And we both had similar stories. I came from small scrappy nonprofits. He came from large institutional nonprofits, and we [00:07:00] had similar stories and we’re like, what, what is going on in this space? Uh, and why is so many nonprofit leaders burning out? Um, and so that’s literally why we started Thrive Impact was how do we go upstream with nonprofit leaders and to help them to thrive as individuals and within their organizations so that they can create impact from the inside.
Uh, so they can have the impact their communities need from them and that they set out to have in the first place. And so, uh, that’s a little bit of sort of the backstory of Thrive Impact and why we’re here and we’ve been around for about five years now.
[00:07:33] Stephanie Skryzowski: Awesome. Thank you. I know, I’ve definitely, I’ve seen that in our clients.
I’ve experienced it myself as well. And, and talking to lots of different people in the sector. So how do you at Thrive Impact now? How do you, how do you help nonprofit leaders like fight that burnout? What do you do? How do
[00:07:50] Tucker Wannamaker: you. Hmm. Well, there’s, there’s a, a few different ways. Um, but one of the main ways is that we create conditions that allow for people to [00:08:00] discover themselves.
We like to say, we never say that we’re consultants. Uh, actually blatantly we say we are not consultants because sometimes that comes with baggage. Like we’re here to come in and have answers for you. One of the things we’re trying to very much get away from is we have the answers for you because we actually believe you have so many of the answers.
And it’s just a matter of us asking the great questions to unearth that and for you to hear each other’s voices, uh, in your organizations and across communities. And so we have a, we do have a client-based model where we work with organizations specifically on things like strategic planning, but not from a top-down approach, from a bottom-up, co-created approach.
Uh, we also have a community-based model called Thrivers, where we create conditions for nonprofit leaders to learn from one. Uh, because what we’ve learned about adult learning in general is, is that we actually don’t learn very much from experts. We learn a lot more from our peers because we trust it.
Mm-hmm. We believe that there, there’s a, a space of, uh, of empathy that the, oh, other [00:09:00] eds understand me. And so and so our job is to, while we bring in expertise through, um, different content and different questions, what we’re really trying to do is create the conditions for conversations to happen in unearthing the best of an organization or the best of a leader.
[00:09:16] Stephanie Skryzowski: Mm-hmm. Do you consider yourself a coach? I feel like in the entrepreneurial space, there’s definitely that distinction between, um, consulting and coaching. And I feel like a lot of coaching is like leading the coachee to their own responses, to their own observations versus, like you said, kind of telling somebody what to do.
Do you consider
[00:09:38] Tucker Wannamaker: yourself a. Yeah. I mean, I guess not, not on a one-on-one basis, but yeah, from a group perspective for sure. Yeah, we, we do that at scale. I mean, literally we’ll have a Zoom room of a hundred people from a, from an organization or wherever, and what we’re able to do is create the conditions where even in that scale of a Zoom meeting, [00:10:00] that people still feel really connected to each.
Uh, as well as being able to build sort of the collective identity of our organization. And so in a sense that we’re a coach, but, uh, kind of at a bigger scale, if you will, uh mm-hmm. Beyond just like a one-on-one. Mm-hmm.
[00:10:15] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yeah. That’s really interesting. So what do you think are some of the, like some of the causes of a burnout of nonprofit leaders?
Where is this coming from?
[00:10:25] Tucker Wannamaker: Yeah, yeah, that’s a great. A dear mentor of mine, Dr. Daniel Friedman. He was a neuroscientist who wrote a book called, uh, leading Well From Within, and he gives, he gave us this beautiful language that just really is so helpful and accessible. And he said, you know, when demands exceed resources available to us.
It sends our brains literally into spirals of reactivity, and it creates stress and self-doubt. So that phrase, you know, that that time when we’re in our brains stem, really is what it is when we’re in the more unconscious, fast, reactive parts of our brain, uh, when we’re in that fight, flight, freeze, uh, [00:11:00] type of space, um, that tends to happen when the demands on us are exceeding the resources available to us.
And, uh, resources could be all kinds of things. That’s sometimes, of course, monetary resources. Relational and connective resources. That’s literally ideas. I mean, there’s a lot of different types of resources. Sometimes our, our own self, we can be a resource to ourselves and the questions that we ask sometimes.
But your question is really hitting on the demands, which is mm-hmm. What are the demands that are creating these conditions, you know? And some of these demands, uh, they’re. You know, as I was reflecting on my own journey, I was looking at, there are structural demands that are, are in nonprofits. So for example, there’s some data that suggests that less than 1% of foundation dollars, which is in the billions of dollars mm-hmm.
Have gone historically towards leadership development in nonprofits. Mm-hmm. For-profit businesses spend four times more on leadership development than nonprofits do. Well, that’s a structural sort [00:12:00] of belief. You know, and I know, and a lot of the work that we work with with nonprofit leaders is that sometimes there’s almost this guilt that if I, if I spend resources on us developing as leaders, it’s stealing from the mission.
Mm-hmm. It’s taking away, and so, but there’s this sort of structural beliefs of, uh, complete lack of investment in the nonprofit sector as a whole and, and including things structurally speaking. You know, how many, how many of us and as nonprofits have experienced the pain of, of, uh, people looking at our nine nineties and seeing, uh, you know, did you really do too much towards overhead?
And many people, there’s lots of people who talked about this, right? Uh, Dan Pada has got a whole thing on the, the whole Ted Talk many years ago, and. Of this lack of ability to invest in our infrastructure. I don’t call it overhead, I call it infrastructure because a business does too, right? I mean, they invest in infrastructure that allows, but for some reason in the nonprofit space it’s looked at, uh, it’s kind of frowned upon the more that we, we, we invest there.
Um, and so there’s these structural [00:13:00] demands that are putting pressure on the nonprofit leaders to essentially do as much as you can for as little as possible. Yep. And it’s just not sustainable. Then there’s sort of, um, Organizational and cultural demand. So you go from the system down into the organization and we do have cultures of overwork and underpay.
We regularly do sacrifice people on the altars of missions. Um, and you know, so we take, kind of take some of those structural belief systems and we apply ’em into our organizations and, and we do have situations like what I grew up in or grew up in, what I lived in. Where the, the things that we put out in the world, the vision and the mission that we have, we literally do not even live into ourselves.
Mm-hmm. Well, that actually is a cancer inside of an organization that grates away at people when our values and our behaviors are not aligned, it creates tension and stress. And then, you know, some of the other issues, particularly around Eds and fundraisers, is that they’re very isolated and [00:14:00] lonely positions.
So from a CEO or an ED perspective, you know, they’re like this linchpin between a board and a staff. And, and what has happened many times in nonprofits is that a lot of nonprofit leaders are, um, almost like they’re in, uh, they have to always perform, right? They always have to say, mm-hmm. You know, because if I don’t perform in terms of like always showing things are good, cuz if, if I’m not showing that, then I’m not gonna get the.
Well, that actually is a recipe for disaster because if you don’t, if we don’t, uh, invite people in to the wins and the losses, like I think about, you know, char Charity, water’s a great example of this. You know, they have a, a, a donor community called the Well. And one of the things that I noticed about how they structured that in the first place was they created the conditions where the well members who are their major, We’re a part of the wins and the losses.
Mm-hmm. They were a part of, of the struggles and the progress. Because if you don’t do that, it actually creates a lot of isolation for an ED and a [00:15:00] ceo always consistently feeling like they have to perform all the time. Related
[00:15:04] Stephanie Skryzowski: to that, there’s sort of a lack of transparency, like you’re saying around the losses, because I think we also probably feel like, well, if I share that this thing kind of failed, um, I’m not gonna get any more funding.
Like yeah, you know, my, my opportunities will go away if I shared that this was like, Less than perfect and wildly successful and hitting all the KPIs and all the things. So yeah, I feel like that lack of transparency as well, like an ED has to be on and they can’t really share what’s like actually happening because they, they may lose funding.
[00:15:36] Tucker Wannamaker: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s very true, you know, and then there’s these individual demands that we place on ourselves too. Kind of what I was saying, the, the sense, um, I know many of us deal in scarcity on a regular basis, and one, one of the things as an example, That we use to combat this is, uh, and I, we did this for quite a while and then I realized there’s some Brene Brown research that actually directly backs this up in terms of getting out of scarcity.
Is we [00:16:00] mm-hmm. We create conditions that allow for, um, nonprofit leaders to literally reflect on their progress and their wins on a weekly basis for them to like literally look back like, Hey, where did you have, when and where’d you have progress around in this particular case, many times, uh, or one part of our community we’ll do around your leadership and around your revenue.
Mm-hmm. And, and that could, and I say we don’t have a measuring stick to measure whether yours was a big or a small win. Like nobody brought their measuring stick today. Mm-hmm. But when you can create a space where you’re able to reflect on the best of who you are and have been over this last week, and sometimes the best of you is literally just showing up.
Right. And that’s okay. But when you’re able to reflect on that in yourself, small and small progress, and. And then share that with others and let others celebrate with you. We do a high thrive inside of Thrive Impact. We do like a hand up in the camera as I’m doing right now with you that I don’t know if Love it.
Listeners won’t be able to see that, but, but when you love it, create conditions like that, it actually helps us to get out of this scarcity because there’s many times, especially for those who are deeply [00:17:00] mission driven nonprofit leaders, and I’m one of them, like I, I’m that way too. I’m very mission driven and I realize, especially as I continue to connect more and more with the pain of what’s going on.
It always feels like there’s never enough. Right. I’m never enough. It’s never enough. The pain’s too great. There’s always gonna be somebody that we, you know, that’s going to, is going through a lot of this, whatever it is that, you know, whoever it is that you’re serving. Mm-hmm. But if we don’t take time to pause and to reflect individually and create some conditions of just learning, that’s what we don’t learn from our experiences.
We learn by reflecting on our experiences and so individual. Uh, we can put too many demands on us, uh, by always feeling the space of it’s never enough. Mm-hmm. The reality is, mm-hmm. There is enough. And we need to, we need to create the, those conditions that allow for us to pause, to notice, to reflect, and to see where we are having progress.
Cuz it actually actively gets us outta scarcity again, according to Brene Brown. So those are some of the conditions. Um, That are [00:18:00] creating burnout and it’s, it’s rampant, like all the way throughout systemically, organizationally, and individually. There’s a lot of issues going on there that create exponential demands.
And then the last thing I’ll share around this is that especially for small community-based nonprofits and ones that are, which is who we mostly work with, and especially those who are in human services, literally the demands on their organization because of needs that are in the community have gone expon.
Mm-hmm. Um, and the resources have not necessarily, both monetarily and staff, like staffing is a massive issue right now. I’m 20, 23 is not, uh, gonna be an exciting year for nonprofits from my perspective. Um, and so we have to lean into different ways of operating. Otherwise, we’re all gonna fry. And it’s not gonna work very well, so.
[00:18:48] Stephanie Skryzowski: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I mean, I think that whole, like, that whole cycle is all tied together that the, you know, the nonprofits can’t hire the staff because they don’t have the money, because nobody’s gonna fund in for [00:19:00] like, it’s just this cycle that never. It just doesn’t end.
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Here’s a million dollar [00:20:00] question, maybe like the billion dollar question. So how do we break the cycle? Tell me more about your. Your approach and what you are doing with Thrive Impact to break the cycle. I know you talk a lot about sort of ditching this top down approach to change. Um, so tell me more about that.
How are y’all helping to break the
[00:20:19] Tucker Wannamaker: cycle? Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, uh, I’ll tell a story about myself, which was, you know, earlier last year. You know, I’m the, I’m the CEO of Thrive Impact and earlier, last year, Uh, I’d been CEO e for about, I think about five months. And you know this very well because you work with us on finances.
You know, we went through a, a pretty significant cash flow crunch, you know, um, where I, you know, I literally didn’t pay myself for two months because of, because that’s just, we just couldn’t, um, and, and it was this just, it was this crunch. And I, and I was reflecting on that as a leader and I was like, you know, we have this framework that we use a lot of times, which.[00:21:00]
We come from a world that, that, you know, the speed and the, the complexity of change is happening at an exponential rate around us, but our ability to adapt to it as humans tends to be a little bit more linear. And sometimes, you know, in workshops all the time, we’ll ask, how many of you are looking back at the speed of changing?
And you’re like, I’m not sure how I adapt to that. I’m not sure how I adapt to that. And most everybody raises their hand and are usually laughing cuz they’re like, oh my gosh, I feel seen. Right? Because that’s what’s happening. The speed of change and the complexity of that change is happening very exponentially.
Uh, and that’s not a new concept. Uh, it just kind of got exacerbated, uh, especially with the pandemic. And so mm-hmm. One of the ways for us to shift our way of adapting to the speed and complexity of. Is we need to unlock, um, the heads and the hearts of all of our people and at speed and at scale. How do we, uh, unearth the best of, of, of our team, right?
How do we unearth and actually let them in? We kinda talked about this a little bit earlier around Charity water and what they did with the, well, how do we let people in to [00:22:00] co-create our future together? So we go back to my story. You know, I realize we come from a world where leadership, quote unquote, leadership has historically been about the few who have the.
Mm-hmm. And, and I’ve asked that question to people, how many of you felt the pressure to have the answers? And I’m curious listeners, like how many of you have felt the pressure to have the answers? Mm-hmm. Well, guess what? That’s another way of creating isolation is that we, because we come from a world that says that that’s what a leader is like.
A leader is somebody that we follow where we believe that leadership is actually something that is innate inside of everybody. Cuz all of us have the ability to create influence in the organization. And so what I realized when we were going through this cash flow crunch was I started reverting back into the old few who have the answers mentality, right?
I and, and I, and it started to actually perpetuate cycles of reactivity for me. Uh, I started to feel like maybe I’m not the right person for this job, right? Imposter syndrome was hitting me. I was thinking, I’ve gotta come up with the answer. I’ve gotta come up with the answer. I’ve gotta come with [00:23:00] the.
And then it dawned on me, and I literally teach on this stuff too. And like we, we train and, and, and do workshops on this. And I, this is where I, I so clearly realized and how important it’s for me to continue to be a learner on the journey, which I am. And I was like, wait, it’s not about, leadership is not about the few who have the answers.
It’s about engaging the many and the power of great questions. And that my job as a, as a leader, whether it’s the CEO o or if I was a leader, as an entry level person, is to. People into co-creating what it is. And so I, and so once I realized, you know, and again, it was, it just, it took a, it took a while. It took a good solid month of, I remember the month of February in particular.
Mm-hmm. And as we went through towards the end of it, I reflected that and I was like, wait a second, why am I beating myself up? Because I don’t have the. Mm-hmm. And I mean, and it was like, because I had that belief that my job was at the answer, it started that spiral and then I, and then the shame and the guilt and the [00:24:00] imposter, and it all just kept going.
And then I was like, wait a second. This all just goes back to that I don’t have the right belief in the first place about leadership and what are the, what are the best questions that I can ask our team to invite them into this struggle? And it was a, it was a real struggle. Mm-hmm. And just that shift for me personally.
Just realizing that this shift is a really courageous journey of going out of the belief that I have to have the answers and into the space of, hey, I don’t necessarily have the answers. And honestly, sometimes when I do feel like I have an answer, it’s even still better for me, especially as an ED and CEO, to invite co-creation and just let my, let the team explore what it is that might be the best of us.
And so many more innovations have come about that we’ve come out of that cashflow crunch. We ended the year financially in the best place. We’d been all. And, and a lot of that was due to creating, uh, our whole team. And I have to, you know, give credit where credit’s due to our whole team co-creating our process and our, and our future around that this last year.[00:25:00]
Mm-hmm. And that’s one of the biggest shifts that if you start to think about it, um, co-creation really become, uh, co-creation unlocks so much more inside of an organiz. Um, to where it unlocks the leadership and it unlocks. And we just had an example this last week where one of our team members, uh, we have somebody who’s like a, we have a roles which are people who are accountable over specific sort of buckets of our work.
Mm-hmm. And, uh, and this particular person was, uh, wrestling and she was like, ah, she’s feeling like she didn’t have the answers. And, and she came up with like how she wants to co-create this, this whole bucket of work, uh, around how we move forward with it. And it was just this beautiful like empowering moment that happened this last week that went through tension to get there.
But it was this empowering moment of I get to, I get to craft this, what this looks like, right? People have energy towards what they get to create. That’s the phrase that I think about from a dear mentor of my name, John Bergoff. And I think about that quote [00:26:00] all the time, um, because it’s true. If I’m just telling people what to do, they’re not gonna have as much energy around it.
But if I co-create with. Actually, uh, I’ll, I’ll end on this particular piece. Uh, a dear mentor of mine, Dan Cardinal, he j had just stepped down as the c e o of the independent sector out in dc which is a big advocacy organization for nonprofits. And I got to know him when I lived in DC and he was really instrumental in me understanding impact and a lot of different components of nonprofit work.
And he said something to me the other day, which has just stuck with me. He said, co-creation is the greatest form of humanity. And then like in the real high level platitude. And I was like, but wait a sec, that’s like a big deal. When we create conditions to not allow co-creation, basically what he’s saying is like, we’re in some ways stealing from people’s humanity because as humans we are meant to create.
And there’s a lot of research that backs a lot of this up, uh, particularly [00:27:00] around leadership circle and leadership 360 assessments and that we’re in spaces of creativity. And creativity is not. You know, the creatives out there who are just, you know, the graphic designers. But when we’re able to shift from reactivity into creativity and be creators, it, it actually is the best form of leadership in general.
And, and it gives us all the things that we’re looking for. Like more revenue, better impact, you know, all those types of things. Better culture. So co-creation is probably one of the biggest shifts that any nonprofit leader needs to make, which is getting outta that space of my job is to have the answers.
In fact, and, and it’s better for us to engage people in the power of better questions. Oh
[00:27:41] Stephanie Skryzowski: my gosh. Okay. Mike dropped. That was so good. And I love that people have that energy towards what they get to create. Um, and I think about this as well. I, I have. I’ve thought about this before, sort of in the sense of transparency when it comes to your numbers.
So I’m taking this idea and [00:28:00] like, yeah, thinking about it in terms of finance, but I’ve talked, I love that’ve talked about that. Whereas like when you’re transparent about your numbers, you are, that is going to lead to greater engagement, whether it’s with your team and sharing the budget and. You know, once they understand that they can be more engaged or whether it’s with your board or whatever.
And so I think it’s like the same sort of principle of what you’re talking about. Like when you get to be part of something, you’re naturally going to be more engaged and you’re gonna have more energy towards it. My question is, do you ever get any sort of like, Pushback on being more transparent. Like I was saying before, you know, if we’re transparent about the bad things or the like not so great things, or the quote unquote failures, is there, like, do you get pushback from your eds?
Like, yeah, I don’t wanna feel isolated and lonely and feel like I have to have all the answers, but at the same time, I feel very nervous about sort of airing my dirty laundry or, you know, being transparent about [00:29:00] all the things with my team or with others. Do you get
[00:29:02] Tucker Wannamaker: that? Hmm. I mean, I’m gonna answer this in a little bit of a different way in that co-creation as a, as a process is a different way of thinking.
And from a transparency perspective, I mean, there’s some things like especially speaking to all those HR people out there, there’s some things like you literally cannot talk about, right? Sure. Yes. Yes. Right. And, and even too, like I think we’re, uh, I don’t think it’s, it’s appropriate for us to be transparent about all the things, but how are we leaning towards the side of transparency?
How are we leaning towards the side? And this, let me give you an example of this in terms of like strategic planning, actually, that’s one of the, that’s some of our core work, some of our best. Um, and one of the things that we’ve learned about strategic planning and is, you know, whenever we have workshops, uh, we, we usually ask this question of, how many of you ever, ever felt the pain of an irrelevant strategic plan?
You know, and everybody laughs and raise their hand. Yeah. Because we all have, right? Yes. Why is it a [00:30:00] cliche? In nonprofits of the strategic plan, sitting on the shelf gathering dust. Well, one of the main reasons is because it’s a top-down approach. Mm-hmm. And what top-down approaches actually do is they, they, they’re a lack of transparency many times.
And I remember we did a, um, a podcast actually on our podcast, Thrivers, uh, nonprofit leadership for the Next Normal that I’m excited to have you on as well. Um, and, but we, we, uh, I interviewed Dr. Cynthia Whitaker cause we went through a strategic planning process with her organization. She’s the CEO of Greater Nashua Mental Health.
You know, a good size, uh, community, mental health organization in, in New Hampshire. You know, she said one of the things that was most powerful about the process was allowing the voices to hear the voices. Mm-hmm. Meaning we create, um, I was mentioning this earlier, right? We have a, we’ll, we’ll create conditions where it’s, you know, 5,000, sometimes even 200 people all in one room.
And the way in which we choreograph the conversations allows for still a close intimacy, while at the same time being able to hear a lot of voices across. And she said, w you know, when top-down approaches [00:31:00] happen, it’s kind of like, and we’ve all been there, right? It’s the consultant that goes, uh, with the board on a board retreat for four hours or a full day.
And, uh, they, they come up with the right answers for the organization and they engage the staff through some kind of a dry survey and, you know, and so they checked off the box of, we talked to the staff about it, or maybe they have a focus group of like four people. But when you create conditions where all the people are able to actually hear each other’s voices, both in small groups and in a large group.
Mm-hmm. That transparency is powerful cuz it’s trusted. It’s trusted. Mm-hmm. Right. Like I didn’t hear it through the lens of a consultant. I didn’t hear it through the lens of a board member. I heard it through the lens of my peer. Mm-hmm. Like, I heard my peer talk about that. Like, I love doing cross pollinating where the board chair is talking is doing a, a deep paired interview as one of my favorite choreographies, uh, with one of the entry level people.
I remember we did this with an organization where it was the board chair and the janitor, and we had them go into a room [00:32:00] and talk about what is the, what is the story of impact that tells me why it’s so important for me to work at this organization. Wow. And that, that changed that board. Mm-hmm. Like, I remember she talked about that multiple meetings afterwards around like, man, just that story.
And it wasn’t through the lens of anybody. It was just straight from the person. And the story that that comes to mind around why it’s so important for him to work at this organization. Mm. Right? Mm-hmm. So when we, when we create conditions for voices to hear voices, it’s really powerful. Um, but one of the things that some, that, um, EDS, uh, many times are nervous about around co-creation is, Well, yeah, it’s nice to have, we want people to feel heard, right?
That, that that’s, that’s part of our neuroscience. We want people to feel like their voice matters. You know, one of the most important factors involved in, in creating a high performing, high performing team, according to a deep research study by Google called Project Aristotle, is psychological safety, which means my voice matters.
I can show up and be myself, but we [00:33:00] can’t do all the things that everybody. Right. We can’t do all the things. And so, which is, which is a tension of co-creation, is like if we invite all the voices, how do we not do everything that all the voices want? Right? Mm-hmm. And so part of the journey of co-creation is also, and we did another interview with a woman.
We did another strategic planning process with her name’s Indie FR Z, and she’s the, uh, CEO of a organization in Colorado Springs called The Independent Center, uh, versus Dan Cardinal’s independent sector. I always think about that. Um, they do a lot of work with those with disabilities or like what we call those with unique abilities.
Mm-hmm. And. And she said, you know, one of the things that was so powerful about this journey that we went with them on was their team learning how to synthesize. It was actually, she literally said this, it was our strategic planning process was like, str was like professional development for their team.
Mm-hmm. And what they learned, uh, and the whole staff learned, and especially their, her, her sort of executive [00:34:00] team learned the power of how to synthesize, how to start them. Uh, you know, you have a hundred different ideas. Well, what are the themes and synthesis down into the core components that, that we’re able to really move forward on?
And the synthesis team is what we call them. They’re like the deeper listeners of the organization. And so that’s where co-creation creates the space of transparency, while at the same time, uh, creates the space of synthesis for us to be able to actually move forward on things. Are the deeper listening and the deeper initiatives that the organization is really coming, you know, coming up with around different innovations.
And so that’s where transparency is important. Um, and the way in which to do co-creation is really important as well, in terms of making sure that people don’t feel like they’re, not only that they do feel like their voice is heard, and that you’re able to synthesize that down in an efficient. And, and then close the loop with the staff too around that.
And Indy did, it has [00:35:00] a great story on our podcast about that, specifically around how they did this whole process, uh, around their vacation policy as an example. They’re like, we need to come up with a new vacation policy. We could go at it from more of a top down approach of, Hey, we’re gonna go as a leadership team and come up with what we think is our vacation policy.
Mm-hmm. Or which they did that before, by the way. And she actually tells about that story from a, you know, something different. I think it had to do with dress code back in. Well, there wasn’t buy-in. It felt like a slog implementing in the first place. Mm-hmm. But on this vacation policy process, uh, there was buy-in right off the bat, and there were some ideas that people shared that literally were against the law.
So they just transparently shared about that. It was like, well, we, we can’t do that. You know, and that’s okay. Some people just don’t know that because they’re not HR professionals and that’s not a problem. Um, but they were able to close the loop quickly with the team and say, here are the things that we, uh, we’re able to do based upon your, your, the best of your great ideas from this, and this is the vacation policy we’re gonna, you know, move forward with, does anybody have any, any feedback or [00:36:00] plus we call ’em pluses and deltas around these things.
Uh, and she said the buy-in on that was like, Like it wasn’t even a question. Like they’re just doing it now, right? Mm-hmm. So co-creation also creates, and transparency creates a space of buy-in that’s way more efficient than any kind of top-down approaches.
[00:36:18] Stephanie Skryzowski: Yeah. Uh, I love that so much. So obviously if organizations want to do this for something like strategic planning, they could engage with you and your team at Thrive Impact, and if they want to, like, are there sort of easier, not easier, but like any sort of like smaller ways that nonprofit leaders can begin to implement some of these like co-creation principles or activities within their organization without maybe necessarily like, Going out to work with somebody.
Is there small ways that they can begin to sort of implement
[00:36:49] Tucker Wannamaker: this? Yeah, of course. Well, I do wanna mention, we, we have a free workshop that we do literally once a month. Our next one’s on March 8th. Um, and, and it talks, it goes through, it’s, [00:37:00] it’s completely free, like. Our, our mission is particularly around small community based nonprofits and, and so we’re continuing to work on our own sustainability around making sure that we can serve.
Cause that’s where most of the burnout lies, to be totally honest with you. Mm-hmm. Um, but, you know, some of the ways that people can think about this, um, around, around co-creating your future is, uh, you know, I actually would invite people to start with themselves is when are you noticing that you’re in a space where you think your job is to have the answer?
Mm-hmm. Right. What are the areas that are keeping you up at night that now you’re reverting back into, uh, this space of, uh, what I need to figure out the answer, I need to figure out the answer. Mm-hmm. And mm-hmm. And just notice what’s going on inside of yourself and recognize that one, you know, you’re probably gonna have imposter syndrome just like I do.
I still do, you know, from time to time, just like I did back at that cashflow story. Mm-hmm. And, and say, you know what, perhaps there is a better question. Maybe there’s, or maybe there’s a question that I can [00:38:00] engage my team on to co-create some of this. And then there are a variety of different questions.
We have a whole, um, four I process or four I model that we use that, you know, many times when organizations have a problem, they tend to go to how do we solve that problem and what do we do about it? Well, there may be another approach to this, which is, uh, and sometimes that is where you need to go. We call that the implement phase.
That’s the one of the eyes. But sometimes you can go backwards a little bit and say, well, hey, what’s been the best of us? What’s been the best of us? We call that the identity phase. What is it that we’re actually building? So for example, on a granular, more granular level, if you’re trying to, if you have a problem around donors and you’re trying to build a major donor strategy, well, what’s been the best of our major donor strategy up to this point?
It’s not what’s, what’s been broken. But what are we working? Mm-hmm. What are we building from, right? And then if you go into the future, which the next I is imagine is, uh, when we’re able to grab images and textures of the future, it helps to really create a pavement [00:39:00] for, uh, for our present moving forward.
And, and so you can ask questions like, Hey, a year from today, what do we wanna celebrate about our major donor strategy? How do we want it to feel? What does it sound like? What does it look like? What does it feel? And then when you grab some of that data from those two identity and imagine sections, you can take that into innovate.
Well then how might we as a team collectively get there? And then you get into do and implement. So. Mm-hmm. I’ll end with this particular story, which is, um, you know, I have a daughter, uh, she’s in high school and she came home Monday with a report card. And her report card had three a’s a B and a C on it.
I know in the, the type of work that I do and our this, in this model around four eyes and strength-based approaches and things like that, I know exactly where I’m supposed to go, but what do I typically do as a, as a parent, Hey, what’s going on with that C? What’s going on with that C? Mm-hmm. Right. Like, we all do that.
I and I do it. I even teach on this stuff and I still go to the C. Mm-hmm. Well, what does that help? What does she feel like when I ask her about the C? [00:40:00]
[00:40:01] Stephanie Skryzowski: Probably, yeah. Those a’s
[00:40:02] Tucker Wannamaker: are dismissed. Yeah. Like in a little defensive and like, uh, But I know based upon the science around the, the approach that we take called appre, which is called Appreciative inquiry by the way, I haven’t mentioned that yet, but, but we know based on the science of the strengths-based approach, if I ask her about the As and I say, Hey, tell me about the a’s.
What were the factors involved in those a’s, mm-hmm. How did you show up? How did your teachers show up? What was the process and the rhythm and the conditions that allowed for those a’s to be there? That is a much better indicator or, or way, an approach. For her to be able to get her C up then if I go directly to the C.
Mm-hmm. And so when we start to shift our thinking in terms of not positivity but strength. Mm-hmm. What are we building from, because strengths are all that we have to build from. So that’s what I would say for nonprofit leaders is, is reflect, is is allow the space for people to reflect on and create learning environments that allow for you to reflect on, on a regular basis.
[00:41:00] What’s been the best of you. Kinda like I said at the very beginning, right. You know, we ask nonprofit leaders, what’s been the best of you over this last week? What are your wins in your progress? That’s actually really important for our own psychology and for building the culture that we want to build in the first place and be a part of too.
[00:41:16] Stephanie Skryzowski: I love that. And I feel like there’s not enough time for reflection. Like period. I feel like we are constantly thinking four steps ahead without ever doing any type of reflection. I’m speaking, uh, for myself and for lots of organizations that I’ve seen, we don’t often reflect enough. So I love that.
My last question for you is, what does a prosperous nonprofit look like to.
[00:41:45] Tucker Wannamaker: Hmm. I mean, right off the bat is, is that they’re, they’re thriving from the inside out, right? It’s a prosperous nonprofit. Is is one who creates conditions that allows for their pupil to thrive, which then [00:42:00] subsequently will then, uh, allow the, those that they serve to thrive as well.
Um mm-hmm. And that’s why I was saying some of these things, a prosperous nonprofit. Aner, the best of their team allows for their, their culture to emerge has things like core values that they constantly revisit. We ask ourselves all the time. Mm-hmm. Like, Hey, Or, or we’ll notice people, Hey, you showed up with empathy today.
Like empathy’s, one of our core values, or playful is one of our core values. Like we bring that in on a regular basis and we, we are con constantly working and, you know, we have challenges too, but as you know, around one of our core values is sustainable. And, and we have too many things going on right now.
And we’re, and if we don’t create spaces of learning, we know based on the data and our own lived experience that if we don’t create. For times, for pause and reflection that we’re actually hurting ourselves on a regular, on an ongoing basis. It’s not sustainable. Um, and so that to me, from a, a prosperous nonprofit [00:43:00] is, um, the last thing I’ll share too, and I’ll, this is bringing in the voice of our chief of Impact, Sarah Fanslow, who is, uh, just absolutely brilliant around impact evaluation, such a heart driven lead nonprofit leader too.
And she said, our nos give power to our most important yeses. And I think a prosperous nonprofit leader is able to stop saying yes and is able to double down on their unique, specific and clear value that they bring. And sometimes it’s a journey of understanding what that is, but we can’t do it all, and that’s okay.
Um, and so what are the nos that you can give to your organization and to yourself that empower your own most important yeses? Um, that to me is a prosperous nonprofit. Who is iterating, who’s a learning organization, who is creating rhythms of learning that it doesn’t have to feel like this. Oh crap. We probably need to reflect, like we do quarterly strategic planning inside of our own organization.
And the reason why mm-hmm. And I love it. I mean, I cannot tell you how much, it’s [00:44:00] like this rhythm we can count on and it and every, and we do it like four hours once a quarter. Mm-hmm. Man, is it power a powerful rhythm for our. Mm-hmm. Because sometimes we’re just going too much and we actually regularly we’re going too much.
Great. And those rhythms of reflection allow for us to be in that space of learning, cuz that’s really what it is. And we have a joke inside of Thrive Impact, which is, is it all just learning? Like maybe there isn’t failure, maybe it’s all just learning. Is it all learning? Mm-hmm. Maybe it’s all learning, right?
And it’s a way of us being playful with it. But at the same time, I think it. Mm-hmm. Right. Can. And so how do we create the conditions that allow for us to learn? So that to me is another indicator of a prosperous nonprofit, is they have rhythms around being a learning organization that allow for them to reflect on a regular basis and then apply that learning quickly into, into their work.
[00:44:51] Stephanie Skryzowski: Mm-hmm. Ugh. I love that. So good. I’m so excited cuz I’ve been asking this question to everybody that I’ve been speaking to and everyone has a completely different [00:45:00] answer. And also nobody’s talking about money at all, which I love. Um, because that’s, that’s not what the question was intended at all. But, uh, nobody’s been like, you know, somebody who has six months of cash on hands.
Like nobody’s talking about that. Yeah. So much more. Um, we need so much more than just money, so. Mm-hmm. Um, Tucker, thank you so much. Where can our listeners find you?
[00:45:23] Tucker Wannamaker: Uh, just, uh, you can find me on LinkedIn, Tucker Wannamaker or go to thrive impact.org g and, uh, you can check it out there. Again, we have our free workshop that we do on a regular basis.
It’s the six shifts that every nonprofit leader needs to make to lead in the next normal, and, uh, so awesome. And so we talk, we go a little bit more in depth, not it’s a little bit of an overview, but it’s still really helpful because you connect with other, other nonprofit leaders too are going through similar things, and that’s probably more what’s important, not just the six shifts, but also more importantly connecting with other nonprofit leaders who are.
Who are learning how to lead in this next normal too. And that’s, that’s the, so I [00:46:00] just invite you to come to that. It’s usually at the top of our website. You can check out, um, or you can just email me as well.
[00:46:06] Stephanie Skryzowski: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom. I really appreciate you and I’ll talk to you soon.
[00:46:14] Tucker Wannamaker: Oh, appreciate you too, Stephanie. Thanks so much for inviting me. Such a pleasure.
[00:46:19] Stephanie Skryzowski: Before you go, I just wanna thank you for being here. To access our show notes and bonus content, visit 100 degrees podcast.com. That’s 100 degrees podcast.com, and I’ll see you next time.