The Job Search and Growth Mindset

You might wonder why I have a photo my son at his Taekwondo tournament as the featured image on a blog about the job search and growth mindset…. Hang with me!

During a particularly intense training session last month, his coach (Mr Lee) talked to the kids about growth mindset and how it impacts how he designs their training in preparation for nationals.  He uses the following framework and it really stuck with me…

Train to Learn – We all need to learn the game that we want to participate in; the rules, the strategy, the norms, the expectations, the equipment, the schedule …

Train to Train – We need to get in shape; building muscle, creating flexibility, developing endurance ….

Train to Compete – We need to know what it feels like to win AND lose; how do our emotions react, our mind, or bodies?  How do we treat ourselves and others when we make mistakes or master a skill? When do we celebrate and when do we double down and work harder?

Train to Win – ONLY after we … know the game, are in shape, have experiences winning AND losing can we apply all of our learnings and really start to win on a consistent basis.

These stages are not linear processes, they require moving back and forth between each stage as you are learning new skills, patterns and facing increasingly challenging competitors. BUT … mastering the previous stage is necessary and essential in order to master the next stage.   You don’t go from train to learn right into a national competition, you need years of train to train and train to compete in order to make it that far.

How does this apply to the job search?!  As I reflect on my search of the last year, there are eery similarities…

Train to Learn – I spent almost a full year learning all I could about the nonprofit space, before I even left Target.  I went to networking events, tracked websites, read job descriptions, researched search firms, met with people that had made the move from corporate to nonprofit, increased my volunteering and found boards that I was passionate about that I could be on to see, 1st hand, what happened behind the scenes in a nonprofit. I wasn’t actively looking for a job, I was learning if I’d be a good fit in this space and trying to understand the rules of the game and the other players.  This time also allowed me to really understand what I was looking for in my career move; what type of organization, role and impact did I want to make? What was my passion? My strengths? My gaps?

Train to Train – Once I realized that we live in an incredibility rich community of innovative nonprofit leadership, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to really perform in this space until I made a commitment to it. I needed to get my game on and … I couldn’t do that while working full time; regardless of how much I loved my team or my company.  I needed to start training, building muscle and put my learning into action.  I left Target and spent the last 9 months going deep on my board work, using my skills in probono projects and networking with key leaders in the space to learn the biggest barriers, challenges and opportunities facing nonprofits in todays world.  I got sore muscles, my brain hurt and I was exhausted at the end of every day but … I also expanded my network, created partnerships and found muscles I never knew I had.  This was also a great time to practice telling my story; what were my career goals, what motivated me, how did I plan on making a difference, what did I want to be sure to learn?

Train to Compete – I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a number of interview/search processes which is an interesting form of competition. While these didn’t ALL turn into job offers, there were amazing life experiences that taught me … I can compete in this space, I have transferable skills, I have a network of people willing to help me learn/prepare for interviews and, sometimes, not getting the job is a blessing in disguise.  I’ve had good days and bad days/weeks. In fact, in April, I was training to compete and there wasn’t anything to compete for!! I was doing all the hard work and not an interview or open job in sight. That was hard …to keep getting up, everyday, go out and meet new people, learn, tell my story and put myself out there when there wasn’t a single open position that I would be qualified for as a candidate.  There were days I doubted myself and started to look at roles that weren’t my ideal job or even a good fit.  But, I have a great coach and she helped me remember how much I was learning, the incredible people I was meeting and that this was time to stay positive, persevere and do the hard work.

Train to Win – I feel like I’m getting there…there are things I’m realizing that I couldn’t have seen/understood 9 months ago because I didn’t have the life experience/perspective.  Some examples?  The networking I’m building is not just a network to help me find my next role, it’s also the network that will help me onboard, support me as I learn and become my new peer group. These people will be my life line when I start a new role!  While this website is a great tool for helping share my career change goals, it’s also going to be a great on boarding tool when I DO start a new role.  It will give my new organization/team a sneak peek into who I am and (hopefully) help reduce any anxiety about a new leader coming on board. Finally, my coach is not only a great resource for the job search process, but because she’s been on this journey with me for the last year, she’s also going to be a phenomenal resource as I plan my on boarding approach and will help me stay grounded as I become a nonprofit leader.

If you are in transition, how are you approaching your search? Are you training? What are you learning? Are you stuck in one stage? How can you double down and work through it?

I promise, all your training will pay off!

Spotlight Series #3 .. The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery

Artist Greg Preslicka volunteered to paint murals on bedroom walls of the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery.

One year ago I was voted on to The Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery board and I was thrilled!  We have been financial supporters and volunteers at The Nursery for over 8 years and have always been so impressed with their mission, innovation and caring approach.  The Crisis Nursery was originally located on the same piece of property as the kids grade school, so we would literally be at The Nursery every day.  We were curious about their work and so started volunteering through Target; painting rooms, serving meals and providing supplies.  During particularly rough family time, we came to learn about their 4th Day Program.  (The 4th Day Program offers in home support, parenting coaching and mental health check ins for families once a week for a year post crisis).  We realized how blessed we were have the resources and support to get the help our family needed to work through any crisis. Not all families have this support.  The 4th day program is filling a gap for families that goes beyond crisis, it coaches parents on how to build stronger, more resilient families.  We were hooked.

The mission of the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery is to end child abuse and neglect and create strong, healthy families. As noted on their website.  “We are the only residential crisis nursery in Minnesota, and one of only 20 in the country. We started with a goal to establish a crisis helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and to shelter six children per day. Today we answer over 4,000 crisis calls and shelter over 2,200 children a year. We’ve come a long way and remain committed to ending child abuse and neglect and to supporting and strengthening families in our community.”  I won’t go into the core mission of the organization or their numerous program, you can read all about that on the website and in this amazing Star Tribune article. Instead, I’m going to highlight the biggest internal issue we’ve been addressing over the last year.  In my typical format….

~ What problem are we trying to solve ?

~ What is my role, as a board member, in helping solve this problem?

Problem Statement – In the last year, The Nursery has had a full turn over of their development/fundraising staff. As you can imagine, being able for fund the direct services as well as innovative solutions is critical for the families we serve.  As a board, we rallied to support Mary Pat as she hired and onboard a new team.  One of the silver linings of a new staff is the opportunity to ask questions about process, history, context and reimagine how things “might” be done.  Mary Pat as extremely open to this moment of change and the Development Committee and Finance Committee jumped in feet first.

My Role – As a brand new member of the Development Committee, it was an amazing time to learn, ask questions and really dig into the operations, funding and growth of The Nursery.  It was also a rare opportunity to pull the Finance Committee and Development Committee together to level set both the income and out stream of dollars.  Susie Wilmot is our Finance Committee Chair and Christina Miller is our Development Chair.  I am in awe at the amount of work, thought, partnership and effort they put into their roles. Over the course of the last year, they’ve led us through a process to …
~ Recap funding, by type, by month over the last 7 years

~ Estimate and Forecast funding for the next 2 years

~ Understand historical operating expense

~ Merge our forecasted funding with our anticipated expenses, identifying where we need to invest to grow and what are our inhibitors

These efforts have given us a really strong (and accurate) foundation to understand pressure points, new funding streams and potential risks to our model.  This work was also incredibly important as we on boarding new development staff. They had a roadmap for their goals, roles and a vision they could all rally around.

As you can imagine, our goals are bigger than our ability to fund them.  This is where it got fun as a Development Committee member.  The 1st big test for us was the spring Forumla for Hope event.  Cheryl Cooper Boyd was the event chair and Martha Pettee the marketing/communications coordinator. They set an audacious goal to exceed prior years results by 20%.  Based on the talent, tenacity and pure grit of these women, I’m not at all surprised that we blew it out of the water. The program was engaging, authentic and inspirational. Caroline Wanga was our key note speaker and she stunned the crowd with her message of hope and support.  Her life story is inspiring and a reminder to not judge people by their current circumstances but to see the potential in everyone. Next up? Harvesting Hope this fall. We are taking our lessons learned from the spring event and will be planning a kick a– wine tasting event (10/6 – hold the date!). We’ve also secured some unique innovation funding with the Center for Developing Child at Harvard (seriously!! Harvard!!).

Its really incredible what a new, energized, supported and motivated team can do when they take a fresh approach and have the support of their leaders and board.

While this was a learning year for me, I do think that my ability to ask questions, find creative ways to engage funders and leverage my connections in corporations (especially Target) were helpful to rebuilding our base of support.

Now that I’m no longer the “new” board member, I cant wait to welcome our newest board members at our year end board meeting Wednesday.  Its going to be fun to be a part of ‘what’s next” for The Nursery in 2018 & beyond !!

Introducing … Kristine Martin, President of Eastside Neighborhood Services and my 2nd blog interview

This is my sophomore blog on sharing peoples stories of how/when/why they decided to make nonprofit their career choice.

Kristine Martin is the new President of East Side Neighborhood Services*. This is a BRAND new role for her and a really exciting move on her career path.  Her press release!  29 years in public and nonprofit service and leadership has prepared her for leading ESNS into the next decade of service.

A rock star resume and sustained impact in our communities! Kristine and I have built a friendship through our networking and I was really excited when she said she’d be happy to share her insights, passion, values and learnings from her incredibly successful career in the civic, foundation and nonprofit sector.

What motivated you to make the move from civic/government to foundation/nonprofit?

After 23 years, I wanted to get back into community, work more closely with grassroots leadership and work together to push for social change. I wanted to work WITH, not for families, and community.  True sustainable improvement and change has to start where there is genuine voice and commitment.

Why did you stay at Wilder?

During my 6 years at Wilder, I had a front row seat to how an accomplished CEO leads; strategy, staff, board relations, external relations, operations, policy, etc.  It was an incredible learning opportunity on how to run an effective nonprofit.

What was the biggest surprise for you when you compare civic with nonprofit?

In the civic sector, funding is not the top concern.  My biggest concern was … “Am I being bold enough?  Am I driving change? Can we think bigger? How do we help more people?”.

In the nonprofit sector, funding is the top concern.  I’m always asking myself … “How far can we go before we run out of funding? How long can we innovate before we need to find new funding streams? How can I creatively fund this change in order to continue driving impact?”

What was the biggest challenge for your civic vs nonprofit roles?

In the civic sector, it was navigating the bureaucracy. Great ideas often took ages to implement (and then not always in their purest form) due to process, policy and conservative nature and politics.

In the nonprofit sector, it is having to account for every dollar. EVERY decision was preceded by, how will I pay for this? Merit increases, new programming, capital investments, innovative ideas; they all required a solid business case and funding strategy.

(Observation from the author: wouldn’t be great to combine these worlds?! Get the best of funding with the best of programming, innovation and speed without the worry of where the next dollar was coming from or how to “sell” to all parties ?!  Just a thought … :))

What do you want people to know about moving between sectors?

Be crystal clear about your core values and motivation.  It helps if you are compassionate, curious and concerned for the human condition.  Everything about these sectors are mission driven. Be prepared to be uncomfortable, even afraid. It keeps me alert!

Advice to others who are considering these sectors?

Start with the individual stories, who people really are and what they dream of.  I started my career through clinical work, focusing on individual families.  Understanding the systems that impact them, help them find the best solutions available. See the person in context of family, community and learn about them. Its been an honor to serve families from so many different angles and approaches.  And, I’m excited to come full circle and be directly involved in neighborhood and community through my new role at East Side Neighborhood Services*.

Thank you Kristine! Pay close attention to East Side Neighborhood Services*, I suspect they are about to have an even greater impact in their community.


*Organized in 1915, East Side Neighborhood Services is a nonprofit human service agency that provides social and other services to individuals, families and the communities of primarily Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis. Our purpose is to assist people of all ages and backgrounds in realizing a higher quality of life.

Ride On! Mountain Biking as a metaphor for life (& job search!)

I love mountain biking; the speed, the challenge, the woods, the bike … but when I first started I learned some hard lessons pretty quickly.  For me mountain biking is a bit counter intuitive to regular or road biking. And, while I love all types of biking, mountain biking challenges me in a way that the others don’t (at the most fundamental level, because its just plain scarier!).

When you are on a regular or road bike, you are sitting on the seat, looking around, keeping a consistent cadence and pacing yourself for the long ride.  (I know a little about this too as this is the 23rd year that I am riding the MS 150 – sponsor me!!).  It’s an exercise in endurance and fitness along with patience and a zen attitude.

When I’m mountain biking, this approach works against me. There are so many obstacles in the way, I need to be constantly changing speed, gears and totally present for what might appear in my path. At any turn, I could crash, get hurt and/or damage my bike. The risk and fear is a big part of the attraction, it kicks my adrenaline into gear (pun intended) and makes the finish all the more gratifying because I challenged myself physically, mentally and emotionally.

Like the woman in the picture above, mountain biking is most fun when you are …

~ slightly off your seat and sitting back.  While killer on my thighs, it’s the best way to keep from going over the handle bars and saves you from a sore of butt.

~ loose in the shoulders and elbows.  You never want to hunch your shoulders or straighten your elbows, these are natures shock absorbers and if they are locked up, you’ll feel it the next day.

~ relaxing your grip on the handle bars with one finger on the brake.  Its good to always have the brake working for you as you steer and letting the bike bounce around in your palms is another way to more easily navigate the bumps of the front wheel.

~ gazing 10-20 feet in front of the bike. I want to see whats coming, so that I can navigate and enjoy the view.

~ pedaling. This is an inside joke at our house.  The first time I took my husband mountain biking, I was adamant “no matter what is in your way, keep pedaling!”.  Sure enough, we are 2 miles into a trail in Cable Wisconsin, there is a HUGE mud puddle in front of us, it comes 1/2 way up the tires.  I’m so proud of him, he keeps pedaling and makes it through. I, on the other, dont follow my own advice, freeze up and stop pedaling 1/2 way through the puddle.  What happens?  I tip over and now am fully covered in muddy water. Good lesson and endless ribbing from him.

~ acknowledging and moving through the fear factor.  You don’t mountain bike to avoid the fear, you do it to conquer and face your fears, pushing yourself to limits you didn’t know you had.

I’ve used the above as reminders in my life, whether navigating family, friends, health or career. Right now, I’m putting them to work in my job search.  How?

Lean back, be loose, observe, enjoy the variety (& the view), keep pedaling and face the fear!!  Examples:

Lean back – This is hard for me, I’m action oriented and am a driver. But, the most rewarding conversations have come from the most unexpected places. I’ve gotten great advice from career psychologist, emerging leaders, retirees and sector shifters.  If I had only focused my networking on the decision makers that could hire me, I would have missed out on a really rich community of people.

Be loose – For me this comes down to trust. Trust that the right opportunity will appear at the right time, for all involved. I have to constantly remind myself that, while at Target, 6 of my last 8 jobs didnt exist before I was in them!  My next role also might now exist (yet).  Or it might be in a space that I dont anticipate.  I need to have a plan, direction and goals, but I also have to be ready for what presents itself. I fully believe it will be much better than I can even imagine.

Observe – Over the last 2 years, I’ve been tracking job openings that I’m interested in. I notice who’s hiring, which search firm they are using and who are the hiring? It’s taught me a LOT about the sector, expectations and needed skill sets.

Enjoy the variety – As I mentioned in my day in the life blog, I am trying to balance my networking, board work, volunteer work and family. This is hard but … its also what is making the search fun. I have opportunities to learn, contribute and spend some unique time with my kids. No two days are the same, and every day I have an ‘ah ha’ moment of learning.

Keep peddling – For most of my job search, I haven’t actually been in a ‘live’ interview process. This can easily feel like I’m not making progress.  And, there have been days where I’ve wondered – is anything I’m doing making a difference in this job search?!  Then I remember, these are connections and learnings that I will take with me anywhere I go, giving me a much faster “up” time as well as a built in network of advisors and cheerleaders for when I DO land in a new role.  That usually gets me out of bed pretty quickly:)

Face the fear – I’m pretty sure job search is one of our most basic human fears. It hits right to our self worth. For me its an inner dialog of …Do I have the skills needed? Will my experience be valued? What is no one “wants” me? What if I’m not successful in this job? What if I’ve made a mistake with this career change? etc etc etc.  For me, I’ve had to face those inner voices and counter them with … I have great experience that is translatable. I am a good leader, not because of who/what I know but because of how I connect with people.  I have a lot to offer AND a lot to learn.  I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gol darn it, I’m worth it (major SNL throwback….)

What are your thoughts? What helps you lean back, be loose, observe, enjoy the ride, keep pedaling and face your fears?

Now I think I’m going for a ride…

Ride on!









Spotlight Series #2 … Children’s Home Society (Lutheran Social Service)

Children’s Home Society  (CHS) is a wonderful adoption agency, my favorite in fact!  CHS is the agency we used to create our family and we’ve been part of their community for 17 years. Our social workers were supportive and caring. The process was understandable and thorough. And, I do think they did what they could to help us understand the inherent trauma that is part of creating a family from adoption; giving us a healthy gratitude and respect for all the tough decisions that are made along the way by/for families of origin, kids, administrators and forever families.

So, when it came time to get more actively involved in our community, CHS was at the top of our list.  I reached out to Maureen Warren (SVP Family Services) to learn more about their relationship with Lutheran Social Service (LSS) and how I might help. Interestingly enough, the relationship between CHS and LSS is both mutually beneficial (from an operations stand point) and complex (from a financial standpoint).  Long story short, they ‘merged’ a few years back and now CHS operates as a service area within LSS.  I serve on the finance committee at CHS and it’s a real education in nonprofit cash flow, funding and administrative costs.  But, again, you can learn ALL about CHS and LSS at their websites … I’m here to talk about …

What problem are they trying to solve?

What is my role in helping support this organization (& what have I learned)?

PROBLEM STATEMENT – LSS is a ubiquitous organization in the Twin Cities, they have a broad range of amazing services and are well known for their human services offerings and quality.  LSS is a statewide organization, serving all 87 counties of Minnesota (and now parts of North Dakota and Wisconsin!) in some capacity. However, different services have different regions of strength and LSS may not be as deeply embedded into all communities as they could be.  In fact, the growth in Rochester has outpaced local social services organizations ability to scale at the same rate. The local congregations and community organizations started calling and asking for more support and services. However, without a building or established physical presence, it was hard to move fast.  On top of that, like many organizations LSS has always done strategic planning at the service area level, not at a market level. Enter Laura Blue. Maureen hired Laura as her New Business Development Leader in November with the specific thought to how to best solve the problem of entry into Rochester.  Laura is hitting it out of the park!  In the short time Laura has been in role, LSS has supported and leveraged 3 existing support services in Rochester (Senior Companions, Youth Homelessness and Ways to Give).  She is actively working with leadership on entering the market with 3 more services (Veterans Services, Therapeutic Foster Care and Financial Services) and are in early implementation phase for Host Homes for people with disabilities.

MY ROLE – Maureen asked if I could help Laura by sharing tools/resources and be a thought partner as she stood up her priorities in this space. Our 1st order of business was the business model canvas (BMC).  We weren’t sure how this was going to work across 20+ service areas but we started with the services that had low barriers to regional growth. Our goal was to find areas of commonly shared operations, clients, partners and communication.  It was fun to see Laura see the possibilities of this tool as a foundational starting point. It also allowed her to get up to speed on all the areas of service at LSS in record time.  Next Laura created a funnel approach to prioritizing the order in which to explore opportunities. (This model has been working beautifully in the financial services area).  I helped Laura plan a deep dive session with the senior leaders to showcase her thought process, use of the BMC and suggested approach. In our planning for the session we talked about it being informative, interactive and – most importantly – driving a sense of commitment and urgency to act. They were floored and things started to move quickly (see above)! However, we learned that the strategic entry into Rochester was going to be much more iterative and organic than we anticipated.  This was reinforced when we attended a symposium in Rochester to learn more about their nonprofit market gaps, constraints and biggest challenges.  Hearing directly from local nonprofits influenced the direction that LSS decided to take in specific service areas and how Laura could approach those leaders with ideas.  This week she’s meeting with a select group of senior leaders to brainstorm on whats next for New Business Development.

This work feeds me.  Not only does it stretch me into new experiences, but it also challenges my assumptions about how the sector operations, exposes me to cutting edge ideas in nonprofit and allows me to interact with amazing, seasoned and experienced leaders.  In particular, this work reinforces that its essential to have a growth mindset (test, learn, iterate) and that there isn’t one approach or model that works for all service areas.

I’m really looking forward to hearing about how her ideas are received this week and what else I can do to help her craft a new role in this new space.

Plus, it’s fun to work with a smart, highly motivated and creative leader.  (And, it should be noted that due to her efforts, she’s been asked to take on more responsibility and assist with impact evaluation in Duluth and community engagement in North Minneapolis and Eastside St. Paul.)

Thank you Maureen and Laura!


Introducing… Andrew Rosen, President of Angel Foundation and my 1st blog interview

Through all my networking over the last year (and I’ve done a LOT), the best part has been hearing peoples stories and how/when they decided to make nonprofit their career choice.

I’m going to honor these stories through blog interviews. Andrew Rosen at Angel Foundation is my first victim (I mean subject).

Rather than recap information you can find on the Angel Foundation website & his LinkedIn, I thought I’d cut/paste bits of his press release from January 2016 when he was announced as President.

“Angel Foundation’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce the appointment of Andrew Rosen as the nonprofit organization’s new President. Andrew is the former President of HousingLink, an innovative web-based non-profit that provides affordable housing information for the State of Minnesota. He has also recently served as Interim Executive Director for Social Venture Partners Minnesota…..

Andrew has significant non-profit consulting experience with clients such as The Network for Better Futures, Twin Cities RISE!, and the International School of Lausanne, Switzerland, where he recently spent four years living as an expatriate with his family. His for-profit career includes marketing leadership positions with Boston Scientific and business development roles in the first internet boom in San Francisco. He holds an MBA in Marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA in International Studies from U Penn. His undergraduate degree is from Tufts University in Boston.

Andrew is very involved in his community, serving on the boards of the Trust for Public Land, the International School of Lausanne, and the City of Lakes Waldorf School”

Super impressive and a bit intimidating, right?! (I mean Wharton, come on!!).  I was thrilled when he agreed to sit with me, share his story and talk about his passion for non-profit.  And, yes, this has been approved by the man himself:)


What motivated you to move into non-profit?

As I moved through school and life, there were 2 constant themes; wanting to own/run my own business and wanting the work I did to have meaning. I got really close to the meaning portion of the equation in my corporate life, but it was never quite enough.  But, I still wanted to be a part of a complex organization; from problem solving to accounting to strategy to outreach.  I’ve found that nonprofit IS a business, a people business.  These 2 themes stem from 2 life experiences.  1) becoming a parent and realizing that I needed to walk the walk, not just talk the talk on my values.   2) understanding that my life experience would have been significantly different if I had been born and raised 2 miles further east from my Golden Valley home and instead been born in North Minneapolis.  I’ve been remarkably lucky in life and simply want to share that good fortune.

Now that you are in role, why do you stay?

I love how Angel Foundation is intensely local. I can wear my Angel baseball hat and get stopped, almost daily, with stories of how we have helped families in crisis.  It’s so motivating to know that we are helping people when they are in challenging circumstances (helping low income adults with cancer with basic needs).  And, my favorite time of the summer is our summer camp program with the kids, Camp Angel. It’s a safe space for them to be kids, be surrounded by other kids in similar situations and relax/have fun.

What was the biggest surprise when you made the move?

Other than how long it took (more than a year to transition from corporate to nonprofit with a number of “runner ups” for Executive Director roles), it’s finding the balance between leading with my heart and leading with my business experience. It’s not either/or, it’s BOTH; both are critical for the success of our organization and people are motivated by different aspects of both.

What is your biggest challenge in role?

The philanthropic pressure to raise money.  So much of our revenue cycle feels out of my control.  Our goal is to build more earned revenue streams but until that time, I need to share our story with everyone I meet and ask for support (and money!).

What do you want people to know about you/your career shift into nonprofit?

I want people to know that business skills are incredibly valuable in our ability to deliver increased value/performance/quality and support of our clients. And that’s the end goal, to serve our clients well.

Any advice for people making this move? 

Network, network, network. Connections are key. Moving into nonprofit is a major career shift and there is a lot to learn!  Fit is critical and people need to be able to “see” you in a role.

Thank you Andrew for your time, your persistence, your insight and the work you do at Angel Foundation!

Facing my Fear (i.e. STO Talks)

After a bit of internet research, it seems that public speaking is one of the top 10 biggest fears. In general, I enjoy public speaking especially if it’s a topic I’m passionate about.  However, put that event at my alma mater (St. Olaf) and you’ve just taken this to a whole new level.

It’s not a secret that I have avoided going back to ‘the hill’ for the last 20 years (there is something about planning your 5 year class reunion that doesn’t leave a desire to frequent campus).  In fact, I normally get a severe stomach ache as I drive up to campus. I have this irrational fear that they will see me, realize I never finished a test (paper, project, etc) and strip me of my degree, on the spot.

Late last year, I was asked to speak at this years STO Talks event.  STO Talks is modeled after TED Talks with the speakers ranging from professors to alumni to students.  The focus for this years event …

  • challenge the audience to think critically and make a positive impact in our community
  • challenge our audience to become catalysts for effective change
  • share your journey which brought you to where you currently are

This was PERFECT considering the career change journey I am on.  I was excited (& scared) to share what I was learning about privilege, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and our responsibility as people with privilege to be part of the solution (spoiler alert, we all have privilege at some level so we all ALSO have responsibility to find solutions).

But, how to introduce this topic in 8-12 minutes, with an energetic delivery that asks people be introspective and commit to change?

So, back to my internet research. I learned (thanks to GoodLeadership) that powerful presentations have 4 ingredients:

  • Meet somebody new
  • Heard something unexpected
  • Direct involvement/participation
  • Helped shape the meeting

I took a different approach with my talk. Luckily, I was the last speaker, could draw on all the previous speakers AND, I figured people needed a bit of a shake up.

First up?  Everyone stand up! We did a privilege exercise, if you haven’t done one, try it. While not perfect, it is humbling.

Next, I asked them to share their results with the person behind them (NOT with someone they came with).

Then, I shared a quick recap of what I’ve learned about privilege, how I’m pushing myself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and why I believe its important to participate in solutions, even if they don’t directly impact my social sphere.

Finally, I challenged everyone to take a learning/idea from STO Talks and make a commitment to do something, one thing, anything … and had them share that with the person behind them again.

AND, I gave everyone a “what is possible/what is not acceptable” poker chip as a reminder of their commitment.

So, how’d I do on meeting the 4 ingredients of a powerful presentation?

  • Meet somebody new – have them share their results with the person behind them
  • Heard something unexpected – what privilege really is
  • Direct involvement/participation – privilege exercise
  • Help shape meeting  – poker chip give away

Pretty good!  I hit all 4 ingredients, got them up and moving, left them with something to think about and … most importantly, made it through the whole event without a stomach ache and with my degree intact.  Success!

Oh, and the bonus for the day … one of the other presenters was Tina Rexing of T-Rex Cookies (pictured with me above).  She and I worked at Target together and have biked the MS150 on Team Target. Her talk was inspirational AND she brought cookies!!

If you want to get an idea of the variety of topics at STO Talks, you can see the Sunday speakers here.  (I’m at 1 hr and 18 minutes, Tina’s at 31 minutes)

Thank you St Olaf for helping me tell my story and face my fear of ‘the hill’.




Spotlight Series #1 … Bellis

As part of my regular blog updates, I’m going to add a Spotlight Series highlighting nonprofit organizations I am working with, what are the key problems they are trying to solve and how I am uniquely helping them in their mission.  Bellis is our 1st featured organization in the Spotlight Series!!  Look for more of these in the coming weeks AND, if you are interested in other project work I’m engaged in, check out my Causes section in this blog.

Bellis is an adoption education and support nonprofit. I won’t go into the details of our programing, history or financials as you can read all about that on our cool new website BUT … I do want to talk about…
~ What problem are trying to solve?

~ What is my role in helping support this organization?

PROBLEM STATEMENT–  The bottom line is, while adoption is becoming much more widely accepted, involves much more choice than ever before and has great resources for those engaged IN the adoption process, unfortunately, common language and understanding of adoption has lagged. This causes misunderstanding which leads to shame.  Who hasn’t heard these questions/terms before?

~ Why did your real mom give you up?

~ How much did you cost?

~ But they aren’t your REAL parents?

~ What a wonderful/loving/sacrifice/etc move to take in someone else’s baby!

I could go on and on. Imagine how these questions feel as an adoptive person (especially a child!), adoptive parent and birth parent? I know they automatically put me on the defensive to have to educate (patiently) the true, modern nature of adoption.  Bellis is aiming to change the language of adoption OUTSIDE the immediately impacted parties.

MY ROLE – Bellis is a small but mighty nonprofit with just 1.4 FTE and a deep well of volunteer support. I’ve been on a mission to get a more stable team in place to operate efficiently and effectively through …

~ Board Members – In 2015, we had a near full turn over of board members due to term limits and life events.  This took us from a mature board of  11 down to a skeletal board of 4.  In 2016 we built back up to 9 members and I have helped recruit, interview, onboard and mentor 6 of those new members.  The current board is highly engaged, passionate and has amazing ideas!

~ Skill Based Volunteers – Part of Bellis’s strength is our deep volunteer history, we have over 100 school panel volunteers that go into schools to share their adoption stories with 4,000+ students/year.  However, it felt redundant to tap into this group for our operational needs so I set out to build out our probono/skill based volunteer base. We have been blessed with long term, probono support in our legal, accounting, tax and creative marketing, I wanted to extend that into event management, database management, donor identification and fundraising innovation. I’m really excited to say we now have an amazing group of 7 dedicated volunteers that are covering all of the above.  This is freeing up our Executive Director and President to find/solicit/groom new sources of support.  Yes!!

~ Community Outreach – While we are respected inside the adoption community (and field referrals for support/help weekly) we haven’t expanded our reach to our nonprofit partners.  I’ve been using my networking to talk about our work with foster care agencies, human services organizations and other nonprofit leaders. This has led to some amazing sharing of approaches to funding, training, communication and marketing. In fact, our Executive Director will be attending her 1st “Best Leadership Retreat” event with other nonprofit leaders in the Twin Cities in May.  We also hosted a call with 5 foster care agencies to ensure we are using appropriate foster care language in our presentations. Finally, we are parting on a joint funding request to take our outreach and message to the next level with an innovative health services organization.  I love sharing what we do and learning from others.

I am so passionate about Bellis and can’t wait to see where this momentum takes us!




My Target Organizations

Since this site is meant to share my journey and learnings as I move from a corporate career into a nonprofit career, I thought it might be time to share the top 5 organizations I have in my scope and why I am so excited by this move.

I want to start by saying, there are almost an unlimited number of incredible nonprofits in the Twin Ciites. We a major hub for innovation, leadership, support and outcomes, second only to San Francisco.  I am very proud of what that means for our community!

I mention this because, while I am focusing on 5 incredible organizations that I am interested in becoming a part of, this list will change and grow as I learn more and continue to network.  (These are in no particular order).

Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) – They are a multidimensional human services organization that is quietly serving both the Jewish and non-Jewish population.  They have just successfully completed a 5 year strategy and are in the beginning phases of what the next 5-10 years will look like. They’ve been gifted building and are starting into a capital campaign to retrofit the building in order to move in late fall. They are in a unique and exciting partnership with PRISM who will also be moving and co-locating with them this fall.  I am so impressed with their approach and creative thinking. As they researched their strengths and gaps, they realized they are one of the few JFCS’s in the country without a food shelf. Rather than fill that gap by creating one on their own, they sought out a partner in PRISM. This is not a merger or acquisition, its a true partnership that leverages the best of both organizations in order to better serve the community.  Impressive and something I aspire to be a part of.

The YWCA Minneapolis – Their motto is to … Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women.  Their moto was enough to put them at the top of my list but HOW they do it is why they stay at the top of my list.  They are vigilant about identifying, discussing and rooting out racism. Their “Lets Talk about Race” forum and workshops as well as the expert leaders on their team are amazing resources for the whole community; profit, nonprofit, civic, etc.  They have a board comprised entirely of women and a leadership staff that is overwhelmingly female. With their new leader (Luz Maria Frias), I’m excited to see what new audacious goals they set for themselves and therefore are setting to help move all people forward with grace while being comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Watching them is like seeing my values in action and I’d love to be a part of their future.

Wilder – Center for Communities (WCC) – One of the pioneer organizations that uses data to drive strategy AND shares that data openly, easily and generously with the communities they serve. They are organized into 3 functions; research, direct services and the WCC.  The WCC is fascinating. They use the data insights from research and imagine new ways to solve problems in our communities. They aren’t afraid to take risks and pilot new programs. The WCC also realizes that leadership is critical to the success of any organization but especially nonprofits since resources are constrained. They have amazing leadership training, cohorts and shared experiences that rival any Fortune 100 for impact and personal growth.  It’s a small but mighty team that I’d love to be a part of!

The Boys & Girls Club (National) – Talk about an organization that is embracing change!  When Jim Clark joined B&GC 5 years ago, he set out to make change. With more than 1,000 clubs (including international locations), they serve more than 4 million kids, thats a big reach and huge task!  Historically, the club experience was determined by the local leadership team.  B&GC is on a mission to drive a more consistent and quality club experience and its been fun to learn about how they plan on bringing this vision to fruition. They are truly embracing change management and have partnered with some amazing organizations on programming, data and research. There are some pretty interesting regional roles that are helping drive the change with a coordinated, supportive and high touch approach. Feels like it would be a great entry point for my skill set.

Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) – NAZ is focused, committed, tenacious, audacious and strategy.  Who WOULDN’T want to be a part of that?! “NAZ has a game-changing approach that is closing the achievement gap. NAZ’s wraparound framework effectively supports low-income children of color so that they will graduate from high school prepared for college”. Again, their work is seeped in data and research with a vigilant focus on outcomes for the scholars and families they serve (all kids are referred to as scholars, how cool is that!?!)  Inspired by the results of the Harlem Children’s Zone, they were initially funded through a 5 year Promise Neighborhood grant and are now rolling out a more widespread support model to continue their work well into the future.  Their programming is innovation and focuses on partnering with other local agencies to deliver in community, wrap around support for the whole family. As they grow, I’m paying a close eye to when they may need additional operational help in order to scale efficiently, I’d love to help this amazing organization succeed.

So, what do all the above organizations have in common?  Why am I so intrigued by them and interested in joining their teams in order to advance their missions?


  • see the need for change, embrace the need for change and are committed to change through action.
  • support children and families in new, innovative and bold ways that set audacious goals with an optimistic approach.
  • are willing to test and learning into what’s best for their community.
  • use data to inform gaps, potential solutions, progress and real outcomes.
  • understand that communities need to work together for the greatest good and that we are ALL better together.

My hope is … this or something better, for all involved.  I would consider it an honor and privilege to work at ANY of the above organizations and have the opportunity to use my skills and experience to make a difference while learning along side amazing leaders.  However, I’m open to what’s best for everyone and if that means a different/emerging or currently unknown opportunity, I’m open to that as well.  In the meantime, I’ll keep cheering on these organizations while researching other amazing nonprofits in our community.

It’s so much fun!












A letter to myself – 15 years later

Hello Tracy!

This letter is coming to you from your future self.  I know you love surprises, so I’ll try to refrain from needing to warn of any spoiler alerts (you’ll know what that means in about 10 years). But, I did want to take a minute to tell you – loosen up & let go, it’s going to be ok.  And maybe, as I write this letter it will serve as a good reminder to myself that the next 15 years are going to be ok too, that I’m good enough and that my integrity is my greatest strength.

You are a new mom to a beautiful son, Jimmy, congratulations! This is the start of a crazy/fun journey that will lead to more children, zone defense and some pretty significant role changes between you and Tom.  The nightmares you have about leaving Jimmy in the grocery store, gas station and Target will stop and I promise, you’ll never “forget” and leave him somewhere by accident.  I will suggest that you rethink throwing “What to Expect the 1st Year” at Tom during your 4am fight when Jimmy wouldn’t go to sleep all while yelling… “They don’t cover this in the instruction book!”  Not your proudest moment and honestly, he will go to sleep (& learn to walk & talk & go potty on the potty & ride a bike & drive ….), eventually. They all do.

Speaking of Tom, I know you think you know him at his core right now. And you do, you’ve just been through the most amazingly frustrating journey to parenthood together! But, again, I’m here to tell you, you don’t know the 1/2 of it.  You have married the most complex, funny, adaptable and patient person on the planet.  He will surprise you with his insight and accountability both to being your partner but also in how he parents the kids.  He will step up, step in and, while it might not get done “your” way, it will get done.  He is on a mission to make sure your kids have a great childhood.  Honor this mission and try and to stay out of his way.

Speaking of staying out of the way. Get out of your own way at work. Really.  The next 15 years are going to bring career opportunities you can’t even imagine right now.  Say “yes”. Always.  Even (especially) when its uncomfortable, scary and new. You have the skills, ability and temperament to do what’s in front of you. One thing to let go of though … ambition and ego.  They really just get in your way and piss off the people around you.  Once you stop worrying about “making it” or the next promotion or if you’ll make a mistake or keeping up with your peer group, the whole world will open up to you. Literally. And it’s the most amazing feeling to KNOW, without a shadow of a doubt, that you can/will make good decisions, build great teams and make a difference regardless of the personal gain you will/won’t receive.  Thats when it’s really going to get fun. I promise.

A great example of letting go of ambition and ego is the recent very bad experience with your boss. He was engaged in behavior that went against every moral, value, belief and sense of integrity you have and … while he didn’t ask you to participate in this behavior, he did ask that you be complicit to his behavior.  Don’t do it.  You can (and will!) cry, fight, rage and protest against his actions, you go girl, stand up for what you believe is right!  If it’s bothering you, I promise you it’s bothering others.  Be the one to shine a light on the fact that we can be strong women leaders WITHOUT compromising our integrity.  As difficult as this time was for you, it’s going to serve you well as you move through the next 15 years because ….

There are going to be some really hard times; family issues, sickness (soon you’ll loose a whole week of your life to dengue fever, go to Costa Rica anyway!), financial loss and heartbreak.  Good. These are times that will uncover and reinforce your values (remember the lessons from your boss).  Pay attention and know that the situations are temporary.  Things will get better, you’ll learn and they’ll become the foundation for better decisions going forward.

Even in the hard times, there will be moments/periods of pure happiness and bliss. Write it all down, take more pictures (take pictures with YOU in them, you aren’t good at this), pause, absorb, remember, enjoy.  It’s all going to go by in a 15 yr blink of an eye and you’ll wonder why your sweet, chubby, friendly 9 month old baby boy now has his learners permit and 1st official girl friend.

And, my one spoiler alert … you are good enough.  You’ll have an amazing conversation with a close friend about not feeling like you are doing anything well. Work, parenting, as a wife, as a friend …you name it.  You’ll feel like you are only operating at 85% in any aspect of your life and you’ll desperately want to be really, really good at all of it.  Let it go.  Its not healthy for you, Tom, the kids, your friends or your teams at work.  You will run across a blog* that will reinforce this approach to life and it will resonate with you … “If we accept our own limitations, we are better able to accept those of our children and of life itself”.

Thats not to say you should settle. No! Goal to be ‘good enough’. Good enough that your kids know you love them but that your mission is to raise them to be good adults.  Good enough that Tom knows you rely on him as a parent and don’t need to interfere with how he parents. Good enough that your team at work knows you trust them to make decisions/mistakes and that you don’t need/want the credit. Good enough that your friends know they can call you ANYTIME and you’ll be there, but you also don’t need them to feel obligated to keep in touch on a daily/weekly/monthly basis (they are crazy busy too trying to be good at everything!).   This will come as a slow dawning over time and I wish for you that is comes more quickly than it did for me.

And, if you ever DO decide to get at tattoo (in the next 30 years?), consider this – Good Enough.

Your biggest fan & critic,


*not the exact blog, but one that’s really close …