“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – Mark Twain

Praying about praying. Thinking about thinking. Meditating on meditating. Writing about writing.

Seems counterproductive or an oxymoron but I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately on my writing and thought it might make a good blog (writing about writing). In part, it’s because I have been asked to write a LOT lately.  An opening letter in our annual newsletter for Bellis.  The Presidents Update in the quarterly newsletter for Mount Olivet Rolling Acres.  A blog about international and domestic adoption trends for a friends new adoption website in India. Our family blog (which I will NOT share on this site for fear of grammar, spelling and syntax judgement) This blog….

I do like to write but as a math major it hasn’t always been natural or easy and…getting asked to write a specific article is nerve wracking!

So, its caused me to reflect on my process and progress over the years.

In college, being a good liberal arts student, I had to do a lot of writing. And, also being famous for having a very small vocabulary, I thought that big words and long sentences were impressive and sure fire way to the “A”.  I would struggle, write and rewrite and produce something borderline un-understandable. One day I asked my RA (an English major) “Why is this so hard?! Help me!”  His response was brilliant … “Tell me what you want to say…” I did.  He replied  “Write that.”  Seriously, could it be that easy?  Just write what you want to actually say?  I started doing that and it’s been my secret weapon ever since.

With the start of this website, I was looking for insight, advice and counsel on how to make it meaningful, compelling and unique.  I turned to two dear friends, Jim Fellows and Michael Sunnarborg. They both gave amazing advice.

I follow Jim’s advice every time I write.  He said two important things…

  1. Own your point of view – don’t use general pronouns like “you, they, we…” be specific.  Use “I, me”. Own your thoughts, learnings and insight. After all, we can only speak for ourselves.
  2. Have a trusted and honest friend read your work before you hit Publish –  Jim has been this friend to me. He reads EVERYTHING before I make it public, finds my spelling errors, fixes my grammar and makes sure what I’m writing actually makes sense.

Michael gave different but just as valuable advice.  Be inspired. It’s not about writing on a schedule, or publishing on a regular, calendar basis, it’s about being aware of your surroundings and present enough in the moment to capture them on paper.  Simple but not easy.  How do I get inspired?

An important part of my day is my morning walk, in the weather, with my dog. We go for an hour as the sun rises. Just us. No music. No friends. No kids. No distractions. I use it as my time to prep for the day, think about what’s happening in my life and be aware of my surroundings.  In fact, my best writing happens in my head during those walks. I think about what I want to say, how I want to say it, how to tee it up with quotes, photos, references, etc…  I actually don’t even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) until I’ve thought about it for 2 walks in a row.

But, the most brilliant insight came from a St John’s math major that I was having a career conversation with last fall. He said “I think math majors get a bad rap. We HAVE to be good writers. We are explaining really complex solutions to hard problems and need to communicate our answers in a simple manner”.  Brilliant! He’s right!! (now, go hire a math major!!)

Finally, keep it short. Make your point and move on. I am learning this lesson in a big way as I need to communicate progress, encouragement, good news, bad news and basic daily updates to over 400 team members in my role at Mount Olivet Rolling Acres.  Our team has limited computer time, busy jobs and hard responsibilities. I need to be short, to the point and clear.  If I can also be encouraging and positive, that’s a bonus.

So, that’s my process and my progress. I’m proud of my writing but it’s not without internal effort and external help.

What’s your process?

A pep talk and a Space Jam – A letter to my team….

I was at the local and national disability services conferences (ARRM and ANCOR) over the last two weeks and was overwhelmed by the work ahead of us in our sector.  We have staffing challenges, legislative changes, Medicaid is under attack, housing is sparse, transportation is lacking, our clients need us more than ever as they age… the space we work in seems endlessly challenging and exhausting.   On top of that, we are inundated by all the bad news in the world; Las Vegas, Houston, Puerto Rico, Charlottesville …  it seems never ending.

But, I was also reminded of how important our work is and how many truly good people are making a difference every day.  Leaders of other organizations shared their issues, their ideas and their passion.  We heard amazing speakers who inspired us to think broadly, creatively and without limits and challenged us to be a part of the solution.  We saw examples of people self-advocating and bringing along their peers.  And, I was struck by some really insightful quotes…

For our employees “we want heart throbs, not heart beats”  and “our clients don’t live in our workplace, we work in their homes”

For our clients “ with people, not for people” and “assist, don’t serve”

And…best of all, I was reminded of Kid President. For those of you who don’t know him, he’s an internet sensation out to spread awesomeness and remind us that we are each amazing but that we also need to get going….  He has Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone condition) and had 75 bone breaks before he was 9 yrs old.  And, he loves to dance.

Take 5 minutes today to get a pep talk … https://www.ted.com/talks/kid_president_i_think_we_all_need_a_pep_talk

And then tell me….

What will be your Space Jam?

YOU are the goodness in the world.  I am grateful for each of you.

Make it an awesome day.

Go Royals!

This week ushered in the 2017-2018 school year and with it came excitement, anxiety and some big changes in schedules. Jimmy started at Hopkins High School (10th grade), Billy started at North Jr High (7th grade) and Kay is now part of the ruling class (9th grade at North).  For the 1st time in 4 years they are all on the same bus at the same time. Hallelujah! They came home from the 1st day excited about their classes and friends. Once again we were reminded why we love Hopkins and why we feel so fortunate to be a part of the community.

As I drove to school the 1st day, I literally got choked up. Welcoming all the students were signs.  Signs in multiple languages. Signs for all genders (male, female and nonconforming). Signs declaring that ALL are welcome here. Image you are a new 7th grader, a new parent, a transfer student…. How amazing would it be for you to be welcomed this way?! Especially given all the uncertainty in the world around immigration, dreamers, Islam, etc… what a welcome sight to know that school will be a safe and inclusive place for everyone.  What is best about this, it’s not just lip service. They mean it. We have been a part of the Hopkins School District for 10 years and they have always worked to reduce bullying and all types of ‘isms’ (racism, sexism, anti-Semitism…)  We aren’t perfect but the intent and effort is there and we are making progress!  I think Principal Becky said it best in her new school year blog … https://principalmelville.wordpress.com

Our mission statement says it all…

Hopkins Public Schools serves the community by welcoming all learners, honoring culture, and inspiring remarkable growth and achievement.

Our District is a special place and unique in many ways. We are academically focused, but also human-focused. There is no typical Hopkins student, and we value that diversity. We are a blend of faiths, cultures, and backgrounds, forming a district of individuals with rich stories.

You are welcome at Hopkins. You belong in Hopkins.

Some really amazing facts about our school district…

9% have another language other than English as their 1st language with 46 different language groups represented

45% of students are students of color

37% of students are on free or reduced lunch

90% graduation rate

The Washington Post named us “The Best High School that Challenges their Students to Excellence” in 2017

We have Chinese Immersion, International Baccalaureate schools and a really deep STEM program

Our basketball and cross country teams has a legacy of state championships

Our music program is the best in the state

I could go on and on.  Hopkins lives its values.  They are bold and brave and wiling to tackle hard subjects. They love and support all the kids and staff. The embrace growth mindset and are constantly modeling the way in their classes, sports and after school activities. They celebrate successes. They are a beacon of hope.

Imagine the future for the students that are growing and learning in this environment.

I am so grateful to be a part of this community. They give me so much hope for our future….

(Now tell me that this doesn’t choke you up…..)

One month down….

Wow. Thats really all I can say as I think back over the last month in my new role at Mt Olivet Rolling Acres. So much has happened and no 2 days were the same. I have learned a ton and am just beginning to realize how much I really have to learn.  It energizing and exhausting at the same time.

The best way I can describe the time has been interesting* with a building appreciation for how many different hats you have to wear in a  nonprofit leadership role.  It’s really fun and makes for great stories at the dinner table!

A few examples:

~ We have a bear. Yep. A bear.  We have some property that was gifted to us 15+ years ago that we use as a summer cabin experience for our residents and veterans.  Late last week we found bear sign (i.e.: poop) and the garbage torn apart. It happened again the next day.  What to do?  1st call the DNR and then my husband who was an avid bear hunter to figure out a plan of action. Turns out this is a pretty big issue and we have to put protocol in place for food, garbage and bleach the outside of any outdoor trash containers.  Who knew?!  Talk about commuting with nature….

~ Sign your name on the dotted line.  I think I have signed my name over 1,000 times in the last month. Not only for all our licensing, but for each of our homes, and bank accounts for clients.  Turns out, as vulnerable adults they need a co-signer.  Guess who that is?!  Plus, for the auditors, I need to sign each and every receipt that comes through accounts payable on a monthly basis.  Get the coffee and start signing!

~ Behaviors. I’m learning new language around people centered care and behaviors and I LOVE it!  Instead of talking about someone as “X did this”, “Y said that” we speak in behaviors and then try to figure out what could be the cause of the behavior and address that root cause.  So instead you hear “we are having an elevated behavior day”  “we have some behaviors that we need to redirect”.  And, the redirection techniques are really creative; paper shredding, rocking, quiet time, bean bag chairs, etc.  I mean really, who DOESN’T want to just shred paper when you get angry?!  It is a release and it does help.

~ Mandatory Reporting.  Since we are working with vulnerable adults we are all mandatory reporters. This means that we need to notify the county if we think there is any maltreatment of our clients either financial, emotional or physical by our staff, their guardians, outside caregivers, peers…anyone.  Anyone can report at any time and we then need to open an investigation and have our investigation team mobilized.  The bad news, its part of our reality. The good news, our team is SO responsive and moves very quickly to figure out whats going on to keep our clients safe.

~ Incident Reporting. In addition to the above, we need to make sure we have a safe environment for all clients, this means that I get daily incident reports when people bump their elbow, scrape their knee or get into a disagreement with a roommate. The staff describes the incident, the resolution and plans to prevent in the future.  My favorite last week had to do with a long horn plastic cow, roommates and personal space.  Everyone is ok but the way the team described the incident gave me a really strong visualization of what happened given the level of detail and how many times the term “long horn plastic cow” was used.

~ Visitors.  My office truly embraces the open door policy. I have had numerous guardian/parent visits; even a visit from a former MORA president! These have been so great. They want to connect, share what they love about MORA and have an open ear to the suggestions for improvement. MANY of these are long time guardians so they also come with great stories and history of the organization.  It’s a real privilege to be a part of an organization that has meant so much to so many families for such a long time. My favorite story, which has now been related by 3 different sets of parents, is what used to happen when the parents came to “baby sit” so that the caregivers could go out for a dinner together or have a holiday celebration.  Let’s just say … it was a great idea in theory but the actuality of it was challenging.  The saying “when the cats away, the mice will play” comes to mind.

~ Operations.  I had my 1st board meeting last night and it went well! We discussed current challenges (staffing) and reviewed the financials through the end of the year. The team has worked so hard to be transparent, predictable, responsive and proactive and …it’s starting to show in our operations.  Our forecasts are within 1% of actual, the board is confident in our decisions and they really want to help us thrive. This work started LONG before I arrived, I was just lucky enough to hear/share the messages with the board.  I am so proud of our team!

~ Picnics!  ‘Tis the season for summer picnics and our staff and clients love them.  Last week we had a neighborhood picnic at one of our homes, it was really nice to meet all the caregivers and residents along with their families. This week we have a picnic out at our campus location (pray for good weather on Sunday) and next Wednesday is the annual staff/resident softball game/picnic. (Although this year instead of softball it’ll be yard games and fried chicken).  It’s so heartening to see the staff and clients celebrate and have fun together.  Care giving is hard physical work without much daily recognition. These are chances to celebrate the relationships the caregivers have created with the residents.

~ My Peers.  I have an amazing group of peers that lead similar organizations (LivingWell, Hammer, LifeWorks, Opportunity Partners, Fraser, LSS). They have welcomed me with open arms, made time for all my questions, shared their experiences and ideas and are sending me information that will help me onboard more quickly.  Its nice to know that I have a “tribe” that I can turn to as we head into conference season and as/when we see changes with legislation and medicare. They truly have each others backs and I can’t wait to become a valued partner!

Finally, my team. Every day I am impressed with their level of care, attention to detail, knowledge of regulations/licensing, responsiveness to issues,  willingness to try new things with a new leader and basically bring me along their journeys.  Its hard and risky to onboard a new leader and they are doing it with grace, honesty and positivity.

I am humbled.

*not in the Minnesota passive aggressive definition of “interesting”

Launching vs Landing

When you are in job search, the ultimate goal is to “land a job”. But, as I think about that, how dull.  Landing implies that you are “done”.  That you have a set path, are settling in and are stationary.  I am not good at ANY of those!!  I’ve decided to think about it differently and I’m calling it “launching a career”.  Launching implies momentum, going places, stretching yourself and new experiences.  THAT is a much more comfortable place for me.

In that vein, I am officially announcing that I have launched a new career in the disabilities services sector as President of Mt Olivet Rolling Acres. I couldn’t be more humbled, excited or more scared.  It’s been 2 weeks (hence the time gap between blogs), and every day is a mix of emotions; alternating between pinching myself and waiting for the other shoe to drop (either finding something that wasn’t disclosed in the interview process or – and much more likely – they find out I really don’t know what I’m doing:)).

Mt Olivet Rolling Acres (MORA) is a 50 year old disability services organization that has group homes, day programs, an autism summer camp, case management, respite care, crisis care and run the MCCP (a crisis hotline for the 7 metro counties for people with disabilities). We have ~ 500 employees with the vast majority being care givers.  Our offices are in Chanhassen (Hwy 5 & Dell Rd, stop by!). Most of our homes are in Hennepin, Scott and Carver counties (think anything west of 169). The team is extremely caring and talented.  This is their life work and you can tell that it feeds their souls. I have never been in an organization that cares so deeply about people. They know all of our clients by name, and referred to them by 1st name in staff meetings, etc.  They have long and rich histories with the families that we support and MANY of our staff have been with us a number of times, leaving and coming back for the culture of care thats been created.

In the 1st 2 weeks I’ve gotten the chance to have a few remarkable experiences.

  • Sadly I attended a memorial service for a long time resident. Andi had been with MORA for over 30 years and was very sick. In May she went into the hospital and her care givers were concerned she wouldn’t be coming out. She was placed into hospice in her (our) home and the last few weeks of her life was care for deeply and gracefully by our caregivers, her family, the hospice nurses and her roommates.  We held a memorial service for her so that her family, roommates and caregivers could celebrate her life.  Wow. It was an amazing experience. Pastor Don (Don Don to her)  presided and it was all about Andi’s favorite music.  Her roommates, sang and moved.  Her caregivers shared their stories.  Her family thanked her caregivers for making sure she had a happy and joyous life. It was beyond touching to know how important she was to so many people.  The moment that hit home for me was when her brother read the scripture Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Since you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.  If you know me, you know I am not a religious person but I am a spiritual person.  This passage settled into my soul. This is why MORA is here. This is why I am excited to be a part of this organization. To serve.
  • As part of my on boarding, I’ve been touring our homes and day program. I’ve met some of our residents, talked to a few families and am hoping they will become friends.  Jackie loves to bake. Every holiday she bakes a new cake. But, she’s also very shy.  The 2nd time I met her, I showed her the crazy cake that Kay had made for herself for her birthday. Jackie’s eyes perked up and her caregiver asked if I’d send her the picture. I have no doubt they’ll be baking a similar cake soon.  Debby’s sisters and I have been chatting about the recent move of homes for Debby. She’s adjusting well and we’ve been discussing the best way to support her as she’s starting to experience age related issues as well.  Tracy greats EVERYONE that comes to Adult Day Services (ADS) with a big hug.  She was kind enough to have her picture taken with me and her hug made my day, it was a big long strong hug.  I think I might go every day just to get one.
  • We invited the board and new Senior Pastor (Pastor Lose) to celebrate 2 big milestones – hitting 400 referrals for our new case management work and serving 10,000 people through the MCCP crisis line.  Case Management was launching a year ago while MCCP is a 20+ year old program. It was fun to see the team interacting and encouraging each other. The Case Managers were in awe of MCCP’s accomplishments and the credibility they have developed for themselves. And the MCCP team was really proud that our case management work had a perfect audit by the state in their 1st year. The board introduced themselves to our staff and shared why they were passionate about MORA. Our board chair thanked Pam Miller for all our work as interim President and Pastor Lose expressed his excitement to learn more about our great work.

This is just the very beginning and we have a lot to do but, keeping the care of our clients at the center of all our work will be the inspiration and motivation we need as we move forward. I hope the team will be gracious with me as I learn this really complicated space. And, of course, I’m excited to apply my unique skills to make a difference in our operations and financial so that we can serve even more people.



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!