Five Things I Have Learned in 5 Years

I recently celebrated the 5 year anniversary of starting my business, “In the Know.” That’s me, surrounded by my amazing volunteer Board of Advisors. Each of them helped me to hit this milestone. And as I reflect back, I think of five things I have learned…all of which could help you with fundraising.

1 – Ask for help when you need it. When I started my business, there was so much I didn’t know. So I surrounded myself with smart people who all had different gifts: marketing, research, business experience, legal help, and more. I could have struggled through, but each of them helped propel me forward faster because I could learn from their knowledge.

2 – Nothing works better than relationships. There isn’t a shortcut to developing a devoted list of donors or clients. What works best is what has always worked…building relationships over time.

3 – Know your strengths. Sometimes it feels like we have to know it all, but we don’t. I have learned what I am really good at, and what things I should recruit someone else to do. When I come from my strength I enjoy my work so much more.

4 – Giving back feels good. At the end of the day, I started my business for the same reason you do your job: it feels great to be part of the solution. I love that my work helps nonprofits make a greater impact on our community and our world.

5 – Take care of YOU. I have learned the hard way that when I give and give and give, I have nothing left for myself. And then I can’t give to others either. When I have a great balance of work and life by taking care of me, I can make an even greater impact when I am working.

I hope my lessons learned have been helpful to you too! I would like to send a special thanks to my volunteer Board of Advisors: (left to right) Bryn Rath, Jami Fassett, Joe Grubenhoff, (me), Jayne & Dan Smith, Terri Starck, and Jennifer Knievel.

Posted in Learning Opportunities

So You Want to Be a Consultant?

If you have worked for nonprofits for a while, there’s a chance that at some point you have wondered what it would be like to be a consultant. I started my business nearly 5 years ago, and I get asked all the time about “being my own boss.” If you have ever wondered if consulting is right for you, ask yourself these questions:

Do you have the expertise necessary to be a consultant? No shortcuts here. The only path to being a great consultant is having experience in your specialty area.

Do you have a robust network? The organizations where you have worked and volunteered are a great start. Bonus if you’re involved with the Association of Fundraising Professionals or other groups that work with nonprofits.

What level of risk or uncertainty is comfortable for you? There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, but knowing your comfort level will inform decisions you make about your business, like whether you start with a client on the side or just quit your job and jump in all at once. No matter how much planning you do, there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to consulting, so know how you feel about this.

Are you self-motivated? Working from home (at least to start) requires being able to focus on work and ignore all the things you usually do at home. And while you will have some deadlines, it will be all up to you to complete projects on time.

Do you prefer a challenge or are you more comfortable with routine? As a consultant, you are often being asked to come in and help solve a problem. If rolling up your sleeves and figuring out what isn’t working is something you enjoy more than a predictable routine of tasks, consulting might be a good fit.

Do you want to run a business? Consulting is only one part of what you will do as a consultant, believe it or not. You also have to run the business – find new clients, update your web site, pay your bills, do your budget, manage your marketing, and more. You won’t have a team or co-workers to help you with these things, unless you’re willing to pay for that help.

Do you like to toot your own horn? If talking about yourself and what you’re good at feels uncomfortable to you, then it will be a challenge for you to find clients. On the other hand, you need to be able to listen, because if you’re busy tooting your horn too often, you may miss what the potential client really needs.

I truly enjoy working with different clients and causes and being in charge of my own schedule. I enjoy doing interesting and challenging work with fun clients while my kids are at school. Consulting isn’t a fit for everyone, so it’s best to know your own personality and what to expect before heading down this path. Still interested? Check out this free resource.
Special thanks to Kathie Kramer Ryan of Arroyo Fundraising for helping me develop this list!

Posted in Learning Opportunities

Staying in the Mindset of Discovery

Sometimes we get stuck. We look at a problem, maybe we’ve faced it before and maybe it’s a new roadblock, and we just don’t know how to…move…forward. Have you felt this way? Being a creature of habit can actually prevent us from looking at a problem from different perspectives. We don’t see a world of possibilities because we have already narrowed down those possibilities to what we have done before. Try putting on a new pair of glasses.


I recently read a great book called “Innovative Mindset – 5 Behaviors of Accelerating Breakthroughs” by John Sweeney and Elena Imaretska. The authors talk about behaviors we can practice every day to be more innovative and to stay in the mindset of discovery, rather than in the mindset of fear. In fact, being in a mindset of discovery means that mistakes are an opportunity to learn, and change is fuel to move forward.

What does this have to do with fundraising? I believe the work we do is rewarding and impactful – but sometimes it’s just hard. Being innovative and staying in a discovery mindset can give you fresh eyes on an old problem. It can open your mind to exploring new ideas, new tactics, and to solving something we have been avoiding.

If this sounds good, try practicing these behaviors:
1. Listen – Be present and aware. Approach an interaction as if the other person has vital information and it’s your job to uncover that information. Decide to really listen before you begin to listen. You might be surprised at what you uncover.

2. Defer Judgment – Rather than jumping to an immediate conclusion, allow the space for innovation to take place by deferring judgment an taking it all in.

3. Declare – Speak up and be clear about your position. Sometimes it’s hard to move forward when a group of people are dancing around how they really feel.

4. Reframe – Stop and recognize how you are seeing a situation, then try seeing it from a different point of view. Reframe mistakes into learning opportunities. Challenge yourself to see things differently than you do now.

5. Jump-in – Don’t get stuck in the analysis stage. Rather than waiting for every step to be clear, use what you have to move forward and plan to adjust as you go along.

Try to distract your inner negative voice with these skills to generate new insights and be more innovative. I hope that the next time you feel up against a challenge that feels negative you are able to stay in a discovery mindset and approach the situation from the perspective of what can be learned and gained. Happy innovating!

Posted in Learning Opportunities