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Apr 11, 2024
Posted Under: Advocacy

The federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has announced major reforms to the Uniform Guidance, the set of common rules governing most federal grantmaking to charitable nonprofits, state, local, and Tribal governments.  The reforms correct longstanding challenges in the government grants process that have limited nonprofit effectiveness, discouraged qualified organizations from seeking and performing under federal grants, and wasted billions of dollars and countless hours in needlessly complex reporting requirements. Specifically, the revisions to the OMB Uniform Guidance, which becomes effective October 1, 2024, address longstanding problems in recovering actual costs, advance equity by removing bureaucratic barriers, and make other significant reforms that will reduce burdens and costs of seeking, performing, and reporting on grants using federal funds.

Apr 9, 2024
Posted Under: Leadership Development President's letter

Springtime in Alaska is the time that tests our convictions the most – the time when you can still ski, snowshoe, and snowmachine, and there are more moments to walk or ride on pavement, gravel, and hard ground – a time of hope and a bit of pleading for slightly more sunshine and slightly less gray as the daylight invites us to do more and hibernate less. This is truly the time of year that reminds me that I get to hold a lot of emotions, energy, and ideas all at once. It is also the time of year that my mindset matters.

Our work in the nonprofit sector also looks and feels like the weather – the highs and lows are palpable and most days ridiculous to juggle. The list of what confronts us as a sector is daunting on a good day – pandemic business recovery, delayed payments, workforce shortages, leadership transition, underfunding, cuts, and more. So, facing it with a “get to” not a “have to” mindset where the abundance outweighs the scarcity is what gets me through the days.

When I got into this work in my early 20s, there were a lot of conversations about how to approach the work, and specifically the recommendation was a mindset of “work-life balance.” As an early Gen Xer, I knew the rewards and perils of watching my mom and her mom and all the women who had come before me fight hard to “have it all” in work and life. To be sure, I was raised to believe that was possible and even expected of me.

I was in, but frankly, I bristled at the notion of “work-life balance” as a term, as a goal, as a mindset, or even as a reality. This became even more true for me when I became a parent almost two decades later. The notion of “balance” seemed like a magical place of haves and have-nots and mostly just provoked a feeling of failure for me. When I was working, I lamented not being with my girl and when I was with my girl, I was thinking of work – it felt “lose-lose” and so far away from “win-win.” I just kept thinking, “What is balance anyway, and who says?” Over time and through a lot of tears and deep work, I reframed it for myself as “work-life peace.”

My daily effort was “peace” with my choices, even when – or especially when – they didn’t make sense to someone else who thought I should be doing it differently. Each of us will find peace in an hour, a day, a week, a year, and what works for each of us is going to be different. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have expectations, responsibilities, policies, practices, and culture to live up to at work and home, but it does mean that we can recognize that we are all navigating in our own ways – some based on kids, some based on parents or other family members in our sphere of caring – some based on other responsibilities that have less to do with people and more to do with commitments we have made. We can also recognize that our ability to find peace will change over time and that means we will have new choices to make.

I say all this right now as a reminder to myself and to each of us that the work we do to reset our thinking and even the words we use to describe our days matter.

I also say all this right now because as a sector, of the many challenges in front of us, one of the biggest is that we are navigating unprecedented shifts in our workforce and our volunteer force. It seems no nonprofit is immune from workforce shortages at all levels of staffing. Our inability to compete in the marketplace based on our restrictive, slow-to-change and hard-to-raise funding streams hamper our ability to pivot to meet the demands of a workforce who so rightfully know they deserve better and are less compromising in their understanding of the constraints. This turnover in staff is then exacerbated by the trend predicted long ago that is now a reality – the exit of our nonprofit C-Suite leaders. It would be one thing if all this churn was only happening in our staff spaces, but it is equally true in our board and volunteer environments. This should be no surprise really, but it is. If the pandemic years invited us to ask how we truly want to spend our time and what matters most in our lives, then we as a collective body are not just going to change our work, we are going to change how we spend our free time too.

And yet our surprise means, for the most part, that we are unprepared and full of negative judgment which further permeates our spaces. Even with this mindset, or despite it, we CAN do many things to be prepared. Here are just a few:

  • If you are on the board: You can work with your team to write and live a Board Succession Plan to attend to the full cycle of board service (strategic recruitment – thoughtful engagement – graceful exit) or come to our board succession class coming up in May.
  • If you are the CEO: You and your team can write and adopt a CEO and Staff Succession Plan
  • If you are on staff: You and your CEO can work together to consider and engage all employees in talking about benefits you can offer in flexibility and meaningful work that are manageable in the budget
  • Everyone can raise their voice to advocate for prompt payment from the state I encourage you to do all those things AND there is something else…

Please do all these things in 2024. And, what if we all did one more thing together…

What if we collectively shifted our thinking and all that came after that, as I had to do long ago from “balance” to “peace,” and move from the deficit mindset of all the “quitting” that is happening to seeing it as “choosing.”

What if we face each staff, board, and volunteer departure in front of us by celebrating that those around us are making choices – indeed, they are not quitting but they are choosing to do what feels right for themselves, their family, the mission, and the community.

For me, shifting to a mindset of choice means the unfolding of many things. It means I am now in a place to celebrate the act of choice by each staff, board, and volunteer as an opportunity, not an obligation. That then allows me to see that the choice is first a personal one to serve one’s community; which then helps me see a choice for the existing board/staff members to create and sustain a meaningful and positive experience for new people who join; which then invites me to see that these choices are part of what makes the fabric of our communities and creates a space of respect for those who serve; and finally to understand that all these choices represent how we choose every day as a sector to hold space for civic engagement so that our democracy can truly thrive.

Sure, that is a lot to ask of a simple shift in mindset, especially when faced with a declining number of people on the team, but the alternative is to perpetuate an environment of stress and deep fatigue and to see every departure as a failure. The small but huge act of shifting our mindset from something easily portrayed and reinforced as negative to something that feels more abundant frees us all to do our best work with those who choose to show up.

So, to each of you showing up every day to this work and to those who are making different choices, I see you, I celebrate you, and we are continuing to be in support of you.

Laurie

 

 

 

Mar 11, 2024
Posted Under: Leadership Development President's letter

When does the fun part start? More than any other question I received over a few days with a recent cohort of executive directors, this was the question that grabbed everyone’s attention. Everyone wanted to know. Everyone needed to know. I could see it in all the faces on my screen – I could feel it in the urgency of their voices. I knew that question all too well as I have asked it so many times in my career. And because I had found my answers enough times, I was in a position at that moment (and all the other times I have heard this question) to hold some space for the answers to unfold. I say unfold because it is a journey for each person to find both the grace and energy that comes with an answer – I knew that myself, and I knew that not everyone is so lucky.

But at this moment, as I stared back at these phenomenal new leaders with all my hopes for them, I also knew that any truth I had to offer would likely feel unsatisfying at least initially because they wanted an answer – perhaps even a literal moment on the calendar like somehow at 1 year, 3 months, and 4 hours this work was finally going to match all the excitement they felt when they accepted their position. And, not only was there not one answer or a specific date and time, I knew then and now, even as a wave of sadness took hold, that if they were left alone to figure it out without support or were unable to locate the answer, then they would not last in their roles. So I leaned in, too.

Let’s face it, the last four years have forever changed not just how the work gets done but our expectations of work itself. Countless published articles are trying to tell the story of where we are now – a story of staff shortages, broken business models due to government cuts or lack of payment, declining philanthropy and a general lack of unrestricted cash, high board turnover, loss of volunteers, and high demands by staff for competitive compensation and ultimate working flexibility. Not that the staff piece is bad, to be clear, but the stress and strain for leaders who are pushed and pulled and expected to make impossible decisions is real every single day now. The need to find our joy and stay in the work on any given Tuesday is not just real – it is essential to our missions.

I wonder, as I think about each of you reading this, how you are doing. Truly. How are you finding the fun and hanging onto the joy? I sure don’t have all the answers but just as I did at that moment with the group of executives, I am doing now because we could all use some support to find the fun and joy in this work – regardless of title or tenure in our organizations. So engage some board member allies, ask a friend, drink a few cups of coffee with another executive, hire a coach or a mentor, and consider a few of these ideas together. Do whatever it takes that works best for each of you to tap into the fun and joy that got you into this work in the first place.

The following ideas are not perfect and there is no one way, but maybe these ideas will spur other ideas to help you find your answers so you can stay longer and enjoy the work more.

  1. Ask, answer, and act on the question: How often do I have to touch the mission to feel meaning and joy in my work? What I love about this question is the remarkably different answers it evokes. First, each person has their own idea of what it means to “touch” the mission including delivering the service to watching it in action. For someone who rose up inside an organization and has seen the mission from a variety of perspectives, the answer is generally quite different than for someone who joined the mission in a singular position. Then the issue of timing comes in, and I have heard answers that range from “every day” to “once a week” to longer stints but also answers that are more about depth of connection than about time. The point here is that the gift of nonprofit life is that it is never “just a job” – it is a calling, an act of service, a commitment to something larger than any one of us, and because of that the mission acts as a touchstone with power beyond measure. Being with it or near it or doing it reminds each of us in our own way of our why. Why we do the hard things, why we keep going when the spark and joy are beyond our grasp. For many, committing or recommitting to touching the mission more often can be the spark we need.
  2. Ask, answer, and act on the question: What is the work? I remember far too many times in my early days as CEO going to work all day and then going home “to do the work.” For obvious reasons, this 10-14 hour day was destined to suck all the joy out of the work, but thankfully I had someone who helped me reframe what was happening and it changed how I thought of my time and therefore my resentment of it (even if it didn’t always change the hours). I began to ask myself every day – what is the work today? This simple question was both permission to not just show up to the urgency of the day but a reminder of the strategic and essential priorities. It reminded me that a day spent listening to the staff about their work is just as important if not more important than anything else I had thought of as “the work” on my to-do list. The act of asking the question means an opportunity for choice, an opportunity to reframe, an opportunity to own the answer rather than just react to the day, an opportunity to give myself grace for what is on the list and what comes off the list in a day, a week, a month, a year. How are you defining the work?
  3. Focus on what matters the most. This is a variation of 1 and 2 but with an understanding that culture eats strategy for lunch and if we don’t make space for the big ideas, the strategic initiatives, the areas that truly move mission forward, and we only let the day-to-day drive us, many of us will not be having any fun at all. So, this is a directive to hold the strategic space as sacred. This is an invitation to ask and engage in the big questions without the need necessarily to have the answer. This is the space of generative thinking, of big ideas that matter now or will matter later. For some of us, we can do the daily stuff if we know it adds up to the big stuff. For others of us, the big stuff is where joy lives every day. Make room. Hold the time. Make the space. Dream. Explore. Maybe a lot, maybe just when you can’t remember the last time you did it.
  4. Prioritize the connective tissue. I have had some very odd jobs in my life as have many of us, and I have had some jobs I would call my career. In each of them, I have thought I could do just about anything if I respect and trust the people I am doing it with – extra points if we could laugh together. Pandemic space did its best to suck all the fun out of our connection in the work. We lost fun traditions, we lost watercooler connections, and even the way we meet as teams or one-on-one is just – different. If you are still in the same job, you likely notice this difference more than your colleagues who joined you in the last few years. Their normal and yours are not the same. The only way forward now is through it, so for some of us the joy can be found in making new traditions in this new environment by focusing on the connections that hold us together. I think of this as the cartilage of the team. This is the space now where we can lean into our values to create meaningful spaces for fun. It is worth the time because team culture matters – shared stories, traditions, and experiences matter. We often say at Foraker that we move at the speed of trust, and trust is built by showing up to each other as our whole selves. For some of us, this is where joy lives or where it is missing – it is in the connective tissue. And just like in our bodies, we have to take care and pay attention, or it could just grind away. Sure, you likely have to adapt how you used to do it or how you get to do it now in an in-person, remote, and hybrid team, but all the time you take carries you that much further through the hardest parts.
  5. Rest – restore – renew. This is last on my list not because it is least important but because it often feels like a last resort option. My hope for all of us is that we can reverse that trend and make it instead a norm in our nonprofit culture. Rest – restore – review can look like something formal such as a sabbatical or it can just be an hour on a random Thursday when the sun is out and you simply prioritize yourself for the sake of you. Truth be told, this is something I am not always great at, but I am getting better over time by admiring it in others and taking small steps here and there. Still, others I know, wow they are good at this in big and small ways. And when I say that, I am not really thinking about their ability to take a vacation or to step away, but more about the mindset that accompanies those actions that have nothing to do with guilt, worry, or second-guessing. The time is not just for their body, it is for their brain. It is not just about stepping away from the work but it is about renewing the spirit. Again, I have seen people do this in an hour of thoughtfulness and in extended planned time away. The result is the same – a joy and appreciation of the work in front of them when they return. Maybe this is what you are looking for, too?

As I think about how all five of these ways can lead us to more fun and more joy, I see a common denominator – choice. Choosing to ask a question in a new way, choosing to dive in, choosing to refocus, choosing to rest. In all of the ways, the feeling and exercising of choice make all the difference. One of my favorite lessons in our Catalyst for Nonprofit Excellence program is all about choice. The choice of getting to do the work rather than having to do the work. You are doing the work regardless, but even shifting one word in how we show up to that task or that day can shift the whole experience. Truly. Try it. This “have to/get to” reframe can be used in countless moments and each time it reminds us of the freedom to choose how we will show up to the hardest and most joyless days and turn them into the same days that make us feel like we can fly.

Let’s find some more fun together and fly.

-Laurie

Mar 8, 2024
Posted Under: Leadership Development       Tags: salary and benefits

Help us create a tool for Alaska nonprofits to use in making important personnel decisions. Your participation in our salary and benefits survey allows us to generate a report to help you establish a salary for a new position, evaluate salary norms within the Alaska nonprofit sector, and compare your organization’s benefit offerings and total compensation competitiveness.

Why should I participate?
The report is only as good as the level of participation—the more participation, the more statistically significant and reliable data will be available to help Alaska’s nonprofit community advance conversations about competitive compensation practices. And, if your organization participates, you’ll receive a $100 discount off the price of the full report. The survey is open for participation through April 5, 2024.

What do I need to complete the survey?
The survey will take approximately 30-45 minutes to complete. You’ll need a list of your employees’ positions and wages, your employee handbook, and details about your benefits.

To assure your confidentiality, we will not disclose individual or organization-specific data, and we will not report data for categories that include fewer than three respondents.

TAKE THE SURVEY

Mar 5, 2024
Posted Under: Advocacy

Update March 6, 2024
This morning the subcommittee voted to preserve full funding for the Human Services Community Matching Grants and the Community Initiative Matching Grant. We did it! Nonprofit power at work! Thank you to everyone who reached out to the subcommittee. We will continue to monitor these appropriations as the budget makes its way through the legislative process. Please stay alert for announcements about opportunities to provide public testimony to the full Finance Committee. 

March 5, 2024

The House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Social Services is proposing significant cuts to the Department of Health – Human Services Community Matching Grant ($300,000 or a 23% reduction) and the Community Initiative Matching Grant ($400,000 or a 70% reduction).  These matching grants provide essential services to Alaska’s most vulnerable populations.

We need your action today.  Please engage your board, volunteers, and staff to make your voice heard.  Your action is needed TODAY.  Contact the House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Social Services and tell them that breaking Alaska’s safety net is not an option.  Let them know the harm to Alaskans that this cut will have today and into the future.

House Finance Subcommittee on Health and Social Services:

  • Rep. Will Stapp (Fairbanks) 907-465-3004 Representative.Will.Stapp@akleg.gov
  • Rep. Mike Prax (North Pole) 907-465-4797 Representative.Mike.Prax@akleg.gov
  • Rep. CJ McCormick (D-Bethel) 907-465-4942 Representative.CJ.McCormick@akleg.gov
  • Rep. Justin Ruffridge (R-Soldotna) 907-465-2694 Representative.Justin.Ruffridge@akleg.gov
  • Rep. Dan Saddler (R-Eagle River) 907-465-3783 Representative.Dan.Saddler@akleg.gov
  • Rep. Jesse Sumner (R-Wasilla) 907-465-4833 Representative.Jesse.Sumner@akleg.gov

 

Human Services Community Matching Grant. The list of grantees includes:

  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Alzheimer’s of Alaska
  • Big Brothers Big Sisters
  • Boys & Girls Club of Alaska
  • Fairbanks Community Food Bank
  • Helping Alaska
  • Interior AIDS Association
  • Interior Community Health Center
  • Literacy Council of Alaska
  • North Star Council on Aging
  • Northern Hope Center
  • Resource Center Parents Children
  • Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis
  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Catholic Social Services
  • Covenant House Alaska
  • RurAL CAP
  • Alaska Legal Services Corporation
  • Boys and Girls Club
  • Blood-n-Fire Ministry of Alaska
  • Catholic Community Services Early Learning
  • Wasilla Area Seniors, Inc.
  • Mat-Su Food Bank
  • Mat-Su Senior Services
  • My House
  • United Way
  • Kids Kupboard
  • Set Free Alaska
  • The Children’s Place
  • Valley Charities
  • Access Alaska
  • Salvation Army
  • Nine Star Education and Employment
  • Sunshine Community Health Center
  • Sunshine Transit

 

Community Initiative Matching Grants. The list of grantees includes:

  • Alaska Legal Services
  • Bethel Community Services Foundation
  • Bethel Winter Shelter Lion’s Club
  • Choosing Our Roots
  • First City Homeless Services
  • Helping Ourselves Prevent Emergencies
  • Independent Living Center-Homer
  • Juneau Housing First Collaborative
  • Maniilaq Association
  • Native Village of Unalakleet Nome Community Center
  • Nome Emergency Shelter Team (NEST)
  • North Slope Borough
  • Railbelt Mental Health Association
  • Southeast Alaska Independent Living, Inc. (SAIL)
  • Women in Safe Homes