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How to get a meeting with anyone

2009_0804_ss_woman_businessMy colleague Jeff Schreifels wrote a great blog post called "You Need a Friend" on how important it is for development professionals to have mentors. This is great advice. We all need friends and especially peers in our industry we can go to for advice. Mentors inspire us and help us build our expertise. I used to get emails and phone calls from students wanting an interview for a class or advice on moving to a nonprofit career. Most of them were college students and if they had a deadline it was that week. Real agendas were not made clear until I was sitting across from them. After a few years of this I grew wary of these requests until one day I got an email from a graduate student at the Acton MBA program in entrepreneurship.

It was an unforgettable breath of fresh air. She asked for precisely 30 minutes of my time, told me exactly what she wanted to cover, promised she would only ask me questions not answered by my press or blog, and in exchange would donate 10 hours of her time to my favorite charity. Three years later I'm still raving about her!

Susie Hall, Director of Admission at Acton was kind enough to share her technique with me, it's called Naive Networking. It is the most honest and realistic guide to networking I've ever read and a must read for any student or professional wanting to get ahead. Frankly, I wish they taught this in high school! Here are my favorite Naive Networking tips:

1) Do your personal soul searching and industry homework first. 2) Be specific about what you need. Make sure the other person understands how a little effort on their part can make a big difference in your life. 3) Don't pester 4) Show up prepared 5) Send your questions in advance 6) Ask questions. My favorite? "What's your favorite mistake?" 7) Give something unexpected in return. In my case it was 10 hours to my favorite charity. 8) Be nice to the gatekeepers. 9) Follow up. 10) And as my colleague Jeff would resoundingly agree with me: be gracious and be grateful.

Stay classy, Rachel

5 reasons to donate to a charity's overhead

I'd like to restrict my donation to pay for salaries, rent, professional development, health insurance, a bonus, a staff retreat, or fundraising.  In sum, if it's "overhead" I'd like the charities I support to spend 100% of my donation on it. Most people want the exact opposite.  Funder after funder, foundation after foundation, all caught in the same trap.  A vicious trap.  A trap called out by a highly controversial and timely advocate: Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable: How Restraints on Non-profits Undermine Their Potential. I wish you could see the amazing presentation he gave at the Texas Non-Profit Summit last month, but sadly the "content was removed by owner", whatever that means.  Kudos to Greenlights and especially the brilliant Kim Wilson, for bringing Dan Pallotta and his provocative message to our industry.  I'm halfway done with Dan's book.  The first half of the book tackles an argument around non-profit compensation that seems to trump and polarize people into a complete bottleneck of an argument that renders them useless for getting to what I believe is most important issue at hand: an arbitrary meaningless yardstick destroying the effectiveness of non-profit industry and the very fabric and essence of philanthropy.

What's the yardstick?  A societal obsession that's led to the institutionalization of the belief that a non-profits percentage of spending on fundraising and administrative is an indication of effectiveness AND worthiness of a funders donation.

Hogwash.  Here are 5 reasons to donate to overhead.

1) How much money a charity spends on administrative or fundraising expenses is arbitrary and meaningless.  It says absolutely nothing about what matters: how effective the agency is at fulfilling their mission.   Some agencies rent space.  Some get it for free.  That doesn't matter: what matters is how is the charity impacting the lives it's trying to change?  If it can't serve its clients because there's no parking at their "free" in-kind office space then they aren't very efficient and my gift is more likely to make a bigger impacting at at agency paying rent.

2) The "ratio" of general and administrative expenses to program expenses is a fabricated number to start with.  Charities decide what expenses are allocated to programs and what are allocated to overhead.  There isn't one way to do it.  There are many.  One ED entered every expense into Quickbooks, regardless of the charge, to 90% programs, 3% fundraising and 7% administrative.   I would estimate she is in good company and many charities, especially larger ones, follow her formula.  At the non-profit I started and led for twelve years I took a different approach: expenses and timesheets were billed directly to the programs they were spent on or served (i.e. summer camp, after school etc).  To put it simply, "overhead" is in the eye of the beholder.

3) Helping ensure that people are compensated fairly for their talents and dedication, that achievements are rewarded, that staff can live comfortably, that workers have the technology infrastructure to thrive and efficiently serve clients and raise money, and work in facilities that are fully operational, optimal and safe is aGOOD investment. It's money well spent.  End of story.  Nuff' said.

4) Whatever happened to the joy of giving? To the spirit of philanthropy? Do we really think so low of people at charities that we honestly can't trust them with the very dollars we want to give?  Hmmm...if we feel that way have we really spent enough time getting to know them?  Or do we have trust issues?  If so, why are we giving?  Are you a bitter, cave-dwelling, catlike creature with a heart "two sizes too small," living on snowy Mount Crumpit, just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos?  If so, please stay on Mount Crumpit and stay away from charitable ventures in Whoville.  A true philanthropist is made of many admirable traits and after generosity come equal parts of faith and trust.  If you don't have that, don't give.  Sadly, non-profits are courting enough grinches already and don't need another.

5) Focus on what is important in the first place:  that Headstart is giving kids a headstart to succeed.  That adoption agencies are getting kids adopted into safe, loving homes.

What's the overhead in your house?  Paper towels?  Toilet paper?  Could you live without that?  I hope you wouldn't try.  Should we judge you for spending on that?

Give and stay classy,


The secret to asking a favor no one can say no to

Everyone's busy and time is money.  We need each other but we're all swamped.  How do you get your request moved to the top of the stack?  How do you get the door opened?  How do you get your name at the top of the list? Today I got THE BEST ask for a visit that I've ever received.  Not only could I not say no, I couldn't wait to meet this amazing person.  I immediately asked if I could share her flawless prose on my blog and she graciously agreed:

Dear Rachel,

I am inspired and excited by the work you have chosen to do, from Girlstart to Mothers’ Milk, motherhood to consulting.  Your career, which you have described as a “calling”, is a great example of passion breeding profession.

I am writing to ask if you will grant me 30 minutes of your time for an informal interview on the subject of Calling.  I am an aspiring entrepreneur and an incoming MBA candidate at the Acton School of Business. We have been given the daunting but important challenge of spending 30 Minutes with an Entrepreneurial Hero.  I’d like to spend those 30 minutes with you.

There is no hidden agenda, I’m not job-seeking—I’m just hoping you’ll share some of the lessons you’ve learned about leveraging passion into career, balancing career with motherhood, and living a life of meaning.

If you say “yes” I promise to make good use of your time.  I will ask you only the questions that I’ve been unable to answer from reading your press and blog.  I will send you questions in advance and will end on time.  As a thank you, I’d like to donate ten hours of my time to your favorite Austin charity.

I am moving to Austin this Friday, August 6th.  I’d be pleased to meet at your convenience as early as this weekend, and would love for my first memories of Austin, Texas to include a meeting with you.  Please let me know how I can make this happen.


Ariel Julia Nazryan, Acton School of Business Class of 2011

Here's what Ariel does right:

1) She took the time to know her subject and (just as importantly) let them know she knows them.

2) She asks for a very specific and reasonable amount of time.

3) Just as important as telling me what the meeting IS; she tells me what it ISN'T.

4) She commits to using the time wisely by sending me questions ahead of time.

5) Best part?  She generously gives me the gift of HER TIME, ten hours of it, for MY favorite charity!  What a win-win!  I can feel great about someone this brilliant helping out some of the causes I hold dear.

Want to open the door to your next opportunity?  I would bet money if you followed Ariel's method you'll get the meeting.  What are you waiting for?  Go forth and ask!

Stay classy,