Why is your fundraising job so overwhelming?
What can you do about it?
Maybe it’s about boundaries.
Want to learn to have better boundaries at work?
Check out this interview with Sheena Greer, and then check out her session at the fundraising virtual conference on April 6th-8th!
If you need help creating powerful communications that activate donors and the community, Sheena Greer of Colludo can help.
With over a decade of nonprofit experience wearing every hat imaginable, she provides disruptive sense-making to your organisation by asking tough questions of your strategies and delivering the high-quality content your supporters need to see. She wants to help you kick ass at doing good.
MT:Oh, wonderful. It’s recording. Excellent. Okay. So hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and I am so pleased to be interviewing Sheena Greer today. You may have seen Sheena on Twitter under ColludoS, and her website is colludo.ca. And just a little background about Sheena, if you need help creating powerful communications that activate donors, she can help. So with over a decade of nonprofit experience wearing every hat imaginable, she provides disruptive sense-making to organizations by asking tough questions of your strategies and delivering the high quality content your supporters need to see. She wants to help you kick ass at doing good. So I love that. Welcome, Sheena. Thank you so much for being interviewed today.
SG:Thank you for having me.
MT: I really appreciate you. So Sheena, who are you aside from my intro, and how long have you been fundraising?
SG: Wow, interesting question. So I actually started out in film school, and I dropped out of that and I got a degree in medieval English. And because that’s very useful, right? I ended up actually getting an internship when I was still in school. It was sort of like an internship program of what you can do with an English degree. I stumbled into a provincial nonprofit. I’m in Saskatchewan, so it was a provincial nonprofit that focused on literacy and literacy policy, and working with adult learners and families to just do better with their literacy and learning and bring that sort of to the forefront. While that cause specifically has become something that I’m really passionate about, just the world in general of nonprofits and being able to work with people who are all focused on hopefully doing better and making the world a better place is something that resonated with me as someone who always loved that and always was pretty stubborn in wanting to make things better. So it was a wonderful fit.
In terms of fundraising, I started and I was doing programming. Then I moved to events and volunteers, and I did communications. It was a few years ago that I happened to apply for a job that was communications and fundraising. I thought, oh, I don’t know if I can do this. I got the job and I did it, and that’s something that especially at small shops, you don’t often have a fundraiser on staff. So in terms of fundraising, whether it’s individuals or writing grants or tracking down government officials and trying to get them to like you kind of thing, we were always sort of all involved in fundraising. So this was just taking that role and those early lessons from all those different hats and applying it directly to an organization and looking at their individuals and what they were doing to really love their donors, right? So I’ve been in the field for about a decade, and I’ve been into fundraising for about the last four, five years or so, and it’s been wonderful.
MT: Wow. So I was going to ask you about how you got into fundraising, but you kind of answered that question. And you went through causes to fundraise. You said you fundraise for literacy. Is that right?
SG: Yeah. So I’ve worked with literacy organizations. I’ve worked with some health and disease specific organizations. And actually I met my husband, he ran a music promotion nonprofit that was all about getting young people in to play and experience live music. So in a volunteer capacity, I did some communications and sponsorship, trying to get money from the community to put on shows and that kind of thing. So it’s been from very official roles as the only fundraiser on staff to volunteering, just talking to people about getting them out and supporting. It’s sort of been a wide gamut of opportunity there.
MT: Wow. So you’ve done that, and so that’s really good to know. So what do you know about creating boundaries in the workplace based on your previous experience?
SG: I know that it is something that I struggled with, probably my entire life, creating boundaries. So who better to talk about boundaries than someone who has made a lot of mistakes and who has learned hard lessons from making those mistakes? I also know that it’s something that – oh, my gosh. So many people that I work with now, friends and colleagues and clients in the field all sort of say the same thing. Like I need better boundaries. I have a lot of conversations about how I can make that happen better for myself, but also how I can help and how those individuals can help themselves in creating them for themselves in their workplaces, for them and their colleagues and that kind of thing. I think it’s something that people really struggle with.
MT: Yeah, definitely. So what are you doing now with the boundaries piece? I know you’ve got some things you’re doing as a consultant now.
SG: Yeah. So as I say, a lot of the conversations that I have sort of one-on-one casually end up being about like how do I create better boundaries for myself? And there’s a lot of venting. Like, oh, my boss calls me in the middle of the night demanding this, or whatever. So there’s a lot of strife there. And I recognize in conjunction with boundaries, people who work for nonprofits need a safe place to learn and to vent and to dream about not only where they can take their communities and their organizations, but where they can take themselves. So sort of knowing all of this and realizing that the people that work in our field are very vulnerable to working too hard and giving a lot and not getting a lot back in terms of support or financials, or whatever.
I created an event called the play date, and it’s essentially a small group of nonprofit professionals from different organizations and all wearing different hats that come together for a day of bitching, and a day of scheming and dreaming and really talking about all kinds of issues. Some within the field. And often it comes to conversations about boundaries and how to deal with that difficult boss or that difficult staff member, or that difficult corporate partner or whatever it is. A lot of people have difficulties dealing with those relationships and creating strong boundaries that are workable for them, but also allow the organizations and the partners involved to really do good together. And that’s been super fun to do that and collaborate with lots of wonderful local leaders who really want to do good things. They want to do good things for their community and for their organizations and for themselves.
To just see everyone come together and struggle a little bit together, be a little uncomfortable together in term of like, oh man, this sucks. This is so hard. But then come out at the end of the day really feeling positive about the relationships that they’ve made around the room, but also just gathering tools. Very practical. Even just a phone number of a guy to call and be like, oh man, I’m dealing with this with my boss right now and you said you had some great advice, or you’d dealt with this before. Can we talk about it? So it’s been a really powerful experience. Beyond boundaries, people just get really recharged. Sort of seeing other people experience the same kinds of issues, but that people are all pointed in a very similar direction in terms of where they want to take their careers, where they want to take their organizations, and of course where we want to see our communities growing and thriving.
MT: So on that note, what session will you be teaching at the Virtual Fundraising Career Conference in April?
SG: I will be teaching a session on creating better boundaries in the workplace. It’s going to be a lot of fun. As I say, it’s something that I’ve always struggled with and still struggle with. But I feel like I can take not only the knowledge that I’ve gained through making some very terrible missteps and having to sort of backtrack and fix things from my own boundary issues. But I’ve also talked to so many people about their own boundary issues and done a lot of reading and research, and I hope to share that with an eager audience, who probably has a lot of tools of their own that they’ll be able to share. But to have a really great conversation about how do we even start. When we’ve got no boundaries, where do we begin, and what kinds of things can we do on a regular basis to ensure that we’re less vulnerable in our desk chairs?
MT: So for example, can we have a tiny little taster of why people should come to that session? Like what’s one thing you’ll talk about there?
SG: I’ll talk about essentially creating – I always say the old saying that great fences make great neighbors. Why it’s important to have a strong sense of self within your organization, within your role, and that that is not only good for you but it’s great for the organization. Not only are you setting a wonderful example, but it really starts carving out organization boundaries where there might never have been before. It takes a tough individual to do that sometimes because there’s often very willy nilly sort of walls between what you do and what you’re supposed to be doing, and what you’re expected to do.
I also hope to talk a little bit about dealing with bullies in the workplace and jerks and assholes of all shapes and sizes, and giving some advice on how your own personal boundaries help equip you to help create better teams in your organization space.
MT: I’ve personally written about bullies in the workplace several times on this blog, and it’s something actually in Canada that you have more protection for than we do in the U.S. So there’s actually laws and clearly defined, this is what different bullying behaviors look like in the workplace in Canada. And in America, not so much. So people have tried to get laws passed around, you know, this is what bullying behavior looks like and this is what disciplinary action should be taken to someone who’s bullying someone else in the workplace. But as it turns out, no one has succeeded in making it a serious law in any meaningful way yet. So I’m really grateful you’re going to be talking about that, because that’s actually one of the things that I’ve really found in my nonprofit career that has been very painful. I really want to help people learn from my pain, because I feel like if they can learn from my pain and through you, then the pain will not have been in vain. You know what I mean?
SG: Exactly. I feel exactly the same way. Certainly everyone has had so many different experiences with boundaries and with bullies, and I hope to have a really fruitful conversation around not only my experiences and offering some tips and advice, but also hearing what the people around the virtual room have to say, and what they can share. I think that that sharing is really powerful, and as you say, it makes those instances where we’ve suffered through a boundary issue or a bully issue, or whatever end of the spectrum it might be. It makes it a little less in vain that we went through that, to be able to share.
MT: Yeah, and I feel like as fundraisers in general, we’re often women, and a lot of times we’re underpaid, younger women. But even if we’re older, underpaid women, we are often encouraged to have good boundaries by society. Smile and be nice. That’s kind of how it is, right? So I feel like for us, setting those boundaries is really even more important than it is for other people. Because we have been so encouraged not to have them.
SG: Yeah, we need to be very nice and well put together, and always very friendly and always very appeasing. It’s tricky in a world that’s already saying that to women in different ways, to then come into a career where that’s almost in the job description.
MT: We all have to be nice to donors, right? We all have to be nice to people in the office.
MT: And we have to be nice to our bosses, and to the board. Nice, nice, nice. And that makes you feel like, oh, I can’t say no to things. Or if I try to have boundaries, I’m going to get fired. And I believe you have more protection in Canada than we do in the U.S. about getting fired, too. We have this thing called at will work environment, where you can just be fired for no reason at any time. You’re like oh, yeah, for no reason at any time? But that’s not really any power, because you could always do that. So do you have that in Canada? Or do you have more protection?
SG: Yeah, I think we have a bit more protection. But I think the tricky thing – nonprofits everywhere, there’s a lot of sort of unspoken stuff, and a lot of quiet, silent expectations around what you do and don’t. I think especially people who get into this field, it’s an assumption, but we want to do good, right? We want to change the world, and we often have a bit of a martyr complex, and we’re the type that really need to be reminded about self care and taking time for ourselves. Saying no. I think boundaries in this field are a really tricky thing, because there are so many unspoken expectations, that not only the field puts on us, but we put on ourselves for having chosen this path.
MT: Yes. Totally. I totally agree. That is so true. I haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m really grateful that you’re going to be part of the self care book that we’re putting together. It’s just for nonprofit people, and you’ve written a wonderful chapter about how you do your play dates. Sort of what comes out of those. I’m so grateful that you’ve done that, because I do feel like people need that safe space to really explore. Oh, am I actually doing harm to myself while I’m trying to help the world? Even unconsciously.
SG: Exactly. When you have that supportive group of people – I’ve had people who came around the table, and we try to obviously not just talk about negative things, what’s wrong with it, but what’s right and what we love about our jobs, the sector, and what we’re really great at. I’ve had people say, ‘I don’t really know what I’m great at. I don’t know. I feel so bogged down right now. I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job at anything.’ And strangers from around the table who just sort of know of that person or of that organization, say, ‘Hey, wait a second. You’re amazing. I saw this thing, and I really liked this thing, and your organization inspires me in this way.’ People came out really boosted and needing the boost, clearly, to just bump them up a little bit. You should be confident because you’re doing amazing things every day. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, you are.
MT: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that I feel like when we are going into a charity role, or a nonprofit role. One of the things that we have to ask in the interview is how do you celebrate what’s working here? You know what I mean? Because if you don’t ask that, then you don’t know. Maybe they don’t celebrate anything. And I’ve asked this in interviews myself, and people have been like oh yeah, we should really do that more. They had no answer for me. It’s like, well, great, I don’t want to work here then.
SG: Well you’re used to being in crisis mode or something. Like oh no, things are going wrong. Let’s be crazy, run around, and fix things. Whew, okay, crisis averted. Or maybe not. But it’s like okay, back to the everyday. It’s like, wait, we just made a miracle happen. Let’s talk about that. Not only let’s talk about that, why it was awesome and why it worked. But what didn’t go so well? What brought us to the point where we were putting out this fire? The same fire requiring the same miracle every time.
MT: Right. And that’s one of the things that honestly, I learned about in this book, about workaholism. And it talked about how we may not be a workaholic before we go into an organization. But when we get in there and everybody else is overworking, and working really, really hard all of the time, or just staying at their desk until 10 PM at night. Whatever it is, right? To survive in that environment, we have to have that behavior too or else we’ll just get fired. So we take on that behavior. And so that’s how it starts. Then we take that behavior with us to other places. So I know for me, myself, personally, when I was starting out consulting, I had a boss that pretty much wanted me to work 24/7. So I decided that in my mind, I was like oh, good. I’m away from this person now. I don’t have to deal with him anymore. But I had a little version inside of me, and so I would just keep making myself work really, really hard and never take a break. Never take a vacation. Never go anywhere. Just keep working, because that’s how your value is measured. So I’m guessing in your session you’ll be talking about boundaries with other people. But will you also talk about boundaries with yourself? Like how to get away from the little inner tyrant?
SG: Yes, exactly. Definitely. Well that’s where it starts, right? It comes back to the idea of self care and being able to – I don’t like the term work life balance because I don’t think that rings very true for most people. There’s no balance, right? Things are chaotic and crazy kind of always. But how do you quell, silence that inner tyrant, while doing your best work and while letting that ripple out, obviously, to the people who work around you? You said you come into an organization and everyone is a workaholic, so you pick that up. What are some little things that you can do to reflect more positive behavior back? By creating your own strong boundaries, you’re helping other people understand boundaries. That might not be something they’ve ever considered. They got into the organization. The tyrant was planted in their brain, and they just go for it. So I think it’s helpful for ourselves, and it’s helpful for the others around us who are willing to learn and pick up on it, and hopefully make some changes. It’s all about learning from each other, right? I think that’s a powerful workplace tool that seems kind of fluffy or something, in a field that’s often seen as softer. No, it’s so hard. It’s harder, because all of that busy businessmen with the go-go lifestyle stuff is so under the surface. And it’s very different, and it’s tough to battle internally and externally in a way that’s really helpful and healthful.
MT: Yeah. We’re doing business development as we’re doing fundraising, and we’re doing sales and marketing as we’re doing fundraising. Gail Perry had an article about this recently, which I think really rang true for a lot of people. But that means that we have the business lifestyle in a way, and we also don’t really get any respect for what we’re doing. But we have an even harder job, because the businessman is selling something tangible. We’re selling something intangible. We’re selling hope. So that’s why I’m really glad we’re having a whole conference just focused on fundraising careers. We have so many different little pressures on us all the time. But our field feels different than other peoples’ issues. You know what I mean?
SG: Definitely. It’s so different, and think of a fundraiser who’s got a buddy in sales and a buddy in marketing somewhere else, and you go for a beer. You can talk about the same kinds of things, but for some reason it’s different, right? It’s not as legitimate. It’s like, well, that’s all right, though. You’re saving the world. It’s all good, right? Shouldn’t you just be okay with that? It’s like, well, no. Would you be okay with that if you were treated that way? Or if your work was doing this to you? No, of course not. And it shouldn’t be acceptable here either. That’s why I’m so happy that this conference is happening, that I get an opportunity to speak and to see all the wonderful other speakers who are coming on board, too, to talk about these issues. It’s really cool.
MT: Yeah, I’m excited so much. Thank you so much for chatting with us today. Where can people go if they want to learn more about you?
SG: Well, they can go to my website which is colludo.ca. You can find me on the Twitters. I am colludos with an S, and you can track me down on LinkedIn. If you happen to be in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I’m always open for coffee or a greasy breakfast or something.
MT: Oh, wonderful. Well, probably most people here are not, but you never know. Thank you so much for this wonderful interview. I really appreciate it.
SG: Thank you.