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A Preview with Russ and Hugh

Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis preview features and opportunities for leaders in the newly

Hugh Ballou

Hugh Ballou

Russell Dennis

Russell Dennis

launched SynerVision Leadership Community for Community Builders.

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Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. This is the podcast where we talk about how you can up your game as a nonprofit leader. Our organizations can only function as high as our ability to lead that organization, to lead the team. I don’t know about you, Russell, but I’m always working on my skills and my learning and my personal development. What about you?

Russell Dennis:  That’s where the rubber meets the road. Lots of leaders are out there building themselves. They build better leaders and other leaders around them. Personal development is the key. It’s always staying on top of your game, not only from a skill perspective, but staying connected to the people whom you serve and the people you collaborate with. It’s all about connection, upping your game, and staying in it for the long haul.

Hugh: We are taking this opportunity. We’re toward the end of 2018. People who are listening to the podcast could be listening at any time in history, so we try not to talk about current events because the things that we refer to, the topics we cover, and the skills that we champion are ongoing learning. They are skills and abilities that work everywhere really.

I like reading the writings of Father Richard Rohr. Helps me reframe my thinking every day. I get a new paradigm on something I thought I had figured out. One of the things he says often is the way we do anything is the way we do everything. I admire people who can create a succinct phrase. Rohr writes books, has a daily devotion. He is a Franciscan. His truths are universal. He talks about the truths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as the three Abrahamic religions. But they’re ultimate truths. Just good to think about what really matters.

In the realm that we’re talking about, we have encountered in our work over the years leaders who are burned out, leaders who are stressed, leaders who have had a bad history, and then they forecast the future with the lens of their bad history. Our transformation begins with ourselves. Hurting people hurt people is one of Richard’s phrases. Another one is transformed leaders transform leaders. I’m one of those who wants to sign up to be the transformer. I’m always looking in the mirror to make sure I cover my space.

We’re going to talk about 2019 as the year of putting some new programs and projects together on this podcast today. Instead of reviewing what we have done in the past episodes, we are going to talk about some of the future opportunities we have coming. Respond to some of those quotes that I had with Richard. What do you assume as your guiding principles for framing your 2019?

Russell: As far as I’m concerned, each and every one of us is more than meets the eye. I believe that with every organization I go into, sometimes they’re in a good place, and other times they’re not necessarily in the best place. All of the genius they need to function at a high level is usually in-house. They usually have all of the genius that they need right in-house. It’s just growing that. It’s developing that. People in the nonprofit space are out there making a difference for other people. It starts though with taking care of ourselves.

Beth Cantor is somebody who is a thought leader in nonprofits. She wrote a book called The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. It talks to leaders about taking care of themselves in ways that help them perform better and provide more service to other people around them. It’s operating from the principle of putting on your own mask first. This is what leaders need to do. One essential thing, something that is very critical for a nonprofit leader, is to be able to delegate as many things as possible both to build your team up and to make sure that as a leader, you’re doing the most essential things. By setting that example of leading from the front and mirroring all of the things that you want your team to do, it’s critical. The leadership sets the tone. The effectiveness of every organization is hinged upon how effective its leaders are. How can we show up as leaders and be more effective? It’s a good mindfulness practice. Spiritual devotion of some sort would be very helpful to that. Taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually, and emotionally is critical to being effective at serving others.

Hugh: Russell, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve always been working on yourself, improving your skills, improving your abilities. I think leaders who think they reach a plateau sometimes can be dangerous because we’re not looking at ourselves. We can get into some bad ruts. That occurs to me, too. I have to look in the mirror just about every day so I’m not getting stuck.

Russell: Getting stuck isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have a good friend who says, “If you’re not getting stuck, you’re not working hard enough.” When you’re out there, you’re a leader of purpose, and you’re out there doing the tough things, sometimes you get stuck. It’s not a bad thing necessarily to get stuck. But it’s what you do with it that matters.

Hugh: You know what? That’s a great perspective. It’s not that we fail, it’s what we do and what we have learned from that experience. It’s a learning opportunity. You and I are leading the team of what we call WayFinders. WayFinders are one of our reverse positioning of how SynerVision Leadership Foundation empowers leaders in a very different way. We are the non-consultants, non-conformists; we have taken what hasn’t worked and spun it around and made it different. The consultant model isn’t working in a lot of cases, so we have come up with a group of WayFinders who are basically guides through a process of learning and implementation and personal growth and organizational growth and awareness. The WayFinder team that we have on board are some pretty profound experts in lots of different areas. We are about to announce in the beginning of 2019, we are going to start a monthly series of webinars, choosing the topics people have requested the most, and then putting it in a sequence so that one builds on the next one. Russell, let’s tell them about our online community for community builders. SynerVision Leadership Foundation at We have a community people can join and talk to each other. What is your experience so far?

Russell: Our SynerVision community is an area where people can come together and read articles on loads of different topics, timely topics in nonprofit and philanthropy and have discussions on those topics and have discussions in real time. It’s a place where leaders can come together and share their experience with running organizations and talk about things that are happening. We talk about areas like board development, fundraising, challenges, wins. We really love to hear about people’s wins and what they have been able to successfully implement. It’s a community for leaders where they can go and come together and support each other and learn and share. It’s a place to mastermind a little so that you can have questions answered, ask questions. The importance of having that community – that support structure can’t be overemphasized. That is what the SynerVision forums are designed to do. We will put content on all sorts of subjects in there. I’m looking forward to adding to that library, building that library, and seeing more nonprofit leaders come in and share what’s working and what’s going on with them.

Hugh: I forget that we have those forums. It’s a good place for us to talk to each other. People join sites sometimes to get data, to get information, to learn. But its’ really what we share with each other that’s probably the most important thing that I see missing with clergy and nonprofit leaders. What do you think?

Russell: I think a lot of times, especially when you start looking at smaller organizations that don’t have the bandwidth to have a large staff, you can have people working like beavers. They are just busy. They are so overloaded with work that they don’t have time to stop and take a breath. It’s very easy to come to a place where you feel like you’re isolated and alone because so much is going on that you don’t stop to come up for air. It’s important to be able to talk with one another and talk with other people who are in similar situations to really share where you’re at. Sometimes it’s just to have a sounding board. Other times, you can talk about experiences that you had and how you overcome some of those challenges. Very important to get that support.

Hugh: One of the functions of the community is these Nonprofit Exchange interviews. For four years, we have interviewed thought leaders. We are getting ready to go on the fifth year. Every Tuesday at 2, we interview someone who has a remarkable story, strategy, or perspective on one of these topics we all need for personal growth. We are starting a Tuesday at 4 webinar series. Those will be available for community members. We will launch them. If people want to review them, they need to be part of the online community. Those are hard content.

There are different levels of the community. You can join for free and get Hugh Ballou’s 5 Pillars of Success program, which is a program I have available for $97. Join the community where you are getting that program for free. It’s covering the five areas people don’t know they need to put in place to have a successful organization. We’ve got the forums you mentioned. We ‘ve got the content from the Nonprofit Exchange, the videos and the transcripts. The content is also available on the podcast, The Nonprofit Exchange. But we have the most recent episodes available for people to watch. People who join the community have the whole library available. And an amazing trove of articles on lots of topics. We have hundreds of articles on topics that matter.

The Nonprofit Performance 360 Magazine. At a paid level, you get this magazine in your mailbox for free. You don’t pay for it. It comes to you four times a year and has lots of really good content. People think it’s to advertise. No, it’s not advertisements. It’s hard content that is aimed at clergy and people who lead community nonprofits because we’re making a difference in people’s lives. We want people to- The more people we have in the community, the better it is.

We’ve had a few of these webinars before. You can review them if you’re a community member at your leisure. Thursdays at 3 EST, if you’re a paying member of the community, we will have online Q&A with Hugh. Russell, you will be in that conversation next year.

We have a group of people who do exactly what you’re talking about. I was needing this, and somebody the other day in Michigan said to somebody in Salt Lake City, “Oh, I’m going to be there next week. I’m going to be at the meeting you will be at.” This person was due to get an award, and the Michigan person was the one getting the award. I have had people in California connect with people in Florida and say, “Here are some significant stuff we can do.”

It’s not about us. It’s about the work we’re doing. It’s also about how do we put together a bigger energy filled with more people thinking about what is the vision, and how can we get it done, and how can we get it done together, creating more impact and having less work on everybody’s part? Those are some of the things we have going. We have a lot of mystery content we’re not talking about yet. People will see it emerge next year. Russell has been part of our journey for a number of years. Well-versed in the methodologies that we represent. Are any of those-

Russell, let’s talk about the webinars. We have some topics we are going to launch that you and David Gruder, an organizational developmental psychologist, and I are going to do a webinar starting the series on strategic planning. Why did we decide to start with that topic?

Russell: It’s just like taking a trip anywhere. Times change, but in the old days, when we were growing up, you’d have an atlas or a road map. Today, you have a GPS. Same principle. Strategy is where it all starts. You can’t get where you’re going if you don’t set that destination. We’re going to talk about those building blocks to putting a good strategy together. What are the things that you need to put together to have an effective overall operation and to grow? This is a great way to kick off the year because you need to set that state, set the road map. We have a lot of tools to help you do that here.

Hugh: We have a template and a how-to document. You can buy a template in a book in a library. The art of putting it down and making it important to somebody that is reading it. Funders get a lot of these. They get a lot of statements about what we’re going to do. Most of them are boring and not relevant to what they want to see happen. I haven’t seen an organization get sustainable funding that hasn’t had a current strategy in place. We think you have a business plan. A business plan is a financial document. It’s an overview, not an operational guide. I’m a musical conductor. The strategic plan is like my music, my musical score. Everybody knows what to do and when to do it. I stand on the podium, and I conduct. Everybody knows what to do. I see lots of nonprofit leaders try to conduct. When they do the down beat, people are confused because they don’t know what to do.

Russell: It’s putting all the pieces together so that everybody knows what their role is. The best strategy building involves bringing in leadership, bringing in your teams so that everybody knows what’s expected of him or her. This is critical so that everybody has a sense of where the work they do fits in with the organization as a whole. It’s particularly important to know the people that you’re serving, to know the people who are helping you, those who support your organization. Without that strategy, you don’t necessarily have that road map. With the strategy laid out, you know what you’re doing pretty much on a day by day basis. You have the most important activities identified so that if something you’re doing over the course of a day isn’t moving you closer to those goals, you can eliminate that activity. It’s about effectiveness. It’s about efficiency. Confidence in what you’re doing and doing not just the right things, but doing them in the right order.

Hugh: That’s key. I’m glad you said that. The right order. We scurry about and do things in random order. Then we have to backtrack because they’re not sequential. You do A, which sets up B, which sets up C. You do less work when you spend time organizing it and sequencing it. People tell me, “I don’t have time to do strategy. I don’t have time to write goals. I don’t have time to put it in order.” But you have time to redo it? That makes no sense.

Over 31 years of doing this, I have created a proprietary process I call a solution map. It’s where do you want to be, and how you are going to get there. It’s the solution for success, the road map to where you want to go. You and I have worked together with people. We have taught together in sessions. It’s having a shakedown over the years. We continue to refine our systems and our processes.

Russell: We find out more of the challenges that people have as time goes along. There is a different set of challenges these days. People who support your organizations are starting to think more and more like investors. There is nothing wrong with that. They are investing in your organization to make a difference in the lives of people. It used to be return on investment, but it is now return on impact and return on influence and return on life. These days, as a nonprofit, you have to measure what’s been called social profit. There are some numerical things that are involved with this, but there is a lot of qualitative stuff involved with that as well. How are you making a difference in the lives of people? You have to capture that. One of the important pieces of building that strategy is determining what difference you want to make, but how you’re going to measure that. How is that going to be measured? If you don’t do something to define that, a lot of people look at evaluation and assessment like we used to in the old days as children going to get a report card. There are certain things I have to do to pass the test, to make the grade on the report card. But that’s not that simple with nonprofits. With evaluation and benchmarking and assessment and keeping score, the purpose of that is to make sure that we’re on track. It’s to get better at what we’re doing. It’s to make sure we are reaching the people we want to reach. It’s so that we can refine our processes. Not something to say, “Oh wow, we goofed up. Later.” Yes, you want to know how you’re doing, but you want to proactively measure what you’re doing and make sure that you’re effective. And you want to be able to change direction quickly and painlessly.

Hugh: Absolutely. We have an easy way to get to the community. If you go to, it takes you to a landing page. At the bottom of the page, it says to watch the previous episodes. At the top of the page, “Join Today.” If you click that tab, there is a chance for you to join at one of the three levels of membership. There is not a bad choice. Find the one that fits where you are and how fast you want to grow and how much you want to learn. Join it. See. If you don’t like it, leave. Join it, get my free program, and learn. If you don’t want to stay there, you can opt out. This is not a forever thing. You’d like you to be there forever because none of us, as we say in the South, Russell, is as smart as all of us.

The purpose of today is to look ahead. We are going to cover topics like board development and funding streams. We will have several webinars on attracting funding from grant sponsorships. We are going to start with strategy. We will bring in our colleague Dr. Thyonne Gordon, one of the top brand experts anywhere, to talk about how to build your board of directors. Then we are going to go into how to market. How do we stay in touch? How do we make sure people know what we accomplish? Most of the money will come from donors. How will you keep those donors donating? There is a whole series of topics. You and I have talked about some. We have yet to put them into the scheduling system, like partnerships, and fundraising. Have we really identified all eight streams of normal funding? There are different ways. Have we built out leadership in our culture? David Gruder and I are going to do one on how we create this high-functioning culture that you want to see.

SynerVision is a legacy for me, Russell. I want to see it go on after me. I think a lot of us have a vision that we’d like to see continue after we’re no longer able to do it for some reason. We have some good topics. I don’t want to give all the secrets away, but I’d like people to go to This is the space for this particular program. It is also an easy way for people to find the SynerVision Leadership Foundation website because people don’t always know how to spell it.

Russell: I think it does. It does stand out. Not only can you join the community from there, but you can subscribe to this podcast. We have 80-90 episodes in there that we have created thus far; this one will be added there. We also have a YouTube channel for SynerVision Leadership Foundation that you can follow. The podcasts are great because you can take those everywhere, on the go, in the car, and catch up with things that thought leaders are talking about.

The beauty of joining that community and having those Q&As. Those Q&As are a wonderful value-added thing. We are flexible. If you need more, we can get that to you. We want to cover the subjects that matter to you to most to get you the support you need to hit the ground running and continue to serve your community at a high level. Any topics that interest you, we are always interested in finding out more. We have a thorough list for the year. We have good content for 12 months. One of the things we will cover over the course of 2019 is how to build high-value partnerships, sponsorships done the right way. All our work is around building relationships. That is another piece we will talk about in 2019.

Hugh: Right on. Russell, I think we have made a good case for this. We have a lot of good things in store. Anything you want to say as we close out this session?

Russell: I’d just like to thank our listeners week in and week out to support us. Stay tuned. We are looking forward to 2019. We have some exciting things coming up. We have lots of thought leaders who will be coming on our podcast week to week to week with topics that matter most to nonprofit organizations. We look forward to seeing you next week.

Hugh: We’re taking a week off at Christmas.

Russell: We’re taking New Year’s Day off as well.

Hugh: We will post an archive on those days. If you are sitting around and want to continue learning on the holiday, tune in. Thank you, Russ.

Russell: Thank you. See you next week.

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