Highlights and Key Points from Recent Interviews of The Nonprofit Exchange
Part 1 2020

Hugh Ballou

Hugh Ballou

Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis, co-hosts of The Nonprofit Exchange

Russell Dennis

Russell Dennis

provide highlights from interviews over the past few months.

Russ and Hugh distill some of the key points and sound bites from these wonderful interviews with people making a difference in nonprofit leadership.



Co-Hosts, Hugh Ballou and Russell Dennis share highlights from the past six months of episodes of The Nonprofit Exchange.


Read the Transcript

Hugh Ballou: Greetings, it’s Hugh and Russ. Russ is in snowy Denver, and I’m in bright, sunshine-y Virginia. We are in central western Virginia, the Appalachian range. It’s the old mountains. They’re not the pointy ones like you have in Denver. We are yet to have any snow, or any white stuff, or invisible stuff. I understand you woke up to some drizzle and ice, did you? 

Russell Dennis: We did yesterday. The sun is coming back out right now. It is a wee bit nippy. It is under 20 degrees. I am having flashbacks to living in northern Maine when 20 degrees was a good day.

Hugh: I could do without that. Russ has been my companion on this show for several years. We have had a really good time learning from our great guests. We are going to go back to October of 2019 and talk about moving forward. Throughout the show today, we will talk about some of the benefits we have. SynerVision offers resources for nonprofit leaders and clergy that really don’t have budgets to pay for the high consulting fees. We have free and low-cost resources available, the best of which is our online community for community builders. Let’s talk about some of the episodes. I’m always impressed by the things you remember about these wonderful people we have interviewed.

Mark S.A. Smith talks about the skills of how to be hired. We don’t think about that much, do we?

Russell: We don’t always. Mark came in and talked about some items around leadership, and four things we have to keep in mind as leaders. He’s been working with leaders since 1990. He came in. I think he’s about 30 years in now at this stage. Talking about some of the things leaders need to accomplish to grow. What are some of those skills you have to cultivate to get hired? How do you get promoted? It’s about handling resources and your relationships and handling resources in the best way possible. Good leaders are strategic. That was a lot of what he covered in that. As a matter of fact, he was on the week after we did our last recap.  

 Hugh: Yes. Going forward from that. I always find Mark has these really good insights about just about everything. Mark has remarkable insights. Mark S.A. Smith. There are lots of Smiths in the world, so he wants to differentiate himself from the others by using both of his initials.

Russell: The key takeaway with him, there are two things he wanted to leave us. The first was making sure you have good systems in place. The second big takeaway is that there are certain things that leaders should be doing. Make sure that you’re delegating. You’re using your time in the best way possible. Those things he made very clear. How do you do that? Creating systems will help to make you effective at being strategic. Leaders lead. They build good leaders, and they have other people take things off their plates. Delegation is important. Working to your strengths. Developing your people.

 Hugh: The following week, we had Christian LeFer back. We had Christian a while back on compliance, getting registered with all the states if you are raising money as a nonprofit. We had him back because he had such a wealth of resources available. He has a whole system for helping nonprofits get started. He specializes in the small ones. You don’t file a 990-N. You know more about that ,Russell. He specializes in that. What impressed me is he had lots of documents about how to set up your board and how to do minutes. What impressed us about Christian is the amount of resources that he had available to people. It was pretty much a no-brainer to file for your nonprofit.

Russell: He’s been doing this for a while. He’s probably filed over 3,500 of these applications to the IRS. The IRS knows him well. He has created- Since that first interview, he’s actually created and streamlined some of those services. The price points are smaller. He’s got a system called Instant Nonprofit. One of the things he recognizes is that smaller agencies don’t always have the resources to do things right. The focus of this interview was starting up and doing it right. I think the key thing that I took away from that is when you set up a charity, you don’t necessarily want to set it up a lot of different times. Get experts to help you set it up and walk through that process so that you can focus on your mission. From that compliance standpoint, there are certain things that you have to do. That was a part of what he talked about, some of the compliance issues. Some of the steps that are involved. It can really be overwhelming. He has a lot of free educational material on instant nonprofits on the start-up. We believe here at SynerVision that it’s important to have the strategy in place so that all of your efforts are funneled into an efficient and effective method of serving people who you want to serve. The best place to come up with that plan is right out of the chute if you can do it. That is the important thing. We want to have resources here. While you’re new, a lot of people are interested in solving problems on the ground, charging right in, and making a difference. But it’s important that you have the structure and the resources and you bring the right people in so you can continue to grow. He’s a good person to know, Christian LeFer. These are all available. We have five years of broadcasts in our archive now. This is the place to come find them. 

Hugh: We are recording this in February 2020. Better vision in 2020 is what we like to say. After that nice episode, we had a friend of mine from Lynchburg who runs the Central Virginia Sports Commission. Somebody hand-picked him to launch this. I was impressed because recently they brought a big event to Lynchburg. He said it was the State Games of America. It’s only a city of around 80,000 people, plus some universities. We had 11,000 athletes in this little city. I was quite impressed with that. The way they enlist their volunteers and get their board active, all of those important ways. They get some funding to make sure this all happens. In a very short period of time, they had really stepped up their game to be able to perform at such a high level. 

It’s important to realize, Russ, that we have people from various different nonprofits and businesses. It’s not that they will teach us how to do their business or nonprofit. What do sports have to do with running a community foundation? It’s the leadership principles. It’s how they take a concept. This one went from a concept to reality in a very short period of time. Having capable people, having a really good plan, having the support around it comes when you have your team in place and your plan, and you’re moving forward very precisely. Any highlights you want to mention for this episode? 

Russell: The one thing I noticed in the conversation with Billy Russo, sports is a place where we can come together. It’s something that draws people from all different backgrounds together. That was the common point that he was able to actually shift focus around the economic development components and the collaboration components, to bring those all together to serve the community on a lot of different levels. It’s the one place where no matter the differences, they can come together. Everyone loves sports. He created a marvelous opportunity in the area for people to get involved and connect where sports begin. It’s important as far as serving you. People of all ages and backgrounds can come together. He was able to grow that organization there. Connect it with some others around the country. He’s doing great work there.

Hugh: He is. I learned a lot, as I do always. I see this guy every week. I had no idea of all the things that he had done and was going to do with this commission. 

The next week, who we brought in was a long-time colleague and friend, Stewart Levine. Stewart had talked to me in the past about how he was an attorney in a firm. Whoever was in charge came to him and said, “We’re not prosecuting anything. We’re not taking anybody to court.” He said, “I worked out the problems. We don’t have to go to litigation.” That’s important. He named himself the resolutionary attorney. What he does is he teaches people how to stay out of court. I find that a lot of times, we go in with good intentions, whether we are starting a business or a nonprofit, or one that’s been going for a while. We don’t think about writing down our expectations. One of the flaws that leaders have is we facilitate conflict by leaving out things. We got in our mind clearly what we want to achieve. We fail to communicate that with other people by defining the end results. What Stewart does is he has this Book of Agreement. There is 10 essential elements to create the results you want. Getting the Resolution, Turning Conflict into Collaboration, The Book of Agreement, Collaboration 2.0, The Change Handbook, and The Best Lawyer You Can Be: A Guide to Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness. That’s published by the American Bar Association. These are all books he’s written by major publishers.

Russell, when I worked through the 10 steps in The Book of Agreement, you know whether it’s going to work or not. By the time you have had the conversation around those 10, and the 10th is agreement. You have an agreement. You know that because you have walked through the steps and have had the conversation about things you didn’t realize before. I found that to be a really good resource. What comes to your mind? 

Russell: All of that book, I actually used that as a guide to create my own. It’s so powerful. It’s written in plain English. Contracts are loaded with what I call legalese. At the end of the day, unless you covered these 10 areas that he talks about, you left yourself open. By making sure you incorporate these principles into your agreement, you’re going to be safe. Chances are that you won’t disagree because you have those principles for what you intend to do. I’m in the frame of mind that less is more. Of course, if you read anything, I just renewed my lease. It took me over an hour to go through the thing. Say what you mean; mean what you say. Stewart Levine was able to create a framework where you can do that so that you have the most important things covered. He has a wealth of material. That is the one I would pick out of the several. Leaders should read them all, but start with that one. That is the most important one, not just to read, but to look at applying all the things to you’re doing. Looking at the things to see what’s missing. It’s the book for non-attorney people to look and work from to put good solid agreements together. If you can get through those 10 principles and come to the end of it with agreement, that’s great. If you can’t come to an agreement, you will save yourself a lot of aggravation.

 Hugh: Absolutely. That’s where you want to learn. The next week, I was at a trade show during the time we broadcasted. It was a networking event for the local nonprofits. Even though we are in a small city, there are 300 nonprofits here. I just did a livestream from there, walked around and interviewed different people. It was interesting how people described what they did. It was a wide variety. I wanted to go back and say, “This is what you should be saying.” It’s your chance to tell people about the organization and why it’s important. 

What I find more often than not is that we don’t tell people why our work is important. I think it’s the question we start with. The Simon Sinek book Begin with Why. It is imperative for people to understand why we’re doing what we’re doing. I don’t think there is a lot to lift out of that. We will go onto the next one, unless you have something you want to mention about that one.

We’re doing this today because we have had some meaningful conversations, some great interviews with people. We wanted to give you a chance to understand all of those and to know which ones to go to if you have missed something. It’s time to go back and pick it up. We carefully check out people we have on the show. However, Russell, I find that often the expectations exceed what I had in my mind. There is a whole lot of really useful stuff. Last week, there was some sound bites coming out all over. You got pulled into something else, but there was a lot of good sound bites. I did that one alone. I captured that one. It was the executive director of Patrick Henry Family Services. He has been a serious student of leadership. He has a lot of good things to say. You want to highlight anything with the networking, or should we go on? 

Russell: We can move forward. I just think it’s important to network. Networking done well will serve you. If you’re not clear or you don’t have language that resonates with people about what you’re doing. That’s not to say you need to be scripted or need to have something fancy to say. But to let your passion come through because you wouldn’t be doing all of this work that you’re doing if you weren’t passionate about it. There are a lot of challenges. Sometimes the problem looks bigger than the organization, but you continue to do that. Carry on. I’m very appreciative and humbled by the work nonprofit leaders everywhere are doing in this country.

Hugh: Another one that was pleasing. I knew this guy had a lot on the ball because I heard him present a couple of times. The second time, I said, “Why don’t we interview you on the show?” He manages land conservancy. What he did is to merge two different land conservancies, one up here around Lynchburg and one down in Roanoke, Virginia. Both Lynchburg and Roanoke were built around railroads way back when that was the way you got around the country. But they are both surrounded. We have the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail going to the east of us, close to both cities. There is a lot of rural land. Part of their dedication is to capture that land so it doesn’t go into commercial use so that generations after us can use it. He is managing two boards of directors and a board who oversees the two of them together. It was about mergers, which brings about  clash in culture and a confusion to the funders as to what we are really funding and what is it we’re doing here. They struck up a commonality with how they wanted to run the two organizations. David Perry, that was another good interview with a lot of good wisdom that would apply not to everybody’s situation, but would apply to people in unique situations. It was unique enough we ought to make a show out of this.

Russell: Talking about stewardship and our environment is work a lot of nonprofits out there are doing. Conservancy means different things to different people. Everything from planting trees to hunting as it were is considered conservancy on some level. You don’t always have agreement. What struck me with this young man was that the opportunity to create this merger between these two very different organizations and to navigate that, it landed in his lap. He navigated it very well. It was challenging. They managed to come together. They have a lot of volunteers. They have been able to create  a synergy within that organization so that it runs smoothly across the board. Everybody’s goals are met. They’ve been growing slowly, keeping the lights on, growing slowly, and putting more land into management there. I’d be interested to see how much more they’ve put in since we’ve spoken. That was November. Maybe not a lot over the holidays, but they are doing good work. More and more people are finding out about them, hopefully through this broadcast. One thing that’s important to note is that these conservancy organizations are not peculiar to Lynchburg. They are everywhere. If you Google “conservancy,” you can find organizations like David’s doing work in your area to preserve natural lands, to preserve lands in your area, preserve that heritage, and protect the planet at the same time.

Hugh: He talked about agreements and how important they are in their work. You have to be clear when you’re taking on a piece of property because there is a liability to that asset. They have one asset that is 11,000 acres. They manage 22,000 in total. I didn’t know, but he said that an acre is equal to the size of a football field. That’s 22,000 football fields. Having a clear pathway to sustainability because it’s something you’re taking on forever, and having the agreements with people who want to donate it or dedicate it to a forever protected status. The other thing I thought was really interesting was we’re talking about big land. That one’s 11,000, and they have smaller ones. Out west, that is a small parcel. If you go up to New York, it might be a city block or something smaller, or a little patch of land in the middle of the city. It might cost a lot of money to maintain that. It might be worth a lot of money. There was no particular single standard. It varied a lot with the price and size of the land and what it was going to be used for. Bringing in some good corporate leadership skills to running this organization. I found this to be an interesting interview with lots of surprise lessons.

Russell: There were lots there. There is so much that goes into it. If you have an interest in preserving heritage and how lands are used for the environment, checking out the work of your local conservancy would be important. 

Hugh: The next episode. Our recent addition of the magazine has Julie Cottineau on the cover, a branding specialist. Julie worked for Virgin and was a primary brander. I first met Julie when she published her book Twist several years ago. I interviewed her for my business podcast. She sent me the book. I was proud I had read it and had really good questions. I found the word “twist” on every page of that book. There is this pattern. It’s putting a twist on your brand. I asked her in the middle of the show. Her publicist had contacted me about the interview because they were publicizing the book. She said, “I found you because of your branding,” the conductor that teaches leadership. That stands out amongst thousands of people. As a person who knows nothing about branding, I thought that was pretty cool. Her interview is about putting a twist on your brand, but it’s about the three branding mistakes your nonprofit needs to stop making now. I’m not in favor of telling people all the answers. I want you to read the transcript and listen to the podcast. But some of the things we said we were going to teach you is how to go beyond the Me Too marketing. We want to copy what other people do, but that’s not authentic to who we are as our brand. We want to make sure the touchpoints are clear. We want to build loyal brand ambassadors, both in our communities we serve and both with our leaders in our board and our staff. One person in the company can commit brand slaughter, as our friend David Corbin teaches. We give people some tangible ideas in this interview. She will offer you a free brand review to tell you her brand assessment. Anything else you want to highlight? I found it to be refreshing.

Russell: That brand health check she offers is really great. That was something that stood out in my mind. As far as crafting a message, as you’re putting your brand together, the one thought that jumps out at me that stuck with me is that you should look outside of your industry or where you parked. What type of industry are you in? Look for inspiration in places that are completely unlike your own. You can find inspiration in other places. This was one of the key ways to add what she called a twist and get away from being one of those me too type brands. You definitely want to take a look at this book. It’s available on Amazon. That’s one of our books leaders should read. The brand is the promise. It’s who you are and how people see you. If you don’t create work at creating a brand, people will do that for you. It may not be what you really stand for. It’s important to work on that.

Hugh: The book is Twist: How Fresh Perspectives Build Breakthrough Brands. I’m going to move us on because I’ve been talking too much. I’m working the spotlight on our community doing this interview. 

We had another brander who is a local guy from Lynchburg, Jawanza Hall, who brings another thought process to branding. I met Jawanza in our work and invited him to be on the board of directors of Lynchburg Symphony. His company is called Blackwater Branding. He has a team of experts. He has rebranded some of our sports teams. He works nationally with some important brands. I wanted to have another aspect. I think that people create logos. I see nonprofits create a logo, and they think they have a brand because they have this pretty little thing they put on everything. That is a representation of your brand, but your brand is a lot more. Jawanza talks about that here. What does it take to build your brand? It was a nice interview.

Russell: The thing that he talked about was what we’re doing. We’re in a relationship business. We’re having conversations with people. Who are we conversing with? I think a lot of his work drives toward understanding who we’re conversing with and being conversational and talking to those people we need to reach. That was really the thing that stood out with him that I recall. How do we talk? Being strategic about that. Those were two things that jumped out in the interview. Very bright, very energetic. He gave us some ways to connect with him. Two very different in their own way perspectives. If you’re looking to find that footing on branding, that networking event is a perfect example of what can happen if folks don’t have their brand dialed in. The folks that you talked to who really had their brand dialed in were able to tell you what they did, why their work was important. Now it doesn’t mean that other people don’t know why their work is important, but how they articulate it, who they are talking to, and how they can make it a little different so that it sticks with the people they are talking to. 

Hugh: Those are really good. You have a good memory of these. I’m glad you’re here with me for many reasons, but that is helpful. 

Jay Frost. I met this guy on LinkedIn. Sometimes people want to sell you stuff, but he had a genuine interest in talking to me about what we do. He has been a TedX speaker. He is a funding guy. He has been recognized as one of America’s top ten fundraising experts by Philanthropy Media, one of America’s top eight fundraising influencers by Elevation Media, one of the top 13 excellent fundraising consultants by Double the Donation, which is a service people ought to know about, and one of the top 100 charity influencers. He worked inside some of the funding foundations and the government to fund different organizations, especially the arts. Now he works on the other side applying to those organizations for funding. He has a good niche in the world of philanthropy. He likes doing it. He is a wealth of information. What stood out to me is people come to him who aren’t ready for funding. There is a checklist on how to be ready so people don’t say, “I can’t fund them because they don’t have this.” There are a number of things he checks off and says, “If you have these in place, I can help you secure funding.” Those are good things to have in place anyway. If you want to fund the organization, not everyone is interested in funding, only 99% of charities want to look at expanding their funding. This will only apply to 99%. What thoughts do you have about Jay Frost? He was quite remarkable.

Russell: It was fun talking with him and having that joint perspective where he is actually working at making sure that people have resources. Then to go out and seek resources. It’s a balanced view. I sat on some grant panels for HHS for two or three years in DC for different community development programs. That shaped my experience. He did that for quite a bit longer and more consistently. He was looking at major gifts and other things. It’s important to have that perspective from both sides to know what to put together. This is a very good podcast to watch if you’re a foundation executive or board member, and trying to think about the things you want to see in good projects, or you’re in the nonprofit foundation looking for money. There is that balanced view. This is a good interview to look at because he has both perspectives, and he can find out how you can reach out to him. I enjoyed that. Finding your supporters, a lot of them use very similar language. 

Hugh: You had brought us the next guest. I believe you met her in Denver. She had moved there after a life tragedy and was starting over. She is in Las Vegas. Mark Smith referred her. Quite remarkable lady. Turned her life around and started this animal rescue nonprofit. Her title was “Making Your Organization Attractive for Cause Marketing Collaborations.” A lot of companies are conscious of the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits. We want to take care of our planet, but we want to value people. It’s important to be able to think about how do we build this bridge with corporations so that they understand that supporting the nonprofit world is good not only for the world, but for their business. That was a nice interview with a young, vivacious, energized, and passionate leader.

Russell: We talked a lot about corporate social responsibility programs. But we don’t always have access immediately, especially if we are a small nonprofit and business. We don’t have the resources at all times to get the things we want to get done. But small businesses and nonprofits can collaborate. These are the things she was talking about doing. She had an animal rescue that she was interested in, but she talked about how she crafted that with smaller businesses. Her work has been around bringing smaller businesses and nonprofits together and pointing out the benefits. 

Her book is called Do Better by Doing Good. It’s phenomenal. It’s talking about how small business leaders can leverage what resources they have to connect with small nonprofits to make a bigger impact together. Some of the bigger corporations with deep pockets recognize that bottom line. People want to be involved with businesses who care about the community. They want to know that people are doing business with care. This is as important for a small business’s bottom line as it is for a large business. She was able to drive that point home. 

Hugh: If you’re seeing this, you’re getting an idea that each episode is a jewel in itself. I find to get myself out of the hole or vacuum I seem to operate in, listening to episodes like this from other podcasters helps elevate me, inspire me, think about new things. Getting out of the mundane and into the exceptional is where I find external influence helps me a lot. 

The next one is Bishop Ebony Kirkland. You better put on a seatbelt. She is one of the most energized people we have interviewed. I have been with her many times, and she is always like that. 

Russell: You have to get lots of rest. Maybe take some Geritol or something to keep up with her. I’ll tell ya, she was remarkable. The energy and the passion as a person of faith for starters was phenomenal, but the work that she’s been able to do through that association. She is not only working with faith-based communities, but small nonprofits and government entities, bringing community resources together. She emphasized the power of community and the need for all of the different sectors–business, government, nonprofit, and the faith-based community–to come together. There are unique assets that each one has they can bring to the table. Faith-based communities have these remarkable skills and insights they can bring to the process that will make all of these entities as a group more effective at solving problems in the community. It’s important for everybody to get to the table.

Hugh: Yes. She is the founder of the Worldwide Association of Small Churches with 3,500 small churches all over the world. She comes from a business background. She also is the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She is in the Bronx, New York. She speaks with wisdom from many, many fields. 

After that was somebody I don’t know how she found us, but we got connected somehow. This was Amy Eisenstein. Wow. Another expert in funding. She has this capital campaign toolkit. She was speaking about annual campaigns and major capital campaigns to raise major gifts. This is large amounts of fundraising. I have been part of churches and organizations where they have done a major campaign. It’s all hands on deck. Everybody shoots to a common goal. There is a real energy around that. She speaks eloquently about what you need to do. She offered some free resources on CapitalCampaignToolkit.com, and her website is AmyEisenstein.com. I left that interview going, Wow. That was pretty amazing. What do you think, Russ?

Russell: When I found out that she heard about SynerVision, I was very excited because this young lady is the go-to person on capital campaigns. I was just unable to attend. She provides all sorts of free education where she talks in great detail about capital campaigns and major gifts and not just doing it, but doing it right, and how important it is to tap into the desires that people have to leave the legacy and to fit yourself to a place where you can be that vehicle for people of purpose to leave a legacy behind, to continue good work. Why shouldn’t they continue with your work? Looking at this toolkit and subscribing to her YouTube channel are valuable. 

Subscribing to this channel and this network is valuable, too. Hugh had never heard of her. I knew who she was. We meet people in our travels, and we are finding remarkable people in the business, industry, nonprofit worlds who are doing phenomenal work and who have great tools to take you to the next level. Being here is a place where you’ll be connected with all those tools, all of the great people, and with our team here to help you take your organization to the next level. More great interviews in 2020. 

Hugh: Most recently, our last interview was Maxing Out the MIssion with Robert Day. He is the CEO and executive director of Patrick Henry Family Services. He came out of a childhood where he was born of a single mother. He came out of poverty. He survived poverty, neglect, abuse. It’s how he turned his life around, but he also now is a support for young people who are suffering from these very same problems he had as a child. He was able to lift himself up and get into a new place. But I very much enjoyed this interview because Robert has been a very serious student of leadership over the years. He just dropped pearls of wisdom throughout this whole interview. He’s got two books out. Worst of Mothers, Best of Moms and Desperately Healed: My Journey to Wholeness. He showed one of the top leadership traits I appreciate, when leaders are transparent and vulnerable. They don’t try to hide things. This is who I am. I was refreshed and inspired by that interview. 

Wow, Russell. We have spent some effort, and we don’t do it because it’s something that keeps us busy. We do it because it’s meaningful. Going back and looking at it again, I find there is a lot more stuff there. We ought to commit to doing this three times a year. Looking up the episodes and highlighting them for people. I know I get busy. Sometimes in podcasts, people will mention old episodes. I can’t remember that. We don’t number these. We have been doing this for over five years. The magazine has been published for over five years. We have been doing live events for five years. We have impacted thousands of nonprofits all over the country. We are in a new phase of growth this year. We are more interested in getting people in our online community where we can have peer-to-peer conversations on passions and things that impact people’s lives. 

Russ, what thoughts do you want to leave people with today? This has been important for me. I love it. 

Russell: 2020. It’s good to be back. I had to miss a few weeks. I started embarking on some new things and have run into some new opportunities. In some senses, I have gotten a fresh start, and it’s done wonders for my perspective. I’ve been doing training for my new partners. There are lots of people out here in the business community who are excited about doing good work. 2020 is the year of vision and the year of clarity. We want to give you the tools that create a space where we can come together and share ideas because as my friend Hugh always says, none of us is as smart as all of us.  

Hugh: Thank you for being on The Nonprofit Exchange. Click on the Join button, and see what it takes to be part of our community. You’ll be glad you did. See you next week.


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