Watch the Interview
Become the Beacon of Light
with Sharon Lechter
Don’t wait for the light at the end of the tunnel….Become the Beacon of Light Today
As an entrepreneur, international speaker, best-selling author, mentor, philanthropist, licensed CPA, and a Chartered Global Management Accountant, Sharon Lechter is the premier expert for financial literacy and entrepreneurial success.
A lifelong education advocate, in 1989, Sharon joined forces with the inventor of the first electronic ‘talking book’ and helped him expand the electronic book industry to a multi-million dollar international market.
In 1997 Sharon co-authored the international bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad and has released 14 other books in the Rich Dad series. Over 10 years as the co-founder and CEO, she built the empire into the world’s leading personal finance brand.
In 2008, she was asked by the Napoleon Hill Foundation to help re-energize the powerful teachings of Napoleon Hill just as the international economy was faltering. Sharon has released three bestselling books in cooperation with the Foundation, including Think and Grow Rich-Three Feet from Gold, Outwitting the Devil, and her latest project, Think and Grow Rich for Women, released in June of 2014. She is also featured in the 2017 movie Think and Grow Rich: The Legacy and has released the book Save Wisely, Spend Happily in cooperation with the American Institute of CPAs.
Sharon Lechter | About Story
Sharon is a highly sought-after mentor and has worked with major brands like Disney and Time Warner and served two U.S. Presidents as an advisor on the topic of financial literacy. As CEO of Pay Your Family First, she has dedicated her entrepreneurial efforts to the creation and distribution of financial education books, games, curriculums, and other experiential learning projects. Everything about Sharon’s career centers around impacting others to improve their financial IQ, access untapped potential personally and in business, and create their own legacy.
But everything changed in 2012 when Sharon’s son unexpectedly died. All of Sharon’s successes seemed to fade into the background. She kept working, but on autopilot. She stopped playing at the level she always had and just started coasting.
Now, Sharon is back and playing big again, and she wants you to as well with the Play Big Movement. It’s time to shed the limitations that have stopped you in the past. It’s time to play big, master your money and time, and create maximum impact.
Sharon lives in Paradise Valley, AZ with her husband and business partner, Michael Lechter, a powerhouse in the area of Intellectual Property, Organizational Architecture, and Publishing. Together, they love spending time with each other and especially like to get away to their dude ranch, Cherry Creek Lodge, where they can get “off the grid” (literally) and get recharged for their next big play.
Sharon continues to be a committed philanthropist by giving back to world communities both as a benefactor and a volunteer and has been honored with numerous awards.
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, and we are six and a half years into interviews with amazing people. Every week, we have a guest who shares from their experience, their knowledge base, and their wisdom. Today, I am really pleased to have Sharon Lechter. She has so many things I could tell you about her we would never get to the interview. I am going to ask Sharon to tell us a little bit about herself and her passion. Sharon, welcome.
Sharon Lechter: Thank you, Hugh. I am delighted to be with you. I appreciate the opportunity. I welcome and congratulate everybody for being a part of this. Amazing what you’re doing.
Hugh: Thank you.
Sharon: I will give the Cliff Notes version because obviously I have been around for a long time. I started my career as a CPA. I had grown up in a lower middle-class, entrepreneurial home. I lived in a small house between my mom’s beauty shop and my dad’s used car lot. We had orange groves and rental properties that I had to go scrub the bathrooms of. I swore I would never become an entrepreneur; I would be a sophisticated professional, which is what I became. At the ripe old age of 25, I said, “If I am going to be working this hard, I need to be working for myself,” and all of a sudden, my parents looked a lot smarter. At 25, I began my entrepreneurial career and never looked back.
I started a women’s magazine. I started a talking children’s book into a global brand, and later built the Rich Dad brand, with 14 other books in that series. In 2007, I started my company, Pay Your Family First. I was asked by Presidents Bush and Obama to be on the campaign for financial literacy, which was a huge honor.
We know what happened in the economy in 2008. The Napoleon Hill Foundation asked me to step in and reinvigorate my teachings. I read Think and Grow Rich at 19 and probably didn’t realize the impact that it had on me until I was in my 30s. Four of my last five books have been in concert with the Napoleon Hill Foundation. Tremendous working relationship. Such an honor to work alongside them, particularly when we are in the economic time we are in right now.
My passion is financial education. Since 1992, when our oldest son got into credit card debt in college, I dedicated the rest of my career to financial literacy. I am as passionate about that today as I was back then.
Along the way, I am also passionate about other organizations. I was on the board for the National Organization of Women Presidents, helping women presidents grow their businesses. I have been in excess of 20 years on the national board for Childhelp, the largest organization for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Involved in many organizations like the Cancer Society and the Heart Association. But my primary concern is financial literacy. We have our own nonprofit.
One of the biggest joys I have is helping other nonprofits understand they are a business. For-profits are meant to generate money for the shareholders; nonprofits are there to generate money to serve the public. The basic concepts are very similar. I am delighted to be with you today and share whatever I can to support people. During these times, with Childhelp, I had a call where we have lost the opportunity with the stay-at-home orders in excess of $1 million of planned budgeted fundraising because of events that had to be cancelled. All organizations are struggling. Nonprofits are important now more than ever, so it’s important to fund them.
Hugh: One of our guests talked about for-purpose organizations as a reframe. We get hung up on this nonprofit word and think scarcity when it’s really about abundance. I came across Napoleon Hill’s work 30 years ago. You and I have presented at events at the same time with Bob Proctor. Bob always has it in his hands. Greg Reid, our mutual friend, introduced me to Don Green. The Napoleon Hill foundation is in Virginia not too far from me. Don Green was on the show. He sent me your book and other works.
Napoleon Hill was a profound figure. I find in my work with clergy and nonprofit leaders a ton of people don’t know about Napoleon Hill and his work. It’s a paradigm of possibility thinking, excellence thinking, and value thinking. The principles of having a clear definite purpose, having something that is good for the world, surrounding yourself with successful people, and the no-fail attitude. Those are positive leadership skills that everyone needs to know.
The book that you published was a very interesting book. I think they were afraid to publish it during Napoleon Hill’s lifetime. Outwitting the Devil. What was your inspiration to want to work on that book with the Foundation?
Sharon: Think and Grow Rich was published in 1937. When it was published, Napoleon Hill was frustrated because it was his life work, his thesis of success. He had the world opened to him to the 500 wealthiest men, because women weren’t in the business world back then, in the world. He interviewed all of them and drew the similarities. That is where he came up with it. When he published it, he was frustrated because even though people know they are supposed to, they don’t do it. In the very last chapter, he added the six ghosts of fear.
In 1938, he wrote the book Outwitting the Devil. In just a few short months, he wrote it. He talks about how fear cripples us. The title scared his wife to death because she worked for the Presbyterian College and was afraid she was going to get fired. She forbade it to be published, and he put it in the vault. He died in 1970, and she died in 1984. Her sister died about 10-15 years ago. That is when the Foundation got the manuscript.
Don Green called me, and I had already written Three Feet from Gold with Greg Reid. The month we published that in 2009, he called me and said, “I have this manuscript, and I don’t know what to do with it.” He sent it to me, and I went over to San Diego, which is where I do most of my writing. It was literally a manuscript from a typewriter with handwritten notes throughout. It was an incredible experience to read it and to realize it was really meant for today, not for 1938.
I used to say it was meant for today in 2009. However, with what’s happening in 2020, it really was meant for 2020 because in it, he talks about the power of fear: fear of poverty, fear of ill health, fear of dying, fear of loss of love. It’s an interrogation of the devil. He says to the reader, “You can think about the real devil or the imaginary man-made devil, that negativity thinking. It’s up to you whether you are going to derive any benefit from what I share.” It’s such a powerful book.
Our whole goal was to try to do exactly what you just said. People didn’t know who he was. We wanted to bring Think and Grow Rich to the younger audience. Three Feet from Gold was very successful, but Outwitting the Devil has ignited the younger audience. It’s a little in your face and irreverent. But he talks about how fear grips us. He says, “There is going to be a time where I’m going to grab everybody through the fear of poverty and the fear of death.” What’s been happening the last four months? The fear of the virus, the fear of economic collapse, and the fear of being alone, isolation. Fear either paralyzes us or motivates us. We don’t want to get in the covers and hide away, but use the fear to motivate us to take action, to focus on what we want, focus on the definiteness of purpose, focus on who we’re hanging out with, focus on what we are doing to move forward, being proactive, not reactive. It’s an exceptionally powerful book. Even more so today than ever because it talks about as humans what we do to hold ourselves back. We create our own obstacles, and how to blast through that and keep moving forward.
Hugh: As you reread those important books, Jim Rohn used to say, “If you only have three books, they should be Think and Grow Rich, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh, and the Bible. There is a collection of wisdom that you could read the rest of your life.” He didn’t know about your book or my books of course.
There is a lot of universal truths in there. I don’t care which culture or faith you come from. Besides those four tenants that he talks about, there is a lot in those. As I reread them and read your book, and the laws of success, there is a lot that would be a mind reset, a transformation of our thinking, for those of us who lead charities. Think and Grow Rich, he lists the attributes of wealth. He says money is the last one because it’s the least important. What do you take from that part of the book?
Sharon: The definition of success is not the number of dollars in your bank account; it’s how you feel about yourself when you look in the mirror. It’s nothing to do with your reflection. The name itself causes a lot of people to push back because they think it’s just about money. Some of his terminology is think about how much money you want it, when you want it, and how you will get it. There is that aspect.
When I wrote Think and Grow Rich for Women, I talked about money and significance because I believe the underlying principle of Think and Grow Rich is creating success and becoming significant in the lives of others and supporting them and finding their own success. That is the essence of what Napoleon Hill wanted to do. The wealth of his knowledge has been borrowed and used by many other people who have written about success and money because it is the thesis. He says this is the culmination of all of these people I researched. It’s like a doctoral thesis on success. It is their own fear, their own scarcity mindset that they push away from the title. It’s so sad. I don’t believe we live in a world with scarcity; we live in a world of abundance.
Never more important than today for us to find the opportunity because I know we talk about the not-for-profit world on this show. But even for-profit businesses, I’d say the most successful businesses do have a purpose, a mission. They solve a problem or serve a need. If you are out there solving a problem or serving a need, you are going to make money, whether it’s money for a service like a nonprofit or your shareholders. Focusing on your mission and your purpose instead of focusing on the money will steer you well.
Hugh: Building your strategy for your business is like creating a car. Learning to drive it is building your skillset. Money is the gas that makes it go. We do get this scarcity mindset. I think that’s the biggest problem I see universally. Yes, there is abundance.
You go to San Diego. Must be something in the air. There is a lot of high energy out there. David Gruder, Greg Reid, David Corbin, David Stanley. There is a lot of mega-influencers down there. Must be something in the air that attracts all those people down there. It could be the weather.
Sharon: It’s not always San Diego; sometimes it’s LA. But I go to the ocean. I can see the sunsets, turn off my phone and email, and bury myself into writing for days at a time. When I look up, I see the ocean or the sunset, and it gives me the inspiration to keep going. I have been to Hawaii a few times. But I live in Arizona, so San Diego is the closest ocean for me.
Hugh: Oh yeah. It may be cooler, too. The different laws of success, people have taken them hostage for their own personal gain, like the law of attraction is misinterpreted all the time. Things have happened in my life that had no logical reason because I was very clear on the goal and clear on my passion for it. It attracts like-minded people. I have seen that play out many times and been able to accomplish things that are greater than my ability. The law of cause and effect, law of reciprocity. How do some of these laws help nonprofit leaders to transform their thinking instead of scarcity into possibility thinking, abundant thinking? How does it impact those of us who are philanthropic in nature like you are?
Sharon: What you just talked about, cause and effect, law of attraction. We have heard of The Secret. But Napoleon Hill first wrote about it in 1916 or 1919, the law of attraction. He also talked about going the extra mile. It’s not just think good thoughts and good things will happen. He wants you to put effort into it as well.
Whether it be a for-profit or a nonprofit, that law of reciprocity, your donors will keep coming and donating if they see good works being accomplished. But they also feel good about being part of it. There is that reciprocity of acknowledging them. Sometimes you have anonymous donors, but most of them want to feel good about what they’re doing. It’s important to have that reciprocity even if it’s not financial. Recognition, acknowledgement, communication is important.
When I talk to nonprofits, they often don’t have a communication system. When they need money, they send out an ask. I say, why don’t you have a system where you are sharing your good works, things that you are accomplishing with the money they already gave you so they feel better for having supported you? You’re communicating with them, letting them know what’s happening, and they are more likely to say yes next time. It’s important for people to understand that it’s not a one-way street. Reciprocity is important.
Hugh: Yes, it is. Thank you for that. In 32 years of doing work with charities of all kinds in several places in the world, there has never been one that hasn’t brought up communication as the #1 issue to deal with. Everybody talks about it; nobody does anything about it. To me, that is the tip of the iceberg. Like leadership, there is a relationship piece here. Like money, there is a relationship piece here. Building relationship is so important.
Before we go on, where can people find your books? Are they on SharonLechter.com?
Sharon: Yes. If you buy them through my website, I will autograph them. You can also buy them on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Think and Grow Rich for Women, Outwitting the Devil, Three Feet from Gold, Success and Something Greater. Those are the ones I did with the Napoleon Hill foundation. I have a new book coming out in July with Inc. Magazine called Exit Rich, which you can preorder at ExitRich.com.
Hugh: You have been a very successful businessperson helping other people. You are giving. You help build others’ enterprises. Not always benefiting you like it could have. But you also are very active in the world of nonprofits and charities. Why is that important to you, to share your knowledge base and be philanthropic with your time and money?
Sharon: Sometimes it’s a learned skill or an embedded skill. My father would ask, “Sharon, have you added value to someone’s life today?” I grew up in an environment thinking of making contributions to others and supporting others. He has been gone for 14 years, but I still ask myself every night that question: Have I added value to someone’s life today?
We have created success in our lives. It’s true. We are financially free. I could retire and stop. In fact, I almost did a few years ago because as you know, seven and a half years ago, I lost my youngest son. It takes a lot of oxygen out of your life. I was living in neutral, very numb, for several years. Everybody probably has something in their lives that stopped them in their tracks, whether it was death, divorce, or a financial setback. The world has had a lot of impact in people’s lives lately, being fearful of their health and financial statuses. But we are still here. We are still here for a reason. I got a lot of pushback when I thought about retiring three years ago. That is when I realized I am still here for a reason, and there is more for me to do.
I launched the Play Big Movement, a private Facebook group open to everyone. I wanted to open my mind to the possibilities again of playing a bigger game. In doing so, I wanted to share what I was doing so people could as well. It’s that one-on-one mentoring or providing opportunities. I have online courses to help people find their knowledge because it is not taught in schools on how to truly build a strong business, be it nonprofit or for-profit.
It talks about the essential components of a successful business, and that’s mission, team, and leadership. You mentioned it earlier, but you have to have the legal side, the foundation, the available resources, relationships, communications, a business system, and the deliverable. Most people just focus on their product or service, and they think they got it. But you have to build that foundation around it so it cannot just be successful, but sustainable, scalable, and salable, or scalable and have a larger impact. The Play Big Movement is being #1 in your field, living your legacy every day with every heart you touch, and creating maximum impact. To create maximum impact, they have to realize to build the foundation and the systems to help them scale.
Hugh: That’s so important. Thank you for that. What is the biggest challenge? Those are the fundamental skills and systems that leaders need to have. You and I work with entrepreneurs that are early-stage. I work with all stages of nonprofits. There is still this deficit of people not knowing what they don’t know and not thinking of it as I need to learn business skills, I need to have a plan, I need to have a financial plan. All of these components of a successful business. What is my unique value proposition? What attracts money for the nonprofit is the impact, your deliverable. What is the impact of our work? Are we really bringing value and changing people’s lives? We had a setback here. There is a lot of fear and pent-up frustration and concern that leaders don’t know how to lead going forward. What are a couple of things that leaders could think about and embrace? What is your advice for leaders who are facing the dilemma? It will get worse before it gets better. June 2020 is a pivot place. It could get better or worse. How do leaders make a difference?
Sharon: One thing is you have to lead yourself before you can lead others. As the head of your organization or a leader within your organization, it’s important because the people who are under you are looking to you for stability. Right now, there is not much stability in the world. I get frustrated when I hear people say, “I see the light at the end of the tunnel.” That’s the topic we titled this today because I said, “Don’t wait for the light at the end of the tunnel. Be the beacon of light to help bring some optimism and opportunity to your world today.”
As you become a beacon of light, other people will naturally draw to you. Take a stand where we are today against this negativity, against the blowback, and be the positive, the person talking about the future. If we come together, we can create a better and brighter future today. Not at the end of the tunnel. Now. Be a beacon of light around you today in your organization, in your family, in your neighborhood, in your community, and it will turn around a lot quicker.
Hugh: Absolutely. Are you willing to entertain a few questions?
Hugh: We have Bob Hopkins and Jeffrey Fulgham. Bob Hopkins is in Dallas, Texas. He is a philanthropist and author of this wonderful book, Philanthropy Misunderstood. He is a fan of horses. That is not the one called Philanthropy, who he owns now. Bob, do you have a comment or question for Sharon?
Bob Hopkins: Yes, I am enjoying this very much. I happen to be in Arizona, Tucson, right now.
Sharon: You need to go north a few hours to our ranch in Young Arizona. We have a few horses waiting for you. Check it out. CherryCreekLodge.com.
Bob: That sounds incredible. If I had some time, I am going back down to Dallas tomorrow. I am outside in Tucson, looking at the mountains. It’s hot, but not too hot. I’m under shade. Enjoyed listening to what you had to say.
I’ll tell you, I have been a nonprofit leader for a lot of years. I was hired to raise money. That is what I did and do is raise money. Who knows how to manage it? I certainly don’t. I never did. I was not ever trained as a child to raise money; I just always had the money I needed, and I would spend it. I didn’t pay attention to it. Now I am the head of a nonprofit organization. That is one of the least experienced things that people know how to do in the nonprofit sector is manage money. We don’t spend much money hiring people. Usually it’s volunteers who can help with accounting. I was blessed to have someone do it well for a while. I have also been unblessed and had someone take out of the pot, and nobody seemed to know or care until after I left the organization. They asked, “Bob, did you know that?” I didn’t.
I need some advice. Where do I get information about nonprofit management? That means in finances. Is there a list of those people who have expertise in this field, unpaid, that would be volunteers in doing something like this, or a paid person?
Sharon: That is a great question. In Dallas, I would refer to you the Texas Institute of CPAs. They will have a nonprofit section who are trained in that area. I recommend to all the nonprofits that even if you have a controller or an accountant on staff, find a local firm that will certify and audit your financials to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen. Finances with a nonprofit can be loosey-goosey because you have the regular accounting and the special events that can get out of hand. It’s important to have the systems built in so that you can properly manage them.
Also, having that outside set of eyes to look at it gives you that credibility. It also makes your donors happier because they see you have that extra accountability tied to it. It helps prevent a lot of problems. When you have a bunch of volunteers, somebody gets trained today, but they are not there in six months. That person needs the same training, but you haven’t brought that back in. It’s important to establish systems, have them in writing, and have a process that someone is administratively in charge of with any organization to make sure that process is being followed. A lot of the big accounting firms, even the regional ones, will do pro bono work for nonprofits. I would recommend you start there and see if you can find organizations who are willing to give a little time to support the nonprofits in that area.
Bob: Good suggestion, thanks
Hugh: That is one thing I took away from one of my early readings of Think and Grow Rich was that successful people surround themselves with the mastermind concept, other successful people. I think Clement Stone said you become like the people you hang around the most.
I am going to go to Jeffrey, who is in Richmond, Virginia. Long-time professional fundraiser. Jeffrey, do you have any questions for Sharon?
Jeffrey Fulgham: I had a comment. I was going to say something different than this until Sharon mentioned the auditor thing. I have been doing this for 30 years. I think back to financial decisions we had to make even though we had a treasurer on the board or a CFO of having the auditors as a resource. A lot of people go to them when they need an audit, and when they are done with the audit, the next time they connect with them is nine months or a year later. We involved ours in so many different ways in the organization. We developed a relationship with them. They became a resource for us as we made decisions about where the organization was going, how we were financing things, different fundraising strategies. We would use them as a consultant all year long. It was a tremendous relationship, and I’m glad that Sharon mentioned how important it is to have someone like that involved in the operation. It is a great endorsement and a great resource.
Sharon: It’s all about being proactive instead of reactive.
Jeffrey: Exactly. I quite frankly don’t know a lot of organizations that necessarily do that because some of the organizations I work with weren’t doing it when I got there.
Sharon: It prevents so many headaches when you know. It’s so important to have the right people on your team. In Three Feet from Gold, we talk about seeking counsel, not advice. You are asking people who know the answers, who have been there, done that. It saves so much headache and frustration, particularly in the nonprofit world. The more you can minimize frustration, the better you are because there are constantly things in need of adjustment. On the financial side particularly. As a nonprofit is growing or struggling, either way, it is important to have those people who have worked with other nonprofits who understand how other nonprofits have survived it, and even more, understanding how some of them did it wrong to help you stay on the right path. It’s imperative. We are blessed with the staff we have. It allows them to keep their independence, but it also allows you to keep from having issues that might be on the audit if you made a stupid decision. It’s important to be proactive on the financial side.
Hugh: Thank you, Jeffrey. Great principle. Sharon, you’ve talked about communications. We need to tell people what we have done with our money, what impact we’ve had, what’s going on. Then we ask them for money. Speak a little more about if that makes sense to you. We’re in a place where communications is becoming even more critical. Communications is misunderstood, and we tend to want to send an email and think people have the whole message. What advice do you have to share about communication?
Sharon: I would agree with everything you said. But also add how you’re communicating. What is your medium? If you have a board who are all 60+ years of age, using text may not be the right avenue. Email may be better. Phone calls might be better. The issue is making sure that you are available to share the information and communicate in the way that people want to receive it. It’s a huge change right now because every day, I have to check my messages on LinkedIn, Facebook. It drives me nuts. I can’t have my assistant do it; it’s coming to me. Understanding how best people want to be communicated with.
A lot of times, we will have a regular communication system to the board on a weekly basis. I call it a dashboard. We have created a dashboard that gives me a fast look at how the organization is doing that week. But we’re not doing anything similar to all of our donors. Let’s find out how we can create a short, sweet story of the week or impact of the week or month so that the donors can feel proud of having supported this organization. A lot of organizations send a thank-you note for the donation, and that’s it. It’s so important to make sure you have this regular communication system, whether it be a newsletter, an email, a text. How best to do that is something that you have to determine based on your donor base. It’s so important, like right now.
With the things that have happened over the last few months, even if you’re listening to this later, when the world changes, you need to adapt. For instance, we talked about Outwitting the Devil. Until February, I talked about in today’s world I felt the fear of criticism is the most pervasive fear there is because everyone wanted to keep up with the Joneses and look good. That fear of criticism was my lead when I talked about this book. As of February, that went out the window because people are afraid of death, financial ruin, being isolated. I had to change my communication to be relevant to what is happening today. So many organizations don’t take the time to say, “Am I using the right terminology to be impactful today? Am I using the right messaging that will get to them?” Understanding they are now looking at the world through different filters.
With Childhelp, I am on the national board. It is the largest organization for the prevention and treatment of child abuse. We’ve had a 31% increase in our calls to our child abuse hotline, saying that my only safe space is school. It breaks my heart. We’ve lost $1 million in events that had to be cancelled. We’re communicating with what’s happening in a huge need we have to make sure these children who are calling are getting the services they need so we can get the police or child protective services on the way to take care of these children. Being honest and communicating what is happening, we are seeing those donations come in through different avenues and audiences. As a leader of your nonprofit, you have to understand what is happening in the world around you. Maybe you open yourself up to a new audience. The power of association is so important to keep your organization thriving.
Hugh: Absolutely. This breaks my heart. We are in an era where the work of our nonprofits is more important than ever before in history. It’s what government can’t do. We are there, boots on the ground, activating people. Bob’s mission is to teach people that philanthropy is not just giving money; it’s being active in it.
The last three organizations I served were in crisis when I got there. I like to solve problems. I like to build things. I worked for a church at the top of the game of 12,000, and then the preacher died. They lost 200 singers in the adult choir because the guy left and they blamed the preacher. There are dynamics with this fear stuff: people against people.
Solving problems is a skillset that is more important today as well. We bring value to people, sometimes we do solve problems for people. Moving forward. That is a real important piece for businesses. We make money because we solve problems. We give people value. We get donations because we solve problems. What is the skillset that leaders need to think about in the problem-solving piece?
Sharon: The #1 skill of a leader is listening. So many times, we assume we know what people need. I actually wrote an article earlier this week for our friend Jeff Magee related to feedback, the importance of having that feedback system. Effective leaders are welcome and open to feedback. Leaders who are not effective typically don’t want any feedback because they think they know everything. Within your organization, whether it’s a nonprofit or a for-profit business, do you have a system to make sure you are relevant today? So many of us that have been around for a while, we think we know what our clients want.
When I start working with someone, I send them out a questionnaire: What keeps you awake at night? What is your greatest hope? What is your expectation? A big issue in communication and leadership is a difference between your expectation and the person on the other end’s expectation. That creates nothing but problems. By asking the right questions and listening to the answers, you can determine what their expectations are. If you recognize that there is something off, you can clarify it early as opposed to later. That is the biggest issue that I see. People who have donors who get up and leave, they had an expectation that wasn’t met. Wouldn’t it be good to know that ahead of time so that they don’t leave so that you can understand what their expectations are?
Hugh: People serve on boards, donate, volunteer because they want to serve and they have an interest in something. First of all, we are apologetic in asking people to do that. We shouldn’t be because people want to bring value to a cause. Part of it is being articulate in telling people where the opportunities are and why we are doing something. But the other part that is left out most of the time is we never ask people, we never get to know them, we never figure out what they are interested in, either donors, board members, or volunteers. That is critical. God gave us two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. We listen with our eyes and ears, and people do give us clues. What is a tip for improving our listening? As a musical conductor, that is an important skill I teach of course. What are some tips for sharpening those skills?
Sharon: It doesn’t matter if you are a for-profit or nonprofit. So many of the issues are the same. In a lot of marketing, people want to talk about their features. We do this, this, and this, instead of talking about the benefit to the customer or the benefactor. It’s important that you focus on the benefits, not the features. The benefits are you will save 10.5 million children. The benefit is that 91 cents out of every dollar you donate goes to the children. These are the benefits to the donor. When you focus on that instead of the features, you are going to be talking to the heart. Features is bragging. That is the head. You are trying to sell them on something.
I do a whole talk on selling or serving. When you sell, it’s a transaction, a one-time thing. When you’re done, you have to find the next sale. If you serve, you are creating a relationship. That relationship will generate a lifetime of sales. Focus on that service.
Back to what you said, Hugh. If you say you don’t like to sell or ask for money, take a step back. Do you believe that what you are offering is something that will benefit them as a donor or as a customer? If you believe that what you have will benefit their lives by being a donor or customer, shame on you for not sharing it. That is called serving because by giving them the opportunity to participate, you are benefiting your organization, but you are also giving them the opportunity to participate. You are serving them. You changed your mindset and terminology from one of sales or asks to one of service and focusing on the benefits, not the features.
Hugh: That was worth tuning in for. You may or may not know, but Jeff and I are co-publishers of Nonprofit Performance 360 Magazine. We need to expand our philanthropy. Cal Turner is in one of our issues. He went to his leadership at Dollar General and said, “I got this job of president and CEO because I am the son of the founder. You got the skills, and I have the vision. I need you. I will let you do it.” Everybody stepped up. He said, “Hugh, leadership is about defining your gaps and finding really good people to fill them.” Sometimes, Sharon, I find so many leaders think we have to have all the right answers because I am the leader. It’s important to have the right questions and listen for the answers. What do you think?
Sharon: As a leader, if you need to be the smartest person in the room, you are in trouble already. We talk about asking for counsel, not for advice. We were just talking about the auditors. I don’t necessarily want to pay somebody full-time to be on staff that has a depth of experience that these auditors do, but I want them on my phone so I can call them to ask them specific questions. Do you have that same opportunity? Do you have a Rolodex to support you in making those major decisions? Power of the mastermind. Having people who have been where you want to go are incredibly important. Mentors and advisors are key. It will speed your way to success.
In the world where you live in today, where success is demanded overnight, you need to have every tool in your toolbox. The biggest tool you have is a mentor who has the experience and can open doors for you. I always tell people that a coach is not a mentor; they are two different things. A coach keeps you accountable to a pre-determined path. They are very important. I am a lousy coach. I need a coach. I’m a fantastic mentor. A mentor will open the Rolodex, step into your world, help you steer around pitfalls, speed your way to success. They see opportunities that you haven’t identified yet. That is the power of a mentor. The stats are proven. People who have mentors are more profitable than those who do not.
Hugh: Amen. The people who are successful have a mentor and a coach. You mentioned mastermind. Explain about that. That is a principle from Think and grow Rich. How is that useful, and how is it different from a mentor?
Sharon: There are different types of masterminds. It’s having a mastermind with peer groups. People who are in different organizations. When you face a problem, they have already faced it and can help you get there. It’s a group of people determined to support one another. They have a system they use. 1 + 1 = 11, not 2. It’s exponential results. You bring the brain power and experience and years of education together. You have astronomical results. It’s having that ability to have peer mentoring to support you. The mastermind can also be a mastermind for your health. Maybe a group will keep each other accountable. The one I am talking about from a business perspective is you have your mentors, you have your advisors, and you have a peer group of mentors who may be in different industries but are facing similar issues.
Hugh: People sometimes think, “I made it. I don’t have to do that.” Look at the Fortune 500 companies. The original 500, 52 of them are still here. They were at the top of their game and didn’t think they needed anything. Nobody is exempt from having people’s input. Is there anything I didn’t ask you so far that you want to share with people?
Sharon: I think at the end of the day, you’re the CEO of your own life. Yes, we want to be successful in our business world, but part of that success comes from your heart. The way to have a successful heart is to be philanthropic, whether you can write big checks or give time. So many times, you receive so much more than you give. Philanthropy is a hard word to pronounce and spell, but it is not a hard thing to do. Every one of us has the opportunity to be philanthropic from helping a neighbor to participating on a board and a myriad of other opportunities in between. In your own neighborhood, there are organizations you can support. Never has it been more important than today to be able to support our communities in getting through what we’re going through right now.
Hugh: Absolutely. When you go to Gifts.SharonLechter.com/4gifts, what will you find there?
Sharon: There are four things there. The first one is Overcoming Your Biggest Obstacles, which talks about figuring out how to find that definiteness of purpose to get back on track. There is one about you and your money that talks about a few lessons about your credit, your financial situation, and things you can do today to help yourself prepare and prevent a problem in the future. There is a link to my podcast called The Play Big Movement, which is free. We just want to support you in any way we can to find the next best thing in your life.
Hugh: What do you hope people do as a result today?
Sharon: I want to challenge everyone. I like the word challenge because the personal success equation is your passion and your talent, finding the right associations, taking the right action, and having faith in yourself. But so many times, we speak to 500 people and maybe 50 people will take an action. Are you one of those 50 or the 450 who are sitting back and being reactive? I challenge you to be proactive. There is nothing to lose. It won’t cost you money. Take action. Get the free gifts. There might be that one idea, that one concept that can change your life forever in a positive way. That is why I do what I do. My joy today is seeing other people succeed because of something that I shared or talked about. We have been there, done that. We do what we do because we love helping others.
Hugh: Oh, so well put. Sharon, you are a gift. Thank you for being here today.
Sharon: My pleasure. Thank you.