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Celebrating 300 Episodes of The Nonprofit Exchange
During the past 8 years, we have conducted 300 interviews with some really great people who have shared their wisdom, experiences (both good and bad), and subject matter knowledge to help nonprofit leaders and clergy grow their skill, build higher performing teams, and learn how to attract more revenue to be able to more fully achieve their mission.
This episode will consist of the following SynerVision Leaders in a panel discussion:
Dr. Todd Greer is a results-driven developer. Working alongside an individual, team, program, or organization, he partners with them to envision what is possible and shapes the direction to reach this new reality. His life journey has led him through experiences in Politics, Higher Ed, Ministry, Non-profits, Team development, and Startups equipping him to serve leaders and students in a variety of fields. Learning from the strengths of mentors and colleagues, he says, “I been blessed with a holistic focus in the real-world examination of problems for their effective solutions.”
Specialties: Talent Development, Ideation and Strategy, Lean Startups, Organizational Leadership and Change, Coaching, and Non-Profit Consulting.
Russell David Dennis is a SynerVision WayFinder assisting leaders of nonprofits in running high-performing charities generating enough income to achieve their missions. When you decide to make a difference in the world on your own terms, it is worthwhile to have a conversation with Russell Dennis before you start. His unique blend of experiences, coupled with the business and personal challenges he has overcome, can help you avoid pitfalls that set you back. Focusing on nonprofit difference makers, he provides tools that are easy to access, understand, and implement, that get you results and move you and your organization in the direction you want to go.
Russell has been co-host for The Nonprofit Exchange for multiple episodes and brings valuable wisdom to the program.
Hugh Ballou is a Transformational Leadership Strategist and the Founder and President of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. After forty years of musical conducting experience, he now works as executive coach, process facilitator, trainer, and motivational speaker teaching leaders in many diverse fields the fine-tuned skills employed every day by orchestral conductors. Hugh is the author of ten books on Transformational Leadership and is a recognized expert in working with nonprofit leaders and clergy as well as top leaders in multi-national corporations through his business, SynerVision International, Inc.
Read the Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Hello, everyone. It’s Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. We have been in existence since 2010. We have a lot of things going on. One of the things that has been very popular is this podcast, The Nonprofit Exchange. SynerVision also has a magazine, Nonprofit Performance 360. We are celebrating episode 300 of the podcast today. Started eight years ago. Over the years, we have had some amazing interviews.
Joining us from the world of academia, we have Dr. Todd Greer. He is in what we call LA, lower Alabama. You have a halo around your head.
Dr. Todd Greer: I do. I’m sorry. I just came out of a presentation with youth. It’s good to be able to be here. I apologize for being the person late to the party. We will call the halo the glow effect that I bring with me.
Hugh: Todd, let’s go back in history. You were our executive director before you got this great opportunity in academia. You’re doing a lot of great things. We started the magazine in those days as well as the podcast. Tell us a little bit about what the thinking was. You had to convince the old guy this was the right thing to do. Google was the only streaming platform then. We have been going ever since. What was behind your thinking? Are you pleased with where we have gone with it?
Todd: The fact that eight years ago, we were working on this, and still today, it’s going strong, shows the longevity of a good idea. What we see is the fact that this is meeting an important need. When we started out, functionally, Hugh set this amazing vision for what SynerVision was. We were looking at that time to think truly about what was the big need that was out there.
As we looked at it, I will admit that a lot of where my interest in building this out was, I wanted to think about who are the great people in other industries, other disciplines that were doing things that we could bring into the nonprofit world? So often in nonprofits, the world that we live in really looks very closed off. we don’t know about who else is there. We don’t know about what the opportunities look like. We wanted to bring together folks from the worlds of higher ed, business, and government, and find those opportunities alongside other thought leaders to be able to integrate.
Ultimately, when we look at the world we live in, it’s a recognition that we don’t know everything. How we adapt and bring in other people is such a big part of this journey. To be able to start with that so many years ago, see the great thinkers that have been on this platform, the fact that it’s continued to go- Hugh, how many people have downloaded this over the course of eight years?
Hugh: We know that we have had 150,000 downloads on various platforms. I don’t have a good tracker for the video form. There is an equal amount of views on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.
Todd: You think about how many communities across the globe have been touched by this. That is the part we look at. When we think about the residual impact of these amazing people who have come in and poured into our community, the magazine, the podcast- To be able to see that is significant. That was something that was truly blew my mind.
One of the things early on was I used to go out on Twitter and find people I wanted to follow. I wanted to hear their thoughts. The reality was I just asked. In fact, that’s how Hugh and I met so many years ago, was a simple ask through Twitter. That led to a whole lot of yes’s. You think about the people who impact this community, who have joined us over the years. It’s an amazing group of people. We have award winners, great authors, people who have done so many things in different spheres as well as people who care deeply about religious communities, foundations, etc. It’s absolutely incredible.
Hugh: It was certainly a vision. Fortunately, I was smart enough to pay attention and learn the technology. Podcasting was something I had not done at the time. I remember you sent me a message, “We have 70 downloads of the show!” We typically have 200-300 downloads of every episode at this point. It’s exciting. I let it slip for a little bit, but I realized it was too important to drop. I stepped in there, and we have had really good guests.
This guy kept showing up. He was one of our WayFinders through this rigorous process. He’d show up every Tuesday. I’d say, “Russell, why don’t you be co-host with me?” He said yes. Russell, why did you accept that invitation?
Russell Dennis: I really enjoy talking to people. That’s what I do. I’m a social guy as you found out in 2012. I’ve been like a rock in your shoe for 10 years now. It’s great.
Hugh: We met at CEO Space, a live conference. He wasn’t scared off, so he showed up. Russell challenges my thinking. He always asks really good questions. Russell, what is your experience over those many episodes we did together?
Russell: It was like a weekly- *Russell was drowned out to crying coming from another speaker’s microphone* It was amazing the people we met here and how many things I have learned and how many issues we have covered. What we are talking about is making a difference in the world. I don’t remember when we started on Zoom, but it was fairly early on. When COVID hit, this was technology we were used to. We were able to keep going without missing a beat.
It’s just been remarkable the people we met. Some of the things our guests have created. The content we have here is evergreen. We built the community around it. That’s phenomenal. We have been able to create resources and build a community around it. Bring more people together. Now we are moving into another chapter, where we not only have the podcast, which is ongoing, but we have a community that we have built around the resources we have.
Hugh: Yes. SynerVision is the contraction of synergy and vision, where we create the synergy through articulating a vision and people adopting it as a culture of high performance.
In the early years, Todd, you found some people who said yes. I was talking to another colleague, and he said he had just written a story on Frances Hesselbein. She was also on the cover of the magazine during that time. You also interviewed Cal Turner. Want to talk about those two and some very important interviews in the early years?
Todd: The willingness that we had to step out, the hope that we had that people would respond to what we were putting out, to see some of those people- I actually referenced Frances twice in the last two days just coming off a stage in which I shared that.
For those of you who don’t know Frances, she is now 105 years old, I think. Frances was a former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA. She was one of Peter Drucker’s best friends. If you don’t know who Peter Drucker is, please stop what you’re doing, Google him, and read just about everything he has ever written.
She was actually a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner under President Clinton. She at the time was running the Hesselbein Leadership Institute. We reached out to her and were able to interview her. To be able to hear her stories of her experience over the course of her lifetime, to see how the world has changed around her, how the opportunities for women have changed about her, to think about the way she went forward-
I’ll tell you one of the best lessons I received from her was a conversation I had offline. We had worked with her and her team on the relaunch of The Five Most Important Questions, which was a Drucker book she was a collaborator on and helped to bring forward. I asked her a question once, “Frances, I’m a nobody. You didn’t know me beforehand. You don’t know where I’ve come from. Why on earth did you accept my invitation onto this program?” She looked at me and said, “Todd, I see what you’re working on. I see the way you have approached it. I see the preparation that you have. There is an important quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, ‘Be ye an opener of doors.’ I have remembered that. When I see somebody who is willing to work, I see somebody who is dedicated and cares. The only thing I can do is open doors for them. When you asked me, I accepted.” When we asked her to write an article for the magazine, she did it. She did other things for us, too. She even invited us to go visit her in New York City.
Hugh, you referenced Cal Turner. Cal was a second-generation CEO of Dollar General. This is one of those humble individuals that most people in our country don’t have a clue who this guy is. Cal passed away a couple years ago. In Cal’s work, he was able to expand what functionally was a very local mom and pop shop into a string of stores that were sprinkled all across the country.
His interview, the idea that you have a chance to be able to talk to somebody and get lessons. The lessons he brought forth at the time, so many of them were centered around this idea of humility, about learning how to be present and listen to others, about making space for others, a willingness to learn and grow, to show the vulnerability.
That is the lasting impact Russell, Hugh, I, everybody who has been involved with SynerVision, point to. Those are the kinds of lessons that were there. We had a number of amazing people early on. Getting the chance to interview people who had these great books coming out and getting a preview, thinking about those connections. It was incredible. The legacy continues on to this day as we continue to bring more people into the community.
Hugh: Those were legendary interviews. By the way, in case Cal is listening, he is still with us. He is 82. His wife passed away a couple years ago.
Todd: I apologize. Thank you.
Hugh: Cal upsets the paradigms of leadership. He just shows up and is very present.
Because of your relationship with Frances, when I went to New York, twice, she cleared her calendar. She was an award winner with five presidents.
Todd: I stand corrected.
Hugh: I was there. I saw it. She might not have told you the whole story. Ronald Reagan invited her to serve on his Cabinet. She said, “No thank you. I am very busy running the Girl Scouts.” She was very determined in her leadership.
When Peter Drucker, after she’d studied his methodology and used it in the Girl Scouts, visited her, he said, “I have never seen a better run organization.” She said, “You mean a nonprofit?” He said, “No.” She was quite amazing. She still had the same office I visited her that she had the whole time on Madison Avenue in New York.
Russell, we have interviewed some people together. Anything jump out with you in particular? Any celebrities?
Russell: One person that comes to mind, because we work with clergy, too, is Carlton Pearson. I got a chance to sit for an hour with Bishop Carlton Pearson. He had a powerful message of togetherness and why it’s important, why it matters, why it’s important to bring down silos and look at people at their spiritual core. It was so refreshing and enlightening to hear that, to realize that we are all on the single path toward betterment. There is so much more that brings us together than pulls us apart. It was timely in the face of a lot of division that showed up in the country. It was a refreshing message where he talked about his history. That interview is in the archives. Spending half an hour talking to Carlton will change your day. It will energize you. If you ever get a chance, have a look at that. Give Carlton a look.
With a lot of things that we do, there is a lot of talk about how we can be compliant and in compliance and run our nonprofits like a business. Two names that come to mind, one is Christian LeFer who puts the capital C in Compliance. Just remarkable. We had the Q&A blowing up. The phone lines were blowing up when he was speaking with people wanting to know how to get themselves in compliance. Keep things in order. He had good relationships with the IRS, helping people form organizations and get their organizations in order. I just reached out to him. He is a little under the weather right now. I have some folks I want him to talk to.
The other person who comes to mind from that standpoint is an attorney by the name of Stewart Levine, who wrote a book on agreements. We are in a world where everything is thrown at us in complete legalese. He talked about getting to the core of what an agreement is about beyond the legalese. We are people. It’s people working with people. We get into the language of the heart and make very human-centered agreements that hold legal water. He talked about that process, how important that is to set those intentions. It goes beyond the legalese to what the intentions are. What we are doing is very important work here.
Those are a few. There are a lot more who were there. Those are some that jump out for me.
Hugh: Stewart Levine, the resolutionary attorney. He has The Book of Agreement. We don’t think about writing agreements that we both contribute to, and they are mutually beneficial and accountable on both sides.
You talked about compliance. That’s when you register with your state so you can raise money. 41 states require this. Christian has a system for doing that. It’s very complicated because they are all different.
One of the episodes that I remember is a recent one. Todd, we have continued to attract more and more people. We have people booked out three months now because people want to be on the show and share their message because they know people listen to it.
Hardy Smith, I don’t know where I met Hardy. People show up. He has this book Stop the Nonprofit Board Blame Game. I don’t know a nonprofit that doesn’t have some issues with boards. It’s people, and people complicate the life of other people. As leaders, understanding the dynamics. This is the basic framework of how you recruit a board, empower the board, and charge the board with what they are supposed to be doing, which is not running the day-to-day operations of the organization, but they are responsible. Hardy used to run for NASCAR, which is one of my passions.
Another two that really stand out to me is Bob Hopkins, the Bob Hopkins, and Daniel Hodges. Let me bring them on here to comment. Bob is the author of Philanthropy Misunderstood. I have had to relearn how to say “philanthropy.” Bob has been one of the most inspiring presences of my life. Bob, you shared about the book on the show. You want to talk a little bit about your experience? You have watched many episodes over the years. Welcome back. You have had conflicts because you have been teaching. Talk about your experience on both sides, being an interviewee and watching the show.
Bob Hopkins: Thank you very much, Hugh. It was a blessing meeting you more than a year ago. There is a puzzle that I put together that has missing pieces in it. You were one of the big pieces that was right in the middle of this puzzle that I was missing. I wanted a podcast. I wanted to be connected with more people. I want new ideas. I want new thoughts. I want new values to move forward with. What I found from you is the ability to meet a lot of people. I pay attention to who is around me. I grabbed onto your coattails and let you fly, and I flew along with you, behind you. You have been able to fulfill a need I had. I’m an older man, older than you, Hugh. I know people can’t see that. I’m older than you, and I am still hunting for my purpose. You and some of your guests have been able to fulfill some of those aspirations of mine. Thank you.
Hugh: Thank you. You have introduced me to some people in your book. You can find the book at PhilanthropyMisunderstood.org. Paper for Water, a couple of girls who were just young when they met you, and they started this nonprofit. They have raised a substantial amount of money for water projects. Debbie Mrazek and others, there are a number of people in here that have been wonderful guests over the years. Thank you for that.
Bob: I learned from them as well. My book has many of those folks in it. To be in my book, I had to have some sort of association with you and your project. The little girls were five and eight years old. One of them is now going to college, and they have raised $2 million for water projects around the world by making origami. It’s been amazing. Wow, I can’t believe that a child can come up with this idea. Of course, they had parents. That’s important. But you’re right. We have had some great folks in our lives.
Hugh: On their interview, we had the whole family, the mom, dad, and two sisters. The two sisters pretty much were in the limelight, and the parents let them because they were the ones who carried it through. You have a legacy of inspiring young leaders who are now past college, some of them. That’s been helpful to me.
We were introduced by another couple who accidentally formed a winery, Barefoot. I said, “I’m going to Dallas.” They said, “You have to meet Bob.” That was March 8, 2020. It’s been a while. Right before the pandemic. It’s been more than a year.
Another really top leader that we have had on the show was Daniel Hodges. Daniel, I don’t know where you are today. Last time I checked, you were in Dallas, Texas. Tell us a little bit about your background and story and what your interview was like.
Daniel Hodges: I am joining you from East Texas today. I do travel around a bit. My background was I grew up blind and with some other chronic pain and other things as well. I was told by so-called professionals all the things I supposedly couldn’t do. I struggled my way into and through law school in my 30s.
While I was there, I decided to found a nonprofit with my cousin that would help erase the stigma around disability and chronic illnesses effectively so that the next wave of people with disabilities would have greater opportunity than many of us had. We could unleash that wave of human potential that has held back by a lot of misconceptions and structural problems that need not be there.
Hugh: I will say you have taught me a lot. I have closed captions on, which I didn’t think about previously. When I set up new web pages, I think about the size of the buttons and make sure that the alt tags and images are something a reader can pick up on for people who are eyesight-challenged. I thank you for the gift of knowledge there, so I can reach more people with what we’re doing. Thank you for being on the show.
You have also been on the end watching shows. What has been your experience as a viewer?
Daniel: To put it to you this way, I have my intern Rakaia with me. I have had her watching all of these shows since she has been doing her internship because of the value it brings. We are always going to learn something. We are always going to come away with a possibility of a connection. I actually connected on LinkedIn with your guest from last week. The mark of a good podcast: Are you going to learn? Are you going to expand your network? Are you going to come away with something actionable and useful? I think that’s what this podcast is able to do.
Todd: Can I jump in on that? I think that’s such an important point right there. When we build these things, we want to think about A) How can we relate to other people? To Daniel’s point, is there something I can take away and learn? What am I able to take from somebody else’s experience and apply it to my own? That is such an important piece any time we interact with people. Everybody you come into contact with has a lesson for you. The question is are you able to access it, and are you able to learn it? How do you apply it to your own life? Daniel, that is a great point, and it certainly fits into the ethos of what we have been building here.
Daniel: Thank you.
Hugh: Absolutely. The chair of SynerVision Leadership Foundation board of directors is here. David, you have been an active viewer and participant in all of our activities but especially in this. Do you have any reflections on The Nonprofit Exchange?
David Dunworth: Yeah, I do. Over the years, you’ve had such a broad spectrum of guests in fields that are all tied together one way or the other. The varied perspectives that come in are always worth listening to because there is gems in there that maybe you heard once before, but it’s a great reminder. I learn something new every time I watch.
One of the events we were on through SynerVision was last week. I had an awakening because it altered my perception of myself through the information I received. That is what goes on for me when I have the opportunity to sit in The Nonprofit Exchange because the topics are always so great.
One a month or so ago was a gal speaking about sex trafficking and human slavery. It was stuff that needs to be in the main conversation of this world but gets brushed under the rug, like mental illness. Same thing. Those are important topics that need more expansion. Through you and this show, they find a platform to speak their message. That is what is the great thing about all that SynerVision does.
Hugh: Thank you. Without exception, I have famous guests and people we are discovering. Everyone says at the beginning, “Thank you for having me a guest. I’m so happy.”
Jeffrey, can you talk to us? You were present when we did a fundraising episode with Larry C. Johnson on the eight essentials of fundraising. That was really impressive. What impressed you about this episode? Are there others? Jeffrey is one of our advisory council members and a strong strategic advisor for SynerVision.
Jeffrey Fulgham: The eight principles was one of many that struck me. Having a place where people could hear a lot of different aspects of fundraising, which of course there are many, and it’s impossible to cover all of them in a book or podcast. The eight principles was one of the best places I have seen where all of these things that are important were combined together and shown how they can be implemented for a nonprofit to be more successful in their fundraising, relationship-building, and getting their board engaged in fundraising. I like all of the fundraising podcasts on The Nonprofit Exchange, but I like all the other ones, too.
I thought David made a really good point. It’s like this massive, 300-episode funnel of everything coming down, and all of these things coming together, how they all dovetail. David said it this morning on our call, too, that I thought was really good, which is why I do all of these things. You get to a point where you’re like, “I’m old enough. I have been doing this long enough. There is nothing new under the sun for me.” Maybe there isn’t, but there is a lot of stuff that we have forgotten, or we don’t think about every day.
David is right. That’s why I do so much education. Even at 60+ years old. I hear something, and I’m like, “Wow, that is great. I heard that 10 years ago, and I completely forgot about it. Here it is again.” Sometimes it is transformational to what you’re doing. I’m glad you mentioned that, David, because I think it is valuable for people who think they don’t need this anymore. Sorry, but you really do.
Hugh: You heard it right here. What Todd taught me years ago is a 35-minute format. I let it creep to 55. When I came back around to half an hour, people downloaded and listened more.
Russell, let’s talk about our potential for the future. I want to end with Todd making some reflections. Todd, I bet a lot of this makes you real happy. Russell, what do you think about this for the future? Are there ways we can expand our reach?
Russell: We keep at the topics that matter most to folks. What we have now is an opportunity to invite more people into this SynerVision community that we’re building. This podcast is just one piece of the remarkable things that are here. It’s important for us to talk to each other. This is a place to engage. A lot of our guests like Bob have books. This is all material that nonprofit leaders ought to read, and people in general would get a wealth of information from reading and learning.
This is a learning community. This is a community to come in and ask questions. This is a community to have nice, civil discussions with one another about the landscape going forward. I see this as something that is needed and wanted and can add value going forward because we have a lot of challenges. What I have discovered in the eight years is we have a lot of remarkable people out here doing amazing things. If you need to know about them, this is the place to come find out who they are.
Hugh: Todd, back to you. What Jeffrey said, I learn something in every interview. I am grateful to you for your vision for starting this. It’s meant so much to me. As we’re hearing, it means a lot to other people. Todd, reflect on what you’ve heard. What do you think is ahead for us?
Todd: I think that’s the quintessential thing: We’re always in that place to continue learning. When we started out, we recognized there was a couple similar needs that we saw across all types of organizations. There has always been that challenge of how do I engage with a board? How do I develop leaders? How do I make myself attractive to funds? How do I build up the members and give them a space so they can really feel like an organization is theirs? The key is always how do we continue to maintain that mission? How do we invite more people in? How do we encourage the next generation of nonprofit leaders to get started early and think about what that community can look like? Every time we do that, we expose another group to an understanding that a nonprofit opportunity is a great way to make impact in the world.
We live in a time where most people are thinking only about money. Hugh, one of the things you helped reframe for me is the importance of impact. Thinking about not just the ROI, return on investment, but return on impact. The more that we can bring it back to impact, and we can showcase the way we can impact the world around us for better. To Russell’s point, we live in an interesting time, as we always do. We want to come back to that and see what is there.
Appreciate all the work that you’ve done to continue this forward. I figured out there are a lot of people who play different roles in the journey. To have people at different points stepping into this journey and are able to continue it forward, to have 300+ episodes, to have as many downloads and guests who have poured into it, is such a beautiful continuance of that vision.
Hugh: As we end this meaningful session for me, you can see how someone has challenged your thinking. It’s a place where we all need to be because we’re better together. What Russell alluded to a couple of times, we have a community together, which you can find at NonprofitCommunity.org. It’s a place where we learn together, where we share ideas. We have a community Q&A. It’s hard work we’re doing. It’s so hard we need companions and peers to help us. Join our community. You can start for free.
Todd Greer, thank you for your vision. Russell David Dennis, thank you for your companionship and challenging me every episode to be on target. Thank you to everyone I just brought in for coming in and sharing your story with us on this 300th episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. Thank you for being here today.