Stories help you dream big and overcome your fears.

Mary.Nerburn.photo_Today on Barkada Circle radio, we interviewed Mary Nerburn––author, coach, speaker, and entrepreneur/business owner. Mary is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her book, Jack It Up: A 50-Something Women’s Guide to Fixing a Flat Life and Start Living Again. Internationally, women and men of all ages are benefitting from her wisdom.

In today’s program, she tells the Barkada Circle audience how she uses storytelling in helping people dream big once more, push through fears and show up in life again. Mary’s no-nonsense approach appeals to those who seek an engaged authentic life by answering their true calling and realizing their new life mission. Her reminder for embracing your true north is “Like a pebble in your shoe, your dream will nag at you until you respond and live it.”

Jack It Up explores core values as the foundation for decision making and suggests ways to identify and act on personal giftedness as well as using laughter, movement and connecting with nature to create balance. The reader is guided from one chapter to the next with tools for both reflecting and making real changes with laser questions such as, “What do you know about your potential and what do you intend to do with this insight?”

Listen to the podcast of today’s program.

Mary is available for workshops, book readings and consultations with individuals or companies: Mary’s book Jack It Up is available at

We are what we teach.

Instead of, “do what you love,” perhaps the more effective mantra for the entrepreneur, the linchpin and maker of change might be, “love what you do.” If we can fall in love with serving people, creating value, solving problems, building valuable connections and doing work that matters, it makes it far more likely we’re going to do important work.
— Seth Godin, Turning passion on its head

The core of Barkada Circle is to connect, in meaningful ways, the people who can affect change within their organization. It is the first step to getting clarity on their mission and ultimately getting to it. Story is our passion. It is also our message.

Coming back from a long break, these words from Mr. Godin provide just the right tone for Barkada Circle to begin a new chapter in dynamic storytelling. To be clear, by no means were we on vacation. These past few months have created a turning point for Barkada Circle as we continue to discover the many different ways that storytelling could help Chicago’s local nonprofits build stronger communities around mission.

We learned that in the field of education, there is a great need for effective leadership development for teachers starting with those in early childhood education. The women and men who introduce learning to our 3- to 5-year olds not only read stories to these children, but also find themselves needing to tell stories to their staff, the parents of the children, and others in their community. Many of them, believing that they were born to teach children and youth, also see the need to lead others and in some cases, entire communities.

They realize that story is a vital catalyst for engaging people and helping them understand two key things: 1) why change in education is important and 2) what role they need to play in making it happen. Through story, they try to spark relevant conversations that build valuable connections to raise the quality of learning that our children receive at that early, yet critical point in their development.

On the heels of the observance of Labor Day, I salute our teachers for the hope and the potential they bring to our society. I thank them for recognizing the value of story in their work. I love what I do for I share in their belief that storytellers make the best teachers, and the best leaders.

Tell an Engaging Story, Virtual or Live!

Barkada Circle recently led a workshop that challenged participants to look at their websites in a new way and ask the question: “Does my website tell an engaging story?”

The conversations centered around these key points:

Think of your home page as a book cover
You only have seconds to grab the viewer’s attention and make them want to explore further.


Showcase human themes
Stories about your programs are important, however the stories of the people behind and around these programs are what will resonate with your audience. Highlight narratives that bring emotional values to the fore such as hope, strength and transformation. They cut through to the human core which connects people more deeply to your mission.

Keep the language simple and free of business jargon
Write like you would talk to someone face-to-face. The goal is not to impress, but rather to make your audience understand.

Use a photo or video wherever you can highlight characters in your story
A human being is naturally drawn to an image of another human being. Hold the viewer’s attention with original images of real people who are part of your mission. Curate your photos and videos to highlight the humanity in your work.

Apply a visual rhythm
Create a balance between images and text for visual appeal. Making specific choices about the amount of text and the images that complement them helps the viewer focus and understand your key message and retain it. The common saying “less is more” applies here more than ever. For a good example, view the website of the nonprofit charity:water.

How do you move your website viewers to feel and act in the way you want them to? If your website doesn’t stir your own emotions, chances are it won’t stir theirs.


Thursday, May 29, 2014
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Street-Level Youth Media
1637 N. Ashland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642
Fee $10

From virtual storytelling to live and in-person! When was the last time you engaged a live audience with a compelling story?

Join Barkada Circle® for it’s 3rd Semi-Annual Storytelling Jam Session: WHAT’S YOUR READ, an evening of open mic storytelling for folks with a mission. This is a great opportunity to share your compelling story with your peers in a safe and supportive setting.

Do a live reading. Show a video. BE CREATIVE and try something new. BE BOLD.

You get the most benefit by coming unprepared with an unfinished story because the immediate feedback you get from the audience will help take your narrative to the next level.


Grantmakers on Stewardship: How Can Nonprofits Nurture Successful Collaborations?

gpa_debbieJoin us for GPA Chicago’s full-day conference 2014! 

Our day will begin by taking a fresh look at the role of grant professionals in the context of ever-increasing scrutiny and accountability. We are constantly called to be good stewards for the organizations we work with, as well as for their donors. Does this sometimes create difficult ethical dilemmas?

Our keynote speaker, Debbie DiVirgilio, will lead attendees through a process of understanding and establishing ethical standards of operation for grant professionals. View Debbie’s bio and read her post on LinkedIn about The Stewardship Compass.

After enjoying a delicious lunch prepared by the great chefs at Macy’s Culinary Institute, we will engage a panel of foundation representatives in conversation about Creating Effective Collaborations Appropriate to Funding Agency Missions and Goals. Our esteemed panel will comprise:

Monique Brunson
Director of Programs
Chicago Foundation for Women

Suzanne Connor
Senior Program Officer, Arts & Culture
Chicago Community Trust

Jalisa Hinkle
Coordinator, Advocate Bethany Community Health Fund
Advocate Charitable Foundation

Brad White
Associate Director
Alphawood Foundation

Go to the EVENT PAGE for the full agenda and to REGISTER

At our afternoon breakout sessions, you will have the opportunity to deep dive into many of the ideas raised at the keynote and panel discussion.

1:45 pm – 2:45 pm (2 concurrent sessions) 

Grant professionals as leaders
Debbie DiVirgilio, Principal, The Faith-Based Nonprofit Resource Center

Partnerships and how to make them work
Nalani McClendon, Principal, NK McClendon Consulting
Mary Visconti, Chief Executive Officer, Better Boys Foundation

3:00 pm – 4:00 pm (2 concurrent sessions)

Fact Finding: Using Census Data in Grant Writing
Ileana C. Serrano, Information Services Specialist, U.S. Census Bureau

Improving communication and buy-in from program staff
Carole Brooks, Resource Development, Special Education District of Lake County
Joyce G. Poll, Nonprofit Strategist, J.G. Poll & Associates

Your attendance at the conference automatically qualifies you for a chance to win a FREE GPA national membership. Winner must be present.

Member — $90 early bird / $125 after April 18
Non-Member — $105 early bird / $140 after April 18
Student — $50 early bird / $65 after April 18

Registration Deadline: Tuesday, April 29. 

REGISTER TODAY and take advantage of the early bird discount


Presenting to Funders: The Conversation Continues

One of GPA Chicago’s thought leaders was very kind to contribute her views on “How to Deliver a More Compelling Presentation to Funders,” the theme of our chapter meeting in February 2014.

Eileen F. Murphy, Best Buddies Illinois State Director

Eileen F. Murphy, Best Buddies Illinois State Director

Eileen F. Murphy is State Director of Best Buddies Illinois. A graduate of Antioch College, Eileen has worked for BBIL for almost eight years and won State Director of the Year in her third year. She has worked in special events, program planning and fundraising for twenty-five years.

GPA: Why is a face-to-face interaction important to communicate with a funder?
EFM: You convey face to face what you cannot convey in writing. Other senses come into play. Your personality, your knowledge, passion for the project etc. It is always a good thing to get a chance to meet face to face. You hopefully will get the grant, and if not, they know more about you. Something may come up in the future that you are a good fit for. Perhaps a collaboration.

GPA: What will resonate with them?
You are in the black. You are a responsible shepherd of their donation. Their dollar goes along way. You and your staff deeply care about the mission. It’s your job to make them deeply care through photos, phrases and perhaps bringing those you serve. Their gift results in lives changing. Draw on an experience that is universal such as eating lunch with your friends in the HS cafeteria, friendship in general. Imagine what it is like to only have caretakers as friends, or not get invited to parties. Then imagine you have a school with 200 members of the Best Buddies Club who have literally changed the culture of the school. Everyone deserves a typical teenage experience.

GPA: What do I need to know about the person(s) with whom I’ll be meeting?
Everything if possible. Do a little research. What makes them tick? My last meeting was with a seventeen year old and was one of the more difficult ones. You are going to meet with all kinds of people.

GPA: How do I create an effective mix of compelling data and stories?
Evaluations, program statistics, your trajectory based on a growth plan, uniqueness of the agency, numbers served and in what capacity. When I was in the arts, I tailored the “ask” to the asker. Were they interested in movie stars, struggling film makers, or arts education in the inner-city? Mentoring (the last 16 years) involved similar preparations. Are they interested in a geographic area, children or adults, low income or the suburbs? Same thing but different. The impact one person or a group can have on a life and the course of that life. Show this in studies. Intellectually understand and feel it. Don’t make up programs to fit a foundation; it adds money to the budget and takes away what you really want funding for.

GPA: How do I go beyond their expectations?
Be prepared for every question – audit, budget, programs, growth and history. Ask how they would like the meeting to go after friendly banter. Most foundations have a way that they conduct their meetings but are open to your own surprises (a participant, a parent, or a board member). But I would check ahead of time with them. If you are meeting them at a location – you have their cell phone, you’ve arranged for parking, you are waiting at the entrance. Be passionate and informational. Read your visitor. Does he/she look bored? Be in tune with that. I think it is easy to talk too much especially when you are passionate.

For more information about Best Buddies Illinois, visit Join the conversation at the GPA Chicago Area Chapter LinkedIn Group.

You are NOT a Non-Profit

The Nonprofit SIG of the Chicago American Marketing Association continues its educational program series on mission-driven marketing with its second session:

Your Organization is NOT a Non-Profit: Fund Your Mission

chicagoamaThursday, April 3, 2014
8:00-10:00 a.m.
415 N. Dearborn, Suite 300
Chicago, IL 60654

Since when did 501(c)(3)s adopt the mentality that they are not in the business of making money?  Of course they are.  501(c)(3) is only a tax designation not a business model.  Your organization wants to promote research, scholarships, and education to advance the profession and achieve its mission.  In the recent past, major companies would help fund the missions of non-profits, but today these resources have become more limited.

Organizations have to be more self-reliant to generate funds to accomplish their missions and adopt an entrepreneurial mind-set.   Funding will need to come from their current products and programs. Marketers will need to be intimately involved with initiatives to develop the products and bring them to market.

Jill Slupe, CEO of Verde Martin and Sandee Kastrul, President and Co-Founder of i.c.stars will provide insights and case studies that can help us understand how to monetize programs that generate revenue to support our missions.  They will be joined by moderators Nanette Perez, Program Officer of the American Library Association and Beth Zemach of Association Management Center.

Registration opens soon so stay tuned.

Follow us on Twitter with #camanp and join the conversation on LinkedIn:

For more information about all Chicago AMA events, visit

What barriers do staff encounter when they engage board members to fundraise?

boardsource_logoI recently posted this query on LinkedIn based on this blog post in BoardSource about helping staff to fully engage board members in successful fundraising: What ensued was an interesting exchange of perspectives. It certainly felt great to engage others in real discussion.

Dale Otto
Non-profit consulting and leadership development

The first challenge is an obvious one, many board members believe that it is the role of the staff to do fundraising. To engage your board, staff must provide a clearly defined process, who do you need the board to contact and for what purpose, specific points that need to be made to the donor, what type of support can the board member expect from staff, what are the time expectations from the board member?

I also believe board members can’t fundraise for programs they don’t understand or a mission they may not be clear about. Your board orientation is the starting point for establishing these criteria.

Pon Angara
Principal and Creative Director at Barkada Circle

The board orientation is a crucial first step to getting everyone on the same page about mission, culture and expectations. Thanks for your comment, Dale!

Melissa Kaestner
Nonprofit executive with expertise in organizational development and fundraising

Board orientation is indeed very important. I also like one-pagers that members can keep on hand that summarize information from the orientation: basic info, mission, list of programs/services/etc. with one or two sentence descriptions, maybe a stat/metric or two. Ongoing and open communications is also key.

I also think it is important for board members to realize that there is more to fundraising than soliciting donations. They can:

  • be a member of the fundraising committee (help strategize, assess donor prospects, review past activities, support the ED/DD, etc.)
  • do their part in ensuring the board undertakes/participates/reviews strategic development planning, has a healthy, accountable, and transparent structure, and works with the committee/ED/DD as needed
  • read reports/plans from the ED/DD before meetings
  • talk about the organization when talking to their contacts or networking (they don’t have to ask for money, it can be PR)
  • provide names to the committee/ED/DD from their own contacts/network that could be potential donors
  • attend events/activities of the organization
  • participate in donor follow-up by saying thank-you with telephone calls or letters
  • make a personal contribution within their means that is meaningful to them

In any case, I think it is important that board members receive training specific to your culture/needs/activities/approach, especially if they are going to participate in the asking directly. It is important for there to be consistency. It also can be a huge stepping stone on the path of members being able to take ownership of their work. As not every organization has experienced EDs or the means to employ someone specifically focused on fundraising/development, this may seem like a challenge. You can hire short-term consultants, but you can also recruit fundraising experts to your board who would be willing to provide that training (which could be part/all of their personal contribution). And don’t forget, those board members will need resources too, such as brochures or reports.

James Garland

Setting expectation is critical, so I certainly agree with the Board orientation comments. Melissa has a great list of points as engagement is the key from which the donative impulse flows. An additional point would be to have your nominating committee be composed of the most engaged Board members.

From my experience, after the Executive and Finance committee, the Nominating committee, which should include the Board Chair and CEO, is the most important as it serves to recruit the types of individuals who will govern (and contribute to) your organization for the next decade. Generally, according to the laws of human nature, “like attracts like.” If your stronger members are organizing the recruiting, they are more likely to attract strong members. If this task is treated as an afterthought and includes Board members that are just given a role to have a role, you may get also-ran recruits.

Pon: Excellent point, James! I’m on the Board of a nonprofit and we’re in the process of recruiting new members. Our President has been leading up the charge and we already have three great candidates express interest.

Eugene Fram
Professor Emeritus at Saunders College of Business, Rochester Institute of Technology

In the 21st century, NFP boards need a process for allowing individual directors to have occasional informal contact with key staff members, with PROPER feedback to the chief executive, allowing for confidentiality if the staff person desires it. I have successfully followed this process as a director on both FP and NFP boards.

Pon: Thanks, Eugene. In what context have you found this type of contact to be most successful?

Eugene: Pon: I see the CEO needing to be a voting member of the board. As such he has responsibilities for operations and also is the representative of the staff on the board, developing a real board-CEO-staff partnership. This is not theory, it works in practice. I can provide some personal citations on implementation for you if you wish. .

Dwain Cox
Independent Consultant

All of you have made excellent points — I would like to make two points :

  • The ED and Boards need to identify what “skill sets” are needed on the Board, then identify who on your Board meet/have those skills; if needed skills cannot be filled by current members then start identifying potential Board members that can meet the skills — then go recruit those folks.
  • Fundraising follows from you having a documented “fund development plan” that has measurable/actionable items in the plan. Constant evaluation of where you are on meeting the goals is required. You cannot wait until the established date of the goal to find out that you failed. No excuses.

Pon: Great points, thanks Dwain! More and more, I’m hearing that we need to look beyond conventional fundraising and foster a true culture of philanthropy rooted in building relationships. What does this look like to you?

Dwain: Pon thanks. Building relationships with potential donors is critical and doing that well requires pairing up the right board member with the donor. Who will have the “chemistry” to get the intended result? I definitely would have the CEO/ ED as a voting member. Many bylaws exclude that. I have been a nonvoting ED on a board. I found that if you “work” the influential members you can get your vote in.

Pon: Would you say that having the CEO/ED as a voting member on the Board is more common in for-profit corporations?

Dwain: Pon, my for-profit experience has been in very large corporations. The CEO/ chairman have been voting members. In the nonprofit organizations it is even more vital that the ED have a vote — why? The ED is more aware of the business issues than any board member.

Eugene: Dwain: I totally agree. SEE: Pon: Yes more common in FPs. Some NFP state statutes list it as a conflict of interest for the CEO to be a voting member of the board, or even being a nonvoting board member. Quite antiquated thinking in my opinion. See link above.

Pon: It seems to me this conversation can easily/naturally flow into the subject of trust building between board members and staff.

Eugene: Yes; Trust has to be a critical element.

Many thanks to Dale Otto, Melissa Kaestner, James Garland, Eugene Fram and Dwain Cox for contributing to the conversation.