Category Archives: nonprofit

Episode 4:
The Power of No

   By Pon Angara & Patty Cooper    bc_headshot_patty

bc_bubble_pattyPon, I don’t know about you, but it’s very difficult for me to say no to people and opportunities especially now that I’ve started working for myself. I don’t want to upset anyone. I don’t want to miss out. I was approached by one of my former clients about a project that sounded like a good fit. It would be a 10-week assignment for a very high-profile event. Everything seemed to line up. I was going to be working with a client that I really enjoyed. I knew some of the people on the team. I jumped on a couple of conference calls to learn more about the details. Things were coming together and then I received the quote for the project. It was so low. I was in shock. My heart sank. My stomach churned. I felt heat start to creep through my nervous system. The room started to spin. I didn’t know what to do.

bc_bubble_ponPatty, I’ve had that same overwhelming sensation that seemed to stop the flow of blood in my veins and turned my brain cells to mush. Every time it happened was a moment of internal conflict. It was a sure sign that I was about to make a hard decision, enter into an uncomfortable situation, initiate a crucial conversation, or all of the above. What happened next?

bc_bubble_pattyI took a deep breath and asked myself a series of questions. What are my options? Can I go back and negotiate? Could I stand up and ask for what I’m worth? Yikes! All of it was yikes. Along with not liking to say no, I don’t often stand up for myself when it comes to asking for what I’m worth financially. This offer was just the opportunity I needed to learn that and to negotiate a better rate. I talked it through with my friends in the industry. They coached me through what to say and also brought up some points that hadn’t occurred to me. Like was this rate a 7-day rate or a 6-day rate? What were the other responsibilities that I could be assigned that were not in the scope of work? I’m so grateful for my friends. Including you, Pon! You’ve really helped me to figure out what my consultant rates should be.

bc_bubble_ponGlad I could help, Patty! Sometimes seeing the situation in dollars, numbers or some other exact measure helps to better define the problem. It becomes easier to compare your options and you feel more confident about your final decision. Having too many unknowns causes higher levels of mental and emotional stress. Managing stress is one of my priorities for this year and I’ve committed to joining a meditation group at least once a week. Stress will come at you from anywhere, at any time, and is almost entirely unavoidable. The only way to counter stress is by managing it. How did you manage this particular stress?

bc_bubble_pattyBefore my call, I did a short meditation to regulate my breath. I put my somatic practices in place to ground myself. I called my client and made my case. I drew a line in the sand at the rate I would accept. After 24 hours, they came back with the same offer. I asked myself another set of questions. If I say no, will I lose the client for good? Should I just suck it up and take the job? Am I making a mistake? Do I deserve what I’m worth? What will I do for work? I felt my shoulders tense, my stomach tighten. I wasn’t breathing. I realized my limiting thinking was making my body collapse. Then my questioning began to change. What if by saying no, I can say yes to something I really want to do? What if by saying no, I am actually creating space for new possibilities? What if by saying no, I am honoring myself and telling the world that I will not sacrifice my worth?

bc_bubble_ponRecalling our conversation in “Episode 2: What kind of instigator are you?” we explored the two sides of what it means to be an instigator: taking the initiative to either START or STOP. By saying no, you’re able to prevent your train from derailing. By saying no, you’re able to avoid a distraction from stealing your time and energy that would be better invested in a project that truly aligns with your passion and brings you joy. I realize this is easier said than done. I acknowledge that this is a process and a struggle that involves many deep internal dialogues with yourself. How did you handle that?

bc_bubble_pattyAfter a lot of reflection, I realized I was in the driver’s seat and have choices. I sent a very professional email thanking them for the opportunity and declining the offer. I felt a sense of relief after I pressed send. There is still some anxiety, but I did it. I said no. I’m really proud that I stood up for myself.

bc_bubble_ponI, too, am very proud of you, Patty! You got through this challenge characterized primarily by you in conflict with yourself, which at times can be the most difficult.

bc_bubble_pattyI wonder if I would have had the same issues about all of this if I was a guy. Would it be easier for me to say no if I wasn’t a person of color?

bc_bubble_ponWe each have stories that define who we are and influence our decisions, therefore directing our actions. The beauty of your internal narrative is that you are its protagonist and author, both at the same time. You can write and rewrite your story. You can direct yourself and how you move through your plot. What defines you, Patty? Is it by being not a guy? Or a person of color? Or is it something else? Or is it many things? How will you forge meaning from this experience to help build your identity?

bc_bubble_pattyThe meaning I have forged from this experience is that I have the power to choose regardless of my gender or cultural background. I can START or STOP at any time. I don’t have control over what the other party thinks or does. This experience made me think about our instigator quest of actively creating our lives. I learned this week that consciously creating my path means there will be times when I will have to say no. I’ll keep you posted with the next yes opportunity.


Pon Angara is the Principal at Barkada Circle®, using story to help nonprofit organizations manifest their missions and build their community of support.

Patty Cooper is a Storyteller, Certified Newfield Ontological Coach and Consultant.

Self-care is mission first.


As nonprofit professionals, we work hard to serve our clients and care for the mission. On the flip side, are we doing enough to care for ourselves?

A few of our colleagues would like to share what they do to stay positive, healthy and energetic. “How do I restore my most basic natural resource—myself,” asks Jennifer Moran, leadership director at the Evanston Community Foundation. Find out how she and five other changemakers sustain their well-being.

How do I restore my most basic natural resource, myself?  I am not sure I do the best that I could, but there are places and spaces and activities which do fill me with peace of mind. I love to cook. The preparation is my meditation. As I curate a meal,  I think about a part of the world I would like to know better through the food.  Each culture has a “comfort” food so I start there.  It could be a savory Pho, a spicy Korean pancake, or the best homemade Matzo ball; it is the process that allows me to focus and create. Every sense is involved and I love it. The end result requires a beautiful table and honest conversation to honor the effort. It is the moment where my family and guests will enjoy the flavors, the textures and the sharing that comes from sitting together in a circle.   The entire experience is what makes me feel joy.
— Jennifer Moran, Evanston Community Foundation

We owe to ourselves to take time to relax and recharge to maintain the focus and energy that drives our commitment to the important work of the nonprofit sector.  I personally find exercise, time with family and friends, and catching up on a few favorite TV shows are just what I need!
— Andreason Brown, Spencer Foundation

I read a great deal during the course of the day.  I also respond to approximately 300 emails a day.  Many nonprofit managers are awash in information, phone calls, emails, tweets, and meetings all day.  In order to relax and lower my stress level, I concentrate on my breathing while enjoying a strenuous workout. I sometimes take a walk along the lakefront and look at the water lapping the shore while thinking about nothing else. Sitting on a park bench in a remote area lets me concentrate on a bird formation in the distance until the birds are out of view. I enjoy visualizing a happy experience and thinking about it from start to finish: the best meal from salad to dessert especially a pint of my favorite ice cream, the first time falling in love and embracing that person. Whenever I can, I close my eyes and meditate, pray, or think a kind thought.
— Joanne E. Howard, Ph.D., Illinois Institute of Technology

Learning to value my personal time has been the best way for me to stay positive and energetic while working in the nonprofit sector. For me, relaxing and recharging can be as simple as saying “no” or taking time off. I know I’m not at my best when I’m stressed and exhausted, and I’m not doing anyone any favors if the quality of my work depreciates as a result. Knowing when to take a break and step away makes me a better me – personally and professionally. It’s easy to feel guilty about declining a meeting or taking a vacation, but sometimes you gotta do you.
— Carlos A. Trejo, Marillac St. Vincent Family Services

For me, mindfulness apps have been a lifesaver in terms of helping to create a calm space in my day. Even if I only have a few minutes for a guided meditation, that’s usually enough to help me find some peace of mind.
— Erika Gryniewicz, Heartland Alliance

Like many of my colleagues, it can be a real challenge to find time to unwind.  Thanks to my Mom, I grew up learning how to cook and, especially, enjoy preparing dinner now for an always enthusiastic, supportive and appreciative husband – no matter what’s on the table! Is there anything more fulfilling than sharing time with friends and family over delicious, homemade food?  I think that’s what compels me to strive so hard at Care for Real to ensure our clients have the same opportunity.
— Lyle Allen, Care for Real

It’s now your turn to share. What do you do to relax, recharge, and return to action with renewed spirit?

Innovation (and great storytelling) happens at the intersections

When I took Barkada Circle® through a rebranding process in 2017, my biggest challenge was being able to create a clear pitch with a simple narrative behind it. Yup! There I was, storytelling consultant to nonprofits, trying to write my own story, and not knowing where to begin. The problem was not a lack of vantage points. It was quite the opposite; I had too many. Eventually, I was able to buckle down and figure out my story about storytelling.

My challenge stemmed from multiple interests I’ve accumulated through the years.
In my 20s, I was an undergrad with academic pursuits in art, engineering and design.
In my 30s, I was a full time graphic artist for a global manufacturer of dental products
and building a freelance business with clients from various industries. When I turned 40,
I launched Barkada as a birthday gift to myself (What normal person does that?).
Storyteller, designer, illustrator, writer, industrial engineer, public speaker, workshop
sherpa⏤you get the picture.

According to Emilie Wapnick, author of How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who
(Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up
, folks like me are called
“multipotentialites⏤those of us with many interests, many jobs over a lifetime, and many interlocking potentials.” A multipotentialite herself, Wapnick has been a musician/songwriter, a web designer, filmmaker, writer, law student and entrepreneur. As a career and life coach, she helps other people with wide and varied interests understand and appreciate who they are in a society that asks us to pick a lane and stay in it.

In her TED talk, Wapnick points out three multipotentialite super powers. I’ve realized
that these qualities enhance my abilities as a storyteller, or they’re probably the reason
I am one:

Idea Synthesis⏤Combine two or more fields and create something new at the intersection. Innovation happens when seemingly unrelated concepts converge. It’s where we can spark new ideasjust like in the movieswhere two opposing characters meet to spark tension, intrigue and an interesting journey that changes them forever.

Rapid Learning⏤We’re less afraid of trying new things and stepping out of our comfort zone. Helping clients to become better storytellers requires me to approach them with
curiosity. Listening to their stories while keeping an open mind means that I have to be willing to move aside my preconceptions, absorb new information like a sponge and,
in some cases, even relearn what I thought I knew.

Adaptability⏤In today’s world, change is fierce and it comes fast. Shared stories can hold members of an organization in a common personal bond. A culture rich with storytelling helps to anchor them to the mission so together they can weather the storm and thrive.

We have a stack of complex, layered problems in the world, and we need creative,
unconventional thinkers to tackle them. Multipotentialites make great connectors and
collaborators. Armed with their breadth of skills, knowledge and vocabulary, they can speak multiple languages across various fields. They can translate information into stories that can be understood and acted upon by others to get the work done.

Wapnick closes with this message of encouragement: “Embrace your many passions.
Follow your curiosity down those rabbit holes. Explore your intersections. Embracing our inner wiring leads to a happier, more authentic life. And perhaps more importantly
⏤multipotentialites, the world needs us.”

This multipotentialite storyteller is ready to help you find the intersection where a new
story can spark your next innovation. Fill out our contact form or call 773.852.3522 today.

Keeping It Simple Keeps It Real.

Folks have asked me how best to tell their mission story if its core is a highly
sensitive subject. And who should tell the story?

One subject that deeply resonates with me is mental health.
I’ve been a volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide
for the past four years, helping people register at the Out of the Darkness Walk of AFSP’s Illinois Chapter.  I’ve always been inspired by the outpour of love and support at this annual event.

With support from The Jed Foundation, the Ad Council and numerous donors and
volunteers, AFSP recently launched a national campaign, “Seize the Awkward.”
The goal of this campaign is to empower teens and young adults to reach out and
help a friend who may be struggling with their mental health.


“Seize the Awkward” provides information and tips for starting that essential conversation with a friend. It does so in a light tone without diminishing the seriousness and urgency of the situation. It works because it’s simple, honest and touches on what teens and young adults–and even what the rest of us–experience every day.

And, they feature actual stories from a few who “know how it feels.”

Was this useful or relevant to what you’re doing? Check it out and let me know.

Story: It’s on Every Wish List

In May 2014, Barkada Circle held its third Storytelling Jam Session at Street-Level Youth Media. The intimate studio space at Street-Level was the perfect venue for people from
different neighborhoods across Chicagoland to gather. In a darkened room and under one spotlight, six storytellers–filmmaker, writer, realtor, soldier, retiree, educator–seemed to offer up themselves to what became a sacred space that evening. The audience circle,
the presenters, the mic: we had transformed the studio into our own campfire.

When the lights came on at the end of the program, our retiree Frank walked up to me and asked if he could donate money to Barkada Circle. “We’re not a nonprofit,” I said, “but you can support Street-Level in their mission to educate Chicago’s urban youth in media arts for self-expression and social change.”

I thanked Frank for coming to speak at our jam session. “I was looking forward to getting to know you and your volunteer work for suicide prevention,” I said. What I didn’t expect was learning how much it meant to him being able to stand in front of an audience to tell his story. He made it his goal to take every opportunity to share something about himself with others as an important part of his process for healing. This made me realize that the
experience we had that evening was about generosity coming full circle.

Story is a gift that connects giver and receiver in meaningful ways, more memorable and deeper than anything that is just store bought. Story is an experience that fuels our
humanity because it requires us to give something of ourselves in the moment, either as listener or storyteller. The beauty that was revealed to me by Frank’s experience taught me how, as storytellers, we can be both giver and receiver at the same time. This is what
transforms us and makes us fully human.

This holiday season, I encourage you to give the gift of story. And watch it give back to you in ways you’ve never imagined.