As an Accidental Fundraiser and Chief Everything Officer, what do you prioritize – your organization’s viability or your ultimate mission and purpose? Many think you have to choose one or the other to be successful.
Bonterra CEO and tech titan Erin Mulligan Nelson says they go hand-in-hand – no need to choose between purpose and profit. Because if you’re properly doing what you set out to do, your donors will “stay with you, grow with you and advocate for you.” And your nonprofit will thrive.
Learn in this episode of Accidental Fundraiser how defining your purpose affects more than your marketing and talent acquisition, how social impact investing drives results, and why verifiable impact is the future of fundraising.
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
- How a well-defined purpose impacts far more than marketing and talent acquisition
- Why verifiable impact is the future of fundraising
- Why nonprofits don’t necessarily have to choose between profit and purpose
Season 2 Episode 6 Transcript
Erin Mulligan Nelson: I get asked a lot of times, like, how do you think about profit versus purpose and I don’t and the reason why is, I know if we follow our purpose, I know if we build an amazing platform for the nonprofits and everybody in the philanthropic supply chain, I know that we will therefore create a great business because people are going to want to be a part of the bonier family, and they’re gonna stay with us and grow with us and advocate for.
I know that if we focus on the things like how to make sure that network is alive, it’s one thing just to sell the software. It’s another thing to have actions and donations flowing through it. And we’re equally focused on making sure we can enable that as well. I know that the world is gonna get better because there’s gonna be more giving happening.
Kimberly: Sometimes in fundraising, you have to step outside of your comfort zone, dive in and learn something new. I’m Kimberly O’Donnell. And this is Accidental Fundraiser, the show from Network for Good and Bonterra that shares radically authentic stories from the trenches as a fundraiser and what feels like a chief, everything.
You have a lot on your plate. So it’s understandable to question how you can prioritize both your organization’s strength and your mission success. Erin Mulligan Nelson says, otherwise you don’t have to choose between profit and purpose instead align them freshly appointed CEO of Bonterra, Network for Good’s, new parent company, Erin Mulligan Nelson got her magic ball out for this episode of accidental fundraiser.
With her experience leading marketing at Proctor and gamble. Dell and other fortune 500 companies, she says that verifiable impact is the future Bonaire and nonprofits who use impact data have seen a 5% increase in their fundraising and defining your purpose. that’s the first step. In this episode of accidental fundraiser with Bonterra CEO, Erin Mulligan, Nelson, you can learn how purpose affects everything.
What social impact investing does to drive results and why verifiable impact is the future of fundraising. Enjoy this wide ranging conversation with Erin Mulligan Nelson, Erin. It is wonderful to have you here on accidental fundraiser today. Thank you for
Erin Mulligan Nelson: joining us. I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you.
Kimberly: As we step into this, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your experience and what philanthropy
Erin Mulligan Nelson: means to you. Philanthropy to me is giving of time, money, and voice to things that you care about that are gonna make the world better. I was really fortunate. I happened to grow up in a family that dedicated a lot of time and energy to giving.
I also was on the other side of receiving one of the things that a lot of people don’t know about me is when I was younger. My dad actually got laid off. He worked at Braniff international, which was an airline company that went bankrupt. And when the company went bankrupt, he was very specialized in his skillset.
He did aviation operations and it was very difficult for him to find another job. And so over the period of about two years, while he was UN or underemployed, we were actually the recipients of aid ourselves Catholic charities of Dallas, which is actually AERA. Is someone that helped my family when we were food insecure as a child, not only did I have experience giving, but receiving and understanding the value and what happened and how that really helped my family in a dark and difficult time.
And I think everybody wants to figure out how to do that. That’s
Kimberly: an incredible story and shows how generations of individuals within a family will give and give back and receive, and just keep that cycle of philanthropy going Bonterra, unites four stellar nonprofit companies together. Who are they? And how did you come to be the CEO?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: The first company is our corporate social responsibility software company. And they used to be called cyber grants. They provide software mostly to corporate foundations and corporations to help them do grant making and help them do employee engagement like volunteerism and employee giving and matching.
The second company is every action and every action is one of the leading fundraising engagement and advocacy platforms in the nonprofit and political space. The third company was called social solutions. They actually did case management software. So this was the software used by nonprofits and used by public sector health and human services agencies to actually deliver care, deliver social services.
And then the fourth was network for good, which was another very strong fundraising and engagement application and company. Our owners apex had this vision when they thought of all these companies, cuz they were all number one or number two in their space. They were all healthy, growing incredible companies.
They thought that it was an opportunity for us to do something that had never been done in the world of social impact before by bringing together all these different stakeholders. And there was this real belief that if we brought all of those things together, We could do something profound for the market.
I’m super fortunate that I had the opportunity to become the CEO. I was the CEO of social solutions, one of those four companies. And when this came together, I felt so lucky because sometimes you just find yourself in a spot that feels absolutely perfect. And that’s what these last several years of being in social impact have been for.
The fact that I get to keep doing it at a larger scale with all of these incredible people that I’ve met and all of this incredible technology and investors that are really committed to us is pretty profound. I pinch myself all the time. It’s almost
Kimberly: a kismet or a right time, right. Place moment. How did all of that evolve because you had also worked in the for-profit sector.
Can you share a little bit about
Erin Mulligan Nelson: your background? I am a hardcore marketer. I have a marketing degree from the university of Texas, and I started my career at Proctor and gamble, which is where like, as marketers, it’s kind of the Mecca of how to do consumer marketing. And then I spent several years of my career at Dell, where I became the chief marketing officer there.
I did that at another couple companies at a place called sun power and a place called bizarre voice. The thing about my career that I think was a really interesting accidental moment was when I was the CMO of Dell, one of the things inside of my remit was corporate social responsibility. I had the responsibility for how we were thinking about philanthropy, how we were thinking about sustainability.
And it was actually my first kind of interaction as a professional with the world of philanthropic strategy. I remember being back at Dell and one of the hardest things, which seems really odd, was figuring out how to spend all that money. And figuring out what causes we should support and how we could make sure we were driving an impact and what the best way to support these nonprofits and causes were that was 12 years ago, 13 years ago.
And so to come full circle now, and actually be the CEO of a company that serves people that are just like me, that were just in that role is pretty interesting, but that was something completely unexpected in my career. I never planned to do that. And it was just this bonus that it was part of that job.
I always loved. Leading and driving strategy. And so it’s again, incredible kismet that I had this opportunity to be a C level officer these few times, because I really do love it. You recognize
Kimberly: yourself as human. And that really speaks to me because it’s such an important thing for people to realize. I think as you move up in your role within a nonprofit or a company, there is that human side.
Can you share with us why it was important for you to have that.
Erin Mulligan Nelson: Yeah, so it’s very deliberate. And I think one of the things that I learned that was so important is as a leader, you must be very human. You must connect with the organization. You have to figure out how to actually connect heart to heart.
And nothing taught me more than when I joined social solutions. I joined social solutions in April of 2020, which was two weeks after we all went home for what we thought was gonna be 30 days or 60 days. Obviously, we’re all scared. We’re all vulnerable. Like everybody is confused, nobody knows what’s going on.
And it was really important for me to connect authentically just as another human being that was also authentically concerned and scared. And then only eight weeks after that, we had the George Floyd murder and being at a company like ours. It’s no surprise that rocked our organization and people were upset and confused and angry, and we needed to figure out not just how to respond to that.
But what did that mean to us and how we were thinking. Diversity and equity and inclusion and all the things that kind of get brought to the surface. When you’re thinking about racial justice, we started really focusing as an organization on the humanity around all of us those first few months. I don’t think of myself as the chief executive officer.
I thought of myself as a chief empathy officer, because my job was to make sure people felt safe and protected and could do their best work. Even in these unbelievable situations that we found ourselves in, where the world was turned upside. I recognize now that those two things, as horrible as they are, were actually unbelievable ways to engage with the 300 employees at social solutions at the time, because what they were able to recognize about me from day one was I had a heart.
I had two children. I also cried. I was worried, I didn’t know the answers to everything. And I think the fact that we could connect as humans made us a better company, made us a better culture. I think that it’s really important that leaders have heart and demonstrate that they’re human and that’s how they’re actually able to engage organizations around them.
Kimberly: a great point about being an empathetic executive and a total shift from how leadership was viewed in the past. How else are you shaping? What would be a new way to look at leadership?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: You know, one of the things that’s been really important to me and it probably really refined itself in the last 12 years for.
Was the power of purpose and the power of a strong culture purpose was studied for a long time. And there were all these kind of analytical reasons why purpose was a good thing to have. I mean, it seems super intuitive, doesn’t it? Of course you should have a purpose. But I remember being at Dell and being the CMO and Dell is a very analytical company.
I was describing to Michael and the rest of the ELT, why this was so important that we did this. And so I brought all the data with me around purpose inspired companies. Grow faster, drive more innovation, drive, more retention of employees recruit better. One of the things that we did was we redefined the Dell purpose and values.
The power that, that had to transform the way that we thought about everything we did was pretty profound for me. Because if you actually think about your purpose, it informs not just what you say in advertising, but it informs how you innovate, how you partner, what markets you choose to enter, how you choose to actually think about employee development.
Like it impacts everything in the world. That was a seminal moment and every single place that I’ve been since then, none of them had purposes yet. And so we went through and did that same exact exercise and we’re able to really refine and define like what we stood for in the world. And at Bonterra, we’ve just gone through that same process.
Bonta was even cooler, cuz we got to like rebrand the whole entire company. We had this opportunity to go through this exploratory. And we talked to numbers of our clients and we talked to numbers of our people, and we talked to people that were out in the market and arrived at this notion around we power, those who power social impact, and that purpose translates into everything we think and do and say it’s incredibly important to have that.
Purpose to me also dovetails straight into culture because purpose is the reason that you do what you do and culture is how you get that done. Having a strong thriving culture, that’s really inspired and aligned around its purpose is incredibly valuable. Culture doesn’t happen by accident. Culture happens because there are choices you make around what you celebrate, what you recognize, how you engage, how you articulate those combination of two things, purpose and culture, strong leaders can do anything.
I think companies that are often adrift it’s because one of two of them, or one or two of them isn’t working right. Or doesn’t exist or isn’t durable. And so oftentimes I don’t think that it’s about business strategy or execution it’s whether or not you got purpose and culture, right. That’s a great point.
Kimberly: And just to carry it a little bit further for our accidental fundraisers out there. One of the things that I picked up, I heard you talking about purpose and culture within an organization is also how the times have changed with Bonta. These are four companies that have been brought together and we’re starting new and fresh, but for so many of our.
Listeners right now, they may be at more established organizations and we’ve gone through a lot in the last couple of years with the pandemic and just with how fundraising and how organizations are changing and how people are living their lives. It may be a great time for our listeners to do a reevaluation of their purpose, their mission, their culture, what their strategic plan is gonna be for the next couple of years.
So I encourage a lot of our listeners to maybe pause and think about how they might wanna refresh. And reimagine the work that they are doing and their own
Erin Mulligan Nelson: purpose. I think that’s so vital because think about the other piece, which is the talent and finding the right folks and finding enough committed folks to be in our organizations, having a strong north star and having a strong mission and reason to be there is actually, I think one of the biggest, most powerful recruiting tools that you could possibly find.
I find, especially now when we’re interviewing people, I would say a good 95% of them. The reason that they choose Bonta over anything else is because they understand and can feel the purpose and mission. So it can be incredibly compelling for talent acquisition as well.
Kimberly: Now, our podcast is for accidental fundraisers.
Is there anything accidental about your career path?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: Most of it’s accidental. You know, when I was younger, I wanted to be a sports broadcast. and the most accidental thing about my career is that when I was going to the university of Texas, I went down to enroll in classes. I had a lot of credit going in and I was going to enroll in the school of journalism when I saw what my first year of classes was going to be.
Partly because I’d placed out of a lot of stuff. It wasn’t a super. Demanding first year. And I remember thinking go back to my dad and the fact that economically we didn’t not have a whole lot, like the sacrifice my parents were making to put me through college was pretty immense. And I remember thinking like this didn’t feel worthy of their sacrifice and I needed to probably do something that was more challenging for me, right.
Outta the gates. And so I had this moment of complete crisis and I went to this place called the Texas union, which is like where all the kids hang out and I’m sitting in front of the Texas union and I must have looked completely bereft and lost and this like random person, this guy sits next to. Me and he said, are you okay?
And I said, I am absolutely not. Okay. All of my life’s plans and goals didn’t seem like they were coming to fruition. And I was really confused and didn’t know what to do. And he starts asking me all these questions and he asked me about things I liked and things that I was inspired by. And I was describing to him how I love humanity and I love storytelling, but I also love data.
And I also love creativity. And this guy. Whose name I don’t even know. And I’ve never seen him again, said, have you ever thought about marketing? And I said, no, I haven’t. And he said, what you’ve just described is actually the science and the art of marketing. You should look into it like this career as a marketer for the last 30 years was absolutely made for me.
And the idea that I almost didn’t do it. And the idea that this literal angel guy whose name, I don’t even know, counseled me through like this career exploratory in this moment of crisis in the middle of the Texas union is the most accidental thing that’s ever happened to me. But it’s also the thing that I think was able to enable me to have like such fun and such a rich career for all these.
It’s a great story.
Kimberly: I love it. So let’s talk a little bit about social impact investing. Some of our listeners may not be as aware of how it works, what it is. Social impact. Investment is really a growing business model. That’s out there and has been called the next wave after venture capitalism and the tech boom.
How did it come to be? And how does Bonta fit into this concept of social impact investment?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: So I love telling the story because I think this is so serendipitous, sir, Ronald Cohen is considered the godfather of social impact investing. He was the co-founder of APACS who are the investors behind Bonta.
He has spent the last. 20 to 25 years really paving the way for social impact investing. One of the first things that he began doing was really talking about how social impact does not have to be traded off for financial impact. Cuz I think most people think if it’s gonna do good, I’m not gonna get the same amount of return.
And he created some new mechanisms and some new things like social impact bonds or social impact return funds that people actually got compensated when the social impact occurred, as well as when financial impact occurred. And so he changed the dynamic. He gave people a tool, a fund to invest in bonds to invest in that hadn’t existed before.
And so what that means people can do is they can invest in programs that help high school graduation rates increase or. That help recidivism reduce for prison populations. They can actually invest directly into programs that are helping communities and still achieve financial return out of it. He has written a book that I highly recommend that everybody read it’s called impact, and it kind of walks through not just kind of what the instruments are, but how they’ve worked and how they’ve transformed.
The landscape. Europe is a lot more advanced than America still is in terms of impact investing. And so there’s quite a few stories about how it has enabled. To flourish in ways that we should take a look at and be much more committed around. And I see it on the rise here, Steve bomber at the bomber group, who is somebody that we work closely with.
He thinks about social impact investing as getting technology and data into the hands of nonprofits so they can become more efficient and more effective. So it can happen in lots of ways. It doesn’t have to be that people are investing in social impact bonds. It can be that they’re investing in communities, but I think one of the things that we’re recognizing.
You don’t have to trade off the ability to do well, just because you wanna get good returns. Can you share
Erin Mulligan Nelson: Steve Balmer is? Yeah. So Steve Balmer is an industry Titan. He used to be the CEO of Microsoft and after he retired from Microsoft, he and his wife, Connie are incredible philanthropists and they founded something called the bomber group and they deploy.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of capital to a variety of causes that they care about. And he’s particularly invested in the notion of place-based philanthropic giving. And so he’s focused on how communities can thrive and how communities can work together. And he’s done an incredible amount of work in Southern California.
He also owns the Clippers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team. So Southern California’s near and dear to his heart. The Pacific Northwest is where he and Connie live in Detroit, which is where he’s from. And so there’s a lot of work he’s done specific to those three communities, but also he’s very invested in economic mobility for children and families.
So they care about things. Head start programs. And after school care and domestic violence support, all the things that enable families to go thrive, he came to social solutions and said, I want to provide grants to people to enable them to access technology, because we all know that one of the biggest issues for nonprofits is having the budgets to access the technology that they need.
And he said, I wanna underwr. Half of the cost of technology for nonprofits that fit these characteristics. And it was quite broad. It was nonprofits that are supporting economic mobility for families. And he granted 25 million to be used over a period of five years to be deployed. We ran through that money, as you can imagine much faster than five years, and we’re working with them now to extend that grant, because what we’ve seen, that’s very powerful about it is.
Technology and data can transform the way that nonprofits can work. So they become more efficient because we know that social workers are so strapped. The average caseload is 300 cases. These cases can go on for years. They’re highly complex. They’re highly emotional. It is the hardest job in the world.
So technology and data, what that can do is it can enable that job to be done more efficiently instead of actually spending tons of time with note intake and data intake, social workers can spend more time. Listen. Families, listening to communities, figuring out the right plan for care. And so we find when they’ve got technology, they’re way more efficient and social workers can do more.
A dollar spent on technology turns into the equivalent of $3 and 30 cents spent on a human being or spent on programs that might sound really counterintuitive because a lot of nonprofits get evaluated based on how much of every dollar goes straight to programs. And I’m sure anybody that’s listening to this that might be like in the food bank industry, how much is gonna be cans of food on the shelves.
I wanna invest in. And so there’s this under appreciation, I think for technology and data and how that can be transformative in our industry. And so what I’ve loved about the bomber group and Steve in particular is that he recognizes that infrastructure needs to be available for all of the folks that are in nonprofit world.
Kimberly: When you’re able to optimize the work that you’re doing, and you can show the larger impact that you’re making because of technology. Those insights can then also be used in grant proposals, in meetings with major donors in fundraising. So you’re able to take those insights from your program and really lift them up so that they can be shared in new ways and used for fundraising
Erin Mulligan Nelson: purposes.
Oh, absolutely. And that’s actually the biggest thing that I think is the tidal wave in the next several years is the demands for the ability to actually demonstrate verifiable impact. So when I talk to corporate foundations or philanthropists or high net worth gift givers, what they care about the most is how do I know if what I’m doing is actually making a difference?
Nonprofits are going to feel the pressure if they’re not already around verifying their impact and being able to do more than just tell anecdotal stories. Cause I think those are wonderful and they’re ver representative, but it’s not as easy to say, show me the return, show me the impact cuz I wanna compare it against these others.
What we found in a few studies that we did was the nonprofits. Used the impact data for grant making for proposal writing, they saw up to a 5% increase in fundraising and you guys know that can be like millions of dollars. And what that means is this is gonna become even more and more important. And I think it’s gonna be one of the things that really does set nonprofits apart, their ability to be able to tell a quantitative story on their.
Kimberly: of the challenges on the smaller and medium sized nonprofit side is having the staff to be able to do that. I mean, right now we’re going through a shortage of workers in the sector. Certainly the fundraising profession has been affected. So the new challenge is blending. The stress that’s already on this.
Staff these small, but mighty teams. And then the need to be able to show the metrics that really can show the impact beyond those stories, which are powerful. But for many funders nowadays, where data is key, they’re also looking for a bit more.
Erin Mulligan Nelson: Totally. And I tell you, it actually shapes so much of how we think about the products that we build and how our clients need to use them.
Because we do recognize unlike if you were selling marketing technology software, there are it teams that can help you configure and implement and train and support and do all of that. We completely recognize that for many nonprofits, even some of the big ones, but certainly the smaller ones. There’s an absolute lack of.
Capability and capacity to consume a tech stack. And so we think a lot about what are the training and the support elements that are important for us to go do. There’s a portion of our team that is focused on coaching and making sure that nonprofits understand how to get the most out of the technology that they’ve adopted.
That’s really critical. And so I think as a small and medium business, the most important thing to think about. How to find the right resources. They don’t all have to be on your staff that can enable you to really get the most out of it. We think about one of the things that we’re doing, and we’re working with funders actually to start to try to streamline a little bit of the impact data that’s getting collected.
One of the things that’s a big challenge for many nonprofits is every grant comes with some specifics that people care about. I wanna understand second grade reading levels. I wanna understand fourth grade truancy. I wanna understand fifth grade absenteeism. Oftentimes they’re very different and very.
Them. And not often the causal indicators that social science would say are the most important impact metrics to capture. So we are working inside of our data sciences team with others in the industry. Like people like candid, like people like Microsoft, like people like the social progress index to try to figure out how can we streamline a little bit more and use our voices to educate funders on.
Here are the things you should care about. If you’re thinking about children’s reading, you should really care about third grade reading level. And the reason why is because that’s what we understand to be the pivotal moment. You can also then benchmark it across lots of other organizations and see how they’re doing as well.
And we’re trying to utilize this concept of these data blueprints to enable the nonprofits that we work with, to be able to figure out what to go do. We don’t think that every nonprofit should have to go figure that out on their own. And so we believe that our role as a leader in the industry with some significant scale and size is to help make the industry better.
Trying to standardize on data elements to make this notion of impact capture and impact analytics easier is one of the things that’s really important to us to do. How do you
Kimberly: envision Bonta serving the nonprofit sector?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: We power those who power social impact. We consider ourselves to be like, The functional background infrastructure helper for all of these amazing nonprofits to do the work that they’re doing.
And that informs how we think about product development. That informs how we think about the measurement of our own company. One of the things that I love is that our investors and we are. Incentivized on whether or not we’re actually making impact happen, which is incredibly rare. The private equity firm apex that sir, Ronald Cohen founded there is a portion of their own financial compensation that is based on whether or not Bonta is achieving the depth and the scale of social impact that we should over the next four years.
So we’re measuring things like how many families are we serving? How connected are those communities? How many volunteer actions are we creating? What’s the participation rate that we’re seeing. What is the referral rate inside of communities and how are they working together on collaborative care?
Because of that, you can imagine that that takes a lot of focus in the organization to think about, well, how are we doing that? That’s just not a lagging metric. That’s an important metric for us to be thinking about, like, how do we drive that forward? As we think about building our product, as we think about the partnerships and the alliances that is at the very forefront, one of the things.
That we have is something that we call an impact agenda. That’s basically our five year strategy for our company for growth. And there are two objectives in the impact agenda. One of them is maximizing the social impact we deliver, and the other is maximizing our enterprise value as a company. And what I always love to explain to people is that those are entirely co linear.
I get asked a lot of times, like, how do you think about profit versus purpose and I don’t and the reason why is, I know if we follow our purpose, I know if we build an amazing platform. Or the nonprofits and everybody in the philanthropic supply chain. I know that we will therefore create a great business because people are going to want to be a part of the Bonta family.
And they’re gonna stay with us and grow with us and advocate for us. I know that if we focus on the things like how to make sure that network is alive, it’s one thing just to sell the software. It’s another thing to have actions and donations flowing through it. And we’re equally focused on making sure we can enable that as well.
I know that the world is gonna get better because there’s gonna be more giving happening. And I also know that that’s gonna help us. A great company, too. We think a lot about how that comes first and everything else follows. There are a lot of places where that would be good to bring that focus. So when I think about the global scale right now, we’re still pretty us focused.
So we’ve got about 90% of our business in the United States. We’re being very thoughtful. About how to expand, because one of the things we don’t wanna do, we don’t wanna spread ourselves so thin and be partially good at everything because we feel like this market deserves somebody that really is committed to delivering excellence in the sector.
And so our preference really is to make sure that we do an incredible job creating and building this platform and delighting every nonprofit that we work with and enabling them to maximize impact. And then when we feel like we’ve done that really well in the us, we’ll pick the next region to go. So I think there will be some really interesting things for us to consider as we consider our global expansion and where that might be over the course of the next five.
Where do you see
Kimberly: fundraising and philanthropy going in the next three years or so?
Erin Mulligan Nelson: So I think this focus on impact and data is going to be tantamount to everything that we do. And I think as a result, it’s gonna cause all of us to be thinking about how do we do that efficiently and how do we enable that to not become a burden and a drag?
And how do we actually empower the organizations that are collecting that to be able to use it for good, because I think. Good. I think it’s important. I don’t think that it’s just for reporting and for grant making compliance. I think having this impact data will enable us to ensure that we’re actually maximizing our social impact as a sector together.
And so I think that is gonna be the key difference that we’re gonna see, just continue to increase over the course of the next three to four years.
Kimberly: We have a lot of chief everything officers listening right now. Do you have any leadership advice for
Erin Mulligan Nelson: them? I have so much from what I did well and what I did wrong.
One piece of advice is early on in my career. I, as a leader, really relied a lot and began understanding how important it was to have mentors. And I think the chief, everything officer job is a very lonely job and a very hard job. And you can’t go inside of your organization and say, I don’t know how to grapple with this issue.
I don’t know what to do. And I’ve found it really beneficial to have people that are outside of the job that I do that have. An objective opinion, but also good perspective that I can bounce things off of. There’s actually a group of women CEOs here in Austin, where I live and one of my good friends, Heather Bruner, she’s the CEO of WP engine.
She put this group of us together probably about three years ago and we get together probably once a quarter. That group of about 20 women has turned into an incredible support network for all of us, because we can utilize them when it’s like I’m dealing with a challenge at work, and I dunno how to deal with it, or I’m dealing with a career issue and I dunno how to deal with it, or I’m having a leadership meltdown and I’m not sure what to do about it.
Having that group of people has been very important to me. The other piece of advice. That I would give is do the jobs that you don’t think you can do. And so in my history, I’ve oftentimes been put in positions where I did not fully believe that I could get the job done, and I always lacked confidence and I had what we call imposter syndrome.
I have a great story about when I graduated from undergraduate. And I was working at Proctor and gamble, and most of the people that come into the Proctor and gamble brand management program, there’s about 75 people that come in a year. The majority of them come out of MBA programs and very good MBA programs, Harvard and Wharton, and Stanford and Kellogg in my year.
There were 75 of us that came in and there were five of us that came from undergrad institutions and of those five, three of them came from Yale and Harvard. So there were two of us that came from like a state school, like the university of Texas. So I already felt like, wow, I don’t have the pedigree to be here.
But then the other thing that was funny was when I was younger. I had this pixie haircut and I looked like I was 12. Like I did not look like I had graduated from college. And so when I arrived at Proctor and gamble and I looked around, I just had the biggest flash of self doubt I’d ever felt in my life.
Like I don’t belong here. And at some point someone’s gonna tap me on the shoulder and say, we’ve made a mistake. And so I tried it out to the Kenwood town center, which is the Cincinnati mall and I bought a pair of fake glasses. So this is back when like Sally, Jesse, Rafiel still had her show. So I got these big Sally Jesse glasses, and I wore these.
Glasses. When I felt like I needed a boost of confidence and I would put them on in agency reviews or in board meetings or in business reviews. And as silly as it sounds, it was to me, almost a symbol of get it together. You belong here and whatever it takes for you to feel like you belong here, do it. So if it’s fake glasses, do it, give yourself the reminder that the people that put you in that position are pretty smart and they probably know best and you deserve to be there and you shouldn’t be afraid of it every time I’ve had an opportunity to take a job that scared me.
I’ve always trusted that the people that are providing me that opportunity know better and that I should override myself doubt and I should just plunge in and get it done. That’s
Kimberly: fantastic advice. We could probably do an entire podcast around how to boost yourself. So. Aaron, we could go on and on about ways to lift yourself up when you’re feeling a little low, but burnout is real and it is real among our chief, everything officers, our accidental fundraisers, our hard working nonprofit folk who really are strapped right now.
How have you managed
Erin Mulligan Nelson: burnout? I have two children. I have a 21 year old and an 18 year old when I’m Erin Mulligan Nelson and at work, I’m totally committed. And when I’m mommy, I’m totally committed being able to spend time with them and being able to understand like the bigger picture. And it wasn’t just about the stress that I felt at work that day.
I find that really balances me and helps me like, just take everything with a little less gravity than I do. Because oftentimes, you know, I’ll talk to others and they’ll be like, it’s really not that stressful, what you’re talking about. Yeah. You’ve got an issue at work, but like the bigger picture is you’ve got a thriving, healthy family, or you’re doing great things or whatever the case is.
So I think one was having that perspective. I think the other was this notion again, of having these resources, whether they’re mentors, whether they’re psychologists, whether they’re executive coaches, like we all need to have people to talk to. Yeah. We’re chief everything officers, but we don’t know how to manage mental health.
We don’t know how to do those things. The third thing. I’m pretty thoughtful. And we’ve actually incorporated that into Bonta about making sure that we pause and take time. And so one of the things we did at Bonta that was really important. We have 15 corporate holidays and we just had last Friday, it was a mental health day.
And we began doing this during the pandemic when we recognized that people weren’t taking time off because they knew their clients needed them because they were working in their living rooms. And there was no place to go because they didn’t have things taking them away from work. And so people quit taking vacations cuz they couldn’t go.
And we recognized, like we needed to have four days off where we said everybody’s outta here for a day. And we went through and we picked days that were important to us, like autism awareness day or international women’s day. And we picked days that reflected the culture and the values that we had. I think that we all think that we’re incredibly important.
And we all think that every hour we give is vital. What I know is that if I give, when I’m exhausted and I’m not thinking, well, it’s not worth anything. And so even though it feels counterintuitive, cuz we all feel so pulled, taking that time is incredibly important.
Kimberly: You know, I really enjoyed speaking with Erin during this interview because.
She has such a great vision for the nonprofit sector and the impact that software companies serving the nonprofit sector can truly make. And she has great advice for women and just a really great perspective on being. A badass CEO. All right, here are some key takeaways from my conversation with Aaron, define your purpose, which will impact more than marketing and talent acquisition.
Your purpose is the reason you do what you do while culture is how you get it done. The verifiable impact is the future of fundraising. Bonaire clients use impact data, seen a 5% increase in fundraising, which, you know, can account to millions of dollars over time. Organizations don’t have to choose between profit and purpose.
If you follow your purpose and you do what you set out to do, your customers, clients and donors will want to stay with you, grow with you and advocate for you. Yes, you can. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on accidental fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.