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Nonprofit Leader Series: Q&A with Beth Kanter

Beth is an internationally recognized thought leader in digital strategy, wellbeing in the workplace, and training. With over 35 years of experience working in the nonprofit sector, Beth has facilitated trainings for thousands of social change activists and nonprofits on every continent in the world. Beth is an in-demand keynote speaker named one of the most influential women in technology by Fast Company and one of the BusinessWeek’s,“Voices of Innovation for Social Media,” Beth was Visiting Scholar at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation 2009-2013 and author of the award winning Networked Nonprofit Books and The Happy Healthy Nonprofit. We sat down with Beth to learn more about her impact in the nonprofit world!

Can you start by introducing yourself? Tell us about your background and how you got involved with nonprofits?

I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector for my whole career, over 35 years.  I’ve been lucky to follow my passion and interests and find work that matches. In 1990, I was hired at the New York Foundation for the Arts to be a trainer for the online network of arts organizations/artists and had a front row seat to the creation of the nonprofit tech field. While I work primarily as a trainer/teacher/facilitator, my career has been one of learning the new online technologies and teaching them to nonprofits for mission driven-work.

What message do you share when you talk about the nonprofits you are involved with?

When I am doing a training or facilitating organizational retreats related to the content of my book, The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, my key message is: Taking care of yourself and cultivating a culture of wellbeing helps you become resilient in the face of stress. Shifting your attitude about wellbeing as being something central to your work versus something you do “on the side,” and cultivating better work/life balance – will help you sustain the important work your nonprofit does. Passion is resource that can only be renewed and sustained by incorporating breaks, rest, and reflection.

What drives you to be involved with the nonprofits you support and volunteer with?

I am and have been a board members of a number organizations over the past 20 years. I volunteer my time to organizations that are aligned with my personal and professional interests. For many years, I was on the board of the Sharing Foundation, an organization that helps take care of Cambodian children. The reason was very personal: my children were adopted from Cambodia and I wanted to give back. I did a lot of online fundraising, including the 2006-2007 Yahoo for Good Contest sponsored by Network for Good. I am also on the board of NTEN, The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network. I’ve been involved with NTEN, attending the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC) for many years.

Who do you look up to in the nonprofit world and why?

I can’t pick just one person. Amy Sample Ward who is the CEO of NTEN. Because I sit on her board, I can see her organizational and sector leadership skills in action all the time. Through Amy’s leadership, NTEN is very committed to equity — not just staff and programs, but also the board. It is integrated into our governance approach as well as the fabric of the organization and NTEN community. The other person I admire is Mark Horvath of Invisible People (@HardlyNormal on Twitter) for his dedication to making sure homeless people have a voice. Both of these people have been named on the 50 Most Influential Nonprofit Leaders – and it is very clear why.

What’s one piece of advice you would share with a fellow nonprofit leader?

We are all passionate people in this sector and work very hard, sometimes really long hours and weeks. And while many of us say that we love our work and it doesn’t feel like work, if you don’t take breaks and take out time for yourself, you won’t be able to sustain it and eventually will face burnout. You can avoid that by living a professional and personal life that sparks joy, hope, and full of love. I know that sounds little bit like being a hippy (and I am in San Francisco), but you don’t want to have regrets when you are older.

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