It started when the same ad kept coming up in my Facebook feed after I became a certified coach. A self-described master coach continuously invited me (and many others I’m sure) to her free seminar. She offered participants the “secrets to client acquisition success using sales techniques she learned closing customers while selling mops at a big box retailer.” And no, I’m not kidding! This was the culmination of my fascination - or perhaps call it what it is - my Love to Hate relationship with the myriad of gimmicks and tools aimed at professional coaches. They dangle magical and oh so top-secret shortcuts as an alternative to offering real service as the key to creating value as a coach.
But I don’t want to single out this individual coach. The truth is you could spend endless hours (and $$) plowing through get rich quick books, seminars, and workshops geared towards making success seem like something you can grab for three installments of $39.99 (or fill in some ridiculous price). As long as you ACT NOW!!
Don’t get me wrong. There are many fantastic individuals out there offering very real support in helping individuals like me develop their coaching and consulting practices. In fact, I’m incredibly grateful to be working with several of them such as my wonderful mentor-coach Angela Cusack of Igniting Success. I’m also thrilled to be joining Melissa Ford for her Game-Film group coaching program. Melissa’s book Living Service: The Journey Of A Prosperous Coach has been an absolute game-changer for me in the way I approach creating clients.
As an aside, this experience takes me back to my early days in the nonprofit industry when I was getting my start in fundraising. I was bombarded with invitations to programs that would teach me how to be a better fundraiser, craft the perfect ask and opportunities to mingle with other fundraisers. I have absolutely nothing against learning and networking. Yet, I wasn’t quite clear how I was going to become a better fundraiser without spending the bulk of my time well, fundraising!
Here’s my point: Whether you’re a coach, consultant or fundraiser - or pretty much anything else, You’ve Got To Do The Work. Yes, it’s worth capitalizing. No matter what you do, there will always be someone - or several someones - telling you there’s an easy way to do it. There will always be distractions from the real essence of what you do. But remember: reading and talking about coaching isn’t coaching. You become a better coach by coaching. Similarly, learning about and networking with those who fundraise isn’t fundraising.
As for me, the only way I know how to do this is the following (spoiler alert: a lot of this is crazy obvious but still worth staying)
The following occurred this past Sunday....
It was early in the morning and I was standing outside on my lawn. My dog was trying to decide where to make her deposit. I had just come back from my morning run so I was still in my gear looking a bit sweaty. OK, so this story isn’t starting out with such a lovely visual but stay with me….
While we were standing there, a man also dressed in running clothes came walking down the street in my direction. As he came closer, he seemed to be walking towards me specifically. Given the current state of social distancing, I was curious and even a bit concerned. I needn’t have worried as he stopped himself at a safe distance that still allowed for conversation. Up close, he didn’t look particularly familiar - or unfamiliar for that matter.
“So, are you still in training?” he asked. I was a taken aback by his question, but given what I looked like, it wasn’t such a surprise. “Well, yes I am - as a matter of fact, I was supposed to have run the Pittsburgh Marathon today. I’m still just happy to be out there getting my run in” I added, trying to be friendly.
The man then said “You’ve run a lot of marathons haven’t you?” This was getting a little weird now. I thought to myself, “Does this guy know me?” Nevertheless I said “Yes, this one would have been my 17th.”
Finally, after asking how my wife and I were managing through the coronavirus crisis - pretty typical conversation these days - he added “This probably isn’t much of a change for you since you work from home.” OK, now I was sufficiently freaked. How did this guy know so much about me and particularly how and where I worked?!?
Now feeling suspicious, I asked “Do I know you?” He reminded me that we had met and talked for awhile at our community association meeting six months ago. The conversation came back to me. I even remembered that we had figured out that we both worked with the same triathlon trainer amongst other things.
I was beyond flattered that this man remembered all this so I inquired “How in the world did you remember all that about me?” His answer was short, simple and poignant:
“I listened to what you said.”
I’m sharing this little exchange because it highlights something we can all do that is so simple yet something we rarely do authentically: Listen.
How often do we truly listen to what others share with us? Both the significant and the mundane. Conversely, how often are we just biding our time till we can share our own brilliance? A lot more - if I’m answering honestly for myself. This kind man’s one simple action, giving me the gift of being listened to meant so much to me.
Try giving that gift the next chance you get. It’s one that will keep on giving.
1. Being Grateful for Everything we can be possibly be Grateful for: Gratitude is something we can never practice enough and in these challenging times, it's been refreshing to see a bit of an uptick in opportunities for meditation, shared gratitude and appreciation for what we have. If you want my personal favorite primer on gratitude, become a fan and follower of Brother David Steindl-Rast. This video provides a fantastic foundation for building your gratitude practice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw
2. Exercising and Enjoying the great outdoors: Speaking of being grateful, I'm incredibly grateful that I've been running for the past fourteen years (with a few breaks here and there for injuries!). But it's been incredible to see my usual running pathways filled with new participants that I haven't seen before. Whether it's just because they've wanted to get out of the house, the need for human connection or true health concerns, it would be great for our overall health if this was to continue.
3. Saying hello to strangers (and maybe closer in than six feet): Equally important, it's been wonderful to see that some of the folks that I always see - as well as our new running and walking friends - always share a friendly wave and a smile. Something inside tells me that they're also longing to stop, give a warmer hello and connect.
4. Using the telephone (again): This week, there was a story in the New York Times highlighting the fact that Verizon had anticipated an uptick in internet usage but what had most surprised them was the heavier use of telephones! Since my days as a stockbroker, I've always been a fan of the phone (I got to know it really well while cold-calling!). While sure we're amping up our Zoom skills, It's been nice to see people eager to go old school and actually speak with people.
5. Realizing that we’re all in this together (before, during and after): It's been inspiring to see calls for togetherness, community and a sense of connectedness during this challenging moment. I truly, truly hope it will continue. While a crisis brings us together, imagine what that sense of purpose and belonging could create when we are all at our capacity. It's incredible to think about and what we should be striving for.
One of the more positive elements to come out of this stay at home moment has been the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. As a coach, it’s also been a good time to catch up with clients whom I haven’t spoken to for a while. One of the exchanges that really struck me was a note from one of my clients who is an up and coming leader for a sports-based youth development nonprofit. He noted that while he has a wonderful relationship with his wife, sharing 100% of their days in a 900 square foot apartment, has truly tested the bonds of their relationship. Fortunately, they’re coming through with flying colors! It seems the coronavirus may replace travel as the new testing grounds for compatibility with our partners.
I posted a few weeks ago about some of the unique opportunities that have come with the coronavirus. Those included the ability to practice our humanity, the joy of family re-connection, and the chance to really talk to friends (I’m talking about talking, like on the phone - not just likes and messages on facebook). If you’re curious, you can read the first one HERE. Since then, more opportunities have popped up so I thought I’d share them here:
While the coronavirus has been devastating in so many ways, I believe it's worth trying to look at our world through the lens of a little lightness. I hope I’ve helped you do that as well.
As a coach and consultant to a number of nonprofits and their leaders, this unique moment has resulted in my having a recurring conversation with my clients. We’re living in a time of fear and it's apparent in these discussions. Many of the leaders, staff, and volunteers of nonprofits are finding themselves paralyzed and wondering:
While there’s no perfect or “correct” answer to these questions, I believe charities and their leadership will respond based on their shared values and what they deem most appropriate.
As for me, my response has been the following:
Nothing Has Changed while Everything Has Changed
For clarification, nothing (about your mission and vision) has changed while everything (about the world we are operating in) has changed - at least for the near term. I believe our actions should be driven by that reality. My response is formed by personal experience and perspective.
I started my nonprofit career a week before September 11, 2001. I was living in New York City and life there was an endless reflection of the grim events the world had witnessed. If you worked for a nonprofit that wasn’t saving lives or caring for those involved in the rescue efforts, it was a struggle to feel relevant. It was even harder to feel like it was appropriate to ask for support for your work. At the time, I was a volunteer fundraiser for a nonprofit doing wonderful work for children in hospitals. I truly believed the organization’s work was important at that very moment and would be once life resumed with some sense of normalcy. I felt compelled to ask for donations even in the midst of this challenging environment.
I’ve also been thinking about conversations I’ve had with volunteer fundraisers hesitant to reach out to donors year after year for a campaign or event like a walk. These volunteers feel the need to “leave the donor alone for a year or two” thinking the donor is tired of giving - and hearing from them. Personally, if I was giving to (for example) heart disease research, year after year and then I stopped being asked, I’d be a little curious... Did they find a cure? Did the fundraiser stop caring? What’s up? If it was important last year and the year before that, it still is unless something has changed about the cause.
Here’s my major point: If you believe in the work of your organization, continue to believe in it, advocate for it and fundraise for it! The need for what you do hasn’t changed, only the environment in which you work has. You may need to make modifications to be respectful of what individuals and families are going through. However, I believe you’ll be well served by taking a proactive approach to communicating with your constituency and stating the need for support. Here are a few guidelines for doing so effectively:
I can’t guarantee that doing the above won’t result in the occasional grumble or unsubscribe. But if your work was worthy of donor support before we knew about the coronavirus, unless something’s changed about your mission, it still is. I believe that by continuing to communicate your presence and need for support, you’ll be better positioned once we find ourselves in that new normal.
If I can be of assistance in crafting your approach, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org
At the end of 2018, I proudly launched Nonprofit Now! (www.yournonprofitnow.com), my consulting and coaching practice focused on supporting young and growing nonprofits and their leadership. More recently, I added Forward is Forward Coaching (www.robertgrabel.com) which provides Executive and Business Development Coaching for a range of industries.
Having worked collaboratively with staff, volunteers and board members in the nonprofit industry for nearly two decades, I felt I had something genuine to offer experienced and aspiring leaders. I had also led teams and mentored business development professionals during 10 plus years in financial services.
I had an easy time finding coaching clients through Catchafire (www.catchafire.org). This site is a fantastic resource that connects volunteers with nonprofits for pro bono projects. I saw numerous coaching projects available and I eagerly volunteered. Looking back on those early assignments, I find it a bit funny that I was in reality, consulting with them. That's not to say that the conversations weren’t helpful - I truly believe they were. But for the first few, I was advising, not coaching.
A lot has changed since last year. I went on to get my coaching certification through the Newfield Network. There is a very clear distinction between coaching and consulting and I strive to be 100% transparent with potential clients about my offer. I intend to continue to grow my knowledge and coaching skills so I can provide even more value to clients I serve. I share all of this because I find it extraordinary how easy it is for someone - truly anyone! - to call themselves a coach and charge clients large fees to do so. No training. No experience...
What continues to amaze me even more is the number of coaches looking to coach other coaches! As someone who recently received certification from a program recognized by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) which creates standards for the coach industry, I must be on the hit list for many of these so-called coaching gurus. Just for the fun of it, while working on this post, I went on my Facebook for five minutes to count the ads the popped up in my feed. In that short time, there were 8 ads from wannabe experts telling me how to become a coach, build my coaching business, write a book or develop a public speaking career.
Something is off here... If all these folks are so good at coaching, getting coaching clients, writing and speaking - why aren’t they out there getting those clients, coaching them masterfully - and writing and speaking? I imagine this will put me in the skeptics column but I can’t help but wonder if these coaches being coached by coaches being coached - actually coach or have clients?
So what’s my point? Well, whether you’re a coach, an architect, fundraiser, a musician or runner (or just about anything else in the world), here’s my Million Dollar Secret of Success:
There is no “Secret to Success” - I’m more convinced than ever that there is no Secret of Success, which seems to be the main offer from these folks. Buy their book, enroll in the course, sign up for the free (or not so free webinar) and on it goes.
There is no “Magic Formula” - Not so different from the above - but a little different. What I find fascinating is the variety of spins on how to win. While I see some of the gurus who say they’ve got it down to a science, there’s an opposite camp that will tell you that you don’t need to do anything to be successful - just listen to them (after you pay the fee!).
But There Is Hard Work - I guess I’m showing my age - or experience. I am convinced of the power of hard work. You know, doing the right things to develop your craft day in and day out. Period.
These last few weeks have been well, I’m not even sure what the word is. Unprecedented? Yes, absolutely. Crazy? You bet! Like nothing we’ve ever seen? For sure. A time of incredible opportunity. Whoa!! How dare I write that. That’s completely uncompassionate! Thoughtless. Inhuman…
I have no doubt that a quick read of my first paragraph - particularly in today’s politically charged environment - would have you believing I’m the worst of the worst. Who could possibly think that a global pandemic could be looked at as a time of opportunity?
But wait! I didn’t describe what the opportunity is. Opportunity is a neutral word till we attach results to it. So take a deep breath, cuddle up on the couch that you’ve been assigned to for anywhere from 48 hours to eight weeks, and walk down this list of some incredible opportunities we have in this very unique one of a kind moment.
Stay safe, and don’t miss these opportunities.
I am a passionate runner. After thirteen years of training, ups, downs and all the good that comes with it, that is part of my identity. It’s not because I’m fast or because I win races. It’s not and I don’t! It’s just that running gives me a reason to do something better every day, connects me to a community of wonderful people and even inspired me to create a nonprofit that helped young people a few years ago. For all of it, I am beyond grateful.
After a tough marathon in late October and a half marathon In November with not much rest in between, I really pushed the envelope - two back to back hard and fast (for me) 11 milers and a 5k in between. The result: I’ve been diagnosed as having a herniated disc or disc bulge.
I’m embarrassed to say that my first reaction was “Why me?” I’m not proud of it. But after coming back to running late last year after heart-related issues, I felt like I deserve a break. But as they say, we plan and someone up there laughs! Much more importantly, this is - as they seem to say in politics - a nothingburger compared to the suffering and challenges experienced by others in many avenues of life.
After some processing, a little bit of whining (to my very kind wife), and a good bit of reading about treatment, I feel like I am onto a positive path. Running doesn’t define me - it’s simply something that I’ve come to value. And, as it has so many times over these past years, this running experience has taught me valuable lessons that apply to other areas of life:
Last week I completed the Marine Corp Marathon. Even though it was the 15th marathon I’ve participated in, it felt more like my first. Due to several precautionary cardiac procedures I needed over the past three years, I hadn’t done a full marathon since early 2015. I had valve replacement surgery in late 2015 then struggled through a few half marathons. Late in 2018, I was fitted for an ICD to manage a low heart rate and potential ventricular tachycardia. Amazingly, after getting the ICD, my running and overall endurance vastly improved. I ran my best 5K since I was in my 40’s (I’m 54) and I ran two half marathons that were much better than those I’ve run over the past few years. So, it seemed like the right time to return to my favorite distance: 26.2 miles
Re-entering marathon world had the same inspiring effect it had on me when I did my first one back in 2008. And as so often happens with running, I experienced wonderful learning that translates not just to running, but to so many other domains of life:
Robert is an Executive and Business Development Coach. You can read him here or on www.younonprofitnow.com