Tag Archives: nonprofit

Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.


I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.


I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.


Three days to a new website

I’ve heard that learning something new is a great way to keep one’s brain sharp. If that is true, my brain is in great shape this week, because last weekend, I did something I never could have imagined—I helped build a new website for the nonprofit where I work.

I am actually fairly comfortable with computers because I believe that any mistakes I might make can be undone by someone who understands the technology. With this foundational belief, I can be a happy clicker.

When I wanted to start a blog, I chose a simple template and just started writing and posting.

But a website? That seems so much more complicated.

The website at my work was outdated and difficult to navigate. People frequently complained to me about it. But new websites can be very expensive.

Then I heard about Give Camp—a national organization that brings together IT professionals and nonprofits to improve the nonprofits’ technology. Our local Give Camp is in Ann Arbor.

I applied for a new website, and we were one of four nonprofits selected.

Give Camp is based on a sweat-equity model where the nonprofit commits to be present and be part of the process. The goal is that by participating in the building process, the nonprofit personnel will become adept at updating the website so it can stay current.

We gathered at Washtenaw County Community college on Friday afternoon—about 35 people in all—and I met The Lake House team: Brian (aka “Korz”) was our team leader and a software developer; Joel, Jan and the other Brian were our coders; and Sarah was our marketing expert.

I explained our needs—nothing elaborate, just an easy-to-navigate website.

On Friday night, we decided on a WordPress template, which Give Camp purchased for us. Then we went to work. The team imported pages from our old website on Friday night, and all day Saturday, we worked on updating content and improving layout. The coders created forms and links, and the marketing person made it all beautiful.

At a WordPress tutorial on Saturday afternoon, I learned about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and new terms like entrepreninja and solopreneur. Throughout the weekend, we used an on-line bulletin board system, which helped us keep track of what needed to be done and what had been completed.

It was three days of learning new terms and processes and the opportunity to practice what I was learning.

By Sunday at 2:00 p.m., our new website went live; check it out at www.milakehouse.org.

I am grateful to Ann Arbor Give Camp, to our team and also to the sponsors of this event.

At the closing ceremony, the nonprofit representatives expressed our gratitude to our teams, and Jay, the Give Camp leader, thanked the nonprofits for the work we do every day.

Throughout my nonprofit career, I have been blessed by opportunities to collaborate with the for-profit world. Give Camp is a wonderful example of how we can work together for good.