Why Learning How to Tell Your Story Can Help You Align Your Purpose and Your Paycheck

Over the last year of remote work, Zoom school, and simply trying to stay healthy, many of us have been wondering about our careers, and about whether our current job allows us to be the best version of ourselves – for ourselves, for our families, and for our communities.  Some of us have lost the jobs and titles that seemed to define us and are reflecting on career issues as a matter of necessity.  But the solitude and isolation that we all experienced has brought up, even for many whose careers seemingly remain on track, questions like “What is my purpose?” and “Could I earn a paycheck in a way that enables me to fulfill that purpose?”

I have been in the position of asking similar questions at various stages of my life.  In my first job after undergrad, as a Marketing Specialist at Digital Equipment Corporation, I saw colleagues with 20+ years of experience caught up in a mass layoff through no fault of their own.  Several years later, the apparently solid and stable consulting firm that employed me was completely shuttered owing to its association with a major corporate scandal.  During the 2009 economic downturn, my own consulting business abruptly lost 60 percent of its client base.  Most recently, I found myself pondering these questions when I came to realize that my purpose had evolved beyond the executive role that I had held for four years with a particular nonprofit organization.

At each of those turning points, I took stock of my situation – seeking inspiration from a favorite author, guidance from a mentor, enrolling in a seminar, or working with a coach – and spent some time assessing my strengths and weaknesses, where I wanted to go and how I might get there.  I also thought through how to re-position myself for my desired career move: by refreshing my resume and LinkedIn profile, of course, but also by generating content to support my new positioning, by seeking out speaking opportunities to build visibility in the new conversations that I wanted to participate in, and by re-sharing older material that I had written or in which I had been quoted.

The last time I began such a process was in 2018.  At that time, I observed that many people had been seeking me out for career guidance and for assistance with their LinkedIn profiles and with matters related to their careers, businesses, or organizations.  Looking through the content that I had created over many years, I realized that everything I had done throughout my career – from working as a Marketing Specialist in the information technology industry to teaching nonprofit leaders about Digital Storytelling at New York University – had always been about helping others to tell their stories for maximum effect.  That realization led me to form two new businesses.  Through the first of these entities, called Liz Ngonzi Transforms, I work with leaders looking to clarify their purpose, develop their story and communicate it effectively to stakeholders such as clients, partners, investors and potential employers.  Through the second, called The International Social Impact Institute, I assemble teams of trusted collaborators to deliver training, consulting services and events that are meant to amplify the voices and impact of purpose-driven leaders from historically marginalized communities – enabling them to clarify, develop and share their stories with stakeholders such as prospective funders, partners, and employees.

I would like to inspire you to undertake a similar process of clarifying, developing and sharing your story with the goal of aligning your purpose and your paycheck.

Find out more here.

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Mother’s Day Tribute: Avoid “Dream Killers”

10 years ago, I wrote a piece for Leading-Women.com (as part of its Personal Heros series), honoring my mom, Hilda Rwabazaire Paqui, an amazing Ugandan-born global citizen, who has been a mother, mentor, inspiration and advocate for many, during her lifetime.

I wrote the piece to share her story, because of how she is the embodiment of the African Woman of Distinction whom people seldom hear about and from whose wisdom many can potentially benefit. While the piece was written ten years ago, the timeless wisdom still applies and could be helpful to those who are seeking to improve their engagement with their stakeholders (e.g., clients, customers, students, employees), understand their purpose, and thereby increase their impact.

Finding Your North Star: Aligning Your Purpose and Your Paycheck

Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi MMH ’98 is founder and CEO of The International Social Impact Institute™, which is currently developing training programs and events to help non-governmental organizations in under-resourced communities in the U.S. and around the world rebound from the pandemic.

“Now is the right time for all of us to get involved and engaged,” she says. “What’s seemingly impossible is possible if you focus on what you want to do and why you’re doing it. You are able to create a lot of change.”

“You don’t necessarily need to leave your corporate job to have a social impact,” Liz says. “There is a spectrum of organizations you can get involved with.” She notes that these include existing non-profits, such as Cornell University, for-profit corporations with a social impact mission, such as Patagonia, and funders, such as foundations and venture philanthropy organizations.

How This iSchool Alum Uses Digital Skills For Social Impact

If there’s anything you should know about Liz Ngonzi (’92), it’s that she’s bold, she’s courageous, and she’s devoted her life to strengthening the social impact ecosystem around the globe.

But her path to a career as a social entrepreneur, educator, and international speaker didn’t take the direction you might expect.

It’s true that Liz has always been a bit of an entrepreneur. By the time she was 14 years old, she had created a babysitting service and scaled to at least six different client families. It was a “baby empire,” as she describes it.

When she came to Syracuse University in 1988, however, she didn’t major in business. Instead, she started out in visual and performing arts. About mid-way through her freshman year, a mentor introduced her to the iSchool. She was hooked and decided to transfer in the following semester.

“I barely knew how to type!” Liz said, “[But] I loved the fact that you could solve problems with technology and information.”

In 1992, the year Liz graduated, the country was in the midst of a recession. While many of her peers took jobs waiting tables just to get by, she graduated with five job offers in hand. She started receiving some of them as early as the fall of her senior year and credits the real-world skills learned in her major with making her stand out in a struggling economy.

Liz ended up taking a job in marketing with Digital Equipment Corporation, the legendary computer company founded by Ken Olson and Harlan Anderson. They had recruited her as one of 16 people nationwide for their exclusive Marketing Development Program, a rotational program which exposed her to areas such as aerospace marketing, corporate communications and sales. Following that, she worked in B2B sales for MICROS Systems Inc., the leading provider of hospitality Point of Sales Systems in the world, where she learned about the hospitality industry through her clients, ranging from independent restaurants to amusement parks.

The Future Relationship between Business, Government and Non-profits

In conversation with Liz Ngonzi, an international speaker on digital innovation, philanthropy and leadership, talking about the future relationship between businesses, Government and non-profits, what the world can learn from people it traditionally labels as disadvantaged and how corporations are responding to the social justice movement in relation to African Americans.

Digital Storytelling to Inspire and Attract Funders in a Time of Crisis

The budget cuts resulting from the global economic downturn of 2009 forced nonprofits onto digital platforms to more efficiently and cost-effectively connect with their stakeholders, but that stakeholder engagement remained primarily on a personal—not a virtual—level. Fast forward to the the global pandemic of 2020, during which most of our professional interactions have become virtual, and we see that organizations have discovered how critical digital platforms are (and will be) to their success, both during and after the pandemic. Now their primary vehicles for inspiring, attracting, and activating donors are stories delivered through a digital storytelling ecosystem that includes their websites and those of their key partners; social media; virtual events; messenger services such as WhatsApp; email; live and recorded videos; and charity information sites such as GuideStar.

At the same time, during the last few months, foundations’ priorities have shifted toward two key issues that have risen to prominence: COVID-19 relief/response and social justice. Not only will funders be interested in supporting organizations that have been negatively affected by COVID-19, but they will be particularly drawn to those that have pivoted in response to it by developing new offerings, delivering services more efficiently, and serving new populations. Equally, funders are going to be looking for grantee alignment with issues of social justice—looking, that is, for organizations committed to the empowerment of under-resourced communities, to diversity of board and leadership composition, and to socially aware programming and engagement with issues of equity and inclusion. In crafting an organization’s message, therefore, it is increasingly necessary to incorporate content and highlight organizational elements that reflect such commitments.

Notes from the #ProjectEveryone Fundraising Everywhere Conference

Last Thursday, I was one of over 4,000 attendees at #ProjectEveryone. Put together in just over a week by the Fundraising Everywhere team, this virtual conference featured a range of great speakers focusing on fundraising in response to the coronavirus crisis. My Twitter thread from the six hours of talks is below. Click through to read my notes from those I attended. I’m at #ProjectEveryone – here’s my thread. How to pivot your strategy in a crisis @WayneTheMurray1. There is no business as usual. It’s all changed.2. Work out what has changed.3. Drop everything non essential(Wayne’s cat just popped in to say hello, which was cute.) pic.twitter.com/Gq4WylWjnS— Richard Sved (@richardsved) April 2, 2020 The first talk I attended once I’d managed to get into the ‘room’ (it was so busy!) was Wayne Murray’s on how to pivot your strategy in a crisis. I particularly appreciated his exhortation to focus on the short term, and keeping people connected. Nobody cares about your income deficit. They care about the impact on your beneficiaries. People really do want to help.Wayne Murray Next up, Jasmine Adams spoke well on adapting messages in response to Covid-19, which was a good companion piece to Wayne’s talk as she explained that you can change your strategy but maintain your vision. After this, Louise Morris spoke compellingly on engaging high net worth individuals in the fundraising response to the pandemic.

Program Empowers Aspiring Black Entrepreneurs

Startup founders who are black receive less than 1% of venture capital funding annually, according to research from Crunchbase, Kauffman Institute and CB Insights.

Cornell’s Black Entrepreneurs in Training (BET) – founded in the spring of 2018 as a student club to inspire and inform black student entrepreneurs – is aiming to change that through the establishment of workshops, guest speakers and entrepreneurial mentorship.

BET, which runs from October to April, aims to increase the participation of students of color in Cornell’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and generate an active and visible group of black alumni who’ve founded successful companies. Each fall, the program accepts students of color who are passionate about entrepreneurship, and offers networking events and workshops.

“Connecting our BET participants with successful alumni is an invaluable learning experience, and enables them to envision their future as startup leaders,” BET co-founder Jehron Petty ’20 said.

Petty – with co-founders Ansumana Bangura ’20 and Julia Reeves ’20 – reached out to Andrea Ippolito ’06, M.Eng. ’07, lecturer in Cornell’s Engineering Management Program and program director of W.E. Cornell to establish a partnership with the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, which would allow the program to grow after the founders graduate.

Digital Storytelling and Virtual Events to Revive Your Fundraising Presented During Project Everyone

Everything has changed… Except your Mission

In a matter of weeks, the world has changed in dramatic ways… and it will likely never return to pre-COVID-19 norms. For nonprofits, working remotely might be the easiest part of the adjustments they need to make.

The greater challenges revolve around:

  • Delivering programming that your community has come to rely on
  • Fundraising in the chaos—without the ability to host in-person events
  • Finding new sources of revenue to replace falling donations
  • Standing out in the sea of noise with everyone clamoring for attention and funding

How NGOs Worldwide Can Use Digital Storytelling to Access, Attract and Activate U.S. Donors

International organizations planning their fundraising strategies for the new decade and looking for new funding sources may be wondering how to maximize their success in attracting U.S. donors.  According to the 2019 Giving USA Report, American donors gave an estimated $427.71 billion to charities in 2018, with $22.88 billion going overseas. But many international nonprofits/NGOs are unaware of the extent of the available funding, and many do not know how to effectively access, attract and activate U.S.-based donors. It’s a challenge for many international organizations to engage with (and navigate the complexities of) what many consider to be the world’s most generous market.

What I learned Chimp Trekking in Uganda—Everything is Teachable!

Indeed it is, as stated by the t-shirt I fortuitously chose to wear that morning after Thanksgiving!

I came, I was conquered by nature, I retreated and regrouped, and then I conquered my fears!

As part of my Thanksgiving trip to Uganda, I had the great fortune of visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Western part of the country where my family originates.

During this awe-inspiring trip through which we saw lots of elephants, a leopard and several other mammals and birds during a game drive and boat ride, the most memorable activity of all was the 3+ hours we spent chimp trekking in Kalinzu Forest Reserve.

What started out as an adventure to accompany my partner on his bucket list experience to observe chimps in their natural habitat, turned into a series of teachable moments!

The trekking experience definitely taught me a great deal about myself and reminded me about the importance of trust, perseverance, humility, humor, bravery, positive thinking, the power of setting short-term goals in order to accomplish big ones, and asking for and accepting support.

Teaching Why Storytelling, “Tribes”​ and Diversification Are Critical to Entrepreneurs!

I had the honor of returning to my alma mater, Cornell University, to address and advise the first official cohort of Cornell Black Entrepreneurs in Training. This was one of several events planned by the organizers to “stimulate creative ideation and problem solving,” as part of a program whose ultimate vision includes preparing black entrepreneurs to found startups focused on some of “today’s most pertinent problems.”

I was there to teach the participants about self-awareness, finding purpose and founder-opportunity fit, defining and developing one’s story, finding one’s “tribe”, and navigating the business (nonprofit to for-profit) and funding (donations to equity investments) model spectrum and the plethora of programs (e.g. incubators, accelerators and fellowships) through which one might develop a new venture.

The members range from undergrads to professional and graduate students, and the majority are studying engineering, with a few in business and science majors.

What became evident to me after spending time with these extraordinary students — both while leading the workshop and while meeting with them one on one during office hours — is that we all need the occasional reminder of our own greatness and a framework for sharing our visions and stories in a manner that honors our unique gifts and identities.

They are working on some awesome venture ideas that address real gaps in the market.

I can’t wait to see what’s to come next semester when they begin working on their Minimum Viable Products (#MVP).

No matter which professions the cohort participants ultimately choose, having an entrepreneurial mindset and approach to problem solving is critical to achieving success in any area. And even if they do not choose to pursue their startup ventures on a full-time basis, the participants might reasonably continue working on those ventures as supplementary/alternative revenue sources. As I’ve learned repeatedly over the years from various contributors to Black Enterprise Magazine, it is wise to lay the groundwork for a diversity of revenue streams, including at least one “side-hustle” that can be developed into its own full-time business.

Learn more about Cornell Black Entrepreneurs in Training: https://crea.cornell.edu/project/black-entrepreneurs-in-training/

How Foundations Can Leverage Digital Storytelling to Increase Their Impact

Traditionally, foundations have chosen to maintain an air of mystery about their grantmaking priorities, selection criteria, and even the organizations they support. However, in today’s increasingly digital and connected world, foundations have an opportunity to streamline their grantmaking processes, share their stories of impact to inspire others and attract potential collaborators, and highlight their grantees to draw other prospective funders and supporters to them.

Did you know?

  1. The U.S. is home to 140,000 foundations, yet in our increasingly digital world, only approximately 10 percent of them have websites.
  2. One percent of foundations share recent grants data online and only .1 percent of foundations share the knowledge they are funding or producing online.
  3. Of the 140,000 foundations, only 100 have shared their information on the best practices platform Glasspockets, that facilitates benchmarking and ultimately increased efficiency.
  4. Foundations are increasingly requiring transparency of their grantees throughout the grantmaking process, whether it be from first-time applicants, or for those requesting additional support.

In an increasingly digital and connected world, transparency by foundations can:

  1. Establish credibility in the sector and increases public trust.
  2. Improve relationships with grantees.
  3. Decrease redundancy and increase collaboration with other stakeholders.
  4. Build a community of shared learning and increase potential impact.

Expand Your International Organization’s Presence to Attract U.S. Funders

During my 10 years teaching and training nonprofits around the world, I have found that some of the biggest challenges they grapple with in seeking funding are related to differentiating themselves from the plethora of other great causes in the market; establishing their legitimacy in a field in which the few fraudulent ones have created fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of donors; and identifying which donors could potentially be interested in their cause, have the capacity to give and are accessible.

If you ask any group of U.S.-based foundations their primary source of information about a nonprofit with which they are unfamiliar most of them will likely say that they google to find out about them. In the case of international nonprofits looking to raise funds in the U.S., the strength of their digital presence is critical in that it helps to convey the credibility of the organization, in the absence of a physical location the U.S. for funders to easily visit.

GDPR and What It Means for Nonprofits

Last week, the Foundation Center hosted its “The Future of Philanthropy: Thriving in a World of Change” event. This all-day event opened up discussion about some of the large-scale technological and philanthropic changes taking place across the nation and the world, and how they relate to nonprofits and foundations.

At the event, dotOrg Strategy founder Boris Kievsky moderated a panel on the subject of on “Reaching Audiences in the Age of GDPR.” The expert speakers assembled for the discussion were Jon Dartley, Of Counsel at Perlman & Perlman; Crystal Mandler, Director of Business Insights at Foundation Center; Elizabeth Ngonzi, Adjunct Faculty at NYU Center for Global Affairs and Isaac Shalev, Founder & President at Sage70.

The event was live-streamed (full video at the bottom of this article), but if you couldn’t make it, we’ve put together some of the key takeaways your nonprofit should consider and actions you can take today.

Expand Your International Organization’s Presence to Attract U.S. Funders

International organizations seeking to enter the U.S.philanthropic market need to do so with an understanding of the legal options to do so; how to discover who among its donors are most interested in funding their work; and what it takes to differentiate their organization from the 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the U.S. and other NGOs seeking to enter the U.S.

International organizations looking to engage with donors in the U.S. need to understand the four legal paths that can allow them to do so. While individual donors represent the largest source of U.S. charitable giving, it is more challenging for those seeking to cultivate relationships for larger donations. Therefore, international organizations looking to enter the U.S. should consider the second largest source – over 86,000 grant-making foundations—which are more efficient to identifying and cultivating for larger donations. While cultivating relationships with foundations, international organizations need to make certain that their digital presence conveys a sense of trustworthiness, authenticity and clarity of purpose because funders research organizations online. Curious about the answers to the following questions? JOIN ME!

  1. What are the four legal paths available for my international organization to legally cultivate relationships with donors in the U.S.?
  2. Which foundations fund international organizations like mine?
  3. What do funders look for when researching an organization online?
  4. How can I differentiate my organization online?

In this webinar, you will learn from me, a seasoned international nonprofit executive, consultant and educator, about who among the 86,000 registered grant-making foundations would most likely fund the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) most aligned with your organization; receive practical guidance on how to engage with them; and obtain valuable digital engagement strategies to differentiate your organization from the millions online. The webinar will be a deep dive into digital engagement strategies.

 Outcomes

Upon completion of this webinar you should be able to:

  1. develop digital engagement strategies to convey a sense of trustworthiness, authenticity and clarity of purpose to differentiate your organization online;
  2. research U.S.-based foundations likely to be interested in your work;
  3. identify the SDG that aligns with your mission;
  4. research U.S.-based foundations funding that SDG; and
  5. create online relationships with prospective U.S.-based funders.