It’s time to re-connect

by Emily Petty

Humans have a basic need to connect – to be loved. Maslow’s hierarchy of need places love and belonging as the third human need after basic physiological needs and safety. However, studies on infants have shown that if you leave an infant with no physical contact but make sure they are fed and clean they fail to thrive, develop or grow.

Like infants we need to feel connected to those around us if we are going to succeed and thrive at work.

Sadly, we are feeling more disconnected than ever. Take the open plan office, the theory is that by having everyone working in one space you are instantly connected with your colleagues. And yet studies have shown that the open plan office decreases connection and increases stress. An article in Arch Daily ‘Why open plan offices don’t work and some alternatives that do’ said of a test of open plan working “The employees suffered according to every measure, the new space was disruptive, stressful, and cumbersome, and instead of feeling closer, co-workers felt distant, dissatisfied and resentful.”

Remote working is on the rise – which is a good thing. But having managed a remote team, I know the challenges and opportunities this brings. When teams creating connection is all the more important. Often really small things can become big barriers. For example, if you have regular conference calls it is important to notice if someone isn’t contributing and ask if there is a problem. It might be that they feel un prepared, perhaps they don’t have the agenda or they don’t know who else is in the room. Small things that often get overlooked can increase the sense of isolation and loneliness.


Loneliness is directly related to stress, anxiety and exhaustion. In ‘Dare to Lead’ Brené Brown shares the story of Colonel DeDe Halfhill who is Director of innovation, analysis and leadership development for Air Force Global Strike Command made up of 33,000 officers and enlisted and civilian airmen. At a presentation she opened the floor to questions, an airman asked if the work was going to slow down because everyone was really tired. As she explored the issue with the group it soon became clear that the group were actually lonely – they had no connection and that was causing them to become burnt out.

If staff do not feel connected, they do not feel safe or able to speak up when things are going wrong, no one wants to be the dissenting voice. Trust breaks down and there is a lack of psychological safety.


Here are a few thoughts and ideas. I’ve tried some of these sometimes they have worked sometimes they haven’t. But if we don’t try, we will never really open ourselves up to those around us.

Starts with the leader – You can’t expect your team to build connection if you do not model the behaviour in the daily life of your team. Creating connection is about building trust. Building trust takes time and is about the small, seemingly insignificant actions that complied together make a strong bond. John Gottman from University of California says. “Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘Sliding doors’ moments.” That might be the opportunity to quickly thank someone for their contribution in a meeting as you walk back to your desks or being available for people to feedback or mention a new idea to you – it is the compounding effect of those moments that build connection.

Create physical or virtual space for teams to connect – I don’t have the answer to the open plan office and working from home challenges but it is really important to be conscious of making space for people to both interact and get deep work done. Have a think about

  • The space in your office for staff to relax and spend time together.
  • Where is the kettle or water cooler? Could they be in a place that helps different teams interact in new ways?
  • How are you using virtual tools? Why not create a quick and simple virtual check in system with your remote team so each day you are asking how people are and if they have any challenges?

Create moments to connect – some of these ideas might seem cheesy but it is also true that sometimes we have to deliberately encourage connection.

  • Start a meeting with success sharing – encourage people to share what they are pleased about and why.
  • Play the sit-down game – see my previous blog
  • Try a classic team building game like the marshmallow and spaghetti game. Make sure you allow time for the group to reflect on what it felt like, what they learnt etc.
  • Lego Model Game – Sometimes it is a big ask to ask people to share how they are feeling. The Lego Model game gives the group lots of broken up Lego people. Ask the group to create their Lego model to reflect how they feel today. It gives people the space to have a cow girl head and a surfer body and explain why.
  • Have regular feedback sessions – regularly asking the team to simply reflect on What Went Well and what could have been Even Better If opens dialogue and encourages a culture of feedback and learning from failure.

I challenge you to try at least one of these ideas and see how things change – then keep going. Building any relationship takes time, connecting is made due to a series of small actions.


Emily Petty, is a culture and fundraising consultant. She is passionate about helping charities build a relationship led approach to fundraising and supporting them to unlock potential and manage change. You can find her on Twitter @EmilyPetty1 and on LinkedIn.

So…they hired another white man.

by Mandy Johnson

This Thursday was one of those complicated days for me. In the morning I took part in a panel discussion at the “Women in Civil Society Leadership Conference”, hosted by Inclusive Boards. It was an inspiring morning full of speakers who had an interest in inclusion and diversity. I wanted to stay all day to soak up the wisdom of the people in the room. Sadly, I was not afforded that luxury.


I snuck out of the conference early so that I could take my son to an appointment. I scoffed down a sandwich on the train and went from “Mandy Johnson” back to “Mummy”. Later that evening I received a message from a friend of mine,

So NCVO has announced its new CEO… Lots of gushing tweets but also some surprise behind the scenes and talk about missed opportunities.”

I turned straight to Twitter to see what they were talking about and there it was…

NCVO announcement

Karl Wilding has been appointed as the new CEO of NCVO. The sector’s largest infrastructure body has chosen another white man as its leader. I couldn’t ignore the irony; I had missed the announcement because I’d been tied up with “mummy duties” and a conference about increasing female leadership in the sector.


Over the last two days I’ve had more messages from more people questioning NCVO’s choice. One friend wrote the following to me,

“…with all due respect to Karl Wilding, it’s incredibly disappointing that the largest support body in the UK did not place diversity at the heart of the CEO search. While they have published their process in order to claim transparency, Karl was hired by white male institution in 1998 and was virtually groomed to take Stuart’s place. What an incredible waste of resources and opportunities. Am I nuts to think this??”

 Of course, I reassured her that I didn’t think she was nuts… yet there was something stopping me from outrightly agreeing with her.


Part of my dilemma was that, from my limited experience of Karl, whilst he lacks some of the characteristics some of us are so desperate to see represented in his sort of job, I think he’ll make an excellent CEO in many ways. He’s a man who cares deeply about the sector, is an active volunteer for local charities and keeps himself very well-informed. He’s also a nice bloke, without any airs and graces. He does his best to champion diversity and inclusion and he’s got twenty years of experience in navigating the complex world of NCVO – and doing it well. What if he really is the best person for the job?


A question from the conference earlier that morning has been reverberating round my head. A woman of colour asked the white, female CEO of the Charity Commission whether we should be encouraging white men to step aside to leave space for a different type of leader to be given a chance. Stephenson (the CEO) responded by saying that she didn’t think this was necessary. She suggested that, now the conversation about equality, diversity and inclusion in the charity sector has started, change would happen naturally over time.


As we were hearing that change is coming, on the notepad in front of me, were some of the stats that showed little evidence to support this:

  • 92% of all charity trustees in the UK are white[i]
  • 91% of charity sector employees are white[ii]
  • 3% of people in senior leadership teams are BAME[iii]
  • 64% of charity trustees are male [i]
  • 25% of senior leadership teams are female [iv].

With Karl’s appointment failing to contribute a change to those statistics, we remain the worst sector in the country in terms of racial diversity.


The second interview panel (who recommended Karl’s appointment to the Board) was an all-white panel. The charity’s Board didn’t recognise what they would miss out on by not have a more diverse range of people making recommendations to them at this point. So, if Karl had stepped aside, would it have really made any difference to the statistics above?

The reality is we will never know. But the chances are that, if Karl hadn’t put himself forward, another white man probably would…and he may have been less qualified. Perhaps an organisation that has twenty-five years’ experience of employing a white, male CEOs may need just one more, with an understanding of diversity and inclusion, in order for it to drive the change required to become a truly diverse and inclusive organisation.

I hope that Karl will be that man – and I believe he might be. But in order to truly to deliver on this goal, perhaps he should be willing to move on when he’s delivered the changes that will make it possible for a different type of leader to take the reins?

[i] Charity Commission Taken on trust: awareness and effectiveness of charity trustees in England and Wales (2017)

[ii] NCVO Civil Society Almanac (2018)

[iii] Inclusive boards, Charities: Inclusive Governance (2018)

[iv] Inclusive boards, Charities: Inclusive Governance (2018)

Goals Gone Wild – Women Strategically Helping Women Succeed

You’re strategic about your fundraising. You’re committed to your cause. But are you deeply invested in your career advancement?

If you answered yes, we applaud your dedication. But if the answer to the last question is no, why not? What is holding you back?

For most women discussions around gender equality and pay equity in our sector are difficult ones to have. The Association of Fundraising Professionals Women’s Impact Initiative (WII) recently highlighted a 2017 study demonstrating that gender accounts for a 10% pay gap between male and female fundraisers.   The source of this gap? It’s long been thought it’s because women don’t ask, but a 2018 McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace study is tracking a different reality: women negotiate for raises and promotions as often as men, but they do not always get the same outcomes.

The reason we started Goals Gone Wild was as provocative as the title. As the famous feminist writer Roxanne Gay once wrote, “If you and your friends are in the same field and you can collaborate or help each other, do this without shame. Men invented nepotism and practically live by it. It’s okay for women to do it too.”  So that’s exactly what we did.

The group started socially. We were four women who without close ties who came together to teach a fundraising course. What started out as regular meetings to discuss course instruction slowly evolved into an informal networking group. What we came to realize is that we were at varying stages of professional development and had ambitions to grow in our careers. We wondered if other women in our sector felt the same way we did, and if so, how were they planning the next stages of their career advancement? It became an opportunity to lift one-another up and to see more women leading organizations in the non-profit sector in our region.

The model is simple. You spend some time considering the questions of fit and what’s important personally before you set your next three career goals. One that you could achieve right now, one that is slightly out of reach right now and a final goal that would be where you see yourself in 5-10 years. With those three goals in mind, you set out to build a plan that would position you for those changes. You consider the current gaps in your education, experience and relationships to decide what opportunities you need to embrace to be successful. The three-stage process is done independently with check-ins with your group to raise new ideas and solutions.

The process itself is simple and the goal is to push it out beyond our current community by helping other small groups embrace the Goals Gone Wild approach to career planning. We’ve learned along the path that there is some magic that you work to create. If you’re ready to give it a try you need the following:

  • a small group of four (4) to six (6) like-minded women with distinct networks.
  • to create an atmosphere of trust and compassion.
  • to make a commitment to move through the process and support each other in a timely method.

We want this model – or any model – that moves women upward on the career ladder in fundraising and non-profit. It’s important that we see gender equality at the most senior levels of our profession, on our boards, as the speakers at our conferences and the lead consultants in our industry. It’s time.

As stated by feminist G.D. Anderson: “feminism isn’t about making women strong. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”  Help lift each other up and give each other a voice.

Are you interested in learning more about the Goals Gone Wild model?  Reach out and we will help you set up a similar network in your community!


Authors and Goals Gone Wild Founders:

Liz LeClair

In January 2019, Liz LeClair wrote an op-ed for CBC News about the MeToo crisis in the non-profit sector.  Liz brings more than 15 years of experience to her role as the Senior Development Officer at Dalhousie University. She has had the privilege of working and living coast-to-coast in Canada.  She has worked with a variety of non-profits, helping to build strong fundraising programs and extensive experience in managing and leading teams, the development of strategic plans, and a genuine passion for raising funds for important causes in her community.

Twitter: @liz_hallett


Sarah Lyon

Sarah was hired on the spot for the fundraising department at the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia. Her previous fundraising experience being door to door cookie sales for Girl Guides. Since then she has studied the fundraising greats and earned a CFRE, became the ASNS Director of Philanthropy, spoken at the AFP Congress in Toronto and currently sits on the Association of Fundraising Professionals Canada Foundation for Philanthropy Board.

She is the founder of the Giving Tuesday Canada Civic Movement, Nova Scotia Gives More, just celebrated her ninth year at ASNS and, she continues to this day to sell Girl Guide cookies.

Twitter: @SAPL


Marni Tuttle

Marni Tuttle is invested in non-profit success. She believes philanthropy makes the impossible possible. Marni is a strategic fundraising professional skilled at partnering philanthropists and visionary ideas to make our world a better place. She has what a volunteer once described as 20-year ‘gold-plated’ fundraising resume with leadership roles in education, health care and environmental philanthropy.  She has built a career around progressive roles in annual giving, community engagement, major gift, campaign strategy, planned giving, prospect management and now focuses on helping charities grow. Marni is currently the Director of External Relations for the Nova Scotia SPCA.

Twitter: @marnituttle


Lisa Weatherhead

Lisa is the Regional Executive Director for the Atlantic Region of Cystic Fibrosis Canada. Based in Dartmouth, she and her team work with eight remarkable volunteer chapters and partners across the Region. Her career has led her from corporate sales and sales training to a career in the charitable sector, including roles at Xerox and Dalhousie University Faculties of Dentistry and Health Professions external relations team. She is also one of three Dale Carnegie Business Coaches in Nova Scotia. Lisa graduated from Saint Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Commerce. In addition to board roles with Big Brothers Big Sisters and AFP NS, she has been an active volunteer for many years working with various events and organizations in the Halifax area including Big Brothers Big Sisters and Halifax Relay for Life as well as a facilitator for the Fundamentals of Fundraising.

Twitter: @officiallisaw

An anonymous letter from a charity CEO to the Board…

Foreword written by Mandy Johnson

I was recently contacted by the CEO of a small charity. Like so many other small charities, her organisation has been struggling financially – they have not been awarded grants they were expecting and contracts have been cut over time. To address these issues, she requested an extraordinary board meeting.

After the meeting she felt even more concerned than when she went into it. Her Board had interrogated her, rather than helped her find solutions. She stopped feeling part of a team and started feeling like a naughty school girl who needed to be reprimanded. I have heard similar stories so many times from other small charity CEOs.

This week, the same woman was kind enough to share the follow up letter that she wrote to her Board. I have changed a few of the details in order to anonymise the charity (and the CEO) but the bulk of the original letter is included below.

Her words articulate so well things that I know many of us have experienced at a Board meeting. I hope you find the letter therapeutic in the way that I did – it made me feel that I was not alone. It also left me with questions – Why does this happen? How can we change this? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts…

“Dear Trustees

 First, I want to say thank you. I approached all of you individually and asked you to join the board of this organisation, and without hesitation, you all agreed and that for me was very humbling. You all joined because you strongly believe in the work we are trying to do. It doesn’t matter whether it affects you directly or indirectly; you connect with the people we serve and you gave your time and expertise to want to make a change. For that I will forever be indebted to everyone single person on the board, past and present.

 The journey of this charity has not been easy. It has been a struggle from day one and, with the support from the board, we have been able to weather the storm. We heard things, we have been called out on many things, some justifiable and others out of sheer pettiness, but we stayed focused on why we are here. As an organisation, we have operated on very small budget but have achieved things beyond our wildest dreams. We have capitalised on the passion of both the board and staff to drive a dream that sometimes is even scary for us, but we have also come out strong and determined.

 This is why the event of this week shocked me. I came to the board meeting last week expecting us to find a solution to the financial challenge that we have. I call it a “challenge” because I see it as just another hurdle that we need to find a way of jumping over.

 At last week’s Board meeting, what I needed was support, what I got was reproach.

 There was no acknowledgement of the work the staff and I have put into the charity. There were no words of encouragement whatsoever about where the organisation is currently. There was no concrete plan from the board on how to solve the challenges that we are faced with.

What I heard were people trying to save themselves as fast as possible.

 I have no objection to this, as I think it is important, but I felt I was being thrown under the bus.

 For two weeks, my mental health has taken a deep toll. Leading up to this meeting, I was having severe panic attacks. But I kept working. I kept the staff working.

 To be so unappreciated, was a big slap in the face. I have sacrificed good jobs for this organisation, because I don’t want what happened to me to happen to someone else. I always have the interest of this charity at heart. I strongly believe in the principles upon which it was founded. I will always be passionate about this issue.

Yesterday I sent an email to you all from an expert. I was expecting a response from the board but not a single person replied.

As the CEO of this charity, I face lot of struggles every day. I wish that, once in a while, someone from the board would touch base to ask how we are doing and coping. This rarely happens – some of you have never done it.

This email is not sent to lay blame, far from it. I will never do that. I know none of you have to serve on this board; you do it because you care. The intention of this email is to say that last week’s board meeting should not have gone the way it did. It has achieved very little and put all of us under stress. We are left with a challenge and no solutions. I just feel it should have been better.

I have learnt a lot from this experience and from working with the organisation. I now think it would be better for someone else to take charge. Someone who can do the work even better than I am doing but without the deep, emotional connection that I have.

I will be writing to the board officially to tender my resignation letter.

Once again, thank you for your support, your love, your service and your passion.

 Yours sincerely

A small charity CEO

My sister, my anxiety

by Kate Carroll

On Monday 13th May, Day 1 of Mental Health Awareness Week, my friend Deb Broddle and I launched Nisa’s week-long programme of activities to mark the week and to fundraise for the local Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) inpatient unit being built in Hull to support families in the wider Hull area.

We’ve both recently had quite a tough time, and without discussing it with each other, we both decided to speak very openly to our colleagues about our own mental health challenges. My beloved sister was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour in August 2018. After many panics and hospital visits on this rollercoaster in Hell, she is now close to the end of life. 

Living with a loved one with a terminal illness has had a huge impact on my mental health.  As soon as you receive a terminal diagnosis, you begin to grieve. You feel sad for all the things you won’t be able to do. Then the worry sets in. What will happen to… (fill in the blank yourself, many words fit here).

Jayne started a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in September 2018. She was so determined to overcome it, and I was so determined to support her every step of the way.  Ever since her diagnosis we’ve both struggled with insomnia. Falling asleep was no problem; staying asleep was a different matter. We had regular text conversations at 2am. One morning she replied from Castle Hill’s cancer ward. She’d been admitted because she ‘didn’t feel right’.

Yet another MRI later, the consultant confirmed our worst fear; the tumour had spread to the other hemisphere of her brain and was now inoperable. Watching her receive this news was awful. She took it with strength and dignity whilst we all fell apart. That’s when I started taking anti-depressants. I know they’re not for everybody, but they’ve certainly helped me. They help me feel like I can cope so that’s a good thing. 

That was a short hospital stay at just two days. A week later I received a teary phone call whilst at work; Jayne had had a seizure on her way to radiotherapy and was laid on a bed in a waiting room. It’s quite amazing how quickly you can get from Nisa HQ to Castle Hill. Nothing prepared me for what met me when I got there. She looked like she was dying, head rolling around, eyes rolling back in her head and didn’t have a clue who we were. I kept asking doctors if she was dying. Nobody said no, they just kept telling me she’s really ill. As if I didn’t know. That’s when my anxiety started, I could feel my chest getting tighter and tighter and the longer I sat there, the harder it was to breathe. 

Having seizures from radiotherapy for brain cancer is apparently common. She stayed in hospital for almost a week. I sat with her every day and went with her for the radiotherapy sessions. I helped her onto the bed, held her hand whilst her head was fastened to the table with the mask, then had to leave whilst they did the treatment. They let me watch on the monitors with them as they could see how anxious I was. It was half my own terror and claustrophobia, and half the terror of watching it being done to her.

After that I started noticing that other things were happening to me. I was getting really forgetful. The insomnia carried on, so I put my forgetfulness down to extreme tiredness. I started to struggle to make decisions, even quite simple ones, feeling I needed constant reassurance from either my team or my boss. Why? This wasn’t me at all.

I felt I had permanent butterflies, my insides were moving too fast, everything was going too fast, and I often felt dizzy. Then insult to injury when I couldn’t sleep anyway, I developed tinnitus. Lying awake hour after hour, night after night led to such panic. Feelings like ‘I have to sleep, I need to get up in three hours’, everything in the middle of the night is far, far worse – irrational in fact. Naturally I’d always drop off around 5am, so my 6.30 alarm woke me with such a panic that I couldn’t come down from. 

I went to see my doctor with a long list. He explained that my body had gone into permanent fight or flight mode. I’m preparing myself for something really awful that’s about to happen. I asked if I will ever be ‘normal’ again, will my memory ever come back? He said of course, once this very stressful period in my life is over. He gave me Beta Blockers to calm anxiety. Again, I know it’s not for everybody, but they really help me. They’re like a comfort blanket. I don’t even take them, but I know I can if I need to!

I have some really bad days at work. My affected memory being one of the worst things, especially in meetings. I have really tough (unkind even) conversations with myself in my own head. “Say something! Anything! People are looking at you!!! Speak!!!!  Anything, just speak!” Words completely leave me. But this brings on incredible panic, fear of looking so foolish and then a ridiculous hot flush. 

You wouldn’t speak to anybody else like that, yet I continually speak to myself like that. Why are we the hardest on ourselves? 

This then brings out the dreaded Impostor Syndrome *. How on earth did I reach this position?! I’m useless, how can my Trustees trust me to lead their charity?! I don’t know anything at all – about anything at all! How can my team expect me to make decisions?! I couldn’t lead my way out of the building sometimes and I can’t even decide what I want on Friday’s breakfast order! 

I decided to be completely honest at work; speaking out about my struggles is the best thing I’ve ever done. When I told my team I was struggling, their first reaction was to ask what they could do to help! They were so kind it instantly put me at ease. I told my boss and Nisa’s HR team. Honestly, what wonderful people I work with. I’ve had such tremendous support that’s made me feel more ‘normal’. 

I’m reassured that everything I’m experiencing is completely normal and usual for anybody affected by anxiety. After Deb and I spoke out on Monday, many colleagues have stopped me in corridors or emailed me to thank me for speaking out. It turns out I’m not alone – in fact, I’m far from it.

My advice to anybody else who is struggling is to confide in somebody. Not everybody will feel as comfortable about being as open as I have been, but I know that telling people has helped me. Now, when I have those overwhelming panics because I can’t remember a word, people understand! They know I’m having a hard time, and that’s ok. 

My colleagues and friends have been my cheerleaders. The days that I’ve driven into work in tears, I’m met with a cuddle and a brew.  Jayne will get poorlier, then die. I know my mental health will suffer more, but I also know that I have the support I need and I’d really encourage everybody else who is struggling to try to do the same.

A huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to my amazing squad of cheerleaders. You know who you are. 

I know it’s ok not to be ok. And I know I wouldn’t be ok without you. 

*Read my wonderful friend, Mandy Johnson’s, brilliant article on Impostor Syndrome.

This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn on 17th May 2019 but has been published on with the author’s permission.