nonprofit leader

January 25, 2024

Episode #94: How to Make the Shift from Doer to Nonprofit Leader with Patricia Gentry 

Interested in becoming a more effective nonprofit leader or wondering if leadership is right for you?  You’re in the right place! In this episode, Tobi is joined by Patricia Gentry, who is the strategy advisor at VolunteerPro. They discuss the importance of moving from in-program work to strategic planning, focusing on the wider vision, the need to shift mindsets, and why building relationships, creating accountability, and cultivating self-reflection are key for leadership.  

Tobi and Patricia also debate the pitfalls of imposter syndrome, rescuer mentality and why we should be celebrating our wins more often. The discussion wraps up on the topic of shifting from digital 1.0. to digital 2.0 and why embracing emerging trends and honing leadership skills plays a significant role in successful nonprofit management. Tune in to find out how you can make the shift from doer to nonprofit leader!  

Nonprofit Leader – About Patricia

Patty Gentry is a nonprofit leader with over 16 years in the Nonprofit sector working with donors, volunteers, volunteer leaders and advocates of all ages for small, medium and large nonprofit organizations. She has worked in a variety of roles from communications, fundraising, program development & management, youth and volunteer engagement and Board/committee leadership and development. She brings a solid foundation of experience in day-to-day volunteer management, strategy and implementation. She also volunteers as a volunteer mentor and volunteer for two local organizations in her free time. 

Nonprofit Leader – Show Highlights

  • [03:36] – The Challenges of Transitioning to Leadership 
  • [04:20] – Principles to Transition from Doer to Nonprofit Leader 
  • [05:30] – Understanding the Leader Zone vs Doer Zone 
  • [16:38] – The Power of Positive Mindset 
  • [17:12] – Overcoming the Scarcity Mindset 
  • [26:30] – Avoiding the Rescuer and Martyrdom Mindsets 
  • [31:46] – Dealing with Imposter Syndrome 
  • [38:15] – The Importance of Feedback and Community Engagement 
  • [39:40] – Addressing the Blame Game in Nonprofit Organizations 
  • [47:08] – The Power of Accountability in Nonprofit Leadership 
  • [50:20] – Celebrating Wins: Small and Large 
  • [53:13] – Embracing Digital Transformation for Nonprofit Leaders
  • [56:18] – The Importance of Speed in Nonprofit Leadership 

Nonprofit Leader – Quotes from the Episode

Your mindset is your biggest asset as a nonprofit leader.” – Tobi Johnson 

“Surround yourself with people who have high expectations, who want to be successful and who want to create that community impact that you’re hoping to create.” – Patricia Gentry

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

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Episode #94 Transcript: How to Make the Shift from Doer to Nonprofit Leader with Patricia Gentry


TOBI: Welcome, everybody, to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I have got such a treat today because I’m being joined by Patricia Gentry, our strategy advisor here at Volunteer Pro, who is fantastic. We’ve been having a lot of fun collaborating over the past few months. 

She joined us a few months ago, and we’re going to talk today about leadership. We’re going to talk about how to shift from a doer to a nonprofit leader. And there’s a lot of reasons for this. First of all, I think we’re all sort of stuck in this cycle of perpetual busyness and we’re working much more in our programs than on our programs. 

And what I mean by that is when you’re putting out fires, when you’re doing the jobs of people you shouldn’t be doing the jobs of, including your volunteers, when you’re not spending time thinking about strategy and making tactical and strategic moves within your volunteer initiatives. When you’re not able to see the big picture and be able to make strategic improvements, you are always working in your program. 

And unfortunately, there’s no real way to scale and believe me, I know this from personal experience working in my own business as well. I know when I’m working in my business versus on my business and in, you know, To be a nonprofit leader who is successful, you’ve got to be able to see the 30, 000 foot view, the 10, 000 foot view, the 5, 000 foot view and you can’t spend all your time on the ground level. 

It just doesn’t work that way. You’re not able to see the bigger picture. And so, we’re going to talk today about some strategies to make this transition around mindset, around more practical things, and just give you some ideas as you know, we kick off 2024, how can we be a better nonprofit leader? Now, before we get started, I want to introduce Patty. 

Patty Gentry is a nonprofit leader with over 16 years in the nonprofit sector, working with donors, volunteers, volunteer leaders, and advocates of all ages for small, medium, And large nonprofit organizations. She’s worked in a variety of roles from communications, fundraising, program development and management, youth and volunteer engagement and board and committee leadership and development. 

She also brings a solid foundation of experience in day-to-Day Volunteer management, strategy and implementation. She also volunteers as a volunteer mentor. And for two local organizations in her free time. And she’s also the strategy advisor for volunteer pro and Tobi Johnson and associates. 

So welcome, Patty. 

PATRICIA: It’s great to be here. 

TOBI: So, we’re going to have a casual conversation, pulling up a cup of tea and just relaxing and chatting. And we, you know, we were talking about this. We’ve been kind of talking about this for a few. 


TOBI: Weeks now about why folks aren’t making this transition, how difficult it is. You know, when you’re wearing many hats, it’s even more We in nonprofit organizations are pulled in many directions. But the fact of the matter is, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. Would you agree? 

PATRICIA: Oh yeah. Yeah. I think my motto is slow down to speed up. For sure. Yeah, 

TOBI: how to make this transition from doer to nonprofit leader and how to, you know, transition from busy, busy, busy to purposeful, strategic, and calm. Doesn’t that sound fun? We’re going to share some key principles to help you get there. And gang, this doesn’t matter regardless of your place on the org chart. 

Maybe you’re an executive director who’s listening. Maybe you’re a volunteer coordinator who’s listening. Maybe you’re a volunteer leader who’s listening. Maybe you’re a consultant who’s listening. Whatever your role is in your organization, everybody can make this shift from doer to leader. Now, I will say, yes, there are doer things that we need to all do in our jobs. 

But if you’re listening to this podcast, you have some level of leadership, whether it’s leadership, in a formal way in the org chart or it’s informal leadership where you are leading and influencing others Regardless of what your job title is. So, this applies for all of you, and I hope you find it a bit inspirational, you know Patty and I’ve been working in the field for decades now and we’ve learned a thing or two. 

So, let’s kick it off by just helping people understand the shift between a doer and a nonprofit leader. Patricia, when you know you’re in the leader zone versus doer zone, how do you know, how do you know you’ve arrived? 

PATRICIA: I mean, it’s like you said, it’s, it’s shifting from that busy, busy to being purposeful to being strategic and approaching your work in sort of a calm way where you’re shifting from reactive to be more proactive in the work that you’re doing. And like you said, it’s, it’s no matter what your job title is, you can lead from where you are, right? 

So, it’s finding those opportunities to take on those leadership roles, shifting out from the details of, of the work that you’re always doing to thinking about, okay, how do we do the work? How do we approach this work in a more systematic, strategic way and you know, really just thinking about it from, from more of that lens and coming at it from that 5, 000, 30, 000, 60, 000-foot view for sure. 

TOBI: Yeah, I mean, you’re not, if you think about it, if you’re head down, nose to the grindstone, you certainly don’t have any situational awareness because your scope of vision, your peripheral vision isn’t very wide. 

I know when I’m, when I know when I’m not working in, in my leadership role, I feel. More anxious 

PATRICIA: Yeah, for sure. 

TOBI: and I feel there’s a slight tinge of guilt. I’m not going to lie when I know I’m like, okay, you’re not, you’re not working in a CEO role right now, you know, and I, I know in my gut when it’s not happening. But I’m like, okay, this is, and when I’m in my, you know, CEO role or nonprofit leader role, you know, we were talking before we jumped on we both love doing calendaring and strategic planning. 

You know, we just did our strategic planning bootcamp vision week last month. And, you know, I completely get geek out on that stuff. And while I’m doing planning and thinking about You know, the schedule ahead and what we’re going to be doing in the year ahead and planning it all out. I always feel like I’m in my zone. 

And of course, as a leader, that should be part of your, you know, your wheelhouse. And so, whenever I’m doing that, I feel, you know, really calm. 

PATRICIA: Mm hmm. Yeah. I mean, if you’re too much of the details, you’re, you’re not able to see the full picture, right? So, it’s about shifting to that bigger picture about. Understanding what’s coming. You know, if you are looking towards 2024, what events, what major moments, what major programs are happening within your organization that you can get in front of now, what moments with your volunteers, do you want to celebrate or cultivate or recognize? 

You can really think about that ahead of time in a lot of ways and make your work. You’re a little bit smoother. You know, it doesn’t mean that things aren’t going to pop in and out or new initiatives or new ideas, but it does give you a better idea of here’s the full scope of work that we’ve committed to that align with the goals that we’re hoping to achieve and you can decide from there. 

Okay, this fits in with that or that doesn’t. That’s going to take our whole team in a different direction than we need to be going. So, I think if you’re too much in the details, it’s harder to be really thoughtful about what you’re hoping to accomplish.  

TOBI: And I, I feel like moving from doer to nonprofit leader often is moving from tactical to strategic, so your tactics are, you know, the things you’re doing, you know, I’ll give you an example of tactics versus strategy tactics is, you know, when it comes to volunteer recruitment. Oh, what should I put on my volunteer flyer? 

Tactics is what should I put on my volunteer flyer? How should I design it? What words should I put on it? Strategic is who is this flyer for? Who is going to hand it to someone? What are they going to say? How is this part of our overall, the different channels we’re using in our work? In our strategic volunteer recruitment plan, and how are we going to know if it’s working? 

PATRICIA: Right.  

TOBI: Different mindset, and sure, you know, it’s great to know what to put on your flyer if you’re using paper to, to recruit volunteers, but if you don’t have all the other answers, you’re going to keep doing the same thing without knowing whether or not you’re moving forward and whether or not it’s effective, right? 

So, there’s a fair amount of, I think in strategic and when you’re in leadership, you need to be very self-reflective as well. Not only situationally aware and thinking about what in, in the context that you’re in, what is impacting you? Also situationally aware in terms of what your organization needs and how you’re going to be supplying via volunteer resource, but also just aware of What’s, happening self reflexively, so there’s a lot of awareness, I guess, is what we’re saying about what it means when you move from a doer to a nonprofit leader, there’s a lot more sort of, not going to say mindfulness, because you can definitely be strategic without being quite very mindful about it, which is not really helpful, but you know, we could go on about that. 

Anyway, well, let’s talk about our principles, because we’ve got some OK, everyone. Fantastic principles. We’ve got six principles that can help you move from doer to nonprofit leader. Let’s kick it off with principle number one for nonprofit leaders. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. So, what does that mean to you, Patricia, when you think about, as you’re moving into a leadership role, who are these people you’re surrounding yourself with? 

PATRICIA: Yeah, I mean, I think a lot about just the people that you surround yourself with, right? You learn from others, you, you know, if you’re surrounding yourself with people who have high expectations, who want to be successful, who want to create that community impact that you’re hoping to create, right? 

That feeds off. Just if you surround yourself with people who have sort of a negative mindset, those sorts of mindsets really can impact you in a positive or a negative way. And I think it’s just really important to think about who you surround yourself with. And oftentimes in the workplace, it can be more of a challenge, right? 

You don’t always get to pick who you surround yourself with, but I think it goes back to this idea of leading from where you are. that you can take on sort of that leadership role to bring in more of that positive mindset, that learning mindset making sure that you’re really pushing those high expectations forward and holding your team to a higher standard, and hopefully that lifts other people up as well. 

TOBI: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’m part of a mastermind group, as you know. I’m about, I think we’re about 20 right now. We’re led by a very well-known entrepreneur globally. We are a global group. We come from different countries. And we definitely, when you’re in the crowd of this group, everybody is striving. 

We’re all, we’re all doing very similar things, so we’re all striving, and we’re all supporting each other, and it makes you want to rise to the next level. I also think as, when we’re, who we choose to hang out with, and we do have some choice, sometimes it’s not our professional life. 

It’s actually a personal life. Is someone lifting us up or bringing us down? And when you’re, you know, when we were in the pandemic, we spent a lot of time in our offices and in lockdown and it took people quite a bit to get back out into the world. I remember I had a business coach who was like, look, you need to start building Relationship capital. 

And what relationship capital is, is this teams and networks and groups of individuals that are working together that create intellectual capital together, sort of like my round table group does. And it’s built on trust, and we can leverage these assets. We can ask people for their advice. We can ask people to give an introduction. 

People will give us their thoughts. And, you know, we’re better together as a group than we are on our own. The other thing is, I think it’s always our social capital is all always about negotiation and understanding what’s of mutual benefit to the group. And sometimes. that capital can be built around understanding and realizing biases. 

So, when we’re, especially when were around people who are different than us, then we can start to have conversations about that difference and start to raise our awareness, which makes, makes us more culturally competent. So, there’s a lot there around you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, I think. 

PATRICIA: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve heard it, you know, create your own board of directors, right? These people around you hold the values that you align with, right? Or your version of success. And I think all of us going through COVID, maybe our values, refined. And maybe our definition of success may have changed during that time, or it may not have changed. 

But I think seeking out those people who do hold those similar values to you, whether they’re mentors or just people who are influential in the industry, I think are really important. I think that’s why I reached out to you. Tobi, right? It’s hard to find people who are just as passionate about volunteer engagement and the sector and working with volunteers. 

I think that’s what’s important about the volunteer pro community you are have so many people in that community who. are passionate about their missions and working with volunteers and doing it in a way that elevates the whole, the whole sector. And it’s exciting to be around people who love this stuff just as much as I think you and I do. 

And I think it’s true just sort of speaking to them, you know, the work you want to advance it. Like you said, diversity, the diversity work, it’s. You want to surround yourself with people who are doing things better than you so you know what the path can look like to get there. Sometimes that can be hard, right? 

You sort of look in the mirror and you’re like, I’m not quite there yet, but that’s part of the growth. That’s part of. us getting better at the work that we’re doing so that we can serve the communities that we’re serving even better. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. Could not have said it better. And, you know, that’s partly why I formed a community back in 2015. We formed the VolunteerPro community way before You know, communities like these were a thing. It’s because our members also learn, learn from one another as much as they learn from me and whoever else is teaching there. 

Let’s talk about principle number two. This is a big one. Oh, your mindset matters. Both in you and those around you. You know, it’s interesting to think about, we start with, you know, I always believe in leadership from the inside out. We start with our own mindset, and we can influence others in their mindset. 

We can also like, you know, gently call out myths and mindsets that people are propagating that aren’t serving. The team or the person who’s thinking that way let’s talk about a few of these mindsets I think are the biggest ones. In the nonprofit sector. Oh, it just hands down that I think is holding us back is the scarcity mindset, what do you think about that? 

You want to talk a little bit about scarcity mindset? 

PATRICIA: Yeah, I mean, I think it shows up a lot in the nonprofit sector, this idea of you don’t have enough resources, there’s not enough time, you don’t have enough capacity, you know, it’s this sort of not enoughness, right? And there’s some realities to that. There are limited budgets, there are limited staff, but there’s also sort of the opposite of that, which is this more abundant mindset and working within what you have, right? sure that you have leverage the resources you have.  

I think volunteers are a great space to extend the resources that you could have at your fingertips for your organization, tapping into the expertise of other volunteers to help you do your work more easily. I think we are leaving resources on the table because we think so much into that scarcity mindset of there’s just not enough time. 

There’s not enough. There’s not enough. That we forget that we’re leaving a lot on the table if we just sort of shifted our mindset a little and got to that place where, okay, we have enough resources. Let’s build awareness around what we need. How can we plan ahead, get more folks involved in the work that we need to get done this year? 

I think there’s a little bit more possibility in, in sort of the opposite of that scarcity mindset. 

TOBI: Yeah. Yeah. I think with a scarcity mindset, again, you sort of have your blinders on, you’re not seeing all the resources that are out there, we’re going to do a training. This coming year inside the volunteer pro membership community around community mapping, and it is a tool to use. 

It’s often used community organizing, but, but I’m going to teach our members how to use it to just open the lens of what, what resources are already in our communities, no matter what communities. You know, you’re talking about, there are communities that come together for all kinds of things, you know, and I want to talk about, that and share how we might use that framework of community mapping to actually surface hidden resources, hidden to us not hidden to other people, but I think if we don’t expect to see opportunity. We will not find opportunity and as a nonprofit leader, one of your jobs is to find resources and opportunity for your organization to thrive.  

Let’s talk about the second area of mindset, which is negativity bias. And, you know, for me, negativity bias is so prevalent because it’s how we’ve survived as a species, right? 

To survive, we need to be suspicious. We need to assume the worst, you know, because, you know, if there’s that rustling in, in the grasses of the Savannah, it probably means there’s a lion out there and it’s going to eat us. So, we better assume that and not walk over in that direction. 

PATRICIA: Zero in on the threats. 

TOBI: Zero in on the threats. Exactly. And, you know, this is a natural part and I feel like the more The more crispy I get, or tired I get, or burned out I get, the more my negativity bias, I know you’ve experienced me, me, when I go through this, where I’m, when I’m depleted, my negativity bias tends to go on the upswing, and I see it in myself, you know, the first, you know, the first step to recovery is understanding or recognizing it, you know, boy, my negativity bias is on a roll today, but I think that, you know, when we do, there are some biological and evolutionary reasons why we have a negativity bias, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t control our minds, you know, we can read frame towards the positive when we are seeing something you know, Oh, the grasses are rustling. 

Oh, it’s a nice breeze out today. It’s probably not a lion out there in the, you know, Savannah. If, if we haven’t seen a lion for six months, it’s probably not a lion, you know, it’s probably just a nice evening breeze. So, we reframe and start to change how we sing. You know, we can remap our brains, absolutely done research on this. 

We know that we can remap our brains are always in, in growth and movement. You know, our synapses are dendrites. The tiny little fibers in our brains are making new connections and whatever we think we become because we’re mapping, remapping our brains. What are your thoughts? Cause I know you’re, you’re big on positivity and you’re a positivity practitioner. 

Talk to us about positivity. 

PATRICIA: Yeah. I mean, our brain is always working for us. So, the thoughts that we have in our mind. Our brain is going to help us create that road map to get to our thoughts. And so, if they’re a negative thought, it’s going to take us down that path. But this, for me, was such an interesting thing to learn about the negativity bias and how that shows up in our minds and our brain. 

For me, it was powerful to sort of recognize and acknowledge that that exists within us from a survival mechanism. But that we do have that power to pivot and reframe our thoughts to better serve the outcomes that we hope to see in our lives. And, and just like you, you know, when I get in that mindset of Okay. 

For me, it’s sort of always, never words, like it’s always this way, or it’s never going to work, or I find that I’m scrolling through social media, and I am just judging people so harshly, right? And we’ve all been there. I’m like, clearly, clearly my negativity bias is showing, even if it’s just in my own mind. 

And you know, and I think it shows up in work with volunteers too, right? If a volunteer shows up late, if I am in sort of that negative mindset, I could think, oh, they’re completely disrespecting my time. They don’t care about the work that we’re doing. Versus, you know, I’m jumping to all these conclusions versus just, hey, Tobi, what happened? 

You’re not usually late or, you know, and sort of asking curious questions. So, I think for me, that was just really eye opening to learn that the negative bias is, is just a part of our, our biological brain, but we have the power within us to reframe towards the positive. And to really think about thoughts that serve you better. 

And I think that’s such a fun exercise when you build that awareness within yourself to understand and be aware of when you’re in sort of that negative space. You could take a breath. You could, you know, there’s a lot of different practices, whether it’s practicing gratitude, you know, in the volunteer space, what volunteers are you grateful for and why, right? 

It sort of starts to pivot your mind out of that negative space and what you were talking about before, like the leaves moving, right? You start to notice. The things around you and get your space from get your brain out of that space of negativity into a more neutral, if anything, and then start to build on more of those positive thoughts to sort of come out of that negative space so that you, you’re in a broadened, open mindset to be able to interact with the 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, gratitude is a fantastic foil against negativity. And you can start there are days, you know, gang, we all have hard days, nobody has a perfect day. And I can remember doing Even recently doing some gratitude where I was like, okay, I’m grateful. I’m up. I’m grateful. 

I’m out of bed. I’m grateful. I’m breathing. I’m grateful. I have a house to live in. You know, you could start with some of the basic stuff. If you can’t get to, you know, the higher levels of gratitude, you start where you’re at, wherever it is. And you can practice this. You know, I had a journal for a while where I was meditating every morning and then I would write three gratitude’s and then an intention for the day. 

And some days I could come up with highfalutin gratitude, and some days it was just like, I’m grateful that I’m writing in this journal right now and practicing gratitude! You know, sometimes that’s all we can do. So, gang, it’s not about being perfect. It’s about practice. That’s why we call mindfulness practice, because you, you come back to it and you get, you know, you’re doing better some days and not as good other days. Let’s talk about another Mindset again, because as we’re making the movement from doer to nonprofit leader, our mindset is our number one asset. It’s number one beyond budget, beyond coworkers, beyond our volunteer team, our own as a leader, our own mindset is our biggest asset. The next we got three more that we want to go through of mindset and then we’re going to take a break and then we’ve got three more principles to share. 

So just so you know what the, the journey we’re on together here. So, rescuer and martyrdom. Yes, yes. I was lucky enough when I started working in direct service. Specifically, I was working with homeless youth in San Francisco, and I was hired to set up an employment and training program. And it was really my first foray into really Working with Master of Social Work, expert people in, in the organization. 

We had a fantastic group of staff who really, you know, our, our mission was tough, helping kids get off the street and a multi-service organization for this population of both under age 18 and then over age 18. So, there’s a lot going on. And one of the first things I learned. As, you know, the client, the client makes the choice ultimately about what behavior they want to change or what they want to move towards in their lives. 

And we’re not here to save people. We’re here to provide resources and advice, and sometimes a little tough love and to bring a, a family, you know, it takes a village to get kids off the streets. That was our role, but we were not there to rescue anybody. And I think, you know, especially working with volunteers, when they come in as new volunteers, sometimes they, they, you know, they’re not professional social workers, so they don’t understand, they haven’t had the training, and so they, they’re like volunteers who love too much. 

You know, like they take on I’m going to say, and then they’re deeply disappointed if people don’t take the steps, you know, we had, you know, young people who were battling addiction, for example, it’s not, it’s not an overnight success, always, most of the time, it’s not, we had young people who were battling mental health issues, we had young people who were triply and doubly diagnosed who had HIV, mental health issues. 

We’re in our transitional living facilities who, you know, it’s, it’s not always easy. So, when people have a rescue mentality, rescue or martyr mentality, they believe a little bit more than their power is to bring about change, I think. And it’s not, it, it, it damages them, but it also damages the people they’re working with. 

Have you seen this in your world and your lifetime of working in nonprofits? 

PATRICIA: Yeah, I mean, I think we all sort of start there to some degree of, you know, we want to make a difference. We want to make an impact. And then when we get into the work that we’re doing, we see that it’s much more complex. You know, these are complex issues with complex solutions and the change that we want to see can be a lot harder. 

And you know, you do have to shift from that rest of your mindset to, to really coming above that, I guess. is what I’m thinking about. You must understand that these are complex issues with complex solutions. And each individual has their own experience of life, their own story, their own way to get through whatever they’re going through. 

And, you know, to your point, they must be willing to rescue themselves. And so, if we take on that mindset of, I’m here to rescue people, we’re in a sense doing a disservice. for them because at the end of the day, they need to, they need to be able to stand up on their own two feet and do the work themselves. 

And so, we’re here to support that, support their journey but not necessarily fix everything for the people that we serve. 

TOBI: Yeah. I mean, and you know, the caveat is when we’re working with vulnerable populations and we need to step in with a child, you know, who’s experiencing abuse or an elder. There are times where we take control because someone’s in danger, but for the most part, you know, this. rescuer and martyrdom, sometimes in volunteer management, I see it come out as, oh, it just, it’s better if I do it myself, even when you’re working with volunteers. 

It’s a type of need for control. And, you know, the, the foil to rescuer and martyrdom mindsets are delegation and healthy boundaries. Like understanding your role. My role is to, you know, I learned a lot of this working with teenagers and young adults is my role wasn’t to decide for them what they were going to do. 

My role was to help them understand the options. to talk through the consequences of the choices that they were going to make, and then to be there sometimes when it didn’t work out. And sometimes, you know, I would be the enforcer of consequence. So, it’s an interesting thing. I think we need to do more to help our volunteers, especially in direct service. We need to do a much better job teaching people about professional boundary setting and just self-care, right? 

And yes, it’s sad when people don’t take the steps you believe are best for them, but they’re on their journey. And, you know, sometimes it’s tragic what steps they take. Let’s talk also about, this is a great one for leaders, imposter syndrome. That little nagging voice that asks you, who are you to do this? Have you ever been plagued by this one, Patty? 

PATRICIA: It’s always there in the back of the mind. 

TOBI: So, I don’t know if this, you know, when I think of volunteer engagement, and, and you know, sometimes I think it’s volunteer managers who are playing small ball. If you feel like you’re playing small ball, if you’re playing it safe, if you’re not able or willing to take any risk, because growth comes from risk you know, you may have a little imposter syndrome cropping up. 

And, you know, if you talk to anybody Even the most successful people in the world, they will admit to imposter syndrome, that they will have doubts and they will have self-talk that asks, who are you to do? Who are you to think? Who are you to, you know, what makes you think you know all of this? 

I’ve personally fought this my whole career, right? Especially when I became an entrepreneur and I’m an advisor to a lot of people around their volunteer programs. It’s like when I started the podcast, who are you? Or when I started writing my book, who are you to write a book? 

Who would want to read your book? And so, these. I don’t know what, I don’t, haven’t done any research on why this happens in our brains, but it’s very common. And it’s also often more common, the more successful you are because, you know, tall trees get the wind, you know, and when you’re a leader at the top of the mountain and you’re the tallest tree, you’re going to get buffeted by winds. 

And You know, when I see it pop up in my brain, I go, oh, there it is. I named it immediately. Oh, imposter syndrome. Okay. What’s the limiting belief that I’m telling myself right now? Cause as you say, we’ve talked about everything is figure out a bowl. 

If you’re willing to do the work, you can figure out whatever. And if you’re willing to ask questions, you can continue to grow and have things to offer. And we all have our own lived experiences to offer the world wisdom. We’ve everybody has wisdom. Some more than others. Some people question whether or not they have any wisdom. But has, how has imposter syndrome affected you or how have you seen it in your teams come up? 

PATRICIA: I mean, it’s funny because I feel, I feel like the, the script that goes through your mind is sort of, it’s similar, right? You know, our brains. And a lot of ways are there to help keep us safe. And so, it asks a lot of those questions to make you sort of think, okay, is, you know, but thank your brain for keeping you safe and keep saying, I think you have got this. 

I’m going to keep moving forward with my book or I’m going to keep moving forward with the podcast. And thankfully you did that. But I think as we transition from doers to nonprofit leaders, at least for me, this showed up in a lot of ways. In one way, I had to sort of reestablish my value, right? 

I had been doing these things. I had been out there, whether it was distributing meals or just out there in the field, working with volunteers to then transitioning to this more strategic lens, my brain ate that up. It was sort of like, well, you don’t have any value. You’re not being productive anymore. 

Who are you to take on this, this different role when the actual work that’s happening is happening out there? And so, there was this, this transition in my mindset that I really had to, to reframe the value of that work and to see the value in that. That work. And, and you can sort of see it in the teams that you work with, right? 

As they advance in their career. Sometimes, at least for me, my experience has been that I’ve gotten further away from working directly with volunteers, and so that can be hard when my work is in volunteer engagement, and I’m not working directly with volunteers as much anymore. And you know that imposter syndrome steps right in and lets me know, what are you thinking? 

What are you doing? And I have to spend a little time reframing those thoughts, right? You need people who are thinking about how the work happens. You need people thinking about planning ahead, getting in front of things. And I think, you know, the other thing that I think about is when you’re stepping into this work, sometimes it can feel very new. 

And this is where I don’t know if you know the FFT, Brene Brown’s FFT, F-ing first time. For me, that was really powerful. You know, we have a lot of firsts when you sort of are moving up in your leadership work. And it can feel like you’re always learning something new and that’s hard. That’s vulnerable. 

And this sort of idea of effing first time really, you have to have a beginner mindset, right? Of course, we’re all coming into the work with some level of experience, some level of expertise, but a lot of the work that we’re doing now is new for everybody. The world has changed. How we do business has changed. 

What we knew 20 years ago doesn’t necessarily stand today. And so, we have to get better at asking questions and exploring and getting curious and being uncomfortable and tapping into the wisdom of other people. So, I think for me, that’s, that’s the biggest thing is, is. Tapping into that learner mindset, always having that sort of growth mindset to counter that imposter syndrome. 

It’s thank you so much, but we’re going to keep doing the work that needs to get done. I might not know exactly what I’m doing, but I’m going to take that next step towards where I’m 

TOBI: Yeah, I, I actually, now that I thought about it, I think it is our emotions because when you are taking on something new, there’s a level of anxiety and you have this vibration of anxiety in your body and your brain interprets it as danger. Yeah, maybe it is a little dangerous. You know, you write a book, it never sells. 

You do a podcast, no one ever listens. You throw a party, nobody shows up. You know, but so what? You learn something in the process, you know, and if it doesn’t work out, maybe you stop doing it or you do it differently. So, I think that might be part of that. 

I think. I like the idea of grounding your confidence in the feedback of others. For example, we do our volunteer management progress report survey. Part of the reason we do that, of course, is to help the field understand where we’re at as an It’s a global state of the industry survey, but it also helps us as a company understand and keep up with the trends of challenges and where the field is at. 

So, we always have our finger on the pulse of things, and we can feel confident that we’re offering value at all times. Similarly, we do every six months, we pull all of our volunteer pro members and ask anybody who wants to give us feedback on what they’re going to be working on, what their challenges are, what kind of content they want to see. 

And then we develop our training calendar based on some of the feedback they give us. And, you know, so as you’re listening to your audience or listening to your volunteers and gathering that feedback, you can, you can have a grounded confidence in the innovations that you’re trying and making happen, that they make sense for other people too. 

And it’s not just for you. You know, I think that that’s a big help. let’s talk about one more. Mindset before we take a break. And then we’ve got three more principles. I know we’re really dialing in on mindset a lot in this episode, but gang, it is, it is your biggest asset as a leader. It really is. 

Last one that I’ve been noticing lately, and It is due to the fact that Anyway, what I’ve seen I will say I will preface this with this is my perception and Patricia yours may be different but what I’m seeing as organizations are struggling to build back from covid what I am seeing whether it’s a difficulty with fundraising a difficulty with friend raising and volunteer engagement that the blame Falls on the community. 

So, blaming the community. Oh, volunteers. People don’t care anymore. People aren’t volunteering. Volunteers are flaky. Donors are greedy or cheap or whatever. All these reasons why these things aren’t happening. And, you know, if we look at you know, I’ve talked about this before, but if, if you look at Google trends, people volunteering opportunities near me, it’s, it’s higher, it’s, it’s kind of going up and down, up and down, but it’s at a way higher level than it was even five years ago, even before the pandemic. 

So, we can’t say that people don’t want these things. So, I think we have to be really careful, and this comes, it comes disguised in a lot of different ways. You know, when we’re having conversations with people, people won’t go, they won’t say out loud, the community is awful. Nobody will say that out loud. 

But the reasons why things aren’t working in terms of fundraising, advocacy requests appeal for volunteers, why they’re not working is because the people we’re trying to reach don’t care. 

And for me, that’s a type of blaming of the community and I feel like people do care and do have a stake when it’s something that makes sense to them and resonates with them. 

And so first of all, we’re not where people are. all the time. We’re not reaching them on the internet, for example, on Google. We’re not showing up at the top of a Google search. We’re not where people go to look for information. If they don’t know you exist, how can they support you? Second of all, our appeals aren’t necessarily resonating because we’re talking more about the 50 million ways, ways you need to, the requirements to volunteer versus what are we going to transform together? 

And third of all, we’re not power sharing and inviting community into our organizations to help drive. The direction of what we’re doing, right? So, with those three things, if those three things aren’t, how can we blame the community for our inability to, and I know this is tough love y’all, but I’m going to say it anyway, that our inability to level up. 

Our marketing, our program development, our communications. If we’re not able to invest and level up in that way, why is it the community’s fault that they don’t know about us?  

I don’t know. What are your thoughts on, do you, do you see it come in other ways, blaming the community? This is a new thing that I’ve thought about. It’s not something that I’ve really talked about much before now. 

PATRICIA: Yeah, I mean, I think that in my experience, I think it’s moving. It’s not as severe as blaming the community or the volunteers. I think some of that is starting to show up, but the, where I have seen it, the most is moving from this idea of. Transactional to transformational. And I think as the organizations that I’ve worked with have gone through this shift of what has worked in the past, you know, we send out all of these appeals and people just respond to us and we’ve raised our revenue for the year to the shift in transformational gifts and involvement and making sure that we’re involving people who are. 

Passionate and interested and engaged. And we’re asking questions about how is this work meaningful to you? And so that’s a lot about relationship building. And I think just what we were talking about before the world is so different and the work that we need to be doing as a sector and involving people, people have a lot of choices in how they spend their time. 

And if we aren’t really leveraging their time in an impactful way and making good use of our volunteer’s time, they’re going to walk away. And that doesn’t just impact on our organization. It impacts the whole entire sector. I think you’ve said this before. If somebody has a bad experience volunteering, that could mean they never volunteer again. 

And that will impact how people choose to spend their time outside of work, outside of their family. And we have to find ways to bring people in. So that idea of power sharing with the community and with our volunteers, bringing them into the work that we’re doing, have them be at the table and a part of the solution so that they’re bought in and that they feel like the work that they’re doing is really impacting the missions that we’re trying to achieve. so that’s, you know, that’s the way that I see it is this, this acknowledgement to a certain degree that we have to shift how we’re communicating to our donors. We have to shift how we communicate and work with our volunteers. We have to shift how we’re communicating with our advocates. Or we’re losing people. 

I think we’re starting to see that collective acknowledgement, but also, we’re seeing the, the, the decrease in volunteerism because we’ve been transactional in the past and, and not as transformational. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. You couldn’t say it better. Let’s pass for a quick break right now from our conversation about how to make the shift from doer to nonprofit leader with my coworker and partner in crime, Patricia Gentry. We will be right back.  

If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated, high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. 

If you’re interested in learning more, visit Okay, we’re back with our discussion about how to make the shift from doer to nonprofit leader. 

Patty and I are talking about our principles. We’ve gone through a couple of principles. I want to share four more. And we’ve been talking for a long time. So, we’re going to, we’re going to keep this, keep this tight. Keep it, keep it moving. We had a long conversation about mindset before the break. And again, because your mindset is your biggest asset as a leader, but let’s, let’s talk about our last final four principles and we’ll keep this tight. 

Principle number three for nonprofit leaders. You can’t get ahead without a culture of accountability. know, it is your responsibility. This isn’t something that you can delegate. You can delegate leadership and team leadership, but in the end you’re the person who’s ultimately responsible. 

And so, there are things you need to set up to create this culture of accountability. A couple of things I can think of are, you know, developing systems and standard operating procedures. You can do this with your team, but in the end, it’s up to you to approach. you know, decide whether or not they’re sufficient enough. 

You can share your strategy to see how everyone fits, you know, help everybody understand the bigger strategy and how they fit into it. So that creates a culture of accountability. You can use data and key performance indicators. You can check in and supervision and meet standards and deadlines. 

You can recognize people. There’s a lot of ways to create a culture of accountability, but in your mind, Patricia, do you feel like this is a, a nice to have or a need to have in today’s leadership world, this culture of accountability? 

PATRICIA: I definitely say need to have, I mean, I think we all wish that the work would just happen. And people would do what they say they’re going to do or, you know, have that level of responsibility. But the reality is when you’re working with a lot of different people, whether it’s paid staff or unpaid staff, like our volunteers, you have to have the structures and systems in place that really support the team to be accountable. 

And to your point of people need to know what the strategy is, how they fit into that, the sort of idea of alignment before action. And, you know, having those check ins and supports that really take into account the people that you’re working with, right? Some people might need more information ahead of time. 

They might need more one on one time. But they, they do need those structures and support to get the feedback that they need to move forward, or you know, understand where they continue to fit into that bigger strategy. So, I think you’re right on point. You know, it’s definitely a need to have. If you don’t have a culture of accountability, the work just doesn’t get done on its own. 

TOBI: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, as architects of the volunteer experience, we need to design a space where people can more easily. Demonstrate optimal performance and sometimes that’s having the right tools, you know, sometimes it’s look, we have to have software, a certain type of software that’s going to make things a little bit easier and then people can be more accountable. 

For example, if you have a system where it’s very difficult to log your hours. Then, you know what, you’re not creating a culture of you know, accountability if it’s really hard, if it’s confusing or the system breaks or it’s not, doesn’t have good user, user interface, then give it up y’all. That’s not going to help you with a culture of accountability. 

So, let’s talk about principle number four for moving from doer to nonprofit leader. People need wins, including you. And I can’t. Tell you how difficult it is for people to talk about their wins. I mean, I, I asked this when we’re inside the community, we’re in a, we’re in a coaching call with our volunteer pro members, or I’m asking people to share in the community. 

What’s a win, small or large crickets. It’s like pulling teeth. People have the hardest time. And I think it’s because we’re, you know, working in the nonprofit sector. We’re humble people for the most part. We feel, always feel a sense of responsibility to move the mission for those of us who are passionate, dedicated. 

That’s how we feel. And we feel like, you know, you talked about earlier, not enough. I feel like people feel like they’re not enough all the time. And I’m like, you got, you got to keep yourself moving forward. You’ve got to have wins. 


TOBI: You know, how do you reflect on your wins or how do you embody this principle of wins? 

PATRICIA: Yeah. I mean, I think as you’re shifting from a doer to a nonprofit leader, this is a key area, right? Your, your job is to start to elevate your team’s and to sort of create that practice of reflecting on the wins every day, whether they’re small or large and building that into just how you do business. 

And, you know, I think the sort of saying is share your wins broadly and criticize in private, right? You create this, this structure, this practice of. It’s normal to highlight what people are doing. Well, it’s normal to highlight the big wins that you’re doing as a volunteer program and this idea that this skill can be learned, right? 

So, I think that is sort of a big shift from a doer to a nonprofit leader is you have to step into that space of a little bit of discomfort, right? If you’re more of the humble side. And, and quite frankly for me, sometimes it’s more of like, why do we have to celebrate the wins? Let’s just keep doing the work. 

We’re here to do the work. We signed up to do the work. So I have to remember to pause and reflect on my own personal wins to see how far I’ve come and also sort of Take a moment to acknowledge how far the team has come as well because that’s important I think it creates momentum and it gives people sort of energy to keep doing the work More efficiently or just better as we move forward 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. And even just, you know, doubling, recognizing what’s working so we can double down on what’s working and can, you know, and keep doing that. I also, you know, we, it’s a way of recognizing and acknowledging volunteers for their work is to understand. And even, you know, again, these wins don’t have to be super huge. 

They can be small and again, easy to It’s a learned skill. Let’s talk about principle number five for nonprofit leaders moving from digital 1. 0 to digital 2. 0. Gang, the rest of the world has moved on. Has your organization, you know, have you, have you figured out when I say digital 1. 0 to digital 2. 0, as you talked about earlier Patty, you’re talking about this transactional relationship of hammering people with information. 

So that’s a digital 2. 0 is using technology for transformational and deeper connection. I also think digital 1. 0 to digital 2. 0 is figuring out how tech Can help you automate tasks, help you shorten the time it takes; you know, AI can help us certainly with shortening some of using AI as an office assistant, but also automating repeating tasks. 

And, you know, when we move from 2. 0, it requires us as from a doer to a leader to not always accept that the status quo is where we need to be with our tech and that we have to get good at advocating for. You know, more sophisticated, what we call tech stack or tools. There’s no one tool that fits that does everything, you know, people think they’re going to have a volunteer management system and it’s going to solve all their problems. 

Well, no, I mean, there’s multiple tools. I mean, we use probably 30, 40 different tech tools at volunteer pro. For you, what do you think, what’s, what’s one thing when you know a leader is moving in a digital 2. 0? What’s one thing you see as you’re like, yep, they’re moving forward. 

PATRICIA: I mean, I think they’re moving away from The admin side of the work right and they’re spending a lot more time on building relationships Whether that’s with their, their staff or their volunteer crew when you’re spending more time on the relationships, that’s when I think you have, you’ve done the digital 1.0, right? You have a level of sophistication in your tech that things are automated.  

You are tapping into the marketing strategies and marketing sort of suite of services to know who your people are, what they’re interested in, what’s meaningful to them, and you’re able to customize communications out to them. You know, I think that it’s, it’s just, you’re spending more time building those relationships. That’s where I think you’ve really shifted and you’ve built that, that tech stack in a place where it’s really serving your team in a way that moves your, your mission forward. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. And I think when you’re automating any repeated tasks, that’s buying back that relationship building time because relationships take time, you know.  

PATRICIA: It takes time. It takes capacity. And I think if your team is spending its time in data entry or in admin or in paperwork, which is not to say that that’s not important, but that is an investment of time away for building relationships, then you need to better balance that. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. The last principle for moving from doer to nonprofit leader is that speed matters. Now, this may, you know, fly in the face, may seem counterintuitive to, having the feeling that we have done enough. But I will say, when your productivity lags, you lose credibility. You know, when we are, for example, hunting and pecking for answers on the internet for how to do something, and we try things out that are unproven from who knows who is telling us how to do these things, we become more risk averse because every time we’re trying something new and it’s not working, we are losing our confidence. 

And you know, instead, on the opposite side of doing that, hunting and pecking and taking forever to get somewhere, and I know this is difficult, gang, I, you know, we have a lot of big ideas here at Volunteer Pro, we’re still trying to implement, so some of the things I feel like my productivity or my speed to market of a new innovation is taking longer than I expected. 

But if you can follow through on your word and say, you know, this is going to happen, and I have a trusted guide who can help me get there faster. You’re going to build credibility in your teams. Going to, you’re going to have more credibility as a leader, but you’re also going to have more self-confidence because you’re going to be like, okay, I’m moving forward. 

I have momentum. You know, this is why the volunteer pro community is so powerful and our other training as well. Because you’re not spending months trying something out, hunting and pecking around on the internet, learning a little bit, trying to make a change, and you don’t have the full framework. 

Whereas you can find a guide, a trusted guide, now it can be VolunteerPro, it doesn’t have to be, it could be another trusted guide. I personally think our stuff’s pretty awesome, but, you know, you can learn and use the tools, the implementation tools. You can learn the strategy, the framework, you can get moving on it, and then you can go back to the person that gave the advice, gave the advice to you and ask, hey, this is working or this, there’s something I don’t understand about this. 

I need it. Answers and you can move on and get things done. And I feel like you know, the question is, how can we move more quickly in innovation and in transformation? Because the rest of the world’s moving on and we are losing volunteers and volunteer support and it’s not going to come back if we’re not, you know, leveling up where we’re at. 

TOBI: What are your thoughts on this? 

PATRICIA: Yeah. I mean, I think you’re, you’re right on target. I think speed does matter, but I would go back to slow down to speed up, is to take a moment to pause and really think thoughtfully about your plan ahead. And then, you know, what your North star is, what your plans are for 2024, whatever that timeframe is. 

And what are your needs as a volunteer program, right? Time and time again, what I’m hearing is that I’m tired of recreating the wheel. I’m tired of doing the same thing. It’s hard for me to stay up on trends. It’s hard for me to understand what folks in the field need to be aware of or learn now. 

I think that is where the volunteer pro community and the courses come into play because you don’t have to. Do that on your own. The resources already exist, and you can tap into that, right? Or you can tap into volunteers that have expertise, right? So, you have a lot of resources at your fingertips once you understand what your needs are. 

And so that’s why I think it’s important to slow down before you speed up. And then your speed really does matter. But you can, you can move more quickly when you know what you’re doing and you’re moving from that proactive space. 

TOBI: Yeah. And you know, the learning plus implementation supports some of the training in our field, you’re just learning, but there’s no implementation. There’s no framework. We have so many hundreds of tools, templates, time saving swipe files, anything that can help people. I mean, our goal always is. Translate learning into action,  


TOBI: That is the goal. The goal is implementation. The goal is not just edification. The goal is implementation, you know, so. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation. We are at the top of the hour, so it is probably a good time to call it a day and move on to other things we’ve got going on. 

But Patricia, talk to folks about what you actually do here because folks are strategy advisors. What is that? And the opportunities, if folks are interested, if they have groups who are interested in our training, tell folks a little bit about what you do and how they can get in touch with you. 

PATRICIA: Yeah. You know, here at volunteer pro, obviously we’d love to partner with nonprofit organizations who serve local nonprofit networks and make our courses, the coaching, the community available to your organization’s networks. And so, one of the things that I’m really trying to do is reach out to groups that work with and serve local nonprofit organizations of 11 or more. 

To really unlock team and group rates. And so, if that’s you or somebody within your network, point them to our resources at wnd we would love to just connect with you, share a little bit more about the work that we have available for you. And hopefully that helps you not have to recreate the wheel. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. Even national networks, you know, if you’re working with chapters or you’re supporting local nonprofits, you know, there’s, there’s a way to offer what VolunteerPro has to offer. Up till now, really, we’ve only offered to individuals and small teams, but we’ve figured out a way to do this at scale and in a way that’s affordable for nonprofits. 

So definitely check out our page on our website. And on that page, you can book a discovery call with Patricia, and she can help you just walk through what we have on offer, talk to you a little bit about what your needs are, help you understand how we can help. And yeah, take it from there. Last question before we log off, what are you most excited about in the year ahead? 

PATRICIA: We were talking about it a little bit before we hopped on this. But I have, I usually do a year, a word of the year and this past year it’s been nurture and nourish. And this year I think it’s going to be enough sort of just dialing into this idea of enoughness, I’m enough, we have enough, and appreciating everything around me, and I think coming into 2024 with that mindset will be really powerful for me, and just set the stage for hopefully how the year unfolds. 

TOBI: Yeah, absolutely. I think I am most excited about new opportunities and just continuing to learn more. I think this year we’re going to dig a little bit more into what’s working and really focus on best practices, both in the world at large of volunteer involvement, but also in our own company. So really, you know, a lot of what we learn around digital marketing, et cetera, we learn by doing because we’re such a, we’re an online business, right? 

We’re a digital business. And many of the things we learn about digital marketing, we pass on to our members and our students. You know, what do we learn about, you know, there’s always a new tool or a new strategy and digital marketing is, is really. Changing now we’re into a new, what worked last year, even, or even this year, isn’t going to work next year. 

So, there’s a tremendous amount of innovation. And I think I’m really looking forward to looking at data and seeing actually the great thing about digital marketing is, you know, the data doesn’t lie. And so, I’m, I’m looking forward to leveling up the way we look at data. And as we do that, then I’m going to pass that, you know that on to what I’m learning, pass it on to our members and students.  

PATRICIA: I love that. 

TOBI: Yeah, it’ll be fun. Geek out on numbers a little bit. All right, gang. Well, thank you so much Patricia for joining me today. This was a fantastic conversation. I hope you as listeners have enjoyed us just chit chatting about how to make the shift from doer to nonprofit leader is, you know, not the. 

It is always an easy journey to leadership, but it’s so important, regardless of your role in the org chart or your job title, we can always lead and influence from whatever place we’re sitting. And so, I want to encourage all of you to think about how you can be a better leader in 2024, especially, you know, honing in on your own zones of genius. 

You know, doing, being more of who you are, not less. I think that’s important. And we will be here next week, same time, same place on the volunteer nation. And if you like this episode, share it with a friend. 

And if you would love it, we would love it actually if you’d rate and review us, we love those five-star ratings because that helps us reach more people. So, thanks everybody for joining us. We will be here again, same time, same place on the volunteer nation. Thanks everybody.