Desiree Adaway designs programs and strategies that create revenue and advocates for organizations. She has served in senior-level roles in the nonprofit and grant management sectors for such renowned organizations as Habitat for Humanity International, and Rotary International. Her industry expertise also includes information technology, youth focused non-profit, social justice non-profit, and faith based organizations.

Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Desiree! I appreciate it!

0. What is your background in nonprofits?

My background is actually social work. I started my career working with at risk youth. I worked at and managed summer camps for over 10 years and working with young men and women on probation. I have With twenty-five plus years of progressive nonprofit management experience. I have served in senior-level roles in the nonprofit and grant management sectors for such renowned organizations as Habitat for Humanity International where I was the Sr. Director of Volunteer Mobilization and Rotary International where I was the director of their largest Humanitarian Grant program. My industry expertise also includes information technology, youth focused non-profit, social justice non-profit, and faith based organizations. I look to ensure that the organizations I work with have the systems in place in order to leverage social, human and financial capital. I have lived, worked and traveled to over 20 countries including Germany, Mexico, India, El Salvador, Mozambique, Tajikistan, Bali, Egypt, Dubai and South Africa.

1. What drew you to nonprofit work?

It was my passion. I was an International Development major in college and wanted to work and live in Africa. The more I learned about the complexity of development work the more I realized that some of the skills around community building where just as applicable to my community on the south-side of Chicago as it was to a community in South Africa. I started working with inner city youth at a summer camp while in college and was hooked. Designing programs that engaged people and built communities was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

2. What do you like about blogging?

Well I am a horrible writer—horrible! So the thought of writing regularly for other people to see terrified me. My best friend has been blogging for about 5 years now. Her blogging actually led to a book deal. I am not looking for a book deal at all but once I started, I had no idea how much I would love blogging. I have gotten great response from readers and it is now one of my favorite things to do. I actually have gotten quite a few clients from blogging.

2.5. What’s one of your favorite blog posts (or most controversial) so far, and why?

Hmmmm I have a few.

One of my favorites is a post entitled Bold, Brave and Fearless. It’s me calling out the nonprofit sector…pushing folks to paint a new vision for our industry. What if we invested in R&D or marketing like for profit companies do. What would our impact look like then?

Another favorite is a post title: The Courage to Create. It’s my love letter to all the cultural creative change agents among us. Every day they stand up and share their voice. Share their vision. Share their passion…. That takes courage and I wanted to acknowledge that.

One of my most popular was actually a milestone post. It was my 100th blog post. Its titled Do Not Apologize. It’s very different from what I normally write but this was for the nonprofit professional who is always apologizing for what they do— to partners, parents, friends… I am giving people permission to live out their beliefs and passion, regardless of voices telling you differently.

3. How do you find new clients?

Twitter, Facebook, word of mouth, networking event, conferences, connections in the industry—any and everywhere. I like people and am passionate about my work.. I like talking about it and I like being of service. I may have helped someone with a quick problem 6 months ago for free…. And today when they are looking for outside help/support they will call me.

4. What advice would you give people who are starting to be nonprofit consultants?

It takes a lot of hard work—you have to be willing to hustle. You have to be willing to promote yourself. Start doing a few projects on the side while you still have your regular gig. Understand what it means to get hired by a client—negotiate a contract and expectations around the work, make sure your prices fit well within the market. Have systems and templates created for handling money and contracts . After the project is complete get feedback—have an evaluation system in place so your clients have a formal way to offer suggestions so you can continue to grow.

5. What advice would you give to people who want to get into entrepreneurship?

The best advice I ever got—create multiple revenue streams for your business. Large consulting projects can take months to close and get approval through internal channels. Government projects will not pay until 90 days after work is completed—what cash/income will you have coming through the door during down times?

6. What keeps you going when things get tough?

My belief in that my worst day being self-employed was better than my best day working for others. I love the flexibility…I love know that I can choose who I work with and when I work. I have taken on a lot more risk but I have also taken on a lot more creativity and doors have opened that I never saw coming.

7. How do you deal with fear when starting a new venture or career?

You acknowledge it. It is scary. You have to create a tribe of folks to support you who are in the same place. I cannot talk to my mom about starting a business. She retired from her company after 40 years on the job, She can be sympathetic but she does not understand. I talk to people who have experience balancing cash flow issue, or finding health insurance. When I feel exceptionally vulnerable I go on a “naysayer diet”- naysayers are those friends and family who think they are helping by telling you to go get a “job”. Nope. I do not want to hear that….so when I am feeling weak I do not contact those folks or let them into my world at all. I call my council of jedi knights who believe in both me and my business.

8. What is one thing that a nonprofit person can do, right now, to take control of their career?

Understand that everyone is self-employed. You may get a weekly check but you ultimately own your career and professional development. There is on security—only opportunity. You have to be willing to go where the opportunities are. Also know when it’s time to go. It may be time to weigh your organizations needs and the needs of your own heart.

I get it. I felt physically and emotionally at the end of my rope when I left my last organization. I was drained and felt guilty that I was not giving the organization and communities that I loved my very best. Until I realized one critical thing: I was not alone! Crazy, I know!

So I started talking with others nonprofit professionals and found out that so many others were feeling the same way. Suffering in silence was not good for me, my family, my staff or the communities we served. And it’s not good for you !For the good of your organization, the communities you serve and your professional reputation make sure you truly present. If not then it may be time to go.

desiree adaway

Desiree Adaway

Thank you so much for such a fabulous interview Desiree! If you want to get into Desiree’s coaching program, her website is here. And if you have any questions for Ms. Adaway, please leave them below!