The Virtual Fundraising Career Conference is coming up fast, April 17th to 21st, 2017 and I am so psyched!

Are you going to be there?

Today we’re interviewing one of our rockstar presenters, Kishshana Palmer, about her session at the Virtual Fundraising Career Conference.

Kishshana Palmer is an experienced non-profit executive, consultant and Certified Fundraising Executive (CRFE), a designation held by only 4,000 professional fundraisers. For over ten years, she has been advising non-profits on donor/board development, internal fundraising operations and strategic planning.

Mazarine Treyz: Hi Kishshana! Thank you so much for being here. Everyone, Kishshana is teaching a session at the virtual fundraising career conference, on Strengths based leadership. I’m so psyched to let people know who you are and why they should come to your session at the Virtual Fundraising Career Conference.

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE: Absolutely! Thanks for having me! So excited!

MT: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your expertise?

Kishshana Palmer

KP: When I was a child, no but seriously, I am fired up and excited about helping people really discover their strengths and really discover where they fit in as a fundraiser.

Fundraising is a tough job. It is not for the faint of heart, it is not for the bone weary. You have to be girded for battle with a smile on your face. One of the things I’ve been doing over the course of my career is helping people keep that smile on their face, find excitement in their roles and find what really motivates them and pushes them to be the best they can be.

I love helping individuals and organizations get their spark back. A lot of times organizations come to me when they’ve kind of lost that spark or they have a spark but haven’t figured out how to ignite it. I help them focus on what is really important, what really matters and get really clear about what is going to work for them to advance their mission. My expertise is all around organizational development and particularly human capital…especially on how to identify, recruit and retain your fundraisers and how to motivate your staff to do the best job they can for your organization and donors.

MT: Wow. Retaining fundraisers is one of the reasons I started doing the virtual fundraising career conference.  That’s one of the most wasteful things that a nonprofit can do is have that churn in their fundraiser. It leads to churn in donors and it leads to eventually folding as a nonprofit. In the interest of keeping your fundraiser there, I know strengths based leadership is related to this, but what’s strengths based leadership? And why is it so important?

KP: For me what strengths based leadership is [about] is learning to focus on your strengths and learning to manage your weaknesses. One of the things I have felt myself and helped my teams with over the years is that oftentimes we get stuck in this idea of mastering our weaknesses.
We think, “oh I am really bad at organizing things, and I have to focus really hard, all my energy on becoming a master organizer!” But you never actually get truly better.

What if I just spent my time on things that I was really amazing at, like teaching?

What if I focused my time and took classes, and really figured out how to get in front of teaching?

Wouldn’t that be amazing? Then I could figure out who could help me focus on being organized, ‘cause forget about that! It’s not about dumping your weaknesses, but it’s really about thinking about what really gets me jazzed?

What do I ROCK at? How do I figure out how to get the resources, align myself with others, and get the mentoring that’s necessary to really rock it out? And in the things I’m not as great at, how do I allow myself to be vulnerable, to seek help I need to manage that? To align myself with complementary people who have those strengths in the areas that I am weak and to really be the best professional I can be?


MT: I love that! So that would help a fundraiser who was really good at appeal letters, and who was not so hot at getting grants. You could just say, “okay, let’s see how we can pass that off!”

KP: Exactly. I would never say to that person, “You should apply to be a grant writer!” NEVER! It’s about really understanding where you are in your own life and what skills and what core competencies you bring to the table.

Because there are so many organizations that need amazing fundraisers to do so many different things, it’s not a matter of finding an organization that is your forever place. It’s a matter of what is the role or type of role or combination of things that you really need to be doing so that the organization will really benefit and be propelled forward but that you as a professional can are allowed to shine.

MT: Of course! And I think that’s the martyr piece people not necessarily thinking of themselves or taking a break or taking a pause with what they need to do, versus what they think they have to do which is work all the time. This is why I’m glad we’re also going to have a session on self care as well. 

Thank you so much for sharing a bit about strengths based leadership. If you’d like to read more about how to discover your strengths, there’s a book called Strengthsfinder 2.0, and I’ve blogged about it here and here. Also here. Or, you could just come to Kishshana’s session, and get the real scoop from her about how to apply this to your work life.

Kishshana, what is the difference you’ve noticed when you encourage people to discover their strengths instead of trying to do everything in a fundraising office (appeals, grants, events, etc?)

KP: Honestly Pharrell had a song that was about being happy that did not win a Grammy this year. I have seen literal team members go from dragging into work, like oh gosh I have to come, I have to get this done, I hate it, in a sentence, to being super excited about getting their work done!
They become open to change, open to process, open to teaming.

Something about being released from this idea that you have to be constantly working on things you’re not great at, but that you have a boss who empowers you to work on things you are, or that you yourself understand that and employ that in your own work it really releases them from being weighed down by the things they are not great at and releases them to do amazing things and really focus their energy on that. Folks really blossoming, being better to be around, coming up with pursuits outside of work that really add to their work, fresh ideas, just really opening up. I was SOLD.

The first time I had a team where I literally took every fundraising responsibility we had as a complete team and threw it up on a white board and I just reshuffled them based on their strengths, and we used StrengthsFinder 2.0.So I’m a big believer in that from that day we had a gala that we had to turn around in 4 months. And would you know, we had a $300,000 goal and we rocked that gala at almost $800,000? With the same team. Crazy! Crazy! Crazy! I’ve never seen anything like it. When I say I have lived it and believe it wholeheartedly…I have LIVED IT.

MT: OH MY GOD. Wow. Wow. What a leader you are! That is so incredible! DAMN! Thank you for sharing that! Everyone listening, how would YOU like to raise an extra half a million at YOUR next event?

I think your session is going to help people really take it to the next level in their fundraising offices-just in terms of happiness and productivity. It will change the leadership culture from one of unrealistic expectations to one of everyone allowed to do what they are best at and having a good time too. Thank you for sharing this!

KP: You’re welcome

We don’t put enough emphasis on the shine part, because it sounds self serving, and yet, why would we not steward our own careers the way we steward donors?

KP: I’m excited too! I can’t wait for the conference, it’s gonna rock you guys! Make sure you register!

MT: How do people get in touch with you?

KP: My parents had the great fortune of spelling my name very special. People can find me at http://kishshanaco.com. And they can just drop me a line, or give me a call, and I’m happy to have a conversation and get the ball rolling.

MT: Everybody, there will be more resources here about Kishshana’s sessions. Come and learn from her, and then call her up and say, “yes, help me!”

Hey world-if you have heard Kishshana speak and would now like to learn more about her, and engage her services, check her website out and get in touch.

Kishshana Palmer, CFRE launched Kishshana & Co – a boutique-consulting firm dedicated to helping non-profits break out of their organizational and fundraising rut. A passionate, charismatic and electrifying professional, Kishshana is committed to helping non-profit leaders come up with bright ideas that will propel their organizations’ mission. Kishshana holds her B.S. in International Studies and her M.S. in Information Age Marketing from Bentley University in Waltham, Ma.


What else will you learn at the Fundraising Career Conference 2017?

How to interview strong for a fundraising role – Interview with Claire Axelrad, J.D., ACFRE