The invisible thing that holds you back at work: An interview with Marc Pitman

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Editor's Note: This interview originally appeared on the Wild Woman Fundraising website and is excerpted with permission. You can read the full interview here.

Mazarine Treyz: Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising, and today I'm interviewing Marc Pitman, author of Ask Without Fear and the founder of the Concord Leadership Group. He advises nonprofits about leadership and fundraising.

Marc, you are also a Franklin Covey certified coach and are interested in the subject of trust and how to build trust at organizations. That’s actually what you’ll be speaking on at the virtual Fundraising Career Conference on April 17, 19 and 21st in 2017.

It’s an invisible thing, trust. If you have it, you have it. If you don’t, you don’t. Some people think you just can’t create it if you don’t have it. How does lack of trust filter through relationships in a nonprofit?

Marc Pitman: The minute you said trust, it immediately jumped into my mind, one of the most toxic work environments that I’ve been part of was filled with a total lack of trust. The person that was in charge of the division that we were working in was...was going through his emails. Instead of doing her work, she was prying into this other person’s emails, going back for years. Finally she got him to leave. I can’t remember if it was a firing or resignation because it just became incredibly uncomfortable. She still kept going through the emails instead of doing her job. It was this total lack of trust. It was incredibly toxic and divisive.

You said trust isn’t something that can be seen. Lack of trust is something that can be seen. There are other places I’ve been where there’s one person everybody kind of works around. One person in leadership that everybody tries to avoid dealing with – they all have bathroom conversations. I’ve got your back if you’ve got my back. We’re going in together. It’s sort of building up a front because there is a total lack of trust.

Then there are some people that are brazen. I’ve worked for a person who said fear is a management tool and I use it. I didn’t work for him very long because that’s not how I play. I don’t roll with that.

Yesterday I was talking to a potential training client who said she hired two people into fundraising for an organization that don’t have fundraising experience and are at very different points in their career. I asked what was the story behind that. She said, “I left those positions open for a long time. I had hundreds of resumes. I decided not to hire for skill. I could train skill. I wanted to hire for fit. Do they fit our culture? Are they the type of people that we’d enjoy being around? Do they seem teachable and willing to adapt and grow? That’s the type of person we can train.”

So it was interesting, the trust that she was exhibiting was about personality, NOT I can’t hire you unless I see evidence of demonstrable career progression. Which isn’t necessarily lack of trust, but in her mind, it was more trustworthy to hire for the person and train for the skill, which is kind of cool.

MT: That is fascinating that she didn’t necessarily need that in her new hires. That she wanted to just work with people that she liked and that she knew she could train. I wish more people thought that way because a lot of people at the Fundraising Career Conference have expressed frustration that people don’t want to just train anymore. They want to just get someone who can hit the ground running and not have to wait for them to learn stuff.

MP: We learned this in the Concord Leadership Group’s nonprofit leadership report, that the nonprofit sector is not investing in professional development. Steven M.R. Covey wrote a quote, "The CFO says what if we invest in them with professional development and they leave? And the CEO saying back, what if we don’t and they stay?"

One of the things we’ve been seeing a lot over the last few years is the board bullying the CEO - nitpicking, backbiting, really late night calls, weekend calls and emails. Second guessing every move. It’s just mind boggling to me that they spend so much time and energy into hiring a the CEO, executive director, whatever the title that your organization uses, and then not trust them to do the job that they were hired to do.

I think it’s indicative of they don’t trust themselves either. Like the person who I told you who was going through the emails. I don’t think she trusted her ability to do the job that she hired her to do. I think she felt like many of us in leadership feel.

When you don't trust yourself, you live in an emotional state where feedback is actually criticism. Not just criticism. It’s critiquing your very core being. Then when you internalize that and the gut check in your head is totally critiquing your very core being. It’s your own voice. There’s no other way. All of your emotions will flow out of that source and will become negative and divisive and distrustful and disrespectful and building walls and creating bureaucracies and creating policies and practices in triplicate forms to sign off because you don’t trust yourself.

So how can anybody else be trustworthy? Everybody else must be cut like you, must be out for their own game. But the flip side is, the person you hired for personality and would train for talent. She probably has a very healthy trust in her ability to keep commitments and her ability to get things done. She expects that in others. So often I’ve found – I’m sure you’ve found too – is that what we expect to get in others, we actually find.

MT: But I think that the more we extend trust – well, that’s where you get down to either you can be the change agent in the organization or you can find an organization that is worth being in.

MP: You are the captain of your own ship. Be proactive. You’re not a victim. You have an ability to make a change. Just because you’re not getting the right salary or the right respect or the right benefits or whatever, you can choose to leave. You may not like the consequences of the choice, so you may choose to stay, which is fine. But you need to own that choice. So this is less than ideal circumstances. How can I make it good? How can I be the type of person that would merit better circumstances later? Development directors get this all the time because there’s such a distrust for the executive director and the development director as a norm in nonprofits. Underdeveloped by Compasspoint studied this really well. Why is it that there’s a revolving door in the development office role? Part of it is because executive directors don’t trust that development directors are doing their work.

How do I know you’re really doing what you say you’re going to do? So without having a mutual respect between the two to figure out what are things that would be helpful for you, boss, to know that I am actually doing what it takes? Do you need education on how fundraising works? I mean, you can’t have that conversation necessarily. But it could be that the boss needs education.

It could be that the staff member needs to have some sort of metrics, visit metrics, thank you metrics, other metrics, which is what I always tried to do with my board. I tried to engender that when I was working. Not just a dollar goal. I wasn’t blowing off the dollar goal by any means. But I kept telling them, you can’t just measure harvest. You have to plant seed. You have to tend the soil. You have to tend the plants, weed. Then you can harvest. Then you have to do it all over again so that you can harvest again. If you’re only harvesting, slash and burn is not sustainable.

You can measure some level of trust by the way they talk about the person that’s not present. If you’re a manager who talks about someone who’s left negatively, everybody knows the minute they leave, you’re going to be backbiting them too. So there’s a lot that you can tell from that. That can affect the way trust is built or lost in an organization.

MT: How hard it is to build up trust and how easily it is to quickly lose it. So we just talked a bit about the negative consequences of lack of trust that you’ve seen in nonprofits. The lack of trust between usually the development director and the executive director/CEO. I’ve experienced that. You’ve talked about ways we can build up trust by talking about planting seeds and not just looking at the bottom line, which I think people here should take to heart. That there is a way, in fundraising to build trust, and to reframe the conversation.

MP: Absolutely. Reframing is huge. But I love what you said. It’s not just looking at the bottom line. Because I think what people hear us say, if we’re trying to rephrase that conversation, is look at the bottom line. And that’s not what we’re saying. If we’re a fundraiser in a position at a nonprofit, our job is to raise funds. If we are not raising funds, we are not doing our job. So there’s a very clear – if you’ve ever led an organization, you know you need people to understand that we can’t just expand budgets. It’s got to come from somewhere to have more investment in other areas.

If you’re going to invest in professional growth with money, we need to have more money coming in. That’s just the way it works. But you’re right. Reframing the conversation is huge because most people, in fundraising in particular, board, CEO, or staff, don’t understand how it works. They see a crowdfunding campaign. They see cause marketing campaigns. They see something obscure and random enough that it hits the news headlines, and think, well, we can do that for our organization too. Rather than knowing how it really gets done.

Join us for the 3rd annual Fundraising Career Conference April 17th, 19th and 21st 2017. Since 2015 over 900 people have attended this online conference, resulting in more successful job interviews, 42% salary increases, new jobs, better workplace environments, and more! This year we're going deep, with sessions on how to build trust with your boss (and not get fired), how to be a better mentor and manager, creativity and play at work, and more! Learn more.

Mazarine Treyz is the author of "Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide." Her popular blog has 50,000 monthly readers. Read more at Join her at the 2017 Fundraising Career Conference.

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