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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

Seek to First Understand Before Being Understood: Words of Wisdom from Stephanie Brady

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Stephanie Brady of iFG Studios: Ideas For Growth | Innovate For Good will be leading workshops for our Online Conference on February 26, 2020 and at our Nonprofit Lab in Denver on May 18, 2020. We recently had a conversation with her about her upcoming trainings and wanted to share some of her insights with our nonprofit community!

What is the best advice a mentor ever gave you?

Early in my career, I was lucky to have a mentor share this advice with me: seek to first understand before being understood. It's comes from Steven Covey's book, "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" and to this day, it (Habit #5) guides my professional as well as personal life. This single piece of advice not only helps me be an effective leader, innovator, problem-solver, coach, convener and storyteller; it sparks a joyful sense of curiosity, empathy and connectedness that I'm very grateful for.

What is your favorite tool for staying organized?

My Google calendar is THE most important tool I use to organize my work responsibilities AND life priorities. I put everything in that calendar, not just calls and meetings, but I also schedule time to read and workout. I even block out time to connect with my son for 30 minutes when he comes home from school. It not only helps me stay organized, it helps me stay fully present and honor my time, knowing I have my values and priorities reflected in my schedule. Of course, not everything goes as planned so I flexibility and reorganizing are part of the mix too.

I also have an "old school" trick to stay focused, which is completely different than staying organized. In the midst of all the to-do's and chaos of any given week, I want my activities to actually contribute to accomplish things. So, at the start of every week, I take a 3x5 notecard and write down 3 specific goals I want to achieve that week ... and then tape it to something that I will look at everyday - like my bathroom mirror, my kitchen cabinet that I open every morning to make coffee or even my laptop if I'm traveling that week. It's my self-checkout cue to help me consider if I'm "doing the right things" to help meet my goals or just "doing things".

What are the most important pieces of advice you think people should take from your workshops?

I teach both sustainability planning and storytelling strategies for Nonprofit Learning Lab and the most important piece of advice I could offer is to "keep it simple." Most organizations operate within complex ecosystems in order to achieve positive impacts. Success is often highly dependent upon the performance of others - which is why building simplicity into of any major initiative is critical ... so that it can be easy to understand and share with others. In my consulting work with nonprofits, I often find their strategic planning efforts become overcomplicated, time consuming, unapproachable, incomprehensible and even eventually dismissed, especially for those tasked to execute it. Simplicity is an important muscle to exercise as nonprofit leaders work hard to strengthen their organizations and increase their impact.

The most important takeaway to effective storytelling is to “find your authenticity”. Powerful storytelling is about being true to the unique voice, impact and identity of your organization.  Don’t try to follow in someone else’s storytelling footsteps, firmly plant your own way forward by mining authenticity within your organization. Start by looking closely at your assets. What are your most valuable resources, services, community partners? What is the most unique part of your model for change? Who are your talented subject matter experts? Where (and how) have captured the greatest results? Then connect those authenticity points to weave together a powerful storytelling strategy.



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