I get a lot of invitations to events. It’s a result of my work and my networking, and it’s a great advantage for meeting experts and getting insights. Recently I had just such an experience at a Marist College UVANY event. UVANY — Upstate Venture Association of New York — works to advance access to capital for companies and entrepreneurs. Its focus is for-profit more than nonprofit, but it’s my nature to cast a wide net for development ideas.
Kudos to UVANY Executive Director Sam Ticknor for an event that pulled together expertise from around the broad region exemplifying the best characteristics of the angel and innovation economy. I found Charlie Kireker of FreshTracks Capital among the most inspiring speakers. In discussing how he decides who and what ventures to invest in, Charlie — cofounder of two venture capital companies and an angel group — cited one of his most trusted measures: his gut. I was fascinated and reached out later for more detail on what he looks at and for in individuals and organizations that seek his support. Read on for his examples — and consider if your nonprofit is counting everything that counts as assets in board members and top staff.
Going by Gut
Imagine you’re in a development meeting with a donor about partnering with your nonprofit in a significant way. What qualities do you think it’s important to project? Now contemplate how your gut instincts align with those of Charlie Kireker. Here are four qualities he looks for:
- Curiosity and openness about learning new things
- Thoughtful but decisive: not procrastinators
- Collaborative and coachable
- Lack of pigheadedness and stubbornness
Surprised? Validated? Agree or disagree? Granted, this is one professional’s list — though a successful and seasoned expert whose experience in my view carries weight. What stands out to me is the overwhelming lean toward flexibility, practicality, workability and — my take — humility in valuing willingness to keep learning, to take direction, to be open to others’ ideas.
Let’s be honest — these aren’t always the qualities that are valued in a nonprofit. Too many board members are chosen because they fit a profile based on what they do and who they know. I’ve long beat the drum for education, and the qualities Charlie Kireker champions are prerequisites for learning — including better or more fully — a board member’s governance roles. They are also qualities that are absolutely key in a nonprofit leader, whether founder or director. Pigheadedness in particular can mire an organization in wheel-spinning — or worse, sink the goodwill of donors and the local community.
What impressed me about the notion of letting gut influence decision-making is how very human it is. Stats and financials figure, of course — but so does the human equation. Donors may not be venture capitalists or angel investors in terms of size and scope, but their opinions and impressions still matter. What might their gut say about who you are and how your nonprofit operates in deciding if they want your organization to be their means of supporting a cause they care about?
What counts in your organization — and are you counting everything that should?
Looking for development guidance for your organization? Let’s talk.