Being a change agent is never going out of style.
Today, I’m sharing one of my own guest interviews. It’s with some of my favorite peeps: Jon, Becky, and Julie (aka the We Are For Good team) as part of their series ‘9 Nonprofit Trends That Matter in 2023.’
If you don’t yet know about the We Are For Good podcast, they are THE podcast for changemakers with nearly 400,000 downloads and an infinite, unmeasurable amount of warm fuzzy feels, aha moments, and serious inspiration.
“The reality is, friends, everybody can be a changemaker, and you don’t have to have the microphone and the Nobel prize to be able to do it.” – Becky Endicott
Highlights from the podcast episode:
[02:54] Questions to ask yourself as you work to create change
Becky: I want to do some tone-setting here by starting with a few questions, which I’ve never done before. Raise your hand if you are someone who joined the nonprofit field because you wanted to change the world. Or raise your hand if you are one of those people who simply just want to do good and help with systemic issues and further the great things that grow our communities and our hearts and our lives.
I mean, that is why most of us joined the social impact sector, we believe deeply in this work. So, here’s my challenge to you to gently work toward in 2023: I want you to see your mission as a serious stewardship to make our world a better place, and I want you to know that your voice, your story, your experience, and your ideas are an important thread of that story.
We’re going to be talking about how you step into being a change agent. If you think of thought leadership as being the 1.0, we’re moving into this 2.0 concept of actually lifting our voice. Storytelling is going to be a huge component of finding your voice, but the trick really lies in believing that your knowledge, abilities, voice, and experiences are relevant to diagnosing and really addressing challenges that are facing your organization.
We want to awaken those communities of change. So, let’s figure out how to get active. We want you to know that you have friends here, that will help walk you through it and we’ve got a heck of a guest coming on to talk about it, too.
Jon: I love it, because I feel like this conversation is definitely stacking on the trends that we’ve unpacked, you listened to us riff about “marketing is mission”. The same idea of going deeper into how the marketing we’re doing is actually helping to change the bigger underlying issues that your organization stands to make a change in the world.
So, one of those questions to ask yourself is: “how are we looking beyond the horizon?”. It’s also thinking about “how do we step into the conversations that really start to create change in how systems are?” and starting to build our thought leadership and the way that we engage around that because it does stack with “community is core”, and “surrounding yourself with people who are like-valued”.
It’s when these things start to come together, that’s how we’ll be able to look back in several years and see that that’s how the needle got moved, by stepping bravely into that, threading our own personal story and experience, and showing up in a really authentic way that’s true to the things that really stir our hearts and that keeps us up at it.
Becky: I love that, Jon.
We pitched a question to our community, and it was really a question about bravery: “How are you feeling about stepping into your power?” And I want to tell you, Jon, something that I thought was really interesting, because we’ve got two voices from the community that we wanted to pull in who had great perspectives on this, and both of them are talking about change agency through the evolution of power.
The first one is our dear friend Sterrin Bird one of the most incredible nonprofit professionals. She works over at Salesforce and has been on the We Are For Good podcast. She says we need to speak truth to power, even if it hurts, and even if it isn’t popular. I thought that was a brilliant observation.
Jon: We also love the comments from Alexandria Sampson over at Eventeny. She said, stop making ourselves small as nonprofit advocates. Understand that we have power. This comes through in so many of our conversations, whether it’s how we walk in to a partnership conversation, or how we just feel about stepping into the arena, so to speak, in our thought leadership. We are coming from a place of power. The impact that we’re creating is so meaningful and so important that we should feel that encircle us as we step into it.
[06:40] 8 pro tips to get started on your journey as a change agent
Jon: Let’s jump into some pro tips because getting active is what being a change agent is all about. So, we’ve corralled some pro tips. Becky, where do you want to start with these?
Becky: I have got to start with vision. What we want you to do is rather than just jump and go, take some time to reflect and develop a clear vision for the change that you want to create. And that’s going to start really within you. So, I would use that as a starting point.
Jon: Community is core. So, of course, we’re going to say build strong relationships with those like-minded, like-valued friends, because this is work that you need that kind of camaraderie in the journey because there are days when it’s hard to keep showing up. You also definitely need that accountability as you try to figure out how you can tell your story and what’s going to land and what could be the best way to position things. Just getting feedback and having that open dialogue is going to change the game.
Becky: The third one and you know, it’s coming because it’s here and ever-present all the time, at We Are For Good is storytell from the heart. We believe storytelling is the heartbeat of connection. So, if you can tell the truth, give dignity, talk about the solutions you see, and do that through the lens of authenticity and vulnerability, it is really going to have an amplifying effect, because people are going to see themselves in that story, they’re going to have empathy, or they’re going to have some sort of connection to you, that “Oh, I know. That’s happened in my life, too. I had that feeling too.”
That thing that we’re so afraid to say, could be the thing that is the most empowering thing that draws people to our work to our mission. So, if you’re looking for a starting point, start with your story. Talk about what’s happened in your life, share it through that lens and I guarantee you, it’s going to be an incredible starting point for you.
Jon: We can’t get activated without saying, “Look, friends, we have to take care of ourselves.” Becky and I tell this to each other pretty much on the daily these days, because being in the arena, so to speak, and putting yourself out there can be really exhausting. You have to be surrounded in community, which we’ve already talked about, but just the work by design is not going to be solved by one person. So, we have to come at this from that fundamental belief that taking care of ourselves is the ultimate long game in tackling some of these bigger issues. Spoiler alert that’s coming at you just two weeks away. We’re going to have a whole episode dedicated to prioritizing rest and leaning into that as individuals and as people.
Becky: Before we bring in our guest, I just have to grab all of you out there into my mom embrace and I just want to tell you, you can step into your superpower. You can do that for yourself, bring your team into what you’re seeing and trending, share articles, bring growth into the organization, and all of a sudden you find you’re the change agent that the organization has been waiting for.
Change agency is a collection of voices and it’s not just for nonprofits. These issues impact all of us. We are all instruments in what we care about. So, this is really going to be a celebration of solving multiple issues by being brave and connecting dots. The cool thing is that we can all celebrate it, and with each other, and everything is going to flow from that. We’re going to find friends, we’re going to expand community, we’re going to get more knowledge and understanding and awareness. I hope it will untether empathy in your heart and allow it to spread.
So, I want to just read this quote from Clay Buck really quickly, because I just thought he had such a brilliant insight into this. He says “when you speak the words of generosity into existence, you are creating the power of philanthropy yourself.” We believe this can happen through your change agency, and through your thought leadership, and I just want you to know that you have the ability to do it and you have a community here who’s going to support you.
[12:08] The importance of our relationship with change
Becky: When we were thinking about the expert to bring on for this conversation there was a list of one. We’re here talking about “How do you be a change agent?” and so naturally, we had to find a change agent, and, of course, there are many of you already in our community. So, it is our great joy to bring back a powerhouse, Tania Bhattacharya. She has been on the frontlines of fundraising. She’s been an ED and has been in foundation grants and capital projects. After that experience, she wanted to build something of her own. She is the founder of Lumos Marketing and her superpower is truly lighting up women leaders of color, amplifying their voices, and opening doorways of opportunity and influence.
Tania came on our last year trends, and we were talking about how to step into being a thought leader. So, this conversation today is really the 2.0 of that and it’s about moving from being a thought leader to being a change agent. There is nobody here who understands how to become crystal clear on your niche to provide value and do it and deliver it with radical empathy more than Tania. So, we are so excited she’s here. Welcome back, my friend.
Tania: I am just so humbled, first of all, by that introduction, that is so kind and gracious. I’m going to just listen to that and put it in my High Five File. I’m so grateful to be here. You know, I love you guys. This is going to be fun.
Becky: This is going to be really fun. So, let’s jump right into tone-setting.
When you think about the phrase “we need to be a change agent”. Talk about what kind of impression it leads you through, how can we set the tone for this, and what opportunity can our listeners seize today?
Tania: Well, let me take you on a little bit of a journey here. It’s going to feel like I’m going way up left field, but I’m going to bring it back, I promise you.
We were just talking about how I went to Japan. I had a long flight there and a long flight back. So, I took that time to reread one of my favorite book series, which is The Parable Series by Octavia E. Butler: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.
They’re technically science fiction books. They were published in the 1990s, which now is 30 years ago, I can’t believe it. In these books, in the “far-off” distant future of the 2020s, the US is going through a period of time called the pox, the apocalypse. There’s climate change, there’s police brutality, there’s all this stuff, all while this radical authoritarian President runs and wins on the campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”. It’s like, how was this written 30 years ago?
It was written for our time. It takes place in 2024 onward and it couldn’t be more prophetic. But the reason I’m bringing this up in relation to the theme of being a change agent, is that these books are really about change and our relationship to change.
One of the narrators in the book says the pox or the apocalypse, the situation we’re in was caused by our own refusal to deal with the obvious problems that we cause and then we sat and watched as they grew into crises. Whereas in comparison, the main character of the book, Lauren, shows us what being in the right relationship with change can look like. We watch her activate strangers that she’s meeting on the highway as they flee into supporters of this new ideal future, which in this case happens to be starting fresh and outer space.
I don’t think that has to be our reality, but I think that we can get to this new vision of whatever it is that that looks like, and it might be a little bit different for all of us, by helping people understand their own capacity to be a change agent, their capacity for relationships, their capacity for imagination, and community care.
So, how does that land with you?
Jon: I mean, it hits me between the eyes. I want to juxtapose this with being a lifer in nonprofit. In the missions that I was a part of, not that they weren’t really well-intentioned, playing it safe was the MO. That’s how we brand, that’s how we talk. Everything is about trust and it’s buttoned up.
You’re speaking about our relationship with dealing with problems. Even airing the problems has been a problem. So, second to actually solving and talking about it and being authentic through that, we’re in a reckoning of needing to deal with that on so many levels.
So, that’s how it hits me. We need to sit with that and change the way that we show up as a team to even talk about these things.
Tania: That’s so on point because we didn’t cause these problems. The three of us, the people in the trenches of the nonprofits that are listening to this, we didn’t cause the problem, but I think that if we don’t get into a relationship with the problem that we’re solving and figure out what the new solutions might be and be really open and honest about the problems, we’re just kicking the can down the road for the next generation. That can is going to get larger and heavier and uglier.
We’re not going to ever single-handedly create all the change that our world deserves. We all have a ripple effect that we can spark and that could look a lot of different ways. I’ve talked to our friend Aila Malik about this. She was on my podcast talking about this and how she used to think being a change agent had to look like living in a tree, not shaving your armpits, and holding a sign. No, it can look so many different ways and, at this pivotal crucible moment in our history, everyone has something to offer and contribute.
[16:24] What goes into the practice of being a changemaker
Jon: I love that you go deeper. One of the images you shared with us is this idea of an iceberg, that maybe we see some things, but we need to really understand what’s under the surface that really guides this. I feel that in a conversation like this, that’s so deep, we really do need to examine what is below the surface of being a change agent and what is below the surface of being a thought leader that can cut through in this very moment in time.
Tania: I love that question. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot. When we think of a change agent, when we think of a changemaker, we think of that person getting a Nobel Prize, we think about a person giving a speech in front of millions of people. Even on a smaller scale, even if we’re not thinking of the Obamas or the Malala’s of the world, we’re at least thinking of someone who has a lot of PR opportunities going their way or major funding from a prestigious organization, but there’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears, strategy, time, and work that goes into that and that we don’t see. There’re a lot of things behind the scenes. We talk a lot about self-care, but how do we practice community care? How do we nurture relationships? How do we build habits? How do we shift our mindset? How do we build a personal board of directors, or I like to say a campfire circle? How do we create a strategy around storytelling and make that a habit?
I can go into all those things, but I say them not to dissuade anyone, because it sounds like a lot of work when I say it that way, but instead, I say that for us to consider how can we fall in love with the process and the practice of being a changemaker and of being a thought leader. So often, the nature of this work is that we’re not always going to see the final outcome or the end product of that work. Even bringing it back to The Parable series, Lauren says many times she’s not going to see the fruition of them going into outer space, but she’s doing it anyway because this is what humankind needs in that book.
I come from the mental health space, as you know, and we may never get rid of mental health disorders in my lifetime, but we can fall in love with the practice and the process of working towards that and cherish each success along the way, each win along the way, and just show up as a representative of the change that we want to see in the world so that that change work becomes embodied and we’re almost showing up from a place of living in a world where these things don’t exist. I know that that feels very wispy, but the actions we take are indicative of a different world that we’re working towards. It becomes a daily practice.
Becky: The thing I love so much about what you’re saying Tania is really the democracy and agency that you’re giving everyone. We talk so often on this podcast about how this is a time in history when everybody can be a philanthropist, but the reality is, friends, everybody can be a changemaker. You don’t have to have the microphone and the Nobel prize to be able to do it. You have your own community, wherever you are, whether that’s digitally or physically. You have a perspective, you have a voice, something to say, and your unique lens on your mission, on its people, on harm, on opportunities. Those need to have a voice because we cannot systemically change all of the things that are plaguing our world until we talk about those.
[20:42] One great habit for changemakers
Becky: So, I want to talk about this iceberg because it’s such a great perspective. You’re right, when we think about being a change agent, we’re just thinking about the PR, the public speaking, the invitation to sit on boards, and all of these things, but there’s so much more that’s deep down inside that we have possession over, and I want you to list some of those things for us.
I’ve got a couple that are pulling out at me: storytelling and strategy, which I think are really important. I also think of vulnerability and habits. So, list some others that you think are really important to this community.
Tania: There are so many. I think habits are one of my favorite ones because it’s so deep into the iceberg. I’m a big James Clear and Atomic Habits fan. I have found that when you set up certain change-making habits things just fall into place, and it feels serendipitous. It’s like, Is this mad? What’s happening? No, it’s just you have the system set up so that you are consistently creating change.
Let me give you some examples of habits for changemakers.
Read or consume one interesting piece of information that’s related to your mission or even tangentially related to your mission per week. Then reach out to those people, to the authors or the reporters who have put those pieces together and build a relationship with them. LinkedIn is an easy way to do that. I have been so surprised at who’s willing to respond to my message, but it’s just another human on the other side who’s passionate about the same things you are. So, do that, build a relationship where you can invite them to get involved in your mission in any way that they feel good about, or ask them for recommendations of people that they know who could contribute to your mission.
Do that just once a week, read an interesting piece, build a relationship with the author, and a year from now think of how many dozens, maybe hundreds, more aligned people who have these big audiences, who are already podcasters, thought leaders, authors, reporters you’ll have a relationship with. This way they’re invested in your work, and you’re invested in their work. Just think about what could happen as a result of this tiny habit that could take 10 minutes a week, and this is a fun time because you’re reading something interesting and making a friendship. So, just think about the power of that one little habit.
Jon: We’re all about the energy you’re putting out too and showing up generously. I know when we get that unsolicited feedback, and I know you get this too with just putting yourself out there, it matters because it cuts through the people that just want something. You just reached out to truly either say thank you or to go deeper and not just to platform yourself, but to create the relationship and a connection and there’s a desperate need for more of that in this world.
[23:44] Fears and challenges of stepping into change agency
Jon: Let’s unpack some of the challenges or fears that you have witnessed as leaders step into the arena. Our mutual friend, Tony Alberich, talks about getting into the creative arena in his book. He’s such a great thought leader to follow on LinkedIn too, who puts his flag in the ground around topics that create interest and create discussion. But what are some of the challenges or fears that you have witnessed firsthand and how do we deal with those?
Tania: I want to start this answer with this quote that I often show from Nayyirah Waheed, which is that “the fear of not being enough and the fear of being too much are exactly the same fear, which is the fear of being you.” It’s the fear of being you, it’s the fear of showing up as yourself and not being enough for that moment or that situation.
There’s this keynote that I give about storytelling and I talk about Oprah in it, and usually one of the questions that I get is “Well, I’m not Oprah, though. So, how can this apply to me, to my story, my thought leadership, and my advocacy work when my presence doesn’t have that same impact?” But I want to reframe it a little bit, because none of us need to become Oprah necessarily – that’s a great goal, so go and do that if you want to. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from that – but, again, we tend to compare ourselves against people who have been honing their craft for an entire lifetime and maybe we’re just starting this journey. So, you can become an Oprah-like figure for your audience. That inspiring, caring, and visionary changemaker, who’s painting that picture of a different world so that other people can see it and feel it and want to join them in that mission and that vision.
There’s no way you can do this wrong. If you’re showing up in service of your vision, with care, and building relationships with people who have an aligned vision to yours you really can’t do this wrong, you can’t fail.
Becky: The thing that we’ve heard the most in our community is about the hesitation of becoming a change agent, and I would love to get your perspective on this. People are not sure if their boss, their board, and the people who are in their professional network are going to support them when they’re talking about their own beliefs, their own experiences, and their own thought leadership. I want to hold space for that very real feeling, but I would love to get your perspective on this. We think that organizations, individuals, and leaders have so much power in their voice, but I don’t even think you have to be a leader, I think you can be two months into your nonprofit job and be thought leader, because you have seen some things, you have experienced some impact, and you have seen it on the front line.
[26:33] Practical advice for becoming a change agent
Becky: So, talk to us about some practical ways that listeners could get started and move toward being a change agent within their thought leadership.
Tania: I always bring it back to storytelling and that’s one of the things under the iceberg that we haven’t fully gotten into. I recently learned this story about a storytelling campaign, which is so funny, but I think that this will answer the question in a little bit of a roundabout way.
In 2018, in Ireland, the abortion ban was overturned. This was a really, really big deal because it was a surprise that it was overturned. People came out in full force and overwhelming numbers to vote. After the vote, a majority of people who were polled about what changed their minds from a ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes’ vote, in terms of repeal, pointed to a one-on-one conversation that they had with family or friends.
This wasn’t an accident. It was really part of this grassroots advocacy campaign, where 1000s of people who had experiences with abortion, broke their silence and started talking about it and inspired other people to speak up. At that time, abortion had been banned since the 80s, so just about everyone had some kind of story to share, whether it was in their own lived experience, or friends’ or something like that, but it was so shrouded in stigma, silence, and secrecy, much like many of the issues we work on. If our issues weren’t stigmatized, there’d be plenty of funding and opportunity for them. These stories really turned the issue around.
So, one super practical way to start thinking about this is really to just start reflecting on your own story, and I always like to ask it in terms of: “what have you grown through to become the guide you are today?” Just reflect on that question. Life moves so fast that we rarely have time to really sit and reflect and think about that, but it’s Pisces season. It’s a time of connection, of emotion, of relationships, of being fully connected to ourselves, so just take a bath, take a nap, and just journal on what you have grown through to become the guide you are today, and I promise that will set you on the path if you’re not already.
[28:52] Tapping into your own story can be your superpower
Jon: I just love watching you do your thing too, Tania. You guide so many people and I see this. I’ve witnessed and watched this happen, you giving people the confidence to believe in themselves and to know that their story does matter and then to be a guide to that person that may be going through what they’ve encountered when maybe you’re just a couple of steps ahead.
I just think there’s so much power in realizing that each of us, when you’re ready to use it in that way, what a superpower our story can be. So, I don’t know if you want to throw out a case study of someone you’ve worked with or just maybe just helping us understand when the right time is to go in and tap into some of these maybe sensitive stories that we want to share to help others.
Tania: I’m so glad you brought that up because I can be a little intense about this, but at the same time, I very much think that it’s all in your own time and it’s a highly personal decision of when it is that you’re going to start sharing your story.
I think that a great case study would actually be the first client I ever worked with. I love her and she was my friend before we started working together. She was the wife of one of our board members at the organization I worked for, and she has the trifecta of experience. She has the professional experience, she’s an attorney. She has the educational experience, she’s an adjunct professor. But the part of her experience that she didn’t often speak to that much because she thought it devalued her prestige, and she thought it devalued how people would perceive her or take her seriously, was her lived experience.
She has lived experience in the child welfare foster care system, the systematic family separation system, as she sometimes calls it. She has shared a lot with me that I had no idea about, like some of the carceral roots of that system, and she has made it her life’s work to really share the message, share her story, to spread awareness so that more families who are currently going through this family separation experience can reunite and maneuver the system. She has an eventual goal of abolishing the system but is currently working within the system because it’s what we have.
We worked together two years ago, and she just texted me a couple of weeks ago and it was essentially like the tools that you shared with me have just now really kicked into gear. I found myself sharing my story in front of this really professional audience and I felt fully empowered and I felt fully able to share my story. I didn’t feel like trauma porn. It didn’t feel like the Oppression Olympics. I was just there standing in my power and standing in my story at the same time, and I could see how people’s minds and hearts were starting to shift as a result. Because, again, you can’t argue against someone’s lived experience. You just can’t. You can argue about whether or not abortion is right or wrong, but you can’t argue against their story, you just can’t.
Becky: That is IT right there, and I want to give another pro tip for this because you really made me think about it.
If you need a starting point, friends, write down your story. Then, go find a friend. Find somebody that you trust and respect, perhaps somebody in your own industry, perhaps it’s just a friend, and ask for an accountability buddy in this journey. I think if you are both pushing each other a little bit and saying I’m thinking about writing about this or I’m thinking about sharing this, but I’m afraid of this, because saying your fears out loud helps, at least for me.
Jon has done this for me for almost 20 years, I’ll voice some of my fears and Jon will say, “Oh, I didn’t think about it in that way at all. I thought it was more X, Y, and Z, and I see it’s empowering in this way.” Having a person to do that with is going to give you some armor, it’s going to give you a shield. Then, you find out that your story is your superpower, and because of how you share it and how vulnerably you can show up – and that vulnerability is underneath your iceberg, which I love – it’s going to draw people to you who want to know more, who share that same story in some particular way and I think it’s community building, and it’s heart expanding.
Change agency is something that feels really intimidating for us in the nonprofit sector. It’s because we’ve been living on the margins of scarcity in everything we do, in the way we operate, the way we look at our budgets, and the way that we think about innovation, but your story could be your superpower. It is going to draw people to you and allow you to change the world in a way, big or small, that connects you to people who also want to change the world in that way.
So, thank you for even sharing that incredible story and God bless that attorney working in child welfare, she’s got a mountain of a job ahead of her.
Tania: Mic drop moment. As you just said so perfectly and beautifully, I love the idea of finding a buddy to do this with because that brings in that element of community care too. We can’t do any of this work alone, it is impossible. None of these big visions will get accomplished on our own and we’ll burn out if we try. So, find that buddy, find that community. You do such a great job, all of you, of creating a community around that at We Are For Good.
Becky: Community of care is one of my new favorite phrases. So, thank you for saying that, and thank you for your nice comments.
Jon: Tania, this has far exceeded what I knew was going to be an epic conversation, but you know how we start to wind down all of our episodes, we ask for you one good thing. So, what’s something, a piece of advice maybe, that relates to our topic today that you leave with our listeners?
Tania: I got to bring it back full circle to these books that I’ve read – Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents – because, again, they are just such a wonderful manual for change work. There are verses all throughout the books that speak to our relationship with change, our ability to shape change and to be changed shaped by it as a result. I knew this question was coming, so I wrote it off to the side. So, here it is: “Kindness eases change. Love quiets fear and a sweet and powerful positive obsession blunts pain, diverts rage, and engages each of us in the greatest, the most intense of our chosen struggles.”
Why I love that so much is that we all get to have a sweet and positive powerful obsession in our lifetime and what is that chosen struggle? Whatever that is we get to pick. We have full agency over what we want to be that changemaker in. So, what is that?
What if that’s what we all asked each other instead of “what do you do for work?” What if we asked each other: “What’s your chosen struggle?” or “What is the sweet and powerful positive obsession of your life?” What a different world we would have because we’d be rooted in the legacy work, we’d be rooted in a process of self-actualization and of leaving the world a little bit better than we found it, and doing it with kindness and with love is really the key to all of it.
Resources from this episode:
14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your personal brand and thought leadership, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your professional audience on LinkedIn.
I mentioned putting Becky’s introduction in my High Five File, where I keep track of client testimonials, positive speaker feedback, and DM’s to boost my confidence and my content. If you want to have one of your own, download your free High Five File Notion template here.
Find out all about Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents here.
We Are For Good Podcast:
LinkedIn: We Are For Good
Connect with Becky Endicott:
LinkedIn: Becky Endicott, CFRE
Connect with Jonathan McCoy:
LinkedIn: Jon McCoy, CFRE
Connect with me:
LinkedIn: Tania Bhattacharyya