The Business of Nonprofits
Amanda Brinkman is a producer, branding expert, and public speaker who shares her “Do Well By Doing Good” philosophy around the country. Amanda joined Chanda for a live conversation at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ 2022 Annual Conference. Together, they explored the current state of the nonprofit sector and the power of authentic leadership.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:00
Hello, it is Chanda Smith Baker with Conversations with Chanda. On this episode I will be speaking with Amanda Brinkman. This conversation is a bit special as it is in partnership with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits invited me to host a conversation in front of their live audience at their first live conference since 2019, which they held at the River Center. So this conversation took place in front of nearly 1000 people. And Amanda and I sat in two comfy chairs in front of them and had the conversation you are about to hear. I hope you enjoy it. And I will catch you on the other side.
Souphak Kienitz 00:42
You’re listening to conversations with Chanda a Minneapolis Foundation podcast that unpacks the community’s grittiest most vexing problems, hosted by Chanda Smith Baker.
Chanda Smith Baker 00:55
Hey, Amanda, good morning. Good morning community. This is such a pleasure to be here with you today. I was thinking not only is it your first in person conference in 2019. It is also my first live conversation since 2019. So there’s a lot of first happening. So it’s quite an honor. And I’m in philanthropy, but I have spent the majority of my career in the nonprofit sector. This is my people that I’m talking in front of today. So it’s, it’s a pleasure. It’s a pleasure. So Amanda, thank you for agreeing. And when you agreed, you did not anticipate being in front of an audience. So thank you for making the shift. Absolutely. And so I want to just jump into the conversation that we’ll have. And then we will open it up to questions at the end. And feel free to ask questions to either Amanda or myself. I think we’re both open to that. Yes, yes, absolutely. Okay, so the first thing I want to do is just acknowledge a birthday that’s happening today, which is George Floyd’s I think it’s important to do that. Because it was a moment that I know shifted. Many of our worlds certainly shifted the sector, it’s shifted our community, it shifted my life for sure. I want to just acknowledge a man whose daughter said, My daddy’s going to change the world. And it’s his birthday today. And I want to know how his his life and his death maybe has shifted your life?
Amanda Brinkman 02:37
Well, thank you for asking the question. And yes, happy birthday. Because he has changed the world, especially being from Minnesota, the way it has changed my life is I think, you know, a lot of us have talked about was his death going to be his murder going to be a moment? Or is this a moment where we really can rise up as a society and change these things that should not still be things that were plagued with. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve personally been trying to just do the work to understand not just my whiteness and my privilege, but to understand how you play an active role in the way forward, specifically as a Minneapolis and St. Paul community. I mean, the world was watching us we are ground zero for this social reckoning that we see the world so grappling with and going through, I’ve been very hopeful with with how I’ve seen our community rise up in the face of an opportunity to be leaders in showing how we’re going to move forward. And not just participating in kind of that hashtag activism, but truly investing in real sustaining long term change. And I think it’s really up to all of us to figure out what is our platform? What is our opportunity? How can we really affect change within our immediate circle, we can all change everything that needs to change, but we can change those around us, we can change ourselves, we can use our tools and resources to make positive change. And so for me, that has changed my life is just really understanding that we all have a role to play in our way forward, not just as Minneapolis, but as a society.
Chanda Smith Baker 04:09
At that time. You were at a Deluxe Corp And you were doing this Small Business Revolution. And I want to talk a little bit about that. But at that time, that was your platform. And you decided in season six, to bring that work home. Can you talk about why and can you talk about what season six was?
Amanda Brinkman 04:32
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking. So for those who might not be familiar with the Small Business Revolution, it was an unscripted reality show where each season we would revitalize a different community’s Main Street through its small businesses. So it was essentially a small business makeover show. So every episode we’d work with a different business and would help them with things like their marketing and their finances and operations. But it wasn’t the reality show in the way that we’d drummed up drama. It was really about walking alongside these entrepreneurs, and helping them live their passion by helping with some of the things that don’t always come naturally to entrepreneurs. And so for the first five seasons, it took place in different small towns across the United States. And there was a whole process for people to nominate their town, and then people would vote. And it was a really exciting process over a year to figure out what small town we were going to go to, and then each season would take place in that winning town. And we’d invest half a million dollars in revitalizing the Main Street and then work with six key businesses within the town. So I give that context just to share that then for season six, we decided to bring it home to Minneapolis and St. Paul. And instead of just featuring one Main Street, we chose six different communities or neighborhoods within the Twin Cities that perhaps have been underestimated in the past, and chose to feature all black owned businesses across the Twin Cities. And for us, that was really important, because I think after George Floyd’s murder, I think everybody was trying to decide how to participate in positive change, and what was kind of the right role, especially for big companies to play, you know, how do you participate in that conversation, we were just really passionate about not trying to play in a lane that we didn’t have any business. And there’s a lot of things we need to address as a society around systemic racism. We as a company didn’t have any role to play in access to health care, or police reform or anything like that. But one of the ways forward around racial injustice is economic empowerment and building up our entrepreneurs. And for us, the Small Business Revolution was a demonstration we know how to do that we had been doing that for for a number of years. And so we felt like that was the right lane to play in in for us, it wasn’t just about lip service in the response to it, it was bringing our platform and our resources to be able to address one of the ways forward. So for us, it was a real honor to be able to invest in the incredible entrepreneurs here in the Twin Cities and highlight their stories on this platform. The show was on Hulu, and season six was actually nominated for an Emmy. So it was it was wonderful to show the positive change. The whole purpose of the show has always been more than just making a TV show, it was really about creating a movement to help people understand the importance of supporting small businesses within our communities, and to highlight what a ripple effect they have within their neighborhoods and communities. And so that was what was so wonderful about season six was to show how these incredible black owned businesses are not just providing an incredible experience through their business, but they are active members and driving their community forward. And to celebrate what they’re doing to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Chanda Smith Baker 07:34
I think what struck me in watching the episodes that I watched is, number one, how similar the small businesses are to the nonprofit sector. That while the missions the tax structure might be different, but in many ways, just the idea of the under investment or not thinking as much around the marketing, the branding, those investments, the personal stories of struggle and what they’re thinking through in terms of the business. And do you see those comparisons? And what might be useful for this this audience?
Amanda Brinkman 08:10
Absolutely. So part of what we always used to talk about is the reason that we’re helping with these things is because most small businesses did not start their business because they couldn’t wait to build a website or to figure out what the heck SEO is, or to manage their social media. And I think it’s all about because they had a skill set or something that they wanted to bring to their community. They love making crepes or they think it’s really important to provide early childhood education to underestimated communities, just really feeling really passionate about how health and wellness is important. And so I think the same thing is true in the nonprofit space, you know, the at the core, there is a mission there. And why would that possibly be if you are someone who’s dedicated your life to making other people’s lives better through your vocation? Why would that mean that you are also really an expert at marketing, or at finances and accounting and operations. And so I think the most important thing that we learned is that, or that we see entrepreneurs learning is that you just can’t wear all the hats, but it’s expensive to not wear all the hats and to not do all of those things. But we saw a lot of businesses try to figure out, you know, could we share resources with other small businesses? Do we have to have someone in charge of HR and marketing and finances right here at our business or in this case in nonprofit? Or can we share those resources with another organization and kind of maximize those core principle operational roles in order to make sure that the mission is reaching more people? As an entrepreneur as a as a nonprofit leader? Your time is as valuable resource as your fiscal dollars. And so where is your time best spent? Is it in advancing the mission? Is it business development? Is it fundraising? Is it staff development? Is it been within in community wherever your time is best spent to advance the mission? How do you make sure that you have an infrastructure that’s affordable, but allows you to spend time on the things you should be spending time on.
Chanda Smith Baker 10:06
Yeah. Okay, so fundraising. So let’s talk about that. So, I spend a lot of time with probably many of you, and many of your peers in the nonprofit space with pitching ideas. There are a lot of pitches that start with restating the problem. And I find it to be really fascinating. Some of those pitches are very hard for me to listen to. And some of them are more inspiring to listen to. I’ll give you an example. And hopefully, this is a helpful example, there’s often times people will come in, and they’ll start out with talking about the disparities. And they’ll have a 30 minute meeting. And they’ll spend 15 to 20 minutes talking about the disparities and what’s happening in brown and black communities. And I often want to interrupt and say, so I’m brown. And I work in the space. And so I’m familiar with this. And I would love for them to start out with a vision. And so can you say a little bit about just the storytelling element? Sometimes I think we spend a lot of time restating the problem and not casting out the inspiring story. And I think it’s very interesting in terms of what brand does our storytelling. And I, there’s a little bit of confusion, or I’m confused on say this between branding, marketing and storytelling. So can you help us with a distinction between those three things?
Amanda Brinkman 11:23
Sure, absolutely. So brand is, is all of it, it is your end of your public experience is what people think when they think of your organization. Brand elements are the very tactical, your, your fonts, the typography, you use the kind of photography, your colors, the brand voice of your copy on your website, and things like that. Those are the brand elements, but your brand is that entire experience. Marketing is the actual effort of outreach and getting in front of people and growing audience. And then storytelling can be one of the ways in which you do the marketing, it can be one of the elements. And in storytelling, I think to your point is the most powerful piece. It’s about outcomes. And I think specifically so when I was at Deluxe, at one point, I was running our foundation, and you’re right, the pitches vary. In general, I think from a corporate perspective, we have to rethink the grant process, it would it would break my heart to see how much time was spent writing these long grants that at Deluxe, we did our diligence of reading them, of course, and we had, you know, a team of employees that would review them, it wasn’t just a couple of people making a decision, it was a wide range of a diverse set of employees making these decisions about where the funding would go. But I think I think there’s some reform needed in terms of how we think about in in review grants. But that aside, it is about being outcome based, but it’s also about helping the organization see how they’re going to be a part of the solution. So, you’re right, the disparities are an important kind of context setting. But that can’t be the end of the story. I think, specifically in the corporate world, there’s this sense of fear of shame and kind of being called out as not doing the right things. There’s this opportunity, everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of a solution, whether we’re talking about fundraising, or just us as humans, you want to feel like you’re a part of positive change. So how can you help that corporation or that foundation, think about how they can play a role in the future. And I think there’s an opportunity actually to be much more creative than just fiscal resources, I was just talking earlier about, you know, marketing resources and financial resources in HR, instead of all of us as nonprofit organizations trying to have that infrastructure of kind of that operational structure, maybe there’s a company out there that they’ve already assigned their foundation dollars, or maybe they’ve got, you know, specific causes or categories that they’re going to be giving towards in your organization doesn’t necessarily fall within those pillars. But maybe they have employees that have a heart for your mission, and they want to help you out with some HR stuff, or their social media team will sit down with your team and help you come up with a content calendar. I think there’s an opportunity to be creative about what we’re asking for. And think about it all, as fundraising doesn’t always think have to just be dollars, dollars go far. But I think there are opportunities, if we’re only asking for dollars, we’re just leaving some opportunity on the table to advance our mission through other kinds of resources. And corporate environments have just so many resources beyond the dollars. And so, I think there’s an opportunity right now in this space to think more creatively about what we’re asking of companies.
Chanda Smith Baker 14:29
Yeah, I agree with that. So, for the piece that you set aside, in terms of you think that there’s an opportunity for some reforms. Do you have any specific suggestions on what those might be?
Amanda Brinkman 14:41
Yeah, I think marketing is a huge one. I think a lot of people who go into marketing and branding, it’s obviously the career path that I chose. I just look around and my colleagues we all we all are doing it because we want to connect with people. I mean, communication is at the core of what marketing and branding and advertising is, is about figuring out how to cut act with other people and to make sure that you’re being clear about what you’re trying to do that is kind of the core of that, that that skill set or that industry, is I think people within the marketing space want to be helpful. And so, whether you’re recruiting someone to your board with a marketing perspective, that’s one of the best ways to do it, just get some on your board who is in a senior role in a marketing organization. And then they’ll just I, I’ve just seen it happen, I’ve done it like, then you just you offer up your team and, you know, in a volunteer capacity to help out with some of those pieces? And so, I think, yeah, I think those are the opportunities, I think it’s to think through asking for advice. And, you know, some corporations might not want to sign up for, you know, a certain number of hours. But just even having that counsel or that consulting for a few hours with your team can go a long way in terms of those best practices. And as much as much as corporate has its opportunities to just be better. There is something to be said, for the efficiency and operational kind of rigor that comes from the corporate world or the business sector. And if some of those same principles can be applied to the heart and mission at the nonprofit world has, I mean, that’s where we’re gonna see seismic change. That’s where we really see things move forward.
Chanda Smith Baker 16:17
Yeah. And vice versa, I think as well, right? What call out because you talked about the call out a little bit. And so I think it’s really interesting, because I think that there has been places and spaces that we have been in where we have seen injustice happen, where we haven’t actually called things to the carpet. Do you think that we have gotten better in our corporate space and our community spaces of actually calling to the carpet? Those injustice? Have you seen that change happen? Do you think it’s staying and sticking since 2020?
Amanda Brinkman 16:55
You know, I can only speak to the environment that I’ve been in. But I’m hopeful that we’re starting to see that I think we’re starting to realize that there’s a tonality to the calling out on the carpet, that is a really important nuance to the conversation, I think, I think it goes back to what we were just talking about where people want to feel like they’re a part of the solution, I think it’s about pointing out ways in which a company has behaved well and encouraging more of that, than kind of the shaming, I think, as a human being, we’re so afraid to find out the things that we’re doing wrong. It’s why we’re so homogenous, as as people as humans, we want to spend time with other people who believe what we believe, who think like we do, because we’re just terrified to find out that maybe we’ve been seeing the world wrong, or we’ve been making the wrong decisions, or we have the wrong perspective. And so I think it’s about in the corporate environment, the companies that are doing it, right, are really encouraging a variety of voices to the table, not asking those voices to be the watchdogs, but are asking for the perspective from those journeys. So, what I mean by that is, you can’t just ask some, you can’t just have racial diversity at a table, and then just hope that each person from that community can represent the voice of that entire community and has a responsibility to say when the company is getting it wrong, I think it’s about encouraging the conversation at the table. And I think companies are getting better at that. I think the other thing too, to understand about specifically racial injustice is we saw this a lot like when we were doing the community listening around season six, we definitely wanted to make sure that what we were doing was, was certainly a long term sustaining solution. And honoring to the black community that we were not seen as trying to be white saviors that we weren’t trying to just kind of capitalize on the moment, we really, truly wanted to create something that was sustaining and impactful. So, we did a lot of community listening. You know, one of the things that I think I took back to the team through that listening was there’s this tonality around like if you’re serving black and brown communities that it is somehow a charitable effort that there is like a benevolence to that. And that’s just bullshit like that’s just that’s not that’s not It’s not
Chanda Smith Baker 19:14
this is why the podcast has X rating or whatever we have. Sorry. Oh, that was fine. I actually appreciate that it does anyway.
Amanda Brinkman 19:25
That was that was something so when you’re talking about corporate engagement again, right, I you know, I was really proud of Deluxe how it wasn’t not every employee was on every community listening call and meeting with me, but they were really I would report back all the things that we were learning and it was the the lexicon of language that we were using needed to shift the language in the way we were thinking about the work like, I think it’s just really important to just keep sharing what you’re hearing with each other versus kind of finger pointing. Even if that feels like what you want to do. I think it’s just really about continuing to try and grow together and try to stay away from the shaming piece because bring people along.
Chanda Smith Baker 20:01
So one of the episodes in season six with Lip Esteem, the logo was a picture of it looked like an African American person, which was representing the brand. If I recall this correctly, it was sort of your team providing input that it might look to narrowing for the expansive role that she wanted in terms of where she was trying to go. And what she said was, is that for years and years forever, black and brown folks have been buying products with white faces on it. And why then wouldn’t white folks buy brands with black faces on it? I remember the pause you had and you were like, absolutely correct. So it was a moment that gave you pause. And you all went with that brand logo? Correct? Correct. And you did not edit that out? Why?
Amanda Brinkman 20:56
Well, it’s not as if that wasn’t a discussion, right. And specifically, I could have been afraid that in that moment, I was appearing on woke to what she was saying, by even making the recommendation of a different logo, I was representing the team’s recommendations, I could have had fear around keeping that scene in for how I would be seen, which could have been specifically just personally devastating, because I had been working so hard to make sure we were getting this work, right. And that I was truly understanding the routine of where we needed to come from on this and how to think about it. But I, but it was, it’s probably the most important scene of the entire season, and the one that people point out the most. And so I think it was important, we obviously left it in, but it was about me. And in that moment, and Deluxe having to say, we need to take the risk of how this might appear in order to show and demonstrate what difficult conversations look like. Because I think we have been talking so long, even like even pre–George Floyd’s murder, we’re having these difficult conversations. But if you don’t model them, I think it’s really hard for people to understand, like what those look like and what is that actually, it was just really important to leave in a moment that we were modeling what that looks like, and hopefully modeling how you’re you should react to it and allow your opinion to be changed and swayed.
Chanda Smith Baker 22:19
Yeah, I would, I would suggest that this has an audience that that lives in those difficult moments. I think part of their storytelling opportunity is to showcase them perhaps more often, the difficulties of perhaps the neighbors that they’re working with that are having challenging conversations with their employers or with their child’s school or challenging policies that are eliminating their ability to move forward in life. What guidance would you offer for them to tell a captivating story that captures the work? Because I do think that part of the the evolution of storytelling, excuse me in the nonprofit sector, I think is moving from it being perhaps around this is what the lead being the organization to the lead being who you’re helping. Maybe that’s the evolution? I’m not sure. But could you provide any advice on how to perhaps capture those stories?
Amanda Brinkman 23:17
Yeah, I think that I think that’s why storytelling is so powerful. I mean, it there’s, there’s some element of like, as a marketer, it’s almost a bit seems a bit silly that we feel like happened upon something we’ve been calling it storytelling, like storytelling is not like a new marketing term. When you think about it, storytelling is as old as time like that is how forever we have passed along values and lessons and history. I mean, storytelling is what it is, because we love stories, we it’s just so much more powerful than to say, you know, $100 will make a difference in someone’s lives versus $100 will provide this, this and this, and it will have this outcome for this person like to make it tangible, whether it’s a personal philanthropy or it’s a large corporate grant, I think by the more you can make it tangible in terms of what that outcome will be in who it will directly affect, the more powerful it is. I mean, we want to hear and feel like what we’re doing is having a lasting impact in people’s lives.
Chanda Smith Baker 24:21
Yeah, I wasn’t here yesterday, but I was watching Twitter, and Leanne Littlewolf apparently said in her keynote, she asked, What are your stories? What did you learn? What did you innovate? And how did you remain resilient, which I really loved? And I think that is the case of being able to reflect on those moments. So another thing that I thought about so when I was the CEO of Pillsbury United communities, that organization when I became CEO was 140 years old. And one of the things I thought quite a bit about is how do you take an organization that is that that old and make it new in the eyes of funders? How do you make it relevant to people? And so you worked with some businesses that had been in communities for a while, and that were struggling? So how do you take something that is, is core to a community and create new energy? That’s one question. And then conversely, well, let’s stop there. So how, you know, what advice would you have for folks that, you know, how do you continue to innovate and see new possibilities?
Amanda Brinkman 25:28
So, my favorite idea around innovation and nonprofit space is, is their opportunity to create something that is revenue generating, that does not rely on just pure philanthropy, like, can you diversify your business model beyond just dollars coming in, I’ll circle back to what I fully mean by that. But in the past, it has been so binary, like either you are a nonprofit that does good in the world, and you rely on other people’s generosity, or you are a big business that makes money and has quarterly results, and that your mission is just to make money. And I think we’re seeing a blurring of those lines. And we are seeing more especially in entrepreneurship, almost every business that is started now has some sort of social impact or social good related to it, everything from your classic, you know, buy a pair of socks, and we’ll give away a pair of socks to a percentage of our revenue or income or profits. We’re just seeing that social kind of heart at the core of business. But that’s in the new business spaces in the entrepreneurship space. So big businesses, especially ones that are that have great legacies and are publicly traded, it is really, really hard for them to reimagine their business model in the reverse and suddenly put heart at the core of it, and have that goodness baked into the business model because they their business isn’t structured that way the business model doesn’t support it. But they are rushing to try and figure out how they can be more mission based in the nonprofit space like you already have that. Like you’re living you’re living your life and your vocation, making a difference in people’s lives. Like there are all sorts of people in corporate that are so jealous of the fact that you get to wake up every day knowing without a doubt that you’re doing something good in the world. And so is there an opportunity to just wait bigness is trying to figure out how to get good or
Chanda Smith Baker 27:22
Good more better?
Amanda Brinkman 27:23
Better at being doing good in the world? Is there an opportunity for nonprofits to think differently about how they bring income into the mission into the cause? Is there a product or a service that you could be creating, that generates revenue, the populations and communities that you serve? Is there an opportunity for them to participate in some sort of commerce? That is a fundraising element to it, instead of just waiting for big business to or people to provide dollars? Is there a way to do both with philanthropy will always be at the core of that? And is there a different way to think about that business model? And I obviously don’t have all the answers. But I just think that there’s something there.
Chanda Smith Baker 28:02
I think that’s interesting. And I’ve been in a lot of spaces where I agree with you that there’s people in corporate space that get involved in our sector, because they are missing, sort of their connection to community, and they want to be involved with good work, right? Like they want to do gooder, or they want to do better, right, like they want to get engaged. They do that often without proximity, and connection to community in ways that can be disruptive. I guess my push on that would be with that recognition. And with the conversation we had around corporate philanthropy. I think it’s possible that they could be doing corporate philanthropy different in service to the sector. Right, that the requirements are often not in service to us doing better on behalf of community. Would you agree with that, or no?
Amanda Brinkman 29:04
I would. And I think if I’m understanding the question correctly.
Chanda Smith Baker 29:08
There’s too many requirements for what we’re trying to get done.
Amanda Brinkman 29:11
Yes, yes. Yes. And I think I think there’s also opportunity for there’s nothing like boots on the ground, there’s nothing like actually being in community to understand the mission. And I think even I serve on a number of nonprofit boards. And then there’s also a number of nonprofits that I could serve in a board capacity, but I want to stay a volunteer, like Special Olympics, for example, is really, really it means so much to me. And so I love to volunteer at the games. There are other organizations I serve on the board where I understand that it is my personal philanthropy, it is my access to corporate dollars, it is my network at the gala, all those things. I understand my role as a board member, and then obviously, from a governance perspective, and so I’m happy to serve in that capacity for some, and then in some, it’s like, I don’t want to get too far away from the mission. And I think that it’s really important that We think about our boards that way. And in we think about, just as you’re out networking with folks invite them to come to an actual event, invite them to actually, you know, I could donate to a food shelf, or I could go to the source on Tuesdays, and like, actually fill grocery carts and watch cars drive up and feel the impact differently, right, like, and so I feel like the more we can reach into the corporation, and just and not even ask for dollars, just ask for time. And then once they experience the mission in work, and once they are, are in contact with the community being served. You don’t even have to you don’t even have to ask for dollars, like it’ll just come or resources. And so I think it’s about, I think it’s about that personal experience. And so I think actually relates to storytelling. So, it’s not just about necessarily agree with putting the story together, but it’s actually allowing for the person to live it and to experience the story of the impact of the organization as well.
Chanda Smith Baker 31:00
Yeah. So, both of us love living in this space of creativity. And what I will say is that the last couple of years have been hard. I don’t know if they’ve been hard for y’all. But it’s been hard for me. And it’s in those hard moments that I see creativity the most. And, and it’s also the hardest to sort of find that energy. I don’t know about for you. But you know, can you say anything about sort of what creativity can do in those moments?
Amanda Brinkman 31:39
Absolutely. I think it’s interesting how creativity oftentimes, or innovation, kind of overused word, but, but there’s really no other word for that continuous kind of creativity brought to change. Lasting change sometimes happens in these high pressure moments, right, like, like diamonds are created in high pressure situations. And so I think, specifically, we saw this a lot in the entrepreneurship space. And I think it’s true of all business sectors, where, you know, during the pandemic, it forced businesses to think differently about their business model, we had to do away with the peripheral distractions, whether it’s services or products or ideas and just focus on the core. And I think that kind of fiscal diligence and focus and vision diligence, actually was really healthy for companies and nonprofits where, what are we really good at? Who are we really serving? How are we the most effective and let go of the outside distractions and just focus on those so we can keep people employed, and we can continue to serve. And so I think, finding out a way to like have that be a lasting wave of change coming out of the pandemic, I think, is actually really healthy. And I think creativity comes from that too. You know, we all had to figure out, you know, in the spring of 2020, how to, here’s another overused word, but pivot, like, how do you how do you continue to serve? How do you continue to stay open? And I think that that forced creativity is something that while it felt very stressful at the time, and very uncertain, if we look back, there was still a certain magic to the just everybody was trying to figure it out. And there was a common understanding. And so I think it’s about trying to figure out how do you harness that kind of piece of it and not lose that? How do we let that be a silver lining of what we’ve gone through? And, and bring that creativity every day and just continue to kind of think about things from the outside. And,
Chanda Smith Baker 33:38
Amanda, do you have a question for me?.
Amanda Brinkman 33:42
Yes. Okay, so, we both have the honor to attend the Lizzo concert, and we did together earlier this week. So, um, so I want to I want to know what you thought. I have some thoughts.
Chanda Smith Baker 33:58
So I knew Okay, so okay. I knew about two Lizzo songs. And I decided to go and I was impressed. I was impressed. Okay, she’s good. Yeah. Yeah. She was good. I knew she played a flute because of TikTok. And, um, and I knew that there was a lot going on around body image. I was so impressed with her talent. And there was a moment that she got quite emotional about the support she received from the city that was so consistent with how I know this place to be that she went from sleeping on a couch to selling out Xcel, that there were these moments of empowerment that I think we all need to hear about that, you know, in this space, like leadership is so hard. Like leadership is hard. And I don’t care how visible you are, I don’t care what role you’re in, like, you need to have the hashtag, you know, like, do not mess with me today hashtag that just allows you to power up and to hit the next meeting with a level of confidence that you can slay the day. And I just, I just love her energy. And I’m a fan. It was a good night.
Amanda Brinkman 35:34
I think, agreed. It was a good night, it was a good night. Um, I agree. I certainly knew about her advocacy work around body image. But what I felt was really incredible was that she used like every break between songs to just advocate for self love, and that that arena was so hungry for it, and so thirsty for it. And I don’t think it was just here in St. Paul that night. I think it is like humans are not okay, like we are hurting right now coming out of these last few years. And I think that there is this, I think we’re at a risk right now at this at this stage where life has kind of gone back to normal somehow. And we’re supposed to just be back. But we’re not and things aren’t quite normal. And we’re we’re not completely back. But we stopped talking about it as much as we used to, like during 2020. We talked we acknowledged it, we acknowledged how weird this was and what we’re going through and, and now it’s like our kids are back in sports. And we’re back in their morning commutes and we’re back in person with things but not all the time.
Chanda Smith Baker 36:42
But it was a surface acknowledgement from my point of view. I mean, I don’t know if you all felt that way. But I felt like it was a surface acknowledgement. I did not feel the level of grief that I was sitting in, was fully acknowledged. And it was it was quite challenging. I think our sector is hurting. And it was our go-time. Many of us are so proximate to the work, like we’re serving and were hurting. It’s almost like when the tornado happened in 2011. And it was the same time I became the CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. And I had become the CEO about 20 days beforehand. And my house had almost got hit, I see my cousin Sherry that ran over to my house, and like pieces of my roof had came out. And then you know, then I was asked the next day to help like, you know, with the recovery when my house is in recovery, and I’m in a hotel, it felt that way, right? Like you’re in the middle of a storm while you’re trying to help recover at the same time. And so now I feel like I’m in a bit of a recovery. And I think the sector is feeling that way is trying to figure out and while you’re trying to pivot and do all the things, we need to be thinking quite differently. And I think this is why I felt like it was important to think about the storytelling element. Because I don’t think we have quite told the complete story. And I think the stories are remaining the same in some ways as they were before. And there’s another story, there’s more depth to what I think we could be sharing as a sector
Amanda Brinkman 38:21
100% I completely agree. Well said As always, I think the other thing too, is to really remember that your story really matters, like your experience over these last two years was unique to you. And we have all just experienced and are still experiencing a level of trauma that we couldn’t have anticipated that no one had the footing to figure out and I think what was really hard at least for me and then specifically if you’re serving communities that were really hurting during that time and are still feeling the effects of it. Anytime I would feel like I was having a down day and I was struggling I would then beat myself up about the fact that I still had a job I knew where my next meal was coming from no one in my family had been like had died from COVID or had experienced great hospitalization so then I would like spend this time like guilt shaming myself around what is wrong with the minister. What’s wrong with you, me like went like pull it together? Like why are you feeling bad right now like you are fine look at these communities that are not and I can’t imagine what you guys were going through where you were so close to other people who were experiencing such a desperate version of it. And we were whining about how zoom was a little inconvenient and how we don’t like working from home because our dog keeps bugging us and I just felt so privileged and stupid for feeling bad. And but I think that that was a mistake to not let myself feel the fact that that was still trauma though I was still experiencing loss. I was still experiencing a new footing I was still struggling with Holy cow, I’m a leader of this whole big team. And I’m supposed to be the leader who has the answers and like, What the heck is going on? I said, heck that time you had good job. Yeah, good job. And so I don’t know about you. But like, that’s, that’s what I think it’s been the hardest about leadership is there is no blueprint for what we’re going through now or went through. But yeah, we were in these roles where we felt like we needed to, and that’s exhausting.
Chanda Smith Baker 40:24
That’s tough. Yeah. Any advice?
Amanda Brinkman 40:27
Just to allow yourself to in this, I’m saying this myself to to allow yourself maybe now to stop and really reflect on what you just experienced. And that it was okay, that there were times that you weren’t okay. And it is okay. If right now, you’re still trying to figure out how to be okay. And I think for me, what I’m starting to realize that my new normal is a roller coaster. Some days, I’m like, I’m back. Here we go. Like life’s okay, we’re, we’re on it again. And then the next day, I’m just like, exhausted and have to like rally to go to an event for your for the last two years. I was like, I can’t wait to be back with people. And then I get home and as like a textbook extrovert, I am wiped out. And like, where did that? How did that just change? And so I think so my advice is to give yourself space to feel the things to understand that your team is not looking to you, as a leader to have all the answers and to have it all together. But your team is looking to you to say I’m struggling with the roller coaster too like one day, I feel like we’re back. And the next day, I feel like we’re still in it. And I think that that is the strongest place that when we talk about authentic leadership, I think that’s what we’re being called to do right now as leaders is to acknowledge that so that our teams feel comfortable in their space of experiencing their story.
Chanda Smith Baker 41:45
Yeah. Any questions? I’m looking.
Patrick O’Rourke, with Central Minnesota dementia Community Action Network. We’re trying to reach specific cultural markets, if you will, or individuals and people that deal with dementia in various cultures, whether it be Somalia, black American, LatinX, a Native Americans, and I like your hearing about your listening sessions. And I would love to hear more about how to me we’re in central Minnesota. So we’re very ingrained in white board white staff. And I hate to admit I’m, I’m white, okay, I’m a little little bit of a Native American. But I would, I would love to hear more about how to reach into those cultures that we can help diversify from both a staff, services, board members, and providing dementia, which is somewhat culturally specific. Also,
Amanda Brinkman 42:44
I would just say the way we participated in community listening was I found someone on LinkedIn. And I sent him a note. And then after having that meeting, he recommended that I meet with someone else, and then that person recommended that I might meet with someone else. And I think that I was so after all that listening in in such a traumatic time. And it’s such a confusing time for us all trying to figure out what we were and who we were in the Twin Cities, and how could this happen in our, in our ground. And for me, I was so moved by how we showed up in the coolest way, like every introduction was to another person, and everyone was so willing to do it. And I think part of it was like each, I would call it like it was like every meeting was like a little star eliminating. And then when I stepped back, it’s like, I wish I would have kept track of who introduced me to whom, because it was like this constellation that emerged was so moving. And I was so impressed with our community. How when you truly ask the questions that you want to understand individual journeys of different communities, people will offer people are more than willing to tell you and to. And it’s really about I felt like there were some important questions that I asked on the way into it. Specifically for our show, I needed to say out loud, like this show is not about how do we not make this work feel like a white savior work? How do we not? How do we make sure that this is a sustaining change, and we don’t act like this is charity coming to help these businesses that if we didn’t, so I think it’s about acknowledging that and then literally listening. I’ve also been in community listening sessions where there’s not a lot of listening. There’s a lot of talk about how the company has all these initiatives. It’s like just close your mouth and listen,
Chanda Smith Baker 44:35
I think we met on LinkedIn. I think she reached out to me on LinkedIn. But what I would say to you is that if you are if there’s a lot of discomfort, that discomfort would be felt so get comfortable before you do the outreach. That’s the number one thing I would say. The other thing that I would say to you is that my mother died from Alzheimer’s in 2020. I would have taken any phone call that came my way for help, because I really did not know what to do. And so, when you come with authenticity and authenticity, I say this word all the time, I swear I do, I think people will feel it. If you’re doing it to meet an outcome, people will feel that. And so do your homework, and listen, I think he will be fine. And at the end of the day, what my best advice is, and I and I recently gave this is that, you know, we all know what it’s like to be helped. We all know what it’s like when you are in moments of need. And someone extends help. You know, you’re going through a difficult moment and someone brings you food or someone offers advice that you need. And you know, the level of care that that offers for you. extend that to someone else. And that same way, and it will be received the same way. But if you come in with a charitable come in and swoop in way, it won’t be received. And so I think your intentions matter. And then you know, go from there. So that would be my advice. Thumbs up. Good deal.
Good morning, Chanda. This is called Colnese Hendon. I work for Isuroon as the Development Director. I went through a bit of a panic when you talked about people that come in and want to talk about the need. And I think back two years ago, when I worked at Pillsbury House, and I read something called the parable of ups and downs, and how when you’re down, you have to explain to the Ups about your downness. And so we’ve been programmed in the nonprofit sector, about how to explain our downness, and I’ve gotten so doggone good at it. That the thought of taking away the need statement, I’m a grant writer, as many of you can probably tell, so like, I guess I have gotten great at it, you know, I can research how down we are, and you know, and then after the downness of it all and I get all into it, it’s like now what are you going to do about it? And then I’ve gotten even good at explaining how we’re going to address it. So you’re in a high position in the philanthropic sector. I just wanted your thoughts on, because remember the whole thing when the common grant came about, and all we had to do was write one grant for the whole year and send it to everybody?
Chanda Smith Baker 47:31
Yeah, look, I look, as I said, my cousin’s here, my grandma used to say, look, I might be a unique bird, in terms of this, this this sector, but what I would say, and I think I read something I heard something, Amanda, you said is that, you know, part of doing a good pitch is repositioning a brand around its future. What I read, and what I get excited about is a vision. Let me just also say that as a child that was raised on the north side, and you all may have, if you listen to the podcast, you’ve heard me say this before, that as a person that has come from a neighborhood that is ascribed by deficit. I rebuke that right. Like, I don’t see, I see the layers of narrative that exists in all communities, all neighborhoods are people, that it’s not inspiring. For me, it doesn’t mean that it’s not successful in other contexts. It doesn’t mean that it’s not necessary to have context of what the problem statement is. But there is something that brings energy when there is a vision for the future. There is something that brings energy, when it’s aspirational. There is something that does my energy different when, if the statement is we want to help disengage you to achieve their future, to go to college from disinvested neighborhoods to we want to help brilliant students from North Minneapolis achieve their dreams of going to schools that are coming from under invested school districts, that’s a very different energy, saying the same thing, but not making the student the problem. Do you see the difference? And that’s what I guess I’m saying is that I don’t believe the people are the problem. But that’s me. Years and years of the things we all probably know have created the problems that we sit in. And we often assign those to people, community and neighborhoods in ways that discount the systemic issues that place them there. And I think it’s time that we disrupt it, stop it, and don’t prescribe to it in the way that we write and ask for resources and I think that’s the most disruptive thing that we can do in the moment.
Amanda Brinkman 50:07
Wisdom, just wisdom bombs, dropping them.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:10
Wisdom bombs. Okay, any other question? I think, Okay, we got one more.
Good morning. My name is Michelle Ness. I’m the Executive Director of Prism. So, thank you for acknowledging the work that we did during the pandemic. So my question is, how do you power up? Because I need to plug in and power up more than ever before.
Chanda Smith Baker 50:34
I hear that I feel that I acknowledge that. Here’s, here’s what I will say, what I would say is, and what I’ve really have committed to doing is saying, leave no benefits behind meaning, I take my vacation time. Leave no benefits behind. I’m taking every PTO hour I have, because it’s necessary. And I need to model that as a leader, that as busy as I am, I need a break. If you follow me on social media, I tried to make sure I show you that I’m taking a break. Because it’s important because I’m not going to be any good if I’m no good. And so I have to manage to that. I take seriously my family and my friendships. because laughter is necessary when grief is deep. I have learned that holding like there’s songs that make sense to me like joy and pain, I understand that song more now than ever, you need to be able to hold multiple truths at one time, finding time and space. Three years ago, you would have never got me at Lizzo on a Tuesday night, I got to work. That makes zero sense to me. Oh, oh, I can’t do that. But it made sense to me now. Because I need to get out, I need to have fun, I need to forget about everything that is heavy, I need to just go out, laugh and have fun with girlfriends. And that’s important to remember that there is more to life and to create unnecessary balance when you can and tap into it. And that’s my choice. And own my choice and design my life in a way that makes sense for me. And so that’s what I’m doing to fuel up. Because these problems were not created overnight, and I am not solely responsible for fixing them. And if I believe that I am, my ego needs to be examined. Because this is a collective exercise. And we have to remember that we are all in this together, I believe we have what it takes. But I’m gonna have fun in this life. And I’m gonna leave it all on the mat. I’m gonna have fun in the next life too. But I’m gonna have fun.
Amanda Brinkman 52:58
The way I’ve been powering up lately is by trying to just stop and reflect on how none of this is an accident. No matter what your spiritual walk is, or your spiritual rituals or practices, there is something to be acknowledged about the fact that there is a grand design, to all of it is someone responding on LinkedIn, and then introducing me to someone else, or someone recommending me to someone else happening to say yes to going to a Lizzo concert a Tuesday, and then you have a great conversation with someone that you maybe wouldn’t have met, that leads to something else that will be interested in your life. Again, a lot of people work really hard to feel like they’re making a difference for other people. And you all sit in roles where you get to do that every day, where you’re good at doing it. And it is hard, it’s really hard. Because if it wasn’t hard, everybody else would be doing it. And it would be called average work. But what you guys are doing is incredible. And so I think it’s just about stopping in every once in awhile reminding ourselves of what we get to do what we get to influence through our roles. And through our leadership.
Chanda Smith Baker 53:58
Of the seasons. We talked about Lip Esteem, I want to ask you about how that came about. So I have been I started a grocery store at a nonprofit, you started a reality TV show at a tech company. And I’m sure that some of y’all have had a staff person that’s coming to you with something really bizarre, like trailblazing inside of a company like, like what coming in with a unique perspective inside of a system that right like I mean, talk to me, like how did you pitch that like what did you learn from that?
Amanda Brinkman 54:41
I learned from that that at the end of the day. Every decision in the business space in our lives is made by another human. So the way I sold it was I literally appealed to, I had to stand in front of our board and explain that you know how we used to spend this money on this thing that was super measurable. And I could tell you how many people were reaching, I’d like to instead invested in really heartwarming films that I’m gonna have a hard time measuring cool? Like, I had to appeal to the humans in the room, we talked about storytelling this whole time, I had to share the stories of small businesses and watch them be visibly moved in the room and say, see how you were just moved. That’s what we could do for an entire audience through a huge platform like a show, I had to appeal to the humans in the room who are approving a budget, I think sometimes we get so obsessed with the data, and the fact that you can measure everything now that we’ve lost sight of our gut, and our instincts and the qualitative ethnographic reality of what’s actually going on in the world. And so
Chanda Smith Baker 55:51
The Ethno, what? Ethnographic just like what?
Amanda Brinkman 55:55
ethnography ethnographic research is like going out and actually spending time like with a person like watching like, like, I think like as marketer, that’s way more valuable than reams and reams of data that told me click through rates, though, that is helpful in making different decisions about your marketing or your business. There is nothing like walking alongside someone for a day and watching how they make purchasing decisions or what they’re like in order to understand how they make purchase decisions, in order to then create communications that appeal to how they make that decision. And so just really like living in that world. And so. So that’s how I sold it was, I mean, I made a bunch of other promises, and luckily worked out. But it was really about appealing to the humans in the room. And I think that’s the same when you’re asking for dollars for resources like there are so humans making those decisions, how can you appeal to them as people, not just the data they’re looking at?
Chanda Smith Baker 56:48
Yeah, I wanted to point that out. Because the roadmap to North Market was, in fact, us going alongside shopping with people that were on the WIC program, because we were trying to make it more accessible. And when we got there, it wasn’t so much. What we discovered was what was happening at the register, is that they were getting the wrong products. And that was the learning, right, that was happening along the way that led us to what ultimately became north market. And the questions that we had, like what does you know, Pillsbury United communities know about running a grocery store? Nothing. But we know people that ran grocery stores, right, like, Well, what do you know about this? Well, nothing, right. But we know that people that shop, I eat, you know, and so it was very interesting, but what that did, right, the creativity, what it did for the organization was quite incredible. And I wanted to just leave on this note, because I think that in the moment of hardship, and as you’re going through this day, and hopefully, this reuniting for good, has been good for you. And the rest of this day will be good and good for your spirit and good for innovation and good for creativity. Because it’s in these moments where new ideas hopefully will emerge. And it will be something that will be so out of scope, that will allow for your organization’s to be sustained and new ways that it will allow for new stories to emerge, the story of your leadership, the stories of your team, the stories of your community, that you’ll be able to surface the life write the stories of lives and how they’ve been impacted and their futures in ways that are sitting right there ready to just come above the surface a little bit more. And so I hope you’ve been inspired by this conversation. I hope that this community is ready for the next season of this thing called life. So, thank you so much. Thank you, Amanda. Thank you, Chanda. Thank you for listening to my conversation with Amanda Brinkman. That conversation was in front of a live audience of almost 1000 People at the River Center. Shout out to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. Thank you so much again for the invitation. Let’s just shot this with Baker make it a great week.
Souphak Kienitz 59:21
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Amanda is a producer, filmmaker, branding expert, and sought-after public speaker, sharing her “Do Well By Doing Good” philosophy on stages around the country. She demonstrates how both companies and individuals can make a meaningful and positive difference in people’s lives while fostering their own success in the process. She believes that companies must not only identify their brand purpose but put that purpose into action.
Through her work, Amanda has defined what it looks like for brands to truly act “as publishers” creating movements through their content strategy. In her most recent demonstration of this, Amanda was the Chief Brand Officer of Deluxe where the brand challenge was to reach small businesses. The solution? She created, produced, and hosted their Emmy-nominated series “Small Business Revolution,” which streamed on Hulu and was named among Inc. Magazine’s top shows for entrepreneurs.
Amanda is a nationally renowned brand expert, Forbes contributor, and frequent on-camera personality for national news outlets and celebrity interviews, ranging from LL Cool J to Peyton Manning. She has appeared on CNBC’s “Cleveland Hustles,” in addition to hosting the online “Small Talks” series that features successful entrepreneurs across the country. That’s all while charting an acclaimed career that spans groundbreaking campaigns for brands like BMW, Reebok, and Sony, in addition to her role as an inspiring female executive at Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, such as United Health Group, Allianz, General Mills, and Deluxe. Amanda’s current and former board service includes the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, Make-A-Wish, the Children’s Theatre Company, the Ordway Performing Arts Center, Ad Council, ANA (Association of National Advertisers), and the Women’s Business Development Center. She also passionately volunteers for causes such as Special Olympics, Feed My Starving Children, Habitat for Humanity, and more.