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4 Keys for Planning a Successful Staff Team Retreat

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It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day at your organization – doing what you have to do to get through the day and make our community a better place. Then, someone decides that all your team needs is a staff retreat to get everyone back on the same page and focused on what is ahead.

So, a calendar invite is sent with instructions for everyone to clear their calendar and meet in the conference room for a day of fun and togetherness (you know the email, I’m pretty sure you just rolled your eyes).

The day comes and it turns into a daylong meeting – with lots of PowerPoint slides, the same people talking, excruciating “get to know you” games – and, everyone leaves frustrated and feeling behind.

Let’s be clear, the intention was good. The execution… could have been a lot better. Planning a successful staff team retreat takes time, thought and preparation. We’ve got four tips to make planning your next staff team retreat a day everyone leaves feeling refreshed, focused and ready to tackle whatever is next for your organization.

1. Know your why. We have facilitated staff team retreats for a multitude of reasons – major changes on the horizon or just completed, new leadership or key team members, reconnecting a team. Once you identify the reason for your staff team retreat, you can set the agenda to accomplish this goal. Knowing this can help you with a lot of the logistic details like location and activities.

2. Don’t over fill the agenda. This can happen quickly – “oh, since we’ll all be together we can take care of this.” This is not a staff meeting, so you shouldn’t treat it like one. Going back to your why, pick one or two (at the most) major topics and allow ample time to cover them in depth. Often when prepping for a staff team retreat the most push back comes from what is seen as a “not enough” agenda from the organization’s lead. In our experience, a flexible agenda that allows for the natural flow of conversation and ideas works best.

3. Plan for active participation. Some people take more time and coaxing to take an active part in conversations. Think ahead of the conversations – how to include those people less likely to just jump in and how to temper those who are prone to taking over the conversation. Everyone on your team has a voice and brings a different perspective to an issue or challenge. At a recent retreat, the accounting person had a great idea for the thank you letters – no one had ever asked.

4. Bring in a professional. You’re great at what you do – and, that might not include planning and facilitating a successful and productive staff team retreat. Lucky for you, there are professionals, like the Sara Leonard Group, who have the experience and expertise to help you realize your why and to create an agenda to accomplish your why while planning for active participation from your entire team. A professional, outside facilitator allows full participation from your entire staff and a voice of reason and objectivity. Make sure when choosing a facilitator for your staff team retreat that it is someone who listens and understands your goals for the day. Your facilitator should be someone you are comfortable spending some time with – the preparation for your staff team retreat is really what makes all the difference.

We hope these tips help as you plan the next staff team retreat. If you’d like to discuss how we can help your organization in planning a retreat that gets the results you want, please contact us.

3 Ways to Be Present at Your Board Retreat

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The annual board retreat is coming up! You’ve found the perfect date (you still can’t believe it worked for everyone!), location (the perfect mix of relaxation and work space) and the yummy food is set to be delivered. The board leadership has worked with your board retreat facilitator to create an agenda that lets the group get to know each other better and discuss some big things ahead. This isn’t your first board retreat though, you know how hard it is to get everyone to disconnect and be present. Don’t worry – we’ve got you covered with three ways to help you and your participants be present at your next board retreat.

1. A cell phone basket. Before the board retreat begins, have everyone place their silenced phones in a basket (don’t worry, they can check them at breaks and lunch if needed). We all know how addicting our phones are and one innocent, out-of-habit look at your email is all it takes to lose focus on what is going on in the same room. The fair thing would be to give your board retreat participants advanced notice so they can set their out of office messages and be prepared for giving up their phones.

2. To do later list. One of the first things we do at a board retreat is have participants take out a blank piece of paper and title it “to do later.” This is where all of those nagging thoughts of ‘did I respond to Joe?’ and ‘I need to pick up the dry cleaning’ go. Taking a cue from meditation – acknowledge the thought, write it down (in our case, not meditations) and let it go.

3. The parking lot. Sometimes conversations take a wrong or winding turn. This is where the parking lot comes in handy. When the ideas are flowing and everyone is together great ideas happen. But, it might not be the time or place for that idea. On the parking lot it goes. It makes the board retreat participant feel that their thought matters and it gives the great idea or question a place to live so that it can be addressed later.

A well-organized board retreat is a great way to re-engage, re-energize and reconnect your board members. It offers time to concentrate on specific issues at your organization or to think big picture about the future. To make it as successful as possible everyone needs to be fully present and engaged. We hope using the tips above helps you make the most of your time together. We’d love to hear how you incorporated these into your next board retreat.

If we can be of assistance as your plan your next board retreat, please let us know.

Don’t Say “No” for Your Prospect

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Who could say “no” to this face at Satchel’s Last Resort? 

Me: “Let’s brainstorm on who might invest in your social enterprise startup capital.

NPO: “We should ask Mrs. Brown. She’s a great prospect for this. But then again, now isn’t a good time for her because she has moved recently. And, she makes a generous gift to our golf tournament. And, she might not like this because she is passionate about our mission and this is a business enterprise. So let’s not put Mrs. Brown on the list.”

This is a common conversation when I start working with the nonprofit organizations who are part of the Margin Mission Ignition initiative of The Patterson Foundation. I guide them through the process of making a prospect list for their new social enterprise. These prospects will be cultivated and if they indicate an interest, they will be asked to make a donation to invest in the business enterprise.

Too often, the staff and volunteer members of the team come up with great prospects but then talk themselves out of cultivating them for one reason (excuse) or another. In other words, they are deciding “no” for the prospect before they’ve even talked to them about the innovative and mission-sustaining business enterprise.

It’s not our job to say no for the prospect.

So what is our job? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some ideas:

  • It’s our job to talk to everyone we encounter about this exciting venture. I like to borrow the concept original to Gail Perry in “Fired Up Fundraising…”: the board should be sneezing. If your organization is embarking on a business planning process for an earned income venture, you should be talking to everyone you know about it. Picture sneezing and spreading your message all around – yes, I too was grossed by the visual at first.
  • It’s our job to share our enthusiasm. Creating an earned income strategy is an exciting undertaking and that should be shared with the people inside and outside your organization. It’s an opportunity to create a mission-sustaining income stream. What supporter wouldn’t want to know the organization they love will be sustained for years to come?
  • It’s our job to cast the vision. Business planning is a forward-looking process. Your organization has given it a lot of thought and it is part of a larger vision for the future of your nonprofit. Don’t keep all that to yourselves. Share it with those who are passionate about your cause.
  • It’s our job to invite them to be a part of the life-changing work of your nonprofit. Many times we are so close to the work of our organization that we forget that every day we are saving lives, changing lives and making our communities better places to live. When we ask for an investment in the business enterprise, we are inviting the donor to be part of that life-changing work.

When we decide “no” for a prospect, two bad things happen. First the prospect misses the opportunity to be a part of the amazing work of our nonprofit. Second, our nonprofit misses out on much-needed financial support. Next time you find yourself thinking of all the reasons a prospect might not support your nonprofit – STOP. You’ll be glad you did and surprised how contagious your enthusiasm can be.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

Help – Thanks – Wow

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Last month I completed my term as president of the AFP Suncoast Chapter. That milestone led me to reflect on my term and write some closing thoughts. I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s book “Help Thanks Wow.”  Her writing inspired my thoughts about the past two years in our AFP chapter.

Help
The board members and volunteers have provided help to the fundraising professionals of Tampa Bay. The resources from AFP International have enriched the help we have provided. That help came in the form of education, advocacy, resources, scholarships and friendship. Our job board helped people find jobs and helped organizations find valuable staff members. Everything we do is to help professional fundraising colleagues and the nonprofits where you work.

Thanks
I have been honored to serve with the dedicated board members and volunteers who make this chapter work. Because our board is an operating board not a governing board, each board member worked with a committee of volunteers to make the magic happen. And it is magic! All of those people are busy professionals who find the time to give back to AFP.  Thanks to everyone on the AFP Suncoast team!

Wow
Each time I’ve stood at the podium of our chapter meetings and looked at all of you, I’ve been touched by the impact you make in our community. Wow! You – my fundraising colleagues – represent nonprofit organizations that are changing lives and saving lives. You educate children, feed hungry neighbors, shelter victims of abuse. You make the world brighter and lovelier with art, music and history. You care for the environment and animals. You work every day to improve your corner of the world. I’m glad your corner is my corner, too. Wow!

In her book, Anne Lamott calls help, thanks and wow her “three essential prayers.” For me, these are the three essentials words that express my appreciation for my colleagues and friends in the AFP Suncoast Chapter.

Help. Thanks. Wow!

Mind Your Manners (and Other Practical Tips for Calling a Prospective Funder)

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Calling a prospective funder shouldn’t just be another phone call to quickly check off your to-do list. At the point of actually picking up the phone, you should be confident the funder is open to your communication (Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect) and have spent time researching and preparing to make the call (Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone). Now (and hopefully only now) is the time to actually make the call.

Remember – this is not just any old call. This call could be the beginning or the beginning of the end of a great relationship with a funder for your organization.

Here are tips to make the most of the call.

Be Ready to Talk Now or Later

When you make the initial phone call, you may or may not get through. Be ready for either scenario. First, if you get through to the funder and they say, “Let’s talk now” be ready to go. This does not happen often, but you have to be ready for it every time. Conversely, if you get voice mail or talk to a gatekeeper, be ready to explain why you are calling and make an appointment to connect at a later time.

Location, Location, Location

One wonderful benefit of our modern, connected world is our ability to conduct business from anywhere – coffee shops, sporting events, and conferences. This however is not one of those times. Find a quiet, private place and make sure those around you know that you are not to be interrupted for the duration of the call.

Be Prompt and Respectful of Their Time

Place the call on time and be respectful of the time allowed for the call. If you asked the funder for 20 minutes, stick to that. When the allotted time has passed, you can ask if they are able to keep going, but be prepared for them to say “no” and conclude the call.

Smile!

This might sound silly for a phone call, but it really matters. If you smile while you are talking, it will show in your voice. Practice this on a family member if you are skeptical. The smile in your voice projects a positive attitude and shows your enthusiasm.

Be Enthusiastic

Avoid the trap of being “all business” and not letting your passion come through during the conversation. Make an effort to find the inspiration that you need. Consider a photo of the ultimate beneficiary of the mission – that might be an animal that will be rescued or a child that will be educated.

Manners Matter

You’re building a relationship and first impressions matter. Remember the little things:

• say please and thank you,
• don’t interrupt,
• listen carefully to their answers,
• speak in a clear voice.

Take Good Notes

This conversation is where you can ask for answers and clarification to the questions left unanswered by your research. As you ask your questions, take good notes. Make note of any questions the funder has of you and be sure to record any promises you make or any information you need to provide following the conversation. If you are asked a question you can’t answer, don’t panic and just be honest. Explain why you don’t have that information and offer to find out and follow up as soon as you can.

Ask for Clarity

If you are asked a question you don’t understand, speak up and ask for clarification. The nonprofit sector is filled with jargon and the funder might use terms you haven’t heard before, ask for a definition. Sometimes we are afraid to admit we don’t understand something for fear of making a bad impression. It’s much better to understand than to answer incorrectly on the application when the funder feels they told you what they wanted.

Finish Strong

As you conclude the conversation, review anything you promised to provide and confirm your next steps. Hopefully, you have determined that they will consider your grant application so confirm the deadline. If you determine that a grant application is not appropriate, restate any follow-up action that is appropriate. No matter the outcome of the call, thank them for taking the time to talk to you.

Follow Up

A thank you/nice to meet you note is always appropriate to send after a call. If the funder requested information be sure to follow up and provide it within the agreed upon timeline. If someone else has the information, contact them immediately and confirm that the deadline is appropriate.

The funding community is smaller and more connected that most people think. So while it’s true that if you know one funder, you know one funder – they also talk and a good impression on one can translate to introductions and a good reputation among many funders. Taking the time to do your research about the funder’s process; researching what you can on your own while preparing; and making the most of your time while on the call can make a big difference not only on this particular opportunity but perhaps even more opportunities in the future.

Wait, Don’t Just Pick Up the Phone

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So, you have decided to move forward with a call to a prospective foundation funder (after considering this information we shared in our last post, Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect).

The most important thing to remember: the contact you make with a potential funder can make or break your grant application before you write a single word.

That being said, prepare and prepare some more. Do your research on the funder and the person to whom you will be speaking. Think of this as you would a job interview. Just as you present your best self during an interview – for this conversation, you want to do the same for your organization. Here are five things to consider during your preparation.

Only Ask Questions You Couldn’t Find Through Research

Before you make a call, seek to find the answers to your questions using the funder’s website and third-party sites like GuideStar. If you use a phone call or meeting to ask questions that you could have answered with a little research, you will have wasted the funder’s time. That will make a terrible impression and likely have a negative effect on any future grant applications.

Anticipate Objections

After doing your research, think of possible objections the funder might have to considering a grant request from your organization. I once met with a funder who assured me he would never fund an organization as large as mine. I quickly explained that the program actually benefited grass roots organizations that were the sweet spot for this funder. I was only ready for that because I had done my research and anticipated the objection.

Make the Most of Your Time

Go into this conversation knowing that this could be the only time you talk to the funder. Never think, “I’ll ask that next time” because there might not be a next time. Prepare thinking, “this might be my only shot” and make the most of your time while being respectful of their time.

Prepare an Elevator Speech

Don’t wing it. Even if you are good at extemporaneous speaking, this is not the time. Prepare a two-minute elevator speech that summarizes your organization and your request. End with, “Does this sound like something in which your foundation would have an interest in learning more about through a written proposal?” Once you ask the question, stop and listen carefully to their answer.

Practice

After preparing but before dialing: practice. Find someone outside your organization and practice your questions and elevator speech. Use a stopwatch and make sure you are getting it done in the time allotted.

This may seem like a lot of work to make a phone call, but you only get one chance to make a first impression. This could be the start of a long and worthy relationship for your organization – that alone makes it worth the effort.

Next time, we’ll talk about actually making the call and how to make the best impression possible in a short amount of time.

Call Me… Maybe: Determining If You Should Call a Foundation Prospect

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To contact or not to contact? That’s the million-dollar question (okay, let’s be realistic – the $40,000 question). You’ve identified a new private foundation that might fund your organization, so you want to make contact with them right away and tell them all the ways your organization is a great investment opportunity for them. Now’s the time to stop and make sure it’s the right thing to do.

Raising money from private foundations certainly has some things in common with other types of fundraising, but there are some major differences. One major difference is whether or not to contact a funder before submitting a grant application. The three steps below will help you determine the best course of action before you pick up the phone.

Before deciding to contact a prospective funder, determine if calling them is an appropriate option. You should consider these scenarios before picking up the phone.

When Not to Approach

  • They Ask You Not To
    If the funder has specific instructions not to contact before applying, don’t! Each funder has their own specific process for receiving applications. Research the funder to determine if they are open to discussing your application before its submission.
  • You’re Not a Match
    Don’t approach the funder if your project does not meet the criteria they have for funding. For instance, you might be within their program specifics but outside their geographic boundaries. Or your request for general operating support or capital campaign funding does not fit their type of giving.
  • They Have a Letter Of Intent/Introduction Process
    In the vast majority of cases, if a funder has a Letter of Introduction or Letter of Intent process, they want that process to be the initial contact. Be considerate of the funder in this case. An LOI is a fairly simple document that will most often give the funder an opportunity to learn more about your organization than through a phone call. Be respectful of the funder’s time by making the LOI your first inquiry.

This may seem like overly simple advice, but many times in our enthusiasm for our cause we overlook the obvious.

When Approaching is Okay

  • They Accept Calls
    As you do your funder research, pay attention to how they accept contact. Some funders are open to phone calls, some will have meetings, while others do not allow any contact before an application. If they state that they are willing, then you are safe to reach out.
  • You Are Connected
    Foundations are staffed by people and people have connections. When you have identified a potential funder, review the list of their staff and board members. Show the list to your organization’s board members to see if they have any connections. If you identify a connection, ask them to reach out on behalf of your organization or to make an introduction.
  • You Have Specific Questions
    Just because a funder will accept calls, don’t make the assumption that you should make the call. Only make the initial outreach if you are prepared and have specific questions. After you carefully review their published materials and their website, determine what additional information you need from them to complete your application. When you call, you want to make the best impression – so be prepared.

If you attempt to contact a potential funder and are not able to reach them or don’t receive a return phone call, take that as their way of saying, “we don’t want to have a conversation with you until you submit an application.

Next time we’ll discuss what to do if you decide to move forward with making a call and share tips for preparing.

Stewardship of Social Enterprise Investors

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Fish Painting at The Folk School at Florida Maritime Museum

Successful social enterprise requires capital investment. I am honored to work with the organizations participating in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignitioninitiative. My role is to support their capital investment fundraising efforts. Social enterprise business planning is hard work and not coincidentally, raising the capital can be hard work, too. Once the business plan is complete, the hard work of implementation begins. At this critical moment organizations can be tempted to move on full speed ahead without thinking about their donor investors. Warning: this is a terrible idea. 

Just like other types of fundraising, capital investment fundraising requires careful stewardship of donors. How should you steward them? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major steps: Appreciate, Engage, and Listen.

Appreciate
First, make sure they know they are appreciated. This starts with an accurate, well-crafted thank you letter. Be sure to spell the donor’s name right and use their preferred title. If it’s a business, ensure that the letter is addressed to the right person so it doesn’t get lost.

But don’t stop with the letter from the organization. Look for other ways to say thank you. For instance, if a board member helped secure the gift, ask that board member to write a personal note or send an e-mail directly to the donor. You can’t really thank someone too much.

Providing updates on your capital fundraising efforts is another way to appreciate donors. When you show progress toward your capital investment fundraising, you are reassuring the donor that their investment is being joined by others. For instance, the Margin Mission Ignitionorganizations had a stated goal and were fundraising to secure matching funds by a deadline. By providing timely updates, early investors got to share in the celebration.

Engage
Second, keep them engaged. By the time you raise the gift, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with the donor about your earned income venture. Don’t go silent at that point. Update them on your business planning and implementation. They want to know that you are still making progress and likely can help in one way or another.

You can also engage donors by asking them to share their expertise. For instance, if they have a marketing background ask them to review the drafts of your new website. If they are an accountant ask for their help in creating your new accounting system. Donors like to be valued for more than just the checks they write us. Keep in mind though, only ask for their expertise if you’re willing to listen to their ideas.

When appropriate, invite donors to participate as customers. You could offer a coupon and make it comfortable for them to invite family and friends to join them. If your new enterprise includes a “soft opening,” invite donors to be a part of that. Ask for their honest critique of their experience.

Listen
Third, listen. With each of these interactions suggested above, listen to how your investors respond and act accordingly. Some questions to consider:

  • Are they investment donors and might want to do that again?  Then keep them in mind if you need additional capital investment or if you embark on another business plan.
  • Are they committed to your mission and would be likely to support other parts of your organization? Look for the next big thing that will intrigue them.
  • Do they like numbers? Keep them updated on the business plan and the adjustments you are making throughout implementation. 
  • Are they more interested in the impact on your mission? Send them stories about how the proceeds change and save lives at your organization. 

Here’s a bonus tip: as you appreciate, engage and listen – a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep the photos coming. Every communication doesn’t have to be a major design work of art. Spontaneous e-mails with photos attached can be very meaningful. When your donor investors visit you, be sure to snap and share photos. When the proceeds of your enterprise impact your mission, share photos. As an example, the photo above is from Margin Mission Ignition 2016 organization Florida Maritime Museum’s Folk School.

According to research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk, donors (and investors) are most interested in knowing that you put their money to work as they intended and don’t mind if you made some mistakes along the way as long as you can show that used those mistakes as learning opportunities. That is reassurance that their money is well spent. Taking the time to steward your social enterprise investors will be time well spent.

A quick note: this blog was written for The Patterson Foundation’s blog. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s loaded with great information.

7 Ways to Appreciate Your Colleagues

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A guest post from Ashley Pero

Any day is the perfect day to be a little more thoughtful and show your appreciation for those in your life. As a fundraiser, appreciating donors is always top of mind. But, one area that you might be overlooking is your colleagues– the people you spend nearly a quarter of your weekly hours with. Here are some tips to be a little more thoughtful and show your appreciation to the people in your work life.

  1. Take the time to say thank you for something you appreciate, but have come to expect. Does your co-worker always start the coffee in the morning – have you said thank you recently?
  2. Share that article you just read. Did you read an article that made you smile, made you think of someone, or that was about a topic you know someone is passionate about? Take a minute to send an email. It can be as simple as “thought you might enjoy this.”
  3. Listen, fully and completely. If someone comes up to your desk and you don’t have time to give them your full attention (and stop typing, reading, or whatever it is you’re doing) just ask if you can talk later. Your undivided attention makes people feel valued, if you can’t give them that at that moment then let them know when you can. And, for goodness sakes, PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN.
  4. Ask about their family/hobby/weekend. Get to know a little about your colleague’s life outside the office and be sure to take the time to ask about their interests.
  5. Leave a sticky-note of thanks. Was there something this week that a colleague did that made your week a little easier? Leave a sticky-note on their computer screen that they’ll find the next morning saying thanks.
  6. Take a coffee break. Know that a colleague is having a not-so-great time either at work or dealing with personal matters? Take 15 minutes and invite them to go grab a cup of coffee.
  7. Compliment them. Share something you admire about them—their creativity, calm under pressure, attention to detail, how they handled that difficult person… Share why you think they are such an important part of the team. Maybe you think they know, but perhaps they don’t and if they do, it still is nice to hear it.

Here are two articles that have some great ideas and two of my favorite videos around being thoughtful and showing appreciation.

KidPresidentTrice

I encourage you to take the opportunity today, and every day, to make someone feel valued and appreciated.

Your turn! What has a colleague done to make you feel appreciated that really meant a lot to you? Feel free to share below in the comments.

Lessons for Staying Purposeful, Fresh & Connected

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A guest post from Ashley Pero.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” -Margaret Wheatley

As we move through our careers, we go from being the one asking all the questions to being someone that has a few answers. As we get older (and, hopefully wiser) we are sometimes asked what we’ve learned, especially it seems as graduation time approaches again. Today, I’m sharing a few of the lessons I have learned.

Be kind and delightful. If you spent much time at one of the organizations I worked for you likely heard, “Will that delight?” It was cultural value to satisfy and delight and we strived to live it every day. It’s not to say that the “customer is always right,” but it does mean that you can be kind when you tell someone they aren’t going to get their way. It’s not always easy to be kind, but the extra effort is always worth it and it really makes a difference to the people you interact with (family and colleagues). Make it a habit to practice kindness and delight others. I guarantee you won’t regret it and people won’t forget that you make them feel special.

Connect often. I’ve had to privilege of meeting some amazing people throughout my career. I can also confirm that what you hear is true, a strong network is important. It’s good for your well-being to have colleagues and friends that you can call for advice or talk through ideas. And using your connections and relationships to help others (connecting your connections, if you will) makes you feel good. It’s easy to neglect those relationships, but it’s also easy to keep them alive and well. A quick coffee before work, an email with an article that would be helpful for them, a quick call to see how things are – those small gestures (that more often than not shouldn’t be about you) build relationships, and connections matter.

Seek knowledge. Knowledge comes in many forms – formal training, coaching, mentoring, experiences, volunteering, reading – and all of them should have a valued place of importance in your life. Learning keeps you sharp, allows you to contribute in meaningful ways, makes you a trusted resource, and pushes you to grow. An investment in yourself is one of the surest investments you can make. Even if the only investment you can afford to make right now is the time to stay current on your favorite news sources and blog resources, you’re worth it.

Turn it off. We all need time to recharge and disconnect (yes even you). That vacation time you’ve earned but have been saving (read: not using) needs to be used. Not just for you, but for your organization and your family. Your organization deserves a refreshed, clear-thinking version of you. Your family deserves a fully present, not work-consumed version of you. There isn’t a magic number of days to get away, you have to figure out what’s right for you. Never feel bad for taking a break from work or turning off your phone. It will all still be waiting for you when you get back and you’ll have a clear mind to tackle it.

What lessons do you share most often when asked?