Words by Meher Khan + Photos by Marie Ketring
When Jake Blumberg took the helm of GiveMN as executive director earlier this year, he brought major experience and accomplishments with him. Jake has been in senior leadership positions for Project 515, Minnesotans United, and Open Arms Minnesota in the Twin Cities alone. There’s no doubt he is qualified to lead GiveMN, an organization central to the Twin Cities nonprofit community, and responsible for raising $125 million for nonprofits and schools since 2009.
Jake brings unique leadership skills with him to the position, too: persistence, confidence, open-mindedness, and when it’s appropriate, a willingness to be bold. At the June edition of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities’ Leadership Breakfast, Jake gave us an opportunity to try these leadership attributes on for size when he asked us to turn to our neighbor and fundraise for a hypothetical project. He let us know what it would cost—$1 million—and let us get to work. When we returned to the larger group, we learned that some had focused on getting to know their funders, while others had focused on describing the project in depth to encourage interest. But out of a room of 20 people, only three people asked for $1 million. And Jake wanted to know: why didn’t every one of us ask for the amount we needed?
In our post-activity discussion, Jake touched on the fact that we are trained early on not to ask for what we need, and imparted his first piece of integral advice to us:
You have to ask for what you want.
In our fundraising scenario, Jake reminded us that it’s not offensive to ask for a big number; in fact, it can be a compliment. If you wrap up an interview and are asked if you have any more questions, make sure you don’t forget to ask for that job. If you need a mentor or supervisor to help you develop as a leader, make sure to ask them for that help. Jake insightfully pointed out that very, very few mentors and supervisors (referred to at this breakfast as “unicorns”) will already be thinking about how to develop your resume and career for you, unless you ask them to.
So you’ve asked for what you want, and you got shot down. Here’s Jake next piece of advice:
“No” doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation.
Once you’re no longer afraid of “no” you have the opportunity to learn ways to keep working for your professional goals, whether that’s $1 million for a nonprofit project, a raise at work, or whatever role you want to grow into next.
Maybe the answer to your request was, “We don’t have funding for that right now,” or, “You’re not ready for that step.” Jake wants you to know that this conversation is still happening, and this is where you get resourceful and persistent. Now that you’re not afraid of no (right?), follow up with a request to continue this conversation when there is enough funding, or ask how you can prepare for the next step. A handy piece of advice and practical way to go about this process is to always own the next step. You’re in charge of reigniting the conversation when there’s more funding, so put a date on your calendar and remember to follow up on it.
If the answer to your request was “yes,” then celebrate! And right after that, make sure to thank those who gave you the opportunity, and then work hard. Hard work can mean different things, so Jake clarified for us that for him, hard work is doing whatever it takes to accomplish your responsibilities, and accomplish them well. Hard work is what sets you apart and keeps you in people’s minds, and those same people will want to give you more opportunities to accomplish more great work.
Jake’s combination of strong leadership skills and strong work ethic puts him in a dynamic role of both “leader” and “doer,” and that makes him an amazing role model to learn from for those of us in the early- and mid-stages of our careers. Even if you’re a seasoned pro, you can learn a lot from Jake’s persistence and resourceful approach. So the next time you’re faced with an intimidating ask, channel Jake’s advice, yell “#CantStopWontStop,” and plow forth with your amazing work.