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Heather Nelson on Balance, Podcasts, and so much more!

Thank you to all of those who have sent along great feedback (and podcast recommendations) from my last blog post. I’m so excited to share my next interview with you. 


Heather Nelson, President and Lead Consultant at BridgeRaise is not only a corporate fundraising expert, she has also always been very clear about managing and finding work-life balance. She has provided me with a lot of practical tips and guidance, and I know she’s always willing to share this guidance with others in our sector as well. 


Beyond her dedication to mentoring individuals in our sector, she just completed a Board of Director position with Canadian Feed the Children and is an active volunteer with her 11-year-old son, Gavin’s, hockey team. 


Oh, and on top of all that, her family recently grew by one puppy. 


Briefly tell me about a day in the life of Heather Nelson, President and Lead Consultant at BridgeRaise?


My day starts early where I have carved out a quiet hour to have a coffee, listen to a podcast, and get ready for the day ahead. After that, the possibilities are varied. Some days I hop in my car and head to a client’s office for corporate fundraising strategy sessions, and other days I go to my home office and do consulting zoom calls mixed with client work. I make sure part of every day is connecting 1 on 1 with a fundraiser or two for a pep talk which is my favorite part of my work. And I break up desk time with a dog walk with Penny my puppy. Most days I try and wrap up on-time to take my son to his evening sport which varies by season but is always present and at least once a week I take an evening yoga class.  


In our conversations, it’s clear to me that work-life balance has always been something you value and have tried to achieve, even prior to starting BridgeRaise. Do you think a true balance, or blend is possible? 

I do! I am very committed to having a life that includes work, friends, family, and me! It does take planning and a true commitment to it for it to work. I have made it possible by making decisions, almost every day, that allow me to have the life I want. It does mean that I have to make choices around what I can and can’t do both with my family and with my work. And it is helped by the fact that I really love the work I do, so sometimes my friend-time, or my me-time has some professional connection to it. I’m not new at this commitment to work-life balance. I’ve been on this track since early in my career, and I’m really proud of where I am at with it. 


Do you have some practical tips for women who are currently struggling with this balance? I LOVED the tip you shared with me about blocking time in your calendar as far as three months in advance, I now have “have fun with the boys” days in my calendar for the rest of the summer and will not book meetings on those days.


One of the ways I love to mentor other women is on how to make this balance/blend happen. I really believe it starts with believing in yourself and all that you have to offer. With this as a starting point, you can be confident in your negotiations with your employer (or clients!) and outline what you are looking for, or you can look for opportunities that enable you to maximize what you have to offer while still having the time you want to be with your family.  I truly believe that one of my biggest career missteps was not believing in myself enough post-maternity leave. I recovered from that moment but I wish someone had said – “you will feel like you never left in about 2 weeks so don’t worry about it, most of the same stuff will still be there when you get back!” 


That said, in a very practical way, making balance work for me has included writing out the hours I am willing to work and blocking my calendar to include both personal and work time. It has also included having a methodical approach to growing my career and my business that has not involved maximizing every single opportunity.  And it has included asking questions of those people around me that I see doing things that I admire and seeing if I can incorporate their strategies into my plans.


Having recently started BridgeRaise, what are the differences between working in a more traditional work environment vs. being an entrepreneur and working for yourself?


There are so many differences!! On the good side, I have a lot of control over my time and what work and clients I choose. While I have worked on great teams in my traditional work environments, at BridgeRaise I’m building my team myself and I have to be more intentional at surrounding myself with professional colleagues and friends that I consider part of my extended team as well. This is key to not being lonely and having the human resources and sage advice I need when I need it. 


The risks working for myself are much higher than being employed. This has been the most unanticipated part for me. I do worry about a lot of things and carry a lot of pressure to deliver for my clients and to deliver for my family. So, some days I need to have a “keep it real” pep talk with myself, to remind myself that fundraising is generally not an emergency, and I will get there!


BridgeRaise specifically helps to engage corporate charitable partners and helps organizations build strategies around engaging corporations, so inevitably you have and do work with many people in the for-profit sector. Have you noticed a difference in the approach to work-life balance between the for and not-for profit sectors?


I have so enjoyed the part of my career that intersects between the for and not-for profit sectors. And I will say there are leaders in work-life balance in both. It is perhaps a bit more common for me to see hotelling stations in large numbers, and a results-oriented approach to evaluating time worked, rather than hours in the office, in the for-profit sector. 

Having said that, I have personally had several leaders who I report into that have embraced remote working options, and have recognized the opportunity to attract top talent by honouring what they produce over when they produce it. It is also important that technology has come such a long way in supporting these flexible work options. My business is built on a significant amount of work being done by video conferencing and once my clients try it, they recognize how powerful it is!


In your opinion, what are the top 3 things our sector needs to do to help empower women as leaders? 


1. Embrace flexible schedules – for everyone! This is not about gender, it’s about all people living their best life.

2. Continue to foster formal and informal mentoring and coaching. I believe that many of my best career defining decisions have been made with the support of my mentors as well as paid professional coaches. 

3. Be realistic – again this is for everyone! I believe that we often have very unrealistic ideas about what is possible in what time frame. There just doesn’t need to be this much pressure in our organizations. 


What is on your current reading list? 


I’m currently much more a podcast person than book person and enjoy a big range of podcasts from Gretchen Rubin Happier, to Racheal Cook Promote Yourself to CEO, to The Small Nonprofit with the Good Partnership and It Doesn’t Hurt to Ask with Cathy Mann & Associates. Having said that, I am loving Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, and looking forward to reading the new release of Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Fundraising before the AFP Golden workshop in September.


And lastly, when you do manage to find a few moments for yourself, what is your go to self-care activity? 


I love hiking, and I’ve mentioned to many people before that all of our family junk gets sorted out on the trails. And I am a traveller, so my rule is to always have a vacation booked! I literally buy and book one vacation while I am on the previous one. 


Want to learn more about how Heather is helping non-profits raise more money with corporate partnerships? Or chat with her about how she has found her balance? Feel free to reach out to her on Twitter or Linked In


One thing that really resonated with me when chatting with Heather was that so many of her tips and suggestions do work for every gender, and although I believe women face unique challenges in the workforce, it’s so important for everyone to focus on a strong work-life balance – after all, many of us wear parent, caregiving, or volunteer hats along with our career ones. 


Next up on the blog will be an article highlighting the discussions I’ve had with several up-and-coming fundraisers, these women are currently building their career, and their families. They have shared with me some of their very real and frustrating concerns – some of which have led to several of these women leaving the non-profit sector altogether. 

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