EP 14: Rhythms for Effective Collaboration and Scale with Charlee Tchividjian & Alessandra Thomas

January 26, 2023

Show Notes

Are you struggling to align your team’s efforts to achieve the impact you know your organization is capable of? 

Does it feel like things are just a little out of sync?

Maybe all you need to do is find your rhythm. 

Creating consistent rhythms in your organization can be an extremely effective tool for collaboration and efficiency, but it’s not just about working harder. Rest is an essential part of these rhythms and it’s important to incorporate spaces of rest within the organization and the team if you hope to truly scale your impact. 

Most importantly though, utilizing rhythms enables you to truly live into the values of your organization by creating the space to stay focused on the most important things and to lift the voices of everybody in the room. 

In this episode, Tucker and Sarah are joined by Charlee Tchividjian and Alessandra Thomas, the CEO and Director of Operations of Every Mother’s Advocate, to discuss how to establish clear and consistent rhythms within a team, and how to scale those rhythms as your organization grows. Implementing this practice can help you to build a flat organization, where each member of your staff is empowered to be the CEO of their responsibilities and take ownership of your organization’s mission. 

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Tucker: Welcome to Thrivers, nonprofit Leadership for the Next Normal. I am your host, Tucker Wannamaker, the CEO of THRIVE IMPACT. Our mission is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. Burnout is the enemy of creating positive change, and we want to connect you with impactful mission-driven leaders and ideas so that you can learn to thrive in today’s nonprofit.
Today I’m joined by my co-host as usual, Sarah Fanslau, our Chief of Impact. Sarah, it’s great to be here with you today.

Sarah: Hey, Tucker, great to be here.

Tucker: And I’m especially excited about our guests that we have here. They’re two incredible nonprofit leaders, who are running an organization called Every Mother’s Advocate.
Joined by Charlee Tchvidjian. Did I get that right, Charlee?

Charlee Tchvidjian: You said it right.

Tucker: Oh wow. That’s awesome. She’s the founder and CEO of every mother’s advocate. She actually started this nonprofit 20 years out of her college dorm room and has been deep in the trenches of nonprofit leadership, child welfare. Maternal health and inner city development both domestically and globally. And we’re also joined by Alessandra Thomas, who is their director of Operations. And I thought it was awesome to have the two of you here because a lot of what we’re gonna be getting into is really how you have been living into the very values that you hold. The very vision that you have for the mothers that you advocate for, and how you’re living into that and embodying that inside of your organization. But first, Charlee, I just wanted to invite you, tell us a little bit about your organization. Tell us what you’re up to from a mission perspective, and then we’ll peel back the layer and look under the surface and see what’s going on.
Charlee: Yeah, I’d love to. Thanks so much for having us. It’s one of our favorite things to talk about is just leadership and the work we do and how we build and why we build. And all of the things that are just folded into that. And so every mother’s advocate we go by EMA, and we are a nonprofit that works to prevent family separation by advocating for moms who are in crisis.
So we’ve served this really vulnerable population of moms who are at risk of losing their children into foster care. And then some moms who have children in foster care already and are working really hard to be reunified to them. So we’ve developed this court approved prevention program, that essentially equips moms and empowers moms to raise their children in stable nurturing homes. So we started here in South Florida, really piloting this program, about four years ago. And now we’re equipping organizations really across the country to operate the EMA program in their own local cities. So we just, it’s an honor to be here and yeah, excited to get into leadership!
Tucker: That’s great. Thank you, Charlee. Alessandra, anything you want to add about your organization? What you’re up to on that front?
Alessandra Thomas: Oh, wow. That’s hard. After that spiel that Charlee gives, our little like elevator pitch. Yeah, I think what I’m most excited about to add is, We really are… When you said we’ve been authentic about what we’re learning, it’s like truly, truly what… You can hear, you can literally hear… You were saying how authentic I was about being a new mom. I was literally outside of my door trying to get into my work from home office.

Charlee: Me too. Yeah.
Alesandra: But yeah, just the ability… Charlee always says this to our team. What we’re learning about… like allowing our team to learn and fail forward—and especially as we’re scaling this new organization—Just yeah, being able to work in an environment where we feel safe in that and where we’re creating space to replicate and look at models and test it with organizations that aren’t like us. There’s just like magical moments that happen between that, and I’m excited to be on the ride.
Sarah: Well, I have a question for y’all. Charlee, your description of the organization is fascinating and it made me immediately wonder why this need? How did you come to this and why did you start the organization?
Charlee: Yeah, I have… My mom and dad fostered when I was in middle school and high school, and so I’ve always been really exposed to the child welfare space. But it wasn’t until I was 17 years old and moved to South Africa for a semester and worked in several cities in some of the poorest communities, and orphanages, and schools, and God really called me into my life’s work. To serve the most vulnerable moms and kids. And so my heart just bled for these moms that I got to work alongside, that were living in the slums of Africa. And when I went to school in Virginia, I remember not wanting to wait till I graduated to start. And so I just, we student led a program we started that was very inner city focused, serving alongside moms and teen moms who were pregnant and raising their kids. And, I just really got to live in close proximity with this crisis and do life with these women and learn their stories and understand their realities and their pain points within the communities that they lived in. And so I joke and say, I don’t know how much good we did. by providing this like mentoring program for these moms because we were 20 years old ourselves and did not have kids. But we did just, we were able to build a really genuine relationship. And so my husband and I, when I met him, we got married and moved to South Florida and we became licensed foster parents ourselves before we had kids of our own. And it was really… It was two and a half years into fostering that… We always knew our hearts would break for the kids that we served and had no idea that our hearts would break for their families until two and a half years in of doing that. And we realized the barriers and the challenges that predominantly birth moms face and experience when they become entangled in the child welfare system.
And so that’s when this saying that we say at EMA a lot became really true and became this paradigm shift, that behind every child at risk, there’s a mom in crisis and we focus a lot on these children who are vulnerable and are at risk, but we forget sometimes that they have moms behind the scenes that are fighting valiantly for these kids to keep them in their care.
And so we just became really fixated on what’s… You just begin to ask the question, why are there so many kids in foster care? And what we found is that the vast majority, 76% of these kids are entering foster care for reasons that could be prevented. And that was astonishing for us. That was really our light bulb moment. This is an injustice. This is wrong. This is preventable. And we’ve, I’ve always served the mom in crisis, but it was four years ago that aha moment became very apparent that this was our newfound vision. And what the mission of EMA was always supposed to be, was to serve that mom in crisis, but with this very tangible goal of keeping families together, empowering her to raise her children.
Sarah: Going downstream to get the root, it sounds like.
Charlee: Yeah, exactly. It’s just focused on those root causes and we re firmly believe in the next 30 years we will see that and when we talk about the family separation crisis, we’re focused on that prevention number and to say, what would it look like if our foster care system became this space that was the last resort.
Like every child in foster care, every child being adopted was because they had no family and they were truly this modern day orphan, and that anyone else, if possible could stay home and just sustain that bond that they have with their moms.
Tucker: Well and Charlee and Alessandra, you kinda… Alessandra, you spoke to this just a second ago, which is what really compelled me to want to have you on this podcast. I met you in Denver, just about a month ago or a little bit before that, and I was so struck not only by your mission, of course, what you just talked about, but how you’re really learning and living and breathing this within yourself, within your organization. As I said, our mission, which is to solve nonprofit leader burnout. You’re actively working on that inside of your own organization and being honest with yourselves about it. I was struck by the story Alessandra, as you kind alluded to, which is that, Charlee, you brought on Alessandra as the director of operations after she had just become a new mom, as an example. And there was a… And just how you’re like, we’ve got to live into this. We’ve got to embody this inside of our organization. And so I just wanted to, I wanted to dive underneath the mission, because I think how things really go down is a big deal. Because there are a lot of nonprofit leaders out there that have these incredibly compelling missions, but are totally fried, which subsequently is an enemy of creating that positive change. And so I would love to unpack this a little bit around what does this next normal of nonprofit leadership look like for you? And maybe unpack that story as well, around bringing on Alessandra as an example. And Alessandra, what you’ve experienced as the director of operations and as a new mom, around this type of work.
Alesandra: Yeah. Charlee called me when I was six weeks into my maternity leave, which I was like, “Who is this? What’s going on?” I was like head in the clouds. And really pitched this opportunity to come on as a director of operations, and I was super intimidated because I was just like, I don’t know what this new normal for our family is gonna look like. And we were in COVID. It was January, 2021, so Covid was like, no vaccines yet, we’re still figuring things out. And she was like, we can work around your schedule and this baby. And I was just like, that sounds like a dream. And obviously there’s seasons where that’s easier to do, to work around, a tiny baby who sleeps most of the time. And then adjusting to that. And then even in this new season, my son just turned two, which means that I will be at EMA for two years, like I’m coming up on my second anniversary, in March. And just even seeing that trajectory of my time at EMA where there was a lot of flexibility at the beginning and that was incredible.
It allowed me to onboard in a way that didn’t feel scary, with what to do with this trial in the middle of Covid. Now, I have a lot of support at home where my husband can take care of Oliver. I’m headed down to South Florida next week to do some planning and training and looking at 2023, Sarah, which we were talking a little bit about earlier. Being able to like really spend time focused, and like the flexibility that I get on a week like this where at four thirty I’ll be able to start hanging out with Oliver, is the flexibility that I get to give back next week where I’m working a longer week. And so it’s just been incredible. And it’s like Charlee always says, this is what we want for the moms that we’re serving. We want them to live full lives and we get to model that in the day-to-day work that we’re doing.
Charlee: Yeah, I think it’s important to us. We’re a team of all women and most of us are moms with young kids, so there’s always a lot of small children in our Zoom screens. Yeah, and it’s learning. I just think it’s a lie that women have to choose if they feel called to both. And you can do both. That doesn’t mean you have to do both, but you can do both. And that we get to exercise that and it’s really hard and it’s hard to find the balance, especially when you’re running an organization that’s advocating for moms. It’s to empower them to raise their kids. And then at the end of the day, you feel like you’re failing as one. And that’s an important reminder for us on this team to extend that grace. And I think all of us are the first ones to say if one of our kids is sick or we have to bow out of a meeting or an opportunity, there’s so much grace and understanding because we do have to practice that value of the advocacy we’re going to offer to the moms that we serve every day. We have to offer to ourselves and we have to offer to each other. And it’s really hard. I think sometimes it feels like that’s where your biggest target is on the very thing you’re trying to systemically change.
Tucker: And within that, what are some of the main pains or issues that you have faced when it comes to, frankly, merging your values with your behaviors, right? Putting it all together. I loved how you said, mothers should not have to choose. We should not have to choose as nonprofit leaders between the two when we feel called to both. What have been some of the challenges and the pains that you’ve faced in that or maybe even if you’ve seen in other nonprofit leaders face around these types of, this type of work environment, essentially?
Charlee: Yeah. Al, do you wanna go first?
Alesandra: Yeah, I think that Charlee is right when she says we can do both, but I think that you can’t do it all. Realizing what those things are that you are supposed to do and as she was saying, there are weeks where you feel like you’re failing your family because you are really focused on this one thing that you have to move forward. And just learning that, learning to ask for help if you don’t like to do that can be hard. My husband and I both work from home, which is such a gift, and we both have flexible schedules. And then every once in a while a meeting we have a meeting that overlaps when we don’t have childcare and we really have an incredible community around us and asking for help can feel some sort of weird sometimes to be like, “Hey, can you come over at four thirty and be with Oliver while I take this call?” And so I think realizing you can’t do it all. You need support and asking for it is what, or I experience some of my pain.
Charlee: Yeah. We also talk a lot about that we’re bigger believers in seasons than balance and there are seasons that are just crazy and hectic, like next week is one of them. And we plan around that and we plan for that, to create space and margin in advance or on the tail end to have that white space in your life for the rest, for just the connection back to your family. And then, in the seasons of slow, being okay with that because that’s hard too. I usually summer months, specifically July is a really slow month. And this last year I remember feeling like I was failing more in my identity at work than I was in my identity within my family and to my kids and to my husband. And learning to just lean into those seasons of both rest and those seasons of busyness. And I think there’s a lot of wisdom in what Al is saying around asking for help and needing support and being okay with sometimes a slower pace where, yeah, we’re building this organization and believe that it will be very significant and create lasting impact across this country. And it might take us a little bit longer and that’s okay. And we don’t have to do this in the next three years. We can do it in the next 10, or we don’t have to do it in the next 10 years. We can do it in the next 30. And if it means that we can still parent our kids well, be present in our marriages, present in our communities, and yeah, just lean into those seasons.
Sarah: Yeah. Cheers for the call to slow down, is what I hear you saying and being okay with that. I have a question for y’all. We’re talking about being moms in the workplace and the challenges of that, but also, the resources and privileges we have that allow us to do that. What does it look like? What does it look like and how is it different for the moms that you serve, and what are the choices? They’re not able to make that you all or we all may be able to. And how does that affect things?
Charlee: Oh, that’s such a good question.
Alesandra: We talk about this so much where if I’m late to a meeting with Charlee, she’s like totally, I get it.
Don’t worry. If my kid is sick, Charlee’s like “you can do this. You take the day”. Where if a mom is late to her job, there’s a chance she might get fired. . Yeah. Or she might not have someone to call to come over and watch her. And that’s actually something that we, when we are looking for partners to do this work with us, we ask them what percentage of their moms don’t have support, like social support around them. And almost all of the partners that we currently have, they often say like over 90% of the moms they serve don’t have social support. They don’t have that person they can call when they have a meeting that overlaps.
Charlee: Yeah, and even just being in this work, Al has a really cool story of kind of what highlighted EMA to her that you should share Al, about when you first had Oliver before I called you to come join the team. But I have a car and home, and these luxuries, like these are not necessities, these are luxuries in life and like raising two kids is still hard, right? And we have all of these things. I tell this story about this mom that was in our program a few years ago, and I was advocating for her and she had two kids and worked at Chick-fil-A. She did the morning shift where she had to chop up all the salads, so she had to be there at 5:00 AM and she would drop these two kids at two different daycares every morning before 4:00 AM and she would bike about five or six miles all the way there and then have to do on the way home five times, five to six days a week. This was her schedule and she did it. And I look at her and I’m like, I wouldn’t do that. You are stronger than me. I don’t think I would have the discipline to stick to that type of schedule or sustain that type of schedule for that amount of time. And so you really look at these moms who, most of them are single, all of them are living at or near below the poverty line, and they are so strong and resilient and some of the strongest, most resilient women we know. And it’s convicting and inspiring all in the same thing.
Sarah: And heartbreaking that they have to do that. That the system puts them in a position to sometimes have to choose. Whereas we can say you can do both. Sometimes that’s a choice based on one’s resources, right? And without those, sometimes we don’t have that choice. Particularly for folks living in poverty, because poverty is time consuming, as y’all know. Yeah. It’s really time consing.
Charlee: Yeah.
Tucker: So, in this space, Charlee and Alessandra, what are… I want to get down into some practical things. Because some of the things, like living into your values or learning into your values, you also have a very co-creative culture from what I understand, where every voice matters and you have a collaborative oriented culture. A space that you’re continuing to help open up voices from everybody within the room. And co-creation is a big deal for us too, it’s literally one of our core values. And I’m just curious, what are the rhythms that you have around both you as a mother and within your organization around collaboration and co-creation that you currently have and are working on?
Charlee: Yeah, I love that you say you’re learning into your values, because it’s so true that we are. We’re working really hard to establish those rhythms, and as a small team, my dad always describes it as getting on or off a canoe or a rowboat – not a houseboat – and it rocks the boat. We have to figure out how to build and co-create with people shoulder to shoulder. The person beside you, in front of you, behind you, affects you. And so you do have to learn to collaborate, as it is learned for a lot of people. For most of us, it’s not natural to want to lean on the person next to you and learn how to play in one another’s sandboxes, but also have ownership and agency of a lane. And that balance is really hard. Speaking from my own experiences as a leader and entrepreneur who started EMA from the ground up, I’ve done every job and I am learning how to offload those things to the person coming behind me and empower the team to get to a place where they feel like they have decision-making authority over this thing. I think this inspires rhythms for collaboration and inspires people to want to collaborate more when they feel empowered in a space to live freely and fail freely, but also co-create with the person next to you.
Tucker: Charlee, how have you, as the founder and CEO, made the shifts that you needed to, as you said, you’ve done all the jobs? And by the way, I’m asking this as a personal question, as I’m also in similar shoes. I’ve been unlearning a lot lately, is what it feels like. I feel like I’m unlearning more than I’m learning, in some way, like I’m unlearning some of the old behaviors, and as a scrappy entrepreneur, like nonprofit. As you said, you’ve worn all the hats and done all the jobs. What has been your shift in journey as an ED or CEO to make the shifts that you needed to make, to create a co-created environment? Because I’m reflecting on some of the EDs that we’re even working with right now.
Like we just had this conversation yesterday, Sarah, right around a particular nonprofit, small nonprofit, similar probably to your size and wrestling through, what’s my role as a CEO or ED within a co-creative environment, because we don’t have models for co-creation that are prevalent.
We’re used to top-down approaches and hierarchy in general. Right. I was talking to the founder, one of the founders of appreciative inquiry, our methodology, and he said that our hooks as Americans are so deeply into the leader, that one person, but that’s not the world we exist in anymore.
That’s where this next normal is. So, I’m just curious, Charlee, from your perspective, what’s been your journey unlearning and leaning into co-creation? What are some of the things that you’ve done to actively create that space?
Charlee: It’s a hard question. I think honestly, Alessandra could probably better answer because she’s on the receiving end of my leadership.
And so what is it asking even that question, like what is it like to be on the other side of me, and creating a culture of feedback and not like depersonalizing feedback and being vigilant on working on those things. And so I’m…
Alesandra: I feel like we’re in couples counseling right now!
Tucker: Tell us more Alessandra, tell us more. This is why I wanted both of you on this podcast it’s perfect!
Alesandra: “I think you’ve been really intentional in communicating the things that you feel like are hard for you. Like, and it is so true, Charlee has done literally everything. Sometimes I go into MailChimp and I see old emails that she designed, wrote, and executed, and I am like, that’s wild.
And so I think one of your strengths, Charlee, in this has been that you communicate this is something that I used to do. It’s hard for me to let go of it. I want to empower you. And even just saying those things, I think takes away some of that power of wanting to stay in that.
And I think it’s a lot of conversations and honesty around, “Hey, this didn’t feel good”, or, “Hey, can we do this different next time?” And one of the things I love about a process that we implemented last year was that we started putting postmortems in place for a lot of projects that we were working on.
And I think creating that culture of feedback was helpful not only in you giving feedback to the team, as you were like, maybe I’d like to see this done differently, but also for the team to be able to say, this is how I, this is what I would wanna do next in time.”
Charlee: Yeah. And I think that, I think we’ve all seen leaders build empires on their backs, and it is really centric to that one dynamic, charismatic leader. And yet, are those organizations enduring? Are those businesses enduring? And what does it look like post-succession plan? Does the culture stay the same? Does it change for the worst? Does it change for the better? And I don’t have any desire for authority and power. And I’ll also say this, as a leader who has done all the jobs, I’m still learning every day how to offload, how to delegate, how to let people with the most information in closest proximity to that particular issue, be the one to make the decision. Because in the moment, it’s easier. It’s faster. Yeah. And it just gets the job done. In the long haul, the only thing that’s gonna stand in the way of your business or organization scaling is you, because you have to learn how to replicate yourself and really just highlight the leadership qualities of those around you. So, especially with a small team, everyone on our team’s an asset and you’re leading something. And so I think having the right people around you, especially when you’re in the startup phase, is important. You also have to have the appropriate amount of grace for one another and have really honest conversations like Alice saying over and over again about what can I work on? And, yeah, just how to continue to build with that in.
Tucker: I love some of the rhythms that you were just talking about too, of, Charlee, some of the ways that you, Alessandra that you shared that Charlee does around being intentional about sharing what’s hard, naming it, communicating it. I like your rhythm around postmortems. And I’m curious about how feedback really happens, like what it looks like in that moment. So that’s what I’m curious about. And I’m also curious about what other rhythms, like Charlee, for example, I know that you have one around yourself with your family, right? As an example, like what are real granular, specific rhythms that you have around how you offer feedback and just around, like you’re about to have a planning session, for example. Is that one of your rhythms? Like how does it really go down? If you can unpack even more around your rhythms, that would be great.
Charlee: Well, in all of our one-on-ones we do, like we just do a personal check-in. We say, what are you longing for? What are you grieving? What are you grateful for? I’ll also be honest, we don’t always do this in our one-on-ones, but the weeks that we have time, we try to check in just personally, to just humanize this meeting, these are very real people in one room that have full lives outside of this work. And just checking and keening into those things. And then we do something called short accounts. And short accounts is just an opportunity for both parties to say, “Hey, has there been anything I’ve done in the last week that’s offended you? That’s hurt you? That was misconstrued.” 10 out of 10 times, whatever is named in that moment. And most weeks there’s not anything, but some weeks there is. And some weeks you spend half of your time talking about that thing where it is like, “Hey, when you said this, I already told this team member this. And then I felt like you overstepped by going around” and it’s just that opportunity to deescalate it, depersonalize it, and eliminate that story. Sometimes we tell this story in our head. And this narrative becomes true to me, but it’s not actually true once you air it out. And so just giving room for truth for the other person to be like, oh, I totally didn’t mean to do that. I didn’t realize I did that. I’m so sorry. And you move on and you don’t let it linger, and you don’t let it just continue to swell up into a larger issue when it doesn’t need to be.
Sarah: I love that piece around timely and always a part of the conversation, right? That’s the other thing I think that’s true about feedback, or at least I’ve found that if you let it lie without addressing it, then that story in your head gets bigger and the opportunity to let it not become a narrative is more challenging.
Tucker: What other rhythms… That was so I think, by the way, I’m thinking about nonprofit leaders that would be listening to this, that level of granularity, what you just shared, personal longing, grieving and grateful for, and then short accounts, that’s what you call it.
You give it a name, you make it a thing, and it’s a thing. Right? It’s a rhythm that you all just know is there. And sometimes you don’t do it right. But it’s a general thing. And if we have something, then it’s, we’re able to have the space. What other kind of rhythms do you have that enable some of this co-creation to happen that enable some of this connectivity to happen? Especially on such a smaller team where I loved your canoe analogy of when somebody gets off or shifts around. It actually rocks the boat. It’s not like a house boat. I love that.
Alesandra: I’ll share one that is my favorite thing we do. Yearly, we get together for a retreat. Where we spend time not only co-creating, but really just resting together and spending time with one another. Getting to know each other, our team is pretty small and there’s been a lot of growth in the past year, and so being intentional about getting to know one another outside of the office is, I think, especially important for someone that’s remote. And I am the only remote employee, so I’m speaking for myself, but there is… After that retreat, everything changed for me with the team because I was friends with them. I’m like, oh I know these people. They’ve watched me cry, they’ve watched me laugh. We’ve played games together and they’ve seen me get competitive and they still love me, so some of those things where it is then you get on a Zoom and co-creation actually becomes easier because of that, those times.
Charlee: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think the level of relationship is really important in creating culture. And we’ve even onboarded some new team members recently who have said that one of the hardest things about joining our team is this level of merging more of who I am as a person with my work. My personal and my work. And not in a way that’s invasive or expected, but it’s a breath of fresh air for them. They’re like, “I don’t know how to do this well”, and to do this in a way that feels safe for me. Especially as the team grows, for a team of 10, it’s easy to accomplish when we can have a meeting and all of us are in one room. But for organizations or enterprises that are a hundred people, it’s harder to accomplish in terms of sustaining relationship and building relationship, but that builds not just connectivity, but trust. And when you have those meetings with short accounts, it feels easier and more natural because there’s trust at play.
Sarah: I wanted to ask you a question. You’re the director of operations. We’ve talked a little bit about rhythms. I’m interested in other systems or structures you all have built within your organization in support of growing your organizational culture and improving or increasing the impact of your work. One of the things we’ve been working on a lot of THRIVE IMPACT is roles. We use the DARCI or the RACI framework. And also, what it means to make decisions and what are the specific steps one needs to make to make decisions. And so I’m curious, what are the systems or structures you all are building that you’re finding helpful as you grow into your next stage?
Alesandra: We have a RACI. We love a RACI.

Sarah: Love a RACI.

Alesandra: I’m like, we should be pulling up the RACI more though. RACI’s get forgotten sometimes.

Sarah: I’m there with you.

Alesandra: They’re buried in our, no, we, we do. Well, so a few of the processes and systems that we use is that we have a weekly Monday morning call where we are all together, we start with prayer, we start with quick syncs, and that has been really helpful in communicating just everybody knowing what everybody’s working on. And it is so quick, but it’s made such a big difference. And then once a month, we do spend like a full hour together on that Monday and just do a deeper dive into what we’re working on. Usually there’s a topic that we cover, whether it’s training or just going deeper into something that we’re doing impact-wise. One of the things that we implemented last year was a project management software called Asana. And that has been—you’re an Asana fan?

Sarah: Yeah we love Asana.

Tucker: It’s so good.

Alesandra: Yeah. It’s the best. I’m like, give me a unicorn when I finished one task, I need it. I need that encouragement.
Sarah: Love the unicorns.
Tucker: Yeah, I do too. That’s great.
Alesandra: But really just allowing people to lead through Asana, like being like, ‘Hey, you need me to do this? Assign it to me, and communicate well.’ Obviously there’s a lot of, we’ve given some parameters around what this means. ‘Don’t assign something to me for due tomorrow.’ Yeah, although I do that to Charlee. But yeah, some of those things and then we’re just, I mean, next week we’re gonna be spending a lot of time casting vision for the team for the next three years. And then even 2023, bringing some rural clarity, which I’m excited about, and just spending time looking at what it looks like to do the work that we’re gonna do next year and in the next three years, who do we need on the team? What’s the growth that’s to come? And I think the more you can communicate that early on, the better it is for a team to receive and be prepared and even be on board without having to force it. So I’m really excited about that.

Sarah: I love that. I love that. It sounds like both, it’s about the assets, human assets and other assets that you need to leverage, and that’s changing, right? As organizations grow those things shift and having the rhythms and support of understanding what you have and what’s working and what you need in order to grow, it sounds like you all really do an amazing job of that.
Alesandra: I love that.
Tucker: I’m curious, what you would tell, both of you, would tell Nonprofit leaders who are wrestling through having, either in a top-down structure and wanting… We hear the word inclusion a lot in our space, as it should come out. And inclusion of voices, and having more bottom-up approach. But it takes courage to go into the space of co-creation and what you’re doing. And for those who are wrestling, as an ED or CEO, or as directors of operations, who are like, how do I make this leap? How do I make this step? How do I, both a psychological step and then the practical step, like what would you tell those leaders that are out there that are really wrestling through. Like what steps would you give them and what kind of wisdom would you, advise them around this?
Charlee: Yeah, I think flat leadership is something we’ve talked about a lot. That also feels like a newer concept. And when I first learned about flat leadership, I, the pendulum swung really hard where I was like, ‘We’re this leaderless organization and everybody just marched to the beat of your own drum.’ And there’s not a sound strategy in that either. And so finally, someone described flat leadership. They were like, ‘What do you think flat leadership is?’ and then a mentor of mine described flat leadership as just the fewest levels of leadership possible. So at the time, yeah, just creating if we’re a team of 10, we should have two or max three levels of leadership like managers and directors basically. And where you feel like when you eliminate that hierarchy of all these very nitty-gritty reporting systems. And I realize in larger organizations, that’s harder to do. But it is possible.

And so you’ve, you afford the opportunity to feel like you’re building alongside your co-laborers. You’re co-creating because you feel like on the same level as the person next to you, and even for the person that you are reporting to, that you have that they are like tuning into your perspective and your voice, your thought, your opinion matters. And there’s a lot of practices that go into that where you can’t be a CEO or a COO that is like just checking the box and asking what you think but don’t really care and they’ve already made their decision. It is a sounder practice of I have to defer to my own opinion and like making that very conscious decision of I think this is the better way to go, but don’t die on these hills that are not going to be catastrophic to the greater organization. If this is not going against our mission, if this is not like exploiting someone, hurting someone or like violating the fidelity of who we are, what our values are, is it worth it?

And so you’re asking yourself pretty consistently when you’re including the voice of everybody at the table, that they feel heard and that they’re not just sitting there to listen, but they’re participating and they’re contributing. And, yeah. We have a lot of like rules even in our meetings where we’re like, there’s no bad ideas, especially when we’re brainstorming. Because if you are sitting at a table and you throw out a few ideas and people say, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,’ and you’re like, ‘I’m scared to talk because I feel stupid when I do.’ And we have some really strong personalities on our team too that aren’t shy of sharing their opinion.

And so it’s also channeling that and doing that in a way that still brings dignity to the people at the table. And then it’s to say for us, our customer is the mom. And so I think even in this season, we’re learning how do we bring her to the table? Yeah. As we build programs like centric to this person that is on the very receiving end. And, we’ve not done that well in the last few years, and we’re finally like, tuning back into what does that look like to have a client, like a former client, a graduate on our board one day. Yeah. And that gets to really be like at that governance level, but on all levels of leadership that we have a diversity of voice.
Sarah: I love that. And THRIVE IMPACT, we like to say, is it safe to try? That’s a question we ask ourselves when one person is like no no, we cannot. And it’s like well, to your point, is it mission drift? Is it gonna hurt someone? Or is it maybe safe to try?
Charlee: Yeah.
Sarah: And the answer 99% of the tiem, yes.
Tucker: Yeah. Totally.

Charlee: Yeah. Yes.
Tucker: And it’s mostly our own fear, and I’ll speak for myself, my own fear that’s getting in the way of us trying something.
Charlee: Yeah totally
Tucker: My last question for you both is, and this comes back to you personally, What’s been made possible for you as a nonprofit leader to be able to have a culture like this to… And then again, not that it’s not perfect, it’s not done, it’s this journey. And so I want to just, voice that. But you’re continuing to learn into having a more flat organization, having a more co-creative approach, and including not only with your team, but with the very people that you serve as well. But for you as a leader, what’s made possible for you in your own leadership journey, your own personal journey and burnout, if you will, by having this type of an organization and this type of a culture.
Charlee: Al, you wanna go?
Alesandra: That’s a hard question. I love that you are making me go first.
Charlee: I don’t know my answer yet. Do you wanna go first?
Alesandra: I think that for me, it allows me to live a fuller life. I know it sounds silly, because we all are, what’s full for me can look different than other people. But I do feel like being able to spend time with my family and have what feels like balance at times and seasons that balance each other out eventually throughout the year. Just gives me a lot of fulfillment. Like I can watch all I can watch Oliver, I can watch him come home, I can give him a squeeze before he goes down for a nap. There is something that is intangible for me in that. And yeah, it just makes me really thankful for what I get to do and how I get to live that. And it also allows me to live, like to live in the city that I live in, which Sarah knows is a very crazy paced place. And to have this sort of, which we are like we keep saying next week is going to be crazy, but to have a place that feels safe and not that way is like really soothing to my soul.
Charlee: Yeah, I would agree. And just echo that around family and the flexibility that comes around, even just like building your own business or your own nonprofit and being your own boss, but also trying really hard to just set really healthy rhythms and routines for the people around you so that they can also benefit from that same culture and that same flexibility because we value family and we value those things.

And so I think just even being able to just learn under the presence of phenomenal global leaders, I feel like 90% of the things I say is just a regurgitation of something else I heard from someone so much wiser than me and that is has gone far beyond, I have, and I just sometimes have to just pinch myself when you think about the people you get to meet along the way and the even coming to Denver recently when we got to meet you guys, the people we met, you just, you feel like you’re, it’s an out-of-body experience where there’s so much good happening in this world. So many people living very missionally and I think something being made possible is like there’s a lot of people that do their jobs for the paycheck and like just to live or because they feel like they have to keep up with some kind of expectation or pace at the world and society puts on them.

But what does it mean to live with so much purpose and the purpose being like, when I die, the mark on this world is that I hope it’s a better place, for these moms and these kids, and that systems change because of this work that we got to pioneer. And so just that element of it is actually in ways a luxury and a privilege to be able to wake up every day, do something you love, you’re so passionate about, and that there’s deep embedded purpose in it.
Tucker: Wow. Charlee, Alexandra, I just wanna share that this was such a gift for me personally to not only have met you in Denver, but I just want to appreciate the level of honesty that you have. And it’s not just an honesty in what you’re sharing, but also an honesty in how you live.
It’s an embodiment, like you’re really trying to embody and not serve people and then totally get fried. And it’s a balance and it’s attention. It’s something you’re learning into all the time, yet you’re striving towards that. And I just appreciate that. Because there’s a lot of nonprofits out there that fry their people, frankly, and don’t look at the culture and don’t go into that space and just sacrifice people on the altar of the mission all the time. And I just appreciate how you’re holding those two in balance and in harmony it sounds and more and more as you keep going. So thank you for the gift of this and some of your practices and things that you do.
Charlee: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for having us and we gotta subscribe to this podcast and start listening.

Sarah: Do it!
Alesandra: Thank you so much. This was so fun.
Tucker: Well, for all of you who are listening, we’ll have some ways to connect with Charlee and Alessandra in our show notes, down below www.everymothersadvocate.org is their website. Charlee and Alessandra, look forward to continuing to connect with you and be in community potentially one of these days. I know you’re talking with people here in Denver around EMA and all that work, so I’m just so grateful for that. Sarah, any last things before we go? I just wanted to offer that.
Sarah: Oh, I was just gonna say the same. It was such a gift to connect with you all and the work that you’re doing is just, it’s really inspiring. I think every mom and every dad or every person that are parents knows that feeling of, “What if I can’t have my child?” Or the idea that the system is not set up for some of us, particularly folks of color and people in poverty to keep their children you’re working on that is huge. And just thank you for the work and for sharing it with us.
Charlee: Oh, you’re welcome. It was an honor to be here. Thanks so much for having us.
Tucker: All right. Have a wonderful day y’all. Bye.