A new year…. a new focus

Five years ago, I was asked to speak about instructional design. It was the end of the training year, and I didn’t have time to prepare. I sat on the airplane to the conference and sketched the four ideas I thought people should know:

Chunk: Break ideas down into 3-5 parts
Flip: Create ways for people to learn alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms
Guide: Give people what they need to take action
Laugh: Honor and harness the emotions they bring to the topic

I’ve heard from diverse people—from keynote speakers to church ministers—that the framework has helped to hone a message into something memorable and actionable. I’ve created a workbook to keep these ideas alive as I transition to something new. 

After seven years leading Washington Nonprofits’ learning program and five years expanding my ideas on leading and learning in the nonprofit sector, I am shifting my focus. I will be stepping away from Washington Nonprofits (though I plan to keep all of my commitments through the spring.) I will be focusing on leading and learning in the nonprofit sector generally, expanding my consulting work on all things nonprofits, learning, and leadership. (Read why it matters here.) This work includes learning strategy, program development, conference design, instructional design, and more projects I’ve been keeping on the back burner.

One of those projects is Aim For Action. I am very excited to lean into instructional design with my long-time friend and colleague in this work, Margaret “Meps” Schulte. You may have appreciated the graphics behind “Starting a Nonprofit,” or maybe the video editing behind “Liquor and Your Fundraising Event.” That’s Meps’ magic. We created the website to showcase our work and plans for the future. If you have something that you want people to learn or know, let’s talk about how we can help.

I am excited to be speaking on conference design with Mark Nilles during the Learning Technology Design conference on February 27. If you have an interest in adult learning and program design, this is a great conference to attend, and it is all available from your desktop! (Use discount codes org100nb for $100 off organizational registration or ind50nb for $50 off individual registration.)

I hope that you will continue to be interested in learning and leadership in the nonprofit sector. I plan to keep writing on all things nonprofits and leadership, shared through a monthly email. Meps and I have a new ebook on instructional design coming out in February 2020— I’m excited to share it with you! If you don’t want to receive emails from me, please let me know (or unsubscribe when you receive the next email).

I am excited for 2020, and I begin it with tremendous gratitude for you. When you start a blog, you open yourself up to see who might be interested in your ideas. I jumped in with the hopes of making space for a community of people who value excellence in learning in the sector that makes our communities great places to live, work, and play. Thank you for being a part of this journey! 

Warmest wishes for a wonderful New Year!

Nancy Bacon
Learning | Leadership | Nonprofits

Adult learning, Chunk

Push less dirt, Lift more rocks

Two years ago, my family bought land north of the city. Laboring with hand tools quickly proved futile, so we acquired a tractor. The tractor’s job is to push dirt around to flatten the land for a future orchard. The challenge is that the dirt is filled with large rocks, glacial erratic boulders to be precise, so it is hard to push that dirt around. You come at a mound from the side, and it takes repeated back and forth shoving and dragging to make any headway. 

It would be a lot easier if we could grab the boulders from the above and pull them up and out of the dirt.

Lift up ideas to give people perspective

The image of putting the throttle to “rabbit mode” and ramming at mother earth with an iron claw came to mind as I was explaining instructional design. Rather than pushing through information from start to finish, it would be a lot more effective to come down from above and lift the meaningful parts up and into daylight. Give people the chance to see the whole picture from the start. That way they know what they might find as they dig deeper into what you have to offer.

What does this look like?

  1. When starting to plan a presentation or instructional design project, use a large scroll of paper to avoid the arbitrary hierarchy that can develop when writing a list on regular paper. Use the full lateral space to keep track of ideas and categorize them into buckets only after you have completed your research. See an example below.
  2. When presenting, consider language that explains the buckets up front. Here’s an example.
  3. Create graphics that show the buckets very clearly. See examples below.

Pushing dirt is really hard work. Covering vast information is taxing to the presenter and the person trying to make sense of it all. Here’s to working less and being more fruitful in the process.

Example of a collection of ideas related to starting a nonprofit
My information collector for the Starting a Nonprofit Toolkit. Here’s how it turned out: Guide and interactive tool.
Adult learning, Chunk, Emotion

Five Years Later: Lessons from FUN

Finance Unlocked for Nonprofits (FUN) launched five years ago this week at the Washington State Nonprofit Conference. We shared the five buckets of basic nonprofit knowledge every board members should know: how to read a Balance sheet and Income statement, the IRS Form 990, Giving, and Oversight. The buckets spell BINGO, and yes—we played.

FUN was the first toolkit created in what became a series: Boards in Gear, Let’s Go Legal, Strategic Planning in Nonprofits, etc. (They are all here.) It set the structure that we continue to follow. The architecture of FUN proved to be successful. In short, we put the content expert onto a short video that can be used in the three places people learn, alone, in peer groups, and in classrooms. We supplemented with downloadable resources. FUN became the curriculum used in a state contract all over Washington.

FUN has become one of my favorite traveling companions as I deliver the training in communities large and small. What have I learned from my loyal friend, FUN?

Erin Welch (Jacobson Jarvis PLLC and Andrew Welch (Improv Mindset). I spend a lot more time with Erin and Andrew than they spend with me!

“Going to scale” forces new solutions. We based FUN on an in-person training delivered in Seattle several times a year. At the time, a leader in our community implored me to address financial concerns plaguing nonprofits: many were losing their IRS status for failing to file, and fraud was nipping away the resources our nonprofits needed to thrive. “Run a training,” I was told. There are more than 50,000 nonprofits in Washington, thus roughly 500,000 board members who need to be trained. Where should I put that training? How will training the 50 or so people who come have any impact? The result was a blended learning solution that puts the CPA on video, thus not necessarily in every training room or living room where someone is learning from FUN. 

Play in the sandbox of emotion in design and delivery. At the time we created FUN, another organization offered a finance workshop with marketing language that referenced dental surgery, something like: “Do you think finance is as fun as getting a root canal? Its painful but important.” I was the only person to sign up. We took the predominant emotion many people feel with finance— fear— and both honored it and flipped it into comfort and joy. An improv actor joined the CPA on film, introducing both laughter and simplified explanations into the story. The BINGO introduced a framework everyone knows. Since storytelling is inate to us humans, we practice income statement reading with my favorite activity ever, a “Once upon a time” storytelling exercise.

Communications is a key part of curriculum design. Early on in the development of FUN, our communications partner drew a clothesline with rectangles hanging off of it. Our job was to take all of the content we generated and sort it into boxes that would hang from a central thread, essentially our thesis. This approach moved us from pushing throughcontent to observing it from above. That bird’s eye view led us to five buckets. It was so successful that “chunking” became a standard part of our instructional design process.

We created FUN to train board members across Washington about finance. Along the way, we learned ourselves what works when teaching courageous volunteers with little free time who want to do right by their organizations. Happy birthday, FUN!

If you want to know more about the instructional design behind FUN, visit my website here: