The first year for Zuri Group was momentous for a bunch of reasons. I had jumped into a new business with both feet, moved my family 1,000 miles to Bend, Oregon, and generally upended my entire life. And it was great! Our first client was Heifer International. I worked night and day to make sure their Sphere software and related e-philanthropy strategies were working well. I added a few team members. And, I spent about a million hours in Little Rock, Arkansas with amazing people working on an amazing cause. I was grateful I had made the leap.
Fast forward to 2020, and there are a new set of opportunities and reasons for gratitude. COVID-19 knocked the whole world back a bit, but we’ve been making progress. Our team has grown from a few to over 50 spread around the country. I no longer need to do a lot of what I did that first year; in fact, the talent and expertise we have added is as diverse and deep as any CEO could ask for. And, while some clients have come and gone, we are serving nonprofits, universities, and healthcare organizations that generate billions of dollars of philanthropy a year.
When I think back and reflect on then and now, I am struck by enormous gratitude. Gratitude for my team. Gratitude for the skills and mastery of technology that our team displays. Gratitude for the treasure our clients raise to achieve their missions and improve the lives of their constituents through the generosity of their donors. Gratitude for the support of my wife and family. Some of this gratitude stems from good fortune. I was lucky here and there and Zuri Group has luckily grown during the Great Recession and even during this pandemic. There are insights where I believe gratitude has played a key role:
Managing team members is tricky. I’ll share my strategies for “hiring adults” in a later post, but it sure is easier to be grateful for team members that are intrinsically motivated and deliver successful results! What I think I have learned here after a couple decades of management is that celebrating those who are self-motivated, giving them autonomy to work, and reminding them that Zuri is a team sport has empowered my team to do what is best for our clients. I am grateful for my team, they know it, and everyone benefits as a result.
I am a programmer at heart. I built my first PC when I was 9 and have been pretty technical ever since. But, guess what? There’s too much tech out there for one person to know it all, and certainly to do it all. There are also operations and strategy aspects of advancement that are less familiar to me. Cue new hires with deep talents! Fostering talent has been something of a sweet spot for me. I attribute this in part to the team points above, but there is also an element of rewarding talent and promoting diversity of talent that has helped us find, retain, and put to good use our team’s incredible skill sets. We have lost a few members as they pursued their passions, and that was a good thing…for us and for them. We have also retained just about everyone we’ve hired since 2007. One tip here is that Zuri has a weekly, team-wide “ZuriTalk” where a member tells everyone about themselves and their talents. It is often the highlight of the week. I like to think this is because we value and demand that our team displays A-team talent, 100% of the time.
Seeing the fundraising results of our clients is humbling. Sick kids are getting better, college kids are getting smarter, hungry kids are getting fed, and humanity as a whole is benefiting from our clients’ work. What I have learned is that we play a role in this. We don’t just spin up technology; it is a means to an end. So, it’s not just through better technology use, but through improving behaviors, tweaking data-driven strategies, and guiding organizational planning that allows Zuri to help those who help others. I am grateful for each of our clients (click here to see a brief list of clients and you’ll see why I am so grateful and humbled).
The holiday season spurs most of us to experience gratitude. I am grateful and I am working hard every day to set the stage for even more gratitude. For Zuri, this means little touches and big thinking, autonomy and results, and hiring the best of the best. I am interested in what you’re grateful for, so drop a comment here. And, I hope you have a terrific Holiday season.
John is an innovative leader and strategic thinker with over 30 years of experience and more than a decade in the nonprofit technology arena. John founded Zuri Group in 2007 with the knowledge that nonprofit organizations are most successful when they have trusted partners in technology on the team.