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Capability Company

A Message from our President

Happy New Year!

For the record, I am not a fan of cold weather. As I write this letter, it is chilly and bright outside—not freezing as in some of our readers’ regions, but definitely “winter” here. However, the sunshine boosts my mood and gives me a hopeful outlook to begin the year. And, when I read the responses from last month’s survey about advice for younger colleagues, my spirits rise even further.

Thank you to the many people who responded—your input is greatly appreciated! This question garnered our largest survey response yet. From your comments, I know that you have learned skills and strategies that you find valuable and are eager to pass along to others. Although the survey asked about lessons you would share with younger professionals, I found them applicable to all of us in varying stages of our careers. Read on, and enjoy!

We are also reaching out to you with 2 new postings—the Poe Center Development Director and the Development Coordinator at Marbles Kids Museum. Both are wonderful organizations with great community support. Help us spread the word about them!

Sherry Heuser
President, Capability Company

View Capability Company's profile on LinkedIn


Current Searches

Marbles Kids Museum

Alice Aycock Poe Center for Health Education

Guilford County Partnership for Children

Good business comes from good referrals. If you like the work we do, please remember to pass our name along to those in need of our services. Thank you.

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Article of the Month

Word count: 1293
Approximate Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Lessons Learned for Younger Colleagues

by Sherry Heuser

We asked: What are 3 lessons that you would share with a younger colleague hoping to move into your position?

The answer came in thoughtful, caring, and strategic responses. Although we like to think we are prepared when we take on the challenge of a new position, we realize once we have been in that new role for a while that we may not have been as ready as we thought. Sometimes, we lacked specific skills. More often, we did not have the benefit of an outside view to put it all in perspective. And occasionally, we just needed a reminder that we already knew what was required to do the job well.

In all, this sound advice is appropriate for all of us, at any time, not only as we transition into a new role. Hear what our colleagues have to say about gaining new skills, finding solutions and making decisions, building and maintaining relationships, and setting and reaching our goals. The comments remain in their original, unfiltered, direct text, but are categorized for easier reading.


  • Learn all the tech you can, even if it seems like something support staff ought to be doing.
  • Learn to write well.
  • Stay informed with current trends.
  • Read as much as you can about everything you can that relates to nonprofit issues, trends, governance and management.
  • Demonstrate flexibility.
  • Observe everything; you can learn so much about your position by observing the organization and your coworkers.
  • Read and follow the advice given by Dale Carnegie in his book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
  • Be curious. Never stop learning (foreign language and technical skills are particularly valuable). New skills = new jobs!
  • Improve your communications skills to become an excellent writer and public speaker if you are not already.
  • Be credible. That means the work you produce is accurate and on time. Always.
  • Try to communicate clearly and expect the same from others.
  • Try to learn something about accounting, fundraising, and human resources. This is where I spend most of my time. Board management is also a priority.

Solutions and decisions:

  • Follow sound Strategic Thinking process in their decision making.
  • There is more than one solution to every problem.
  • Adhere to two basic philosophies that will assure successful relationships - Full Disclosure and No Surprises.
  • Learn my job the way I did it—“Learn the ropes." Then make changes by reason and persuasion with the staff you inherit. Don't be afraid to improve on what I was doing.
  • Don't try to figure everything out yourself to impress others, ask questions if unsure.
  • Always listen to your instincts.
  • Listen... listen some more...
  • You will make mistakes, but don't let the fear of making a mistake stop you from taking necessary action.
  • Build consensus and collaborate.
  • Make every decision a stepping stone to a long-term goal (5 or more years) - do nothing that creates an endpoint.
  • The priorities for making a decision are: 1) make the client the center of the decision, 2) how will the client benefit long-term, 3) how does our organization benefit long-term, 4) how does the client benefit short term, and 5) how does our organization benefit short-term. If you don’t have a compelling answer for all 5 points drop the idea or get help.
  • Don't act impulsively. Time resolves most issues.
  • Relax; nothing is ever as important as we try to make it.
  • Don't be afraid to speak up, diplomatically of course, but don't worry about going against the grain if you feel it is the better action to take.
  • Give credit where it is due.
  • Think about the desired outcomes the organization wants to achieve with its programs and how are or should they be evaluated or measured.
  • Think impact. Assuming you have solid goals, focus most on the work that will make the biggest measurable difference.
  • Take time to listen and listen carefully. There are times when the presented problem you are to solve is only the symptom and not the real problem. Propose solutions and long-term cures.
  • Collaborate, network and always share credit - but sprinkle some credit on yourself so the boss sees your contributions.


  • Be cordial and professional but not overly deferential. You'll become invisible if you're too nice.
  • Try to work for people you can learn from.
  • Listen to colleagues who are more experienced than you.
  • Be circumspect in your dealings with staff, volunteers and especially donors.
  • Develop a good relationship with your constituency.
  • All successful relationships are based on three components – Trust, Respect, and Clear Consistent Communication.
  • Treat the great staff you inherit with respect and appreciation. My successor has kept them all and added great staff where retirements occurred.
  • Treat people as you would wish to be treated. Always ask yourself, "If I found out someone was doing this to me, how would I feel?”
  • Smile...a lot...
  • Ask only of others what you would be willing to do yourself.
  • Get out of the office and talk to people actually doing the day in and day out work that nonprofits do.
  • Remember that you are seeing things through a narrow lens that is your life experience. Get advice from people who are both younger and older, who have lived in different communities, come from different back grounds, cultures, and have different levels of education.
  • Understand that your board members are volunteers. In order to be good volunteers, they need information, management, and respect.
  • Respect your staff and remember to celebrate their achievements--and remember that your achievements are actually because of the dedication and competency of your staff.
  • Stay out of office politics.
  • Work on being a team.
  • Understand what processes exist in the organization and how they may interact e.g. who maintains the website with what kind of information from whom and who approves.
  • Choose your battles. There's a time to challenge the status quo, and a time to be a team player. Balance battles with great teamwork.
  • Address all others with respect, courtesy, and in a timely manner.


  • Aim higher than my position.
  • Maintain work/life balance!
  • Schedule your time off well in advance, before your calendar has the opportunity to fill up with things you "must do." There are always things you "must do," but one of them is to recharge your own batteries.
  • Act as if you will be successful. Other people will believe you, and will help make it so.
  • Go to college...Get a degree in something completely irrelevant, get married, have kids, and find out what you really want to do.
  • Find a mentor, ask a lot of questions, and travel as much as you can afford. The experiences you will have, the people you will meet, and the lessons you will learn are almost certain to far outweigh the time and costs involved.
  • Pace yourself. Don't overwork to the point of burnout.
  • Work hard and provide good value to your employer, but you also work for you - so make sure you pay yourself by taking time to enjoy life and make time for non-work activities.

From the sheer number of responses and the emphasis of the feedback, it seems we are happy to share what we have learned and hope to spare others the struggles we may have faced accomplishing the lessons. In reading these comments, look for gems to pass along to others, and possibly to take to heart ourselves as we begin this new year.

Bottom Line: Advice we pass along to younger colleagues can continue to apply to us throughout our careers.

Sherry Heuser is president of Capability Company Consulting, a Raleigh, N.C.-based firm supporting nonprofit organizations' searches for key hires.

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Event Calendar

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In This Issue

Current Searches
Article of the Month
The Bottom Line
Event Calendar


A Client's Perspective

"This is the first time in 20 years I've been in jobsearch mode, and I am surprised at the "uneven" quality of HR staff and recruiters.

Capability Company is truly an exception to this norm. Thank you for being professional and humane! ”



Heard Around Town

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything."

~ Ben Franklin

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