Talking Shizzle

Courage & Confidence with Ashley Belanger

December 14, 2022 Taylor Shanklin Episode 16
Talking Shizzle
Courage & Confidence with Ashley Belanger
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Talking Shizzle, host Taylor Shanklin chats with Ashley Belanger about her love of ice cream and her amazing spoon earrings. Ashley is a big fan of ice cream and says that she always has a spoon handy in case someone offers her some. The spoon earrings are 100% functional and Ashley says they're a great way to be prepared for any situation. 

But for real; today's shizzle is about Ashley Belanger, and we discusses her work as a small business owner and consultant in the communications and fundraising field. We talk about her experience as an "accidental" executive director - how she became one, as well as her mission to help others in similar situations. Ashley leads all aspects of organizational development, including corporate governance, strategic planning, fundraising, program evaluation, program expansion, and succession. She partners with clients on various capacity-building efforts, including fundraising, governance training, and strategic planning.

Some of our conversation is about Ashley's career, how she got to where she is now, and some of the conversation shifts into values. You have to have certain values as a small business owner and philanthropist and one of the best values to pass along is the ability to show up in everything they do in coaching, consulting, and communications. The importance of authenticity in leadership and how it is often lacking in business development and other aspects of professional life. This, plus so much more is discussed like:

- The Power of Intentional Living
- Leadership Development: The Importance of Original
- The Benefits of Best Practices in the Workplace
- Research in Philanthropy
- Communicating and How to Do That Genuinely

If you would like to connect with Ashley to find out more reach out to her on LinkedIn:

Taylor Shanklin  0:02  
Hey, hey, all you lovely people out there. You've got a lot going on in your day with big dreams and big goals for your world. Are you ready to talk some shizzle and learn some shizzle from leading entrepreneurs, changemakers coaches and overall interesting people who like to shake things up. I'm your host Taylor Shanklin, CEO and founder of creative shizzle. And I am stoked to bring you a fresh episode of talking shizzle today, this show is all about helping you think differently so that you can grow. Talking Shizzle is brought to you by our team at Creative shizzle where we help businesses, entrepreneurs, and social good innovators make amazing marketing shizzle happen. Check us out on the web at Creative Now, let's talk some shizzle All right, all right everyone. We are back with a new fresh episode of talking shizzle. That was a fun one. Well, what do you think sidekick Will, how's it going today?

Will Novelli  1:14  
It's going good. That was perfect. Perfect here still Sunny in New Jersey.

Taylor Shanklin  1:19  
That's music to your ears. In addition to my shizzle intro, today, we're here on the front line with a good friend Ashley Belanger. Hey Ashley, how are you today?

Ashley Belanger  1:31  
Hello. I'm doing well. It's not sunny here. But it's also not blazing hot or freezing cold. So I will take it.

Taylor Shanklin  1:41  
Perfect. Perfect. Ashley is joining us from Rhode Island. We're remind me where exactly you are in Rhode Island.

Ashley Belanger  1:48  
I am in Providence, the creative capital. 

Taylor Shanklin  1:51  
Excellent. And you have spoons in your ears. For the people listening they cannot see the spoons in your ears. But tell us about those real quick before we move into the actual, you know, podcast topic.

Ashley Belanger  2:04  
Sure. So I'm a big fan of ice cream. And one just never know when you know when someone might offer you something, so I just assumed best be prepared. I've actually tried using them before I have eaten ice cream with these berries in my ears. 

Will Novelli  2:21  
Oh, they're functional to perfect

Ashley Belanger  2:23  
100% functional.

Taylor Shanklin  2:25  
They look amazing. They're bare spoon earrings. So spoons like golden spoons dangling from her ears. You always have the best earrings. I love your earrings. They're always really funky and fun. And that's something that I enjoy. Every time we're on a video call together. It's like what earrings are you going to be wearing? And I've never seen the spoons, and they're absolutely incredible. So let's get into who you are. What's your about what you do? Give us a quick intro?

Ashley Belanger  2:55  
Sure. So I am a small business owner, Ashley Ballinger consulting, I do coaching consulting and communications work, specifically fundraising communication, I came from the world of an accidental executive director. So I am now it is my mission to be the person I wish I had had when I was on the front lines and really in the trenches in the I hate all this militaristic language, but I don't have an alternate yet. I'm gonna go with it. But you know, when I was in the trenches, in a trial by fire kind of scenario, just like, I have this thing to build, and how do I do it? And so today, I seek to be the person I wished I'd had besides me kind of helping you figure that out. 

Taylor Shanklin  2:57  
I was curious how you become an accidental Executive Director, because that's such a large role for an organization. How do you accidentally fall into that?

Ashley Belanger  3:58  
Yeah, so funny. This is actually part of my path, not just once, but twice. I'm also like an accidental small business owner, because I didn't. That wasn't my exact plan, either. But the accidents will end I actually moved to Providence because my partner got a tenure track job at one of the schools here in the arts. And I had been working on a startup nonprofit out in Western Mass, where I live before and doing other stuff to pay my bill. And when I was looking at I knew I wanted to be in the nonprofit sector when I was looking at jobs in the Providence area. The really interesting ones were AmeriCorps VISTA positions. So I actually started my career kind of in earnest by doing a year of service, which I was recently reflecting on and thought that was a really, really meaningful experience, even though it was also something that I had never considered before. Kind of looking at those idealistic I'd work postings. And that job was working at Brown University, there's a Center for Public Service there. And my the job description was originally split between two programs out of that center. And I quickly realized that just one of the programs through an island urban Debate League was way more than a full time job. And I spent a year doing capacity building work, because that's what AmeriCorps VISTAs do, as opposed to direct service. So I was sort of thinking about systems and structures and evaluation and just kind of putting a little bit more of a container around what was already a really amazing and flourishing program. And then the recession hit and round somehow found money to keep me on, in a part time capacity the following year as a sort of consultant. And during that time, they also made the decision to give the program a gentle boot. And, you know, we had a lot of great kind of influential community members on an advisory board and the director of that center at the time, I think, sort of thought, well, if not now, then when this is a great time, you've got four months to incorporate go again, I'm tigers. And so I'll borrow a phrase from my late mentor, which is the I was dumb enough and smart enough to apply for the job. And they were dumb enough and smart enough to hire me. And that's how it all started.

Taylor Shanklin  6:39  
All right, dumb enough and smart enough in both ways. Did you act and we fall into ice cream eating as well.

Ashley Belanger  6:48  
I would say that was probably more than too intentional. Although the interesting thing is that I'm lactose intolerant. So this is also another like dumb enough smart enough scenarios seems to be another pattern. And now thankfully, they have like a lot of non dairy options. And some of them are really good. We have one really, probably too close by that's only vegan ice cream and has gluten free cone options and also gluten intolerance. So it's like

Will Novelli  7:21  
we've got some really good vegan ice cream options around us like hand scooped ones and they're dangerous.

Taylor Shanklin  7:27  
Yeah, there's one that Ben and Jerry's makes that's really good that I tried for the first time. And because I also am off gluten and recently had to cut dairy out to not because of lactose intolerance, but because of an my autoimmune condition and inflammation. And so like I do all like oat milk, or almond milk or something like that. So I was taking my kids who had Ben and Jerry's and saw their vegan ice cream was like vegan chocolate chip cookie dough, I think. And it was really good. Post like house. Just this milk.

Ashley Belanger  8:06  
Yeah, some of them. I don't think we have a little shop and other small business like no other right down the street in Providence, Rhode Island, and they made their own ice cream. It's all vegan. It started as a little superduper cute truck that's purple. And then they got a brick and mortar shop. And it's just like, I don't think I'm getting a substitute for ice cream. I just think I'm going to get ice cream. 

Taylor Shanklin  8:30  
Yeah, well, you are. Yeah, I think it's a good. It's a good segue into our next topic. Ice cream eating also is a shared value of mine. But you have some values as a small business owner, as a philanthropist that really sit at the cornerstone of everything you do. So in coaching, consulting and communications. First off, tell us what some of those values are. And second, I'd like to get into, you know, is there one in particular that your favorite or the most important value to you?

Ashley Belanger  9:05  
Yeah. So it's interesting when I was starting to think about kind of growing my business in a more intentional way. I realized that there were some processes that I had designed for clients to help them articulate their values, their mission, their vision, and I had never really taken the time to do that myself. And so it was really awesome, reflective practice, just to really think about, like, what are the cornerstones of my own practice? And I would say, I'll just grab one, which is authenticity, because I think to me, that is the most important and something that I think about a ton as far as not just my own business because I want people to understand that They're getting exactly what they see and that there are no pretenses and I'm not trying to sell them snake oil and, and then I'm showing us like, as a full human being. And I think that's something if we're going to talk shizzle, can I talk a little shizzle it's kind of one of the things that I see, that's like, troubling to me about some aspects of kind of business development. And even things like podcasts where people, you know, it sounds like, there's one way of being a leader, or when someone presents like, you know, if you do this, then the, or, you know, a true leader does X, Y, or Z, I think, you know, something that I tried to do myself is show up exactly as I am and be real about where that is. Not just on any given day, but in the full process of my life, my business, a project. And it's something that I really seek to help my clients discover, too, is, there's no one way of doing things. And if I'm trying to tell you that, like, if you do X, you'll get y than I am, Ben, that is shizzle. That, I really, I love to see when when people realize how to bring their full authentic selves to a position and they start to discover how they lead, or what their voice sounds like, for how they stand in community, whether that's a business community, a spiritual community of friends circle, you know, whatever the thing is. And so I would say, authenticity is probably at the top of the list, which I actually think it is at the top of my list, I can't remember off the top of my head, but that one feels really important.

Taylor Shanklin  11:52  
I love it. Yeah, I agree. And it can feel like this dove, sometimes, like, there are parts of it that do feel like, Yeah, I'm not like a snake oil, salesperson or something like that, you know, but like, certainly, you get those, you know, it's kind of funny, you get those emails, you get those cold outreach, you know, messages on LinkedIn, and all of those things. And I don't, I don't know, if you do that, I don't do any of that. But it doesn't mean I haven't done it before, because I was just asked to do it as part of the job, you know. And so sometimes I feel like people in that role, almost feel like they have to be that way. Because it's coming from the top down, making them feel like those are the things you have to do in order to get business or to grow your brand or to get in front of people. And I actually am glad that you talk about authenticity, and really showing up as like your whole self to your clients. Because that's actually, in my opinion, what builds sustainable business, because it builds relationships with customers who actually trust your product.

Ashley Belanger  13:06  
Totally. Yeah. And I think, you know, it's funny, too, I've, I tried to zoom out to it's a coaching practice, too, that my coach offered to me and that I use with clients, but you know, sort of zooming out and looking at the bigger picture, and paying attention to kind of what's happening around us. Because I think it's so easy to to just go on autopilot. It's like, like this idea of best practice, right? You read a book by a quote unquote expert, who says you should do this. And so sometimes we're just like, well, I don't have a better idea, I'm gonna just do this, like this person says, it works. And this person was successful by whatever kind of standards. And I see it happen, like I had a recent interaction where I was interfacing with a client, and I sort of got this sense that, you know, they were also kind of like putting on this show of like, we are professionals, and this is how professionals do things, instead of just being a human. And it was so it was so jarring, I think to me, just because of the kinds of relationships that I have chosen to cultivate with my own clients. And also, you know, it just kind of sad to a lot of times, you know, coaching clients, especially, but any kind of client, when they come to me with a challenge so often, I think the solution, like they actually already have the solution, collectively or individually. It's just kind of more about giving oneself permission to be authentic and to do things the way you, you, you you you do things and so like courage and competence are so much a part of I think what leadership development is about.

Ashley Belanger  14:52  
So let's talk a little bit about best practice and that solution and a box maybe so to speak, you know, the the best practice that seems like the solution in the box. This is the best practice for the industry. This is a best practice practice for this particular function or role or whatever you're trying to do. You were talking to me previously about how it's a terrible feeling, when that solution doesn't actually apply to you, how do you help people work through that and find the solution that actually is right for them. Even if it goes against the grain of what a best practice says to do? 

Ashley Belanger  15:33  
You know, that's sort of part of, to me what being the person I wish I'd had. To be fair, like, I did kind of have that person because the Montoya was, was my go to that I call like, interior sometimes, you know, with my most pressing challenges. But, you know, I think about, like, a classic example of this, I think, is when you go to a conference, right, a big conference, and someone is talking about a data informed approach, or they're talking about a research based practice, this has been proven effective. And we have the data to show it. And this one example, like, oh, wait, I always think of this. So I was at a session at one of the AFP global conferences kind of earlier, maybe in my career. And the presenter started out by asking people to raise their hands based on, you know, the size of the organization. So like, what, which organizations have, you know, budgets of over x, how many organizations have a development staff larger than why, and the data set in the room, like participants pretty accurately reflected the nonprofit sector in general, which is the vast majority of nonprofits are tiny. And then they proceeded to give an awesome presentation. So interesting, you know, like, research data, and I bought into it, but it was just like, there is no world in which the majority of the organizations in here could possibly implement that. And there was no way for them necessarily, to prioritize any elements of it. Because it wasn't, I mean, nothing like disaggregating data would solve the problem. But there wasn't really like a great way in. And so I love helping clients think about, you know, here's the, here's research in all these various fields, like I love people, I love people, when you put them together, I love what you do what they do, in certain circumstances, if you change certain variables, and I also really appreciate what it's like to be that one person staff doing all the things, and trying to think about how you build from here to something that feels more sustainable at a human level, like an individual, like, I can't wear 17 Hats forever, but I could probably wear 17 hats, if I know that in some near future, you know, there's a way of building it out. And so I love helping them think about really like what's the most important next step based on what's already at the table. Because it's a system, right? And I see things as system, kind of like, if you picture gears all together, as one turns, they all turn, I think, usually, if not always, there are multiple, maybe even infinite points at which you may intervene to cause something different to happen. And choosing the right intervention point, I think also really largely depends on who's already at the table, and what kind of skills and strengths and challenges and preferences and desires, you know, are already there. Those are the problems I love. And that's the way I like to think about, you know, kind of translating, quote unquote, best practice to that's great and what is usable from that, like, what is best for this particular organization or individual at this particular stage in their development or on their particular journey

Taylor Shanklin  19:35  
Well, and you love research and in theory that we've heard, right, so what's maybe a time in which you did use research, to go drive an accomplishment you came into, okay, based on this, this is how we're going to apply the research or the theory maybe give us a a shining moment of that happening in your work.

Ashley Belanger  19:59  
Guess one that that excites me. So I did a certificate in philanthropic psychology with the Institute for Sustainable philanthropy. And that just was all the delightful nerdiness that I love. And some of it, you know, some of it was like, I see exactly how this can apply to particular clients right now. And other things that would probably never be relevant for some of my existing clients. And other things that I thought, Hmm, I wonder if I kind of take this from here in this room over here, and bring that all together. And so I guess a moment so philanthropic psychology, as her Jen sharing, kind of seem on drives. So it's like, Jen Chang, she invented philanthropic psychology, she just like invented this thing. So Jen Chang talks about her sort of mission to grow love, which I totally resonate with. And the mechanism by which, you know, this research suggests we can do that. And she's not necessarily claiming you can, she's not trying to measure that. Exactly. But that building donor identities and understanding the identities that people are bringing to the table, and then sort of building on those, and even over time, transforming a supporters conception of them. So the fundraising, I started just testing some of that stuff out with one of my clients, and specifically around issues of social justice. So I think it's a pain by the way, those are the only clients, I only work with clients who are interested in pursuing some form of social justice, like, I don't care if they call it that, I don't care if you know where they are on that journey. But I work with folks who are who are interested in making change in that way. And that doesn't mean that everyone's coming to the table thinking, they can't necessarily see a vision of what a world could look like, because we're all products of this existing structure. And so I started just kind of testing different phrases and language in the communications, all sorts of communications with them. And over time, and not a long time, I started to see donors feed back those same phrases, and that same language, those same ideas back to like the executive director, and with this organization, it's also really awesome because they like we send out a bulk email, and people respond as if the executive director has literally just like, sat there and typed out an email to each individual on the list. That's because I applied a whole bunch of theory, you know, and science to how I constructed the communication. And that's been really rewarding. Also, they raise a lot more money, and so have been doing just some really bold work in the state of Rhode Island. 

Taylor Shanklin  23:09  
That is awesome. I think that that comes back to your core value of authenticity in two ways. One is that you really choose wisely, who you take on as a client based on your own personal values. And I think that's just rare in this world. I think it's less rare and are in the industry that you and I will work in and have been each other and but I think in general, like it's rare, you know, people are just always chasing more leads more sales, more money more and more and more, right? So I love that you say no, I'm gonna only work with clients that are a fit for my values. And I also think it's, it's a great example of applying research and theory to create more authentic communications. And I love it when you send out a mass email like that, and people write back because they feel like you send it just to them. And when when that happens, you're like, I wanted you to feel like I sent it just to you, right? Because sometimes, like, there's only so many hours in the day you want to communicate with a lot of people in your constituency are in your audience, and you want it to come off as authentic, but and personal and relevant to them. But sometimes it's hard to, to get to that. And so, when you do it's just amazing when people write back as if it was literally only sent to that job.

Ashley Belanger  24:32  
Yeah, I mean, that's it is hard and like, it's challenging. You know, I do I sometimes wish like I had all of the hours in a day or could subcontract a bunch of geniuses to do more research on donors and do more surveying and things but I also think there's just so much we can do short of any thing that would be or could be scientifically validated. There's so much we can learn just by like authentically listening to people and really seeking to understand other people. Why? Why is someone part of this thing? What is its meaning to them? And yeah, and it doesn't have to be like overly complicated, like, you know, I think there are some hacks we can use, especially for those organizations where like, the solution doesn't apply, like, Hey, do this complex survey, analyze the data, determine statistical significance. And it's just like most organizations, like I was saying before, most nonprofits are tiny. And so is there something you can do to just really show up and listen to folks like have genuine, open curious conversations with donors with staff with partners? I think you can just get so much from from just like really listening.

Taylor Shanklin  26:07  
Well, and you've got a client maybe fighting for justice. Sidekick dad will has a dad joke.

Will Novelli  26:17  
Justice, of course. But yeah, I was I was definitely thinking about justice the other day thinking about my Robin status, but um, yeah, I've got a great WHAT DO WHAT DID lawyers wear to work? lawsuits? I always like that one. No thinking about ice cream American thought of another perfect one. Where do you learn to make ice cream? 

Will Novelli  26:44  
sundae school

Taylor Shanklin  26:50  
Well, Ashley, this has been a joy and a pleasure to have you on you are, we didn't talk about your love of unicorns for you are a unicorn. And some incredible get to this world. You're so unique. You're so fun. You're so caring. And I just love having you as a friend and a colleague in this life and someone on talking chisels. So thank you so much for your time today.

Ashley Belanger  27:16  
Well, those feelings are mutual. And thank you both so much for having me on.

Taylor Shanklin  27:22  
Now, if people want to get in touch, learn more about you. Find out what you're about or maybe hire you what's the best way to do that.

Ashley Belanger  27:30  
So right now, it is on LinkedIn. But very soon it will be on the worldwide web elsewhere on my new website, which is not yet live, but will be soon.

Taylor Shanklin  27:41  
Awesome. Cool. So stay tuned for it. And oh, if it's live by the time this episode airs, we'll drop a link to it. Great. All right. Well, thanks so much. We'll see you next time on a new episode. Thank you, Ashley. of talking chisel, I guess. Well, hey there. That was fun. I love how much mind blowing and mind opening shizzle our guests bring to us with every episode. We hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. Make sure you hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast player so that you don't miss a beat of the talking sizzle podcast. And if you're listening on Apple, be sure to let us know what you thought and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from my listeners so that we can bring you all the good juicy Business Growth shizzle that you would like to hear about. Get in touch with us and follow along at Creative or email us at podcast at Until next time, keep making your shizzle happen