Meet Karen Bloom who is Chief Advancement Officer for Project Kesher, an organization that trains women to become change-makers across 9 time zones, with leadership programs that are based on Jewish identity building and social activism. She is a nonprofit senior staffer who knows the value of walking at work. Karen not only talks the talk, but she walks the talk. (Bad pun, I know)
I was introduced to Karen Bloom through Barbara Glickstein , a colleague who is connected with me on Facebook. When she saw the announcement for my next book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, she told me, “You must interview Karen Bloom.” And, I’m so happy I got a chance to interview her. Here’s what I learned:
Karen learned about the importance of self-care as part of her organization’s work on issues of women’s empowerment and women’s equality in Eastern Europe and Israel. The organization has a focus on social justice activism and they work with women change makers. They have a Women’s Health Initiative, but as Karen points out, “Before we can do work to spread health programming, we believe that women have to be good roles for taking care of themselves. Like when you are on the airplane, you are told to put on the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. ”
Often social change activists are so passionate about their particular issue, that they ignore self-care. As Karen observes, “We found that many women, major activists, that we work with are on the go around the clock. They don’t rest. They don’t care of themselves. This was theme in every country we worked. ” Bloom recalls going to a nonprofit conference hearing people talk about their incredible work in their presentations, but the hall way conversations revealed a different story. High levels of stress and burn out and people feeling guilty if they don’t put their work first.
Karen is describing the very reason why Aliza Sherman and I want to write the Happy, Healthy Nonprofit. And while this attitude is so finely ingrained, we hope to get people to stop for a moment and talk about it , and make changes in their work lives.
At Project Kesher, Karen understands the restorative qualities of a walk in the woods and how it can make your work more productive, even more fun. Project Kesher is located in a large office building in Westchester County that is next to a county park with beautiful hiking trails. Karen does regular “walks and talks” with staff, in small groups and one-on-ones. She also invites funders on walks to discuss the programs. She does this rain or shine and even in the snow.
Says Karen, “What happens is that if we are sitting in a staff meeting and try to tackle a problem, I get them to stop and I say, let’s put this on our hiking meeting agenda. We will go in the woods with our list and brainstorm ideas for campaigns or programs. We have found that one hour walking brainstorm yields more creative ideas than if we sit in our chairs in a stuffy conference room.”
Says Karen, “If we sit in a conference room, we tend to get lethargic. We might grab some coffee to get us thinking, but it is strained. There is a something about walking quickly and breathing that leads to more innovative, creative ideas. Karen is describing something that has been found in a number of scientific studies: walking stimulates creativity. Walking meetings are ideal for brainstorming activities and it just takes a little thinking about how to structure into your day. And, a walk in the woods improves brain function, so with Project Kesher’s building being located near a hiking space, she is giving her staff and donors a double boost of creativity.
Karen also does solitary hikes and walks as much as she can in order to refresh herself. “I prioritize my physical and mental health as working for a nonprofit is stressful.” She also does a mini-technology fast one day a week which she calls a critical piece of refreshing herself. “I get lots of email like everyone else and I can only tackle it by taking small breaks from it. ”
Her office is located in a big building with many organizations and businesses in it. She leads a monthly walk for anyone in the office building. “We have made some interesting connections with other people and organizations in the building.”
She also does one-on-one walking meetings with major donors. They get to the business at hand while walking, but walking shoulder-to-shoulder builds relationships with donors. Says Karen, “It is much better to do a walk and talk with a donor than meet in a coffee shop. ” She has even used walking to help raise money for her organization by offering a walk and talk as a fundraising auction item.
Does your organization incorporate walking as part of its work or office culture? If so, Aliza and I would love to interview you for the book.