How do we know if we are doing a good job?

by Kimberly Goodrich, CFRE, Senior Director of Development*

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As the debate continues around ratings, ratios, and watchdogs, nonprofits around the country are focused on how to accurately communicate their value. If ratings do not suitably portray the efficiency of an organization’s operations – then how do we know our dollars are being well spent? What is our impact?

Impact, in the nonprofit world, refers to the change in behavior that is a result of the activities and resources provided. For example, an organization provides a class and information on the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes, and finds that 42 percent of attendees stop smoking, resulting in higher scores on overall health measures at their next checkup. If their mission was to improve health scores by decreasing the number of smokers, then this organization can clearly state this as their impact.

MSAA’s mission is to be a leading resource for the MS community and improve lives today. But how do we measure improvement? And how much improvement is enough? In the previous example, if the smoking-cessation classes improved health scores by 50 percent, this sounds great, but what if they only improved by 5 percent…is that enough? If 5 percent kept that person from having a heart attack, would it then be enough?

The improvement of a life is not easily shown on a graph or a financial statement. Sometimes we need to hear the stories that accompany the percentages and the ratios, the revenues, and expenses. The stories that remind us why we do what we do.

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank you – all of you, for helping me to live independently [through MSAA’s free equipment distribution program]. I put my shoes on by myself!! It has been years since I have done that! Thank you for the leg lifter. It lifted my spirits too!” -F from South Carolina

This is not to say that numbers do not matter. Last year, 1,040,554 people accessed our website for information – 814,776 of them for the first time. That’s a significant number of people who can have their spirits lifted and their lives improved.

MSAA has been able to improve these lives because of an increase in the number of generous donors who support us in this mission. We are incredibly thankful for this growing number of people who, through their vital contributions, experience the joy of creating an impact – and improving lives today!

*About Kimberly

I am the Senior Director of Development at MSAA and have worked in the nonprofit arena for over 15 years. I love reading, running, theatre and the Green Bay Packers. I volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans teaching outdoor sports like skiing and kayaking to injured veterans and find that I receive much more from them than I am able to give.

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Doing What Makes YOU Feel Good When You Have MS

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Multiple sclerosis in itself is a complicated and often unpredictable disease. We here at MSAA hear on a daily basis about some of the trials and tribulations that our clients with MS face. One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned in trying to understand the whirlwind of information provided about MS is to find something that is meaningful to you and to your unique situation. With all of the information available, finding something that will make YOU feel good is a priority.

Through social media, websites, and support groups, information is provided about a number of hints, tips, or things that one person may have done to alleviate their symptom, which is wonderful, but unfortunately may not work for everyone. Not every individual with MS will experience the same symptoms and even for those who may, those symptoms may appear incredibly differently.

The point behind the story and the reason for the title is that everyone has their own needs, and each person understands and knows their body better than anyone else. These experiences and feelings are unique to you and should be treated independently to others’ beliefs and thoughts. Focusing and developing ways that make YOU feel good may help to improve your overall day to day.

Explore yourself; perhaps through journaling you can identify some needs that could be met in order to make you feel good. Guided meditation is another way to explore your inner thoughts and feelings. Sitting in a quiet space with yourself and learning about your body and the way that it feels at any point throughout the day can help to center you and focus on what your body needs.

What can you do for yourself today that will make YOU feel good?

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You Can Contribute to Finding the Cure for Multiple Sclerosis:

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If you are looking for a way to get involved or change the future of MS research, the Accelerated Cure Project and NARCOMS (North American Research Committee on Multiple Sclerosis) are great places to get started!

I want to bring attention to these two organizations, which you may not be familiar with and encourage you to look into their websites if you are interested in learning more about what they do.

The Accelerated Cure Project maintains an MS-research repository and also will be launching an online patient powered research effort. They focus on making sure researchers have access to the biospecimens (for example blood, or CSF fluid) they need to conduct research, and then aggregate the results of all of the studies performed using these research samples.The sharing of research information and results helps to expedite the MS research process.

NARCOMS is a voluntary MS registry with over 37,000 registrants currently. They support the increase in collective knowledge of the MS experience through surveys and other activities in hopes that the collective knowledge gained about the MS experience will be helpful to researchers and will also promote a greater understanding of MS.

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What makes you smile?

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Have you ever noticed that smiling can be contagious? That it’s hard not to smile or laugh when someone around you is? I’m not saying that life is always known to be a smile fest, as there sure are obstacles and challenges that the road of life brings, but smiling and seeing or experiencing joy can definitely raise one’s spirits. In a world that becomes hectic and chaotic in the day to day, some smiles can go unnoticed; people still smile at one another at a grocery store, or while holding the door for someone, don’t they? It’s hard to tell sometimes, because most people are rushing through their day just to get everything accomplished, and kindness and joy sometimes go unobserved.

What would happen if you slowed down long enough to take a look around you – to notice people smiling and acting kind to one another? Even though there can be dark moments in the world, there are still some who wish to radiate joy and hope to spread it to others, especially during difficult times. So try it! Try noticing others around you, those expressing joy and smiling from ear to ear at something that brings them happiness, and think to yourself – what brings me joy? And practice embracing that joy, in your day to day…

So what makes you smile?

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Which half do you see?

rsz_middle-aged_caucasion_woman_thinking_and_reading_a_paperOptimism – the typical description is if you see the glass half full, you are an optimist and if you see the glass half empty, you are a pessimist.  It can be very empowering and reassuring to view the glass as half full. In most situations, having a positive outlook can help to impact the situation in a beneficial way.

To get more theoretical though, sometimes it may be helpful to remember it is just a glass with water and analyzing our perceptions and personal filters can help determine how they impact our outlook on life. In other words, the facts are the facts and the way we perceive a situation and our resulting emotions are usually based on personal filters of what we believe is good/bad, moral/immoral, happy/sad, etc.

Take for example when you meet a new boyfriend, people may say that you look at him “with rose-colored glasses,” meaning you cannot yet see or choose to ignore his apparent faults because you are so newly engaged in the love feeling that you are ready to brush those other concerns aside. At the end of the day, when your rose-colored filter is removed, you may be willing to deal with the shortcomings or challenges involved with that relationship, or you may be ready to hit the road running in a different direction.

In that scenario, if a person was able to view the actual situation and set aside their personal filter, they might know earlier on in the relationship that their partner is not a good match. Conversely, they might set aside someone they deem too difficult or different when if they had used a rose-colored filter, they may have given the relationship a chance and later found out that their difference could be compromised or overcome.

So back to the glass of water…ultimately, your mind may jump to one assessment or another (half-full/half-empty). While there may be benefits of viewing things one way or detriments to viewing it in another way, sometimes, especially in challenging situations, being more analytic and viewing the glass as a glass may help you to ascertain what personal filters or perceptions may be coloring your thoughts, emotions, and actions. When the glass always looks half-empty, it may be a good reminder to keep analyzing the glass and your own perceptions.

 

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Developing New Ways of Thinking

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“Optimism is like a muscle. Gets stronger with use.”-Robin Roberts

Taking an optimistic view rather than focusing on negative thoughts can benefit your overall mental well-being. While it might take some time, eventually you may find that thinking positively starts to come more naturally. Consider putting some of the following tips into practice.

List five things that you are grateful for right now. Let this practice become a part of your daily or weekly routine. It may be helpful to hang your list in a spot where you may come across it often, so that you can take a moment to think about what you are grateful for.

Live in the present. Too much focus on future and past events can distract our minds from what is important today. Meditation and yoga can help in centering the mind and body, allowing you to identify with yourself in the present moment.

Surround yourself with positive people. Positive thought patterns are contagious, so surround yourself with people who make you happy and are optimistic.

Positive thinking and optimism does not come overnight, and you do not need to be a positive perfectionist. It may be challenging to try and find the positive in every aspect of your life – health, finances, relationships, and/or work. Focusing in one area will aid in building the skills to transfer into the other areas of your life.

What helps you to maintain positive thoughts?

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May 2014 Artist of the Month: Celebrating the Work of Artists Affected by Multiple Sclerosis

MSAA is very proud to present our 2014 Art Showcase - celebrating the work of artists affected by MS.

We have received many wonderful submissions from across the country and are delighted to share their work and their stories with you. Please visit our online gallery to view all of the new submissions.

May 2014 Artist of the Month:
Bean Fairbanks – Seattle, WA

 Succulent by Bean Fairbanks

“All of my life, I have been part geek and part artist. Since 1987, I have been living with multiple sclerosis. One of the consequences/opportunities of MS has been that I have had to reinvent myself over and over again to maximize my current talents and surmount obstacles. That has been true of my career as well as my artwork. Over the years, I have crafted with charcoal, pen and ink, pastels, acrylic and oils as well as my first love: textile arts…”
Read more

Be inspired – please send an online card featuring artwork by MS artist Bean Fairbanks and spread awareness of MS and MSAA.

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Just Do It, pushing past the fear

In my attempt to become more physically active this year and try something new, I found myself curious to adventure out into the “exercise class” realm of the fitness world. Historically, I have always been a very strong person, weight lifting and cardio training on a machine has always come fairly easy. I can maneuver through a gym and get my routine done pretty easily. But needless to say, I am not the most coordinated person, I could never visualize myself taking a class where following a routine was required.

For the longest time I have wanted to try a Zumba class, but the fear of other’s judgment has held me back. In my strive to be perfect, it was hard for me to imagine not being good at something. I could just imagine myself surrounded by a group of women who can seamlessly follow the direction of the instructor and dance their hearts out for an hour. Not to mention, the room is encased in mirrors, adding to my fear of seeing myself look ridiculous.

Last week I made the call to a local fitness studio to inquire about their classes, I spoke with the owner and told her how I had wanted to join for a while now, but hadn’t come around to it. Her immediate response was “what’s taken you so long, get your butt in here”! It didn’t take long to persuade me, and the next day there I was.

I have to admit, I did think about chickening out at least a dozen times, but I pushed myself to move past my fear and go to the class. It is easier said than done, but we should not allow ourselves to miss out on life’s great opportunities because of fear, especially fear around the perceived thoughts of others. My fear of not being perfect and that everyone in the class would laugh at me almost prevented me from enjoying myself.

Although the class was hard and I was behind on almost every step, I wasn’t the only person. Looking around, the majority of the women were not the Britney Spears backup dancers I had imagined. We were all there for the sole purpose, to dance, have fun, and burn some calories.

The moral of this story is, we all have things we are afraid of but every once in a while we have to push past the fear to give things a chance. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t but at least we would know for a fact instead of imagining a scenario in our heads.

Is there anything that you have wanted to do, or try, or ask, but have been held back because of fear? How do you plan to move past it?

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I Got a FitBit to Get a Bit Fit

By: Jeri Burtchell

Like that commercial for cassette tapes from the 70s wondered, “is it live or is it Memorex?” I’m becoming unsure of what symptoms are due to my MS, and which ones I would have had anyhow. Now that I’m a quinquagenarian (who knew people in their fifties had a name?), I’m realizing not everything can be blamed on MS.

There’s new research that shows exercise can help MS fatigue which to me seems counter-intuitive. If I can’t even stay awake in the afternoon, how am I expected to exercise?

Inspired by friends who are losing weight and exercising, I have decided to become more fit. My goal was simple: I just want to get up in the morning and not hobble about like a wooden marionette. Maybe stretching and walking would be good for me.

It turns out that I’m one of those people who needs to measure progress and see rewards. I needed a tracker. While researching the various gadgets I happened on FitBit and I fell in love with the Flex. It’s a wristband that tracks steps, miles, calories burned, and even tracks your sleep. It seemed like the perfect solution.

If you are in your fifties and have MS and decide to buy one of these, do NOT leave the default settings in place. The daily step count goal is 10,000 steps. If you’ve never paid attention to how many steps you take in an average day, you’d be surprised, but you might also already know that 10K steps is pushing it for a 50something, otherwise inert person.

The package came on a Saturday so I gathered the kids and we headed off to nearby Ravine Gardens State Park where the azaleas were in full bloom. Criss-crossed with trails for the physically fit, the park is circled by a paved road so you can also enjoy it from the comfort of your Honda. In retrospect, that’s probably where I should have been.

The energy and excitement the kids were feeling was contagious. I was excited to start getting fit by becoming more active and I planned to do it by walking. I knew I couldn’t keep up with their pace however, so I let the kids go on ahead planning to meet back in the parking lot.

This ravine was not new to me. Thirty years earlier I had walked it often when my oldest son was small. I remember pushing a stroller and casually communing with nature. So the sign at the park entrance that clearly stated the drive measured 1.8 miles had to be wrong… or maybe 1.8 miles was nothing, since my FitBit also said I should be able to walk 5 miles in a day.

I started out strong, pacing myself and walking confidently, breathing in the fresh air and appreciating the sun-dappled flowers.

But before long I found myself wilting, and searching out the nearest bench to rest on. That’s okay, I thought to myself, there’s no hurry. I can rest as often as I like.

Soon, however, I was about halfway around the circumference of the park when panic set in. I really didn’t think I could make it out of the park. I dialed my son’s cell phone to let him know maybe he should send one of the many park employees for me, riding one of those golf carts.

His number went straight to voicemail and my texts went unanswered. As usual, he’d forgotten to charge it.

Sitting on a bench I weighed my options. Walk until I fell on my face, stay on the bench until someone came looking for me, or take my time and make slow progress, sitting often on benches along the way.

I opted for the latter. My fun excursion into the world of the fit became a fight to make it to the next bench where I could collapse and wait until my poor legs felt they could try again.

A good two hours after our trip to the park began I finally straggled into the parking lot where both kids ran up to see if I was okay.

That was four weeks ago and since then I have learned a lot. I have learned that while I’m not a teenager any more, I can walk a mile working out to exercise videos. That way, if I get exhausted I’m already home. I’ve also learned I need to listen to my MS.

I may have overdone it that first day in the park, but I haven’t given up. In the month since I started, I have lost almost five pounds, I no longer need to nap, and I have more strength. There’s no denying that my FitBit is helping me to get fit — one little bit at a time.

References:
http://contributors.healthline.com/mind/listen-your-body-msers

*Jeri Burtchell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. She has spoken from a patient perspective at conferences around the country, addressing social media and the role it plays in designing clinical trials. Jeri is a MS blogger, patient activist, and freelance writer for the MS News Beat of Healthline.com. She lives in northeast Florida with her youngest son and elderly mother. When not writing or speaking, she enjoys crafting and photography.

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What do you wish people knew about living life with MS?

There is often an unspoken understanding among people who have been diagnosed with MS, but it can be quite difficult for those without this condition to fully comprehend what day-to-day life is like for someone with MS. The effects of MS are far-reaching, impacting individuals physically, cognitively, and emotionally, with symptoms often unseen.

We asked the MultipleSclerosis.Net community what they wished people knew about what it is like to live with MS and to share some of the common misconceptions associated with this condition. More than 300 responded with insightful feedback. Here is a summary of the responses we received from our community members:

 MS is real, not an excuse:

  • No one chooses to have MS, nor can we control how it affects us
  • Not all MS symptoms are visible; you may look okay on the outside, but feel like you are falling apart on the inside
  • People often make the assumption that we are faking our symptoms or that we are hypochondriacs because they can’t see what we are experiencing
  • The limitations associated with MS aren’t necessarily visible, and it’s not possible for others to push us past our own limits
  • MS can be both extremely painful and exhausting, and at times we just need to rest

MS is unique to each person and is not predictable:

  • Every patient experiences MS progression at a different pace; it is not a “one size fits all” condition
  • Symptoms can change daily, or even hourly
  • Having MS can be a roller coaster ride with ups, downs, twists, and turns, but there is nothing fun about it
  • It is impossible to understand what it is like to live with MS unless you actually have it
  • It may seem like MS is trying to take away your self-worth every day by slowly making you unable to do the things that you were able to do yesterday
  • Even if yesterday was a particularly difficult day, today may be better
  • MS can knock you off your feet – literally and figuratively

It can sometimes be both stressful and depressing to have MS:

  • MS can take away our dignity by slowly and quietly taking away our mobility and cognitive thinking
  • MS is a multifaceted condition that can be incredibly difficult to live with; it not only affects us physically, but mentally and emotionally as well

The effects of MS are constant and can impact more than just the individual with the diagnosis:

  • We never stop thinking about our MS, even when we are feeling well
  • MS diagnosis can be devastating, affecting both the patient and his or her loved ones
  • We need our friends and family to be open-minded and understanding

There is no cure for MS, but it is not a death sentence (and can make you stronger in many ways): 

  • There is a continued need for research with the hope of one day finding a cure
  • There is no miracle potion that will cure MS
  • MS doesn’t change who a person is, but it can change what a person is able to do
  • Hearing a doctor tell you that you have MS can be incredibly frightening, but over time, people with MS are able to educate themselves about their condition and face it head-on
  • MS isn’t always debilitating
  • It is not contagious
  • MS is associated with many challenges, but these challenges can ultimately make you stronger

What do you wish people knew about MS? What do you think are the most common misconceptions about MS?

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