Inside IPM: Meet Jana Olslund
“Inside IPM” is an ongoing series featuring the talented players who comprise the IPM Advancement team! Here you’ll learn all about the people who work behind the scenes at IPM to help nonprofits raise more money to make the world a better place. Today, we’re talking to…
Jana Olslund, Consultant
How long have you been working in the field of nonprofit consulting and/or nonprofit fundraising?
I have been working within the nonprofit and fundraising field for 20 years.
Where are you originally from and what did you love most about growing up there?
I am a proud North Dakota native, having grown up in West Fargo. I loved how strong the sense of community and belonging was there. We had a weekly small-town newspaper that listed achievements like the high school honor roll, and you could always count on bumping into someone you knew at the grocery store. It was a much simpler way of life.
What gave you the confidence to jump into nonprofit consulting?
I was a bit of an anomaly because when I started my career in consulting, I learned some valuable skills pretty quickly: How to assess and engineer a successful capital campaign (hint — it’s about putting the right people in all the right places); how to write grant proposals to foundations and government entities; and how to speak with knowledge and confidence to leaders within an organization.
The key to confidence when you first start is to listen intently and ask to be a part of as much as you can (even if it is just to keep listening). Additionally, don’t be afraid to talk to others who have more experience than you do. Find people you want to learn from and ask for 30 minutes of their time every couple of months. Informal mentorship like that can be priceless.
What experiences early on in your career helped shape the way you work today?
Twenty years into my career I can say that some of the earliest experiences that helped to shape me professionally were the things that seemed trivial in the moment. Things like those last-minute preparation talks shared during the car ride to a meeting, or standing in the security line at the airport and having casual chit-chat uncover valuable pieces of a campaign puzzle. I also learned early on to never assume that someone is too busy to take an interest in your cause because oftentimes those are the people who end up most enthusiastic about helping out.
While a lot has changed with technology since I first started, my best piece of advice still is to find or create those small moments with people who have more experience than you. Don’t be afraid to seem eager and want to learn. It will take you far and fast down a fantastic career path.
What do you love most about working with nonprofits?
The people. Without question, some of the brightest and most inspiringly passionate people I’ve met are working in nonprofit organizations. Often these people are forced to work around difficult budget and staffing limitations, and it makes them incredibly resourceful and creative. I can honestly say that working regularly with people who wake up driven by a mission each and every day has made my life so much better.
Do you have a favorite hobby you like to do in your spare time?
Over the last couple of years I’ve taken up abstract painting on large canvas. I’ve always loved to have a paintbrush in my hands, but until recently it’s mostly been when changing up wall colors. [She laughs.] But abstract painting satisfies me creatively and provides a real sense of freedom — plus the pride of being able to hang a piece of my own artwork in my home.
Do you find any parallels between painting and nonprofit fundraising?
When painting, if you let your inhibitions go and not overthink things, you start to see a story develop. As your painting progresses, you can stand back and make more thoughtful choices about what colors, depth, texture, and brushstroke types can be added to create movement and layers to your work.
Fundraising is very similar. From big ideas to granular strategies, you start with a big picture and continue to refine until it truly speaks to you, whether that’s a big strategic plan, a capital campaign plan, or even a single direct mail piece. Get creative, lose yourself a bit into free-think, and go for it. The end results could be something truly fabulous!
If you could give a nonprofit one and only one piece of advice that would increase their impact on their cause, what would it be?
Invest in people who care deeply about your mission. Smarts and savvy will drive an organization a long way down the road, but pure mission investment will carry the organization over the finish line every time. Everyone from the people you serve to your employees, donors, and the greater community will thrive because of it. To that end, don't hire someone just to fill an empty seat. Find the resources to get the right talent. Look to trusted allies for guidance and referrals. The right people will absolutely make an organization!