Sitting down to write a cover letter can be one of the most stressful activities in your job hunt. In part, this is because there is so much conflicting advice about these simple one-page writing assignments, including the old canard that no one reads them anyway. My own experience, and a quick survey of my colleagues, has proven that cover letters are read and considered an important part of the application process, and that part of the confusion is that the role of the cover letter changes based on your employment level and industry.

My friend Laura Kopp, an MBA student at University of California-Davis, said that we need to change our frame of mind when we sit down to write a cover letter. “Use the cover letter to apply what you have done in the past to what issues you see the organization facing in the present and the future. You’re not begging for an interview, you are starting a conversation you look forward to continuing when you meet with the hiring manager.”

Below are a few guidelines that I discovered in conversation with my other smart friends:


If I am hiring for an entry-level position, I am not expecting an impressive resume—that’s part of the point. So although I want to see what you’ve done and how you’ve demonstrated leadership on campus or in your non-career positions, I’m more interested in your potential. And I’m going to find that in your cover letter. So don’t just tell me what you’ve done, but also what you want to do.

However, when I am looking for a new position, as someone with more than 10 years of career experience, I need to pitch myself differently. Although my resume details my successes in each position, I need to synthesize this and demonstrate that I have a philosophy of fundraising, and that is what has lead to my accomplishments in the field. Basically, I need to prove that I have the skills to do the job and the potential to exceed the employer’s expectations.


Think about the job to which you are applying and how the cover letter might be used to determine your fit. For instance, if you are in a field that requires strong written communication skills, your cover letter will come under more scrutiny. Potential employers will want to see that you can describe your experience clearly, diplomatically, and compellingly. If the position is more administrative, they will likely spend more time combing through for grammatical or copy errors. (Yes, it happened to me: I once applied to a proofreading job with my unproofread cover letter. It was humiliating. Don’t do that.) However, if your position won’t require writing more complex than project management emails, understand that it likely won’t be read very closely at all.

In all of these cases, you will still need to write a cover letter, but if it will be a less important consideration, spend your time on elements that will really make a difference. This could be a sample work product, your interview, or a detailed resume. Don’t let your stress over the cover letter undermine your ability to show yourself as a strong candidate.


In fundraising, we talk about being “donor focused.” In other words, we know that we can successfully raise money when we think about what information the donor wants from us (rather than what we want to tell them). You need to apply this thinking to your job applications as well. After all, it’s not about you—it’s about them. You need to make the case why hiring you is going to save them work in the long run.

The best thing you can do here is to customize your cover letter. I’m not saying you can’t recycle good writing, but understand that different organizations are looking for different types of skills, personalities, and passions. You need to focus on what they want—and after all, they tell you what they want in the job description—in order to move on to the next phase of the process.


I know, it’s a cliché, but it’s the only way that you’re going to get a job that will really allow you to succeed. You should not tell the employer everything about you in your cover letter, but you should not shy away from showing off your personality. Although it will only be a hint, every hiring manager is going to think about how you would potentially fit in the workplace. Don’t bother putting on a professional mask in your cover letter (or in interviews!)—it will only make it harder for both of you in the future.

When we understand why a hiring manager needs a cover letter and how it may influence their decisions, it makes it a lot easier to sit down and write it. So don’t be confused or discouraged, see it as just another opportunity to demonstrate how awesome you are.




Here a few facts about me: I am incredibly hard working, but when I burn the midnight oil (and especially when folks I supervise have to do so) I always try to keep my sense of humor. I really care about the issues on which I focus and view every delay as a delay in justice. I firmly believe that everything you need to know about fundraising can be learned from This is Spinal Tap. I look terrible in a black pantsuit.

I like all of these above characteristics about me. I think that they are the reasons that people enjoy working with me, and why I have been successful in my career. When I have not stayed true to the above is when I have gotten in trouble, pushing my project, my team, and my own goals way off track. In particular, I’ve gotten in the most trouble when I try to “act professional.”

What is really meant by this advice is “get people to respect you.” And yes, some people will respect you if you wear a nice dress rather than adding your yoga pants into your career wardrobe, but that respect is going to come from the confidence you project.

Any time someone asks you to be someone other than who you are, it’s bad advice. Any time someone focuses more on your appearance than your substance–you are screwed.

I have tried to wear make-up and nice Calvin Klein sheaths and use an even tone of voice and try not to laugh too much or crack jokes in meetings. And I have felt like an imposter. Because of that, I wasn’t effective. Instead of seeing brash, witty, passionate ME, folks saw a scared little girl playing dress-up. No one respected me because I didn’t respect myself in this drag. What a loss for both sides!

And also, let’s face it, “professional” is a word used against many of us in the workforce as an excuse for why we aren’t getting paid or promoted equally. Sodreadlocks and natural hair on African-Americans isn’t “professional” and ladies need to wear pantyhose and recent immigrants are told to smooth out their accents (unless they are British or Australian or “white”). Our behavior is read differently—we are uppity or strident or whiny or lazy no matter how our coworkers act. In cases like this, “be more professional” is an accusation, a way of undermining your confidence so that no one will ever respect you.

So here’s my advice for the ill-advised, for when someone suggests that you act more professionally:

  • Ask for more detail. If they mean “show up on time” or “shower before you get to work,” I’m gonna be on their side for this one. If they don’t offer you any details, that tells you that they are feeding you a line.
  • Ponder on whether they are right. If your boss or mentor suggests that you fly off the handle easily, ask for examples and think about them. Just to yourself. Can you see how the situation could have been misread and how you could have acted differently and seen a better outcome? Or do you think they are misreading the situations? Consult with friends and family on this, folks who love you but will call you on your crap.
  • Decide whether you care. This is the thing—you don’t have to care. If you don’t, you may not to work in this position or with this organization any more. However, this will tell you what kind of position you want as you look. That might be somewhere that will not bug you about your tattoo, that appreciates outbursts of emotion, or where you can bring your dog to the office every day.
  • Do something. If you have determined that you want to make changes to how others perceive you, work with a coach or very honest friends to make it happen. If you have determined that you need to change where you are working, start looking. Either way, don’t rest in the judgment that you can be more professional—it will only erode your confidence.

The best thing you can do for your career and your life is to be fully present. Don’t waste your time worrying about being professional and instead focus on doing your job to the best of your ability. If you are sure of yourself, you will establish what professional is, like this:


Low on Cash? 3 Last-Minute Nonprofit Fundraising Ideas

Low on Cash? 3 Last-Minute Nonprofit Fundraising Ideas


he year is coming to a close, and many nonprofits have been planning their holiday campaigns for months—and in a perfect world, you would have done that, too. But, things happen, and between program crises, a major fall event, and the holidays—well, you thought you’d be further along than you are.

2013 may be winding down, but don’t worry; even post-#GivingTuesday, there are a few ways to raise some revenue and bolster your future fundraising plans before you ring in the new year. Here are three of my favorite—and most effective—last-minute fundraising ideas. Read on, then get started—there’s no time to lose!


1. Online Challenge Gift


A great way to persuade people to give is to ask one of your individual or corporate donors to match any incoming donations within a certain timeframe. This kind of campaign is gaining popularity because, especially when the average person is still dealing with the effects of the economic downturn, donors appreciate that their money can have double the impact. Also, because the match will only happen during a certain timeframe and if you meet a certain goal, it persuades people to give now, rather than next month (when they’re looking at their holiday credit card statements).



What to Do



1. Find a Donor Willing to Take the Challenge


Because time is of the essence (only a few weeks left!), your donor should be someone who has a close relationship with the organization, like a board member who hasn’t made his or her annual contribution yet. Challenge grants usually require a little extra paperwork, so start working on that now.


2. Promote


A challenge campaign is most successful when it emphasizes the urgency of the situation (“We only have two weeks to raise this money for the next semester!”). So,update social media and send out emails regularly with updated benchmarks and reminders of the upcoming deadline.


3. Measure


A fundraising thermometer may remind you of a telethon, but it works. Don’t assume that your audience can instantly calculate what 63% of $25,000 looks like—show them. If you have an IT person on staff, he or she can advise how to update an online thermometer automatically, or you can use a site, like Crowdrise, that has a measurement tool built in. Make sure to post this on social media and, if your headquarters gets a lot of foot traffic, in the reception area to get everyone excited.


2. In-Kind Drive


Folks may be burnt out on giving cash, but if they’re already out and about buying gifts (which, with three weeks until Christmas, they probably are), they may be willing to pick up something for you or your clients. You might not get the flexibility of cash, but you still get what you need—and even save yourself a trip to the store!

The key here is to clearly communicate what you need and don’t need—like Santa, your donors won’t know what’s on your list unless you tell them. For example, New Alternatives, a NYC-based agency that serves homeless LGBT youth, has a year-round Amazon Wish List for general needs (such as socks and toiletries) and runs a Gay Santa program every December that allows donors to give directly to clients. (Full disclosure: I’m a proud Gay Santa this year!)



What to Do



1. Make a Wish List


You can do this on shopping sites, like Amazon or Wishlistr, or you can simply list the items on your website. Most importantly, make it easy! Provide links to anything that can be purchased online, and make sure it’s in a ready-to-print format so folks can add to their shopping lists. (And if you work with picky teenagers or need some rather unexciting items, like office supplies, plenty of people are happy to give gift cards—just add them to the list.)


2. Outreach


Once you have a wish list created, spread the word that it’s there! Send out emails, update your social media, and include links and reminders in all organization communications between now and the end of the year, so that your donors know that you will take more than cash.


3. Spread the Love


Make sure that your donors are telling others that they’re participating in your organization’s drive. To make it easier, email them with sample messages that they can post on social media, and explain how this extra touch really helps. Peer pressure does wonders around the holidays!


3. Don’t Forget Holiday Cards


Fundraising isn’t always about asking for money; it’s also important to establish relationships and get your name in front of the people who are likely to be future donors. You want to remind people that your organization exists during this charitable time of year (sometimes that’s all it takes to remind them to give).

Most businesses already send out holiday cards, but if you don’t have a proper appeal going (e.g., your greeting is a stock “Dear Valued Partner”), it’s worth it to be a bit more thoughtful about them. Think about who you’re writing to and what theycare about, and you might earn a prized spot on their mantle.


What to Do



1. Brainstorm Your List


Remember, since you aren’t explicitly asking for money, there’s no reason to be shy about sending nice cards—a lot of them. Yes, your current donors should certainly be on that list. And what about those prospects you met last February? The vendor who’s raking in the dough? Someone you honored at a past event? A holiday card to Bill Gates isn’t going to get you anywhere (wishful thinking!), but a thoughtful note to a foundation program officer who works in your area will be appreciated—and may garner a donation this year or next.


2. Personalize


If all you’re going to write is “Happy Holidays!,” you might as well throw the card in the trash before you bother to stamp it. Donors who have their mailboxes stuffed with catalogs and fundraising letters will likely see your generic greetings as a waste of money and paper, which doesn’t help you prove that their future donations will be used wisely.

To really hit a home run, mention something in your message that lets the recipient know that you actually thought about him or her while you were writing it, whether you reference a vacation, a family member, or a life goal.


3. Follow Up


Keep your mailing list handy in January, because that’s when you can start calling and emailing those people to keep the relationships going and move them toward bigger regular gifts. A simple holiday card may sound simple, but if you start planning as soon as possible (and make sure to follow through), you’ll have a fundraising plan that takes you through the next 12 months.


The holidays can put extra pressure on you when you’re already at a breaking point, especially when it comes to fundraising. But keep in mind, it’s one of the mostcharitable times of the year—so take advantage of it! Take the time to invest in some of these projects, and you’ll be able to start January off on the right foot.

Artist Ramiro Gomez Paints Invisible Workers into Wealthy Homes

Artist Ramiro Gomez Paints Invisible Workers into Wealthy Homes

I wrote this thing at Bitch! Which has meant that I have been obsessing over every Facebook comment, thanking everyone on Twitter, and befriending everyone on Facebook who “liked” my piece. I’m also on a mission to interview Gomez for Bitch‘s podcast, so any social media pressure you want to put on him would be much appreciated!

Seriously, it is such a thrill to have my work featured on Bitch. I have every issue of their print magazine going back to 1998 and I’m really honored to be part of them. *squee*

The scene is familiar to any fancy home design magazine reader: the perfectly appointed living space full of gleaming surfaces, fluffed up pillows, artfully arranged flowers next to tasteful objets d’art. But painted in to this pristine domestic landscape is the woman who is actually responsible for the polishing and dusting and cleaning of the space—Edith, a brown-skinned woman waiting for her check.

For the past 5 years, Ramiro Gomez has been interrupting magazine spreads and advertisements, tearing out pages and painting in the workers on whom the wealthy homeowners depend. Gomez is an LA-based artist and nanny who started painting workers onto cast-off magazine spreads while his charges were napping. About his subjects, he recently told South California Public Radio, “I’m trying to ask you look into them a little more.”

The figures are simple, without facial features. The tools of their trade—mops, rags, laundry baskets, and lawnmowers—are painted into the scene with them. They are frequently in the act of work, although some scenes show them taking a break, or waiting to be paid. They are all brown or black. They do not blend in. The figures are blocky, dressed in casual clothes that clash with their uber-fashionable surroundings.

Their faces are hidden or impersonal because they are generally not seen, or not seen as individuals—they are “the help,” “undocumented.” Gomez doesn’t assign personality to the individuals, but the portrayal forces the viewer to consider the workers’ humanity. The altered pages ask make us wonder why we didn’t notice that they were missing before.

Although the addition of one figure is simple, the person is jarring as we realize how infrequently “the help” appears in other, real-life glamorous scenes where their labor is essential. Domestic workers aren’t only missing in art or home décor magazines. They are also excluded from many labor protections. It was only last year, in fact, in which a loophole that excluded two million domestic and care workers from basic employment laws, such as the minimum wage and overtime, was finally closed. Domestic workers are largely women of color, and many are undocumented. According to the National Domestic Workers Alliance, domestic workers earn substandard wages; do not have employment contracts; and many face abuse and mistreatment on the job.

The inequity and low pay are explicitly addressed in Gomez’s work as well. He paints over a Rolex ad to include a post-it note with one worker’s pay explained—$80 for 8 hours. The craftsmanship of a status symbol is valued, yet the people who care for your children, clean your home, and maintain your yard are offered a pittance. (As a reference, a Rolex can cost more than $40,000 a pop—or two years’ salary for a minimum-wage worker.)

Gomez has branched out from the magazine to also create cardboard cutouts of workers and installs them in wealthy neighborhoods around L.A. Gardeners are propped near the manicured hedges, housecleaners take out the trash. Some workers take pride in the fact that their work is being represented and valued; others have feared that the cutouts bring more attention to them, which could include reprisals from the police.

By placing the cutouts in situ, we are forced to realize how little attention we pay to the workers themselves. Gomez rejects the title of activist, yet the cardboard cutouts are implicitly so. Especially since he placed figures on the lawn of the White House and Capitol during the immigration reform debates in early 2013. (They were quickly removed due to security concerns.)

More recently, Gomez has reimagined David Hockney’s iconic images of southern California. Hockney’s cool, geometric renderings of Californian scenes are a canvas for Gomez’s workers—cleaning the pool of “Last Splash” (now “No Splash”), mowing the lawn, and scrubbing the shower. Like Hockney, Gomez works in acrylic paint, which lends itself to flat, bright colors. Despite the flat paint, Gomez’s inclusion of the workers add depth to the images. Southern California is not cool luxury for many—it is place of hard work, of trying to make ends meet.

Gomez is claiming his space in the art canon and justifying the workers’ worthiness as subjects of high art. As in his interruptions of ads and magazine spreads, he insists that the work and worker matter more than the end-product to be admired by a wealthy individual. Although the American Dream is that if we work hard, we will succeed, Gomez’s work shows that that success is still supported by a workforce that is ignored, underpaid, and underappreciated.