Maria Bryan on How to deal with Imposter Syndrome in Nonprofit Marketing

maria byran imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you are a fraud. It makes you doubt yourself, your abilities and makes you feel like any success you have is because you got lucky. These feelings are incredibly isolating and can make it difficult to feel confident in your work, but luckily there are things you can do to break free from this mindset. 

Maria Bryan is a nonprofit marketing strategist who works with purpose-driven people seeking purposeful marketing for their nonprofit. She joins the show to shed light on what it means to experience imposter syndrome and what we can do to combat it. 

Maria’s Top 3 Tips On Dealing With Imposter Syndrome

  1. Talk about it. Reach out to 3 people in your network that you feel safe opening up to about how you are feeling. Often times we find that others have gone through the same experiences we are and it can help you feel less isolated to discuss it with others. 
  2. Acknowledge your feelings and understand that you are outside of your comfort zone. Once you recognize these feelings of discomfort you can begin to tackle the situation from a different perspective. 
  3. Recognize your progress. Find a pen and paper and write down all of the steps you have taken to better yourself, all of the expertise you have and the success you have made in your career. 

Our Favourite Quotes

[10:06] The last thing I'll say is to embrace failure, which is probably repetitive advice, old advice, but really good advice, because really, truly, when you will make mistakes and every mistake you make is likely a mistake you're not going to make again.

[11:40] The best thing nonprofit leaders can do is admit their own failures to apologize when they make mistakes, to be open about the earlier parts of their journey and how far they've come. I think that some of the most encouraging leaders I've had are those that let me know where they were when they were in their 20s. And I look at where they are now and think it just seems so far away. But they were right where I was in their 20s. So take the time to talk about your own journey.


Let's fight Imposter Syndrome with the incredible Maria Bryan.

Hello, and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes Podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator in nonprofit technology, our team at Driven is determined to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. Give us a visit at Trustdriven dot com to learn more about how we can help you with your donor, volunteer or member management.

Imposter syndrome is something that we've all probably faced in our careers, right? I know I've experienced it. You've probably experienced it. And unfortunately, it is a condition that a lot of people face on the daily.

It makes us feel like we aren't enough. It makes us second guess ourselves. And most importantly, it makes us feel like we are not worthy of our success. But luckily, there are things you can do to combat imposter syndrome. It's a lot more common than you think, and we are here to talk about it today.

Maria Bryan is a nonprofit marketing strategist who works with purpose-driven people seeking purposeful marketing for their nonprofit. She provides practical strategies and empathetic mentorship to organizations ready to amplify their mission and their message.

She has over ten years of experience in marketing, communications in the public sector, as well as a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in journalism. Maria is a firm believer. That storytellers make the world a healthier, safer, cleaner, and happier place. I am so excited to have her on the show today. She's going to share how we can overcome imposter syndrome and feel a little bit more confident in our ability. So thank you so much, Maria, for coming onto the show with me today.

Yeah. So happy to be here.

So I'd love if you can start us off by giving a clear definition of what it means to have imposter syndrome, because I know for some, that definition may differ.


Can you just tell us a little bit more about it?

So I was talking to another nonprofit consultant, and she said that she was really struggling with imposter syndrome. And I was like, Why aren't we talking about this more? And it actually sent me in a little bit of a journey to kind of look into it a little bit more. And of course, there's tons of research already out there. So technically, impostor syndrome is when you feel like you have the success you have because of luck that you don't deserve it, right. But I find that imposter syndrome manifests itself in just feeling like you don't belong in this space.

So maybe you feel like you don't belong in your undergrad or your graduate program. Maybe you feel like you have the least experience on your team at work. Maybe even among your peers, you just feel like you don't belong. You don't have the experience, you don't have the background. So feelings of fraud are especially rampant for those who differ from their peers. So if you differ in race, in sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, that is going to really affect you, feeling like you have imposter syndrome. And so that is the responsibility of those who are.

Maybe more typical in that group really needs to take the responsibility to make people like that feel more inclusive. Sometimes it's really personality traits like people who are perfectionists or they have anxiety or things outside of them, like the environment they are in is a perfectionist environment, or there's institutionalized discrimination. So there's a lot of things and really research shows what I discovered that 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life. So this is not something that just a few people might experience. A lot of people experience imposter syndrome.

And for those that are in the nonprofit space, I feel like they are challenged with imposter syndrome because they're expected to wear so many hats and to have such a broad knowledge base and skill set. And really, it's unreasonable and unrealistic. And it really sets people up to feel like they don't belong in this space and they're not going to succeed in the space.

Yeah. And I think that everyone, at some point felt a little bit of imposter syndrome, whether it be like starting a new position or coming right out of University. I think that it's so true, nonprofit employees are not only expected to wear so many hats, they're also expected to do more than for-profits, which is insane. So yeah, I totally agree. I think that it's a huge issue that more people need to talk about.

Yeah. And there's usually a few triggers for the proper definition of imposter syndrome is feeling that you're just lucking out.


So that will usually be triggered when you just have a series of successes that actually will make you feel like, oh, no, the ball is going to drop. Everyone's going to feel like I'm a fraud. But oftentimes it's more a matter of that failure that kicks in. Maybe you've had a few successes and then you have this failure and you're like, see, now everybody's going to know that I don't belong here or, like you said, you're embarking on something new. So yes, you're just starting in University or you have a new job or even a new role in your job, or maybe you're starting your new business.

Those are times where you're really going to feel like you're not supposed to be there.

I would love to know because obviously, the first step is identifying like you have some sort of problem within yourself that is preventing you from being your fullest, whatever position you are in. And when I say problem, I don't mean to put a negative context to the feelings that some people feel. But it is very much an internal struggle that you have to kind of work through. So the first step, like I said, is acknowledging what is the next step after you identify that? Look, something isn't okay.

Like I'm feeling really high anxiety at work. I feel like I don't belong. How do you take the next step into getting help? 

So imposter syndrome is something that I've experienced all throughout my career. So there are a few strategies that I employ when I'm in that mindset. And one of the really the best thing to do is to talk about it. It is one of those things that so many people experience that seems like an embarrassing thing to talk about it. But I challenge you to talk to three people and let them know even if you're not experiencing it. Now, you've experienced positive syndrome at some point in your career, and I guarantee that two out of the three will agree with you and have a ton of stories for you.

So there's a camaraderie in talking about it and just makes you feel a little bit less alone that this is a natural progression in your career. And it's okay to feel a little bit like an imposter sometimes. 

Also, you can just flip it and you can tell yourself that instead of feelings of fraud which are negative, you can tell yourself, you know what this negative, uncomfortable feeling is just me being out of my comfort zone. And then when you acknowledge that you are doing something new and what's going to come from, that the fruit that's going to come from that's when you take a moment to celebrate the risks that you're taking, the scary things that you're doing. There's a few more things that I think that you can like, not just mindset shifts the things that you can actually do to help.

One of them is to take out a pen and paper and recognize all of the steps that you've taken. So maybe it's watching a webinar to increase your skills or spending a little bit more time on your resume or seeking out mentors when you list out the steps that you're taking, it's just going to be a reminder that you're in the right direction and that you are Proactive about being in the space that you are. And then right after that, take out that pen and paper and talk about or write about your expertise.

And this is a big challenge in marketing because in marketing, you're expected to be able to manage websites, be able to understand social media, paid ads and algorithms, and then be very creative and be a storyteller and understand analytics. There are so many parts of your brain that you need to use so many skill sets that you need to use to be successful in marketing. I always felt insecure that I didn't really have much PR experience. I had a ton of digital marketing experience, but not PR, and I felt like no one was going to hire me.

I wasn't going to be successful because I didn't have this one little nook of marketing experience under my belt. But if you take the time to write all of those skill sets, that you are a great project manager that you're fun to work with, that you are an amazing storyteller. Then again, you are going to realize that again, these are skills that put you in this space and remind you that you belong in this space. And I guess the last thing I'll say is to embrace failure, which is probably repetitive advice, old advice, but really good advice, because really, truly, when you will make mistakes and every mistake you make is likely a mistake you're not going to make again.

So you are just building your skills and expertise. Failure is so entwined with imposter syndrome that if you make a mistake and you realize, okay, I did that I've learned from it and that's just part of the journey. It's really going to help you separate, feeling like you don't belong and just knowing that this is part of the gig.

Yeah. That's a really good point. Failure is definitely a huge part of imposter syndrome. It's almost like it has a power over you because you're so scared of making that big mistake or being found out that yeah, you kind of just have to embrace it because once you remove the power from it. I mean, it can't really control you. 


So when you do have imposter syndrome, it's a lot of you dealing with things within yourself, and it's super isolating. I would love to know if you have any advice for nonprofit leaders, because I know it may be hard to pinpoint exactly who and your staff is struggling with imposter syndrome, but are there things they can do to create a more supportive environment, maybe more encouraging, creating an open dialogue around how people are feeling in the workplace?

The best thing nonprofit leaders can do is admit their own failures to apologize when they make mistakes, to be open about the earlier parts of their journey and how far they've come. I think that some of the most encouraging leaders I've had are those that let me know where they were when they were in their 20s. And I look at where they are now and think it just seems so far away. But they were right where I was in their 20s. So take the time to talk about your own journey.

And don't be afraid to ask your staff and your mentees how they're doing and where they feel like they might need a little bit of development where they might need more training and be open to providing that training for them. Because if you have those conversations and offer that kind of staff development, they're going to know that they're not expected to know it all and be able to do it all. You might be surprised. Your staff might feel like they should know more than you expect them to know.

So have those conversations, letting them know. I brought you on this team because of all the expertise you have. But I expect that you are going to learn things on the job as well. And that's part of this team. That's part of this. What we do here is learning the job and learn as we go. I think that's part of being a leader, that's part of mentorship is reminding your junior staff that they don't have to know it all. And those moments when they do make mistakes are so crucial like it could really make or break a young adult or anyone in their career when they are making mistakes.

I remember the times that I've made mistakes and I've had bosses that have had so much Grace, and I've just said it is okay. What have you learned from this? What are the lessons we can glean from this? And then I have bosses that have overreacted in a way that have made me feel like I just absolutely didn't belong. And I just ruined something that's irreplaceable or that this is a problem that can't be fixed. And oftentimes the problems or the failures or mistakes are at par in marketing, you're not saving lives.

It's just like there's nothing that's really going to make or break a company or another. You want high-quality work, but it's okay. So have a little bit of humour when your staff make mistakes, give them Grace and just know that with every mistake they make, they'll again likely never make that mistake again.

Yeah, that's the thing, too. It's really important to be more productive when it comes to mistakes, because, yes, you can freak out over it. But at the end of the day, it's not going to change anything. So I love that taking a second, asking yourself, what did I learn? What can I do next time? Would it be better if I created some sort of plan in place if this happened again is a lot more productive than having a more tough disciplinary response?

Having an aggressive reactionary response.

So preparation, I feel really is key to helping with this. I know when I started off in marketing, it was a lot of like learning on the job, staying updated because things in the digital world are always changing. And so you have to keep yourself updated. You have to be prepared and you have to plan. So do you have any advice for people who maybe are just starting out in the marketing space or are still gaining some confidence? What are some ways people can prepare themselves for a marketing role?

Yeah. Absolutely. So there's something that's rampant in the nonprofit world, in the marketing world, and most especially in the nonprofit marketing world, and that is marketing panic, this feeling that you need to get an e-newsletter out. Now you have to publish this really timely news now. And what happens when there is no room for editing things or any breathing room you're going to make mistakes, right? And the more panic that you have, the more little mistakes that you're going to make and the more disappointment that you're going to have in yourself.

I'm so glad that you brought up planning because it makes a huge difference.

I teach my clients and nonprofit marketing students three crucial ways that they can plan their marketing in advance, to take out the chaos, to take out the panic, and to ensure that everything that they're putting out there is thoughtful and purposeful. And it actually isn't that complicated. Marketing planning does not have to be complicated. My very first marketing plan was between 14 and 18 pages long, and nobody wanted to look at it because it was so filled with research, it was just too long and so really, a marketing plan doesn't need to be more than one page.

And there's two things in your marketing plan that need to be there and that are really important. One is a specific audience members and having a deep understanding of who those audience members are. So just taking the time to not just take any update and any ask and any educational information on your cause and throwing it on the same channel, knowing that this one audience, you want them to donate and they hang out on this platform and this audience are your most potential beneficiaries, and you want them to know this about your services and they hang out on this platform.

Doing that initial work is going to ensure that you're actually going to see results and you're not just guessing on who's seeing your messages and who's not seeing your messages. Right. So that's one, it's just understanding your audience. Number two is simply having goals and objectives, not just doing things because board members told you to do them or because this nonprofit is doing them, but having an understanding of what your broader organization goals are. Maybe they're going through substantial growth and you want to make sure that the brand is sophisticated and elevated and matches the growth of your organization.

Maybe you are just shifting into really increasing donations. And so that's a real focus. Maybe your focus is you've got your funding, but you really are having trouble filling programs. You learn this from your program teams and you're able to focus your marketing communications and helping people with these broader organizational goals. Right. So once you have these goals and tactics in place, again, this is going to get rid of so much of this marking panic because you're going to have very specific tactics that are going to bring you to reach these goals.

And then suddenly you're going to have buy-in from program staff from executive leadership because everything you're doing is helping them reach their goals. So even just having a game plan in place and understanding who your audience members are already setting you up for having more clarity in what you are going to be producing over the next quarter or the next year. So once that's in place, the last step is content planning. So this is a really powerful way to make sure that you are putting purposeful and thoughtful things out into the world.

So if anyone's been in marketing and woke up in the morning and thought, I have no idea what to post on social media today, a little bit of content planning really gets rid of that, because when you start, you've made the decision on the kinds of content that you are going to post. Whether that is those asks that you want to relay or being inspiring and motivational, making sure that you're not just sharing updates, but you're also sharing impact stories and then educating people on your issues.

I mean, there's lots of different content.

We call them content buckets that you have, and when you choose a few of them, then again, you're not just going to have updates every day is not going to be an update on your organization. You're going to be sharing more value because you've decided these are the kinds of content that you're going to plan. And then you can think about the different kinds of media that you can plan. You can work with your program team to get videos to make reels or other kinds of things.

You can get leaders in your organization to pop on to Facebook, to do a Facebook live or to do a webinar. So to think outside of the box of just doing images will also bring diversity to your marketing. The key to content planning is actually planning all of your content in advance. Of course, there's going to be things that will come up and you want to leave space for that. But there's no reason why you can't take these content pillars and create a month's worth of content in a day or a quarter's worth of content in a day.

And that's everything from email, blog and social media. You schedule those. And there's none of these. Every social media platform you can schedule right on the platform. Blogs you should be able to schedule in your email. You can schedule too. And there are sophisticated platforms out there where you can schedule all of these things in one space. So if you can imagine taking one or two days to create all this content, you're in the zone. You're in this creative zone. You're creating this content and it's scheduled and how much that's going to free up the rest of your brain and the rest of your day to focus on other marketing activities, whether that be SEO or training your staff or all the engagement that you need to do on these platforms, it really makes a huge, huge difference.

So again, to reiterate the three steps to really making sure that your marketing is planned out and thoughtful is to have a deeper understanding of your audience, to set those goals and objectives and to plan your content in advance. When you get in the habit of doing this, you are going to start seeing that your marketing efforts are producing results and conversions, but also just running more smoothly. Right. And that's the goal for being a marketer that has peace. And it's also combating things like imposter syndrome.

It's just knowing that things are running smoothly and are succeeding.

Exactly. Fantastic. Well, that is great advice for listeners before we go today. Can you let our audience know how they can get in touch with you, where they can find you?



So my website is, so that's Bryan with a "Y" and you can hang out with me in a few social media channels. I'm on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. My handle is at Maria Bryan CRTV. My business is Maria Brian creative, so that's Maria Bryan CRTV. And probably one of the best places that we can hang out is my Facebook group, which is the Digital Marketing Hive. This is a space where my friend Mary and I, Mary, as a brand specialist, do all kinds of free marketing and branding training and sessions.

And we bring in all kinds of collaborators and guests to do trainings. But more important than that, this is space for people to just learn from each other and encourage each other and celebrate their wins. We talked about this mindset shift of celebrating your wins frequently, and one win is just doing something that scares you, right. Being a space that scares you. So there is a lot of celebrating going on in the digital marketing hive. So would love for you to come hang out with us there.

Well, thank you again, Maria, for joining us. For those listening, I have linked all of Maria's resources in the Description box there. You can learn more about what she does and get access to her Facebook group, which she has a ton of amazing resources in there to help you with your marketing, with your confidence and really help break down strategies that can help you and your organization reach more people. And if you would like to stay updated on everything Driven and fundraising superheroes, you can visit us at

There you can listen to past podcast episodes and also sign up for our newsletter. So you get all of our amazing resources delivered straight to your inbox. As always. Thank you so much for listening. And we'll see you next time on the Fundraising Superheroes podcast.


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Podcast Oct 27, 2021, 12:00 AM

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