YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

Leading with a question #ev1leads

In Chapter 1 of "Everyone Leads," Paul Schmitz lays out the importance of working from a community perspective:

"To create lasting solutions to our most pressing problems, leaders can't just create isolated services. They must build community capacity, think systematically, and collaborate with others."

Natasha Golinsky is one of the co-founders of the new YNPN Vancouver chapter, and in this post she shares what she learned about the importance and benefits of engaging her community early in the process of developing a solution to a problem she identified.


Last year my friend Vanessa and I decided that we wanted to co-chair a new Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter here in Vancouver, Canada. We saw the joy that YNPs got from being part of other chapters and deeply felt that our community needed some support in the nonprofit professional development arena and wanted to help. Each chapter runs independently and many operate as their own registered nonprofit full with board of directors, fundraising campaigns and we were interested in doing the same.

Although our first reaction was to get our paperwork all in order and incorporate ourselves, we decided to take a breath and test our idea to see if there really was a need for this service or if we were just assuming there was interest. Both of us wanted to find out what our fellow young nonprofit professionals wanted before we invested tons of time building something that nobody needed (or that had already been done before and failed).

We tackled this community outreach through a few specific steps.

Step one: Talk to the leaders of active nonprofit professional development groups. What was working for them? What had they tried already that didn't work? What did they see was a need in our community as it related to YNPNs? Would they be willing to continue to stay in touch with us as we were planning? Is there anyone else you would recommend that we talk to?

Step two: Talk to the leaders of nonprofit professional development groups that had closed down because of low-results. Why did they shut their program down? What went wrong? What could they have done differently? What need do they still see that needs to be served in our community? Is there anyone else they would recommend that we talk to?

Step three: Talk to leaders of other YNPN chapters who were a few steps ahead of us and were having a lot of success. What did they do to set themselves up for a strong start? What would they do differently? Were there any resources they used to help them plan and market their organization? Would they be interested in coaching us? Was there anything we could do to help them?

Step four: Talk to the big influencers in our local nonprofit professional development space. We got a hold of the board chair of one of the most popular training organizations in our community, we talked to the Western Canada sales manager for a different nonprofit resources organization, and we talked to the fundraising department head at a local university. Both of us scoured our LinkedIn profiles for people that would have some good data for us about their needs and the current resources available to them.

Step five, the final and most important: Talk to the people we wanted to serve. We went through all of our contacts and identified those who hit our demographic profile and sent them a link to a survey we created using Google forms. We asked them to pass it around to anyone they knew who could have some valuable feedback on what they would be interested in seeing in a new local professional development group. We sent the survey to everyone we had talked to in the above steps 1-4 and asked them to circulate it too offering to share any data we found with them.

After two months of research, we had some awesome feedback and a clear direction of what the needs of our community were. Probably the most interesting take-away from this process was that we found that the needs of the young nonprofit professional community were completely different than we expected--even though we're both part of the community we're planning to serve! When I think back to our original plan of running out of the gate without having any data or community input to back our ideas, I feel anxious about how much time we might have wasted running in the wrong direction.

We also developed some amazing connections and some potential joint-venture partners. Without taking the time to consult with our community, we might not have encountered these resources and been able to work with them from the start. Not only did we get clear direction from consulting our community, we found some awesome partners along the way.

 

Natasha Golinsky Natasha Golinsky
Natasha is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits and is dedicated to helping passionate start-up nonprofit leaders develop the foundational leadership and management skills they need to enjoy a enjoy successful, sustainable and satisfying career. You can find her on Twitter as @ngolinsky.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Natasha's Next Level Nonprofits newsletter.

An Interview with Linda Nguyen

Today we're excited to share this interview with Linda Nguyen, who will be the keynote speaker for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference and Day 1 of the YNPN National Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

As the Director of Civic Engagement for the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda built and currently manages a national initiative that has enabled thousands of community residents across the U.S. to become advocates, leaders and activists. She has worked with the Alliance network to encourage nonprofit staff and board members to embrace civic engagement strategies in their organizations and neighborhoods and to work in concert with community to address key issues in health, education and economic security. Linda is responsible for identifying and nurturing talent, coaching human service organization staff, conducting research and serving as a national advocate for constituent voice.

In addition to her outstanding work with the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda is also one of the early founders of YNPNdc and YNPN National. We spoke with Linda about her experience helping to found YNPN, how organizations can elevate diverse voices, and a few of her favorite spots in the Twin Cities.

You're one of the early founders of YNPN. What drew you to the idea for a network of young nonprofit professionals? How did you go from idea to reality?

I was looking for a job in the nonprofit sector when I first moved to DC in 2003. I knew very few people in the field. I searched for help online, and came across the YNPN (then only in San Francisco) website and saw that people just like me were looking to network with one another for job opportunities and professional development and networking. I connected with a few of those peers in DC, and after a few meetings, we launched YNPNdc. I think our first event attracted 10 people.

I think the lesson is Jump In. Don't be afraid or embarrassed. So what, 10 people came to our first "event." We cared about something and so we created an entity to address the needs we and others had. I then became involved in helping to build the national organization. The national board at that time was made up of local people starting up their own YNPN chapters and we knew we would be stronger if we built together.

What were some of the network’s values back then? Has the network changed in your view, particularly from a values perspective?

Our values "back then" (ha ha, the good 'ol days) were focused around voice (giving young nonprofit professionals a forum and support) and local autonomy (YNPN chapters were self-starting and proud of it). I imagine these values are still present today, and I would think that engaging diverse voices would be a particular focus for the network.

The YNPN National Board meeting for the first time in Denver in 2005. Linda is the second from the left. The YNPN National Board meeting for the first time in Denver in 2005. You can see Linda second from the left.


Why has the idea of “exploring diverse voices” surfaced as such a timely topic?

We are standing in that moment of change where there will be as many young people as old people, as many white people as people of color, as many people with a decent standard of living as those without.

What do we do? We have to make sure that we are hearing from everyone, engaging everyone, and getting as many voices to the table as we are able. When you see these vast differences, you may feel daunted and even fearful. But it is within our ability, and especially for us in the nonprofit and social sectors, it is our collective responsibility that we are listening and attending to everyone.

As Minnesotan Paul Wellstone said, we all do better when we all do better.

How do you think nonprofits are doing at addressing diversity and including members of the communities they work in?

Hmmm, results are mixed. Overall, I think there is more attention being paid to diversity, looking for diverse staff and partners, and including community members. I do think, however, that we have a ways to go in creating meaningful roles for community members to play in our organizations. Are they making decisions? Are they considered equals? Or are they tokens or checkbox fulfillments?

And what is the thinking behind diversity and including community members? Are we doing it just to do it, because it looks good? Or do we see that it actually enhances our work, our programming, our decision making?

Do you have any tips or advice as to how nonprofit leaders could do this better?

Try it. Seek out other leaders who seem to do this well. Talk to them; figure out how their approaches could translate to your work/organization.

Who are some leaders that you think are doing this particularly well?

LIFT.  Check them out.

And finally, what's the best experience you've ever had in the Twin Cities? Do you have any favorite spots to recommend to conference attendees?

Tough one! A lot of ties -- from a ruckus late night karaokeing at The Saloon to exploring the Cedar Riverside neighborhood (near Pillsbury United Communities' Bryan Coyle Center) for its friendly neighbors and enlightening murals painted by youth.

But I think my best experience was walking through Loring Park, above the highway on the Loring Greenway to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry. I did that walk last year with my mom and son and we had such a fun time!
MN Council of NonprofitsTo hear Linda speak on the theme of Exploring Diverse Voices and see a few of her favorite Twin Cities spots for yourself, register for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis.

Kicking off the YNPN Book Club: Everyone Leads

This month we're trying something new for YNPN: a national book club. We have so many smart and thoughtful people across our network, and we thought a book club would be a great way to connect around issues that challenge and inspire us all.

We chose "Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up" by Paul Schmitz because it discusses many questions near and dear to our YNPN mission: How do we bring the idea that everyone leads into our work? How can we create social change that is sustainable? And how do we take diversity from idea to practice?

Throughout the month we'll be discussing these questions and other themes related to the book on our blog and on social media. We'll also be hosting a few live, virtual events to create spaces for discussion.

Twitter Chat: On Friday, April 18 at 2 pm CT/12 pm PT we'll be hosting a Twitter chat to hear your thoughts on the book and begin collecting questions for our second virtual event (details below). During this chat and throughout the month we'll be using the hashtag #ev1leads to make it easy to follow along.

Author Event with Paul Schmitz: We're also excited to announce that on Tuesday, April 29 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT, we'll be hosting a live event with Paul Schmitz, the the outgoing CEO of Public Allies and a longtime friend of YNPN. You'll have the opportunity to ask Paul questions and hear him speak about the book in more depth. Paul has invited our members to feel free to reach out to him on Twitter before the event: you can find him at @PaulSchmitz1. Registration info for the event will be posted soon.

Several of our local chapters are planning book club events in their communities as well. If you're interested in hosting a book club for your local chapter, reach out to your chapter leaders or our Chapter Resources Coordinator Ebony Harley for support.
We look forward to diving into "Everyone Leads" with all of you!


EVERYONE-1

Announcing Employee #2

It is my absolute privilege to announce that today YNPN will be bringing on its second-ever staff member, Jamie Smith, to serve as our national Communications Manager.

Many of you have already had the chance to get to know Jamie via social media over the past few months in her role as our YNPN National LaunchPad Fellow for Communications.  When we established the Fellows program two years ago, we saw it as a way to cultivate and channel top talent from our network into the wider sector.  And we cannot be more proud that some of the best of that talent has been channeled right back into our own organization.

Reflecting on the significance of this moment for YNPN and about Jamie in particular got me thinking about a conversation I had a few months while I was flying across the country.  I was working on the slide deck for some presentation and the guy flying next to me leaned over to ask what I did.  We got to talking and at some point in the conversation he mentioned that he worked for a REALLY well-known online marketplace that shall remain nameless.  (Although I kind of want to give them a shout-out for having their people fly economy.)  Anyway, he also casually but pointedly mentioned that he’d been employee #2 at said company and handed me his card.  Which actually listed that he was employee #2.

Then he paused and waited for me to react.  I didn’t. Because at the time I had no idea that I was supposed to be impressed with this fact.

Later as I relayed this story to friends, especially those who’ve worked in startups, and I’ve been able to gain a little more perspective on the weight of being “employee #2.”

As a friend of mine who was around during the early days of YouTube put it, “Everyone on the outside knows the name of the founder.  But if you’re on the inside, every single person there knows that the company would’ve just remained a cool idea without employee #2.  Everyone.”

YNPN has been around as a network for 15 years, incorporated as a national org 10 years ago, but only became a staffed organization in 2011.  So in many ways, especially in terms of our day to day functioning, it feels like we’re in startup mode.  During our national board retreat in February, we called this out.  As we were laying out our strategic priorities for the year, most of them were extremely concrete: 1) Build out a robust data system; 2) Clarify our messaging, 3) Strengthen chapter knowledge sharing platforms...

But our final priority--create space for visionary leadership--was more of a vague recognition that we are in a dynamic, evolving time as an organization, working within an environment that is even more dynamic and evolving.  We knew that in order to have the most realistic chance for significant impact, we needed to be intentional about making space to not only be responsive to obvious opportunities but to consistently scan the horizon for what might be coming down the road.

Creating that space for visionary leadership has meant that we prioritize learning and reflection and brainstorming during our meetings. It also meant that we had to increase our staff capacity so the day to day functions did not continue to be all we had space for.  But we knew we didn’t just need another employee, we needed employee #2.

Jamie Smith is that employee #2.

While her official title will be Communications Manager and her focus will be on the critical work of helping to strengthen and streamline our internal and national voice, her value is that she will add to our capacity for visionary leadership.  Jamie is learner, a tester, a strategic thinker, a problem-solver, and someone who is as deeply passionate about the work, the members, and the potential of YNPN as I am, our board is, and our chapter leaders are.  She is absolutely the sort of person that is necessary at this stage of growth to make sure our dreams become reality.

It’s an exciting time for all of us here at YNPN and what we hope will lead to a stronger, more engaged network and stronger communities propelled this network.
Onward.

Another new addition: YNPN Tucson!

We're thrilled to welcome our latest startup chapter, YNPN Tucson!

Tucson is home to saguaro cacti, the University of Arizona, and now the newest local chapter of YNPN. We're not only thrilled to welcome these YNPs to the network, we're also excited to have another local chapter in the Sun Belt. Winter retreat anyone?

If you’re a young nonprofit professional in Tucson who wants to get involved with your up-and-coming local chapter, get in touch with info@ynpn.org!

Meet the newest additions to the YNPN Board!

Earlier this year we welcomed three new members to the YNPN National Board. We wanted to take a brief moment to introduce you to some of the people who will be helping guide YNPN for the next two years. Please help us welcome Karl, Amber, and Ivan!

Karl Shaddock

Shaddock_Karl_2012_web

Karl Shaddock


What do you do?

I’m Development Coordinator for Nebraska Community Foundation’s southwest region. I work with 24 communities across a 17,000 square mile region of the state to organize, train and provide technical assistance to local volunteers who are interested in forming and growing community foundations in their hometowns. Nebraska Community Foundation employs a unique, grass-roots based model that uses philanthropy as a tool for community development. NCF empowers local leaders to raise their own funds and make their own grants based on their local community development priorities.

Are you affiliated with a local chapter?

No. Unfortunately, I’ve never lived in a city that has a local chapter – this is due mainly to my passion for living and working in rural communities.

Why did you apply for the YNPN National Board?

I believe strongly in YNPN’s mission and vision - YNPN works to advance a diverse and powerful social sector by activating emerging leaders led by the belief that stronger communities are built by a network of inspired and engaged leaders. YNPN approaches its work through an optimistic, asset-based development framework that I find inspiring.

Serving on the YNPN National board member allows me to network and learn among a group of diverse, engaged young leaders from across the country who work for a host of prominent social service, fundraising and philanthropic organizations across the country.

I serve on the YNPN National board to expand my network and engage with other emerging thought leaders. My work with NCF is challenging and fulfilling, but I am excited by the opportunity to engage with a network of peers that I can learn from and with. YNPN will challenge me to make an impact as I get to know other young people who are passionate and engaged with the issues that motivate me.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Greek yogurt – breakfast, lunch or dinner it doesn’t matter.

What is your spirit animal?

I was once told I had the hair of a golden retriever dog, so I’ll go with that.

If you could describe yourself with a gif, what would it be?

 

ndgt
 
 
 

Amber Cruz

Amber Cruz Headshot 2

Amber Cruz

What do you do?

I am the Strategy Officer for Convening at Lumina Foundation; a private, independent foundation with a goal to increase postsecondary educational attainment in the U.S. to 60% by 2025. In my role I design, plan and implement convenings in support of Lumina's strategic plan. Lumina has an outcomes-based approach focused on helping to design and build an accessible higher education system and mobilize action at the local, state and national level to reach Goal 2025.

Are you affiliated with a local chapter?

I recently relocated from Washington DC to Indianapolis. Over the last couple years I have been involved in the DC Chapter by attending and speaking at their events. I will also be playing an advisory role with the Indy Chapter.

Why did you apply for the YNPN National Board?  

I'm passionate about the next generation of nonprofit leaders who want to change the world. I believe YNPN plays an important role in the sector by connecting emerging leaders with opportunities to develop their leadership skills, build their network and make an impact in their community.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

As a baker, I have quite the sweet tooth. I somehow always find room for dessert! So I could probably live on chocolate for the rest of my life.

What is your spirit animal?  

According to my Myers Brigg personality, my ENFJ = a dog: social butterflies who are cheerleaders and supporters...the living embodiment of a "team player."

If you could describe yourself with a gif, what would it be?

I wish I was this:

 

poppins
    
 
but most days I'm this:


knope
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ivan Canada

Ivan Canada

Ivan Canada

What do you do?

I work for an organization that seeks to build compassionate and just communities free of bias, bigotry and racism. My role within The National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad, Inc (NCCJ) is Senior Director of Development, Communications and Strategic Partnerships.

Why did you apply for the YNPN National Board?

I wanted to be a part of a larger movement of young professionals dedicated to advancing their skills, experiences and ultimately their careers while doing amazing work within the sector that makes communities better across the country. And I wanted help the organization expand its reach to provide more opportunities for young adults working in the social sector.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Indian food!

What is your spirit animal? 

A bunny--people that know me say I'm like the Energizer Bunny because I'm always doing something and seem to make time for everything.

If you could describe yourself with a gif, what would it be?

Because I like making connections, building relationships and connecting people:


300px-Torrentcomp_small

Not Just for Wonks: Four tech policy issues that could impact your nonprofit #ynpengage

In his March 17 New Republic article, “Our Naive ‘Innovation’ Fetish: Left, right, and center—everyone loves the buzzword of modern America,” Senior Editor Evgeny Morozov explores our collective obsession with innovation and argues that there is a danger in rallying around innovation to the exclusion of other values, such as equity.

Friends, that’s where we step in. In this Era of Innovation, the nonprofit sector can play an important role in ensuring that new technologies are designed and used in socially responsible ways.

Tech policy is about more than the Internet and data. The regulations we make determine our privacy, what information we have access to and how we exercise our voting rights. We young nonprofit professionals are often the default web and social media gurus at our organizations, and that makes us natural advocates for responsible tech policy. Whether you work in outreach, advocacy or organizing, on human rights, education or health, tech policy is relevant to the work you do and the people and causes you serve.

Still, tech policy is a huge field; how do you get started? I suggest bookmarking a news site on tech policy that is relevant to your work, such as The Center for Democracy & Technology for civic engagement, government openness and privacy, THE Journal for K-12 education and CNET for tech in politics. You can also check out TechTank, Brookings’ new blog about improving technology policy.

In my opinion, there are four tech policy issues that should be on every nonprofit professional’s radar because they could greatly impact our work generally as well as the communities with whom we work. These are the issues we should be talking about and advocating for:

1. Net Neutrality

This is the big one. In January, the federal D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order, ruling against net neutrality. “Net neutrality” is the principle upon which the Internet was built. It means a free and open Internet, where all data is treated equally and there is no differential charge or speed by user type, content, site, platform or attached equipment.

In essence, the appeals court ruled that the FCC does not have the authority to enforce common-carrier regulations, like no-blocking and nondiscrimination, because the agency had previously classified Internet service as an “information service” and not a “telecommunications” one — meaning they fall outside the FCC’s purview. It’s a little complicated, but for more easily digestible information about net neutrality, visit The Internet You Need, a project of Media Alliance.

ZeroDivide has applauded FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for his vocal support of net neutrality and underscored what underserved communities stand to lose if this decision is not reversed. We are confident that with the FCC’s support and ardent advocacy by nonprofits and journalists, we can get net neutrality back. Visit Free Press’ Save the Internet to see how you can take action.

2. Online Privacy

In light of the recent disclosures of widespread NSA surveillance, online privacy has become a critical issue. There are several policies being debated that fall under this broad category: online privacy and data security, mobile phone tracking and warrantless tapping, and of course, NSA reform.

On February 11, a massive, global online/offline protest against mass surveillance dubbed The Day We Fight Back and led by organizations including the ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Greenpeace, reached more than 37 million. As you may have heard, Google just announced new encryption standards to foil the NSA’s spying. You can take action and follow the various legislative efforts on the ACLU’s dotRights website.

3. Online Voter Registration

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only 15 states currently offer online voter registration, with another four states having supportive laws on the books that have not yet been implemented. Does your state offer online voter registration? You can use this chart to tell. What’s so great about online registration, you ask? It  lowers costs, increases the accuracy of voter rolls, attracts younger voters and, importantly, it allows people to register without the risk of discrimination and voter intimidation that have marred our nation’s recent elections and disenfranchised many low-income voters and voters of color. To learn more, Project Vote has a good primer.

4. E-Rate Reform

Earlier this month, the FCC asked for public comment on its plans to modernize its E-Rate program, one of four Universal Service programs that are designed to ensure all Americans have access to communications services. E-Rate is the program that provides schools and libraries with affordable telecommunications, broadband service and internal network connections. According to a recent survey, 72 percent of American schools have inadequate Internet infrastructure, which means students are missing out on educational opportunities. Any organization that works with schools or libraries should support this reform and consider filing comments, which are due by April 7.

The organization I work for, ZeroDivide, is a mission-driven consulting organization focused on the transformative uses of technology. Tech policy has always been part of our work. We were created as a community technology foundation in 1998 as the result of groundbreaking advocacy work by 134 community organizations during the telecom merger of Pacific Bell and SBC Communications. As the policy issues discussed above loom large above our impact areas, we are looking to deepen our engagement in tech policy over the next year. You can follow our work at our blog, http://www.zerodivide.org/learning/blog.

 

jess profesh newestJessica Rothschuh is the business development manager at ZeroDivide. Connect with her on Twitter at @JessieRothschuh and on LinkedIn.

The first YNPN National Book Club: Everyone Leads!

We've heard feedback that you'd like more opportunities connect and engage with other members across the network.
So we're giving a YNPN National Book Club a test drive to bring emerging leaders from around the country together to discuss issues that challenge and inspire us all.

The Book

During the month of April we'll be discussing "Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up" by Paul Schmitz. Paul is the outgoing CEO of Public Allies and a longtime friend of YNPN. Drawing on more than two decades of Public Allies' work and real examples from communities across the country, "Everyone Leads" discusses how we can develop leaders and organizational models that will help us solve the problems of the 21st century in an inclusive and community-focused way.

The Discount

We've partnered with Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, to offer our members a 40% discount on "Everyone Leads." To receive the discount, purchase the book through Wiley.com and use promo code YNBC4. They have both hardcover and e-book versions available for purchase.

Jossey-Bass logo

 

The Author Event

We're working with Paul Schmitz to set up a virtual author event where YNPN members can engage with Paul and ask questions about the book and its themes. The date is still TBD, but we'll be announcing it on social media soon.

Other Opportunities to Engage

Next month our blog content will be focused on the book and its themes. In addition to our author event, we'll also be hosting a few Twitter chats to give members an opportunity to connect and discuss virtually.

If you're interested in hosting an in-person book club meeting with your local chapter, reach out to your chapter leaders. We hope that in addition to the virtual meetings we'll be hosting, local YNPs will meet to in person to discuss the book and its transformational ideas on leadership.

If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please don't hesitate to reach out to Jamie Smith, our Communications Fellow, at communications@ynpn.org. We hope you'll share this with your friends and professional networks and that you'll join us for "Everyone Leads!"

Civic Engagement: What awakened you? #ynpengage

At a recent board retreat for a social justice foundation, on whose board I serve, we were asked to think about a political event or experience  that “awakened” us and caused us to act.

For me there wasn’t just one moment. There was a series, a sequence. I remember as a very young child noticing what I would later come to call injustice. I didn’t have a word for it then, but I do remember the feeling of wrong and a sensation not quite describable, but similar to a chill or shudder through my body. I would literally have a visceral response to injustice. I still do.

While trying to remember my “awakening” and listening to other colleagues describe their life experiences I realized a common theme: many of us when we had this “awakening experience” felt powerless, unsure how to solve the injustice and in some cases unsure how to come to terms with it.

The point of the exercise for me:  all of us matter and everyone who wants to see change in the world has to be a part of the solution.

I have always loved the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This quote has been attributed to Ghandi, and I find it a guiding principle, a central value for me.

I find it is often easy to complain about what isn’t going well, not only in my life but in society, politically, globally. Sometimes, if I dwell too much on the negative parts of the world, it feels paralyzing. This is why I have learned that showing up, being a part of the change I want to see, not just complaining, is vitally important, not only for me but for my community.

How do you begin?

When I started my “civic engagement,” I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I was working at an organization that educated people on voter engagement, not who to vote for, but the mechanics of voting itself. It suddenly occurred to me that not everyone knew their rights, there was a lot of misinformation about voting in certain communities and that I could make a difference simply by being well informed and sharing my knowledge with others.

From there, I realized that showing up to caucuses, rallies, signing petitions  and voting actually did make a difference. I remember when my Congresswoman wrote back to me, I was stunned. That however, encouraged me to speak a little louder the next time.
What are other ways to get involved? Vote, join community groups or nonprofit committees working on issues that are important to you. Door-knock, phone bank. Tell your friends, your colleagues your family what issues matter to you and how they can make a difference. Respectfully listen to others with differing ideas and above all, never give up!
Dania Toscana Miwa
Dania Toscano Miwa is the Managing Principal and co-founder of Toscano Advisors, a three-year old consulting firm specializing in strategy, fundraising, executive recruiting and leadership development for nonprofit organizations.

She has more than ten years of experience working with/for nonprofits as diverse as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, OTA-Pollen, The Northside Achievement Zone, The International Wolf Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Animal Humane Society, the American Indian Cancer Foundation and the Regional Parks Foundation. She is co-author and editor of the Toscano Advisors blog.

Dania is a member of the Boards of Directors of Azul, the Minnesota Zoo’s young professional board and chair of the governance committee, and on the board of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, where she is the co-chair of the development and outreach committee. She was formerly on the board of directors of her local YNPN chapter from 2009-10.

#ynpengage: Get out the vote!

Many nonprofits are advocates for their communities, but relatively few undertake what is one of the most important advocacy efforts of all: getting out the vote.

Nonprofit VOTE is an organization dedicated to providing support and resources for nonprofit organizations to help the people they serve vote and participate in government. We spoke with George Pillsbury, the Founder and Executive Director of Nonprofit VOTE, about what nonprofit organizations can do to help their constituents register and vote.

Why should nonprofits without a specific policy focus undertake voter engagement?

The people that nonprofits serve are voting at lower rates than the general population, and the issues that your organization cares about are not going to be served unless they’re voting. Politicians are not going to be paying attention to constituencies that don’t vote.

Advocacy on your issue year-round is important, but not encouraging voter turnout sort of undercuts the effectiveness of your advocacy. It’s a question of having clout on your issue and having the ability to mobilize voters.

It’s also another service that nonprofits can provide and it’s essential in helping people become active citizens. Registered voters are much more likely to engage with neighbors, talk to elected officials and be civically engaged in other ways. Nonvoters, on the other hand, are more likely to be disconnected from their communities.

Check out Nonprofit VOTE's research on how nonprofits can increase voting among their clients, constituents, and staff.

There’s been an alarming trend toward restrictions on voting like ID laws and other policies that make it more difficult to vote. What can nonprofits do to expand access to voting and voting rights?

People sometimes say “Voting’s not important” or “It’s what happens after election day that’s more important.” But what happens after election day is affected by the elections and it’s affected by where people campaign and who politicians believe they’re accountable to.

There are powerful forces that want to shrink the electorate and not have people that are marginalized vote: they want to limit younger voters, low-income voters, newer citizens. We want to expand who votes and not contract it. There’s a special opportunity for nonprofits to reach these populations who are new to the voting process and that have traditionally faced higher barriers. These are people that campaigns by and large don’t reach--more than half of eligible voters are never contacted by a campaign. Nonprofits can be a bridge to those communities because it’s reverse door-knocking for us. They are knocking on our door for services and we naturally have that in-person opportunity to talk to people about voting.

What are some specific actions nonprofits can take in this area?

We have to still encourage people to register and encourage people to vote. We have to encourage positive policies like same-day registration and online voter registration.

In general, the three biggest things you can do to increase voter participation are: 1) Increase election day registration, which has proven to be the most effective. 2) Offer online registration, which engages young voters and 3) Offer early voting. The decision to vote on Tuesday was made in 1848 for the convenience of rural voters who had to travel for a day just to get to the polls! The best voting process is to combine traditional voting on Tuesday with voting before the election.

If nonprofits can help people make sure people are eligible to vote, that’s a high priority. We’ve seen in states that have increased the requirements that nonprofits have responded by helping people get IDs, as well as supporting efforts to have sensible voter ID laws.

Nonprofits should make sure that people know that there’s a registration deadline coming up and that there’s an election happening. Any kind of communication with our communities in the two to three months leading up to the election can be used to raise awareness about the upcoming election.

We're also encouraging organizations to mark their calendars for National Registration Day on September 23. It’s like Earth Day for democracy. It’s a day that we make sure that everyone is registered and has the opportunity to vote. 300,000 people registered to vote last year. We’d like to see 500,000 registered this year!

At the end of the day, the most important thing that’s going to help people vote is personal engagement. Most people are never asked in person about registering to vote or voting. Having that in-person contact--not TV ads, not impersonal robo-calls--but having a peer asking you to participate is most critical.

The Nonprofit VOTE site is full of resources for voter registration and engagement, including making sure your activities are permissible under the 501(c)(3) guidelines. Check out the Nonprofit VOTE resource page for other tips and tools.