YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

This month on the YNPN blog: #ynpengage

"A different world can't be built by indifferent people." This quote from Horace Mann is too true and a great way to kick off this month's content on the YNPN blog.

During the month of March we're going to be talking about civic engagement and how young people who are passionate about social change can actually get down to business and do it.

We'll be highlighting the work of one of our local chapters who's making a conscious effort to be more involved in their community. We'll also be talking to experts in civic engagement and we'll hear from several members about the civic work they do as part of their personal and professional lives.

Most importantly, we want to hear from you!

How are you involved in your communities? Tweet at us and let us know!

Our Black Turtleneck Moment: Next Generation of Leadership

Last fall at the Independent Sector Conference, I was given the privilege of delivering a workshop on next generation leaders.  For folks who don’t’ know, Independent Sector is a leadership network of 600 or so of the largest and most prominent nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs in the country, and every year their annual conference brings together thousands of top leaders from these organizations.  Essentially, Independent Sector is THE nonprofit establishment – so naturally they are interested in the future of the sector.  Which is how I found myself in the pretty cool position to talk about next generation leaders.

As I prepared for this opportunity, though, I started to get a little stuck.  As I tend to do when I’m given any task that seems a little too straightforward, I started to pick it apart.

I mean, what does it mean to be “next generation” anyway?

In the simplest of terms, it means that you’re the generation that came after the last one.  And, sure, that’s who YNPN represents - Millennials and Gen Xers – the folks were born after the boomers who established the nonprofit sector as many of us know it.

But for some reason, using this cool space to talk about how great our constituents are seemed kind of...I don’t know.  Small.  And short-sighted.  Because when you think about it, as a society in general and as a sector specifically, we’re in the midst of a shift that‘s “next generation” in a different way.

When you think of it in terms of your phone or of your operating system, next generation means something more than “younger” or “new,” right?  And that phone or that OS isn’t inherently better because it’s younger or new.  It’s not inherently better at all, actually.  It’s only better if...

...it builds on what worked well and what people loved about the original.

...it directly fixes past mistakes - broken things and bugs.

...it incorporates new technology and solutions available to us now that weren’t available before.

...it looks fresh!  The look and feel of it is updated to fit the current context.

When I started thinking about the concept of next generation this way, the potential of the conversation felt bigger, and frankly way more interesting.  Mostly because I knew for a fact that even though Millennials and Gen Xers have a lot to contribute as natives to this more flexible, nimble way of approaching change work, every person and every organization in the sector, regardless of age or how established they are is called to be a part of this sector upgrade - this next generation  of leadership.  And I got to be the one to call it out in front of this giant audience.

This was my Steve Jobs moment.
So I put on my black mock turtleneck (sike. I rocked an orange batik dress), got up in front of the room, and laid out a few things:
First,  I shared some lessons gathered from working with and observing folks out in the field who actually seem to be having an impact on some of the increasingly complex issues facing our communities.

Lesson 1: Focus on goals over form. If your plan or your organizational structure isn’t going to have an impact, be willing to change it.

Lesson 2: Relationships are everything.  Cultivate them.  Rely on them.

Lesson 3: Ignore intersectionality at your peril.  The beautiful people in our communities are made up of lots of identities.  The work we do with them will not succeed unless it recognizes and embraces all of those identities.

Lesson 4: Value community-centered solutions over silver bullets.  Replication isn’t everything.  Sometimes what works in Jackson, MS can only work in Jackson, MS.  And that’s okay.

Lesson 5: Listen to data that speaks to both the head and the heart.  

Then I turned the floor over to folks from three organizations that I think are already living and breathing this sector upgrade:

Ai-Jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, whose intergenerational, intersectional, and humanistic Caring Across Generations campaign is audaciously and simultaneously taking on issues of immigration reform, quality care for an aging America, and a living wage for younger Americans.

Decker Ngongang from Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Fellowship Program, which is the first fellowship program in the world for folks who are starting up new and innovative organizations that address the barriers facing black men and boys in the United States.

Frances Kunreuther & Sean Thomas-Breitfeld of the Building Movement Project, who decided to go beyond simply researching and promoting alternative organizational structures for social justice organizations, but took on a radical co-leadership model within their own organization in order to increase their impact.

Finally, I talked about what YNPN does to try and cultivate rather than stifle this type of next generation leadership.  You can read more about that here.  (Note that there’s no mention of a need for more credentialing and certification programs... :)

The energy of the comments and conversations that followed once the session ended signaled that the message resonated and that despite what people may say about the sector establishment, folks are definitely ready for an upgrade.

And I think it’s subtly for a lot of the same reasons people would get excited for a new operating system or their new phone.  It’s not just because they need the next thing that’s shiny.  They’re excited to see what the collection of human knowledge and shared work has brought us to next - how we’ve taken the best ideas and brought them together to make something that might change the way that each of us lives our lives for the better. The sector is definitely ready.

#nplove: Funders and Grantees

Early on in my time as national director for YNPN, I was hanging out with a group of other, new-ish EDs and almost right away, talk turned to fundraising.

“I just have NO idea when I’m going to hear back from this guy,” one said. “He said there was a good chance we’d get funded this year but that was in February. IT’S AUGUST!!!”

“Yeah, I’m in the middle of writing this grant and I have no idea how much I’m supposed to ask for,” the other said. “I got a good vibe from the conversation but I just couldn’t figure out the actual ask. Does she want me to pitch $5000? Does she want me to pitch $500,000??? I literally have no idea.”

I remember staring back and forth between the two of them for awhile completely bewildered. Finally I offered what I thought was the obvious answer:

“Couldn’t you just call your program officer and ask her what’s up?”

They both looked at me for a moment, turned to each other, then burst out laughing. I remember they didn’t even bother to explain to me what was so funny.

Despite how it sounds, it wasn’t a mean girls moment. They weren’t actually laughing at me. They honestly thought I was making a joke. After a few months on the job, I figured out why they thought my suggestion was so absurd.

When I took the YNPN national director job, I was pretty new to fundraising. I’d worked on teams where I’d been deeply involved with fundraising but, to be honest, the only grants I’d ever written at that point were for our two major funders at the time--the Annie E. Casey Foundation and American Express. After a few months on the job, I had a much wider set of funder interactions to draw from, so I could understand a little better why my ED friends looked at me like I was an alien when I suggested treating their program officers the way you would any other colleague.

I feel fortunate, though, for my first experiences with Rafael Lopez from Casey and Richard Brown from AmEx, because they set the tone of partnership and mutual respect that grounds all the funding relationships YNPN seeks now and will seek for the life of our organization. Not only because it’s better for everyone involved, but because it’s the way that it’s actually supposed to be.

A few things that I’ve learned from those relationships that I carry with me:

  • Great funding partners recognize that it’s their job to make grants. So they make it as clear and as simple as possible to do so.
  • Great funding partners recognize that they can offer recommendations based on what else they are seeing in the field, but at the end of the day you know your organization and what your organization needs best.
  • Great funding partners seek out ways to strengthen your work beyond writing a check. Offering meeting space or access to consultants or introductions to other like-minded funders can be just as valuable.
  • Great funding partners make you feel like just that--a partner.

Over the past two years, our list of funding partners has been lucky enough to grow to slowly but surely include other amazing organizations like the Evelyn & Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, the Packard Foundation, and the Newman’s Own Foundation, and the tone set by our early partners has held true.

We’re sending #nplove to these folks not only because of their financial generosity, but also because of the generosity of spirit that our partners have shown the network and the lessons they've taught us about how fulfilling relationships between funders and grantees can be.

For the #nplove of nonprofit news

YNPN National Board member Dan Blakemore shares a few of his favorite nonprofit news sources with us.

In this month of #nplove, we must take a few moments to recognize a few of the vital outlets who keep nonprofiteers and the rest of the world aware of the latest happenings in our sector.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Even if I were not a fundraiser, I would be interested in the overall trends in philanthropy and the stories of the people and institutions that support our collective work with their time, talent and treasure. The Chronicle offers a fantastic perspective on the sector, as in this piece:

Unlike For-Profits, Nonprofits Succeed by Sharing the Work and the Glory

Nonprofit Quarterly

I can always rely on Nonprofit Quarterly for very thoughtful analysis on how policies will impact the sector, like in this piece listing the 10 trends and 10 predictions that will affect the sector.

Blue Avocado

This brainchild of Jan Masaoka, the amazing CEO of the California Association of Nonprofits, always has articles that make me think, reconsider how I approach the work of making change, and laugh out loud. From Jan's Board Cafe column on board relations and management to Vu Le's Point of Vu column, each issue covers the full spectrum of non-profit management areas in an approachable and personable manner.

What are the nonprofit news sources that you #nplove?

DB-headshot-May-2012-232x300Dan Blakemore is a passionate advocate for the fundraising profession and the non-profit sector overall. Dan is the Assistant Director of Development for Individual Giving at International House, a dynamic cross-cultural residential community for international graduate students in New York City. At I-House, Dan primarily works on annual fund appeals, the major and planned gift portfolios and all donor stewardship efforts.

He also writes a blog focused on fundraising and non-profit management issues, The Good Steward. Dan proudly serves on the boards of the Association of Prospect Researchers for Advancement of Greater New York and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. He is also an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York. When not fundraising, you can find Dan enjoying a good book, looking for a new recipe to try or continuing to trace his family history.

Tools we #nplove

We asked our Launchpad Fellows to tell us about a few of the tools and resources that they #nplove.
Ebony Harley, Chapter Resources Coordinator:

Ebony Harley, Chapter Resources Coordinator Ebony Harley, Chapter Resources Coordinator
When I began high school, my classmates and I were encouraged to use daily planners as a way to keep us organized as new high school students. Like little minions, we wrote down every assignment, practice exercise, and test date. Fast forward almost 10 years later, and that habit has stuck with me.

The perfect complements to any planner for a busy nonprofit professional are….(drumroll please)…colorful pens! I know. I’m a dork.

Just in case you think this post is made up – here’s a pic of my calendar and my new, cool, erasable pens.

plannerAnother that I’m loving is the YNPN Leaders Site…cliché I know, BUT I do. The Leaders’ Site was developed last year by the previous Chapter Support LaunchPad Fellow – Ashley Hartman. She did a fantastic job of organizing various documents and also managed to cultivate a space for chapters to share resources. On the site, chapter leaders have posted various presentations, chapter board documents, and even program documents – just to name a few.The site is pretty easy to navigate, but if you need a tutorial, Ashley has a short YouTube tutorial that will help you AND I’m also here if you have any questions or concerns!  If you ever need some inspiration, the leaders’ site is a great first stop and it’s also where we’ll store Chapter Congress docs as well as resources from the Program XChanges!  Oh…and if your chapter has documents that you’d like to archive on the Leaders site, please feel free to add them here


Jessica Jesswein, Conference Coordinator:

Jess Jesswein, Conference Coordinator Jess Jesswein, Conference Coordinator
Google Docs are perfect for anyone who is working remotely, or working with a group of people who are not always together. I love that you can edit the document at the same time as someone else, it continuously saves, and it's just easy to avoid sending attachments with emails all the time. Just link to the document, they can open and edit immediately! It tracks changes automatically which is also great.
The fact that I'm not searching for the latest version of a document has saved me so much time and energy.
Jamie Smith, Communications Coordinator:

Jamie Smith, Communications Coordinator Jamie Smith, Communications Coordinator

I use Canva almost daily to produce custom graphics for YNPN. You can't do as much with Canva as you can with Photoshop and InDesign, but it's a lifesaver for those of us without expert graphic design skills.

I'm late to the Buffer party, but it makes posting to social media so efficient. If someone would make a super tool that combines the posting efficiency of Buffer, the stream viewing setup of Hootsuite, and the reporting of Sprout Social, I would be in social media manager heaven.
Lynda.com and Skillshare are where I go to learn new skills affordably. I love having so much knowledge at my fingertips. Right now I'm in the midst of an InDesign class. (Don't worry, Canva, I will always love you!)

What are the tools and resources you #nplove?


New Startup Chapters: Knoxville and Omaha!

We're so excited to welcome YNPN Knoxville and YNPN Omaha to the network as our two newest Startup chapters!

Not only is Omaha Peyton Manning's audible call of choice, it's also got a pretty awesome flag:



Knoxville isn't too shabby either. Check out this gorgeous skyline:

3014540302_9e3e9e4199_b Photo by Tim Bounds
We can't wait to see what these awesome YNPs will bring to the network!
If you're a young nonprofit professional in either of these cities who wants to get involved with your up-and-coming local chapters, get in touch with info@ynpn.org!

The triumph of #nplove

This blog post almost didn't get written, for all of the usual reasons blog posts don't get written: no time to focus, other projects that felt more pressing, and a need to sleep and eat every now and then. I was running behind on life, not to mention my YNPN responsibilities, and I didn't know how I would get it all done.

But if I'm honest with myself and with you, another reason this post almost didn't get written is because I was scared. Let me back up and tell you why.

When I found out that Random Acts of Kindness Week would oh-so-serendipitously overlap with Valentine's Day, I knew that I needed to figure out some way to incorporate it into YNPN's #nplove content for the month (a nonprofit communicator never sleeps, y'all). I decided it would be fun to send valentines to a few organizations and people I really admire to acknowledge the fantastic work they do. Who doesn't love a handwritten note? Also, it was an excuse to go to Paper Source.

You can always count on Paper Source for a good pun.

You can always count on Paper Source for a good pun.

And then I got busy. Really busy. And before I knew it, it was the evening of the day I had planned to send the cards so they would arrive in time for Valentine's Day, and I hadn't even thought about what I was going to write.

So I started to talk myself out of it. Here's a list of the reasons why I told myself this was a bad idea:

Reason: "Well, it won't arrive in time for V-Day and people will be confused."

Reality: People know how calendars and the USPS work. Being in the vicinity of Valentine's Day would be good enough. This is one of those times when it's the thought that counts.

Reason: "They don't know who I am, what do they care that I think they're awesome?"

Reality: One of the reasons I love these folks is that they are so thoughtful and audience-focused in everything they do. They may not know who I am, but I bet it will make their day to hear about why their work matters to someone.

Reason: "Uhh, isn't a little weird to just tell someone that they're cool?"

Reality: Of all the silly reasons I came up with not to do this, this one might be the most silly and a little bit sad. When did it become weird or uncool to tell someone else that you think they're pretty stinkin' great? (No, that's literally what the card said.)

photo 1 (11)
It was around then that I realized I was a little bit scared to do this. I was scared to step out and acknowledge the importance of someone else's work in my life because I was too busy to do it at exactly the right time, because I felt I wasn't significant enough for my opinion to matter, and because I thought it might be weird. All of those reasons are pretty stinkin' bad.

One of the best parts of managing YNPN's social media accounts this month has been seeing all of the #nplove tweets and comments. But I also know that there are a lot more people out there who are feeling the love but haven't shared yet, maybe for some of the reasons I was scared to do so. This post is for all of you.

Yep, that's a Johnny Cash stamp. Who's uncool now? Still me? Ok.


Yep, that's a Johnny Cash stamp. Who's uncool now? Still me? Ok.
So I want to know: Whose work do you think deserves a valentine, even if it's a virtual one?

jamiesmithheadshotJamie Smith is the Launchpad Communications Fellow for YNPN. In addition to her work for YNPN, she works with nonprofit organizations to amplify their impact with clear and compelling communications. As a freelance writer and content strategist, she loves helping organizations across the nonprofit sector connect with their supporters.

Why I #nplove YNPN

YNPN National Board member Jessie Singer counts the many ways she loves YNPN.

Roses are red, violets are blue, I love YNPN and you should too!

In all honesty, YNPN is the place where I feel like I truly belong and that I'm amongst the most inspiring young nonprofit professionals that are moving mountains across the country.

Every time I am lacking motivation, need a boost of adrenaline or have lost my passion for my work, I can immediately find a YNPN friend and remember why I dedicate my life to the nonprofit sector.

YNPN is truly a place for me, to be who I really am: an extremely motivated, passionate, career-focused, young, nonprofit professional, who wants to make a REAL difference in the world… not just in my nonprofit, not just in my community, but in the WORLD! (Yes, I dream BIG!)

YNPN is comprised of individuals across the United States (and I hear the latest is that we’ve started to take over, I mean join forces, with our Canadian friends) who live, work and breathe mission-based work. Not all of us spend our day jobs working in the nonprofit sector, but at the end of the day we all share a passion for helping others.

This network is the place where we can take time to professionally develop our own skills to be better individuals. Through social events we network with one another and through educational seminars we hone in on our skills to ensure that our network is a force to be reckoned with.

If you aren’t feeling the #nplove lately, find me via Facebook, Twitter (@NonprofitJessie), LinkedIn, Google Chat, text, phone, etc. etc. and I’ll share some YNPN love with you!

2Jessie Singer is the Executive Director for the American Lung Association in California – San Diego. Jessie is originally from the suburbs of Chicago where she left for the hot, hot, hot weather in Tucson, AZ to become a University of Arizona Wildcat before moving to Phoenix to start her professional career.

After 10 years in the heat, Jessie moved to San Diego in 2012 to work on improving the air quality and lung health in Southern California. Jessie is an active member of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (ynpn.org) serving on the YNPN National and San Diego Boards. Thanks to the #nplove and support of YNPN, Jessie is a nonprofiteer for life & is proud to be associated with her colleagues across the country.

#nplove: Reunited and it feels so good

This weekend our National Board and Launchpad Fellows had the opportunity to come together from across the country and meet in person to discuss what's next for YNPN in 2014.

These retreat opportunities are so special and so important to the work that we do. YNPN is incredibly grateful for the support of the Denver Foundation, which hosted our most recent retreat; the Ford Foundation, which hosted our January 2013 retreat in New York; and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which regularly opens up its Baltimore office to the YNPN team.

The support we receive from these organizations is not just logistical and financial. Most importantly, we are grateful for their enthusiastic support of our mission and the work that we do. Thank you to the Denver Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation for your #nplove!


I {Heart} Nonprofits

YNPN Twin Cities member Dania Toscano Miwa talks about why she's never gonna give up the nonprofit sector.

Seriously, what’s not to love? Organizations working to make social change, fix big hairy problems and impact change, both locally and globally. Staff who dedicate their careers and purpose to a mission and to improve our world.

Plus, of course, our volunteers and supporters, both in and out of the boardroom, who give away their time, talent and resources in support of what we do. It all adds up to a commitment, a values statement, an ideal.

Again I say, what’s not to love?

For me, growing up with two parents working for nonprofits, I never really even thought about it. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “I’m going to devote my career to the betterment of the nonprofit sector.” It wasn’t a conscious choice. I found myself naturally gravitating to organizations and mission driven work. I wanted to “do something” and work for a place that cared about my values and value.

I do remember bombing a job interview at a bank. I knew it was over when I was told the volunteer section of my resume was of no value to this institution, and I would be best to remove it from my resume.  That would have eliminated almost all of my practical work experience, which I had gained from volunteering in offices at various organizations in high school and college.

What was left was my job at a doggy day-care. If I had taken that advice, I would have “expert poo scooper” and “positive reinforcement training assistant” as the sum total of my work experience. (Although I have to say the positive reinforcement dog training actually does have practical use in certain nonprofit environments as well, but I digress.)

Another reason I love this sector is the information-generous nature of the sector and its people. Most of the time when I’m working through a challenge with an organization, I can pick up the phone and chat with a colleague who has probably dealt with a similar issue and is willing to help troubleshoot.

This spirit of generosity permeates the sector. For example, there are free superb resources available here in Minnesota, such as the Principals & Practices for Nonprofit Excellence. In addition, there are the numerous national resource organizations such as BoardSource, with tons of resources dedicated to training effective board members, and CharityChannel, a great peer-to-peer networking site for fundraising professionals, plus a publishing arm. Idealist is especially useful to young professionals for professional skill building.

Many “helper organizations” are active in my region with the sole purpose and mission  to guide, educate, support and train nonprofit organizations.  In Minnesota, we have an extraordinarily strong Nonprofit state association, The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.   Additionally, there are such organizations as the Nonprofit Assistance Fund, MACC Commonwealth, MAP for Nonprofits, Charities Review Council, Nonprofit Resources Collaborative and more. These organizations and many more devote themselves to the betterment of the sector and its people and to continuously help organizations become more efficient, effective and maximize their impact.

I have worked, volunteered and supported organizations for my entire career and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

I plan to stay connected to the nonprofit sector for the entirety of my career and I know many of my colleagues have pledged the same. Now if that’s not love and devotion, I don’t know what is!

Dania Toscana MiwaDania 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.