YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

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.

Meet the YNPN Pilot Coaches

Earlier this month we announced the launch of the very first YNPN coaching pilots! We're excited to partner with Karen Ramsey of Lead for Good and Alicia Jay with RabbleUp to offer these special group coaching opportunities at a discounted rate for young nonprofit professionals.

We wanted to take a moment to introduce Karen and Alicia so you can get to know the coaches supporting these pilots. Read on to learn more about why Karen and Alicia are so passionate about their work developing emerging leaders!

Karen Ramsey, Lead for Good

Karen Ramsey, President of Lead for Good

Karen Ramsey, President & CEO of Lead for Good

Why are you passionate about coaching?

I worked as a human resources executive in the private sector for several years and was lucky enough to have a coach.   With the help of my coach, I made the decision to change careers and work in the nonprofit sector.  That was 13 years ago!  Now as a credentialed coach myself, I find great satisfaction in offering coaching to nonprofit professionals who are looking to grow and explore  their personal and professional hopes and dreams.  My passion is around leadership development and there is nothing more rewarding than having someone I’ve worked with get promoted or land their dream job.

How long have you been coaching?

I’ve been coaching for nine years.  One of my most rewarding activities is serving as the Chair of the Nonprofit Community of Practice for the International Coach Federation.  Through this work, I get to interact with coaches from all over the world!

What's one of your favorite coaching success stories?

There have been many, many success stories as a result of Lead for Good’s peer-networking team coaching cohorts.  In one recent group I coached, a participant worked on becoming clear about what type of position would be most enjoyable for her, and she ended up leaving fundraising and pursuing (and getting!)  a job as a marketing professional.  She said because she invested in self-reflection and participated in a visualization exercise we did during the group coaching, she was able to very clearly articulate why she was the right candidate when she interviewed for a marketing position. She credited her new-found confidence and conviction for landing the job.

What are three words that describe you?

Caring, compassionate, open.

What do you do when you're not coaching?

I am an avid exerciser including weightlifting and water sports.  I love to travel and explore different lands and cultures and I really enjoy playing games, especially cards.  I also do quite a bit of volunteer work supporting both the South Sudanese Community and serving on the Board of Directors of the von Hippel-Lindau Alliance.

Sign up for coaching and peer networking with Karen!

Alicia Jay, RabbleUp

Alicia Jay, Founder & Principal of RabbleUp Alicia Jay, Founder & Principal of RabbleUp

Why are you passionate about coaching?

I have found that coaching is one of the most effective tools to make change in your life. It's personalized, deeply compassionate, and action-oriented. You have someone metaphorically holding your hand for an hour, helping you to make decisions, understand yourself more completely, and ultimately feel true alignment with the direction your life is moving in. For me, it is an absolutely spiritual experience to work with someone through that journey. It is, what I would call, my capital "P" Purpose. We all need that kind of reflection and support sometimes. It's not about turning the light on, it's about making the light shine brighter.

How long have you been coaching?

I started coaching about 6 years ago when I worked for a leadership development organization called Young People For. I launched Rabble Up in March 2013 after years of seeing a large gap in the field of training for emerging progressive leaders. After working as a practitioner, and then as a funder to the leadership development field, it became clear that there was a lack of holistic, transformative, and individualized resources for those folks looking to build a career in the social change movement. The resources that do exist, are primarily for very-seasoned leaders and are usually extremely cost prohibitive. At the same time, non-profit and social change organizations are somewhat out-of-sync these days with the values that we purport to live by-- the hours are too long, the pay is too low, and the cultures of our organizations are lacking in inspiration. I've personally experienced this for years myself. Rabble Up is designed to provide coaching and training for a very specific audience-- emerging social justice leaders interested in both their internal and external worlds, who want to pave a different path towards personal sustainability and happiness.

What's one of your favorite coaching success stories?

I was working with someone about a year ago who was having a rough time on the job search trail, a common story. He had already been searching for about 4 months, and was reaching his financial breaking point. I asked him to put aside the specifics of the resume, cover letter, and networking for the first three sessions. He obliged, with skepticism. We worked to uncover the underlying forces: How this job search was bringing up his own fear of rejection, the deeply ingrained beliefs that he didn't deserve his dream job, and the fact that networking as an introvert is extremely draining. These elements are what I call the "real work."

After we started peeling back these layers, we then got really clear about why a new job would better align him with his deepest values. We set realistic goals, and a few weeks later he had lined up several interviews. I like this story because it's not just about getting a new job. It's about the willingness to look inward, acknowledge and send love to what you find there, and move forward in better touch with that innate wisdom. Those are the real tools that serve us every day.

What are three words that describe you?

Old-soul, alive, loving.

What do you do when you're not coaching?

My happy place is on a hiking trail with my partner and our dog. Aside from that, you'll find me cooking, reading furiously, taking a stab at painting, and maybe some Scandal and solo dance parties in my living room, here and there. I'm also working to co-found an amazing new national campaign on women's economic justice, called Make It Work (stay tuned, we're launching in the Spring!).

Sign up for Tuesday group coaching with Alicia! or Sign up for Saturday group coaching with Alicia!

#ynpengage: Diversity and Inclusion

YNPN Portland recently collaborated with the Urban League of Portland and several other community partners to host a day of service for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. As part of the event, YNPNers and other members of the community put together personal hygiene, dental care, and school supply kits for children and homeless youth. The event was an effort to reach across boundaries, groups, and neighborhoods to reflect King's vision of the Beloved Community.

This event is just one part of YNPN Portland's efforts to bring social equity to the front and center and make diversity and inclusion a core part of its work. We spoke to YNPN Portland Board Chair Kate Elliott about the event and how their chapter is pursuing "a diverse and powerful social sector" in Portland.

It looks like the MLK Day of Service was a big success! Can you tell us more about the partnership and how it came about?

As a new and growing group, YNPN Portland has made it a priority to meet with other organizations and groups supporting young professionals, especially those associated with social sector organizations.  We also want to prioritize being inclusive, so although Urban League Young Professionals doesn't have a nonprofit focus, Urban League is a well-respected civil rights organization and we knew we wanted to be connected to the dynamic young professionals involved with their young professionals group.  Once we met, we realized they bring incredible experience and perspective to facilitating dialogue on racism and social justice, and that we had experience planning and hosting professional development events that might help their work to bring those opportunities to their membership.  When we found out both groups were planning to do something for MLK Jr. Day of Service, we figured it made sense to start there.

It sounds like the Day of Service was a first step in what will hopefully be many more projects. Is there anything else currently in the pipeline that you're working on?

The MLK Jr. Day of Service project was a great success, and we do hope it is the start of an ongoing partnership between our chapter and the other groups who worked to host the event.  We don't have any other events in the works, but we have committed to supporting one another's programs by spreading the word, helping to brainstorm and secure space, presenters, etc.  In that regard, although our programs sometimes have different audiences, we know we can share our networks and advice with one another to help each other be successful.

How have the principles of diversity and inclusion been integrated into your other programming and chapter activities?

To be honest, this is still something we struggle with.  Our chapter's board and committees are decidedly not a very diverse group, and we're still learning how to make our group one that makes diversity and inclusion intentional.  We know that partnering with other organizations simply isn't enough.  We need to work to make YNPN Portland a group that makes diversity and inclusion a priority, and that takes time and hard work.  We're open to suggestions from other folks from the broader YNPN community who have figured some of this out, and will certainly share our progress as we move forward.

YNPN Portland member Liza Jacobson with a few of the kits

YNPN Portland member Liza Jacobson with the kits


Do you have any strategies or advice for starting conversations around diversity and inclusion? I think many people and organizations in the sector support these principles, but aren't comfortable or sure how to talk about them. Is this something you've encountered and have you gained any insight into how to start these important conversations?

Well, I think the point is that they are often not comfortable conversations, and you have to be OK with that.  Working collaboratively in itself is tough, but working collaboratively with people who haven't worked together is even tougher.  It isn't easy, so it takes humility and commitment.  You have to be willing to be embarrassed, or wrong, question your assumptions and the way you approach things, apologize, call yourself out, call other people out, and all the other less-than-thrilling parts of forging new relationships that are complicated by social diseases like racism & classism.  But if you want your group to be representative of the community you have to be willing to put the work in.  If you look around and your membership looks, talks and thinks the same, that is because it's designed to be welcoming to those people, and you have to get out of your comfort zone to make being inclusive a reality.

How do you think an organization like YNPN (both at the national and local chapter level) can and should be working to make our sector more diverse?

There are so many things we could be doing.  I'm hopeful each local chapter looks at the history and current state of their community and thinks critically about how their chapter fit into some of the social dynamics at play.  So many of us work in nonprofit organizations that seek to address looming social problems, and YNPN can be a place where we think about the systemic issues that help, hinder or cause that work to be necessary.  For example: how does racism impact the environmental issues your organization works on, or the hunger another YNPN member is trying to alleviate, and the access to education someone else is passionate about?

These are important conversations that a multi-organization network like YNPN is perfectly poised to have.  There was a speaker presentation portion of the MLK Jr. Day of Service project, and several speakers offered their thoughts on how historical racial inequities like redlining have played out and continue to have an effect on the Portland we live and work in today.  It was so important to have that conversation as part of our day of service, and I am hopeful we'll be able to generate conversations on systemic issues like that through future YNPN programs.  That's one thing I think continued partnership could do - help us connect up with the leaders who know those stories and will graciously share them with us to give context to our passion and work.  We just have to make sure we're really listening!

Do you have any advice for local chapters and individuals who might be considering starting a project/partnership like this that crosses sectors?

I think I alluded to some of this above, but collaboration is tough work.  It means you don't always get your way and have complete control, and that can be a really hard feeling.  It can take more time and compromise, but if you're committed to being inclusive you don't get there by planning programs and events with a bunch of people who have the same lived experiences and agree on all but the finest of points.  It is important to listen, and offer your time and partnership with true and genuine intentions.

We want to thank Kate for taking the time to talk with us about her chapter's work. And we want to hear from you:

How does your organization or local YNPN chapter make diversity and inclusion part of your work?

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.