YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

12 Days of YNPN: New Chapters

To commemorate some of our favorite memories from 2013, we're celebrating 12 Days of YNPN between today and the end of the year.

This year our network grew at an incredible rate; in the latter part of 2013 we added a new chapter every month!
On this First Day of YNPN, we want to welcome our new chapters to the network:

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YNPN Richmond 

(YNPN Richmond, Virginia)
YNPN Des Moines

YNPN Baltimore

YNPN Portland

YNPN Greater Seattle

YNPN Madison
We're so excited for all that you'll bring to the network and we can't wait to see you grow in 2014!

You can't change the world alone: Why networking is community building

By Trish Tchume, Executive Director of YNPN National

So I was sitting up one night last month, staring at my work to-do list, which was feeling long but totally manageable (save for this one, super-tedious data entry project that just felt way too sucky to ask any of my board members or Fellows to help me with). If you work for a small nonprofit organization with limited staff, you know this moment. Actually, if you’re a grown up with any sort of responsibilities at all, you know this moment. At any rate, I was having that moment.

Out of nowhere, a friend of mine (we’ll call her Kim) Gchats me to let me know she’s got some time on her hands and volunteers to do the sucky project for me. The weird thing is, I didn’t remember mentioning the project to her. Perhaps at some point when last we spoke, I was babbling about whatever was in my brain at the time and she managed to sift the project out of the mess and identify it as a way that she could help a friend.

The power of sector-wide generosity

In the moment, I was mostly feeling beyond grateful for Kim. But it also occurred to me that gifts like this are actually exchanged regularly amongst the incredible people I know who work in the sector. We do stuff like this for each other all the time without question.

The angst I was feeling though was over the fact that when we talk about what it’s like to work for a nonprofit via social media or even amongst these same family and friends, we so rarely lift this—our ability to create networks that support us and push us—up as one of our key characteristics or our core values. However, it is something that we do that not only makes us unique, but actually makes us incredibly powerful.

If we are to continue creating and cultivating networks that not only work for social change, but also nourish us and support us when we encounter setbacks, challenges, and burnout, we have to try the following:

View reliance on networks as a strength, not an inefficiency

Networking is not just a job search tool in the sector, it’s the way we get things done because our work is incredibly complicated.  We’re not making widgets – we’re building a world where basic needs are met, communities are strong, and access to opportunity is equitable. With goals this audacious, there is no end to the universe of challenges and opportunities that will present themselves.

So we simply cannot (and should not) build organizations that can address every single opportunity and challenge that will ever arise.

Imagine if we took the fact that we already ARE networked in so many ways – we have staff that have moved between these organizations, provide different services to the same clients, and work on the same issues – and actually built this into our organizational strategy for achieving our mission. It would not only relieve us of the pressure to keep doing more with less, but would allow each organization to really focus on the things we do the best. And rest in the knowledge that collectively we can provide community members with what they need.

Cultivate your network by being generous

I was in a workshop a few years ago where we did an exercise. In column A, you had to list people you considered to be key contacts in your network. In column B, you had to list how you came to know that person. The first part of the exercise was more about mapping your network. But in column C, you were then supposed to take the people in column A and list all the people you’ve introduced them to. The idea was that building your network was not about how many people you collect and remembering where you got them so you can go back for more. It’s about cultivating those relationships.

There’s plenty of research now that confirms what we’ve probably always known instinctively: lots of nodes are better than one central hub. In other words, the most effective systems are ones in which people with helpful information are directly connected with each other rather than having to be routed through one central person. The strongest way to add value to a relationship is to help the other person (or organization) in that relationship build his or her network by introducing them to other people (or organizations) that they should know.

Actively ask for help

The step after thinking about other organizations as part of our mission is actually reaching out to them for help. In the story of my sucky project, I got lucky. I happened to be sharing my stress with Kim – an incredibly attentive friend who was able to pick up on the fact that I was struggling without my having to actually tell her. The thing is that not only would Kim have been just as willing to do the task if I had explicitly asked, if I had considered the possibility that I could ask for help instead of doing the whole thing myself, I probably would have approached the project way more creatively without necessarily adding more work for her as a volunteer.

I know. You’re thinking “It doesn’t make sense to turn everything into a shareable project.  By the time I explain to someone else how to do it, I could have done it myself.” I hear you. And this logic is correct when we think about checking a task off our list as an end goal. But when you think about our work as nonprofits not only as service providers who accomplish a set of functions, but as a space to provide services and engage people (in whatever small way) in the act of building a better world, then it’s a lot harder to say that you can accomplish the same thing by just doing it on your own.

Cross-posted from the Idealist Careers blog

Check out the Leaders Building Leaders Fundraising Campaign Video

Trish honestly wanted to name all of 500 of you.  For some reason, the film editor said it would make for a bad video! Whether you were named or not, know that you're still getting virtual props.

 

(Like the video? Please share and support our efforts to support all of you!)
 

Beans & Cornbread: YNPN and EPIP are still talkin' 'bout power

So it’s been about 9 months since you looked in your inbox and checked your Twitter feed, saw the words “Beans and Cornbread” for the first time, and thought:

“What the...?”

Rahsaan and I sent out that note and posted this blog way back when, hoping to take a conversation that had been happening between the leaders of EPIP and YNPN National and put it where it belongs: out into our communities. You’ll remember, we said:

 

We got such a wide range of responses:

  • Some of you wanted to let us know that you were already building those bridges. (Shout out to all the EPIP/YNPN chapters that are already co-programming, like the Twin Cities chapters working together to build a cross-sector leadership development institute!)

  • But, the VAST majority of folks we heard from wanted to say thanks. You talked about the fact that this issue of power is one that all of us struggle with--sometimes outwardly but often inwardly.  And you were grateful for some space to sort it out and actually work through it.

Rahsaan and I were open and have continued to be open about the fact that we didn’t have much of a plan about the best way to create these spaces.  Early on we agreed to be reflective and intentional about moving this conversation forward but we also agreed that it was okay to just see what opportunities to build momentum presented themselves.

And some great opportunities did!

  • At the Network level -

    • We learned via survey that there is great interest and excitement between EPIP and YNPN members to do more co-programming

    • EPIP opened up it’s annual conference to YNPN members in Chicago and invited Trish Tchume to take part.  YNPN National selected Rahsaan to give a “Spark Speech” about power dynamics at their annual conference in Phoenix.

  • Beyond EPIP and YNPN

    • Trish and Rahsaan were invited to share this conversation with a wider group at the Whitman Institute Retreat in Santa Cruz, CA, where they co-facilitated a workshop discussion about power dynamics in the sector.  Turns out younger leaders aren’t the only folks who are ready for this barrier to come down.  The workshop included funders, grantees, younger, and older leaders - all of whom are calling for more spaces to work through these issues.

    • Following the Whitman Institute Jess Rimington of One World Youth Project decided to join Rahsaan and I as core organizers to move these conversations forward.

So what’s to come?  We know that we need to keep widening this discussion to drill down to what people see as the true barriers and to work with those same folks to identify some workable short term and long term solutions.  So our plan for now is to host a mid-sized gathering in New York to expand the conversation.

Where else are you seeing opportunities to address these issues on the ground.  Let us know at beansandcornbread@epip.org or tweet feedback to #BandC_power.  We’ll keep you engaged as well on how these conversations are developing and ways that you can connect to them virtually.

Because (sing it with us) Beans and Cornbread... we go hand in hand!

Why I YNPN - DC's 10th Anniversary Edition

Last week YNPNdc celebrated their 10th anniversary. In this post from their blog, YNPNdc alum Billy Fettweis shares what he learned as a member and board member of YNPNdc.
 
When I joined the YNPNdc board in 2009, I was naïve about what to expect. I suppose I should have known that, over the course of my two-year term, I’d develop skills and meet great people. As it would turn out, that’s pretty standard for board leadership. But it is those lessons and experiences that I never would have anticipated that keep me supporting YNPNdc today.

I served on and would later co-chair the Professional Development committee, the group that plans monthly workshops for members. Throughout my time with YNPNdc, I developed skills invaluable to my professional career, including running effective meetings, motivating long-term volunteers, and even managing conflict. In many cases, these were skills that I hadn’t had a chance to practice during my full-time job – a common refrain among my fellow leaders, who valued YNPNdc as an outlet for their creativity, drive, and passion. The network and friendships that I built with these talented individuals kept me motivated even when challenged by the demands of YNPNdc board service.

One of the most unexpected benefits of my time with YNPNdc was the appreciation I developed for board service. Early in my career, I had a rare opportunity to learn that board service is a unique way to make a difference for a cause you believe in while also advancing your own career through new skills and networks. Serving with YNPNdc helped me relate to and manage the boards of nonprofits where I’ve worked since then. And as I rolled off the board of YNPNdc, I leveraged my experience to join the board of SMYAL, the leading DC nonprofit addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth. At SMYAL, I started a volunteer committee to engage young professionals in SMYAL’s work, and all of this would have been impossible without YNPNdc.

But most important, and perhaps most unexpectedly, YNPNdc gave me pride in the nonprofit sector. Many of us hear the negative stereotypes – that nonprofits are unbusiness-like and chaotic, and the early career professionals who work there are idealistic “do-gooders” who will soon realize they can make more money in the for-profit sector. YNPNdc taught me that these stereotypes are ignorant of those strategic, thoughtful organizations and individuals who are making change – often gradually, often beneath the radar, but in enduring and inspiring ways.

As young nonprofit professionals, we’re tenacious, we’re ambitious, and we’re incredibly resourceful (often because we have to be). We work for nonprofits not just because we have an idealistic view of how we want the world to be, but because we have a shared understanding of the opportunities that should exist in a just society and because we believe that each one of us, regardless of profession, has a stake and a responsibility for making this vision a reality. YNPNdc is a community where these leaders meet, share ideas, and inspire one another. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

 

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Billy Fettweis served on the YNPNdc Board of Directors from 2009-2011, serving on and later co-chairing the Professional 

Development committee. He is now the Manager of Development at Children’s Law Center, the largest legal services nonprofit in DC, which provides legal services to at-risk children and their families. Prior to this role, he was the Senior Development Manager at the Parkinson’s Action Network, where he was responsible for generating $2.2 million in annual private revenue. He also served as Director of Volunteer Services at Greater DC Cares, where he managed all hands-on and skills-based volunteer programs, which engaged 43,000+ volunteers annually and supported 900+ community-based organizations. Billy is orginally from Randolph, NJ and now lives on Capitol Hill. A graduate of George Washington University, he also serves on the SMYAL Board of Directors and has served on the Local Advisory Board for LIFT-DC.

Chapter Blog Spotlight - Value of Cross-Sector, Cross-industry networking: Reflections from the Generation Now Leadership Visit

By Amanda Varley, cross-posted from YNPN Twin Cities.

At events, I often look around the room and recognize 75 percent of the attendees.

Each of us across sectors and industries work in our own cylinders of excellence (a phrase I first heard from researcher Kristie Kauerz). We promote impactful work, but often preach to our distinct choirs. Rarely there is a venue to genuinely engage with peers doing vastly different work. But when it happens, it turns out we have a lot in common.

The Generation Now Leadership Visit, modeled after the executive level InterCity Leadership Visit, was an opportunity to bring together 55 emerging leaders across sectors and industries on an intense three-day trip to Milwaukee.

Organized by the Citizens League, the trip was a whirlwind tour highlighting success in Milwaukee. We learned about redevelopment, young professional groups, community branding, education, water policy, green buildings, etc. (the agenda was ambitious!). The best part was when I boarded the bus to depart I only knew five people, but when I returned I knew 49 more who I may not have otherwise crossed paths professionally.

My work explicitly overlaps with only one of the delegates, but I’ve rarely had as engaging of professional conversations as I had on the trip. The conversations forced me to think about my work from new perspectives and consider the impact of my work on other fields. Plus, it was humbling to discuss the work of peers.

The benefits of cross-sector and industry collaboration were obvious on both small and large scales. At one point, I was a part of a conversation between an employee of a utility company and an employee of a nonprofit working to combat homelessness. They quickly realized bill-paying customers were a common goal of both organizations - to the utility company this met its need for profit as well as serving shareholders and to the nonprofit this met the goal of financial independence for clients.

On a large scale, the diversity of attendees allowed for overarching discussions about Minneapolis-Saint Paul as a region, it’s challenges, and opportunities. Often when working in solely our own sector and industry it’s challenging to take complete ownership of a daunting problem such as the achievement gap or poverty. However, when a diverse set of players is at the table, it becomes clear that everyone is impacted by the problem and we need to work together to find solutions.

The delegation came from diverse sectors, industries, demographics, and experiences, but at the end of the trip one delegate thoughtfully commented that he had no clue the political affiliation of most of the group. Despite the diversity of the group, we all left Milwaukee with an incredible sense of urgency to move MSP forward, together. Thanks to our diversity, I’m confident we can create skyways between our cylinders of excellence. Part of our skyway system will be working towards a common vision for MSP - more on this in an upcoming Part 2.

GNLV would not have been possible without the generous support of the Bush FoundationKnight FoundationCarlsonComcastGreater MSPSaint Paul Port AuthorityUS BankUrban Land InstituteMinneapolis Chamber of CommerceSaint Paul Chamber of Commerce and MinnPost. Thank you!

In what ways do you network across sectors and industries?

- See more at: http://www.ynpntwincities.org/blog/2013/10/10/value-of-cross-sector-cross-industry-networking-reflections.html#sthash.i66fMEMo.dpuf

Director's Dispatch - Small steps --> radical culture shifts: “The December Strategy”

by Trish Tchume, Director, YNPN National

Recently we here at YNPN have been discussing how important it is for us to model the way that we think the sector could be doing social change work so that the way we work and the amount we work is sustainable and leads to real transformation.  This is one in a series of posts about the small steps we are making internally towards radical culture shifts that will facilitate just that.  

By 2011, after years of being an all-volunteer organization, YNPN National managed to raise enough money to hire our first ED, who turned out to be yours truly.  Not only was this role a first for the organization but it was a first for me, so I wanted to learn not only the practical basics of running an organization but also how people in my position personally handle the ‘swirl’ of nonstop to-do’s.

I learned two basic things about being an ED from these conversations with other ED’s:

1) Being an ED was apparently going to be really hard and overwhelming. And if it’s not hard and overwhelming, you’re probably doing it wrong.

2) It is very important to talk all the time - with other EDs, with your board, on panels, on Facebook, to toll booth operators (whoever has ears, really) - about how hard it is to be an ED.

Equipped with this information, I settled into my role and prepared for it to be hard and overwhelming. Not surprisingly - it was hard and overwhelming.  Up until this point the network itself and the myriad of people and organizations interested in the network had been dreaming big about “what we could do if only we had more capacity...” This list ranged from the practical (i.e. finally upgrade that ugly website) to the revolutionary (i.e. become THE pipeline for moving diverse talent throughout the social sector) and everyone could not be more excited to finally have a person - an actual person! with a face!  and an email address! - to share their big ideas for how to make these dreams real.

This translated into a lot of meetings. I mean A LOT of meetings. Notebooks filled with the ideas that people would very much like to see me move forward. Yesterday, please.

I said yes to everything and promised to do even more.  I also felt completely overwhelmed and wasn’t sleeping, but then I remembered from my conversations with the other EDs that horrible feeling meant that I was doing things right.  I remember lying in bed thinking about how many meetings I had each day and how little I was looking forward to most of them.  It took me awhile but finally, I started thinking about the one part of being an ED that no one had really said much about up to that point:

For the first time in my life, I was “the boss.”  Technically, I could decide to do whatever I want.

This, however, landed on me not as a realization of power but as a sense of responsibility.  I wasn’t just “the boss,” I was the leader of an organization founded in part to counter the culture I was currently swept up in. (Apparently that point was lost on me in the swirl.)  So I began to think very practically about how I would want to make more space for myself but also what I would want to model for both our members and the wider sector.

Thus the December Strategy was born.  

Initially, I set the entire month of December aside as a time to regroup, reflect, and think big picture. I turned down all meetings, phone calls, and speaking engagements for the whole month of December in order to catch up on work and sleep and I just hoped that people would understand.

I still remember the first email that I sent in response to someone requesting a meeting in December. It was right before Thanksgiving and the thought of asking someone to hold their idea till January 2012 seemed both outrageous and rude.  But I’d made a commitment to myself and I was determined to stick to it.  So I agonized over the wording of the email for 45 minutes, read and re-read it, hit send, and waited for the reply.  I expected a few things in return:

1) Pushback from the person letting me know that their issue was incredibly important and they couldn’t possibly wait for 6 weeks to discuss it.

2) No response at all from the person, ever, and refusal to partner with YNPN whose Director was clearly a giant diva.

To my huge surprise, I didn’t get either reaction.  The person actually wrote back 10 minutes later to give me props!  In her response, she let me know that of course the conversation could wait till January and she congratulated me for being so good about setting boundaries for myself.  Of course, I didn’t tell her that I was setting these boundaries now because I’d done such a bad job of setting them during my first two months that I no longer had a choice, but her encouragement built my confidence.  Soon I found myself firing off “Talk to you in January!” emails without flinching.

And just like that, the December Strategy became a thing.

While technically, the December Strategy remains the space that I will set for myself for the third year in a row during the last month of 2013, it has come to mean much more to me than that.

- First, it has come to symbolize a resistance to the notion that all types of nonprofit work carry the same level of urgency.  The work that YNPN National does is important.  But we are not Doctors Without Borders.

- Second, it’s a tribute to a Meg Wheatley quote I once heard during a speech given by Kim Klein: “If we want our world to be different, our first act has to be claiming time to think. We can’t expect those who are well served by the current reality to give us time to think.  If we want anything to change, we are the ones who have to reclaim time.”

And she’s right.

-      Finally, it’s a reminder that I and so many of my fellow YNPNers were drawn to this network and continue to be committed to it because it gave us the space to organize in a way that values both mission and the people working towards that mission - something that many of us were not seeing in the vast majority of the organizations where we were actually employed.  In this way, the December Strategy feels like as much of an opportunity as it does a responsibility to model the way we believe the sector could be working more strategically towards social change.

Do you have a version of the December Strategy - a small but radical way that you or your organization is changing the way you work, in order to work better for change? Let us know in the comment box!

Chapter Blog Spotlight - Lessons from Being a YNPN Executive Board Member

by Alnierys Venegas, cross-posted from YNPN Chicago.

Castle Pub was energetic and vibrant as YNPN Chicago celebrated its Board Meet and Greet. It was great to see the overwhelming response of YNPN members who are interested in board service. While mingling with prospective recruits, I reflected on my own personal journey as a member of the YNPN Chicago Board and the valuable lessons, as well as experiences, that I have learned throughout my tenure.

It is exciting to be a part of a member-driven, all-volunteer, working board of young nonprofit professionals committed to enhancing the sector, but there are three key things that I have learned during my time with YNPN that I would like for those considering board service to think about:

You Are the Workhorse – Being a part of a board will require completing tasks independently, or in a team, in order to assist with the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. Often times, people assume that board involvement has little to no responsibilities aside from attending meetings, so you’ll often overhear comments like this:

       “Huh…this is so much work.”

        “I didn’t’ think I was going to be responsible with actually executing the idea I presented in the meeting.”

       “Can’t somebody else take on the responsibility?”


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My YNPN colleague, Aaron House, explained this concept best in his blog, “A Board Service.”  You will be expected to be accountable for taking on tasks outside of the board room. In short, you are the workhorse.

You Create the Experience – Aside from the work that is expected, there will be plenty of opportunities to attend board events, functions, and meetings. This is a great opportunity to get to know your peers and meet new meet people. If you choose not to attend or if you limit yourself from engaging in those extracurricular activities, then your board experience will, more than likely, not be as enjoyable or fulfilling as it could be. The whole purpose of board participation is growing personally and professionally while connecting with individuals that could aid both in your career and personal lives. Connect. Engage. Create a memorable experience!

You Make a Commitment – Board terms last 1-2 years. That can seem like a pretty long time for a young professional, especially when you don’t know what kind of life circumstance you will face such as family, relationship, school, or career changes.  Despite these circumstances you should honor your term commitment.  Doing so not only demonstrates steadfastness, but your ability to respect your peers who joined hoping to have your support in board service. Not to mention, it also helps to build your character.

As I end my board service with YNPN Chicago, I will take with me not only these key lessons, but a phenomenal experience that allowed me to meet new people, learn about other nonprofit organizations, and develop new skills which helped me to grow personally and professionally. Take it from me…be accountable, enjoy your board service, and honor the commitment that you accepted.  It is worth it.


Alnierys Venegas is currently the Programming Co-Chair on YNPN Chicago’s Executive Board.  Professionally Alnierys manages a Hispanic outreach program for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.

Does Money Matter for Millennials? 6 Key Findings

By Jasmine McGinnis Johnson

In my last position in the nonprofit workforce, I remember frequently talking to colleagues about our financial struggles. Despite working in a small human services nonprofit with few resources, we loved our jobs.  Unlike many places I had worked in the nonprofit sector, within this particular organization the majority of staff members were under 30. In that same organization, turnover was high, with many of the staff leaving after a year.

Yet, most of the employees were not leaving to go to other nonprofit jobs. They simply decided that the financial costs of committing to the nonprofit workforce were not worth it. Many went to work in for-profit companies, and although some had social missions most did not. These personal experiences served as the impetus that led me back to school to obtain my Ph.D.

With those ideas in mind, I recently conducted a study examining Generation Y employees in the nonprofit workforce using the members survey many of you completed for YNPN in 2011. I combined this study with insights learned from an earlier[1]  study and investigated the relationship between compensation and the sector switching propensity of young people, comparing them to their Generation X (born between 1961 and 1981) counterparts.

I focused on sector switching as there are costs to both the vitality of the nonprofit workforce and the ability of nonprofit organizations to continue providing some of our nation’s most critical public services. I was interested in contributing to a more nuanced understanding of how the nonprofit sector could retain young people as studies on this topic to merely describe what proportion of the population wants to leave their job. There are few studies that predict what factors contribute to turnover and sector switching.

I began researching the literature and hypothesized that compensation would affect young nonprofit employees differently than other generations for several reasons. First, the nonprofit workforce has historically been composed of part-time employees. However, the sector now demands a professional workforce and many Universities have responded as demonstrated by an increase in the number of nonprofit education programs. Generation Y employees are also growing up at a time when there is a great deal of sector blurring. Employees no longer feel that they can only “make a difference” in the nonprofit sector. In the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University, where I teach, about a third of our graduates enter the for-profit, nonprofit, and public sectors. Finally, the notion of what a career is, has changed. Employees of all generations recognize the limitations of commitment to one employer for the entirety of their lives. Instead, a career is thought to be made up of several job changes (sometimes even lateral moves) in order for employees to gain the skills and knowledge they desire.

In this study there are six key findings:

  • A high proportion of Generation X and Generation Y nonprofit managers plan to sector switch
  • Salary does not affect the propensity of Generation X employees or managers to sector switch
  • Salary does not affect the propensity of Generation Y employees to sector switch
  • Salary does affect the likelihood that Generation X managers sector switch
  • Perceptions of compensation equity (comparisons to peers) does not affect the propensity of Generation Y employees or managers to sector switch
  • Generation X managers are unlikely to sector switch if they perceive their compensation is equitable to peers in other sectors

Another surprising (or maybe not so surprising) finding is that for Generation Y managers, but not Generation X managers, holding an advanced degree increases the likelihood that they will switch sectors. So what does all of this mean? For me, I have a few more insights about how to move forward in future research. First, money matters for Millennials, and there are hundreds of explanations as to why it would matter for their generation’s commitment to the nonprofit sector but not previous generations; yet, existing data does not allow me to test those ideas. Second, and most importantly, nonprofit managers can use this research to have honest conversations about turnover, sector switching, and what can be done to retain employees. More broadly, your membership in YNPN plays a vital role in continuing to advance these discussions and the time you take to complete the member survey matters!

NOTE: As all academics will attest, particularly those of us in more applied fields, we are terrified of our academic writing never impacting practice, and more honestly no one reading the work we spend our lives doing. Although I am looking forward to 1) people reading this blog and 2) the comments it ensues, I also want to make it clear that beyond what I explain above the data does not allow me to say more, beyond speculation.

Jasmine is the Assistant Professor at The George Washington University, Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. She can be found on twitter: @Prof_McGinnis 



[1]  McGinnis, Jasmine. (2011). “The Young and Restless: Generation Y in the Nonprofit Workforce.” Public Administration Quarterly, 35 (3), 342-362 http://www.spaef.com/article/1288/The-Young-and-Restless:-Generation-Y-in-the-Nonprofit-Workforce

Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach

 YNPN National is currently working on broader strategies to address the issues of coaching access and affordability.  As part of that strategy, the following post is part of an ongoing series aimed at raising awareness about the importance of coaching and tools for accessing this critical support - both amongst our members and the sector at large.
 

Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach

By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward

Last year, I sought out a colleague for a heart-to-heart: Alongside my demanding nonprofit job, I yearned to move my career forward. My coworker seemed to have endless energy and inspiration for his own professional development. He urged me to hire a coach, and referred me to Cathy Wasserman, owner of Self-Leadership Strategies, which provides depth, career, and executive coaching.

I became a client of Cathy’s – and a passionate believer in the transformative power of coaching. I recently spoke with Cathy about her work:

Why work with a coach? What’s in it for social change leaders?

CW: Coaching enables people to dig deep around their unique strengths, growing edges, and values. Ultimately, when people maximize what they can share of themselves, social change efforts maximize as well. Social change requires as many people as possible to articulate their ideas, problem solve, and bring their best self to their work.

Coaching lends itself well to the challenges and complexities of addressing social problems. It helps people navigate contradictions within organizations: the gaps between mission and what is actually happening.

Coaching can exponentialize someone’s work for social change – both within larger society, and within themselves as a healthy, effective change agent. Coaching allows people to learn from all that is happening, and sustain themselves for the long haul.

What mental barriers do you see in people struggling to reach career goals?

CW: There’s a real challenge in allowing ourselves to be fulfilled, to go for what we want, to stop doing what isn’t working. Human beings have trouble embracing our greatness and possibility; we tend to undervalue our skill, value, and intrinsic worth. We over-identify with our inner critic, and work within environments that feed that back to us.

Ironically, those barriers are often catalysts for growth – levers for unleashing more of ourselves – but in the moment, they can be confusing and frustrating. Coaches help people to realize their mental barriers as opportunities for growth and discovery.

Are there particular challenges nonprofit leaders face?

CW: Intrinsically, there’s a sense of “fighting the good fight”, of coming from behind. Nonprofit leaders, more than the average person, have a sense of scarcity, of more limitations they’re working against. There are also logistical realities of working for nonprofits: For example, because there is less money than in the corporate sector, there is also less leadership development training available.

What’s one exercise someone can engage in to move forward in their career?

CW: Start by getting clear on your mission, values, and priorities – personally or professionally. I consider that the foundation of the house of leadership. We need that to help direct our energy and stay on track. It’s difficult to move forward strategically and sustainably without that “north star”.

How did you get into coaching?

CW: I’ve coached informally throughout my career, for example as a community organizer in the feminist and youth movements. There wasn’t much language of coaching at the time – it was just something I did. Eventually, I studied social work and was trained as a therapist, a discipline closely related to coaching.

I decided to work at both micro and macro levels: Besides coaching individuals, I worked as a management consultant for the Support Center for Nonprofit Management. Through one of my trainings I met folks from Idealist, and was invited to write a career coaching column, “Ask Cathy”. There was a tremendous response from readers seeking coaching, so I developed a coaching business. As with many coaches, my road was long and winding – but really, I’ve been coaching all along.

Would you recommend coaching as a career path for others?

CW: Coaching requires an ability to really witness and be present to someone. It demands skill and mastery of one’s relationship to the self. As that muscle is built, you can be more and more available to others, and support them in a powerful way, helping them unlock themselves and explore what’s going on within them.

Coaching isn’t for faint of heart. You need to be able to go into crevices of someone else’s humanity. People will resist and limit their own growth and get frustrated by it, which can make the coaching process difficult. A coach has to be energized by that challenge.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a coach?

CW: It’s a real privilege to witness someone’s growth process, as they tackle the truth of who they are, who they’ve been, and who they’re becoming. Sometimes it’s about bravely looking at your own “shadow” side, and dealing with it. The role of coach and client is to take risks and move forward, even with the fear and anxiety and doubt that come up. That people allow this process to happen is a source of great gratitude and joy for me.

The past several years of surveying and talking with our members have made it clear that Individual Coaching & Support is often identified as one of the most important pillars for professional development, but also the form of support that emerging leaders have the least access to - both in terms of how to find these resources and in terms of affordability.