YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

12 Days of YNPN: Ese Emerhi's Exceptional Leadership

Ese Emerhi has served on the YNPN National Board for five years. During that time, she's helped YNPN grow tremendously and has been involved at every level, from developing the big picture vision of what's next for YNPN to improving the details of chapter support.

This month Ese is leaving the board to pursue an exciting opportunity in Nigeria. We asked her to share some of her experiences, insights, and memories from the last five years.

How as serving on the YNPN Board been enriching, both personally and professionally?

I first got involved with YNPN when I joined YNPNdc as a board member in 2006. Before joining the local board, my professional experience had been primarily limited to the public sector though I had volunteered for numerous nonprofit organizations throughout college and in my early professional life. So serving on the local board gave me a direct look at the nonprofit sector and the challenges young people often face in navigating that space.

I quickly moved from regular board member to National Liaison to YNPN National for YNPNdc, and that's when I think I truly fell in love with this organization. The mission and vision of activating emerging leaders in the sector is something I am passionate about and believe in wholeheartedly. The opportunity to work and strategize with other young people who were just as equally passionate about the mission only made things that much better.

The one thing most people say is an added benefit of being involved with YNPN is the number of new friends you make. That is so true. I know I have a solid network of friends from the people I've come across: there's Kelly Cleaver in Detroit, Steve Strang in Chicago, Qiana Nurudin in Houston, and Malcolm Furgol in Washington, DC. These people and so many others have been pivotal to my growth both professionally and personally. When I decided to become an independent consultant some years back, the first place I turned to for potential new clients was my YNPN family and they come through with real clients that made that transition so much easier.

Ese during an exercise at the November Board Retreat Ese during an exercise at the November Board Retreat

How have you seen the organization change during your time on the board, and what has it been like serving on the board of an organization that has grown quite a bit during your tenure?

What some people may not realize about YNPN and the type of people it ultimately attracts is that it has, at its very core, a deep entrepreneur spirit. This spirit allows us to never accept the status quo, to constantly be asking questions, to be able to pivot on the spot and change directions when needed. The biggest growth I've witnessed is watching the amazing growth of YNPNdc from when I first joined and they were struggling to find members. I remember the board gathered ourselves on a cold Winter day in an office in downtown DC to come up with one of our first strategic plans. During the visioning exercise conducted by the consultant we hired for that weekend I scribbled on a piece of flip chart of the wish of one day having an office on the iconic K street NW corridor of DC: this is the street most occupied by the powerful lobbying firms across the Nation. It seemed silly, hopeful, a dream that could not be realized. I mean, at that time, we didn't even have an official business bank account. Today, YNPNdc has an office on K street NW.

That dream came through! We believed and we acted as if it already was a reality.

YNPN National has grown leaps and bounds since I have been involved. We've always been challenging ourselves to think of a future of fully activated young leaders and we've done that in the way we work - our white papers, the types of partners we engage with, the communities we work in, and the impact we leave on those we encounter. We've moved from a full working all volunteer board to one that is finding its way as a governing board with staff that now reports to us. Most importantly, the biggest change I've witnessed is that we are now fully at the decision-making table with more senior organizations in the nonprofit sector; our opinions on how to improve the sector is sought after from small nonprofits to the White House. We still have a long way to go, and I have no doubt we will find our way.

Do you have any favorite YNPN memories?

There are too many to share here. Every Leaders Conference is a favorite memory because it is then that you get to see the whole network in one room. It may sound cliche, but even the bad memories are good ones! Oh, the debates we've had with each other in the board room, cramming five to a hotel room just to afford the Leaders Conference, late nights on the phone with chapter leaders trying to figure out solutions to their challenges. They've all been "growing" moments.


Outgoing National Board President Lydia McCoy, National ED Trish Tchume, and Ese

Outgoing National Board President Lydia McCoy, National ED Trish Tchume, and Ese

What would you say to someone considering joining the YNPN National Board or a local chapter board?

Do it! You will challenge yourself in ways you hadn't imagined. You will be given real leadership opportunities to determine the future direction of this organization. You will make friends - who knows, you might even find your life partner from this. I know of a few marriages that have come about because of YNPN. We are a full service organization!!

Do you have any final thoughts?

I'm leaving YNPN and America to move to Nigeria to start a new journey. It's time for me to move on and create a space for someone else to shine. While anything new is a terrifying thing, I know I am prepared for this new challenge in my life because I was given the opportunity to find my voice, sharpen my skills, and grow as an individual. I've always fancied the idea of YNPN going international, and who knows, just maybe I'll form the first YNPN chapter on the African continent.

I am excited about all the possibilities open to YNPN National and though I'll be away, I will be watching and cheering along. I'm going to miss my YNPN family. But like family, they will always be with me. Wishing you all the very best of luck!

What's next for Ese? 

She'll be leaving Washington, DC to move to Nigeria where she will serve as the Program Lead of NDLink (a new knowledge platform) for the PIND Foundation. The mission of PIND Foundation is to establish and encourage innovative multi-stakeholder partnerships that support programs and activities, which empower communities to achieve a peaceful and enabling environment for equitable economic growth in the Niger Delta. NDLink will serve as a digital hub for sharing activities, connections, key discussions among stakeholders, program updates, and including building up the knowledge base of issues that impact the Niger Delta. As Program Manager for NDLink, Ese will be primarily responsible for the design, implementation, and engagement of the new knowledge platform.

Prior to PIND Foundation, Ese served as a KM officer and Community of Practice specialist for the World Bank Institute where she advised and lead workshops on the how-to of communities of practice for internal World Bank clients, including curating resources and templates that enabled clients to implement their own communities seamlessly on multiple collaborative platforms. She also served as a board member for the Washington Peace Center, and is currently serving as the Director of Institutional Operations for Vote of Quench. Originally from Nigeria, Ese has spent the majority of her adulthood traveling and living in multiple countries and is looking forward to this new exciting and challenging part of her professional growth in Nigeria.

We say farewell to Ese, but not goodbye!

Ese relaxes with fellow National Board Member Darrell Scott during the November Board Retreat Ese relaxes with fellow National Board Member Darrell Scott during the November Board Retreat


Top photo: Lydia McCoy, Ese Emerhi, Trish Tchume Left photo: Ese Emerhi and Malcolm Furgol Right photo: Ese Emerhi and Qyana Stewart

12 Days of YNPN: Excitement builds for #ynpn14

Yesterday we shared some of our favorite memories from this year's National Leaders Conference in Phoenix. Even though our 2014 conference isn't until June, excitement has already been building in the Twin Cities, next year's host chapter.

"My favorite accomplishment this year was successfully applying to host the 2014 YNPN National Conference," says Chris Oien, the National Chapter Congress rep from YNPN Twin Cities.

Chris isn't the only one who's pumped:


Photo taken at last year's conference by Chris Oien Photo taken at this year's conference


YNPN Twin Cities is already earning their superstar status by jumping into conference planning with both feet:
https://twitter.com/DangerKate/status/394961421257039872

According to our YNPN National Conference Planning Fellow Jess Jesswein, "Working with YNPN Twin Cities on the Conference and Leaders Institute for 2014 has been amazing. They have such a great base of volunteers, who are willing to put in the time and effort to make everything perfect. I have not been to a single event with the Twin Cities chapter that wasn't well thought out, and I know the 2014 conference will be the same way and one of the best yet."
MN Council of NonprofitsOne exciting to addition to this year's conference is a collaboration with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits on a day of workshops for nonprofit professionals of all ages.

MCN is currently accepting workshop proposals and we encourage all local Minnesota members and any Chapter Leaders traveling for the conference to submit your ideas.

And don't forget to save the date: June 26-28 in the Twin Cities. We hope to see you there!

12 Days of YNPN: #ynpn13 in Phoenix

When we asked our National Board members about their favorite memories from 2013, many of them said the National Chapter Leaders Conference in Phoenix was one of the highlights of the year.

Kari Mirkin, one of our National Board members from YNPN Cleveland, said "I loved the chance to connect with so many of you at the national conference in Phoenix!" Another National Board member, Qyana Stewart, said "Thanks to YNPN Phoenix for an awesome conference! This was the best conference I have ever attended."

 

Paul Schmitz delivering his keynote. Photo via YNPN Chicago. Paul Schmitz delivering his keynote. Photo via YNPN Chicago.


YNPN leaders from across the country led workshops and networked with their peers. One participant shared with us that their favorite part was "The sense of unity among nonprofit professionals--we're all in this together working toward change!"

That idea was driven home by Paul Schmitz's keynote on building leadership from the community up. Our members said that it was "awesome," "energizing," and "set the right tone for the rest of the event."
 
The conference wasn't just inspiring speeches, useful workshops, and nonprofit camaraderie. There were also capes:


YNPNsfba's incoming Board Chair Dawn Herrschaft being recognized for her leadership. Photo via Renee Bracey Sherman.

YNPNsfba's incoming Board Chair Dawn Herrschaft being recognized for her leadership. Photo via Renee Bracey Sherman.
 
 
 
And dancing:


National ED Trish Tchume celebrating the announcement of next year's conference in the Twin Cities! Photo by Cary Lenore Walski.

National ED Trish Tchume celebrating the announcement of next year's conference in the Twin Cities! Photo by Cary Lenore Walski.
 
 

We left the conference excited for the year ahead and all we can accomplish together.

We can't wait for next year's National Chapter Leader Conference in the Twin Cities--we're sure it will be one of the highlights of 2014!

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:

buffalo


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.

 

billyf

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!