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!
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?”
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.
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 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
 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
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.
YNPN’s primary mission is to activate AND engage emerging leaders in a number of ways. One key way that we achieve both pieces of this mission is to provide them with platforms that not only allow our members to develop new skills but also highlight what talent already exists amongst emerging leaders in the sector. Programming such as our LaunchPad Fellowship provide such a platform internally, but we get even more excited when we are able to provide these opportunities via partners in the field.
That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about a recent partnership we forged with the seminal source for connection to the nonprofit - Idealist.org!
Idealist.org Editor and former YNPNer, Allison Jones, approached us with the idea to team up to offer YNPN members an opportunity to expand their network, strengthen their writing skills, and add their voice to the growing conversation about impact careers by writing for Idealist Careers - a project of Idealist.org launched to help the millions of people who come to Idealist.org find, land, and love their jobs.
Once the call for writers to cover topics such as interviews with thought leaders, job search hacks, and book reviews was put out to our social media networks, it became abundantly clear that this is the sort of opportunity YNPNers are looking for. We saw 348 clicks on the application alone and over 1800 views on Facebook.
Five talented YNPN members were selected:
Kari Mirkin, YNPN Cleveland. Column: Unabridged: A monthly review of books that inspire, inform, and challenge our views
Kari’s underlying philosophy of work in the nonprofit sector is that we need to ensure equal and easy access to the things that make us who we are: the arts, culture, and lifelong learning. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, she received her Master’s of Nonprofit Organizations from Case Western Reserve University while working at a Cleveland organization providing technical assistance and training to nonprofit professionals. She is one of the co-founders of YNPN Cleveland and now serves proudly on the organization’s national board. She’s a self-proclaimed history buff (okay, nerd) and magazine junkie. You can find herhere and here, and access a report she helped research and write here.
Leah Weiner, YNPN LA. Column: Executive director’s corner
Leah Weiner, Ed. D. serves as the Executive Director of The Division for Early Childhood, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing the field of special education. Leah has a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University and a background in fundraising, volunteer management, board development, and planning giving. She provides consulting for small to mid-size nonprofits.
Lauren Anderson, YNPN Chicago. Column: An international lens on doing good
Lauren Anderson has completed fellowship programs in Vietnam and Finland, studied abroad in Costa Rica, taught English in Spain, but remains a Michigan kid at heart. She worked at the U.S.CDC Center for Global Health’s Policy Office, managed a grant with the International Labor Organization, and worked for her mother the toughest job so far. Lauren has a Masters in Health Management from Columbia University and BA from the University of Michigan.
Alyson Weiss, YNPN Boston. Column: Job search hacks for the new world of work
Alyson Weiss works for a career services nonprofit in Boston doing outreach and communications. She is deeply interested in translating complex social justice issues into accessible, actionable items; social media; Netflix marathons; and food trucks. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter to start a conversation about social media marketing, professional development opportunities for young professionals, or why Twitter is like “Aaron’s Party.”
Patricia Gentry, YNPNdc. Column: Career and cause chats with sector leaders
Patricia Gentry is the senior operations manager at Share Our Strength where she supports over 80 culinary events including Taste of the Nation® and No Kid Hungry dinners across America. Originally from Sims, Indiana, Patricia moved to Washington, DC to pursue her interests in the non-profit sector, where she worked with The Fund for American Studies before starting her work with Share Our Strength. To further her personal and professional development and to broaden her network, Patty joined as a committee member of the YNPNdc member engagement committee where she is currently serving her second year.
We’re pretty psyched at the variety of topics and unique perspectives that these dynamic young writers will be bringing to both Idealist Careers and YNPN.org. Stay tuned for new content from one of these writers weekly, cross-posted on Idealist and YNPN!
The Stress of the “5-Year Plan"
By Alicia Jay, cross-posted from www.rabbleup.com.
I recently asked a room-full of emerging social change leaders to close their eyes and picture their professional selves in 5 years. Everyone closed their eyes, and sat with the visualization. After the exercise, I asked for reactions. A few folks shared their visions– brilliant and inspiring.
Then, one brave woman stood up and said, “That exercise really stressed me out!” I LOVED her honesty, and it really got me thinking.
Projecting into the future has always been one of my go-to tools whenever I’m feeling stuck, bored, or just planning for my next steps. I love imagining myself 5 or 10 years from now. My Type-A side is nicely balanced with my inner day-dreamer, and visualization remains one of my strongest manifestation tricks.
But, for some, or maybe even for many emerging leaders, conjuring up that vision is terrifying or impossible:
How am I supposed to know where I want to be in 5 years, I’m not sure where I want to be next month?
I like what I’m doing now, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this work for 5 years?
I don’t see how I can support myself financially doing non-profit work for the long-haul? These are all valid feelings.
If these types of questions are resonating with you, I encourage you to throw away the idea that you need a “5-Year Plan” and just simply start with one basic question for your work NOW:
How do you want to feel at work every day?
Get specific with your answer. Here are some examples from recent conversations I’ve had (paraphrased) to get the juices flowing:
- I want more responsibility at work—I want to feel like my boss and co-workers trust me, and are willing to give me big projects to work on without micromanaging. I want to feel acknowledged for the good work that I have done. I’m a team player, but I also want ownership.
- I like my job, but I want to feel more stable. I know my organization is having financial trouble, and I’m worried that if they have to cut jobs, mine will be the first to go. I don’t know much about how the fundraising works, but I’d be happy to help in any way that I can. I wish I could be included more in decision-making conversations, or at least feel more clued-in to what’s happening.
- I think I’m in a rut. Between working a day job and volunteering on the weekends, I think I’m getting burnt out. I want to feel excited to go to work, not exhausted and dreading every Monday morning. I want to feel supported, inspired, and like I’m making real social change every day.
Again, the more specific of a picture you can paint, the easier it will be to take action steps.
The person from the first example decided it was time to have a conversation with her boss about more responsibility and taking the steps to work her way up to a manager’s role. She also realized that in a few years, she might want to be a Program Director or other manager of some sort.
The next person decided to schedule an informational interview with someone that works in philanthropy. Instead of feeling disempowered by the fundraising aspect of his organization, he realized he might actually want to pursue either fundraising or even grant making in the future.
This last example is arguably the most common situation I hear. There is no one prescription for this situation, and in my experience, it’s the right time for many people to get more personalized and ongoing support.
If you’re finding yourself on the brink of, or already, in a cycle of burn out, come say hi over at www.rabbleup.com, and take the FREE questionnaire and get a personalized response directly from me.
There’s no need to force a “vision” if it’s just not coming to you. Leadership vision is only useful if it’s a source of inspiration and motivation, not stress.
Don’t want to plan out your life for the next decade?! No problem, just start with how you want to feel tomorrow.
Alicia Jay is the founder of Rabble Up, a coaching and training program for emerging social change leaders. Go to www.rabbleup.com for more information or to schedule a free coaching consultation.
“Who am I” as a question often feels clichéd, relegated to the leads of sleepy winter movies, to shopping mall philosophers, to those with too much time and too little to do. “Who am I?” I’m an AmeriCorps Member. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m a musician. I’m a hard worker and a loyal friend. What more do you need to know? Life’s too busy for idle identity contemplation. Don’t talk about who you are, be who you are. Or as I tell clients at my site as we’re working on their resumes, “Show, don’t tell.”
And yet, onsite at Urban Ventures on a Friday morning, CEO Timothy Clark reminded us all that maybe there is some room for contemplation. In fact, maybe it’s very, very important. At this YNPN Breakfast of Champions event, Clark spent a large portion of the time taking us from college graduation to taking the wheel at Urban Ventures. He did this not to trace back his ascension to “leadership” in rote fashion, but because taking this tour opened up many valuable questions, questions that can contribute to our own growth if we think hard enough on our own answers. He posed questions like “What do you stand for?” and “Do people know what you are?” Clark had many answers to such questions. Clark defines himself through authenticity. He calls himself a “quiet leader.” He is a “sheep dressed in a wolf’s clothing.” I find that last one amusingly colorful, but also illustrative in its specificity. Clark asserted that you can’t lead others unless you know yourself, and he leaves little doubt that he does.
All of Clark’s self-definitions distinguish his leadership as ever present in his career. Long before arbitrary organizational mantles declared him a leader, he led by taking responsibility of informing a colleague of her termination, knowing his boss would have handled it with a less than sensitive touch. He led by living his character, not his job title. In his own words, “Leadership isn’t titular, it’s organic.”
You don’t stop being a leader when you finish middle school and enter the daunting halls of high school as wide eyed freshman, and neither do you stop when you complete a service year or even lose a good job and take to delivering pizzas in the meantime. No person or circumstance outside yourself determines your leadership. You get to decide. But make sure it’s an informed decision.
I’m about to begin a second service year here in Minneapolis. Ostensibly this next year is to set myself up for post-service success, to network the heck out of this city, to absorb all the input I can, and more. It wasn’t until this breakfast that I realized maybe next year needs to be one of introspection as well.
So in the spirit of self-definition, let me exercise a little defining of my own, and I invite you to do the same. I am the son of a lawyer and a deacon. I have my father’s sensibilities and my mother’s empathy, and both of these drive me. I don’t yet have a central word as Clark has found in authenticity, but I can find moments of leadership, of character and not titles: when I explained to a fellow club member issues people took with him, respectfully and clearly, no anonymous notes involved. When I've stayed late at a volunteer shift because an event is shorthanded. When I said yes to helping clients with questions I could ignore based on my job description. When it’s not convenient to work for a cause, but I signed up anyway because I can’t just stand on the sidelines and pass the responsibility on to others.
So that’s me. That’s how I lead. How do you?
Interested in YNPN's popular Breakfast of Champion series? Sign up for the waitlist for the next event with Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts, and keep an eye out for future breakfast events with local nonprofit leaders.
Image credit: Library of Congress; Demonstrators participating in the Poor People's March at Lafayette Park and on Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Half a century ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. If they are aware of it at all, most Americans think of the march as the venue for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. Some of us who remember the march recall it as a march to redress economic conditions—the disparities in income and employment that afflicted people of color, then as now…except that the economy today for people of color as a whole is much worse than 50 years ago.
Five years later, Rev. King led the Poor People’s Campaign back to Washington at a time when national unemployment was under four percent and unemployment for blacks was less than seven percent. Compare that to last month: In July, the national unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, with the white unemployment rate at 6.6 percent. For blacks, the rate was 12.5 percent—almost double that of whites. The number of people employed in the U.S. is less than it was seven years ago even though the nation’s population has increased by 18,000,000 people. A February census report put the poverty rate for African Americans at over 25 percent. In the black community, 39 percent of children lived below the federal poverty level; among Latinos, 34 percent. The most astounding (and yet relatively unknown) figure on poverty in the U.S. is that, as of 2011, there were 1.65 million households in this country in which people lived on $2.00 a day or less per person. That is the definition of “extreme poverty,” a condition people think is associated with developing countries and the world’s commitment to cut by half over the next two decades, but it exists in the affluent United States itself.
Where is the March on Washington or Poor People’s Campaign of today to protest these conditions? After an election campaign spent giving poverty a wide berth, President Obama has only just now begun to utter the “p-word” directly and raise concerns about job creation for working-class people, who have been relegated to low-wage, shorter work-week jobs, and about increasing the minimum wage. But action commensurate with those words has been limited to an array of campaign-style speeches and tours. Most Democrats in Congress generally stick to a focus on the middle class and rarely veer toward straightforward discussion of the need for explicit and robust anti-poverty programs.
One of the contributing factors is the silence of the nonprofit sector. As Pablo Eisenberg wrote this week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “In the last decade or so, nonprofits have stopped caring about the plight of the poor.”
“Today, matters of poverty seem to be off the radar screen of nonprofits,” Eisenberg says. “Most nonprofits…remain satisfied in pursuing their more-narrow agendas, whether related to the environment, education, or gay marriage. They show little concern about the ravages brought on the country by income inequality, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment. That couldn’t be more evident than in the failure of nonprofits to rush to oppose the massive assault on food stamps now working its way through the House of Representatives.”
Undoubtedly, many of the nation’s top nonprofits will bristle at being called out in Eisenberg’s op-ed, but there’s no doubt that the ardor of the nonprofit sector to tackle poverty based on calculations of political acceptability or access to funding has waned. It is hardly in evidence the way it was when the nation rallied around the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, leading to the creation of a critical infrastructure of poverty-fighting institutions and programs: VISTA, Head Start, Legal Services, the Jobs Corps, Community Health Centers, and the Community Action Program.
Can the nonprofit sector rediscover the “decency,” as Eisenberg puts it, to be concerned about economic inequities and social justice? He asks whether Darren Walker, the incoming president of the Ford Foundation, and other prominent nonprofit and philanthropic leaders might “find the courage to lead a campaign to put poverty back on the agendas of nonprofits.”
While Eisenberg probably targeted Walker partly because of his roots as a leader of a nonprofit community development corporation in Harlem, Walker will be now heading a top foundation and, in theory, responding to the activism and initiatives of nonprofit leaders on the front lines. So we asked nonprofit leaders themselves what they thought might make nonprofits take up the cause of fighting poverty and make it an integral part of the identity of nonprofits of all stripes. Here is what some of them said:
- Once the executive director of the National Council of Nonprofits and the board chair of the National Council of La Raza, and most recently the interim CEO of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, Audrey Alvarado has been pushing for revived attention to issues of poverty for decades. “I’m afraid that in our own struggles to survive the economic challenges we all face, we have forgotten the true purpose of our work,” Alvarado writes. “Have we become hardened by the messages that those in need, the poor, deserve what they get?...The nonprofit sector must again rise up and be the flag bearers for a caring and compassionate society. Let’s not forgot our roots and work to eliminate the poverty divide in this country.”
- Moises Loza, the executive director of the Housing Assistance Council, a national advocate for rural housing and community economic development, notes the significance of poverty in rural America. Eighty-six percent of 429 persistently poor counties are entirely rural. His prescription? “Nonprofits have been retreating while fighting to keep programs of assistance from being eliminated or drastically reduced. This ‘fight to keep what we have’ has taken our time and energy from a rigorous offense to become the poverty warriors that got us into this line of work,” Loza writes. “Keeping what we have that works is important, but advocacy and outrage should not take a back seat. We also have allowed others to dictate our agenda. We shouldn’t parrot the agenda others are setting, we should set our own and as nonprofits speak for those who continue to be forgotten.”
- Brenda Peluso, the director of public policy for the Maine Association of Nonprofits, joins Loza in the call for a reemphasis on nonprofit advocacy. “To turn this around, nonprofits need to be more active in public policy, but I understand the reasons they don’t—lack of time and money, fear of confrontation, fear of turning donors off, restrictions on lobbying (none with federal money) and lack of understanding what they can and can’t do.” The executive director of the Maine Association, Scott Schnapp, underscores Peluso’s call for increased policy advocacy, but cautions that the roots of the problem are in political campaigns. “The concern among politicians that their opponents will utilize any efforts to address poverty related issues as a campaign weapon is largely paralyzing them. In an environment with a constant election cycle, where more and more money is necessary to run competitive elections, this fear, as well as their concerns about potentially alienating donors, has effectively muzzled strong political conviction around this issue.”
- “I would simply say that it’s not only the politicians or the nonprofit sector that’s not hitting the problem of poverty squarely on the head, but foundations have side stepped the issue too,” says Robert Jackson, a Mississippi state senator as well as the executive director of the Quitman County Development Organization in Mississippi’s Delta region. “My question is how do you get foundations to get off metrics and become concerned about poor people’s existence, from day to day?...Nonprofits need to refocus foundations squarely on the issue of poverty rather than where they have driven off the road now onto wherever.”
All well and good from fine people truly dedicated to fighting poverty, but these statements are stronger on the analysis of nonprofits’ not taking on poverty than they are about what might turn the nonprofit sector around. We would add to their comments with these specific suggestions to reanimate the nonprofit sector to stand up against poverty:
If the problem is that foundation funders aren’t taking this issue on, it’s time for the nonprofit sector to place the issue of poverty at foundations’ doorsteps. Could it jeopardize relationships with funders to be so bold and forthright and call them out, as Jackson has done, for their pathetic support of an anti-poverty movement? We would bet the following: Those nonprofits that have the courage to speak out—loudly—to foundations and peer grantees will be the ones that establish profile and get recognition for the ability to tell the truth. Nonprofits shouldn’t argue themselves into a paralytic corner, but speak out. They might learn, in consequence, that the dangers of punitive reprisals by foundations for pushing and prodding on their grantmaking are overstated. Many foundations will welcome the candor of straight-talking nonprofits, and many foundation program officers will find nonprofit candor a useful tool for them to make their arguments with foundation execs and trustees for better anti-poverty grantmaking.
If the problem is an unwillingness of nonprofits to deviate from the political line of the Obama administration, that is even worse. President Obama needs a vocal, mobilized nonprofit to call him on his shortfalls of his actual policy agenda for nonprofits. On national nonprofit issues, the National Council on Nonprofits has been one of the rare “nonprofit infrastructure” organizations to remind the White House about nonprofit needs when it appeared that the White House showed evidence of 501(c)(3) memory lapses concerning provisions of the Affordable Care Act. As the primary deliverers of services to the poor, nonprofits should be calling on the president to restore funding that had previously cut, to fight against the continuation of the sequester, and to remember where his constituency’s policy priorities lie. The president gives a good speech about moving the economy, but it’s time for a lot more than campaign-style speeches. If nonprofits, as we have suggested and Eisenberg implies, have declined to take on the president because of some desire to support him against Republican congressional obstructionism, they will be allowing a centrist president to continue a decades-long reduction of the federal anti-poverty commitment.
Loza and Schnapp identify another problem: the imbalance in campaign finance in national elections means that the wealthy can buy lots of influence with their largesse. Poor communities will never be able to match the rich corporate donors that ply candidates with campaign contributions. With the self-protecting, self-serving attitudes of the affluent in full sway in recent decades, nonprofits have to realize that an anti-poverty agenda will be smothered in lip service and squashed somewhere between the White House and Congress. It will never succeed unless the power of the rich to purchase candidates is eliminated. Putting campaign finance reform on the nonprofit public policy advocacy agenda is a substantive step toward promoting stronger anti-poverty activism in the nonprofit sector.
Eisenberg called out a number of national organizations for their obsession with the charitable deduction—still hardly in peril—while remaining unwilling to make poverty part of their agendas. It’s time that these nonprofit associations and leadership groups recognize that they can no longer hide behind the deduction as a proxy for concern for the poor. A significant portion of tax-deductible charitable donations doesn’t get anywhere near the poor. Whatever the merits of maintaining the charitable deduction in its current form, the nonprofit sector has to blend advocacy into its anti-poverty work, and that means advocacy for government funding that’s vitally important to make nonprofits present and effective to the poverty fight. Eisenberg and Alvarado are both right that fighting poverty is a core value of the nonprofit sector, long forgotten in many parts, but legitimately an item worth raising on the agendas of nonprofits and foundations across the board.
The president may be reluctant to mention much about the poor, even though he doesn’t face a reelection battle. This is the issue where nonprofits can’t swallow their tongues because Obama is “one of us” or someone who says the right stuff. It’s time for nonprofits to call each other out regarding what they are doing to address the widening socio-economic disparities in our nation.
It’s been quite an adventure serving as a YNPN LaunchPad Fellow these last nine months.
When I started as YNPN National’s Talent Coordinator, I was new to YNPN and eager to plug into a network of supportive peers and colleagues who, like me, were building their careers in the nonprofit sector. LaunchPad provided me a unique two-fold opportunity: to build my own professional path, while helping build YNPN as a dynamic, evolving, increasingly influential national organization.
LaunchPad in itself was a bold new experiment for YNPN, and the Talent Coordinator position was no exception. My charge was to help YNPN align its organizational values and goals with its strategy for recruiting and managing talent (folks like our chapter leaders, national staff and board). Though it was not clear whether or how a talent manager would be part of future YNPN staffing structures, it was clear to me how much YNPN sought to be intentional about its values, culture, and strategy - especially how that showed up in the day-to-day, year-to-year experience of its leaders.
In that spirit, new resources and blog content - focusing on leadership development, volunteer management, organizational assessments, and more - began to emerge. In my first blog post I shared some of my lessons and philosophy about talent management, as they often aligned with YNPN’s own ideas.
Later, I reflected on the results of our Virtual Road Trip, through which YNPN National learned about out chapters’ major experiences, challenges, and opportunities with managing their own talent. This data, combined with ongoing research on talent management within and beyond the nonprofit sector, inspired YNPN’s first webinar series, “Developing Human Capital for Chapter Success”.
Finally, I got personal. A professional development session with the LaunchPad team on “Complexifying Self Care” inspired a blog post and later a Spark Speech and break out session at this year’s YNPN National Leaders Conference. So many of our YNPN leaders are grappling with how to work sustainably, live healthily, and live out their callings to the nonprofit sector. This conversation is much larger than YNPN alone, most recently prompting a crosspost between YNPN and Idealist Careers.I am deeply grateful for all of this dialogue - and action - around how to collectively build a nonprofit sector that intentionally and strategically ensures that well-being of its leaders and the integrity of our work.
This spring, I hinted at a report in development, which would articulate YNPN’s own model for recruiting, developing, and managing talent. That report is now available ([wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]), and I welcome your feedback. What are your own chapters’ stories regarding talent? What values and strategies inform the ways your workplaces develop their leaders? How can research and story-telling help us build the systems and structures we need to support leaders working for social change?
Read Report Here: [wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]
I hope you’ll stay in touch as this first cycle of LaunchPad Fellowships wraps up, and I take on a new role with YNPN moving forward. Can’t wait to get active in my local chapter!
By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator
For many people, being a board member conjures up images of wealthy people writing checks and hosting fundraisers. While supporting the financial well being of a nonprofit is certainly part of a board member’s responsibility, there is a range of roles that board members can play and plenty of opportunities for people to volunteer their time and talent to support an organization they love.
This month I celebrate my one-year anniversary as a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals NetworkNational Board. I joined the YNPN Board because I understand the importance of supporting and cultivating the next generation of nonprofit leaders, which will help ensure the sustainability of the sector in the long-term.
As a result of my pro bono work with YNPN’s National Director in the months prior to joining the board, I felt excited for this opportunity not only to give back by sharing my expertise, but also to gain new skills. This first anniversary has me thinking about some of what I have learned in the last year from this experience. I thought that it would be worthwhile to share a few specific ways that my board service has helped my career and how it might help yours, too:
Expand your network
A big responsibility of being on a board is raising awareness and funds for the organization. As a result, I have had the opportunity to connect with supporters from a variety of places.
For example, in the last year, I have come into direct contact with officials from well-known foundations, many leaders and members of YNPN chapters from across the country, some of the generous sponsors of our National Leaders Conference, and some of our strategic partners. By connecting with all of these people, I can get their assistance in pushing YNPN forward, but I also have the opportunity to deepen our relationship in the future. Since first being introduced to the writings of Keith Ferrazzi and his colleagues at Ferrazzi Greenlight, I have made it my business to build my network before I need it, so that it’s vital and ready whenever I need to call upon people in it; this strategy allows me to have greater long-term reach in my personal and professional lives.
Raise your profile in your organization and profession
By being on a board, I not only expanded my network but I also picked up new skills, ideas, and opportunities for my full-time work.
Just talking about some of the work I have been doing on the YNPN National Board has led to some interesting conversations at work and (I hope) displayed my commitment to building a long and successful career in the non-profit sector. Additionally, having direct board experience has definitely rounded out my approach to dealing with the members of the I-House Board of Trustees in all areas.
Strengthen project and team management skills
If you join a board, chances are you’ll join a committee (or a few) which means you’ll have to learn quickly how to manage projects and teams in order to help move the organization forward.
Personally, I have had to step up my game when it comes to project and team management, especially because we do the bulk of our work remotely. Managing your work as part of a team and assuring that the team moves forward is hard enough when done face-to-face, but requires extra focus and greater attention to detail when done remotely. These skills have surely bled over into my professional life as I have found myself being as clear as possible about strategy and goals, while also striving to be kept accountable as I keep my co-workers accountable.
Become a better coach
While being a board member can certainly help you grow your network, the real impact and change come when you do some hands-on work, specifically by helping others reach important goals.
At my first National Board Retreat, I led an informal session on fundraising to get an idea of how comfortable my fellow members were with fundraising concepts and making the ask. After establishing this baseline, I have partnered with my colleagues on the Board Development Committee to provide resources to deepen our collective fundraising knowledge and have worked one-on-one with each member on their personal giving & fundraising goals for the year. This individual work has allowed me to build coaching skills that will come in handy in my own efforts to better integrate the members of my organization’s board into the full spectrum of our fundraising program.
For those readers who are currently on boards or recently served on one, what skills did you gain and how did that impact your work?
For those who have not yet sat on a board, what would you like to get out of this service? And if you are considering it, what is giving you pause?
Dan is the Assistant Director of Development, Individual Giving at International House, a residential learning community primarily for international graduate students pursuing their studies in the Greater New York region. In this role, he oversees the annual fund, major gifts and planned giving portfolios. Dan blogs about fundraising and non-profit management issues at The Good Steward.