YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Recharge Your Career This Summer

shutterstock_55535131 Photo credit: Sandra Cunningham, Shutterstock

By April Greene, Cross-posted from Idealist Careers.
It can be really tempting to slack off at work during the summer, if even just a little. And a little is probably okay—after all, ‘tis the season for easing up on wardrobe formality, taking lunch in the park, and leaving early on Friday to beat the weekend getaway traffic, whether you’re the ED or an intern. Let’s hit the beach!

But keep in mind that you can also harness the bright energy of summer days to make some career-recharging moves. Here are a few ideas:

Consider a work/vacation mashup

It’s truly important to take time away from work now and then (whatever the season) to relax and rejuvenate, so by all means plan a summer vacation or two if you can. But you might consider also trying to hitch your vacation to something work-related to reap dual benefits. For example, if you’ve been thinking about visiting family in the Milwaukee area sometime this summer and notice there’s a conference you’re interested in taking place there in August, talk with your folks and your boss to see if you can work out a two-part trip.

This serves many purposes: You’ll show your boss you’ve got your eyes open for work-related opportunities happening away from your desk, you’ll get to learn new things and meet new people in a new environment (#refreshing), and you might be able to cut some costs (staying with family instead of the conference hotel would save your org money; seeing if you can get your flight paid for would keep that cash in your pocket).

Pick up some back-burner projects

Sometimes it’s hard to get work done in the summer because your project partners keep going on vacation, or your boss’s phone doesn’t get reception on the cruise ship. When you reach impasses like these in your work, consider digging deep into your to-do list and bringing up smaller projects you can do solo or with the people sticking around at the same time as you. They may not be high-priority tasks (feel free to think as small as deleting old documents or reorganizing your desk), but that’s kind of the point: It’s too easy for non-essentials to get put on hold forever, and summer can be the perfect downtime to pick them back up and finish them once and for all, with less distractions to hinder your momentum.

Bonus: Having taken the initiative on some back-burner projects will make you look great when your manager comes back from the Caribbean.

Take a hike, go fly a kite, etc.

At least once a day during the hot weather months, try to venture outside, if even briefly. Go out to pick up your lunch instead of having it delivered, invite a friend who works nearby to meet for afternoon coffee al fresco, or stroll to the park for a few minutes of dog-and-people watching. Lifehacker has some other good ideas. There are a ton of productivity benefits of doing this (the increased circulation from walking, the exhilaration of breathing fresh air, the mental break of getting away from your desk), plus the reality that this is summer, and even if you do still need to go to work most days, you should do yourself the favor of remembering that fact and luxuriating in it all you can. When Labor Day rolls around, you don’t want to don’t want to wonder where the last three months went.


Yes, we know this is very Idealist of us to suggest, but fun volunteer opportunities do proliferate in the summer season (park clean-ups, trips to the zoo with under-served kids, manning the registration table at the 5k fundraiser). And the potential career benefits of volunteering shouldn’t be underestimated—we’ve written a lot about them in our Volunteer Info Center and here on Idealist Careers.

Set up some good habits

Parlay the summer feel-good energy into your work life by picking up some new behaviors that can advance your career. Create a list of your accomplishments at work—then add to it from now on whenever you do something noteworthy. Invite a coworker you don’t see much to eat lunch together one day—then pick another person to ask next month. Research and decide on a professional development or networking activity to attend—and keep doing this once a quarter, at least. If you build up a roster of good work habits now, you’ll feel the effects in every season to come.

What do you do to recharge your career in the summer? Tell us in the comments below.

Chapter Blog Spotlight - Who’s In Your Professional Lifeboat? 3 Ways To Get Friends Right At Work

37d9679 Photo from LinkedIn.

By Alia McKee and Tim Walker, Co-Founders of  Lifeboat @GetLifeboat,  cross-posted from YNPNdc.
Your boss — beneath his confident suit — is likely uncertain where he stands with his friends.

Your colleague in fundraising down the hall — social and connected as she may be — is actually craving deeper, more meaningful relationships.

And you’re far from alone if you’ve been nostalgic recently for close pals from years past.

How do we know this? Thanks to The State of Friendship in America Report, 2013 – a study we released at Lifeboat last month that sheds new light on the dire social landscape facing adults across the country.

A few key findings to start:

  • Less than a quarter of Americans say they are truly satisfied with their friendships and almost two-thirds lack confidence in even their closest friends.
  • Generation X’ers and Boomers (those in their prime working years) are hit hardest by the trend, indicating a “mid-life friendship slump.”
  • Most Americans–by more than 2 to 1–would prefer to have deeper friendships than more friends.

It adds up to a national malaise we’re calling the “Friendship Crisis.”  What does this personal situation have to do with the workplace? Lots.

First, friendship is a major dynamic in people’s lives. Nobody just leaves it at home. With the release of our study, we now have a scientifically clear-eyed view of the difficulties adults have really connecting with each other in the digital age. For managers, colleagues, marketers and HR professionals, friendship is incredibly relevant.

Also, you’ve probably heard the conventional management wisdom that suggests friends and work don’t mix, right? Well, we’re not convinced and all our experience tells us collegial friendships are inevitable anyways. In this light, the more productive question to ask is: how do I do it right?


Before we answer that question: why do traditionalists argue against pals at the office in the first place?

They say that mixing work and friendship can blur decision making and make difficult calls more difficult. Some worry that friends in the office can lead to distracting — even inappropriate — behavior. How can someone operate in the best interest of the organization, they ask, if they’re also worried about their BFF? These issues get real for mangers facing such difficult situations as annual reviews — or worse layoffs — involving close friends. All good reasons – they say – to remain socially guarded in our cubicles.


Still, advocates like us for a friend-friendly approach to work suggest this line of thinking is outmoded.

First, with just about everyone spending more time at work — and/or more time on work at home — colleagues can often seem like the best social option. Where else would you find so many people with similar interests, passions and values? And according to our State of Friendship Report 42% of adults say they met at least one of their closest friends at work. The percent rising to 42% for Gen-Xers (age 35-49) and to 50% of Baby Boomers (age 50-69). So work friends can indeed work.

Second, close friendships at work can make you happier with your job. According this a study in the Journal of Business Psychology, workers report higher job satisfaction when they felt they had even the opportunity for friendships at the office. A 2013 survey of 2223 business people across Australia found most planning to stick with their current job — and they cited “good relationship with co-workers” as the major reason (67 percent) above even salary (46 percent).

Third, collegial friends can help you succeed. Leaders need people in their lives who nurture them through the tough times and who challenge them to be their best selves and live up to their dreams and potential. Sometimes it’s only workmates who can truly understand where you are at and offer cogent advice.


With these arguments in mind, here are three strategies we recommend for starting to create your workplace Lifeboat:

Go Deep not Wide

Nurturing quality relationships takes time, emotional energy and cognitive capacity – all of which are limited. Anthropologists suggests that thanks our limited brain capacities, we can only maintain casual social relationships with less than 150 individuals—a principle known as Dunbar’s number. Deep relationships with strong bonds on the other hand, tend to occur in what psychologists refer to as sympathy groups—groups of 10-15 people. And more than 2-to-1 American adults say they would prefer these deeper relationships over more connections.

So we still recommend cultivating a large professional network, but we also suggest investing oneself more deeply and personally with a handful of people you trust — you professional Lifeboat.

Break Inertia: 

You’ve probably noticed how people tend to befriends others similar to themselves. It’s a phenomenon known by social science as “Homophily or “love of the same”. Trouble is much of the reward of friendship come from learning and growth from the different experience of others, something called the “Michelangelo effect.” To help, try mixing up your professional Lifeboat in terms of age, seniority, gender, skills and nationality.

Give 1% More

As young professionals go through life family, work and other demands occupy an increasing amount of time and brain space. Often this takes a toll on time spent with friends. The average American adult spends 4% of their time with friends – down from 30% as teenagers!

Our recommendation here is simply to invest one percent additional time with friends each week (1 hour 30min). It doesn’t have to be big – think an extra phone call, a lunch date, or a quick note for a job well done.


We think of these small changes — choosing your lifeboat, breaking the inertia, giving 1% more — as investments that will pay back dividends. Social scientists are finding friends makes us feel more satisfied, connected, grounded and supported – ready to tackle the professional and personal challenges we face.

First post about your nation

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Chapter Blog Spotlight - Challenge to Change: Why Passion Isn’t Enough

227328323_0cf0972f6d Photo by Christine Renee Czetwertynski.


by Krysten Lynn Ryba-Tures, Cross-posted from YNPN Twin Cities

If I had a dollar (or even a dime) for each time I read or was told that “following my passion” is the premier pathway to a successful career and overall life satisfaction, I’d be a very wealthy woman. I don’t doubt the tremendous value-add and personal fulfillment that accompanies a strong connection to your work and/or your organization’s mission. But personally, I find the ‘passion ethos’ lacks a healthy dose of practicality, especially for a mid-career professional who may be asking themselves, “What’s next?” (Spoiler alert: I am this person asking myself this question.)

If I answered myself solely on my passions (i.e., interests or activities I really enjoy, independent of whether I have the skills, talent, or experience to support them), a quirky, improbable list develops - I could try to become the world’s first storm-chasing mediterranean chef adorned in vintage garb, but I’m not convinced I’d get there.

It’s no surprise then that I would click on a link floating around Facebook titled “Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort” (even if it was penned by billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban). His argument is simple: Jumping down passion’s rabbit holes can be a huge waste of time. Instead, pay attention to how you spend your time and the instances in which you go the extra mile. Your effort will lead to expertise, fertile grounds for enjoyment and passion, which can easily grow success.

Here’s why I like Cuban’s post:

Time is a valuable asset and, like your paycheck, how you spend it is telling.

Fellow YNPNer Josh Dye recently provided great strategies for making the most of our time. Once your time management habits are in-check, start tracking those maximized minutes and hours. Do you spend a lot of your out-of-work time volunteering? Following local issues? Perfecting your jump shot or backswing?

I reflected on this point and realized that I spend a lot of my time on personal relationships. I frequently offer to help with whatever project or challenge is top-of-mind, and I enjoy every minute of it. This may indicate my next career experience should involve plenty of stakeholder engagement and problem-solving.

Sometimes, passion follows hard work, not the other way around.

Have you ever found yourself really getting into something that totally surprised you? My example of this is becoming a map-nerd. I took a few GIS classes in college, but I wouldn’t say that it was ever my “passion.” My job responsibilities required mapping on occasion - nothing too advanced - but as my skills developed, so did my interest. Before long, I requested additional training and started subscribing to blogs and listservs; my passion for social demography grew exponentially. Who knew? I didn’t - at first. Approaching “other duties as assigned” with an awareness for voluntary extra effort can lead us to something greater - like discovery or success.

Passion is not always the starting point. What we actually do with our time and effort - not simply what we dream of doing - can provide more insight into where we might find meaningful experiences and, ultimately, success.

How has your idea of fulfilling your passion changed or stayed the same?


YNPN Chapters Engage in #np5words Challenge!


Photo from marketingtango.


To celebrate reaching 30,000 twitter followers, Nonprofit Quarterly is hosting a twitter challenge! The nonprofit featured in the most tweets using the tag #np5words will win free ad space and promotion on NPQ's social media sites. Our chapter leaders jumped into this conversation right away!

To celebrate reaching 30,000 twitter followers, Nonprofit Quarterly is hosting a twitter challenge! The nonprofit featured in the most tweets using the tag #np5words will win free ad space and promotion on NPQ's social media sites. Our chapter leaders jumped into this conversation right away!

Check It Out Here!

Chapter Blog Spotlight - Owning your Career: Know What you Can Control

121106013746-career-coach-gallery-vertical Photo from CNN.

By Mary Somers on Network DC of  YNPN DC 

At last month’s YNPNdc Leadership Conference, I facilitated a panel discussion with two of the most dynamic people I know in the career management and personal branding businesses. Karen Chopra owns a thriving career counseling practice in the district and Davie Uejio who is the Lead for Talent Acquisition at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The conversation was informative, enlightening and inspiring…and almost impossible to distill into a few thoughts. Here are a few key takeaways for me.

  1. We can’t control what’s happening in the workplace. There is constant change—new careers, new organizations, and new ways to share information. If you step back, you might miss a great opportunity.
  2. We can control our reputation and our message, what we can contribute and our skills and knowledge.
  3. We are ultimately in charge of our careers. Although we might not be able to avoid a layoff or suddenly find ourselves working for a not-so-great boss, we can be ready for unexpected change.

To do that, ask yourself these questions to see if you do own your career:

  1. Do you know what you’d like to do? What lights you up—makes you want to jump out of bed every day because you can’t wait to get started? If you know, write it down—make it yours. Keep adding to it and refining the description. If you don’t, consider everything you read or hear about through the possibility of it to becoming a potential career.
  2. Where is the work you think needs to be done getting accomplished? What are the careers that will get you there? What are the organizations that are aligned with your personal goals and purpose? Learn more—find people who work there. Ask for informational interviews. Become familiar with what they’re doing. Follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Join relevant groups.
  3. What skills do you need so your resume will get noticed? If you need to develop new skills or enhance current ones, how will you do it?
  4. How strong is your network? Who’s in your corner who can talk about your skills? How have you helped others achieve their career goals? They may be the people who can help you now. Continually strengthen your relationships.
  5. What’s your LinkedIn profile telling others about you? Have you googled yourself lately? Find out what others can easily learn about you. Don’t put anything on the web that you wouldn’t want a future employer to see. Look for what might harm you and work to have it removed.
  6. Take action every day to move your career forward. Tomorrow will bring surprises—both good and bad. The key is having clarity about what you want, knowing what you need to get there and creating the message that communicates that you can uniquely do the work.

Complexifying Self Care

Photo from joangarry.com


Like many YNPN members, my early life experiences informed my professional life today. Active in my church in childhood and adolescence, I developed a deep commitment to social and environmental justice, and joined multigenerational teams volunteering for a variety of causes. In college, I was lucky to study abroad through Semester at Sea, which (as I then described) “smacked me in the face with my own privilege”, exposed me to extreme wealth disparity and racism around the globe, and caused me to question most of what I knew: my middle-class lifestyle, my major life choices, and my role in a world that was both so beautiful and so broken. As I began to look for full-time work following college, I was certain – fervently, urgently so – that I wanted to devote my life to social change, and my professional life to the nonprofit sector.

Already then, I knew my tendencies -  to overextend myself, to neglect my own health, and to fuel my work out of guilt, urgency, and a sense of martyrdom – which left me drained and burned out, often. In my first full-time job, as a national community organizer, I epitomized workaholism and experienced physical and emotional pain because of it. I began to despair that I would not be able to live out my calling to work for social change, without sacrificing my health and relationships in the process.

Early in my career, I was fortunate to enroll in a graduate school launching a first-of-its-kind experiment: a Masters program in Social Change at a theological school (seminary). The program sought to provide not only professional and academic training, but also spiritual and emotional grounding, to social change leaders. I was encouraged to make sense of my own experience, and place it in a larger context of social movement history. I explored common struggles social change leaders experience in their professional and personal lives, and how these may differ across class, race, gender, and other identities. I devoted my final project to “Personal Sustainability and Mental Health in Social Movements”, using my own story as a central narrative. It was another privileged experience, to immerse myself in the study and implementation of “self care”. That program would have been difficult or impossible to complete if I hadn’t been a middle class, school-loan beneficiary without dependents.

The “self care” theme has shaped my life and career ever since. In most leadership roles, from counseling youth to managing political campaigns, I experienced external factors (i.e. workplace environments) and internal factors (i.e. my own psychology) that predisposed me to burnout – reminding me again and again to sharpen my strategic work-planning, boundary-setting, and care-taking skills. I’ve found purpose in mentoring and training others on how to cultivate health, care, and sustainability within their own social change efforts. And, I’m constantly trying to understand how my social location – for example, as a white middle-class formally-educated woman – impacts my needs for, and practices of, “self care”.

This theme came up immediately when I began working with YNPN National, via the LaunchPad Fellowship program. As Talent Coordinator, I work with our Director, Trish, to evaluate the experience of YNPN leaders – for example our LaunchPad Fellows – and systemically cultivate a work environment in which we reflect openly on our challenges, support each other in taking care of ourselves, and plan and execute our work in strategic and sustainable ways. It’s an awesome challenge.

In our most recent LaunchPad staff meeting, I offered a professional development presentation centered on an essay called “An End to Self Care” by my friend and collaborator B Loewe, which builds on “Communites of Care” by Yashna Padamsee. Both were published in Organizing Upgrade, an online forum for community organizers to share and develop strategy. “An End to Self Care” came out last fall, and ignited a national conversation.

The article doesn’t so much seek to end self-care, as reframe it. Self care, as it’s usually understood, is an individual – rather than collective – task, often inaccessible and irrelevant to those who aren’t middle-class people with leisure time (i.e. no family dependents). Self care is often framed as another “to do” on an already unwieldy workload, leading to unrealistic, unattainable expectations that can make us feel bad about failing to adequately care for ourselves.

There are many insights in the article, so I’ll paraphrase just a few key points:

  • Building a society in which all are able to be healthy, cared-for and sustainable requires critical reflection on the possibilities and limitations of the nonprofit sector.

  • The experience of working for non-profits and social change efforts needs, in many ways, to be reconstructed or reframed to become a more energizing rather than draining experience.

  • To break out of the isolation often perpetuated by our dominant culture, we must move beyond care for the self and practice collective or community care.

  • Community care is a collectively liberatory practice which can not only sustain our own involvement in social causes, but enable many more – across class, race, family and other social locations – to join us.

The earlier article “Communities of Care” similarly called for collective/shared care, which unlike self care interrupts and transforms systems on a broader level. Yashna Padamsee, a leader in Healing Justice, or HJ, movements, urges us look at the root causes of why we need care and healing – for example, to explore how ableism is operating in our communities and organizations, and creating unrealistic or unattainable expectations for our work.

The need for care and healing is crucial: according to the Southern Healing Justice Collective, social changemakers are at a particular risk of “spiritual and physical deprivation from trauma, stress and unrest in our movements” and “dying as a result”. “Communities of Care” reminds that just as injustices are interconnected and affect us all, so are and must be our efforts for healing and care. Disability Justice movements are leading the way in showing us that we don’t have to keep doing our work in the same way nor do we need to do it alone.

Organizing Upgrade put together an excellent “Roundup and Re-Frame of the Community Care Conversation” highlighting the large and diverse range of responses when “An End to Self Care” was published last fall. Two of the excellent points:

Rather than self-care, we need self-determined care:

“The messages we receive are that our lives don’t matter, that we don’t deserve love, or even to exist.” By loving and caring for ourselves we are fighting the system; “to choose instead to value ourselves, our health, and the health of our communities – all as one, not at odds with each other – is radical, it’s self-determination.” - Adrienne Maree Brown

Care is and must be at the core of changemaking:  

“True care, whether it is self-centered, community-centered or family-centered is something we should assume is part of change work...Whether people like the analogy or not, we are soldiers fighting a war for human dignity. The key to winning the war is, in part, knowing when to be soldiers and when to be parents, children, siblings, spouses/partners or just human. To learn how to be all of those things effectively requires all of us prioritizing care.” - Subhash Kateel

How have you – personally and professionally – experienced care, health, and sustainability (or lack thereof) as an individual? What about as part of a group or organization? What social factors, such as class, race, gender, and family role – have impacted those experiences? What is your vision of a better world, in which all are cared for – and how do we get there from here? What role can the nonprofit sector play in enacting that vision?

We plan to raise these questions and more throughout YNPN – via the blog, during next week’s national YNPN Leaders Conference, and in more ways to come. Tell us your own thoughts and reactions in the comment section below or on our Facebook, or Twitter, and join the conversation.


By Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator

Chapter Blog Spotlight - Four myths hindering your professional development

Photo from Lifehealthpro.


by Lisa Thalacker Joyslin follow me on Twitter: @lisatjoyslin

You’re interested in developing your professional skills, but haven’t taken action. Why not? Chances are that you – or your nonprofit organization – are operating under a common professional development myth. I’ve outlined four of these myths below, including reasons they shouldn’t hold you back from developing your best professional self. Hopefully I can convince you and you can convince your organization to invest in professional development.

MYTH #1: It only benefits the individual

Some nonprofits are hesitant to invest time and funds in professional development because they believe it only benefits you, the individual. They worry their investment will walk out the door if you leave the organization. This viewpoint is short-sighted. Yes, the individual gains from professional development opportunities. But having a representative from your organization at conferences, seminars and events is a great opportunity to educate the nonprofit community about your organization’s mission and programs. Having a presence at these events also allows for new partnerships between organizations. Finally, the individual attending – you! – will bring new knowledge back to the organization that can then be applied to programs over the long term.

MYTH #2: It’s expensive

Sure, some professional development opportunities are expensive. But you can also find a number of low-cost or free events. YNPN-TC is a great place to start, offering monthly events at little or no cost. In addition, some more costly events offer scholarships or allow discounted rates for volunteers. If the cost is prohibitive, don’t be afraid to ask if opportunities exist to make the event more affordable.

MYTH #3: Networking doesn’t count

Talking one-on-one with someone over a drink can be just as valuable – or more so – than sitting through a lecture and PowerPoint. People meet and connect with colleagues in many ways, and networking events are one of those opportunities. There’s nothing wrong with having fun while you’re developing your network, as long as you keep it professional. Sometimes the best connections made are those one-off conversations that lead to a new partnership for your organization or a new opportunity for you personally.

MYTH #4: You can’t do it without your organization’s support

While it’s great when your organization supports professional development, this unfortunately isn’t always the case. Don’t let it hold you back. There are many professional development opportunities that take place outside work hours. Happy hour events or weekend conferences are not uncommon, and will allow you to pursue your professional development goals on your own time. Check out the low-cost Minnesota Rising Un/Conference – it’s held in annually in the fall; visit their website this summer for more info on 2013.

Next time you find yourself making an excuse instead of attending a professional development event, make sure one of these myths isn’t behind your reasoning. Take the time to convince your organization – and yourself – that professional development is worth the investment.
Have you run into these, or other, professional development myths? What have you done to overcome them?
Do you have a favorite low-cost professional development event or organization?

Director Dispatch: YNPN’s Four Pillars of Leadership Development

Photo from caretransitions.org.

Last fall at a conference, I had the chance to sit in on a session facilitated by Kirk Kramer of the Bridgespan Group.  During the session, Kirk shared a framework for developing organizational leaders laid out in a recent report written by he and his colleague Preeta Nayak entitled, What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders?  If you haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, I highly recommend.  It does a solid job of drawing the link between leadership development throughout an organization (especially younger leaders) and the growth and sustainability of any organization.  It also couples this development with other key planning processes like budgeting and strategic planning.  So Plan A pulls what is often seen as peripheral or an afterthought for most organizations into the center, encourages organizations to be proactive about this process, and (best yet) offers a step by step process for building an organizational culture that supports development.  (Who doesn’t love step-by-step?)

Okay back to that conference...

Kirk shared during his session that Bridgespan’s Plan A framework had its roots in the Center for Creative Leadership’s “70-20-10” model.  This model, based on extensive research, sets 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent formal training as the optimal mix for adult learning and development.

While I was quite familiar with the Center for Creative Leadership, before Kirk’s session, I had never heard of the 70-20-10 model, but found that it aligned almost exactly with YNPN’s “Pillars of Leadership Development” - four key areas that have our members have identified over YNPN’s 15 years as most valuable to their own leadership development.

The missing link from the 70-20-10 model, however, that so many of our members site as essential to their own growth is “access to a networks.” As I travel the country meeting with members, I hear time and again that skills-based trainings provided by organizations like ours, coaching and mentoring (which chapters are increasingly offering), and a place to apply those skills via “stretch” opportunities on the job or even board service are important pieces of their work to grow as effective change agents.  But YNPNers cite just as equally the importance of being able to have these experiences in community and to access and discover new opportunities via the network.

So as giants in the field of sector research and leadership development continue to refine these models for building stronger leaders and more effective organizations for addressing society’s most pressing problems, it is important not to overlook the critical importance of networks.  Next generation leaders know that individual and even organizational development falls short without connection and collaboration.

Guest Post: Tips to Consider if You Want to Become an Executive Director of a Nonprofit

Image from Idealist.org

By Allison Jones, crossposted from Idealist Careers

It’s hard to work at nonprofits these days without hearing about the leadership challenges our sector faces.What kind of leaders do we need? Who will lead the sector in years to come? How are we cultivating and supporting the next generation?

Gregory Cendana is tackling these questions as the youngest and first openly gay executive director of theAsian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), the first and only national organization of Asian Pacific American union members and allies to advance worker, immigrant, and civil rights. Although he was selected as the organization’s executive director when he was just 24-years-old in 2010, Gregory has been learning the ins-and-outs of organizing and leadership since he was a teenager.

At home, he heard his father, who emigrated from the Philippines, talk about his concerns with his union. Inspired to help his father and learn more about unions, in college Gregory secured an internship with the very same union that his father belonged to and became involved with campaigns in California and across the country. This led him to running (and being elected) as the president of the United States Student Association.  These transformative experiences not only allowed him to develop critical skills in leadership development, public speaking, and coalition building, but also connected him with a mentor who soon encouraged him to apply for the executive director position at APALA.

With the help of a mentor, hands-on experience, and a desire to strengthen workers’ rights, Gregory is entering his third year as executive director.

Do you want to become an executive director of a nonprofit?

Here’s Gregory’s advice:

  • Connect with current executive directors: “Get to know executive directors or people in similar positions.  If you can, get them as mentors. Learn and understand what makes them good at what they do but also talk about the challenges they face and skills you should you pick up so you can handle the job.”
  • Surround yourself with supportive people: “As friendly and gregarious as I am, there are moments when I feel like I am by myself. It’s a reminder of the responsibilities and what comes with the role; being an executive director can be lonely. But if you surround yourself with people that care about you and want to support you it will be easier.”
  • Make sure the board is behind you: “When I interviewed for the position, I only met the executive board members, so just five people. At my first in-person board meeting, the majority of our 42-member board—and many were founding APALA members—were there. They said to me, ‘We have been doing this work for decades. We throw our support behind you and care about the next generation.’ This was important because it showed how the ideas I had and leadership’s vision of the organization were aligned.“

Next steps

Greg-PTI Head ShotGregory is currently the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), AFL-CIO and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement. He also serves on the Executive Committee of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans and as Chair for the Labor Coalition for Community Action. Named one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 & the “Future of DC Politics”, Gregory is a recognized organizer, speaker, and trainer. Previously, he served as President of the United States Student Association (USSA), where he played an integral role in the passage of the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility Act and Healthcare & Education Reconciliation Act.
If you loved this article, read more of this series here.