Image from todaymade.com.
At our anniversary celebration last week our key note speaker Steve Mariotti Founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and JJ Ramberg our nonprofiteer of the year and Co-Founder of GoodSearch.com spent time sharing their experiences and paths that led them to careers in social change. Even though they work in different causes and have different backgrounds, they both shared one powerful piece of advice to changemakers: learn how to tell a story.
The importance of story telling comes up quite a bit in the nonprofit sector, especially when it comes to more externally facing professions like communications and fundraising. However this is an important skill in all aspects of nonprofit work. As we seek to grow and engage our supporters, employees, and communities we serve, we must learn how to present our experiences and our work in a compelling way that draws our audience in and makes them feel connected and invested in the work we are doing. Story telling is one of the most powerful tools changemakers have, yet it’s a hard skill to master. What does it mean to tell a good story? How do I get others to tell their stories in support of our cause? How do we go from story telling to taking action?
Luckily there are resources to help you get started....
The YNPN journey is now 14 years old, and though we have evolved, we have remained true to that first initial goal - to provide professional development for young people in the nonprofit sector. From a group of young professionals gathering in a San Francisco coffee shop in 1997, YNPN now boasts a staggering 34 chapters across the nation with over 30,000 members. Additionally, we also have 13 start-up chapters working to develop into full-fledged chapters within our network.
Over the past two years, I have had the unique opportunity of working closely with YNPN chapters, monitoring their growth and providing resources and tools to enable their success. I’ve heard their tales of struggles to find board members that can be the champions to continue the work of the chapter once the first crop of founding board members move on; debating the merits of 501c3 vs. fiscal sponsorship; navigating the waters of paid membership; and building programming that addresses the needs and interests of members.
I’d like to share with you a few recent highlights from the network of YNPN chapters around the country:
• In Fall 2010, YNPNdc kicked of Voices of the Sector (VOTS). This was a new program that created a unique space to discuss a variety of subjects from the economic downturn and intergenerational power-sharing to nonprofit accountability, cross-sector collaboration, and nonprofit workforce diversity. To date, they have had several VOTS events with key constituents in the community.
• In January 2011, YNPN Houston partnered with Volunteers of America and Reach to Achieve Mentoring to raise awareness for National Mentoring Month (January). They hosted several podcast interviews with young professionals to discuss the impact mentoring has had on their professional growth; hear one of the podcasts that had YNPN leaders discuss mentoring in their lives
• A signature event for YNPN Triad (North Carolina) is the “State of the Nonprofit Sector in the Triad” event that draws a large crowd of professionals to discuss trends, challenges, and brainstorm solutions to problems occurring in the community. The next such event will be in May 2011; take a look at the last presentation given.
• One of our newest chapters to the network, YNPN Little Rock appears to be off to a great start already. YNPN Little Rock officially kicked-off with their first event last October and already they have an impressive slate of professional development events scheduled for the coming months including speed networking, an advocacy event, and roundtable networking with nonprofit leaders from the community.
• A chapter that is less than 2 years old, YNPN Detroit has already cemented itself as a leader in the Detroit nonprofit community by hosting several professional development events and connecting people to the numerous resources available in the city. Their Twitter feed is a must-read- full of the amazing discussion the chapter drives such as how to engage your board on development and sponsorships to tools on how to negotiate salary and benefits at your job. Their twitter handle is @ynpndetroit.
Coordinating the work of start-up chapters has been another fulfilling area of work I have supported in my time on the YNPN National board. Every month, YNPN receives notices from people across the nation (and across the globe) interested in starting a YNPN chapter in their community. Assessing their readiness to start a chapter, discussing resources individuals might use to spread the word about that start-up chapter, and helping to coordinate the first, second, or perhaps third events for that start-up chapter is a steady, slow process that can take 9 months. The process is intentional to ensure the full success of the start-up once they become full-fledged chapters.
I am constantly amazed at the speed at which YNPN is growing and all of the amazing things our chapters are doing. We may still have a long way to go before all young nonprofit professionals have a YNPN chapter to count on, but the road ahead is full of inspiring work and energetic young people leading the way.
Ese Emerhi Chair, Chapters Committee YNPN National
A note about our contributor
Ese Emerhi is a human rights activist and organizer. She is currently a consultant with the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) of The World Bank where she provides support to GDLN affiliates in fostering global knowledge sharing within the network. She is also the legislative coordinator for Maryland for Amnesty International where she educates local activists on pressing human rights abuses around the world, as well as work closely with Maryland state delegates and Congressmen to push forward progressive legislative bills. Ese currently lives in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Each year, YNPN asks a local chapter to host the National Leaders Conference, which is an opportunity for chapter leaders around the country to learn from one another. As the YNPN network grows, we have more and more opportunities to showcase local chapters and the innovations happening in the local nonprofit sector in regions around the country.
We've asked this year's host YNPN Grand Rapids to reflect on their experience this year as host to the YNPN network.
In September 2010, ynpnGR found out we would be hosting the YNPN National Conference in Spring 2011. The anticipation to start planning was great and many of us had more fears about the process than we were excited about hosting. Our planning launched in November 2011 when we formed the Super Squad and excitement began to overcome our fears for how the conference would come together. We had many brown bag lunches to discuss the conference, and our Super Squad began digging into details. The dedication of the Super Squad was amazing, and although there were a few “scary” bumps in the road, they all worked together to pull the conference off in the end.
March 25 came very quickly, and before we knew it, we were all sitting around the table Saturday night saying, “Wow the conference is really over!” All of it was worth it. ynpnGR made some new friends with local organizations, and built up a new base of members and dedicated committee members to help support successful programming throughout the year.
Over the course of Friday and Saturday, we were able to see all our efforts come together, with great breakout sessions and headliners, including the amazing Innovation Series. The highlight for many of us on the Super Squad was seeing the nonprofit community and members of YNPN from across the country come together for the Nonprofit Smackdown on Friday night. The energy and excitement in the room truly proved the conference we had created was a success.
Our amazing network of YNPNers across the country supported all that the Super Squad accomplished. The energy and excitement all our chapters bring to the network is phenomenal, and bringing that energy to Grand Rapids was proof that we are not in this alone. The issues and successes our local YNPN members have been experiencing are shared with other members across the country.
Bringing the network together in our hometown has made a significant impact on our board and the programming we are going to be able to provide throughout the coming years. The support of the network has supported new energy and growth in all of our board and committee members. For that, we are truly thankful for all that hosting the YNPN National Conference was able to do for our chapter. Even though the stress and fear about the day was high, it was well worth it in the end!! Thank you for participating in the YNPN National Conference this year, you helped make it a success!!!
If you haven’t seen them yet, we have some pictures from the conference on our Facebook page.
Thank you!! ynpnGR Board
Any "a-ha" moments you haven't yet shared with the network? Having attended the conference- did you learn things about the local nonprofit sector in Grand Rapids that you took home to assist your own local work?
In case you missed any of the coverage of the learning at #ynpn11- here's a recap of the blog posts that were shared with the network:
- From the YNPN Blog:Grabbing a Fistful of Salt: ignore the advice to “learn the ropes”
- From the YNPN Blog:YNPN Twin Cities' Blog: a model for implementing a good idea
- From the YNPN Blog: The Language of Leadership
- From the YNPN Blog: Beyond Enthusiastic
- YNPN GGR: And the Crowd Goes Wild: Recap of the Nonprofit Smackdown
- YNPN Twin Cities: 20+ face and 20 takeaways from #ynpn11
- YNPN Detroit: Six Ways to Rock Your Nonprofit Career
- YNPN NYC: Four Presentation Techniques that Rocked #ynpn11
- Allison Jones: Are Young Nonprofit Professionals Ready to Lead?
- Jessica Journey: How To Be a Great #YNPN11 Presenter
- Jessica Journey: What a 29-Year-Old Executive Director Can Teach You
- Jessica Journey: Knowledge Networks
- Rosetta Thurman: The Inevitable Evolution of the Nonprofit Sector
- Scott Spicer: Keeping the Post Conference Momentum Going
- Nathan Hand: Lead Your Own Development
- Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why it's always smart to act as if you're looking for a job
- Sam Davidson: If you don't give us a seat at the table, we'll build a chair
- Jennifer Trigger Marzullo: Young Detroiters Working to Retain Talent
Once again, I left the YNPN National Conference inspired and encouraged by the energy, passion, and commitment of YNPNers to make a difference in our communities. At its core, YNPN is about creating the kind of change we want to see in the world, whether it’s a particular mission or the concept of giving back in general that motivates us. This theme appeared several times during the conference, and caused me to wonder: are we really the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, or would it be more accurate to call us the Young Social Change Movement? Is it important to us that we work for a 501(c)3 organization, or simply that we make a difference?
During the Innovation Series on Friday I was struck by the organizations that talked about how they purposefully set their business up as a for-profit venture in order to best support the nonprofit sector. Tommy Allen, who kicked off the series, is a community activist and editor of Rapid Growth Media, but his paid job is in the for profit sector. Elemental Media, who promotes online stories of the good work accomplished by nonprofits, stated they chose a for-profit model because they didn’t want to be competing for funding with those they serve. Cool People Care also chose the for-profit path because they wanted to be, as he stated it, “collaborative, not competitive”.
I see this trend in other capacity-building organizations and support services for the sector. I’m wondering if this is simply a case of for-profit entrepreneurs getting involved in cause work or whether it’s telling us something bigger about our sector’s capacity to support and promote itself. I’m not suggesting that all missions and causes can be better served in a for-profit model; the nonprofit sector serves some of the most vulnerable populations whose best interests should not be determined by for-profit shareholders. However, when it comes to serving ourselves, should the nonprofit business model be our first choice, or even second?
One highlight of the preliminary results of the YNPN National Survey tells us that although only 34% of us are committed to working in the nonprofit sector, 56% of us must have a social mission to what we do, regardless of the sector. Another 29% were unsure whether they would need a social mission, but only 15% stated that it was not an important factor in where they work. In these results, YNPNers have prioritized mission over tax code, the end results achieved over the means by which they were achieved.
In the not so distant past, I have been quick to reject the idea that the nonprofit model doesn’t serve us well. It’s the funding dynamics, I can hear myself say, or it’s the leadership structures, and the restrictions that people have interpreted too conservatively on nonprofits’ right to advocate and lobby. I firmly believe these issues present barriers, and struggle with how we can address the inequities in the system. However, I’m starting to also struggle with how we are defining nonprofit work. It seems the similarities between a small grassroots nonprofit and the design platform business that allows them to tell their stories are much greater than that grassroots nonprofit and St. Anthony’s Hospital, Tulane University, or the National Football League.
So I’d love to hear your thoughts, YNPNers: when it comes to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, how central does the nonprofit element remain for you as the lines blur between sectors?
A note about our contributor: As Executive Director, Lydia McCoy has led the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition’s efforts to promote vaccination through education and advocacy since 2007. Lydia previously worked as Capital Campaign Coordinator for The Gathering Place- a homeless women’s shelter in Denver- and has experience working in fund development and program management for art education, public radio, and child welfare nonprofits in New Orleans and Denver. Lydia has a BA in Political Science from Tulane University and Master of Nonprofit Management from Regis University. Recently, she has served on the Strategic Planning Committee for Regis University’s MNM program, the Leadership Advisory Council for the Colorado Nonprofit Association, was a Fellow with Social Venture Partners Denver, and participated in the El Pomar Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program. She currently sits on the YNPN National Board, Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Committee for Colorado, on the Board of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, and is past President of YNPN Denver. She also enjoys the occasional onomatopoeia. Pow!
To my fellow young nonprofit professionals…
Has someone ever complimented you on your enthusiasm, fresh perspective, or energy? It’s happened to me – a lot.
Did it seem like that person was really just commenting on your age – speaking in code that you are young? I think that’s the case – a lot.
So, when colleagues asked me about the 2011 Conference of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, I was slow to speak. I didn’t want to talk about the event as exciting or youthful (even though that would be true).
Instead, I described the conference as bursting with resources!
And, that’s why I love young nonprofit professionals. We are so resourceful!
The 2011 conference demonstrates that we know how to:
- Transform a theatre into a convention center
- Develop a stellar program, busting at the seams with young leaders
- Leverage community partnerships for smart sponsorships
- Create real value with free tools, like social networking and blogging
- Host a warm, engaging event in a cold city
I’m grateful to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network leadership and the 2011 conference organizers. They’ve reminded me that the best thing about being a talented young professional is not my enthusiasm but my resourcefulness.
Want to continue to cultivate your own resourcefulness? Check out my three live blog posts from the conference:
- How To Be a Great #YNPN11 Presenter
- What a 29-Year-Old Executive Director Can Teach You
- Knowledge Networks
JESSICA JOURNEY is a nonprofit professional, thriving in the Indianapolis community. She has more than five years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and philanthropy in the fields of higher education, health, and human services. Jessica’s background includes annual fund, communications, constituent management, and grants.
Next Wednesday marks the 71st anniversary of the Dandi March. On April 6th, 1930, Mohandas K. Gandhi completed a 24-day, 250-mile journey from Sabarmati to Dandi, India, raised a fistful of salty mud into the air and pronounced, "With this I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire."
The Salt March is remembered as an act of great civil disobedience - which it definitely was - but I'd like to argue that the Salt March was also a great reminder for the people of India. A reminder that an essential building block of daily life, largely inaccessible, was actually well within reach. A reminder that a staple of sustainability, taxed beyond the affordability of most, didn't have to be. It was a reminder that the salt was already there, on Indian shores.
For nearly 15 years, YNPN has shared a similar story with a certain force, born of truth and love. Yes, at a local level, our individual chapters represent a place to connect, learn and grow with your colleagues working for community benefit organizations. But at a macro-level, YNPN has always been about equipping and empowering young people to lead and succeed - work that is grounded in the belief that everyone has something to offer wherever they find themselves in their career. In other words, at its core, YNPN's mission is about reminding folks that the salt is already embedded in their shores.
This past weekend was an amazing experience for me and the 200 other young people that converged upon the Furniture City to listen, share and celebrate. Inspirational sessions, innovative speakers and plenty of, ahem, informal networking solidified my belief that our generation is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. I am confident of this fact because the fire that fueled Gandhi's 250-mile march is the same fire that fuels our national board, your local chapter's board and every single one of the 30,000 YNPN members across the country.
The raw passion, energy and vision required to lead our communities through this decade and well beyond is limitless among and across our network. So, let us begin boiling the mud down to salt - ignoring the advice to "learn the ropes" or "wait our turn." Let us continue to hone our skill sets so we can lead, manage and grow our organizations with excellence. Let us shake the foundations of outdated 20th Century Empire thinking.
And let this be a reminder that the salt is already ours.
"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."
YNPN Twin Cities board members Adaobi Okolue and Chris Oien shared best practices learned from their chapter's blog. I jokingly tweeted that I should write a blog post about their blog. Adaobi and Chris's presentation was informative to anyone interested in starting a group blog, but it was also a great story about taking a good idea and rallying a group of people to implement it.
How to build buy in
YNPN Twin Cities spent a lot of time and effort generating support from the board before launching their blog. They addressed capacity and technology concerns with:
- One-on-one conversations
- In-person trainings about the blogging platform
- A schedule of blog writing responsibility that is manageable. (Board members are expected to write a post once every few months, and they know well in advance when their post is expected.)
Lesson Learned: Invest time at the beginning of a project to address concerns and build personal connections with your stakeholders.
From the beginning, YNPN Twin Cities was clear about what the blog is and what the blog is not. The YNPN Twin Cities blog is not:
- A fundraising effort
- An event promotion mechanism
Lesson Learned: For an idea to succeed, it needs a clear goal. And a clear goal cancels out other potential goals, even when they're worthy.
Making it work
YNPN Twin Cities has an arsenal of tools that help its blog run smoothly and successfully:
- The blog's posts are assigned months in advance. Authors know exactly when they're expected to contribute.
- Each week, posts are submitted, edited and published on a set schedule.
- Topics for blog posts are assigned. (There are "open topic" weeks as well.)
- The "blog bible" provides extensive documentation.
Lesson Learned: Create and document a manageable structure that helps a good idea become a great idea.
Launching the next good idea
Not satisfied with having an awesome blog and presenting about it at the YNPN national conference, YNPN Twin Cities is including new voices in their blog beyond YNPN-TC board members.
Lesson Learned: Embrace the next phase of your great idea!
Denise Stein, Executive Director at Art of Leadership in Detroit spoke yesterday about the power of language. Many of us working in the nonprofit sector have found ourselves, on more than one occasion, facing barriers and conflicts that make it difficult for us to reach the goals we have set for ourselves and/or our organizations. As a result, sometimes, we may hear ourselves complaining to friends or co-workers. In my mind, the truth is- not all of those complaints are unjustified. In fact, I would argue that many of them probably are justified. Sometimes you have every right to be frustrated and often getting those frustrations out can be a very healthy and positive way to help yourself move forward. The problem, however, is that when repeated, those complaints can actually be much more powerful than we may realize.
Sometimes when talking about our causes, our words focus on the barriers and conflicts, a.k.a, the problems that need to be addressed. If we find ourselves spending more time talking about the problem as opposed to the solution, we can really hold ourselves back from moving forward. If the status quo needs to be changed, we should focus our language around our plans and goals for the future instead of the problem(s).
Denise said, “The language of complaint tells us, and others, what we cannot stand. The language of leadership/commitment tells us, and others what we stand for.” We can help reframe our own mindsets by focusing our language around what we want to see, instead of focusing on what we see but don’t like. By focusing on our goals and commitments, we empower ourselves to act on those commitments, instead of getting lost in frustration.
We have all heard the phrase ‘think outside of the box.’ In fact, it has probably become a little cliché at this point. No one really wants to think like everyone else. We all want to think of ourselves as ‘out of the box’ thinkers, at least, I do. An important thing to remember is that ‘thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always refer to a collective cultural box that we all subscribe to. ‘Thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always mean thinking differently from this group or that person. Often, it is our own boxes that we need to think outside of. More often than not, it is our own constraints and perceived limitations that we need to branch away from.
By reshaping the way that we talk and learning to constantly challenge our own ‘inside of the box’ thinking, we can position ourselves to make a much bigger impact in our communities. Never underestimate the power that the words we use can have on our own perceptions. And learn to take mental notes of our own repetitious behaviors. If we learn what ‘in the box thinking’ really looks like for ourselves, we might actually have a much better shot at learning how to think outside of it. And if we constantly remind ourselves of what we're working for, we will find ourselves empowered by motivation, instead of feeling burnt out and/or overwhelmed.
YNPN leaders from around the country are gathering today here in Grand Rapids, Michigan to share ideas, connect with other chapters, and engage one another in dialogue about the future of our sector.
The conference theme selected this year 'Evolve' will highlight individual, organizational, and sector-wide evolution and innovation. Workshops will include flash presentations with speakers discussing how they've created change within and through their organizations, as well as sessions focusing on sharing best practices among chapters across the country. During one of this morning's sessions we heard from nonprofit blogger and author Rosetta Thurman. She provided her perspective and ideas about how young professionals can be more strategic with our professional development and personal branding within the sector- rock on Rosetta and thanks for joining us!
As a local chapter leader, and now national board member, this will be my fifth YNPN National Leaders Conference. Without fail, I always leave feeling inspired by potential and power of this movement. Every year, I gain ideas for how to strengthen and focus my career path. Discussions with other YNPN chapter leaders here have opened up opportunities for peer mentoring that I have come to rely on as a young professional.
Last night, at our welcome happy hour, a local board member shared with me- “coming here I find all these people that I share values with- these are my people.” Sometimes that’s hard to find in critical mass- peers that share our passion, energy and excitement. As I have continued on my career path in the nonprofit sector, YNPN has really provided me with that - a connection to people I can count on, people I learn from, people I feel inspired by, and people that share my values.
This is a national movement of young leaders and this conference is the place that chapters gather to push the momentum forward. From a national YNPN board member to all of you- WELCOME to Grand Rapids!
If you aren’t here in person- be sure to follow the dialogue, ideas and resources here on the blog- we’ll be joined by several conference guest bloggers that will share their perspective with all of you - Kelly Cleaver, Jessica Journey, Yesenia Sotelo, Lydia McCoy, Samuel Richard.
You can also follow the conversation at http://bit.ly/Twitterynpn11
Make Your Voice Heard. Improve Our Sector. Take YNPN’s National Voice Survey Today!
Over the past several years, a great deal of literature has been released noting significant leadership challenges for the nonprofit sector. With each issue revealed has come a compelling set of recommendations for how the sector can meet these challenges head on. As a movement of now over 20,000 nonprofit professionals nationwide, YNPN is uniquely positioned to put these recommendations to the test.
Is offering more competitive compensation a priority for retaining talent? Is your nonprofit engaging in succession planning? Is prioritizing diversity having a positive impact on your organization? The valuable feedback and experiences you and your peers will share by completing YNPN’s survey can help influence how our sector addresses its leadership challenges over the next decade.
Make sure our voice includes your perspective. Click here to start the survey now!
Also Help us Spread the Word...
YNPN chapters and partners around the country will be promoting the survey in their communities- chapters can find resources on how to spread the word here: http://ynpn.org/our-voice/take-action/
We look forward to sharing our results with you later this year!
Dan Dobin, YNPN National Voice Committee