YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

WWYNPD?: Founder's Syndrome

Did you have one of those wristbands?  They were popular.  They came in different colors with "WWJD?" embedded on the surface.  Perhaps you had a t-shirt with the same letters: "WWJD?"  There were all types of paraphernalia: pens, hats, key chains.  It seemed as if for a moment in recent history everyone was obsessed with finding an answer to the situational question "What would Jesus do?"

I never caught on to the wave of frenzy over the WWJD? gizmos and gadgets.  But the concept - the idea that asking myself what someone else would do in a situation I was facing could help me make a better decision - is one I have bought into for years.

And so I submit this post as the first in a series: WWYNPD - What would young nonprofit professionals do?  And for this inaugural post, I wonder how we have been able to address Founder's Syndrome.

Ahh, Founder's Syndrome.  I must admit that until very recently, I only gave myself 2 options for dealing with Founder's Syndrome: I thought I could either leave and be appreciated for my awesomeness elsewhere OR I could wait quietly for the inevitable death of an aging population and then assume power.  Either way, soon enough it would be my turn at the helm.  I just had to bide my time and wait it out.  Then it hit me:  There has got to be a better way!

So how do we deal with this?  Founder's Syndrome can lead to job dissatisfaction, low morale and employee burn out.

I've done a scan for case studies sharing successful methods for addressing and dealing with Founder's Syndrome in a nonprofit context from the perspective of staff who have experienced a transition of leadership.  I haven't found too much, and so I am submitting these 3 Tips for Young Nonprofit Professionals who are affected by Founder's Syndrome.

1.  Assess yourself. Rapper Ice Cube had a popular song with the lyrics "Check yourself before you wreck yourself."  If only rap lyrics today shared such sage wisdom as they did a decade or so ago.  Basically the lesson is to take an inventory of the role you are playing in your own destruction.  The best way to approach any situation is with self-awareness.  Along with that self-check, take into consideration your role and the dynamics of power in your organization.  Here is a really tough question for some YNPs to answer: Is it Founder's Syndrome or am I over-eager to be promoted and recognized as a young professional in this organization?

2. Ask around. Chances are, young professionals were not with the organization when the founder was; however, there might be a co-worker, funder, program participant or board member who was.  Ask how the organization has changed.  Ask how the leadership has changed.  Find out how change happens.  Ask what could be improved.  Find out more about the organization than the story told in annual reports and brochures.  Conducting an informal 360-degree assessment of the organization and the founder will help uncover the capacity for change within the organization.

3. Be the change/solution. Some mid-level managers and organizational leaders express concern about the pressures of being an executive director.  They are valid concerns!  On the flip side, some founders see their potential predecessors as unable to do the work the way they did.  They built it up.  They know (or think they know) how it should be managed, and they do not see anyone else putting in the time and energy that they do.  Help them by being a part of a new model of leadership.  Engage in co-lead projects and find out interest in work groups.  Most of all, ask for the founder's help when necessary.   Be the change that you would like to see in your organization.  It will empower you, encourage your colleagues and impress the founder.

A lot of the stress around Founder's Syndrome comes from emotions and feelings that we do not express or process appropriately.  I would also suggest that YNPs who feel under-appreciated and unrewarded at their jobs look for leadership positions OUTSIDE the workplace.  It might make you feel better, which will improve your overall quality of life, and it will improve your workday.  It will also help you better understand some of the stress that your founder or CEO is facing on a daily basis.  Make this the year you take on a project in your community or take on a leadership role in your local YNPN Chapter or on the YNPN National Board.  (Shameless plug for forthcoming National Board applications.  They are coming this summer and will be due in the fall!)

Lest I forget the young empowered Executive Directors who have big founders' shoes to fill.  Just because the founder is no longer in office (or a longtime ED or CEO, for that matter), does not mean the symptoms of the syndrome vanish.  WWYNPD when they have leadership under the shadow of former leaders?  Also there are YNPs among us who are founders of organizations themselves.
How do cure Founder's Syndrome once and for all?

I think an answer to that question will be answered in our lifetime, so WWYNPD?

What you may have missed this week

Maybe it is just me and I geek out on all the nonprofit info online, but it seems that week by week there is more and more being written about social change.  Here are a few things I enjoyed, but obviously this is by no means an exhaustive list.  

Feel free to share links below for things you found particularly interesting or relevant.

  • One of the best fundraising blogs our there, Future Fundraising Now, by Jeff Brooks (@jeffbrooks) discusses understanding older people and how that can be beneficial to your fundraising efforts.
  • At the blog Change Charity, Jeff Raderstrong writes about the dilemmas facing small-dollar donors who want to support a charity that doesn't have a big enough budget to evaluate its results.
  • On Wednesday, Allison Jones and Rosetta Thurman hosted #ynpchat, a twitter chat for young nonprofit professionals.  This time the focus was on young professionals becoming leaders.  Allison summarizes the conversation here.   Keep an eye out on twitter for future chats.
  • One of the more thought provoking writers about social change, Dan Pallotta reminds us to reach for our impossible goals.

You are young, you should know...

In last week's Chronicle of Philanthropy, they featured an article titled "Charities Seek Connections to Generation Y".  They cited some recent research about Gen Y and their use of technology, giving habits and interest in the sector in general.  As a young nonprofit professional are you challenged at work to be the spokesperson for a generation?  Do the more experienced, senior managers, look to you for answers on how the organization should communicate to younger people? I believe that is an unfair challenge.  Sure, we use our BlackBerry as much (or more in some cases) than the next person, but does that automatically make you a marketing or fundraising pro?

Or does your organization fall on the other side, missing the boat entirely by not seeking input from you and colleagues in this demographic?  I think to some degree we all try to balance between providing input on how to approach the younger generation and being responsible for all the work.

So, how do you balance?

1.   If it is not your department, volunteer to help out with fundraising or volunteer recruitment efforts focused on Gen Y.

2.  Understand the constant battle of budgets vs return and find cost effective ways to push the message.  Bring these ideas to the table.

3.  Don't be offended when your ideas aren't used.  Continue to provide them.

4.  Be knowledgeable.  Do the research.  Understand what studies are out and what info is available on demographics.  Not only does it back up your ideas, it prepares you if your colleagues are looking for input.

5.  Learn about other generations.  You want the senior level (baby boomers) to care about your generation...take a minute to understand the volutneering and philanthropy mindsets of theirs.

6.  Get your network involved with your cause.  If senior staff sees you brining volunteers and donors to events, they will take notice.   Let your actions speak.

This is definitely just a handful of ways to balance being the Gen Y expert and providing valuable insight.  What else have you seen work?  How does your org approach marketing to younger demographics?

What you may have missed this week

There is so much activity between twitter and the blogosphere discussing nonprofit work, in particular working as a young professional in the sector.  Each week we'll post a few links to things you may have missed in the past week that are well worth the time to read, comment and share.

YNPN was privileged to have Robert Egger at our national conference a couple of weeks ago.  For those that weren't there, Robert shared the main points from his keynote with the world here.

This year's YNPN conference in Denver was held in conjunction with the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) conference as well as the Council on Foundations conference.  All converged for the weekend, with great combination programing.  Consultant and blogger Rosetta Thurman gives her summary and feedback on her blog.

A very interesting cause marketing debate dug deep into the partnership between Susan G. Komen and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Here are a few great posts from Joe Waters, Scotty Henderson and Nancy Shwartz.

At Katya's Nonprofit Marketing blog she talked recently about the future of online giving after presenting at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference.

David Svet, from Spur Communications who also blogs at Spurspectives, gives four keys that he thinks can help redesign the community benefit sector in a way that will benefit everyone.

Herding Cats: Leading a YNPN Chapter

The chairs of the San Francisco chapter organized a session just for board chairs "Herding Cats". And it was amazing.

Next month, YNPN Chicago starts nominations for the next Executive Co-Chair. The person we elect will help lead the organization from 2010-2012, a pair of crucial years in our development. It will include decisions around celebrating our 10th anniversary, building a stable revenue stream, and defining what it means to be a YNPN Chicago "member".

I have served on the board for almost 4 years, and spent 2 of those as Executive Co-Chair. The biggest lesson I have learned about leadership is also the corniest. It's about love. It really is.

Sentiments aside, a good leader has to love themselves and love other people. To support the other members of the board, I've had to get past my own issues. When we're trying to run an ambitious set of programs or submit our first grant proposal, there isn't room for my ego or insecurities. I have to feel confident in my skills and be comfortable with admitting my faults.

I want the very best for each of my board members, even when that means that serving on the YNPN Chicago board is no longer in the cards. The people on our team should feel like they can be honest in their conversations and vulnerable in their requests for help.

Of course, there's always a level of excellence that needs to be set for the entire group. But I never worry about that. The people involved with YNPN, in Chicago and around the country, are some of the smartest, most hard-working, most loyal people I've ever met.

It was clear that every board chair in the room shared these qualities of excellence, confidence, and genuine interest in the success of others. They were warm, they were engaged, they were smart.

Our conversation was facilitated into a problem-solving exercise, where we analyzed the specific issues facing one chapter. By working through that specific issue, we were able to address the issues that affect all of us, including managing an all-volunteer board that often needs to operate at the level of staff.

What did we take away from the time we spent together?

  • Give board members a chance to give you their feedback on a regular basis. And listen.
  • Make a public plan for your work together, and hold each other accountable.
  • Document your decision making guidelines so everyone is on the same page.
  • Use board meetings to discuss real issues, and find other channels for reporting the mundane business of the board.

Sorry I can't be too specific. We did agree to confidentiality once we shut the door. :)

The Non-Executive Director

We spent a lot of time discussing the Executive Director position this weekend and the impending need for new leadership that the sector will have to accommodate for. And while the Executive Director is often the title associated with nonprofit leadership, it is by no means the only title for leaders.

I want to stress to my fellow YNPNers and beyond that you can lead without becoming an Executive Director. Certainly, there is always a sense of pride and excitement when meeting and/or hearing about Gen X'ers (or even Millennials!) that are doing well as young Executive Directors of an organization. It is by no means a small task to run a nonprofit organization, and to do it early in life is a great achievement.  I know several, and I have great respect for each of them.

However, I dedicate this post to those who do not see the ED title in their future, yet still want to lead. You can lead now, as an associate or program coordinator. You can lead in YNPN or in your community. EDs are not the only leadership positions available.

I believe that the vast majority of us share this in common: We want to have a strong professional career, make a decent living, and do good at the same time. But how that 'strong professional career' in the nonprofit sector looks like might be different from person to person, and that is ok. I spoke with a YNPNer this weekend who said that he would never want to be a ED, because he wants to remain in constant and direct contact with the people that his organization serves. I, personally, don't see myself as wanting an ED position. That is not because I don't believe myself to be qualified or able, but because I would rather devote myself entirely to a particular area that I am passionate about, as opposed to being in charge of everything. Of course, I am young and things may change. But the fact of the matter is, you can lead from wherever you are in the sector. Each nonprofit serves the community in some way, whether it is the local community or beyond. Leaders throughout organizations are needed in order for us to serve to the best of our ability.

Let us not forget that a hard working program coordinator can often find him/herself doing the workload of two or more staff persons in half the amount of time while still maintaining a smile and loving his/her work. I'm not meaning to put the "badge" on our shoulders... you know what I'm taking about... the "feel sorry for me because I do such a great thing but I am so overworked and underpaid and...." No. This is not what I mean. What I am saying is that term "leader" does not necessarily imply "Executive Director."

Whether the golden ED title is hanging high in your head or if you have other plans, you can still lead. Volunteer with YNPN. Become a resource for your colleagues and for the community. Work hard at your job and never stop looking for ways to grow and learn. Take control of your career and lead it in the direction you want it to go. You are not limited. Lead in your own way.

Here is to all of the 'young' nonprofit 'leaders' no matter the title. I look up to each of you and couldn't be more excited to share this great YNPN network with such amazing people.

The Value of Attending the YNPN National Conference

Out of the dozen of so conferences I've attended in my brief 5-year career, the ynpn National Conferencefor was one of the best for the following reasons:   - Connecting with the souls driving the future of social profit work.  I tend to be a positive person in general, however talking with peers about their passion and purpose reaffirmed the younger generations in the workforce will provide a strong bridge between the upcoming leadership gap of baby boomers retiring and successful, sustainable organizations.   - The sessions were run by our people, for our people.  Young leaders blend ease, humor and substance.  The sessions didn't feel like stuffy classrooms, where the speaker pontificates and the listeners jot down major concepts.  The sessions felt like brain storming with friends in a coffee shop.  Many presenters offered a natural  informal professionalism - sharing jokes and best practices with equal comfort and using phrases like "organic organizational culture" and "like whoa!" in the same sentence.            - Whatever you missed at the conference, some member will create an app. to teach you about it.  As someone who is less tech.-savvy than most 3 year olds, (I'm writing this entry on a typewriter, for example), I was amazed at how quickly information flowed thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Google docs. and other fascinating features of the high-speed internet superhighway.   - Yes we can.  The conference helped me recharge as

I was reminded: our peers make a positive difference everyday.  We don't know all the answers, but we have a mass of invested people determined to test solutions.  Wicked smart young leaders commit themselves to service in their community and push the staus quo, push the boundaries and push for benefical change. As we push, we advance.  We are part of a movement en route to social justice, each generation progressing further.  I am eager for the distance of our collective step.    


 Ian Esquibel

 Program Associate, Office of Philanthropic Outreach ALBUQUERQUE COMMUNITY FOUNDATION

Thinking about YNPN Diversity

I just left a morning session on diversity.  I am not even sure why I signed up for the session.  I can get blue in the face talking about "diversity" almost to the point that I wonder, "Why are we still talking about this?"  However, today's session led by Naomi Leaphart from Philadelphia's Nonprofit Leaders (not quite YNPN, but close enough!) gave me a lot to think about.

Here are some thought-provoking questions from the session and other nuggets of information and insight from this session:  (Please share your thoughts and leave a comment or two.)

  • What is your definition of diversity?
  • What scares you most about conversations on diversity?
  • Who is allowed to have conversations about diversity?
  • When is the conversation over?
  • “It needs to be okay to say something different.” – NL
  • “Diversity is not simply a static state of being.”
  • “Diversity isn’t just about representation.”
  • Do we frame YNPN in a way that allows people to identify with what we do?  How are we framing our message?
  • “There is a difference between conversations about diversity and diverse conversations.” - session participant
  • How can we get to a point where everyone is culturally competent?
  • What needs to be homogenous?
  • What structural assumptions do YNPN Chapters make about programming?
  • If you did an assessment of your YNPN Chapter, what is the culture – the unspoken rules of engagement?
  • What language can you develop to discuss diversity within your Chapter?

State of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

YNPN National Board Chair is currently giving a "state of the network."

Of note...

In 2010 there are more than 30 chapters (32) across the country and approximately 20,000 members.  Every month, there are about 5 inquiries from young nonprofit professionals who want to start chapters.

The YNPN Best Practices are available on the YNPN website.

YNPN operates on a $40,000 - $45,000 annual budget, and we need to think about how we can build revenue to maintain current operations and ideally to grow.

What are some of the BIG Questions?

  • What impact do we want to have as a network?
  • What are the core operations that are most critical for chapters' and for the network's continued success?
  • What is the capacity needed to conduct those activities?
  • What is the best way to raise revenue to support those activities?

Regarding revenue generation, YNPN National is aggressively pursuing foundations and new funders; exploring sponsorship opportunities; beginning to consider phasing in chapter dues.  And YNPN National is asking for feedback to help identify untapped opportunities and feedback on what chapters consider critical and are willing to help support.

Regarding iModules, the platform was launged in spring/summer of 2008.  There are 19 chapters currently using iModules.  The platform offers significant capacity for automated communication, event registration, dues, and tracking member demographics.  The start-up has been time-consuming and challegning for chapters.  The platform is not intuitive and many chapters and not utilizing iModules' advanced capacities.

  • What do Chapters and National need from a technology prlatform?
  • Is iModules accomplishing this for us?
  • Wound another platform or system meet these goals better?
  • Does YNPN need a centralized technology platform?
  • If YNPN moves away from iModules, what would the short-and long-term repercussions be?

Today's sessions will delve into these issues.  NO DECISIONS will be made this weekend, but important conversations will happen.
"We did not want to pass up the opportunity to get your feedback in person." - Josh Solomon.

And YNPN definitely does not want to pass up the opportunity to get your feedback online either.  If you were unable to attend the conference this year and you have ideas, comments and feedback about any of these topics, please leave your comments here, start conversations with your local chapters and share your opinions with each other and YNPN National.

That Leadership Gap We Talk About

In 2006, a study surveyed numerous nonprofits with revenues greater than $250,000. In that study, the projected growth of the nonprofit sector and the need for new management suggested that the number of new managers needed to meet the need would require attracting 50% of all MBA graduates from every school in the country in the next 10 years. Over the next 10 years, the nonprofit sector will potentially need 640,000 new senior managers. Even if the sector begins consolidating and merging together, the survey still suggested that at least 330,000 new senior managers would still be needed.

Another study done in 2006 on Executive Director positions in nonprofits found that 75% of the Executive Directors surveyed were planning to leave their positions within the next 5 years (although they did plan to stay within the sector.) 70% said that they were planning to leave their organization at some point. Less than 1 in 3 had discussed succession planning with their Board.

There is a discussion that needs to be happening between those that are leading now and those that want to lead in the future. Here at the YNPN Annual Conference, it seemed that almost everyone is aware that these conversations are happening, but they are happening separately. Next generation leadership talks about it and so does the current leadership, but the conversations are not crossing between different generations.

Today, our keynote speaker, Robert Egger, suggested that our society does not recognize the incredible impact of the successes of the nonprofits. When we put people back to work, give young people better education, when we feed and house people, we are not only helping people, but we are helping society. The more people working, the better financial situation a community will be in. When people have food and housing, they can focus on their other needs. I am afraid that some of the nonprofit sector is making this same mistake. We are so focused on our own missions, that we are forgetting the impact that our fellow nonprofit organizations have on us. Nonprofits are afraid to invest in younger staff because the likelihood is that the younger staff person will leave. But better leadership in the nonprofit sector benefits the entire sector, not just a particular organization. Better education will ultimately equal a smaller need in employment, food and housing assistance. People that have jobs will be better equipped to afford taking care of their families. When one nonprofit is successful, we are all impacted in a positive way. Missions are important, but it may not be such a good idea to see ourselves as so separate from one another.

And of course, for young nonprofit professionals, we cannot always sit and wait. We must take control of our careers. If we aren't finding the professional development we need at our jobs, we might need to look for it elsewhere. Develop a personal brand. Join a board. Volunteer your skills and services. Go to conferences and learning seminars on your own time with your own money if you can. It can be done.

Of course, if the leadership gap projects are accurate, we will need both the next generation and the current generation of leadership to work together to ensure a viable and productive nonprofit sector for the future. Our communities will need one, and they deserve to have one.