YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

On Friday, I Had Intergenerational Dialogue For Breakfast

This is a guest post from Elisa Ortiz from Smart Growth America.  She blogs at www.elisamortiz.wordpress.com.

I headed to the YNPN DC 2010 conference early on Friday morning to learn and network with other nonprofit professionals. I also joined the social media team at the conference and live-tweeted the conference along with several other fabulous YNPs. In the next couple of days I’ll be sharing some of my notes and impressions from the meeting. If you want to check out the minute by minute commentary from Friday, check out the Twitter stream at #YNPNdc10.

The kick off session was an intergenerational dialogue breakfast facilitated by Rosetta Thurman and Alan Abramson. Below are some of my notes from the session.

Brad Sciber from National Geographic, who was a founding board member of YNPN DC, introduced the session and talked about how he had to teach his parents about nonprofits when he decided to join the sector. He explained that academia wasn’t a fit, business for business sake didn’t move him and he didn’t want to be a government worker; he wanted to do something that mattered and make the world a better place.

Brad now has a young son who has the option to do something that matters throughout his life; but how is Brad supposed to explain that to him? Here’s how he going to do it: by sharing the story “Stone Soup.” The synopsis: Some strangers come to town but no one in town wants to share the food with the strangers. So, the strangers decide to start a pot of soup boiling in the middle of town with 3 stones and they talk up how good it will be. They note that the soup would be better with an onion, but that even without it the soup will still be good. After hearing that, someone contributes an onion to the soup – after all, an onion isn’t a big deal. The strangers then say that the soup would be so much better with a carrot, so someone contributes a carrot. This continues on until eventually they have a delicious soup that everyone in the town has contributed to and can share. This is a great metaphor for the nonprofit sector: we all put in our little bit to make the ‘soup’ wonderful; and if we didn’t have that gathering pot of soup we’d all just be a bunch of people with random veggies.

This is how YNPN DC has grown in the past 6 years: more and more people have contributed and now there are many more events, more opportunities for professional development, far more members, and a stronger voice.

Rosetta kicked off the session by sharing some statistics and loose definitions of the various generations represented in the workplace, including the silent generation (born 1925-1945), baby boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (65 – 79), Gen Y (80-2000). (For more on the stats and reports that detail a generational shift in nonprofits, check out Ready to Lead: Next Generation Leaders Speak Out and YNPN’s report on leadership development and career progression in the nonprofit sector, Stepping Up or Stepping Out [PDF].)
She then asked some questions of the group that we responded to at our individual tables.

  • What do you wish people knew about your generation?
  • From baby boomers – we have a sense that government can be a positive force and it has shaped our lives; the power of popular movements and public service to do good is hugely important; a lot of us had a sense of working hard, paying dues, and working your way up in the workplace that we were taught from an early age; some key cultural touchstones: men born after 1954 knew (and still know) their draft numbers by heart and in the workplace most people smoked all day everyday – those are thing that young people have never experienced.
  • From Gen X – AIDS was a huge economic and health impact on our lives; we feel like Gen Y doesn’t recognize the need to pay their dues; we as Gen X-ers are more willing to pay our dues and we empathize with the baby boomers in that respect
  • From Gen Y – even though the media wants to label the newest crop of college graduates the ‘lost’ generation due to a poor economy and a lack of jobs that keep us living at home, Gen Y-ers are actually very entrepreneurial, we are starting our own businesses and making things happen; we are more willing to take risks, but in a way that can allow great change to happen and new social norms to be created
  • How do we move the ‘next’ generation of leaders into the ‘now’ generation of leaders? What can we do on the individual, organization and regional (DC metro) level?
  • Individually
    • Start with trust in one another instead of waiting to earn that trust
    • Especially for Gen Y-ers: let your boss know that you will stay at an organization if you are cultivated and appreciated
    • Gen X can seek out and help develop younger leaders
    • Go to your supervisor and ask them what they know; this credits them for their knowledge and you also get professionally development
  • Organizationally
    • Be more transparent on salaries, benefits, etc. so that we understand where each other are coming from re: money and that pressure
    • Organizations should keep a list of professional development opportunities or maintain connections with other organizations that do have that information
    • Organizations should start and maintain a policy of supporting professional development in all employees
    • Sessions conducted by employees for other employees on different knowledge areas
  • Regionally
    • External mentoring with other organizations
    • Strengthen the nonprofit community in DC by participating in groups like YNPN

The session was a great chance for each of us to learn from other generations and start (or continue) a dialog that needs to happen in our workplaces, schools and homes. The workplace is ever changing and if we’re going to be successful within it, we need to be flexible and work together whether we’re moving up or moving out.

Working with Other Young Professional Groups

As we have worked to build our chapter in the Triad area of North Carolina (Greensboro, Winston-Salem and the surrounding communities), one thing we have not fallen short of is finding organizations to help us with our initiatives. Our challenge though is setting ourselves apart among these other young professional groups. We have at least three major active groups and all  are helping promote the YNPN chapter.

Yet, due to a small number of active young professionals as a whole, many of our target group is already over-involved and/or may be jaded by the older groups. We are battling misconceptions of  being an initiative of  one group and another "lets go volunteer and do good things" group.  People are also wondering why we need another young professionals group, based in part on those misconceptions. Another person told me of a failed attempt at a Triad YNPN chapter.

Yet, we are overcoming these issues. Here are ways we  are building our chapter around those challenges:

  • Speaking clearly about the YNPN mission and history: We emphasize that our group is a professional development and support group for young professionals who are paid employees and/or full-time volunteers for nonprofit organizations. We also mention our group is national and the other, bigger, cities it's been established in. People are then excited about their own network geared to them and also being a part of something that's national.
  • Working with, not competing with, other young professional groups: If it were not for other professional organizations and the young professional groups, we would not have the traction and support we have right now. Also, it would probably be  a membership of just me. Be clear that your YNPN chapter is a complement to other young professional groups and be open to co-sponsoring events and spreading the word about their initiatives. Also, it's worth noting to these organizations that as nonprofits, this is their professional organization. Be nice, be respectful and work to not step on their toes as well.
  • Establishing clear communication channels: While YNPN National provides us with  iModules for communication, it takes a while to get it set up properly. The young pros in our area kept asking us about our website, Facebook presence and email site, as well as being added to our listserv. We went ahead and established a Gmail account,a Twitter feed, a WordPress page and a Facebook group, which I just upgraded to an actual fan page. I try to communicate as much as possible through one of those channels, so we don't fade in the background.

So fellow emerging and novice chapters, are you experiencing similar challenges? Affiliates and older novice chapters, what  are some success stories you can share?

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?