YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

Be a Brand or Be a Mission

The recent article in the Wall Street Journal on small charities being forced by bigger ones to change their names, colors and other portions of their branding really disturbed me. So now we, compassionate servants of social missions, are colorists?

I do understand the need to have a strong identity, but if you are constantly suing the other charities and keeping them from their mission, something's horribly wrong.

Let's not forget that we are social missions and well-run, well-financed organizations. If you really think your organization is losing money and/or manpower, go back to the drawing board and find a brand that can't be duplicated. Consider a merger even, especially if both groups are fighting for the same cause.

For too long, charities and other nonprofit social mission entities have been caught up with being like for-profit, publicly-traded corporations.  Unlike shareholders that win if you maximize profit, you can lose your donors and stakeholders if they feel their money is being wasted or spent on overhead at the expense of the social mission.

Keeping that in mind, either re-write your mission such that it supports these type of brand defending activities or get back to funneling your money to the cause at hand.

What do you think? Is it ok to protect  your slogans, logos or other branding activities at the expense of yours (and other similar groups' ) core mission?

Board Development for your YNPN Board

With professional development events happening frequently it is easy to forget to provide development opportunities specifically for our chapter’s board members.  The type of development I am talking about here is the kind that helps your board run more effectively and efficiently.  Professional development that also provides board members with a richer YNPN experience.

Board development doesn’t have to take up a lot of time.  Here are a few easy ways you can provide your board development opportunities in 15 minutes of a board meeting.

Assign board members to each development slot - During every board meeting you can ask an individual member to lead a 15 minute development task.  This could include improving a board process, getting to know each other better, or helping board members learn more about their own leadership and work style.

Have dinner together - Something we started recently in Grand Rapids and I have heard other chapters around the country do too, is we have dinner together prior to every board meeting.  We start our meetings at 5:15 p.m. with 15 minutes to grab food and talk at the beginning of each meeting.  This not only helps us start on time, but allows for our members to get to know more about others’ lives outside of YNPN.

Start with congratulations and kudos - Ask board members to congratulate each other at the beginning of the meeting.  Give everyone a moment to acknowledge the good work their fellow board members are doing.  Not everyone has to give a kudos, but a few for hard work the month before can go a long way.

Allow board members to bring their work experience to meetings - Allow members to share tools, tips, educational events, etc they experience during their typical work day.  Everyone of us has something we could teach fellow board members about our work.  For example, if one of your board members works at the Humane Society, they could walk the board through a 15 minute educational session on feral cats.  On the other side, if one of your board members teaches seniors to work with word or helps individuals be more productive in their emails you can provide them an opportunity to give their fellow members some tips.

Have advisory board assess board processes - Many YNPNs have advisory boards they use to help improve their work in the community.  Another way to use the advisory board is to have them assess potential or already established board processes. If they look at one process a quarter these can be discussed during board meetings.

None of these five things are rocket science, but all provide your board with a meaningful experience as a member of YNPN.  It is easy, as an all volunteer board, to get burnt out and mixing up some fun or otherwise educational experiences into our board meetings can help us to avoid a little bit of that.

Getting Our Money Right

The biggest challenge I’m facing in my chapter right now is finding a good and available finance director. The one I have is great, but has a lot of other activities in the community. I’ve had another express interest, but once again, he’s also very busy in the community.

In theory I could get along without having a finance director. Most of our events are at places where we reserve the space for free and people willingly buy their own food and drinks. However, for couple of our events, we did a 50-50 split where we put some money to our catering and other money to our organization.

As a result, I began the process of incorporation in the state of North Carolina. Incorporation was necessary so we could cash all the checks that we have and also start raising some money through PayPal. Also, our city requires all organizations, including nonprofits to have a business license and our foundations require 501c3 status or affiliation with one to grant money.

Another reason I’m working hard to get our finances together is that it’s imperative that we are able to continue to fund our sector. We may be non-profit driven, but official currency is the most popular means of exchanging goods and services. Our missions require us to make sacrifices to raise, spend and sometimes cut money.

We have organizations that compensate leaders at high levels, yet do hardly anything for their constituencies. Nick DiColandrea recently took a look at some of the sports related nonprofits in this vein. Other organizations do too much too soon and have to disband for lack of funds and support. Some go for years doing well, but due to dependence on one source of income, say a government grant or major benefactor, the loss of this source leads to their demise.

My next steps will be plotting an operations budget that’s sensible and in-line with what we can spend at this point. I also have a full board now and they will be getting out into the community and tapping into the grants and donors that exist to help fund our cause. I say grants and donors with an s because it takes more than one source of income to ensure long term financial stability. Along the way I’ll be upfront about who we are, why we’re here, what we do and why we need what we need.

So, YNPN family, how are you keeping your money right?

Young professionals serving on boards

Last month Allison Jones and Rosetta Thurman hosted #ynpchat on twitter.  The topic was "the importance of board service for young professionals". Allison posted a great summary of the discussion with some key take aways on her blog.  She makes some great points on how to approach your first board service.  Ask about a give/get policy; realize that fundraising is diverse; and consider volunteering first.

It seems a lot of the tweets and comments on Allison's post regarding young professionals serving on boards came back to what level of fundraising is, and maybe more importantly, "should", be expected.  Obviously this depends on the organization size, etc.  But what should young professionals expect when joining a board?  and what can you bring to the table?

First off, all boards aren't created equal.  I know this is a very obvious point, but young professionals shouldn't take it personal when they aren't asked to serve on a the board of a $10 million agency. 

At the end of the day, nonprofit boards need to raise money.  Young nonprofit professionals can bring a lot to the table, including fundraising, but you shouldn't think the other talents you bring offset the need to raise money.  We don't let attorney's strictly give through their time, because its valuable.

What nonprofit knowledge do you have?  Most board members, especially for smaller organizations may be doing this for the first time.  As a nonprofit pro, what knowledge of governance, etc. can you bring to the table?  Be the expert.

Don't approach board service from the perspective of "what can this do for my career". Sure, it can and will help your career, but don't approach your board service that way.

Find a place you can have a real impact.  3 years ago I joined the board of an organization in Kansas City, Nonprofit Connect.  We operate on about an $800k budget, so by no means big.  I have really enjoyed the experience so far and am looking forward to taking on more leadership soon.  There are many organizations in KC I may be able to get on the board, but for whatever reason, may not be able to get my hands dirty and really involved.  With Nonprofit Connect it has been the right fit.  I have learned a ton about working with other volunteers and working with staff as a volunteer.  It has given me a new perspective on my job at Big Brothers Big Sisters and I have been able to bring some board practices from BBBS over.  Especially while you are young in your career, and maybe have more free time, find a place to get your hands dirty.

Finally, you should join your local YNPN board...or if there isn't one, start one!

Read, Meet, Rock It

Leadership can be defined in many different ways.  Some think individuals aren’t leaders until they have spent a lot of time in their sector and have proved themselves.  Others believe people are born as leaders and being a leader is an instinct.  What ever your definition we can all agree that leaders know their stuff, can motivate and engage their followers to be successful, have a knack for gaining followers, and know how to be successful.

As you are thinking about your own development, don’t forget to read, meet new people, and always rock it.  As over simplified as these rules may be, they cover most leadership basics.


Reading new articles, research, and opinions of your work is important.  Leaders should always keep their ideas fresh and innovative.  Keeping up on your reading can give you an edge.  It is easy to forget to read and stick to tasks. Scheduling regular time during the week for reading is a good way to keep it up.

Meet new people

Networking is nothing new, but essential.  It is easy to slip into a comfort zone of gathering in your normal group at events.  Step out and meet someone new at every event.  Knowing the right person can get you further than anything else.

Always rock it

We learn as children it’s better to try your hardest and fail, than to never try at all.  As a leader you should take on every task with vigor and confidence.  If the tasks succeed your success will feel more exciting.  If you fail, you will have a better chance to learn from your mistakes.  Most importantly if you don’t run head first into the unknown you might miss out on great opportunities.  Strong leaders know when to take risks, and always rock it.

Reading, networking and rocking are simple rules, but easy to remember.  Stick to these three rules in parallel with your hard work and you won’t regret.

Are there other rules you use when leading?  Are their tricks you have to leading well?  Share and discuss what works for you.

Collaboration Too Soon?

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on my own blog asking if it was possible to have too much of a good thing. I was referencing to the ever expanding number of nonprofits and charities and the need for them to come together to make a bigger impact. Collaboration is definitely going to be a huge part of the future for the nonprofit sector, as it should be. And, of course, this will be a good thing for Gen Y. We love collaboration, and we’re good at it.
Nevertheless, I feel that I have been slowly seeing an over eagerness in my fellow Gen Y’ers when it comes to collaboration. It is important to make sure that you have a program or mission that is worth collaborating with before seeking partnerships and connections. We have to be willing to do the hard work, to get our hands dirty if you will. We can’t achieve results by just ‘collaborating for collaborating’s sake.” We need to make sure that we are actually doing and not just talking. There is value in the good ol’ fashioned way of having something to show for yourself before you ask others for support and approval. If two organizations that are doing good things come together, even more good things will be done through their work together. At the same time, if two organizations that aren’t really doing anything come together, not much will come from a partnership between the two. Collaboration is powerful when it is strategic, but like anything else if it is done poorly and prematurely, there won’t be any worthwhile results.
Young people love starting new initiatives, new programs, new networking and/or social groups. Being a co-founder of YNPN Detroit, I hear so many great ideas and visions. However, I think it is very important for us, as ‘young’ nonprofit professionals (I use quotations around the word ‘young’ because, really, these ideas are for everyone) not to skip the grassroots hard work of starting something before running to get partners. As a new chapter, our resources are limited. Resources will, of course, increase gradually in time, but until then, it is important that we are strategic about where those resources are being utilized. We need to make sure we are doing and not just talking.
To my fellow Gen Y Nonprofit Professionals, if you are working on a new initiative, a new program, a new group, etc…Stop and think to yourself: Why should such-and-such organization partner with us? What have we done to suggest that a partnership with us is worth their time? Also, stop and ask yourself: Are we spending more time talking about partnerships than we are actually doing anything?

We don’t want to create a sector of talkers instead of doers. Not to mention, if we want to gain the respect of the other generations that have already been working in the nonprofit sector, we have to make sure that we appear ready to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. We are a generation of idealists, positive thinkers, and motivated learners. These are all good things. Let them be our strength, and not our downfall!

Taking Your Chapter to the Next Level

Congratulations, you and some of your nonprofit friends have decided to start a chapter of YNPN. You made it through your first event, built a decent-sized web presence and have lots of support. What’s next? How do you know when it’s time to take the next step? Should your chapter step back?

Speaking from experience, when you are ready to go to the next level:

  • People gladly come to your events
  • People routinely offer to pay for membership
  • You have the backing of major nonprofit leaders
  • You have a core leadership team
  • Private and Public sector organizations, including the media are paying attention

What does that next level look like?  First, take a look at the YNPN chapter levels on the website. You may or may not fit through all the loops, but if you fit through a lot, then you’ve emerged into either a novice or affiliate chapter.

In addition, take a look around at other professional associations and nonprofits in the area that are well run. Those organizations are your best barometer of how the nonprofit sector in your city functions and also what types of events, fundraisers and information your community needs. They are also your sponsors, mentors and friends as you establish yourself in the community.

Finally, make sure that you have these things in order:

  • Determine your legal structure. Decide if you are going to be a division of your local Jaycee, United Way, or other nonprofit organization or if you will pursue an independent 501c3 or LLC.
  • Incorporate and maintain proper licenses to operate and manage money in your jurisdiction.
  • If one exists, join your local nonprofit consortium or advisory group.
  • Support  other young professional, nonprofit and professional groups
  • Be transparent about all leadership decisions, as well as bylaws and policies.

Last but not least, have fun! Being apart of the YNPN family has brought me many benefits and I hope it does the same for you.

YNPNdc members speaking about opportunities

Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy shared this video from the YNPNdc conference.  They interviewed participants about professional development opportunities and engaging young professionals.

"Members of the Washington chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, say opportunities are expanding, but they also have concerns about their futures in the nonprofit world. Low pay, long hours, and a lack of upward mobility were among the issues viewed as setbacks.

Some participants discussed the hierarchy that exists within nonprofit groups, noting that many organizations value their ideas but are not incorporating young people into leadership roles.

Others say charities need to go beyond simply recruiting young talent and make an effort to find out the career aspirations of young professionals."

Great to see the voices of young professionals being shared in this way.  Congrats to YNPNdc on a great conference and this feature.

Nominate a young, transformative leader for the American Express NGen Leadership Award!

Nominations are now being accepted for the inaugural American Express NGen Leadership Award. This award will honor one under-40 nonprofit professional who has had a transformative impact on addressing society’s critical needs.

All nominees must be under-40, work for a U.S.-based nonprofit or non-governmental organization, and have had a transformative, measurable impact within their field, beyond his or her organization. The winner of the American Express NGen Leadership Award will be announced in late August, and will be recognized during the IS Annual Conference in Atlanta, October 20-22.  Nominations will be accepted through Monday, June 14. Self-nomination is not admissible for this award.

Visit the IS website for more information on the award criteria, the selection process, and the nomination requirements.

This award extends Independent Sector’s commitment to encouraging emerging leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic community.  All under-40 nonprofit professionals are invited to join IS for the NGen Program at the IS Annual Conference in Atlanta this October, which will offer expanded programming and networking opportunities for emerging leaders. Visit the IS website to learn more about how you can register for NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now.

The More We Get Together...

... the happier we'll be, right?  Because then your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends.  Isn't that how the old tune goes?

In theory, word and deed, I support partnerships and collaborations; however, somewhere deep in my heart or in the very back of my mind, there is something that keeps me from drinking the cooperative Kool-Aid.  I am not sure what it is, and I am certain I cannot be the only person who feels that way.

A story of an interesting and seemingly successful "coming together" in Columbus, Ohio has forced me to re-examine my position on sharing, which is really at the heart of partnerships and collaboration - sharing and trust.

The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts is an arts management organization that handles the back office operations for many arts organizations in the area.  Its roster of clients is impressive, including the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which is an artistic leader and had been a managerial nightmare.  The recession hit the Orchestra particularly hard.  Outsourcing its ticketing operations, fundraising and marketing to CAPA saved the Columbus Symphony Orchestra approximately $750,000.  It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, does it not?  CAPA gets a happy client and the Orchestra saves money and can invest its energy into its mission - "to share great music with over a quarter million people in central Ohio through concerts, radio broadcasts, and special programming."

The story of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and CAPA might inspire other nonprofit organizations to consider sharing and partnering, especially given the current economic climate.  In fact, I used to be shared staff of two youth services organizations that shared office space, technological support and a few administrative positions, including mine.

Especially when it comes to something like "back office" expenses, the cost for a business (or other nonprofit organization) to do bookkeeping, marketing, advertising, graphic design and payroll for a number of organizations versus the cost for each organization to do it individually speaks for itself.  For example, when public relations professional and CAPA employee Terrence Womble purchases ad space for his clients, he does so in bulk, getting a better rate.

In New York, I stumbled upon a great opportunity for area nonprofits to decrease their administrative costs with regard to direct mail, data and fulfillment -  Back Office New York, an affiliate of The Doe Fund.  If a nonprofit is struggling to fund its programs and can barely put the money together to send out an appeal, perhaps Back Office New York (another nonprofit) could help, and by using their services, more people are positively impacted than originally planned.

Across the country there are nonprofit incubator systems, spaces where nonprofits are located together to cut costs, and other methods for sharing, collaborating and partnering.   In recent years, I have even seen organizations come together more often for events.  For example an AIDS research benefit held at a museum would help both the research organization and the museum.  The invite lists are merged, the red carpet is rolled out, the auction is expanded and the dancing goes until dawn!

The case for partnership is strong.  We all know (and have said) the mantras: "Together Each Achieves More", "Teamwork makes the dream work" and so on and so forth.  Even funders collaborate and encourage their grantees to do so as well.  Partnership is not only efficient, it is also effective.

So why do I still hesitate?  What is it about playing in the sandbox that makes me wonder if it's not really a sand trap?... Any other reluctant collaborators out there?

I do believe that partnerships are an integral ingredient to the recipe for success for the sector.  I am just a bit skeptical of all the hands reaching out because they are attached to bodies that hold minds that come with their own agendas, and that can get tricky - in nonprofits, in families, in communities and in any other areas where interpersonal relations exist.  However, I suppose the good outweighs the bad.  Right?

What's that visualization about the difference between Heaven and Hell?  That in Heaven and Hell people are sitting a banquet and everyone has these enormously long utensils.  It's the same menu and same utensil length in Heaven as it is in Hell.  The difference is that in Heaven, people feed each other while in Hell people grow frustrated with their hunger because they are only concerned with feeding themselves, an impossible feat given the resources.

I guess the more practice we get on helping one another now the better.