YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

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.

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. :)