The YNPN National Board recently gathered in New York to spend a few days thinking big and going deep on our vision for the network. In this post, board member Kim Walker discusses insights from the retreat on YNPN's diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy.
How do you create success? Not revenue or profits - the success that we crave as nonprofit leaders. The success that means we've solved a problem, improved lives, created a better world?
Fortunately, I've gotten to work on a social issue on which we've made significant progress: homelessness. Despite the recession and rising housing costs, homelessness is decreasing: there were 11% fewer homeless people in 2014 than there were in 2007 (more data here). Here's what I've learned about success from my day job:
1. You need big goals. The federal government has set a timeline for ending - that's right, ending - homelessness, which you can read more about here. And you know what? It's working (see above).
2. You need good partners. Much of the progress we've made on homelessness can be credited to partnerships and new collaborations between Administration staff, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the other agencies that participate in the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH).
3. You need to create the right environment. The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, passed in 2009, requires communities to adopt proven best practices in ending homelessness, and also shifted the field away from focusing on activities to measuring our progress using data and outcomes.
4. You need to measure your performance. See above. Outcomes! Data! Way important. Homelessness providers use a Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) to keep track of their progress, and they report that data to HUD and to Congress each year, who holds them accountable for it.
5. You need to be open to change. As a current student of organization development and a consultant, I love change. But whether you love it or not, it's going to happen. Success means that you can embrace it, roll with it, and respect it. In homelessness that means being willing to adapt new evidence-base practices, work with new partners, and collect data in new ways.
1. A big goal: to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable YNPN and social sector. No big, right? Everyone already loves diversity, of all kinds; understands what these concepts mean; believes in inclusivity; and is working toward equity.Well...no, unfortunately not. But that's why this is such a great BHAG (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) - because we're not there yet. But we know that we can be.
Kim Walker is a devoted non-profiteer currently living in Ann Arbor, MI. In her professional life, she serves as a Senior Program Manager at CSH, a national non-profit organization devoted to housing society’s most vulnerable individuals, including people experiencing homelessness. Kim’s expertise lies in providing training and technical assistance on best practices related to ending homelessness and developing excellent supportive housing to communities across the country. Prior to her work at CSH, she served in a similar role at the National Alliance to End Homelessness for four years. She also served as an AmeriCorps member in Philadelphia. She received her Master’s of Urban Planning from UCLA in 2009 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in Organization Development at Bowling Green State University. She’s a proud alum of the College of William & Mary and a native of the amazing Cleveland, OH.
Warm Memory, view from inside 36' x 11' x 21' 40,000 linear feet of string, aluminum conduit & hardware *photo by Justin Vaughn Photography
Amie Sell, a Chicago-based artist whom I got to know through our work advocating for affordable housing in our Chicago neighborhood, recently held an art show where she constructed an installation made of 40,000 linear feet of string to "create an experience for the audience that allows them to feel the community networks and connections that anchor individuals to a neighborhood."
Thinking about the different networks that I am part of, I marveled at the structure, seeing visible ties and knots represent what usually is invisible. I think about all the different work I've been doing, and how my connections are strengthened through the work I've done with other people.Read more
When last we left you, dear readers, YNPN had achieved a critical understanding of who we were culturally but were struggling with how to manage our explosive growth. We knew we needed greater cohesion across the network, but the models that were recommended to us seemed to rely on creating cohesion by force instead of by choice.
In late 2013 and early 2014, we underwent a Theory of Change process that helped open our eyes to this false dichotomy. We learned through that process that there is already an incredible amount of cohesion throughout our network. As a network, we share a common vision, mission, and values. We even had a remarkably clear sense of the roles chapters should play versus the national organization.
What the process also revealed was that we lacked the basic infrastructure to be able to work collectively within our roles towards our shared vision, and that whatever that infrastructure would be, it would have to be incredibly dynamic.
So this year, we went back to the drawing board with this question in mind of how you harness the power of an incredibly dynamic network without killing it. Before we actually started referring to the plan as this officially, I was calling it “the Chapter Operating System” in my head for two reasons:
- First, like OS X or Windows, we knew that what we were looking to build a platform, not a program. We wanted a base that chapters could use to create what worked for them locally not a distribution channel for a single set of ideas.
- Second, we knew that what we were rolling out was the 1.0 version of whatever our ongoing relationship with chapters would be. We knew that we would need to openly embrace the fact that our system would have bugs that would need to be fixed. And we also knew that this iterative process would leave room to shift and adapt as new opportunities (aka features) came up.
So what does it look like?
Like any good operating system, it focuses on providing the very basics that our chapters and chapter leaders need in order to thrive, and leaves the rest open for chapters to build on their own. Our core components:
- Clear affiliation structure - With the support of National, chapters acquire their own tax status and affiliate formally with the network via a clear, Chapter/National-developed agreement which lays out shared standards and expectations for the relationship.
- Upgraded direct services for chapters - By focusing on peer learning platforms and by providing key infrastructure, our goal at the National level is to show our value to the network by building capacity for chapters to be able to do for themselves. In addition to building capacity we will leverage our numbers to bring critical direct benefits to chapters at a better rate such as D&O and liability insurance.
- Shared platform - We chose NationBuilder because it is a fully integrated platform (website, communications, events, and donor management) that will also allow us to gather and compare data across our growing network.
- Shared membership and investment - Our structure has always been that members join individual chapters directly. Knowing though that we want our members to have access to the fullest network benefits and connection to the nationwide movement in addition to their local benefits, we’re moving to joint national/local membership so we can leverage our members across the network for advocacy, research, and momentum for change. And all of this will be supported in part by a nominal chapter investment in the national network.
A few elements, we believe, point to the inevitable success of the Chapter OS:
- We found a system that matches our dynamism and serves as an organizing tool, not just a database. Hooray for NationBuilder!
- Most importantly, as we’ve mapped out this system, we’ve chosen to focus A LOT of our time and energy on creating a vision for what’s possible and only a little bit of energy building systems that keep chapters from going rogue. That’s how big of a bet we’re making on building a new kind of network that makes it clear that we’re better together.
"What does this mean for you?" Realistically, most of this will be happening behind the scenes--just like an operating system updates, you don't see the changes that happen in the background. And to continue the OS metaphor, there may be a few bugs. No grand endeavour comes out perfect the first time around.
What you will see is a national membership program, increased programs and services for members, and a stronger network that can change the sector for the better.
Over the last three years, the number of chapters in the YNPN network has grown by 60 percent. This exponential growth at a time when most membership organizations are in decline tells us that there's something special about YNPN. As we work to support this incredible growth, our National Director Trish Tchume did some thinking about what exactly makes YNPN so unique.
Last year as part of a grant proposal, I was put in the position of having to put into words for the first time not only what made YNPN unique in general, but specifically what made YNPN different from other membership associations. I knew what it was. When you talked to our chapters leaders, they knew what it was. But putting it into words was still difficult.
After a few days of mulling it over, I finally found the words to capture the essence of what makes our network unique:
Unlike the traditional “association” model where bringing a chapter to your community is essentially like opening a franchise that would look and operate the same whether it was in Boston or Little Rock, YNPN is an intentionally creative space for developing and connecting the next generation of social change leaders. We like to think of our network-building model as the equivalent of offering a pile of blocks, a lump of Playdoh, pipecleaners, and pickup sticks to the most expansive, young minds in the country.
Then we leave them with the very basic instructions that they should build something with it that awakens a diverse cross-section of young people to their potential to create change in their communities, provides them with the skills and experiences they need to meet that potential, and allows them to build connections across differences.
I remember feeling so satisfied after writing that last paragraph, like I’d actually figured out a way to communicate to the rest of the world what all of us involved in the network knew. It was magic.
Magic felt like this.
YNPN doesn’t work in spite of our open structure, it works because of our open structure.
We had named the secret sauce and it was good. But the self-satisfaction wore off pretty quickly after that because a looming question remained:
So how do you harness the power of something so open without killing it?
This is the struggle that has plagued YNPN almost since the earliest days of its national charter 10 years ago. I’ll be the first to admit, we’ve gotten the answer to this question wrong a few times. There was the brief period in the mid to late 2000s when we thought 30-page legal agreements were the way to build cohesion. Or the time we thought a really expensive, super-technical online membership platform would bring us all together. And of course there’s the decade-old belief that the only way for us to do anything as a network was if we had a shared 501(c)(3).
Although we were a forward-facing, intentionally creative space in all other ways, our first instinct was to adopt familiar structures instead of seeking out new models that might better fit our organizational culture.
So what did we decide to do? You’ll have to wait for Part 2 of this blog post to find out.
To help our members find opportunities to more strategically network, we’ll occasionally be featuring organizations that we think are doing interesting work that would be of interest to YNPN members. This week, we're introducing you to FoodCorps, which works within local communities to connect kids to healthy food in schools.
We spoke with Tiffany McClain, FoodCorps Recruitment Manager, to learn a bit more about their mission and ways YNPN members can connect and collaborate.
You were founded in 2011. Can you tell us a bit more about the mission of your organization, and how you achieve that?
Together with communities, FoodCorps serves to connect kids to healthy food in school. We are a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. Through our partnership with AmeriCorps, we recruit, train and place emerging leaders into limited-resource schools for a year of service implementing our three-ingredient recipe for healthy kids. During their year of service, members engage in the community and advance our mission by providing:
- Knowledge: food and nutrition education that gives kids the information they need to make smart choices
- Engagement: hands-on activities like gardening and cooking that foster skills and pride around healthy food
- Access: lunch trays filled with nutritious meals from local farms
In what ways do you see FoodCorps having a lasting, sustainable impact on the local communities you're working in?
As a result of the efforts and achievements of our service members, many schools and nonprofits are recognizing the value of having a full-time school garden coordinator or educator on staff and are securing funding to fill those roles, often hiring our alums!
What energizes individuals to participate with FoodCorps, and why might others seek to connect with you?
- We are planting seeds that will bloom a healthier generation of children who know what healthy food is, how it grows, how to prepare it, and have access to it every day.
- We are building an impressive national network of emerging professionals who have a passion for food, farming public health, nutrition, and education, tied together by their desire to improve the food chain.
- We eat really good food! (good for you, the environment, and your taste buds!)
Alright, we're sold -- we love good food too! How can YNPN members who are interested further get involved with FoodCorps? What are some ways we might collaborate and help more kids get access to healthy food in schools?
A local YNPN chapter might be interested in hearing about farm-to-school/food systems/food justice work from our allies via presentation at a chapter meeting.
YNPN could connect with our alums or outgoing service members in a particular region as a resource for expanding their professional networks post-FoodCorps.
To learn more about FoodCorps and potential collaborations, please contact Tiffany McClain at email@example.com. You can also find them online at their: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram.
When it comes to hiring new board members, everyone wants the right people on the team. Dozens of resources focus on how to probe a candidate’s qualifications as well as their willingness to make the time commitment. Yet cultural fit often remains a mystery.
Earlier this month, YNPN National began onboarding eight new and talented Board members. Every year we work to improve our board recruitment, onboarding, and engagement. We want the right people on the team, which means we focus on qualifications, motivation, and cultural fit. We talk about our culture openly in our outreach, interviews, and calibration process.
Culture has become a bit of a buzzword lately. The idea of “cultural fit” became popular during the development of organizational psychology in the 1970s, but many myths about organizational culture remain.
As we kick off 2015, let’s take some time to examine a few of the most common myths around hiring board members for cultural fit and how YNPN approaches board culture.
Myth 1: Your mission statement defines your culture.
Mission, values, and vision statements can mirror culture, but organizational culture is based on shared attitudes, unwritten rules, and even traditions developed over time.
At YNPN, we talk consistently and formally about our board’s culture during every board meeting and informally through our internal communications. We talk openly about the behaviors we believe in, model, and articulate externally.
During the recruitment process, we look for leaders who successfully develop collaborative remote relationships, who listen thoughtfully during strategic conversations, and who stay flexible and resilient when uncertainty exists. And we ask directly about these behaviors in our recruiting outreach, interviews, reference conversations, and our candidate calibration. But we also look for endurance, which brings us to our next myth.
Myth 2: Urgency trumps everything.
Many of us have worked in cultures where “bias to action” was encouraged at all costs. Yet often that leads to reactive tactics fueled by adrenaline and shortcuts. The conventional wisdom about interview questions encourages us to ask candidates about working under pressure, making quick decisions, and re-prioritizing goals on the fly.
We see things differently at YNPN. We want someone to articulate a passion for our mission that translates into a strategic sense of urgency. In addition to urgency, expanding our national movement requires endurance. Endurance is inconvenient when you’re focused on short-term goals and quick turnaround, but a strategic sense of urgency for our mission that prizes being around for the long haul is what will sustain us through the ever-changing challenges we face.
Myth 3: Teammates who fit will hit the ground running.
In many industries and organizations, leaders prioritize “hiring for fit” so that new employees immediately impact short-term financial results. Investing in anything but a short onboarding is seen as low ROI. I often hear from managers who argue that when you hire for fit, you can speed through onboarding and move to revenue generation.
And as on any strong board, YNPN National Board members are responsible for growing revenue and supporting financial sustainability. Rather than speed through onboarding, we are intentional about our new board members’ First 90 Days. We create space for new relationships to form, both with peers and with Board leadership, and for the content and format of each new board member’s engagement to take shape. We believe that this is how we’ll maximize the value of each board member’s unique contributions.
Myth 4: Ask a candidate about her idea of an ideal culture.
“Describe the working environment that enables you to work at your best,” is a commonly recommended question to probe for culture fit. The thinking is that people who describe something similar to your existing way of working are a good cultural fit. But evaluating candidates in this way can lead you to select people who might not be able to bring fresh perspectives that will help keep your culture healthy.
At YNPN we’d rather hear about what stops you from performing at your best, or what teammates can do to hold you accountable when you’re feeling overwhelmed. A successful culture can encourage people to work together across differences in preference and style. Which brings us to our final myth...
Myth 5: Board culture is one-size-fits all.
We aim to tell board applicants who we are and what it’s honestly like to work alongside us, but we must balance fresh perspectives with existing board culture.
Why? Because we look for people whose primary motive is to advance our mission and sometimes that requires changing and adapting. Great leaders are learners and listeners, and as we strive to lead this crucial national movement, we surely have many more organizational myths to bust along the way.
What are some myths (and truths) about organizational culture that you’ve seen?
Kate Capossela, MBA serves on the YNPN National Board, where she leads the Board Development Committee, which oversees several board functions, including recruitment. She is a passionate advocate for strengthening nonprofit management, especially talent development, and she has served in leadership roles at national nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and the private sector. She lives in San Francisco.
If you're interested in exploring organizational culture further, Kate recommends The Psychology of Behavior at Work
With the start of a new year, everyone's talking about "change." Individuals set personal resolutions for change, and many organizations start applying change with new strategic plans, goals, and even new hires. As a leader, how you react to change is a key component of any long-term project or organization success. Below, YNPN Birmingham Board Chair Vanessa Stevens shares key tools and lessons she learned through participation in the AmEx Leadership Series about embracing change leadership.
As young nonprofit professionals, we face many changes at the beginning of our careers. We may move for a new job, decide to go to graduate school, or face organizational challenges like a new boss or a major new role within our organization. Often there is that bittersweet emotion with change--that energy and anticipation mixed with some hesitation and anxiety. As emerging leaders at our organizations and YNPN chapters, we must also continue to adapt to necessary changes to overcome the many challenges the nonprofit sector faces.
At the American Express Leadership Academy, I learned how important it is to understand one's own change style and what people need from a leader during change. All of the Academy participants completed an assessment called the Change Style Indicator that placed everyone along a spectrum from Conserver to Pragmatist to Originator. Each of these styles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. For example:
- A Conserver gets things done on schedule and respects the rules yet may be perceived as rigid, discouraging of innovation, and delaying action by overly reflecting.
- An Originator understands complex problems, provides future-oriented insights, and is risk-oriented, yet to others may appear impulsive and not understand how to actually get things done.
- A Pragmatist fall in the middle. They can organize ideas into action plans, build cooperation, and are flexible and adaptive. They may seem indecisive, compromising, and trying to please too many people.
Because of the different strengths and pitfalls of each change preference, it is valuable to build teams with individuals across the spectrum. Moreover, understanding one's own tendencies helps you appreciate what others bring to the table, adapt your style to what may be necessary for the particular decision at hand, and understand why you may be frustrating the Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator at your organization (or likewise why they may be frustrating you).
As leaders, we not only need to understand our own change style, but also what change is and how to lead change successfully. At the Academy, the trainers emphasized the distinction between change and transition. Change is the beginning of something new, and it is experienced externally whereas transition is the ending and letting go that we experience internally. It is important to remember that change begins with an ending. Many people may struggle with this ending by demonstrating signs of grief, such as anger, denial, and disorientation.
Leaders must guide others through the ending towards a point where they begin to gain clarity and accept and manage change. If a leader provides no vision, then others are confused. If people feel they lack the skills to adapt to the change, they experience anxiety. Similarly, if they feel they lack the resources, they will be frustrated. Through clear communication and composure, a leader can ensure that an organization has vision, skills, incentives, resources, and a plan for action to lead change. Whether you are leading a new chapter like YNPN Birmingham, or an established chapter facing critical points in your growth, decision-making and change are constant parts of your work. Take steps to increase your own self-awareness of what you experience internally when facing a decision or going through a change and what perception others may have of you. Likewise, pay closer attention to what others might experience as a result of your decision and ensure they have the necessary tools to adapt to the change. As we learn to embrace change leadership, we hopefully will see less conflict, more innovation, and increased effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out our work and meeting our missions.
Vanessa Stevens is the Community Engagement & Education Program Coordinator at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit dedicated to the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanic families. Previously, she was the Resource Development & Communications Director and an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is the Board President of the new YNPN chapter in Birmingham. Prior to moving to Birmingham, Vanessa studied International Relations at American University in Washington, DC.
2014 was a wonderful year for YNPN, and we thank you for walking down memory lane with us during the 12 Days of YNPN. We're excited for all that 2015 has in store for our members, including the 2015 Annual Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Here are three reasons you won't want to miss #ynpn15:
- A Nonprofit Center of the South. Little Rock has a vast and growing nonprofit sector as well as a world class nonprofit management program at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock.
- Wide Open Spaces. The conference will get you out of the hotel and get your moving through Little Rock. Experience the food, fun, and locales of a booming young professional city.
- Did we mention FOOD? Little Rock is filled with some of the greatest food you could ask for, and we can't wait to try it out. With over 550 choices for local cuisine, grab a YNPNer and network over something we all love -- FOOD.
If you're attending the conference, don't forget to use #ynpn15 on social media to connect with other attendees! See you there!
Earlier in our 12 Days of YNPN series, we celebrated adding three new chapters to the network in 2014. In the same year that we added so many new chapters, we also had many of our established chapters celebrate milestone anniversaries.
YNPNsfba, the chapter that started it all
Congratulations to all of our local chapters on your years of service working to strengthen and connect the nonprofit sector in your city!