YNPN Blog: Resources, People, Ideas

The New Chapter OS: Supporting a Growing Network

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  • 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.  


From Play-Doh to Building Blocks: Supporting a Growing Network

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.

Network to Know: FoodCorps


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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 tiffany.mcclain@foodcorps.org. You can also find them online at their: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram.

Hiring for Culture Fit: When was the last time you examined your culture for myths?

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, Board Development Committee ChairKate Capossela, Board Development Committee Chair

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

Embracing Change Leadership

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.

VanessaHeadShotVanessa 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.

Happy New Year!

How can YNPN help with your resolutions?

12 Days of YNPN: Looking Ahead to Little Rock

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

12 Days of YNPN: Happy Birthday, Local Chapters!


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.



Today we want to celebrate the “birthdays” of our local chapters and recognize them for their longevity.

17 Years


YNPNsfba, the chapter that started it all


13 Years

YNPN Chicago


12 Years

 YNPN Denver, YNPN Los Angeles, and YNPN NYC


11 Years


9 Years

YNPN Orlando

8 Years

YNPN Twin Cities,YNPN Austin, YNPN Boston, YNPN Grand Rapids, YNPN Milwaukee, and YNPN Kansas City.

6 Years
YNPN Phoenix and YNPN San Diego

YNPN Triangle NC, YNPN Cincinnati, YNPN Detroit, YNPN Central New Mexico, YNPN Cleveland, YNPN Pittsburgh, and YNPN St. Louis

4 Years

YNPN Kalamazoo, YNPN Little Rock, andYNPN Southern Nevada.


3 Years

YNPN Indianapolis and YNPN Atlanta

1 Year

Greater Buffalo, YNPN Richmond, VA, YNPN Des Moines, YNPN Baltimore, YNPN Portland, YNPN Greater Seattle, YNPN Madison.

Congratulations to all of our local chapters on your years of service working to strengthen and connect the nonprofit sector in your city!

12 Days of YNPN: Local Chapter Service Projects

By building strong networks of young nonprofit professionals, we hope to build even stronger communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in the results of the many Local Chapter Service Projects our members did this year. We loved hearing about how YNPNers are giving back to their communities and affecting positive change.

The Millennial Impact Report taught us that more millennials than ever look forward to group days of service. If your local chapter hasn't planned a service project for 2015 yet, it's never too late to start brainstorming! Here are just a few of the awesome examples of service projects we saw from our YNPN local chapters.

YNPN Austin has hosted a neighborhood litter clean up volunteer opportunity for members for the past four years. YNPN Chapter President Sarah Forbes wrote: "Members meet at a local cafe/bar, have a drink, then pick up trash in the neighborhood in partnership with local nonprofit org Keep Austin Beautiful. We make our way, cleaning up trash, to another restaurant/bar where we give out a prize to the member who cleaned up the "weirdest" piece of trash. The local bars provide us with drink discounts and we're working on ways to get the community more involved. The event is held during an art studio tour weekend called EAST so there are many people out and about, stopping to chat with us - it's a fun time to be providing a service like this. The drinking is optional of course!"

We love this tradition, and YNPN Austin has thought of some great ways to build relationships with local community and raise visibility.
YNPN San Diego hosted a blanket-making party. They supported a local organization, You Are Not Alone (YANA), by tying fleece blankets for comfort care packages for people living with cancer. You Are Not Alone (YANA) sends care packages all over the US to bring comfort, love, encouragement and warmth to people living with cancer, particularly while they are going through treatment.

Did your chapter host a service event this year?

We'd love to hear about it!

12 Days of YNPN: Thank You, Funders

Each year YNPN supports the growth and learning of over 50,000 young professionals across the country. Our work, like many other nonprofit organizations, is made possible thanks to our funding partners whose contributions help to advance our efforts to create a more diverse and powerful sector.

This year we began working with two new funding partners: the Kresge Foundation & the Whitman Institute. We are so excited to begin our partnerships with Kresge and Whitman and to welcome them to the YNPN movement. We also deepened our relationships with the American Express Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, two long-term supporters of YNPN, and maintained close relationship with more recent additions to our list of supporters, Newman's Own Foundation, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Crosswicks Foundation.

twi_logo_lg kresge-logo-stacked-white AECF_Logo_Stacked_2-4 american_express Newmans_Own_Foundation_Logo_Large packard-stacked-logo-green-PMS-3305
To celebrate YNPN’s tenth anniversary, we launched an online fundraising campaign earlier this year. We are so thankful to all of our alumni, members, and friends who supported the campaign and helped us more than double our goal. The campaign and other outreach helped us increase the number of individual donors to YNPN to complement our foundation support.

As we reflect on 2014, we are so thankful for all of our funding partners. We appreciate the resources their support provides and we are honored by their commitment to helping advance our efforts to support the development of the next generation of leaders and the YNPN movement. Thank you all for believing in YNPN!