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!
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!
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.
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!
This year we celebrated our 10th anniversary as a network, and we can't wait to see what the next decade brings. To celebrate, we threw a huge campaign (#ynpn10), surpassed our fundraising goal (by double) and ate some cake!
Photographic proof that within every small child is a budding YNPN leader! Or at least we think so...
Check out our #ynpn10 campaign follow-up posts:
One of our major moments from 2014 was the hiring of our second and third staff members.
A bit of history: even though YNPN National was established in 2004, we didn't become a staffed organization until 2011 with the hiring of our National Director Trish Tchume. For two and a half years, Trish held down the fort, raising money to increase our capacity and leading the network through tremendous growth.
We are so excited to welcome Elana and Jamie to the team. Increasing our staff from one person to three people has opened up new possibilities for YNPN and set us up for major success and growth in 2015!
L to R: Jamie, Trish, and ELANA! (To answer your question: Yes. Yes she is rockin’ a Roots Christmas sweater)
People usually use the term “N of 1” to call themselves out when they know they’re making a gross generalization based on a small body of evidence.
“By the way, you have to make sure you repeat your extra pickles order at this place. They always, always forget.”
“Well they forgot last time I was here so...well...N of 1.”
Now, I’m a fan of sound data as much as the next person, but every once in awhile an N of 1 can do a pretty solid job of giving you all the evidence you need. For example, we’re choosing to believe that Elana Needle, our new Data Systems Director, is what the entire nonprofit sector workforce will look like in 15 years. Okay, well maybe it won’t look like her, specifically, but I do believe that what now feels like the incredibly unique (and fortuitous!) combination of skills, experiences, and interests that she brings will become more and more common. And it’s exciting to think about all the ways this will transform the way we work for change.
Early in 2014, YNPN went through an intensive Theory of Change process that made clear to us, if we had any chance of achieving our audacious goal building a diverse and powerful social sector, we needed dynamic data and communications systems. So in the posting for our newly-developed Data Systems Manager position, we explained that we were looking for someone who could help YNPN:
- Become the representative voice of young nonprofit professionals (YNPs) across the country
- Develop a data platform that provides robust space for member-to-member connections, chapter-to-chapter connections, and network-to-sector connections.
- Create a data-positive culture – which means respect, skill, and enthusiasm for data-backed decision making – amongst our chapter leaders and members that will improve the way our whole sector thinks about and uses data.
Almost immediately after posting we started to hear from the naysayers - folks explaining to us that the person we were searching for didn’t exist. You might be able to find someone who can set up and manage a database, they said. But there’s no way you can find someone who has a mind for all that AND can rally an entire network to be engaged and excited about the possibilities of data.
That person just doesn’t exist, they said.
But then we also started to hear from these people who supposedly didn’t exist, so many of them from right within our network - people with the unique combination of skills we were looking for who came by these in equally unique and interesting ways. They were library scientists and policy analysts and computer game developers. Many of them had been working in the private sector or were working in the nonprofit sector and thought that their interest in data meant that they would spend their careers relegated to dark corners of the social sector.
So in their letters to us and in their interviews, many of these same folks talked about how surprised and encouraged they were to see a position like this prioritized for an organization as small as ours. We, in turn, were thrilled to find that there actually were people out there with the right set of skills we were looking for - not a deluge but enough to make us hopeful.
When we saw Elana’s resume, however, and finally had the chance to interact with her in person, we knew we’d found the one. Her education ranged from a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies to a PhD in Social Welfare (did you even know that was a thing? We didn’t, but how cool is that?) She’d spent the last six years building, training folks on, and evaluating the U.S. pilot of a very technical British program aimed at reducing childhood obesity. And in her spare time, she was researching and writing on topics like, “Race, Space, and the Urban South.”
We assumed from her resume that she had a mind for data and analysis but did she have the personality to engage our network and to fit our organizational culture? Within moments of our first in-person interview, there was no question. Elana immediately dispelled all the myths we’d been hearing from the naysayers about who can be a data jock. First: she is a she (apparently the ladies can do numbers too! Who knew??) Second, she’s a border crosser - able to navigate between the wonk world and the world that the rest of us occupy with ease. Most importantly, she so obviously gets that data is meant to be in service of greater goals - like understanding the impacts of race and space - it is not a goal in and of itself.
Given all this, we naturally feel incredibly lucky and proud to have Elana join YNPN as our Data Systems Director and third staffer.
We know that she is the right person at the right time to help us achieve our audacious goals. But we’re also excited for what the fact that someone like Elana signals for the future of the sector in general. We’re willing to use our N of 1 to point to an exciting trend in the diversity of fields, majors, and backgrounds that are making their way to the sector. Or stories of how those currently in the sector are building their knowledge base in areas that go beyond traditional nonprofit management to strengthen the field - everything from organizational development to somatics.
There is a growing realization that the complex work of building a just society requires an equally complex combination of talents. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Elana as both an example and as a new partner in building the sort of network that we believe is necessary to support these emerging leaders. Here’s to the future of YNPN!
This year, we are especially thankful for you. Yes, you. Our YNPN members inspire us every day with their passion, energy and innovative ideas on how we can build a more powerful and diverse social sector. From planning leadership awards to networking power hours to panel discussions, you stepped up and took YNPN to new heights this year.
How has YNPN impacted your life this year?
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Special thanks to YNPN Grand Rapids, YNPN Triangle NC, YNPN Chicago, YNPN San Diego, and YNPN Austin for the photos!