Leading for the Next Generation

Leading for the Next Generation

"Learn from each other. That’s the whole point of YNPN - learn. Fail forward. Make mistakes. Take risks. YNPN is the perfect place to take chances and risks - so why not? It’s easier to do it now and learn from it." - Emily Davis, YNPN San Diego Co-Founder & Alum and YNPN Denver Alum

This blog is part of our Where are they now? Series featuring YNPN alumni from across the country.  Check out the #YNPNstory campaign to learn more and share your story!

An Interview with Emily Davis, YNPN Alumnus


Q: What is your current company and job title?
A: I am celebrating my 10 year anniversary of my consulting firm this month, Emily Davis Consulting. I consult for nonprofits and philanthropists on board governance, charitable advising and multigenerational issues, inspired by my time in YNPN. I offer advising for start up nonprofits and people transitioning into the nonprofit sector. I do training and facilitation as well as public speaking.

Q: So what influenced you to start your own nonprofit consulting business?
A: There’s a lot that is different about nonprofit consulting. I was doing freelance and did consulting part time for many years before I went full time. I had a lot of different roles at nonprofits that helped me learn varying perspectives in nonprofit business. My background was originally in ending violence against women and I worked in international women’s human rights. I ended up pretty burnt out and went back to grad school to get my Masters in Nonprofit Management. In my professional experience I learned a lot on how not to run nonprofits and in graduate school I was able to learn best practices. I started consulting during grad school where I picked various organizations I could coach, consult, and train.

After grad school I moved to San Diego and started the chapter there with Heather Carpenter. I was working for San Diego Grantmakers while running YNPN San Diego. I continued to consult in San Diego and then moved back to Boulder where I was consulting and serving as the Executive Director for National Hemophilia Foundation Colorado Chapter. It wasn’t until my book came out about five years ago that I launched into consulting full time. 

Q: So what drove you to write your book?
A: My book is entitled Fundraising and the Next Generation. I was asked to write it by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. I submitted a proposal and they selected me. All of my grad school research was on next generational research in the nonprofit sector. At the same time, YNPN (National) had been partnering with Annie Casey Foundation and others doing the same type of research that led to reports like Daring to Lead. I had a unique perspective in writing the book since I had done research on multigenerational nonprofits as well as working with next gen donors.

I only had 3 months to write a book and I was an Executive Director at the time. We got it done! It was the first researched based publication on the topic. Five years ago this was still a relatively new topic, so being able to push this forward was pretty huge.

Q: Explain what your involvement in the different YNPN chapters has looked like over the years.
A: I joined YNPN Denver 10 years ago. I was a member at large and then Secretary. It was such an interesting time to be a part of it. I was only on the board for the year but got involved in everything I could. I have a lot of experience I gained from the different committees I sat on in YNPN.

1269069_10151930510144948_2050666445_o.jpgI think 90% of the board members from that time I am still in touch with and good friends with to this day. We have all become various types of leaders in the community. My YNPN Denver board service was a really important experience to build my friendships that still last today. For the last 10 years we have seen each other evolve and the trust we have helps us continue to support each other in the community.

I admit I made a lot of mistakes. I was very passionate about nonprofits and I will admit to have being a know-it-all sometimes. I think that’s very much reflective of that life stage for me and my learning so many new things that I wanted to share.

Then I moved to San Diego and I was only there a few months at the most. I saw that there was no YNPN network here. Wanting to start a chapter was sort of selfish - I thought this would be a great way to find ‘my people.’ I set up a website, made business cards, and decided to see if I built it, would people come. I randomly got connected to a woman, Heather Carpenter, who wanted to start a chapter as well the day before she was launching the first networking event. We met up and started signing up people quickly; there was a lot of interest in a nonprofit network like this.

With San Diego, my approach to running it was different than Denver. I went in saying I need to leave this in two years. I wanted to create structure and process and have people not need me anymore. That’s what we did.

We had a full board, we had waiting lists of people wanting to serve on the board and the committees. We really became an important nonprofit network in San Diego. It was perfect timing and there was a great need for it. Some of my absolute best friends were from that time. I got to use some of those practical pieces. It pushed me to learn a lot and learn what good leadership looks like.

We had a ton of fun, we had great programs, and at the end of two years they were ready to take on new leadership. Two people took over and co-chaired when I left. I continued to go back and support them financially and do trainings. It was very hard to be hands off but I worked at it.

Q: So what is some advice you would give to someone new to YNPN right now?
A: The first thing that comes to mind is find out the history. Find out who the past board chairs were or leaders in the organization. Have conversations. One of the things I see a lot of is reinventing the wheel. Not to say people shouldn’t make different decisions, but having conversations provides more context. There are always new people coming in, but some community aspects don’t change.1618106_10153881333074948_5870227380895121419_o.jpg

Having come into a chapter that already exists and then starting one, I learned to capture, and retell the history of the San Diego chapter. As YNPN gets older, stories are forgotten. Having this history and continuity is helpful for things like donor relationships. It’s important to maintain relationships with people who have been there before because they will be your biggest champions.

Learn from each other. That’s the whole point of YNPN - learn. Fail forward. Make mistakes. Take risks. YNPN is the perfect place to take chances and risks - so why not? It’s easier to do it now and learn from it.


Donate today to support nonprofit professionals like Emily on their leadership journeys! You can become a part of our #YNPNstory campaign celebrating the stories of many leaders who have discovered their voice and their place as social changemakers through their experiences with YNPN.

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