Once again, I left the YNPN National Conference inspired and encouraged by the energy, passion, and commitment of YNPNers to make a difference in our communities. At its core, YNPN is about creating the kind of change we want to see in the world, whether it’s a particular mission or the concept of giving back in general that motivates us. This theme appeared several times during the conference, and caused me to wonder: are we really the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, or would it be more accurate to call us the Young Social Change Movement? Is it important to us that we work for a 501(c)3 organization, or simply that we make a difference?
During the Innovation Series on Friday I was struck by the organizations that talked about how they purposefully set their business up as a for-profit venture in order to best support the nonprofit sector. Tommy Allen, who kicked off the series, is a community activist and editor of Rapid Growth Media, but his paid job is in the for profit sector. Elemental Media, who promotes online stories of the good work accomplished by nonprofits, stated they chose a for-profit model because they didn’t want to be competing for funding with those they serve. Cool People Care also chose the for-profit path because they wanted to be, as he stated it, “collaborative, not competitive”.
I see this trend in other capacity-building organizations and support services for the sector. I’m wondering if this is simply a case of for-profit entrepreneurs getting involved in cause work or whether it’s telling us something bigger about our sector’s capacity to support and promote itself. I’m not suggesting that all missions and causes can be better served in a for-profit model; the nonprofit sector serves some of the most vulnerable populations whose best interests should not be determined by for-profit shareholders. However, when it comes to serving ourselves, should the nonprofit business model be our first choice, or even second?
One highlight of the preliminary results of the YNPN National Survey tells us that although only 34% of us are committed to working in the nonprofit sector, 56% of us must have a social mission to what we do, regardless of the sector. Another 29% were unsure whether they would need a social mission, but only 15% stated that it was not an important factor in where they work. In these results, YNPNers have prioritized mission over tax code, the end results achieved over the means by which they were achieved.
In the not so distant past, I have been quick to reject the idea that the nonprofit model doesn’t serve us well. It’s the funding dynamics, I can hear myself say, or it’s the leadership structures, and the restrictions that people have interpreted too conservatively on nonprofits’ right to advocate and lobby. I firmly believe these issues present barriers, and struggle with how we can address the inequities in the system. However, I’m starting to also struggle with how we are defining nonprofit work. It seems the similarities between a small grassroots nonprofit and the design platform business that allows them to tell their stories are much greater than that grassroots nonprofit and St. Anthony’s Hospital, Tulane University, or the National Football League.
So I’d love to hear your thoughts, YNPNers: when it comes to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, how central does the nonprofit element remain for you as the lines blur between sectors?
A note about our contributor: As Executive Director, Lydia McCoy has led the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition’s efforts to promote vaccination through education and advocacy since 2007. Lydia previously worked as Capital Campaign Coordinator for The Gathering Place- a homeless women’s shelter in Denver- and has experience working in fund development and program management for art education, public radio, and child welfare nonprofits in New Orleans and Denver. Lydia has a BA in Political Science from Tulane University and Master of Nonprofit Management from Regis University. Recently, she has served on the Strategic Planning Committee for Regis University’s MNM program, the Leadership Advisory Council for the Colorado Nonprofit Association, was a Fellow with Social Venture Partners Denver, and participated in the El Pomar Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program. She currently sits on the YNPN National Board, Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Committee for Colorado, on the Board of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, and is past President of YNPN Denver. She also enjoys the occasional onomatopoeia. Pow!
To my fellow young nonprofit professionals…
Has someone ever complimented you on your enthusiasm, fresh perspective, or energy? It’s happened to me – a lot.
Did it seem like that person was really just commenting on your age – speaking in code that you are young? I think that’s the case – a lot.
So, when colleagues asked me about the 2011 Conference of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, I was slow to speak. I didn’t want to talk about the event as exciting or youthful (even though that would be true).
Instead, I described the conference as bursting with resources!
And, that’s why I love young nonprofit professionals. We are so resourceful!
The 2011 conference demonstrates that we know how to:
- Transform a theatre into a convention center
- Develop a stellar program, busting at the seams with young leaders
- Leverage community partnerships for smart sponsorships
- Create real value with free tools, like social networking and blogging
- Host a warm, engaging event in a cold city
I’m grateful to the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network leadership and the 2011 conference organizers. They’ve reminded me that the best thing about being a talented young professional is not my enthusiasm but my resourcefulness.
Want to continue to cultivate your own resourcefulness? Check out my three live blog posts from the conference:
- How To Be a Great #YNPN11 Presenter
- What a 29-Year-Old Executive Director Can Teach You
- Knowledge Networks
JESSICA JOURNEY is a nonprofit professional, thriving in the Indianapolis community. She has more than five years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and philanthropy in the fields of higher education, health, and human services. Jessica’s background includes annual fund, communications, constituent management, and grants.
Next Wednesday marks the 71st anniversary of the Dandi March. On April 6th, 1930, Mohandas K. Gandhi completed a 24-day, 250-mile journey from Sabarmati to Dandi, India, raised a fistful of salty mud into the air and pronounced, "With this I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire."
The Salt March is remembered as an act of great civil disobedience - which it definitely was - but I'd like to argue that the Salt March was also a great reminder for the people of India. A reminder that an essential building block of daily life, largely inaccessible, was actually well within reach. A reminder that a staple of sustainability, taxed beyond the affordability of most, didn't have to be. It was a reminder that the salt was already there, on Indian shores.
For nearly 15 years, YNPN has shared a similar story with a certain force, born of truth and love. Yes, at a local level, our individual chapters represent a place to connect, learn and grow with your colleagues working for community benefit organizations. But at a macro-level, YNPN has always been about equipping and empowering young people to lead and succeed - work that is grounded in the belief that everyone has something to offer wherever they find themselves in their career. In other words, at its core, YNPN's mission is about reminding folks that the salt is already embedded in their shores.
This past weekend was an amazing experience for me and the 200 other young people that converged upon the Furniture City to listen, share and celebrate. Inspirational sessions, innovative speakers and plenty of, ahem, informal networking solidified my belief that our generation is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. I am confident of this fact because the fire that fueled Gandhi's 250-mile march is the same fire that fuels our national board, your local chapter's board and every single one of the 30,000 YNPN members across the country.
The raw passion, energy and vision required to lead our communities through this decade and well beyond is limitless among and across our network. So, let us begin boiling the mud down to salt - ignoring the advice to "learn the ropes" or "wait our turn." Let us continue to hone our skill sets so we can lead, manage and grow our organizations with excellence. Let us shake the foundations of outdated 20th Century Empire thinking.
And let this be a reminder that the salt is already ours.
"A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history."
YNPN Twin Cities board members Adaobi Okolue and Chris Oien shared best practices learned from their chapter's blog. I jokingly tweeted that I should write a blog post about their blog. Adaobi and Chris's presentation was informative to anyone interested in starting a group blog, but it was also a great story about taking a good idea and rallying a group of people to implement it.
How to build buy in
YNPN Twin Cities spent a lot of time and effort generating support from the board before launching their blog. They addressed capacity and technology concerns with:
- One-on-one conversations
- In-person trainings about the blogging platform
- A schedule of blog writing responsibility that is manageable. (Board members are expected to write a post once every few months, and they know well in advance when their post is expected.)
Lesson Learned: Invest time at the beginning of a project to address concerns and build personal connections with your stakeholders.
From the beginning, YNPN Twin Cities was clear about what the blog is and what the blog is not. The YNPN Twin Cities blog is not:
- A fundraising effort
- An event promotion mechanism
Lesson Learned: For an idea to succeed, it needs a clear goal. And a clear goal cancels out other potential goals, even when they're worthy.
Making it work
YNPN Twin Cities has an arsenal of tools that help its blog run smoothly and successfully:
- The blog's posts are assigned months in advance. Authors know exactly when they're expected to contribute.
- Each week, posts are submitted, edited and published on a set schedule.
- Topics for blog posts are assigned. (There are "open topic" weeks as well.)
- The "blog bible" provides extensive documentation.
Lesson Learned: Create and document a manageable structure that helps a good idea become a great idea.
Launching the next good idea
Not satisfied with having an awesome blog and presenting about it at the YNPN national conference, YNPN Twin Cities is including new voices in their blog beyond YNPN-TC board members.
Lesson Learned: Embrace the next phase of your great idea!
Denise Stein, Executive Director at Art of Leadership in Detroit spoke yesterday about the power of language. Many of us working in the nonprofit sector have found ourselves, on more than one occasion, facing barriers and conflicts that make it difficult for us to reach the goals we have set for ourselves and/or our organizations. As a result, sometimes, we may hear ourselves complaining to friends or co-workers. In my mind, the truth is- not all of those complaints are unjustified. In fact, I would argue that many of them probably are justified. Sometimes you have every right to be frustrated and often getting those frustrations out can be a very healthy and positive way to help yourself move forward. The problem, however, is that when repeated, those complaints can actually be much more powerful than we may realize.
Sometimes when talking about our causes, our words focus on the barriers and conflicts, a.k.a, the problems that need to be addressed. If we find ourselves spending more time talking about the problem as opposed to the solution, we can really hold ourselves back from moving forward. If the status quo needs to be changed, we should focus our language around our plans and goals for the future instead of the problem(s).
Denise said, “The language of complaint tells us, and others, what we cannot stand. The language of leadership/commitment tells us, and others what we stand for.” We can help reframe our own mindsets by focusing our language around what we want to see, instead of focusing on what we see but don’t like. By focusing on our goals and commitments, we empower ourselves to act on those commitments, instead of getting lost in frustration.
We have all heard the phrase ‘think outside of the box.’ In fact, it has probably become a little cliché at this point. No one really wants to think like everyone else. We all want to think of ourselves as ‘out of the box’ thinkers, at least, I do. An important thing to remember is that ‘thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always refer to a collective cultural box that we all subscribe to. ‘Thinking outside of the box’ doesn’t always mean thinking differently from this group or that person. Often, it is our own boxes that we need to think outside of. More often than not, it is our own constraints and perceived limitations that we need to branch away from.
By reshaping the way that we talk and learning to constantly challenge our own ‘inside of the box’ thinking, we can position ourselves to make a much bigger impact in our communities. Never underestimate the power that the words we use can have on our own perceptions. And learn to take mental notes of our own repetitious behaviors. If we learn what ‘in the box thinking’ really looks like for ourselves, we might actually have a much better shot at learning how to think outside of it. And if we constantly remind ourselves of what we're working for, we will find ourselves empowered by motivation, instead of feeling burnt out and/or overwhelmed.
YNPN leaders from around the country are gathering today here in Grand Rapids, Michigan to share ideas, connect with other chapters, and engage one another in dialogue about the future of our sector.
The conference theme selected this year 'Evolve' will highlight individual, organizational, and sector-wide evolution and innovation. Workshops will include flash presentations with speakers discussing how they've created change within and through their organizations, as well as sessions focusing on sharing best practices among chapters across the country. During one of this morning's sessions we heard from nonprofit blogger and author Rosetta Thurman. She provided her perspective and ideas about how young professionals can be more strategic with our professional development and personal branding within the sector- rock on Rosetta and thanks for joining us!
As a local chapter leader, and now national board member, this will be my fifth YNPN National Leaders Conference. Without fail, I always leave feeling inspired by potential and power of this movement. Every year, I gain ideas for how to strengthen and focus my career path. Discussions with other YNPN chapter leaders here have opened up opportunities for peer mentoring that I have come to rely on as a young professional.
Last night, at our welcome happy hour, a local board member shared with me- “coming here I find all these people that I share values with- these are my people.” Sometimes that’s hard to find in critical mass- peers that share our passion, energy and excitement. As I have continued on my career path in the nonprofit sector, YNPN has really provided me with that - a connection to people I can count on, people I learn from, people I feel inspired by, and people that share my values.
This is a national movement of young leaders and this conference is the place that chapters gather to push the momentum forward. From a national YNPN board member to all of you- WELCOME to Grand Rapids!
If you aren’t here in person- be sure to follow the dialogue, ideas and resources here on the blog- we’ll be joined by several conference guest bloggers that will share their perspective with all of you - Kelly Cleaver, Jessica Journey, Yesenia Sotelo, Lydia McCoy, Samuel Richard.
You can also follow the conversation at http://bit.ly/Twitterynpn11
Make Your Voice Heard. Improve Our Sector. Take YNPN’s National Voice Survey Today!
Over the past several years, a great deal of literature has been released noting significant leadership challenges for the nonprofit sector. With each issue revealed has come a compelling set of recommendations for how the sector can meet these challenges head on. As a movement of now over 20,000 nonprofit professionals nationwide, YNPN is uniquely positioned to put these recommendations to the test.
Is offering more competitive compensation a priority for retaining talent? Is your nonprofit engaging in succession planning? Is prioritizing diversity having a positive impact on your organization? The valuable feedback and experiences you and your peers will share by completing YNPN’s survey can help influence how our sector addresses its leadership challenges over the next decade.
Make sure our voice includes your perspective. Click here to start the survey now!
Also Help us Spread the Word...
YNPN chapters and partners around the country will be promoting the survey in their communities- chapters can find resources on how to spread the word here: http://ynpn.org/our-voice/take-action/
We look forward to sharing our results with you later this year!
Dan Dobin, YNPN National Voice Committee
YNPN National is excited to announce a discount for YNPN members across the country on the just released How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar e-book by top nonprofit bloggers Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris.
They have co-authored the first book of its kind to offer career advice beyond just getting your foot in the door of a nonprofit organization. The book is a collection of Trista and Rosetta’s advice and lessons learned- and is certain to be a helpful resource to a young nonprofit professional looking to get to the next level. It is an engaging read, full of specific tips and engaging anecdotes about Trisha and Rosetta as well as other young professionals.
Synopsis from their website:
Do you feel stuck in your nonprofit career? Unsure how to take that next step? How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is an accessible, do-it-yourself map of how to navigate the nonprofit sector and gives you the tools that you need to move from entry level to leadership. This book is designed for professionals who want to build meaningful and rewarding nonprofit careers. How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is based on the authors’ experiences as well as interviews with nonprofit rockstars who have supercharged their careers. You’ll learn how to develop meaningful nonprofit experience, build a strong network, establish a strong personal brand, achieve the elusive work/life balance, and move on up in your career.
YNPN members receive a lifetime discount on the e-book version at http://www.e-junkie.com/shop/product/442001.php. Members can use the code YNPN to save $5 off the retail price.