“Who am I” as a question often feels clichéd, relegated to the leads of sleepy winter movies, to shopping mall philosophers, to those with too much time and too little to do. “Who am I?” I’m an AmeriCorps Member. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m a musician. I’m a hard worker and a loyal friend. What more do you need to know? Life’s too busy for idle identity contemplation. Don’t talk about who you are, be who you are. Or as I tell clients at my site as we’re working on their resumes, “Show, don’t tell.”
And yet, onsite at Urban Ventures on a Friday morning, CEO Timothy Clark reminded us all that maybe there is some room for contemplation. In fact, maybe it’s very, very important. At this YNPN Breakfast of Champions event, Clark spent a large portion of the time taking us from college graduation to taking the wheel at Urban Ventures. He did this not to trace back his ascension to “leadership” in rote fashion, but because taking this tour opened up many valuable questions, questions that can contribute to our own growth if we think hard enough on our own answers. He posed questions like “What do you stand for?” and “Do people know what you are?” Clark had many answers to such questions. Clark defines himself through authenticity. He calls himself a “quiet leader.” He is a “sheep dressed in a wolf’s clothing.” I find that last one amusingly colorful, but also illustrative in its specificity. Clark asserted that you can’t lead others unless you know yourself, and he leaves little doubt that he does.
All of Clark’s self-definitions distinguish his leadership as ever present in his career. Long before arbitrary organizational mantles declared him a leader, he led by taking responsibility of informing a colleague of her termination, knowing his boss would have handled it with a less than sensitive touch. He led by living his character, not his job title. In his own words, “Leadership isn’t titular, it’s organic.”
You don’t stop being a leader when you finish middle school and enter the daunting halls of high school as wide eyed freshman, and neither do you stop when you complete a service year or even lose a good job and take to delivering pizzas in the meantime. No person or circumstance outside yourself determines your leadership. You get to decide. But make sure it’s an informed decision.
I’m about to begin a second service year here in Minneapolis. Ostensibly this next year is to set myself up for post-service success, to network the heck out of this city, to absorb all the input I can, and more. It wasn’t until this breakfast that I realized maybe next year needs to be one of introspection as well.
So in the spirit of self-definition, let me exercise a little defining of my own, and I invite you to do the same. I am the son of a lawyer and a deacon. I have my father’s sensibilities and my mother’s empathy, and both of these drive me. I don’t yet have a central word as Clark has found in authenticity, but I can find moments of leadership, of character and not titles: when I explained to a fellow club member issues people took with him, respectfully and clearly, no anonymous notes involved. When I've stayed late at a volunteer shift because an event is shorthanded. When I said yes to helping clients with questions I could ignore based on my job description. When it’s not convenient to work for a cause, but I signed up anyway because I can’t just stand on the sidelines and pass the responsibility on to others.
So that’s me. That’s how I lead. How do you?
Interested in YNPN's popular Breakfast of Champion series? Sign up for the waitlist for the next event with Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts, and keep an eye out for future breakfast events with local nonprofit leaders.
Image credit: Library of Congress; Demonstrators participating in the Poor People's March at Lafayette Park and on Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D.C.
Half a century ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. If they are aware of it at all, most Americans think of the march as the venue for Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. Some of us who remember the march recall it as a march to redress economic conditions—the disparities in income and employment that afflicted people of color, then as now…except that the economy today for people of color as a whole is much worse than 50 years ago.
Five years later, Rev. King led the Poor People’s Campaign back to Washington at a time when national unemployment was under four percent and unemployment for blacks was less than seven percent. Compare that to last month: In July, the national unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, with the white unemployment rate at 6.6 percent. For blacks, the rate was 12.5 percent—almost double that of whites. The number of people employed in the U.S. is less than it was seven years ago even though the nation’s population has increased by 18,000,000 people. A February census report put the poverty rate for African Americans at over 25 percent. In the black community, 39 percent of children lived below the federal poverty level; among Latinos, 34 percent. The most astounding (and yet relatively unknown) figure on poverty in the U.S. is that, as of 2011, there were 1.65 million households in this country in which people lived on $2.00 a day or less per person. That is the definition of “extreme poverty,” a condition people think is associated with developing countries and the world’s commitment to cut by half over the next two decades, but it exists in the affluent United States itself.
Where is the March on Washington or Poor People’s Campaign of today to protest these conditions? After an election campaign spent giving poverty a wide berth, President Obama has only just now begun to utter the “p-word” directly and raise concerns about job creation for working-class people, who have been relegated to low-wage, shorter work-week jobs, and about increasing the minimum wage. But action commensurate with those words has been limited to an array of campaign-style speeches and tours. Most Democrats in Congress generally stick to a focus on the middle class and rarely veer toward straightforward discussion of the need for explicit and robust anti-poverty programs.
One of the contributing factors is the silence of the nonprofit sector. As Pablo Eisenberg wrote this week in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “In the last decade or so, nonprofits have stopped caring about the plight of the poor.”
“Today, matters of poverty seem to be off the radar screen of nonprofits,” Eisenberg says. “Most nonprofits…remain satisfied in pursuing their more-narrow agendas, whether related to the environment, education, or gay marriage. They show little concern about the ravages brought on the country by income inequality, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment. That couldn’t be more evident than in the failure of nonprofits to rush to oppose the massive assault on food stamps now working its way through the House of Representatives.”
Undoubtedly, many of the nation’s top nonprofits will bristle at being called out in Eisenberg’s op-ed, but there’s no doubt that the ardor of the nonprofit sector to tackle poverty based on calculations of political acceptability or access to funding has waned. It is hardly in evidence the way it was when the nation rallied around the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, leading to the creation of a critical infrastructure of poverty-fighting institutions and programs: VISTA, Head Start, Legal Services, the Jobs Corps, Community Health Centers, and the Community Action Program.
Can the nonprofit sector rediscover the “decency,” as Eisenberg puts it, to be concerned about economic inequities and social justice? He asks whether Darren Walker, the incoming president of the Ford Foundation, and other prominent nonprofit and philanthropic leaders might “find the courage to lead a campaign to put poverty back on the agendas of nonprofits.”
While Eisenberg probably targeted Walker partly because of his roots as a leader of a nonprofit community development corporation in Harlem, Walker will be now heading a top foundation and, in theory, responding to the activism and initiatives of nonprofit leaders on the front lines. So we asked nonprofit leaders themselves what they thought might make nonprofits take up the cause of fighting poverty and make it an integral part of the identity of nonprofits of all stripes. Here is what some of them said:
- Once the executive director of the National Council of Nonprofits and the board chair of the National Council of La Raza, and most recently the interim CEO of the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, Audrey Alvarado has been pushing for revived attention to issues of poverty for decades. “I’m afraid that in our own struggles to survive the economic challenges we all face, we have forgotten the true purpose of our work,” Alvarado writes. “Have we become hardened by the messages that those in need, the poor, deserve what they get?...The nonprofit sector must again rise up and be the flag bearers for a caring and compassionate society. Let’s not forgot our roots and work to eliminate the poverty divide in this country.”
- Moises Loza, the executive director of the Housing Assistance Council, a national advocate for rural housing and community economic development, notes the significance of poverty in rural America. Eighty-six percent of 429 persistently poor counties are entirely rural. His prescription? “Nonprofits have been retreating while fighting to keep programs of assistance from being eliminated or drastically reduced. This ‘fight to keep what we have’ has taken our time and energy from a rigorous offense to become the poverty warriors that got us into this line of work,” Loza writes. “Keeping what we have that works is important, but advocacy and outrage should not take a back seat. We also have allowed others to dictate our agenda. We shouldn’t parrot the agenda others are setting, we should set our own and as nonprofits speak for those who continue to be forgotten.”
- Brenda Peluso, the director of public policy for the Maine Association of Nonprofits, joins Loza in the call for a reemphasis on nonprofit advocacy. “To turn this around, nonprofits need to be more active in public policy, but I understand the reasons they don’t—lack of time and money, fear of confrontation, fear of turning donors off, restrictions on lobbying (none with federal money) and lack of understanding what they can and can’t do.” The executive director of the Maine Association, Scott Schnapp, underscores Peluso’s call for increased policy advocacy, but cautions that the roots of the problem are in political campaigns. “The concern among politicians that their opponents will utilize any efforts to address poverty related issues as a campaign weapon is largely paralyzing them. In an environment with a constant election cycle, where more and more money is necessary to run competitive elections, this fear, as well as their concerns about potentially alienating donors, has effectively muzzled strong political conviction around this issue.”
- “I would simply say that it’s not only the politicians or the nonprofit sector that’s not hitting the problem of poverty squarely on the head, but foundations have side stepped the issue too,” says Robert Jackson, a Mississippi state senator as well as the executive director of the Quitman County Development Organization in Mississippi’s Delta region. “My question is how do you get foundations to get off metrics and become concerned about poor people’s existence, from day to day?...Nonprofits need to refocus foundations squarely on the issue of poverty rather than where they have driven off the road now onto wherever.”
All well and good from fine people truly dedicated to fighting poverty, but these statements are stronger on the analysis of nonprofits’ not taking on poverty than they are about what might turn the nonprofit sector around. We would add to their comments with these specific suggestions to reanimate the nonprofit sector to stand up against poverty:
If the problem is that foundation funders aren’t taking this issue on, it’s time for the nonprofit sector to place the issue of poverty at foundations’ doorsteps. Could it jeopardize relationships with funders to be so bold and forthright and call them out, as Jackson has done, for their pathetic support of an anti-poverty movement? We would bet the following: Those nonprofits that have the courage to speak out—loudly—to foundations and peer grantees will be the ones that establish profile and get recognition for the ability to tell the truth. Nonprofits shouldn’t argue themselves into a paralytic corner, but speak out. They might learn, in consequence, that the dangers of punitive reprisals by foundations for pushing and prodding on their grantmaking are overstated. Many foundations will welcome the candor of straight-talking nonprofits, and many foundation program officers will find nonprofit candor a useful tool for them to make their arguments with foundation execs and trustees for better anti-poverty grantmaking.
If the problem is an unwillingness of nonprofits to deviate from the political line of the Obama administration, that is even worse. President Obama needs a vocal, mobilized nonprofit to call him on his shortfalls of his actual policy agenda for nonprofits. On national nonprofit issues, the National Council on Nonprofits has been one of the rare “nonprofit infrastructure” organizations to remind the White House about nonprofit needs when it appeared that the White House showed evidence of 501(c)(3) memory lapses concerning provisions of the Affordable Care Act. As the primary deliverers of services to the poor, nonprofits should be calling on the president to restore funding that had previously cut, to fight against the continuation of the sequester, and to remember where his constituency’s policy priorities lie. The president gives a good speech about moving the economy, but it’s time for a lot more than campaign-style speeches. If nonprofits, as we have suggested and Eisenberg implies, have declined to take on the president because of some desire to support him against Republican congressional obstructionism, they will be allowing a centrist president to continue a decades-long reduction of the federal anti-poverty commitment.
Loza and Schnapp identify another problem: the imbalance in campaign finance in national elections means that the wealthy can buy lots of influence with their largesse. Poor communities will never be able to match the rich corporate donors that ply candidates with campaign contributions. With the self-protecting, self-serving attitudes of the affluent in full sway in recent decades, nonprofits have to realize that an anti-poverty agenda will be smothered in lip service and squashed somewhere between the White House and Congress. It will never succeed unless the power of the rich to purchase candidates is eliminated. Putting campaign finance reform on the nonprofit public policy advocacy agenda is a substantive step toward promoting stronger anti-poverty activism in the nonprofit sector.
Eisenberg called out a number of national organizations for their obsession with the charitable deduction—still hardly in peril—while remaining unwilling to make poverty part of their agendas. It’s time that these nonprofit associations and leadership groups recognize that they can no longer hide behind the deduction as a proxy for concern for the poor. A significant portion of tax-deductible charitable donations doesn’t get anywhere near the poor. Whatever the merits of maintaining the charitable deduction in its current form, the nonprofit sector has to blend advocacy into its anti-poverty work, and that means advocacy for government funding that’s vitally important to make nonprofits present and effective to the poverty fight. Eisenberg and Alvarado are both right that fighting poverty is a core value of the nonprofit sector, long forgotten in many parts, but legitimately an item worth raising on the agendas of nonprofits and foundations across the board.
The president may be reluctant to mention much about the poor, even though he doesn’t face a reelection battle. This is the issue where nonprofits can’t swallow their tongues because Obama is “one of us” or someone who says the right stuff. It’s time for nonprofits to call each other out regarding what they are doing to address the widening socio-economic disparities in our nation.
It’s been quite an adventure serving as a YNPN LaunchPad Fellow these last nine months.
When I started as YNPN National’s Talent Coordinator, I was new to YNPN and eager to plug into a network of supportive peers and colleagues who, like me, were building their careers in the nonprofit sector. LaunchPad provided me a unique two-fold opportunity: to build my own professional path, while helping build YNPN as a dynamic, evolving, increasingly influential national organization.
LaunchPad in itself was a bold new experiment for YNPN, and the Talent Coordinator position was no exception. My charge was to help YNPN align its organizational values and goals with its strategy for recruiting and managing talent (folks like our chapter leaders, national staff and board). Though it was not clear whether or how a talent manager would be part of future YNPN staffing structures, it was clear to me how much YNPN sought to be intentional about its values, culture, and strategy - especially how that showed up in the day-to-day, year-to-year experience of its leaders.
In that spirit, new resources and blog content - focusing on leadership development, volunteer management, organizational assessments, and more - began to emerge. In my first blog post I shared some of my lessons and philosophy about talent management, as they often aligned with YNPN’s own ideas.
Later, I reflected on the results of our Virtual Road Trip, through which YNPN National learned about out chapters’ major experiences, challenges, and opportunities with managing their own talent. This data, combined with ongoing research on talent management within and beyond the nonprofit sector, inspired YNPN’s first webinar series, “Developing Human Capital for Chapter Success”.
Finally, I got personal. A professional development session with the LaunchPad team on “Complexifying Self Care” inspired a blog post and later a Spark Speech and break out session at this year’s YNPN National Leaders Conference. So many of our YNPN leaders are grappling with how to work sustainably, live healthily, and live out their callings to the nonprofit sector. This conversation is much larger than YNPN alone, most recently prompting a crosspost between YNPN and Idealist Careers.I am deeply grateful for all of this dialogue - and action - around how to collectively build a nonprofit sector that intentionally and strategically ensures that well-being of its leaders and the integrity of our work.
This spring, I hinted at a report in development, which would articulate YNPN’s own model for recruiting, developing, and managing talent. That report is now available ([wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]), and I welcome your feedback. What are your own chapters’ stories regarding talent? What values and strategies inform the ways your workplaces develop their leaders? How can research and story-telling help us build the systems and structures we need to support leaders working for social change?
Read Report Here: [wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=87 linktext='Talent Management Report - YNPN 2013' /]
I hope you’ll stay in touch as this first cycle of LaunchPad Fellowships wraps up, and I take on a new role with YNPN moving forward. Can’t wait to get active in my local chapter!
By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator
For many people, being a board member conjures up images of wealthy people writing checks and hosting fundraisers. While supporting the financial well being of a nonprofit is certainly part of a board member’s responsibility, there is a range of roles that board members can play and plenty of opportunities for people to volunteer their time and talent to support an organization they love.
This month I celebrate my one-year anniversary as a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals NetworkNational Board. I joined the YNPN Board because I understand the importance of supporting and cultivating the next generation of nonprofit leaders, which will help ensure the sustainability of the sector in the long-term.
As a result of my pro bono work with YNPN’s National Director in the months prior to joining the board, I felt excited for this opportunity not only to give back by sharing my expertise, but also to gain new skills. This first anniversary has me thinking about some of what I have learned in the last year from this experience. I thought that it would be worthwhile to share a few specific ways that my board service has helped my career and how it might help yours, too:
Expand your network
A big responsibility of being on a board is raising awareness and funds for the organization. As a result, I have had the opportunity to connect with supporters from a variety of places.
For example, in the last year, I have come into direct contact with officials from well-known foundations, many leaders and members of YNPN chapters from across the country, some of the generous sponsors of our National Leaders Conference, and some of our strategic partners. By connecting with all of these people, I can get their assistance in pushing YNPN forward, but I also have the opportunity to deepen our relationship in the future. Since first being introduced to the writings of Keith Ferrazzi and his colleagues at Ferrazzi Greenlight, I have made it my business to build my network before I need it, so that it’s vital and ready whenever I need to call upon people in it; this strategy allows me to have greater long-term reach in my personal and professional lives.
Raise your profile in your organization and profession
By being on a board, I not only expanded my network but I also picked up new skills, ideas, and opportunities for my full-time work.
Just talking about some of the work I have been doing on the YNPN National Board has led to some interesting conversations at work and (I hope) displayed my commitment to building a long and successful career in the non-profit sector. Additionally, having direct board experience has definitely rounded out my approach to dealing with the members of the I-House Board of Trustees in all areas.
Strengthen project and team management skills
If you join a board, chances are you’ll join a committee (or a few) which means you’ll have to learn quickly how to manage projects and teams in order to help move the organization forward.
Personally, I have had to step up my game when it comes to project and team management, especially because we do the bulk of our work remotely. Managing your work as part of a team and assuring that the team moves forward is hard enough when done face-to-face, but requires extra focus and greater attention to detail when done remotely. These skills have surely bled over into my professional life as I have found myself being as clear as possible about strategy and goals, while also striving to be kept accountable as I keep my co-workers accountable.
Become a better coach
While being a board member can certainly help you grow your network, the real impact and change come when you do some hands-on work, specifically by helping others reach important goals.
At my first National Board Retreat, I led an informal session on fundraising to get an idea of how comfortable my fellow members were with fundraising concepts and making the ask. After establishing this baseline, I have partnered with my colleagues on the Board Development Committee to provide resources to deepen our collective fundraising knowledge and have worked one-on-one with each member on their personal giving & fundraising goals for the year. This individual work has allowed me to build coaching skills that will come in handy in my own efforts to better integrate the members of my organization’s board into the full spectrum of our fundraising program.
For those readers who are currently on boards or recently served on one, what skills did you gain and how did that impact your work?
For those who have not yet sat on a board, what would you like to get out of this service? And if you are considering it, what is giving you pause?
Dan is the Assistant Director of Development, Individual Giving at International House, a residential learning community primarily for international graduate students pursuing their studies in the Greater New York region. In this role, he oversees the annual fund, major gifts and planned giving portfolios. Dan blogs about fundraising and non-profit management issues at The Good Steward.
By April Greene, Cross-posted from Idealist Careers.
It can be really tempting to slack off at work during the summer, if even just a little. And a little is probably okay—after all, ‘tis the season for easing up on wardrobe formality, taking lunch in the park, and leaving early on Friday to beat the weekend getaway traffic, whether you’re the ED or an intern. Let’s hit the beach!
But keep in mind that you can also harness the bright energy of summer days to make some career-recharging moves. Here are a few ideas:
Consider a work/vacation mashup
It’s truly important to take time away from work now and then (whatever the season) to relax and rejuvenate, so by all means plan a summer vacation or two if you can. But you might consider also trying to hitch your vacation to something work-related to reap dual benefits. For example, if you’ve been thinking about visiting family in the Milwaukee area sometime this summer and notice there’s a conference you’re interested in taking place there in August, talk with your folks and your boss to see if you can work out a two-part trip.
This serves many purposes: You’ll show your boss you’ve got your eyes open for work-related opportunities happening away from your desk, you’ll get to learn new things and meet new people in a new environment (#refreshing), and you might be able to cut some costs (staying with family instead of the conference hotel would save your org money; seeing if you can get your flight paid for would keep that cash in your pocket).
Pick up some back-burner projects
Sometimes it’s hard to get work done in the summer because your project partners keep going on vacation, or your boss’s phone doesn’t get reception on the cruise ship. When you reach impasses like these in your work, consider digging deep into your to-do list and bringing up smaller projects you can do solo or with the people sticking around at the same time as you. They may not be high-priority tasks (feel free to think as small as deleting old documents or reorganizing your desk), but that’s kind of the point: It’s too easy for non-essentials to get put on hold forever, and summer can be the perfect downtime to pick them back up and finish them once and for all, with less distractions to hinder your momentum.
Bonus: Having taken the initiative on some back-burner projects will make you look great when your manager comes back from the Caribbean.
Take a hike, go fly a kite, etc.
At least once a day during the hot weather months, try to venture outside, if even briefly. Go out to pick up your lunch instead of having it delivered, invite a friend who works nearby to meet for afternoon coffee al fresco, or stroll to the park for a few minutes of dog-and-people watching. Lifehacker has some other good ideas. There are a ton of productivity benefits of doing this (the increased circulation from walking, the exhilaration of breathing fresh air, the mental break of getting away from your desk), plus the reality that this is summer, and even if you do still need to go to work most days, you should do yourself the favor of remembering that fact and luxuriating in it all you can. When Labor Day rolls around, you don’t want to don’t want to wonder where the last three months went.
Yes, we know this is very Idealist of us to suggest, but fun volunteer opportunities do proliferate in the summer season (park clean-ups, trips to the zoo with under-served kids, manning the registration table at the 5k fundraiser). And the potential career benefits of volunteering shouldn’t be underestimated—we’ve written a lot about them in our Volunteer Info Center and here on Idealist Careers.
Set up some good habits
Parlay the summer feel-good energy into your work life by picking up some new behaviors that can advance your career. Create a list of your accomplishments at work—then add to it from now on whenever you do something noteworthy. Invite a coworker you don’t see much to eat lunch together one day—then pick another person to ask next month. Research and decide on a professional development or networking activity to attend—and keep doing this once a quarter, at least. If you build up a roster of good work habits now, you’ll feel the effects in every season to come.
What do you do to recharge your career in the summer? Tell us in the comments below.
Your colleague in fundraising down the hall — social and connected as she may be — is actually craving deeper, more meaningful relationships.
And you’re far from alone if you’ve been nostalgic recently for close pals from years past.
How do we know this? Thanks to The State of Friendship in America Report, 2013 – a study we released at Lifeboat last month that sheds new light on the dire social landscape facing adults across the country.
A few key findings to start:
- Less than a quarter of Americans say they are truly satisfied with their friendships and almost two-thirds lack confidence in even their closest friends.
- Generation X’ers and Boomers (those in their prime working years) are hit hardest by the trend, indicating a “mid-life friendship slump.”
- Most Americans–by more than 2 to 1–would prefer to have deeper friendships than more friends.
It adds up to a national malaise we’re calling the “Friendship Crisis.” What does this personal situation have to do with the workplace? Lots.
First, friendship is a major dynamic in people’s lives. Nobody just leaves it at home. With the release of our study, we now have a scientifically clear-eyed view of the difficulties adults have really connecting with each other in the digital age. For managers, colleagues, marketers and HR professionals, friendship is incredibly relevant.
Also, you’ve probably heard the conventional management wisdom that suggests friends and work don’t mix, right? Well, we’re not convinced and all our experience tells us collegial friendships are inevitable anyways. In this light, the more productive question to ask is: how do I do it right?
A PROFESSIONAL FRIEND-FREE ZONE
Before we answer that question: why do traditionalists argue against pals at the office in the first place?
They say that mixing work and friendship can blur decision making and make difficult calls more difficult. Some worry that friends in the office can lead to distracting — even inappropriate — behavior. How can someone operate in the best interest of the organization, they ask, if they’re also worried about their BFF? These issues get real for mangers facing such difficult situations as annual reviews — or worse layoffs — involving close friends. All good reasons – they say – to remain socially guarded in our cubicles.
3 REASONS TO EMBRACE FRIENDS AT WORK
Still, advocates like us for a friend-friendly approach to work suggest this line of thinking is outmoded.
First, with just about everyone spending more time at work — and/or more time on work at home — colleagues can often seem like the best social option. Where else would you find so many people with similar interests, passions and values? And according to our State of Friendship Report 42% of adults say they met at least one of their closest friends at work. The percent rising to 42% for Gen-Xers (age 35-49) and to 50% of Baby Boomers (age 50-69). So work friends can indeed work.
Second, close friendships at work can make you happier with your job. According this a study in the Journal of Business Psychology, workers report higher job satisfaction when they felt they had even the opportunity for friendships at the office. A 2013 survey of 2223 business people across Australia found most planning to stick with their current job — and they cited “good relationship with co-workers” as the major reason (67 percent) above even salary (46 percent).
Third, collegial friends can help you succeed. Leaders need people in their lives who nurture them through the tough times and who challenge them to be their best selves and live up to their dreams and potential. Sometimes it’s only workmates who can truly understand where you are at and offer cogent advice.
SO HOW SHOULD YOU DO FRIENDSHIP AT WORK?
With these arguments in mind, here are three strategies we recommend for starting to create your workplace Lifeboat:
Go Deep not Wide
Nurturing quality relationships takes time, emotional energy and cognitive capacity – all of which are limited. Anthropologists suggests that thanks our limited brain capacities, we can only maintain casual social relationships with less than 150 individuals—a principle known as Dunbar’s number. Deep relationships with strong bonds on the other hand, tend to occur in what psychologists refer to as sympathy groups—groups of 10-15 people. And more than 2-to-1 American adults say they would prefer these deeper relationships over more connections.
So we still recommend cultivating a large professional network, but we also suggest investing oneself more deeply and personally with a handful of people you trust — you professional Lifeboat.
You’ve probably noticed how people tend to befriends others similar to themselves. It’s a phenomenon known by social science as “Homophily or “love of the same”. Trouble is much of the reward of friendship come from learning and growth from the different experience of others, something called the “Michelangelo effect.” To help, try mixing up your professional Lifeboat in terms of age, seniority, gender, skills and nationality.
Give 1% More
As young professionals go through life family, work and other demands occupy an increasing amount of time and brain space. Often this takes a toll on time spent with friends. The average American adult spends 4% of their time with friends – down from 30% as teenagers!
Our recommendation here is simply to invest one percent additional time with friends each week (1 hour 30min). It doesn’t have to be big – think an extra phone call, a lunch date, or a quick note for a job well done.
We think of these small changes — choosing your lifeboat, breaking the inertia, giving 1% more — as investments that will pay back dividends. Social scientists are finding friends makes us feel more satisfied, connected, grounded and supported – ready to tackle the professional and personal challenges we face.
If I had a dollar (or even a dime) for each time I read or was told that “following my passion” is the premier pathway to a successful career and overall life satisfaction, I’d be a very wealthy woman. I don’t doubt the tremendous value-add and personal fulfillment that accompanies a strong connection to your work and/or your organization’s mission. But personally, I find the ‘passion ethos’ lacks a healthy dose of practicality, especially for a mid-career professional who may be asking themselves, “What’s next?” (Spoiler alert: I am this person asking myself this question.)
If I answered myself solely on my passions (i.e., interests or activities I really enjoy, independent of whether I have the skills, talent, or experience to support them), a quirky, improbable list develops - I could try to become the world’s first storm-chasing mediterranean chef adorned in vintage garb, but I’m not convinced I’d get there.
It’s no surprise then that I would click on a link floating around Facebook titled “Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort” (even if it was penned by billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban). His argument is simple: Jumping down passion’s rabbit holes can be a huge waste of time. Instead, pay attention to how you spend your time and the instances in which you go the extra mile. Your effort will lead to expertise, fertile grounds for enjoyment and passion, which can easily grow success.
Here’s why I like Cuban’s post:
Time is a valuable asset and, like your paycheck, how you spend it is telling.
Fellow YNPNer Josh Dye recently provided great strategies for making the most of our time. Once your time management habits are in-check, start tracking those maximized minutes and hours. Do you spend a lot of your out-of-work time volunteering? Following local issues? Perfecting your jump shot or backswing?
I reflected on this point and realized that I spend a lot of my time on personal relationships. I frequently offer to help with whatever project or challenge is top-of-mind, and I enjoy every minute of it. This may indicate my next career experience should involve plenty of stakeholder engagement and problem-solving.
Sometimes, passion follows hard work, not the other way around.
Have you ever found yourself really getting into something that totally surprised you? My example of this is becoming a map-nerd. I took a few GIS classes in college, but I wouldn’t say that it was ever my “passion.” My job responsibilities required mapping on occasion - nothing too advanced - but as my skills developed, so did my interest. Before long, I requested additional training and started subscribing to blogs and listservs; my passion for social demography grew exponentially. Who knew? I didn’t - at first. Approaching “other duties as assigned” with an awareness for voluntary extra effort can lead us to something greater - like discovery or success.
Passion is not always the starting point. What we actually do with our time and effort - not simply what we dream of doing - can provide more insight into where we might find meaningful experiences and, ultimately, success.
How has your idea of fulfilling your passion changed or stayed the same?
Photo from marketingtango.
To celebrate reaching 30,000 twitter followers, Nonprofit Quarterly is hosting a twitter challenge! The nonprofit featured in the most tweets using the tag #np5words will win free ad space and promotion on NPQ's social media sites. Our chapter leaders jumped into this conversation right away!
To celebrate reaching 30,000 twitter followers, Nonprofit Quarterly is hosting a twitter challenge! The nonprofit featured in the most tweets using the tag #np5words will win free ad space and promotion on NPQ's social media sites. Our chapter leaders jumped into this conversation right away!
At last month’s YNPNdc Leadership Conference, I facilitated a panel discussion with two of the most dynamic people I know in the career management and personal branding businesses. Karen Chopra owns a thriving career counseling practice in the district and Davie Uejio who is the Lead for Talent Acquisition at the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The conversation was informative, enlightening and inspiring…and almost impossible to distill into a few thoughts. Here are a few key takeaways for me.
- We can’t control what’s happening in the workplace. There is constant change—new careers, new organizations, and new ways to share information. If you step back, you might miss a great opportunity.
- We can control our reputation and our message, what we can contribute and our skills and knowledge.
- We are ultimately in charge of our careers. Although we might not be able to avoid a layoff or suddenly find ourselves working for a not-so-great boss, we can be ready for unexpected change.
To do that, ask yourself these questions to see if you do own your career:
- Do you know what you’d like to do? What lights you up—makes you want to jump out of bed every day because you can’t wait to get started? If you know, write it down—make it yours. Keep adding to it and refining the description. If you don’t, consider everything you read or hear about through the possibility of it to becoming a potential career.
- Where is the work you think needs to be done getting accomplished? What are the careers that will get you there? What are the organizations that are aligned with your personal goals and purpose? Learn more—find people who work there. Ask for informational interviews. Become familiar with what they’re doing. Follow them on Twitter and connect with them on LinkedIn. Join relevant groups.
- What skills do you need so your resume will get noticed? If you need to develop new skills or enhance current ones, how will you do it?
- How strong is your network? Who’s in your corner who can talk about your skills? How have you helped others achieve their career goals? They may be the people who can help you now. Continually strengthen your relationships.
- What’s your LinkedIn profile telling others about you? Have you googled yourself lately? Find out what others can easily learn about you. Don’t put anything on the web that you wouldn’t want a future employer to see. Look for what might harm you and work to have it removed.
- Take action every day to move your career forward. Tomorrow will bring surprises—both good and bad. The key is having clarity about what you want, knowing what you need to get there and creating the message that communicates that you can uniquely do the work.
Like many YNPN members, my early life experiences informed my professional life today. Active in my church in childhood and adolescence, I developed a deep commitment to social and environmental justice, and joined multigenerational teams volunteering for a variety of causes. In college, I was lucky to study abroad through Semester at Sea, which (as I then described) “smacked me in the face with my own privilege”, exposed me to extreme wealth disparity and racism around the globe, and caused me to question most of what I knew: my middle-class lifestyle, my major life choices, and my role in a world that was both so beautiful and so broken. As I began to look for full-time work following college, I was certain – fervently, urgently so – that I wanted to devote my life to social change, and my professional life to the nonprofit sector.
Already then, I knew my tendencies - to overextend myself, to neglect my own health, and to fuel my work out of guilt, urgency, and a sense of martyrdom – which left me drained and burned out, often. In my first full-time job, as a national community organizer, I epitomized workaholism and experienced physical and emotional pain because of it. I began to despair that I would not be able to live out my calling to work for social change, without sacrificing my health and relationships in the process.
Early in my career, I was fortunate to enroll in a graduate school launching a first-of-its-kind experiment: a Masters program in Social Change at a theological school (seminary). The program sought to provide not only professional and academic training, but also spiritual and emotional grounding, to social change leaders. I was encouraged to make sense of my own experience, and place it in a larger context of social movement history. I explored common struggles social change leaders experience in their professional and personal lives, and how these may differ across class, race, gender, and other identities. I devoted my final project to “Personal Sustainability and Mental Health in Social Movements”, using my own story as a central narrative. It was another privileged experience, to immerse myself in the study and implementation of “self care”. That program would have been difficult or impossible to complete if I hadn’t been a middle class, school-loan beneficiary without dependents.
The “self care” theme has shaped my life and career ever since. In most leadership roles, from counseling youth to managing political campaigns, I experienced external factors (i.e. workplace environments) and internal factors (i.e. my own psychology) that predisposed me to burnout – reminding me again and again to sharpen my strategic work-planning, boundary-setting, and care-taking skills. I’ve found purpose in mentoring and training others on how to cultivate health, care, and sustainability within their own social change efforts. And, I’m constantly trying to understand how my social location – for example, as a white middle-class formally-educated woman – impacts my needs for, and practices of, “self care”.
This theme came up immediately when I began working with YNPN National, via the LaunchPad Fellowship program. As Talent Coordinator, I work with our Director, Trish, to evaluate the experience of YNPN leaders – for example our LaunchPad Fellows – and systemically cultivate a work environment in which we reflect openly on our challenges, support each other in taking care of ourselves, and plan and execute our work in strategic and sustainable ways. It’s an awesome challenge.
In our most recent LaunchPad staff meeting, I offered a professional development presentation centered on an essay called “An End to Self Care” by my friend and collaborator B Loewe, which builds on “Communites of Care” by Yashna Padamsee. Both were published in Organizing Upgrade, an online forum for community organizers to share and develop strategy. “An End to Self Care” came out last fall, and ignited a national conversation.
The article doesn’t so much seek to end self-care, as reframe it. Self care, as it’s usually understood, is an individual – rather than collective – task, often inaccessible and irrelevant to those who aren’t middle-class people with leisure time (i.e. no family dependents). Self care is often framed as another “to do” on an already unwieldy workload, leading to unrealistic, unattainable expectations that can make us feel bad about failing to adequately care for ourselves.
There are many insights in the article, so I’ll paraphrase just a few key points:
Building a society in which all are able to be healthy, cared-for and sustainable requires critical reflection on the possibilities and limitations of the nonprofit sector.
The experience of working for non-profits and social change efforts needs, in many ways, to be reconstructed or reframed to become a more energizing rather than draining experience.
To break out of the isolation often perpetuated by our dominant culture, we must move beyond care for the self and practice collective or community care.
Community care is a collectively liberatory practice which can not only sustain our own involvement in social causes, but enable many more – across class, race, family and other social locations – to join us.
The earlier article “Communities of Care” similarly called for collective/shared care, which unlike self care interrupts and transforms systems on a broader level. Yashna Padamsee, a leader in Healing Justice, or HJ, movements, urges us look at the root causes of why we need care and healing – for example, to explore how ableism is operating in our communities and organizations, and creating unrealistic or unattainable expectations for our work.
The need for care and healing is crucial: according to the Southern Healing Justice Collective, social changemakers are at a particular risk of “spiritual and physical deprivation from trauma, stress and unrest in our movements” and “dying as a result”. “Communities of Care” reminds that just as injustices are interconnected and affect us all, so are and must be our efforts for healing and care. Disability Justice movements are leading the way in showing us that we don’t have to keep doing our work in the same way nor do we need to do it alone.
Organizing Upgrade put together an excellent “Roundup and Re-Frame of the Community Care Conversation” highlighting the large and diverse range of responses when “An End to Self Care” was published last fall. Two of the excellent points:
Rather than self-care, we need self-determined care:
“The messages we receive are that our lives don’t matter, that we don’t deserve love, or even to exist.” By loving and caring for ourselves we are fighting the system; “to choose instead to value ourselves, our health, and the health of our communities – all as one, not at odds with each other – is radical, it’s self-determination.” - Adrienne Maree Brown
Care is and must be at the core of changemaking:
“True care, whether it is self-centered, community-centered or family-centered is something we should assume is part of change work...Whether people like the analogy or not, we are soldiers fighting a war for human dignity. The key to winning the war is, in part, knowing when to be soldiers and when to be parents, children, siblings, spouses/partners or just human. To learn how to be all of those things effectively requires all of us prioritizing care.” - Subhash Kateel
How have you – personally and professionally – experienced care, health, and sustainability (or lack thereof) as an individual? What about as part of a group or organization? What social factors, such as class, race, gender, and family role – have impacted those experiences? What is your vision of a better world, in which all are cared for – and how do we get there from here? What role can the nonprofit sector play in enacting that vision?
We plan to raise these questions and more throughout YNPN – via the blog, during next week’s national YNPN Leaders Conference, and in more ways to come. Tell us your own thoughts and reactions in the comment section below or on our Facebook, or Twitter, and join the conversation.
By Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator