YNPN National Board member Cat Beltmann talks about the adventure she's embarking on in 2014 and shares a few tips for going out on your own.
Last August, I made one of the biggest career decisions of my life. I decided to start my own consulting business. I had never worked for myself, really had no idea what I was getting myself into, but knew that I had to make a change. I had worked with a number of consultants over the years and decided they had the best jobs ever. Doesn’t sleeping in, working on projects you want to work on, and sitting at your desk in pajamas sound amazing?!
I couldn’t officially make the leap until November, but decided that my first move needed to be talking to my boss. I knew that he would be supportive of my decision and I wanted his blessing to start talking to mutual contacts about my transition. The last thing I wanted to happen was for him to find out through the grapevine that I was quitting. Thankfully, our conversation went a million times better than expected. During my transition, I spent countless hours getting advice from anyone and everyone. I’ve learned a lot during the past few months. Sadly, my initial picture of consulting work was a bit skewed, but it’s been an amazing journey so far.
So, what advice have I found helpful?
1. Whether or not to set-up a work day routine is a big debate. Some people recommended acting like you are going to an office – shower, shave, and get dressed in work clothes. Others recommended just going with the flow. Work when you want and wear your pajamas if you so desire. I think you just need to find what works best for you. Attempt a structured routine and if you hate it make adjustments. What works for one person might not work for you.
2. If you work from home create a workspace. It’s easy to be reminded of all of the housework you could/should take care of when you’re sitting in the middle of it, and on the flip side it can be hard to stop working if you’re constantly sitting by your laptop. Working for yourself shouldn’t be an excuse to toss work-life balance out the window and designating a workspace can help. I was lucky enough to have a room that I could convert into an office. If you don’t have a separate room then carve out a corner of your kitchen, bedroom, or living room. Set-up a desk and use it when you’re working. Establish an office closing time, leave your desk, and don’t go back until the next day.
3. Working for yourself is very different than working for someone else. You’ll quickly realize there is a big difference between running your business and doing business. You are your technology person, bookkeeper, personal assistant, and chief marketing officer. Clients aren’t paying you for the time spent fixing your printer or setting up invoices. Don’t underestimate the amount of time you’ll have to spend actually running your business. You might be working 60 hours a week, but you’re probably only getting paid for half of that (if you are lucky).
4. There are tools and apps that will make your life so much easier. Use them! Do your research and ask around. Two of the first things you’ll need to figure out is what it will cost you to run your business and how much you should charge. Freelance Switch has a great rate calculator to help you figure that out. I love using Toggl to track my time and Wave for accounting.
5. This sounds cliché, but believe in yourself and trust your instincts. My grandpa once gave my brother the advice that when you get to a four way stop just close your eyes and go. Terrible driving advice but great life advice. Close your eyes and go has become my personal mantra. If you’re going to succeed you have to trust yourself and your abilities. Every time I start to panic and doubt myself I just remember to close my eyes and go. I’ve never regretted doing it and have found that I’ve succeed more times than I’ve failed.
6. Don’t forget to breathe. A friend sent me an email on my last day at my job old, she told me to take a deep breath – enjoy my last day and then take a few days before I started stressing out about finding work. The emotions and stress that go along with starting your own business can be overwhelming. I am fortunate and am off to a very solid start, but every few days I panic. I panic about finding work, if this was good financial decision, and the list goes on. After of few minutes of panic, I remind myself to take a deep breath. It’s impossible to control the future and uncertainty is part of the game. Panic won’t help you lock in your next contract or produce better work. It will only prevent you from being successful.
7. This is your journey. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that my journey is my own. No one has all of the answers, no one piece of advice is better than another, and every journey looks a little different. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!
Cat Beltmann is the owner of So Good Consulting where she partners with organizations to create and sustain social value through events and community engagement initiatives. Recent clients include the Bush Foundation, the Office of the Secretary of State, and Mylan Communications Consulting.
In her previous position, she served as the Community Engagement Manager for the Citizens League where she was in charge of developing, coordinating, and implementing numerous small and large scale events. She served as the League’s event manager for the Policy and a Pint series, a partnership between the Citizens League and 89.3 the Current.
She managed event concept development, sponsor recruitment, budget development, and event implementation for 6 of the Citizens League’s annual meetings, which draw approximately 300 attendees annually and have feature both local and national keynote speakers. Most recently, she was the catalyst for the creation of the Generation Now Leadership Visit, a 3-day leadership development trip that took 50 current and rising professionals from Minnesota to Milwaukee.
Cat holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and will receive a Masters in Nonprofit Management in the summer of 2014. She is also sits on the national board for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network.
Last week YNPNdc celebrated their 10th anniversary. In this post from their blog, YNPNdc alum Billy Fettweis shares what he learned as a member and board member of YNPNdc.
When I joined the YNPNdc board in 2009, I was naïve about what to expect. I suppose I should have known that, over the course of my two-year term, I’d develop skills and meet great people. As it would turn out, that’s pretty standard for board leadership. But it is those lessons and experiences that I never would have anticipated that keep me supporting YNPNdc today.
I served on and would later co-chair the Professional Development committee, the group that plans monthly workshops for members. Throughout my time with YNPNdc, I developed skills invaluable to my professional career, including running effective meetings, motivating long-term volunteers, and even managing conflict. In many cases, these were skills that I hadn’t had a chance to practice during my full-time job – a common refrain among my fellow leaders, who valued YNPNdc as an outlet for their creativity, drive, and passion. The network and friendships that I built with these talented individuals kept me motivated even when challenged by the demands of YNPNdc board service.
One of the most unexpected benefits of my time with YNPNdc was the appreciation I developed for board service. Early in my career, I had a rare opportunity to learn that board service is a unique way to make a difference for a cause you believe in while also advancing your own career through new skills and networks. Serving with YNPNdc helped me relate to and manage the boards of nonprofits where I’ve worked since then. And as I rolled off the board of YNPNdc, I leveraged my experience to join the board of SMYAL, the leading DC nonprofit addressing the needs of LGBTQ youth. At SMYAL, I started a volunteer committee to engage young professionals in SMYAL’s work, and all of this would have been impossible without YNPNdc.
But most important, and perhaps most unexpectedly, YNPNdc gave me pride in the nonprofit sector. Many of us hear the negative stereotypes – that nonprofits are unbusiness-like and chaotic, and the early career professionals who work there are idealistic “do-gooders” who will soon realize they can make more money in the for-profit sector. YNPNdc taught me that these stereotypes are ignorant of those strategic, thoughtful organizations and individuals who are making change – often gradually, often beneath the radar, but in enduring and inspiring ways.
As young nonprofit professionals, we’re tenacious, we’re ambitious, and we’re incredibly resourceful (often because we have to be). We work for nonprofits not just because we have an idealistic view of how we want the world to be, but because we have a shared understanding of the opportunities that should exist in a just society and because we believe that each one of us, regardless of profession, has a stake and a responsibility for making this vision a reality. YNPNdc is a community where these leaders meet, share ideas, and inspire one another. And I’m proud to be a part of it.
Billy Fettweis served on the YNPNdc Board of Directors from 2009-2011, serving on and later co-chairing the Professional
Development committee. He is now the Manager of Development at Children’s Law Center, the largest legal services nonprofit in DC, which provides legal services to at-risk children and their families. Prior to this role, he was the Senior Development Manager at the Parkinson’s Action Network, where he was responsible for generating $2.2 million in annual private revenue. He also served as Director of Volunteer Services at Greater DC Cares, where he managed all hands-on and skills-based volunteer programs, which engaged 43,000+ volunteers annually and supported 900+ community-based organizations. Billy is orginally from Randolph, NJ and now lives on Capitol Hill. A graduate of George Washington University, he also serves on the SMYAL Board of Directors and has served on the Local Advisory Board for LIFT-DC.
Chapter Blog Spotlight - Value of Cross-Sector, Cross-industry networking: Reflections from the Generation Now Leadership Visit
At events, I often look around the room and recognize 75 percent of the attendees.
Each of us across sectors and industries work in our own cylinders of excellence (a phrase I first heard from researcher Kristie Kauerz). We promote impactful work, but often preach to our distinct choirs. Rarely there is a venue to genuinely engage with peers doing vastly different work. But when it happens, it turns out we have a lot in common.
The Generation Now Leadership Visit, modeled after the executive level InterCity Leadership Visit, was an opportunity to bring together 55 emerging leaders across sectors and industries on an intense three-day trip to Milwaukee.
Organized by the Citizens League, the trip was a whirlwind tour highlighting success in Milwaukee. We learned about redevelopment, young professional groups, community branding, education, water policy, green buildings, etc. (the agenda was ambitious!). The best part was when I boarded the bus to depart I only knew five people, but when I returned I knew 49 more who I may not have otherwise crossed paths professionally.
My work explicitly overlaps with only one of the delegates, but I’ve rarely had as engaging of professional conversations as I had on the trip. The conversations forced me to think about my work from new perspectives and consider the impact of my work on other fields. Plus, it was humbling to discuss the work of peers.
The benefits of cross-sector and industry collaboration were obvious on both small and large scales. At one point, I was a part of a conversation between an employee of a utility company and an employee of a nonprofit working to combat homelessness. They quickly realized bill-paying customers were a common goal of both organizations - to the utility company this met its need for profit as well as serving shareholders and to the nonprofit this met the goal of financial independence for clients.
On a large scale, the diversity of attendees allowed for overarching discussions about Minneapolis-Saint Paul as a region, it’s challenges, and opportunities. Often when working in solely our own sector and industry it’s challenging to take complete ownership of a daunting problem such as the achievement gap or poverty. However, when a diverse set of players is at the table, it becomes clear that everyone is impacted by the problem and we need to work together to find solutions.
The delegation came from diverse sectors, industries, demographics, and experiences, but at the end of the trip one delegate thoughtfully commented that he had no clue the political affiliation of most of the group. Despite the diversity of the group, we all left Milwaukee with an incredible sense of urgency to move MSP forward, together. Thanks to our diversity, I’m confident we can create skyways between our cylinders of excellence. Part of our skyway system will be working towards a common vision for MSP - more on this in an upcoming Part 2.
GNLV would not have been possible without the generous support of the Bush Foundation, Knight Foundation, Carlson, Comcast, Greater MSP, Saint Paul Port Authority, US Bank, Urban Land Institute, Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, Saint Paul Chamber of Commerce and MinnPost. Thank you!
In what ways do you network across sectors and industries?- See more at: http://www.ynpntwincities.org/blog/2013/10/10/value-of-cross-sector-cross-industry-networking-reflections.html#sthash.i66fMEMo.dpuf
by Alnierys Venegas, cross-posted from YNPN Chicago.
Castle Pub was energetic and vibrant as YNPN Chicago celebrated its Board Meet and Greet. It was great to see the overwhelming response of YNPN members who are interested in board service. While mingling with prospective recruits, I reflected on my own personal journey as a member of the YNPN Chicago Board and the valuable lessons, as well as experiences, that I have learned throughout my tenure.
It is exciting to be a part of a member-driven, all-volunteer, working board of young nonprofit professionals committed to enhancing the sector, but there are three key things that I have learned during my time with YNPN that I would like for those considering board service to think about:
You Are the Workhorse – Being a part of a board will require completing tasks independently, or in a team, in order to assist with the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. Often times, people assume that board involvement has little to no responsibilities aside from attending meetings, so you’ll often overhear comments like this:
“Huh…this is so much work.”
“I didn’t’ think I was going to be responsible with actually executing the idea I presented in the meeting.”
“Can’t somebody else take on the responsibility?”
My YNPN colleague, Aaron House, explained this concept best in his blog, “A Board Service.” You will be expected to be accountable for taking on tasks outside of the board room. In short, you are the workhorse.
You Create the Experience – Aside from the work that is expected, there will be plenty of opportunities to attend board events, functions, and meetings. This is a great opportunity to get to know your peers and meet new meet people. If you choose not to attend or if you limit yourself from engaging in those extracurricular activities, then your board experience will, more than likely, not be as enjoyable or fulfilling as it could be. The whole purpose of board participation is growing personally and professionally while connecting with individuals that could aid both in your career and personal lives. Connect. Engage. Create a memorable experience!
You Make a Commitment – Board terms last 1-2 years. That can seem like a pretty long time for a young professional, especially when you don’t know what kind of life circumstance you will face such as family, relationship, school, or career changes. Despite these circumstances you should honor your term commitment. Doing so not only demonstrates steadfastness, but your ability to respect your peers who joined hoping to have your support in board service. Not to mention, it also helps to build your character.
As I end my board service with YNPN Chicago, I will take with me not only these key lessons, but a phenomenal experience that allowed me to meet new people, learn about other nonprofit organizations, and develop new skills which helped me to grow personally and professionally. Take it from me…be accountable, enjoy your board service, and honor the commitment that you accepted. It is worth it.
The Stress of the “5-Year Plan"
By Alicia Jay, cross-posted from www.rabbleup.com.
I recently asked a room-full of emerging social change leaders to close their eyes and picture their professional selves in 5 years. Everyone closed their eyes, and sat with the visualization. After the exercise, I asked for reactions. A few folks shared their visions– brilliant and inspiring.
Then, one brave woman stood up and said, “That exercise really stressed me out!” I LOVED her honesty, and it really got me thinking.
Projecting into the future has always been one of my go-to tools whenever I’m feeling stuck, bored, or just planning for my next steps. I love imagining myself 5 or 10 years from now. My Type-A side is nicely balanced with my inner day-dreamer, and visualization remains one of my strongest manifestation tricks.
But, for some, or maybe even for many emerging leaders, conjuring up that vision is terrifying or impossible:
How am I supposed to know where I want to be in 5 years, I’m not sure where I want to be next month?
I like what I’m doing now, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue this work for 5 years?
I don’t see how I can support myself financially doing non-profit work for the long-haul? These are all valid feelings.
If these types of questions are resonating with you, I encourage you to throw away the idea that you need a “5-Year Plan” and just simply start with one basic question for your work NOW:
How do you want to feel at work every day?
Get specific with your answer. Here are some examples from recent conversations I’ve had (paraphrased) to get the juices flowing:
- I want more responsibility at work—I want to feel like my boss and co-workers trust me, and are willing to give me big projects to work on without micromanaging. I want to feel acknowledged for the good work that I have done. I’m a team player, but I also want ownership.
- I like my job, but I want to feel more stable. I know my organization is having financial trouble, and I’m worried that if they have to cut jobs, mine will be the first to go. I don’t know much about how the fundraising works, but I’d be happy to help in any way that I can. I wish I could be included more in decision-making conversations, or at least feel more clued-in to what’s happening.
- I think I’m in a rut. Between working a day job and volunteering on the weekends, I think I’m getting burnt out. I want to feel excited to go to work, not exhausted and dreading every Monday morning. I want to feel supported, inspired, and like I’m making real social change every day.
Again, the more specific of a picture you can paint, the easier it will be to take action steps.
The person from the first example decided it was time to have a conversation with her boss about more responsibility and taking the steps to work her way up to a manager’s role. She also realized that in a few years, she might want to be a Program Director or other manager of some sort.
The next person decided to schedule an informational interview with someone that works in philanthropy. Instead of feeling disempowered by the fundraising aspect of his organization, he realized he might actually want to pursue either fundraising or even grant making in the future.
This last example is arguably the most common situation I hear. There is no one prescription for this situation, and in my experience, it’s the right time for many people to get more personalized and ongoing support.
If you’re finding yourself on the brink of, or already, in a cycle of burn out, come say hi over at www.rabbleup.com, and take the FREE questionnaire and get a personalized response directly from me.
There’s no need to force a “vision” if it’s just not coming to you. Leadership vision is only useful if it’s a source of inspiration and motivation, not stress.
Don’t want to plan out your life for the next decade?! No problem, just start with how you want to feel tomorrow.
Alicia Jay is the founder of Rabble Up, a coaching and training program for emerging social change leaders. Go to www.rabbleup.com for more information or to schedule a free coaching consultation.
“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.
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.
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?