Last fall at a conference, I had the chance to sit in on a session facilitated by Kirk Kramer of the Bridgespan Group. During the session, Kirk shared a framework for developing organizational leaders laid out in a recent report written by he and his colleague Preeta Nayak entitled, What’s Your “Plan A” for Growing Future Leaders? If you haven’t had the chance to read the report yet, I highly recommend. It does a solid job of drawing the link between leadership development throughout an organization (especially younger leaders) and the growth and sustainability of any organization. It also couples this development with other key planning processes like budgeting and strategic planning. So Plan A pulls what is often seen as peripheral or an afterthought for most organizations into the center, encourages organizations to be proactive about this process, and (best yet) offers a step by step process for building an organizational culture that supports development. (Who doesn’t love step-by-step?)
Okay back to that conference...
Kirk shared during his session that Bridgespan’s Plan A framework had its roots in the Center for Creative Leadership’s “70-20-10” model. This model, based on extensive research, sets 70 percent on-the-job learning, 20 percent coaching and mentoring, and 10 percent formal training as the optimal mix for adult learning and development.
While I was quite familiar with the Center for Creative Leadership, before Kirk’s session, I had never heard of the 70-20-10 model, but found that it aligned almost exactly with YNPN’s “Pillars of Leadership Development” - four key areas that have our members have identified over YNPN’s 15 years as most valuable to their own leadership development.
The missing link from the 70-20-10 model, however, that so many of our members site as essential to their own growth is “access to a networks.” As I travel the country meeting with members, I hear time and again that skills-based trainings provided by organizations like ours, coaching and mentoring (which chapters are increasingly offering), and a place to apply those skills via “stretch” opportunities on the job or even board service are important pieces of their work to grow as effective change agents. But YNPNers cite just as equally the importance of being able to have these experiences in community and to access and discover new opportunities via the network.
So as giants in the field of sector research and leadership development continue to refine these models for building stronger leaders and more effective organizations for addressing society’s most pressing problems, it is important not to overlook the critical importance of networks. Next generation leaders know that individual and even organizational development falls short without connection and collaboration.
My Five Week Networking & Job Blitz
A little over a year ago I found myself in uncharted territory. I had recently completed my master’s degree in nonprofit management and was looking to change careers from the faith-based nonprofit sector, where I had been for five years, to the general nonprofit sector and I didn’t know where to begin.
I began meeting with a family friend who became my career coach. Through her support and “assignments,” I started the craziest five weeks of my life which I now call my “five week networking blitz.” At the end of the five weeks I had met with 25 nonprofit professionals, applied for ten jobs, had three interviews and took a new position. My career search had become my full-time job.
As I look back on my five week networking blitz, there are six takeaways which made me successful in my career search.
You are looking to make connections not just get a job
Yes, the end goal is to find a job but don’t expect every conversation to be about getting a job. Not everyone is hiring but the connection you are meeting with may know about an opening. You are looking to build your “black book” of nonprofit contacts. People you can reach out to when you are struggling with something on the job and people who begin to think about you when a job opening occurs. These connections will be partners throughout your professional career.
Make a list of your nonprofit connections
Make a list of all of your nonprofit connections with their organization, position, phone number, email and mailing address. Highlight contacts who will be most beneficial to your search.
When first sitting down it may seem like your list is going to be short, but think about everyone you interact with. These people can include classmates, past colleagues, someone you met through YNPN Denver, board members, or organizations at which you volunteer. Another challenge would be to add people who work at your “dream” organization. This may be a stretch, but remember, you are only looking to make a connection, not get a job offer.
Ask for an informational meeting
Once you have come up with your list of nonprofit professionals, begin setting up informational meetings with these individuals. Once again, you are looking for information which will help you professionally. If you know you are looking to move from programming to development, meet with a development director and ask questions about what working in development looks like and how you can break into the field.
Remember, people love to talk about their jobs and why they do it. You are interviewing them and you are telling them about you and what type of position you are looking for. At these informational meetings also ask them for some of the best resources they have used in their own profession.
If you meet them for coffee or lunch, offer to pay. Don’t forget, they are taking time out of their schedules to meet with you and offering to pay shows you value the conversation.
Ask for two additional connections
At each informational meeting ask your contact for two additional contacts that may be beneficial for your job search. You are trying to spread your networking net as far as you can, but depending on your professional experience your initial net might be small. By reaching out to their contacts you are meeting with new connections that may have other leads. Instead of just you looking for a job you now have four people looking for opportunities.
From my initial list of 30 connections I ended up with a list of over 60 people. I am now connected to people whose paths I would never have crossed if I hadn’t asked for additional contacts.
Write a handwritten thank you note
This by far is the most important step to the networking blitz. You need to send a handwritten thank you note for your informational meeting. Why handwritten? You want to show that the conversation was valuable and deserves the time it takes to write a handwritten message. In the note write about the meeting, thank them for the connections (reminding them to send you their information if they haven’t given it to you) and write about something specifically that was talked about at the meeting. For example, if they said they are in the middle of a large fundraising event wish them luck.
Write the thank you note in the car right after the meeting and stick it in the mailbox the same day. By doing this you are making sure you cover everything you talked about but also show how important the conversation was for you.
At the end of the networking blitz follow up with all your contacts. Thank them again for their time, update them on any new developments and keep in touch with them sporadically throughout the year. Once again, these are not just contacts for the five weeks but contacts for the rest of your career. Just as fundraising professionals need to steward relationships, you need to steward relationships with your contacts.
Drop them a note around Thanksgiving thanking them for their help in your professional career. Email them about a job opening they might be interested in. When you change jobs, let them know.
At the end of the day, remember it is a two-way street. Right now you might need their help in finding a job but you want to be there for them when they need you.
Have you ever participated in your own networking blitz? What were some takeaways which may be beneficial for others? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Betty Jeanne here and I’m thrilled to be in dialogue with all of you. As this blog recently announced, I’m one of the LaunchPad fellows working with YNPN National this year. The focus of my work is on talent management: how YNPN (and the larger nonprofit sector) recruits, develops, and retains leaders for our crucial work. Part of my task is evaluating and strengthening the internal systems and structures YNPN uses for talent management. However, I’m especially eager to contribute to a sector-wide conversation about the topic - and to hear from all of you about your own wisdom and experiences.
As I began working with YNPN, I found great alignment between my own vision for the nonprofit sector, and that of our national organization. We were asking similar questions: How do you best support the exceptional leaders - both paid and volunteer - to make our vision a reality? What unique opportunities and challenges does the nonprofit sector face with leadership development? What best practices have YNPN chapters developed around talent management, and how can we amplify those lessons to be shared nationally?
Personally, my approach to talent management reflects my overall orientation to nonprofit leadership. My work centers on relationship; on building and leveraging a diverse network in service of an organization's mission and vision. I support the holistic wellbeing of both paid and unpaid leaders, knowing their experience – from recruitment to retention – plays a crucial role in determining an organization's success.
I’m aware that the practice of talent management (TM) is rapidly changing due to shifts in the nonprofit sector, economic and political climates, generational turnover in the workforce, and new technological developments. We will need greater innovation and creativity to first identify the human resources (or “people power”) needed to accomplish an organization’s goals, then to find ways to strategically meet those needs.
Some of the lessons I’ve gathered about talent management:
- Organizations have their own unique SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) for talent management (TM). A strategy for TM must consider these factors in order to enable an organization reach its particular goals.
- The nonprofit sector specifically requires us to value and develop both unpaid (volunteer) talent and paid staff, and to explore hybrid models of paid and unpaid staffing.
- Understanding and addressing generational differences – for example, how to connect more effectively with an increasing workforce of tech-immersed “Millennials” – is essential. Fostering intergenerational community contributes to organizational vitality overall.
- More than ever, professional and personal lives are managed through social media and mobile platforms: our methods of outreach must respond to this trend.
- Increasing turnover rates call us to a greater emphasis on retention that responds to leaders’ individual needs. Personally, I am passionate about one-on-one support of leaders, as well as strengthening overall morale and teambuilding.
- Organizations must combine external recruitment with internal development (building skills and leadership among existing leaders) to ensure the talent they need.
- Leaders need to feel a positive connection not only to an organization’s brand, but to the underlying values that guide its work.
- We can learn so much from intentionally observing and evaluating the experience of both current leaders (retention), as well as potential candidates (recruitment).
- Talent management must be an ongoing, intentional process that engages all stakeholders – staff, volunteers, board members, donors, etc. – in building the strongest organization possible.
Most of all, I’m eager to learn from all of you about your own experiences with talent management, and exchange ideas for how to make this part of our work even stronger. In the comment box below, I’d love to hear:
- How are the points above showing up in your organization? Where are you struggling? Where are you making inroads?
- What great resources or insights have you come upon lately in these areas?
Chapter leaders: keep an eye out for an invitation for you to contribute your own lessons, questions, and best practices on talent management in the coming months. We’ll be sharing tools and resources over social media, and exploring the topic more deeply on the YNPN blog.
by Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward, LaunchPad Fellow and National Talent Coordinator