The other day I was reading about a social sector initiative that aims to accomplish its goal of solving an intractable social problem by 2020. I immediately thought to myself, “Sure, anything’s possible in the distant future!” Then I realized that 2020 is actually not so distant. In fact, I probably have canned foods in my cabinet that expire around that time.
Aside from forgetting what year it is, when it comes to the future we often assume, like I did, that anything is possible. And we take for granted that it will be accomplished in some mysterious way that we don’t understand now but surely will by the time we’re using our Apple watches to remote start our hovercrafts (which everyone has, because poverty has been eradicated!)
It’s somewhat understandable that we often take this approach; many of us are so busy working to eradicate poverty and any number of injustices in our day-to-day work that we don’t often have the time to lift our heads up and think about what our work will look like in 2040 and what will happen between now and then.
One organization that is doing that thinking is Independent Sector, a network for nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. Recently they’ve been convening a series of events across the country to start a dialogue about the challenges and opportunities that will define the social sector and our work in the next twenty years.
They’re calling these conversations Threads, and chances are that one of these events is coming soon to a town near you. I recently had the opportunity to attend their Threads event in New York where we had the opportunity to provide feedback on their work and discuss how we see the sector and the context we work in changing over the next two decades.
With the input of their members and other stakeholders, IS has identified nine trends that will affect the social sector in profound ways. They are:
- Disruption from inequality and environmental degradation
- Greater ethnic diversity and new generations of leadership
- Technology transforming learning, gathering, and associations
- Swarms of individuals connecting with institutions
- Business becoming increasingly engaged in social and environmental issues
- New models for social welfare and social change
- Uncertainty: Will there be a resurgence of the public’s voice in policymaking?
- Uncertainty: Will the primary focus for policy development be at the local or national level?
- Uncertainty: How will government balance competing priorities and revenue pressures?
To learn more about how they see these forces playing out, you’ll have to check out their reports and resources that explore these trends further. I recommend spending some time thinking about where you’ve observed these forces and how you see them affecting your work.
Have you noticed leaderful movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter swarming institutions and applying pressure for social change? Did you know that many young people believe that businesses are more effective at making social change than nonprofit organizations are? Where have you seen young leaders stepping up and bringing new models of leadership to the sector?
We at YNPN would love to hear your thoughts about the future of the sector, and we know our friends at IS would as well. Tweet at @ynpn & @IndSector and tell us what you think about these trends and the future of the sector.
When it comes to hiring new board members, everyone wants the right people on the team. Dozens of resources focus on how to probe a candidate’s qualifications as well as their willingness to make the time commitment. Yet cultural fit often remains a mystery.
Earlier this month, YNPN National began onboarding eight new and talented Board members. Every year we work to improve our board recruitment, onboarding, and engagement. We want the right people on the team, which means we focus on qualifications, motivation, and cultural fit. We talk about our culture openly in our outreach, interviews, and calibration process.
Culture has become a bit of a buzzword lately. The idea of “cultural fit” became popular during the development of organizational psychology in the 1970s, but many myths about organizational culture remain.
As we kick off 2015, let’s take some time to examine a few of the most common myths around hiring board members for cultural fit and how YNPN approaches board culture.
Myth 1: Your mission statement defines your culture.
Mission, values, and vision statements can mirror culture, but organizational culture is based on shared attitudes, unwritten rules, and even traditions developed over time.
At YNPN, we talk consistently and formally about our board’s culture during every board meeting and informally through our internal communications. We talk openly about the behaviors we believe in, model, and articulate externally.
During the recruitment process, we look for leaders who successfully develop collaborative remote relationships, who listen thoughtfully during strategic conversations, and who stay flexible and resilient when uncertainty exists. And we ask directly about these behaviors in our recruiting outreach, interviews, reference conversations, and our candidate calibration. But we also look for endurance, which brings us to our next myth.
Myth 2: Urgency trumps everything.
Many of us have worked in cultures where “bias to action” was encouraged at all costs. Yet often that leads to reactive tactics fueled by adrenaline and shortcuts. The conventional wisdom about interview questions encourages us to ask candidates about working under pressure, making quick decisions, and re-prioritizing goals on the fly.
We see things differently at YNPN. We want someone to articulate a passion for our mission that translates into a strategic sense of urgency. In addition to urgency, expanding our national movement requires endurance. Endurance is inconvenient when you’re focused on short-term goals and quick turnaround, but a strategic sense of urgency for our mission that prizes being around for the long haul is what will sustain us through the ever-changing challenges we face.
Myth 3: Teammates who fit will hit the ground running.
In many industries and organizations, leaders prioritize “hiring for fit” so that new employees immediately impact short-term financial results. Investing in anything but a short onboarding is seen as low ROI. I often hear from managers who argue that when you hire for fit, you can speed through onboarding and move to revenue generation.
And as on any strong board, YNPN National Board members are responsible for growing revenue and supporting financial sustainability. Rather than speed through onboarding, we are intentional about our new board members’ First 90 Days. We create space for new relationships to form, both with peers and with Board leadership, and for the content and format of each new board member’s engagement to take shape. We believe that this is how we’ll maximize the value of each board member’s unique contributions.
Myth 4: Ask a candidate about her idea of an ideal culture.
“Describe the working environment that enables you to work at your best,” is a commonly recommended question to probe for culture fit. The thinking is that people who describe something similar to your existing way of working are a good cultural fit. But evaluating candidates in this way can lead you to select people who might not be able to bring fresh perspectives that will help keep your culture healthy.
At YNPN we’d rather hear about what stops you from performing at your best, or what teammates can do to hold you accountable when you’re feeling overwhelmed. A successful culture can encourage people to work together across differences in preference and style. Which brings us to our final myth...
Myth 5: Board culture is one-size-fits all.
We aim to tell board applicants who we are and what it’s honestly like to work alongside us, but we must balance fresh perspectives with existing board culture.
Why? Because we look for people whose primary motive is to advance our mission and sometimes that requires changing and adapting. Great leaders are learners and listeners, and as we strive to lead this crucial national movement, we surely have many more organizational myths to bust along the way.
What are some myths (and truths) about organizational culture that you’ve seen?
Kate Capossela, MBA serves on the YNPN National Board, where she leads the Board Development Committee, which oversees several board functions, including recruitment. She is a passionate advocate for strengthening nonprofit management, especially talent development, and she has served in leadership roles at national nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and the private sector. She lives in San Francisco.
If you're interested in exploring organizational culture further, Kate recommends The Psychology of Behavior at Work
One of our major moments from 2014 was the hiring of our second and third staff members.
A bit of history: even though YNPN National was established in 2004, we didn't become a staffed organization until 2011 with the hiring of our National Director Trish Tchume. For two and a half years, Trish held down the fort, raising money to increase our capacity and leading the network through tremendous growth.
We are so excited to welcome Elana and Jamie to the team. Increasing our staff from one person to three people has opened up new possibilities for YNPN and set us up for major success and growth in 2015!
L to R: Jamie, Trish, and ELANA! (To answer your question: Yes. Yes she is rockin’ a Roots Christmas sweater)
People usually use the term “N of 1” to call themselves out when they know they’re making a gross generalization based on a small body of evidence.
“By the way, you have to make sure you repeat your extra pickles order at this place. They always, always forget.”
“Well they forgot last time I was here so...well...N of 1.”
Now, I’m a fan of sound data as much as the next person, but every once in awhile an N of 1 can do a pretty solid job of giving you all the evidence you need. For example, we’re choosing to believe that Elana Needle, our new Data Systems Director, is what the entire nonprofit sector workforce will look like in 15 years. Okay, well maybe it won’t look like her, specifically, but I do believe that what now feels like the incredibly unique (and fortuitous!) combination of skills, experiences, and interests that she brings will become more and more common. And it’s exciting to think about all the ways this will transform the way we work for change.
Early in 2014, YNPN went through an intensive Theory of Change process that made clear to us, if we had any chance of achieving our audacious goal building a diverse and powerful social sector, we needed dynamic data and communications systems. So in the posting for our newly-developed Data Systems Manager position, we explained that we were looking for someone who could help YNPN:
- Become the representative voice of young nonprofit professionals (YNPs) across the country
- Develop a data platform that provides robust space for member-to-member connections, chapter-to-chapter connections, and network-to-sector connections.
- Create a data-positive culture – which means respect, skill, and enthusiasm for data-backed decision making – amongst our chapter leaders and members that will improve the way our whole sector thinks about and uses data.
Almost immediately after posting we started to hear from the naysayers - folks explaining to us that the person we were searching for didn’t exist. You might be able to find someone who can set up and manage a database, they said. But there’s no way you can find someone who has a mind for all that AND can rally an entire network to be engaged and excited about the possibilities of data.
That person just doesn’t exist, they said.
But then we also started to hear from these people who supposedly didn’t exist, so many of them from right within our network - people with the unique combination of skills we were looking for who came by these in equally unique and interesting ways. They were library scientists and policy analysts and computer game developers. Many of them had been working in the private sector or were working in the nonprofit sector and thought that their interest in data meant that they would spend their careers relegated to dark corners of the social sector.
So in their letters to us and in their interviews, many of these same folks talked about how surprised and encouraged they were to see a position like this prioritized for an organization as small as ours. We, in turn, were thrilled to find that there actually were people out there with the right set of skills we were looking for - not a deluge but enough to make us hopeful.
When we saw Elana’s resume, however, and finally had the chance to interact with her in person, we knew we’d found the one. Her education ranged from a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies to a PhD in Social Welfare (did you even know that was a thing? We didn’t, but how cool is that?) She’d spent the last six years building, training folks on, and evaluating the U.S. pilot of a very technical British program aimed at reducing childhood obesity. And in her spare time, she was researching and writing on topics like, “Race, Space, and the Urban South.”
We assumed from her resume that she had a mind for data and analysis but did she have the personality to engage our network and to fit our organizational culture? Within moments of our first in-person interview, there was no question. Elana immediately dispelled all the myths we’d been hearing from the naysayers about who can be a data jock. First: she is a she (apparently the ladies can do numbers too! Who knew??) Second, she’s a border crosser - able to navigate between the wonk world and the world that the rest of us occupy with ease. Most importantly, she so obviously gets that data is meant to be in service of greater goals - like understanding the impacts of race and space - it is not a goal in and of itself.
Given all this, we naturally feel incredibly lucky and proud to have Elana join YNPN as our Data Systems Director and third staffer.
We know that she is the right person at the right time to help us achieve our audacious goals. But we’re also excited for what the fact that someone like Elana signals for the future of the sector in general. We’re willing to use our N of 1 to point to an exciting trend in the diversity of fields, majors, and backgrounds that are making their way to the sector. Or stories of how those currently in the sector are building their knowledge base in areas that go beyond traditional nonprofit management to strengthen the field - everything from organizational development to somatics.
There is a growing realization that the complex work of building a just society requires an equally complex combination of talents. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have Elana as both an example and as a new partner in building the sort of network that we believe is necessary to support these emerging leaders. Here’s to the future of YNPN!
If you followed along with the 12 Days of YNPN in 2013, you know that we were already pumped for this year's conference last December. And it didn't disappoint.
The YNPN National Conference & Leaders Institute is our annual gathering of YNPN chapter leaders. Here are the highlights of #ynpn14, held June 26-28, 2014 in the Twin Cities and co-hosted by YNPN & YNPN Twin Cities.
2014 was a big year for YNPN. We celebrated ten years as a national network, set an ambitious fundraising goal and blew through it, hosted our biggest and best conference yet, and... well, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be reviewing those moments from 2014 and a few of our other favorites events and experiences from this year. We call it the 12 Days of YNPN and we're kicking it off by welcoming our newest chapters to the network!
These three fabulous new chapters bring the YNPN network up to 40 chapters across the country. Welcome Birmingham, Hampton Roads, and New Jersey!
Do you have a favorite YNPN moment from this year? Tweet @ynpn and tell us!
Last week I attended the Independent Sector Conference, one of the key convenings for the nonprofit sector. The event spans four days and is jam-packed with social sector goodness; the official conference activities alone can go from 7:30 in the morning until 10:30 at night. With more than a thousand attendees, Independent Sector (IS) is a great place to network and build relationships. But it’s also the kind of event that can be grueling for introverts like me.
As much as I love meeting and learning from other people, after a couple hours of engaging I instinctively start looking for the door.
Oh Savage Chickens, you get me.
While this was my first time attending IS, it wasn’t my first time attending a conference as an introvert who finds being in groups of people for long periods of time draining, no matter how interesting and stimulating the conversation.
Over the years I’ve learned a few practices that help me manage my energy and network in ways that I enjoy:
Build in time to be alone, even if that means missing some of the content. You don’t have to go to every session, particularly if it’s a multi-day conference. You’re running a marathon, not a sprint. This was a hard thing for my little rule-following heart to accept, but I realized that managing my energy so I can be an effective relationship builder is more important than catching every single presentation.
You don’t have to mingle on their schedule. These days every conference has at least one networking reception, breakfast, or happy hour. As an introvert, these mix and mingle events are not my favorite way to meet people. But I recently realized that I don’t have to mingle on their schedule; I can set my own networking agenda.
Depending on the event, this might mean arranging meetings ahead of the conference or inviting specific people to join me for meals. It could be gathering a group of people to attend (or skip) a session together. Don’t hesitate to create your own networking spaces in order to connect with people in the ways that you prefer.
Find structured networking opportunities or create your own. One of my favorite networking activities at IS involved small group activities centered around working with an artist or art form (See our Communication Fellow Autumn’s blog post on one of those activities!).
I love structured activities where people create together or share an experience because networking isn’t the sole focus. Look for items in the conference schedule that allow you to do that or create your own opportunities. What about hosting a small game night in your hotel room? Or putting together a scavenger hunt? Structure can reduce the pressure on you to feel like you always have to be on.
You may not meet everyone. And that’s ok. There are some people who can work a room and shake everyone’s hand. It’s ok if you’re not that person. Many introverts excel at building deep relationships so use that trait to your advantage. Rather than beating yourself up for not talking to more people, try to have three or four in-depth conversations instead. You may not leave with 75 business cards but you’ll have something arguably better: several people who know you and your work well.
Pro Tip: Don't do this. It might seem a little weird.
Find an extravert and be their wingwoman or wingman. If you’re attending a conference with a friend or colleague who is the person that shakes everyone’s hand, see if it would be ok for you to check in with them from time to time when you need a moment to catch your breath. They may be happy to help make introductions to the people they’re talking to so there’s less pressure on you to initiate conversations. Use this sparingly--you also need to branch out on your own.
Push yourself. On the first day of IS, I looked at the schedule to see that on one evening there were two networking events scheduled for a total of four hours of mixing and mingling. My first thought was, “Are they trying to kill me?!” But my second thought was, “I can do this.”
I did do it, and I was glad that I did. As an introvert, your first reaction might be to avoid these parts of an event, but I would encourage you to keep in mind how valuable relationship building can be and push yourself beyond that first reaction. It may not be comfortable at first, but you’ll probably be glad you did it.
But at the same time, honor your personality and preferences. There’s a big difference between pushing yourself to be a little uncomfortable and running yourself into the ground. If you feel like your energy is fading and you just can’t talk to another person, leave. It’s ok.
I give you, and myself, permission to honor your personality and preferences and to say goodbye when you feel that it’s time to do so.
We often think of extraversion as the mode of leaders, and for a long time I had difficulty accepting that introversion is the way I’m built. Adapting extraverted settings like conferences to meet my needs using tips like the ones above has helped me realize that extraverts aren’t the only ones who can be great networkers and relationship builders.
If you’re an introvert, here are a few other resources you might enjoy:
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- I also recently learned about the Quiet Changemaker Project, which is a learning community for introverted people working to make the world a better place.