With the start of a new year, everyone's talking about "change." Individuals set personal resolutions for change, and many organizations start applying change with new strategic plans, goals, and even new hires. As a leader, how you react to change is a key component of any long-term project or organization success. Below, YNPN Birmingham Board Chair Vanessa Stevens shares key tools and lessons she learned through participation in the AmEx Leadership Series about embracing change leadership.
As young nonprofit professionals, we face many changes at the beginning of our careers. We may move for a new job, decide to go to graduate school, or face organizational challenges like a new boss or a major new role within our organization. Often there is that bittersweet emotion with change--that energy and anticipation mixed with some hesitation and anxiety. As emerging leaders at our organizations and YNPN chapters, we must also continue to adapt to necessary changes to overcome the many challenges the nonprofit sector faces.
At the American Express Leadership Academy, I learned how important it is to understand one's own change style and what people need from a leader during change. All of the Academy participants completed an assessment called the Change Style Indicator that placed everyone along a spectrum from Conserver to Pragmatist to Originator. Each of these styles comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. For example:
- A Conserver gets things done on schedule and respects the rules yet may be perceived as rigid, discouraging of innovation, and delaying action by overly reflecting.
- An Originator understands complex problems, provides future-oriented insights, and is risk-oriented, yet to others may appear impulsive and not understand how to actually get things done.
- A Pragmatist fall in the middle. They can organize ideas into action plans, build cooperation, and are flexible and adaptive. They may seem indecisive, compromising, and trying to please too many people.
Because of the different strengths and pitfalls of each change preference, it is valuable to build teams with individuals across the spectrum. Moreover, understanding one's own tendencies helps you appreciate what others bring to the table, adapt your style to what may be necessary for the particular decision at hand, and understand why you may be frustrating the Conserver, Pragmatist, or Originator at your organization (or likewise why they may be frustrating you).
As leaders, we not only need to understand our own change style, but also what change is and how to lead change successfully. At the Academy, the trainers emphasized the distinction between change and transition. Change is the beginning of something new, and it is experienced externally whereas transition is the ending and letting go that we experience internally. It is important to remember that change begins with an ending. Many people may struggle with this ending by demonstrating signs of grief, such as anger, denial, and disorientation.
Leaders must guide others through the ending towards a point where they begin to gain clarity and accept and manage change. If a leader provides no vision, then others are confused. If people feel they lack the skills to adapt to the change, they experience anxiety. Similarly, if they feel they lack the resources, they will be frustrated. Through clear communication and composure, a leader can ensure that an organization has vision, skills, incentives, resources, and a plan for action to lead change. Whether you are leading a new chapter like YNPN Birmingham, or an established chapter facing critical points in your growth, decision-making and change are constant parts of your work. Take steps to increase your own self-awareness of what you experience internally when facing a decision or going through a change and what perception others may have of you. Likewise, pay closer attention to what others might experience as a result of your decision and ensure they have the necessary tools to adapt to the change. As we learn to embrace change leadership, we hopefully will see less conflict, more innovation, and increased effectiveness and efficiency in carrying out our work and meeting our missions.
Vanessa Stevens is the Community Engagement & Education Program Coordinator at the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a nonprofit dedicated to the social, civic, and economic integration of Hispanic families. Previously, she was the Resource Development & Communications Director and an AmeriCorps VISTA. She is the Board President of the new YNPN chapter in Birmingham. Prior to moving to Birmingham, Vanessa studied International Relations at American University in Washington, DC.
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.
Last weekend, the new Launchpad fellows had the opportunity to travel to Baltimore for a 24-hour retreat. We met the board (amazing), met each other (amazing), and somehow managed to accomplish training and team-building within a 24 hour span (amazing). What surprised me the most when we left was just how much we had been able to accomplish within that short span of time.
I imagine this isn't different than the position many young nonprofit professionals find themselves in. While juggling work, life, family and volunteer commitments, there might not be time for more than a 24-hour board retreat in our schedules. Given our busy schedules, how can we make our board retreats as effective as possible in a short time frame? Below, I give my five tips for making the most of your 24-hours-and-under retreat.
- Plan ahead. Have a schedule, and stick to it. Make sure facilitators have fine-tuned their sections and are ready to lead discussion. Emailing the schedule ahead of time will allow everyone time to prepare and lead to deeper discussion during the retreat. For example, if individuals know to think about strengths and weaknesses ahead of time, you can jump right into a deep, thoughtful SWOT analysis.
- Remove distractions. Provide paper, pens and any other materials attendees might need. Take the distraction and chaos out of the situation by being proactive in gathering necessary materials ahead of time. And snacks, always snacks. In a one-day retreat, you need the full attention of individuals, so even something as simple as removing the distraction of hunger with some snack options will increase the team’s discussions.
- Less review, more discussion. In a one-day retreat, focus on activities that are high in discussion. Items that are high in learning and review -- such as reading up on policies, organization structure and background, etc -- can be saved for later. These things can be emailed out later, and read individually. Other activities -- brainstorming, strategic planning, goal setting, team building, etc -- cannot be done individually. Put those activities at the forefront of your group’s time together, and trust individuals to completely other tasks individually.
- Make it personal. One of the most important parts of the retreat is that individuals walk away with a better understanding of how their role fits into the overall team. At the end of each activity, ask individuals to reflect and share how what you covered impacts their individual role within the team.
- Have fun. Don’t be afraid to get a little silly -- do a fun icebreaker, shake things up with an old-school camp song, or share a favorite YouTube video during a break. Individuals are more likely to continue giving their best effort to a team long after your 24 hours are up if they feel they made a personal connection with the other team members. (Bonus Tip) Food, all the food. Across all cultures, food is a way to build community. Use mealtimes to your advantage as a way to foster natural teambuilding, and save the retreat time for higher-level activities like planning and strategizing. When you have food (all the food), you win (all the wins).
We know many of our local chapters are kicking off with new boards, and hope you find these tips helpful for making your short time together as efficient and effective as possible! What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for effective meetings? What retreat or team building activities stand out to you as most memorable?
You may remember how thrilled we were a few months ago when Nonprofit Quarterly approached us about kicking off a collaboration.
This week our Communications Manager Jamie Smith is over on the Nonprofit Quarterly site providing an overview of the results of the survey we developed to give you a chance to tell one of the sector's leading publications what you think. The results were very interesting:
One of the NPQ survey respondents, for example, expressed a fear that we hear time and again from established leaders about what will happen to the sector over the next five years: “I am concerned with the draining of executive talent by retirements and burnout with fewer than the number needed stepping up to replace them.”
As part of a network of more than 50,000 young nonprofit professionals who are eager to lead, our members voice that the issue is not that we don’t have leaders who are willing to step up. Rather, we are not providing them with the support they need to not only step into leadership positions, but to also be effective once they’re there.
During our recent book club Twitter chat, our ED Trish Tchume encapsulated YNPN's approach to leadership in 140 characters: "The YNPN model relies on the idea that everyone leads. Our chapter leaders start, build up, and run the network. We are because they are."
One of the best examples of this is our National Conference and Leaders Institute, which brings YNPN chapter leaders from across the country together to connect, share best practices, and collaboratively develop the future of the network. Since 2007, these national gatherings have been hosted by one of our local chapters with support from the national organization. Our local chapter leaders plan the conference from start to finish, including developing and presenting the conference sessions.
This year's conference will be hosted by YNPN Twin Cities in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. We spoke to Leah Lundquist, National Conference Committe Chair, and Jamie Millard, Board Chair of YNPN Twin Cities, to hear about what it's been like serving as a YNPN chapter leader and planning a conference for hundreds of their peers.
Jamie Millard, Board Chair of YNPN Twin Cities, leading an event
So, tell us a little about yourselves. What do you do outside of YNPN and what's your role in YNPN TC? How long have you been involved with YNPN, and how long have you been part of YNPN Twin Cities' chapter leadership?
Leah: I'm in my 5th year (final term) of serving with YNPN Twin Cities. In that time I've served as Programming Chair, National Liaison and now National Conference Local Host Lead. Outside of YNPN Twin Cities, I am currently helping develop the Hubert Project, an OpenEd initiative encouraging the creation and sharing of free, multimedia materials to be used in training, teaching and self-directed professional development for nonprofit and civic leaders.
Jamie: Outside of YNPN TC, I'm a co-executive director for Pollen and co-founder of the literary arts magazine Paper Darts. I'm the board chair of YNPN TC and have been involved for more than four years.
What have you enjoyed most about being a YNPN chapter leader?
Jamie: Seeing other YNPN board members and volunteers find opportunity to take ownership over projects and dedicate vision to creating the community they want to work and live in.
Leah: When I moved to Minnesota 7 years ago, the network provided me an incredible support system and team of colleagues outside of the small nonprofits I have worked in. I've learned so much from serving on the board that I bring to my work. I love passing that forward, providing opportunities for other YNPs across the Twin Cities to connect, try bold things and build the relationships that will sustain all of us through our careers.
Leah Lundquist and Jamie Millard at YNPN TC's Ugly Sweater Party last December
In addition to those connections, how has chapter leadership been valuable for you professionally outside of your work with YNPN?
Leah: Leading a chapter has helped me get up close and personal with the life stages a start up nonprofit goes through and the many important governance discussions that take place at each of those stages. It's provided a safe space for me to speak up, experiment and push my own creativity. Though we have traditional chapter leadership roles, we function highly horizontally as a chapter, so I've also learned a ton about effective teamwork and being always cognizant of organizational culture.
Hosting a national conference is a big task. What motivated your chapter to step up and apply?
Leah: It's hard to pinpoint exactly when the idea was first floated, but I have a hunch that it was after a whole cohort of our board members returned from their road trip to the Grand Rapids conference. Both the travel time and experience of the conference itself was such a bonding experience for them and a perspective-widening opportunity to get to know the national network that we've asked ourselves since then if we might be conference host at some point. Finally the stars aligned with the right people and capacity for us to help make this happen. We are all proud and appreciative to be living in a metropolitan area with such a robust nonprofit and philanthropic sector and are excited to invite others from the network to get a taste of this.
Jamie: We knew this would be a unique opportunity to infuse energy into our local YNP community by bringing chapter leaders across the country to highlight what makes the MSP community thrive.
Do you have a favorite memory from past conferences?
Jamie: I do! I attended Grand Rapids (2011) and San Francisco (2012) recently. My favorite moments were when I got to experience something local and specific to that community. It reminded me that being a member of YNPN Twin Cities is truly about being part of a national movement.
YNPN TC members engaged in developing their chapter's strategic plan
What's been the most challenging aspect of planning an event for hundreds of your peers from across the country?
Leah: The nail biting suspense as you wait for people to register. It's the whole middle school party syndrome: "I planned this huge party... I hope everyone shows up!!" (Save me from the suspense: Chapter leaders, register today!)
And what's been the most fun?
Leah: Coming up with creative, meaningful networking ideas for the evenings and during the day. We definitely want you to leave feeling like you have relationships across the network that will be sustained and that you saw at least a slice of the Twin Cities! It's also been great working alongside National to push ourselves to go beyond what has happened in past years to bring in new partners like Echoing Green and the International Institute for Sustained Dialogue.
What are you most looking forward to at the conference?
Leah: I'm really looking forward to hearing Linda Nguyen's keynote on Thursday! It's so neat to have someone speak who is both an early YNPN founder and an incredible leader on civic engagement! I'm also looking forward to the deep learning and discussions I see happening Friday through the 2 deep dive opportunities with Echoing Green and IISD alongside the Chapter Leaders Institute.
What can our leaders look forward to doing in the Twin Cities this June?
YNPN TC members talking about the gender wage gap at local watering hole The Nicollet
Jamie: Hands down spending time outside along the river or lakes. A walk down St. Anthony Main eating gelato from Wilde Roast — that'd be a pretty perfect way to spend an afternoon.
Leah: There's no limit to the things I love about the Twin Cities in the summer. There's always great music at the Cedar Cultural Center and the iconic First Avenue. From the Humphrey School (where the conference is being held), I like to rent a Nice Ride bike and pedal downtown along the bike trail that runs along the Mississippi River. One of the great things attendees might want to stick around for the weekend of the conference is the Twin Cities PRIDE festival--TC Pride is the third largest Pride festival in the country and largest free Pride in the U.S.
Why do you think it's important for chapter leaders to come together in person?
Leah: When chapter leaders come together in person, we can all question our limiting beliefs and assumptions about what it means to be a YNPN chapter. This sparks new ideas and relationships that can make us more effective--not only in our work on our YNPN boards, but also in each of our professional roles.
For those who aren't YNPN chapter leaders (yet!), we'll be sharing insights from the conference on social media during the event on June 26-28.
I’m sitting in a breakout session on leadership at a nonprofit conference. The speaker asks, “Can someone tell me about their experience as a leader?”
Immediately, my hands get clammy, beads of sweat bubble around my hairline, and I am genuinely considering whether anyone will notice if I crawl under the table. As I glance at the raised hand of my neighbor, I am certain she is getting ready to share her experience founding a nonprofit that single-handedly raised adult literacy rates, ended childhood obesity, fed the hungry, and sheltered the homeless all at the advanced age of nine. I have only two thoughts: I am not a leader, and I hate this question.
This describes my experience at nearly every leadership workshop until last week when the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits brought in Paul Schmitz to lead a workshop based on his book, Everyone Leads. Paul suggested a definition of leadership that I had never considered before. In fact, his definition defies the very laws of grammar. According to Paul, the word “leader” is a verb, not a noun. Leadership is an action someone takes, not a position someone holds.
When asked to consider my personal experiences as a leader in the past, my internal response has been, “I’m only 25. I’m not a CEO. I definitely don’t have a list of awards on my resume. Maybe I’ll be a leader in 15 or 20 years after I’ve accomplished more.” But if a leader is defined by his or her individual strengths, talents, and values rather than titles or lists of accomplishments, how does that change the way I view my leadership abilities?
Paul Schmitz in Oklahoma City. Photo from the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits.
First, Paul’s definition of leadership helped me identify the ways I have stepped up as a leader in my organization. My Director has a visionary leadership style. She is innovative and likes taking risks. I fall somewhere between the analyst and mobilizer leadership styles. I am excellent at developing program timelines, summarizing complex group discussions, communicating persuasively, and creating accountability for my department.
I may not be the Director, but I also recognize that “Director” and “Leader” are not synonyms. I may not be generating innovative program ideas, but I also recognize that visionary leadership is not the only kind. If it were, our programs would rarely develop beyond the initial spark and enthusiasm. Every action I take is an opportunity to step up as a leader, apply my unique skills and strengths, and contribute to the progress and success of my organization’s programs.
Second, if leadership is defined by individual strengths, talents, and values, then it is a fluid definition. I expect my strengths, talents, and values to grow as I do. If I have a hard time defining who I am as a leader at 25, that’s perfectly okay. I’m still developing that definition. Paul encouraged this when he discussed the leadership value of continuous learning.
During the workshop, he asked everyone to write down three things they suck at. Here are mine: being on time, taking big risks, and letting go of control. There is power in identifying our challenges, mistakes, and shortfalls; it keeps us from growing stagnant. Part of my position with the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits involves training nonprofit boards on good governance practices. The first time I trained, I was paralyzed with fear that someone would ask a question, and I wouldn’t have the answer. Everyone would realize I’m a fraud. Now, I see that the best answer is often, “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” Every time I don’t have an answer, it forces me to grow and improve.
Finally, Paul’s definition says that leaders are defined by a certain set of values. Leaders hold themselves accountable to these values and expect others to hold them accountable as well. Paul outlines five values that his organization, Public Allies, identifies as necessary for positive and lasting community change. But at the end of his workshop, he invited us to name our own values. I thought back to a prompt Paul used at the beginning of the day: think about a time when someone believed in you, opened a door, or created opportunity for you.
This past January, I was invited to help facilitate a retreat for ten Executive Directors in a rural community in Oklahoma. A few days before the retreat, the primary facilitator asked if I would lead a thirty minute educational component on a topic of my choice. I was shocked she thought I had anything of value to share with a group of far more experience leaders and that she trusted me to develop the topic on my own. She valued my voice. She forced me outside my comfort zone. She was confident in my abilities even when I still needed some convincing. This is how I want to lead others.
What kind of leader do I want to be? A leader that understands that the most effective organizations utilize the leadership of many. A leader that seeks constant growth and improvement. And a leader that recognizes and develops leadership potential in others.
Kristin Holland is the Program Manager for the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits. In her role, Holland is responsible for managing the Center’s educational programs including training, customized consulting, and the nationally-accredited Standards for Excellence series. Since joining the Center in 2012, Holland has received over 250 hours of nonprofit management training, and she received her Certificate of Nonprofit Board Education from BoardSource in February 2014. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Holland earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in History.
Holland volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association Oklahoma Chapter, the United Way of Central Oklahoma, and she is a founding board member for Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of Oklahoma City. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their dog and cat. A native of Oklahoma City, she is extremely enthusiastic about her hometown. Follow her on Twitter: @krismholland
In today's post, YNPN member and Public Allies alum Renee Bracey Sherman shares how the idea that everyone leads has impacted her life and work.
On the first day of training for Public Allies, we were told, “Everyone leads.”
This felt like a radical notion for many – we’d been socialized our entire lives to believe that there are born leaders and there are followers. Over the next two weeks we would absorb something new: we could all lead and become an agent of change in our own way, and each way is powerful and necessary. This empowering way of thinking about leadership reminds us that everyone has something to add, and that our experiences, struggles, and skills inform how we move through the world and are all valuable.
For too long, I felt that I didn’t have a fancy enough résumé, wasn’t as experienced as the person next to me, and just wasn’t smart enough. It was the mentality that we must have everything and be everything that kept me from reaching my full potential as a leader. It kept me from learning from my successes and my mistakes. It kept me from leaning in to risk – which is where the best learning happens. Public Allies taught me to let that go.
At the end of my time in Public Allies, I wanted to continue to be of service to others, meet new people, and continue to grow professionally – so I applied for the Young Nonprofit Professional Network San Francisco Bay Area (YNPNsfba) Board of Directors. I was terrified. I’d never served on a board before and all the worries of not being ‘enough’ came rushing back. But when the current board members interviewed me, they explained that YNPN was a place where we could grow and learn together. We could (and would) share our skills and talents in service of other nonprofit professionals looking to make friends and learn something new.
When I was offered the position on the board, I was thrilled. I immediately took on the leadership role of secretary and learned the ropes. And in my second year, I was elected the board chair. Again, my feelings were in that sweet spot of excited and freaked out.
We were about to embark on a new strategic plan, overhaul our volunteer system, create a new website, and revamp our budgeting plan – all things I had absolutely no experience in.
For a few weeks I thought about how I had seen other people take on these tasks. How did they do it? What of their models could I copy? But none of it felt right.
And then I remembered what Public Allies taught me: everyone leads.
Everyone leads in their own way and I needed to figure out my way. I realized that I didn’t have to do any of the projects alone. I had a wonderful team that I could lead on and partner with. I had a core of brilliant volunteers who offered up ideas on where they wanted the organization to go. We held strategy sessions where we took in all ideas and merged them together. We collaborated, shared resources, and most of all – had a ton of fun doing it. It felt right, and we were able to exceed all of the goals we set and do more!
That’s when I learned the biggest lessons of all: I am enough, and I lead best when I have brilliant minds that excite, invigorate, challenge, and of course make me laugh, in the room.
It is now how I lead my life and career – through collaboration, empowering brilliance, and a ton of joy. It is enough and it is all I need to lead. How do you lead?
Renee Bracey Sherman
Renee Bracey Sherman is a Public Allies Bay Area ’11 alum and served as the board chair of YNPNsfba. She is a reproductive justice advocate and a writer with Echoing Ida, a project of Forward Together. Her writing has appeared on EBONY.com, Salon.com, and RH Reality Check, and been heard on the BBC World Newshour.
She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration from Cornell University, where she also serves as the editor of the Cornell Policy Review and communications chair of Women in Public Policy. Follow Renee on Twitter at @RBraceySherman
In Chapter 1 of "Everyone Leads," Paul Schmitz lays out the importance of working from a community perspective:
"To create lasting solutions to our most pressing problems, leaders can't just create isolated services. They must build community capacity, think systematically, and collaborate with others."
Natasha Golinsky is one of the co-founders of the new YNPN Vancouver chapter, and in this post she shares what she learned about the importance and benefits of engaging her community early in the process of developing a solution to a problem she identified.
Last year my friend Vanessa and I decided that we wanted to co-chair a new Young Nonprofit Professionals Network chapter here in Vancouver, Canada. We saw the joy that YNPs got from being part of other chapters and deeply felt that our community needed some support in the nonprofit professional development arena and wanted to help. Each chapter runs independently and many operate as their own registered nonprofit full with board of directors, fundraising campaigns and we were interested in doing the same.
Although our first reaction was to get our paperwork all in order and incorporate ourselves, we decided to take a breath and test our idea to see if there really was a need for this service or if we were just assuming there was interest. Both of us wanted to find out what our fellow young nonprofit professionals wanted before we invested tons of time building something that nobody needed (or that had already been done before and failed).
We tackled this community outreach through a few specific steps.
Step one: Talk to the leaders of active nonprofit professional development groups. What was working for them? What had they tried already that didn't work? What did they see was a need in our community as it related to YNPNs? Would they be willing to continue to stay in touch with us as we were planning? Is there anyone else you would recommend that we talk to?
Step two: Talk to the leaders of nonprofit professional development groups that had closed down because of low-results. Why did they shut their program down? What went wrong? What could they have done differently? What need do they still see that needs to be served in our community? Is there anyone else they would recommend that we talk to?
Step three: Talk to leaders of other YNPN chapters who were a few steps ahead of us and were having a lot of success. What did they do to set themselves up for a strong start? What would they do differently? Were there any resources they used to help them plan and market their organization? Would they be interested in coaching us? Was there anything we could do to help them?
Step four: Talk to the big influencers in our local nonprofit professional development space. We got a hold of the board chair of one of the most popular training organizations in our community, we talked to the Western Canada sales manager for a different nonprofit resources organization, and we talked to the fundraising department head at a local university. Both of us scoured our LinkedIn profiles for people that would have some good data for us about their needs and the current resources available to them.
Step five, the final and most important: Talk to the people we wanted to serve. We went through all of our contacts and identified those who hit our demographic profile and sent them a link to a survey we created using Google forms. We asked them to pass it around to anyone they knew who could have some valuable feedback on what they would be interested in seeing in a new local professional development group. We sent the survey to everyone we had talked to in the above steps 1-4 and asked them to circulate it too offering to share any data we found with them.
After two months of research, we had some awesome feedback and a clear direction of what the needs of our community were. Probably the most interesting take-away from this process was that we found that the needs of the young nonprofit professional community were completely different than we expected--even though we're both part of the community we're planning to serve! When I think back to our original plan of running out of the gate without having any data or community input to back our ideas, I feel anxious about how much time we might have wasted running in the wrong direction.
We also developed some amazing connections and some potential joint-venture partners. Without taking the time to consult with our community, we might not have encountered these resources and been able to work with them from the start. Not only did we get clear direction from consulting our community, we found some awesome partners along the way.
Natasha is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits and is dedicated to helping passionate start-up nonprofit leaders develop the foundational leadership and management skills they need to enjoy a enjoy successful, sustainable and satisfying career. You can find her on Twitter as @ngolinsky.
A version of this piece originally appeared in Natasha's Next Level Nonprofits newsletter.
Today we're excited to share this interview with Linda Nguyen, who will be the keynote speaker for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference and Day 1 of the YNPN National Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
As the Director of Civic Engagement for the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda built and currently manages a national initiative that has enabled thousands of community residents across the U.S. to become advocates, leaders and activists. She has worked with the Alliance network to encourage nonprofit staff and board members to embrace civic engagement strategies in their organizations and neighborhoods and to work in concert with community to address key issues in health, education and economic security. Linda is responsible for identifying and nurturing talent, coaching human service organization staff, conducting research and serving as a national advocate for constituent voice.
In addition to her outstanding work with the Alliance for Children and Families, Linda is also one of the early founders of YNPNdc and YNPN National. We spoke with Linda about her experience helping to found YNPN, how organizations can elevate diverse voices, and a few of her favorite spots in the Twin Cities.
You're one of the early founders of YNPN. What drew you to the idea for a network of young nonprofit professionals? How did you go from idea to reality?
I was looking for a job in the nonprofit sector when I first moved to DC in 2003. I knew very few people in the field. I searched for help online, and came across the YNPN (then only in San Francisco) website and saw that people just like me were looking to network with one another for job opportunities and professional development and networking. I connected with a few of those peers in DC, and after a few meetings, we launched YNPNdc. I think our first event attracted 10 people.
I think the lesson is Jump In. Don't be afraid or embarrassed. So what, 10 people came to our first "event." We cared about something and so we created an entity to address the needs we and others had. I then became involved in helping to build the national organization. The national board at that time was made up of local people starting up their own YNPN chapters and we knew we would be stronger if we built together.
What were some of the network’s values back then? Has the network changed in your view, particularly from a values perspective?
Our values "back then" (ha ha, the good 'ol days) were focused around voice (giving young nonprofit professionals a forum and support) and local autonomy (YNPN chapters were self-starting and proud of it). I imagine these values are still present today, and I would think that engaging diverse voices would be a particular focus for the network.
The YNPN National Board meeting for the first time in Denver in 2005. You can see Linda second from the left.
Why has the idea of “exploring diverse voices” surfaced as such a timely topic?
We are standing in that moment of change where there will be as many young people as old people, as many white people as people of color, as many people with a decent standard of living as those without.
What do we do? We have to make sure that we are hearing from everyone, engaging everyone, and getting as many voices to the table as we are able. When you see these vast differences, you may feel daunted and even fearful. But it is within our ability, and especially for us in the nonprofit and social sectors, it is our collective responsibility that we are listening and attending to everyone.
As Minnesotan Paul Wellstone said, we all do better when we all do better.
How do you think nonprofits are doing at addressing diversity and including members of the communities they work in?
Hmmm, results are mixed. Overall, I think there is more attention being paid to diversity, looking for diverse staff and partners, and including community members. I do think, however, that we have a ways to go in creating meaningful roles for community members to play in our organizations. Are they making decisions? Are they considered equals? Or are they tokens or checkbox fulfillments?
And what is the thinking behind diversity and including community members? Are we doing it just to do it, because it looks good? Or do we see that it actually enhances our work, our programming, our decision making?
Do you have any tips or advice as to how nonprofit leaders could do this better?
Try it. Seek out other leaders who seem to do this well. Talk to them; figure out how their approaches could translate to your work/organization.
LIFT. Check them out.
And finally, what's the best experience you've ever had in the Twin Cities? Do you have any favorite spots to recommend to conference attendees?
Tough one! A lot of ties -- from a ruckus late night karaokeing at The Saloon to exploring the Cedar Riverside neighborhood (near Pillsbury United Communities' Bryan Coyle Center) for its friendly neighbors and enlightening murals painted by youth.
But I think my best experience was walking through Loring Park, above the highway on the Loring Greenway to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry. I did that walk last year with my mom and son and we had such a fun time!
To hear Linda speak on the theme of Exploring Diverse Voices and see a few of her favorite Twin Cities spots for yourself, register for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Leadership Conference on June 26 in Minneapolis.
We've heard feedback that you'd like more opportunities connect and engage with other members across the network.
So we're giving a YNPN National Book Club a test drive to bring emerging leaders from around the country together to discuss issues that challenge and inspire us all.
During the month of April we'll be discussing "Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up" by Paul Schmitz. Paul is the outgoing CEO of Public Allies and a longtime friend of YNPN. Drawing on more than two decades of Public Allies' work and real examples from communities across the country, "Everyone Leads" discusses how we can develop leaders and organizational models that will help us solve the problems of the 21st century in an inclusive and community-focused way.
We've partnered with Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, to offer our members a 40% discount on "Everyone Leads." To receive the discount, purchase the book through Wiley.com and use promo code YNBC4. They have both hardcover and e-book versions available for purchase.
The Author Event
We're working with Paul Schmitz to set up a virtual author event where YNPN members can engage with Paul and ask questions about the book and its themes. The date is still TBD, but we'll be announcing it on social media soon.
Other Opportunities to Engage
Next month our blog content will be focused on the book and its themes. In addition to our author event, we'll also be hosting a few Twitter chats to give members an opportunity to connect and discuss virtually.
If you're interested in hosting an in-person book club meeting with your local chapter, reach out to your chapter leaders. We hope that in addition to the virtual meetings we'll be hosting, local YNPs will meet to in person to discuss the book and its transformational ideas on leadership.
If you have any questions, feedback, or suggestions, please don't hesitate to reach out to Jamie Smith, our Communications Fellow, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope you'll share this with your friends and professional networks and that you'll join us for "Everyone Leads!"