At a recent board retreat for a social justice foundation, on whose board I serve, we were asked to think about a political event or experience that “awakened” us and caused us to act.
For me there wasn’t just one moment. There was a series, a sequence. I remember as a very young child noticing what I would later come to call injustice. I didn’t have a word for it then, but I do remember the feeling of wrong and a sensation not quite describable, but similar to a chill or shudder through my body. I would literally have a visceral response to injustice. I still do.
While trying to remember my “awakening” and listening to other colleagues describe their life experiences I realized a common theme: many of us when we had this “awakening experience” felt powerless, unsure how to solve the injustice and in some cases unsure how to come to terms with it.
The point of the exercise for me: all of us matter and everyone who wants to see change in the world has to be a part of the solution.
I have always loved the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world.” This quote has been attributed to Ghandi, and I find it a guiding principle, a central value for me.
I find it is often easy to complain about what isn’t going well, not only in my life but in society, politically, globally. Sometimes, if I dwell too much on the negative parts of the world, it feels paralyzing. This is why I have learned that showing up, being a part of the change I want to see, not just complaining, is vitally important, not only for me but for my community.
How do you begin?
When I started my “civic engagement,” I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I was working at an organization that educated people on voter engagement, not who to vote for, but the mechanics of voting itself. It suddenly occurred to me that not everyone knew their rights, there was a lot of misinformation about voting in certain communities and that I could make a difference simply by being well informed and sharing my knowledge with others.
From there, I realized that showing up to caucuses, rallies, signing petitions and voting actually did make a difference. I remember when my Congresswoman wrote back to me, I was stunned. That however, encouraged me to speak a little louder the next time.
What are other ways to get involved? Vote, join community groups or nonprofit committees working on issues that are important to you. Door-knock, phone bank. Tell your friends, your colleagues your family what issues matter to you and how they can make a difference. Respectfully listen to others with differing ideas and above all, never give up!
Dania Toscano Miwa is the Managing Principal and co-founder of Toscano Advisors, a three-year old consulting firm specializing in strategy, fundraising, executive recruiting and leadership development for nonprofit organizations.
She has more than ten years of experience working with/for nonprofits as diverse as the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, OTA-Pollen, The Northside Achievement Zone, The International Wolf Center, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Animal Humane Society, the American Indian Cancer Foundation and the Regional Parks Foundation. She is co-author and editor of the Toscano Advisors blog.
Dania is a member of the Boards of Directors of Azul, the Minnesota Zoo’s young professional board and chair of the governance committee, and on the board of the Headwaters Foundation for Justice, where she is the co-chair of the development and outreach committee. She was formerly on the board of directors of her local YNPN chapter from 2009-10.
Last fall at the Independent Sector Conference, I was given the privilege of delivering a workshop on next generation leaders. For folks who don’t’ know, Independent Sector is a leadership network of 600 or so of the largest and most prominent nonprofits, foundations, and corporate giving programs in the country, and every year their annual conference brings together thousands of top leaders from these organizations. Essentially, Independent Sector is THE nonprofit establishment – so naturally they are interested in the future of the sector. Which is how I found myself in the pretty cool position to talk about next generation leaders.
As I prepared for this opportunity, though, I started to get a little stuck. As I tend to do when I’m given any task that seems a little too straightforward, I started to pick it apart.
I mean, what does it mean to be “next generation” anyway?
In the simplest of terms, it means that you’re the generation that came after the last one. And, sure, that’s who YNPN represents - Millennials and Gen Xers – the folks were born after the boomers who established the nonprofit sector as many of us know it.
But for some reason, using this cool space to talk about how great our constituents are seemed kind of...I don’t know. Small. And short-sighted. Because when you think about it, as a society in general and as a sector specifically, we’re in the midst of a shift that‘s “next generation” in a different way.
When you think of it in terms of your phone or of your operating system, next generation means something more than “younger” or “new,” right? And that phone or that OS isn’t inherently better because it’s younger or new. It’s not inherently better at all, actually. It’s only better if...
...it builds on what worked well and what people loved about the original.
...it directly fixes past mistakes - broken things and bugs.
...it incorporates new technology and solutions available to us now that weren’t available before.
...it looks fresh! The look and feel of it is updated to fit the current context.
When I started thinking about the concept of next generation this way, the potential of the conversation felt bigger, and frankly way more interesting. Mostly because I knew for a fact that even though Millennials and Gen Xers have a lot to contribute as natives to this more flexible, nimble way of approaching change work, every person and every organization in the sector, regardless of age or how established they are is called to be a part of this sector upgrade - this next generation of leadership. And I got to be the one to call it out in front of this giant audience.
This was my Steve Jobs moment.
So I put on my black mock turtleneck (sike. I rocked an orange batik dress), got up in front of the room, and laid out a few things:
First, I shared some lessons gathered from working with and observing folks out in the field who actually seem to be having an impact on some of the increasingly complex issues facing our communities.
Lesson 1: Focus on goals over form. If your plan or your organizational structure isn’t going to have an impact, be willing to change it.
Lesson 2: Relationships are everything. Cultivate them. Rely on them.
Lesson 3: Ignore intersectionality at your peril. The beautiful people in our communities are made up of lots of identities. The work we do with them will not succeed unless it recognizes and embraces all of those identities.
Lesson 4: Value community-centered solutions over silver bullets. Replication isn’t everything. Sometimes what works in Jackson, MS can only work in Jackson, MS. And that’s okay.
Lesson 5: Listen to data that speaks to both the head and the heart.
Then I turned the floor over to folks from three organizations that I think are already living and breathing this sector upgrade:
Ai-Jen Poo and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, whose intergenerational, intersectional, and humanistic Caring Across Generations campaign is audaciously and simultaneously taking on issues of immigration reform, quality care for an aging America, and a living wage for younger Americans.
Decker Ngongang from Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Fellowship Program, which is the first fellowship program in the world for folks who are starting up new and innovative organizations that address the barriers facing black men and boys in the United States.
Frances Kunreuther & Sean Thomas-Breitfeld of the Building Movement Project, who decided to go beyond simply researching and promoting alternative organizational structures for social justice organizations, but took on a radical co-leadership model within their own organization in order to increase their impact.
Finally, I talked about what YNPN does to try and cultivate rather than stifle this type of next generation leadership. You can read more about that here. (Note that there’s no mention of a need for more credentialing and certification programs... :)
The energy of the comments and conversations that followed once the session ended signaled that the message resonated and that despite what people may say about the sector establishment, folks are definitely ready for an upgrade.
And I think it’s subtly for a lot of the same reasons people would get excited for a new operating system or their new phone. It’s not just because they need the next thing that’s shiny. They’re excited to see what the collection of human knowledge and shared work has brought us to next - how we’ve taken the best ideas and brought them together to make something that might change the way that each of us lives our lives for the better. The sector is definitely ready.
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 Trish Tchume, Director, YNPN National
Recently we here at YNPN have been discussing how important it is for us to model the way that we think the sector could be doing social change work so that the way we work and the amount we work is sustainable and leads to real transformation. This is one in a series of posts about the small steps we are making internally towards radical culture shifts that will facilitate just that.
By 2011, after years of being an all-volunteer organization, YNPN National managed to raise enough money to hire our first ED, who turned out to be yours truly. Not only was this role a first for the organization but it was a first for me, so I wanted to learn not only the practical basics of running an organization but also how people in my position personally handle the ‘swirl’ of nonstop to-do’s.
I learned two basic things about being an ED from these conversations with other ED’s:
1) Being an ED was apparently going to be really hard and overwhelming. And if it’s not hard and overwhelming, you’re probably doing it wrong.
2) It is very important to talk all the time - with other EDs, with your board, on panels, on Facebook, to toll booth operators (whoever has ears, really) - about how hard it is to be an ED.
Equipped with this information, I settled into my role and prepared for it to be hard and overwhelming. Not surprisingly - it was hard and overwhelming. Up until this point the network itself and the myriad of people and organizations interested in the network had been dreaming big about “what we could do if only we had more capacity...” This list ranged from the practical (i.e. finally upgrade that ugly website) to the revolutionary (i.e. become THE pipeline for moving diverse talent throughout the social sector) and everyone could not be more excited to finally have a person - an actual person! with a face! and an email address! - to share their big ideas for how to make these dreams real.
This translated into a lot of meetings. I mean A LOT of meetings. Notebooks filled with the ideas that people would very much like to see me move forward. Yesterday, please.
I said yes to everything and promised to do even more. I also felt completely overwhelmed and wasn’t sleeping, but then I remembered from my conversations with the other EDs that horrible feeling meant that I was doing things right. I remember lying in bed thinking about how many meetings I had each day and how little I was looking forward to most of them. It took me awhile but finally, I started thinking about the one part of being an ED that no one had really said much about up to that point:
For the first time in my life, I was “the boss.” Technically, I could decide to do whatever I want.
This, however, landed on me not as a realization of power but as a sense of responsibility. I wasn’t just “the boss,” I was the leader of an organization founded in part to counter the culture I was currently swept up in. (Apparently that point was lost on me in the swirl.) So I began to think very practically about how I would want to make more space for myself but also what I would want to model for both our members and the wider sector.
Thus the December Strategy was born.
Initially, I set the entire month of December aside as a time to regroup, reflect, and think big picture. I turned down all meetings, phone calls, and speaking engagements for the whole month of December in order to catch up on work and sleep and I just hoped that people would understand.
I still remember the first email that I sent in response to someone requesting a meeting in December. It was right before Thanksgiving and the thought of asking someone to hold their idea till January 2012 seemed both outrageous and rude. But I’d made a commitment to myself and I was determined to stick to it. So I agonized over the wording of the email for 45 minutes, read and re-read it, hit send, and waited for the reply. I expected a few things in return:
1) Pushback from the person letting me know that their issue was incredibly important and they couldn’t possibly wait for 6 weeks to discuss it.
2) No response at all from the person, ever, and refusal to partner with YNPN whose Director was clearly a giant diva.
To my huge surprise, I didn’t get either reaction. The person actually wrote back 10 minutes later to give me props! In her response, she let me know that of course the conversation could wait till January and she congratulated me for being so good about setting boundaries for myself. Of course, I didn’t tell her that I was setting these boundaries now because I’d done such a bad job of setting them during my first two months that I no longer had a choice, but her encouragement built my confidence. Soon I found myself firing off “Talk to you in January!” emails without flinching.
And just like that, the December Strategy became a thing.
While technically, the December Strategy remains the space that I will set for myself for the third year in a row during the last month of 2013, it has come to mean much more to me than that.
- First, it has come to symbolize a resistance to the notion that all types of nonprofit work carry the same level of urgency. The work that YNPN National does is important. But we are not Doctors Without Borders.
- Second, it’s a tribute to a Meg Wheatley quote I once heard during a speech given by Kim Klein: “If we want our world to be different, our first act has to be claiming time to think. We can’t expect those who are well served by the current reality to give us time to think. If we want anything to change, we are the ones who have to reclaim time.”
And she’s right.
- Finally, it’s a reminder that I and so many of my fellow YNPNers were drawn to this network and continue to be committed to it because it gave us the space to organize in a way that values both mission and the people working towards that mission - something that many of us were not seeing in the vast majority of the organizations where we were actually employed. In this way, the December Strategy feels like as much of an opportunity as it does a responsibility to model the way we believe the sector could be working more strategically towards social change.
Do you have a version of the December Strategy - a small but radical way that you or your organization is changing the way you work, in order to work better for change? Let us know in the comment box!
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.
YNPN National is currently working on broader strategies to address the issues of coaching access and affordability. As part of that strategy, the following post is part of an ongoing series aimed at raising awareness about the importance of coaching and tools for accessing this critical support - both amongst our members and the sector at large.
Unleashing Your Best Self: An Interview with Cathy Wasserman, Professional Coach
By Betty-Jeanne Rueters-Ward
Last year, I sought out a colleague for a heart-to-heart: Alongside my demanding nonprofit job, I yearned to move my career forward. My coworker seemed to have endless energy and inspiration for his own professional development. He urged me to hire a coach, and referred me to Cathy Wasserman, owner of Self-Leadership Strategies, which provides depth, career, and executive coaching.
I became a client of Cathy’s – and a passionate believer in the transformative power of coaching. I recently spoke with Cathy about her work:
Why work with a coach? What’s in it for social change leaders?
CW: Coaching enables people to dig deep around their unique strengths, growing edges, and values. Ultimately, when people maximize what they can share of themselves, social change efforts maximize as well. Social change requires as many people as possible to articulate their ideas, problem solve, and bring their best self to their work.
Coaching lends itself well to the challenges and complexities of addressing social problems. It helps people navigate contradictions within organizations: the gaps between mission and what is actually happening.
Coaching can exponentialize someone’s work for social change – both within larger society, and within themselves as a healthy, effective change agent. Coaching allows people to learn from all that is happening, and sustain themselves for the long haul.
What mental barriers do you see in people struggling to reach career goals?
CW: There’s a real challenge in allowing ourselves to be fulfilled, to go for what we want, to stop doing what isn’t working. Human beings have trouble embracing our greatness and possibility; we tend to undervalue our skill, value, and intrinsic worth. We over-identify with our inner critic, and work within environments that feed that back to us.
Ironically, those barriers are often catalysts for growth – levers for unleashing more of ourselves – but in the moment, they can be confusing and frustrating. Coaches help people to realize their mental barriers as opportunities for growth and discovery.
Are there particular challenges nonprofit leaders face?
CW: Intrinsically, there’s a sense of “fighting the good fight”, of coming from behind. Nonprofit leaders, more than the average person, have a sense of scarcity, of more limitations they’re working against. There are also logistical realities of working for nonprofits: For example, because there is less money than in the corporate sector, there is also less leadership development training available.
What’s one exercise someone can engage in to move forward in their career?
CW: Start by getting clear on your mission, values, and priorities – personally or professionally. I consider that the foundation of the house of leadership. We need that to help direct our energy and stay on track. It’s difficult to move forward strategically and sustainably without that “north star”.
How did you get into coaching?
CW: I’ve coached informally throughout my career, for example as a community organizer in the feminist and youth movements. There wasn’t much language of coaching at the time – it was just something I did. Eventually, I studied social work and was trained as a therapist, a discipline closely related to coaching.
I decided to work at both micro and macro levels: Besides coaching individuals, I worked as a management consultant for the Support Center for Nonprofit Management. Through one of my trainings I met folks from Idealist, and was invited to write a career coaching column, “Ask Cathy”. There was a tremendous response from readers seeking coaching, so I developed a coaching business. As with many coaches, my road was long and winding – but really, I’ve been coaching all along.
Would you recommend coaching as a career path for others?
CW: Coaching requires an ability to really witness and be present to someone. It demands skill and mastery of one’s relationship to the self. As that muscle is built, you can be more and more available to others, and support them in a powerful way, helping them unlock themselves and explore what’s going on within them.
Coaching isn’t for faint of heart. You need to be able to go into crevices of someone else’s humanity. People will resist and limit their own growth and get frustrated by it, which can make the coaching process difficult. A coach has to be energized by that challenge.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a coach?
CW: It’s a real privilege to witness someone’s growth process, as they tackle the truth of who they are, who they’ve been, and who they’re becoming. Sometimes it’s about bravely looking at your own “shadow” side, and dealing with it. The role of coach and client is to take risks and move forward, even with the fear and anxiety and doubt that come up. That people allow this process to happen is a source of great gratitude and joy for me.
YNPN’s primary mission is to activate AND engage emerging leaders in a number of ways. One key way that we achieve both pieces of this mission is to provide them with platforms that not only allow our members to develop new skills but also highlight what talent already exists amongst emerging leaders in the sector. Programming such as our LaunchPad Fellowship provide such a platform internally, but we get even more excited when we are able to provide these opportunities via partners in the field.
That’s why we couldn’t be more excited about a recent partnership we forged with the seminal source for connection to the nonprofit - Idealist.org!
Idealist.org Editor and former YNPNer, Allison Jones, approached us with the idea to team up to offer YNPN members an opportunity to expand their network, strengthen their writing skills, and add their voice to the growing conversation about impact careers by writing for Idealist Careers - a project of Idealist.org launched to help the millions of people who come to Idealist.org find, land, and love their jobs.
Once the call for writers to cover topics such as interviews with thought leaders, job search hacks, and book reviews was put out to our social media networks, it became abundantly clear that this is the sort of opportunity YNPNers are looking for. We saw 348 clicks on the application alone and over 1800 views on Facebook.
Five talented YNPN members were selected:
Kari Mirkin, YNPN Cleveland. Column: Unabridged: A monthly review of books that inspire, inform, and challenge our views
Kari’s underlying philosophy of work in the nonprofit sector is that we need to ensure equal and easy access to the things that make us who we are: the arts, culture, and lifelong learning. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, she received her Master’s of Nonprofit Organizations from Case Western Reserve University while working at a Cleveland organization providing technical assistance and training to nonprofit professionals. She is one of the co-founders of YNPN Cleveland and now serves proudly on the organization’s national board. She’s a self-proclaimed history buff (okay, nerd) and magazine junkie. You can find herhere and here, and access a report she helped research and write here.
Leah Weiner, YNPN LA. Column: Executive director’s corner
Leah Weiner, Ed. D. serves as the Executive Director of The Division for Early Childhood, a nonprofit organization focused on advancing the field of special education. Leah has a doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University and a background in fundraising, volunteer management, board development, and planning giving. She provides consulting for small to mid-size nonprofits.
Lauren Anderson, YNPN Chicago. Column: An international lens on doing good
Lauren Anderson has completed fellowship programs in Vietnam and Finland, studied abroad in Costa Rica, taught English in Spain, but remains a Michigan kid at heart. She worked at the U.S.CDC Center for Global Health’s Policy Office, managed a grant with the International Labor Organization, and worked for her mother the toughest job so far. Lauren has a Masters in Health Management from Columbia University and BA from the University of Michigan.
Alyson Weiss, YNPN Boston. Column: Job search hacks for the new world of work
Alyson Weiss works for a career services nonprofit in Boston doing outreach and communications. She is deeply interested in translating complex social justice issues into accessible, actionable items; social media; Netflix marathons; and food trucks. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter to start a conversation about social media marketing, professional development opportunities for young professionals, or why Twitter is like “Aaron’s Party.”
Patricia Gentry, YNPNdc. Column: Career and cause chats with sector leaders
Patricia Gentry is the senior operations manager at Share Our Strength where she supports over 80 culinary events including Taste of the Nation® and No Kid Hungry dinners across America. Originally from Sims, Indiana, Patricia moved to Washington, DC to pursue her interests in the non-profit sector, where she worked with The Fund for American Studies before starting her work with Share Our Strength. To further her personal and professional development and to broaden her network, Patty joined as a committee member of the YNPNdc member engagement committee where she is currently serving her second year.
We’re pretty psyched at the variety of topics and unique perspectives that these dynamic young writers will be bringing to both Idealist Careers and YNPN.org. Stay tuned for new content from one of these writers weekly, cross-posted on Idealist and YNPN!
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.