We spent a lot of time discussing the Executive Director position this weekend and the impending need for new leadership that the sector will have to accommodate for. And while the Executive Director is often the title associated with nonprofit leadership, it is by no means the only title for leaders.
I want to stress to my fellow YNPNers and beyond that you can lead without becoming an Executive Director. Certainly, there is always a sense of pride and excitement when meeting and/or hearing about Gen X'ers (or even Millennials!) that are doing well as young Executive Directors of an organization. It is by no means a small task to run a nonprofit organization, and to do it early in life is a great achievement. I know several, and I have great respect for each of them.
However, I dedicate this post to those who do not see the ED title in their future, yet still want to lead. You can lead now, as an associate or program coordinator. You can lead in YNPN or in your community. EDs are not the only leadership positions available.
I believe that the vast majority of us share this in common: We want to have a strong professional career, make a decent living, and do good at the same time. But how that 'strong professional career' in the nonprofit sector looks like might be different from person to person, and that is ok. I spoke with a YNPNer this weekend who said that he would never want to be a ED, because he wants to remain in constant and direct contact with the people that his organization serves. I, personally, don't see myself as wanting an ED position. That is not because I don't believe myself to be qualified or able, but because I would rather devote myself entirely to a particular area that I am passionate about, as opposed to being in charge of everything. Of course, I am young and things may change. But the fact of the matter is, you can lead from wherever you are in the sector. Each nonprofit serves the community in some way, whether it is the local community or beyond. Leaders throughout organizations are needed in order for us to serve to the best of our ability.
Let us not forget that a hard working program coordinator can often find him/herself doing the workload of two or more staff persons in half the amount of time while still maintaining a smile and loving his/her work. I'm not meaning to put the "badge" on our shoulders... you know what I'm taking about... the "feel sorry for me because I do such a great thing but I am so overworked and underpaid and...." No. This is not what I mean. What I am saying is that term "leader" does not necessarily imply "Executive Director."
Whether the golden ED title is hanging high in your head or if you have other plans, you can still lead. Volunteer with YNPN. Become a resource for your colleagues and for the community. Work hard at your job and never stop looking for ways to grow and learn. Take control of your career and lead it in the direction you want it to go. You are not limited. Lead in your own way.
Here is to all of the 'young' nonprofit 'leaders' no matter the title. I look up to each of you and couldn't be more excited to share this great YNPN network with such amazing people.