YNPN Hawai'i member Paola Rodelas tells us about three labor issues nonprofit professionals should have on their radar and what they can do to advance labor rights and equality.
Few people know that labor unions are nonprofit organizations; they’re classified as 501(c)(5) organizations. Yet I get mostly quizzical looks when I tell my fellow young nonprofit professionals that I work for a labor union.
Some people have negative responses. Some say they had a union job once. Someone even asked me once if I’m a thug. But most of the time, people are clueless about what a labor union even is.
If you work in the nonprofit sector, chances are you directly or indirectly deal with labor issues. Considering how many nonprofit professionals work in social services and healthcare, I’m sure many of you care about important issues that affect underserved and underrepresented communities. I too worked for 501(c)(3) nonprofits because I was very passionate about social and political issues and creating real change.
Last year, I left a healthcare organization to work at UNITE HERE Local 5, a labor union in Hawai’i that represents hospitality and healthcare workers. I decided to work for Local 5 because this union understands that community issues are workers’ issues, and that workers’ issues are community issues.
To build a larger social and political movement made up of union members and non-members, my union and other community organizations formed the AiKea Movement. Since our launch in 2012, we’ve been tackling issues such as responsible development, marriage equality, immigration reform, environmental concerns, and more. Many of our key leaders are nonprofit organizations or employees.
Union member and non-member issues are not and should not be separate issues. Rather, we should unite together to fight the same beast of economic and social inequality. Here is a brief look at some of these important issues and why they aren’t exclusively workplace issues or exclusively community issues:
1. Living Wage
Labor unions have been fighting for a living wage since their inception, and the fight continues. Had the federal minimum wage kept up with inflation over the past 40 years, it would be $10.86 an hour today. About 3.8 million workers are paid wages at or below the federal minimum wage.
After graduating from college in 2010, I struggled to find a nonprofit job (or any job, really) and worked minimum wage retail and hospitality jobs for a year until I landed my first full-time job. I personally understand what it means to (barely) survive on minimum wage, and I’m sure many of you out there can relate.
My union has been fortunate to work with several nonprofit organizations advocating for raising minimum wage. We worked with faith-based groups, LGBTQ organizations, public policy advocates, etc. As a result, Hawaii’s minimum wage was just raised from $7.25/hour to $10.10/hour last week.
But we made it very clear that this is an issue that affects not just minimum wage workers, but the entire community. Local 5 workers make well above minimum wage. But when some workers struggle, we all struggle. We created an infographic on bank tellers’ low pay, highlighting how much they depend on government assistance as a result. Meanwhile, banks are cashing in billions in profits. Good jobs here means money spent here, taxes paid here, a better life here.
2. Benefits, Job Security, & other factors that make good jobs good
We have labor unions to thank for weekends, holiday pay, ending child labor, and more. But there is still much work to be done.
Discussions about living wage often stop there and neglect the other facets of a good job: full family medical coverage, paid sick days, guaranteed pensions, job security. There are also numerous other workplace challenges that workers face, such as the negative impacts of subcontracting, the rise in non-union temp and part-time work, and the decline in union membership nationwide.
But again, these are issues that affect our entire community and not employees. We’re currently combatting the issue of our hotel rooms being converted into luxury condos and timeshares, which cuts thousands of good jobs. Because of these lost jobs, we calculated that over $30 million each year has been lost in state and Honolulu city tax revenue. That’s money that could have been used for our schools, our roads, and more. Everyone loses out, not just hotel workers.
3. Community Issues
Workers are people; they have lives outside of the workplace. They face a myriad of issues that affect them in and out of the workplace. And with the decline in union membership across the country, it’s more important than ever for unions to support workers who are not members.
It is no secret that the U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse, and the working class especially reflects this. Immigrants account for more than 16% of the civilian labor force. Unsurprisingly, many labor unions have been actively supporting immigration reform.
Some labor unions have also been advocating for LGBTQ rights. My union and many others in Hawai’i supported marriage equality, which was signed into law last fall. Recently, UNITE HERE Local 11 organized celebrities and LGBTQ rights activists to boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel because it is owned by the nation of Brunei, where homosexuality is punishable by death by stoning.
What can nonprofits do?
- Understand that nonprofit employees are working people. Even if you are not a member of a union, you are still a working person who may be facing the same types of workplace issues. You may also be working for a nonprofit that is fighting the same inequities that unions are. We must work together not just in coalitions, but as a cohesive movement.
Join us on the front lines, and also let us know about your campaigns. More voices and more boots on the ground are needed to create real change. Just a few ideas:
- Join us at our rallies
- Appeal to elected officials and other decision makers.
- Write letters to the editor.
- Stay updated on local and national labor issues and disputes. I used to work in nonprofit development and was surprised that many don’t check if the venues they are booking for events are under boycott. Recently, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) in Seattle moved their gala from the boycotted Hyatt Olive 8 hotel to honor the boycott.
- Last but not least, pay your employees a living wage and benefits. Don’t contribute to the growing inequity nationwide and worldwide. Reflect on how your organization is treating its own employees and volunteers.
Immigration reform, marriage equality, environmental justice, you name it—these community issues are all workers’ issues. And workplace issues like living wage and worker benefits are all community issues. Community support is integral to combating workplace issues and improving the lives of working people. And the support of working people is necessary to fix community issues.
This is how we address inequity together.
Paola Rodelas is a Communications Specialist at UNITE HERE Local 5, a labor union representing nearly 10,000 hospitality and healthcare workers in Hawaii. She has been a YNPN member since 2012 and was involved with YNPN San Diego's fundraising committee. After moving to Hawaii in 2013, she co-founded YNPN Hawaii. Prior to her work at Local 5, Paola worked at UC San Diego Health Sciences Development and was an active volunteer at the Pacific Arts Movement (formerly the San Diego Asian Film Foundation). She studied Ethnic Studies and Art History at UC San Diego, where she also attained her professional certification in Fundraising and Development.
People icon designed by Moh Kamaru from the Noun Project
We’re thrilled to be a contributing partner for a new Stanford Social Innovation Review blog series, Talent Matters. Over the next 4 months, 8 nonprofit leaders (including YNPN) will share stories from the field highlighting real-world results achieved through a focus on talent.
Achieve Mission, American Express Foundation, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO), The Management Center, Net Impact, ProInspire, and Public Allies will be joining us in sharing their approach to making talent a priority.
Check out the most recent post and the rest of the series over on the SSIR site!
In the fall of 2012, we started our LaunchPad Fellows program--essentially the first “staff members” we welcomed into YNPN after me.
About a month after the Fellows came on and we were off and running, I started to notice something that was heartwarming at first: our Fellows were really appreciative! I’d get these awesome notes from them that said:
“Thanks for sending me that follow up article about [topic we’d discussed]!”
“Thanks for listening to me vent this morning!”
It was really sweet! I would think to myself, “Awwww, these Fellows. They’ve been raised so well!”
Another month in, though, just after we finished our first round of the quarterly check-ins, the thanks were still coming:
“Thank you for taking extra time to help me figure this out!”
“Thank you for asking me what I thought. And actually listening!”
“Thank you for telling me that I did that well!”
But my reaction slowly started to change.
Look, I’m not naïve. In the first place, YNPN is an organization that focuses on personally and professionally developing young leaders. We were founded because young leaders knew that this development was important and they weren’t getting what they needed from other places.
Second, I go to conferences and sit on the panels all the time where we talk about how we have to be better at developing younger leaders. I champion the research (#fundthepeople!) that says we have to invest more. I read the blog posts that make the very clear case for how we can do better. I’m clearly aware that we have an issue when it comes to investing in talent.
But seriously? “Thank you for asking me what I thought. And actually listening.” ???
We, of course, want YNPN to be known as a great place to work. And it is! (Most days :) ) But we don’t want YNPN to be known as a great place to work because the people who show up here have dragged themselves across the professional desert and have finally found their way to the oasis that is our organization.
If you’re like me, those lists of the “Top 10/50/100 Best Places for Trish with Ebony & Michelle, two of our Launchpad Fellows, at our February retreat.
There’s often the fear of too many cooks in the strategic kitchen but we’ve found that we can either invest time on the front end and figure out the best ways to facilitate appropriate engagement from everyone in our org. Or we can invest time on the back end getting our team to buy into the vision and plan we developed off on a mountaintop somewhere. We’ve chosen the front-end strategy. So when the board has an in-person planning meeting, the Fellows and staff come too.
Granted this is a bit of an organizational luxury given that our bench isn’t so big - we have a staff of two full-time folks, three Fellows, a couple of awesome contractors, and a board of 15. Still, I can see this remaining a central part of our culture even as we grow in size. We’ve learned that our strongest ideas and strategic plans are shaped in spaces where folks from all levels of the organization are around the table. And the level of investment in carrying out those plans is incomparable.
One of the images from Jamie's onboarding package. This is the commitment YNPN shows to welcoming new staff.
4. We’re serious about onboarding.
I had an internship my junior year of college where I showed up in the office, my manager met me at the door, took me to my desk, and gave me a piece of paper with 3 or 4 assignments. Then she left. Within 30 minutes I had a question...and I had no idea where my manager’s desk was.
I think often about that experience whenever we plan out an onboarding. We have a great track record of hiring folks who are smart, committed, and creative with a good amount of skill and even more potential. We’ve learned through experience that they’re ready and willing to contribute amazing things for the organization, but only if we help them get a feel for the space within which they have to create-- both in terms of workplan and in terms of culture. So our onboarding plans are extensive--intensive at first and then additional meetings and readings stretch out over the first several months. But it’s all aimed at helping create a sense of deep context for team members while allowing them space to do their thing.
5. We ask folks what they need to be successful and we try our best to provide that.
Each year we do set aside resources in our budget to pay for professional development for team members. Our staff and Fellows do a good job of taking advantage of the fund--signing up for webinars or attending conference that they think will help them with their work. But, honestly, when we ask our team members what they need to be successful, the vast majority are things that don’t cost anything at all. “I need you to let me know as soon as possible if I’m going in the wrong direction.” Or “I need you to introduce me to people who know how to do this thing I’m trying to do.” Or “I need to do my hours from really early and stop by mid-afternoon because that’s where my energy is best.”
And usually it’s not the thing itself that seems to have the most impact on their success (though we make a solid commitment to doing what we say we’re going to do), but the fact that we cared enough to ask.
By the way, all the little and big things that we’ve put in place to create an environment that people love--I didn’t make any of it up. When I stepped into the role as the first Director of YNPN National and had the opportunity to start solidifying the culture of the organization, I only had to rely 10% on my instincts. The other 90% came from almost 20 years of experience being managed and developed by incredible, passionate, brilliant individuals from my RA job as an undergrad to my last gig at the Building Movement Project.
These folk, each in their own small way, helped me form my basic philosophy for what the field now identifies as a whole body of practices known as “talent management.” Basically it’s this:
If you believe that your organization’s mission matters, then the people who carry it out matter too. And you should treat them accordingly.
(For more on YNPN’s internal Talent Philosophy, check out this report from last year’s LaunchPad Fellow for Talent Management, Betty Jeanne Reuters-Ward.)
After almost 8 years of engaging with the network as a volunteer, Trish Tchume is proud to be serving as the first-ever Director of YNPN National.
When not dreaming up various ways to harness the power of emerging nonprofit leaders, Trish likes to help her fellow New Yorkers find their inner voice as a volunteer story coach with the Moth and regularly takes her life into her own hands biking and jogging through the streets of NYC. She equally credits her rich Jesuit education, her strong Ghanaian roots, and a severe case of middle child syndrome for her commitment to engaging as many people as possible in the important work of building a just and equitable society.
You can contact Trish at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter at @ttchume.
Huddle icon from Andrew McKinley via the Noun Project
One form of labor in the nonprofit sector that’s often under-appreciated is volunteer labor. All of our local chapters are run entirely by volunteers from the community, and across the network we see firsthand the kind of amazing work that volunteers can accomplish and how dedicated they can be.
The members of YNPNsfba’s Volunteer Corps, for example, commit to spending 20 hours per month furthering their chapter’s mission. Here YNPNsfba Volunteer Manager Lizzie Timbers Lara shares some of what she’s learned about how to manage and retain a dedicated group of volunteers.
Volunteers are the unsung heroes of the nonprofit sector. Although it may sound like a cliché, it could not be more true. Volunteers add manpower to nonprofit organizations that the organization would not be able to get elsewhere. They put tireless hours into causes and contribute to nonprofits’ successes. In organizations like YNPN, the volunteers run the whole organization. Whether your organization has volunteers only for events, has volunteer interns on a long term basis or is entirely volunteer run, it is essential to know how to recruit, retain and appreciate your volunteers.
YNPNsfba Board & Volunteer Corps. Photo by Moua Lo.
At YNPNsfba, we keep a volunteer application on our website to recruit volunteers. Because we are volunteer run we take applications on a rolling basis, but September is when we have our push for new volunteers. We are fortunate enough to have long standing social media accounts with a strong follower base that we are able to use to recruit volunteers.
Although we are able to recruit some awesome volunteers digitally, I have found that the best way to find volunteers is at events. When you meet someone at an event, you know they have already taken the first step and shown interest by attending. You can speak to them to see what their interests and skills are. People who show enthusiasm in getting involved and using their skills are people who I look for to volunteer.
In the last year, we have created an official onboarding system at YNPNsfba. The first step in the onboarding process is for the manager to meet in-person with the volunteer. This is one of the most important aspects to emphasize. The importance is two-fold; when the new volunteer is able to meet at least one other volunteer they feel connected to the organization, secondly if you cannot get a new volunteer to schedule a time to meet with you in-person, they most likely will not be an engaged volunteer.
We also have a volunteer orientation packet that the managers go through with the volunteers which covers YNPNsfba history, mission, values and structure. It is important that the volunteer understand all of this before volunteering, so that they will understand the organization they are working for better. When I was brought on as a volunteer, this system was not in place and it took me a couple years to really understand the organization’s structure and how it works. It is important when bringing on a new volunteer that they feel connected with the organization and understands their role in the organization.
Members of YNPNsfba at the Board & Volunteer Corps retreat. Photo by Moua Lo.
Volunteer retainment is always something that is difficult. We have found that the in-person onboarding helps with retainment. It is also important for the manager to be clear about what will be expected of the volunteer and ensure that is something that they can commit to. To help with retainment, I encourage my managers to have regular monthly meetings with their committees. I have found that the best practice is to schedule the next month’s meeting before the end of each meeting that way everyone is clear when you will meet next. The regularity of meeting helps to keep the volunteer engaged. Volunteers who feel like they are contributing and helping are more likely to stay involved and not leave.
Free food never hurts your volunteer retention strategy. Photo by Moua Lo.
One of the best ways to keep volunteers is to make sure that you are recognizing and appreciating them. There are various ways which we try to ensure that our volunteers feel appreciated at YNPNsfba. Volunteer appreciation does not have to be a lavish thing. We appreciate our volunteers with food at meetings.
We also recognize our volunteers with a picture and small bio of each volunteer on our website and regularly updating our social media with pictures of our volunteers. Birthday cards can also be a nice way to show your appreciation. Most of our volunteers are looking for professional experience opportunities. Getting volunteers into conferences or trainings are great ways to foster their career and appreciate them. Volunteer appreciation can be simple, but the important part is to make sure that you are recognizing your volunteers in some aspect and make sure they know that you are grateful for the work they are doing.
At YNPNsfba, volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization. Without energetic, motivated volunteers our organization would not exist. We know we're not the only organization in the sector that this is true for, and we hope that all organizations can be thoughtful about how they manage and value volunteer labor.
Lizzie Timbers Lara
Lizzie Lara is the Development and Communications Director at YNPNsfba. In her role, she oversees the development, membership and marketing committees. Lizzie started her nonprofit career in high school when she was President of a conservation nonprofit, she has been dedicated to social good ever since. Her day job, is at the Homeless Action Center in Oakland, where she works as the Administrative Assistant. She is passionate about human rights, social justice and Latin America. Follow her on Twitter @LizzieTimbers
Volunteer icon from Wilson Joseph via The Noun Project
Jaimie Sorenson is a member of YNPN Portland who has also been a labor union member for over a decade. In our latest #nplabor piece, Jaimie shares her experience in today's labor movement.
I've been a member of a labor union for thirteen years. I didn’t come from a union family and knew nothing about unions before I joined one, except for what I had seen in a Jimmy Hoffa movie.
My education on unions was self-taught. It started when I left employment in the University Hospital I had worked in since high school and began working for a for-profit hospital. I was naïve to think that health insurance, sick leave and vacation time were standard across the industry.
I quickly learned I was wrong, so I returned to my former unionized employer. I decided to learn more about the union and get involved. Those pursuits lead me to pursue any opportunities my union offered, and they were ample.
I gained wonderful experiences at a very young age in presenting before hundreds of thousands of people, crafting workshops and creating new committees focused on issues my co-workers and I cared about. I found my voice in the union. Later I was elected to almost every officer position in the union and that eventually landed me in my current career as a union representative.
I’m often asked what it means to be a union rep. I usually explain by saying I’m in labor relations. I work with employers on a variety of issues: sometimes I’m in an advocacy role for the workers, bargaining contracts, and mediating workplace issues; at other times I’m helping to draft policies through negotiations, identifying cost savings and efficiencies for the employer and hopefully empowering workers as I’ve been empowered. I currently work with both public and nonprofit sector employees through Oregon AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees).
Jaimie Sorenson with Sen. Jeff Merkley
Public and nonprofit sector employees both tend to be mission-focused, sometimes at their own expense. All too often in the nonprofit sector we tend to put the mission before the workers. I’m not advocating that anyone be less passionate about what they do. However, I do feel that workers need to be taken care of as well, and this is where a union can come into play.
I’ll give an example: One of the first contracts I ever negotiated was for group home workers who cared for developmentally disabled adults. The workers were very focused on fulfilling their mission and so was their employer, often to the extent that they ignored some of the basic needs the workers had. This resulted in big retention problems because the workers would burn out and move onto other employers.
This was very hard on the clients who didn’t understand why their friends, caregivers, and counselors were leaving them. In order to stop the floodgates, we need to address the problems that were causing the burn out.
As with many nonprofits, the main issue was funding. I worked with our lobbying team and headed to the state capitol to advocate for more funding for these types of organizations. I’m proud to report that we received an 8% increase in funding for all subsidized group homes in my state. This resulted in increased wages and the ability to hire more staff. Because of our union, these workers who serve one of the most vulnerable populations in our state no longer make the same wages as fast food workers.
Unions can be instrumental in ensuring that an employer has a sustainable operation. We share that interest with employers, thought that’s not the common public perception. We actually want to help ensure that the employer remains in business and is the best business it can be.
Unions can also help solve workplace issues, secure funding, work to defeat bad legislation and create helpful legislation as well. We advocate for workers, and in the long run when a worker is happy, the work is better. It’s a win-win for workers and business. As a union representative, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many employers who agree with this philosophy. I hope to see more organizations adopting this philosophy in the future.
Jaimie Sorenson is a staff representative for Oregon AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees).
Alison Green is the manager behind the Ask A Manager blog, where she answers reader questions and shares her expertise and insight into labor and management issues. We love Alison's respectful and no nonsense approach to workplace relationships and management, so we asked her to share her advice for young nonprofit professionals.
You've worked in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. Are there any key differences that you've noticed or any management and HR best practices that should be tweaked for the nonprofit setting?
You know, I think there's sometimes lack of clarity in the sector about what good management means in the first place. It's not about having an effective board or a happy and empowered staff -- those things are important as means, but the fundamental aim of good management is to produce results that you can sustain over time. Everything else stems from there. Too often, though, nonprofits managers lose sight of the central question of what results are being produced. It's something you see less often in businesses, because there's a clear bottom line (which is profit). In nonprofits, that bottom line is social impact, but it can be easier to lose sight of that when you're not vigilant about keeping your focus there.
You've said in the past "The work many nonprofits do is crucial, and what’s at stake is so much more important than some business’s bottom line. Because of that, nonprofits have a special obligation to be as effective as possible in pursuing their missions, which means that they need to be really committed to effective management [...]." What can YNPs do if they feel they're not being managed effectively?
Honestly, it's very hard to change bad management from below. You can certainly think about what pieces of the situation are within your control and focus on making those pieces go as smoothly as possible. But what you don't want to do -- and what happens too often -- is to end up stewing in frustration over things about boss or your organization that you can't change. You need to either find ways to work effectively within that context or -- if you realize that you can't work reasonably happy in that environment -- realize that you might need to move on to somewhere where you'll be less frustrated.
The nonprofit sector is unfortunately infamous for low salaries and tight budgets. How would you advise a young nonprofit professional who wants to negotiate for a higher salary handle it if their manager responds, "We don't have the money"? Does the conversation have to end there?
Try asking what you'd need to do in order to earn the raise. If the answer is still some variation of "we don't have the money, no matter what you do," at that point you'll need to decide what to do with that information. Can you continue to work there happily for now, knowing that your salary isn't likely to go up any time soon? Some people decide that they can, because they're sufficiently fulfilled by the work and like what they're doing. Or you might decide that regardless of how you feel about your work and your mission, you'd like to earn more money. Either is a legitimate decision, and you'll be helped in your thinking by understanding what is and isn't possible in your role at your current organization.
It's also useful to understand what your market value is. It's worth doing some research to figure out what salary you'd command somewhere else, and what the trade-offs of that might be. For instance, you might find that you could earn more money somewhere else, but wouldn't enjoy the work as much, or wouldn't have something else you that like about your current job (like great benefits or working on a high-profile issue). Or you might realize that you WOULD prefer the total package you could get somewhere else. Overall, though, more information is better than less.
One of our board members was curious to hear your advice for middle managers in nonprofit organizations around supporting and keeping YNPs who may be in organizations where there is little opportunity for actual advancement. How can managers best support their employees?
Sometimes the way you support staff might be by accepting that they won't stay forever. Not every role has a career path within the organization, especially at smaller organizations, and that's okay. The best thing you can do is to be realistic about that, with yourself and with those staff members, and think about how you can help them prepare for their next role somewhere else. For instance, are there ways they can improve their skills in their current roles? Development opportunities to expand their skills in ways that will be useful in their current work? Ways to give them increased responsibility or a greater role in your department without moving them?
A talented YNP is going to stick around longer with a manager who's helping her gain skills for her next role, even if that role is at a different organization, than with one who won't let her develop at all.
One of our members is wondering how recent graduates can make a phenomenal first impression? Many 'entry level' jobs require 2-3 years of experience but many graduates are entering into the job market with patched together experiences or jobs that they needed to take to pay their way through school. What can they do to break into the field?
First and foremost, get as much work experience as you can before you graduate. Employers are looking for experience, not just knowledge, and so new grads who come out of school with work experience on their resumes have a significant advantage, even if it's patched together from internships and part-time jobs. Next, get a practical understanding of what your degree qualifies you for in the work world. Too often, people pick a major without fully understanding what jobs it will and won't qualify them for once they graduate, and then they end up frustrated to learn that the major doesn't open the doors they thought it would, or that the career paths it opens up aren't ones they're interested in. And third, figure out how to help employers understand how your experience relates to their needs. New grads often come out of school without much understanding of how to frame their qualifications in terms that will resonate with employers. The language and framework that worked in academia may not work with employers, so it's really important for them to figure out how to translate that.
You recently answered a question from a reader about being asked to work incredibly long hours at evening and weekend events. There was a similar question a few months ago about employees being asked to donate to their organizations. Some of the demands made in the name of "the cause" can get pretty unreasonable. Do you have any recommendations or scripts for employees who need to set boundaries with their organization around their personal time and money?
Be clear about what you can do -- and what you can't. For instance, if you're asked to donate money to your own organization (something that I find ridiculous, for whatever that's worth), you can say something like, "I'm glad to put in hard work because I care about our mission, but I'm not comfortable donating to my employer" or "Unfortunately my budget won't allow it" or whatever other polite version of "no" you're most comfortable with. Similarly with unrealistic hours, it's fine to say, "I understand that from time to time I'll need to work nights or weekends and I'm glad to do that on occasion when the work requires it, but I also have other commitments that don't allow me to do it this often. Can we talk about other ways to get the work done?" (Obviously, this wouldn't be appropriate in a context where the nature of the job truly does require odd hours.)
Realize, too, that there might be times in your life when you WANT to throw yourself into work and focus a ton of your energy on your job. You might have times when your professional goals are more important to you than your personal goals. At other times, other things in your life might take priority. The key is to have clarity on that yourself and choose roles that align well with your personal and professional goals at any given time.
Last month we spoke with Paul Schmitz about his book "Everyone Leads." During our chat, he encouraged YNPs to step up and take leadership opportunities when they see them. Do you have any specific tips for young nonprofit professionals who might be interested in taking on a bigger leadership role in their organizations? How can they do it in a way that's effective and doesn't play into some of the millennial stereotypes that are out there (e.g. that we're overly ambitious and don't want to pay our dues)?
Well, first you want to make sure that you're doing a great job of your core responsibilities. You want to be able to prove that you can handle what's already been throw at you. But from there, volunteer to lead team projects, to take the lead on investigating potential new initiatives, offer to manage your team's interns, etc. If you're stepping up to take on new responsibilities in a way that will be a help to your employer, it's more likely to be well-received than if you seem to just be looking to advance without thinking through the organization's needs.
What's the worst piece of career advice or conventional wisdom that you see being repeated?
The idea that there's such a thing as a dream job. The reality is, you have no idea whether a particular would be your dream job or not until you’re actually in it and have been for a while. In fact, there's really no such thing as a dream job that you can truly recognize from the outside. As much as you think you might love doing that work for that particular organization, it might turn out that the manager is a nightmare, or the organization makes you bring in a doctor’s note every time you have a cold, or your workload is so unachievably high that you end up having panic attacks every morning.
Dream jobs do exist — when it’s work you love, at an organization that treats employees well, working for a great manager, alongside coworkers who are competent and kind — but it’s dangerous to think something is your dream job before you’re really in a position to know. It can lead you to turn a blind eye to warning signs or to make decisions you wouldn’t make if you had all the facts, and you can end up miserable as a result. It can also cause you to pass up opportunities that might become your dream job if you gave it a chance.
What are your top three tips for young professionals looking to advance their career in the nonprofit sector?
- Be really, really clear on how the work you're doing -- any given project and your role overall -- ties to your organization's fundamental mission. How is it driving your organization forward? What are the results it's getting that will advance that mission? If you can't answer those questions, there's a problem.
- Find mentors. These don't have to be formal relationships with an official "mentor" label; they can simply be more experienced coworkers who you have some rapport with. Regularly talking with someone more experienced can give you a broader perspective on office life, help you navigate tricky situations, and succeed faster.
- Do what you say you're going to do and by when you say you're going to do it. Always sticking to your word will establish you as someone reliable and trustworthy, someone who is on top of their game, and it's such rare behavior that you'll stand out for it.
If you want to read more from Alison, check out her blog Ask A Manager and the book she co-wrote, Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results.
In the nonprofit sector we generally do quite a bit of reflection on our work. We often ask ourselves what good nonprofit leadership looks like and how we can be better practitioners and change agents. Yet one thing we don't talk very much about is how labor and employment practices affect the answers to those questions.
When we decided to take a look at labor issues this month, we found that the list of things we could talk about, both in and out of the nonprofit sector, could make for months worth of blog posts. As our economy moves toward knowledge work and away from what we traditionally think of as "labor," we're renegotiating boundaries like the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage.
Those of us in the nonprofit sector are especially impacted by these issues--not only are we workers ourselves, but we're also often in the position of advocating for those who are marginalized in the economy and vulnerable to exploitation. This month we wanted to take a closer look at how young nonprofit professionals could not only be better advocates for themselves, but also more effective and informed advocates for their communities.
We'll be talking to experts in the fields of labor and management about what issues YNPs should have on their radar and how they can deal with some of the labor issues they may be encountering in their own workplaces. We'll also be talking transparently about how YNPN handles some of these issues as an employer.
And we hope to talk to you about your experiences. On May 23 at 2 pm CT we'll be hosting a Twitter chat to talk about labor issues in the nonprofit sector. Join us for the chat and all of our content and conversations this month with hashtag #nplabor.