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Young professionals serving on boards

July 7, 2010

Last month Allison Jones and Rosetta Thurman hosted #ynpchat on twitter.  The topic was “the importance of board service for young professionals”. Allison posted a great summary of the discussion with some key take aways on her blog.  She makes some great points on how to approach your first board service.  Ask about a give/get policy; realize that fundraising is diverse; and consider volunteering first.

It seems a lot of the tweets and comments on Allison’s post regarding young professionals serving on boards came back to what level of fundraising is, and maybe more importantly, “should”, be expected.  Obviously this depends on the organization size, etc.  But what should young professionals expect when joining a board?  and what can you bring to the table?

First off, all boards aren’t created equal.  I know this is a very obvious point, but young professionals shouldn’t take it personal when they aren’t asked to serve on a the board of a $10 million agency. 

At the end of the day, nonprofit boards need to raise money.  Young nonprofit professionals can bring a lot to the table, including fundraising, but you shouldn’t think the other talents you bring offset the need to raise money.  We don’t let attorney’s strictly give through their time, because its valuable.

What nonprofit knowledge do you have?  Most board members, especially for smaller organizations may be doing this for the first time.  As a nonprofit pro, what knowledge of governance, etc. can you bring to the table?  Be the expert.

Don’t approach board service from the perspective of “what can this do for my career”. Sure, it can and will help your career, but don’t approach your board service that way.

Find a place you can have a real impact.  3 years ago I joined the board of an organization in Kansas City, Nonprofit Connect.  We operate on about an $800k budget, so by no means big.  I have really enjoyed the experience so far and am looking forward to taking on more leadership soon.  There are many organizations in KC I may be able to get on the board, but for whatever reason, may not be able to get my hands dirty and really involved.  With Nonprofit Connect it has been the right fit.  I have learned a ton about working with other volunteers and working with staff as a volunteer.  It has given me a new perspective on my job at Big Brothers Big Sisters and I have been able to bring some board practices from BBBS over.  Especially while you are young in your career, and maybe have more free time, find a place to get your hands dirty.

Finally, you should join your local YNPN board…or if there isn’t one, start one!


Read, Meet, Rock It

June 30, 2010

Leadership can be defined in many different ways.  Some think individuals aren’t leaders until they have spent a lot of time in their sector and have proved themselves.  Others believe people are born as leaders and being a leader is an instinct.  What ever your definition we can all agree that leaders know their stuff, can motivate and engage their followers to be successful, have a knack for gaining followers, and know how to be successful.

As you are thinking about your own development, don’t forget to read, meet new people, and always rock it.  As over simplified as these rules may be, they cover most leadership basics.


Reading new articles, research, and opinions of your work is important.  Leaders should always keep their ideas fresh and innovative.  Keeping up on your reading can give you an edge.  It is easy to forget to read and stick to tasks. Scheduling regular time during the week for reading is a good way to keep it up.

Meet new people

Networking is nothing new, but essential.  It is easy to slip into a comfort zone of gathering in your normal group at events.  Step out and meet someone new at every event.  Knowing the right person can get you further than anything else.

Always rock it

We learn as children it’s better to try your hardest and fail, than to never try at all.  As a leader you should take on every task with vigor and confidence.  If the tasks succeed your success will feel more exciting.  If you fail, you will have a better chance to learn from your mistakes.  Most importantly if you don’t run head first into the unknown you might miss out on great opportunities.  Strong leaders know when to take risks, and always rock it.

Reading, networking and rocking are simple rules, but easy to remember.  Stick to these three rules in parallel with your hard work and you won’t regret.

Are there other rules you use when leading?  Are their tricks you have to leading well?  Share and discuss what works for you.

Collaboration Too Soon?

June 23, 2010

Not too long ago, I wrote a post on my own blog asking if it was possible to have too much of a good thing. I was referencing to the ever expanding number of nonprofits and charities and the need for them to come together to make a bigger impact. Collaboration is definitely going to be a huge part of the future for the nonprofit sector, as it should be. And, of course, this will be a good thing for Gen Y. We love collaboration, and we’re good at it.

Nevertheless, I feel that I have been slowly seeing an over eagerness in my fellow Gen Y’ers when it comes to collaboration. It is important to make sure that you have a program or mission that is worth collaborating with before seeking partnerships and connections. We have to be willing to do the hard work, to get our hands dirty if you will. We can’t achieve results by just ‘collaborating for collaborating’s sake.” We need to make sure that we are actually doing and not just talking. There is value in the good ol’ fashioned way of having something to show for yourself before you ask others for support and approval. If two organizations that are doing good things come together, even more good things will be done through their work together. At the same time, if two organizations that aren’t really doing anything come together, not much will come from a partnership between the two. Collaboration is powerful when it is strategic, but like anything else if it is done poorly and prematurely, there won’t be any worthwhile results.

Young people love starting new initiatives, new programs, new networking and/or social groups. Being a co-founder of YNPN Detroit, I hear so many great ideas and visions. However, I think it is very important for us, as ‘young’ nonprofit professionals (I use quotations around the word ‘young’ because, really, these ideas are for everyone) not to skip the grassroots hard work of starting something before running to get partners. As a new chapter, our resources are limited. Resources will, of course, increase gradually in time, but until then, it is important that we are strategic about where those resources are being utilized. We need to make sure we are doing and not just talking.

To my fellow Gen Y Nonprofit Professionals, if you are working on a new initiative, a new program, a new group, etc…Stop and think to yourself: Why should such-and-such organization partner with us? What have we done to suggest that a partnership with us is worth their time? Also, stop and ask yourself: Are we spending more time talking about partnerships than we are actually doing anything?

We don’t want to create a sector of talkers instead of doers. Not to mention, if we want to gain the respect of the other generations that have already been working in the nonprofit sector, we have to make sure that we appear ready to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. We are a generation of idealists, positive thinkers, and motivated learners. These are all good things. Let them be our strength, and not our downfall!

Taking Your Chapter to the Next Level

June 18, 2010

Congratulations, you and some of your nonprofit friends have decided to start a chapter of YNPN. You made it through your first event, built a decent-sized web presence and have lots of support. What’s next? How do you know when it’s time to take the next step? Should your chapter step back?

Speaking from experience, when you are ready to go to the next level:

  • People gladly come to your events
  • People routinely offer to pay for membership
  • You have the backing of major nonprofit leaders
  • You have a core leadership team
  • Private and Public sector organizations, including the media are paying attention

What does that next level look like?  First, take a look at the YNPN chapter levels on the website. You may or may not fit through all the loops, but if you fit through a lot, then you’ve emerged into either a novice or affiliate chapter.

In addition, take a look around at other professional associations and nonprofits in the area that are well run. Those organizations are your best barometer of how the nonprofit sector in your city functions and also what types of events, fundraisers and information your community needs. They are also your sponsors, mentors and friends as you establish yourself in the community.

Finally, make sure that you have these things in order:

  • Determine your legal structure. Decide if you are going to be a division of your local Jaycee, United Way, or other nonprofit organization or if you will pursue an independent 501c3 or LLC.
  • Incorporate and maintain proper licenses to operate and manage money in your jurisdiction.
  • If one exists, join your local nonprofit consortium or advisory group.
  • Support  other young professional, nonprofit and professional groups
  • Be transparent about all leadership decisions, as well as bylaws and policies.

Last but not least, have fun! Being apart of the YNPN family has brought me many benefits and I hope it does the same for you.

YNPNdc members speaking about opportunities

June 15, 2010

Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy shared this video from the YNPNdc conference.  They interviewed participants about professional development opportunities and engaging young professionals.

“Members of the Washington chapter of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, many of whom are in their 20s and 30s, say opportunities are expanding, but they also have concerns about their futures in the nonprofit world. Low pay, long hours, and a lack of upward mobility were among the issues viewed as setbacks.

Some participants discussed the hierarchy that exists within nonprofit groups, noting that many organizations value their ideas but are not incorporating young people into leadership roles.

Others say charities need to go beyond simply recruiting young talent and make an effort to find out the career aspirations of young professionals.”

Great to see the voices of young professionals being shared in this way.  Congrats to YNPNdc on a great conference and this feature.

Nominate a young, transformative leader for the American Express NGen Leadership Award!

May 25, 2010

Nominations are now being accepted for the inaugural American Express NGen Leadership Award. This award will honor one under-40 nonprofit professional who has had a transformative impact on addressing society’s critical needs.

All nominees must be under-40, work for a U.S.-based nonprofit or non-governmental organization, and have had a transformative, measurable impact within their field, beyond his or her organization. The winner of the American Express NGen Leadership Award will be announced in late August, and will be recognized during the IS Annual Conference in Atlanta, October 20-22.  Nominations will be accepted through Monday, June 14. Self-nomination is not admissible for this award.

Visit the IS website for more information on the award criteria, the selection process, and the nomination requirements.

This award extends Independent Sector’s commitment to encouraging emerging leaders in the nonprofit and philanthropic community.  All under-40 nonprofit professionals are invited to join IS for the NGen Program at the IS Annual Conference in Atlanta this October, which will offer expanded programming and networking opportunities for emerging leaders. Visit the IS website to learn more about how you can register for NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now.

The More We Get Together…

May 25, 2010

… the happier we’ll be, right?  Because then your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends.  Isn’t that how the old tune goes?

In theory, word and deed, I support partnerships and collaborations; however, somewhere deep in my heart or in the very back of my mind, there is something that keeps me from drinking the cooperative Kool-Aid.  I am not sure what it is, and I am certain I cannot be the only person who feels that way.

A story of an interesting and seemingly successful “coming together” in Columbus, Ohio has forced me to re-examine my position on sharing, which is really at the heart of partnerships and collaboration – sharing and trust.

The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts is an arts management organization that handles the back office operations for many arts organizations in the area.  Its roster of clients is impressive, including the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, which is an artistic leader and had been a managerial nightmare.  The recession hit the Orchestra particularly hard.  Outsourcing its ticketing operations, fundraising and marketing to CAPA saved the Columbus Symphony Orchestra approximately $750,000.  It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, does it not?  CAPA gets a happy client and the Orchestra saves money and can invest its energy into its mission – “to share great music with over a quarter million people in central Ohio through concerts, radio broadcasts, and special programming.”

The story of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and CAPA might inspire other nonprofit organizations to consider sharing and partnering, especially given the current economic climate.  In fact, I used to be shared staff of two youth services organizations that shared office space, technological support and a few administrative positions, including mine.

Especially when it comes to something like “back office” expenses, the cost for a business (or other nonprofit organization) to do bookkeeping, marketing, advertising, graphic design and payroll for a number of organizations versus the cost for each organization to do it individually speaks for itself.  For example, when public relations professional and CAPA employee Terrence Womble purchases ad space for his clients, he does so in bulk, getting a better rate.

In New York, I stumbled upon a great opportunity for area nonprofits to decrease their administrative costs with regard to direct mail, data and fulfillment –  Back Office New York, an affiliate of The Doe Fund.  If a nonprofit is struggling to fund its programs and can barely put the money together to send out an appeal, perhaps Back Office New York (another nonprofit) could help, and by using their services, more people are positively impacted than originally planned.

Across the country there are nonprofit incubator systems, spaces where nonprofits are located together to cut costs, and other methods for sharing, collaborating and partnering.   In recent years, I have even seen organizations come together more often for events.  For example an AIDS research benefit held at a museum would help both the research organization and the museum.  The invite lists are merged, the red carpet is rolled out, the auction is expanded and the dancing goes until dawn!

The case for partnership is strong.  We all know (and have said) the mantras: “Together Each Achieves More”, “Teamwork makes the dream work” and so on and so forth.  Even funders collaborate and encourage their grantees to do so as well.  Partnership is not only efficient, it is also effective.

So why do I still hesitate?  What is it about playing in the sandbox that makes me wonder if it’s not really a sand trap?… Any other reluctant collaborators out there?

I do believe that partnerships are an integral ingredient to the recipe for success for the sector.  I am just a bit skeptical of all the hands reaching out because they are attached to bodies that hold minds that come with their own agendas, and that can get tricky – in nonprofits, in families, in communities and in any other areas where interpersonal relations exist.  However, I suppose the good outweighs the bad.  Right?

What’s that visualization about the difference between Heaven and Hell?  That in Heaven and Hell people are sitting a banquet and everyone has these enormously long utensils.  It’s the same menu and same utensil length in Heaven as it is in Hell.  The difference is that in Heaven, people feed each other while in Hell people grow frustrated with their hunger because they are only concerned with feeding themselves, an impossible feat given the resources.

I guess the more practice we get on helping one another now the better.