Everyone Must Step Up: A (Short) Manifesto on Nonprofit Leadership

Feb 5, 2013 by

Two articles and a recent staff retreat have got me thinking about the changing nature of leadership and mentorship in nonprofits.

Jack Marshall’s article over at Digiday titled “What Millennials Want: Mentorship” was actually written from the perspective of the for-profit sector, but it was incredibly relevant to us nonprofiteers as well. Jack discusses agencies that “talk a big game about appealing to young staffers, [but tend] to fall down on the most basic of requirements: training them and helping them along in their careers.” He offers two core reasons for this 1) that traditional sit-down-in-a-room-and-get-trained models of staff development are either not useful or barely even used anymore (because of companies cutting corners, etc.) and 2) that most managers are stretched so thin that they don’t have time to spend with junior employees providing guidance and feedback.step up

While business may have only started seeing this trend in the last few years, nonprofits have been seeing it for decades. In the interest of saving donors’ money, serving more people and getting a high ‘efficiency’ score on all those nonprofit rating lists (most of which are bullshit IMHO – but we’ll save that for another post), nonprofits have consistently cut – or in some cases never even offered – training to their staff. And as a ‘middle manager’ myself, I can testify to being stretched too thin to spend as much time as I want with those I supervise.

At my organization’s recent mid-year staff retreat, we had some extensive discussions about professional development, staff evaluations and knowledge-sharing. And if I may be frank, we were able to come to very few clear conclusions. Why? Not because we didn’t try or because people aren’t interested, but because each individual within the organization has different needs and desires in terms of his or her professional development. I’d go a step further and suggest that the many of the younger staff members have an all together different view from the senior management of what professional and leadership development should look like.

Enter Trish Tchume, the National Director of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. Her fantastic article on HuffPo titled “A Field Guide for Recognizing Millennial Leadership” was exactly what I was looking for in terms of a way to focus on solutions to the challenges presented above. In her post, Trish identifies transformational millennial leaders that are breaking down traditional notions of what a nonprofit leader looks like (both physically and reputationally). And they are doing it by doing what millennials do best: networking with others, crowd-sourcing solutions, ignoring ‘turf’ or toes that can be stepped on and understanding that great ideas can come from anyone, no matter whether or not they are ‘known’ in the sector.

We all must take part in being the change we want to see. Here what we can do make it happen:

  • Nonprofit organizations and senior leaders:
    • First, acknowledge the truth: the more you ignore and fail to develop your staff, the more they will put on their walking shoes and leave your organization behind. Not only does this significantly erode your nonprofit’s ability to execute its mission, but the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at UC Berkley suggests that staff turnover often costs 150 percent of that person’s salary (translation: if that person makes $60K, you’re paying $90K to replace him or her). If the nonprofit efficiency ratings took those costs into account, they might actually be more helpful.
    • Second: institute training programs, even if its mostly staff training each other or attending very cheap local events. Even a couple each quarter can make a difference in terms of your staff’s productivity, knowledge and happiness.
    • Third: make staff development and mentorship part of your organizational culture – make sure both your managers and employees know that taking time for mentoring conversations is acceptable and even encouraged; mentor staff yourself; share your network with your employees and be open to suggestions for improvement from EVERYONE in the organization from interns to senior staff.
  • Managers
    • Push back when your time is assigned 100% to projects/programs and none to all to the other important work, including staff development. No one can realistically spend 100% of their day just on programmatic work (even eating lunch takes away from it), so make sure you don’t just accept when organizational leadership tries to do that.
    • Even when things are incredibly busy, do whatever you need to in order to prioritize staff development. Take time out for lunch with junior staff. Save time in meetings for non-programmatic topics. Go get coffee or a drink after work with your staff. Sit next to them on the airplane during travel and take some time to talk about their goals instead of just burying your head in your laptop. The list goes on.
  • Junior staff/millennials
    • Push for those training opportunities and then take them when they come. They may not be exactly what you need or want, but every one is an opportunity for growth or at least networking with your peers.
    • Ask for feedback constantly – Not just on the report you drafted or the email template you just built, but on your performance as a whole. Be proactive in telling your managers about your longer-term goals and aspirations. Ask lots of questions and ask for connections to others who can help. (After a while, you’ll train your managers to offer this without even soliciting it, so start now!)
    • Remember that things are changing and while you may be on the leading edge, everyone else is not. While you’re working on getting mentorship, training and feedback at the workplace, don’t forget about your personal/alumni/social networks. Volunteer or serve on a board with your peers (YNPN local chapters are a great option) and offer them constructive suggestions and feedback about their work – and ask for the same on yours.

Of course, these ideas just scratch the surface on what can and should be done to move the state of nonprofit leadership forward. What else do you want to see to bring the sector and its employees truly into the 21st century of leadership?

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Becoming a Networking Master (from #YNPNdc11)

Jun 3, 2011 by

I’m here at the YNPNdc Annual Conference, attending fantastic sessions on everything from networking and positive psychology to board service and technology. As part of the YNPNdc, I’m live-tweeting sessions all around and wanted to compile some of the tweets into a quick blog post. To follow all the live tweets, check out the hashtag #ynpndc11

Here are the details from “Becoming a Networking Master: Making the Most of In-Person Events and Creating Your Own Online Brand” with presenters Caitlin Fisher of Hellerman Baretz Communications and Jung Lim from The Washington Center.

What is Networking and why should you do it?

  • Part of your ongoing career development; building relationships; developing alliances; ongoing communications
  • When networking, think about the skills, knowledge that you can offer to others; its not just about getting something from others
  • Networking is not a popularity contest nor is it a bitch session – it supposed to be mutually beneficial

How to build your network

  • Start  with educational contacts, personal & work contacts
  • Volunteer with nonprofit organizations
  • Do informational interviews with people in your field
  • Other ways to build your network: career fairs, events, panel presentations (like the YNPNdc Conference!), online contacts including LinkedIn and other social networks

3 stages of networking

1) Getting started

  • Assemble self-marketing materials including resume, reference list, online presence (LinkedIn profile, etc.), business cards
  • Join a professional organization like @YNPNdc
  • Take action – go out and find the party!
  • Find the party – go to @YNPNdc happy hours, Biznow events, DC Chamber of Commerce, etc.

2) At the event

  • Put your name tag at eye level, dress for success, bring business cards
  • Food & drink
    • Eat beforehand so you don’t spend the entire event at the food table
    • Watch out for bad breath at networking events! Honestly: stinky food and breath is a turn off
    • Try not to drink too much (alcohol) at a networking event – you don’t want to get sloppy in front of new networking contacts
  • Have a 15 second elevator speech about what you do or what you’re looking to do
  • Elevator speech includes name (loud and clear), your job or career identity, the ‘so what’ – what you’re doing, what you’re looking for, why they should be interested
  • Create a more extended version of your greeting: the power greeeting which includes your area of interest, your credentials, experience, what you like to do.
  • Conversation starters: ask people about themselves, ask them about the space/location of the happy hour or their job
  • Know when to end the conversation – use a white lie to get out of it if you need to
  • Being an active listener is more important than being nervous about what to say

3) Relationship building

  • Get in touch quickly (2 days max), connect via email/phone/social networking
  • Remind them who you are & how you met; try to remember personal details
  • Gently indicate why you want to keep in touch – is there a business connect? opportunities to collaborate? mentoring?
  • Do NOT rule out any contacts no matter what their industry
  • Keep an eye on people’s profiles on LinkedIn and directly reach out to them about new jobs, articles posted, events, etc.
  • Go out of your way to be a resource to your network so that when you need something, they’ll respond
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Why I'm going to the YNPN DC Conference tomorrow

May 20, 2010 by

Flickr phot0 from edkrauser

I’ve been a member of YNPN DC for a couple of years now. I admit that my involvement hasn’t always been at a high level; I’ve attended a couple of happy hours, I’ve gone to a couple of networking events and that’s about it. But this year, when I saw that registration had opened for “Serve Today, Shape Tomorrow: A New Direction for Young Leaders” I knew I had to go.

Here are just a few reasons why:

  • An excellent agenda – There are interesting sessions covering examples of excellence in the nonprofit sector, letting go of your fear of fundraising (I will most definitely attend that one), managing volunteers, using personal effectiveness in professional life and more. I’m excited to learn so much from one dynamic event!
  • Exciting speakers – The agenda features several nonprofit stars in the DC metro area, including my good friend Rosetta Thurman who will facilitate an intergenerational conversation during breakfast. Beatriz “BB” Otero from CentroNia will deliver the keynote address. She’s definitely a role model of mine as a strong, intelligent and effective female leader in the sector. And if those two weren’t enough, the fabulous Robert Egger will offer the closing plenary. Nice!
  • Networking opportunities galore – From the opening networking breakfast to the networking lunch to the post-conference networking reception, I will be able to meet, talk and connect with hundreds of other young nonprofit professionals in DC. This is like packing 3 months of networking into one day! As an extrovert I really thrive on being able to talk to tons of people and to hear and learn from them as well.

I think registration is still open so if you haven’t signed up yet, do it now! And if you can’t come to the main event, at least come to the reception at the end of day or follow the live tweeting with the hashtag #YNPNdc10. I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

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UPDATED: Part of the team

Oct 13, 2009 by

Note: As of 11/11/09, the list of the members of the Bloggers Alliance below has been updated.

I’ve joined a new team: The Nonprofit Millenial Bloggers Alliance. No, we don’t have t-shirts – at least not yet – but we do have a shared interest in the nonprofit sector in general and the issues that affect millenials in specific.

Here’s the Alliance roster so far:

I’m excited about this chance to not only interact with other amazing bloggers, thinkers and professionals, but also to improve my own blogging efforts in the process. As you know, I sometimes have trouble getting around to posting. I’m hoping that the wealth of information these folks will provide will help me get back on the blogging track.

Of course, I’m only hanging onto that ‘millenial’ age by a thread (i.e., bearing down on 30 with a bullet), but I’m hoping that doesn’t get me kicked off the team ;).

10/19/09 – Update

The Nonprofit Millenial Bloggers Alliance was featured on PhilanTopic! Check us out under “Social Media.”

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Secrets to Success, Job Seekers Edition: Tools You Can Use

Apr 18, 2009 by

We all know the job landscape is changing. Gone are the days when you could snail mail a resume on nice paper and get noticed. These days, networking and maximizing the various tools at our disposal is absolutely necessary to get noticed. In this post I’m going to go through some of the traditional and not-so-traditional tools that helped me get noticed and get a job.

The Traditional

  • Networking – There have probably been a million blog posts written about networking, but I need to add just a little bit more digital ink to the topic. Networking is something that you should be doing every day. Now I know that most people think of attending happy hours or receptions as networking and they are part of the whole package. I recommend trying to attend at least one networking event a month just to keep in practice. Real networking though is what you do every day with your friends and colleagues; responding to emails and voice mails in a timely manner and getting people what they need when they ask for it. If you get people what they ask for, they will respond in a like manner when you put out an ask for help.
  • Business cards – Personally, I love business cards – the paper stock, the color, the designs. When I was an intern I had to collect them as part of a project and since then I’ve been in love. And they serve as a real sort of currency, at least here in DC. When someone hands you their card, handing one back is expected. If you are currently employed it’s perfectly
    Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

    Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

    acceptable to give someone the card from your work place, but handing someone your personal card makes an even bigger impression. It’s really easy to order some for free or at a very low cost at Vistaprint. I customized mine with my key personal information on the front and my social networking profiles on the back (UPDATE: here is a picture of the front of my business card and the back of it. My tip: always put something on the back or else space is wasted.).


  • LinkedIn – By now, you’ve hopefully heard about LinkedIn and signed up for a profile. If you haven’t, go there right now and get started. Seriously. Go now. LinkedIn is the site for professional networking – no pictures of your latest party or status updates about your drunken friends here. The best way to use LinkedIn is to fill in all areas of your profile with accurate information, including descriptions of your last few jobs, your educational background, etc. and then start connecting to your coworkers, former coworkers, people who work in partner organizations, your personal friends, people you meet at networking events and anyone else you can think of. As with all social networking, you will get out what you put in to LinkedIn. As you search for jobs and find one you are willing to put the time into applying for, do a quick search and see if any of your connections or their connections work for the organization. Chances are good that someone to whom you are connected works or worked for that organization and before you know it, you have a foot in the door.
  • VisualCV – This is a tool that I discovered within the last couple of months and I’m a big fan. Unlike LinkedIn, there isn’t a built in social networking component (i.e. you don’t connect to ‘friends’) and VisualCV allows room to upload multimedia items like presentations and videos. It also allows you to link to any work you have available on the Internet already. Plus, you can download it into a PDF file and print it off in living color. Nice!
  • Blogging – Obviously, if you’re reading this, you know that I blog. Blogging is one of the best tools I’ve found for distinguishing myself among a field of similarly ambitious job seekers. It allows me to express my opinions, offer some thought leadership in my field and provide a renewable supply of writing samples for potential employers. Plus, it’s me uncensored; most writing that I’ve done for work gets filtered through at least a few people and may be changed significantly before it is published. With blogging, there is no similar restriction. Of course, that also puts a further onus on the blogger to make sure her posts are proofed and mistake-free. But you know how I feel about that.
  • Twitter – I’m addicted to Twitter, I admit it. It’s easy to use, it’s fun, it creates real conversations and I’ve discovered so many amazingly useful articles, posts and tools by using it. It’s also a great way to stay up to date on what is going on within your field. You can search for other like-minded twits (those that Tweet) and organizations on Twitter and follow their updates. You can also share your blog posts or interesting resources you come upon and further establish your reputation as a thought leader.

So what’s the conclusion to all of this? Well, to be honest, I didn’t find my current job through traditional networking. However, I did get noticed for my blogging and twittering during the search. In fact, during an interview, I was specifically asked about my blog and my opinions on nonprofits utilizing social networking tools. Now they may have been planning on asking me that question regardless, but I know that I was able to provide a thoughtful, articulate answer because of my own experience with these media tools. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but you have questions or want more tips on using these tools, I’m happy to chat. Just shoot me an email or tweet me. And stay tuned for the last post in this series about being prepared for that all important interview.

To keep up to date on the rest of the posts in this series, make sure to bookmark this page or subscribe to the RSS feed.
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