The YNPN 2011 conference kicked off with the phenomenal Rosetta Thurman, most known for her outstanding blog but also co-author of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar.
She kicked off the session with a challenge to all in the room: “If you’re not succeeding at the game, change the rules. You don’t have to play like everyone else. Find the loopholes.” It was with that foundation that she offered the following advice:
Develop expertise – Don’t volunteer for free (hone your skills); don’t just go out and ladle soup; use your volunteer time to build yourself as a professional.
Learn how to raise money – If you know how to raise money, you’ll always be in demand. Nonprofit organizations always want to raise money.
Take classes or certification programs – This has to be an ongoing process, not a one-time effort.
Learn someone else’s job – Make yourself indispensable at your organization. Take opportunities to learn about the work your colleagues do, and make yourself a resource to all.
Build a strong network – Relationships are important; your work will always be there, so make networking a priority. Make yourself visible. Join associations (like YNPN, AFP, etc.) and attend conferences. You may be able to get your registration fees waived by volunteering to tweet, blog, help staff the sessions, etc.
Communicate your future plans – Make sure folks know what your future aspirations are before you’re looking for a job; they will become your advocates and share job openings which could be real opportunities for advancing your career.
Build your own “Frankenmentor” – Choose 3-5 people you admire for different reasons, recognizing that one person alone is unlikely to fulfill all of your guidance needs. You don’t have to make this relationship “official” – just ask them to meet with you for coffee once a quarter. It’s like your own personal board of directors.
Establish a great personal brand – Personal branding is your professional reputation – what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Googling yourself can give you some insight (consider setting up a Google alert). Rosetta actually googled YNPN Detroit member TaQuilla Martin last night, and spoke about how strong her professional presence is online. (Right on, TaQuilla!) Rosetta lifted up a quote from author Dan Schwabel, who suggested that you “brand yourself for the career you want, not the job you have.”
Rosetta had everyone in the audience write down three words that they wanted associated with their personal brand. Words suggested from participants included achiever, innovator, leader, motivator, integrity, entrepreneur, etc. She suggested that you use this to build your reputation – starting by making a kick-ass bio highlighting these three words. She pointed out that you can call yourself a leader whether or not you necessarily believe that – if you put it out in the universe, it may just come back to you. She also suggested you get your OWN business cards, build a social media presence (particularly twitter and LinkedIn) and start a blog (focused on your professional life, offering opinions not just summaries) Three blogs she suggested: Allison Jones, Jessica Journey and Sam Davidson.
Practice authentic leadership – Even if you’re not the CEO of your organization, you can be a leader. Join a board, lead a committee, do a “stretch” assignment – something that falls outside of your job description, and speak up – take advantage of public speaking opportunities and be an advocate for your cause.
Plan for balance – Take care of you! Ensuring good work-life balance requires planning. Make sure you make your own to-do list. You need to have a personal mission that goes beyond the job you have. (She lays out how to do this in her book.) Stop playing the martyr role; you are responsible for the way you use your time. Don’t allow your nonprofit work to consume you. Schedule time to reflect, and write if you can. And clear your plate – get in the habit of saying “no” first.
Move on up – Forge your path ahead. Get paid what you’re worth – your inability to negotiate now will impact your longterm ability to earn. Keep asking; it lets other people know that you know what you’re worth. Keep track of your own accomplishments, and when you have to resign, resign gracefully. When it comes time to look for a job, let your network know – they will provide the best infromation for what’s available. And take the leap – when an opportunity comes that you didn’t expect to have for another ten years, take it. You’ll develop the skills.
Rosetta’s closing question: Whatcha gonna do Monday?