Download “How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar” for free – this week only!

Top nonprofit bloggers Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris have co-authored the first book of its kind to offer career advice beyond just getting your foot in the door of a nonprofit organization, and this week you have an opportunity to download a copy of this book (a $24.99 value) for FREE!

Do you feel stuck in your nonprofit career? Unsure how to take that next step? How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is an accessible, do-it-yourself map of how to navigate the nonprofit sector and gives you the tools that you need to move from entry level to leadership. This book is designed for professionals who want to build meaningful and rewarding nonprofit careers. How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is based on the authors’ experiences as well as interviews with nonprofit rockstars who have supercharged their careers. You’ll learn how to develop meaningful nonprofit experience, build a strong network, establish a strong personal brand, achieve the elusive work/life balance, and move on up in your career.

As a special thanks for all of the support they’ve seen from young nonprofit professionals across the nation, Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris have decided to give YNPN Detroit blog readers a FREE copy of the book for this week only (October 31st through November 6th). Just click on the “pay with a tweet” button here and post a tweet promoting the book.  Once you do, you’ll be given a link where you can instantly download the ebook to your computer.

Grab it now, and tell your friends!


Demystifying the role of the E.D.

This post by YNPN Detroit Board Member La’Leatha Spillers first appeared in her blog… Please check it out for more amazing insights into the nonprofit sector!

The nonprofit Executive Director (ED). Quite honestly even with my 10 years of nonprofit experience this is a role I initially chose to stay far away from. I mean let’s be honest how many of you have seen the role of the ED as attractive? If you’re like me most of what I saw was someone who was constantly running around putting out fires, dealing with the difficult board or committee member of the day, juggling grant application deadlines to get funds to replace the funds that were lost last fiscal year, hiring and sometimes firing people, rushing from meeting to meeting and the list goes on and on. Does any of that sound like fun or even remotely attractive? No! Who wants to live like that and have a job where you are constantly stressed out and running around like a chicken with your head cut off? No one! Well, that was partly why I feared the ED position. I love the nonprofit world because it has allowed me to have a work-life balance unlike my previous industry of advertising. I enjoy interacting with the community and touching the lives of those we serve and it just always seemed that the ED, while committed to the mission, never really got a chance to really touch the people but more or less had to be concerned about EVERYTHING from the building, to HR stuff, staff issues, budget and finance, etc. – all things that I feared. But why did I fear those things? I feared them because quite honestly I didn’t want to have to be totally responsible for everyone and everything ALL the time. Plus, if I were ever to become an ED I would totally feel like everyone that worked at the agency was my responsibility. I couldn’t imagine having to lay people off because the agency lost a grant or having to deal with a difficult board member or employee.

Well that was only one side of the ED story. Only recently have I seen the ED position as attractive and that’s because another fellow under 40 yr. old nonprofit dynamo is my current President/CEO. She has truly opened my eyes and also caused me to rethink becoming an ED. Not only that but in the past two years I’ve made a conscious effort to seek out nonprofit executives as mentors and to gain additional training like my nonprofit graduate certificate from Eastern Michigan University. During that time I had an opportunity to be taught by an American Red Cross chapter CEO, a current and past president of AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) and a nonprofit finance VP just to name a few. This gave me a chance to ask them the not so dumb questions that I had like “Look shoot it to me straight, what’s the role of an ED really like?” Because guess what, the more and more I learned and asked questions, I thought to myself “Hey that’s something I can do…I think?” Only after one of my awesome mentors, a current ED for another nonprofit, said to me “La’Leatha you would be a fabulous ED!” did I really start to believe in myself, my experience and my abilities. Don’t get me wrong I’m not going to run out and become an ED tomorrow however it is on my radar screen and in my target range before I turn 40. She took me to lunch and said “Listen here are the things you need to know and if you don’t know them learn um.” Wow what a novel idea right…someone taking the time to actually show us under 40 something’s what you really need to know about becoming a nonprofit ED… (insert sarcastic face). But let’s be honest while the nonprofit field has become more of a deliberate career path, how often do EDs really take the time to groom and show potential future EDs the ropes? That’s why many under 40 something’s leave the field because they feel there just aren’t opportunities for career growth or they go from nonprofit to nonprofit seeking that growth. I know that many nonprofits are swamped but if we truly are the next generation of nonprofit leaders, while we can certainly learn some things on our own, wouldn’t it be nice to have a deliberate career path of training much like in the business world. A young business school graduate is almost immediately taken under the wing of someone at corporation X and shown the ropes. Remember the “Management Trainee” programs from the 80’s? Why don’t nonprofits take the time to do the same?

From my experience and conversation with my fellow young nonprofiteers, I find that many fear or aren’t interested in the ED position for the same reasons I was, fear of the unknown and is that something I can really do and I don’t want to sucked away from actually touching the people I serve. Well just like one of my mentors breathed belief into me by simply sharing her experiences and knowledge, I hope that this post may do the same for someone else because there are many of us who are quite capable if we just believe in our skills and talents and know what we’re getting into and what’s expected of us. I mean a doctor, a nurse, social worker, etc. they’re trained and know what is expected of them but does anyone every do that for future potential nonprofit executives? No…so here goes. Here is what my mentor shared with me and I hope that by sharing it with you maybe, just maybe a light bulb will go off for you saying “Hey I can do that.” My personal confidence in becoming a future ED was built on my experience, continued training and because someone took me to lunch and broke it down for me.

Things you should know as an ED

  1. Understand strategic planning
  2. Know the difference between mission vs. vision
  3. Have a handle on the org chart
  4. Understand some basic HR law and practices (evaluations, hiring practices, staff issues)
  5. Understand budgeting
    1. Profit and Loss statements
    2. Audits
    3. Cash flow
    4. Know how to read contracts and don’t take it lightly
      1. Full-time, part-time, contractual employment
      2. D & O insurance for agency leadership, board members (you should have it)
      3. Building and equipment insurance
      4. Learn how to build morale with your employees
        1. Raises vs. bonuses (bonuses are preferred because it’s one time)
        2. Have an Open Door policy
        3. Understand the role of the board
          1. Schedule appointments to get to know them as individuals
          2. Build them up
          3. Develop an agency culture
          4. Be a great writer. Can you tell your agency’s story?
          5. Grant writing

After I scrambled to write all this down, I did become slightly overwhelmed and I think she saw the look on my face. She said “You’re not going to be an expert in all of these areas but have some knowledge of them and have balance in all the areas. Then hire the best people on your team but you’ve got have some knowledge in these areas to be a great ED.”

Great resources for future nonprofit EDs

NGen: Moving Nonprofit Leaders from Next to Now

Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

Being an organizational change agent

As we look to transform our community, we often overlook the powerful role that we can play as change agents within our own organization. After all, if we work to ensure our organizations are more effective and just, we can help to boost their transformative impact.

But becoming an organizational change agent isn’t always easy. Here are some thoughts for how you can get started:

  • Prove yourself. The leadership of your organization is not going to be interested in seeing you take on additional projects if you haven’t demonstrated success in the work you were hired to do. Make sure you are always delivering over and above on the work you’ve been assigned before you start exploring other opportunities to impact the organization.
  • Start small. You might have a grand idea that would have a transformative impact on the organization’s work, but most likely that won’t be the first place you are able to exercise influence. Find areas where you can build up a number of small wins, so that you can earn the trust you need to tackle the big things.
  • Find allies. Not everyone is interested in listening to the young “whipper snapper” who’s full of ideas. That means that some times you need to send your message through someone else. Find those folks in management who are most receptive to change, and let them carry your ideas forward. Better to see the change take place than to get the credit.
  • Be persistent. Being a change agent is not for the weak of heart. Sometimes, you’ll throw out an idea and it will get immediately smacked down. Two months later, that same idea may get a totally different response. Be patient and look for opportunities that are ripe for a positive response, and just keep at it!

So that should give you an idea of how to get started. Now it’s your turn… Where have you been able to act as an organizational change agent? What advice would you give others?

Excelling as a Young Nonprofit Professional

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with students at the University of Michigan who were selected for the Development Summer Internship Program (D-SIP), a program which is helping to build a pipeline of fundraising talent by placing undergraduate students in paid summer interships.  Though the majority of the students participating in the program will be placed within the University’s own development departments, four will be placed at area nonprofit organizations.

As part of their orientation, these students heard from a diverse panel of nonprofit representatives and community leaders.  I was in the fortunate position of moderating the panel, and so had the opportunity to learn from the group’s collective wisdom.  Although the discussion was extensive, there were six key lessons lifted up by this group:

  1. Be a blotter (or a sponge).  This piece of advice was offered by Molly Dobson, a founding donor of the D-SIP program.  She was encouraging the students to be curious, ask questions, and learn as much as they could during their summer internship.  I truly believe this should apply to all of us, regardless of how senior you are in your organization.  There are so very many opportunities to learn from the people you interact with each day, and it’s important that capitalize upon this.
  2. Try new things.  In the nonprofit sector, folks often wear a lot of hats.  Use this to your advantage.  Try out different experiences, explore work that falls outside of your expertise, and use this to learn about yourself.  You might have undiscovered talents, so why not seize the opportunity to find them?
  3. Speak up, and always communicate solutions.  Too often, young professionals feel as though their ideas and insights are not worth sharing.  Even worse, though, is when a young professional is facing a serious problem in getting their work done but feels uncomfortable discussing this with others in the organization.  Small problems can snowball into major problems, so it is important to address questions and concerns early on.  That said, no supervisor wants to hear constant whining.  It is important that you not only lift up problems to your supervisor, but offer some different solutions.  You will get a much better response to “I’d like to try this differently” than you will to “This just isn’t going to work.”  Even if the solution you offered isn’t one your supervisor agrees with, she will appreciate the fact that you tried to think about some options before approaching her.
  4. Always be cultivating your relationships.  Relationships are key – both within and outside of your organization.  Value the different perspectives that folks bring to the table, and always make your best effort to meet their needs in a timely fashion.  Relationships are vitally important in fundraising.  After all, when people trust you, they will give you greater leeway to do your work.  Donors that you have cultivated strong relationships with an organization are less likely to try to dictate where their dollars are spent, and this is key to ensuring your agency has the flexibility it needs to respond to the challenges it seeks to address.  Additionally, be sure to recognize that there are likely folks from a variety of communities who identify in some way with your organization.  Find ways to tap into these communities and empower them to be allies in your cause.
  5. Avoid mission-creep, but adopt to a shifting environment.  Nonprofits have to find the balance between staying on-mission and remaining responsive to the community.  The mission should be reviewed regularly by the Board to ensure it remains relevant, and the programs and services should constantly reviewed to ensure that they align with the mission.  As a fundraising professional, it is vital that you stay in step with your organization’s program as you seek new avenues of funding.  At the end of the day, advancing the mission is the core of what every single person in that nonprofit is charged to do, do don’t allow yourself to be blinded by the prospect of funding.
  6. Apply your learning beyond your career.  Your experience should inform what you do as a donor and volunteer.  Use what you learn from being a nonprofit professional to become a better community member.

Having received advice like this, I’d imagine the interns are well prepared to have an impactful summer!  What would you add to the list?

The Opportunity is Now

Michael Brennan, President and CEO of the United Way for Southeastern Michigan delivered the keynote address at the Nonprofit Management Conference, hosted by the Troy Chamber Non-Profit Network and Walsh College.  He made some inspiring remarks, and called upon those attending the conference to pay close attention three central leadership imperatives:

1. Create a powerful vision, a powerful future state that is results-specific.
Are you focused on sustaining the operations of an institution, or are you working every day to advance transformative community change? Too many organizations seek to maintain their current programs, failing to adapt to the changing circumstances surrounding them. In order to make your work relevant, you must adapt your programs and policies to the current environment so that you can work to realize the vision of the world you want to see. Brennan referenced efforts by the area YMCA, who sought to maintain relevance by making an impact on academic achievement. In order to make a direct tie to academic performance, the YMCA has opened up a school, the Detroit Leadership Academy. By focusing on the future state you want to see, and tying this vision with measurable results, you will not only adjust to changing conditions but also advance the transformative change to realize your future state.

2. Call into question the things that matter.
Too often, we spend time on questions that are operational, limited to the work of our organization. This will not help us get to where we want to go. According to Brennan, “we are back on our heels as a sector.” For too long we’ve branded ourselves as the recipient sector; that it is now time to graduate to the leadership sector. Rather than being the folks with our hands out, nonprofit organizations should be developing pathways and new models, demonstrating results and doing so at scale. “Most Boards are bored.” It is imperative upon the executive and volunteer leadership to identify how we move to a more generative, strategic place to fulfill our mission. He called upon all executives to ask themselves, “Am I leading on questions that have the probability of getting me fired?” According to Brennan, that level of tension must exist in order to we are at the cutting edge, helping to advance social change.

3. Do whatever it takes to attract the talent needed to lead against the complexity of the problems we face.
In the next ten years, 600,000 professionals will age out of the nonprofit sector. The onus is upon nonprofit leaders to set the queue for talent needed to fulfill the mission. If this isn’t done, nothing will be sustained. Brennan spoke about recent efforts at United Way to transform their work space to attract young talent, as was discussed in this Detroit Free Press article. He called upon all nonprofit leaders to make an effort to attract the most talented in our country. As nonprofits, we must constantly seek to position ourselves so that we can compete for, retain and attract the best talent.

Brennan admitted a bias towards action, calling upon all in attendance to be up on the balls of their feet, leaning forward, willing to face the tough questions, making the changes necessary to realize their big hairy audacious goals. He challenged participants to “set the aspiration against results and bring in the talent to see this come to life.” 

Though his remarks were targeting CEOs and senior management of area nonprofits, I believe his words can both inspire and equip young nonprofit professionals as they seek to advance social change.  In addition to ensuring that we pursue a powerful vision of the future and call into questions the things that matter, we as young professionals can take ownership of constantly advancing our own talent.  What will you be doing, in the words of Jessica Journey, to move nonprofits from the third sector to the first sector?