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!


What I learned at the BoardSource Leadership Forum 2011 – Day 1

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!

Hello from Atlanta! I’m writing to you from the BoardSource Leadership Forum, 2011 as a Judith O’Connor Memorial Scholar (JOC). BoardSource is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington D.C. that provides training and support to nonprofit boards across the county. Every year BoardSource honors the legacy of former BoardSource President and CEO, the late Judith O’Connor. This year marks the sixth year that the fund has offered scholarships to emerging nonprofit leaders and this year I was honored to be selected as one of the 20 recipients.

Since arriving in Atlanta I have met some amazing folks from all over the U.S.(including fellow YNPNers who are also JOC Scholars and five countries including Brazil. There is truly some amazing work taking place all for the better of communities around the world and I am thrilled to be here to listen, share and learn from all 600 attendees.

There is wealth of information being shared here over the next two days and there was no way I could share it all but I did want to give you a few highlights from the sessions I attended on Day 1. So here goes. (Pics to come when I return to Michigan 🙂

Opening Plenary

Linda C. Crompton, President and CEO, BoardSource

“This conference is about deepening the understanding and application of our role as board members. We’re here to also learn more about what is going in the world and our role in it. We have to ask ourselves, how are we going to reshape this sector to get the work done?”

In regards to the every changing economic landscape for nonprofits – “The more we convince ourselves that things are hopeless, the more we make it difficult to change or accomplish anything.”

Jeff Faux, Founding President and Distinguished Fellow, Economic Policy Institute

Mr. Faux spoke to NPOs and the new economy and what we can predict about America’s future. During his talk he shared some startling facts.

– Wages and Salaries are the single most important economic statistic. Between 1946-1978 wages and salaries were steadily going up but in 1979 it flattened and between 1979 – 2001, before the crash it continued to stay flat. This means that a young college-educated 30 something professional in 2007 is making the same as a professional from 1979. YIKES!
– How is it that that time looked so prosperous during the “hey day” of consumption if our wages stayed the same? How did we make up the gap? “Well, quite frankly,” he said “It was debt. Americans from the government on down to the individuals went deeper and deeper into debt to make up the gap.”

Other interesting statistics he shared:

– America has the highest long-term (6 months) unemployment statistic since 1966 when we started collecting this stat. Ouch! But not necessarily totally surprising given what we see in this sector.
– Over the next few years there will be slow to no growth. Projections indicate that we won’t be back to pre-2007 for 15 years. “We’re not gonna go back to the good ‘ol days,” Faux said.
– The poverty rate for those who are between the ages of 16-64 years is at the highest it’s ever been since we started collecting this statistic in America and 75% of those are working people who aren’t making enough to stay out of poverty.

But it’s not all doom and gloom…the good news is our sector is needed more than ever but the bad news is the government is cutting funds to help us do it and there is more competition for resources.

Faux stressed that he was not telling us this to bring us down but wanted us in the nonprofit sector to know that “Denial is not a strategy.” He asked us if our city has 2 or 3 or 4 orgs doing the same thing. As we adjust to the changing economy some will have to merge and consolidation can be painful he stressed but whatever we do, we can’t do it alone. “We need to return to mutual self-help,” stated Faux. He concluded by stating that an ideal situation would be resetting our priorities at the national level. “ We can’t build a future for young people by striping old people of Medicare and social security…We have to sell more to the rest of the world vs. buying more from the rest of the world…then we can reinvest in success for our children…we all have a common interest in success.”

Leadership Luncheon

The leadership luncheon and Judith O’Connor lecture, where JOC Scholars were highlighted, featured a pioneer in the social entrepreneur movement and the first Echoing Green Fellow to lead the global social venture Fund, Cheryl Dorsey, President, and Echoing Green.

What is a social entrepreneur?

– They pioneer innovations that benefit the community
– They always see what is possible.
– They are outcomes-oriented and are accountable to being judged by metrics and on their impact.
– They exude resource magnetism. They can draw folks to them and rally their support.
– They see assets, strengths and opportunities when others see the glass as half empty.
– They have core identity alignment – Their head and their heart are aligned in what they are uniquely suited to do to make an impact on the world

Some early recipients of Echoing Green funds and pioneer social entrepreneurs included Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach For America, SEED School, the first urban boarding school and Michelle (Robinson) now Obama who started the Chicago Alliance.

Money and Mission: Managing in a changing economic reality

Presented by David Greco, VP of Nonprofit Finance Fund

Adaptability to the “New Normal” requires Nonprofit Leaders to:

– Recognize and consider new business models, platforms and financial realities for your institution.
– Engage everyone – funders, boards, government – in the change strategy
– Distinguish capital from revenue in organizational plans and fundraising strategies
– Manage costs in the context of revenue and capital realities: Doing less in the short term may be critical to fulfilling your mission long term
– Focus on outcomes and results: enterprise health and effectiveness
– Embrace change and emerge stronger

Key Takeaways:

– Know what to look for: Having access to reliable, accurate and timely financial data over a multi-year period is a first step to understanding your financial story.
– Understand what it means: Even with good data, it is important to know what the numbers mean for your org in programmatic terms.
– Consider the implications for the future: Your financial data should be incorporated into your decision-making, both programmatically and strategically, in order to meet your goals, current and future.

I also was fortunate enough to be able to attend a session lead by Jan Masaoka, Director and Editor-in-Chief of the Blue Avocado and co-author of “Nonprofit Sustainability: Making Strategic Decisions and Financial Viability,” who also spoke to aligning your orgs business model between impact and financial viability.

WHEW! I am beat and that’s just a small snippet of what I absorbed in my 12 hour first day of the BoardSource Leadership Forum. Goodnight for now. Day 2 awaits.

BoardSource Leadership Forum 2011

”Governing toward the Future”

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?

Developing Social Media Know-how

There is certainly a lot of “buzz” about social media within the nonprofit sector, and according to a report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, nonprofits are adopting these tools more widely than their corporate counterparts. More and more, nonprofits are seeking to use these tools to increase the impact of their organization. So where’s a nonprofit professional to begin?

I would suggest you get involved for yourself, before you start representing your organization. This gives you a little more room for mistakes. Don’t sign up for everything at once; you’ll never be able to keep up with it all. Just start with one, and add another as you feel comfortable. Here’s how I’ve gone about it.

I started with facebook, not because I wanted to increase my social media savvy, but because I was starting my Master’s program and this was a great way to stay connected with people. Once you have an account, you can check out nonprofit groups, fan pages and causes, which will give you a lot of insight into what tools are available and how they can best be used. (Of course, you should immediately become a fan YNPN Detroit! You never know what good stuff you’ll find on our fan page.)

LinkedIn is another site I joined because of graduate school. This is a great way to connect with people you know professionally, as it makes it easy to stay in touch with people as they move around and gives you an opportunity to peek into their work experience. This becomes particularly helpful as you conduct a job search and/or look to make a new connection with an organization or business. Through this platform, you are able to search not only the profiles of the people in your network but also their colleagues (depending on privacy settings), which can be very helpful when you’re trying to get connected to a specific company or organization. Additionally, individuals can find a lot of value in LinkedIn by subscribing to groups, where they can connect and share news/ideas with like-minded people. Just check out YNPN Detroit’s LinkedIn group to see how this works.

Last but not least, I joined Twitter. Yes, the national media makes endless fun of Twitter, but it can actually be a a tremendous resource. Through Twitter, you can follow news media, national thought-leaders, area nonprofits, friends and colleagues, and others who share similar passions and interests.  Plus, with Twitter’s search tool, it is easy to see what is being said about your organization or issue area. Be sure to check out the lists function – it makes it easy for you to sort information, and is a great way to find new people to follow.

Not excited about visiting multiple social media sites?  Then I’d suggest you check out programs like TweetDeck and Hootsuite. You can use these to post updates to Twitter, LinkedIn and facebook, which might make it easier for you to navigate the multiple platforms.

This highlights only three of the social media platforms out there, but I think these are great places to start. The key learnings from my experience so far have been:

  • You have to set your own boundaries. I personally keep my Twitter profile public, but restrict my facebook to my friends. I also maintain my tweets separately from my facebook updates. My Twitter and LinkedIn definitely have more of a professional feel than my facebook, but I make sure that there is nothing posted on my facebook that would stand out in a negative light should a prospective employer run across it.
  • Maintain your social networks. Visit them daily – if only for a few minutes at a time – but don’t allow them to become a time-suck.  And please don’t feel obligated to read every post; you’ll never keep up with it all.
  • You have to learn by doing. The more you engage in social media, the more natural it becomes. And when it comes time for you to represent your organization online, learn from others! Keep an eye on how your peer organizations are using social media. Adopt the practices you like, avoid those you don’t.

That’s my experience. For those of you who are newer to social media, let us know how it goes. For those of you who have been at it for a while, please add your insights to the comments.