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

Live for today, learn for a lifetime

I recently ran across this quote from Indian philosopher Mahatma Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

This got me to wondering: how would my life be different if I actively sought to realize this statement in my everyday behavior? What if, rather than tackling my seemingly insurmountable to-do list in chronological order, I looked to complete those things that I would want done if I knew I wouldn’t have another day to do them? Would I really respond to every email, or would I take more time to invest in the people around me so that they could effectively carry on the work? Would I continuously check my Blackberry or would I fully participate in the staff meeting at hand?

But perhaps just as significant as this prioritizing is the notion of learning as if you were to live forever. This recognizes the value of investing in yourself, ensuring that tomorrow’s “last day” will be more impactful than today’s. After all, if you’re lucky enough to have more time, shouldn’t you do everything you can now to make sure you get the absolute most out of it? Learning may feel like a luxury, but let’s recogize that this is in fact time well spent.

So what would you do differently if you were to embrace this kind of thinking? Maybe more importantly, what is really stopping you from doing it? Perhaps today is the day to try something different!

Careers in the Nonprofit Sector

In talking with some up-and-coming young nonprofit professionals, I was asked to give an overview of the sector. I quickly pulled together a presentation to help give them insights into a few things. These are the key things I wanted the participants to leave with:

(1) Nonprofits are diverse, and have a major impact on our day-to-day quality of life. It can be easy to overlook just how often our lives intersect with the work of nonprofit organizations, whether visiting a museum, listening to the symphony, seeing a doctor, or putting something in the trashcan at Campus Martius (the Clean Downtown crew is actually an operation of Goodwill Industries). Though so many folks carry preconceived notions of a typical nonprofit client, we should all seek to remember what a vital role these organizations play in maintaining a good quality of life for every member of the community.

(2) Nonprofits are an economic powerhouse – The name of the sector can be somewhat deceiving. Though nonprofit organizations are not intended to create returns for shareholders, they do generate revenues – and not just from grants and individual donors. Whether through government contracts, entrepreneurial arms, or financial and real estate investments, nonprofits are major economic engines. The difference between the nonprofit and private sector? Nonprofits must reinvest these monies so as to advance their missions. And let’s not forget that nonprofits are in fact businesses, employing people, purchasing goods and services, and ultimately feeding the local economy.

(3) Nonprofit employment is associated with good feelings and small paychecks. However, the work offers so much more than that. In small and medium-sized nonprofits, employees often wear a number of hats, creating opportunities for many diverse experiences. Being resource-strapped means there is an extra expectation of creativity for staff. Cherish this!

(4) As a young nonprofit professional, you have the ability to truly rock out your nonprofit career. Start by proving you can do your job well, and then start to take on special projects that give you the opportunity to learn new skills. Develop your network by joining associations, attend trainings and conferences, and be your own advocate by talking to as many people as possible about what they do and what you’re interested in. The people in the sector are, by in large, very friendly – take advantage of this.

Though our chapter encompasses folks that are brand new to the sector as well as professionals who have served in nonprofits for a decade or more, these are certainly key lessons for all of us to remember. I’m sure I overlooked a couple of things as well. What would you add?