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?

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How to Build Your Multi-Generational Network (from scratch) from #EPIP11

I had the chance to hear Trista Harris (co-author of How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar) discuss how to build your multi-generational network at the National Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) Conference. This serves as a nice complement to the session by Rosetta Thurman at the YNPN National Conference that we blogged a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s what Trista had to say…

In approaching networking, Trista referred to a saying from a fortune cookie: “You are the average of your 5 closest friends.” This means that it is very important that you think about how you keep close to you, and how they relate to who you want to be.  Also, Trista noted, it is important to not limit yourself to people like you. She suggested that some cross-generational insight will make the guidance you receive much stronger. In order to achieve that, however, you must grow your network.

Growing your network

Trista suggested that you start with the network you already have. Make sure you let people know when you’re going through a transition.  Also, don’t rebuild your network with every new job. Take that contact information with you – those are relationships that you have built, so don’t leave them behind.

Of course, if you do this a couple of time your list of contacts can become pretty large!  To make this manageable, create lists as you build your network.  Then, when you run across information you think will be helpful to a certain segment of your network, you can quickly shoot it off without too much effort. This also creates much more robust relationships – it demonstrates that you are putting thought into who that person is and not just spamming them periodically. You become someone who adds value to your network, as opposed to someone who is always just looking for help.

The Power of Your Network

It’s great that you have folks willing to serve as references when you apply for a new job. However, managers are much more impressed by those people who offer their positive opinions of you unsolicited.  The best way to have these people in your corner is to build a strong network.  By having a number of folks who can speak on your behalf as a nonprofit professional, you create more opportunities for these unsolicited endorsements.

Also, Trista noted that people with strong networks are less likely to get laid off by their organization. When you have a strong network and you get laid off, people ask about you and want to know what happened.  This can get pretty uncomfortable for managers.

What about when you’re at a conference?  Introduce Yourself!

Trista asked us all to participate in a practice exercise: Person 1: Introduce yourself with a 1-2 sentence bio. Person 2:  Listen. What questions do you have for the person? What excited you about what s/he had to say?

After having the opportunity to practice this and share, the group learned the following:  Bios get exciting when people feel as though they have a personal connection to what has been said. (This might be where you are from, or the work you’re involved in – whatever strikes a chord with them.)  What this means is that with a really short introduction, you can create an avenue for a much more robust conversation.  Within just a sentence or two, you are creating an opportunity to folks to “hook in” to your passion and interests and share their own.

Business Cards

Trista argued that personal business cards are a must whether or not your organization provides you with business cards. These help you brand yourself for what you want to be (as opposed to limiting you to your title).  You can make them simple, funny, or aspirational.  Plus, she noted there are low-cost ways to make business cards (including VistaPrint, Moo.com).  One person also suggested that you consider putting your photo on your card – people might forget your name, but they don’t often forget your face.

Other ways to connect… 

Use Social media – “Yes We Can Twitter”

(Barack Obama clearly knew how to use social media well.)

Should it be professional? Personal?  Trista says you should make sure that you maintain professional tone even when you use it for personal reasons.  Even if you lock down your facebook profile, it is too easy for folks to share.  Make sure your online version represents your best self (the you you’d want your grandma to see).

Social media is a place where you can reinvigorate your relationships, and find out more about what folks are passionate about. It also allows people to have a window into you, so they can better understand what makes you tick.  So get out there and start connecting!

Join Associations

Pick out the ones that make the most sense for you, whether based on your professional interest, your background or geography. Since this can get expensive pretty quickly, you should start by getting to know folks who are involved with these organizations to see if it’s a good fit for you (receptions at conferences are a way to do this).  Also, when you negotiate job offers, include payment of the associations you want to belong to as part of your package.

Go to nonprofit conferences

These are clearly great places to hear information, but don’t forget the value of your fellow participants. Often you’ll learn more in a conversation in the hallway than you will at the presentations.

Of course, conferences aren’t cheap either.  Make sure you continuously assess how much value you’re getting at the conferences and use that to decide what you attend next year.  Also, you may be able to volunteer at the conference and get your registration wavied. Bonus – if you work the registration table, you can meet everyone who attends the conference very quickly.

Regularly Conduct Informational Interviews

Talk to people. Make it a part of your continuing development to do informational interviews – don’t wait until you’re tired of your job or getting laid off. Do one or two a month – with people both in and outside of your field. This helps to build your network in a new way and gives you new perspective into your career.

When you ask for an informational interview, be clear about what you are looking for. Making these asks up front help the person you’re meeting with prepare for it and give you better information.

Don’t assume that the person you’re meeting with will be your mentor (this will scare off a lot of people). Acknowledge up-front that this is a one-time conversation. Also, only assume you have 30 minutes – their time is valuable! Make sure to get to the point quickly.

You may not hear what you want during an informational interview, but it may be what you need to hear. Make sure you listen to what is being said, and know when you are getting a reality check.

Find mentors

We don’t typically find “fairy mentors” – the folks who are exactly what you want and meet your every need. By building a strong network, you can build a Frankenmentor – several people in your network can collectively be your mentor. It is not necessary that they know that they are your mentor.

Appointed mentors don’t always work out. You might not click, or they might not be as engaged as you like. Your more likely to find a successful mentoring relationship if you know the person, than by entering some sort of mentoring program.

Also, don’t limit yourself to thinking of mentors as your seniors; your peers can make fabulous mentors.

Find sponsors too

A mentor is someone who helps you along. A sponsor is someone who is willing to put their credibility on the line to move you forward. These folks have a tremendous impact on your career.

Think about who your sponsors are, and who you are a sponsor for. You’re putting your credibility on the line, but you’re also helping to strengthen your own network by advancing them – giving them new connections, which means you’ll have access to new people as well.

Create your own network

Build your own network. It’s great when you can join an organization where there is a ready-made network, but you can also build your own. For example, when Trista was the sole fundraiser at an organization, she would meet with a bunch of other ladies who were the sole fundraisers at their organization for lunch each month. Each time, one person would bring a problem they were wrestling with, and the group would help brainstorm.

Also, create networks where your finding a gap, eg. a multi-generational women’s network. Being able to get very different perspectives and broad support can be extremely beneficial.

Informal networks can be helpful too (e.g. dinner club).  When people feel comfortable with you on a personal level, they are more likely to want to do business with you.

Find allies

When there is a certain network you can’t seem to crack, find someone who can help you navigate your way in. They can help create the introductions and help get you into the right events/in front of the right people.

Overwhlemed yet?

There’s no need to be!  Just start with one tangible thing you can do on Monday to build your network.  Keep adding to that to-do list, and your network will be thriving in no time.

Of course, there is even more great info in the book, so be sure to check it out!!!

Maintaining Millennial Interest in the Nonprofit Sector

According to a recent New York Times article, Millennials are increasingly seeking employment with the nonprofit sector. Applications for AmeriCorps positions have almost tripled (91,399 in 2008 to 258,829 in 2010), and the number of applicants for Teach for America climbed 32% last year to a record 46,359. This is certainly exciting news for the sector and speaks to the potential of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network – both nationally and here in Detroit – to start a movement advancing social change.

There is a challenge inherent to this groundswell of interest by Millennials, though: Are nonprofits ready for them? I’m sure that every YNPN Detroit member has run across instances where the generation gap has posed a significant challenge. After all, many Boomers view Millennials to be lazy, disrespectful and self-absorbed. Meanwhile, Millennials seem to become easily frustrated with the close-mindedness of the seniors of the field.  For example, Millienals often seek to incorporate technology and social media into the daily workings of an organization, though many Boomers find such efforts unnecessary and a waste of time. This can lead to frustration on both sides. If we in the nonprofit sector don’t take steps to mitigate this generational gap, will we risk losing Millennials to other sectors?

Commongood Careers offered the following advice in the March Talent Works Monthly to nonprofit employers seeking to retain Millennials:

Because many millennials are eager to take the next step or advance within an organization (quickly), it can be challenging to ensure satisfaction within their current role. You can address this by explaining the competencies and experience necessary in order to take the next step. Show them that getting to that place will involve taking many small steps and clearly chart out those steps for them, so that they feel like they are not only working towards a goal, but also so that they feel like their ambitions have been heard.

Although millennials may be thinking about their next career move, that doesn’t have to mean leaving your organization. But if you’re not providing professional development opportunities or having open conversations to discuss their long term career goals, it may result in attrition. Take time to understand where they’d like their career to be in the short and long term. From there, you can provide professional development opportunities, such as attending events or engaging in mentoring relationships with senior managers. Encourage them to take advantage of all opportunities that will strengthen their understanding of their field of interest.

Such advice that would certainly be appreciated by many young nonprofit professionals, though not all organizations are willing to devote the time and resources necessary to create such opportunities. And what about those organizations who aren’t even thinking in this way? Is there a place for young nonprofit professionals to provide these types of supports to each other?

Clearly, YNPN seeks to fulfill some of these needs by providing opportunities for networking and professional development.  Additionally, by helping to facilitate connections among the network, YNPN provides opportunities for mentoring and career advice.  What else could YNPN do to help retain this surge of young talent into the sector?

YNPN11 – 6 Ways to rock your nonprofit career

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?

Tips for networking at a conference

With the Young Nonprofit Professional Network’s national conference fast approaching, we thought it would be helpful to equip you with some tools to get the most out of the networking opportunity this conference represents. After all, it’s not every day that you get an opportunity to network with young nonprofit professionals across the nation!

A quick note before we dive in… Networking is a term that gets a bit of mixed response from young nonprofit professionals. After all, we like the idea of having a broad collection of people who can help to support our work and professional development, but dropping elbows to meet people, feeling as though you have to be of a certain status to qualify for people’s time, participating in the business card collection race… it can seem both pointless and degrading! Well, here, we’re supporting your efforts to build relationships – just among a small number of people who you will actually reach out to after the conference. Having 100 business cards in your pocket doesn’t matter if you never plan to follow up with people, so make sure you’re focusing on what is most important as you network – building the foundation for that longterm professional relationship.

There are steps you can take before, during and after the conference that will help support your networking efforts. This list is not all inclusive, so if you feel we really missed the mark by failing to include something, just note it in the comments section below.



Before the conference

  • Using your social media networks (such as twitter and LinkedIn) can be a great way to connect with folks in advance of the conference. You can start with something as simple as broadcasting that you’re planning to attend the conference. (On twitter, use the hashtag #ynpn11.) This gives folks who you’re already connected to a chance to let you know they’ll be there. Take this a step further by searching for others who are planning to attend, and start following them – maybe even send a personal message to those who look like the type of person you’d really want to talk to.
  • Look through the list of speakers to see if there is anyone in particular you want to connect with. Doing this in advance can help to ensure you are not one of a dozen people trying to snag the presenter’s attention immediately after his or her session. Often, speakers are “hanging out” in the room waiting for the audience to pour in before their presentation. This is the ideal time to strike up a conversation with the presenter. By knowing who you want to meet in advance, you’ll be able to take advantage of this time.
  • Make sure that you pack a giant stack of business cards. While you don’t want to throw your cards around like confetti, there is nothing worse than running out and having to write your information on a post-it. If you don’t have business cards through your job, make some own (they have kits at office supply stores, or you can use an online vendor like Vistaprint). Make sure these include key information (name, phone number, email) – and provide information for where folks can connect to you online (such as twitter, facebook and LinkedIn).


  • During the conference

  • Make sure your business cards are easily accessible. I’d suggest sticking a few behind your name tag. This ensures that wherever you are, you’re prepared for great networking opportunities.
  • Sit down next to strangers. Part of the reason for attending the conference is to meet new people, so why are you only sitting next to the people you know? Sit down next to someone, put on a smile and introduce yourself! You never know who you’ll find. Not quite comfortable with that? Well, sit down next to them, smile and just say “hi.” You’ve opened up the door to further conversation later on with just those simple gestures.
  • Put down the phone. Yes, in the age of the smart phone it can be easy to want to call and check in with the office, answer a few pressing emails, and check out your facebook feed. But consider how inaccessible this makes you. The office can probably survive without you for 12 hours, so put the phone aside and make yourself available for conversation.
  • Make sure, for those folks you’ve identified in advance, you’re getting to the room early and making the effort to introduce yourself. If you think it’s awkward before the session, try afterwards when you’re jockeying with everyone else.
  • As you start to collect business cards, jot a note on the back for why you want to follow up with this person. This will make it easier after the conference is over, and you’re looking at your stack and trying to remember which card goes with which conversation. Also, don’t put other people’s cards in the same place that you are keeping your own. It is way too easy to give these away by accident.
  • Circulate. Even if you think you’ve met the coolest person in the world, keep introducing yourself to new people. You don’t want to monopolize his or her time (and garner a reputation as a stalker), and you never know who else is in the room.


  • After the conference

  • Follow up with people. I wouldn’t suggest doing this immediately after the conference – wait a day or two. This will help to ensure that folks have an opportunity to clean out their inbox, which no doubt became cluttered while they were away.
  • Find other opportunities to connect. Read an article that reminded you of something the presenter said? Send it to them! This creates an opportunity for further interaction, which helps to build a stronger relationship.


  • These tips are certainly not all exhaustive, but they will certainly give you a good start. Have any other suggestions? Post them below.