Introducing a secret Nonprofit Millennial Bloggers Alliance

I’ve only been exploring Twitter and the blogosphere as they related to Millennials and the nonprofit sector for only a few months now – Twitter in March and blogging in June. I’ve learned a LOT in that short time and can’t believe I didn’t start sooner. And I hope I’ve contributed as well. It’s a perfect space to network for my introverted self.

So I was thrilled to be ask to be a part of an alliance of bloggers who flutter around the topics related to Millennials and the nonprofit sector. A big thanks to Allison Jones for getting the ball rolling.

Of Mutual Benefit

I first heard about the idea of a blog alliance through Problogger’s vague exposé on a secret blog alliance. The idea intrigued me, and apparently others were too. The alliance in Darren’s article was a

A small group of bloggers who’ve committed to work together in secret for the mutual benefit of all members of the alliance.

The mutually beneficial activities listed in Darren’s posts include things like commenting on and linking each others blogs, social bookmarking and tweeting, guest posts, and networking. Ideally we benefit by increasing the conversation around nonprofits and the Millennial generation by increasing readership and commenting of our blogs, as well as increasing the pressure to write well!

Not-So-Secret

Well this alliance is not working in secret. Perhaps because we don’t blog for profit (on our personal blogs anyway). Maybe because of the open, sharing nature of those that work in the nonprofit sector. We haven’t really sorted out the fine details, but we’re all excited. I’m also thrilled to bring a Canadian perspective to the alliance.

Introducing the Alliance

A. Lauren Abele A. Lauren Abele (blog)
In New York, there is so much vibrancy, energy, passion, and access to the best the country has to offer. It’s the perfect landscape to work with entrepreneurs, meet people who are changing the world, and develop my passions for philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and nonprofit management.
Elizabeth Clawson Nonprofit Periscope
Keeping an eye on news of the sector. Read one of Elizabeth’s favourite posts: No money? No problem—three free media relations tools for nonprofits (and others)
Colleen Dilenschneider Know Your Bone
My thing? Creative community engagement in nonprofit organizations.
James Elbaor Notes From the East Coast
His first passion is the not-for-profit sector. He cares deeply about social justice and the importance of community activism.
Kevin Gilnack (Nonprofits + Politics)2.0
Some areas of interest to me include nonprofit management, leadership development, workforce issues, public policy, civic engagement, business partnerships, innovation… for starters.
Trina Isakson (that’s me!) the good life | by Trina Isakson
Good articles on nonprofit capacity, community development, engaged citizenship and education. Life stories about travel, photography, music, and musings. Read one of my favourite posts: Social movements, institutions and the Millennial generation: synthesis or breakdown?
Allison Jones Entry Level Living
The personal and professional insights of a struggling college grad.Read one of Allison’s favourite posts: Are you joining a sector or joining a cause?
Elisa M. Ortiz Onward and Upward
Keeping an eye on the nonprofit sector, from the bottom up. Read one of Elisa’s favourite posts: The new leadership crisis.
Ben Sheldon island94.org: an internet backwater
Ben Sheldon is an author, thinker, facilitator, automator, mapper, artist, human and more.
Rosetta Thurman Rosetta Thurman (website)
Promoting next generation leadership for social change. Read one of Rosetta’s favourite posts: Why I Work in the Nonprofit Sector.
Tracey Webb Black Gives Back
A blog dedicated to Philanthropy in the Black Community.
Tera Wozniak Qualls Social Citizen
I am a nonprofit professional, social citizen, & community member. I blog to learn, express my interest & expertise in organizational development, expand my career, network, & discuss nonprofit leadership and community engagement.

Connection to mission: proposing a new org chart

Credit: Mike Rohde
Image Credit: Mike Rohde

One common piece of an orientation program for new staff or volunteers is a review of an org chart – a chart of the reporting structure of the organization so that everyone knows where they “fit” in the grand scheme of things.

I propose an alternative chart – or at least an additional one.

What about an organizational chart that demonstrates how each person contributes to the mission?

Instead of the Board of Directors and CEO at the top, the mission statement is at the top. Some roles may have a direct link to the mission – those that deliver services to clients, for example. Others may have a role that support the mission down the line. Many roles would likely fit in more that one “reporting line” based on the variety of their duties.

I suspect (since I haven’t actually drawn one of these up before) the resulting chart would look very flipped in many places, articulating the importance of staff and volunteers that might usually show up on the very bottom of a traditional org chart.

No matter what the role, everyone in an organization should be contributing to the mission. Show them how.

Nonprofit sector recruitment: time for a tagline?

Today I was lucky to be invited as a guest to participate in an advisory committee meeting with the HR Council for the Voluntary & Non-profit Sector. I met great people from across Canada that work in the sector, learn in the sector, and support HR growth in the sector. A great table of people, with a great table of food a few feet away. Two of my favourite things.

Before I get into the fun stuff, let me preface this by sharing that there was a lot of very invigorating discussion and a lot of work was accomplished.

We reviewed and discussed research done by Decode about university students on their opinions about work, comparing the full data set to students who had indicated interest in the nonprofit sector. We went over questions for an upcoming online focus group about students’ attitudes towards work in the nonprofit sector. We went over possible knowledge dissemination venues for the results of the final research report, stakeholders, possible practical products of the research, the scope of the recommendations, and strategic themes of the recommendations.

But, back to the fun stuff.

We also got creative. The scope of the research discussed today relates to recruitment of new/young/recently graduated potential employees to the nonprofit sector. So we brainstormed messaging that could be tested in online focus groups.

“There are no bad ideas,” we joked, “until no one votes for them when we whittle down the ideas.”

The messaging ideas spanned facts, heartstrings, and humour.

NOTE: These are from memory. Actual ideas, which will be flushed out further by skilled people that actually do this sort of stuff for a living, may have been better or worse.

Facts/Realities of the work

  • Did you know there are 70,000 employers and over 1 million employees in the nonprofit sector? Where do you fit in?
  • IT. Media and marketing. Accounting. There’s an opportunity for you in the nonprofit sector.
  • Today I: helped a family, wrote a strategic plan, and met with business leaders. All in a day’s work in the nonprofit sector. (Umm…I think strategic plans take more than a day though, just sayin’.)

Heartstrings

  • Every day is different when you are making a difference.
  • Use your talents for good – work with people who care. (This actually would have been in the awkward humour section before it was changed from “Use your talents for good, not evil.”)
  • Find work. Find balance. Find purpose.

Humour

  • Finally, a job you want to talk about at parties.
  • Want to go to work on Monday morning?
  • Dangit, I’m forgetting the funny ones. Can anybody else from the meeting help me out?

What tagline would you use to help recruit new employees to the nonprofit sector? Give me your facts, your funny, and your heart.

Staff are people, too.

At nonprofit organizations, staff members (or, often, volunteers) can be equated to the programs they administer.

Program coordinator = program.

Ergo, investment in program = investment in program coordinator, right? Right?

No.

Think about it this way. If organizational leadership/management doesn’t invest in a staff member, why should a staff member be invested in an organization? Why should they be loyal to organization leadership/management? Sure, in a tight economy people may feel more tied to a job that usual. But, if you were leading an organization, would you want people working with you to achieve your mission only because they were afraid of unemployment as an alternative? Doesn’t sound like a happy place to work to me.

Millennials, among many other characteristics made through broad, sweeping generalizations, have been said to be loyal to people, not organizations.

So how can we treat staff as people, not programs? How can loyalty be built with Millennials, the next generation of nonprofit leadership? Here are some proposals that spring to mind.

Ask for their opinion

Staff have ideas. But if the ideas are not related to their programs, it may be difficult to find an appropriate place to bring up an idea. So ask. “In your position, you work a lot on ABC. However, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on our work with XYZ as well.” Who knows, you might get some inspiring ideas out of it. People bring diverse work and life experience to a position, so tap into all of it and not just the parts related to their job.

Involve them outside their program area

Especially in the beginning, nonprofit workers are often drawn to an organization because of a belief in a mission. However, their jobs often only related to one small piece of that mission. If there is an appropriate space for committee work – an event that spans the organization’s mission, for example – create a committee to work on it. Granted, we’ve all been on committees that are just huge time sucks; however, speaking from experience, committee work that gets me involved with people and ideas outside of my daily routine can be invigorating.

Cross train

This is kind of an extension of the last point, I suppose. Cross training provides value to individuals, AND organizations. If work is siloed, ie where very clear boundaries are drawn between what is your work and what is mine, it means that losing one individual can cause paralysis to a program. However, especially for young staff that are trying to build their skill and knowledge base, cross training can be invaluable. If a staff member is responsible for communications, but is given an opportunity to learn a bit of grant writing, and maybe facilitate a workshop for program clients, the staff member has gained in experience, and the other program areas have a new person to reach out to in times of staff loss or time crunch.

Make investments in their personal development

I don’t just mean professional development. I mean personal development. Ask where they want to be in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years. While some people are fine with stability and constancy, many are looking ahead to the next move. That might be within the organization, but maybe not, and that’s OK.  What can they get involved with, inside or outside the organization, that can help them on that path? Some people may view this as setting people up for leaving; I believe it’ll keep them around a bit longer than they would have otherwise.

Staff turnover costs an organization money. One step to keep down these costs, and to keep moral up, is to treat staff like people, not just programs.

So, how do you invest in your staff? Or, how have you felt invested in?

What do you do daily to be a better fundraiser?

Coinage
Image Credit: Michal Zacharzewski

There are activities and strategies that fundraisers can engage in over time that help raise more funds. Systems, procedures, methods, ladders, etc. that lead to more incoming funds. Sometimes one-time activities or projects take an organization’s fundraising to the next level. What are small things that can be done, however, on an ongoing daily basis?

Straight from the horse’s practitioner’s mouth: I recently asked some of my friends who fundraise what they do daily that makes them better fundraisers. Here’s what they told me (some more “daily” than others)….

1. News and Blogs

I read news and blogs on fundraising (am subscribed to a couple enewsletters) such as Charity Village’s Village Vibe.

2. Online Seminars

I attend professional development seminars through AFP (find the Vancouver chapter of AFP here)

3. Connect to People

I write personal notes to contacts and take the time in phone conversations to connect on a personal level, share my passion for my work and look for common ground to build stronger relationships.

4. Program Elevator Message

I think about and try to verbalize my program’s objectives in a way that anyone could understand and make sure those objectives are aligned with my organization’s mission. Then I can clearly explain to funders how I believe their support will help us fulfill that mission.

5. Prepare for Contact

I look into our records (database and hard files) to see exactly what contact we’ve had with the donor recently/ever. This way I’m knowledgeable on the donors needs and interests. I also have a clear objective for the contact.

Thank you to those that contributed! – Merissa Myles, Virginia Edelstein, and anonymous others.

What do YOU do daily to be a better fundraiser?

Vague consultants and how-to articles are annoying

(cute but angry hulk face)
Image Credit: Mohammad Jobaed Adnan

This post is just a little rant of mine. Partially from my own experience in working with “outside help” and from my own personal fear of how I may come across to others sometimes.

I think it started when I read a link from a follow on Twitter, something about “4 tips for XYZ”, only to find the “tips” so boring and obvious that I am shocked that people get paid to write that sh*t for the web.

So often when “how-to” articles are written for the web, the suggestions sound good, but when they come down to it, are incredibly vague. Things like “a good leader communicates a strong vision” or “paying close attention to colour choices is important when designing your website”. Well, duh. But when it comes down to it, what does “communicating a strong vision” or “paying attention to colour” – when you are sitting down at your desk, or participating in a meeting – actually LOOK like? What do I need to DO? Literally DO.

On a past project I worked on, I had an outside consultant c0-leading the project. She, theoretically, had expertise in an important area of the project at a level much higher than my experience could muster. But when it came down to helping me out, divying up the work, and getting information – I got nothing. When I asked what her role in the project was, I got those annoying vague words that we all joke about when listing words we can throw into a work meeting to sound like we’re saying something important.

“OK,” I exhaled. “But when you’re sitting down at your computer, working on this project, what are you actually doing?”

I got nothing.

On this blog, I try to do one of two things. Either give specific examples of what I mean when I give tips, or I ask big picture questions that I don’t have the answers to but that I’d love to discuss.

Vague blog and web articles, I can deal with. I can tell within a few second that the read is a waste of my time. But consultants, that gets me peeved. Consultants are expensive. Consultants, whether you have to pay for them are not, cost money because they cost you time. More than a few seconds. And some start out sounding intelligent, so you hold on waiting for the moment when their “work” kicks in, only to realize too late that they are costing you way too much money to tell you stuff you could have found through Google on your lunch break.

Grr.

What’s your experience with vague help? Have you experienced a nonprofit being taken advantage of by one of “those”?