Twitter: Building Both Local and Non-local Community

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I admit, I was at first a reluctant Twitter participant. In fact, I only signed up because my internship supervisor suggested I do so to familiarize myself with the organization. Alas, I am the social media- and tech-challenged Millennial.

Though I continue to be a reluctant Facebook participant, I have wholeheartedly embraced Twitter. In fact, the Twitterverse has embraced me. Though I originally assumed Twitter was entirely about narcissism and celebrity obsession, I found it was a great way to network with national and international leaders in my industry and engage with industry developments and news.

What has really surprised me is the almost inevitable way Twitter has connected me to my local community–I can’t help but stumble across great local connections by accident! I’ve connected with the Director of our local Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, a young professional who previously served in the position for which I’m currently applying (and generously agreed shared her insights with me), the daughter of of one of my favorite writers who happens to live down the road and several other young professionals in my industry (with whom I can now commiserate).

Of course, I would have met most of these people in time. However, having just moved to the area, Twitter allowed me to connect meaningfully, creatively and quickly to the local community. Through hashtags, lists and live chats, Twitter allows users to find and engage with others associated with causes, ideas or institutions with ease. Cheers to all the friendly, interesting tweeps in the Twitterverse!

Find me on Twitter to connect and see if I can refer you to other resources–I follow 500 excellent young professional leaders, arts leaders and interesting folks from NC. Check them out! Also, stay in touch! Introduce yourself below or subscribe to my RSS feed.

Mentorship vs. A Personal Board of Directors

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“Like avocado appliances and Friendster, mentoring is well and truly over,” wrote one of my favorite young bloggers, “Entry-level Rebel” Jessica Stillman.  If so, where would young professionals find the all-important connections and guidance traditionally cultivated in the mentor relationship?

Instead of identifying with one mentor, which can be counterproductive, she writes, young people should embrace a personal board of directors, “a group of people you consult regularly to get advice and feedback.”

Call it mentor promiscuity, but I have embraced a slew of mentors myself, realizing upon reading Jessica’s post that I had created my own personal board of directors. There are the Academics from college–the Composer and the Ethnomusicologist–and, more recently, the Nonprofit Executive-Thought Leader, the Artist-Entrepreneur, and the Leadership Guru who happened to offer professional coaching services to those of us listening to Rosetta Thurman‘s radio show.

Indeed, these folks have provided insight and opened doors for me during my unfolding Gap Year. Each is generous and each offers at different times a particular expertise and set of resources. Though I feel I receive much more than I give, I appreciate and understand how these relationships help me to see my path and to move forward. I diligently cultivate and maintain these relationships through emails, hand-written notes and initiating meetings over coffee.

Cheers to the generosity of mentors everywhere and to the members of my so-called personal board of directors!

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Importance of Intergenerational Exchange in Quest for Social Change

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The baby boomers who founded and led our nonprofit organizations in the past decades are retiring. Nonprofit sector leaders are speaking of the “leadership void” the sector faces. In this regard the sector faces two major challenges: recruiting young leadership and retaining young leadership.

Studies show young people are drawn more than ever to community service but the sector’s notorious low pay and underemployment often render nonprofit work irrelevant when young people graduate with an average of $21,000 in student loan debt.

Young people that do work with nonprofits often face intergenerational conflicts and tension. The Millennial generation’s trademarks–ambition, confidence and informality–often look to the baby boomer generation like cockiness, narcissism and disrespect. Thus, the sector must find creative ways to harness the talents of both generations and foster an exchange maximizes both the younger generation’s digital media and tech expertise and the older generation’s institutional wisdom and connectedness.

Chesapeake Bay Trust appears to have figured it out. A recent article published in the Washington Post, Training the next generation to care for the Chesapeake Bay, highlights the Chesapeake Conservation Corps program, which engages 16 interns in “Maryland’s attempt to seed the next generation of conservationists.” This collaboration between the state, the Trust, local nonprofits and foundations is an excellent example of the innovative programs needed to foster the all-important intergenerational exchange.

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Hiring Trends & Changing Organizational Structure of Small Nonprofits

“Looking for a Job? Try a Nonprofit?”, reads the subhead of a recent NY Times article. Apparently, the nonprofit sector has recovered and everyone is clamoring for a nonprofit job. According to a 2010 report by Nonprofit HR Solutions, the nonprofit sector employs an average of 61.2 million full-time and part-time employees nationwide.

A look at the report alongside this article, however, reveals a more complicated picture of nonprofit hiring trends–particularly for the small nonprofit, generously defined as those organizations with a budget up to $1M.

Not surprisingly, the greatest staffing challenge for nonprofits this past year was maintaining salary budgets among decreased revenue. Also not surprisingly, medium and large organizations are weathering the economic downturn better than small organizations, 46% of which anticipated their staff size would decrease even as the need for service increase.

This translates, of course, to doing more with less at the small nonprofit. Though the report doesn’t explicitly comment on hiring trends within small nonprofits, I have seen a shift in hiring and employment practices as organizations try to survive and provide services with fewer resources: increased hiring for part-time positions (which often don’t pay benefits) and increased contract, temporary, volunteer work. Read more about my time spend doing independent contract work with nonprofits here.

A nonprofit I’ve worked with for three years has, within the span of a year, transitioned from three full-time staff members to one full-time and two part-time staff members. The organization is frantically trying to maintain services offered among a crippling decrease in human resources and the absence of both an Executive Director and a Development Director. In fact, of the nonprofits I’m familiar with, most rely heavily on part-time, contract or volunteer employees.

Depending upon how small nonprofits respond as the economy recovers, the model of a nonprofit managed by several full-time employees may be gone. In its place may be an organization which draws on a web of individuals to fulfill various part-time positions, contract, freelance or consulting needs and increased volunteer contributions.

If so, what will this mean for organizational performance and development and nonprofit employment in the long term?

Photo courtesy of deanmeyersnet

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Nancy Lublin’s Zilch: What Nonprofits Can Teach Businesses

Nancy Lublin, at the time an unmotivated law student, was in an elevator one dreary day when she decided to allot the $5,000 inheritance she just received to start a nonprofit that empowers women by providing them with professional training and attire.

Naturally, her next step was to consult nuns for advice and promptly invest the money in a CD, disallowing her to withdraw any of the funds for one year. OK, so she still had some learning to do, but I think she’d be the first to celebrate the bold process of creating and growing. Years later, Dress for Success–not to mention Nancy Lublin herself–is a huge success. This story and others are shared in her book, Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business.

Lublin, CEO of DoSomething.org and rock star nonprofit thought leader, is visionary for writing a book instructing private sector companies to adopt nonprofit best practices to better their businesses, in contrast to the hundreds of books written from the opposite slant.

The book is tightly wound into 11 chapters, each chapter title beginning “Do More With” including the provocative Do More with Less Cash to Throw at People, a structure which emphasizes the for-profit advice strategy rather than the excellent anecdotes of innovation and success peppered throughout.

I admit I’m not convinced that all of the advice is practical for or relevant to private companies. It would take a superhuman supervisor to motivate the average corporate employee to work the long hours and invest the blood, sweat and tears nonprofit employees invest, a passion for which nonprofit (“not-for-profit” Lublin insists–“not-for-profit is not the same as nonprofit”) employees are known. They serve a cause greater than mere profit–something few private companies are able or willing to provide. Lets face it: its hard to be passionate about increasing your sales by 17 percent of widget number 389-B this quarter. Not surprisingly, Lublin’s segments about corporate social responsibility and its utility are spot on.

As I suggested, the radiance of Lublin’s book is her collection of colorful, stimulating stories of nonprofits excelling, many of the stories her own successes and a number from well-known nonprofits such as Teach for America. (“Do More With Your Story” is also a chapter.)

For instance, take the story of the recent hire, a dedicated and passionate young man who was unable to thrive in two positions at DoSomething.org. Lublin was smart enough to stick with it, ultimately creating a tech position for him. He poured over manuals, teaching himself the trade from the ground up. Ultimately, DoSomething.org won several awards for his work. Who doesn’t dream of working for someone with such leadership, savvy and values? It is this profile of leadership that offers much to private companies and, really, every employee and citizen striving for more impact.

Another of my favorite stories is Lublin’s bold leadership as recently-appointed CEO of DoSomething, which, at the time, was on the decline. A private company stepped in to save the day, offering $600,000 with strings attached that Lublin knew would subtly advance the organization’s drift. She declined the offer with no other prospects on the horizon. The board chair responded, “Did I make a mistake in hiring you?” DoSomething.org has flourished and it is obvious that gutsy move–and the direction Lublin then took with the organization–was the right choice.

Of course, Lublin offers succinct and fresh nonprofit best practices, from concretizing your “ask” to increase likelihood of giving to utilizing millennials in the work place. (I appreciate Lublin’s decidedly positive conclusion about millenialls in the work place: “When success is defined for them in advance, they go after the goal like tigers.”)

Lublin’s example of creativity, boldness and innovation–and this visionary idea for a book–is a credit to the nonprofit sector and a valuable offering to the private sector and driven employees everywhere.

Did you read Zilch? What stories of nonprofit success and innovation stood out to you? If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to my RSS feed and find me on Twitter!