Sunday, November 23, 2008

Questions from a Millennial

Why is change so hard? Why do we constantly disagree about what is the best operating methods for nonprofits? Why are we complaining about how organizations are turning to new forms of earned income and new ways of operating to survive?

Some may think I’m naive and young for asking these trivial questions. I know my mentor and advisor thinks I’m too Kumbaya because I want everyone work together. I know one thing is for sure we cannot continue to focus on our individual interests and organizations without ignoring the system around us. Whether people want to admit it or not the system does affect our organizations, just like a disgruntled employee affects our organizations. And naive or not, I believe we can come together as a nonprofit sector to create social change. We need to focus on the individual, organization, and sector.

Nonprofits are creative, they are trying to find way to sustain themselves and survive. So why are we surprised these new forms of organizations are popping up? Donor and public expectations and perceptions have put too much strain on nonprofits. The systems thinking approach says if you push the system it will push back. The nonprofit sector is pushing back.

I’m really active in the Nonprofit Sector Workforce coalition, a coalition of over 75 national organization with the mission to "(a) connect talented, skilled, and diverse young people to nonprofit sector careers, and (b) help nonprofit organizations recruit, retain, and cultivate the diverse leadership they will need in the decades ahead." Right now we are working on a campaign to promote Nonprofit Sector Careers. I’m also involved with the Nonprofit Congress an initiative of the National Council of Nonprofit Associations that has the mission to bring about change in the nonprofit sector. I’m also part of the Next Generation Leadership Forum that is collecting all the nonprofit leadership research and resources in an effort to address the leadership gap in the sector. These three groups are taking a big picture approach to social change in the sector. We are addressing the challenging issues within the sector, like increasing diversity in the sector, recruiting and retain new people to work in the sector, raise public awareness of the sector and so much more.

But we are having trouble--were having trouble keeping the momentum going, keeping people’s commitment level up when they all have their own day to day jobs and organizations to focus on. Evaluations of these programs show these are important issues but we struggle with how to get our message across in a clear and concise manner. We know what the research says, we know people are crying out for change and more professionalization of the sector, but its easier to have the same conversations that to actually do the change. What if we all worked a little harder to think of the big picture? What would the nonprofit sector really look like if we could truly balance our individual and organizational interests with the interests of the nonprofit sector and truly be “nonprofit citizens”?

Pre Mid-life Crisis the Technology Divide

Next week I turn 30 and I’m having a pre mid-life crisis. As much as I enjoyed working for Aspiration (the technology) nonprofit that taught me about blogs, wikis and social media, I feel this new technology is connecting me more with millennial's and distancing me from many of my older colleagues that aren't as technology savvy.

I am constantly using new forms of technology and information. I just got a new MacBook and set up my firefox browser with awesome add ons that allow me to see my delicious bookmarks, twitter updates, facebook account, and my new favorite thing is tag and cite research through zotero without having to go to those individual sites.

I am not trying to separate myself from my non-technology savvy colleagues, but I am really enjoying social networking and staying connected to my friends and colleagues online. I don’t want to tell my colleagues you should be using these social media tools, however I wish there was some way the generations can stop our assumptions of one another and appreciate what we all bring to the table. For example, the ARNOVA keynote asked the audience what advice would you give to people in their 20’s and 30’s -- and someone said pay attention, get off your blackberry. I happened to be on my handheld at the time--live blogging and laughed out loud when I heard this (I’ve done that a lot this conference) because I thought to myself --I am paying attention its just in a different way than older generations are used too.

This also came up in another session about about creating online communities for American Humanics students, one of the presenters said that millennials need to listen to the ED's in what culture they create for the organzation and if it isn't a culture of twittering and facebooking than get used to it. A colleague of mine told me how she got frustraited because her staff member was on facebook and when she told that particular staff member to get off facebook, they replied, but I just got a new donor for the organization. We must appreciate the work that has happend before us but also realize "These times are a changing" and technology is opening up new opportunities. I like many millenials receive updates from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and other nonprofits hrough Twitter as well as updates from friends and colleagues. These forms of media are providing new opportunities for nonprofits to raise money and connect with their constituents in a new way.

Last night some ARNOVA members mostly senior leaders well known for their scholarly work engaged in several performances as a humorous and fun talent show. I particularly enjoyed Dennis Young perform Bob Dylan’s song These Times are a Changing. He was totally off key, however this song (released in 1963) is particularly important for the boomer generation and the movements that ensued in the 60’s. Then I thought about a song that really resonates with me and my generation by John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change. Gen X and Y may not have the same type of movements that the boomers had in the 60’s but we certainly have a movement going on -- a movement of the use of technology.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Predicting the Future of the Nonprofit Sector

The Independent Sector hosted a session yesterday discussing predictions of the future of the nonprofit sector. I could not attend this session because I was also presenting at that time, however this morning I attended a great session where Gary Grobman from Indiana University of Pennsylvania presented his predictions of the nonprofit sector. Actually it was a follow up from his presentation four years ago when he made 7 specific predictions of the nonprofit sector. He expressed if these predictions came true (in parenthesis below).

2004 predictions of the nonprofit sector

1. More internal activities due to terrorism or fear of terrorism (not true)
One of these internal activities was using the web more. This prediction came true even without the fear of terrorism.

2. Demographics change (sort of true)
This includes but not limited to diversity of the workforce, less time for leisure and the aging of the workforce. We still have a ways to go with the diversity in the nonprofit sector.

3. New Technology (true)
This includes one stop centers, online education, online fundraising and online advocacy.

4. More govt regulation of nonprofits (somewhat true)
The IRS has cracked down on nonprofits, however due to the change in the senate nonprofits have become less of a focus at the senate level.

5. Government funding down and service demand up (true)

6. Donor attitude changes (true)
Donors are more involved in organizations, they have more control over the use of donations, are more results oriented, there is donor fatigue and more sophisticated asks.

7. Convergence of the sector (true)
This includes nonprofits more reliant on fee for service, generic employee responsibilities, and attitudes of governance.

Gary also added one more trend to this presentation -- the positive trend of nonprofit management education and the professionalization of the nonprofit sector.

Do you have any additional predictions to add to this list? What will the future of the nonprofit sector look like in four years, ten years or twenty years?

(References to follow -- when I receive a copy of Gary's paper)

Nonprofit Leadership revisited

I am getting cynical, it must be the jet lag.

I'm feeling like a broken record at this conference. I am raising my hand in each session to presenters saying helllo are you aware of this piece of research or that regarding nonprofit leadership and nonprofit workforce? I'm not trying to be a snooty but don't people use the internet -- google reader? There is research in the nonprofit sector not just in the academic research databases. Many argue this practitioner based research must be critically reviewed, that is true, however practitioner research cannot be ignored either.

I attended the plenary session this evening where Michael Useem author of several leadership books spoke about nonprofit leadership. At least I think he was trying to talk about nonprofit leadership--I couldn't really tell becuase he is talking about corporations and CEOs and large corporate meetings. Will someone please tell him the majority of the nonprofit sector has organizations with budgets under $500k and we don't have the same issues with leadership as corporations?

He, like many people associate leadership as something that is trait based and stems from the CEO or ED. Well in large corporations that might work, however nonprofits are crying out for something different--collective leadership or participatory leadership or leadership that involves more than a one leader solution. Not to be corney, but enough with power to the leaders, power to the people!

I am really looking forward to writing my dissertation because my research shows that nonprofit staffers want more than just technical training they want interpersonal training to lead at all levels within the organization.

While I'm ranting, my colleague (to remain nameless) said that in one session she attended people will still saying there is going to be a leadership gap in the sector--to reiterate, there is no leadership gap, it is all in our heads.

Please read the research report Next Shift: Beyond the Leadership Crisis. Boomers are not 65 yet and they don't have real retirement plans in the nonprofit sector, they are not going to leave, nor will there be so many open positions that people are predicting. People are coming into the sector in the same amount they are leaving. The younger generations are coming into the sector with excellence education and training and we are starting to address the interpersonal training needs they need to have in order to stay in the workplace.

I believe the bigger issue at stake with nonprofit leadership is for the sector to revitalize itselves like the 60's and acknowledge that in order to run an affective nonprofits one must provide support and training to nonprofit employees and support nonprofit capacity building efforts.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Keeping the Excitement Going - ARNOVA plenary

The plenary at ARNOVA sounded a lot like the plenary at IS. Everyone is excited about Obama's campaign and to leverage this excitement. Ruth McCambridge Editor of the Nonprofit Quarterly spoke about how we need to come together as a sector to address key issues like the economic crisis. She brought up a great new resource released by the Nonprofit Congress the Nonprofit Economic Vitality Center.

Someone also asked the key question about mobilizing younger people in the nonprofit sector. I am laughing because people are suggesting ways to mobilize us younger folks--no offense--but ARNOVA has a long ways to go to mobilize younger people in the sector. This was the first year ARNOVA stopped using overhead projectors and when I mentioned the word blog to the ED of ARNOVA I received a blank stare.

The younger workers are already starting to mobilize ourselves about issues important within the sector--just look on twitter and facebook see all the campaigns and causes. The problem is we are not mobalizing in the way that the older generations are used to. We can continue to mobalize through technology but we can do more by providing feedback and opinions on this new site Nonprofit Economic Vitality Site too.

Live Blogging from ARNOVA - Employee Retention in the Nonprofit Sector

I'm live blogging from ARNOVA -- the main conference for nonprofit researchers and academics. I've presented twice this morning once about the Nonprofit Congress as a new social movement and another time about the results from a study of American Humanics alumni and their career paths and their perceptions of the AH program.

I am attending a change management session right now with three great presenters. One presenter I particularly resonated with Karabi Bezboruah from University of Texas at Dallas provided results from a study about nonprofit retention. Her literature review found that nonprofits have 24 percent turnover (reference), with the highest level of turnover with lower level employees. But the highest turnover of all she explained was with child welfare organizations, they have 200 percent turnover (reference). Yikes!!

In order to address these issues with retention she proposed applying the public service motivation model (PSM) (reference). The psm model works when a leader can fit employees job with an employees intrinsic and intrinsic factors. Some of these factors include staff's position, life interests and satisfaction. This model is a really inward approach to address retention issues within nonprofit organization and in order to work needs a willingness for nonprofit leaders to explore the change management process.

I remember seeing a poster today at lunch that looked at the organizational downsides and costs to loosing employees. So, assessing employees various intrinsic and extrinsic factors sounds simple enough but has the potential to have a profound affect in saving an organization money.

*references to come follow after I receive the paper from this presenter

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

IS Conference Wrap Up: Using our voice effectively

I appreciated the opportunity voice my opinions and perspectives of the nonprofit sector during each of the IS conference sessions, however as I reflect back on these voice opportunities I am questioning if I utilized my voice in the most effective matter.

Several of the sessions I attended had so many people raising their hands that not everyone could ask their questions which caused my anxiety level to rise to the point that when the session was over I immediately went up to the speaker and blurted out what I wanted to say. This provided for some awkwardness between the speaker and I because of the intensity of the passion in which I speak about sector issues. As I discussed this passion and intensity with other next gen conference attendees, some of us wondered if the seasoned leaders were ready for what we had to say.

I know I don't have to comment on every session but I'm so passionate I'm struggling with when to speak and when I need to just shut up and listen. I know I am not alone in this, often next geners have this passion that makes us really good at what we do but at times we are difficult to work with because we don't know when to back down.

A good example of this is at one of the sessions the president of National Council de La Raza was on a panel with a particularly enthusiastic millennial Maya Enista, CEO of and said wouldn't you like a millennial like Maya work for you -- she'll certainly keep you on your toes. Yes we do keep our colleagues and bosses on their toes but the question is -- how can next geners best utilize our voice in an effective manner for change in the sector while still showing respect and appreciation for the elders that have gone before us?

During one of the next gen sessions Carolyn McAndrews of the Building Movement Project had something important to say but she was unable to be heard because the session got so wrapped up in the passionate pleas of millennial and gen xers frustrations of working with one another. Carolyn told me afterwords she wanted to say (parapharasing) that we are never going to solve the next gen issues if we continue to rant and rave about our own individual issues with one another. We must come together to address next gen issues at the sector level.

Then at a later session Trish Tchume, also of the Building Movement Project said, as next geners we often get too wrapped up in explaining next gen issues and we need to take a different approach. Let's come together as next geners and take a stance about issues that are important to the entire sector. And I'll add -- present our stance on these issues in a language and manner that seasoned leaders and the general public will understand.

I really like this solution of next geners taking a stance on sector-wide issues. I truly believe organizations like the Independent Sector's Ngen program, NP2020, YNPN, EPIP, FLIP, Council on Foundations Generational Leadership Program and other national organizations that serve the next generation should start and advocacy arm and take a stance, write opeds, present on a panels about the next generations stances on: the financial crisis, organizational and funder accountability, racial diversity, general operating support, promoting nonprofit careers, the image of nonprofits and much more.

If we do this, our cohesive next gen voices will be heard and better received than just our individual voice advocating for something in our organization. And as a result, we will improve our individual next gen issues!

Shall we start? I'd like to take a collective stance on the financial crisis, what would you like to take a stand on?

National Philanthropy Day San Diego

I'm here at National Philanthropy Day in San Diego with over 900 people in attendance. It is that time of year to recognize local philanthropists and volunteers that have impacted the San Diego nonprofit community.

I am here because my friend Emily Davis of EDA Consulting and Board Chair of YNPN San Diego sponsored a table for YNPN San Diego. One of the honorees is Target Corporation. They donate 5% of their revenues which equals out to 3 million dollars a week. Wow. Another honoree is Suzy Spafford creator of Suzy Zoo. I love her art work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

IS Conference - Nonprofit Effectiveness

What would a nonprofit conference be without a session about nonprofit effectiveness. The panelists provided suggestions and recommendations for nonprofits to be more effective. For example, Perla Ni was there and recommended her new website as an opportunity for nonprofits to share their stories and message so donors and foundations can see their effectiveness. Sounds great. We just did this study at USD and found that the most well known nonprofits are the ones that are in the media. So nonprofits need to share their stories on to get their message heard, however many grassroots nonprofits that are doing amazing work in the sector will not be on the great nonprofits website. They are great at getting their message to constituents but they need help from foundations and the media to get their stories out to the general public and on So I urge whoever is reading this to not forget the grassroot nonprofits that are doing amazing work but not being heard on a national level.

Monday, November 10, 2008

IS Conference: Our Voices are being Heard!!

This is the first conference that I have been to that truly has an NGen voice. We are participating in sessions and speaking up about issues that are important in the sector including the work/life balance issue, creating and maintaining social movements, reaching out through social media, and so much more! And we are meeting key leaders in the NP sector -- people that are so amazing and have built the sector. Tonight IS honored Robert Greenstein, Founder and Executive Director of Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He is responsible for creating the Earned Income Tax Credit and providing improvements to help low-income families with food stamps, TANF and more!

It is sooo much fun to hang out, live blog, and tweet with my peeps -- fellow emerging leader bloggers including:

Trista Harris -- New Voices of Philanthropy
Tera Wozinak -- Social Citizen
Rosetta Thurman -- Perspectives from the Pipleline
Katya Andresen -- Robin Hood Marketing
& my brand new friend and blogger Kathrin Ivonovic -- Diversity Projekt

Read how blogging has accelerated Trista and Rosetta's career in my paper -- Perspectives on Blogging in the Nonprofit and Philanthropic Sector.

IS Conference -- Work/Life Balance

I am starting to shift my thinking about the work/life balance issue in the sector. If you read my blog you know I tend to have a big picture approach to the sector. I believe there is a systemic problem in the sector -- there is too much presure from the public and funders to keep nonprofits' overhead expenses low but still produce high outcomes. These pressures cause nonprofit to be overworked and in crisis!! Well trained ED's can challenge the system and provide support to their staff. However, there are still many nonprofits with capacity issues that do not provide the needed support to their staff. For those staff members the work/life balance issue must happen on an individual basis. There is a book I just learned about-- Total Leadership which provides an individual approach/solution to the work/life balance issue. Rosetta Thurman is working with next gen leaders in DC using the Total Leadership book to help them create their own work/life balance. Through this process NGen's can be fulfilled which in turn impacts their organizations and then the sector as a whole. Instead of the usual top down approach -- its a bottom up approach for creating change in the sector.

IS Conference -- Future predictions from the IRS Commissioner

The economy is on everyone's mind. Nonprofits are worried. IRS created 5 year teaching plan. It includes outreach and guidance to NPs, ongoing transparency and identifying and stopping misuse or abuse of charity funds. Watch out -- the IRS will start to pay particular attention to Universities and Hospitals. The Commissioner's one piece of really good advice was don't do a business deal if it doesn't feel right.

IS Conference -- media that matters

Ok, let me set the record straight. I really like the IS conference, it is not at all what I thought it would be like. The presenters are talking about important issues that are relavant to all nonprofits. For example, I'm in a session right now that is similar to sessions offered at the NTC Conference about new social media for nonprofits. I just learned about an awesome new website that privides a guide for creating an online video -- See 3 communications -- this website makes it easy and affordable for nonprofits to make videos relevant to their issues. U tube also has a program that specifically works with nonprofits and helps increase branding, a google check out button and there is a nonprofits and activism section on Utube. Using video helps empower volunteer supporters and is an organizing tool to target the people you want to target. Nonprofits can post trainings on Utube and get responses or questions from the videos. Warning, in order to use Utube for the benefit of your members, nonprofits must connect with the Utube community and subscribe to other Utube videos to get subscribers and viewers of their own videos. Other awesome video websites 1000 voices, Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media, Media that Matters, Scribe Video Center.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Live Blogging at IS Conference - Election Focus and change in the Sector

I'm at the IS conference blogging and twittering. It is clear the election is the most important topic of this conference. I'm not surprised, but how can we use this information to change the sector? Obama did an amazing job in his campaign and he did things differently, he created a successful community organizing campaign. Obama got his message across in his campaign!

How are we doing with our messaging in the sector? I'm sorry folks, but not that good. Let's use Obama's methods and strategies with messaging in our 'movements' that are already happening in the sector like the Nonprofit Congress and the Nonprofit Workforce Coalition and then our voices will be heard!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Independent Sector Conference here I come!

I am flying to Philadelphia this weekend to the Independent Sector Conference and I am super excited. I have wanted to attend this conference for as long as I have been working in the NP sector but could never afford it.

The nonprofit research center where I work just joined IS so this conference will be a great opportunity for me to learn about all the member benefits and resources. I love collecting and sharing resources!!

I do have several hesitations about this conference, this is not the usual crowd I hang out with. The majority of IS attendees work for big name, top 50 nonprofits. Considering the majority of nonprofits in the sector earn under $1mil a year, the IS conference is a gathering of the elite in the sector and they like to keep it that way with their $1,000 registration fee. So, its a bit intimidating and I'm wondering if my voice will even be heard at this event. I'm pretty vocal but I'm not sure if the issues I care about in the sector are the same as the issues the majority of IS attendees care about. My mom always told me...there just the same as you...but I wonder if this is true. Do IS attendees really want to talk about the flawed system of the nonprofit sector when they are buddies with top funders and receive plenty of funding for operations.

I'm beginning to sound like us versus them. I know large nonprofit have issues and challenges, however it seems like more and more funders are calling for outcomes and show the results but the majority of nonprofits are crying out I need more funding for capacity and support for my staff!! The system is not working, many nonprofits are getting out of traditional funding competitions and turning to fee for service or other form of earned income to stay afloat. Ok, I'll stop my rant.

I am excited about attending the conference...really! I am attending the IS conference this year because I applied to and received a scholarship to attend the NGEN program, a new program at the IS conference. To tell you the truth I didn't think I would be able to get in, I'm not the traditional target market for this conference because I'm an academic although I used to run a nonprofit (one of those nonprofits with under $1mil budget).

The scholarship application process was tough, in fact it was as rigorous as applying to my PhD program. I had to provide two letters of recommendation in and by request of IS staff I had to rewrite my application (I didn't sell myself enough the first time). I definitely wouldn't have been accepted if it wasn't for Steve Bauer's letter of recommendation-- thanks Steve!

So, I did get accepted afterall and I am appreciative of this opportunity even though it doesn't sound like it and I hope I still have my scholarship after this blog post.

So, while I'm at it--I wonder if this conference be different and open doors, insights and opportunities for change? I just don't know. I am getting tired of discussing the same issues over and over again and not seeing results -- I'm really passionate about researching:
  • nonprofit leadership;
  • nonprofit workforce issues;
  • capacity building for nonprofits;
  • service-learning, and;
  • nonprofit education.
But I'm even more passionate about turning ideas and discussions into action to create long lasting change in the nonprofit sector.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Vision for the Nonprofit Sector Accomplished Through my Dissertation

I want challenge the norms of doing a traditional dissertation. My professors have advised me that my dissertation does not have to be grand or change the world. However, like many doctoral students, I don't want to listen to my professors on that particular point. I want my dissertation to impact the entire nonprofit sector!

I want to read my favorite subjects which will inform my study. I want to continue to read literature about nonprofit leadership issues, workforce issues, capacity building, nonprofit education and service-learning/experiential education.

Then with advisement from my professors and Director of Assessment I want to complete a mixed methods study of the experiential non-traditional social sector leadership certificate program I am developing at John F. Kennedy University in the Bay Area.

This program isn't like any other leadership development or educational program you have ever seen. Really...I've completed market research on nonprofit specific leadership and education programs and the results are -- there are many amazing nonprofit education programs out there but the majority of them provide technical (how to run a nonprofit) training* not the interpersonal training or systems understanding that is needed to run a social sector organization today. Plus, other leadership programs that are out there don't address social sector specific dilemmas and challenges (yes our sector is different than other sectors and we have unique issues).

(*with the exception of USD which is an amazing nonprofit leadership and management education program.)

This certificate program is in early development stages right now and is being created by a group of managers from the for profit, nonprofit and govt. sectors who all have the goal to create a learning hub for social sector managers and leaders, a place where they will learn and address interpersonal and organizational problems and issues in a experiential and hands on manner.

I want to create a mixed method study for my dissertation that would consist of entrance and exit surveys of the students, qualitative interviews of organizations where the students work, and action research so the students can be researchers studying the program itself. All these items especially the action research would allow the program to make mid-course corrections and shift based on the needs of the students and their organizations.

End result -- create an experiential hands on leadership program model for the social sector that attempts to address current nonprofit leadership and workforce issues.