talent round-up day

By Stefan Scheer, CC via Wikimedia Commons

Highlighting nonprofit organizations and individuals doing stellar work!

  • BoysGrow, a Kansas City, Missouri-based farming and business program dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship recently celebrated its second anniversary. Boys ages 12-15, mentored by adults and other program participants, earn a salary while learning how to grow, harvest and sell agricultural products, and developing necessary life skills. These products are then sold to local restaurants and grocery stores.
  • The United States’ Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is finally examining the antiquated rules governing nonprofit social welfare organizations. Many of these so-called nonprofits claim to be nonpartisan and benefit from 501(c)(4) tax code exemptions (such as private donor lists and tax-exempt status) while being bankrolled by political special interest groups and individuals representing both sides of the Congressional aisle. Hopefully, this will quickly become part of the larger conversation regarding donor transparency, campaign spending limits, and regulation of flagrant tax abuse.
  • Hoping to provide one-stop-shopping for philanthropists eager to donate, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation has created the Giving Library. The website contains informational videos from over 250 organizations seeking support. Interested donors can anonymously request further details and the nonprofits are vetted to ensure fiscal responsibility and good standing with the IRS. This could soon become a match.com-style space for nonprofits and funders, hopefully complete with heartwarming “sucess story” updates.

no professional development funds? no problem!

Although I have worked for nonprofit organizations in various capacities since the mid-1990s, I am still considered in many circles as an emerging nonprofit professional. Although it can vary, the criteria I encounter most often are the number of years employed in the sector, salary and age. Despite the wide spectrum of definitions, the one thing that many Emergents commonly bemoan is the lack of  access to professional development.

One minute, you’re thrilled to discover a conference or meeting that could send your career into hyperdrive, only to have that enthusiasm dashed when you realize that you would have to forgo paying a month’s worth of bills and live on Top Ramen in order to participate.

Challenging? Yes. Impossible to overcome? Absolutely not.

so what has to change?

As Rosetta Thurman noted in her recent post, “The Inevitable Evolution of the Nonprofit Sector”, nonprofits are increasingly behind the curve in providing nontraditional professional development and continuing educational models for its employees. Encouraging the growth and promotion of in-house talent should be a priority, especially as the best and brightest of us increasingly consider dumping the Sector in favor of corporate positions that provide higher salaries and other resources to satisfy our philanthropic passions, or use skills honed in nonprofit organizations to become our own bosses.

While the Sector works on that, Emergents should also take responsibility for their own development, especially if any of the following has occurred:

  • Publicly gnashing your teeth about the lack of development opportunity in the workplace. Counterproductive and earns nothing except being labeled a complainer. Who wants to commit resources to someone like that? 
  • Sitting around waiting on someone to discover how fabulous  you are.  A complete waste of time, unless you prefer fantasy to reality.
  • Whining about others who are moving ahead while you’re “stuck.”  That just makes you a hater.

Believe me, I would not mention these things if I had not done them. Eventually, I had to realize that even if the Nonprofit Sector suddenly provided me with a professional development blank check [a girl can dream] I am still responsible for my career trajectory.

make a way out of no way

Despite what you may believe, you have vast resources literally at your fingertips (hello, Google!). With just a few clicks, I found two blog posts, “11 Tips for DIY Nonprofit Professional Development” by Rosetta Thurman and “Reader Response: Inexpensive Professional Development Resources” by Allison Jones that really informed the way I now approach my career. Both posts are full of great advice, but I found these takeaways most helpful:

  • Embrace social media.  Decide which tools fit your style and use them effectively to advance your career. With Twitter, I began slowly by following people I admire in my field, eventually building up enough courage to start conversations. Use Twitter hashtags to learn what happens at those conferences you can’t afford and follow ongoing conversations about the sector. As I started building contacts on LinkedIn, I discovered  I was more connected than I realized. Seek out your own mentors, search for groups that relate to your interests and do not be afraid to tell folks that you are looking for work.
  • Start a blog.  Whether it’s via WordPress, Blogger or Tumblr, the skills you build researching and writing blog posts are invaluable. Blogging represents your thoughts and expertise in a longer, more detailed format, helps establish your presence and creates a body of written work that you can reference.
  • Check out local universities, libraries and museums. Multi-purpose, multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary, these community centers offer an astonishing  array of free or low-cost lectures, seminars and trainings. Side benefit: quiet places to work and reflect, and access to material culture and technology.
  • Attend webinars. While some can be as pricey as real-life meetings there are still many options for those of us with limited financial means. By the end of this month, I will have viewed presentations about the Smithsonian Institution’s mobile strategy, how nonprofits can use  mission-focused social media and  social media measurement [yeah, it’s all about tech stuff right now!]. Total price: $0.  Tracking all the webinars down can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Wild Apricot’s monthly listing  is a good place to start.

My tip: Catch a free ride. It is not likely that in-person gatherings will (or should) disappear completely. Their value in terms of networking and knowledge is undeniable, which is part of the reason why they are so pricey. However, conferences may offer scholarships, fellowships or free registration if you volunteer. Competition for these spots can be steep and it requires a bit of work and advance planning, but you cannot beat the financial and professional payoff.

Have you encountered difficulty finding affordable nonprofit professional development opportunities? Please share any tips, hints & tricks in the comments.

how to become a nonprofit rockstar

Last week, I had the honor of being the guest speaker at my alma mater’s Nonprofit Administration class.  The students were awesome, enthusiastic and dynamic.  I felt I was prepared for the talk (after all, nonprofits are one of my favorite topics) but one question stumped me: “What do you know now that you wish you knew before entering the field?” I paused, not wanting to deliver a flippant response, and eventually replied that I wished I had considered  the culture of the organizations I applied to when I first completed my degree more carefully, rather than blanketing every place with 501(c)3 status with my résumé.  I definitely had a “please hire me” vibe rather than “show me how my skills will be put to the best use”, and the stink of desperation undoubtedly put me out of the running in more than one situation.

While that was a perfectly honest answer, I realized later that I should have said, “I wish I had a game plan for advancing in the field once I entered it.”  If the book How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar had been available before now, I would have avoided that pitfall.

Written by Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar offers 50 tips  for those who have been in the sector for more than a  minute but find themselves stuck, frustrated and envious of celebrated colleagues who seemingly have the Midas Touch.   As the authors reveal, those folks you admire are in no way better than you; it’s simply because “the most successful nonprofit careers are marked by a proactive approach to professional growth and leadership development.”   If you read this book and follow the advice within, you will soon find yourself joining their ranks.

Tips include:

  • Learn How to Raise Money
  • Build Your Own Frankenmentor
  • Stop Trying to Be Two Different People
  • Cultivate a Slash Career
  • Fall Back in Love with Your Job
  • Get Paid What You Are Worth
  • Ditch the Martyr Lifestyle
  • Run with the Big Dogs

If Shelly Cryer’s The Nonprofit Career Guide is the definitive how-to book for entering the nonprofit sector, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is the quintessential style guide, providing step-by-step instructions on how to design a fulfilling, sustainable and creatively challenging career. 

Add How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar to your library via Rosetta and Trista’s affiliate program! Click here to purchase and a portion of sales will support an aspiring nonprofit rockstar (me)!