I was just in Denver, where I was honored to be able to speak to the members of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network who had gathered in the Mile High City to talk taking it up a notch.
Here a fast run down of my tips for them (minus the f-bombs):
1. When YNPN first got started, the only word in its name that was accurate was “young”. Now, YNPN is a powerful network of seasoned pros. Build on that. Post each others blogs, videos and op-eds. Constantly encourage each other. RT w/abandon. Support each others research and champion advocacy efforts. Get each other gigs. Be a good friend in practice, and practice being a good friend.
2. If you want to change the world, then heed the words of Dorothy Height, who said, “If the times aren’t ripe, you have to ripen the times.”
3. Modern charity has its roots in gender and race boundaries of 20th century America. The tens of thousands of charities that opened back then (that were founded primarily by women) were limited by the male dominated culture that made the wealth and administered the foundation system. As such, grants were mainly made to groups that engaged in non-threatening charity and not to groups that sought to use economics or politics to challenge the status quo of the day.
4. For 40 years, we’ve made that “redemption of the giver, not liberation of the receiver” charity model bigger, and then bigger still. Understand its origins. Always show respect for the intent and work of the founding mothers, but understand the unintended, but inherent limitations of this model….and the cost your generation would have to shoulder to maintain it.
5. Don’t buy the “leadership vacuum” myth. There are thousands of Gen Xers who have been in the mix for a long time before you, and like you, they are more than ready to assume leadership roles. The real question for anyone who seeks to lead–where are we going?
6. The Periodic Table of the wall of that university lecture hall where we met had only 103 elements listed. There are now 117. It is out-of-date. This can also be said about the attitudes and policies that govern nonprofits in America. For any new leadership to be able to move beyond the limits of the traditional charity model, then we must challenge outdated ideas, starting with the divide between .com and .org
7. This will take new policies, and for new policies to be enacted, we must elect a new generation of leaders (some could be you) who understand the stakes and realize the potential of every community if all its resources are utilized with vision and courage. They must understand the potential that nonprofits have to help rebuild the local, state and national economy. Given the size and scope of our sector, these new leaders should be prepared to appoint dedicated leadership within their administration to explore every option to better integrate the strengths of business, community and government (as Mayor Hickenlooper has done with the Office of Strategic Partnerships).
7. It sounds daunting, but ponder the resources we have to work with. Ahead of you are 80 million Baby Boomers. The oldest is only 65. They are the generation that raged against the machine, but then settled down, moved to the suburbs and gave at the office. Now, as they look forward, many are wondering how they strayed so far from the proverbial garden. As they seek to re-engage in community and account for their lives, they are pouring into the sector, all but dying to be part of making something truly powerful happen. With them will come powerful social, economic and political opportunities. RIPEN the times.
8. Behind you are the Millenials, America’s most diverse generation….and they are also 80 million strong. The oldest is only 25. They have been raised doing community service. Like you, they would love to merge work, life and spirit and find new ways to make a living, while making the world a better place to live. With them will come powerful social, economic and political opportunities. RIPEN the times.
9. The times are already half ripe. Interest in sustainability, healthy food, healthcare, fair trade products, social enterprise, micro-credit, volunteerism, farmers’ markets, new media–these are signs that people of all generations are seeking something very important, but missing in too many people’s lives–a sense of community. They are (clumsily at times) looking to re-engage…but are afraid. Help them over the divide. They are (clumsily at times) looking for new set of values to replace the “I am my paycheck” culture….but are equally as nervous about the new metrics of meaning. Help them see the value (and joy) of being engaged and liking where you work, what you do and the way you lead your life. Help them see that the future of philanthropy will be how you make and spend your money…and voting for people who will help us get there.
10. It won’t be easy…nothing good is….but WE can SO do this. It will take courage, brains, tactics…and you. Go for it. Stand on the shoulders of giants and help others up so that ALL may wonder at the new view.
Let’s RIPEN the world.