YNPN & NPQ Begin Collaboration: Young Nonprofit Leaders Speak Out!

Every kid who ever started playing an instrument has had the same fantasy: You’re sitting in the park, pra...

Every kid who ever started playing an instrument has had the same fantasy:

You’re sitting in the park, practicing the four chords that you know on your guitar over and over. Suddenly, you hear a voice.

“Hey kid, you’re pretty good. Mind if I jam with you?”

You look up, and it’s the lead singer of your favorite band.

A few months ago, my organization, the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), had the grown-up, nonprofit sector version of this fantasy play out when the folks from NPQ reached out to see if we were interested in collaborating on a companion to their annual reader survey. If you follow us on Twitter or Facebook, you know it’s no secret that YNPN and its members are pretty big fans of NPQ. Needless to say, we were excited to have the opportunity to jam with them.

The main goal of the collaboration was to help NPQ amplify the voices of young nonprofit professionals. We also wanted to continue to test our strength as a research partner; could we actually gather a large enough number of respondents to be statistically significant to the overall study?

The response to the survey—one of the largest turnouts we’ve had in the past year to a broad request for input from our members—showed that young professionals were excited to have the opportunity to talk with one of the sector’s leading publications about what mattered most to them. Approximately 89 percent of the respondents to our survey were between the ages of 18 and 34, with the vast majority of respondents between 22 and 34. In contrast, this age group made up only 16 percent of the respondents to the general NPQ reader survey.

Top Concerns Reveal Generational Differences

When asked about the critical issues affecting nonprofits and philanthropy, our members told us that their top concerns were leadership, professional development, and low wages. For those of us who spend our days talking to young nonprofit professionals (or are young nonprofit professionals), these results are not surprising. When comparing the results from the YNPN member survey and the NPQ general reader survey, however, it’s clear that there’s a huge gap in how these issues are perceived between younger and older professionals.

Several NPQ readers said in the broader reader survey that staff turnover was among the thorniest issues that they faced this year, yet YNPN members were still four times more likely to discuss talent retention and staff turnover in responses. YNPN members were around five times more likely to mention pay, salary, or wages in their responses to questions about their biggest workplace concerns and the state of the sector. It’s also interesting to note that of the six people who mentioned salaries in the general reader survey, three of them were complaining that salaries for their staff were too high.

YNPN members were also much more likely to talk about non-monetary investments in staff like professional development and leadership training. In fact, they were eight times more likely to list professional development as their biggest workplace concern or as one of the trends that will affect the sector over the next five years.

Passion and Pay: “Two Roads Diverge in a Wood”

To provide a little bit of context as to why these issues are top of mind for young professionals, it might be useful to look at the results of another recent survey. Last year, YNPN San Diego surveyed their members and found that their average age was 29 years old. Most had master’s degrees, making it likely that many of them are carrying some kind of student debt. Yet 50 percent of their members make less than $35,000 per year.

In talking with our members and other young nonprofit professionals, their love for their work and the nonprofit sector is abundantly clear. Beyond the anecdotal evidence, research continues to show that young professionals are more purpose-driven in their work than past generations and that millennials are willing to trade high salaries for work that is more meaningful and provides better work-life balance.

This is a huge opportunity for the nonprofit sector to attract top talent that is naturally interested in mission-driven work. Yet we continue to ask our next generation of leaders to work for wages that mean delaying or even being unable to attain other important life goals like home ownership, parenthood, and even retirement. With just a little bit of context, it becomes clear why these issues feel so urgent to young professionals, many of whom want to work in the nonprofit sector but don’t know if it’s financially sustainable.

Where We All Agree

It is clear that these issues must also become urgent for the current generation of leaders in the sector. One of the NPQ survey respondents, for example, expressed a fear that we hear time and again from established leaders about what will happen to the sector over the next five years: “I am concerned with the draining of executive talent by retirements and burnout with fewer than the number needed stepping up to replace them.”

As part of a network of more than 50,000 young nonprofit professionals who are eager to lead, our members voice that the issue is not that we don’t have leaders who are willing to step up. Rather, we are not providing them with the support they need to not only step into leadership positions, but to also be effective once they’re there.

These survey responses provide an important glimpse into our sector’s leadership pipeline. Groups like the Talent Philanthropy Project, the Building Movement Project, and, of course, YNPN, are opening up discussions among leaders of all ages about where we go from here to develop the powerful nonprofit sector we need to build a more just and equal world.

However, we also think that more collaborative efforts like the one between YNPN and NPQ are needed in the sector. These intergenerational conversations can amplify often-marginalized voices and provide space for emerging leaders to jam with established leaders and move the sector forward together.

We would love to hear from YNPN members and NPQ readers of all ages: What other issues should we highlight? What would you like to see from NPQ in the future and from this new collaboration?

YNPN & NPQ Begin Collaboration: Young Nonprofit Leaders Speak Out! August 5, 2014, Nonprofit Quarterly, by Jamie Smith

When Funding Success Feels Like Magic

What would it take to have funding ‘magically’ appear to your camp? Check out this story that a developme...

What would it take to have funding ‘magically’ appear to your camp? Check out this story that a development friend told me:

She worked for a large museum that had just embarked upon a $75 million capital campaign. As part of the training, the development department presented the organizational “story” of why it was so critical to fund the museum campaign to more than 500 staff throughout the organization including guards, porters, and program/front-line ticketing staff. It really paid off, as you’ll see…

Toward the end of the campaign they were baffled as to why one of their prospects, a famous philanthropist in their community, had been unresponsive to requests for a meeting. One day, the mother and granddaughter of this gentleman came to visit the museum. A savvy ticketer at the membership desk noted their name and alerted a nearby porter who ran up to development to tell them that the family of this philanthropist was in the house.

That child got the tour of her life! Programs worked with exhibits to release the best of the on-floor explainers to engage the two. They received a tour behind the theater as well as the planetarium. They went to visit the curators who were restoring an old clock … you get the picture.

The very next day, my friend was sitting with the President at their usual morning meeting. They received a call from the philanthropist’s executive assistant who asked, “On your board, what is the largest category for giving?” “A million and up,” they replied.

By the next week, they received a check from this family in the amount of $2 million.

So what was the magic that had this $2 million fall from the sky? In fact, there was no “magic.” There was intention, planning, training and multiple conversations.

How does this apply to your camp? Notice that this would not have happened if ALL of these individuals had not been trained:

    The development team was responsible for training staff in sharing the essential story of the museum.
    The front desk (the ticketer) had the wherewithal to know who was coming in the door.
    The porter readily went to development to share the news of the philanthropist’s family arrival.
    The curator took an important role by including the family in the day’s activities.

Lastly, did you notice the question that the philanthropist’s office asked? They wanted to know what the largest category of giving was for the board. If their board’s highest level of giving was $1,000, then perhaps the philanthropist would have given $2,000 instead of $2 million! The museum’s board had to be actively seeking stretch gifts.

Here are five things you should be doing to create a culture of philanthropy at your camp, things that will build fundraising momentum and make your success feel like magic:

    Ensure all staff are aware of their role in creating a culture of philanthropy. If you have development staff, have them teach staff about what they are doing and share how they can make a difference. Include the person answering the phones, those doing the bookkeeping and thank you notes, the counselors at camp, and the program staff. Share this story. Ask staff what role they could imagine themselves having if they met a philanthropist. Have them understand that anyone having contact with your camp could be a potential philanthropist.
    Place your development staff, or development volunteers in leadership roles at your camp. This will show that your organization values philanthropy. Have development staff be part of alumni activities, camp sessions, communications, web design, etc. They represent the donors. If you want more donors, development staff and volunteers must be well informed and involved in camp. An organization that is successful in creating a culture of philanthropy integrates the donors and the development staff into their daily work.
    Invite alumni and other prospective donors to camp for tours led by your development staff. Have the different staff that they meet be passionate about expressing the organization’s essential story.
    Educate your Board about philanthropy and the importance of their giving in the eyes of current and potential major donors. Encourage them to make stretch gifts to your camp. Train them to be proficient in your camp’s story as well.
    Include development in staff and board meetings. Make it a high priority throughout your organization. This way, development knows about the successes at camp to share with your funders, and the other departments know about the work of development and its value to the health and well-being of your mission.

Successful fundraising results when every lay and professional member of your team is trained and aware of the importance of their role in supporting your development team.

As for my development friend’s story, now you know:

Even if it felt like magic, it was the integration of the museum’s development team throughout the fabric of the organization that led to their large “surprise” donation. This same integration that can provide your camp similar success stories.

When Funding Success Feels Like Magic, August 6, 2014, eJP, by Laurie Herrick

Realizing the Full Potential of Your Events

The CEO of the regional office of a huge national nonprofit organization knew that something was wrong with the organ...

The CEO of the regional office of a huge national nonprofit organization knew that something was wrong with the organization’s special events; could I attend the next one and observe?

That next event was a “thank you” affair for donors of fifteen years or more. By definition, the guests were older. Many were elderly. They were invited because their long history of giving led staff to believe they were good planned-gift prospects. The evening consisted of several brief speeches, some entertainment, and a dessert reception.

Several hundred guests had preregistered for chartered buses, which came from multiple points in the large metropolitan area. Others would be coming by car. Still others would likely just show up.

What I observed was extraordinary staff energy spent on making sure the event ran smoothly. Most of the staff had “been through this before,” and they awaited the guests with some anxiety. Wait, wait, wait . . . and then all of the buses seemed to arrive at the same time. Hundreds of people left their buses simultaneously and approached the long reception hallway. Each of the guests had to be registered on the way in and then given a name tag. The staff, seated behind the registration tables, arranged in two parallel lines, was overwhelmed for perhaps fifteen minutes. Then, many of the guests needed assistance with seating.

In advance of the speeches and the show, the board chairman took it upon himself to walk up and down the aisles, greeting and thanking guests. In front of the large room, several people, including the CEO, were involved with a group photograph. I recognized a couple, extremely wealthy, to whom nobody spoke.

The entertainment was fine and the brief speeches were on point. The dessert reception was lovely. The guests expressed their gratitude as they left the reception hall for the buses, with extra desserts and some mission-related brochures in hand. The staff went home exhausted.

This special event was a good example of a development team losing its way. So much energy was focused on the logistics that some of the basics of good development work were forgotten.

What are those basics?

Development professionals develop relationships with people. While we sometimes turn to mass appeal approaches such as direct mail, excellent interpersonal skills are central to our work. Sometimes, we talk about the Development Cycle, or the “5 I’s of Development”:


A fundraising event provides opportunities to advance each of these stages of development work. We must continually talk to people, interest and inform them, excite and involve them in our mission.

Sure, a brochure can do some of the work, but, as noted by the Center on Philanthropy’s “Ladder of Effectiveness,” a person to person conversation filled with information and enthusiasm, is the best form of fundraising.

A special event provides numerous touch points for person to person conversation. For the event described above, I first suggested placing energized staff members on the buses—to greet the guests, to handle some of the checking in procedures, and, most important, to talk about the good work being done.

Here are some more ideas:

Checking in

    At the beginning of an event, place the CEO or board chair near the check-in area. That way he or she will have a chance to say hello to just about everybody.
    Instead of a row of volunteers or staff being seated behind a table, why not have them stand in front of a table so they can more easily talk with the guests. Or you could try a podium, to look like the maître d’ station at a restaurant (“Oh, Mrs. Jones, so nice to see you! I have your table assignment right here”).


    Ask a staff member or volunteer to be on the look out for guests standing by themselves. It is hard to come to a large event as a “single.” Make sure these guests feel welcome.
    Avoid placing all the food tables against the walls. A table of dips in the middle of the room encourages conversation.
    Provide each board member with background on two other guests who should be greeted during cocktails.
    While the event described above did not have cocktails, there was a period of time when many guests were seated in chairs, waiting. Why not assign staff members (or board members) to various sections of the room to give thanks and simply make conversation. When I was waiting, I spoke to the person next to me, an older gentleman. I learned that he had no children, was grateful to the host organization for years of service, wanted to “do more.” Imagine if such simple conversations had been organized throughout the crowd!

Seated dinner

    Place a senior staff member, a board member or a key volunteer at each table to serve as a     table host, with responsibility for introducing guests at the table to each other and for making a short toast: “Here’s a brief toast to all of you at Table 6. Thank you for your support of the XYZ          Association. Through your generosity, we’re able to do so much good work. Cheers.”
    Use place cards. Make sure staff, board and volunteers are seated next to people you want them to get to know.


    Informal passed desserts can provide another opportunity for circulation among the guests.
    A round table with a tray of chocolates near the exit provides a way to slow the departure as well as another opportunity for conversation.


    Make sure someone important is near the door to say, “Thanks for coming!”

In short, examine your event for every moment that encourages person to person engagement.

The kind of schmoozing that will engage a donor or prospect does not come naturally to every CEO, staff member, or volunteer. The chief development officer (CDO) has a responsibility to help all the players prepare for their event roles. Included in this responsibility is writing sample scripts for table toasts, providing background on everyone at the table, and making sure the CEO, board chair, and other members of the team have clear assignments, with suggestions on language that can be used (“Sam, I’d like to give you a call next week to talk about a project I have in mind”). In many ways, it is like choreographing a dance: every moment of the event should be carefully thought out.

Then, after the event, the CDO is responsible for debriefing (gathering the little shreds of information that were collected, like the man in my example who wanted to “do more”), reminding everyone to follow up on the calls to “Sam,” the thank you letters, the “good to meet you” notes, etc., etc.

For this to work, in addition to raising money, the cultivation and stewardship roles of your special event must be clearly identified up front as goals. Early buy-in is essential.

Your next special event does not end when the guests go home. Think of the event as the beginning of numerous cultivation opportunities for new and deeper relationships. And yes, the logistics must be perfect, too.

The party may be over, but the development work has only just begun.

Realizing the Full Potential of Your Events, January 12, 2012, Nonprofit Quarterly, by Sheldon Wolf