Graduate School: How I Made the Choice by Eleanor Perrone

As young nonprofit professionals, many of us struggle to define a career path in this diverse and evolving sector.  Part of this struggle involves the question of balance of graduate education with on-the-job experience.  While each young nonprofit professional’s experience is unique, I hope that I can provide insight into this decision-making process based on my own experience.  I recently earned my Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) through the business school at a local university.  I elected to follow the Specialization in Nonprofit and Mission-Driven Management track in a part-time program.  So how did I navigate the alternatives available and arrive at this decision?  To begin with, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my interests and ambitions before deciding anything. Here’s a sampling of the thought process that helped inform my final decision:

As a young nonprofit development professional, I knew that I wanted a degree program that addressed the business of management in addition to the particularities of the nonprofit sector.  Furthermore, I wanted to explore the intersection between public service and the nonprofit sector and engage in a debate about the balance between government and private services to address social issues.  Finally, as one dedicated to making a career as a nonprofit professional, I felt strongly about equipping myself to translate business insights and corporate best practices into effective public and nonprofit management strategies.  To be blunt, it was important to me to be taken seriously as a businesswoman in the nonprofit sector.  For all of these reasons and more, an M.P.A. program housed in a business school was the right choice for me.

As I mentioned earlier, I elected to pursue my M.P.A. through a part-time program.  While it took two-and-a-half years (including summers) to complete, it allowed me to stay at my full-time job and continue to acquire that valuable vocational experience.  As I discovered through the process, it allowed the issues I was experiencing at work and in the sector, and the discussions and projects in which I was participating in school, to inform each other in interesting and valuable ways.  This, combined with the fact that I had several years of nonprofit work experience under my belt when I started my program, allowed me to maximize the time and resources I was devoting to the degree.

Clearly, there are many alternatives.  For example, there are M.P.A. programs housed in graduate schools of public policy or social science, and there are Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) programs with the option to focus on nonprofit management.  Moreover, a range of Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Sciences (M.S.) programs exist that address nonprofit management within contexts ranging from graduate schools of social work to graduate schools of urban planning and much in between.  And of course, many graduate programs offer certificate programs if pursuing a full Master’s degree isn’t feasible.  Finally, if you’re on the development side of things, like me, there are graduate schools dedicated solely to philanthropic studies and training.  In the end, it’s important to examine the reasons that you’ve chose to work in the nonprofit sector and the philosophy that you think will drive your career therein.  I found that clarifying these aspects of my decision-making process naturally led me to the degree program that was the best fit for me.

As a side note, some positive aspects of pursuing a graduate degree didn’t connect directly to my choice of program.  I interacted with classmates with a variety of experience (or lack thereof) in the nonprofit, public and private sector who connected me to organizations and job functions of which I knew little and that complicated my thinking about myself and my success as a nonprofit professional.  The experience of spending two-and-a-half years in a part-time graduate program and the sacrifices I made to complete that program motivated me to take steps to move my career forward more quickly than I may have otherwise.  In addition, I saw my coworkers’ perception of me shift as they considered my decision to pursue a graduate degree and my dedication to the sector, which made me take myself more seriously as a young nonprofit professional.

As I acknowledged at the outset, each young nonprofit professional’s experience is unique.  While I’m satisfied with the decision to earn my M.P.A., it doesn’t mean that it’s the right decision for you.  However, if you’re dedicated to a career in the diverse, evolving and competitive nonprofit sector, I would urge you to consider the option of graduate education.  The investment of time and resources is significant, and it can be tough to balance it with life if you’ve been out of school and in the workforce for a number of years.

However, the ability to differentiate yourself in the market based on your combination of education and experience is extremely valuable, and those extra letters after your name have the ability to do just that.  At the end of the day, it’s not those letters or that extra line on your resume, but your ability to put what you’ve learned to use to make you a more effective nonprofit professional.  If you can demonstrate and articulate that to a potential employer — and cohesively incorporate it into the “story” told by your resume — then a graduate education can be a truly valuable asset.

About the Author: Eleanor serves as Director of Development for New Leaders, a national nonprofit working to ensure high academic achievement for all children, especially students in poverty and students of color, by developing transformational school leaders and advancing the policies and practices that allow great leaders to succeed.  Eleanor has been professionally committed to creating equal, quality education opportunities for all students since 2005, when she joined The Black Star Project, and organization that helps Black and Latino students in Chicago and nationwide succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities.  She continued her work in nonprofit development at Facing History and Ourselves, an international nonprofit combating bigotry and nurturing democracy through work with educators throughout their careers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom as well as their students’ academic performance and civic learning.  Shortly before moving to New Leaders, Eleanor completed her M.P.A. — with a nonprofit and mission-driven management specialization — in 2012 at IIT’s Stuart School of Business.  She received her B.A. in History and French from Carleton College.

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Introducing our Membership Experience Board Members!

Ani and Erika here from YNPN Chicago Membership Experience, the newest positions added to the YNPN Chicago Executive Board. As our positions were created to focus on your experience as YNPN Chicago Members, we’d like to introduce ourselves and tell you a little bit about what we’ll be up to in the coming year!

First off, who are we?
Ani loves bagels, reading post-apocalyptic fiction, and talking to YNPN members at events. Erika equally enjoys speaking to YNPN members at events and loves basking in the warmth of the sun (if it ever comes back). Together, we talk a lot about what it means to be a YNPN Chicago member. But it’s not about us…it’s about you! Our goal as board members is to help maximize your experience as a YNPN Chicago member!

Over the coming year, we want to get a better idea of who our members are, how they like to engage with YNPN Chicago, and what we can do to make that experience even more meaningful. Yo that end, we’ll be spending more time gathering feedback from members in person, over email, and through surveys. 

After all, YNPN Chicago exists to serve nonprofit professionals, and so we will continue to explore methods for keeping you engaged with YNPN Chicago–whether in person or online. Speaking of which, here’s something we’d like to highlight: YNPN Chicago events and programs. Be it for networking, professional development, or giving back through a service opportunity, YNPN Chicago strives to offer rewarding and fun events on a monthly basis. Be sure to check out our website monthly for new events!

As we inch toward summer (it’s coming, we promise), we look forward to getting to know more of our members and learning about all the great things you do for the nonprofit sector. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us at membership@ynpnchicago.org with any questions or suggestions.

Best,
Ani Schmidt and Erika Weiss

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Switch Up Your Game: Four Pragmatic Tips For Jobseekers (And Future Jobseekers) In a Rut by Steve Strang

Searching for a job can easily be one of the most exhausting and least rewarding processes you are forced to take part in. We are all aware of what the recession did to the overall job market and the nonprofit sector, in particular, making the nonprofit professional world feel nearly impossible to join or advance through.

As one of the Board Chairs for YNPN Chicago, I frequently get invited to talk about young professionals working in the nonprofit sector. As a young professional myself, I have had my fair share of job hunting experience and have plenty to share on the topic. Now, don’t worry, I’m aware that many professionals are sick of hearing about cover letters, informational interviews, and idealist.org. So, here are four different tips that I share each time I present on job seeking that should help make your search more successful.

1) Applying for a job is a not a task, it’s a process
One of the lines I hear frequently when talking to job seekers is, “I feel like I have applied for hundreds of jobs online with nothing to show!” Deep down I want to reply, “So stop doing that.” If you truly want a successful job search you need to focus your efforts and go beyond the application. Do your research, make connections, educate yourself on the organization, and follow up. It’s much more effective to apply to five jobs with a full process than fifty jobs through a blind application.

2) Research is more important than you think
Sure, in 2007 I applied for a job in Denver randomly online and was hired. But it’s not 2007 anymore. Since that application I have found out how important research can be – and made sure to spend time on it before applying. Some of the things I have typically researched include: Looking up the staff (and former staff), spending time browsing LinkedIn for connections, and checking out their 990 tax forms. Leave no fact unturned, you might only have one chance to make your impression. It’s not “cheating” to look into it and see that you and the CEO went to the same college and then sneak that fact into the interview. Use all of that information to your advantage. (But also walk that fine line of looking like a creep!)

You should be totally done researching a company when you apply. If you need a litmus test, ask yourself: “If they call tomorrow, will I be ready for an interview?”

3) Keep your finger on the pulse
You’ve found your dream job! But what if a ‘dreamier’ job opens up and you miss it next year? What happens if you get laid-off next month without warning? This happened to a lot of professionals who lost their job in the recession and when dealing with the aftermath many had the same reflection: they should have done a better job staying connected to the market. Getting comfortable in a job is important, but getting complacent can make your next job hunt nearly impossible. You should always have your LinkedIn page up to date, keep networking outside of work (see #4), and continuously push yourself to learn more and more in your profession.

4) Network and build relationships with people more important than yourself
Unless you are a certain “Chicago-resident-federal-employee” you are probably not the most important person in your field. While networking with our peers is very important, it is equally or more important to build a relationship with those who could be hiring you for your next job. Attend events such as the Donor’s Forum Annual Luncheon or the Axelson Center Nonprofit Symposium (among others!), where a lot of senior employees go to network and learn, themselves.

Can’t make these events? Another route is to ask your supervisor if you can attend some meetings with him/her (or even better – for him/her) as professional development.

So there they are, my four tips to advance your current or future job search. I know following these guidelines has been very helpful for me, and hopefully, they’ll be instrumental for you, too, as you navigate your next move up!

Let me know in the comments if you have any other tips to share with our YNPN community!

About the author: Steve Strang, MPA is a Consultant with Spectrum Nonprofit Services where he provides consulting and training in sustainability strategies for community-based organizations.  Steve’s experience within the nonprofit field includes fundraising and development training, managing outreach and membership, and leadership development.

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Lessons from Being a YNPN Executive Board Member by Alnierys Venegas

Castle Pub was energetic and vibrant as YNPN Chicago celebrated its Board Meet and Greet. It was great to see the overwhelming response of YNPN members who are interested in board service. While mingling with prospective recruits, I reflected on my own personal journey as a member of the YNPN Chicago Board and the valuable lessons, as well as experiences, that I have learned throughout my tenure.1078681_10100397806574627_643231447_o

It is exciting to be a part of a member-driven, all-volunteer, working board of young nonprofit professionals committed to enhancing the sector, but there are three key things that I have learned during my time with YNPN that I would like for those considering board service to think about:

You Are the Workhorse – Being a part of a board will require completing tasks independently, or in a team, in order to assist with the organization’s strategic plan, mission, and vision. Often times, people assume that board involvement has little to no responsibilities aside from attending meetings, so you’ll often overhear comments like this:

       “Huh…this is so much work.”

        “I didn’t’ think I was going to be responsible with actually executing the idea I presented in the meeting.”

       “Can’t somebody else take on the responsibility?”

My YNPN colleague, Aaron House, explained this concept best in his blog, “A Board Service.”  You will be expected to be accountable for taking on tasks outside of the board room. In short, you are the workhorse.Picture1

You Create the Experience – Aside from the work that is expected, there will be plenty of opportunities to attend board events, functions, and meetings. This is a great opportunity to get to know your peers and meet new meet people. If you choose not to attend or if you limit yourself from engaging in those extracurricular activities, then your board experience will, more than likely, not be as enjoyable or fulfilling as it could be. The whole purpose of board participation is growing personally and professionally while connecting with individuals that could aid both in your career and personal lives. Connect. Engage. Create a memorable experience!

You Make a Commitment – Board terms last 1-2 years. That can seem like a pretty long time for a young professional, especially when you don’t know what kind of life circumstance you will face such as family, relationship, school, or career changes.  Despite these circumstances you should honor your term commitment.  Doing so not only demonstrates steadfastness, but your ability to respect your peers who joined hoping to have your support in board service. Not to mention, it also helps to build your character.

As I end my board service with YNPN Chicago, I will take with me not only these key lessons, but a phenomenal experience that allowed me to meet new people, learn about other nonprofit organizations, and develop new skills which helped me to grow personally and professionally. Take it from me…be accountable, enjoy your board service, and honor the commitment that you accepted.  It is worth it.

Alnierys Venegas is currently the Programming Co-Chair on YNPN Chicago’s Executive Board.  Professionally Alnierys manages a Hispanic outreach program for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago.

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Being a Guest at the Table: Some Reflections from the EPIP National Conference by Steven Strang

On April 5th and 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP) National Conference here in Chicago.  The EPIP Executive Director, Rahsaan Harris, invited me to join as one of the Board Chairs of YNPN Chicago.  I was very excited about participating in this event because of the insights I would gain from future philanthropic leaders and the new information I could share with the YNPN member base to build our programming and partners.

For those of you not familiar with EPIP, they are a similar in purpose to YNPN although their programming is specific for up and coming leadership in the philanthropic sector.  Currently, there is not a chapter in Chicago but there was an announcement that they are going to explore that option this year.  Very exciting!

Here are three main take-a-ways/reflections as “The Mole” for the nonprofit sector:

1)     Philanthropic leaders desire to solve problems just as much as their nonprofit counterparts.  There was definitely quite a bit of passion, discussion, and ideas, shared during the conference.  As one of the leaders of a nonprofit organization, I know we catch ourselves thinking that foundations are always ‘thinking of themselves’ before the cause.  While this has to be true to a small extent, their goal really is to solve social issues where they focus their resources.  This basic concept lead me to think, “If foundation and nonprofit leaders are this passionate about fixing the SAME social issues then why are there still so many unsolved problems? Where is the disconnect in our system?”

2)     High-level conversations at these types of conferences feel the same.  The large group discussion, much like those I have experienced in the past, reminded me that blame seems to always be spread 51/49 to the “opposing side.”  Philanthropic leaders tend to say that nonprofits are not keeping up with the trends and are not innovating.  Nonprofit leaders tend to say that foundations are not funding them enough to keep up and make the impact they need to make.  I think what we really need to discuss in these conversations is the real issue at hand: Leadership.

3)     Changes are coming.  What do I mean by this is this?  Foundations and the philanthropic sector as a whole are historically stereotyped as inflexible and incommunicative.  The attendees at the EPIP Conference seemed to understand that issues are not being solved in this “old-fashioned” hierarchical structure.  Philanthropy needs nonprofits and nonprofits need philanthropy.  Our generation is slowing taking over the leadership roles and I hope that the idea of collective leadership continues to grow as a solution to solve these social issues.

Did you attend the EPIP Conference or have any interactions with the leaders of our philanthropic sector lately? Do you have any thoughts on the relationship between nonprofit and philanthropic leadership? Comment and let us know below!

About the Author: Steve Strang is Co-Chair of the YNPN Chicago Executive Board and a consultant with Spectrum Nonprofit Services focusing on revenue, strategy and
sustainable structure.

 

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Sustainability in Philanthropy by Huilan Jin

As a Capricorn, I always prefer to have a clear plan for myself.  Having a destination, routes, and established feasibility is essential before I make any decision or support any cause.  When it comes to deciding which nonprofits to support I appreciate seeing that an organization has put  the same kind of methodical thought and planning into their destination and route as I have.  Here are three elements that I look to as indicators of a sustainable nonprofit.

Funding

One of the challenges that most nonprofits face is getting the funding to accomplish the organization’s mission.  There are many, many organizations competing for scarce resources.  Relying only on foundation money or only on government funding is precarious in today’s economic climate.  Even if the organization gets funding this grant cycle does not mean that it will be as fortunate next cycle.

So when it comes to looking at a nonprofit’s finances, I want to see an organization that has diversified funding streams.  This could be a mix of foundation, government, earned income, social enterprise, and/or individual giving.  Seeing a healthy mix of funding indicates, to me, that an organization is thinking ahead and not putting all of its “eggs” in one basket, so to speak.

People

Staff and volunteers make the magic happen at nonprofit organizations. Having a committed, motivated cadre of staff and volunteers in an organization is essential to realizing the nonprofit’s mission in the community.

In terms of volunteers, keeping them coming back to volunteer is incredibly important. Organizations should understand the different motives for volunteering that individuals have to keep them engaged. Building open and frequent communication between the volunteers and the organization is vital to keep volunteers engaged and establish realistic expectations. Also, showing appreciation through appreciation dinners or other celebration activities is always important. It’s not that volunteers make their decisions based on rewards, but it certainly makes them feel that the work they do is important and appreciated.

Collaboration

A number of studies have demonstrated that collaboration has a beneficial impact on organizations, resulting in less duplication and overlap of services in addition to more efficient and effective services and better outcomes ( see the Nonprofit Sector Research Fund of the Aspen Institute). Collaboration can take many forms, from informal information-sharing arrangements to more formal joint-administrative and joint-programming activities such as combining their fundraising efforts to share in the costs associated with a fundraising event, or collaborate to develop a new joint program.[1]

About the Author

Huilan Jin is a Candidate for a Master of Public Administration at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Secretary for the YNPN Chicago Executive Board.  Huilan has always been interested in personal development and sustainability for nonprofits which led
her to join YNPN Chicago. She is actively involved in various non-profit
organizations in Chicago including Illinois Education Foundation and Chinese
American Service League.

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Tips for Networking Events by Brittany Martin Graunke

At YNPN Chicago, we are constantly working to bring the non-profit community together. We also literally bring the non-profit community physically together several times a month through our programming and networking events.

We all know how it can feel to go to an event with the goal of meeting new people and to end up feeling like the girl who wasn’t asked to dance at the prom. I’m one of the odd people who love entering a room without knowing people. As an adult, who grew up as the “new girl” at 9 schools, meeting new people is actually one of my favorite things to do. And I’m happy to share the following four easy tips:

Attend Alone

While it may be tempting to invite a friend or coworker, if you really want to meet new people at networking events, I’d recommend coming alone. Whenever I go with a friend to a networking event, I find myself talking to my friend and not mingling. If you go with a friend you’ll be comfortable just talking to them. If you go solo, you’ll have to go find someone to talk to and your only option will be to make new friends and contacts!

Interrupt Conversations

Yes, it’s rude to interrupt. But, it’s not rude if you kindly ask to join a conversation. If I see a small group (2-3 people) who look like they are having a great conversation, I walk over and ask, “do you guys mind if I join your conversation?” 999 times out of 1,000 they’ll welcome you in and you can get caught up to speed on what they are chatting about and who they are. It’s a perfect low risk way to make a few new contacts or friends at an event.

Know What’s Going On

If you’re making new friends, you want to seem smart, right? Of course you do! It’s always helpful to freshen up on recent news that impacts your sector or the country at large. It gives you the opportunity to add to the conversation and also to learn more about your new friends and contacts perspectives on current issues.

Ask Questions

It’s the truth – everyone’s favorite thing to talk about is usually himself or herself. A way to get off on the right foot with someone new is to ask questions. Learn about their job, their long-term career aspirations, why they work in the non-profit sector, etc. Ask them what brings them to the event, how long they have lived in Chicago, or where they are from. Have a few questions in your back pocket and the conversation will never be slow!

If you follow these tips, you’ll find networking events become even more fun and you’ll meet more new people than before. Have fun and happy networking!

Brittany Martin Graunke is an Online Media Co-Chair for the YNPN Chicago Executive Board and founder of Zealous Good, an in-kind donations marketplace in Chicago. You can find Brittany on Twitter at @ZealousBrittany or you can find Zealous Good on Facebook and Twitter at @ZealousGood.

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The Ethics of Self-Care by Lauren King

In the nonprofit field, I have found that steadily increasing workloads paired with fewer resources leave many of us overwhelmed to the point that feeling “burned out” is the norm.  At a recent conference, self-care became the focus of several sessions. Usually this is the point in which I would tune out and use the time to catch-up on the e-mail that is piling up because I am out of the office. It’s not that I don’t think self-care is important, it’s just not something that takes priority among the many other to-do’s at work. But the conference presented it in a way that I couldn’t ignore. They presented self-care as an ethical obligation.

When I think of self-care from an ethical standpoint- it stops being a luxury that I should engage in when I have time.  It starts to feel like a priority. I really liked the way the conference framed the idea of self-care because it opened my eyes to its impact on others from co-workers to clients. If I allow myself to become overly stressed and frazzled then I bring that negative energy into the office.  Equally problematic, it interferes with the quality of work I produce.  I just cannot justify being “too busy” to work on becoming a better member of my team.

The conference left an impression on my colleagues too.  Our agency has since begun to incorporate self-care into our office space. Overall, we have embraced self-care in two distinct and helpful ways:

  1. One department has a “Sharpening the Saw” week in which we turn our attention fully to looking at our processes to see which are less effective and create ways to refine our work. The idea and name stems from the story in which a lumberjack is struggling to cut down a tree in the forest. Someone walks by and suggests they sharpen their saw to which they essentially reply, “I can’t, we are too busy sawing.” (betterlifecoachingblog.com).  By setting aside a week devoted to strengthening our processes, we eliminate the potential distractions that may otherwise keep us from growing and strengthening as a department.
  2. Each Friday, there is time devoted to self-care. Different staff members volunteer to lead various activities that range from yoga to chocolate tasting. Not every activity appeals to all staff, thus there’s a different turnout each week. However, even though not everyone attends, it still creates a culture that values self-care, which extends throughout the office.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that self-care truly goes beyond self. We are all connected. It’s not fair to our co-workers, organization or clients if we don’t take the time to invest in our own wellness.

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Does Your Resume Tell a Story by Alnierys Venegas

During an interview, do you dread answering the question: “Tell me about yourself?”
If you do, have you thought about why?

As a job seeker you have probably submitted your resume to countless organizations,
corporations, or individuals in hopes of landing a job. However, getting a job involves
more than just submitting your cover letter and resume. It takes being strategic about
your next move:

Know YOU – Engage in self-reflection exercises such as the Myers Briggs personality
test. It will allow you to understand your strengths and career preferences. When you
have a better sense of the type of person you are, it will be easier to narrow down job
opportunities that fit your personality and goals.

Seek a mentor – Looking for a job can be frustrating, but it can be even more difficult
when you don’t have a sense of direction. Having a mentor allows you to set tangible,
realistic goals for which your mentor can hold you accountable. A mentor will also help
you with organizing your thoughts and provide you with constructive criticism on your
jobsearch process.

Create YOUR dream job description – For some job seekers determining what they
want to do with their life seems indefinable. One way to begin to figure it out though
is to write out your goals and describe the type of duties, responsibilities, and work
environment you desire. This will subconsciously force you to seek opportunities that are
aligned with your dream job.

Once you have gained an understanding of who you are, sought guidance, and written a
description of your ideal position, you will be able to look at your resume for a pattern
that tells a story of who you are.

So, the next time you are at an interview and the employer says, “Tell me about
yourself,” you will be able to respond with something like the following:

“My name is Alnierys Venegas and I have social service work experience in marketing,
public relations, multicultural education and outreach. Throughout my career, I have
been able to successfully support agency goals to increase brand awareness in the
Latino community and build partnerships with local community agencies. Developing
a career where I can help people and become a much needed leader and educator in
the non-profit community is my desire. I believe the Director of Hispanic Community
Outreach position with Dream Foundation would be an excellent match with my skills
and experience.”

A narrative like this does two critical things. It demonstrates to the employer that you
have a clear sense of who you are, and perhaps most importantly a clear and strategic
sense of where you are going.

And, isn’t that the kind of person we would all like to hire?

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New Year’s Greeting from YNPN Chicago

Happy New Year YNPNers!

2012 was a great year for YNPN Chicago. Our membership surpassed 6,000 young professionals – a feat shared by only a few other YNPN chapters. We continued to host our regular events, including happy hours, Coffee with 9 Strangers, The Leadership Institute, and many professional development workshops. Based on your helpful participation and feedback throughout the year, we look to expand our programming in 2013!

The new year is already looking bright! The all-volunteer Executive Board is working through a strategic planning process to further the success of our Chapter. Our partnerships with local organizations, like The Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management,  continue to benefit our members. Additionally, we’re looking to strengthen our networks in the new year to broaden the accessibility of high-quality programming for our membership.

In 2013, YNPN Chicago wants our city’s nonprofit sector to improve its investment in the nonprofit leadership pipeline. For this to happen we must push ourselves and our organizations to do better. As active members in the sector, you can help by attending one of our workshops, conferences, or networking events. Make an even bigger impact by bringing along a colleague. YNPN Chicago challenges you to lead the push toward investment in the leadership pipeline!

On behalf of the YNPN Chicago Executive Board, thank you for being an active member. We look forward to supporting you through another year of professional growth! We hope to see you at a YNPN Chicago event in 2013 – it’s going to be a great year!

Sincerely,
Marissa Fillipo & Steve Strang
YNPN Chicago Executive Chairs

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