Good in Theory, Problems in Practice: What Young Nonprofit Professionals Can Do to Stay in and Change the Conversation by Marissa Filippo

YNPN Chicago Board of Directors Speak!

Sound familiar? You’re frustrated by the reality you’re facing as a young professional in the field.  You have good ideas that could improve your organization but feel that you aren’t being heard or taken seriously.  In spite of this, you are still committed to working in the nonprofit sector!  You’re not alone.  Many emerging nonprofit leaders feel the same way as confirmed by some of the findings in YNPN’s latest research report, Good in Theory, Problems in Practice: Young Professionals’ Views on Popular Leadership Development Strategies.

There is a lot of popular wisdom out there about how to develop leaders and in what ways to use young professionals to strengthen organizations.  At its worst this kind of thinking can stereotype young professionals as social media servants and nothing more, for example.  But young nonprofit professionals will eventually be the future leaders of this sector, and require serious consideration, training and development.  Young nonprofit professionals also require a seat at the table; a chance to be a part of the decisions that will affect our organizations and the future and the sector overall.

In many ways, this is a well-worn topic of conversation for the nonprofit sector and essentially it’s about engaging stakeholders and making decisions based on as much information from as many voices as possible.  I’m reminded of the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations publication: Do Nothing About Me Without Me.  When stakeholders are included meaningfully, results are better.  Period.  And meaningful dialogue that leads to good decisions and better outcomes only occurs when relationships are sound.  You have to know and trust someone before you feel safe enough to say what you really think and work together toward a solution that benefits everyone.

So what does YNPN’s new research suggest for emerging leaders?  Don’t stop bringing your ideas to the table.  “If you have an idea that you believe will improve your organization, do not sit on it.”  Here are a few tips on how to stay engaged:  Get networked.  Stay networked.  Membership in YNPN Chicago is a great way to stay engaged, meet and talk with like-minded folks, and learn about new ideas and perspectives.  YNPN members connect online, in person and at work.  And it’s not all small talk chit chat.  YNPN Chicago members are curious, interesting individuals with a variety of strengths.  Be part of the dialogue by participating in the network.  Your network can also help you think through possible solutions to an organizational problem. Understand your environment and context before speaking up.  And be a partner in the process of organizational improvement.  Invest enough to roll up your sleeves and help see a possible solution through to the end.  You’ll earn your stripes and the respect of senior leaders, as well as your peers.

Marissa Filippo is an Executive Co-Chair of YNPN Chicago and currently serves as an Executive Assistant to the Executive Director at the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), an organization which provides credentialing services to the dental community. Marissa has nearly ten years of experience working in nonprofits in Chicago and has been involved in programs related to public education, nonprofit management support and professional development training. Marissa maintains an interest in film and the arts and has taught Humanities at Harold Washington College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. Marissa earned a B.A. in English from the University of Illinois and an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Humanities from Arizona State University.


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