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Post by Emily, from her blog Upside Down Bananas.

An opportunity that surfaced again and again, at the NP2020 Conference, related to mentoring in the sector. As I’ve alluded to before, mentoring always gives me pause because of its varied interpretations. Those variations came through today both in terms of the problem-solving that groups did and in terms of the tension that could be sensed as we debriefed on key themes from our previous day’s work.

After Susan Morales-Barias (our facilitator from GVSU’s Johnson Center) shared key themes from Friday’s sessions, she invited participants to add comments. One participant, a Baby Boomer, asked that we all be more mindful of the language we use as we try to engage in conversations about mentoring, professional development, and transition in the sector. She said she felt that the tone of the group seemed to put the blame on another generation while also making large generalizations about the intentions of Boomer leadership.

Rather than dwelling on “Boomers do this to me…”, this attendee asked that we consider outside factors that affect Boomer and young leadership alike. Rather than relying on generalizations or assumptions about Boomers, she encouraged us to speak based on how we perceive Boomer leadership.

This comment provoked exactly the kind of fresh dialogue I was hoping to find at a conference like this. Some of the younger participants seemed to agree with the woman, but others argued that our generation needs the space to come together and put concerns on the table without semantics, politics, and feelings getting in the way. One participant went so far as to say that such interjections from Boomers had made her feel like she was being “scolded by a parent.”

I’ll be honest, the notion of being scolded by a Boomer hits home for me. I have definitely felt that way before, and tried hard not to feel that way at NP 2020 in a couple instances (like when one Boomer participant chided that we all “need to read our history”). At the same time, I count many Boomers as friends and mentors. I could never devalue or dismiss their role in getting me to where I am. But…I definitely feel that their approach to mentoring differs from the approaches of some of their Boomer peers.

So I say, yes, let’s propose mentoring as a solution. But let’s also clarify the language of intergenerational dialogue, which obviously needs attention based on exchanges like the one at NP 2020. If we fail to clarify this language, our generations will continue to merge haphazardly, perhaps even oblivious of one another.

With that clarification, I think mentoring itself will be strengthened. Mentoring is too often viewed as a transfer of knowledge—one person transferring a skill set, content expertise, etc. to a less-experienced person. In reality, it’s time for mentoring to be viewed as a vehicle for advancing the sector, not just an add-on for getting into the sector. One Boomer in my dinner group told me she’s participated in an approach called “appreciative inquiry”—I love that term and am going to look into it.

To set some sort of direction for all this, here’s my take: Mentoring needs to be as much an organizational development process as it is a talent development tool. As Susan pointed out, the leadership deficit is happening now—it’s not going to happen when 640,000 executive leaders leave their positions. We don’t simply mean people when we refer to a deficit. There is a deficit in meaningful exchange of knowledge and perspectives. There is a deficit in common understanding and common ground to voice concerns and celebrate progress. And if we don’t have candid conversations about that now, the changing of the guard could be the least of our worries…

These 10 tips, written by Sarah Andritsch of YWCA Milwaukee, are great tips to help any young professional flourish as a strong leader.

1) Join a local networking organization, such as the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN). Get to know other people in your field, socialize and create lasting relationships with professionals who truly understand the importance of your work. Visit http://www.ynpn.org to find out if there is a chapter in your city or if you need to start one!

2) Volunteer for a local cause whose mission you support. Working for a nonprofit organization can sometimes seem like an already daunting task, but volunteering for one is often very personally fulfilling. Check out your local humane society or an organization that helps children. These are fun ways to become more involved in your community and gain insider tips on what other agencies are doing.

3) Consider serving on the board of directors for another nonprofit. This will increase your visibility in the community and connect you with other influential professionals. Board service also helps foster the leadership skills necessary for landing those big promotions!
BoardnetUSA is a free service that helps match you with appropriate opportunities in your area.

4) Attend a local Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) meeting. AFP is the premier networking organization for nonprofit fundraising professionals, regardless of age. The organization also hosts excellent workshops and seminars targeting every aspect of
nonprofit management and success. Non-AFP members can often attend events at an additional cost, or look into the benefits of purchasing a full membership.

5) Find a mentor! Mentoring allows individuals the opportunity to see an executive’s approach to leadership and then meld this with the skills they have already have to improve the overall direction of the organization. Don’t wait for someone to find you. Be proactive about inviting people you admire to give you advice.

6) Meet performance expectations. Whether a staff member or volunteer, it is critical that you succeed at the job you have today. Whatever your role, you must have clearly defined performance expectations and you must rise to the occasion and succeed at the
tasks at hand. Promotions and leadership opportunities come to those who have a demonstrated pattern of success.

7) Review your performance at least annually. Talk to your supervisor, the committee chair or a mentor about your progress in the last year and goals for the next year. Tell someone you have a desire to advance and listen to their advice about how to position yourself for the next opportunity.

8 ) Quantify and track your accomplishments. If you have a history of meeting or exceeding your goals, be sure to keep a log of exactly what you have accomplishments. How much did you increase program participation? How much money did you raise? Find a way to measurably track your success.

9) Think, speak and act like a leader. You are the first person that just decide you are leader. Just like the old adage, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want,” you are expected to be a leader in whatever role you hold.

10) Gain exposure to various functions of the organization. The path to the top is typically not linear. Gain experience in as many departments or committees as possible by applying for open positions in different areas or volunteering for special projects. Or simply invite a staff member in another department or volunteer on another committee to lunch. Interview them about their role and learn as much as you can.

Who are emerging leaders?

Emerging leaders are individuals within the nonprofit sector who are ready to lead. Emerging leaders can be of any age and have any amount of experience in the sector, but need to have the drive to learn and commitment to the sector.

Generation Breakdown

Silent Generation

1927-1945

Baby Boomers

1946-1964

Generation X

1965-1980

Millennial Generation

1981-1999

Questions about NP2020

Please forward any questions about the NP2020 Initiative or the NP2020: Issues and Answers from the Next Generation report to np2020@gvsu.edu. Thank you!
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