Four Takeaways From the 2017 YNPN National Conference

I discovered the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network while pursuing options for my employer-supported professional development activities. Diving in head first, I attended the 2017 YNPN National Conference, “Leading Through Change.” Over the course of two summer days, conference attendees descended upon Atlanta to experience thought leadership and motivation from some of the best and brightest in the nonprofit sector. The conference inspired me to get involved with the DC chapter and as I start out on my own YNPN journey, I’m keeping in mind a few of the things I learned in Atlanta.

Everyone is a different kind of leader

In her “Wiser Than a Tree Full of Owls” Deep Dive workshop, Elyse Klova of Blaze: Leadership for Trailblazers described the philosophy she and her business partner Val Porter Cook used to develop their training program and organizational model. The series of beliefs they operate with include “everyone is a leader” and “each person leads from their sensibility.” Klova outlined that there are different types of leaders and everyone has their own unique contribution and perspective. In a Trailblazer activity, we discovered where we fell on Blaze’s own chart that spans four types of leaders: chief, innovator, expert, and disruptor. What we found as a group led us to believe that there is not a one-size-fits-all style or definition of leadership and that is just fine. We can support each other with our own strengths to create positive change in our communities.

Representation and location matter

It became obvious to me throughout the course of the conference that YNPN is a diverse network of people from all walks of life, and the conference programming celebrated that diversity. The majority of the speakers I encountered were members of the African American and LGBT communities, and in some cases, both.  Not only did this warm my heart, but it made me think twice about representation in the sector. We should all take a note from YNPN and work harder to be inclusive in our programming, understanding that we are stronger when we create opportunities for all voices.

The conference welcome reception was held at the Center for Civil and Human Rights on Sunday, August 13, 2017, just hours after the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The museum served as a backdrop for us to examine our own stories, and celebrate the legacy of those who fought for our rights. The following morning, led by YNPN Executive Director Jamie Smith, the entire conference observed a moment of silence for Heather Heyer. We reminded ourselves that change is dependent upon us as the future leaders and changemakers of the nonprofit sector.

Pave your own way through clarity

We’re often told that we have created our own opportunities in life, and that was echoed by a number of presenters. I heard from leaders of all ages and backgrounds who started organizations, switched roles, and created new positions in pursuit of personal fulfillment and maximizing impact. One such professional is Brandon Jones of Atlanta-based arts organization WonderRoot. Towards the end of his session, “Painting with Equity: Creating Community Projects,” where he described the impressive “En Route” public art project, I asked Jones about his story. A former actor with Broadway dreams, Jones found greater purpose through working on community-oriented creative projects in New York and Amsterdam. After beginning at WonderRoot, he quickly found clarity in his purpose went on to develop a new division of the organization, becoming Head of Creative Placemaking.

This concept of “clarity” resonated with me throughout the conference, brought first to my attention by Russ Finklestein of ClearlyNext. In our one-on-one career coaching session, Finklestein helped me realize that career decisions do not have to be “either/or” choices and that we can find or create options for ourselves that align with our criteria for a job, skill sets, and desires. Finding clarity in what we want to do will help us figure out who we want to be.

Self-care will carry you through

Perhaps no phrase was uttered more frequently at YNPN conference than “self-care,” a notion becoming increasingly important in our fast-paced professional world. Opening keynoter Qaadirah Abdur-Rahim, CEO of the Future Foundation, shared her tips for how we can amplify impact. The one she emphasized most was “be well,” noting that we can’t help others if we don’t first help ourselves. The nonprofit sector can be grueling, thankless, and often we can wonder “why do I do this?” The answer is usually because we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything else. Melissa Broden and Christian Murphy echoed the importance of self-care during their joint session, “It Starts with Me: Self-Education Strategies to Prepare you for Leadership. ” A key part of self-care in their eyes is the ability to advocate for yourself and others. Rely on your network to hold you up.

The best advice I received for self-care? Get plenty of rest, take time for you, do the things you love. With that in mind, we can tackle the most difficult challenges of today.


Attendees at the 2017 YNPN National Conference

Blog by Kathleen M. O'Donnell, YNPNdc Volunteer 

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