The Soapbox and Toolbox for New York State's Nonprofits

March 11, 2016

New Staff Member Learns from New Experiences

notty_headshot.pngNicolle Otty, Membership & Events Coordinator, NYCON

In February, I had the privilege of taking my first Amtrak train ride from Albany to Penn Station to attend my first nonprofit leadership symposium (the true privilege.)  Wrought with anticipation as to what I would discover at the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York’s ‘Charity Effectiveness Symposium,” I was not disappointed.

The People & Network:
The first thing I noticed was that everyone was friendly, wanted to chat about their nonprofit and was truly interested in learning about what NYCON does. The robust networking was evidence of the long and lasting relationships that various nonprofit leaders have with each other. These important informal connections help to provide valuable information and context to the entire nonprofit community, as leaders go back and share what they’ve learned (both from content presented at the event and from their peer networking) with staff, board and like NYCON, with their members.

What We Learned:
Big Changes are coming - Those in attendance felt that there was an inevitable and necessary transition coming (quickly) to the sector.  The biggest transition the panelists discusses was that of long-tenured Executive Director succession. Intense discussions were had regarding “best practices” for leadership development, talent acquisition, retention and growth in a sector that often cannot pay competitive wages to top talent, and operates on unrealistic budgets that camouflage administrative costs. 

Where to look for leadership - Panelists were questioned about leadership development. Attendees wondered…Is it best to seek new leaders from outside or inside the organization? Larger organizations may have the capacity to employ a consultant in identifying and vetting talent from a broader pool of candidates, whereas midsize and smaller organizations must use creative networking opportunities and current staff and board member contact. 

Two resources relevant to these topics include:

  • Emerging Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations: Myth, Meaning and Motivations which includes recommendations about foster learning in talent within the organization.  This report can be found here.
  • Another helpful tool that contains specifics related to creating an emergency as well as a long-term succession plan can be found here.

BUILDing nonprofits - Infrastructure support and its role in long-term nonprofit sustainability and mission impact was the topic of discussion from the event’s keynote speaker, Hilary Pennington, Vice President, Education, Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation. The Ford Foundation has launched an exciting new initiative entitled BUILD,  in which their sole purpose is to shift focus from “How do we help make this grant successful?” to “How do we help make this organization—and this ecosystem of organizations—successful?” This pivotal initiative, just starting a 5-year “test run,” may help to significantly normalize the discussion of administrative costs (“overhead”) being an accepted – and dare we say welcome – part of nonprofit service delivery, grants and contracts with funders.  Failing to recognize these costs has put the nonprofit sector in danger, in New York and across the country. We are happy to see the Ford Foundation taking the lead in understanding the issue and funding grantees accordingly.  

Nonprofits are struggling with changes in legal compliance, financial reporting, as well as advanced reporting and accountability standards. We are expected to rise to these new requirements successfully, with less resources to support us than ever before.  I truly enjoyed attaining a more comprehensive understanding of the issues facing nonprofits through the voices of people who have a predominantly common mission; enrich our world in some positive way. At the end of the day, we all have a similar objective and it seems that using one another as a resource in achieving these goals, individually and collectively, is our best opportunity to succeed in transitional times. It truly takes a village!


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NYCON develops and promotes an effective and vibrant charitable nonprofit community throughout New York State.  We strengthen organizational capacity, act as an advocate and unifying voice, help to inform philanthropic giving, and conduct research and planning to demonstrate relevance and impact.