It can feel like it takes a lot to be in touch with your field in addition to accomplishing the daily grind. I’ve learned that there are resources at your fingertips, as well as places for sleuthing, that can make the whole process easier. If you’re like me, doing this will help you contextualize yourself in your work, your organization, and in the larger nonprofit community.
Content Close to You. Here are some ways to stay informed in your field:
Your organization's newsletter
If you don't know the latest about your nonprofit or how it's communicating with its stakeholders, you’re not doing your job right. Get to know the language of your organization so that you can speak it fluently and understand its mission, vision, and priorities.
Your brag folder
Only in my recent job have I started a brag folder in my email for every time someone says 'great work' or ‘you did the impossible'. This is good to review when you need a mood boost on a slow Tuesday, or when you are trying to demonstrate your contributions to the workplace in a performance review.
The summary on your resume
'Recent graduate seeking employment in community development' might have been true five years ago. Update it for the present day and inventory how far you've come. This section is sometimes the answer to the 'what do you want to be when you grow up' question. Are you on track to becoming that person or are you ready to flip the script?
Read about other organizations like yours, locally, nationally, and internationally. No actual competition because we're all in the fight together, right? But looking into how other organizations approach issues you care about allows you to develop a broader sense of mission and your role's position in the cause.
Whether you're looking for new jobs or not, job boards are a great barometer to the health and needs of our sector (here, here, and here). Does your job title match what you see, but the tasks are like night and day with a different organization? Is there a lot of turnover at an organization you are partnering with? Is everyone looking for a database manager (silly question)? Reviewing job openings across your field can also provide great insight on the types of skills your sector values and organizational trends and priorities.
Published By Your Peers. Reads to keep the nonprofit experience in perspective:
YNPN is where you get to see your peers in real time figure out how to navigate this upside-down social sector. Dig in. I loved Colleen Powers’ recent post on workplace culture in a two-person office.
There are resources and research from people who are trying to help you do your job effectively. Check in with industry standards, social movements, and the occasional life-hacks. NPQ is a great place to start.
Nonprofit with Balls
40 under 40 lists
Assuming you want to make the list one day, read up on what people one step ahead of you are doing to make an impact. Does that resonate with you? After finally landing a job I like, I've started setting new goals - I don’t want to just be in the field, but I want to be great in my field. In these lists I’m looking less at their current Executive Director title, but more about the two or three jobs they had before they were at the top and the ways they’ve been cultivating community along the way.
And last but not least, some books that I recommend:
- The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant
- Good to Great, Jim Collins
- The Office Sutras: Exercises for Your Soul at Work, Marcia Menter
How do you keep on top of your field? What are you reading?