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What you think DOES NOT matter: 5 things your communications staff want to tell you

NOTE: This blog is an expansion of a speech I gave at “5 Minutes in Hell,” YNPN-TC’s annual event for people who want to practice public speaking (my slides are available on Google Drive, and you can see a video of the full speech at the bottom of this post or on YouTube). For those considering submitting a speaking proposal in future years, I highly recommend it! You won’t find a more supportive practice venue.

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There is no one answer to what a communications job looks like, especially when it comes to nonprofits. While large organizations can have entire teams where each person has their own area or expertise, small nonprofit organizations often have only one staffer (or part of one) who is responsible for getting the word out about everything the organization does. 

Communicators have all kinds of duties: writing, social media, websites, emails, graphic design, media outreach, among other things. For some organizations, the communications staff is also responsible for development and fundraising, while others house these in separate departments.

At our core, however, all communications professionals have the same goals: We want to make sure the people who need our organization’s information get it in ways they understand, and we want to make sure our organization looks good.

These goals can mean that communications professionals care about strange things like fonts and colors and images, and we sometimes say certain words should or should not be used.

In this blog, I am sharing some of the largest “pet peeves” communications professionals have in the hopes that non-communicators can learn and work more effectively with their communications staff, and we can eliminate the communications-programs-development divide.

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Men - Be Better

As nonprofit professionals, many of us love to pat ourselves on the back for doing positive work and putting forth a solid effort. Don’t get me wrong – more often than not, it’s well deserved. We do this incredible work with our nonprofits despite the fact that as a sector, we have considerable room for growth in financially compensating our professionals. That being said, sometimes we are too quick to congratulate ourselves and overlook how we may be contributing to pervasive societal norms.

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This is apparent with the many recent revelations of sexual misconduct perpetrated against women all across the country. While Im hopeful to finally see a growing public awareness of an issue that has existed since the beginning of time, I often find myself unimpressed and concerned by the visceral reactions of many men. Even men who try to say the right thing have a tendency to distance ourselves from the issue, which can elicit harmful effects regardless of our intentions.

Every single person is responsible for helping to rid our communities of all forms of sexual misconduct. No one is excluded from this conversation, and I believe that men must stop distancing ourselves from these issues. Here are four basic pieces of advice that I’m going to assert that all men need to internalize immediately.

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Walking with the Community to Improve Policy

A recent project of mine was to incorporate community voice into a set of recommendations to the MN Department of Education. As it winds down, I am reflective on the process of community engagement to strengthen not only our recommendations, but this process overall.

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My work has been driven by the importance of community engagement and why it matters. While it may be easier and faster to rely on experts and research to develop and push forward a new policy or plan, those directly affected and impacted rarely understand the rationale. For example, in my project, it was important to explain what the education services were to families who were skeptical they did not serve their children. I learned about the perception problem and the lack of communication between schools and families.

I have come to value the practice of “patient urgency”: the patience to present knowledge of the problem and the potential solutions, while maintaining urgency to keep the process moving. Community engagement, sometimes called stakeholder engagement, can easily drag on without consensus. But shared ownership creates a sense of empowerment and pride. Communities feel heard, their needs are addressed, and true compromise is reached.

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It is hard to be a good supervisor: But worth it!

Note: For this blog, I’m using manager and supervisor as synonyms, and they should be viewed as skills implemented and required based on job responsibilities. Your title may say Regional Director of Party Bus Coordinators, but if you have four folks who have to send you their time cards every one to two weeks, you are supervising someone.

In my previous blog, I shared all of the ways it is easy to be a bad supervisor. It’s easy to put your schedule first and demand things be done your way. It’s easy to give limited feedback and just expect your employees to “Make it work!”

Working in the nonprofit sector, people are quick to look at other factors for the reason why people leave their organization and the sector. They can point at the low wages, compassion fatigue, or the need to live up to representative community leadership and ignore that Gallup finds that more than 50% of employees leave their job because of their boss/manager. We need to accept that the nonprofit sector is not immune to having bad supervisors… if anything it is worse.

So what is a supervisor to do? It is hard to be a great supervisor. It is challenging to be open to feedback, to truly listen, to put in the time needed to prepare for check-ins, to stand by difficult decisions, and to give critical feedback in a constructive way to those you supervise.  All of that is very true; in this blog, I want to share some ways it be a great supervisor, and I want to assure you, while it may not be easy, being a great supervisor is worth it.

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Maximize your YNPN-TC membership: How to create connections and change at a national level

Joining YNPN Twin Cities was the easiest thing I did upon moving to Minnesota a few years ago. After months of planning and orchestrating a cross-country move, I crossed off my top professional networking task simply by filling out a super short form and clicking a sign up button – no dues, no back and forth.

Within weeks of joining, I was at my first YNPN-TC event and plugging into a network which has since helped me make important professional connections, build professional skills, and be a part of a meaningful space for questions and conversations on how we can shape the nonprofit sector from within.

I knew there were other YNPN chapters across the country, and that there was an overarching YNPN national organization as well, but never quite knew how it all worked together. 

In the time since, I’ve joined the YNPN-TC board and in my current role as National Liaison, I am passionate about helping our local YNPN members take advantage of being part of our national network as well!

Below, I’ve listed five ways I’ve learned to plug into the YNPN landscape beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes:

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5 Tips on How to Keep Your Sh*t Together When The World Seems to be Falling Apart

This blog, written by Porsche Peak, was originally posted on the Peak Therapy Institute's website, and it is reposted with the author's permission.

With the nature of our current political climate, ecosystem and community relationships, it is easy to feel defeated, isolated and discouraged about the future. Right now, I want you to give yourself permission to put some of these heavy issues aside and take care of yourself.

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Taming time: An entrepreneur’s advice

The members of the Consultant Cafe Conversation pause to smile for a photo.Time is the most precious resource we have. If you ever foray into the world of self-employment, you become vividly aware of that fact. Suddenly you have to bill your work, often on an hourly basis. Each moment matters. Sandra Boone was kind enough to invite me to host a recent Cafe Conversation about what it’s like to start and run your own nonprofit consulting business. 

I was happy to accept, and although the great group of smart professionals who joined me asked about a range of topics, one theme that cropped up frequently was the importance of time management. So here are a few tips culled from our discussion and selected to be applicable to anyone in the work world, regardless of whether or not you're running your own business.

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What do you mean you need a work visa?

“What do you mean you need a work visa?” After this question, many of my job interviews turned really awkward. Another common question that would follow was, “So, are you here illegally?”

Uh, no.

As an international student at a U.S. college, I always knew in the back of my head that if I wanted to stay and work in this county, I would need my employer to sponsor my work visa. What does that mean? Simply put, you have to submit an application and your employer pretty much pays the country to let you work here. But the truth is that this process is nothing short of a nightmare. It might seem that the complicated part is the visa application, but, in my experience, the challenge came long before the visa process.

I was fortunate to have a good International Student Program at my school. They were always very helpful, and they had all the information we needed to know. If you are going to embark in the adventure that is a work visa, make sure you reach out to someone who is familiar with the process to guide you. If you don’t know anyone (or even if you do), here’s some advice from a person who’s been there.

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How to get the most out of YNPN-TC membership

First off, let’s clear up one question: How do I know if I’m a member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (YNPN-TC)? If you’re anything like me, you might not be exactly sure what membership means. I started attending YNPN-TC events several years ago as I was finishing up a term of national volunteer service and starting to explore my career options. Did that make me a member? I got more involved and starting volunteering on the Programming Committee. Did that make me a member? I applied and joined the board. Did that make me a member?

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Short answer: YES! (From the get-go!)

Long answer: Once you attend an event with us and/or sign up for our email list, you’re official! YNPN-TC membership is 100% free so you never have to worry about paying dues. (Side note: We now have 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit, and supporters are always welcome to donate to us to help us continue to provide high-quality programming without charging a fee to members.)

Now that you know how simple it is to become a member, let’s talk about how to get the most out of your membership.

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It is easy to be a bad supervisor

Note: For this blog, I’m using manager and supervisor as synonyms, and they should be viewed as skills implemented and required based on job responsibilities. Your title may say Associate Director of Regional Bouncy Castle Rental Logistics, but if you have 3 folks who have to send you their time cards every 1 to 2 weeks, you are supervising someone.

It is easy to be a bad supervisor. No seriously, it is way easier to use the positional power to make your supervisee’ lives harder, your organization’s results down, and your staff turnover high and team morale low.

The nonprofit sector has trouble already with competitive wages, compassion fatigue, and the need to live up to representative community leadership, so it can be easy to blame those factors as the reasons folks leave their organization or even the sector. While those are all are real reasons for why folks pop on Linkedin on their lunch break, Gallup finds year after year that more than 50% of employees leave their job because of their boss/manager. The nonprofit sector isn’t immune from this, and, if anything it can be even worse.

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