We are excited to feature Alyssa Whalon in our monthly YNPN Twin Cities Member Spotlight! Alyssa is Associate, Philanthropic Services, at Scholarship America.
Read more about Alyssa's background with AmeriCorps VISTA, how she has used YNPN Twin Cities to make progress on her career path, the best advice she's received as a young professional, and just which Harry Potter house she'd be in if she was at Hogwarts instead of the Twin Cities!
YNPN-TC: How long have you been a YNPN member?
I’ve been a member for about two years, although it’s kind of hard for me to remember. I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for two and a half years (after moving from Missouri) but attended my first event two years ago. My first event was either a networking event or a leadership breakfast. I don’t remember much from the event since I was so nervous, but I do remember feeling inspired after the event. I enjoyed getting to know others and everyone was so friendly (although looking back now, I don’t know why I thought people wouldn’t be friendly!)
YNPN-TC: Just what does it mean to be a member to you?
To me, being a YNPN member means that you enjoy connecting with other young professionals and place value in your own professional development.
YNPN-TC: How have you handled a failure in your career and how did it help you grow as a person?
I’m a big believer of learning from your mistakes so that’s my approach to handling failure. We’ve all had that one idea that sounds great in your head, but ends up being a complete disaster. I try not to dwell on the negatives, but to make sure the take-away is positive and that has helped me grow as a person.
YNPN-TC: In your career, where did you start...and where are you now?
I started as an AmeriCorps VISTA here in the Twin Cities. After college I decided to join AmeriCorps so I could get some professional experience. Transitioning from “college life” to “adult life” was a struggle sometimes because although I was an adult, I almost still felt like I was still in college since my income didn’t increase after becoming a VISTA. Starting out I felt like I was an imposter and one day they would realize I had no idea what I was doing and fire me. Well that never happened because I figured out what to do. I started to become more independent and actually asking for what I wanted instead of waiting for it.
I spent two years in AmeriCorps and learned so much about myself and how I work best, things that they don’t always teach you in college. I know my time in AmeriCorps would’ve been very different if I didn’t have a professional support network through my VISTA cohort, family, friends, and coworkers, which makes me very thankful to all of them. Now I’m at an organization that has a mission I can relate to and I care about. I’m working in a position that challenges me but also complements my strengths.
YNPN-TC: How has YNPN helped you in your career path?
YNPN's professional development opportunities have definitely helped me in my career path, but what’s just as valuable are the many opportunities to connect with others. I’m still new to my career and trying to figure out my career path so connecting with others is pretty high on my list nowadays. Just the other day, I was telling someone that I’m unsure of my career path. I’m considering staying in fundraising, becoming an event planner, or going to get my masters so I can work in a museum. Immediately they suggested three people I should talk to about my career path.
YNPN-TC: As a young professional, what is the best advice you've ever gotten?
I’ve been given a lot of great advice, but one of the best was to build my own personal board of advisors. In my life, having support means everything and your board of advisors are your biggest supporters. Identify those people in your life that are your go-to friend for something. For example, when I someone to cheer me on I go to my family... or when I need an honest opinion I go to my best friend. Your supporters can also include your professional network like an old boss, coworker, another YNPN member, etc. Know which roles you want as part of your board of advisors and seek out the people to fill them. I think many people have this support network already but what I liked the most is that you get the chance to recognize them for the role they play in your life.
YNPN-TC: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the nonprofit sector today?
There are so many challenges the nonprofit sector faces, it’s hard to name just one. One that sticks out in my mind is the challenge of finding resources to sustain and advance an organization. The needs of the communities we serve are growing and changing, but the financial resources to adapt current programs and respond to new program opportunities are falling short of the need. There’s a lot of competition in the sector for grant funding and added pressure for fundraisers to raise more money. Yet the additional resources like hiring additional staff, training current staff, and updating technology, are not provided. How can nonprofits continue to grow without these and other resources? Really they can’t. As a fundraiser, this challenge has been on my mind a lot lately. These resources shouldn’t be seen as “financial luxuries” but an important part of a sustainable organization.
YNPN-TC: Finally, we have to know...which Harry Potter house would you be in, and why?
I would definitely be in Hufflepuff. They value hard work, dedication, patience, loyalty, and fair play. I think anyone that knows me would say that these characteristics describe me well. Of these characteristics I value hard work and loyalty the most. Growing up I was taught to not give up when things got hard, but to keep your commitments.