During the last few years, I had the chance to serve on three executive boards that all have similar, yet distinct missions. The three boards, All A-Board Alliance, EPIP (Chicago Chapter), and YNPN Chicago, are all connected in their aim to help young professionals support the nonprofit sector. However, the important difference between the groups is how they go about doing that work.
All A-Board Alliance targets non-governing boards and facilitates a community that helps maximize effectiveness of boards for both the nonprofit group and the individual members. EPIP targets grantmakers and nonprofit professionals and brings them together to discuss ways to use philanthropy to foster social justice. YNPN Chicago provides professional development and networking opportunities for nonprofit professionals to help empower them as leaders that work for the greater social good. Because the groups target different types of members, they often speak different languages and have different approaches. Even though the groups have similar goals, these differences can be a barrier to working together.
However, because these organizations have different backgrounds, priorities and problem solving approaches, the convergence of these groups allows for perspective building. Members from each group have natural commonalities in wanting to be change agents through supporting the nonprofit sector. This makes it easy to create programming that is of interest to all three groups. For example, when these three groups recently partnered in Chicago to host a happy hour for their members, there was a huge response. The event was sold out and had over 70 people on a waitlist. The happy hour provided a chance for nonprofit professionals to learn about the thoughtfulness and strategy that grantmakers put into allocating their resources. Similarly, members got to learn firsthand about the creative approaches nonprofits are taking to address ongoing challenges and understand how those challenges affect the day-to-day work. Most importantly, they got a chance to interact and become aware of each other’s existence as potential allies.
While creating a network between the three organizations is a powerful first step, it’s important to continue to create more interactive opportunities that allow the members to move beyond polite introductions to develop meaningful relationships. Formal communication and resource sharing is helpful, but in my experience, it’s often the behind the scenes feedback that generates the best ideas. Casual coffee meetings have fueled some of the most productive brainstorming and sharing of “lessons learned.”
Admittedly, collaboration can create more work. With the joint happy hour referenced above, the planning committee was comprised of programming chairs from each organization. Each brought extensive event planning experience and easily could have coordinated the entire event themselves in just a few weeks. However, by co-hosting the event, it took longer to find a date and location, agree on a budget, and carry out behind-the-scenes logistical magic. But the extra work paid off as the end result was new connections and new perspectives.
Overall, my experience on the three boards reinforced that professional development (on an individual and organizational level) is contingent upon building awareness and developing new skills. An effective and simple way to do that is to find someone with similar values but a totally different approach.
Because very little is accomplished in isolation, I hope these networks continue to collaborate in Chicago and throughout the country. Together, their potential is endless.
Lauren King has worked in the nonprofit sector for over eight years and is currently the Research Administrator at Children’s Research Triangle. Previously she taught Diversity and Community Engagement to graduate students at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, where she earned her MA in Forensic Psychology. She earned her BA in psychology and criminal justice from Bradley University. Lauren served on the YNPN Chicago Executive Board for three years and was a graduate of the 2012 Class of the ESC/YNPN Chicago Leadership Institute. She was also the Co-Founder for the Children’s Research Triangle Associate Board, served on the steering committee for the launch year of the Chicago Chapter of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy and is a co-founding executive board member for All A-Board Alliance.