by Kristin Ivie on 9 Jul 2010
Summer can be a great time to slow down a bit and reflect on our work and what we’ve learned. Having now gotten my sea legs in the nonprofit sector, I’m struck by all the things I wish I’d known when I was first starting out. I asked friends from Twitter and beyond to help me make a list of advice for young change-makers, and these are the top seven things we’ve learned so far.
1. Find a mentor. If you don’t have a lot of experience, one of your best bets is borrow it. Mentors can provide invaluable advice – practical, ethical and theoretical. Whether you need to know how to deal with a sticky situation or just how to get some business cards printed, a mentor has been there before. As Adin Miller pointed out, you can’t force a mentor relationship, and sometimes you just don’t connect. But if you try a few different ones, you’ll connect with someone, learn a lot from their experiences and accomplishments and build a really valuable long-term relationship.
2. Challenge yourself and find your limits. Being digital natives, Millennials have lots of skills, but we’re not good at everything. Maya Enista shared a lesson she recently learned from KaBOOM! CEO Darell Hammond: spend 95 percent of your time on the 5 percent of things you’re NOT good at. If you’re always working on improving a few things at a time, you’ll be able to move those off the “to learn” list and tackle something new. Further, Kristen Cambell recommends spending time getting to know your limits as well as your strengths, so you can recognize your limit when you meet it, so you can regroup before charging forward again.
3. Don’t reinvent the wheel. I couldn’t agree more with Sokunthea Chhabra and Ayelet Baron on this piece of advice. While you might have a great idea for how to change the world, I promise there are other people who are already working on your cause or trying to implement a similar project – you just have to look for them. Build on and integrate what already exists and seek collaborators who make sense to avoid wasting your time and resources.
4. Don’t wait. Regina Mahone shared a bit of wisdom from an interview with Idealist’s Ami Dar, who encourages young change-makers to take advantage of their youth and relatively low level of responsibility. If you have a great idea or a passion for a cause, take some risks and “go for it” before you have mortgages and mouths to feed.
5. Create your story, tell your story and leverage your story. David Smith’s advice is do at least one thing that will give you a story, which can demonstrate your passion and skills, and learn to tell that story really well. David says, “people invest in people, not ideas.” Once you’ve got your story and you’re telling it well, treat your reputation and social capital like an investment portfolio. When your personal stock is high, leverage that for partnerships, mergers and career moves, so that you, your organization and your cause take advantage of these high points when they come.
6. Connect with others. As Elizabeth Miller said, it’s important to connect with others who care about changing the world. I used to dread networking because I thought of it as standing around, making awkward small talk with someone just long enough to make it ok to ask them for what you really wanted (like help getting grant money or a job). But real networking is anything but fake. It happens naturally when you just start asking questions and getting to know people who are doing interesting things. It can happen at conferences, at happy hours, affinity group meetings or service projects. These relationships will not only lead to new opportunities, but will be your source of support, inspiration and feedback.
7. Goals and evaluation are your friends. It was a few years before I realized that if you haven’t set any goals, you can’t really know (or, more importantly in the nonprofit sector, show) what you’ve accomplished. Setting goals can be scary when you don’t know what to expect because no one wants to fall short, but they are crucial for building a successful track record. Evaluating your progress in measurable terms is equally critical for showing you how to tweak your strategy and use of resources to better meet your goals the next time around.