This is my last official week as co-chair of YNPN Des Moines, an organization I helped get off the ground in 2012. It’s exciting to see new leaders take office, but I’ll admit that “handing over the keys” is bittersweet. I’ve worked on YNPN through graduate school, the birth of my first child, a job change and half of my second pregnancy. It’s been my opportunity to flex tiny entrepreneurial wings without too much personal risk. It would be selfish of me to stay too long, when I think of all YNPN has done for me, and of the amazing leaders who are on deck.
I truly feel that the lessons learned and connections I made while founding our group with a bunch of smart, dedicated people have given me a deeper capacity for and understanding of success. These days, success, to me, is walking away from an experience feeling not only that I contributed my skills or thoughts in a meaningful way, but that I met people who challenged me to look more deeply or differently at an issue, or introduced me to something or someone new/interesting.
Our successes as a group have been many. We’ve hosted events of all sizes that bring people together on a personal and professional level. We have a balance sheet that’s in the black, a following that appreciates our efforts and leaders who’ve leveraged their experience with this group to take their careers to the next level. We’ve made friends, too. We’ve provided space for people to be vulnerable, curious, ambitious and grow together.
Here are three key takeaways from working on YNPN for the past 3+ years:
1. Set a date, and tell people about it. How do you turn ideas into action? Create a deadline and accountability. Once you know your launch date, you can work backwards and more easily delegate tasks. Maybe it’s the former journalist in me, but nothing lights a fire like knowing people are expecting a finished product on a certain date. I’ve also found that the more people I tell about a plan, the more likely I am to get something done. So go ahead, create that Facebook event. Book a venue, pull together the basics and then hustle like hell to figure out the rest by the time everyone shows up.
2. Never underestimate the power of clear, consistent communication in starting a movement. One of the first things an organization must do is find its voice. I describe the voice of YNPN Des Moines as informal, yet informative. Every group will likely have a “fake it ’till you make it” phase, and sounding like you have a cohesive plan is step #1 to coming up with one. (HA!) When we launched our group, it was little more than a handful of friends meeting for coffee. Our communications platforms changed that. We had a clear message, and communicated with constituents on a consistent basis, through social mesia and a monthly e-newsletter that now boasts more than 500 subscribers and open rates twice the industry average. On the other hand, when working with a big volunteer board, making sure you double check the clarity of a message can help minimize reply-all nightmares. Yeesh. Run a draft by your co-chair and make sure everything makes sense, if possible.
3. Open yourself to peer mentorship. When we started YNPN, we discussed several options for structuring (fiscal sponsorship, etc.) and decided to set out with a model that would give us the greatest flexibility to grown on our own terms. We knew we had the strength of peer organizations across the national YNPN Network, but we also had mentors and champions within our own community who could lend expertise. Our “Afraid to Ask” series was modeled on the idea that you probably aren’t an expert in everything, but you have friends who are willing to show you the ropes or answer questions you might hesitate to bring up to your boss. Whether you’re grabbing coffee or slinging back a few cold ones while you talk, candid conversations about how the sausage gets made within different organizations can be enlightening, and lead to deeper friendships that will help you grow.
P.S. Maybe it’s the service-learning geek in me, but I do think that at times of transition, reflection is a critical step. The new leadership has vowed to change the passwords on me when they take charge (eep!) but I may continue to contribute a guest post here and there, and you can also find writing me at my personal blog, bsinthemidwest.com.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to serve!