Nonprofit Voice | Cultivating the next nonprofit generation: How YNPN Atlanta invests in new industry talent

January 26, 2016
| by Guest Contributor |


It’s a common problem: Young nonprofit professionals are hungry to improve their skillsets and resumes, but organizational budgets are just as strained as their wallets. 

Kate Naylor, Young Nonprofit Professional Network of Atlanta

It can be discouraging to leave school or switch sectors and feel that you still lack skills that employers are looking for. Competition for positions remains high, and even those with a first or second job under their belts will often see their organization’s professional development budget (however modest) directed primarily at senior-level employees, further restricting their opportunities to gain needed skills. Without enough resources to provide the professional development they crave, many young people are left scrambling.

The nonprofit sector is filled with potential and promise; a tremendous number of young people are drawn to nonprofit careers from a very early stage in their professional lives, but in order to support the next generation of leaders in our organizations, we must supplement their growth. Many nonprofits find themselves dealing with high demand and limited resources, and while these organizations still create astounding results, the on-the-job training provided by these conditions may not be enough to maximize the development of our young professionals. The goal of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) is to fill in these gaps, helping nonprofits in each chapter’s community develop and retain young talent, and providing access to the training future leaders need to take charge of a changing industry in the coming decades.

As part of a national organization focused on this specific demographic, the daily work of chapters like YNPN Atlanta is to face down this challenge. Though most of our efforts go toward setting up networking events and professional development workshops, we know that no organization can be all things to all people: Our efforts are limited by our capacity as a volunteer-run organization and by the astounding diversity of needs in the nonprofit community. No two careers are the same, and the temptation to spread our chapter's resources too thin in order to cover as many options as possible can be difficult to resist.

Instead, we identified an opportunity to creatively support more of our members while still serving our mission. Through careful management of our financial resources, we opted for a direct-funding approach: giving money back to our members. Our micro-grant program, the YNPN Atlanta Opportunity Grant, was developed to leverage even a small budget into substantial results for individuals, tailored to their specific needs.

Now in its second year, the YNPN Atlanta Opportunity Grant program awards individual grants of up to $750 to current members for professional development opportunities that would otherwise be financially out-of-reach, ranging from conference registrations and classes to association memberships and certification fees. The quarterly grant cycle provides us with the flexibility to focus our resources in the case that we receive more applications than we can fund in a given period. More than just funding professional development opportunities, we see this program as a professional development opportunity in itself: Because our goal is to make sure that our members receive the greatest benefit from the process, our selection committee reaches out whenever necessary to help applicants strengthen their applications for the next round.

The Opportunity Grant is still a young program with a very targeted scope, and the long-term benefits to our recipients’ careers are yet unknown. Even still, the preliminary results are encouraging: One recipient used his funds to attend the flagship conference for his industry, and another has gone on to become the chief bicycle officer for the city of Atlanta. We’re excited to see what’s in store, and hope every Atlanta-area nonprofit can be a part.

Kate Naylor serves as Finance & Fundraising Chair on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professional Network of Atlanta, and coordinates YNPN Atlanta‘s Opportunity Grant program. She is also membership program coordinator for the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University.

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