Thanks to those who have donated, we are just 26 gifts away from reaching an alumni participation rate of 15% by June 30! Calling all PP55 alums: if you haven’t already, please donate now! Whether $5, $55, or $555, every gift raises participation and helps AlumniCorps to grow our programs.
Princeton AlumniCorps’ Emerging Leaders professional development program is launching this June in Washington, DC! The program has already generated a great deal of interest from area nonprofit employees and alumni of the Project 55 Fellowship Program. We plan to announce our first class of Emerging Leaders over the 2011 Reunions weekend.
Emerging Leaders is designed to transform young professionals working in the public interest into invested nonprofit leaders. Participants will develop the leadership capabilities, management skills, and confidence to accelerate their careers while yielding tangible results and lasting value for the nonprofit sector. Over the course of ten months, participants will develop leadership competencies and sector-specific skills, benefit from mentor and peer support, and practice “leadership-in-action.”
The program has the twofold potential to transform the career trajectories of those who show promise as future leaders of the nonprofit sector, and, as a result, to have a transformative impact on the sector itself. Emerging Leaders welcomes participation from graduates of Princeton and other universities who are committed to innovative leadership in the nonprofit sector.
The pilot program, set to begin on June 5, will include full and half day sessions taking place once a month until April 2012. The curriculum includes a “stretch” project where the participants will plan, manage, and execute a specific goal within their organizations.
The lead facilitator and trainer for the Emerging Leaders curriculum is Hilary Joel ’85. Joel is an executive coach and management consultant with 25 years of experience across numerous industries. With the program’s promising outlook, AlumniCorps hopes to develop a tested, scalable curriculum that can be adapted for use with future cohorts in cities around the country.
Princeton AlumniCorps Board Chair Kenly Webster ’55 and President Bill Leahy ’66 were interviewed for Shared Effort by Jim Lynn ’55. Plans are underway for Kenly’s replacement as Chair after his three year tenure expires this June.
Q: Kenly, you’re finishing up your second hitch as Chair. How did the problems you had to deal with change between the first hitch and the second?
KW: Roughly three years ago we [then Princeton Project 55] adopted a new mission statement that was the product of a Board no longer dominated by Class of ’55 members, with the assistance of a PP55 President from another class. Transition was a major new challenge. With transition came a strengthening of the responsibility of the Executive Director and much more centralized control, which took patience to accomplish.
Q: What was your biggest challenge as chairman?
KW: The biggest challenge clearly was to implement, without contention, the transition. Smooth transition was critical.
BL: I think that as President in this transition, my role was to assist in expanding the board, looking for individuals from the younger classes.
Q: Was there ever a time when you worried that this really might not work out well?
KW: The doubt came about nine years ago when we were experimenting with other forms of succession that did not materialize. Mainly, we sought to identify another class to pick up the management of PP55, and that turned out to be a concept that other classes were not willing to undertake as a class.
Q: What’s the next big challenge facing the organization?
BL: All of us were affected profoundly by the economic downturn. Regardless of how the transition was going, the reality was that finances were going to potentially affect what we could do to sustain and expand the program. This was all beyond our control, and it’s been heartening to shore up last year – a year that could have been a profound deficit – by establishing the [20th anniversary] gala, which made it a profitable year instead. This financial challenge, of course, will continue into the future.
The other challenge which we have worked with over the last couple years has been integrating individual classes with Princeton AlumniCorps. It has been difficult because this organization began with a camaraderie of a group within a class. This is the kind of spirit the University kind of instills in each class, and when you bring institutions together and try to merge them and their interests, sometimes you end up not being able to do it because of individual spirits – “we should be in charge” or “it has to be a class number.” The name change allowed for other generations to feel engaged with our organization.
We’ve initiated two new programs: the Community Volunteers program, which I think is going to be another way of engaging people who have had no true relationship with the original organization, and secondly the Emerging Leaders program, which should allow us to sustain many of our PIP alumni into the nonprofit world – which I hope in turn will bring them back for Board positions with our organization.
Q: Is there any danger now that Princeton AlumniCorps might be spreading itself too thin with two new programs at once along with a very well-seasoned and successful Princeton Project 55 Fellowship Program (formerly the PIP)?
KW: I do not think so. Financially, we have, for 20 years, raised the money to do what we wanted to do. There are many supporters of the organization to draw upon. From the standpoint of staffing there are ways to ensure that projects have less demand on staff and that staff has efficient participation in the projects. In sum, you have two safety belts: one is strong staff organization (and hiring outside people to help), and the other is a wide network to attract funding.
Q: Now’s your chance to answer any questions we should have asked but didn’t.
BL: Any organization goes through its adolescence and into its early adulthood, and this organization was doing that as they approached their 20th year. What happened was the development of discipline within the Board – some very individual subcommittees, with designated rules and procedures, which are going to be very important as we go forward, because an organization really can’t survive when it meets on an ad-hoc basis and without any kind of internal discipline. This is very important for the issue of perpetuity.
KW: How is transition going to ensure perpetuity? I think we have put in place a very strong organization comprised of the Board, board committees and staff. Although we have the transition in place, we’re going to have to fight each year to keep it permanent. To do this we have targeted programs that are designed to attract leadership and financial contributions from alumni classes from all decades after the ’50s.
A second force in perpetuity may well be attracting leaders from graduates of the PIP program. Almost all of the current leadership comes from graduates of Princeton, who as such have a common bond. But there is a second common bond among the PIP graduates who have all vastly benefited from the program. Therefore there is an additional fertile leadership source from these program graduates. But I would not expect a president of the organization to come from the PIP alumni for yet a number of years.
Thanks to the AlumniCorps for organizing last month’s “Engaged At Every Age” (EAEA) Conference to explore volunteering from a variety of perspectives. While a schedule change prevented me from joining as a panelist, I enjoyed the chance to sit in on an afternoon panel.
It triggered some thoughts about what I’ve learned over the last 30 years as a manager at Isles, a nonprofit community development and environmental organization based in Trenton that works with over 1,000 volunteers annually. In addition, I serve as a volunteer with organizations statewide and nationally. AlumniCorps asked me to share a few of those lessons here.
Volunteerism in Perspective
Historians and social scientists write about voluntarism as a uniquely American concept. With over one million private, registered charities across the country, burgeoning numbers of Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, and millions in search of more “mission-driven” and meaningful lives, an entire industry of voluntarism has arisen. A Google search of Volunteer Opportunities offers over 15 million hits.
No wonder that voluntarism often becomes an end goal. Questions like, “What’s a good volunteer opportunity?” often quickly move to a discussion of technique (Does the organization make it easy for volunteers? Do they manage them well? Are there clear, identifiable objectives, etc.?). Or the discussion will turn to the type of organization that works best for volunteers. At the EAEA Conference for example, some speakers suggested that small organizations are better for volunteers than big ones, “staff driven” organizations are worse than “volunteer driven” ones, or that organizations that volunteers can really influence are better (at least for those from Princeton) than those you can’t influence.
To me, this focus on technique or type of organization is a part of the picture, but not the main part. The real goal for organizations is to perform at the highest level in relation to the resources (money, volunteers, etc) flowing into them. The best organizations are those that focus on being the best organizations—not the best volunteer opportunity.
What we hope, is that organizations can perform highly while also effectively involving volunteers—because volunteers add to their performance.
In my experience, I have seen volunteers destroy organizations, and I have seen staff do the same. I have witnessed large organizations give volunteers better experiences than small ones. I’ve been a volunteer board member of a staff-driven organization (think Princeton University) that functions quite highly. And I have seen “smart” volunteers that tried to control organizations and systematically undermined them.
So what’s the best advice for those seeking to volunteer?
1. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Life is short, so try to find the best organizations working on the things you care about. “Best” organizations ask hard questions of themselves and others, maintain continually improving systems to manage information (financial, contacts, volunteers, etc.), admit that which they are not doing, and strive to get upstream or to the “core” of the challenges they address.
2. Remain humble.
You may or may not know what the organization should do. Be open to being wrong. Be open to how volunteers can get in the way. The art of managing nonprofit organizations is a relatively young specialty, and bringing your “business”-like approaches may not be what’s needed. We are all learning as we go.
3. Then ask about the techniques and types of organizations out there.
There’s a place for this discussion. It’s just at the bottom of the list.
Marty Johnson ’81 is President and Founder of Isles, Inc., a nonprofit that fosters self-help approaches to community development, education, energy efficiency and urban environmental restoration. (www.isles.org)