5 posts categorized "Career Development"

[Review] 'Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America'

August 17, 2017

When you're able to do something that sparks your passion and leverages your skill set, it feels pretty good. When you can make a living doing it, it's even better. But getting to that place can be hard; you have to have opportunities to learn a new skill or stretch a new muscle, learn from the experience, and improve. I've been lucky to have had some great mentors, informal and formal, who have guided me through such learning experiences — from a cross country coach who taught me that slow and steady will get you to the finish line (if not always win the race), to entrepreneurial friends who offered marketing tips for my side hustles, to my parents, who stressed to me the importance of writing thank-you notes. Many young people, however, aren't as lucky to have received the kind of coaching that can give them the confidence and skills to tackle new or unexpected challenges. That's where mentoring programs can provide significant value; they provide learning opportunities to young people who may not otherwise have them.

Book_teach_to_work_3dPatty Alper is a seasoned mentor with fifteen years of experience mentoring inner-city high school students. She's "adopted" classrooms through Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an international nonprofit organization that I first learned about in the Mary Mazzio documentary Ten9Eight. The film showcases the transformational learning that happens when students are given the opportunity to create a business, benefit from a curriculum that allows them to dive into critical skills, and have a supportive adult serve as their mentor during the process. As an NFTE donor and board volunteer, Alper wanted to "allow supporters [of the organization] to go beyond financial giving and share their knowledge as well," so she created an Adopt-a-Class program that recruits professionals to sponsor an entrepreneurship class, work with teachers, and commit to mentoring students for a full academic year. I remember being struck by how many of the kids featured in Ten9Eight went from expressing little hope about their future to confidently tackling and successfully delivering a big on-stage presentation about the businesses they had created. Seeing the obvious pride and sense of accomplishment in these young people, it's easy to overlook the other piece of the story, which, I confess, I had done until I picked up Alper's new book, Teach to Work: How a Mentor, a Mentee, and a Project Can Close the Skills Gap in America. But once I started reading, it didn't take long for me to be persuaded that mentoring involves both art and science, and that done well, it can truly unlock the potential of underserved youth.

For many, the act of mentoring is something one just does, based on one's hard-won experience. But in her book, Alper takes a very granular, how-to approach to mentoring, starting with this key bit of advice: one of the best things a mentor can do is to listen and not share everything she has learned over the years with her mentee. (Note: Alper relies on an adult-student framework throughout the book and, unfortunately, does not touch on any other kind of mentor-mentee relationship. As the book is based on a particular model of mentorship, so, too, does this review.)

"The fastest way to turn kids off is to tell them how great you are," Alper writes. Instead, mentors should relate to their mentees as "peers." You do that, she adds, by telling them, "[Y]ou are the boss. You can accept or reject my suggestions because this is your project. What I bring to bear is experience, ideas, and support. We can brainstorm, but the ultimate decisions here are yours."

That's only a start, though. There are lots of other things mentors need to be mindful of — from body language, to support systems, to hopes and dreams — and for each, Alper lays out solid advice designed to help mentors approach the challenge at hand in a manageable way. In a chapter about lesson planning, for example, there's a terrific line-by-line guide that adapts the Harvard Business School-developed case method into a ninety-minute classroom exercise. It's hard to tell accomplished adults they may not be good teachers or thoughtful lesson planners (a truth many of us are happy to acknowledge about others, though not ourselves), and so Alper doesn't try to tell us; she shows us instead with tools that no mentor ought to ignore.

But while her advice is grounded in deep experience and mostly useful, there are elements of it that feel outdated. A very thoughtful section on key components to establishing a one-on-one dialogue ended up falling flat for me, as there was no mention of asking a mentee herself if she had any ground rules she'd like to suggest. Without such reciprocity, the dialogue you hope to have often ends up a one-way street. Another example: the advice in a section about preparing a student for an interview ("[W]omen should wear dress slacks or a knee-length skirt with a blouse and possibly a blazer, or a dress...also wear low heels") and, in a later section, about dressing for presentations ("What is inappropriate? Clothing that is too sexy, too baggy, too dirty, too ripped, too short, or too bare") felt too prescriptive and gendered. Like most of the  examples Alper provides in the book, this one is more appropriate for "traditional" professions and contexts, even though the book purports to be about preparing students to pursue any passion and path. And finally, Alper tries so hard at times to be actionably prescriptive that she loses sight of the human touch that, as she reminds readers elsewhere, is essential to successful mentoring. (Do kids actually say, "How do you do?")  

That raises another question: Beyond the grateful letters from students she cites throughout the book, did Alper consult young people about what works (and what doesn't) when writing it? After all, feedback loops are embedded in the mentorship process for mentees, but I wonder whether the same can be said for mentors, or whether the inevitable power differential in any mentor-mentee relationship makes that difficult. And how might authentic feedback be obtained and heard? While there's a nice suggestion for reflective debriefing at the end of each program (a group meal outside the school setting, with some reflective questions kept handy on an index card), it doesn't seem to provide sufficient space for meaningful critique. And still another question I had is whether the pay-to-mentor model she discusses actually limits the diversity of the mentor pool? While this isn't the only model Alper discusses, it is prominent and many examples in the book seemed to refer to careers in which mentors likely could afford to sponsor a class. Which begs the question: Is there a bias in favor of mentoring among people who are paid well, have lots of social capital, and have the wherewithal to be flexible with their time and choices? And how well does such a pool of mentor candidates reflect students' passions and needs?

Those questions aside, Teach to Work left me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the mentors I've had, and pride in the mentoring I've done. There are lessons in the books that anyone — young or old, accomplished or with as-yet–unrealized potential — will find relevant to them in some way. And perhaps most powerful is the assertion implied by the book's subtitle: that the mentoring young people receive can be a lever to help close America's skills gap and bring increased diversity and talent to the workforce. As Alper's book describes and the aforementioned Ten9Eight brings to life, project-based mentorship can be transformational, and, done at scale, there's no doubt it would be a gamechanger. And, besides, this millennial is into placing big bets on solutions that will make the world a better place.

To volunteer as a mentor — and commit to doing it well – is about wanting to create change and catalyze potential. I would suggest there's an added value proposition: maybe mentoring a young person isn't so much a one-way learning opportunity as it is a way for us all to get smarter. Alper certainly acknowledges how much she has learned and grown from her experiences in the classroom. And as I've seen through any number of youth grantmaking programs, philanthropy as a sector has much to learn from students in terms of how they approach community needs assessments and discussions of impact. What more could we learn and apply to our own careers by pairing up with a young person who is wrestling with difficulties in her life and, with our help, coming up with her own solutions to those challenges?

Jen Bokoff is director of stakeholder engagement at Foundation Center. For more great reviews, visit the Off the Shelf section in PND.

How to Attract and Retain Next-Gen Talent

December 22, 2016

Talent-magnet-600x400With an entire generation of senior nonprofit leaders about to retire, nonprofit managers have one thing on their minds: hiring and retaining next-generation talent. But according to Nonprofit HR's 2015 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey, nonprofits are having hiring and retention issues due to a variety of factors, including uncompetitive salaries, an inability to provide sufficient career opportunities, and excessive workloads.

These hiring and retention challenges are why nonprofits need to focus their efforts on employee engagement. My company, Quantum Workplace, surveyed more than 440,000 employees from nearly 5,500 organizations through our 2016 Best Places to Work program and have published the findings in our Engaging Nonprofit Employees: Industry Report. Among other things, the report found that only 58 percent of nonprofit organizations are engaged — putting the nonprofit sector third from the bottom out of eighteen industries.

Is your nonprofit suffering from rotating-door syndrome when it comes to top talent? Does your organization have a strategy to attract talented newcomers and entice them to stay and grow their skills within your organization. Below are three proven ways to attract and retain millennial and Gen Z employees:

1. Emphasize diversity and inclusion. Young people are looking to make a positive impact on the lives of others, so it's no surprise they want to work for organizations that are seen to be fair, inclusive, and diverse. But even though nonprofit employees, in general, are a diverse group, many nonprofits still fall short when it comes to diversity policies, initiatives, and outreach.

With millennials and Gen Zs entering the workforce in huge numbers, this issue has more resonance than ever. Young people want to see organizations actually walk the talk that's embedded in their mission and value statements.

Besides, inclusion isn't just good for employees. McKinsey's 2015 report Why Diversity Matters found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to outperform the national industry median across multiple benchmarks and indicators. In other words, integrating diversity and inclusion into your organizational culture will enhance both employee satisfaction and your bottom line.

One way to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and inclusion is to encourage frequent one-on-one meetings between team leaders and team members and adopt an open-door policy that encourages employees to express their concerns about diversity-related issues when they arise. You can promote inclusion by giving the entire staff an opportunity to brainstorm together about ways to bring diversity into the organization. And you can give prospective employees a sense of your team's diversity initiatives by posting pictures on your website of group bonding and brainstorming activities and featuring quotes from current employees that capture their positive experiences with your organization's diversity and inclusion policies.

2. Be a trustworthy leader. Younger employees today are looking to leaders to model their values. Sadly, this is a bit of a problem in the nonprofit sector. Our Engaging Nonprofit Employees survey found that only 58 percent of nonprofit employees said they worked for an organization with a strong or somewhat strong ethical culture. At the same time, the survey data ranks trust in nonprofit leadership as the second most important driver of employment engagement.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the disconnect between nonprofit employees' expectations and what they actually see in the workplace is undermining the attraction of nonprofit work for many millennials and Gen Zs.

A relatively easy thing you can do to fight this trend and instill more employee confidence in your organization's leaders and managers is to implement a 360 feedback system. Start by surveying members of the organization to understand what they need from their managers in order to perform at a high level. As managers process that feedback and modify aspects of their own behavior, you'll be surprised how quickly younger employees begin to accept that the people leading the organization have their best interests at heart.

Another common misconception about millennials and Gen Zs is that they are devoted to screens. However, the Gen Y and Gen Z Global Workplace Expectations Study found that 53 percent of Gen Zs prefer face-to-face communication for most workplace activities. Keep that in mind the next time you're getting ready to send an email or Slack message to a younger employee.

3. Accentuate the positive. Nonprofit employees want to be assured the future is bright — for themselves as well as the organization they've committed to. And as boomers start to retire in significant numbers, millennials and Gen Zs will be expected to use their skills to make an impact and lead the organization into that bright future.

You can enhance the attractiveness of your nonprofit as a great place for millennials and Gen Zs to wok by tapping into their optimism in your job descriptions. Provide specific examples of how your organization is living up to its mission and values and how the open position is all about making life better for others. Also be sure to list any continuing education opportunities your organization makes available to younger employees.

Remember, too, that many young employees aren't yet confident in their skills and so are unclear about what their future with an organization could be. Recognition software makes it easy to reward younger employees and let them know their work is respected and appreciated by their peers, which in turn builds their confidence and deepens their engagement with the organization and its mission.

So there you have it — three things any nonprofit can do to increase its attractiveness to millennial and Gen Z employees. We're the future, what are you waiting for?

Natalie_hackbarthIs your nonprofit doing something creative to attract and retain millennials and Gen Zs? Let us know in the comments section below!

Natalie Hackbarth is the inbound marketing manager at Quantum Workplace, a company dedicated to providing every organization with quality engagement tools.

[Review] 'The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact Without Burnout'

November 04, 2016

Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman are successful nonprofit tech pioneers, social media experts, in-demand trainers and speakers, and the authors of several books. Both have also experienced professional burnout and view self-care as a critical aspect of any nonprofit professional's job, especially if she or he is engaged in mission-based social change work.

Bookcover_Happy Healthy NonprofitIn The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, Kanter and Sherman address the problem of burnout with, as blogger Vu Le writes in the book's introduction, "their signature humor, piercing insight, and concrete advice." In the process, they also present "a compelling argument for why we burn out and why it is important for all of us to take care of ourselves and each other...."

To avoid something like burnout, you have to understand its causes and symptoms. That is the focus of the book's first chapter. In addition to common problems such as general work-related stress, the ubiquity of technology, and information overload, certain aspects of nonprofit work contribute to burnout, write Kanter and Sherman. Many of them fall under the rubric of the "nonprofit starvation cycle," a "vicious" dynamic that begins with funders' unrealistic expectations about how much money it takes to staff and operate a nonprofit and results in nonprofits "misrepresenting their costs while skimping on vital systems." Other challenges unique to nonprofit work include the "scarcity mindset" (the belief that there is not enough of what your nonprofit needs to go around), the "indispensability myth" (a pronounced correlation between work and one's identity), and underinvestment in leadership development. Together, write Kanter and Sherman, these factors can lead to emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and a lack of personal effectiveness and accomplishment.

Having examined the causes of burnout, they then address the issue of self-care, which they break down into "Five Spheres of Happy, Healthy Living." Sphere 1 is the individual's relationship to him or herself — mentally, physically, and spiritually; if any aspect of this sphere is neglected, all others suffer. Sphere 2 is our relationship with others, including family, friends, acquaintances, strangers, and people in our communities (both online and off). Sphere 3 is our relationship to our environment (both indoors and out). Sphere 4 is our relationship to work and money (but also includes our relationships with co-workers). And Sphere 5 is our relationship to technology (continuous exposure to which can negatively affect your well-being).

The next step for Kanter and Sherman is self-assessment. In researching the book, they reviewed a number of existing assessment instruments and then, based on that review, developed four new tools and worksheets: the Nonprofit Burnout Assessment (to help you recognize whether you're on the path to burnout); Your Current Reactions to Stress (to help you gauge positive and negative behaviors in response to stress); a Current Self-Care Behaviors and Stress Triggers Reflection Worksheet (an addendum to the previous assessment); and Individual Self-Care Assessment and Checklists (which enable you to assess your self-care habits and practices against the "Five Spheres" framework). According to Kanter and Sherman, self-assessment, when conducted honestly, helps us identify stress triggers in our lives, negative and positive responses to those triggers, and areas where we may need to set boundaries. With that information in hand, we can then build healthier routines and habits.

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Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (August 2016)

September 03, 2016

"By all these lovely tokens September days are here, with summer's best of weather and autumn's best of cheer...." ~ Helen Hunt Jackson

Ah, summer, we hardly knew you. Hope you're enjoying your long weekend and getting to spend some of it with family and friends. While you're waiting for beverages to chill and the grill to get hot, check out some of the posts PhilanTopic readers gave a big thumb's up to in August.

What did you read/watch/listen to in August that made you pause, made you think, made you hopeful? Feel free to share with our readers in the comments section below. Or drop us a line at mfn@foundationcenter.org.

Memorializing Veterans by Helping Those Who Are Here

May 26, 2016

Soldier-and-daughter-300As America draws down its forces after fifteen years of military conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq, Memorial Day seems like a particularly good occasion to share lessons and stories from a coalition of foundations and corporate funders that is working to help veterans and their families.

A projected one million soldiers will return to civilian life between now and 2020. While many service members make that transition without event, others struggle to overcome the lack of dedicated pathways to affordable education, for themselves and their children, or to prepare themselves for a job in the civilian sector.

What's more, many veterans do not receive adequate support as they wrestle with these challenges. That is why the Philanthropy Joining Forces Impact Pledge has secured commitments from more than thirty-five foundations and corporations to invest nearly $285 million to support those who have served our country as they transition back to civilian life.

The PwC Charitable Foundation joined this group eight months after making a five-year, $5 million-plus commitment to support some of the best veterans service organizations in the country. Our work with veterans and the organizations that support them has been a learning experience. The challenges veterans face are complex and different for each individual. However, if we really want to make a lasting, sustainable impact, we have learned that we need to:

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