I attended my first YNPN Boston event on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 6 pm at Boston University’s School of Management, Room 416. The YNPN Boston leadership team team was looking to recruit new members to its board, and I was interested in connecting with a nonprofit community in Boston. I had moved to Boston a year earlier from the Twin Cities, and I was searching for my local nonprofit people. I was familiar with the YNPN chapter in Minnesota, and hoped to find the same passion for nonprofit organizations in Boston.
After attending that first event, it became clear that these people might, in fact, be my people. The enthusiasm in Room 416 was contagious, and it was clear that the YNPN Boston’s leadership cared deeply about the organization’s mission and about professional development for emerging leaders in the nonprofit sector.
Over the next couple of months, I applied, interviewed, and joined the board. At the time, YNPN Boston did not have a board member dedicated to research or evaluation, and I was eager to bring my own research skills to the organization. As a Ph.D. student, much of my research experience had been limited to the classroom and my work as a nonprofit employee, which meant I had a lot to learn, but my fellow board members were supportive of my efforts to create a data-positive culture within the organization. The leadership team recognized that data-driven efforts, if implemented correctly, could strengthen the impact of the organization.
For four years, I worked with a talented group of board members and ambassadors to successfully establish and develop YNPN Boston’s research and evaluation team, which grew from one member (me) to a six-person team. The team sought to help YNPN Boston understand what young nonprofit professionals want and need as they navigate the nonprofit landscape of Boston through survey research, interviews, focus groups, and evaluations. We focused on embedding research into the day-to-day activities of the organization instead of simply “tacking on” research or evaluation when convenient. I was fortunate to be a part of a team that created space and structure for this cultural shift and allowed me to simultaneously apply and develop my research skills.
YNPN Boston also provided me with opportunities to take on new leadership challenges, both within the organization and at the national level. In 2014, I became the Vice Chair of YNPN Boston’s board, which brought new organizational, leadership, and strategic planning challenges as our organization was going through some big changes. I had opportunities to attend two YNPN National conferences, meet fellow YNPN leaders from around the country, and consult with YNPN National when they were in the process of developing their own infrastructure toward data-driven efforts. As an all-volunteer run organization, the YNPN network was just nimble enough to provide me with and push me toward opportunities that I may not have otherwise sought out. These experiences served as a natural complement to my academic day job and provided a venue to “practice” my nonprofit leadership and research skills.
I have learned so much from my YNPN Boston peers and friends. I treasure memories of coffee dates, late-night email exchanges, plentiful snacks, discussions about work/life balance, and ‘board beers.’ My time on the board positioned me to work as a part of any team, to recognize where I can contribute or jump in, and to learn by (and while) doing. My board service not only made me a better researcher, but has propelled me toward a career where community-engaged research is valued.
Serving on the YNPN Boston board provided a network and community that extended beyond my day job, and I am happy to report that I did, in fact, find many of my people here. I am so glad that I attended that recruitment meeting in 2011, and am proud of what I was able to accomplish with my friends and colleagues as a member of YNPN Boston’s board of directors. Although my YNPN Boston board term ended in September 2015, I was proud to leave the organization with a fully functioning research and evaluation team, new leaders in the pipeline, and a newfound energy buzzing in the boardroom.
Jodi Benenson is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. Her research focuses on the intersection between civic engagement, inequality, and social policy, specifically as these topics pertain to activities in the nonprofit sector. Before returning to graduate school, Jodi spent time working in the nonprofit sector in the Twin Cities. Jodi also served on the Board of Directors of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Boston chapter for four years, where she established the organization’s first research and evaluation team. Jodi received a B.S. and M.P.A. from Indiana University and a Ph.D. in social policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.
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