I wasn't always a young nonprofit professional. For close to a decade, I was a graduate student, part of a broader community of academics and researchers. Even though I went to a specific university, when I would say, "I'm a grad student," I felt there was a shared feeling of solidarity amongst others like me (stressed out and perpetually on the hunt for free food), regardless of university or program.
This is quite different from the feeling I get today from saying "I work at a nonprofit"--I don't suddenly feel a sense of solidarity with others who work at nonprofits (just mostly a mixed reaction of respect and pity). YNPN Boston was my first foray into getting the old "we're all in this together" feeling back on the local level, and the Activate! Summit of 2016 was the perfect opportunity to test whether that nonprofit solidarity could reach at the national level.
I admit I was apprehensive about attending the conference. As outspoken and forward as I am, it has taken years of suppressing nerves in order to simply say, "Hi", especially when I knew no one outside of my amazing fellow YNPN Boston board member and travel companion, Alicia Ridenour. In spite of these butterflies, my curiosity was stronger, not only about what other chapters were like, but about YNPN National and what they had in store for us.
There was a lot of fist pumping on the first day of the conference (Vu Le from Nonprofits with Balls reminded us that "we are all unicorns"), as we explored professional development opportunities. On day two, we heard from the National team about their mission to (figuratively) go to the moon. But it wasn't until the third day that the most meaningful conversations happened between chapter leaders and the board about the future of the organization. As we grappled with fundamental questions such as paid membership or age limits, it became clear that no one, especially National, had all of the answers.. We needed to figure out the answers for ourselves, and that was both freedom and a challenge. Yet, that is what it meant to be a network--operating independently while having the opportunity to learn from, and partner with, others.
To my surprise, I walked away feeling like I was part of a bigger community -- dare I say, a fraternity -- where, by flashing my YNPN card, I could create instant kinships that could help me in my professional goals. I even felt emboldened to consider moving out of Boston, knowing that I could plug into a network of connected professionals like myself in most major cities, or even a few smaller ones. In short, I felt "activated", per YNPN's mission, and it felt really good.
Being a part of something is just a first step towards actually doing something, and oftentimes it is when we act that we really feel like we belong. Belonging isn't passive, and being a part of YNPN isn't a passive endeavor. In order to make this network work for us, we must activate it with our energy, our participation, and our belief in the dream. I believe in YNPN as a local and national movement more than ever. Get activated!
Mitsy Chanel-Blot is the Chief of Staff at United South End Settlements in Boston, MA. She previously worked at the anti-poverty nonprofit LIFT as the site coordinator for the Roxbury Office and is currently on the board of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Texas at Austin, and her background includes training and facilitation, research, nonprofit management, and performance art.