The Young Nonprofit Professional's Network activates emerging leaders by connecting them with resources, people, and ideas, and is passionate about building stronger communities, and providing a safe place for future leaders in the social sector to learn, practice their skills, and make a difference. In pursuit of this mission, YNPN has been working with NationBuilder to help them better connect across chapters, understand their membership and network activity, and better track how they’re serving and engaging their members.
I sat down and talked to leaders, Jess Brooks and Jamie Smith, at YNPN about their NationBuilder Network experience, and the work of building their network.
Tell us about a success your organization has experienced in the past year?
YNPN has grown tremendously in the last few years--we've gone from 18 chapters in 2011 to 50 chapters by the end of 2016! And by the end of this year, our growing network will have more than 50,000 members.This growth confirms what we already know--there is a huge demand for the leadership development that YNPN does. Moving all of our chapters and our national organization to NationBuilder has allowed us to better track how we're serving and engaging our members, and next we hope to use NationBuilder to expand the ways we help those members connect with each other.
This growth has also been a challenge, though, as our infrastructure struggled to support the work we were doing nationally and locally. One of our biggest successes over the last year has been rallying our network to invest in our infrastructure and develop processes for making sure that we can stay sustainable and effective as a network.
Infrastructure and capacity building work isn't always sexy, but we've established a solid foundation for YNPN to continue doing amazing work and NationBuilder has been an important part of that.
What have you learned this year about growing your community that you would share with other leaders?
It is a process! If you are passionate and motivated, that energy can be shared with the rest of your community. You still have to work hard to research and communicate with every community; and every community is different! Different needs, wants and desires, structures, cultures... etc.
YNPN's greatest strength is that it's a grassroots network that has grown entirely organically, and our greatest challenge is that we're a grassroots network that has grown entirely organically. Moving our network to NationBuilder has been so valuable because we now have connections with our members and access to data about our network that we simply didn't have before and it's made the relationship stronger and more meaningful.
Aside from making sure that you're able to stay connected and learn about your members, we would say that all community-based organizations, not just networks, should think about how they can share decision-making and power. It's the nature of our organization and in line with our values to do this, but it's also a necessity because there's no way for a few people in a national office to adequately serve a network of our size. We've always known that our people are our greatest resource and we've consistently seen again and again that people within our network will step up to lead, contribute ideas, and support each other when given opportunities and simple structures that help them do that. We believe that even organizations that don't have a network structure could benefit from incorporating other perspectives, particularly those of their constituents, into their leadership and decision-making.
While most membership organizations are in decline, YNPN is growing exponentially and we believe it's because our members and chapters are attracted to the ownership they have over the network and their work locally.
How are you using NationBuilder to lead people to action?
YNPN is gathering all local chapters together to provide useful programming, outreach, training, communication, and assistance for the future leaders of America. NationBuilder is providing us the tools to make this process happen.
We are just beginning to experiment with Paths and moving people towards actions and the completion of important processes, like starting a new chapter. We've found Paths to be incredibly helpful in managing our support and follow-up.
Right now we're primarily using NationBuilder to track who's already taking action so we can identify our most active chapters and members. This is helping us make sure we are recognizing those who are active and reaching out to those who are not.
What features do you use the most in NationBuilder?
We've found virtual currency, tags, especially synched tags, and the ability to apply designations like "Volunteer" to someone's profile to be incredibly useful. It helps us know at a glance who is most engaged and it makes communicating with the right people incredibly easy. Event pages and custom fields are also a must if you really want to get to know your community.
We're using Paths more and more to track the progress of members and chapters toward certain goals and we're currently examining how we can use it as part of our membership welcome process.
What’s your favorite NationBuilder feature and why?
It's hard to pick a favorite, but I suppose we have to say Paths because it's come up so many times in our answer so far! When you have 50 chapters and 50,000 members, it is impossible to do the things you need to do to have effective communication and meaningful interactions without some kind of automation. Paths keeps us on top of the timing and reminders so that we can focus on the actual content of our communications and being present for the conversations we get to have with our chapters and members.
What are your organization's goals for the upcoming year?
The final few chapters in our network will be coming onto NationBuilder by the end of this year. Once we have this critical infrastructure in place, we plan to use it! We're eager to help chapters and members all across the country connect with each other.
We're also looking forward to growing other great YNPN programs, like our annual conference. This year we'll be adding a virtual component to our conference, so if you can't join us in person you can still get an affordable, in-depth leadership development experience. Being connected to our members across the country has helped us not only build an audience but retain them and we're seeing a big demand for more of what we're doing.
We're also excited to engage our members and chapters in planning for the future of the network. We are lucky to get to the work with the smartest, most talented, and most passionate people in the sector and one of our main objectives is to provide a platform for their leadership as we build a diverse and powerful social sector together.