By: Aurora Schunk Assistant Director of the Civic and Community Engagement Office at Buffalo State College and YNPN Greater Bflo Board Co-Chair
When you hear the phrase “active citizen,” what comes to your mind? What do you think are the characteristics that make an “active citizen?” Can anyone be an “active citizen,” or do you need to be Ai-Jen Poo?
Active citizens are individuals who see the world through the lens of community. They prioritize the community in values and life choices and take action on issues that matter to them. So yes, Ai-Jen Poo is without a doubt an active citizen. In fact so was/is Cesar Chavez, John Lewis, and you.
But how does one become an active citizen? Active Citizenship isn’t like the Birth of Venus, springing forth, fully-grown from the sea. Break Away, a national nonprofit, created a developmental model, known as the Active Citizen Continuum, that they share with colleges and universities who host service immersion trip experience programs for their students (also known as alternative breaks). I’ve used this model with the students I supervise in SUNY Buffalo State College’s Alternative Break program, and my office has adopted much of the language into our academic community-engaged learning taxonomy. This concept of an individual’s self-development and movement from one stage of the the Active Citizen Continuum is not only something that college students can follow through their engagement in an alternative break or community-based learning course. Rather, anyone can use the model to either motivate and encourage others’ movement along the continuum, or use as a guide as they expand their commitment to the community.
The Active Citizen Continuum is a model that provides language to describe an individual’s transition from mere existence to being a part of community-driven solutions to social justice and social issues.
So how does a nonprofit professional guide their volunteers, donors, board and staff members as they build active citizen skills to best assist the organization with capacity building, retention, and building a stronger network in the community?
Step #1: Identify placement on the Active Citizen Continuum
This can be done in different ways, but I’ve created this “pop quiz” to share with your target audience. You might incorporate these questions and create a corresponding rubric to evaluate board member or volunteer applications; or perhaps when surveying donors, you might similar add questions to better understand your donor active citizen IQ. Be creative in incorporating this into your role at your organization.
Step #2: Thoughtfully create experiences
Depending on where an individual places themselves on the Active Citizen Continuum in Step #1, I’ve shared some ways you can incorporate to help them start their journey on the continuum.
- Invite them to participate in a low-pressure volunteer experience but one that gives them direct service experience (if possible)
- Provide orientation and resources (mission/vision; ways the organization impacts the community/key social issue)
- Provide orientation that identifies the way the organization individually and in collaboration impacts the community/social issue(s)
- Create opportunities for service projects that clearly connect to social issue
- Conscientious Citizen
- Provide opportunities for strong direct service where they can realize the kinship they share with the community members they meet
- Help them connect their service experience to daily life
- Create ways for them to advocate for community issues
- Active Citizen
- Facilitate opportunities for them to engage and lead others in your organization’s mission (ie: board service, committee, fundraisers, team leaders for service day)
Step #3: Share Educational Resources and Inspire
It’s difficult to get involved or connect to an issue in the community if you don’t know anything about it. Furthermore, once you know something about an issue, you shouldn’t keep all that information to yourself; you need to share it with others to inspire them!
- Expose them to social issues and service by identifying other ways for them to get connected and learning more
- Focus education on the issue and what underlies the need for service (why service is needed to tackle this issue)
- Provide education that connects the social issue to social justice issues
- Conscientious Citizen
- Share information on the intersectionality of social issues so they see beyond this issue + gain a desire to make a broader impact
- Active Citizen
- Encourage their own continued education
- Give them a platform for educating others, sharing their experiences, and knowledge to other volunteers, board, staff, etc.
- Allow them to share ways they incorporate daily changes into their life
Step #4: Facilitate Critical Reflection
Reflection is oftentimes where learning happens. It’s when you pause to think critically about your experiences, how they connect or differ from what you have learned or from other experiences that things become clear.
- Before they begin their service, board year, etc, ask them to articulate: Goals for this volunteer/board/ experience? Why this organization? What are they expecting (to learn, to do, to impact)?
- Encourage them to ask “why” questions: why is this a need in the community; how will this provide assistance; why is the need greater than what can be provided; why is this an issue in the community, etc.
- Conscientious Citizen
- Encourage reflection to connect service work, daily actions, and education
- Active Citizen
- Ask them to reflect on their experiences life choices, education and the issue in a way that is promoted to others and serves as an example
- Allow them to use their story to advocate
Thanks for sticking with me as I talk about the Active Citizen Continuum! Have other questions? Want to brainstorm some ideas for the role you have in your organization? Need an outsider’s perspective to help transform your own role on the continuum? Email me! Let’s chat! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking forward to hearing from you!
(Image Description: Man sitting at desk looking stressed with people reaching towards him with phones, stacks of paper, and watches)
By: Melanie Brem Special Events Coordinator at Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity and YNPN Greater Bflo Co-Chair for Marketing & Communications
When I introduce myself and tell people I plan special events for a living it is almost always followed up with “Oh, that sounds like such fun.” And it is, most days. However, during peak event season “fun” isn’t always the adjective that comes to mind. Over the last three years of planning fund- and friend- raisers, I have found these to be helpful in keeping my sanity.
Before getting knee deep in anything, timeline out every step (even the super obvious ones). Once you have all the steps down, add deadlines and who is responsible for that task. Convey this information to all who are involved and make sure to post your timeline in a place you can see. Make sure to actually check off what has been completed to help you stay on track. I find adding notes along the way allows me to fine tune this timeline at the end of each event.
Learn how to delegate
I’ll be honest; this one is a hard one for me. Once you have your timeline in place, comb through the list and find tasks on there that can be divvied up to volunteers, interns, or others who can help. Before dumping a job on anyone, be sure to type up thorough instructions (again, I have found editing yearly helps to fine- tune these) and meet with the person to explain and answer any questions. Meeting well in advance can prevent any unneeded stress later on.
Scheduling time for emails and voicemails
I attended a workshop once that talked about this and I left thinking that sounded impossible in the culture of people wanting answers quickly. During peak event season, this is your friend. Don’t feel like you have to check your email every time it pings, as long as you find time throughout the day to check and answer things. Same with the phone- use the caller ID to your advantage and send those non- urgent calls to voicemail (remember to check and respond later). If you are on task, you don’t want to interrupt that flow with something else.
Find a solid support system
Before it hits the fan, find these people. Whether it is your coworker, administrative assistant, work bestie, significant other, your mom, or all of them- mentally identify those you can count on for a simple favor or your daily dose of sanity. These people will help you through the long hours, skipped lunches, 11th hour frantic mailing stuffing and sign making, and help catch any of the other balls that have been carelessly tossed in the air. And don’t forget to thank them.
Remember to be you
During peak event season, work can be an 8+ hour solid block of checking off things on a list and processing all the countless items needed. Don’t forget the simple things- water (aka miracle liquid that really can make you better), food (because hangry really is a thing), music (turn on those work- friendly beats and rock through your work), and exercise (I’m not talking about a marathon, just a little something to get the blood flowing). Even on the busiest days, these four things are your friends and can help turn a terrible day into something more manageable.
Once the event is over, and it will be (even when you don’t think it can come quick enough), remember to treat yourself. You busted your butt. You put in the long, hard hours in the office- and all those “what about…” thoughts on your time off. Do something nice for yourself and make sure to find time to wind down, decompress, and return to normalcy.
(Pictured above: Map of the United States with YNPN chapters indicated with route from Buffalo to Indianapolis highlighted)
From July 27th to July 30th, four members of YNPN Greater Bflo’s Board of Directors took a road trip to the Young Nonprofit Professional Network’s Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. With 300+ attendees representing chapters from across the United States, there were plenty of opportunities to learn from best practices, share challenges, and seek solutions. Here, our representatives share their reflections on the YNPN National Conference 2018, as well as what being part of a national network means to them.
Aurora Schul Schunk, Board Co-Chair
Being a part of the national Young Nonprofit Professionals Network has been a large part of my growth as a young professional. Typically, when I have faced challenges I have tried to problem-solve on my own, going with the attitude of “no man is an island, but this woman is.” When I attended the National Conference last year it was the first time I realized that I didn’t have to do that. There are many young professionals who want to hear about your challenges and brainstorm solutions or offer advice on how they solved a similar issue. Whereas last year Jerome and I went into the conference looking for advice on how to solve challenges; this year we were the ones providing advice, frameworks, and answers to challenges young professionals from all over the country were having in their professional or YNPN lives.
Building connections and collaborating to leverage our voice and talents. I think that is what being a part of YNPN is all about. Whether it’s collaborating with local peers in the YNPN Greater Bflo chapter at Undergrounds Coffee House, or meeting over Zoom Video Conference with a colleague in Southern Nevada, we can all work together to solve issues locally, nationally, and globally.
Jerome Singletary, Board Co-Chair
This is the second year I’ve had the opportunity to attend the YNPN National Conference & Leadership Institute and for the second time, I am coming back from it energized and enthused about the work YNPN is doing, and the impact young professionals have in the sector. The Chapter Roll Call was again a highlight of the conference and seeing what successes and challenges other chapters across the country face was tremendously helpful in brainstorming strategies to make Greater Bflo an even stronger chapter.
Having the opportunity to present at the National Conference was thrilling as well. We teamed up with YNPN Triangle NC to give the presentation “Signature Conference: Why You Should Too” and shared how we plan and execute our annual YNPN Greater Bflo Summit. Topics from other presentations I attended included organizational membership and equity, diversity and inclusion, both of which our members and the Buffalo nonprofit community will hear more on in the coming months.
Overall, attending the National Conference has proven that it is not only a personal benefit to be a part of this network, but that YNPN Greater Bflo, and the Western New York nonprofit sector as a whole, will benefit from the work that YNPN is doing across the country.
Osaze Ibhawa, Special Events Co-Chair
Amazing is the word I would use to describe the YNPN 2018 National Conference at Indianapolis. In the wonderful company of fellow YNPNers from the Greater Bflo Chapter, we carpooled for a road trip to a journey I call GREATNESS. Yes, greatness, that’s exactly one word that explains the knowledge, experience, and benefits brought by YNPN National Conference.
We were greeted at Plat 99 at the Alexander Hotel with an art tour, wonderful pleasantries, and great refreshments, many local to Indiana. As awesome as I thought this networking opportunity was already, little did I know the best was yet to come with the conference itself.
The first day was very informative and one thing that stuck on to me was the mantra “Not fearless, still a leader” by Jamie Smith, Executive Director of YNPN National, as it was very motivating and empowering. This was followed by a roll call of all the YNPN chapters which gave all an opportunity to know what others were doing, how they are doing it, and how they can do better. I was wowed by what I learned from the other chapters, especially as Greater Bflo is now accepting members for $25! I am proud to be a member of YNPN Greater Bflo because my membership goes to providing more priceless benefits and immeasurable gains, and I hope you will join me by becoming a member here! Great insights and knowledge were gathered on the first day of the conference that helped with personal leadership and growth as well as growth and development for organizations.
The rest of the conference was equally informative and empowering as topics ranged from “Innovative Programming on a Shoestring Budget” to uniting professional groups for a collective impact were covered in different breakout sessions. A full overview of the topics covered can be found here.
My reflection on the conference can’t be complete without talking about our own Jerome Singletary and Aurora Schul Schunk, Board Co-Chairs of YNPN Greater Cflo chapter who both gave wonderful presentations on “Signature Conference: Why You Should Too” and “Engaging the Active Citizen Continuum to Support Your Organization or Your Personal Growth” respectively.
Still wondering how was my experience? I guess you can tell already it was a fun ride back home with Alex Lauer giving us good vibes all the way. And in all honesty, do not forget to become a member.
Alex Lauer, Marketing & Communications Co-Chair
On the first day of the conference, YNPN National Executive Director Jamie Smith said something that stuck with me throughout the rest of the event: “Not fearless. Still a leader.” As a young non-profit professional, fear is something that I’ve dealt with throughout my entire career. Fear, and the daily work that goes into conquering it, is what motivated me to join the Board, because as Jamie observed later in her opening remarks, while fear has the power to make us feel isolated and incapable, it can also bring us together as we empathize with one another’s struggles and build a stronger community that represents our shared ideals.
Being part of the broader Young Nonprofit Professionals Network connects us with people in our broader community on a national level (and international level—we’re looking at you, YNPN neighbors to the North!). It connects us to active citizens who share three beliefs, reflected by YNPN’s three strategic goals.
First, that emerging leaders are empowered and equipped with the skills and competencies to realize YNPN’s vision of stronger communities supported and strengthened by a diverse and powerful social sector.
Second, that staff and leadership in the nonprofit sector represent the diversity of our communities.
And finally, careers in the nonprofit sector are individually, organizationally, and economically sustainable.
As a network, these are the strategic results that we are rallying behind as part of YNPN, encompassing chapters and members from across the country. I am excited about the future potential this network has, and the role Greater Bflo and our members will play in prioritizing and achieving these results both in our community and our larger community.
This is the first in our NEW YNPN Greater Bflo blog series. If you are interested in submitting a blog to be featured, please contact the Marketing & Communications team (Melanie and Alex) at email@example.com.