Monday, August 27, 2007

SF Bay Area Nonprofit Boot Camp 2007

My friend P. and I attended SF Bay Area Nonprofit Boot Camp 2007 this month. This was an awesome event, highly recommended to would-be nonprofit workers/founders. It's incredibly well-run on a shoestring, so they can make it affordable ($50) to people who are just getting started.

Nonprofit Boot Camp puts a lot of its content and resources online: SF Bay Area Nonprofit Boot Camp discussion groups (including special groups for post-conference follow-up discussions), notes and videos from workshops (videos will be posted a month after the event), Flickr photo pool. Notes and podcasts from the 2006 Boot Camp are also online.

Since it's also a networking event, I brought along copies of my résumé and also created a "business card", shown above. The card is a bit busy, but it's a starting point and I kind of like it. I created another version of my résumé that leaves out the heavy technical details of my past employment and includes a list of my nonprofit areas of interest. I managed to hand out one résumé and a few business cards.

Event highlights:

Welcome & Morning Keynote: The conference opened with an exciting Brazilian drum performance. Darian Heyman, ED of the Craigslist Foundation gave an excellent welcome speech with three main ideas: 1) Pick big problems; 2) Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate; and 3) less is more. Ami Dar, ED of gave an incredible, pithy keynote titled "Everything I've learned in 10 years, in 20 minutes". Everyone new to the nonprofit sector (and those who have been in it for a while) should check out this speech - it contains an incredible amount of wisdom distilled into a brief presentation.

Links to notes on sessions I attended:Lunch: We met Angie and Erin from the Stepping Stones Project, a nonprofit that creates "meaningful rites of passage for youth as they transition from childhood towards adulthood." I learned some lessons from them about the challenges of nonprofit leadership transitions. Often, a visionary founder gets the most fulfillment out of bringing their idea into fruition; they may be less interested in the ongoing operations, so they move on once their org is established. But the emotional dynamics and power dynamics of being a founder and (later on) letting go can be difficult, even with a mentoring/transition process.

During lunch, we also met Kathy Chism, founder of Dream One World, a nonprofit that does lots of grassroots assistance projects like supplying a Peruvian village with locally-sourced alpaca blankets during an extreme winter and assisting children on Grand Bahama Island whose homes were ravaged by hurricanes. Dream One World is Kathy's dream, and she makes many personal, financial, and even health sacrifices to achieve it, working two full-time jobs to earn a living while also running the organization. She's looking for an angel to write a $100K check and grow the organization! For fundraising, she had success with fundraising scratch cards. One of her recent interests is "shop shifting" - getting people to shop consciously in terms of patronizing stores that give a significant percentage of revenues to charity (not just nominal amounts, like eScrip). I gave her a Wallet Buddy from New American Dream, since some of the questions on it have commonalities with "shop shifting".

Afternoon Keynote: Given by Aimee Allison. She told a bit of her life story, and it was encouraging to hear about someone wearing so many hats during their lifetime, from combat medic to peace activist! She's had difficult periods of nonprofit involvement, such as when she was a program manager for a nonprofit where she loved the mission work, but the work environment/conditions and organizational politics were miserable. She's had to be adaptable. She urged us to reconsider what it means to be in it for the long haul: your social change efforts may not bear visible fruit until the lifetimes of your children/grandchildren.

Facilitated Networking: Great format; small discussion groups of conference attendees based on interest area. My interest area was Technology, but I wish I could have also participated in the discussions around Environment, Art & Culture, Social Justice, and Volunteers. In my group, I met Jennifer G. who does web design for Emeryville Taiko on a volunteer basis and has also done some work for San Jose Jazz. She uses HTML, Dreamweaver, and something called Smarty, and she recommended learning about the first two if I want to do web development. Her $$$ job is web design for a real estate company, and (like me and a lot of us) she's trying to figure out the whole "nonprofit + making a living" thing. I also met Bill, ED of Many Hands, an org that sends volunteer teams to locations around the globe for local projects. His org runs on a shoestring; he can't even afford to hire an offshore contractor from India, so Bill wears the techie hat. Both Jennifer and Bill could use help with their current non-profit web projects; I should consider doing pro bono work with their orgs or similar orgs to build my portfolio. I also met a nice woman from SF Dykes on Bikes (and yes, she looked the part, and that was cool). She recommended that I check out CharityFocus, which has listings for both unpaid and paid positions at nonprofits.

Info Booths: I cruised the info booths at the conference and stopped at the following booths:
  • Nonprofit Technology Network - For career-changers like me, they suggested checking out their webinars for self-learning. They also recommended using their local groups and affinity groups to query for job leads, contribute answers to people's tech questions (to establish my reputation/expertise), and find out if there's interest in an NTEN get-together in Silicon Valley. (They have a happy hour in the city with 10-20 attendees, but nothing in the South Bay so far.)
  • TechSoup - dropped off a résumé
  • CompassPoint - picked up a copy of their workshop schedule. I'd like to attend their workshop Switching Sectors: Preparing Your Leap from Profit to Nonprofit next time it's offered; it's only $35.
  • Dreamfish - customized social networking website for individuals/orgs involved in nonprofits/activism. They are still a new effort; I asked for the two-minute overview, but was still unclear what they offer that's different from other social networks, or even whether they're for-profit or non-profit.
  • Young Nonprofit Professionals Network - didn't get to talk to their booth staff, so I'll check out their website. Looks like a professional society.

Self-Reflections at Boot Camp:
  • For me, it's not about the work, it's about the cause. I'd rather do non-tech work for the specific cause I want to champion, than do tech work for a cause that I like but am not as passionate about.
  • However...I need to consider what kinds of jobs/organizations I'm open to working for, in the course of "paying my dues" in the nonprofit sector.
  • I'm a good information broker - I acquire tons of information in my activist areas of expertise and connect it to the people who most need/want it. I should consider a nonprofit job that utilizes this skill of mine.
  • I need an elevator pitch, or (dare I say it) a sound bite to describe to others, in a sentence, what I'm interested in doing.
  • I should bring my list informational interview questions to events like these. If I run into a subject expert, it will help me pick their brains more effectively.
Follow-up steps:

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