Last month I was lucky enough to attend the NAMAC Leadership Institute in gorgeous Silver Falls, Oregon. The Leadership Institute was a weeklong exploration and advisement of leadership issues in the arts. Tucked away in the backwoods of the Silver Falls State Park, it was a great opportunity to network and dialogue with peers without internet or cellphone service—we all complained for the first 2 days; when we left it was hailed as a welcome relief.

I greatly enjoyed the Institute for a lot of reasons, personal and professional, but of the key highlights was being able to have substantive dialogue with other nonprofit peers. I was the youngest person there—the majority of the 20-or-so attendees seemed to be in their 30s—but a lot of what was talked about resonated strongly with what I’ve heard through my conversations with people working in nonprofits.

One of the most interesting observations came during an activity in which we were popcorning out what we like about our jobs and what we don’t. A pattern emerged from the answers:

  • The things that were liked by respondents had to do with broader organizational values, vision or impact. People really liked knowing that they the organization was helping people and doing so in a way that they believed in (these were all media and arts organizations).
  • The things that people disliked were all personal or positional issues: poor communication, poor management or supervision, workload, and unreliable committments to their projects.

After the activity I voiced this observation and it was greeted very warmly (several people told afterwards that they really thought this was an aha moment for them). In my work and observing others, there are often few opportunities to reflect upon personal positive impacts. This is particularly tough because there aren’t objective benchmarks from which someone can individually guage their effectiveness; there is no hard ROI.

For a much broader look at this, I reccommend reading through all 75 pages of the Building Movement Project’s “ Generational Changes and Leadership: Implications for Social Change Organizations”, which has excerpts of a wide set of interviews with nonprofit leaders young and old.