Speeches at Volunteer Victoria’s AGM: Beth Cougler Blom

NOTE: This post is part of the Embracing the Future-Leading for Change post regarding our Annual General Meeting.

Volunteer Victoria held its Annual General Meeting on June 24th, 2010.  The meeting featured a panel of three speakers talking about leadership in the nonprofit sector.  Our first presenter, Beth Cougler Blom, Manager of Training and Outreach at Volunteer Victoria, spoke on the recent creation of our Emerging Leaders Network in Victoria and what local emerging leaders think about sector leadership and the path to get there.  Here is the text of her speech:

About a year ago Val Green [Volunteer Victoria’s Executive Director] and I both received word that Vantage Point (formerly Volunteer Vancouver) had started up a Next Leaders Network for younger nonprofit professionals.  I think we both practically ran to each other at the same time and said, we should do this here in Victoria.  

I called Vantage Point to see how things were going for them and then quickly pulled together a focus group of nonprofit professionals around my age to see what they thought of the idea.  They all told me that this would be a great thing for Victoria and we brainstormed what a Network could look like.  So Val went out and – lo and behold – was able to find funding to make this vision happen. 

On May 24 we announced our creation of an Emerging Leaders Network for the next generation of nonprofit leaders.  We think it’s the second of its kind in Canada.  The Network is bringing together late 20 to early 40 somethings who all have the goal of leading in the nonprofit sector in the near future.  “Leadership” in this case could mean being Executive Directors, board chairs, board members, upper management, or other types of nonprofit professionals.   The Network is open to both people working in the nonprofit sector and significantly volunteering in it.  And on the agenda are bi-monthly meetings, professional development and networking opportunities, and opportunities to connect with today’s leaders in multiple ways. 

The response to the Network has been incredible.  Less than four weeks after we opened up the online community for the network we have 71 members … and more emerging leaders are joining every day.   And the general consensus about the Network that I’m hearing at this time is: “Wow, this is amazing, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.” 

But I think that I’m the most excited of all because, hey, I get to lead the project.  But coming up with the vision for the Network has been and will continue to be a group process.  That early focus group has now become an advisory group of emerging leaders for me, and I’ve been holding blue sky brainstorming sessions with some of the Network’s members to visualize what this first year is going to look like.  And, let me tell you, we have lots of ideas.  We have so many things we want to learn about, but there are also things we need to share with today’s leaders too. 

Some of our questions:

  • How do we network successfully?  How do we make connections with our peers and current leaders?
  • How did current leaders get to where they are?  What career path did they follow?
  • What does being an Executive Director involve? What do they do all day?
  • How do we learn about boards? What questions should we ask when picking a board to sit on?
  • What gaps do we need to fill in our own knowledge to be successful in a leadership position?  And how do we fill them before we get there?

We also want to know more about recruitment, hiring, supervising and managing people, budgeting, public relations, marketing, fundraising, sponsorships, grant writing, liability insurance, public speaking, group facilitation, volunteer management and, and, and the list goes on.  Not too much really … but I’m not sure we’re going to get it all done in the first year.

Oh we know there’s a lot to learn – there always is – but emerging leaders still know some stuff too.  We know what our needs are, and we know how we’d like leadership to look when we get there.  We think we can help organizations prepare for our arrival, when today’s leaders are ready to retire or move on from their positions.

Here’s a taste of what I’ve heard emerging leaders saying recently:

We’ll never know if we’re interested in being a leader if we’re not shown what it looks like – from the inside.  Emerging leaders are craving a glimpse into the work lives of Executive Directors.  What does it mean to be an ED?  Does it look different at different organizations?  Not a lot of us know the answers to these questions yet.  And we don’t want to find out only at the point when we’ve landed an ED position – scary!

We’re not sure how it looks on the inside, but we do know how it often looks from the outside.  And, let me tell you, the way leadership looks now may not be how we’d like it to look when we get there.  We want to work fewer and more flexible hours, and some of us want to work part-time or job-share an ED position if possible.  In fact, work/life balance is a huge concern for us – and we will ask for it when we get to the top of organizations.  We not only don’t want to work 12 hour days to get the job done (when we think it can be done in 8), many of us can’t.  We’re having kids later than previous generations have, and we have to balance work and family and then all the other things we want to do as well.  We’ve grown up being told that we can have it all, but you know what?  The reality is that we just can’t.  Flexibility will be key with us. 

Organizations need to be prepared for our arrival onto the leadership scene.  We won’t be afraid to make changes when we get there, and we just hope that the organizations who hire us will be open to those changes.  If not, you know what?  We won’t stay.  The culture of an organization will make a big difference to a leader of my generation. 

We believe there are enough opportunities around for all of us to be successful.  We share what we know and we don’t hold our information close.  If we help others, we think others will help us.  It sounds simple but not everybody thinks this way.  From what I’ve seen, emerging leaders do. I’ve had this conversation several times recently and to me, that’s exciting.  We’re all in this together, and we’re going to help each other. My generation of nonprofit professionals is committed, passionate, driven, and full of ideas and inspiration.  We thrive on change.  Some of us are already starting to lead organizations and the floodgates are about to open for the rest of us.  And we’ll be ready.  Especially if others share what they know to help us get there.

Good succession planning takes learning about the people who will fill your shoes.  Good leadership takes recognizing when you have emerging leaders working for you that have the potential to do more.  One emerging leader told me last week: “I want my boss to say, ‘I’m going to help you get to where you want to go with your career, even if it means leaving this organization.’”  That would be a powerful thing to hear for most of us.  Just imagine what we all could do if we had connections in our lives that were able to help us do what we want to do and also make a difference – wherever we chose to make it.

It is my belief that – no matter their age group – people still want and crave opportunities these days to connect with each other in person.  This is so crucial, especially in a place like Victoria where two degrees of separation is the norm!   Connections are what the Emerging Leaders Network is all about.  And, as I said, we’ve got lots of ideas to make connections happen, amongst ourselves and with current leaders.  Would it surprise you to learn that emerging leaders even want to make connections in different ways than our predecessors?

This past month starting up the Emerging Leaders Network has been amazing.  And what a difference a month has made!  A month ago I would have told you that I expected a bit of a leadership crunch in the sector in a few years.  I just wasn’t really that sure how many of my generation actually wanted to be leaders, especially Executive Directors.  But now I know there’s no shortage of people who want to be leaders in our community…but I also know that organizations have to be prepared that we may make a few changes to leadership when we get there.  And even before we get there.

I think it’s going to be an amazing year.

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