People are stepping up to the plate – but they need to know the play

By Jeff Ashley
President & Founder

For the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion hosted by Leadership Louisville Center for their current Leadership Louisville class as they spend a full day focused on the local nonprofit community. It’s something I always look forward to, especially the great interaction with current and future community leaders where diverse insights and perspectives are shared – and they always have such good questions.

This year, the panel also included our friends Mason Rummel of the James Graham Brown Foundation, Ron Gallo with the Community Foundation of Louisville, and Tiffany Benjamin from the Humana Foundation. Our conversation centered around some of the latest trends in the nonprofit sector, including partnerships and collaborations; the development of new and creative revenue sources; and the need for communities and cities to intentionally align around priorities to get things done. As discussion turned toward public-private partnerships and how important it is for local and state elected officials to team up with nonprofits to move things forward, we spent some time talking about Louisville’s particular challenges and opportunities.

What stayed with me came at the end of the session, when someone asked the “now what” question: What can we do?

My fellow panelists made it clear that this Leadership Louisville class has the unique opportunity step up to address some of the current challenges that exist. This class has the spotlight as part of the current group of identified leaders – and with that comes the ability to leverage this position. In other words, the time is now.

When it was my turn to weigh in, I agreed and encouraged the class to take things a step further. I suggested that if they make a choice to get involved with a nonprofit or cause, don’t just step up, but REALLY STEP IN.

By this, I mean don’t just grab a seat or take up space, and don’t jump in only because it could be the next rung on your professional ladder. If you’re going to sit on a board, volunteer, or give money, go all in: Learn about the organization. Find its impact points. Ask questions. Give advice. Raise your hand to help. Be an ambassador for their cause. Decide how your particular skills can be useful in doing the hard work. In other words, act – do something other than talk or take up space.

And as I talked with various class members after the panel discussion, several people asked if I knew which nonprofits were looking for new board members or volunteers.

The takeaway for nonprofit leaders is this: Don’t assume that people know what the opportunities are. It’s your responsibility as a leader to get that message out there, let people know you need help and in what areas, and be very specific in asking for what you need – leaning on tools like advocacy, ambassadorship, and marketing/communications strategies to do so. Up-and-coming leaders in our community are hungry for opportunities and have a “Put me in, Coach” mentality, but they need to know how they fit into your plans and what you want and need them to do – specifically. Don’t miss that.

Need help thinking through your needs and how to connect with young leaders? Feel free to reach out for a conversation!