Wednesday, October 23, 2013

1 Yr. Anniv. at The Cara Program - Nonprofit Workplace Reflections

Excited is an understatement of what I felt when I got the call for a job offer at The Cara Program! The HR team was probably making some jokes about my giddiness on the phone. And here I am a year later and none of the excitement has worn off. Sure, my job has challenges and so does every workplace, but looking over the last year, I couldn't have asked for a better opportunity.

Tech Work Tied to Mission. From the first day I have been immersed and involved in the strategic process and mission discussion. There is a strong understanding about the potential for technology to deeply change the way the staff and org works to meet the mission. This is what I was searching for. I have had a passion for IT Alignment with mission for years! You can see this in the IT Alignment resources on this blog.

Leveraging volunteers. The Cara Program incorporates volunteers in the expected ways including mock interviews, training, sorting donated clothes, etc. But it goes much deeper than that. We are always using volunteers in much deeper and strategic ways. They have helped us create our SROI calculations, plan new social enterprises and run events, plus we can't forget our Tech Advisory Board (TAB). The TAB has helped us find tech resources, review our RFP process, plan governance systems and offer unending advice and support to our tech team. People willing to give their time, support and advice like Lance Russell, David Krumlauf, Rich Whitney and Jonathan Cook have taught me so much and are there when I need them.

IT's about People. The best experience and strongest learning has come from learning from the other staff at The Cara Program. Depth of knowledge, dedication to mission and passion are in such abundance it is impossible not to get swept up into it. What continues to surprise me is how much of my job and the role of technology revolves around people.

Personal Growth. It is common for an org to do an annual review and performance plan, The Cara Program does it also. Where it is different for me is the empowerment and meaningful involvement for staff across the org. Everyone is pushed to grow and do more, while encouraging a true work\home balance. Affirmations is core part of everything, we all take time to affirm other staff for their honor, passion, achievement, innovation and integrity. Yet at the same time, we are all encouraged to give feedback and go directly to other staff with questions, concerns or even to push back a bit.

So what would I share as advice to staff in nonprofits?

Find the Fit. Look for a cause you believe in and a job which fits your skills. But here is where I learned somethings. Just because you love an org, love the cause and can do the job, it still may not be the right one for you. Personality and culture make a huge difference. Does the org culture allow you to be who you are and shine?

Don't be afraid to change! So many of us get attached to an org and feel like if we leave they will never survive (or maybe we won't). This is NOT TRUE! Sometimes staff turnover forces an org to address problems it didn't know existed because you were so good at hiding them. I am not saying you should become an job hopper and ditch out when things get hard. But if you have hit a career ceiling, don't enjoy the role, you can see your role isn't helping or it looks like the org won't grow any more with you in this role, don't be afraid to move on. There is life in the next job and other orgs doing amazing work! You need to take care of you, because sometimes the org isn't.

Size Matters. Having worked for at the National Office and Metro Office of a large org, then moving to a smaller mid-size org, I can tell you size makes a big difference. The types of challenges, resources, staff and work effort are radically shifted.  I can not say which is better, you have to experience it to understand it. A large org has more staff and resources but 6 people have to approve the color of the donate button on the website. A small org may have limited staff and resources but one person can drive the website without 6 people debating fire engine red versus apple red. I love the energy, passion and the depth of involvement of ALL staff in a small org, every staff person is important. At times, I felt like a nameless cog in the bigger setting.

Anyway, this post was meant to celebrate my one year anniversary at The Cara Program. Since taking this job, many parts of my life have improved and changed. It is amazing what a positive, passionate work place can do to change your life and career. Don't settle for a job making a difference for others and not for you. I have had more calls, emails and connections in the last few months about nonprofit careers, jobs and such than ever before. My genuine excitement for my org and job has led people to ask about my journey. I am happy to share, if you want to connect with me. NPTech rules!