Advice for young nonprofit professionals

Apparently, I have life experience. This is strange to me, as more often than not, I still feel like a teenager bumbling about trying to make sense of the world.

young nonprofit professionals COM 466 leadership NC State University

Nonprofit Leadership and Development rockstars

I discovered this last Tuesday, when I was invited by my wonderful former professor Mindy Sopher to have an intimate discussion with her Nonprofit Leadership and Development class. (By the way, THIS is how cool Mindy is.)

Mindy pulled up a single chair facing her group of about a dozen young nonprofit professionals-in-the-making. There I sat, trying not to look intimidated, hoping to impart some wisdom upon these students about a decade my junior that didn’t sound too trite, too corporate, or generally too lame.

I told the tale of my 2004 road trip around the country doing volunteer work and acts of kindness in the states we visited. I explained the origins of Activate Good and talked about my journey and transition from founder, to board member, to Executive Director.

Throughout the hour-long chat, bits of (hopefully sage!) advice seemed to emerge for these young nonprofit pros:

Advice for Young Nonprofit Professionals

  1. Roll with it: No two days are exactly alike in nonprofit work.
  2. Among the most important day-to-day tasks working for a nonprofit are communicating and relationship building with those in the outside world.
  3. Sometimes a breakthrough comes years after you’ve laid the groundwork for it. Be patient and keep on keeping on. And once successes start coming, the next ones will be even easier.
  4. Take the time you really need to think about your organization’s identity and brand. Who are you and what do you have to say? Then, be true to it.
  5. Planning, dreaming, rebranding: Great ways to bring a team together around the greater vision for your cause.
  6. Transparency is vital for nonprofits. But remember also that nonprofits are made up of human beings who make mistakes and have stories of their own to tell.
  7. Sometimes you have no proof something you want to try will work, but taking risks is the only way to make any real progress.
  8. Volunteers are worth more than gold when it comes to getting stuff done. You just have to know how to lead them, manage their time well, and help them tap into their special skills.
  9. No matter how passionate or hard-working you are when it comes to your cause, don’t forget to make time for yourself, and for friends and other people who matter to you. 

I haven’t always been the best at following these tidbits of wisdom – but in some cases, that’s how I know it would have been a good idea.

young nonprofit professionals advice

It’s weird thinking about the fact that us Millenials won’t always be the ‘new generation’. While we still have some years before we’re no longer all the rage, being asked to share my story has made me ponder what the next wave will be like.

Will we become the crotchety oldtimers ranting about ‘kids these days’?

I don’t know. But here’s to hoping Gen Y always stays cool. And the ragamuffins that come next, whomever they may be.


  1. janelle

    I love this.

  2. Hope

    You’ve always been a strong speaker in most to all of my non-profit classes – really inspiring, thank you!

    “Keep on keeping on!”

  3. Teri Beckman

    Hi Amber – Thanks for your post. I love your 9 nuggets of wisdom. I think these are useful for most businesses – not just non-profits, especially those still in their early growth stages. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom!

  4. Pingback: Advice for young nonprofiteers from the founder of Activate Good | YNPN Triangle NC

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