South Hamilton, MA - Change is difficult to achieve. Many of us are guilty of making this assumption.
“These assumptions come from the dawn of humanity because life was hard, change was hard,” said social scientist Hildy Gottlieb. “In this modern, interconnected world, that story no longer serves us.”
Gottlieb is co-founder of Creating the Future, a living laboratory where people who want a better world learn how to bring out the best in each other by changing the day-to-day questions they ask. The Arizona native, author and consultant told the over 300 nonprofit leaders in attendance at Essex County Community Foundation’s 7th Annual Institute of Trustees – the region’s premier educational conference for nonprofit directors, executive directors and boards of trustees – that not only is change not hard, but also that it’s very possible.
“You get to choose to make the difference you joined your boards to make,” Gottlieb told the rapt crowd at the March 19 event, which took place at the Pingree School in South Hamilton. “It’s not hard. All it takes is to give yourself permission to ask one difficult question.” And there are many from which to choose.
What do we really want? And what will it take to accomplish that? Who else cares? And what would it take to bring out the best in them? What resources do we have together?
Gottlieb’s keynote address helped set the tone for a full day of networking and workshops at the IFT, a consistently well-attended conference that has become the main source of development for many of the region’s nonprofit organizations and one that ECCF plans to continue to develop in the coming years.
“We are fully committed to making this the premier educational event for the future,” ECCF Board Chair Jon Payson told IFT attendees.
And it’s already well on its way. One hundred percent of ECCF survey respondents said they would recommend IFT to others; 96 percent said they would implement what they’ve learned through IFT at their own organizations.
This year, over the course of the day, presenters continued to emphasize Gottlieb’s suggestion that asking the right questions can help nonprofit leaders advance their mission and connect with their targeted audiences. Topics covered in the workshops – led by nonprofit experts – included fundraising, corporate engagement, risk management, strategic planning, capital campaigns, cultural inclusion, engaging NextGen and much, much more.
“The quality and variety of the workshops this year was very impressive,” said ECCF President and CEO, Dave Edwards. “The IFT continues to provide innovative education and valuable opportunities that help our region’s nonprofit organizations reach that next level of success.”
“This is just fantastic,” said first-time IFT attendee, Lysanne LaPierre, a member of the board of directors at the YWCA of Greater Lawrence. She had attended a morning session titled “Adapting to an Outcomes-Based World: What Every Nonprofit Needs to Know.”
LaPierre had always heard great things about the conference and decided it was time for her to check it out herself. “I’m really learning a lot,” she said.
For seven years and counting, nonprofit leaders have come to the IFT in search of sound advice and inspiration that will help elevate their nonprofits. This year, 165 unique organizations were represented at the conference and attendees hailed from all over New England and as far away as Pennsylvania.
Bonnie Ricci and Helen Russell came to IFT from Apprentice Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit that teaches career skills to middle school students. The organization pairs each student with one of the 40 local businesses they partner with for a six-week apprenticeship.
Similar to the way Apprentice Learning helps students expand their skills, Russell said she was hoping to increase her own level of knowledge. “I’m looking for tools to have a more robust board,” she said.
The two women were also looking forward to networking, and learning more about fundraising, something Ricci said was not necessarily in their wheelhouse.
Ricci and Russell were two of the 58 percent of IFT attendees who were attending the conference for the first time.
After the morning’s workshops, Hez Norton, director of partnerships and leadership initiatives for Third Sector New England, was on hand during the lunch break to discuss Leadership New England, a recent TSNE study that set out to show that the nonprofit sector’s long-lived resiliency is approaching its outer limit.
Not only do organizations struggle with sustainability, but they are also unprepared for leadership transition and the sector as a whole is undercapitalized.
“Fundraising is the clear winner for challenges,” said Norton.
The report considers these and other challenges nonprofits will face in the future, and suggests specific shifts in thinking to help the sector become more sustainable and healthy, including:
• Shifting the framework for succession planning to deep sustainability
• Shifting the vision for governance
• Shifting the structural paradigm to robust investment in the sector
A robust discussion of the millennial’s role in the future of the nonprofit sector was sparked by Norton’s report.
“There’s going to be different ways of getting the work done,” said Norton. “Two years from now, organizations will look totally different.”
ECCF looks forward to the role it will play in the future of Essex County’s nonprofit sector, both through its leadership initiatives and through the continuation of the IFT.
The 2016 IFT was generously supported by the Amelia Peabody Foundation; the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation; U.S Trust; Isaacson, Miller; Pingree School and the Trustees of ECCF. To read Leadership New England in its entirety, visit www.tsne.org/leadership-new-england.