YNPN Birmingham is pumped to be one of the seven pilot chapters for the new national operating system. Just as YNPN National was announcing that a new chapter OS would be coming soon, YNPN Birmingham was struggling with questions of legal status, a bank account, accounting software, and a membership program. Is it better to file locally as a nonprofit or as a LLC? What are the requirements for the bank account? How are we going to be responsible financially? How do we start a membership program without funds but how do we get funds without paying members?
And like a gift from the heavens, we heard about the opportunity to become a pilot chapter. As a newer chapter, we knew that we were willing to be the guinea pig for what the experience would be like for new chapters with a clean slate to start the system. Although we realized we would be adding work to our already ambitious agenda, we knew would be receiving technical assistance and a much needed boost to our capacity with little startup costs—a great relief to our non-existent budget.
We were confident we could manage being a pilot chapter given the background of our leadership with different database systems and our variety of expertise. For example, the chair of our Membership Committee is the database manager for her organization that functions as a local chapter of a large national organization. Other board members include a communications expert, an accountant, and individuals with a strong framework for governance that would help us manage building and launching the OS while pursuing our legal status and hosting events for our members.
We won’t lie about the fact that sometimes we think we are in over our heads. But, we are truly excited for all the possibilities that the new chapter OS will bring to YNPN Birmingham, our members, and community. As we move through the project we look forward to hearing shared ideas from established chapters, while giving a fresh perspective from our ‘newbie’ knowledge.
These days we’ve become used to being part of experiments, even if we don’t realize it. Every day software developers release the minimum viable version of their apps, put it out into the marketplace, and most of us are willing to at least try it out.
Trying out a new app is one thing. We pause, though, when we get that notice to upgrade our entire operating system–that little push notification that casually tells you to check your storage, download this new system, install it, then restart your computer. The developer is sending you this notification because they’ve made improvements to the system that, based on your previous feedback, they know will make your software run better. But what if the upgrade creates an annoyance like changing the way that you interact with a program that you’ve gotten used to? Or worse, what if it crashes your computer?!
Most of us say, no thanks, we’ll wait till version 188.8.131.52 when they’ve worked most of the bugs out. (I’ll admit it, I tend to be a version 184.108.40.206 kinda gal myself.) Which is why I have such incredible respect for the early adopters, the folks who get that push notification and immediately prepare for download.
We know that, in many ways, the Chapter OS feels like asking the network to download a new system. Last year as we prepared for a major upgrade to our network’s operating system, we sent out a call for chapters who were willing to sign up for that experiment, test the system, and make it better. During this pilot phase we’ll be working any bugs out of the system so that we can bring you the best possible product when the time comes for the rest of the network to join us.
The pilot phase is designed to help us figure out what national supports and resources are necessary to get chapters to the basic level of infrastructure necessary for higher level strategy and programming. What does that look like initially?
Specifically, we’re looking for all chapters to:
- Be on the NationBuilder platform
- Have a defined membership program (paid or unpaid)
- Be recognized as a legal entity in their state (if they are not already) and be able to process financial transactions
- Have D&O insurance
- Have a clear sense of chapter strengths and immediate strategic priorities for growth
Almost a quarter of the chapters across our network applied to serve as our modern-day scouts, volunteering to go out ahead and discover the bugs and the cool features of the system for the rest of us. It was difficult to narrow the list to just 7 chapters but we focused on creating a group that would best position us to begin the full network onboarding in June. So we compiled a group that demonstrated these two core characteristics:
1. The diversity of the network: We have chapters across our network that range from 250 members to over 10,000 members, chapters in dense urban areas and chapters in smaller cities and towns. We have chapters with almost two decades of established infrastructure, and chapters that are less than six months old. This diversity is what fuels the vitality of our network and we looked for a group that would help us develop supports that would meet the needs of our vast array of chapters at different stages of development.
2. The ability to serve as a critical friend: Of course we were eager to work with chapters who see the great potential of the Chapter OS, but nobody wins when they spend all their time with that friend who tells you “You look great in that outfit!” when you actually look jank. We sought out chapters who were enthusiastic about the possibilities and were willing to challenge us about the parts of the OS that simply would not work for them.
It’s an impressive group that we’ve assembled. You can read more below about who they are and why we chose them. You can also follow along with their journey (really, our entire network’s journey!) via the twice monthly blogs they’ll be posting here on the Leaders’ Site and via the Program Xchange they’ll be hosting in a few months. Our pilot chapters will also be faciltiating a conference session in Little Rock to talk about their experience with all of you and share what they’ve learned.
Our sincere thanks to all who applied to serve as pilots and our congratulations to the intrepid chapters selected to blaze the trail. Our network will be the better for it.
Meet the Pilots
Those of you who were at the 2014 conference got to experience first-hand the awesome execution abilities of YNPN Twin Cities. With their inventive programming, YNPN-TC is engaging their community in new and exciting ways and they see NationBuilder as a tool that can help them do that with even more ease and sophistication. YNPN-TC currently utilizes a member database and they’ll be helping us test how chapters on existing databases can easily make the transition to NationBuilder, as well as how we can make NationBuilder even more useful for chapters. We can always count on YNPN-TC to share knowledge and provide thoughtful feedback and we’re excited to have them as a partner.
In less than four years, YNPN Atlanta has launched a successful paid membership program, obtained their 501(c)(3), and put in place systems that have allowed them to become a lean, mean, professional development machine. Now they want to know how they can use data to more effectively direct their resources and measure their impact. In addition to growing their membership program, they also want to use NationBuilder to improve engagement and increase retention as their chapter continues to grow.
Founded in 2014, YNPN Birmingham is our youngest pilot chapter. As a younger chapter, being able to attract members and cultivate relationships is a key growth area and they’re looking forward to exploring how the Chapter Operating System and NationBuilder can support that work. During the pilot, YNPN Birmingham and National will work together to help their chapter accomplish other goals like obtaining their legal status, opening a bank account, and developing a membership program.
With more than 3,000 people on their mailing list, YNPN San Diego has a huge reach in their community. To capitalize on that reach, they’ve been working on growing their paid membership program and increasing giving among members and supporters. Right now their data lives in three different systems provided by their fiscal sponsor and they believe that consolidating on NationBuilder will help them use their data more effectively to accomplish their engagement and revenue goals. YNPN San Diego is also looking forward to helping build National’s support resources and engaging with other chapters in the network to share knowledge.
It’s hard to believe that YNPN Portland was only founded two years ago. In that short period of time they have been able to develop outstanding programming as well as partnerships that help them connect with other diverse groups in their city. YNPN Portland recently went through their first big board turnover and is eager to learn how the Chapter Operating System can help them develop systems, infrastructure, and strategy that can be effective through the years. Membership and revenue generation are growth areas for YNPN Portland that they’re excited to explore during the pilot process.
YNPN OKC is another young chapter that’s been able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. This year they launched a successful paid membership program and are excited to use NationBuilder to manage membership and track members’ interests and needs. They’re also eager to help us test how NationBuilder and the Chapter Operating System can be an effective marketing tool that will help them grow membership, increase retention, and cultivate members for increased involvement and board service. YNPN OKC is also bringing a deep bench of data-driven board members to the pilot process.
As our host chapter for this year’s conference, YNPN Little Rock is excited to utilize NationBuilder to help make #ynpn15 amazing. Hosting the national conference is a great way to galvanize the local community and YNPN Little Rock is looking forward to using NationBuilder to track and stay in touch with local participants and members. With projects like their Arkansas Voice survey, YNPN LR has also had a longstanding interest in using data to identify community needs and contribute to sector knowledge in their state. Because of the leadership roles they’ve taken on in the network this year, YNPN Little Rock is a great chapter to help us test the Chapter OS and NationBuilder from a variety of angles.
Keep following this blog for more updates on the Chapter OS from National and these pilot chapters!
As a YNPN chapter looking forward to its 3rd birthday, YNPN Portland was enthusiastic about the Chapter Operating System process.
A new website? A DATABASE? Did someone say DATABASE? Someone to coach us through setting goals around membership and deciding on our legal status (to c3, to not c3)? AMAZING, sign us up.
I don’t know about other chapters, but YNPN Portland tends to attract people who want to do things well, and that’s been great, but it also means we can drag our feet. Should we? Shouldn’t we? What is the best way? The Chapter OS process has provided us deadlines and just the right amount of pressure to make key decisions and move forward.
Along with the tangible products and services that connect us to YNPN National and other chapters, we’ve discovered serious benefits to aligning our chapter with other aspects of the National movement. We are looking to the Five Pillars of Leadership Development to guide our programming decisions, and are excited that future standards for chapters will include a focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, because this is a priority for our chapter.
Whether it’s a database and website, or pillars, we are constantly finding new and exciting benefits to being part of this national Network. It lends credibility to our organization when we are working with other organizations in Portland.
Knowing how hard our Board and Committee members work to make YNPN Portland amazing is really remarkable, but it is absolutely astounding when you think of the same thing happening in more than 30 communities across the country. That is really, really powerful, and in a time when it feels like time-tested grassroots movements are hard to come by, it is an honor to be a part of one with a long history and bright future.
Kate Elliott is the Board Chair of YNPN Portland. You can read more about Kate on the YNPN Portland site.
One of the centerpieces of each National Conference is the State of the Network talk with our National Director Trish Tchume. Next month Trish will be holding the session a second time to allow those who were unable to attend at the conference a chance to participate.
Through an interactive activity, Trish will connect the stories of individual chapter leaders to the key highlights and accomplishments of the past year before laying out what’s next for YNPN.
Part of what’s next for YNPN is our Chapter Operating System Project. You can read our first blog post on the project here. After the interactive activity, Trish will be providing an update on the status of the Chapter OS Project and answering questions.
Join us September 9 at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT to talk about where YNPN has been and where we’re headed. Register for the call here.
As you may know, YNPN’s vision is to create stronger communities propelled by a network of inspired and engaged leaders. Strong, vibrant chapters are essential to making this vision a reality and we are truly fortunate to have amazing leaders doing amazing things across the country.
Our network has been asking for resources and operational support from National to develop and maintain a chapter-led network infrastructure that increases our impact, efficacy and sustainability. National has finally reached the capacity to figure out how we can support your chapters to do even more amazing things.
To figure out what tools and and resources would be most helpful to your chapters, we’re launching the Chapter Operating System Project. We call it the Chapter Operating System because, like the OS for your phone or computer, the YNPN operating system is critical infrastructure that will help us manage our resources and operate at peak efficiency. It will also be updated over time to keep up with our network’s growth and technological change.
What will the project look like? How will it benefit chapters?
With this project, we want to answer questions like:
- What support, resources, and infrastructure are most useful to chapters at various stages of their development? How can we best support the growth and development of our chapters and their leaders?
- Which tools and resources do local chapters have difficulty accessing on their own? Where can National offer or broker access to resources?
- How can we create stronger chapter affiliations across the network?
- How can membership serve as a chapter-level revenue tool and strengthen a broader sense of affiliation across the network?
- How do we structure services and infrastructure so that the network and local chapters have the necessary resources to execute on the priorities we establish and work toward our vision?
The project includes research on how other national networks structure their services and supports, including how their operating models are structured. This research, paired with years of chapter-level information from our Virtual Road Trips, Chapter Congress, and Theory of Change process give us a sense of our strengths, weaknesses, and what makes YNPN… YNPN.
That information will be combined with timely feedback from you to produce a detailed model that speaks to the network’s priorities through a set of suggested benefits and services. Accompanying this model will be possible affiliation structures that both meet local needs and strengthen the capacity of the network. Every chapter will have an opportunity provide comments on their priorities and provide suggestions on what services and supports they find useful for their chapter.
Chapters have been asking for help with building infrastructure for many years, and we’re excited that we have the resources and capacity to explore this with you. The Chapter Operating System will enable chapters to build their own infrastructure while strengthening the network’s ability to respond to the needs of our chapters and members.
Who’s leading the project?
We have enlisted two consultants who have a long history with YNPN, know the network culture, and are committed to our mission and vision. You can read their full bios at the end of this post, but you may already know Carlyn Madden and Caroline Bolas from seeing them at past national conferences or engaging with them as a startup chapter or fellow chapter leader.
We’re very lucky to have two whip-smart ladies with a wealth of institutional knowledge heading up this project. We’ll talk next steps in a moment, but know that you can always reach Caroline and Carlyn at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where are we now? And what’s next?
At the National Conference last month, Caroline and Carlyn walked the session’s attendees through a discussion of services and supports and gathered feedback on what they may find valuable and what revenue they may need to execute valuable programs.
We would like to extend the opportunity to all our chapters to provide their input in this process. Next week we’ll be reaching out to your chapter through your Chapter Congress representative and asking you to help us prioritize which benefits and services would be most valuable to your chapter.
Our chapters’ priorities will be compiled and compared with the resources that National already has or would need to gain/build/increase. This project will also be closely coordinated with the Database Project as part of a comprehensive suite of resources and network infrastructure.
This is not a short-term project, and it won’t be completed overnight. We will be having multiple conversations about the best way to test an effective business model that gives the chapters the autonomy they need to serve the interests of their members, while continuing to build the capacity of National as a platform for our amazing network of young professionals. Once we’ve established those models, we’ll work with an entrepreneurial pilot group of chapters to help us work out the bugs of the operating system.
To stay up to date on the project, keep watching the chapter leader newsletter and the chapter leader blog.
We can’t wait to work with you on building an operating system that will take YNPN to the next level!
More about Caroline and Carlyn:
Caroline is the President and CEO of LEVELheaded Inc. LEVELheaded provides management consultancy, program evaluation and training services to non-profit and government organizations, supporting them to fulfil their mission and vision more effectively. In addition, Caroline has provided consultancy services to YNPN since 2009. Currently her role includes providing support to start up chapters and answering general queries. She served for two years on the board of YNPNdc and during her time there she introduced a management development program that provided emerging leaders with the opportunity to learn the essential skills of managing within a nonprofit.
Caroline moved to the USA from the UK in 2007. Despite living here for over 7 years she is still learning the language and on a daily basis discovers how American English is not the same as English English! However, she does find that her unintentional Briticisms cause much amusement to others!
More information about Caroline and LEVELheaded can be found at www.levelheadedinc.com
Carlyn Madden is a consultant specializing in resource development planning and strategy. With nearly a decade of experience in the public and private grantmaking spheres, Carlyn has expertise in strategy and evaluation, development planning, stakeholder engagement and relationship management.
Before consulting, Carlyn served on the senior management team of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the official arts agency of the District of Columbia, where she was the senior advisor for grantmaking for youth and capacity building, policy incentives, key partnerships and programs. Previously, Carlyn spent five years at the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, the region’s largest private grantmaker, where she managed a portfolio of grantees in the areas of community services, health, education and arts.
She served on the board of YNPNdc from 2009 to 2013, chairing organization for the last two years. During her tenure, the organization grew from 3,000 to 10,000 members, instituted a formal leadership recruitment/retention process, developed paid membership system (and subsequently cancelled a paid membership system), and increased programming from 12 annual events to 40 annual events.
Carlyn has an MA in Museum Studies from the George Washington University and a BA in Art History from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. She currently serves on the board of One World Education, which provides writing instruction to middle and high school students in the DC public schools.