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Talent Matters: 10 Tips to Drive Results

February 8, 2016

Mary Bruce 1Today’s blog is written by AmeriCorps Alums’ Co-Executive Director Mary Bruce (full bio below) and is part of AmeriCorps Alums’ REALTalk series on race, equity, and AmeriCorps alumni as leaders. 

Change is powered by people. But too often, we don’t invest in talent development. As a nonprofit sector, we spend less than 2 percent of total grant dollars on it. And personally, it often feels hard to step away from “the work” to attend a training, participate in a webinar, or read and reflect on articles that could support our professional and leadership development.

When we do invest in talent, we’re better for it. Personally, professionally, organizationally. And, if we’re going to get the change, the progress, the results – our country needs, we need to invest in the people (that means you, Alums!) that drive those results.

Over the last 12 months, along with 15 other social sector leaders, I was lucky to be a part of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s (AECF) “Social Sector Talent Pipeline Strategy and Learning Lab” focused on these issues. It’s an opportunity I wish all 900,000+ alumni could have experienced. Below, I share some of the key leadership insights I learned through this experience. We’ll also be sharing more about how you can get involved in Alums’ new talent development strategy in a call on February 25, 12-1 p.m. ET. (Register for the event here). 

I hope you can spend a few minutes today, and each week, investing in your own leadership and professional development. I also hope you’ll join us for the strategy call later this month, and in our growing movement of alumni making change across the country and around the world. Because talent matters.

Here is my Top 10 List of Results-Based “aha-moments.”

  1. Stand on results. A result is a condition of well-being for people. Getting a result means something is better. Something has changed. This is the work of a leader. Define your result (in life, in an organization, in every meeting) and stand on your result. You gain real power and clarity when you do. Learn more here.
  2. Start with the data. Observe first. Before you hypothesize, before you infer, go “to the balcony.” What did you see? What did you experience? What data do you have about this issue? Learn more here.
  3. Clarify if the problem you’re working on is technical or adaptive. Technical problems are usually easy to identify and can be overcome with technology, a new policy, or solved with a known solution. Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, “require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships, and approaches to work” and require adaptive solutions. Technical solutions won’t solve adaptive challenges. Learn more here and here.
  4. Consider the “mental models” at work. What framework are you bringing to the tasks at hand? What about your colleagues? What beliefs – about race, gender, talent, traditions, values, or opportunity – are at play? You don’t have to have the same mental model as your colleagues or partners to get work done (remember: Stand on Results!), but understanding each other’s points of view can expedite progress. Learn more here.
  5. Ask questions. At the beginning of any conversation, meeting, or work assignment, determine your “effective questions.” What do you want to learn from this exercise? What really needs to be discussed? Effective questions help guide a conversation and move talk to action. Learn more here.
  6. Be future focused. It’s important to learn from past mistakes (and successes!), but if your thinking is in the review mirror, you’ll get stuck. Shifting conversations from “what went wrong?” to “what do we need to learn, and what resources do we need to do better?” can reduce defensiveness and open possibilities. Learn more in chapter three of the book available here.
  1. Understand your role and the roles of others. Whether in a meeting or in a year-long project plan, be clear on if you are an advisor, a decision maker, an authority, or something else. You – and others – may have multiple shifting roles (e.g. employee to the CEO, supervisor of your team, kickball team member to all). Consider your “B/ART” (boundary, authority, role, and task) and the B/ARTs of others – and be comfortable clarifying your role and that of others. Learn more here.
  1. Think in systems. Ever feel like you’re plugging a hole in the dam? Like the work you’re doing is too small in comparison to all that “needs” to be done? Consider the system. Take a step out of your work to consider how the interrelated parts connect. From there, identify the best points for intervention. Learn more here.
  1. Name and ignite conflict. Sometimes, conflict can prevent work from happening. Other times, it’s required. Get clear on the root of the conflict. Ask, “Is it based on language, and you’re using the same words to mean different things?” or “Is it based on structure, and people are waiting for permission to share their ideas?” Get clear on the type of conflict you’re having and the different types of tools to overcome it. Learn more here.
  1. Give the work to the group. They’re brilliant! Sometimes, the most powerful work you can do is to be a “neutral facilitator.” By asking the right questions, and then asking the group the make “action commitments,” you can play a powerful role moving the work forward. Learn more here.

Have more ideas or questions on leadership, talent development, and the AmeriCorps Alums strategy? Join AmeriCorps Alums General Strategy Call on February 25, 12-1 p.m. ET! Click here to register.

Author Bio: Mary Bruce served in AmeriCorps from 1999-2000 at the Latin American Youth Center as well as in Peace Corps Morocco from 2004-2006. Before joining Alums, Mary was the Senior Education Advisor at Civic Enterprises. She led the firm’s education portfolio, including convening the Grad Nation Civic Marshall Plan Leadership Council, which brought together more than 40 leading national partners to help reach the goal of 90 percent high school graduation rates by 2020. She also sits on the national advisory council of New Politics, an organization that gives Americans who have served the tools and guidance to win elections and become the transformational leaders America needs.

Bringing Together AmeriCorps Members & Alums: A Reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. Day

February 5, 2016

headshot maia wachtelToday’s guest blog is written by AmeriCorps member Maia Wachtel, who serves as the Volunteer Coordinator at Super Stars Literacy (full bio is below).

As I move through life, I’m always asking myself “What’s next?” and “What difference will my next move make for me and my community?” I recently had the honor of planning part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Super Stars Literacy, where I’m serving in AmeriCorps. I find Dr. King’s words of wisdom led my efforts that day and continue to influence my year of service.

As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” For me that question isn’t rhetorical. I want to be doing things each day that build on Dr. King’s legacy by connecting people in service to each other and to the communities that need them the most. Dr. King devoted his life to the fight for social justice, equality, and opportunity for all. As an AmeriCorps member, I am honored to follow in his footsteps.

super stars literacy

Super Stars Literacy Corps members serving at the Maya Angelou Library

But, the question still remains: “What’s next after AmeriCorps?” To help me and other members serving at Super Stars Literacy answer this question, I invited a panel of AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alums to talk with us after our MLK Jr. Day service project. Who better to talk about pursuing careers aimed at strengthening and empowering communities through direct, thoughtful, and intentional community action than national service alumni?

It was a powerful experience to bring Corps members and alumni together, and I was excited by how much our commitment to service established an immediate connection among us. Listening to the alumni speak about their years of service and current careers, I was struck by how, despite having served in a variety of positions with very different organizations, we all clearly shared a common appreciation for and dedication to making the world a better, safer, and more just place. Read more…

Why Fit in, When You Could Stand Out? Meet AmeriCorps Alums’ New Team Member!

February 3, 2016

headshot_vanecia_newToday’s guest blog is by Vanecia Thompson, AmeriCorps Alums’ new Development Coordinator (full bio below).

Growing up, my problem was feeling like I didn’t fit in. Some of that may come from being a middle child, and some might come from being born in Jamaica and moving to the United States. If there’s one thing I have learned as I’ve grown, it’s that Dr. Seuss has a prescription for any problem you may have.

“Why Fit In when You were Born to Stand Out?”

I’ve never fit into one category or clique. I loved drawing, playing sports, reading books, and tinkering with any new gadgets my parents brought home. I also loved creating new things and even had a brief stint as an entrepreneur selling lemonade and oatmeal crème pies outside of my house. No one could tell me I couldn’t like sports AND school or reading AND math. So, why do most of us keep thinking we have to be just one thing or fit into one group?

“Sometimes the Questions are Complicated and the Answers are Simple.”


Vanecia representing New Look at Meadowcreek High School

While there wasn’t only one thing I liked to do, the chance to serve sparked something different in me. In the summer before ninth grade, I learned the meaning of philanthropy while attending Usher’s Camp New Look—and I’ve been hooked since. Throughout high school and college I went from participating in service projects to planning and leading the same projects.

“If you never did, you should. These things are fun and fun is good!” For me – that thing was service Read more…

5 Signs You Should Be a Social Worker or Counselor

January 28, 2016

2U logoToday’s sponsored article is written by 2U Inc.’s online social work and counseling programs. AmeriCorps alumni are eligible to receive a $5,000 tuition benefit upon acceptance and enrollment into any 2U-powered program. For more information on 2U’s social work and counseling programs outlined below, click here.

For AmeriCorps alumna Jennifer Martin, the first step toward expanding her expertise and continuing to make a difference in her community was pursuing a Master of Social Work (MSW). The University of Southern California’s web-based MSW@USC is allowing her to do just that — without requiring her to relocate.

Could a graduate degree in social work or counseling be the next step for you?

Here are five questions to ask yourself.

  1. Are you passionate about social justice?

Homelessness, substance abuse, and family trauma are only a few of the challenges facing some of our most underserved communities. Master’s degrees in social work and counseling are the stepping-stones that ensure you know how to make an impactful contribution and ensure a better quality of life for everyone.

Founded on principles of social justice, the nation’s first school of social work, Simmons School of Social Work, now offers its MSW online in partnership with 2U— empowering even more students to advocate for those in need in their local areas.

  1. Do you want to learn more about serving where you live without relocating?

Read more…

Don’t Just Say It, Vlog It!

January 27, 2016

slate with sarah gebhardtWhen we talk about national service and alums, we get animated. We talk with our hands, our eyes grow wide, and we can’t sit still. How could we? AmeriCorps members and alums are doing exciting – and necessary – service and work!

From supporting flood response efforts in St. Louis to advocating for tribal justice in South Dakota, there are so many amazing stories that sometimes we can’t capture our excitement it in a tweet, blog or pin. Sometimes, you need a little more.

That’s why we are encouraging you to turn on your webcam and are exploring more visual ways that we can tell your stories. Stories like those of alum Sarah Gebhardt.

cropped and resizeOriginally from Cleveland, Ohio, Sarah  joined the Travis County 4-H CAPITAL AmeriCorps Program, where she developed and taught a project-based STEM curriculum in Austin Title I schools. She also started vlogging about her experience, and her video, “AmeriCorps: What is It?”, is one of the top viewed videos about AmeriCorps on YouTube (over 7,300 views!).

Since graduating AmeriCorps, Sarah accepted a job at Skillpoint Alliance where she is responsible for data management and grant reporting, started undergraduate school, and launched a YouTube channel (read Sarah’s full bio at the end of the blog). We reached out to Sarah and invited her to share more with us about why she vlogs, why she thinks more alums should consider vlogging, and how you can get started as a Vlogger.

Check out Sarah’s short story and tutorial, “Turn on Your Webcam” below! Then click here to tell us what you think of Sarah’s tips and other topics you’d like to see in future vlogs from Sarah and other alumni.

Questions for Sarah? Tweet her at @SaraGebhardt and then take 5 minutes to give us some feedback on this first vlog!

Sarah Gebhardt Bio: After completing two AmeriCorps State and National terms, Sarah now works as the Compliance and Reporting Coordinator at Skillpoint Alliance where she is responsible for data management and grant reporting. Outside of the office, Sarah is completing a History degree from Texas State University, where she plans to go into Public History and Museum Education. Sarah has recently become a YouTube Partner and loves to spoil her dog.

Top 5 Skills AmeriCorps Alums Developed in 2015

January 22, 2016

What are the top five skills AmeriCorps alums developed in 2015? Catch up on our most popular webinars (one-hour online trainings) from last year and master the five skills alums were most eager to learn.

And, if you want access to more free resources, click here to browse our webinar archives. Then, visit our website and register with us to make sure you’re the first to hear about the latest free trainings! You can expect to hear about a new professional development event or online training each month in addition to other career news, jobs, and resources.

Build a Successful Nonprofit Career (click here to watch now)

updated collage for top 5 webinar blog of 2015Want an insider’s perspective on how to accelerate your nonprofit career? Hear from three AmeriCorps alumni who have successfully made the transition from AmeriCorps to the nonprofit sector and continue to advance in their career after more than five years in the field. Panelists include Dhriti Stocks and Stephanie Fenniri who co-lead our North Texas alumni chapter and Janeen Ettienne who served with Public Allies. By the end of the webinar, you’ll have a better understanding of how to start your career and how to move up after you get your foot in the door. Learn more …

Master 5 Spreadsheet Skills (click here to watch now)

Gordon Liu

 AmeriCorps alum and tech wiz, Gordon Liu, who helped create a tracking system for AmeriCorps Alums chapters and leads our Midcoast Maine chapter, shares his top spreadsheet tips with alums. Gordon walks you through deciding if a spreadsheet is the right format for your project, formatting data, inputting and analyzing data, and creating macros and add-ons. If you’re handling large amounts of data and organizational records at your job, check out Gordon’s workshopRead more…

Spotlight On AmeriCorps Alumni Service Champions

January 14, 2016

Thanks in part to the hundreds of thousand of AmeriCorps alumni who took took a stand for service, Congress chose to increase funding for the Corporation for National and Community Service late last year! And alums aren’t just speaking up when service is in danger of being cut. For many national service alumni, advocating for AmeriCorps is part of our lifetime of service.

Recently, several alumni were selected as Franklin Project Ambassadors and wrote op-eds on why service matters as part of this program. The Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute’s goal, which the ambassadors support, is to establish a year of full-time national service—a service year—as a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American. As part of this mission, the Franklin Project worked with AmeriCorps Alums, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and the Peace Corps to launch the Employers of National Service initiative in 2014.

Check out how AmeriCorps alumni are leading national service advocacy movements and read blurbs from their op-eds* below!

Nikki_Gusz-headshot_FranklinProjAmbassadorNo Matter Your Destination, Make Service a Part of Your Journey
Nikki Gusz (Teach For America AmeriCorps alum)

Today, there are over 1 million brave Americans on active duty. Yet, in over 20 years of AmeriCorps, the total number of Americans who have served in a civilian capacity hasn’t reached this number. Imagine the possibilities for both local and global societies if there were more opportunities for civilian service.

The chance to confront and solve challenges in health, education, security and the environment could be immense. Not only is there the potential for incredible impact during service year commitments, but also in the skillsets, mindsets and knowledge gained during this time period that service year members are then able to utilize across a lifetime. The Franklin Project aims to unleash the ethos of service across the country. North Carolina, where I live, seems an ideal place to help lead the charge. Read more …

tho biaz 200 by 200How My Year of Service Matured My Head and My Heart
Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz (AmeriCorps HealthCorps alum)

As a recently separated mother of two young children, I became an AmeriCorps HealthCorps member at the age of 32, based on my interest to understand different vantage points of community work. I embarked on my service year with a strong foundation as a teacher with a practice in English Language Learner education and curriculum design, as well as through my graduate degree studies in multicultural education. During my early 30s, I most wanted to understand different ways that low-income women and families were experiencing marginalization, and I wanted to continue expanding my path of service from a deep listening approach, coupled with direct action.

During my AmeriCorps HealthCorps service year I managed a nonprofit clinic for uninsured, low-income and homeless women, and I also served as a health worker with the same population. With each passing month, my head and heart matured while I gained on-the-ground experience. From this new place of empathy, connection, and understanding, I began working to frame my academic research path. Read more …

plata 200 by 200Service: What, Exactly, Is the Point?
Godfrey Plata (Teach For America AmeriCorps alum)

Here’s the thing: As a person of color and a Filipino immigrant, I sometimes cringe when I think of “service.” The first thing I envision is a white adult working in a “third world” country like the Philippines, huddling together with versions of a four-year-old me, darker-skinned and of modest means, kids who might never have the privilege of being able to travel, perform service “for others,” and take selfies as proof. I think of these same tourists returning home, feeling good about themselves for helping “the less fortunate” and going about their lives having been transformed by their experiences. I think of “service,” and I think of an unjust imbalance: forever changing the world views of those who serve while delivering short-term band-aids (emotional, physical or otherwise) to those who are served. Doesn’t that seem twisted — that service can impact those doing the serving more powerfully than those who are purportedly being served?

I don’t want to feel this way about service. I want to stop cringing, especially in Houston. For me, being an ambassador gives me a platform to point at this notion of service benefiting some more than others and say: no, it can’t be just about that. If we’re going to expand service opportunities, we need to ask: What is the impact of service on those who are served? For whom are we expanding service year opportunities? What is the purpose of service?

Click here to continue  reading this article. Read more…


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