The Experience Catch-22

By Libby Richards, Senior Community Programs Officer at Triangle Community Foundation and YNPN Triangle NC Board Member


Nonprofit professionals who are new (or newer) to the field often tell me about a frustrating predicament that I remember too well: they don’t have the experience to participate in experiences that would help them become more experienced. Ugh. Often new or younger staff members aren’t given the opportunity to take the lead on projects or are passed over for opportunities like participating in an important strategic meeting or an inspirational conference, because they don’t have the years of on-the- job-training that a manager or director may have.

How can organizations and funders help young professionals escape this catch-22?  

Investing in professional development opportunities for all staff, in particular those who are new to the field or the job, is a start! A relatively small investment (with little to no risk) can have a great return. Organizations can build their leadership pipeline by providing the time and funding for staff to watch webinars, attend conferences, or participate in leadership development programs. Individuals can learn tips and best practices, build their network, feel valued, participate in brainstorming and strategy, and build their experience.

Two years ago, Triangle Community Foundation launched a grant program that included a learning component. It was initially targeted for executive directors and managers, with topics to address organization-wide issues. While the program was successful, we received some important feedback from participants: bringing nonprofit executive directors together is good; however development opportunities targeted to those new to the field are very much needed offered less frequently. In the second year, we encouraged organizations to select a staff member to participate that was early in their career. The sessions were targeted toward building interpersonal skills like emotional intelligence and power dynamics. The conversations were more intimate and self-reflective. We, and those who participated, were really fulfilled by the outcomes!

At Triangle Community Foundation, we recognize that in order for our community’s nonprofit organizations to be best equipped to meet their missions and programmatic goals, they need strong leadership! We’ve seen the value in strengthening the next generation of nonprofit leaders, which is why we support organizations like YNPN Triangle NC and the #NonprofitsSTRONG Summit. I hope organizations will consider sending their staff who identify themselves as “Young Nonprofit Professionals” to the upcoming conference and that it will build upon their experience, serving them and their organizations for years to come!

Learn more about YNPN Triangle NC’s conference at

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