YNPN Triangle NC Leadership: Arlene Brown

Arlene Brown, Board Chair

How long have you been a member of YNPN leadership? What have your roles been?

I've been a member of YNPN leadership since 2019. I began my journey as a Communications Committee Co-Chair in 2019, returned to a General Director role on the board that same year, became Interim Board Chair in early 2020, and was fully elected as Board Chair in May 2020.

What draws you to the nonprofit sector? 

The opportunity to make holistic, systemic changes on both a small and large scale. The charitable sector is one that creates opportunities and possibilities for communities to address their deepest struggles and as a result, provide hope for the future.

What drew you to join the YNPN Board of Directors?

My blanket response is, I wanted to find "my tribe". Nonprofiteers are my people. More deeply though, what drew me to YNPN and the board was, the chance to serve and support other young leaders in ways that help them know their worth. My personal mission statement rests in helping others pursue what sets their soul on fire. Having this opportunity to grow and learn, fail and flourish all while being supported by other emerging leaders is one of the best things I have yet to do in my life. As an ambitious, black woman, I have endured some excruciatingly difficult experiences in this sector through the words and actions of some employers, and I still believe better is possible. We can and will do better, and being part of YNPN Triangle's board has allowed me to turn my pain into purpose; helping others lean into their inherent leadership by ensuring they are seen, heard, valued, and understood!

Why is Black leadership in the nonprofit sector so important?

As a black person, the old adage goes, "You have to be twice as good to get half as much," and that is still the unfortunate reality, which is why having black leadership represented is so important.  It is an honor to help others know there are spaces and places that are safe to learn, grow and become all that you want to be, rather than adhere to what society tries to dictate to you.

What are some of the main issues facing nonprofit professionals, specifically Black nonprofit professionals, today?

Race and Gender pay equity-This is a result of so many other unaddressed issues of racial and social injustice.  Even as BIPOC become more educated and credentialed, we are continually in the fight to be given credit for our work and paid in a way that demonstrates the value of our contributions.

Meaningful mentorship and sponsorship within organizations-Being provided with a mentor who identifies as BIPOC to help navigate experiences in organizations across the sector. 

Imposter Syndrome-Feeling like you have to "fake it 'til you make it." This an issue within many nonprofessionals, but for black leadership, it is even more terrifying. Black vulnerability is not safe in many spaces, and though it's encouraged, it is sometimes weaponized to withhold opportunities for growth. It's scary to be a black, imperfect woman in the nonprofit sector, but still- I rise, WE RISE!

Burn-Out- We are all firing on all cylinders, addressing the needs of our communities without stepping back to fill up our cups. I appreciate that organizations are truly acknowledging the most important resource they have is their people, and they are taking steps to ensure team members are better supported.

What's it been like leading a nonprofit throughout 2020 to today? Do you think there is anything positive, for you personally/professionally or for the industry at large, that's come out of the struggle of the last 13 months?

It's been all-encompassing. It has been wonderful and awful, hard and fun, exhilarating and exhausting- Everything one would and would not expect of a year with unprecedented changes. The best thing to come out of this incredibly intense 13 months is true intentionality. I feel there is a lot less lip service being done with regard to the E. and I. of D.E.I. Additionally, I believe that with the current climate of change, young voices are not only being heard but now they're being asked to pull a folding chair up to many tables to be part of conversations. At YNPN Triangle NC, we want each young professional to know this is YOUR table, and we commit to always having a seat for you to pull up and be "fed"-personally and professionally.

I have learned some valuable lessons in the last 13 months through this #struggleisreal time:

  • Just because I/we can do something doesn't mean I/ we should
  • We can't let perfect  be the enemy of the good; progress should always be the goal

Have you seen YNPN's approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion change during your time on the BoD? What about the nonprofit sector generally? Explain.

I think the sector generally is challenging what the acronym (DEI) means- dissecting each of its parts to better embody the reality of different communities. I adore that our organization is always willing to meet emerging leaders "where they are" and help them thrive on their own terms. That is the beauty and the truth of what D.E.I means- Not one size fits all, it's not linear, and it's not prescriptive. It's real, it's messy, it's intentional and it takes conscientious effort all the time. We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but as YNPN Triangle has been saying for years, we are #NonprofitSTRONG. We got this!

When your time on the YNPN BoD has come to a close, what do you want your legacy to be?

Helping to build a stronger, more fortified Triangle nonprofit sector by equipping our emerging leaders with proficiency and confidence in their leadership abilities. We are the sector with the power, ambition, and audacity to change the world, and we will. It is my honor, duty, and privilege to see the greatness in others and help them explore it. In short, I want my legacy to be that I helped shift the equity paradigm in nonprofit leadership!

Any last thoughts?

For any young nonprofit professional that feels like they are looking for a safe space to be seen and celebrated as who you are, know that you'll find "home" here with us at YNPN Triangle NC. Remember, you matter, your skills and abilities matter, and YOU. ARE. ENOUGH!

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