Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Ten Ways College Women Can "Lean In"

Tonight, I had the great privilege of speaking at the launch event of American University's new Lean In group! I shared with the students ten ways I felt they could "Lean In" as college students.  Regardless of your age, we can all reflect on how we can incorporate these ideas into our personal and professional goals.

1. Read the book Lean In

If you haven't read the book yet, you definitely should.  If you've read it, consider reading it again, or joining or starting a Lean In Circle.  You can also stay continually updated on the book's topics by signing up for the newsletters of organizations such as UChic, Levo League, Daily Muse, Bossed Up, or Learn Vest.  

2. Develop a self-care practice

I wish I started healthier habits earlier on in my life!  Figure out your personal definition of what wellness means to you, and create regular practices to live that definition.  Do you drink enough water? Do you eat healthy or know how to cook?  Do you exercise regularly?  How do you take care of your spiritual health?  Do you always use safe-sex practices? You can start to explore all this by visiting your campus wellness center.  Additionally, your campus probably offers free therapy sessions, so take advantage of this opportunity!  Read this for more ideas on self-care.

3. Go out into your city

Get off campus and visit your local community.  Do informational interviews with professionals working near your school.  Volunteer with a local organization.  For students in major cities, do a part-time internship during the semester.

4. Do an internship

You absolutely must do at least one internship during your college career! Ideally, you would do one per year.  I know this is difficult since many internships are unpaid.  However, in today's job market, a college degree, even with a 4.0 GPA, is not enough.  You need professional experiences to get hired after graduation.

5. Visit your career center

Please visit your career center at least once a semester.  Even if you feel you have maximized the center's resources, I guarantee you can always learn more.  Meet with an advisor.  Go to a career fair or recruiting event.  Your tuition is paying for this resource so definitely utilize it!

6. Run for student government

Approximately 42% of the women who currently serve in Congress got their start in student government.  I ran for student government and lost, but you can read here about how it changed my life forever.  I really want you to run for student government, but take this to mean I suggest you gain leadership experience.  Working as a Resident Assistant was one of my most transformational experiences (read my RA story here).  Start a club, or become an officer of a club.  Get promoted in your student job.  In addition to internships, future employers will want to see leadership experience.

7. Find a mentor

Mentoring is up, down, and all around!  A mentor is not just someone older than you. Connect with your peers.  If you are interested in a student group, talk to one of the officers.  Go to a professor's office hours just to discuss career paths.  Ask your internship supervisor to introduce you to a colleague.  Be proactive in finding mentors in your life.

8. FAIL!!!

Yes, I am actively encouraging you to fail.  In college, I sold feminist t-shirts online, but eventually the business failed.  I learned a lot from the experience.  Put yourself out there and take risks.  Even if you hate your internship, you will get a better sense of what you would love doing. 

9. Master self-validation

Become a self-confident person and fully responsible for your own fulfillment and happiness.  Don't be jealous and compare yourself to others, but celebrate other's accomplishments.  Don't depend on Facebook or Snapchat to feel good about yourself.  Don't depend on your partner to make you feel pretty.  Don't depend on your parents to tell you they are proud of you for overcoming challenges.  A way to start cultivating this attitude is to ask yourself daily, "What am I proud of from today?"  Consider answering this question everyday in a journal for a week.  

10. Give back

Sheryl Sandberg emphasizes how women need to support each other in order to make society better for everyone.  Be a mentor to a fellow student the year below you, or to a high school girl.  Donate to or volunteer with an organization.  Pray for others.  Practice gratitude.

BONUS POINTS (Unofficial #11)
Study Abroad
I wish I had studied abroad, so I really encourage you to do that.  If you can't, think of ways you can really stretch your comfort zone.  Learn a new language.  However you define it, somehow immerse yourself in a foreign or totally new environment.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

So You Want to Join a Nonprofit Board?

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the holiday season.  As I talked with girlfriends about their New Year's resolutions, many of them mentioned wanting to give back to their community, and I suggested these women join nonprofit boards.  The process of joining a nonprofit board can be very confusing, so I seek to clarify that here.  You are never too young to join a nonprofit board.  At this moment, you have valuable skills that many nonprofits desperately need.

So what is a nonprofit board?  

The board of directors of a nonprofit is basically the governing body of a nonprofit organization.  They provide the strategic oversight to ensure the long-term fulfillment of the organization's mission.  Unlike corporate boards, board members of a nonprofit are usually not compensated financially.  In fact, most often, nonprofit board members are expected to donate a certain amount annually, in the idea of "write" or "raise."  For example, an organization may ask you to personally "write" an annual donation, or "raise" that amount through your personal and professional networks.

The board members are ultimately financially and legally responsible for the organization.  In most organizations, they work with paid staff members to guide the organization through growth and transition.  But don't worry, nonprofits have Directors & Officers insurance (D&O) to protect individual members from financial or legal harm.  So when joining a board, ask about their D &O. 

As a board member, you are expected to support the organization in a number of ways.  You will be asked to attend regular board meetings, often on a quarterly basis.  You may join a specific board committee to contribute your skill set with the organization.  You may be asked to attend program events to support the organization, and possibly host events to recruit your network to get involved with the organization.  As mentioned above, fundraising is one of the most important requirements of a board member.  But don't be afraid, there are many different ways to raise money, and this is an invaluable professional skill transferable to all trades.

Why should I join a board?

The number one reason to join a nonprofit board is because you care about the cause the organization serves.  You want to give back.  Did you love running clubs in school?  Did you love volunteering and getting involved with your community?  Then your next step is to join a nonprofit board.

In addition to helping others, serving on a nonprofit board has tremendous professional benefits.  Look at the biographies for people you admire.  I bet you they probably have board service included in their bio.  Boards can also allow you to develop skills you may not be able to get in your day job.  You can explore new passions, expand your network, and gain transferable leadership experience.  As you progress in your career, I'm sure you will want to join the board of large, prestigious organizations.  To get there, you need to start now.

How do I join a board? 

As with many things in life, networking is key to joining a nonprofit board. I was 24 when I first joined a nonprofit board.  The year before I officially joined the board, I ran for a seat on the board of the Women's Information Network and lost the election.  I stayed involved with the organization, took on volunteer leadership roles, and won my election the next year.  Since that experience, I have served on many other boards, and I am proud to currently serve on the board of Running Start, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering young women to run for office.

For all of my board opportunities, I was previously involved with the organization.  I joined one organization as a volunteer grant writer, and three years later joined the board.   With another organization, I invited someone from the organization to be a guest speaker where I worked, and then they invited me to be a guest speaker for their organization.  Many organizations working with youth or young professionals are very willing to have younger people serve on their boards.  However, even larger organizations are seeking to recruit diverse talent, and are eager for young professionals to serve on their board.

So for some organizations, you need to run for a position, but for others, you need to be recommended by a current board member.  It helps to have donation history with the organization.  When you are a board candidate, they will check if you have been giving to the organization for some time.  So even if it's $20 annually or monthly, start donating now.

What organizations are you currently connected to?  What can be a next step for you to get more involved?  What organizations are you not currently connected to but would like to learn more about?  Sign up for their newsletter or attend one of their events.  Talk to your friends and colleagues who serve on boards for their advice.  Check out Board Net USA, which lists current board vacancies. 

You are qualified now to serve on a board.  Young people are very underrepresented on nonprofit boards, but we have so many skills and experiences to share.  As you start the New Year, make time for volunteering and giving back to your community!  

Additional resources to check out:


Volunteer Match

National Council of Nonprofits


The Bridgespan Group