Professional development and training are often overlooked and underappreciated by many of today’s employers. Offering these opportunities in the non-profit space where funding is scarce and there are not enough hours in the day is increasingly more difficult. In fact, it’s often one of the first things to go when budgets get cut. However, I am lucky enough to be part of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), where training and development of individual team members is part of the culture and is highly encouraged. For a small organization with a large footprint in the space like ours, each team member must rise to and perform at a much higher level than anywhere else. To attract and retain the right individuals, develop and identify future leaders, professional and leadership development become extremely important.
This past April I was extremely humbled to be a part of that focus. I was nominated by our CEO Paul Rieckhoff to participate in The New York Community Trust (NYCT) Leadership Fellows program. After a brief but intensive application and selection period I was selected as a participant and had the distinct pleasure to participate in the Spring 2018 cohort. This 12-week professional certificate program was created in partnership with the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College. Through training and mentorship, with a focus on New York City’s nonprofits NYCT Leadership Fellows aims to develop future leaders in New York’s nonprofit sector.
For over 3 months every Friday I stepped away from my duties and focused on developing my managerial and leadership skills through 12 learning seminars with distinguished faculty, including Baruch College professors and experienced practitioners, in a group of highly talented and dedicated nonprofit leaders championing issues impacting millions and delivering services to a many different populations in our great city. I am also extremely thankful to my colleagues, and the organization at large in their support to make this happen. As the only veteran in the cohort I was proud to be a voice representing my brothers and sisters of the armed services and raising awareness about issues affecting our community most. It is always good to make a dent in the civilian military divide.
NYCT Leadership Fellows curriculum was taught through the lens of real-world issues and trends. It felt current and relevant throughout. I also had the pleasure to attend Dean’s Dinners hosted by Dean David Birdsell of the School of Public Affairs, where we connected with Aaron Dorfman, president of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), and Kelsey Louie, the Chief Executive Officer of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). While the speakers had prepared presentations and remarks, most of the time was spent in a formal conversation setting. The level of expertise and practical knowledge was unprecedented and a great learning experience. Aaron Dorfman spoke at length about foundational giving. But what struck me the most is his view on the value of advocacy, the difficulties in funding advocacy work, but also the steps NCRP is taking in educating philanthropic foundations in the value of this work. This is something IAVA development team does on regular bases and it was interesting to see how difficult, and often delicate, that work is.
While the fellowship learning seminars focused on a wide variety of topics like how to be an emotionally intelligent leader, nonprofit finances and fundraising, use of social media and the value of collaboration, my favorite session was when we got to work directly with Gallup Strengths Center to help us better understand our own styles of work and leadership. It was a truly eye-opening experience and it really helped me get valuable perspective for my approach to work and problem solving, as well as how to work better with others and continue to hone my style and skills.
Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is incredibly important. I believe this is fundamental to increasing performance and replicating successes throughout any organization. This experience was a part of that, but also, it is up to me to make sure the valuable lessons learned make it to those I work with. In the nonprofit world, sharing knowledge and best practices is critical to improve services, deliver better outcomes for our clients and to scale work. The NYCT Leadership Fellows program offered me a tremendous opportunity to grow and learn from some of the brightest minds in the sector, while honing the skills needed to flourish in the nonprofit space. IAVA empowered me to do it. My greatest professional desire is to continue serving the veteran community. While our country remains involved in armed conflict around the globe, the need for sound leadership in the veteran services arena will only increase. The opportunity to join the spring 2018 cohort was truly a defining moment in my career as I continue my work in the nonprofit sector.