Since I’m only a month into my Inspire Fellowship placement at a D.C. nonprofit, the opportunity to review How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar is extremely timely. In my new role as Operations Manager of the Middle School campus of D.C. Preparatory Academy, a coalition of charter schools dedicated to closing the education gap, the days fly by toggling from one task to another. Reading this book has given me the opportunity to reflect for a moment on my placement and how I can add the most value to my organization in the months ahead.
In How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar, Rosetta Thurman and Trista Harris provide specific strategies for advancement in the nonprofit sector. It is punctuated with real-life examples of individuals who have used their strategies and how those strategies enabled them to succeed, which personalizes what might otherwise come off as theoretical.
Since the most compelling vignettes come from the authors’ own backgrounds it’s important to understand their respective journeys. Rosetta Thurman dedicates herself to “empowering a new generation of leaders,” according to her very extensive personal homepage’s subheading, through blogging, coaching and education about best practices in the nonprofit sector. She has built credibility as a co-author of this book by holding multiple leadership positions at various nonprofit organizations as well as obtaining a formal education in the field. Trista Harris, with a similar educational background, currently holds the title of executive director of a community foundation in Minnesota and hosts her own online forum.
As a young female professional working in the nonprofit sector, I believe I am squarely within the intended audience of this book. Certain advice and tips were so relevant to me that I found myself interrupting my reading of the book to follow-up with them! By the time I finished reading the book, I had joined the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, signed up for a leadership seminar and ironed and laid out my clothes for the next morning. The book speaks my language, which you can tell by the title as well as headings like Books You Should Totally Read.
At the same time, though, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar offers helpful strategies for professionals at all rungs on the career ladder. After all, you cannot excel in the nonprofit world without being an excellent employee to start out with. That little voice in the back of my head is always saying things like “take on projects that go outside your comfort zone,” but it’s motivating to be reminded. The guidance they give validated my own instincts about the right way to proceed with regards to networking, professional development and educational opportunities -- and encouraged me to follow up.
The authors employ an uncanny strategy of anticipating questions the reader might have as he or she reads their ideas and strategies. Just as I was saying to myself, oh, but they don’t understand that I’m too busy for this work/life nonsense, Harris and Thurman explain that it could prevent burnout later in one’s career and suggest a strategy for analyzing how efficiently one is using existing available time. In fact, they identify how work/life balance is especially important in the nonprofit sector because of the temptation to become a martyr for a cause. You can’t help anyone if you’re overextended.
Where the book really sets itself apart, though, is in the parts that address unique ways be successful in the nonprofit sector. It would never occur to me to attempt to join a board of directors as such a young professional, but Thurman and Harris encourage individuals interested in advancing to do just this. Since the field of nonprofit management is still growing and the acronym soup can be confusing (MPA, MHS, MAPS, MBA), they helpfully offer advice on which master’s degrees to pursue based on what part of the sector you want to specialize in – whether the financial, the administrative or the policy.
The sections on using new media to enhance one’s career provide unique information about a competency that is accelerating in importance. While I believe myself to be fairly tech-savvy, fluent in Facebook and LinkedIn, creating a blog was never something I considered. But Thurman and Harris both attribute a significant amount of their success to their blogs and encourage young professionals to use them as a way to develop a public voice. Apparently, before Thurman started her blog, people would mistake her for her boss’ secretary! The exposure these forums gave to both she and Harris led to speaking engagements and ultimately consideration for certain job opportunities down the road.
The authors urge readers to actively take charge of their online presence in a way that I believe most people don’t feel they have the agency to do. Whether that means manipulating the hits found when you are Googled or investing in services that track new references to yourself, Thurman and Harris opened my eyes to the fact that I have control over how I appear and it’s up to me to manage how I’m perceived on the Internet.
Since the narrator changes – sometimes Thurman, sometimes Harris, sometimes Thurman and Harris – it can sometimes be difficult to recall who’s telling the story. Consistent use of the third person throughout might have prevented this confusion and allowed the reader to be clear about which accomplishments were associated with which author. However, their use of the first person did personalize their story and bring readers back to who they’re hearing from.
With How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar: 50 Ways to Accelerate Your Career, Harris and Thurman have written an approachable and well-organized how-to guide for those who are new to the nonprofit world, whether young professionals or sector switchers. The book is available for purchase online for $24.99. Follow this link to take advantage of a 25-percent discount for our readers only.