It Started at the World Café

Meredith and Shameka discussing the rolodex.It was toward the end of the first day of the Center’s recent conference.   The year was 2020, and we began with a fun skit to set the stage.  Meredith Emmett played an outgoing executive director who was retiring after many years on the job.  She met with Shameka Harrington, who played the new, young incoming executive director. 

Meredith shared her trusty rolodex – chock full of contacts – along with hard copies of key donor files (to which Shameka wanted reassurance that it was all scanned and in the database!). Shameka was respectful letting Meredith share what she needed to (including the pen she used to sign the nonprofit’s incorporation papers).  When Meredith left to handle last-minute affairs, Shameka dispensed of the 20th century artifacts and called her leadership team together to start their work. 

We all got a few good laughs from the stereotypes used to illustrate how different generations lead. While extreme, they helped us see that we all need to examine the way we’re doing things now, in 2015, 2020, and beyond.

We focused our conversation around five key questions:

  1. How do you see yourself fitting into the nonprofit sector in 2020 and beyond?
  2. What skills and abilities do you think will be important to possess to be a successful nonprofit leader in 2020 and beyond?
  3. How will nonprofit employees need to be supported to do their best work in 2010 and beyond?
  4. How will nonprofits stay relevant in 2020 and beyond?
  5. What do you think needs to be different about nonprofits and nonprofit culture in 2020 and beyond? 

We talked a lot about what we’ll need to do differently to move our sector forward and thrive.  The aha’s ranged from “I’m scared” and “I want the freedom to make mistakes” to “We’re always driven by emotion and not enough about data” and “Why are talking about change in 2020?  Why don’t we do it now?” 

World Café participants suggested these next steps that the N.C. Center has committed to: 

  1. Set up video chats and have conversations over lunch for people interested in continuing the dialogue.  Join us for the first on Thursday, Oct. 23 from 12:30-1:15 p.m.
  2. Connect more frequently for peer sharing around these and other issues.
  3. Create an advisory board of young leaders as we move forward (more on that later). 

Trisha Lester is senior vice president at the N.C. Center.  Thanks to Jane Cox, Meredith Emmett, Jean Pudlo, Sarah Shapard, and Brenda Summers who facilitated the small group discussions at the World Café.  


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