Posts by Julia Smith

Idea File: Start a job search support group

Neighbors band together to support one another through periods of unemployment.


Would a job search support group help you? (Photo Credit: Katerha, Creative Commons/Flickr)

The idea

Feeling down and out after searching (and searching, and searching…) for a job? Why not get together with neighbors or friends for constructive dialogue, fresh ideas, and renewed energy?

In my small hometown in Maryland, a group is doing just that. Karla*, a consultant in search of a full-time job, began meeting twice a month with her husband and two neighbors, all Boomers who had been laid off within the last few years. They call themselves the Dream Academy. In Karla’s words, “We are only four people yet have a surprisingly different set of needs,” so their conversations ranged from compassionate pep talks for the most depressed member of the group to more specific negotiation advice for another member who was fairly far along in an interview process.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

This idea is cheap, easy to replicate, and needed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the length of time the jobless spend searching for work before finding a job increased from 5.2 to 10.4 weeks between 2007 and 2010, edging down to 10.0 in 2011.” Ten weeks is about how long our former coworker Diana spent searching for her new job in Boston, but we know that not everyone is so lucky. Diana received tons of emails and comments from readers, some of whom have been out of work for years. I wonder what would happen if those readers began checking in regularly, encouraging one another and sharing resources.

“I think any time a community of even a small number forms around an issue or a cause or a concern, everybody in that community gains something,” says Karla. “Conversations we have with ourselves only keep us stuck; conversations stay alive when you share them with other people. The conversation around ‘how can I find a job in this economy when I’m over 50?’ is not a very empowering one, especially when you only have it with yourself and there’s a lot of reinforcement for it in the media. It really helps to surround yourself with people who believe in you and believe you have something outstanding to offer. Which, of course, we all do.”

How you can replicate it

  • Find people to meet with. For the Dream Academy, four members was a good size. “It enabled us to have a very substantive conversation about each member’s needs while still only taking about an hour – which was what each of us felt we could spare. Sticking close to an hour makes it feel like an opportunity rather than an imposition,” says Karla.
  • Keep it low-maintenance. What time and day is best? Will folks need to figure out childcare? Searching for a job is taxing enough; make it as easy as possible for your fellow job seekers to participate.
  • Consider group dynamics. Are you going to “require” that people attend meetings, or will the group be flexible? Will you set one scheduled meeting time per week or month, and if not, should one person take the lead on scheduling? Will you take turns being the time keeper to make sure everyone has a chance to talk about what’s going well and what’s getting them down?
  • Find a space. Is there a room at a public library? Will people be more comfortable speaking freely inside someone’s home? If you sit at a coffee shop, will everyone feel pressured to spend money on drinks?
  • Stay open-minded and celebrate successes. Though the Maryland group named themselves the Dream Academy, one member, Joe, came to the group feeling anything but dreamy. “He was very down about his prospects,” says Karla. “He’d lost his job as a teacher with the school system and was about to go for what he was viewing as a dead-end ‘informational’ interview with a principal at a nearby high school. We all urged him to go into this meeting with a much more open mind about what might happen.” The next day, Joe called to say he’d gotten a long-term job as a substitute teacher, with the possibility of a promotion to full-time. This was wonderful news for Joe and it also boosted morale among the whole group.

I look forward to hearing how things progress for the members of the Dream Academy and for the group as a whole. Once they’re all employed, maybe they’ll continue to meet to offer one another informal coaching and mentorship (like the group Trista Harris describes in this post). Or maybe they’ll stop meeting but give each other an extra wink when they run into each other in the neighborhood and ask, “How’s work these days?”

What do you think?

We’d love to hear your experiences.  Have you tried something like this? Do you have additional tips to offer?

*Names have been changed. Special thanks to the “Dream Academy” of Prince George’s County, MD, for their help with this post.

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How one nonprofit is building leadership from within


Photo via iMentor. Click to visit their org page on Idealist – they currently have five jobs, two internships, and a volunteer opportunity listed on the site!

In the latest issue of HR Connections, our monthly newsletter for the nonprofit human resources community, Kim Hendler writes:

At iMentor, we’ve been faced with an age-old question: When a management position opens up in our organization, do we promote an individual contributor who is great at their job, eager for next steps, and overall a high potential employee but lacks supervisory experience and training and whom we may not be able to adequately support? Or do we hire externally, facing the significant challenge of hiring great middle managers who are a sure fit with our management culture?

As Managing Director of Talent at iMentor, Kim worked with her team and with support from the American Express Foundation to create a formal program to invest in leadership development. Her goal is to train “high performing, high potential staff…to build a strong bench for future roles requiring leadership and management skills.” Curious how they did it? Find the full article here.

Want a dose of nonprofit HR goodness delivered straight to your inbox each month? Sign up at

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Discount tickets to Personal Democracy Forum in NYC


For the third year in a row, the organizers of Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) are offering a discount on registration to members of the Idealist community. (If you’re reading this, that means you!)

PdF is a two-day conference exploring and analyzing technology’s impact on politics, government, and civil society. This year’s event takes place June 11-12 in New York City and is centered around the theme “The Internet’s New Political Power.” Speakers will include:

  • David Boyce, CEO of Fundly, the largest online social fundraising platform in the U.S.
  • Sara Horowitz, Executive Director and Founder, Freelancers Union
  • Van Jones, president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream
  • John Perry Barlow, Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation

…And many more.

Planning to attend? Receive 15% off the nonprofit rate with coupon discount code IDEALIST2012.

You can also apply for a Google PdF fellowship for a chance at free registration. According to the site, they’re “looking for innovative people who are trying to tackle big, meangingful problems. Are you trying to change government? Shaking up the non-profit world with a promising new start-up? Blazing new trails in online politics? The Google PdF Fellowship could be yours.” Learn more and apply by Wednesday, May 9.

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Your favorite quotes: Remember what matters


Image via the (RED) Pinterest page

Yesterday on Twitter and Facebook we asked folks to share “quotations that help you keep priorities straight.” You responded enthusiastically, citing everyone from poet Mary Oliver to philosopher George Santayana to Dr. Seuss to an elementary school librarian in Urbana, IL.

See a collection of the results on Storify.

I hope these words help you remember what’s really important. Go make today a beautiful one – and please keep the quotes coming! You can comment on this post, tweet (we’re @idealist and used the hashtag #favoritequotesroundup), or leave your favorite on our Facebook page.

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We need a new word for "service"


Ami points out that "Kaboom! invites people to build playgrounds," in strong, active language. (Photo: Ft. Meade Public Affairs, Flickr/Creative Commons)

Today on Fast Company, our founder Ami Dar writes:

To help more people take the leap from good intentions to action, we need better words for what we do. “Service,” “volunteerism,” “civic engagement”—even “nonprofit” and “social entrepreneurship”—are all weak substitutes for the action-oriented verbs that people actually use to describe how they work together and help one another.

Click here to read the rest of the piece. Thanks to Fast Company and Catchafire for including Ami in the “Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation” series.

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How to make the most of a conference, part 2

I’m sitting in the lobby of the hotel where the Nonprofit Technology Conference will officially kick off tomorrow morning, back with more tips for conference survival and…thrival. (Did I just type that? I blame the jet lag.)

My post last week focused on what to do before you go. Here are some suggestions for what to do once you arrive.

Be realistic about email.

Think you might neglect your inbox a bit? Don’t forget to put up an out-of-office auto reply. Before the NTC, the smarties at NTEN provided boilerplate text that attendees could copy and paste into their email auto-responder (which deftly include information about the live stream of the conference). You could be cryptic, but Sarah Durham of Big Duck advocates that you share “that you’re out, when you’ll be back, and whom to contact in your absence.” And why not take the opportunity to show off your organization’s personality a little bit?

Remember who you meet.

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
I know this is an old trick, but I do still write a brief description about every person I meet on the back of their business card that includes where I met them, one physical detail, one professional detail, and one personal detail that will later jog my memory of who the person is. Hence my rolodex (yes, I still use one) is full of cards that say stuff like, “Chicago IS Conference, cool glasses, been at X org for 2 years, joked abt 4th season 30 Rock.”


Not feeling a session? Put one foot in front of the other, says Amy. (Photo: CarbonNYC, Flickr/Creative Commons)

As my yoga teacher would say, “Create your own experience.”

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:
Remember the law of two feet: if you’re in a session, a social event, or anywhere else and it isn’t the conversation or topic you thought it would be, feel empowered to leave and find the people and conversations you’re after. Every conference tries to cover many topics and create opportunities for all the various goals participants may have, but participants also need to feel free to make the conference what they want it to be!

Building on that, a tip from me (
Give yourself permission to leave and breathe. I’ve arranged to meet up with an old friend in the city for dinner one night. At the end of a long day of nonprofit tech immersion, I’ll have a chance to unwind, talk about totally different subjects, and see another neighborhood. (I’ll probably forget to take off my conference name tag. She’ll probably make fun of me. I’m OK with that.)

Share power…literally.

Jereme Bivins, Social Media Manager, Foundation Center (who left this comment on our last blog post):
Running around the hotel and conference rooms all day does a number on your mobile devices, and you rarely find yourself seated next to a power outlet during the sessions. So I try to be very conscious about which devices I have on/running (vs. which I’m actually using), I optimize my devices’ power settings, and I always keep a spare charger in my bag.

Also, if you’re a super-networker, power makes friends – and not in the Machiavellian way. People with power strips, back-up batteries, iPhone/iPad chargers, etc. are always great folks to have around; so if your primary goal at a [high-tech conference like the NTC] is a ton of ‘Friend’ requests, nothing says ‘Like’ me quite like a spare laptop charger…

Keep ’em coming!

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to this mini-series. Please keep the tips coming in the comments. And if you’re at the NTC, check out the session I’m co-hosting Tuesday, April 3 at 1:30.

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How to make the most of a conference

It’s conference season! Next week I’m heading to San Francisco for the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which boasts thousands of attendees and countless opportunities for networking, skill-building, and…sheer exhaustion. To prepare, I asked a bunch of nonprofit leaders how they make the most of big events like this. Here’s part 1: what to do before you leave.

Do you really want to do this?

Ami Dar, Founder and Executive Director, Idealist:
Think twice—or three times—before signing up. It’s tempting and easy to sign up for a conference that’s happening a few months from now, but pretend for a moment that the conference is happening tomorrow or next week. Would you still want to attend? If so, go for it!

Make a plan.


Does this make you want to run for cover? (Photo: Enterprise 2.0 Conference via Flickr)

Amy Sample Ward, Membership Director, NTEN:

Create a schedule for yourself ahead of time. Don’t budget every minute of every day, but do outline any sessions you know you want to see, and add in a block or two of time that’s free time so you reserve flexible time to meet up with new friends or explore the city.

Allison Jones, Fundraising and communications professional:
While I may blog and have an online presence, I am at my core an introvert. Large group settings make me uneasy so I always feel incredibly nervous before a conference…But I build a ton of relationships online, and conferences offer an opportunity to strengthen those relationships face-to-face. [Arranging ahead of time to] connect in a small group or one-on-one feels less random and less “networky”; these interactions invigorate me and allow me to connect with people in a more meaningful way. Plus, by planning time to meet others, it makes it harder for me to run into a corner and hide!

Trish Tchume, National Director, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network:
If the conference posts a participant list beforehand, go through the list and make note of who you want to catch up with or meet. Once you decide on those folks, PICK AN ACTUAL DATE, TIME, AND PLACE TO MEET. The best way to not actually meet up with someone at a conference is to just plan to “grab each other” when you’re there.

Creature comforts, AKA “Your body and soul”

This one’s mine:
On my packing list for this trip are comfortable shoes, workout clothes, healthy snacks to help me avoid a conference pastry overdose or overpriced airplane snack pack, and a travel mug or water bottle.

One thing I didn’t do that required advance planning: Sign up to volunteer. If your conference includes optional service opportunities like the NTC does, why not take them up on it?

Think (way) ahead.

Farra Trompeter, Vice President, Big Duck:
Block out time on your calendar now for AFTER the conference to process all that you learned and actually implement some of the bright ideas you’re certain to pick up in the sessions and in your conversations.

I’ll be back soon with Part 2: What to do while you’re there. In the meantime, have you tried these strategies? Do you have other “know before you go” tips for conference-goers?

Ed. note: Read Part 2, which covers ways to survive and thrive at big events like this!

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Webinar: How we survived the financial crisis

Update, 3/29/12: Watch the webinar via the Nonprofit Quarterly archives.


So grateful for this community. (Photo: Daniel J. Sieradski)

“I need your help to save” That’s the title of an email our executive director Ami Dar wrote just two years ago. It began:

Dear ___,

You know how sometimes in life you go through a bad moment, and when your friends hear about it later, they say, “Why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you ask? We would have helped.”

That’s where Idealist is now, and I am writing to ask for your help.

Very briefly, here’s what happened…

Ami went on to explain that after the financial crisis in October 2008, thousands of nonprofits froze hiring – which meant that we could no longer depend on that revenue stream. We had to get creative. We expanded other revenue-generating efforts, including our Grad Fairs; made some painful decisions to streamline our operations and staff; and got by “on faith and fumes” and with a lot of help from our friends. By January 2010 we had no choice but to turn to you, the people who had attended our events, subscribed to our Email Alerts, and contributed to this community for more than a decade.

Ami sent the email to 500,000 people who had registered on our site. Your response—donations large and small, stories of how Idealist had touched your life, warm wishes—touched us immeasurably, and allowed us to get through that rough patch.

On March 28, the Nonprofit Quarterly will host Ami for a free webinar called When your Financial Model goes Bust: How Idealist Took a Risk and Pulled Through. Join us to hear more about this critical time in our history and to discuss how the lessons we learned might help in your own work.

Space is limited. Reserve your seat now at:

And to all of you who pitched in back in January 2010: thank you again. We can never thank you enough.

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Oscars are over, but you can nominate a star in your life


The awards below might not be handed out at this venue, but they're still pretty special. (Photo: Flickr user p-a-t-r-i-c-k, via Creative Commons)

The Academy may be out of golden trophies for the year, but it’s not too late to recognize the Artists, Iron Ladies, and Beginners making a difference at your organization or in your community. Here are three contests open now; click a title to get all the details.

CTK Foundation’s “Heroes with a Heart”

Nomination deadline: February 29, 2012

We heard about this one via NTEN’s Facebook page. From the awards site:

The CTK Foundation presents the Heroes with a Heart (HWH) grant award in celebration of the unsung heroes of the non-profit world. Five “heroes” who have exceeded all expectations in giving of heart, mind and hands to their non-profit will be awarded personal cash prizes to spend any way they wish.

Nominations from any country are welcomed. Learn more and hurry – the nomination deadline is this week!

Do Something Awards

From the site:

Since 1996, has honored the nation’s best young world-changers, 25 and under…In 2012 (up to) five finalists will appear on the Do Something Awards on Vh1 and be rewarded with a community grant, media coverage and continued support from The grand prize winner will receive $100,000 during the broadcast.

Applicants must be 25 or younger and be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or Canada. More info here.

World of Children Awards

Nomination deadline: April 1, 2012

We learned about this one via Twitter today. You can nominate someone who fits into one of three categories:

  • The Humanitarian Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to children in the areas of social services, education or humanitarian services.
  • The Health Award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to children in the fields of health, medicine or the sciences.
  • The Youth Award recognizes youth (under the age of 21)that are making extraordinary contributions to the lives of other children.

Be sure to take a look at the Award Guidelines page.

Know of other awardscurrently accepting nominations to recognize people and organizations making the world a better place? Leave a comment below!

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Morning links: Pinterest for nonprofits, tech for good

Eye candy and food for thought from our Facebook feed this morning:


Screen capture of the pinboard "Nonprofit Organizations" curated by NonprofitOrgs

  • Nonprofit Organizations on Pinterest: Thinking about Pinterest for your organization? Take a look at the boards Heather Mansfield (aka the human behind Twitter feed @nonprofitorgs and has created: Inspiring Social Good & Causes, Shop for Good, Technology & Fundraising, and more.
  • Ten technology-for-good ideas via The Chronicle of Philanthropy: “…accomplishments of the 10 people who will be honored next month for their social-change work by organizers of the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Tex. Meet the advocate who is using mobile technology to promote gay marriage, a volunteer who is restoring tsunami-damaged photographs in Japan, people who are improving health care in poor countries, and many others.”

What headlines, tweets, or tools caught your eye today?

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