Three ways to take a break this holiday season

When was the last time you took a vacation? While it can be hard to step away from your desk, a little time away can do wonders for you professionally and personally. Read on to learn how to get away.

By Eleanor Whitney

When I worked at a New York City museum I was surprised to learn that some employees who had been working there for years had amassed months worth of unused vacation days.  These same colleagues felt burned out, jaded and disengaged from their jobs.  At another organization where I worked, there was a policy of mandating that all employees use their vacation days within the fiscal year after some workers went years without taking a vacation.

Photo Credit: Kenzoka, Creative Commons/Flickr

This reluctance to going away is understandable: many nonprofit employees are invested in their work and might feel too overwhelmed to take a vacation. However, spending some time away from work can have distinct benefits that actually make you more productive and effective.

Why you should take a vacation

Let’s start with the physical and emotional: several studies, reported on by the New York Times and the Harvard Business Review, find that taking vacation lowers stress levels, the risk of heart attack, promotes good sleep, and encourages family bonding and overall well being.

It never hurts to come back to work happier and healthier. Additionally, in my own experience, one of the greatest career boosting elements of taking a vacation is the clarity you develop around your work:

  • You can reflect on your accomplishments and identify next steps for yourself
  • You gain perspective and new ideas by trying something completely outside of your daily routine
  • You can find new ideas or solutions to an old problem: Ideas often appear when you are relaxed and your mind can wander

So how do you set yourself up for vacation success?

Plan before you go

Before stepping away, prioritize essential business, delegate tasks that still need doing, and communicate where your colleagues can find any information that they might need while you are away. Trust your colleagues to handle situations that come up, knowing that you would want them to put the same trust in you.

Start small

If you are traveling, chose a trip that has a low stress level. For example, unless you are an adventure seeker, traveling to the wilds of Alaska in winter might not be for you.  If you are traveling with family make sure you have time to bond and do things together, but also make time for yourself.

Limit connections

If you just can’t cut the chord on your smart phone, set a limited time each day to check in, say 15 minutes to skim your emails and check your voicemail and respond to whatever is pressing, and then leave the rest.

If you take the risk to let go, you’ll find that your break, whether its several days or several weeks, will enable you to come back to work energized and refreshed, with greater perspective, new ideas, and perhaps an improved attitude that your coworkers may appreciate as well.

What are your strategies for preparing to “get away from it all” and what are some benefits that time away has brought to your work? 

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles

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Three ways to be generous at work and further your career

‘Tis the season for giving! Have you thought about how being generous at work can help your career? In this post, we explore three things you can do for others that help you grow and strengthen your network.

by Eleanor C. Whitney

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and while you may be in the midst of figuring out the best side dish to make with your turkey or Tofurkey, now is the perfect time to explore how a spirit of generosity can help your career.

Photo credit: Funchye, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Common wisdom in the career-advice field recommends that when you start a new job you should volunteer for tasks that others might be hesitant to take on and go the extra mile to show your capacity for commitment, hard work and acting as a team player. While this is certainly sound advice, generosity goes beyond simply volunteering for tasks at opportune moments.

When you act with generosity you are consistently open with your skills, ideas and knowledge. When you are generous you don’t just give of yourself, but acknowledge the contributions and needs of others. The result is a network of people who are also willing to help you.

Here are a few ideas of how you can bring a spirit of generosity to your career:

  • Create a resource or service that is useful to the people you serve

In my current position I co-run the Fiscal Sponsorship at the New York Foundation for the Arts. Artists are required to submit a budget for their project when they apply to our program. My colleagues and I noticed that artists often made the same budget mistakes and some neglected to submit budgets at all. In response we organized a free project budget basics workshop that we presented to a packed house and offered online as a free podcast. As a result, artists can build their skills free of charge and we receive stronger, complete applications.

  • Share information that helps others take the next step

In his book The Thank You Economy Gary Vaynerchuk explains that businesses and professionals need to adapt to the openness, feedback and communication the Internet offers by becoming more communicative and caring with their stakeholders.  Keep this in mind as you communicate daily with your clients and colleagues. When they reach out to you with a question or need, even if you can’t offer exactly what they are asking for, give them the information they need to take the next step, whether that’s directing them to someone who can help them or a suggesting a resource where they can find what they are looking for.  Send them a link, a person’s contact information, or an article. They will remember and thank you for it.

  • Take time to understand your colleagues’ needs, goals and concerns

When I worked a large museum in New York City, I took time to understand the schedules and job-related concerns of colleagues in other departments. Because I established a reputation of respecting my colleagues’ processes and listening to their needs I found that people would go the extra mile for me. For example, I knew that the editorial department worked on a strict schedule that was determined by the availability of the graphic design department and print shop.  If I requested last minute changes to publication text from the editors it meant they would have to reach out to the designers and I would potentially slow down the whole publication and printing schedule. When I acknowledged that what I was asking for required extra effort on their part, explained why my request was important to the museum overall, and acknowledged their help, I found they were happy to help me.

Generosity is a kind of currency that you build slowly. When you are generous you establish your reputation as a key facilitator, team member and leader. That recognition can lead to new and deeper connections and opportunities and will translate into a feeling of good will towards you. Good will is the strongest quality you can offer.

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles

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Cementing the connection: Four steps to build your network after a conference

We’ve written before on what to do before and during a conference to meet people and expand your network. But what do you do after a conference to keep the conversation going? Today, we share a few tips on how to take those initial meetings and greetings to the next level.

by Eleanor Whitney

This time of year is always a whirlwind of conferences, panels, plenary sessions and meetings. As you’ve dashed from event to event, surely you have met new people, made conversations, pitched your ideas, and collected business cards. So what’s next? How do you make the most of these new connections after you’ve taken the time to get out there to meet, greet, and connect?

Below are four steps to follow up with people you have met so that you can continue and deepen the initial connection you have made and turn conference connections into successful network building.

Photo credit: Kramer Family Library, Creative Commons/Flickr

Step 1: Organize your contacts

It’s important to remember where you met someone and what you spoke about.  If you’re like me, after a busy conference you are left with a stack of business cards and an inability to connect names to faces. After you meet someone, take a moment to write down on their card where you met them and a few notes to remind yourself what you talked about.

For example, after I went to South by South West last year I simply wrote, “SxSW” on all the cards I collected. I also noted the panel, meet and greet, or concert where I had met them and wrote down and if I had promised to follow up on a conversation item with them.

Step 2: Establish an initial connection

To ensure the cards you have received don’t collect dust after the event, use social media to connect with the people you have met. Add them on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter.  Include a personal note such as, “Nice to meet you at the conference, I look forward to staying in touch,” when sending a follow request.

I tend to reserve Facebook for my personal family and friend contacts, but if you feel it’s appropriate, you may also reach out to them on that platform and be sure to “Like” their organization or project’s page. If they have a blog add it to your reader and comment on an entry or two you find compelling.

If you talked with someone about an article or resource that you promised to share, be sure to send it to them!

Step 3: Move the conversation offline

If you made a strong connection with someone and you want to learn more about what they do, invite them for coffee or lunch to continue your conversation.

Before sending an invitation, decide on your purpose for connecting with this person. Are you looking to get insight into how to advance in your current field? Do you want to learn about a new career path? Are you looking for someone to collaborate with who has a different skill set than yours?

You goal for connecting with your new contact will shape your conversation and the structure of your relationship, as least at first.

Send a friendly, concise email letting the person know it was nice to meet them, reminding them who you were, and asking if you might be able to talk further because you found their ideas, work or expertise compelling.

Step 4: Meet up again

Before meeting with your new contact, prepare yourself to make most out of your short time together. You want to make a good impression and be able to find out the information that you need. To prepare:

  • Craft a sentence long pitch about yourself: who are you, what do you do and what you are looking to learn about. For guidance on creating and refining this pitch refer to Dixie Laite’s column about building your personal brand for the DIY Business Association
  • Be genuine, positive and on your best behavior. You want to build a positive image for yourself. Networking is not a time to vent your frustrations. You know never who someone is and who they are connected to
  • Come up with a few questions to ask in advance and be sure to listen to the answers
  • As about further follow up, such as “Who else do you suggest I talk to about this?”
  • Follow up with a thank you email or note

Michael Royce, the Executive Director at the New York Foundation for the Arts, suggests you treat everyone nicely when you network because you never know who they are connected to. To his advice I would add that networking and follow up are successful when you are both nice and strategic. When you reach out to a new connection, you also offer them your ideas, skills, and thoughts. Approach your follow up conversations with an open mind and a willingness to be generous and collaborative.  The energy and time you take to genuinely connect will make you the kind of person people will extend themselves to help and that people want to meet.

What steps do you take to build your network after a conference?

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles

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Grow your expertise and not your debt: Low cost (and low stress) professional development

Last week, we shared some new ideas on how to approach your career. Today, guest blogger Eleanor Whitney provides some tips and resources on how to put your desire for professional development into action.

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by Eleanor Whitney

“Back to school” season started a few weeks ago, but the students among us are already buckling down to their books as the real work of the semester kicks in and midterm exams loom. Perhaps you feel a little left out of the learning frenzy because you are not a matriculated student.

However, just because you are not pursuing a degree or doesn’t mean you have to forgo learning or sharpening your professional skills. It’s especially helpful to know about lower cost classes if you are contending with student debt and unable to shell out more money for education. You too can learn more without breaking the bank!

Not a student? There’s still plenty of learning for you to do! (Photo Credit: CollegeDegrees360, Creative Commons/Flickr)

Here are a few basic strategies to finding further professional opportunities with an affordable price tag:

Join a professional organization

Any profession you can think of, from fundraisers, teachers, graphic designers, marketers, professors, and photographers, all have professional organizations they can join that offer networking opportunities, local and national events that promote professional development, and websites full of resources.  For example, The Young Nonprofit Professionals Network supports emerging nonprofit leaders and has chapters all over the country. AIGA, the professional association for design, offers local chapters, job listings and student groups.

Go to a conference

Not all conferences are expensive affairs held at a fancy hotel. Many regional and local networks offer full or half-day conferences focused around a particular topic or theme that is relevant to your field.  For example, when I was a Museum Educator I belonged to the New York City Museum Educators Roundtable (NYCMER), which held monthly workshops and an annual conference. This fall the University of Wisconsin—Parkside is offering a Nonprofit Leadership Conference and every summer the Allied Media Conference is held in the Midwest and tackles issues surrounding independent and nonprofit media production.

Think local

Your local public library, community college, Chamber of Commerce, Business Improvement District, Y, or arts council may offer professional development classes and networking opportunities you never knew existed. I’m always looking to see what the New York and Brooklyn Public Libraries have on offer. It’s exciting to see what free resources are out there!

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to share skills you already have, apply them to a new field, or try your hand at something new while giving back to the community. A great place to start looking for volunteer opportunities is, of course, Idealist. Other organizations like Catchafire and Taproot connect professionals with nonprofits who need a specific skillset – like design, accounting, marketing, etc – to help complete a project.

Hop online

The Internet has opened up how knowledge can be shared. Here are just a few options of organizations that offer low-cost professional development classes that are driven by social networking and crowd sourcing:

Skillshare.com is a “community marketplace for classes” that offers practical courses taught by working professionals. You can search classes by location or sign-up for online classes that include an in-person workshop component. You can also offer to lead sections yourself. Recent classes cover topics such as digital strategy workshops, sustainable business development, to building happiness at work. Local classes also give you an opportunity for meeting creative, professional and curious people from a variety of fields.

For those looking for a do-it-yourself approach to professional development, Tradeschool.coop is run by the creative barter organization OurGoods.org. Trade School celebrates “practical wisdom, mutual respect, and the social nature of exchange” and operates on a barter basis. If you have a skill to offer, and skills you want to learn, you can organize your own Tradeschool and get started!

Pursuing professional development can refresh your perspective, enable you to bring new ideas to your current position, and inspire you to explore a new professional direction.

What types of low-cost professional development have you found particularly interesting or effective?

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.

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How to find the perfect graduate program

It’s back-to-school time! To help you prepare, each Tuesday over the next few weeks, we’re featuring advice on finding, applying, and paying for graduate school. Read our first post on three good reasons (and one bad reason) to go to grad school. Want more information? Be sure to visit our Graduate School Resource Center and attend a free Grad School Fair near you!

In this piece, writer, program officer, and member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals of NYC Eleanor Whitney shares her experiences finding the right graduate degree program.

by Eleanor Whitney

I’ll admit it: I dreaded the process of finding a graduate program. I knew that graduate school would be an important investment in my career and myself, but the finding the right program felt like a chore. I’ve built my career working in museums and nonprofit arts organizations and saw that universities were rapidly expanding their graduate program offerings in specializations related to my field, but was unsure if that was the kind of program I wanted.

Starting my research

I began my research process informally by talking to the people I worked with about their graduate school experiences. I took careful note about their career path before, during and after they completed their degree. I asked them about their classes, classmates, opportunities and, as politely as I could, the price. From these conversations I started asking myself what I wanted out of graduate school.

I had gotten my bachelor’s degree from a small, private liberal arts college and wanted to go to a large, diverse public university as a contrast; Because I worked in the arts I did not need a specialized program that introduced me to the art world, but a program to teach me quantitative skills I could not learn on my own; I was not sure I wanted to stay working in arts nonprofits, so I wanted a degree that could apply to a wide range of fields; Finally, I could not go into debt to go to graduate school or stop working full time, because I met many people who had done so found it difficult to find another job upon completing their program and felt stifled by the loans they had taken out.

Talking with people, including friends, colleagues, and school representatives can help you make the right decision about grad school (Photo Credit: Julia S./Staff Photo)

Selecting the right program

With these criteria, choosing a program became simple. When I found Baruch College’s Master’s in Public Administration program that was designed for working students I knew I had found the program for me. It enabled me to go to school part-time and work full-time, had a focus on quantitative skills like statistics, budgeting and economics, and a diverse student population working in all types of public, nonprofit and corporate agencies.

(Want to learn more about this program? Visit Baruch and other schools at our upcoming Grad Fairs.)

It took me four years between completing my bachelor’s degree and beginning my master’s, but taking that time helped me hone in on the right program. From my experience, I wanted to offer advice about how to find a program that is the best fit for your interests and needs. Instead of pouring through overwhelming options, spend time to clarify what you want to get out of graduate school. Knowing the end result that you want can help you focus on the program that is right for you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you begin to research graduate programs:

  • What is your end goal? Think big and dare to imagine yourself in your dream job. What is it? What did you need to know to get there? You want to make sure that the program you choose will serve as a stepping-stone to realizing your career vision.
  • What specific skills do you want to learn? Are there skills your profession requires you to know or that you feel you need to further develop? Does the program offer classes and opportunities to learn and hone those skills? Are the classes and methods up-to-date with the latest thinking and technology? You want to make sure you invest in developing skills you will actually use.
  • What connections do you want to build? Are the professors respected experts in the field you are interested in? Will the program give you access to internship and professional networking opportunities with high-level professionals in your field of interest?
  • What specific degree does the program grant? Some graduate degrees, such as a Masters of Social Work or a Master’s in Education, prepare you to work in a specific field. Other degrees, such as a Master’s of Public Administration, are more general and give a wide range of skills that could be applicable across professions. If you decide to change jobs will your degree still be relevant? Idealist produced a series of podcasts explaining different master’s degrees to help you decide which one is right for you.
  • How much does the program cost? Graduate school is a smart long-term investment, but it can be a pricey one. When considering how much you can pay for graduate school think carefully about the cost of a program versus the benefits you will receive. Research average salaries for your field and consider how much can you reasonably expect to make once you have your degree. Will that offset the cost of paying for graduate school, especially if you need to take out loans? Also consider the cost of living where the program is located and whether you will be able to have a full or part time job while you are in school.

Spend some time reflecting on these questions and make a note of your answers. When you are clear on the skills you need to learn, the professionals you want to work with, the type of degree you want and your price range you will have a great list of criteria by which you can evaluate graduate programs and find the right fit for you.

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She currently is a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of the forthcoming book Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, which will be released in the spring of 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.

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