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Guidestones from young pros

Each year, GCN and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Atlanta recognize a group of young sector professionals through the Nonprofit Leader 30 Under 30 Awards. To find out more about the secrets to their early success, we posed this question to each award recipient: What decision, experience, or principle has made the biggest difference in your leadership journey?

Naturally, their answers did not disappoint:

JUST DO IT

Adrienne Vinson Waddey
Associate Director of Development, Oxford College of Emory University

To be brave and take risks. By constantly challenging myself, I am always learning and broadening my skill set – even when I make mistakes. I have been lucky to have such supportive leaders and managers, who are always encouraging me to test myself and try new approaches to our work.

Sam Martinez
Director of College Innovation, Goodie Nation

Finding ways to create value for my mentors. After connecting with the CEO of Goodie Nation, I earned his “stamp of approval” by making myself valuable, like becoming a consistent volunteer. When I expressed interest in a more involved role, he named me a director, and his confidence led my coworkers to accept me as an equal.

Madeline Tapper
Manager of Knowledge Development, United Way of Greater Atlanta

Speaking up. Among tenured colleagues, it’s easy to think your opinion doesn’t matter: I’m sure they’ve already thought of that, or They will think that’s a dumb idea. The reality: Not speaking up robs colleagues of a new perspective, and limits the group’s potential. (And if you're told otherwise, it might be time to find a new job!)

Joshua Woods
Campaign Manager for Light the Night, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
Mentoring others. In 2014, I began sitting down once a month with an intern who had no experience in the workforce. Witnessing his progress – from writing his first resume to developing CEO aspirations – inspired me to mentor others, making me better at listening, managing, and pushing teammates to grow.

Tommy Pearce
Consultant, Georgia Center for Nonprofits

Stepping up, even when you’re unsure. When a nonprofit I was working for lost its leader unexpectedly, I had to take on a much bigger role. Despite my reluctance, the experience rapidly increased my confidence, and reminded me why I love nonprofit work: finding creative ways to combine my analytical skills and passion for helping.

Margaret Derby
Program Manager of Innovation, CARE USA

Five principles I learned from one of my first bosses, Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise:

  1. Get out of your comfort zone.
  2. Challenge your assumptions so that you can find your truths.
  3. Speak the language of the person you seek to become.
  4. Make the little decisions with your head, and the big ones with your heart.
  5. Create the most positive impact on as many lives as possible.

 

TEAMING UP

Emily Cumbie-Drake
Director of Programs, Georgia Organics

Intentionally surrounding myself with mentors and role models who are inspiring, smart, and fun.

Maithri Vangala
Chief of Staff, TechBridge

Our CEO and leadership team. Every day, I’m able to put what I learn from them into action. When I transitioned to my current role, my boss passed me some words of wisdom: "It's not about you." In every work-related challenge or decision, that phrase is my north star.

Zobida Dat
Director of Development, Georgia Center for Child Advocacy

Surrounding myself with people who challenge me. A great support system can provide a wealth of knowledge and experience, help you to develop strong leadership skills, and empower you to take risks, create new standards of success, and do the same for the next generation of leaders.

Ben Sperling
Chief Operating Officer, Next Generation Men & Women

Valuing all leadership styles. The best teams include different kinds of leaders. When starting my nonprofit, our team included one long-term strategic thinker, one communicator, and another who led through logistics; all were essential, and none was more important than any other.

Lenora Oeters
Senior Manager of Distinguished Events, American Cancer Society

Living up to the example of my leaders and coworkers. One introduced me to The Secrets of Superbosses, a book about fostering intelligence, creativity, and flexibility in team-members; setting high expectations; and delivering results for the entire team. My coworkers model those practices every day, showing me how to practice them too.

 

LIFELONG LEARNING

Mikayla Lofton
Advancement Coordinator, Cristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School

Learning by doing. Amidst a do-or-die capital campaign, I was asked to pursue a new opportunity: the New Markets Tax Credit Program. Though (admittedly) I knew nothing about tax programs, I did not let that stop me. The more I learned, the more intrigued and immersed I became. It paid off in funding – $5.1 million – and personal career experience.

Rachel Stanley
Development Coordinator, Tapestri

My education. In Gwinnett County's diverse public schools, my daily routine included people from many backgrounds – in terms of geography, religion, socio-economics, and more. Those experiences taught me not to discount anyone and pushed me to stand up for immigrant rights.

Robert Carnes
Managing Editor, The reThink Group

If you're not growing, you're dying – and the best way to grow is through education. Every year, I take online courses that interest me, attend conferences relevant to my job, and read lots of books. This has helped me add skills, open up opportunities, stay curious, and – doubtlessly – advance my career.

Jordan Crews
Owner/Founder, CrewsArts Games

Always moving forward. There is always room to grow, and there is always someone you can learn from. At the same time, there is always someone you can teach. It is our duty to share our knowledge with the next generation, moving society forward as well as ourselves.

 

THE ONLY THING TO FEAR

Tiffany Brown
Founder and President, The Young Belle Project

Deciding to be fearless. Fear curtails your freedom to be who you want and to follow your purpose. Becoming fearless meant accepting that I may fail at times, but also that I could hold fast to my vision and purpose – which is all I need to keep pushing forward. 

Teni-Ola A. Ogunjobi
Community Engagement Associate, The Global Village Project

Becoming comfortable with the unfamiliar. Fear of the unknown limits our ability to explore, take chances, and be our best. Seeking difference, and living in a variety of US cities and African countries, helped me lose that fear, grow my confidence and ambition, and build the leadership qualities I admired in others.

Whitney Stovall
International Program Manager, United Methodist Committee on Relief
Founder, Hello My Name is KING

Embracing challenges and new experiences. Instead of backing down, I take these opportunities to learn skills and build relationships. That’s how I built a support system that will last a lifetime, and equipped myself to make hard decisions.

Yvonne Wagner
Lead Community Food Systems Coordinator, Atlanta Community Food Bank

Being unafraid to ask: for help, for recognition, for new challenges and opportunities. You cannot wait for others to think about you – you must remind them that you're there! No one knows what you want until you tell them.

Javan Wyche
Program Coordinator, Purpose Built Schools

Following my passion despite my fears. The scariest and most rewarding experience of my life began when I decided to advocate for my community – rather than setting my purpose aside for the promise of financial rewards. Ironically, it wasn’t until I began working to empower communities that I truly felt “rich.”

 

THE NONPROFIT WAY

Caitlin King
General Manager, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center

Leading from the front. My father introduced me to the principle that effective leaders are willing to take on any task, and nonprofit work often calls on us to wear many hats. Doing things outside my job description makes me a stronger leader, and demonstrates to my staff that every aspect of their role is important.

L’Dante Brown
IT Coordinator, Points of Light

Service itself. Working in the sector, my biggest lesson was realizing that the first beneficiary of service is the person doing the serving. It’s led me to reexamine my fortunes, offer more of myself, and find obstacles motivating, rather than defeating.

Martice Sutton
Founder, Girls Going Global

Being attached to the vision, not the path. Detours are inevitable, so you must rely on the vision to guide you. I never considered taking someone's child out of the country until a parent’s comment sparked my ambition. Today, we’re creating global citizens, reaching Canada, Costa Rica, Belize, Peru, and Italy.

Maya Brown
Campaign Manager, Vital Outreach Foundation

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." This quote from Mahatma Gandhi has always resonated with me, contributing to my belief in community leadership. There are so many problems in the world; you can either sit back and wait for them to change, or you can step up and lead the process.

Dane Caston
Co-Founder, World Peace Connection

"What inspires you most about life and living?" That question launched me to discover my purposes; we aim to launch the same discovery in others by sharing that question with everyone we serve. And because the question came from a community member, it reminds me to appreciate everyone’s voice.

JoVantreis Tolliver
Volunteer Coordinator, Rainbow Village

Viewing my mission as God-given and life-long. With two great pieces of wisdom – “Your biggest struggles are blueprints for your purpose,” and “When a societal issue bothers you enough, you will become a self-starter” – I’ve developed what I call a “social entrepreneurial spirit.” I invest that energy in every single project, using it to spread positive change like a wildfire.

Learn more about the Nonprofit Leader 30 Under 30 Award and our 2017 honorees.

 

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