Minnesota and the Twin Cities are home to a growing number of emerging leader networking organizations—so many that a recent inventory, which is not exhaustive, lists 52 such groups. Some are free-standing, like Minnesota Rising, Torch Community, and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, while others are sponsored by established organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Greater Twin Cities United Way, and the Minnesota Opera.
Although these groups were formed for different purposes, today they are looking for common ground. A new effort is taking shape—a network of networks—aimed to bring together groups of next-generation leaders to identify shared goals and explore ways that collaboration can amplify and accelerate their work.
Many nonprofits long ago recognized that new engagement tools would be needed to reach millennials as volunteers and donors. A standard practice is to form an advisory group that can help create the kinds of programs and services needed to reach, engage, and serve younger people. You can look within virtually any of the Twin Cities’ larger nonprofits and see these committees and groups at work. For example, take a look at the work of Minneapolis Rotaract (Rotary Club), the League of Women Voters’ Leaders of Today and Tomorrow program, or Propel, the young professionals’ network of the Jeremiah Program.
But there also are large networks of emerging leaders working outside their specific companies and organizations, focused on building Minnesota’s civic culture and creating the capacity for next-generation leaders to take Minnesota into the future. These organizations find like-minded members via social media (think Twitter and Facebook) and other social networks, and host purely social meet-ups as well as seminars, boot camps, and training and professional development opportunities.
Jamie Millard, a board member with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, told me that groups that started out a few years ago to support young people through networking and professional development are “starting to think bigger about our role in the community … connecting with businesses and nonprofits to show these established organizations how our young groups can be an HR resource, to help keep their younger employees engaged in their work.” With the predicted leadership gap in Minnesota as older workers retire, Millard says these groups are asking, “How do we inspire, teach, and motivate young people to stay in Minnesota?” The question for nonprofits, she says, is “How will we engage the next generation of donors?”
Diane Tran, founder of Minnesota Rising, put it this way: “How can we build the collective capacity of our generation to lead the new Minnesota?” She created Minnesota Rising to build relationships, trust, and a shared vision that emerging leaders can unite around. Among other events, Minnesota Rising sponsors the annual Un/Conference (this year it’s November 16) which draws 100 or so emerging leaders for an all-day Saturday session of leadership training, inspirational speakers, and networking opportunities.
Cat Beltmann, community engagement manager at the Citizens League, credits 5-year-old Minnesota Rising with helping networking groups come together. “Once we did, we realized we have a lot in common. People met each other at Minnesota Rising, and it’s generated a lot of energy.” The Citizens League’s own Emerging Leaders Group has about 30 active members who meet on an ad hoc basis, and includes more than just nonprofit leaders, since many corporations including Target and General Mills have strong internal employee development and engagement groups that are reaching out to forge alliances with the nonprofit and public policy sectors. The Citizens League recently took a group of 70 young leaders on a three-day field trip to Milwaukee to learn directly from business and nonprofit leaders about efforts to revitalize that city.
Beyond after-work meet-ups, breakfast seminars, the Un/Conference, and monthly brown bag discussions, programs for emerging leaders include the Citizens League’s Intergenerational Roundtables (Wheelock Whitney, Dick McFarland and Tom Swain have been guests for these conversations), mentorship programs (the Torch Community sponsors governance mentorships that pair experienced board members with emerging leaders), and boot camps on subjects like how to learn from failure.
Recently, representatives of 17 emerging leaders’ groups came to a meeting called by Torch Community board member Jonathan Wilson, an attorney at Best & Flanagan. Wilson relocated to the Twin Cities from Iowa and says he found it difficult to “break in,” a familiar theme among transplants. His response was to get involved in emerging leader networks. The experience helped him realize there’s potential for a common agenda among these groups. “We could all work together to help younger workers plant roots here and get excited about being the next generation of Twin Cities leaders.” Watch for a “network of networks” forming to explore these possibilities.
Whatever direction these groups choose to travel together, the impact of their individual efforts is already being felt across Minnesota’s nonprofit sector. Emerging leaders are bringing energy, ideas, and commitment to our civic leadership. It’s easy to see the ties that could be built between these groups and efforts such as Greater MSP, the Itasca Project, and other regional projects convened to address our state’s livability, competitiveness, and economic health.
My suggestion? Find out about these groups and see what you can do to help them. You’ll meet inspiring people, and have some fun along the way.
Sarah Lutman is a St. Paul-based independent consultant and writer for clients in the cultural, media, and philanthropic sectors.