By Rob Meiksins, CEO
The other day I was attending a hearing for the Block Grant allocations for Milwaukee nonprofits. A group of about 150 of us were gathered at the lovely new St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care on North Avenue, sharing our thoughts with members of the City’s committee overseeing these things.
One by one people came to the microphone and they spoke. They spoke about their work, they spoke about their neighborhood, they spoke about how good they are for the neighborhood. They spoke about how much more block grant funding they should get in order to continue doing the good work they do. Of course that was not likely to happen since the amount of money for block grant usage is going down, if anything, not up.
But then a young man came to the podium and he said something that made me stop and think – something to the effect of “I don't see a lot of people like me here. Everyone here is getting on in years. You've been speaking for many years saying the same things. If the same things are still problems, then maybe we need to find some new voices and some new ideas, because what you're doing isn’t working.”
Ouch! I'm one of those older people he was referring to, and there were a lot of people in the room whom I've known for a long time. I felt like running and hiding. But instead, I started listening even more closely. The young man was right. People who are about my age were saying the same things I remember from a block grant hearing years ago.
Where were the younger people with new ideas? Why aren’t they at this meeting?
But then the next day an old friend came to visit me in my office. He was really excited about this idea he had that he wanted to share. He'd been thinking about his years in the nonprofit sector and realized that he like most of us was guilty of putting bandaids on the problems when really the sector should go to root causes and fix things. He laid out for me a whole way of thinking about this work, and how to move it forward.
Older guy, but new idea. He wasn’t at the block grant meeting either.
I refuse to believe that there are no younger people in the Milwaukee nonprofit sector who have good new ideas. And there are some people who have been around the block a couple of times who have some good new ideas based on what they've learned over the years. So where are these new ideas and why don’t we hear about them?
I had a chat the other day with a fellow nonprofit executive and we talked about a logjam at the leadership level of the nonprofit sector. The only people who get to air their ideas about problems and how Milwaukee nonprofits can address them are the people at the top of the nonprofit food chain – the chief executive staff person is the one invited to the microphone to speak. What the young man at the block grant hearing saw was that many of the people who were at the helm of Milwaukee nonprofit organizations 20 years ago are still there. Maybe they've changed the organization they're with, but they're still the same people, and they still have the mic.
A lot of these people, these leaders, are very good at what they do and deserve to continue to have a voice. Just because they're still saying what they said a few years ago doesn’t mean they're wrong. In fact, they're probably right in saying the same issues are still around.
The problem is that we're not ALSO hearing the new ideas, the new voices, from emerging leaders. They don't have a microphone to walk up to and tell the world what they're thinking.
So, here’s that microphone. If you have a good new idea about how to lead in the Milwaukee nonprofit sector, how to move our sector forward, this is your moment – tell us about your idea. Then come to NPC's Nonprofit Leadership Summit on October 13, convened in partnership with University of Wisconsin Parkside, University Wisconsin Milwaukee School of Continuing Education, IFF and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network. If your idea is selected, you can share it at the summit – and if it's picked by summit participants, NPC will work with you for a year to help you move your idea forward toward implementation.
Older people like my friend, and all the young people: we want to hear your good new idea. Let’s stop having the same people talking to the same people and saying the same things about the same subjects. That's not working.
Young or old, we don’t care. We want new. Register your idea here.