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Blueprint for Leadership

Why Blueprint for Leadership?

In order to continue our growth in the professional world, many of us look for opportunities to network and engage with other professionals outside of our normal circle. Some of us join clubs while others decide to invest in long-term goals by participating in a professional development program.

United Way of the Midlands offers a unique professional development program called Blueprint for Leadership. This program is designed to prepare participants to become effective board members and leaders in the nonprofit sector. Blueprint for Leadership is the only professional development course with a specific focus on nonprofit leadership. Our goal is to help participants develop leadership skills and how nonprofits operate effectively. 

Marcus Backman graduated from Blueprint for Leadership in 2017. We sat down with him to get an inside look at his experience while he was enrolled in the program and what he has taken away from it and applied to his own professional growth.

UNITED WAY: What are one or two tools you gained from completing Blueprint for Leadership?
That’s a tough one because all of it was really important, but, overall, the biggest thing I learned is that when you take a position as a board member, you must understand this is a position of great responsibility. You have people relying on you, so you have to make sure you are able to commit 100% to the expectations of that role because of your legal and fiduciary responsibilities to the organization. It’s important to be conscientious of how the organization operates to ensure the organization is in good financial standing, as well as making sure everything happening within the organization is being handled ethically.

Also, it taught the importance of diversity on a board – not only in age and ethnicity – but also in economic and cultural backgrounds. One of my favorite classes was with
Charles Weathers, Founder & CEO of The Weathers Group who taught us that you can’t be afraid to get dirty, especially when it comes to stand-off issues. Like I said, you have to get uncomfortable, and you can’t make progress without getting uncomfortable.

UNITED WAY: What advice do you have for someone entering Blueprint for Leadership with the intention of becoming involved with an organization at the Board of Directors level?
Do something close to your interests and what you have a passion for. For me, that was Big Brothers Big Sisters. In the program, you learn how important it is to do your research before you invest your time and energy into a role that requires great responsibility, like being a member of a Board of Directors. It’s one thing to say I want to do something, but it’s another when you can say you want to do something after you’ve taken a deeper look into the organization. It’s important to get to know what it looks like behind the scenes, to know everything about how it operates and functions, to know the President/CEO and his/her values, and understanding the organization’s history, its current state and where it’s going in the future. You really need to know what you’re getting into. Think about it like an iceberg – you only see 10% of it – the part above water. The remaining 90% is below the surface and that’s what you should be most concerned with before you make a commit of this level. Basically, understanding the fact that most organizations are a lot more than what you see is a mindset anyone looking to hold a Board position should have.

UNITED WAY: How are you using the tools you learned in everyday life?
While I was in the program, I also was a Big Brother for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and as I began to learn more about the various ways you can be involved with nonprofit organizations I was motivated to do more for them. During my time in the Blueprint program, I became a “Big Ambassador” and had the responsibility to represent and advocate the organization’s positive impact I have personally seen on the youth in our community. When the organization found out that I was in Blueprint for Leadership through United Way, they asked me to join their Board of Directors for 2018. I’m super excited about this! In addition to sitting on the Board, I’ll serve on the Daily Operations Committee, which involves analyzing the day-to-day operating activities to make sure the organization is running as effectively and efficiently as possible.

UNITED WAY: Did the program teach you anything about yourself personally?
MARCUS: Absolutely. Not only do you learn about working with diverse people, it also teaches you how to manage yourself. For me, my personality is a “halfer”, meaning I’m in between being considered an extrovert and introvert. I learned that for my personality, it’s important that I push myself to get out of my comfort zone. For example, I have to remind myself to reach out to people I don’t know and proactively introduce myself to people at events instead of hanging back with those I already know. It taught me that if I want to get things done I have to get uncomfortable… and, to be comfortable with getting uncomfortable.

UNITED WAY: Were there parts of the program that helped you grow in your current professional setting?
I would consider this both personally and professionally, but a key element I took away from the program is that people are different – they work differently and expect different things. It taught me to cater to other people’s needs especially when it comes to personality differences. It taught me that I had to learn to adapt the way I approached and worked with people based on their personalities.

UNITED WAY: Tell us the top 3 reasons you would encourage others to go through the program?

  1. It gives you a whole different perspective and appreciation for nonprofits. You begin to understand how much work they have to do with very limited resources.
  2. It helps you learn how to work with various personalities and other people you wouldn’t normally come across in your specific industry or field.
  3. For me, it was incredibly valuable to understand how to read nonprofit financials. This is especially important for anyone joining a nonprofit board.

Blueprint for Leadership meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month beginning in mid-February and ends with graduation in June. Applications for Blueprint for Leadership will be accepted through January 21, 2020. Click here for more information and to apply!

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