Organization Spotlight - Idealist

Idealist connects people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives. Idealist connects 100,000 people and 90,000 organizations every day with nonprofit job, internship, volunteer, and action opportunities all over the world.

Organization Information:

Organization Name: Idealist.org

Organization Mission:  

Staff Size: 36 people (80% of total staff would self-identify as "young professionals")

Location: New York & Portland

Founding Date: 1995

Interviewee #1 Information:

Name: Ami Dar

Title: Founder & Executive Director (in position nearly 20 years - since the start of Idealist!)

At age 25, what were you doing and what were you thinking?
At age 25, I was in Chile writing the first plan for what would become Idealist, thinking about how to change the world.

Interviewee #2 Information:

Name: Jason Kirtland

Title: Director of Technology (in position 6 years)

At age 25, what were you doing and what were you thinking?
At age 25, I was a Lead Programmer working at a major advertising agency in Boston and thinking "my work isn't currently impacting people in a useful way.”

Interviewee #3 Information:

Name: Allison Jones

Title: Editor, IdealistCareers.org Blog (in position 2 years)

At age 25, what were you doing and what were you thinking?
At age 25, I was in Brooklyn, NY raising money for an education nonprofit and thinking, "can I really find a job that will let me tweet all day?"

All About Idealist.org:

Why is Idealist's work important?
Ami
: Idealist believes that the world could be a much better place than it is now and that there is enormous potential for more people to do more good together. We are working to do our part to connect people, intentions, and resources together to take steps towards making our global ecosystem better.

Why Portland?
Ami
: Idealist was brought out west by a staff member from New York City (where our headquarters is still located) in 2005. Our Portland office is now double the size of our NYC office! The Portland community is extremely welcoming, progressive, and engaged which is really wonderful for the community work we do. Additionally, Portland, as part of the ‘Silicon Forest, is perfectly suited for us because our entire web design and development team is based here.

What is Idealist's greatest frustration?
Ami
: I call frustration an "f" word - if something frustrates you, DO something about it. I try not to get frustrated and instead stay solution-focused. Instead I'll answer what a recent challenge was. On March 11, Idealist launched a new Network for Action, connecting people to each other and to resources to help take action on their intentions. It was a huge challenge communicating a complex vision to a global (live!) audience. But while challenging, extremely fun. This is the work. If it were easy, someone else would have figured out how to do it already!

And on a lighter note, how about your greatest achievement?
Ami
: Our March 11 Network launch has also been our greatest recent achievement. Seeing conversations happening all over the world with minimal direction from us is a great feeling. Thousands of people so far have come together and are starting to work together!

Where do you see Idealist in twenty years?
Ami: This question is crazy because next year Idealist will be 20 years old! 20 years is such a long time, especially considering how quickly technology is evolving. In 20 years we'd love Idealist to be known as THE place where anyone comes from across the world to take action on any issue they care about. We want to have a hand in ensuring that fewer people's wishes go wasted.

If Idealist won it big on the lottery, what would you do with $100 million?Ami: Honestly, we could probably do it with $5 or $10 million - any interested donors out there?! We'd love to hire an additional 30-40 web developers and the technology to support them to speed up how quickly we can build and iterate on the website to make it the best it can be for users. I'd also love a marketing team and campaign to be able to reach every person who doesn't yet know about Idealist and how we are trying to help people connect and take action.

All About Young Professionals:

What roles do young professionals fill at Idealist?
Jason
: Young professionals are regularly hired to fill roles at all levels at Idealist, and they make decisions that directly impact the direction of the work we do. 100% of our Portland web development team are "young professionals" in that they are either new to the nonprofit sector or aged 18-35.

What is the greatest difficulty in employing young professionals? (Don't worry... we won't take it personally!)
Allison
: The challenge of employing young professionals is in our heads. Any company needs to recognize any misconceptions they may have about hiring young professionals. Hiring young people isn't new. There is a lot of talk now about what is unique about hiring snake people, and some of that is good in that it's always helpful to explore how different generations work together. But some of it is pretty bad. Here’s an article that highlights what we need to be constantly aware of as hiring organizations, managers, and team members working with young professionals: How Not To Make Snake People Feel Welcome at Your Nonprofit

And better yet, what is the greatest reward in employing young professionals?
Jason: Employing young professionals has brought a high level of creativity and diversity to our work and workplace. There are no preconceived notions about what working at a nonprofit is like, so there is nothing to prove.

What kinds of changes, if any, has Idealist made to accommodate young professionals?
Jason: We fortunately haven't had to make too many; the Idealist culture has always been inclusive of young professionals. There is an entrepreneurial spirit here that is attractive, along with how lightweight and effortless our culture is to maintain. We like to keep the work environment experimental, flexible, and fun.

What are the top skills that you look for when hiring a young professional
Jason
: What we hire for, regardless of candidate, is someone's experience and skills, but maybe more importantly their alignment to our organization's culture and values. When you spend so much time at work, who you work with and how well you work together REALLY matters.

What do you think is the greatest challenge facing young professionals today?
Allison
: Getting the experience needed to land the kinds of opportunities wanted. Feels a little “chicken or egg”- what comes first: experience or opportunity?!

And more importantly, what should young professionals do in the face of that challenge?
Allison
: You have to be comfortable creating opportunities for yourself and securing accomplishments in all the work you do; having an entrepreneurial mindset when it comes to your career and social change is key.

And Before We Conclude:

What can YNPN Portlanders do to help Idealist?
Ami
: Here's a few ideas...

  • Join Idealist's Network for Action at www.idealist.org/team and help spread the word to others!
  • Are you a nonprofit job seeker or looking to get more involved in the Portland community as a volunteer? Create a personal profile on Idealist and start connecting!
  • Work for a nonprofit? Make sure your organization has a profile, too. You can post jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities, and events with us!

If you had one bit of advice to pass along to young professionals in their pursuit of becoming tomorrow's leaders, what would it be?
Allison
: Why do you have to wait until tomorrow to lead? (Re)define what leadership means and figure out what you can do to be a leader, right now. The social challenges many of us are tackling can't wait!


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