My Experience at the YNPN Activate! Summit


There is a funny saying about Portland – “Portland is where young people go to retire.” It is meant to paint the picture of a community of young people who live in Portland to enjoy the culture of great food and craft beer and not do much else. After my experience with over 300 young nonprofit professionals at the Activate! Summit last month, I would say that is not the case at all.

As a newcomer to Portland, I recently joined the YNPN Portland Board to get involved in the nonprofit community in my new hometown.  I was eager to attend the Summit, learn more about YNPN's national reach, and hear from emerging sector leaders.

I was blown away by the vibrant energy in the room on Friday morning. In addition to 130 representatives from YNPN chapters from around the county, 230 nonprofit leaders (young and old!) from the greater Portland area were in attendance. We kicked off the weekend with a unifying and entertaining talk by Vu Le, of Rainier Valley Corps and Nonprofit with Balls, who had us all nodding and laughing with stories of what makes our nonprofit careers so lovingly dysfunctional.


After the warm welcome, I ventured off to my breakout sessions. My first two sessions were focused on issues of race, oppression, equity, and justice. In “Opening the Door to Equity”, Teri Pierson and Carlos Kareem Windham from Resolutions Northwest led a thoughtful and challenging discussion on what we mean when we discuss equity and how to recognize our own privilege. Carlos challenged us to take action against racial injustice, even if we don’t have immense influence or decision-making power in our current roles. He said, “if you aren’t able to take over the entire dance floor, wiggle where you stand.” Then, in session two, Sean Thomas-Breitfeld from the Building Movement Project discussed the preliminary findings from the Nonprofit Leadership & Race Survey. The initial findings shed light on challenges that some nonprofit staff – particularly people of color – face as they try to climb the ladder to more senior positions.  I left both sessions with a charge to dig deeper, recognize the systemic injustice that permeates our sector (and others) and take action to change the patterns of oppression.


My next two sessions focused on tactics and provided me with some excellent ideas to use on a daily basis. Ash Shepherd from NTEN lead a fantastic talk on how to utilize some free (or cheap) tech tools for “quick wins” (check out his awesome tips and tricks here) and Paige Hendrix Buckner and Amanda Drews from Client Joy shared their ideas for developing and enhancing gratitude in our work and lives. I walked away with a deeper appreciation for the simple ways – like remembering a colleague’s work anniversary or sending a hand-written thank you note – that display and grow a culture of gratitude.

Day two was an inspiring look at YNPN as a whole and confirmed my suspicion that this network is made up of thoughtful, visionary leaders. The second day was a chance for YNPN Chapter Leaders from all across the county to gather together and hear from our national leaders about the state of the network and vision for the future. As a newcomer, I observed a growing momentum and a clarity surrounding the mission of the network. I found it exciting to hear from our National Leadership Team about our new executive director and our partnership with the Nonprofit Quarterly on equity, diversity, and inclusion. 


I also observed a culture of collaboration. I was pleased to engage in multiple opportunities to connect with and learn from other individuals and chapters. I was so impressed during “roll call” when representatives from each chapter shared highlights from their efforts.  I was excited to hear about YNPN Phoenix and their LINK events where members have the chance to champion a cause and win funds on the spot. I also learned that YNPN Detroit is doing some innovative programming such as the “Dinning with Detroit Doers” series and YNPN Boston features members in their “On The Move” blog series when they have recently transitioned to new jobs. I left feeling inspired by all the great work taking place and proud to be a part of this vibrant network.   


We all love the food trucks, breweries and laid-back vibe of Portland but if the YNPN Activate! Summit is any indication, young people have much more going on than just enjoy lives of leisure. The Activate! Summit demonstrated a vibrant group of young people who are invested in creating a thriving nonprofit sector and the call to leave the world a little better for others.

By Kathleen McCabe, YNPN Portland Board Member

Photo credit: RedFred Productions