The nonprofit sector has various youth programs that offer specialized programming to children and families of all ages. From summer camps to after-school programs, nonprofits work with communities to ensure youth have the resources they need to thrive. Unique among them is the Youth Leadership Initiative, a former program of the Wilder Foundation. In 2020, when Wilder decided to sunset the program, then-program director Nou Yang heard an overwhelming message from the community of alumni and the youth they currently worked with: we need and want this work to continue.
Youth Leadership Institute (YLI), which serves both youth and youth-serving organizations, heeded this request. Nou Yang, current board chair, and Sally Brown, the board treasurer, worked together to take the program they’d help create, manage, and run and started the process to make it into an independent nonprofit.
A Strong Foundation
“We are a new nonprofit, but we are not new to this work or the community we serve,” Nou said. “The story started a long time ago and we have a strong foundation.”
The strong foundation came in the way of established partnerships, funders, and community relationships, in addition to thriving and impactful programs that created the important and rare space for youth to lead other youth.
Having worked in nonprofits for most of their careers, Nou and Sally turned to Propel’s Fiscal Sponsorship program to help fill in the gaps in their knowledge so they could create a resilient and sustainable organization.
Laura Ciotti, Propel’s Senior Fiscal Sponsorship Program Manager said, “Given their experience running YLI’s programs prior to coming to fiscal sponsorship with Propel, Nou and Sally had a strong foundation and understanding of their needs and goals. I was excited to see how they used Propel as a resource during their time in our fiscal sponsorship program to strengthen their financial management skills, secure sustainable funding, and build their confidence to launch as an independent nonprofit.”
The organization recently transitioned out of Propel’s Fiscal Sponsorship program after receiving their own 501c3 status. As the organization moves into the next phase, Nou and Sally are excited to continue doing what they know works: elevating youth voices and leadership.
“YLI is an adaptable organization that is creating a new model of leadership for youth of color in the Twin Cities. I’m really looking forward to seeing them continue to grow, thrive, and amplify youth voice and power,” Laura said.
YLI is committed to developing changemakers in two ways:
- Elevating youth voice and leadership, and
- Building the capacity of individuals and organizations that work with youth.
In this work, both Nou and Sally said, they let the youth lead.
“Youth spend the majority of their time being told what to do and in YLI they get to decide what they want to do and how to do it,” Nou said.
The impact of this work is far-reaching. Having worked with over 700 youth, they have seen how the community they have worked in has been changed by YLI and vice-versa.
“We have had the great opportunity to bring people together across differences, and because of our model, we’ve seen the youth learn from different viewpoints and perspectives which makes them stronger and more effective leaders,” Sally said.
Through their youth mentorship, leadership retreats, cultural sessions, and action teams, youth have many pathways to grow and be involved at YLI. You can learn more about their program offerings here: yli-mn.org/ourwork.
“As we continue to build on different levels of leadership, we really are creating the next generation of nonprofit leaders. They are getting a great deal of experience on how to facilitate, consult, and manage an organization, which is exciting for us to see,” Nou said.
Given their work to build their organization over the last three years, Nou and Sally invited youth into the process so they were able to have hands-on experience in managing an organization.
Nou and Sally both said it was important for them to build the capacity of young people and rely less on a single leader to hold knowledge in the organization.
“We do with youth what Propel does with clients,” Nou said. “We coach and support so that one day they can do it on their own.”
YLI and Fiscal Sponsorship
Through Propel’s Fiscal Sponsorship program, YLI focused on building their capacity in accounting and finance, and building the fundraising capacity of their organization.
“All the support we got through Propel made us feel like we are safer,” Sally said. “We knew we could ask questions and found support from others that made it feel less like we were out in the world of being a new nonprofit by ourselves.”
Nou and Sally reiterated that Propel’s fiscal sponsorship model allowed them to build their confidence as nonprofit leaders, which in turn they were able to share in some of their programming with youth. The support from the program was a fit for them because they knew they were ready to become an independent nonprofit but needed some help getting there.
Once they got their 501c3 status, they had the skills to use QuickBooks for nonprofits and implement other technical pieces that make a nonprofit run.
“We know that even though we are transitioning away from the program, we can always come back and ask questions and seek support, just like our youth can come back to us,” Nou said.
Next up for the organization, they are going to focus on building their human resources infrastructure, hiring staff, creating more communication and marketing plans, and growing their youth equity consulting and training services. To support or get involved with the Youth Leadership Initiative, you can learn more here: yli-mn.org/take-action.