40 Years of Community: The InsideNGO Story

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June 06, 2017

40 Years of Community: The InsideNGO Story

Participants at an Inside NGO workshop in Lima, Peru, in 2008, the year APVOFM and the Personnel Co-op merged and were renamed Inside NGO.

By Alison Glomski

Assistant, Marketing Humentum

There are many great origin stories. Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes Spider-Man. Luke Skywalker buys two droids carrying an important message and starts down the path of the Force to save the galaxy. The children of the Titan Kronos defeat him and become the gods of Mount Olympus.

Over the last 40 years, the InsideNGO origin story has taken on similarly mythic qualities, like most stories worth sharing. Some details may have been exaggerated, misremembered, or simply forgotten. But also like most stories worth sharing, the essential details not only tell us about the past but inform the present and shine a light on the path to the future.

Let’s go back to the year 1977. The population of the United States was 216 million people—about a third less than what it is today—gas only cost 65 cents a gallon, and the first Apple II computers were released on the market. Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, and future InsideNGO member Amnesty International won the Nobel Peace Prize. The aforementioned Luke Skywalker gazed across a desert planet with two suns in the original Star Wars film’s first theatrical release.

Meanwhile, a group of young finance professionals working in development organizations felt like they needed more training than what they were getting on the job. They took matters into their own hands and called upon an expert to facilitate a financial management training. They gathered in the vault of an old Riggs Bank to learn, share experiences, and connect with one another. Realizing there were probably many other new professionals who felt the same knowledge gap, they decided to find a way to fill it. They each had something to share, and saw that they could be stronger and work more effectively together.

Thus, the Association of Private Voluntary Organization Financial Managers (APVOFM) was born. And, a few months later, along came its sister organization, the Personnel Co-op, a forum for human resources professionals working in PVOs and NGOs.

For the next two decades, founder Alison Smith was the only employee, relying on her co-founders and others in the network and community to conduct roundtables and workshops and organize surveys. The members were always at the center of and integral to the mission. In 2000, Libby Spader, our current programs director, was brought on as the second member of the team. (That's Alison with two of her co-founders, Bernie Fisken and Bonnie Ricci, at the 2012 InsideNGO Annual Conference, below). 

At the turn of the millennium, Alison and Libby were working from the dining table of Alison’s house in Connecticut—two New Englanders wearing gloves rather than turning up the heat. The organization’s data lived on a floppy disk. Transactions were entered by hand into a ledger sheet. Registrations came in through a fax machine connected to the same line as the telephone and only worked around half the time.

And yet, we were growing.

Combined, APVOFM and the Personnel Co-op tripled the number of workshops per year between 1991 and 2007. Membership also tripled between 1998 and 2007. And in June 2007, during the 30th anniversary year, the Annual Conference had its first incarnation as the APVOFM Annual Meeting. The Personnel Co-op’s first annual meeting was held that October.

Then in 2008, APVOFM and the Personnel Co-op merged to become InsideNGO. This new organization was able to better serve members, offer more workshops, put on bigger conferences, and begin new projects like the InsideNGO Certificate in USAID Assistance Management and international weeks of convening and learning.

Now join me back in the present. The year is 2017. Gas is $2.40 a gallon. We carry around Apple computers in our pockets and call them iPhones. Donald Trump is sworn in as president, and Bob Dylan finally collects his Nobel Prize (although admittedly not for peace). The ninth film in the ubiquitous Star Wars franchise is expected in December. InsideNGO now has 27 employees, 330 members, and a modern office space in downtown Washington, DC, that blessedly has heat in the winter.

Much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same. While this is InsideNGO’s origin story, we know it isn’t really about us employees. It is and always has been about our members, who are still at the core of what we do and why we do it. We still believe that a space to learn from and share with one another ensures that our members can do their jobs better—and our members have extremely important jobs.

The world is changing, but we know our members have the power to change the world. For the last 40 years, we have been proud to play our part in making that happen. There is still much work to be done, but as we continue to grow in the coming months and years and decades, we won’t lose sight of where we came from or how we got here.

So thank you.

Thank you to our members, our partners, and our staff both current and former for making what we do possible. We’re looking forward to making the next 40 years even better.

Kim Kucinskas contributed to the research and content of this blog.

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