Switching to NationBuilder

I spent about 14 hours yesterday transitioning The The Nittany Valley Society’s website from WordPress to NationBuilder. I’m pretty pleased with the result, which is based off of one of NationBuilder’s basic templates.

The biggest pain was porting the entirety of the content. The result helps position The Nittany Valley Society in a big way, because NationBuilder provides an integrated website, database, giving platform, and email marketing platform in one.

The Nittany Valley Society is still in its relative infancy as an organization with ambitions to be a lasting part of Central Pennsylvania communities for decades, fostering a “spirit of community across time” and helping new generations understand the stories of the place they’re coming into as students or new residents. Until now we didn’t have an integrated database or coherent email marketing, which had become two enormous constraints to growth with a volunteer organization.

If you haven’t signed up with us yet, now’s the time.

Homecoming

It’s Homecoming weekend for Penn Staters. I was hoping to be there, but there are a slew of personal and professional things I want to focus on that will keep me away from State College. However, I will be calling in to The Nittany Valley Society‘s third quarter board meeting to review the progress of this year and preview the next few months.

This spring will mark four years since we founded The Nittany Valley Society. We came together as volunteers because we shared a vision for a new sort of nonprofit community voice, specifically to give form to the concept of a cultural conservancy that can do for a community’s spirit what traditional conservancies do for a community’s soil.

Nittany Valley Press has created a platform for stories to be shared, and the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk exists as a means for personalities to be remembered in a special way. Another project that’s been in the works practically since our inception relates to Penn State’s history, and though this project has had to operate on the glacial timeframe of the university, I think we’ll be able to share the fruits of this work sometime next year.

But the specifics aside, the consistent challenge for volunteer nonprofit boards is ensuring vision corresponds with momentum. In other words, the consistent challenge is ensuring each board member knows how to be useful to everyone else. This is, operationally, how a team gives form to a vision. Like Homecoming weekend itself, a board meeting among volunteers is a chance to go back in time, encounter flashes of the past that brought you to where you are now, and prepare you to leave again energized and hopeful for the future.

We’ve achieved a lot in these first few years. There are decades left of worthwhile work to do.

Conserving Mount Nittany audiobook

When I finished Conserving Mount Nittany in 2013, I knew I wanted to see it released as an audiobook, too. Since Ben Novak founded the Mount Nittany Conservancy and since his experiences feature so prominently in the book, I sat down with him for a few hours that summer and we recorded the raw reads of the book. Those reads sat in Google Drive for about 18 months before the Nittany Valley Society could produce those reads into something presentable.

Nittany Valley Press has done that, and Conserving Mount Nittany is now available on Amazon and Apple in audiobook format. I’m also making it available below for free, because we want the story of Mount Nittany to be accessible to the widest interested audience. An Amazon or Apple purchase is still the best way to ensure you get a lifetime copy that’s all your own and that you can bookmark and listen to on any device. All proceeds benefit Centre Foundation’s Mount Nittany Conservancy and Shakely Family Conservation funds.

Back to Camelot

Kevin Horne and Chris Buchignani have started writing “Back to Camelot: The Improbable Story of the 2005 Nittany Lions,” something that will hopefully become a full-length book. I’m following along with them as they share their writing process in public:

Explosive freshman. A smothering defense. A relentless senior captain at quarterback. And a legendary molder of men standing on the sidelines. When one of college football’s most storied programs teetered on the brink of irrelevance, one improbable, magical Autumn restored the trappings of America’s Game to the nation’s quintessential college town. From four downs at Indiana to three over times in Miami, this book presents the definitive account of Penn State’s 2005 football season.

I’ve known Chris and Kevin cumulatively for more than 15 years. They’ve adapted one of their talks for Black Shoe Diaries, since this year marks the 10th anniversary of that magical season. The whole thing is worth a read simply for the sake of being transported back in time, but here’s an excerpt:

Although no other head coach in college football – at the time, or maybe ever – could have survived the stretch of losing Paterno had just experienced, the well of patience and goodwill had nearly run dry. Calls for his retirement, voluntary or otherwise, were growing louder from without and within. Things looked bleak, to say the least.

That’s when Joe Paterno did something probably only Joe Paterno would think to do. At a total loss for what to do next –he’d remark during a press conference, in a rare unguarded moment, “The problem with my soul-searching is I couldn’t find my soul,” – the old Ivy League student of Western literature turned to Shakespeare.

On the Monday following the Northwestern loss, Joe canceled practice and sent everyone home. When coaches and players returned to the facility the next day, they didn’t scrimmage or work out or run drills. Coach Paterno gathered the team and read them Hamlet’s soliloquy: To be, or not to be?

It was a challenge – delivered in his own unique way – to his team, and maybe also to himself. Would the Nittany Lions lay down and give up in the face of overwhelming adversity, or take arms against a sea of troubles?

If you submitted what happened next as a movie script, it would be tossed out for being too unrealistic.

Pageantry

When we created The Nittany Valley Society, the founding board agreed that we wanted to enculturate a different mentality than the typical nonprofit. We didn’t want to speak in fadish jargon about things like our brand or think about our work in terms of programming.

We decided instead that we would seek to first be real and better friends with one another. We would think of The Nittany Valley Society’s mission in terms of its potential to change one person’s perspective rather than mass perspective. We would foster a spirit of fraternity amongst the board and the community that made the community feel like a more special, even magical place to visit and live.

This explains why we created Nittany Valley Press to release a special literary collection about the myths, history, and culture of the community—to help people think differently about the place. It explains why we created The Willow Gathering as an annual event to bring people together from across the community—students, townspeople, professors, trustees, alumni—in a context where they could come to know one another over craft beer or fine music rather than within the context of the typical stilted cocktail party focused on only one purpose of constituency.

Another mentality-shift I hope takes hold with The Nittany Valley Society is the value of pageantry to make life a bit more magical. What is pageantry? “A formal event performed on a special occasion;” or “a rich and spectacular ceremony.”

It was with pageantry in mind that The Nittany Valley Society board presented Chris Buchignani, our president, with the University Chair in the photo above. On one level, it was simply a way to thank Chris and his wife for the countless hours they have put into building the nonprofit from the ground up. On a higher level, it was a way to infuse a bit of pageantry into the board’s culture.

Let me try to explain what I mean. A simple toast to Chris or a quick shot at the bar after the board meeting in thanks would have been a vanishing sort of thanks. A great gesture, but not particularly special or lasting.

In other words, not something referenciable for his wife or something that could take on historical meaning for him or his family. Not something that can be pass into the future. Leaders need things worth passing along—not just lessons and ideas, but physical things and emotional experiences. And not little trophies that end up in boxes, but beautiful and practical tokens.

These little acts become as much an honor for the person as an heirloom and testament to the time devoted to the mission.

Convening in Philadelphia

I’m in Philadelphia today for a meeting of The Nittany Valley Society’s board of directors. We’re all volunteer, and do quarterly board meetings to maintain operational momentum.

As a nonprofit cultural conservancy, The Nittany Valley Society is deeply rooted in physical place. But as a board we decided from the outset that our annual March meeting should alternate between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The three other quarterly meetings occur in State College, but we felt it was important that we were attuned as a board to the impact we ultimately want to have on Penn Staters and friends across the Commonwealth.

This is why we’re meeting in Philadelphia today, specifically at the headquarters of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education which graciously lent us meeting space. We adopted our first strategic plan in December, and today we’ll be continuing the conversation on implementation of that plan.

If you’re curious about why we exist, start by reading this month’s Town & Gown excerpt from Is Penn State a Real University?, and after that pick up a copy of The Legends of the Nittany Valley.