2019 Week 2: Nonprofit Management
Sometimes I miss the laughter of children. I miss their naïve questions about the world, their fierce competition when racing outside, their unexpected thoughtfulness towards each other. Even when their unrelenting energy would tire me out, I miss how they’d come up to me with hugs and smiles that would ease the exhaustion, reminding me that they are worth it.
Saturday night, as I laid on the Beach trying to decompress from the day, I watched a toddler holding hands with both his grandparents, and then another toddler running around her mom between fits of giggles. I was hoping they’d waddle by me to wave hi, but they were too distracted by the fireflies. Seeing them got me thinking about all the little things I missed about working with children, especially from my placement last summer. I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy working at Baltimore Corps; the opposite could not be more true. I’m inspired by my coworkers and am genuinely passionate about our mission. My detail-oriented and hyper-organized self enjoys the management side of the nonprofit world. But this week I’ve noticed that there’s something different about building up community behind a laptop screen. The impact is less immediate, less visible, which at times makes it difficult to remember that every spreadsheet and email is part of a bigger picture. I know that direct service and behind-the-scenes development do not have to be mutually exclusive, but I need to be more proactive about connecting them. I hope that I am able to find a good balance between the two this summer so that I’m not left longing for one or the other.
MADELINE AMONICK | STATION NORTH ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT
I like to ask a lot of questions. The connections of things, why, and how they work is an important base of knowledge in the nonprofit space. We learned in this mentality during orientation week, we musn’t stand alone because it is no longer “the Work” for the betterment of our community. After a refreshing pause in Colorado, I found myself asking questions after these answers in an attempt to maximize my impact and efficiency in my own duties.
My nonprofit government acronyms cheat sheet was only helpful to point. It wasn’t that there was so much that I could never learn and was exhausted by the intricacies, it only reminded me that names and proposals are only so notable. What is the cause-effect relationship in what an organization poses and the change that happens? What’s the process that justifies the result? What is the dynamics between the board and thought leaders and those pushing out the order?
I don’t question in an attempt to undermine or criticize, pure curiosity on my part. This is of great interest to me not only as an intellectual puzzle, but also in an attempt to see my potential role in all of it. I’m guessing this is what nonprofit managing and development means. My interest comes from my complete inability to lift heavy things. And the ineffective way I inorganically hold reacher-grabbers for trash during a street clean. And lack of confidence in not causing an accidentally medical emergency in serving the elderly and children, the most susceptible of the age groups. In summation, direct service is not where my skills lie. I like to learn, orchestrate, and plan.
This self-evaluation of my skills at the intersection of my values is the Big Question i’ve been fighting the past two months. Classic second-year crisis. No surprise here that an internship program of mission-driven work with an emphasis and learning and professional development would make me think about my future. Funny how those things happen. And frankly, I’m doing quite well.
Past Madeline’s would not be so graceful in facing such important, abstract life questions. Freshman year Madeline would claim to remain steadfast to plan of entering the publishing industry in editorial was and always would be the way to go for her. She’s writing sems after all, that’s one of the three things you can do with it and she liked it so it works out. Sounds silly doesn’t it? Fall Semester Sophomore Madeline was in equal denial of the possibility of flexibility in the completely linear, not at all confusing, pre-planned journey of life. I say this with the healthiest servings of sarcasm I can find in my whittism fridge. We won’t say much for Spring Semester Sophomore year Madeline other than expletives were involved.
Right now my crisis is snuggled up by the fire, reading a nice book, and sipping on tea. That is to say it’s chilling out of the way for a while. It’s there and still terrifying as hell but it’s okay. And everything will be fine. And I learned this is how life really “works.”
So when Eli came into the office on Thursday and asked me what more he or the CSC could do to support me, I gladly leaned back. Not now, I think I’m good. And I don’t have any more questions.
When I first learned about FreeState Justice and everything that they did, it sounded to me like the perfect placement. They are, after all, the only statewide social justice organization to serve LGBTQ+ populations throughout Maryland. Not only that, but uniquely among the nonprofits that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and interacting with, they exist at the intersection of direct service and broader social change. They work both to provide free legal services to LGBTQ+ Marylanders when they require assistance with anything from name changes to discrimination cases, as well as to directly advocate in Annapolis and statewide for the ability of these populations to live authentic lives with dignity and pride.
I’ve worked on campaigns and in government itself. Never, though, have I ever gotten involved in the nonprofit, community-based portion of the policy ecosystem. While I’m unsure as to whether or not I’d like to end up working in that sphere, I do know that community-level work is crucial both in figuring out what it is that people need and mobilizing the appropriate resources to ensure that those needs are recognized. That’s why I thought that FreeState Justice would be an amazing placement for me.
And, to be sure, it definitely has. Just in the short time that I’ve been with FreeState Justice, I feel as if I’ve learned so much about community-based service and coalition building. But one major part of my experience that I’ve had to adjust to is the lack of work that’s been assigned to me in the particular areas of FreeState Justice’s portfolio that I’m most interested in.
Of course, expectations were set out in the beginning of my time with FreeState Justice as to my day-to-day duties and broad organizational goals. I knew that I was to primarily focus on internal development and external communications tasks. Because I’m not a law student or a lawyer, I wouldn’t be allowed to work in the legal side of things, and policy-type tasks were largely on an as-needed basis. To date, that’s been mostly true; I’ve written grant reports, I’ve drafted social media posts, I’ve started developing internal employee evaluation metrics — mostly things that comport with the description of the duties I was supposed to be doing. These are, of course, extremely important tasks that I’m honored to be entrusted with, and as I said, I’m learning about what it takes to operate a nonprofit.
I think that the main adjustment has been in learning how to be so adjacent to these things — to policy and to legal work — without being able to contribute in those ways. These are things that I feel are in my wheelhouse, and while I’m always astounded by the dozens of ways that I’m having an impact in this organization and its mission every single day, I can’t help but feel as if I’m not maximizing my impact purely because I’m not working in the area that I feel as if I could have the biggest impact in.
At first, some comfort came to me in the knowledge that there’s always work to be done in every area, and no doubt, I’d soon have the opportunity to work on a policy-related task. I was right. This past week, I had the honor to sit in on a meeting between our Executive Director, a member of our legal team, and Maryland Delegate Luke Clippinger, the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, as well as his aides. The best way that I can describe that meeting was as something out of a political drama; they counted votes, strategized over legislative sponsors, and shared information about the minutiae of each issue. When I later debriefed with my supervisor, I couldn’t help but think that now knowing exactly what it is that I’m missing out on — there was so much research and communication to be done — meant that I’d only feel.
Another part of this challenge for me has been that I can’t help but feel selfish for even thinking about my work this way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I want — this program is to provide the many nonprofits in Baltimore City with resources, human and otherwise, that would greatly help them advance their organizational missions. It’s not about us, the students; it’s about what we can do for them and the places in which we can help fill gaps that, as unfortunate as it is, do exist. The things that I do now take time — time that, for the full-time staff of FreeState Justice, would be immensely more valuable when put towards other tasks. Is it really my place, then, for me to question the tasks I’ve been assigned?
And so, I’ll gladly keep working on my tasks. I’ll continue to write grant reports, Facebook posts, and email blasts, knowing full well that with everything I type, I’m continuing a robust community-building effort and helping to promote the growth of an organization that I truly believe in. All the while, though, I’ll always keep an ear open for further policy work.
SOFIA CUENCA | CENTRAL BALTIMORE PARTNERSHIP
Friday afternoon I got a text from my mom saying:
“Hijita, tene precaucion el fin de semana, en especial domingo por las noticias de Trump, que el domingo comienzaran las redadas masivas, una de las ciudades es Baltimore… Anda siempre con tus documentos,”
“Daughter, be careful this weekend, especially because of the news with Trump, massive raids are said to begin on Sunday and one of the cities is Baltimore… Make sure to always carry your documents with you.”
I saw this text and I could immediately feel tears well up in my eyes. My mother, who has been a citizen for 2 years, whose husband has had citizenship for over 25 years, whose children despite being born in El Salvador had been U.S. citizens their entire lives, sent this text message out of genuine worry and fear. Her text message implied racial profiling, it implied that my ethnicity and heritage and the way I look were enough reason to question whether or not I belong here. I was shocked that someone who is coming from a situation of safety and freedom can still be grappling with such injustices… and I cannot begin to imagine the concerns of those who lack that safety and have not yet received freedom. I cannot imagine the extent of worry and fear of anyone who is doubting their tomorrow.
Central Baltimore partnership primarily serves in neighborhoods located on the “White L,” and while I know this post does not necessarily reflect on my experience at my internship this week, I think it is just as important to acknowledge that CBP is an organization that is faced with populations of much more privilege than other individuals living in Baltimore. Disparities exist everywhere, the severity just changes, and as I am working with CBP to revitalize some of their most distressed neighborhoods I do not want to forget the severity of what others in the city, and even the world, might be experiencing. Just as I am advocating for the community I am serving this summer, I want to hold myself accountable to also advocate for and not stay silent about the sufferings of others.
Since getting my placement at Impact Hub, I’d known that I was entering a large, diverse, dynamic community. But I don’t think I fully registered the scale of that community until last week.
One of my main projects this summer will be to interview and spotlight several of our members through a series of blogs. My supervisor Michelle had given me a list of the members to reach out to and a brief description of what they did. I spent a great portion of my first week and the beginning of my second week researching these members, the organizations of which they were part of, and the ways that these organizations intersected and served the Baltimore community. I wrote up interview questions for each of them, trying to include a combination of general questions as well as questions that were unique to each member.
Writing up the questions took longer than I’d anticipated. Having spent three years on the student paper, I thought that writing up these questions wasn’t veering too far from my comfort zone, but I was constantly asking myself a series of questions as I thought of how the project would progress. Were these too many questions, or too little? If I could I could produce a 1000-word feature with these questions — how will I format this into a readable, short story that truly captures the magnitude of what all of these different members do? How could we really relay these complex stories to the rest of the community at Impact Hub and Baltimore?
One smaller project that I began towards the end of last week was updating Impact Hub’s community directory. The directory is not public; I had to update their profile pictures and companies so that people within the space could easily identify other members. Here again I was in awe of the variety of people, talent, and ideas that the space brought together. Updating the directory has not been a particularly difficult project, but it’s made me realize that bringing together this vast, eclectic, ever-shifting community cannot be easy.
This week I looked through statistics for the various neighborhoods that are eligible to apply for the inFusion grant. The task was frustrating primarily because of the poor availability of neighborhood data. Seemingly the best source of information is the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) but much of the data utilizes the 2010 census which will undoubtedly be outdated. They also use the geographical boundaries of Community Statistical Areas (CSA) which are clusters of neighborhoods. The Oldtown/Middle East area contains Dunbar-Broadway, Gay Street, Middle East, Oldtown, Penn-Fallsway, Pleasant View Gardens and CARE. It is difficult to find data about the CARE community specifically. The inclusion of the variety of neighborhoods could probably skew the data in misleading ways which can be especially problematic if we intend to use the information to evaluate the state of a single neighborhood.
A more concerning question emerged from an exploration of the BNIA Vital Signs Report. Which statistics do I choose in order to show the neighborhood most honestly? BNIA had over 150 indicators. My task was to look for statistics in order to paint a picture of the neighborhood and provide context for the work that grantees were doing in the neighborhood. I would be creating a representation of the neighborhood. Are these statistics the best way to create that representation? How did the neighborhoods want to be represented? This becomes a particularly important question when considering media representation of Baltimore City as well as the representation through academic research. Fusion has prioritized allowing residents to tell their own stories. I wonder how we can use these statistics more effectively to that end.Tags: Baltimore Corps, CIIP, ciip 2019, Freestate Justice, Fusion Partnerships, Impact Hub, Station North Art & Entertainment District