2021 Week 5: Nonprofit Management

Photo of Ryan AghamohammadiRYAN AGHAMOHAMMADI | IMPACT HUB

When I think about how what I’m learning this summer might apply to my career or life goals, it’s striking to me how much of my work this summer has been determined by individuals. Meeting, interviewing, and writing about Impact Hub, its members, the Baltimore community at large, among others this summer has by necessity introduced me to a series of individuals doing different mission-driven work in the city. As I’ve sat down and listened to their stories of their own endeavors, of their own lives, and of their own visions of the future, I’ve also learned more about myself. It’s a bit like finding a door to a room you didn’t know existed, or a secret garden hidden in the block around the corner. Perhaps, and I’ve been reflecting on this a lot, that a by-product of our society’s siloing of people and resources is that, ironically, we come to forget our own inherent, immense power as well as the immense power of others. Yet, learning about others’ individual strengths, talents, and endeavors helps us better recognize and develop our own. In spaces created to bring individuals together, collisions of people and ideas are by design. Impact Hub is a unique space; the constant influx of individuals changes the shape and scope of each day, but being there (as evidenced by previous blog posts) has naturally made me reflect on the power of individuals, of collaboration, of relationship, and, now, visioning the future.

I find much of my anthropological interest in place-making and space-making: what does it mean to take up a space? What does it mean for a space to take up you? What does a space do? Of course, being at Impact Hub this summer and, as my storytelling requires, constantly thinking about the space in a high-level, thematic manner, resonates with these interests. But, I do think what I’m learning and thinking about this summer applies to more than my interests; instead, it’s pushed me to vision new possibilities that might be made possible through meaningful relationships, as well as develop my own philosophies on what it means to be in community with others. It’s also helped me articulate my ideas around community-building and purposeful work. I feel most inspired and changed when the work I do changes the way I think, or as I previously mentioned, unlocks a new room I didn’t quite know was there. I’m sure I will carry the lessons I’ve learned and the ideas I’ve had this summer into the immediate and far future. At the end of the day, truly all we do creates resonances and reverberations that impact the rest of our lives. What’s most important is to be receptive to change and to be able to recognize when it’s occurring.


Something important I’ve learned from this internship is about what kinds of work I want to be doing in my career once I graduate. Working with the Tool Library and hearing about other intern’s placements, I get a sense of which type of work I’d feel most fulfilling in the long term. After meeting with Fusion, I liked the idea of working at a nonprofit that handles big picture, large-scale issues. It can be tiring and claustrophobic to work in a hyperlocal nonprofit that is designed to remain small-scale, and nonprofits like Fusion allow for constant exposure to different types of work. However, this hands-on work is also really rewarding, necessary in the routine of things to keep the Library going.

I still remain undecided about how I’ll want to proceed with a career, but I’ve also understood more about how I want to apply each of my majors in my working life. I am interested in more physical work, as the Tool Library has shown me, but I am mostly interested in finding a way to work both manually and mentally in the physical world. I know that I don’t want to build a career on social issues, because from experience it has made me apathetic to these problems and troubles my relationship to them. Once I begin getting paid to care about things I would normally care about for free, it makes me dislike doing the work. What I am considering now is a career in something material, like woodworking or art, that allows me to work physically and mentally.

Photo of Casey Levitt, smiling CASEY LEVITT | MADE IN BALTIMORE

In my internship this summer, I’ve learned the difficulty, and the importance, of establishing sustainable, scalable systems in community-based work.

I’m studying computer science, and when you’re writing code, the goal is efficiency. You want to break down your task into a set of smaller, identical tasks, write some code to handle one of these smaller tasks, and then use (and reuse) that code until your larger task is complete. Sometimes, you’ll have 2 (or more) categories of smaller tasks that need to be handled differently – these are called cases. The main point is that however many cases you have, you want to establish one procedure that works for all possibilities. Consider a simple program that takes 2 numbers and performs an arithmetic operation. For example, you give it 2, 4, and + and it returns 6. The 4 different arithmetic operators (+-*/) are 4 different cases – they must be handled differently, but the arithmetic can still exist as one procedure. However, if you pass in 5, 0, and / the program will crash. Having a divisor of 0 is called an edge case – it’s a special case where the procedure breaks down. If there are just a few edge cases, you can usually check for them and handle them separately before they cause problems. But if you have too many edge cases, you may not be able to simplify the main task with a procedure at all!

One of the things I’ve been working on for Made In Baltimore is organizing their database of members. Made In Baltimore is essentially a network of member businesses, where being certified MIB member requires that your business makes a physical product in Baltimore City. Since this set of members is so central to the organization’s purpose and function, having an accurate and updated list is really important. However, soon after I started, I noticed that there were some issues. The list of members on the mailing list doesn’t match the list of members in the backend of the website – some businesses are on the mailing list and not on the website, while others are on the website but not the mailing list. A lot of the emails associated with members are inactive, and the emails are bouncing. Some members have multiple profiles on the website, others don’t appear at all.

In trying to organize all of this I’ve had to handle things case-by-case. I’ve come across members who go out of business, put their business on pause, change their email address, change their business name, transfer production out of the city… In cleaning up this member data, there is not one procedure that would’ve helped me simplify this task, because there are too many edge cases. The real-life situations of these businesses do not fall neatly into an enumerated list of possibilities – everyone’s situation is different, and must be handled individually. However, I also know that Made In Baltimore is growing; there are just under 300 members now, and as the organization grows, it will be harder and harder to keep things organized on a case-by-case basis, hence the need for scalable systems.


This week, my advisor has been on vacation, and I have embraced the opportunity to take some independent initiative with my work. I’m settling into a routine with my work schedule and the projects that I’ve been working on. One of the key tasks this week has been getting insight into personal stories. Telling clients’ stories is an important part of spreading the work that St. Ambrose does, to let other community members know that we are here for them and can help them through their situation. So far, it has been challenging to get a hold of these stories, but I’m working with coworkers from many different departments to help me look.

My work this summer has made me realize that I want writing to be a part of my career in some way. As someone who has been an editor and writer for the JHU News-Letter, has written for JHU’s Triple Helix journal, and is completing an English minor, writing has always been a part of my college experience. But I thought that if I wasn’t writing creatively or journalistically, then this skill would have limited use in terms of a career. I brushed it aside as more of a hobby than a productive skill. But this job has shown me that analytical and creative writing are incredibly important to non-profit work, the workplace in general, and hopefully, in my future career as a social worker.

Besides writing, my time at St. Ambrose has allowed me to improve my interpersonal skills, my ability to accumulate research, and maintain a social media presence. Also, the information I’ve learned about housing problems will be invaluable to me throughout my career, as unstable housing is a problem that intersects with so many related issues.


This week was a little rough due to some illness and a little bit of messiness in my personal life, but I still got a lot done. I finished the first draft of the August newsletter and asked various other community organizations and government contacts if they had any information they wanted to promote specifically. I checked in on the status of the water access and am hoping to get that installed by next week. The signage installation was unfortunately delayed, but I’m hoping that both that and the mulching of the lot can be finished on Monday morning; I updated the WMS business index again, this time adding whether the businesses in the neighborhood were or were not in good standing–an unfortunately hard metric to track down given how many businesses aren’t properly listed online, but it’s an important step to diagnosing and improving the business health of the community. It took a little while to get in contact with the shading company, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to set up a meeting with them next week.

Since my internship has been focused so specifically on the Waverly Commons space, I’ve learned a lot about project management. In other words, I’ve gotten better at learning how to break a project down into realistic goals and, in particular, about how to plan those goals around other people. Much of the work that needs to be done on the Waverly Commons was dependent on input or support from contractors or external parties and also required board approval–learning to how to manage those parties and keep momentum moving on my projects has been challenging, but I definitely think I’m more comfortable with it as the summer comes to a close. I’m sure that’s a skill that will be invaluable going forward.

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