When I started at the LBJ School of Public Affairs in 2003, I drafted a “25 Year Plan” that entailed working in state or local government first (and at that time, I was hoping it would be an arts related agency), then I would work in the private sector to build social and financial capital, and the last phase of my career would be in the nonprofit or social sector. By the time I was writing my thesis in 2006, the nonprofit goal morphed into the idea of starting my own social entrepreneurship. I guess you can say I’m still in phase one of my “25 Year Plan” in that I have been working for the local government for the past seven years – but it hasn’t been for an arts agency. As we all know, even the best laid out plans will have obstacles, and I don’t think I would be prepared as a leader if I didn’t know how to embrace change and continue to seek direction and keep my focus.
For the first five years after graduating, I worked at the NYC Department of Buildings, which gave me a chance to learn a lot about infrastructure and how these tangible elements might impact the nonprofit sector as a whole and the operational challenges that a lot of 501c3 organizations face. More importantly though, I had time on my hands to devote to outside interests such as sitting on boards and helping establish and grow the Emerging Leaders of New York Arts group, which is a program of the Arts and Business Council of New York. These opportunities were the litmus test of what I learned in the Certificate Program. From fiscal accountability to programming to fundraising, I was applying logic models and reviewing 990s.
And then almost two years ago, I switched agencies and am now working at the Department of Homeless Services, where I am managing the contracts of non-profit organizations serving homeless people who choose not to go to shelter and get services instead from programs such as Drop-In Centers, Outreach Teams and Safe Havens. This work puts me on the other side of it, i.e., instead of working/volunteering for the nonprofit, I’m working with them to make sure they are fulfilling their contractual obligations. But really, it’s so much more in that it is about understanding the challenges that these organizations face in serving this client base and figuring out how to make their operations and programming as agile as possible. Needless to say, it’s been a huge learning curve and unfortunately, I haven’t had as much time to devote to outside interests. So as I continue to work with nonprofits on a daily basis, I am seeing a whole different side to what it really takes to be successful in the social sector.
Hopefully soon, I’ll find a way to get back to contributing directly and maybe I’ll make it to phases 2 and 3 of my 25 year plan. But if not, it is all okay, because I know that the world keeps on spinning and there are lots of other people out there working hard every day to make the world a better place. I guess for now, I’m still figuring out my way; but I know for sure that without the Nonprofit Portfolio program, I would never be where I am today.