Monday, March 1, 2010

Highs & Lows in a Nonprofit Career

Allison Fine inspired me by ignoring Katya's deadline... I agree deadlines, schmedlines. Plus, I blog so little, something really needs to inspire me and hearing about the highs and lows of nonprofit careers is one of those topics.

My career lowlight was working in grant making and in the span of a single moment, truly seeing how social impact has very little to do with grant making and how personalities and "other" considerations can take away opportunities from hundreds of groups and thousands of children in a blink of an eye.

Having been hired to do an exciting task, I and my colleagues spent an incredible amount of effort to assemble a docket of compelling and effective grantees. In a moment, half of those highly qualified and vetted grantees were eliminated. It is one of those moments you start to understand the social goals of organizations are more often than not subservient topersonalities and "other concerns."

For me, the career highlight was the actual starting point of my nonprofit career. I was working for an international development consulting firm... mahogany desks and consultant "experts" flying to Congo, Senegal, Columbia, Romania and a bunch of other countries.

My co-worker pops his head into my office and says, "You like computers, right?" The next week I had signed up to mentor at-risk youth and teach them computer, life and employment skills. A couple years latter I was running a program in Oakland that did the same thing.

There were three things that made that the high point: serendipity, seeing the connection between a person and a system, and the power of technology.

Serendipity is just the magic of letting the right thing happen to you at the right time. From there on out I was much more likely to take advantage of those amazing opportunities that drop in ones lap rather than mistrusting motives or second guessing.

With any type of "charitable" or development work, people tend to be an abstract concept. Mentoring an at risk youth for a couple years is anything but abstract.

And finally, teaching an 18 year old barely able to graduate high school HTML and then getting them a job that pays more than their parents have ever earned is an amazing lesson in the transformative power of technology.