Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A day in the life of a nonprofit worker

1. What is your name, organization and job title (you don't have to give your name/organization if you don't want to- it can be anonymous)
Trista Harris, Executive Director at Headwaters Foundation for Justice and chief blogger at New Voices of Philanthropy.

2. What is the first thing you do when you get in the office?
I check the list of most important things that I need to accomplish for the day, that I left for myself the night before and work on the task that will move our organization the furthest. It is usually something that needs some sort of strategic thinking, like our strategy to approach an institutional funder or developing key messages for a media interview.

3. How do you spend your lunch break?
My favorite way to spend lunch is to meet with our individual donors. It is amazing to see what draws people to become a donor to a social justice foundation. Many of our donors are part-time or full-time activists for the causes that they care about and I always learn something new when I meet with them. I also really enjoy having lunch with other professional grantmakers in the Twin Cities. You can compare notes and strategize about how to effect the issues that your foundations are working on.

4. Which part of your work do you enjoy most?
Headwaters support grassroots community organizing, so I really enjoy seeing how neighborhood residents will band together around a common cause, like getting rid of an environmental hazard in their neighborhood, and make real change through that collective action. Individuals working together can make the impossible, possible.

5. Please finish this sentence: If someone wanted my job, they would have to…..
Believe in the power of each person and each dollar. When you meet with a group of volunteers that is starting to organize low-income residents to try to fix a systemic problem, like racial discrimination in housing, it can be really easy to underestimate the type of difference that they can make. I’ve learned through this work that those individuals can create permanent policy change that can impact thousands and thousands of people because they are drawing attention to something that is unjust.

There are grassroots activists that make $20-50 gifts to Headwaters and a lot of people might feel that a small gift doesn’t really make a big difference but what we have found is that our $20 donors can be our biggest advocates. They tell their friends why supporting community organizing is important and they start organizing donors. When you start adding all of those gifts together and you invest in cutting edge groups, amazing things happen.

6. What advice or tips do you have for other nonprofit professionals in your position?
Don’t forget to make sure that the pipeline of leaders continues behind you. None of us got where we are without mentors and people pulling for us, so make sure that you are that person for someone else.


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