Nonprofit work…the in’s and out’s of what I’ve seen so far

It’s been a couple weeks now at Families Moving Forward. I’ve learned everyone’s name in the office, I now when we have meetings, who in the office eats what during lunch, and recognize and have met most of the current guests living here. I also have led a couple of teen breakout sessions on Monday and Wednesday evenings- working through summer job applications and checking-in to see how everyone is doing. I’m reaching out to families who’ve completed the program and 1 year of after-care to see how their lives have been since exiting. My role here at FMF is pretty set, with wiggle room to help out with certain programs or tasks during the day, and to give input during meetings when brainstorming or problem solving is occuring. All in all my version of working at a nonprofit has been a positive one, FMF does amazing work, they provide great resources, give families a plethora of options and networks to be apart of, and they take good care of their volunteers.

Being able to be on the inside of the nonprofit world over the course of these few weeks has shown me just how much goes into the seemingly smooth operations of the day to day here. With the nature of nonprofits, most if not all the money they have to operate is coming from donations, grants, individuals and external forces such as government programs. This also includes people on the FMF staff, some who are on payroll directly through the organization, while others like myself who are being funded through external factors, such as fellowships, internship requirements for MSW (Masters of Social Work) students, and government funded opportunities like AmeriCorps members.

With this external funding, there comes a little bit of a snafu- there’s a lot of red-tape. Certain staff who have certain funding have to do certain things. They are ultimately responsible for the task set out under their funding, their time constrictions of when they can work and how much can they work are set up entirely by external factors. This makes the role of staff, and management a tough one; balancing not only the “to-do’s” of the center- what needs to be done and has to be done, with the stipulations of external forces, outlines and rules that dictate who must do what, when they must do it, and how they have to record and prove they have done it. It doesn’t make the work impossible, but it certainly has given me a new appreciation for the work of the management team, and my boss included here at FMF.

I guess this is the reality of nonprofit administration, and management. It’s not something completely apparent if you are a volunteer here or follow-up on the orgs work, because everything does get accomplished. However, the sweet balancing act that must be done in order to make sure all are appeased is something that must occur almost daily on the back-end of the work. I’m still extremely content at the work I am doing here at FMF, but I guess my naivety is slowly shrinking away when I am realizing just how much work there has to be done. In order to run a nonprofit, there are the tasks at hand when it comes to helping the current guests at the shelter and fulfilling FMF’s mission, but the reality of how nonprofits are financed, get support, and operate requires a lot of patience, navigation, and cutting of red-tape. My current task in the office is talking to all the employee’s and staff to figure out their roles here, and I hope through conversations I’ll be able to learn just a little bit more of the back-end management of nonprofit operations.

Sloan Talbot is a rising senior from Ypsilanti, Michigan majoring in Cultural Anthropology with a Certificate in Ethics & Society. She is one of seven fellows in the Kenan Purpose Program

Sloan is a passionate advocate for greater access to resources for historically disadvantaged groups. At Duke, she is deeply involved in creating a community for first-generation college students. She is hoping to discern whether non-profit work is a possible career avenue for her this summer with Families Moving Forward, an innovative organization supporting families attempting to transition out of homelessness.

Sloan Talbot is an undergraduate student researcher, a participant of Kenan’s Summer Purpose Program, Freshman Focus, Duke Immerse, SuWA, and Citizenship Lab.

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