My internship at United for a Fair Economy (UFE) provided me with so much more than I expected. I went into this internship with the goal of gaining a better understanding of how a nonprofit organization actually operates. Interning at UFE helped me gain a more comprehensive understanding about the processes involved in successfully and efficiently running an organization.
UFE gave me the opportunity to work in many departments which gave me a holistic understanding of a nonprofit. When a staff member went away for a couple months I took over all donation processing; I worked on data analysis and graphic design projects; I helped the Finance department prepare for an audit by reconciling all online donations; and I was given the chance to sit in on program meetings and phone calls.
Throughout this process, I met my goal of determining if nonprofit work is actually something I could see myself doing. Getting behind-the-scenes exposure to processes made me more excited about possibly pursuing this field of work. More specifically, I really enjoyed and felt that I excelled at working in the development/communications departments at UFE, and I am now brainstorming ways to continue doing this type of work in the future.
Beyond meeting the goal I set for myself this summer, my internship provided me with so many unexpected lessons. For example, I learned that there is a lot more to social justice work than one can learn about in a classroom or newspaper. The work these organizations do impacts real people, with real stories, making it complicated, frustrating, and also incredibly important.
One thing that I learned about myself during this internship is how much I enjoy work that I genuinely care about. I have always prided myself on my work ethic, but I realized when I am passionate about a topic it does not feel like work.
UFE taught me how important it is to stay grounded while doing this type of work. It is really easy to distance yourself from it and see it as a chore, but it is so important to always remember what you are working for and who you are serving. Whenever there was a grounding moment – whether it was a tragic event in the news or a heartbreaking story told by someone in one of our workshops – I felt my energy, and the energy among the staff at UFE, increase drastically, which was a really interesting and beneficial environment to be in.
One of the biggest challenges I faced during my internship was not feeling like I had the authority to speak my opinions and ideas. Because I was new to the organization and the nonprofit world in general, I felt inhibited telling someone who had been working at UFE for 20 years how they should implement a program or what the best process might be to solve a conflict within the organization.
Thankfully, in a small nonprofit like UFE all opinions and ideas were valued. In fact, they were welcomed. As someone who was learning the processes for the first time, I was able to notice small details and bring a set of fresh eyes to the organization. Thus, a piece of advice I would have for someone pursuing an internship at UFE or another similar organization is that your ideas and opinions are just as valuable as those of someone who has been at the organization for a long time. In fact, one of the things I am most proud of is how my confidence rose along with my level of comfort by the end of my internship.
On one of the last days of my internship, I was given the opportunity to facilitate UFE’s biweekly staff meeting which meant creating an agenda, leading the actual meeting, and having the confidence to assert my authority to keep the staff on track or to interject my opinions about how I believed they should handle certain situations. At the beginning of my internship, I would have never believed that I could successfully lead a meeting for staff members who I felt had so much authority over me, but with the guidance, acceptance, and trust that UFE provided me, I was able to do it and I am very proud of and grateful for the opportunity.
I am incredibly grateful to everyone at UFE for providing me with such an enriching and educational summer, especially my supervisor who always gave me projects that fit my needs and interests while also allowing me to be helpful to the organization. Please check out their Facebook page and blog (as well as the rest of their website) for more information!