Post 2: Coalitions and Team Building

As I transition out of college and into the brave new world of 9 to 5 workdays, I am consistently relying on the lessons I’ve learned in the field and finding ways to apply them to the nonprofit sector. At Brandeis, I am a member of the women’s soccer program, and have been for four years now. I’m also interning at a Chicago-based organization called Restore Justice (RJ), a criminal justice reform policy institution. While these institutions seem entirely different, they’re actually quite similar in the sense that they are rooted in the fundamental values of teamwork and coalition building. Here at RJ, we treat lobbying like sport. You have rules, teams, strategy, and all the action happens within a season or “legislative session.”

The summer for us is our offseason. This is an opportunity for us to regroup and prepare for the upcoming legislative session, when we get the chance to work on pushing our bills to hopefully become law. We meet with our lobbyists, do research, and try to write and rewrite language that we will then bring to members of the Illinois State Legislature to hopefully find a sponsor to push the bill through.

We are also working on finding more donors through fundraising to help fund our expansion and give us more opportunities to do the work that everyone in the small office wants to do. The summer session is treated very much like my offseason is for soccer in that it is seen as an opportunity to get better, stronger, faster. We aren’t put under the pressure of everything having to happen right now, and we have the opportunity to shop things, work on new techniques, or completely scrap something that isn’t working. We build on what we learned last season and work to take those lessons into our next season when the legislature comes back into session.

Another big thing that I have experienced is the very necessary job of understanding your own strengths and weaknesses. Brandeis soccer prides itself on having the mindset that every single player was brought here for a reason, and has something to contribute to the team. When we succeed, it is because of everyone’s efforts, and when we fail, it is on everyone to look at what they need to do better next time to help the team. Restore Justice thinks the same way. We wouldn’t be able to have the successes we’ve had if it weren’t for everyone in the office, and in times that we have failed, everyone has the chance to do better and play a part in the successes in the future.

We finally got the whole team in one picture! From left to right, Jobi Cates, our Executive Director, Marshan Allen, our Project Manager, Wendell Robinson, our fundraising apprentice, Jessica Genova, a graduate intern, Julie Anderson, our Outreach Manager, and myself.

Most importantly, it is vital that we recognize our own strengths and weaknesses. We all know that different individuals in this office have experiences in different ways, and we try as much as possible to play on those strengths, but also to get out of someone else’s way if we know a certain area is not our strongest. Understanding what you bring to the table and when you might do better to sit back and listen is key to having a team that works in harmony. I have always known that on the field, but it is a very important experience to be able to learn it off the field and in the workplace as well.

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