This will be my sixth week at the American Jewish World Service and my time there has taught me a lot that will be beneficial to me not only during my time at Brandeis but beyond that. One of the greatest skills it has given me is organizational skills. When you have several meetings a day, paperwork from different people to file, collect, or input, etc.. it is important to stay organized or else things will be lost or forgotten and that will create issues for the organization later on. I have learned a lot about what it is like to work in an office and that will help me in the future.
As an intern I do whatever is asked of me whether that be cleaning files or cleaning the file cabinet. However, I know that all the work I do is appreciated. For example, the minute I organized the file cabinet we were able to find documents that we needed and could not find before. I have learned that even the simplest of tasks can have rewards.
What I have learned about myself is that I enjoy being busy at work. I thought when I came into the office and had piles of work to do would feel daunting but I enjoy it. I like being occupied and not having free time to sit on my hands, I enjoy feeling useful. Moreover, I learned that I like to be a part of a team that relies on each other. Not only the finance department itself, but the whole organization. At a place like the American Jewish World Service, everyone knows everyone else and appreciates the work that each department does. Its a great office culture and I love being a part of it. I have learned that the people are what makes an organization great and working at the AJWS has taught me why everyone there loves the AJWS and all the work we do.
At the American Jewish World Service, our motto is “Pursuing Global Justice through Grassroots Change” and the social justice work we do embodies that motto. The difference between the AJWS and other funders is that the AJWS recognizes the crucial role that local people play in solving the issues. Therefore, the AJWS does not go in to a country and try to fix the problems for the people, they go in and find an organization that is already trying to make that change and they support that organization. The AJWS gives the organization the means through which to achieve their goals and overcome the issues.
Change or progress can look like any number of things at the AJWS. It could mean convincing a donor that ours is a worthy cause, spreading the word about the work the AJWS does or achieving real change, no matter how small, in any of the 19 countries that the AJWS works in.
There are many steps that lead to these kinds of change and the different departments work together to achieve them. The donors department gathers intel on potential donors and reaches out to them. We also have people who are in contact with leaders and members of the Jewish community and they play a large role in both out donations and our work. The communications team keeps our funders and our supporters updated on all our work and sends out a “Daily Digest” to keep everyone updated on issues around the world. Then we have the programs division. They analyze different situations. They look to see if the country is safe for us to go into, whether there are any grassroots organizations there for us to support, and whether the people there actually want out help. After all of that is assessed, money is granted and people can go in and start helping the grassroots organizations and the people in that country achieve their goals. All of these processes happen simultaneously and feed off of one another to ensure that the process works and that we do good work.
I have learned through my time at college that money is the underlying base of everything any organization can do. Money is the means through which actions can be taken. For example, at Brandeis, I am on the mock trial team and before the Regional Competition in Washington D.C., there was a forecast of snow and none of us felt comfortable driving ten hours in that weather. Thus we needed the school to subsidize train tickets to get us to the competition. After acquiring the funds, we were able to go and compete in D.C. However, none of that would have occurred had we not had the money for those tickets.
I have learned a lot about how money functions in a non-profit, such as the AJWS. Like how though termed “not-for-profit”, the financial goal of an organization like this is to make a profit. This is done through investments, and by gaining a profit, that money can be either saved for a day when the NGO might not have as many donors or used to fund base expenses.
Furthermore, I believe that a common misconception people have when thinking of the money that is donated to an NGO is that 100% of those funds are being directly used in the humans rights work. This is not true for any organization. One of my responsibilities here at the AJWS is to review expenses incurred and ensure that they were not personal expenses and to ensure the coding of everything is correct. Many of these expenses I review are not donations to grassroot organizations but expenses indirectly related to them, such as airplane tickets, food, hotels, all paid for by AJWS so that staff can go to conferences and don’t have personal expenses when doing on-site work. Furthermore, some of the money goes into expenses such as rent, salaries, insurance and expenses such as these.
This knowledge has shown me that finances are at the base of all the work the NGO does and that the finance department is responsible for the actualization of all the works of the AJWS. Through this knowledge, I know that even though I may not be directly interacting with grassroot organizations or people around the world, my efforts in the finance department are the base for the help we give.
My name is Melissa Frank and I am a rising sophomore at Brandeis University. I am an Economics major and a Legal Studies minor and this summer I am lucky to work for the human rights non-profit,the AJWS. AJWS is an organization that works in 19 different countries, helping grassroots organizations fight for the rights they need. Depending on the region, my organization works with a multitude of different social injustices.
Through my time as a finance intern, I have seen funding and action for sexual rights, children’s rights, environmental action, LGBT+ rights, and women rights movements around the world. The majority of what I do is within accounts payable and grant management. I review money that people have spent on projects and ensure that all of it was spent on project-related activities and that everything is coded correctly. If the coding was incorrect the books as the organization would be imbalanced and money would be used from the wrong funds. Many of the funds at the organization are restricted, meaning that they can only be used for certain things and if the funds were not used for those specific things, and the donors knew, they would cease funding the projects. Therefore, it is imperative to the organization that the accounts are correct. Without the finance department, projects and action cannot happen. Organizations need money to function and that money must be correctly accounted for or else the organization gets into trouble and, therefore, cannot perform its duties as a human rights supporter.
By summer’s end I hope to gain a larger understanding of the ins and outs of an NGO and how it supports each of the department’s actions through the nonprofit and how those actions spread to the world. These first few weeks at AJWS have been great and I have already learned so much. I have met many of the different department heads and they have taught me a lot about their departments and all the interns had a lunch with the president of AJWS where we were lucky enough to ask him questions and learn about his life and what led him to his position at the AJWS. Through these experiences I have been able to see how much each department feeds off of the others and how they are all interconnected. I have also been able to learn how many different people chose to enter the non-profit sector, which I find most interesting because some of the paths have been direct while other circuitous.
If anyone would like to learn more about the company’s growth over the last 30 years and the work we do around the world, visit the website!