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It’s hard to believe that my time at AJWS has already come to a close. I am sad to be leaving such an incredible organization with inspiring and dedicated people, but I am excited about the insights I have gained this summer.  I feel that I have come closer to meeting my learning goals than I ever could have imagined. In part, this is because working at the organization was a very well rounded learning experience. What I am taking away from this summer at AJWS is more than just the ability to complete tasks, or improved research and database skills. I learned something extremely valuable about the culture of an effective organization.

At the beginning of the summer, my main goal was to learn about the operations of a nonprofit; the diverse roles played by individuals and teams and the strategy behind methods of social change. While no individual task or accomplishment could teach me this, I was lucky to have the opportunity to work with two different teams: Donor Engagement and Major Gifts..  This gave me insight into what the two divisions needed on a basic level to do their work. My research provided background information on where to host events, who to contact, which organizations to potentially partner with, and what kinds of events other organizations are hosting.  In completing these assignments, I learned about the strategy behind event planning and fundraising, as well as the kinds of information needed to make these decisions.

Another one of my learning goals was to be able to talk about AJWS’s work in a persuasive way. My work in Development and Alumni Relations at Brandeis (through Phonathon) has provided me with the opportunity to discuss my college experience with diverse alumni, and to hear their stories as well. Part of what excited me about working in development at AJWS was that I could learn the vocabulary to discuss the organization’s work in a similarly persuasive way. A few of my tasks and accomplishments helped me to do this. First, I read through countless publications to organize issue packets for donors. This familiarized me with the language used to talk about different issues and the work being done in various countries. I also worked to draft a publication on disaster relief, which allowed to employ some of the language I’d learned, using the style guide and AJWS branding to guide my writing. I also wrote blurbs about the Study Tour program for the AJWS website, which provided me a similar opportunity. All of these experiences gave me the tools to sound credible and educated about AJWS’s mission and work, which culminated in the opportunity to make thank you calls to donors! This was nerve wracking and exciting, and I felt confident that I met my goal.

I am excited to build on this experience back at Brandeis. My work at Phonathon is a different kind of development, but listening to people at AJWS talk about their relationships with donors, fundraising strategies and experiences will stay with me and lead a better understanding and purpose in my work.  Additionally, this new outlook will stay with me in my job search this coming year. I know that I will definitely be in touch with AJWS in some capacity- I have truly fallen in love with their mission and work, and would be honored to volunteer, travel, or work for them again in my future. The advice I would give to a student interested in interning at AJWS is to take advantage of the connections available to them. It is so important to make the most of every day working there. The staff is well educated, diverse, and passionate about any number of different things, and they are so willing to impart wisdom onto young people. I am truly thankful for the meetings I’ve had with people I didn’t even work with, because it provided me with important perspective on career choices, educational choices, and even life choices. Another piece of advice that certainly goes for AJWS, but is also relevant for other nonprofits is to try to go above and beyond. It might be hard as an intern, but I found that it was stimulating and exciting for me to do more than was asked of me. It was not necessary for me to draft a publication this summer, but I really wanted to try it out. Whenever I felt that my work was going slowly or dragging on, I asked for more. These are easy ways to get the most out of your time at an organization and really enjoy the experience.

As I mentioned in my mid-way blog post, my work in Development at AJWS has ignited my interest in communications. My next step is to look into the ways that social justice and nonprofit work intertwine with the communications field. I understand development as a certain type of communication, with a very specific purpose. I am excited about the prospect of learning about new kinds of communication that can raise awareness about important issues, raise money, and frame discussions to be productive. In my job search, I will certainly be looking into firms and organizations for positions that combine these interests. My summer in development has provided me a window into what it means to communicate effectively, and I’d love to develop that even further.

Above all, my time at AJWS has educated me even more about why my ideals of social justice hold true. I deeply believe in equality, human rights, and a moral obligation to help those less fortunate. AJWS voices these concerns with a grounding in Jewish texts, but also with common sense. The culture of the organization has reinforced my idea of making change from the ground up, respecting communities and the knowledge they have about their circumstances, and using that as a catalyst for change. Because of my experiences at AJWS, I am a better listener, a more efficient worker, a more dedicated citizen, and most importantly, a more passionate and inspired change agent. If nothing else, that will stay with me.

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It’s so hard to believe that I’m more than halfway done with my internship at AJWS!  My experience here has been very dynamic, and I could not be happier with my choice to work at this organization. A lot of my goals at the start of my internship were very general, and I feel that the comprehensive nature of this internship program has provided me with the opportunity to make progress on all of them. One of my main career goals was to develop a greater understanding of the operations of a nonprofit organization. I could not have chosen a better place to start. The culture of AJWS is a learning one, so it is very fitting that the organization makes a concerted effort to educate its interns about its work and the way all of the parts fit together. The starting point for understanding the functionality of a nonprofit is to think critically about its mission. During the first few weeks, the interns had a special session called “AJWS 101,” where we had discussions about the mission statement and what it meant in the context of the organization’s daily operations. Aside from the fact that the mission statement itself is very meaningful to me, this session provided me with an important perspective: that every organization has a starting point and guiding principle, and that things make more sense when that principle stays relevant.  I have started to think critically about what it means for a mission statement to be met: how can we measure things like “realizing human rights,” “ending poverty,” and “social justice?” These are big, abstract ideas, and thinking about them as end goals has contributed to my understanding of human rights nonprofit work.

AJWS's Mission Statement

AJWS’s Mission Statement

Another aspect of my internship that has enhanced my understanding of nonprofit organizations has been my meetings with people in diverse roles. I have had the opportunity to discuss career goals and experiences with many different members of this organization- people in the development department, vice presidents, and even the president, Ruth Messinger. It has been both inspiring and educational for me to hear these different perspectives, because they help paint a picture of what makes an organization successful, and how to contribute effectively. These discussions have also been important for my personal development because they have exposed me to the “language” of nonprofit- there are several key phrases that I have come to understand are very important. Particularly, I have enjoyed hearing about “measuring impact,” which asks the question of how we can measure aspects of social change that seem unquantifiable. One of the most valuable skills I have developed at AJWS is breaking down a big idea into smaller parts. For example, the goal of “empowering women in Senegal” seems abstract, but when it is broken down into specific community initiatives, there are measureable results. This leads me to ask questions- how many villages have stopped particular harmful practices, how many lives have been changed by group education programs? This way of viewing social change at a grassroots level underlies all of the work that AJWS does, and will definitely relevant for me as I continue my interest in sociology and social change.

Aside from a general goal of understanding nonprofit work, I also am working toward specific career goals. I had hoped to learn about different managing and working styles, in addition to developing my own. Since this was my first internship, I have learned a lot about my own work ethic. Most of the projects I have been working on this summer have been long-term, and require ongoing research.  As a result, I have become much more task-oriented. Every evening before I leave the office, I make a list of tasks to complete (and check off) the next day. I break down larger assignments into smaller components so that I can be efficient in the way I allocate my time.  Additionally, I have learned about professional team work.  The first week of the internship, the interns had a session called “Social Styles,” where we learned about different types of personalities and the best way to interact with them in a professional setting. I found this training to be extremely useful, because it is incredibly important to understand other people’s personalities in order to work together effectively.

Even more specifically, I have met two of my other goals: improving research skills and learning to use a database! One of my projects was to research organizations and events in different geographic regions, as a part of the process of planning AJWS events for the next year. As it turns out, using Google effectively is a very useful and valuable skill! In my research, I have begun to identify trends in the types of events hosted by different organizations, and make connections. I have supplemented this research with the use of the database “Raiser’s Edge,” which I was trained on during my second week. I have become more comfortable using this database over time, and it has added much more specificity to the research I’ve been doing.   One of the ways that I can tell I’m learning is that research is becoming easier and more efficient. I have noticed that it takes me a much shorter amount of time to complete research tasks now that I have found good resources and websites for the information, and have found the best way to organize and present that data.

My workspace, where all the research happens!

My workspace, where all the research happens!

In addition to conducting research, my other projects have been more communications-focused. I have drafted a one two page summary about AJWS’s grantees and strategy for disaster relief, and have sent it to the communications department to be designed. The reason I created this publication was for one of my other projects, which was to compile all of the publications and information about a few different issue areas for staff members to use in meetings with people who want to get involved. In my search, I noticed that there was no summary of all of the different disaster relief efforts and campaigns that AJWS has been involved in over the years. After meeting with my manager and the Director of Publications, I embarked on the unfamiliar journey of writing for AJWS to fill in the gap!

These are a few of the publications in the LGBTI/Sexual Health and Rights issue packet I'm creating.

These are a few of the publications in the LGBTI/Sexual Health and Rights issue packet I’m creating.

Aside from the issue-oriented packets and disaster relief publication, I have been working on some writing for the AJWS website. Specifically, I have been compiling information and summaries for the upcoming Study Tour trips to Senegal and Burma.  I have learned a lot about the work that AJWS grantees are doing in these countries, but also about the most interesting places to travel there! I feel that my projects creating publications, writing for the website, and compiling information for presentation have all developed my skills in strategic communication. In all of these contexts, I am creating an image of AJWS’s work and values. I have learned about the different ways to talk about the work and philosophy of the organization, and how that might be used in a targeted way to create change by raising both awareness and money. I am also utilizing this skill in thank-you calls to AJWS donors. This experience is transferable, and has also taught me a lot about my interests. I have greatly enjoyed my work in the communications realm of development at AJWS, and am interested in pursuing a career in fundraising, communications or marketing. I feel that I will be able to use my experience writing and creating a face for AJWS when applying to these types of jobs in the future.

As I gear up for what will be the last few weeks of my internship, I am reflective about my progress and how much I have learned. I am grateful for the opportunity to soak so much in at such a great organization, and I look forward to continue getting the most out of my time here.

– Shira Almeleh ’14

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Hi everyone! I have just finished my first week of my internship at American Jewish World Service. AJWS is a nonprofit organization that seeks to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world. That mission statement is a mouthful, which is why I was so interested to learn more about all of the work that AJWS does.  I first found out about the organization a few years ago, when my cousin went on a service trip with AJWS to Ghana.  When I saw the posting on Hiatt’s B.Hired website, I got very excited because I already knew about some of the great work AJWS was doing.  I immediately replied and made an effort to speak with my cousin about her experience with the organization before my interviews, so that I’d have a more thorough understanding of its work.

This is the logo for American Jewish World Service.

This is the logo for American Jewish World Service.

My internship is located at the AJWS New York office in Manhattan. I am working in the Development, with both the Donor Engagement and Major Gifts teams.  Both teams assign me projects and I have a series of meetings with members of each team over the course of the summer, so that I can learn about the work that they do and their roles in the organization.

Currently, I am working on a few projects. My main project right now is to assemble issue-based portfolios for donors who are particularly interested in one aspect of AJWS’s work. Each issue will get one portfolio, which will aggregate all of the information on that topic. The issues I’m currently working on are women/girls, LGBTI rights/sexual health and rights, natural resource rights, disaster response, and peace/conflict work. I have really enjoyed working on these issues, and I think it’s a great project to start with because it has really exposed me to a lot of information about the organization. To create a portfolio, I have to go through hundreds of publications to find the right information, presented the right way. Through this, I have learned a lot about AJWS’s grantee organizations in developing countries, the grassroots organizing they are doing, and the diverse ways these small but empowered groups can create change.

The cover of a publication included in the "Women and Girls" issue folder.

The cover of a publication included in the “Women and Girls” issue folder.

My other projects are not as large-scale, but are also teaching me a lot about nonprofit development. I am helping to organize a spreadsheet of possible venues for AJWS’s upcoming gala fundraiser by looking at what other large nonprofits are doing. Additionally, I am working to research and organize data on donors in specific areas so that when AJWS hosts events there, they are able to invite everyone who might want to be involved. For some geographic areas, I am researching the Jewish community to determine the major institutions and organizations there.

In addition to the work I’m assigned, I also have the opportunity to meet many important people in the organization. Our internship program is very comprehensive, and includes the opportunity to have lunch with the president of AJWS, Ruth Messenger, as well as other members of the executive board! Additionally, AJWS has a tradition called “Brown bags,” where everyone brings their lunches to a conference room to listen to a visiting grantee speak about his or her experience.  This week, a grantee from Haiti came to speak about his work organizing young law students to form a legal accompaniment service for those who need it the most. I found this fascinating and was really glad to have the opportunity to hear him speak.

My first week at AJWS has been really great. It is a fantastic working environment- everyone is incredibly friendly and considerate, and made me feel at home right away. I am enjoying the work I’m doing, and I feel that my supervisors are inclusive and making a strong effort to help me understand development and the goals of AJWS. Aside from meeting with various members of the two teams I’m working with, I also got to participate in a training called “Social Styles,” which taught me a lot about professional styles in the work place. The other interns and I all discussed our personality types and were trained in meeting people where they are, creating a more cohesive and understanding working environment for everyone. This summer, I expect to learn not only about development and fundraising (including improving technical skills like databases and excel), but also to learn a lot about teamwork and professionalism. This is my first 9-5 job and I’m loving it so far!

Learn more about AJWS:

AJWS Website

Global Voices: The AJWS Blog Site

– Shira Almeleh ’14

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