At the Midpoint of My Internship at American Jewish World Service


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