(3) What I am walking away with

I learned two things about myself throughout my internship at United for a Fair Economy (UFE). One is that I would prefer to work at a nonprofit as a part-time job, and the other is that community organizing involves a lot of new client introductions and unpaid work. Overall, I learned the importance of organizing and networking in your community, especially maintaining and growing networks. These lessons are vital for understanding how grassroots organizations collaborate and help each other.

I am now brainstorming what skills and prior knowledge I wish to have to create a significant, powerful impact on my community and bring that talent back home. I learned much about project management, team building, fundraising, and healthy relationships during my internship. I was able to help the office accountant with receiving, cataloging, and cashing in donations. More importantly, I was involved in the correspondence process, thanking individuals, creating letterheads, and mailing them. One memorable quote from a colleague about this process was, “the best way to obtain new donors is to re-engage with old ones.” I also helped my manager by fine-tuning and editing prompts for the Conversation Deck project and arranging a focus group with a diverse group of outside partners. Last but not least, I helped promote and market UFE fundraising and informational events.

I will say that although popular education was a new concept to me, it was amazing to see it in practice. I learned a lot about this type of work. I also realized that the more I did focus groups, the more I learned about the last one and better ways of facilitation.

Someone I wish I had met when I started is a staff member called Eroc. His work is concentrated around Healing Justice and community resource pooling. I wished I had met him earlier and worked with him more often, mainly since he was remote. He was the type of person you would speak to and feel like you got something out of the discussion.

One piece of advice I would give to someone pursuing an internship or career in this field is to take advantage of the learning opportunity and be careful of burnout. Burnout is the reason why I would pursue nonprofit work as a part-time job. I would also recommend that people do their research into organizations, ex-employees, and the work and impact an organization has done because we must be careful of the nonprofit industrial complex. A high concentration of nonprofits in an area signals a structural problem in how society operates. Moreover, being a 501(c)(3) means that the organization does its taxes in a particular way. This means you could end up in a nonprofit organization that mimics and operates the way a corporation would. Therefore, good things to look for in a nonprofit are whether they acknowledge mental health struggles and burnout, and if they work on projects collectively and cooperate with tasks and roles.

Overall, I am leaving this internship very fulfilled and appreciative. 

Me and another intern Felix having lunch for the first time with Eroc and his kids.
Food is the best way to bond.

(2) Lessons from Brandeis at United For a Fair Economy

During my time at United for a Fair Economy (UFE), I have thought a lot about how the work I do for them relates to my studies at Brandeis. I have reflected on my skills, ambitions, and future career goals. One of my major takeaways is that leadership and facilitation skills are universal and applicable in any space that requires initiative. I further developed this skill while a part of the Community Engagement Ambassador Program (CEAP) for the Department of Community Service at Brandeis. While at UFE, I facilitated a team-building activity that helped our staff reflect on the projects and initiatives we would like to promote and market on social media and our website.

Erick participates in a group activity for United for a Fair Economy
Photo courtesy of Erick Comas ’24.

I have also been more confident and relaxed in taking advantage of opportunities, and I have moved away from my comfort zone. Thus far, one project I worked on was phone banking for a webinar on a Billionaire’s Income Tax proposal that UFE is working on. I was incredibly nervous at first, but I found out the answer was to print and surround myself with images of calves, puppies, and memes. I increased my productivity, reduced my anxiety, and accomplished my task. I was very proud of myself.

One particular skill that I practiced at Brandeis as a CEAP ambassador and as an intern for the Office of Health and Wellness was developing a learning plan and a long-term expectation plan with my manager. This was useful because while at UFE, I have been clear and straightforward with my manager. I have been comfortable approaching them to have this conversation and requesting that we develop these expectations together. It has helped me get where I am today. I look forward to doing research, and UFE has guided me about possible research topics, how to draft a grant or organize the numbers, and communicate among staff effectively.

My overall experience at UFE builds on my experience at Brandeis. This has been significant to me because I have been able to use my previous experiences to guide and prepare me to produce favorable outcomes for my manager and for me. Indeed, it has allowed me to see how working for a nonprofit would look and feel. Moreover, this opportunity has allowed me to reflect on topics of research that I might be interested in pursuing later in my undergraduate career. In particular, it has further exposed disparities in people’s lived experiences with the economy. I have been particularly grateful to have participated in popular education workshops because that is where we, as a movement-building organization, got to interact with people’s stories and help partner organizations strategize on ideas during those conversations.

Those conversations have gotten me thinking about a lot of things. It has been peculiar because our work clashes with what I’ve learned about economic theory (trickle-down economics). My strategy has been to pursue the work that I do with a set of morals and ideas on what the highest impact areas are for individuals. One example is housing affordability in communities of color and job/opportunity access. Above all, one goal of mine has been to present accurate, factual, and well-written information. I have also emphasized the need to present information more conversationally so that individuals can have easier access to the material we offer. I have found what works best for me is being communicative and setting goals. This has allowed me to organize myself better, manage my time, and improve the quality of my work. This quality of work will help me obtain the experience and knowledge required for employment in other nonprofits or fields of work in the future.

(1) United For a Fair Economy

Erick sitting in the UFE office holding a welcome Erick sign while sitting down
First Day at UFE

I am currently interning for United for a Fair Economy (UFE). UFE is a nonprofit fighting for a resilient, sustainable and equitable economy. UFEs caught my eye because of their work to raise the minimum wage in North Carolina. Most importantly, three aspects of the organization caught my attention: their expertise as grassroots organizers, the fight for higher wages (even if it’s not in MA) and their work as supporters of on-the-ground organizations. I chose UFE because I think it can teach me a lot about nonprofits and guide me toward the right career choice. I hope to learn more about the hard work that community organizing entails and about the difficulties of working in the industry.

Erick with UFE and community partner staff at the end of a popular education training.
First Popular Education workshop

While working for UFE, I learned that most of their work revolves around giving a voice to people who have experienced injustices. They encourage people to talk about their struggles and hardships and then summarize this impact by providing additional facts for contextualization. For example, they discuss facts like the federal minimum wage losing its purchasing power due to inflation. UFE also works on other projects. One of these projects is called Responsible Wealth. This program addresses the inequity resulting from billionaires not paying their fair share of taxes. For this reason, they actively work and advocate for a Billionaires Income Tax. To achieve these goals, UFE uses popular education as an alternative to traditional classroom education, where ordinary people define their problems and cooperate democratically to understand the successes and failures of past political policies to assess their situation.

Currently, I am working on a project meant to encourage popular education. The Conversation Deck uses a deck of cards to facilitate a conversation about people’s experiences, struggles, and barriers with the economy. I hope to host a focus group with staff, interns, and community leaders to gather feedback on the conversations we want people to have. While at UFE, I also work with donor relations by responding to correspondences and other funding-related administrative tasks. As a grassroots organization, this is a vital part of my work and necessitates being responsive to donor needs and requests.  

Furthermore, I also help staff with databases and phone banking for events, webinars, and popular education workshops. For my main project, The Conversation Deck, we hope to distribute the cards to our partner organizations. We want to encourage, engage and promote dialogue surrounding issues affecting our daily lives like our identities, our communities, the economy, and the actions we should be taking to address our concerns.

Overall, I am looking forward to learning more about nonprofits as a field and as a future career. It is very exciting to learn about the jobs, roles, and responsibilities that individuals are responsible for. I am also very grateful to see and experience what a healthy work environment looks like. I look forward to bringing this experience to my next jobs and internships and coming into the workforce with open eyes and with hindsight knowledge of what I should expect from an employer.