I was recently asked to speak at my grad school alma mater as an alumni panelist for students who would soon graduate. The topic: how do you use your Women and Gender Studies master's degree in your career?
The answer is not one easily articulated without a little thought, especially knowing that the answer will be presented from the sole panelist not working at a nonprofit or in academia, and all to a room full of anxious students on the brink of graduation. Figuring out how to use any degree is really a task of connecting the dots, and it is a task at which I am thankfully practiced at.
I am practiced at it because before Jackson River, I worked at Bay Area Video Coalition, a socially progressive media arts nonprofit, where I ran tech and operations. Five years later, I came to Jackson River where I work with socially progressive nonprofits on fundraising, advocacy, and data and content management. Neither position located me on the ground, fulfilling an organization's mission through traditional, hands-on, direct service. I am not rescuing animals or inspiring kids with play. I am not building community among people with Marfan Syndrome or trying to shift policy by electing Democratic governors.
So, when faced with those fresh faces at the alumni panel, I found myself answering for them a question I had to answer for myself years ago upon graduation.
Here is what I told them.
Be open to the administrative nonprofit jobs and the not-so-sexy work of budgets and hiring. Be open to the ways in which technology can and does fulfill so many nonprofit needs. Be open, because these jobs are crucial to the success of an organization’s mission. This work is just as valuable as the direct service work of the program staff. Most importantly, the rewards are just as great and the work just as meaningful. Being open will allow you to discover what you love and what you don’t ever want to do again. It will allow you to discover your talents and the myriad ways you can apply those talents, contribute, and have an impact.
As a Jackson River project manager, I am several steps removed from the front lines of our clients' amazing work. Yes, it’s true that there are days when I get lost in the details of running a project and solving tech issues. There are days when I forget to come up for air and reconnect with the missions fueling our work. But, as with every Jackson River project, I am on a team with the staff of each client organization. Because I work so closely with these staff members, it is easy for me to connect the dots from my location in the weeds back to the way that work will make a couple of people’s jobs easier, all in the name of freeing them up to focus on the important aspects of their job. In doing so, I am supporting their mission in a very important way.
I am lucky because I leave work every day feeling good about my job. I take pride in explaining the work we do at Jackson River to friends and acquaintances. I evangelize for the organizations we serve, because I believe in their missions.
It feels good and right, and what else can a lady ask for, really?
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