It Takes a Village

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Many of us may recognize an organization like Teach for America, but how many of us know the work that goes into managing a nonprofit organization like it? Sabrina Walker Hernandez, the president and CEO of Supporting World Hope and a nonprofit consultant, has been in the nonprofit world for over 25 years.

In the podcast, Walker Hernandez sits down with Jonathan Stevens, the senior managing director for Teach For America. During the podcast, they talked about what it was like to work during the pandemic, the lessons they learned along the way, and what they will keep doing moving forward.

Read more for some of the highlights of the conversation.

Sabrina Walker Hernandez: Community partnerships and fundraising go hand in hand. You really can’t have one without the other. So the fact that your position combines those two, how does that help you?

Jon Stevens: I would say that Teach For America is an organization that believes that we need the top leaders in education to provide equitable options to students, regardless of where they live. That’s a philosophy that we’re always learning and growing, and we only can do it together with other people. So I think partnerships are so important because that’s how you’re going to have more of an impact on your mission.

Being a good listener is very important, whether you’re building community partnerships or fundraising sources. Some people are very analytical, but it’s also important to talk about the names behind the actual impact behind that. You want them to understand the real values of your organization. So, I think that building those relationships with people is really about understanding how they see the world and sharing the work that your organization does in a way that makes sense for them. You want that to be accessible so that they can be a champion and an advocate for your work.

Walker Hernandez: I can imagine that over the course of the last two years, with the pandemic, you had to pivot. How did the pandemic impact what you did and how you went about it? What was the approach?

Stevens: Being relationship-driven, I found out that sometimes we’re identifying needs locally — that we had resources that I could share and I could pass along. Being in a relationship means being in communication. I would say it’s increased my awareness of the different needs of people, much more so than in the past … just approaching every interaction with empathy and “what are they going through.” I think I’ve grown a lot as someone who focuses on partnerships and fundraising,

Walker Hernandez: And so, having gone through this … I think our “new normal” is going to involve technology. What do you think, beyond this, that you’re going to keep as you move forward?

Stevens: How do we still tell stories about what we do in our organizations? Typically, it was very one-way storytelling. Organizations need to adapt to meet those community needs and not the way it used to be. How do you tell those stories in a way that’s not one-to-one but that’s more network-based? We’re re-examining the ways that we’re creating a healthy network in our organization, that our message gets through the clutter of everything else. It’s challenging me to rethink some of those things, but it just means that we might be doing things differently with technology and how we interact with people.

I would just say that fundraising is the lifeblood of any organization to live out its mission. It can have a negative connotation from the person who’s being asked, or the person is like, “I have to make the ask.” But I would just say, why do you care about that cause in that organization? Center in that, that’s where we’re going to need people. There are a lot of challenges out there right now. We need people who are going to have solutions, who are going to have energy around it. And so that’s why I’m just so grateful for the work you [Walker Hernandez] do.

Faith Chua