Since my first check-in I have learned a great deal about what it means to work in a fairly typical small nonprofit, in terms of the work environment. Each morning I arrive to a nearly empty office, knowing the voice of a temperamental printer, the aroma of boldly brewed caffeine, and enough passion to change lives will soon follow. The impending decision on Pennsylvania’s education budget has affected everyone. We have gone from sprinting madly with work, to fidgeting in place like a third grader begging for his turn to use the bathroom. We’ve called constituents, met with state legislators, testified at City Council and tabled at events across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Now we must wait. I can see exactly how invested my colleagues are in this outcome. Many of them have not slept well in weeks and, understandably, are a bit more on edge as a result. However, I’ve also witnessed them go to each other’s desks not to work but to say things like “thank you” and “how’s your day going?” They care about each other as much as they care about the issues. Moments like these provide a stark distinction between working for a large corporation and a small nonprofit.
While both environments have their own benefits, and even seem equally suitable for me, I have experienced the benefits a small nonprofit has to offer. Working in such a place allows one to develop personal relationships with each member of the staff. It also makes each member of the team familiar with your quality of work and your work ethic. This allows them to be more helpful in suggesting future career paths and helping the intern pinpoint his or her specific interests and talents. Having just one person on the team specializing in each department at PCCY allows me to collaborate on projects from a variety of subject areas, when there’s substantive work to be done that is. Although a small environment can be more intimate and potentially provide a more individualized experience, an intern in this environment also runs the risk of getting buried in busy work.
For the few days leading up to the budget decision, I worked with various team members on a variety of projects. However, truly meaningful work has been hard to come by lately. Doing work that could likely be done by a machine of some sort has made my days take longer than usual. My manager has not worked as closely with me to find engaging, challenging projects to work on. The positive part about this, is that I have gained more autonomy and been allowed to take more initiative when choosing projects. Now, I have to manage my time more meticulously and pursue my interests more tenaciously. I’m not necessarily used to being rewarded this measure of independence in the work place, but I can see myself continue to grow each day in my new role. It’s time to remove the training wheels.