A social work student pursuing a second career credits his Rasmuson Foundation internship with a 10,000-foot perspective of nonprofit landscape. And, he reveals his two key insights.

Today’s guest author is an intern at Rasmuson Foundation completing a master’s in social work.

IMG_4139Posted by Ron Wilmot

So why would a social work student benefit from an internship at Rasmuson Foundation? Rasmuson Foundation is the largest private funder of nonprofits in Alaska, and nonprofits provide a huge array of important social services in our state. At a time when state and federal dollars for nonprofits are drying up, and demand for services from nonprofits continues to climb, foundations are filling an important niche. From the perspective of a social work student, an internship here is like having a 10,000-foot view of Alaska’s nonprofit landscape. It is invaluable.

As such, my time here has been spent understanding that perspective. I’ve attended board meetings and observed how a nonprofit organization solves problems and sets strategy. I’ve attended training with The Foraker Group to learn about effective nonprofit management. I’ve visited grantee projects and met nonprofit executives and government officials doing important work in their communities. I’ve attended conferences (Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness; Philanthropy Northwest), to learn about specific trends and innovative research affecting nonprofits and their service delivery. And I’ve spent my time learning the nuts and bolts of how to process Tier I grant applications.

The best part of my experience so far at Rasmuson Foundation is simply meeting with grantees. I’ve met many passionate, dynamic individuals with a strong sense of mission and purpose. Some are working on difficult social problems, others are building important infrastructure projects that will benefit their communities. If you ever need to feel better about the state of humanity, have a chat with a nonprofit executive. They are the doers of this world, looking to make positive contributions to our society, and they do it for a lot less pay than they are worth. One role of Rasmuson Foundation is to help these individuals accomplish their mission.

Two key insights have struck me so far. First, relationships matter. The strength or weakness of an organization’s relationships will ultimately determine if it succeeds or fails. Second, for any project to be successful, you need to create buy-in with multiple stakeholders – state and local government, nonprofit organizations, corporations, foundations, concerned citizens.

I came to Rasmuson Foundation after a 12-year career in newspapers as a sports reporter. I left newspapers in 2008, just as the industry went into steep decline. Since then I’ve worked as a direct-care staff with emotionally troubled youth at a psychiatric treatment center. This experience led me to pursue social work, with the ultimate goal of becoming a therapist in private practice. My time at Rasmuson Foundation, however, has me rethinking my career goals. Perhaps I can make a bigger impact in macro-level social work (policy/advocacy; nonprofit management) as opposed to micro-level (direct practice with clients). Whatever path I choose, I’m grateful for the opportunity to intern at Rasmuson Foundation.