by Savannah Dukes

Hello, readers! My name is Savannah, and this summer, I have the opportunity to intern with Next Stage through the Davidson Nonprofit Leadership Fellows Program. I know, you might be asking the question: “Why is a Nonprofit Leadership Fellow interning with a social entrepreneurship company?”

I have had the opportunity to work with a number of nonprofits before, and I wanted to experience a different approach to social impact this summer by interning with a company focused on capacity building for individual nonprofits as well as the sector as a whole.

A little bit of background on me – I am from southern California and will be a senior at Davidson in the fall. I am majoring in Political Science and minoring in Health and Human Values. Last year, I spent a semester living in Geneva, Switzerland studying global health and development while gaining exposure to and connecting with some of my favorite NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In my spare time, I have served as Vice President of International Justice Mission for the last three years and am a member of Rusk Eating House (Davidson’s version of a sorority). I also lead backpacking trips and enjoy snowboarding and wakeboarding. Since I have spent most of my time up in Davidson and surrounding towns, I am looking forward to spending the summer exploring all of Charlotte’s trendy food and coffee spots and getting a taste for life in the city.

My interest in the nonprofit sector was first sparked in high school, when I travelled on a few mission trips to places like Argentina, Ethiopia, China, and the Dominican Republic. These trips became the foundation of my passion for social justice issues. Upon coming to college, I quickly became involved in International Justice Mission, and my interest in social justice and community needs such as human trafficking has continued to grow.

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took Davidson’s Philanthropy and Nonprofit Sector course, where I learned more about the local nonprofit community and became familiar with a number of wonderful organizations in Charlotte. That year, I was also a student ambassador at Social Venture Partner’s Seed20 Competition. I partnered with Philip’s Academy and learned the importance of being able to clearly articulate and pitch your vision. Good intentions are not enough for a nonprofit to be successful – a strong mission and theory of change are essential to building a sustainable organization in Charlotte’s competitive arena of innumerable nonprofits.

Last summer, I gained first-hand experience of what a career in the nonprofit sector could look like through my internship at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). My time at CHOC involved interning in both the legal and foundation departments, where I worked on guardianship cases and in-house legal issues, as well as on planning for the hospital’s largest fundraising event, the CHOC Walk at Disneyland, which raised over $2 million last year. I was a part of the special events team and helped with volunteer coordination, donor outreach, and overall event planning for this major fundraiser. This internship was especially meaningful to me, as I came out of my time there with the confidence and realization that a career in the nonprofit sector is something I could see myself doing and loving.

Coming into this summer, I am looking forward to gaining a new perspective on the nonprofit world from Next Stage’s approach to strategic planning and organizational development. I am excited to learning more about the ins and outs of what makes nonprofits successful – What makes for a strong business model? How can we help founders become effective leaders? What does it take for an emerging nonprofit to become a niche organization? I am looking forward to meeting the wide range of clients Next Stage works with and seeing how Next Stage helps those already doing incredible work become even more effective in serving our community.

In particular, a few things I would like to learn more about in the nonprofit sector this summer include:

  • Gaining insight into best practices and strategies for fundraising – I know that fundraising is essential to a nonprofit’s survival. It seems that there are a number of crucial aspects in play when it comes to fundraising – from having a charismatic leader, to having measurable results and a theory of change, to having strong connections, and so forth. With so many different pieces to balance – how nonprofits should focus their efforts to make for the most effective and successful fundraising strategy is something I look forward to gaining a better grasp on in the coming months.
  • Learning how organizations can most effectively set themselves apart in the midst of so many nonprofits working towards similar goals – It can be seen as both a blessing and a curse that Charlotte has such a vast number of nonprofits. On one hand, the large number of nonprofits in our city illustrates the great compassion here; the number of people who see problems and are motivated enough to do something to work to bring a change. However, with so many different 501c3s operating there is overlap in what organizations are doing. While this allows for shared ideas and much good being done, it also creates an arena of competition where nonprofits must contend with one another for funding and work harder to stand out from the rest. Organizations must find a way to set themselves apart and differentiate their models by promoting what makes them unique in accomplishing their mission. Through my time with Next Stage, I would like to gain deeper insight into how nonprofits should approach becoming a niche organization in order to stand out.
  • Better understanding the leadership deficit our nonprofit sector is facing – Lastly, in my first few weeks at Next Stage I have done some early research about the nonprofit leadership deficit in Charlotte and throughout the US. I have learned that a variety of factors, including competitive salaries and benefits in other sectors, the failure of many nonprofits to invest in homegrown leaders, the retirement of the baby boomer generation, an increase in for-profits engaging in social good activities, and more are all components that have contributed to this deficit. I am excited to continue researching this topic and to learn more about how Charlotte can invest in its nonprofit leadership recruitment and retention to address this growing challenge.

I’m just two weeks into my internship, but I am already so excited about the numerous nonprofits I have met through Next Stage’s incubator, CULTIVATE, and the firm’s other client partnerships. Our city is lucky to have so many passionate leaders working toward social good, and I know I will learn a lot from them about my future career in the nonprofit sector.

I am greatly looking forward to spending my summer with Next Stage!