by Ellie Pennybacker

As my summer comes to an end, I cannot express my gratitude strongly enough. Josh, Caylin, and the entirety of the Next Stage team have made this experience so enriching. By letting me jump right in, sit in on meetings, and help where I could, they truly made me feel like a part of the team. Though the summer was brief, it was constantly moving with new and exciting projects and opportunities. My fellowship with Next Stage has exceeded my expectations and left me with a growing interest in the nonprofit sector.

While I was in high school, I was deeply invested in my hometown through volunteer commitments, school programming, and the sheer amount of time I spent exploring the city. The joy of moving to Davidson for school allowed me to fulfill my teenage dream of leaving Macon, but after spending some time abroad and exploring more cities through both travel and research, I realized I had an unwavering affinity for my home town. After this summer, however, I have begun to feel that same connection with Charlotte. It might be because of the fantastic food, adventure, and exploring Charlotte social media accounts that I follow, or possibly I have just been spoiled to see the best of Charlotte through our nonprofit leaders. Regardless, the Queen City has given my hometown a run for its money.

The diverse array of responsibilities and opportunities given to me this summer encouraged me to truly invest my attention in the Charlotte community. Through engaging with nonprofit work from a different angle, I feel as though I got to know a generous, provocative, and growing side of Charlotte. These engagements have been truly impactful as I have been challenged to consider what issues facing these nonprofits are specific to the Charlotte community and which are universal in the larger nonprofit sector.

The past eight weeks have brought realizations, thoughts and questions to mind. To name a few:

  • The notion that nonprofits can and should model themselves like businesses was a foreign concept to me before this summer. While I had invested time through volunteering with nonprofits before, I had never invested intellectual energy into considering how nonprofits could move beyond filling a need and become sustainable parts of a community. Reimagining nonprofits within a working business model was transformational in how I understand the processes and difficulties of this work.
  • The multitude of ways to diversify revenue streams for nonprofits was shocking to me. After being able to be a part of two CULTIVATE workshops and working alongside each impressive participating organization, I was overwhelmed by the numerous ideas discussed to diversify revenue. The shock and worry of knowing there are over 4,000 nonprofits in Charlotte quickly melted away as I witnessed the expansive ideation coming from conversations with these organizations.
  • Corporate involvement in the nonprofit sector is much more prominent than I once thought. The interconnectedness of the for-profit and nonprofit sectors beyond monetary and good donations and into the inclusion of sponsorship or company-made foundation grants was previously unimaginable. While I still have a lot to learn about these relationships, and I’m regrettably missing the next CULTIVATE module on sponsorship, I remain interested in the relationships these interactions create across sectors.
  • The specific and universal difficulties of nonprofit work has been a recurring question in my mind. In honesty, I think only experience will answer my question. Yet, I like to think that this summer took me leaps forward in beginning to understand the answer. I have greatly enjoyed learning not only how nonprofits can interact, grow, and replicate but specifically how they can do so within Charlotte.

It has been eight fantastic weeks but, alas, I am still only 20 and have much more to do before I discover who I want to be when I grow up. What I do know, is that I am extremely grateful for the experiences I had this summer and will continue to reflect on how Next Stage has shaped my vision of nonprofit work in Charlotte and beyond.

Photo Credits: Eduardo Mayo and Julia Fay Photography