Nonprofit Notables

As I reach the mid-point of my summer internship experience, I’ve been reflecting on my decision to work at a small nonprofit in Asheville rather than with a large nonprofit in DC.

Exploring Catawba Falls
Exploring Catawba Falls

While I of course can’t say one way or the other what my experience in DC would have been like, I’m unequivocally happy with my choice to stay with a small nonprofit. Here’s why.

Everyone’s Voice Is Heard – Literally

Wild South’s Director Tracy is only a yell down the hall away. Though I’ve rarely tested the distance my voice can carry with Tracy, I know it works if I need to reach the Associate Director BP and Donor Relations Coordinator BC – whenever I yell, “Ben!”, they both answer!

In all seriousness, every person who works at Wild South is brought to the discussion over vital issues – from wind energy and event planning to communications and website design and outreach. Conference room whiteboard brainstorming and group debriefs are central to many initiatives. My opinions, as an intern, are weighed as equally as any of the full-time staff. And the staff and interns here are a fun and fantastic bunch.

Hats Aplenty

The beauty of this professional intimacy, you see, is that in the month and a half I’ve been at Wild South, I’ve already been able to do participate in a smorgasbord of activities beyond what a perhaps more narrowly-focused internship at a larger organization might offer. Rather than staying under the umbrella of my official Supervisor, I’ve worked on initiatives that each staff member manages, as well as my own.

For someone who’s still deciding where in the working world I would like to fit, I couldn’t have asked for a better internship experience.

Catching a ride during a Pisgah NF trail inventory. (The Model T, unfortunately, was not allowed on the trail.)
Catching a ride during a Pisgah NF trail inventory. (The Model T, unfortunately, was not allowed on the trail.)

Take my first week at Wild South. Five days in, I’d already experienced almost every aspect of the working at a nonprofit… well, minus some – okay, a lot – of the accounting details. These included but were not limited to jumping aboard the planning and outreach for three upcoming GNSA events, attending a Wild South board meeting, learning how to use a Trimble Nomad GPS unit, working with the National Forest Service and community volunteers in Pisgah National Forest, stuffing a mass of envelopes, and handwriting addresses on event invitations – lots of them.

Everyone’s a Licker

Which brings me to another awesome aspect of working at a small nonprofit: during the latter two activities (envelope stuffing and everything that comes with it), every Wild South staffmember, from a board member to our director, was sitting alongside me doing the same. Wild South maintains a wonderfully egalitarian status quo!

View on my drive to Cherokee.
View on my drive to Cherokee.

Since that time, I’ve written articles on Wild South events, delivered a grant through the mountains to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, spoken with potential donors and volunteers, edited and formatted a significant GNSA white paper, and created and designed thewebsite for the Grandfather National Scenic Area Campaign. Before I leave, I’ll get more experience creating the Campaign’s outreach materials, writing a grant, driving out to three communities central to the GNSA to reaffirm Campaign business endorsements, and participating in a key meeting with the supervisor of the local branch of the U.S. Forest Service.

Why have I rattled off this list? So those of you who’ve had little experience working with smaller nonprofits – as I hadn’t – can have an idea of only some of the efforts it takes to run one. And I’m just an extra hand!

Busy summer? Definitely. Boring summer? Absolutely not! It’s been an unbeatable professional learning experience for me so far, one I’m tremendously glad I chose to have.