Nonprofit Work/Working For Change

I was following a blog series on Why Nonprofits Rock. When asked why I loved nonprofit work, I replied that I loved making a difference in the lives of those who wanted positive change (or something like that). When I tweeted that statement, I reconfirmed to myself why I felt so passionate about my current role as a volunteer and advocate for nonprofits. I love doing work that takes a stand against oppression, injustice, and hopelessness.

However, I can’t deny that nonprofit work can be challenging and exhausting. I have even admitted that I burnt out of my previous position working in the substance abuse field.  I became frustrated over time because most of my clientele did not want the services my agency provided. They had the option to either participate in our program or risk losing their children. They grudgingly participated, (sometimes).  The highlight my work was the rare occasion when a client became clean (stopped using and abusing substances), stayed clean, (at least the years I was involved) and were reunited with their families. I learned relatively fast, that if I were to provide direct care social services, I wanted to work with people who at least showed a little interest in the services my agency provided. After a break away from nonprofit work, I learned that I was able to work on behalf of people who weren’t particularly thrilled about a social service agency in their life, as long as I focused more on administrative work, addressing the larger picture.

Despite not feeling “at home” in my previous field, I just couldn’t stay away from working for the greater good. I have found that my involvement with nonprofits (whether paid or volunteer) has enabled me to strengthen and bring hope to my community. I have also been exposed to many opportunities to grow as an individual both personally, and professionally. I truly get a special thrill in knowing that my work affects social change.

What Do We Want? Nonprofits! When Do We Want Them? Now!

Do we really need more nonprofits? Simple answer…YES!

 When I read this post by one of my new favorite nonprofit bloggers, I was a little taken back that she even encountered “Do Gooders” who were discouraging fellow idealists. I quickly recovered when I remembered the anxieties experienced by former coworkers who worried if our program was going to be the next budget cut. I’m not so naïve to think that the competition for funding isn’t great. However, as a person who has utilized and worked in social services I cannot sit back and watch the increased need for resources and hope someone else will step up to the plate to get things done. Looking back, being so worried about the next paycheck should have prompted us to take action to help secure funding and cultivate relations with donors and potential donors so that we would be less dependent on state funding.

One of the small lessons I can take from my experiences and share with those of you who are working in direct care for a program; be proactive in informing your Development and Communications department about the good work you and your coworkers are doing to improve the quality of life for your clients being served. One way to keep funding and help get more funding is to highlight real life testimonies and experiences.  Don’t be afraid to talk about how the lack of staff and lack of training on best work practices hinders your program from feeding a family in need or I don’t know, saving a life. Perhaps, as we share the needs of our programs we can encourage others to fulfill those needs because let’s face it; there are way too many problems in this world and not enough solutions addressing the needs of the people. Case in point, I live in a state where the housing department stopped taking applications altogether because the waiting list was too backed up. Why would anyone discourage someone who wants to open another homeless shelter or soup kitchen?

Nonprofits are needed but I wouldn’t be realistic if I didn’t say, we also need people who are willing to aid the causes of nonprofits too. In response to Mazarine’s post, I posed a question; How do we, (We being anyone who wants to do their part in fostering social change), find and encourage more philanthropic minded people so that established nonprofits don’t squabble and feel intimated by new change makers onto the scene? I would love to hear your suggestions.

Black History Now: Meet Joseph L. Poole

As promised in my post Black History Now , I would like to introduce Entrepreneur Joseph L. Poole!

Tell me a little about yourself and what you do?
I was born and raised in South Jersey, the youngest of six (6)
children.  My parents originally migrated from Darlington, SC to
Philadelphia and then to Berlin, NJ. We attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church
in Atco, NJ where my Father was Assistant Pastor.  During my junior year in
High School my parents sent me to SC to keep me out of trouble.  I joined
the Marine Corps in 1986 and went on Active Duty after graduating high
school in 1987.  In August 1991 I preached my initial Sermon.  While
serving in the Marine Corps I had the privilege of teaching and preaching
across the U.S. and overseas. In 1992 I developed my personal Self defense
system and began teaching.  In 1998 I medically retired from the Marine
Corps and went to work in the Higher Education Field.  From 1998 unto 2008
I was blessed to have worked at St. John’s University, Ingersoll Rand
Education Solutions Department, New School University and Berkeley
College.[Joseph L. Poole is now the Owner/Chief Instructor of M.V.P.]

What prompted you to become an entrepreneur?
It just seems natural to me, my father was an entrepreneur and I think
that the characteristics that were instilled in me along with just the way
that I have been directed in life has brought me to this place.  I
started my first business in Junior High school with my best friend we
would by candy from the corner store near our church and then sell it to
the other kids.  I ran a small Security/Security Technology Consulting
Firm from 1997 until 2003 which I ended due to possible conflict of
interest with my new job at the time.  Now I am blessed to be able to
Minister through my business and although it gets financially tight
sometimes I truly thank God for the opportunity.

What were the first steps you took towards making your dream into reality?
Research, research and more research.  You have to educate yourself to
every aspect of what you want to do.  It doesn’t matter if you are working
for yourself or for someone else; in order to be good at what you do you
need to be a student of whatever profession you choose.

How do/did you handle obstacles and roadblocks?
Prayer, Patience and Praise.

Where does your inspiration come from?
God gives me my inspiration; through my faith, through my wife
Priscilla, my kids and my parents.

How do you define and or measure success?
I measure my success by the success and the development of those that I
reach out to.  For example if the goal is to help someone pass a test my
success is wrapped up in the passing of that test.

How has your business helped with community growth or development?
I believe I have had a positive impact on the community because of a
few things.  First is that I really don’t look at this as a business, it is
Ministry for me.  As a Not for Profit. I try to keep the cost down in order
to allow families to afford to train.  The After school programs are done
at a cost while I have donated my time teaching Martial Arts and Leadership
Characteristics that teach responsibility for Self, Family and Community.

What advice would you like to give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
The best advice that I can give anyone is seek God’s will for your life
and then pursue it with all that has been put in you.  Pay attention to
those who have been put in your life because they have been put there for
a reason.  Choose a good Mentor and always look to mentor someone.

Where Do I Go From Here?

 I was having one of those “blah” moments with my best friend. Once again we were trying to figure out what the heck we wanted for our lives. I no longer worked with a social services agency, and she was feeling burned out after a few years as an RN. Our whole life we wanted to help people and make a difference in our communities, and just like that it seemed we had no more fight in us.  I felt sick about where my life was heading. How dare I have no more fight in me!?! According to my own standards, I had not even put in my dues. I learned relatively quickly that, as much as I wanted to, I could not save the world single-handedly; but that was no excuse not to play my part. After being drilled on making sure the numbers looked right for state funding I had forgotten why I cared anymore. 

    For reasons of our own we both went into pity party mode. You know the: “life sucks then you die” mentality. We both decided we had no talent or special skills. We had college degrees, but still felt it was a waste of time and money because we no longer had a passion for our chosen fields.

    As much as I wanted someone to comfort me, I did not enjoy the company down misery lane. I did not want to sink back into a hole that I had finally decided not to waste anymore time in. You see, I had come to a point where I had everything I thought I wanted for my life: a career I was actually interested in; ownership of my own car and home; I had married young, and the only debt we had were student loans. It was a hard pill to swallow when, in some fashion, I lost it all. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life anymore. I was angry at myself and I was angry at God. I did not understand it then but I was under attack and I was not prepared for battle. It took me some time, some interesting resources and positive people in my life, to acknowledge and accept myself (my true unmasked identity) and discover a new love and understanding of what God meant to me. In this process of self discovery, I got connected with a church and came across some really cool personality tests which helped me point out some of my strengths as well as some things I wanted to improve on. The church encouraged an old yet still relevant idea: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

    Armed with the knowledge of my passions and the causes I would love to volunteer in, I remembered why I cared. During that “blah” moment, my best friend and I concluded that we had a choice: we could stay in pity party mode, or we could press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (phil3:14). We both knew that in order to get anywhere in life we had to start with putting an end to our negative thinking and remembering our self-worth. While working on replacing those old habits of negative thinking, I knew volunteer work would be a great place to start rebuilding a life I never want to take for granted again.

Here are some volunteer organizations I came across during my research: