Goodbye Savannah! Reflections on the Next Stage Summer Internship

by Savannah Dukes

It is crazy to think that my time with Next Stage is already coming to an end; this summer has flown by. Over the past two months, I have loved getting to learn from Josh and Caylin, meet so many wonderful people from the variety of organizations with which they work, and gain new insights into all of the work that is being done to tackle challenging social issues facing Charlotte.

At the end of this week I’ll be heading on a road trip to Vermont and Shenandoah National Park, then heading home to California for a bit before returning to Davidson for my senior year.

Before jumping into end of summer travels however, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on my internship at Next Stage and what I have learned. In my previous blog post, I shared how much I was looking forward to a number of experiences and learnings, including:

  • Gaining insight into best practices and strategies for fundraising
  • Learning how organizations can most effectively differentiate themselves in the midst of so many nonprofits working towards similar goals
  • Better understanding the leadership deficit our nonprofit sector is facing

Looking back, I have definitely gained a much better understanding of and unique insights into these topics. From sitting in on meetings and whiteboard intensives, I have learned about creative new approaches to fundraising. For instance, Josh and Caylin often suggest that nonprofits approach corporate sponsorship requests with a strong case for support based on employee engagement, marketing and public relations, and social good/community impact for the company. Rather than simply asking for money, nonprofits should articulate the concrete benefits they can offer to a company and turn the gift into a partnership or investment.

The importance of seeking to be “niche” is another platform Next Stage often shares with its nonprofit partners. Having a firm idea of who you are as an organization and why what you do is differentiated from others in the field is essential to a nonprofit setting itself apart. During the monthly workshops and coaching sessions with CULTIVATE participants (Charlotte is Creative, Learning Help Centers of Charlotte and Promising Pages), I learned firsthand how important differentiation is for a nonprofit’s ability to generate resources and attract support. The earlier that an emerging organization can become “niche” and stake itself out as a leading nonprofit in its field, the more likely it is to be sustainable long-term.

This summer, I developed and implemented a research strategy to gather preliminary data for the nonprofit talent retention report Next Stage will publish in early 2019. From the in-depth research and data collection I completed, I gained many insights into the wide range of nonprofit leadership opportunities and challenges in Charlotte. I look forward to seeing how this data comes together to inform the broader sector about the leadership deficit our community faces. Specifically, I hope the report will allow for better understanding of just how large of an impact key factors for leadership recruitment and retention have on Charlotte’s nonprofit landscape. Some of the most impactful factors I have learned about include the competitive salaries and benefits offered in other sectors, our community’s failure to invest in homegrown leaders, an increase in for-profit social good engagement, and more.

One of the key takeaways I have learned from my time with Next Stage is that the firm’s work goes far beyond consulting or giving formal advice. Josh and Caylin do more than consult when they meet with their nonprofit partners or work with CULTIVATE participants – they coach and invest in the leaders. They are committed to helping nonprofit leaders feel empowered and equipped to implement new strategies and achieve their goals. By sitting in on these consulting and coaching sessions, I have learned the importance of working to develop strong leaders, and have also gotten the benefit of understanding what it takes to be a strong leader.

I cannot thank Josh, Caylin, and all the incredible nonprofits that allowed me to jump in on their engagements with Next Stage enough for this opportunity. I have learned so much that I will take with me into my future career. Thanks for a great summer!

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