Strategy, development & support for coalitions, associations, organizations and initiatives

Exploring Collaboration in the Nonprofit World

Exploring Collaboration in the Nonprofit World

As a rising college senior studying Politics, Mass Communications, and Poverty and Human Capability Studies, the opportunity to intern for Woollard Nichols and Associates (WNA) has been a perfect culmination of my academic interests and emerging passions. My academic studies and past internship experience have made me want to pursue a career in the nonprofit world. During my internship last summer with Caritas of Austin in their Supportive Housing program, I assisted and personally engaged with individuals who experience chronic homelessness, mental illness, and substance use disorder. I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the causes and consequences of poverty and I was introduced to the tremendous work done by nonprofit organizations to alleviate those needs. This small glimpse into the nonprofit world left me with a yearning to learn about the ways nonprofit organizations can work together and combine their shared goals to enact greater change. My internship with WNA this summer has enabled me to further explore what that cooperation looks like.

As the Communications Intern at WNA, supporting coalitions such as Meals on Wheels Texas, One Voice Central Texas, Austin Housing Coalition, and Austin/Travis County Reentry Roundtable, I got to experience a “behind-the-scenes” perspective of the nonprofit management world that I had not considered before. The work afforded me many opportunities to learn from different clients through the wide breadth of projects I was involved in. Though I was mainly involved in the communications aspect of coalition support, such as putting together newsletters, drafting social media posts, updating websites, and working on a MOWAT communications toolkit for the next Texas legislative session, I was able to see the overlapping and collaborative nature of this work. I am especially struck by the teamwork within WNA and how that collaboration is essential to support the work of nonprofits.

WNA is a team of experienced individuals who are passionate and dedicated to helping their clients. It is inspiring to see the level of commitment that WNA puts forth to support their clients, as well as the level of commitment they have for each other. The WNA team was always willing to take the time to share their expertise and insight with me–whether it be learning about reframing in communications or the liberating structures used in meeting facilitation to ensure everyone’s voices are heard. Joining this team virtually, though different from an in-person experience, gave me the opportunity to be fully integrated in the work WNA does. I was able to attend meetings with clients on strategy, marketing and communications, public policy, and equity and social justice, to name a few. Being able to witness the ways in which WNA supports their clients to reach their full potential gave me great insight into the world of nonprofit consulting.

My main project throughout the summer consisted of creating a Communications/ Advocacy Toolkit for Meals on Wheels Association of Texas (MOWAT) in preparation for the next legislative session. This involved compiling survey data and stories of how Meals on Wheels organizations adapted and supported their clients in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While capturing the impact of over 300 organizations is not an easy task, I have realized the great responsibility of telling their stories and honoring the tremendous work done by Meals on Wheels programs to keep older adults safe during the pandemic. This project has piqued my interest in advocacy and the strong role of communications in presenting information in an impactful way. The way stories are told matters and the ways language is used can have a huge impact. I learned so much through seeing this project come together and being involved in the different steps of the process. Working with KiYa, Sam, Andrea, and the lobbyists for Meals on Wheels Association of Texas, I was able to be directly involved in the collaboration and teamwork necessary to create a high-quality result.

Working with WNA and particularly on the MOWAT project, I have witnessed the importance of collaboration not only within WNA, but also within the coalition Meals on Wheels Texas and in the community. I have read countless stories about how Meals on Wheels programs have partnered with other nonprofits and community organizations to meet the increased need of homebound older adults, creating new programs or initiatives to address food insecurity and isolation among the populations they serve. Bringing together individuals and organizations with similar goals to share best practices, develop on a professional level, and to lean on each other during times of uncertainty is extremely valuable. The importance of collaboration was especially illuminated during the COVID-19 pandemic as nonprofit coalitions worked together to share resources, discuss challenges and the ways in which they have adapted. Witnessing the alliance and teamwork of different groups has made me realize the power nonprofit leaders hold in the community, and how strength in numbers can be crucial to supporting the communities they serve and enhancing their ability to do so.

–Margaret Shetler, 2020 Summer Communications Intern (Washington & Lee University Class of 2021)

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