Navigating Different Roles in the Nonprofit World

Current oncampus student Carly Lappas writes about her PWE this summer with Rural Forward NC, a nonprofit ogranization that works to provide healthier, more sustainable rural communities within NC with an increased capacity to solve their own health problems.  Carly Lappas is from Maine and attended undergrad at Bowdoin College.

This post was written by Carly Lappas.

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Non-profit organizations have always interested me because of their ability to fill the gaps between services offered by the public and private sectors. Prior to beginning my MPA degree, I worked for a large and well-established workforce development non-profit in Boston, Massachusetts. When looking for my professional work experience (PWE) I knew I wanted to stay in the non-profit sector, but was interested in learning more about small, grassroots organizations and how they interact with their communities. With guidance from the MPA career services team I found a job posting for Rural Forward North Carolina (RFNC) and knew I wanted to apply. RFNC in a non-profit that supports leaders and organizations in rural communities across the state to help them build capacity and identify opportunities for community collaboration. Many of the programs RFNC assists are start-up, grassroot organizations with deep connections to the communities they serve.

My role at RFNC is focused on Beaufort County, located in the eastern region of the state. Alongside my manager, Andy Shoenig, a UNC MPA alumnus, I help to facilitate two county-wide coalitions dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of the county. I also recently started supporting Andy in his work with the North Carolina Inclusive Disaster Recovery Network. These coalitions bring together nonprofit directors, government representatives, church leaders, health care providers, and community organizers so that they can learn from and bolster each other’s work. Supporting these coalitions allows me to better understand different types of organizations and how they can work together, while building my skills as a facilitator and consultant.

 

As I enter into my final weeks with RFNC before classes start up again at UNC, I am so appreciative of the experiences I have had and the community leaders I have met. With COVID restrictions slowly easing, I have been able to travel to Beaufort County to meet with community partners in person and observe their organizations in action. The work they do is reshaping their county and the resources available within their communities, and I am glad RFNC can be thought partners in their work. While I was, and still am, certain I want to build my career in the non-profit sector, my PWE experience has opened my eyes to the multiple avenues I can take, both in terms of the size and scope of organizations, as well as my role, whether it be direct service or consultation.

 

Budgeting at a Local Government in North Carolina

Current oncampus student MaryBeth Spoehr writes about her PWE this summer with the Town of Holly’s Budget and Finance Department.  MaryBeth Spoehr is from Wisconsin and attended undergrad at Michigan Tech University.

This post was written by MaryBeth Spoehr.

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Observing an electrical inspection at the new UNC Rex Hospital in Holly Springs, NC.

From conversations with my Alumni mentor and the Career Services Director, I felt confident going into Professional Work Experience (PWE) interviews that I wanted to work in a local government budget and management position. I find budget and management to be captivating because of the importance of the budget to each local government and I wanted an experience in a position I am passionate about working in now and in the future. I chose to do my PWE with the Town of Holly Spring, NC in the Budget and Management division. This position allows me to grow my abilities as a budget analyst and enables me to gain real-world insights on topics I have learned during my MPA studies such as strategic planning, performance management, and budget development.

On site at the Waste Water Treatment Plant in Holly Springs, NC.

One of the unique aspects of the budget and management division is that it interacts frequently with all other departments within the town. As a budget analyst, it is important to understand the role and responsibilities of each of the other departments. To help me gain a better understanding, I have participated in several informative tours of different departments in Holly Springs including the Development Services Department, Waste Water Treatment Plant, and the Building Safety and Inspections Division. Through these experiences I will be able to better understand and communicate the needs of the different departments with real knowledge of their duties, responsibilities, and resources. I am also working on the Budget Proposal for the next fiscal year including the Capital Improvement Plans and utilization of the American Rescue Plan. It is my hope that these diverse experiences will lead me into a lifelong career in local government.

What is a PWE?

If you have ever looked into obtaining your MPA at UNC, you may have come across the acronym ‘PWE’ while browsing our curriculum or attending a webinar. The PWE, which stands for Professional Work Experience, is one of the most important parts of our program and distinguishes us from other programs because it is a required component in our curriculum.  A lot of programs out there don’t require an experiential component to their curriculum where students have to go out and practice what they learn in the classroom.

The Professional Work Experience or PWE is (in the most simplest terms) our version of an internship. But, it really is so much more.  It is the opportunity to apply the leadership theories you study in class to a current and relevant public sector work environment.  The experience is meant to be high level (no coffee fetching here) and provide our students an opportunity to cultivate their leadership or project management skills in a practical setting.

Summer is a popular time for many of our students to complete their Professional Work Experiences, so we’d like to take the opportunity over the next few weeks to have some of our current students write about their PWE’s.  We have 34 students who are currently completing the PWE requirement.  Our students represent placements across local, state, and the federal governments as well as nonprofit organizations and the private sector.  See the list below for some of our Summer 2021 placement sites, and enjoy the posts by our students over the next few weeks sharing their PWE experiences.  Learn about the type of work their doing, the impact they are having, and think about how this could be you one day!

Buncombe County – Emergency Management Services

Town of Henderonville

Community Worx

USDA Rural Development Division

Town of Morrisville

Town of Chapel Hill

Town of Holly Springs

Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness

Dogwood Health Trust

Durham Management

Triangle J Council Of Governments

Town of Hillsborough

Orange County Human Resources

Town of Apex

Families Together

County of Hoke Board Of Education

United Way of Anderson County

UNC-CH Division of Finance and Budget

Virginia Coastal Policy Center

Rural Forward NC

North Olympic Healthcare Network

New Friends New Life

City of Winston-Salem

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Celebrating Work and Managing Endings

On Day 1, the public forum, things went forward nearly seamlessly in our virtual environment. SOG faculty and staff presented on collective impact, summarized two-year project, and facilitated excellent break-out sessions with team members who had expertise on topics like transportation, housing, and employment and recovery courts. There were some hiccups with the keynote speaker, Sam Quinones, the author of the highly acclaimed book Dreamland. As a journalist, he had a specific perspective of the opioid crisis, which did not always mesh with the experience and expertise of these community teams. For example, he spent over five minutes talking about how the word “addict” should be used to describe people who use drugs or who have Substance Use Disorder (SUD), despite the fact that community members in the chat attested that it was stigmatizing language. Despite these issues, the first day was a great spotlight of the project as a whole.

The second day of the forum was a teams-only event, summarizing the results of their efforts in 5-minute presentations, as well as workshops to focus on their sustainability and further work moving forward. Although there were some minor technical problems with showing some of the first presentations, these were ironed out as the day went on. Teams praised each other’s accomplishments and videos, which allowed them to make even more connections among communities using similar strategies. The teams were also able to use breakout rooms to discuss public values, collective impact, sustainability, and more, and then debrief with SOG faculty as facilitators. It was not the ending that partners may have wanted; their work, and the forum itself, were greatly complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it seemed like a fitting celebration of the teams themselves, one of the ways that ncIMPACT is managing the end of such a momentous and publicly-involved project.

Working with Clients during Covid-19


In theory, helping the teams create a 5-minute, multimedia presentation would have been fairly easy before COVID. They likely would have visited Chapel Hill during the summer for meetings, and I could have set them up for audio or video recording with professional equipment at the SOG. Worst case scenario, I may have had to make a road trip to the communities in order to co-create the presentations. However, COVID-19 has made client relationships much more complicated, especially in communities that may lack strong broadband access or public health infrastructure. Many of the individuals and organizations in the ORP are doing double duty as COVID-19 contact tracers, care providers, or policymakers. They are often extremely busy, even overwhelmed, with pandemic-related work, which makes finding time to meet difficult.
Additionally, travel restrictions and bans on in-person meetings have made all of our work on the presentations virtual. Instead of a day’s worth of recording, I have to schedule weeks of time in which I provide drafts to project managers and teams, they record audio, and I put the final products together. This has made working with clients much more difficult than it likely would have been without the influence of coronavirus. However, the teams have also expressed their gratitude for my help during this time, as they are overworked and already coping with drastic changes to in-person programs and services, including drug courts, syringe exchanges, and medical care and counseling. Although the pandemic might have made it more complicated and time-consuming, it has also taught me how to work with diverse clients virtually, and has thereby been a valuable professional experience both now and in the future.

The Census and Data-Driven Decision Making!

With National Census Day (April 1) upon us, I wanted to talk about how important Census responses and data are for public administrators.

picture of a cartoon city

State and local governments, and even nonprofits, can use census data for descriptive analyses to describe the demographic diversity within a jurisdiction or  assessments to understand the communities needs and target program and policy efforts effectively. Governments can use the data to help with planning related to public-policy decision making, including the day-to-day decision-making process. 

Here are some ways that public administrators around you have used Census data: 

  • Reapportionment and Redistricting: Census data can be used to comply and enforce laws related to reapportionment and redistricting. For example, the race question on the Census becomes useful for local governments compliance with and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. To learn more, check out this information
  • Community Planning and Development: Census data can be used at the city-wide level to prepare and update general plans like land use and housing elements and for infrastructure planning. To learn more, check out this information
  • Social Services: Census data can be used to assess the need of social service programs. For example, Head Start programs are mandated to serve families with the greatest need. Data from the Census Bureau, through the Census or the American Community Survey, are used to certify eligibility for federal and state funding of the Head Start program and to target areas where the program is needed. To learn more, check out this information
  • School Districts: Census data can help school districts develop demographic profiles of the students and community to better understand their educational needs. For example, this can help schools identify the need for bilingual instruction programs and other special services that may be warranted in the schools. To learn more, check out this information
  • New Service Justifications: Similarly to the above statements for schools, nonprofits and local governments can use Census data to create demographic profiles to justify new service provisions. To learn more, check out this information

Census data can serve so many purposes; these were just a few! So please remember to complete your 2020 Census! This has a huge impact on what public administrators will understand about our communities for the next 10 years. 

Complete your 2020 Census online at my2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or by mail when the physical questionnaire arrives in mid-April. 

Emergency Management and Public Administrators

warning: this post discusses emergencies and coronavirus

Public crises are scary, challenging, and unpredictable. As a student, avid traveler, and daughter of someone severely immunocompromised, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a scary reality that I wasn’t expecting to experience ever in life. As a future public service leader currently working in local government, this experience serves as a unique lesson to learn how much public administrators are involved in emergency management. Emergency management is the coordination of resources and responsibilities to reduce the harmful effects of disasters, hazards, and crises. In times like these, the public relies on public administrators from varying fields and levels to provide accurate information and support as needed. So, in times of emergencies, what exactly do public administrators do? 

Traditionally, emergency management encompasses four main categories: prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. And public administrators are involved in every step along the way. 

  1. Prevention: Prevention is the creation of deliberate steps and strategies to minimize damage. In thinking about any disaster, prevention is KEY! For example, let’s think about a beach town that is prone to hurricanes. Public administrators can establish building code that is intended to prevent damage from the winds of a hurricane. Requiring that all new buildings undergo this inspection will allow for less building damage in the community in the future and less money spent on repairs and cleanup. 
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness is instituting measures designed to enhance awareness and response to crises. Preparedness is a necessary step after prevention. A good example of preparedness would be an in-school tornado or fire drill so that students are aware of the correct response during one of those crises. This can help minimize damage and harm to everyone involved. 
  3. Response: Response is the coordination of resources to minimize the impact of crises. In the case of an emergency, responses are necessary to mitigate the crisis. Given the current pandemic, this is where I see public administration most at work. For example, the institution of travel bans, airport screenings, school closures, and online classes instead of in-person classes are all examples of public administration’s response to coronavirus. This is all an attempt to minimize the possible spread of the virus. 
  4. Recovery: Recovery is the return of the community to normal or near-normal conditions. Even after the crisis is gone, there is still work to be done. Public administrators work towards “business as usual” by providing clean-up and support. An example of recovery is FEMA with home repairs and temporary housing assistance. This is how public administrators work to stabilize a community after a tragedy.

As we move through this time of concern and uncertainty with the coronavirus (COVID-19), we can rest assured that those who took the oath to serve the public are working hard to keep us as safe as possible now and will be prepared to support us as we begin to stabilize.

A special thank you to the public administrators, medical care providers, first responders, grocery store employees, and anyone else who continues working to make sure our communities have what they need as we go through this process together.

Canton Confronts COVID-19

The cleaning supplies aisle at a local retailer.

This week, I saw a governor being interviewed about the coronavirus. He described his state’s response to the outbreak and emphasized the need for competent public service leadership during the crisis. “This is government,” he explained. “This is what it’s about. This is the mobilization, the skill, the expertise to manage a government.” Across the US, as Americans are adjusting to a new way of life, public servants are stepping up to tackle the challenges brought on by COVID-19. As we know, there are capable, well-trained experts in local, state, and federal government who have the skills necessary to effectively respond to nearly any situation. The American public can always depend upon public services to continue, even when life around them seems to be coming to a halt.

Other than a run on the grocery stores, life in the town of Canton continues (almost) as normal. Children are still in school. The baristas at the local coffee shop are still serving up lattes. And people are still coming to town hall to schedule services and pay bills. Today I met with the town manager to talk about Canton’s response to COVID-10. The town’s emergency services employees have been preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 for weeks by practicing extra precautionary measures. After a discussion about cleaning methods and hand washing, my conversation with the town manager naturally shifted to collaboration. Officials in neighboring Buncombe County declared a state of emergency yesterday, prompting surrounding municipalities to release recommendations and information about their own approaches to the outbreak. In Haywood County, local and county officials along with nonprofit organizations are coordinating responses, ensuring that they are adequately prepared and that public services go uninterrupted. Despite the stress of the last week, completing the PWE during this ordeal has been a great learning experience in crisis management. Seeing local government function effectively is reassuring at a time like this. Dedicated public servants who continue to show up everyday offer an encouraging reminder that life goes on even in the midst of chaos.

Remember to wash your hands! If you need directions or inspiration, check out Gloria Gaynor’s instructional video.

Welcome!

MPA Matters seeks to explore and explain all the current happenings and pursuits of those interested in public administration and public service. Special focus will be put on highlighting careers in public administration and the current initiatives of the MPA at UNC program including our faculty, current students, and alumni.