One Year In: Five Lessons I learned My First Year at a Nonprofit by Julie Strand

Almost exactly one year ago, I arrived at Chicago Youth Programs for my first day as a fully employed, nonprofit development professional. It’s exciting to start a new job but be prepared to learn from mistakes. After a year of such learning and reflection, I can pinpoint at least five lessons that I think could help any person just starting out in the field.

1.       Give Praise and Give it Often. Everyone in your office is likely over-worked and rarely hears a genuine thank you for what they do. One of the women I worked with was the best thanker and praiser I’ve ever met. If you did something great, she brought it up randomly in conversation with others while you were around. It’s a great way to build relationships.

2.       Own Something. I know this can be more difficult in some offices than others, but pick a project and make it your own. For me, it was a new online payment system.  I offered to do the research and set it up, as I have a special interest in online fundraising. Not only did this give me an extreme sense of pride over what I was doing, it empowered me to continue taking initiative.

3.       Make a Friend. Better yet, Make Two. We all need back up – someone to listen to ideas, help brainstorm, or to share advice. Make sure you have someone in your office (who knows the dynamics), and outside your office (who can provide prospective) that you trust.

4.       Know Your Resources. For many of us, there will always be more work to be done than we could ever get done in a week. But by knowing your resources, you can make better use of your time. For example, we have high school students  in our programs who need service hours who were able to help with our annual mailing.

5.       Be a Resource. Be someone people can approach. Offer to help with projects, or go to their program, or help out when they have an event on the weekend. It’s good to support your coworkers and function like a team. It might also come back to you ten-fold when you’re struggling to get the annual mailing out the door before 2pm so you can gun-it to your best friend’s wedding rehearsal dinner.

Julie Strand is the Development Specialist at Chicago Youth Programs (, where she oversees annual events, is in charge of grant writing and submission, and handles day to day development operations. She has previous experience as the Development and Communications intern at Donors Forum, the PR Intern for PolioPlus at Rotary International, and a content producer for two online start-ups. Julie received her B.A. from Northwestern University, and her Master’s Degree in  International Communications from Leeds University in England. Julie loves being active in and around Chicago and is currently looking forward to the Chicago Triathalon in August.

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