Learning to Lead, Part 3: How Public Allies and ASU Expanded My Nonprofit Leadership Toolkit
The Public Allies Arizona training program might have been equally as beneficial as my coursework in helping me accomplish my objectives at MIKID while working on my personal and professional growth. Although the Public Allies program is also a nonprofit leadership program just like the degree and certificate program and is all under the ASU Lodestar Center, Public Allies is a national program under AmeriCorps first.
Public Allies approaches the ideology around leadership differently from the degree and certificate courses. From a micro view, this could seem almost contradictory. Public Allies is more about boots-on-the-ground leadership, while the degree program prepares students for more administrative work consisting of leadership with a given title.
Public Allies’ motto is “Everyone Leads.” To me this is the realization of accountability that we all create change in the world, for better or for worse, and the power we have is in the choice of what kind of leader we want to be. Being a leader in this sense is not something a job title can dictate. It is who we are to our communities, families and friends.
It’s the butterfly effect created by how we move through this world, regardless of grace or stride. We have to be the change we want to see in the world every day. With a focus on social injustice and equity training, we can take a much more macro look at social issues and create innovative solutions that treat the cause as opposed to treating the symptoms. Striving to demonstrate Public Allies core values in everything I do, I am more equipped to obtain all of the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s Certified Nonprofit Professional core competencies in a way that aligns with my personal mission statement.
It is important to continuously learn how the political climate is changing and how people are communicating with each other about these issues, especially when attempting to market your mission. I found that my degree program focused more on the importance of marketing presence, public relations, following communication trends and appropriate methods to do so. On the other hand, Public Allies seems to focus more on learning specifically what social issues are currently happening and what terminology is presently accepted or not expected when speaking on these topics.
It is equally important to have all of this information when talking to the public or you could accidentally say something that is damaging to your organization's relationship to the community without even realizing you put yourself in a controversial political stance. Being culturally aware is extremely important when attempting to collaborate with different entities and communities large or small. We have to recognize and respect each other’s differences in social norms even if we do not agree with them in order to find common ground to build change.
I have come to believe that culture is a language that you speak with your actions. When we are not aware of how our efforts are being perceived or take the time to learn why others do the things they do, we can become stuck in a place, or become noise like the static on an old television that gets in the way of communicating our true intentions. Every time I walk in somewhere, I try to take note of that space’s culture. At MIKID, I had to take a step back to learn how the staff and youth communicated with each other and amongst themselves to create change that is equally desired by the population we serve and staff while remaining empowering.
I struggled at the beginning of my time at MIKID because I thought that the front-line staff was just as excited and aware of all the plans and ideas I had as the administrative staff seemed to be. I thought the team understood my position and that the providers had this expectation of me that I was desperately trying to live up to. However, because I did not take a second to step back and analyze the situation, I hit the ground running thinking that I impressed them, when in reality that was not at all how they had perceived my overachiever attitude.
Instead, I was seen as a "know it all" who thought she was better than others, and I was even asked at one point if I was trying to take away peoples’ jobs. This glass-shattering realization of how I was perceived was horrifying. It went against everything I had sought out to do, which was empower the youth as well as the staff to use their voice and personal power. However, in their eyes I was taking their control away from them. I had to work hard to earn their trust back because I had assumed they wanted their current culture to change as much as their administrative staff did. We have to always meet people where they are by using productive and intentional dialogue to work together.
In the nonprofit sector, being politically aware is not just crucial to political correctness – we also have to continually learn about financial resources, development and management, even if our roles never directly come in contact with funds. Many nonprofits have some kind of government funding source, and the programs we work so hard to develop and maintain can be directly affected or even shut down based on the political climate. I have come to understand that every single person who works for an organization affects fundraising efforts either directly or indirectly. When we stand for or against any given thing, it can help make or break the resources available to the mission at hand.
Public Allies can help us better understand what we will and will not stand for by having an open dialogue about current facts and opinions around the work that nonprofits do. The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance provides us the professional tools we need to use the nonprofit sector as a mode of transportation on the train of change by letting us know about and build on foundations already in place. Although both programs work to essentially do the same thing on the macro level, they focus on different parts of the wheel needed to get there. Something that does not differ between the programs is the intense and powerful emphasis on integrity and collaboration.
When we utilize our integrity through legal and ethical practices as well as decision-making to build strong networks of caring professionals, we make things better for our world. I view everyone as puzzle pieces that are seemingly random and shaped differently, but when we come together with the intention of focusing on our assets, strengths and interests, we magically start to link together to create this beautiful big picture of equity and justice.
During my time in the programs I have learned my puzzle’s shape and color but have not explicitly found where I fit yet. However, I am surrounded by an overwhelming amount of opportunities to figure it out. I cannot help but be optimistic about all the great adventures ahead of me. Maybe the big picture is made up of fluid parts instead of fixed cardboard that continues to flow, shape and bend with time and space just as we do and I am already in my place. I only hope I can make a ripple.
Rachelle Wayne is a 2018 Alumna, ASU BS in Nonprofit Leadership & Management. Wayne was also a part of Public Allies' Class 12. She was placed as a Youth Peer Support Provider at Mentally Ill Kids in Distress (MIKID.) Public Allies Arizona is a 10-month apprenticeship program designed to develop the next generation of civic leaders.