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Lessons From Wearing Many Hats

The best jobs push you to learn and reach higher. At nonprofits, it’s crucial to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. With budgets smaller than they should be and work that communities depend on, every nonprofit employee needs to wear many hats. In other words, you might find yourself spread over multiple departments and numerous projects.

Celebrating Team CIF at the Chicago Marathon

Before joining DCG, I was the communications manager at Center for Independent Futures, an organization that supports full lives for adults with disabilities. I was responsible for all communications, digital and traditional, and I heavily supported the fundraising department and the executive director.

Balancing these departments taught me a lot about how to support my teams, organize and prioritize critical details, and communicate effectively and efficiently.

Crossing Ts and Dotting Is

The small teams at most nonprofits are no joke. My role was split between three departments; those departments only had one or two people each. That meant there was a ton of opportunity for important details to fall through the cracks.

Event production wasn’t my main role — but I played a key part of that team as well

Because of the small staff, organization was key. During prep for events, the development director and I would stare at spreadsheets for project timelines, budgets, and seating charts for days. Working together, we found a rhythm to make sure every small detail was in place. Before working at a nonprofit, I wouldn’t have thought “attention to detail” was one of my skills. Over the years, I became known for it.

Learning on the Fly

Since graduating from college, I’d taken courses about social media management and Google Ads, but none of those classes could’ve prepared me for running a communications department in a pandemic.

When we realized how dangerous COVID-19 would be, we were just six weeks out from the largest fundraising event of the year, an in-person gala with over 450 attendees. First, we postponed the event. We hoped we could gather later in the year. But that never happened.

Last month, the gala was held in-person after 3 attempts over 2 years

Eventually, we needed to make our gala virtual. To make it happen, I coordinated this massive project, taught myself basic video editing, and helped key community members write and film speeches. In the end, we didn’t raise as much as an in-person event. Still, we met our goals, and program participants still had a blast at our virtual “after party.” Over the course of those two intense months, I learned how to produce a lively, interactive virtual gala.

Communicate, Share, and Evaluate

The most important lessons I learned all had one thing in common: Don’t hesitate to communicate with your team. If something seems off, let someone know. Bounce ideas off each other. Talk through the pros and cons. After all, it’ll always be better to have a 15-minute conversation than a major printing error for your event invitations — even if they can be fixed at no extra cost. When that happened, I thought about what could’ve gone better. I knew to voice any concerns I had going forward, maybe even twice.

Working at a nonprofit is hard. You have to pivot almost every day, and nothing ever goes as planned. Fortunately, I was surrounded by some of the most caring, genuine, and kindhearted people I’ve ever met. I found a lifelong support system at Center for Independent Futures. That community encouraged me to find my professional voice and allowed me the space to thrive confidently. Though I’ve moved on professionally, the friendships I gained have grown.

Getting together at the Independent Futures office in 2021

At DCG, I’m reminded every day of the lessons I learned through nonprofit work. These days, I’m no longer spread across three departments. But I still consider myself lucky that one thing hasn’t changed: I get to keep working on important missions alongside dedicated, supportive colleagues.

Lessons From Wearing Many Hats was originally published in DCG Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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