Moving On is a series of Q&As with social impact leaders who are leaving their organizations for new opportunities. Here, they share what they learned and where they’re headed.
Amanda Morales Pratt got their professional start in theatrical design and remembers being told early on that “design is 20 percent art, 80 percent solving a problems for someone else.”
At Norris Square Neighborhood Project, where they’ve served as the nonprofit’s development and marketing manager for the past two years, what that’s looked like in practice is “reestablish[ing] Norris Square in the eyes of the community as a place of strength [that’s] grounded in its community’s work,” Morales Pratt said.
The problem-solving aspect, of course, is figuring out how to scale the organization’s programming and remain sustainable. The art is in maintaining its community-centered focus — remembering that at the heart of its work, money aside, are the individual young people it reaches in its heavily Latino, economically disadvantaged West Kensington neighborhood.
On the heels of finishing their master’s degree in nonprofit management at LaSalle University, Morales Pratt is leaving NSNP to become the director of development for Bread & Roses Community Fund. In their Moving On interview with Generocity Editor Julie Zeglen, Morales Pratt discusses what funders get wrong about grassroots organizations, what sustainability actually looks like and what they think their greatest impact on NSNP has been. The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Generocity: What does it mean to be a grassroots organization? Why is NSNP one?
Amanda Morales Pratt: I think a grassroots organization is trying to solve local issues — sometimes hyperlocal, in our case — with people from the community as well as people outside the community, so you get a variety of perspectives, and balance all of those perspectives equally. It values the voices of residents and works to create situations where community members feel welcome in the spaces the organization has.
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G: And that’s related to how you go about fundraising, right? What’s one piece of advice you want people who are trying to fundraise or working in community development to know — people who want to keep the community at the forefront?
AMP: Two things are important when you’re trying to keep the community involved with your project. One, to not assume that you know the issues or challenges that they’re facing in the community and not to expect one member of the community to be able to explain every challenge or problem or opportunity. Everyone’s biased. It’s important to get a variety of perspectives.
And [two], just creating multiple opportunities and touch points to just listen. I think it’s of equal importance. We have a youth advisory council, but we don’t expect the advisory council to be the only voices used in our program.
G: Can you talk a bit about why you’re leaving and what you’ll be doing post-NSNP?
AMP: Sure. I wasn’t initially planning on leaving. I love Norris Square. I have learned a ton in my position here. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do going forward, I knew I wanted to stay connected to social justice work, but I was interested in exploring opportunities that were more [related to] foundation work, because I’m really interested in funding and the way that funding happens.
I think that people don’t like to talk about money when it comes to nonprofit work in general, and we’re really seeing that with the whole conversation about how overtime laws are changing and the tenor of that conversation. But I have always felt it was critical to have conversations about where money is coming from, who’s giving the money to support these causes and what their intent is.
So, I’m going to be the director of development for Bread & Roses Community Fund.
G: That’s so exciting! What will that job entail?
AMP: What I’m going to be doing is helping them raise more money, honestly, because they went through a very expansive strategic planning and survey process with all their grantees and community activists — a really long, very intensive process — because B&R is very intentional about the way they approach their grantmaking. And from that, the biggest thing that came out of all their focus groups was that [they need] additional funds to support their work. The kind of people that they fund is people that no one else funds, like Juntos — very, very grassroots organizations. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to help them and help raise more money for these organizations, because what they’re doing in incredibly unique, and so needed.
G: Is NSNP currently hiring for your position, and are you a part of that process?
AMP: They are currently hiring for that position. I am a part of the process. We’re taking resumes until Sept. 10 and we are definitely still looking for people to apply. I’ll be involved as long as I’m here [until Sept. 9].
G: What are some examples of impact that you think you’ve made at Norris Square? You can interpret that as loosely as you want.
AMP: I am a person that really loves structure — not structure that impedes the making of decisions or is overly hierarchical, but systems so the organization can engage more effectively and be able to serve more people, and on a staff level, to be more sustainable. I think all of my impact is linked to that.
When I started at Norris Square, there was a lot of absent information, and something I worked really hard to do is create clear protocols and records and really establish relationships, and reestablish relationships with people who’d been giving us for a long time that had fallen off for one reason or another.
One of our founders, Natalie Kempner, who was living in Maine and is a wonderful woman, she hadn’t really connected with us in a couple years, and when I established my e-newsletter, she actually emailed us — and Natalie is like, in her 90s — and she was like, ‘Hey I love these newsletters.’ She came down for a visit with her grandson and son, and I think it’s the thing I’m most proud of, in some ways: A person who had really taken a big step back from the organization [from having] established it back in the ’70s reengaged with us because of stuff I did here.
Also, one other thing I am proud of: I have extensively documented the two years I have spent at NSNP with both videos and photographs and archived photos from NSNP’s past, as you can see on the Flickr (which is only 10 percent of all the photos I have taken).
G: What’s something you think people should know about Norris Square or about nonprofit work?
AMP: Funders kind of force organizations to compartmentalize themselves into a variety of things. You have to position yourself one way for one funder, and another way for another funder, and it can be very exhausting. But what I want funders to really realize about community-based organizations is that the work that they do is holistic.
When you have an organization like Norris Square where that’s like, art and gardening, people find that juxtaposition really challenging in a lot of ways, and they don’t understand it. When I first started working here, I learned about how they started the garden, and I learned about how our work is so linked to both culture and art — letting things just naturally happen, and the idea of process, rather than trying to do things in a super tactical way.
I think if funders were less attached to the technical ways we do things rather than the overall social impact on the youth that are served — the effects on the community both from creating a space for youth to build community rather than be distant from one another — deserves more recognition than it gets.
That’s my way of saying, community-based organizations have a value. And funders are always talking about encouraging organizations to merge. When you just have three social service organizations serving an entire community, you lose all the nuance and you don’t establish all those initial relationships.
G: What does sustainability look like in this space where it sounds like it can be hard to get funders to understand why the work matters and why it should be done the way that it is done? What does sustainability look like to you and what does it mean for Norris Square?
AMP: I would say, sustainability looks like being more generally an organization that’s able to pay its staff, provide benefits for its staff to take care of them, be able to continually [support] youth, and be able to provide consistent resources. When we’re talking about smaller organizations, that tends to be about as much as you can intend to get from a sustainability perspective, and it’s just being able to serve the community until the problem [the org was trying to solve] has been solved. But that’s not really a thing.-30-
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