This summer Katie Ross ’14 had several goals. After volunteering last summer at a Cambodian orphanage, she wanted to stay home in Minneapolis, she wanted to learn more about human rights work, and she wanted to advance her dream of forging a career in the nonprofit sector.
She achieved all three goals by interning this summer for The Advocates for Human Rights, a 29-year-old organization based in Minneapolis that protects human rights in a variety of ways, including helping people obtain asylum in the United States. To support her internship, Ross received a fellowship from the Preston Public Internet Career Fund, which provides a stipend to Bowdoin students working at organizations serving the disadvantaged.
Ross was inspired to work for The Advocates for Human Rights after taking a class with Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Rachel Sturman last spring called “Imperialism, Nationalism, Human Rights.” The class explored human rights from a historical perspective, prompting the rising junior to seek a ground-level view of this work, to learn “how to go about protecting people suffering human rights violations or how to advocate for them.”
Much of Ross’ desire to continue exploring nonprofits, particularly the development side of nonprofits, arose from her participation in the Common Good Grant program last year, which gives students a lesson in philanthropy and is run by the McKeen Center for the Common Good. Since 2001, an anonymous donor has contributed $10,000 annually to the Common Good Grant student group, which must decide how to parcel the money out in small grants to local nonprofits. In addition, some of the students focus on raising extra funding, learning the art of ‘the ask.’
“If looking at our Facebook page inspires people to donate, then my work is making a difference,”—Katie Ross ’14
“I attended seminars to learn how nonprofits work and got to talk to many people in the local nonprofit community. I was fascinated by the development side of nonprofits and its importance,” Ross said. “I went to a nonprofit symposium, and one speaker said, ‘If you want to work in the nonprofit world, go into development because organizations always need money’.”
While she acknowledges asking for donations can make some people feel awkward, she concedes that she likes it. “It’s something I really enjoy,” she said. “I think it is really rewarding to put yourself out there and make your organization known to people. It really is about telling people there is a need here, and this is how you can help.”
Newly fearless of development work, Ross said she asked for an internship specifically in The Advocates for Human Rights’ development and communications department. Now she’s part of a four-person team in an office of 25 people. “I thought it would be a cool way to be in contact with all the organization’s programs,” she said. “Development and communications touches all of them.”
This summer, she helped the organization put on its big annual fundraising event, a human-rights awards dinner and silent auction for over 700 people. She also wrote news stories for the organization’s website, as well as press releases. “I had no idea what a press release was, or looked like, so now I’m versed in those,” she said. She helped start a new blog, and also posted daily to the organization’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. “It’s a lot harder to do social stuff for an organization than for your own personal use,” she said with a laugh. “How do I use 140 characters to get people to click on our page? It’s harder than letting your friends know what you’re doing.”
Even one Facebook post gives Ross a sense of accomplishment. “If looking at our Facebook page inspires people to donate, then my work is making a difference,” she said.