Ozarks student learns in's and out's of non-profits during summer sojourn

Release Date: 10/19/2011

If non-profit organizations don't make a profit, then how do they know whether they're doing a good job or not?

Emily Towe with Senator Blanche Lincoln.

Emily Towe (left) and former U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln. Emily attended Georgetown University in Washington D.C. this summer through the Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services.

U of O senior and political science major Emily Towe found the answer to that question and many more last summer during her time at Georgetown University, taking coursework through the Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Services, an organization committed to teaching students the traditions of philanthropy in the United States, and interning at HandsOn Greater DC Cares (HGDCC). Towe received funding for her summer work through the university's Academic Enrichment Fund.

"HandsOn Greater DC Cares has been around for 22 years," Emily said. "It is the leading and largest coordinator of volunteerism in the region. I worked with 30,000 volunteers in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, divided up among about 800 non-profit groups. HGDCC makes sure the different groups have enough volunteers to cover events. They also make sure volunteers know what's going on in the area."

But how do they know whether or not they're doing a good job? "I think a lot of it is they want to see a lot of events happen for a lot of different non-profits, and if they can get people for those events," Emily said. "That's how they track success. Number of people served. After every event we would figure up our impact data - I am a pro at Microsoft Excel now! Spreadsheets are very good for keeping track of that type information. So we'd look at number of people served, number of meals swerved, number of trees planted, or whatever it was, and that way we could see what we'd done, what the volunteers had done. Because with 30,000 volunteers, you kind of have to keep track of it."

In addition to interning with HGDCC, Emily took three courses at Georgetown University. "I took 'Voluntary Associations and Democracy,' 'Ethics and Values of Philanthropy,' and 'Non-profit Internship Sessions,'" she said. "It was a wonderful experience being able to take classes at Georgetown with all those great professors. And we have great professors here; I think Dr. Parks, Dr. Dippel, and Dr. Strain have helped me get to the point where I was okay with those classes. I wasn't sitting there going 'Oh man, I have no idea what they're talking about.' We read material there I'd already read here. We went to a pre-law symposium where we sat in a mock law class taught by the former dean of admissions at Harvard Law, and when we had the class, it was exactly like Dr. Dippel's class. I mean exactly! It was the Socratic Method, where the professor chose one student and that person had to answer the questions back and forth. I could tell a lot of people there had no idea what that was. They really hadn't ever experienced it. Ashley Teague, who went to Washington when I did, and I were sitting there going, 'All right, I understand this. We've done this since freshman year.' I think it was very helpful to me to understand that I'm not as far off as I go off to law school as I thought I was going to be."

Professor of History Dr. Stewart Dippel expanded on Emily's comments. "I rarely ever lecture, even in the intro classes, and if so, only for part of the period to cover material not in their reading," he explained. "My class format is call and response - I ask some question from the readings, and we go from there. Rarely are question sequences structured - I follow in the direction they lead, and as long as we end up covering the points I want to cover, we're good to go. And my students' questions are encouraged - even if, and sometimes especially if, they seem to go beyond the reading per se.  The long and the short of it is that everybody is expected to talk and everybody usually wants to talk.  Sometimes my effective job is simply to act as a referee!"

Emily says she knows that she wants to be involved in some way with the non-profit sector when she finishes her education. "I don't know if I want to be an attorney for a non-profit or what precisely," she says. "I chose this summer program so I could see how it all worked, and I definitely have a lot more ideas about it now than I did. Mission accomplished."