10 Questions with Nick Johnson - Communications and Administrative Manager, Carolina for Kibera

What does a typical day look like for you?

No day is the same! As both the Communications and Administrative representative for my organization, I’ve found a good rhythm between those two fields that doesn’t require switching between my left and right brains too often. Out of habit, the first thing I do is go through all of my e-mails from the day (or night) before, starting with the simple ones. Since writing stories and editing photos takes more time and energy than setting up calendar invites and depositing donations, I save it until I’ve gotten the latter out of the way first. It provides a huge boost for my morale. Of course, this routine is always thrown off if I have a call from Kenya at 8 AM. Gotta love an 8-hour time difference! (Not-so-secretly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.)

What are you working on right now?

I’ve actually just finished a huge project: our Annual Report was just published (hooray!). However, non-profit work never stops. With the new calendar year, there are many administrative application processes to complete, as well as a lot of fundraising campaigns to apply for, most notably the State Employees’ Combined Campaign. Since Carolina for Kibera is a major affiliated entity of UNC-Chapel Hill, many faculty and staff like to take advantage of this program. Another big project we’re working on is figuring out how many U.S. student interns our Kenya office has space and use for.

What was your path to get where you are today?

I graduated from UNC in 2013 with a degree in Global Studies and Spanish. Finding myself woefully underprepared for a harsh job market in 2013, I decided I would find an on- or near-campus internationally-focused organization with which to intern. After expressing my (perhaps overblown) adoration for CFK’s mission statement and approach to international development, they agreed to let me write stories for them. Eventually, that internship turned into a paid position! I’m incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to work my way up.

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?

Honestly, the part I enjoy the most -- writing and curating our communications material -- is most challenging for me. I think of communications as a long and constant process with very little instant gratification. I never thought I’d say it, but I often enjoy the immediate satisfaction of completing administrative tasks; in comparison, sending stories off into cyberspace seems Sisyphean. But there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the impact one of your stories has made on a supporter, and that makes all the difference.

How do you effectively balance your time?

I like the idea of apps like Trello and Basecamp, but I take a Pirates of the Caribbean approach to them: “They’re more like guidelines than actual rules.” For some reason, putting tasks online makes them less real to me, or perhaps less persistent. (I have a bad habit of mindlessly deleting e-mail alert reminders, for example.) The easiest way for me to hold myself accountable is to write down a list again and then put it on my desk right in front of me. A sheet of paper taped to my monitor is like my conscience calling me from beyond the screen to actually do the things I’ve written down.

What are five tools you use on a regular basis?

(1) Salesforce. The Nonprofit Starter Pack has been a godsend for tracking our donations. (2) Google Apps keep things standardized and consolidated for easy access. (3) Social media of all kinds, especially Facebook and Twitter. (4) If you’re struggling to find a good portal for your online donations, allow me to recommend PayFlow Gateway from PayPal. There’s a sharp learning curve, but once you get through it, it’s so easy. (5) Last but not least, a whole host of international conference sites: Uberconference for conference calling, as well as Skype and WhatsApp for one-on-one calling. (WhatsApp has amazing sound quality for international calls, by the way.) What kind of international development organization would we be without these?

What is the best career advice you have been given?

This is more in the camp of “professional advice” rather than advice that helps you further your career, but the best piece of advice I ever got was from my former boss. When I was first starting out in this position, I used to be really hard on myself to be perfect; as a former student, that was the approach I took to everything. But that was unrealistic, especially considering this was my first job. Her advice to me was: “The people you’re working with make up a team that rises and falls together.” It may seem like an easy way out of taking responsibility for mistakes, but the opposite is actually true. When you envision the people you work with as teammates working towards the same goal rather than people who have to report to, it becomes much easier to be honest about your shortcomings without kicking yourself over them. And that makes moving forward much easier.

Who or what inspires you?

I’m a big fan of theater and music. Theater helps me keep the wordsmith in me alive and alert, while music can uplift me or propel me forward when I’m feeling stuck. Professionally, if I’m ever in need of a perspective shift, I look for TED talks on nonprofit work, international development, or marketing. Some of my favorites are Dan Pallotta’s talk on how our approach to charity is all wrong, and Simon Sinek’s talk about inspiring action, even in marketing.

Why do you do what you do?

Any job I take in an international development field -- and I hope to have many -- will at least be somewhat selfishly motivated because I love to travel. However, what is always marvelous to me about Carolina for Kibera is how revered it is as an organization. I’ve had the privilege of traveling to Nairobi, Kenya a couple of times now to visit our staff and programs on the ground, and I’m always amazed by how thankful people are to have benefited from or to have been a part of an organization that truly wishes to create opportunities for people in their community. It’s humbling, too, to be a part of something bigger than yourself, especially when you’re the one responsible for those stories getting sent out into the world. If I can help members of the Kibera community amplify their stories so that they can make their lives better, consider my job done.

Who should we interview next?

Jaclyn Gilstrap, Board Member, Orange County Rape Crisis Center
Shelley Gist, Program Coordinator, Carolina Women’s Center
Ricky Hurtado, Executive Director, NC SLI

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  • commented 2016-08-25 07:15:52 -0400
    It’s really true:“I think of communications as a long and constant process with very little instant gratification. I never thought I’d say it, but I often enjoy the immediate satisfaction of completing administrative tasks; in comparison, sending stories off into cyberspace seems Sisyphean. But there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the impact one of your stories has made on a supporter, and that makes all the difference.”
    #communications #administrative http://www.manuaisdecardiologia.med.br

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