By Rachel Miller, ASF
The world of a sole staffer can be a strange place. In the words of Aladdin’s Genie: “Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space.”
Working on your own as a leader of a small foundation can be exhilarating and empowering as you exceed your own expectations for what you can accomplish. But it can also be overwhelming as you find limitations and realize how much you need coworkers. Sometimes, your dog just doesn’t have the answers you need.
For nearly five years, I was a sole staffer at for a nonprofit organization that led adult education programs in Washington, D.C. I felt so connected to my work and the community that I didn’t mind that my day never followed a traditional 9 to 5 model. I embraced the freedom as much as I embraced the comfy dress code. But mostly, I loved how self-reliant the position made me feel. Whatever the organization needed, I knew I could become.
With that being said, I missed the social aspect of a traditional office gig: getting casual, immediate feedback from others, collaborating with those who brought different skills to the table, and simply seeing and interacting with real people on a daily basis. What kept me going, though, were classes that my organization held that I attended and staffed. Being able to connect in person with the adult learners and teachers I worked with was tremendous. It recharged my batteries and gave me enough balance to happily dive back into my workweek.
These days, I have traded in my 20-second commute for a 30-minute walk to ASF, where I plan the National Conference. It has been a thrilling transition for me, and although I now work alongside amazing colleagues, I have not forgotten the wonderfully weird (and weirdly wonderful) world of sole staffing.
Connecting with others fueled my work as a sole staffer, and since the National Conference is the largest gathering of small-staffed foundations, I encourage participants to build connections that will carry well beyond the conference and into your daily work. Embrace the opportunity to gather with like-minded peers and have fascinating conversations. And remember, with the ASF community, you’re not alone.
Attending the ASF 2012 National Conference? Sign up for the 2012 National Conference Orientation Webinar.
Program Director Rachel Miller has spent most of her career working for small-staffed organizations. Prior to joining ASF, she coordinated the adult education program at the Jewish Study Center, where she served as executive director and sole staffer. She also taught summer programs at the Washington International School. In her free time, Rachel volunteers for an organization that rebuilds homes and community centers in the Washington, D.C. area and focuses her personal philanthropy on ending poverty in the developing world.