News Ticker

Navigating Non-Profits

By: Priyanka Jain

Growing up, senior Annelise Dahl was surrounded by people much like herself—people who had similar experiences and had rarely faced any type of life-changing adversity. However, all it took was for her to start getting more involved in the Columbus community after high school to truly understand the type of inequalities that exist in the world, such as human trafficking and homelessness; she was simply unable to “hear these stories and not be compelled to act.”

Dahl focuses on “creating an impact on systemic injustices and looking at how business can be a vehicle for it.” As a finance major with minors in French and nonprofit studies, she began her path into the nonprofit sector with a focus on theater. During her freshman year, she co-founded Theater Arts Group, a student organization at OSU that brings the arts into Columbus schools by integrating theater into daily curriculum and after-school programs.

Dahl interned at the Chautauqua Theater Company after her sophomore year, but decided to switch her focus to working with lower socioeconomic classes: “I was always passionate about the arts because it is a vehicle for expression and empowerment,” says Dahl. “I soon realized that as a career it is more commercialized.”

Throughout her junior and senior years, Dahl’s involvement in Fisher’s Honors Cohort program, Ohio State’s Nonprofit Immersion program and other community organizations such as Clean Turn and City Year has given her the opportunity to work with people from challenging backgrounds including incarceration, homelessness, and poverty. She has helped create a career-readiness curriculum for prison inmates at the Pickaway Correctional Institution, assisted kids with muscular dystrophy, has worked with underprivileged kids from inner-city schools and has even attended a round table with a group of registered sex offenders.

A lot of what Dahl has learned about the foundations of the nonprofit sector came from her nonprofit minor. When comparing her Introduction to Nonprofit Management course, PUBAFRS 2130, to Business Environment and Skills, BUSMHR 2292, Dahl indicated that despite an overlap in the types of cases studied in both classes, the nonprofit cases were not as straightforward.

Nonprofits deal primarily with intangible services. Thus, it is difficult to highlight the best way to do something; they generally do not have set processes or procedures, and tend to be less efficient than more formalized for-profit businesses. She has been told that “there will always be a push back against standardization in the nonprofit sector because they believe the leeway makes them more human.” It is the sector’s openness to new ideas that drives diverse approaches to solving a wide range of issues.

In addition to the extreme flexibility of the nonprofit sector, the financial instability of the organizations makes getting involved even more daunting. Dahl has come to peace with and is already preparing to live a lifestyle with a yearly salary ranging from $20,000 to $45,000. She understands that while a lower salary is not ideal, the work feeds her passions.

“I know the work I am doing is connected to something so much more than me. I do not even second guess it,” says Dahl. “I think people get caught up in it because they want trips to Italy and to be doing something very meaningful. I made the decision to give up on the former.”

For those interested in pursuing a career in the nonprofit sector, Dahl recommends starting early by taking advantage of the opportunities at Ohio State and the diverse group of organizations operating in Columbus.

She advises students to “embrace the uncertainty” of the nonprofit sector, and to “follow your passions before you have more and more reasons not to.” Dahl thrives off of meeting new people and learning about the unjust circumstances in which they live.

Dahl added that having some type of outlet can be helpful in coping with the emotional burdens one may encounter. Journaling has been a productive way for her to manage stress.

She wants people to remember that “whoever you are serving or helping should be as much of the process as you are. If you are feeding someone every single day for 50 years and they are still coming to you for a meal, in my mind, you failed because that means that in 50 years there is something systematic that has not changed,” explains Dahl.

Dahl’s experiences working in the nonprofit sector has given her a unique perspective: “whenever I am feeling dispassionate, I think about the people I have met and my mission to support them” says Dahl. Interactions with heroine addicts and a man who had to dumpster dive for his child made her realize “how complex our world truly is.”