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How to Get a Job at a Foundation

An old joke: How do you get to become a judge on the Supreme Court?
Answer: Be the college roommate of a future U.S. Senator.

In this article we don't address the pros and cons of foundation jobs, but simply how to go about getting one.

Many nonprofit folks like the idea of working at a foundation...and why not? Foundations jobs typically are easier, pay better, and have better benefits. And, as one person put it, "I'd like to try being the person being sucked up to instead of being the person doing the sucking up."

(We know foundation staff often work hard. We also know it's one thing to work until 10 pm prepping for the foundation trustee meeting and another to work until 10 pm trying desperately to keep a Sudanese mother from being deported away from her children, or writing a grant proposal, that if it's not funded, will mean you have to lay off two staff.)

Like many employers, how foundations say they hire is often different from how they actually go about the hiring process. When we interviewed foundation staff for this article, we asked two questions: a) what advice should we give to people seeking foundation jobs, and b) how did you get your job?

Most gave similar suggestions about how to get a foundation job, but almost none of them got their own jobs that way. For example, one program officer gave the usual advice about experience in the field, but she herself got her job by coming in as the foundation's human resources manager and was then transferred to grantmaking in a field where she had no prior experience.

Mostly, it seems, foundation program staff and executives get their jobs because of who they know, not necessarily what they know. But that doesn't mean that it's impossible to get a program job if you want to make the leap from a community nonprofit and you're not particularly well connected.

So, how do you get a job at a foundation?

1. Be related to the founding donor. You may have already made the strategic mistake of not having been born into the right family, or . . .

Cooling Thoughts

"Suzumi" is a Japanese word referring to sights, tastes, and sounds that make a person feel a bit cooler in the oppressively hot days of summer. We like taking this 3-Minute Vacation to Ice Hotels of the World, where visitors can sit at a bar made completely of ice, sip an icy martini in a glass made of ice, and munch on local arctic char on an ice plate in a hotel in Norway made from ice blocks (and rebuilt new each year from over 15 tons of ice).

Although fanning oneself with a magazine is a little suzumi, too.

Morgan Freeman and the Declaration of Independence

Just in time for the 4th of July (otherwise known as Independence Day) . . . Morgan Freeman and other Hollywood stars read the Declaration of Independence aloud. To tell the truth I couldn't listen to the whole thing, but Freeman's opening comments are inspiring as fireworks in their own way.

It's worth remembering that this document was extraordinary and revolutionary for its time, declaring for one of the first times both that people have natural rights, and that a colony can break itself free. Click here for the video.

3-Minute Vacation: Grape Balls of Fire!

For this 3-Minute Vacation, all you need is a grape and a microwave -- and to stand up and walk to your office kitchen. (Surely someone in your office brought grapes for lunch today!)

1. Take a grape and cut it in half through the equator.

2. Take one of the halves and cut it almost through lengthwise. See photo to right.

3. Pat the cut surfaces lightly with a paper towel or something to dry them a bit.

3. Take out the rotating glass turntable and its rotating plastic stand out of the microwave.

4. Place grape, cut side up, in the microwave about halfway between the center and the wall (see photo).

5. Close the door and turn on for 10 seconds.

6. Enjoy the amazing plasma light show!

So what is the science behind this light show? Well, plasma is the fourth state of matter after solids, liquids, and gases. Plasma is most often seen as lightning bolts in a dark sky and plasma science is used in high-definition televisions (i.e., plasma TVs).

Electrical discharges between the two halves of the grape vaporize the sugars in the grape causing them to combust. The continued electrical arcing between the two halves of the grape causes the combustion products to get hot enough to form plasma.

Note: this might leave a cosmetic dark spot on your microwave; when trying this out at Blue Avocado it did, but did not create any problems.

See also: Great (rather than Grape) Balls of Fire with the legendary Jerry Lee Lewis on American Bandstand (goodness gracious, great balls of fire!)

Making the Most of a 3-Minute Vacation with Cables

Christoph Niemann's online story "My Life with Cables" uses cartoons and real cables and cords to ingeniously capture every person's love-hate relationship with these undeniably useful items, which inevitably end up in a tangled mess under or behind desks and "home entertainment centers." Maybe we should all just learn to stop worrying and love the cable - after all, weren't we all born tethered by one?

Haiku Contest Winners

What we've learned from announcing the Blue Avocado Haiku Contest in the last issue:

  • We nonprofit folk like writing haiku: more than 155 entries came in!
  • Many people contrasted the gloom of the economy with the beauty of the season.
  • Once you start writing haiku, you can't really stop.

Thanks to our two judges as well: Ruth Dickey, who has an MFA in poetry(!) and also serves as executive director of the Clifton Cultural Arts Center in Cincinnati. And Nelson Layag, Project Director at CompassPoint (one of Blue Avocado's core sponsors) and a Blue Avocado Steering Committee member. Nelson Layag describes himself as "a haiku ninja." :)

After much debate over the 155 entries, we do have a winner:

Needs skyrocketing
While donations spiral down.
Inhale. Exhale. Ask.

Judge Ruth says this haiku provides a "mantra that I could imagine repeating daily. More than any other poem, this one stayed with me." Judge Nelson adds that "the cynic in me adds, 'but don't hold your breath.'"

Congratulations to winner Sarah Martinez-Helfman of Eagles Youth Partnership (EYP) -- the charitable wing of the Philadelphia Eagles . . .


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