Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Planning the LTI

Being a women's studies major, I often heard a lot about non-profits as an alternative (or, for some, as a supplement) to a career in academia. I never had time for an internship during my four years as an undergrad, so when I graduated in May, I took the summer off then headed up to D.C. to see what kind of a job I could land. When Deva Kyle, YWTF's national Project Director, hired me as the new Project Intern, visions of the mythical world of non-profits danced through my head. I saw myself looking all professional, commuting to an office downtown full of eager young up-and-comers and eccentric movement veterans, where I would sit at a desk filing papers, completing various tasks too monotonous for anyone on the payroll to stoop to. I had no idea.

Of course, the internship turned out to be nothing like this. The national YWTF office is a space shared with the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) and the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO), the umbrella organization housing YWTF, NAPAWF, and about two hundred other non-profits. No one but me keeps regular office hours at YWTF--they all have nine-to-fives, like Deva, who works as a pension lawyer, and run YWTF when they're not working at their main job. This meant I'd be doing a lot more work than I had originally expected. At first, this worried me: I was to be all alone, fielding the myriad of questions asked of a national organization? Within the first week, I received the daunting work plan for the national Leadership Training Institute, and by week two, there were hundreds of emails in my inbox! I felt like the biggest novice, but luckily, I ended up not being as alone as I thought: I had the help of Deva, Ilma and Terry from NCWO, the two previous interns, Katy and Dara, and a big computer file on previous YWTF activity. So, I got to work.

The Leadership Training Institute, or LTI, is a sort of chapter leaders' retreat, wherein the directors, or their substitutes, and board members converge in our nation's capital for a weekend of roundtables, speakers, and dinners. The goal, obviously, is to better equip the leaders of YWTF to improve upon their chapters, but there's a second goal which is equally important: camaraderie. It's crucial for the members of an organization to be close, or at least to be able to put a name to a face, in order to enable the kind of networking and assistance that would best sustain growth. Even though the LTI only lasts three days, it takes a ton of work to execute. The interns before me researched and found speakers, a conference room, booked the hostel, compiled most of the in-city transportation information, and solicited donations to feed our guests. I picked up where they left off. Event planning requires confirming and re-confirming, checking, double-checking, and following up again. As a first-time planner, you are consumed by this intense fear that you're forgetting about some crucial element and the whole thing is just going to fall through at any moment. It can definitely be a little nerve-wrecking, but I'm hoping that my fears will prove unfounded and I'll be fulfilled by the success of the event.

I got in touch with all the chapters to find out who was coming and who wasn't, when they'd be arriving, when they'd be leaving, how they'd be getting here. This alone was a weeks-long process, as a few of the chapters didn't end up finding a representative who was able to fly out. I reconfirmed with the speakers and scrambled to fill in the blanks when some declined. I reconfigured the schedule accordingly and sent copies to everyone. I checked back with the places who had confirmed donations a month ago, and one of them ended up not being able to contribute, but didn't tell us until the Monday before the conference, much too late to find another donor. I called the board members to see which of them was planning on attending. I called Lifetime, who donated goodie bags for our guests. I gathered the speakers' bios, compiled handouts, transportation information, and a list of contacts for the out-of-towners, and made lots of copies. Looking back on this list, it doesn't seem like that much work, but belive me, it was.

Tomorrow is the first day of the retreat. Deva and I will run around pulling last minute strings, making sure everything runs smoothly as planned, picking up supplies, and setting up the conference room. At five o'clock, we're all meeting at Teaism for dinner, drinks, and discussion. I'm excited to meet all of these women I've been communicating with for the past month, and I'm hoping to learn a lot more about the non-profit sector in discovering the differences and similarities between the chapters. At any rate, this experience is invaluable and I'm sure I'll look back and laugh at my initial trepidation.

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