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Meet Reilly Kiernan, Princeton University Project 55 Fellow

August 24, 2010


Hello! My name is Reilly Kiernan and two months ago I graduated from Princeton University. I am now embarking on a new adventure, through the Princeton Project 55 Fellowship program -- an arm of Princeton AlumniCorps -- at the Foundation Center's New York office.

AlumniCorps seeks to engage Princeton alumni in civic service. One of its most robust programs is the Project55 fellowship, which places recent graduates in year-long fellowships at nonprofits around the country. Each fellow is paired with a mentor in the nonprofit sector and participates in professional development as well as educational and social events in select cities. Over the next twelve months, I plan to share my experiences as a newcomer to the sector on PhilanTopic.

This is my fourth week at the Foundation Center -- the "leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide." When I describe the organization to people working outside the sector, I sometimes call it a meta nonprofit or a macro-level nonprofit, because it serves the needs of the whole sector. The organization has so many moving pieces it's hard to keep track!

Some people become interested in the nonprofit sector because they want to be a crusader for a specific cause. Maybe they're passionate about education reform, or international human rights, or protecting the environment. That's great, but, for better or worse, it can also mean their experience of philanthropy and civic service is circumscribed by a single issue.

I care about all those things. But what I'm really interested in is the 30,000-foot perspective of the nonprofit sector and all the questions such a perspective suggests. Questions like, What changes do we need to make at the sectoral level to more effectively leverage the work of all the passionate crusaders out there? How can we improve the capacity and infrastructure of the sector so as to more efficiently move resources from the people who have them to the people who need them? How can the sector as a whole be organized to respond to market failures and address issues that the private sector chooses to ignore? What is required to establish metrics for assessing and tracking the work of nonprofits?

At Princeton, where I studied Sociology (and minored in Urban Studies and American Studies), I read and learned a lot about social inequality in the United States. I also took a number of courses on social entrepreneurship and got really excited about the prospect of combining my passion for social change with the latest innovations in business thinking and practice. I was also a committed participant in the civic engagement culture on campus. In fact, I like to think I had a hand in shaping that culture in my role as co-chair of the Pace Council for Civic Values -- a group of student leaders who served as community organizers and troubleshooters for public interest activities on campus. Among other things, we helped plan events, got groups and clubs up and running, allocated funds for public service projects, and planned special trips over the different school-year breaks.

Now it's time to see -- and think about -- how the strategies and challenges facing nonprofits operating in the "real world" correspond to and differ from those of students working in a university setting. To that end, here are a few of my goals for this series:

  1. As a newcomer to the world of philanthropy, I plan to view and record with fresh (and, at times, critical) eyes the work of the Foundation Center. I hope my observations will be of some benefit to the organization.
  2. I also hope my experiences over the next year will provide me with some insight into the challenges and rewards of a career in the nonprofit sector -- and maybe even help my colleagues at the center create a guide and/or resources for young people starting out in the sector.
  3. Last but not least, I plan to learn as much as I possibly can about, well, everything -- and to share what I've learned with as many people as possible. Obviously, having a physical (or virtual, as the case may be) space like PhilanTopic to record my musings and reflect on the learning process is a great thing for me. But I hope it will also be fun, and informative, for you.

So stay tuned! And if you have anything you'd like to share as a young person in the nonprofit sector, feel free to share in the comments section below.

-- Reilly Kiernan


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Posted by Devin  |   August 24, 2010 at 03:06 PM

Congrats Reilly. Glad to see more great P55 examples coming into the field. I got to work with one of this past year's Fellows in DC and you guys always make us Tigers proud.

Looking forward to following your writing, it's a hard perch to keep sometimes, but the view down on the sector is healthy. Having good analytical, compassionate and passionate minds doing it can only help to strengthen the work that we all engage in.

Posted by Alison  |   August 25, 2010 at 11:24 AM

Welcome to the Foundation Center, Reilly! We're thrilled to have you join us and I look forward to reading your thoughts on our organization, and on the nonprofit sector in general.

Posted by Brad   |   August 26, 2010 at 09:39 AM

Great blog, Reilly. Looking forward to those "fresh(and, at times, critical)eyes" you plan to cast on the Foundation Center. We need that in order to live up to our vision of being the leading source of information about philanthropy worldwide.

Brad (President, Foundation Center)

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