“I have a passion for being the voice of an organization and bettering the community around me.” Those words were part of my application letter to interview for the new Philanthropy Associate position at AAACF. I remember walking into the interview and shaking hands with three staff members in early March—not knowing that this might be the last time we would shake hands in a work environment! My name is James Pye, and I started at AAACF on May 4th, completely virtual.
By the time you read this, I will have received my master’s degree from Western Michigan University. I pursued an MPA with an emphasis in nonprofit leadership, a significant turn from what I thought I would pursue in my life. I initially thought landing a great job at a thriving company was the only route to success.
My first experience working at a nonprofit changed the trajectory of my life. After I graduated undergrad with a business marketing degree, I worked at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo. It's what I consider my first "professional job," and I fell in love with the idea of helping others as a career. The youth were so happy and energetic but just robbed of opportunities that I had while growing up. It was unfair, but I saw professionals working on providing opportunities for the youth to make-up for those lost chances. I saw volunteers come teach cooking classes, staff assisting grade-age students with reading and their homework, meals being provided during dinner because it could possibly have been their only meal, and much more. I saw real-life heroes working for low-pay and limited resources, and I knew then that I wanted to work in philanthropy. I'll admit, I'm not a teacher to youth. But I thought I could help differently. If I could provide the resources for communities to do this type of work, I would be helping just as much. Also, I would be more fulfilled than working at a business.
I don’t want to take away the important skills/lessons I learned about business, though. I believe my business marketing degree is an excellent complement to my graduate degree. Marketing is in everything that we do and buy. That effect also applies to the type of organizations that we donate to. Let's be real: we want to donate to organizations that we care for and that have the capability to use the gifts appropriately and effectively. This relates to marketing because if a nonprofit can't showcase these skills, will people donate? I believe in showcasing these skills so strongly that I dedicated my master's thesis to strengthening a nonprofit's ability to market themselves on social media. Learning how to appeal to more audiences on social media is a passion that I hope to strengthen using our Facebook, Twitter, and soon Instagram mediums at AAACF.
When I first arrived at AAACF and began training and reading LOTS of material, I was shocked at the numerous types of impacts AAACF makes in Washtenaw County! One thing I've learned while working here is that anyone can have a named community impact fund. A gift of $5,000 allows you to leave an impact on the community forever in your name or in honor of someone else.
One very recent example of this unrestricted community impact fund really moved me: The Eboné Lynne Copeland Fund. Family and friends established this gift to forever pay tribute to the lasting impact Eboné made on so many in this community:
Eboné Lynne-Chereese Copeland lived a life devoted to others and left a lasting impact on countless lives in her too brief 40 years on earth. An Ann Arbor native and member of a large family, Eboné was a 15-year employee of Ann Arbor Public Schools, serving in roles at Huron, Skyline and Pioneer high schools, where she last worked. As the class scheduler and advisor to the Black Student Union (BSU) at Pioneer, she grew the organization to the largest student club at the high school, even as she helped many other students beyond BSU. Young people were drawn to Eboné because she genuinely nourished their holistic development—encouraging academics and also attending to their physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. Eboné was acutely aware of the particular challenge students of color face because of systemic racism and injustice and she championed equity efforts. She loved this community, she cared for her biological family and the hundreds of schoolchildren she treated as family, and she made a lasting impact on this community beyond education by advocating for greater societal change, especially through her work on behalf of African American families. For these reasons and more, her colleagues, family, and friends are establishing this permanent named endowed fund to forever benefit Washtenaw County and to memorialize Eboné’s lasting legacy.
Gifts like those for the Copeland fund remind us how one person can make a permanent impact on our community. I am hoping to share similar stories of community members making a positive impact in our lives as I seek to ramp up our social media account activity.
In fact, I want to learn from you (the community) about your stories! Let me know what you would like to see in our social media posts. In the next couple months, I’ll also be reaching out to some of you who have supported our unrestricted funds to learn “What made you want to contribute to your community?”
I’m asking because it’s not just your community—it’s now my community, too! I moved to Washtenaw County as my new home in June and I’m excited to learn from all of you what makes this community so special. While I could not enjoy the usual summer festivities Washtenaw County offers because of the pandemic, I have enjoyed experiencing how the community has adapted! I'm really into trying new restaurants, and there are so many here that I enjoyed being able to try with enhanced outdoor seating this summer.
The adaptation and resiliency of businesses and nonprofits in this community has impressed me. I also have been overwhelmed to see the community rally to support one another, and I’m so proud to be part of an organization making a difference locally. I’m learning more about endowments every day, but one thing that stands out to me is that because people have supported AAACF for so many years, we have been able to grant out more than $1.4 million in support during these past few months.
I can’t believe it’s near the end of December and I’ve been seven months at AAACF. While I'm still learning about the community, about foundation operations, and my responsibilities here, I’m confident I’ll be a great servant to our community. I hope in the future, once this pandemic is over, I can meet you in person and learn more about what Washtenaw County has to offer. Until then, reach out to me if you have something to share about how you made an impact on our community! Thank you for welcoming me, and I'm excited to see what 2021 brings.