Jillian Madden, Development Director at Midtown Assistance Center
Editor's Note: this guest blog was written exclusively for YNPN Atlanta
(1) Jillian, you currently work as the development director at Midtown Assistance Center, a non-profit organization that aims to prevent homelessness and hunger. How long have you been working in the nonprofit sector and what inspired you to pursue a career in this industry?
I started out working at Midtown Assistance Center (MAC) through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a program similar to AmeriCorps, that places young people at nonprofit organizations for a year. The program focuses on living simply and in community - I lived with three other men and women who were working at different nonprofits throughout Atlanta. I loved working at MAC and discovered that nonprofit work was definitely my calling. I worked for United Way of Greater Atlanta after my year as a Jesuit Volunteer, and came back to MAC about 2.5 years ago as their Development Director.
(2) What are some of your responsibilities as a Development Director and what led you to focus in on the area of homelessness and poverty?
As Development Director at MAC, I am responsible for grant writing, event planning/coordinating, and all of MAC’s fundraising. The unique part about MAC is that every staff member participates in direct client assistance, which means every day I answer phone calls from people who are requesting services and work with volunteers to assist clients who have appointments that day. Being able to do direct assistance has made me a better fundraiser because I am directly involved in the programmatic side of MAC each day. I am passionate about making sure people have their basic needs met, and that is exactly what MAC does.
(3) Homelessness and poverty is an issue in many major cities. What are some unique challenges faced by those residing in the city of Atlanta?
In Atlanta, the rising cost of housing does not equate with the hourly jobs that most of MAC’s clients work. 1 in 5 households in Fulton County went through the eviction process in 2016 and I suspect that number is similar for 2018. The lack of affordable housing in the city is one of the main issues in keeping people housed.
(4) Midtown Assistance Center provides assistance with expenses such as rent and groceries, during times of crisis. Why is it important to have programs in place that help individuals during short term crisis periods?
In order to make homelessness rare and brief, places like Midtown Assistance Center need to exist. MAC works to prevent homelessness by paying rent and utilities for low-income Atlantans who are late on their rent or in the eviction process, which I think is a rare service and key in stopping the cycle of recurring homelessness. 90% of the people that MAC helps with rent are still in housing six months later - this means that by MAC paying $650 toward someone’s rent, they can get back on their feet and avoid homelessness. This not only helps the individual or the family, but the community as well.
(4) Is there a need for more programs that tackle the issue of homelessness and poverty and in what ways can individuals who care about this topic get involved in their own communities?
Atlanta has a lot of great nonprofits that address the issues of homelessness as well as a large number of individuals who care about making life better for every Atlantan; however, there is always room for more people to get involved and bring new ideas on addressing homelessness and poverty in our city. People who are interested in getting involved should reach out to nonprofits or groups already doing the work and see where they can use their skill set to help.
(5) Midtown Assistance Center collaborates with other organizations, including nonprofits such as the United Way and Midtown Alliance. Why is it important for nonprofits to form community partnerships? What are some of the benefits of partnership?
Midtown Assistance Center is lucky to have a number of great partners, which allows MAC to focus on what we do best and not stretch our services too thin. When someone comes to MAC and needs a service that we do not offer, we are able to refer them to partner agencies like First Step Staffing (for jobs), Crossroads Community Ministries, Central Outreach & Advocacy, and many more.
(6) You are currently a YNPN board member and have served on committees. In what ways has board membership strengthened your knowledge of nonprofit management?
Thanks in part to the YNPN Board, I have recently accepted a new job at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois as their Director of Corporate & Foundation Relations. This is an important career move for me and YNPN board service definitely helped me grow in my career. Being on a board has helped me understand the inner workings of a nonprofit, as well as gain valuable professional development experience and work with other inspiring young professionals.
(7) What are some benefits of joining and serving a nonprofit organization?
I think it’s important to be involved with various nonprofit organizations to not only build your own skill set, but also to see good (and bad) practices that different organizations employ. Working at MAC, I have learned a lot about nonprofit work, but I also gained additional insight by being a part of the Junior League of Atlanta and by being on the boards of both YNPN Atlanta and the University of Michigan Club of Atlanta. All four organizations are nonprofits but have different focus areas and are run uniquely. These experiences have helped me become a better nonprofit employee and nonprofit board member.
(8) What is the most valuable piece of information or skill you’ve learned while working in the nonprofit sector?
Be flexible! I’ve learned a lot working in nonprofit but being flexible and patient is key.
(9) What advice would you give those interested in transitioning to the nonprofit sector?
Figure out what you are passionate about and volunteer at organizations that focus their mission on that. Volunteering is the best way to get an insight into an organization and the work that they do. I would also recommend attending YNPN events - many YNPN members are more than happy to connect people to openings in the nonprofit sector.
Interviewed by Latoya Stephenson-Smith