I have completed my 7 month internship at Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (MHLC) just south of Albany, New York. Their web site is www.mohawkhudson.org. It began as a paid 20 hour week position in June 2010 as Outreach and Development Coordinator. A year later, I continued this position as my internship with an additional 10 hours per week unpaid.
There are so many different lessons learned from my time at the conservancy. I gained so much through my time there. The first area I will talk about for this blog entry is communication. In our course work at BCEP, we are refining our communication skills: written and oral, formal and casual, with groups and individuals. At MHLC I have applied all of those skills. Additionally, the various modes of communication add another dimension: phone, newsletters, grants applications, eblasts, email, meetings. The audiences could be public, private, groups or one on one.
As the Outreach Coordinator, communication was going to be paramount. There are so many examples, but I will just touch on a few. I was invited to talk at The Bethlehem Business Women’s dinner. The referral came from an encounter I had at The Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce mixer held at a local wine shop. The source said I was very entertaining. All I had done at that mixer to “entertain” was pull out our trail map brochure and talk about public access to our properties. I certainly shared those maps with everyone I came in contact with, so this was not unusual for me. In order to prepare for the presentation, I refined a powerpoint that MHLC’s executive director had used for a college class about our work. To lighten it up I took out the details of tax breaks for easements and made sure there were plenty of pictures. At BCEP, we had a great brown bag seminar about effective power point presentations, so I applied much of that while editing. We also had many
power point presentations in various classes, so they all were good preparation as well. But given all the tools and preparation, the most important thing I found was to be approachable. Part of that was to read the audience as far as what portions were interesting (or not) to them and then adjust my presentation. Afterwards, many people came up to ask questions or offer their support. One banker had a program for donations from their customers, which Olana uses as well. So here is an example of how effective oral communication- informal at the mixer and formal at the presentation- were essential to achieving my internship’s goals.
Application of my writing skills in formal documents has improved a great deal since I began at BCEP. The evolution of these skills was also clear at MHLC. When I first began there in June 2010, I wrote up a biographic article about myself for the newsletter. The program assistant and executive director did a considerable amount of rewriting of that article. This past November I wrote a grant proposal for land acquisition funding to a local bank’s foundation. In the past, the executive director wrote all of our grants. I did consult with her about what projects she wanted highlighted. When I submitted it to her, she made only a few minor changes before sending off the proposal!
One of the most important lessons learned from the internship, was how persistent effort is rewarded. This has always been one of my strong points and it was key to my success in this position. Part of being persistent is also being organized so follow ups are done in a timely manner. One of my main tasks was acquiring several hundred auction items for our annual fall fundraiser. Initially, I would need to find the person with the authority to donate. The multiple contacts necessary to get this information and then further to get a commitment required persistence and organization. This was also the case, as I contacted local businesses to sponsor our events. Certainly I made use of my communication skills through email, phone and letters to introduce the program and formal acknowledgement of gifts, as well.
I had the opportunity to participate with Bethlehem Tomorrow (BT), a citizens group working for an open space plan in Bethlehem. This was another example of persistence, as they have been active for nearly ten years in various organizations to move their agenda forward. My invitation to participate came from MHLC’s executive director, who was part of the group, as well as a MHLC board member. The varying approaches to mission of land preservation by MHLC and BT was fascinating. MHLC has most of its lands donated by individuals and raises money to be able to steward those lands. BT’s members had been part of a town committee to work on open space considerations for the town’s comprehensive plan. Presently, their goal is to have those considerations put into practice with an open space program that has funding for land acquisition. How that funding would be developed is an on-going debate. This fall I assisted with a petition drive to demonstrate the level of support for open space to the town board. So it has been great to observe citizens and town governments wrestling with the process of putting environmental policies into practice.