The graduate

Last weekend, I received my Masters of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago – or rather, I should say, I received a nice leather folder with an advertisement for purchasing graduation photos inside of it.


A lot of things have changed for me professionally since I decided to apply to graduate school in 2010. I’ve had three different jobs, left the field that I was planning on pursuing for the rest of my life, and started working in an awesome for-profit role helping nonprofits. My original intention in getting an MPA was to become a director of development and, eventually, a nonprofit CEO. While I’m still fascinated by the nonprofit sector, I’m finding that I like being on the periphery, able to draw on my experience and expertise to help the folks who are in the trenches every day.

Still, I’m really, really glad that I got my degree. First, it was a personal goal. I’d always intended to get an advanced degree and dilly-dalleyed a bit after college, but knew that the time would quickly come when if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it at all. Second, I’m glad that I did an MPA. It’s given me a great mix of skills that can be useful in the nonprofit and government sectors and helped me understand how those sectors interact with each other and the for-profit sector. And finally, it definitely boosted my analytical skills. Whether I’m reviewing data at work or reading Noam Chomsky (that’s what I’m doing in my spare time these days), I can more easily make connections, see patterns, and explain and understand why they’re important. To me, that’s been the biggest benefit of grad school: it turned my critical thinking up to 11, to quote a classic film.

I’m also glad that I chose to go to grad school part-time while working full-time. Yes, it took me three years. Yes, I was putting in 12-hour days between work and school. And yes, it absolutely decimated my personal life at times. But I get the feeling that I got a lot more out of it than my colleagues, both for the grit that I needed to get everything done, and the fact that I could connect book learnin’ to street learnin’. I was the resident expert on corporate grantmaking and social responsibility in my Public Administration Theory class.

And now I get to spend my time on fun stuff, like the aforementioned Noam Chomsky, writing on this blog, learning how to make a pie crust from scratch, and becoming an SQL expert. Recommendations for further lifelong learning welcome, because I am likely going to be bored out of my mind within a few weeks.

Can Pittsburgh face its real and severe problems?

After a crazy couple of weeks, I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to catch up on my ever-expanding Pocket feed and came across a great article by Aaron Renn (aka The Urbanophile) at New Geography. Renn argues that the Midwest, which includes the dreary Rust Belt, faces an uphill battle in terms of growth and success.
350px-pittsburgh_skyline_view-300x195Of course, the Midwest and the Rust Belt suffered tremendously at the hands of the globalization and the shift to a service economy. But Renn’s article points out more social and political structural issues that are contributing to the Midwest’s slow growth. And as someone who’s lived in two Midwestern cities (Chicago and Pittsburgh), a lot of these hit close to home. Chicago is well-noted in the post, but Pittsburgh isn’t. So how is the Steel City being held back?

1. Racism

As of the 2010 Census, Pittsburgh is 66% White and 26% African-American, with the remainder of the population made up of small groups of Asians, Latinos, and multiracial people. In 1990, when I was a wee lass, it was even less diverse, with a 72% white population. And it feels very white: Gawker got some interesting commentary on racism in Pittsburgh in their “Most Racist City in America” search in 2012.

So Pittsburgh is very, very white. It’s also very segregated, though it is improving – the segregation index dropped from 70.8 to 68.9 to 65.8 from 2000 to 2010.

2. Corruption

Pittsburgh doesn’t have the world-famous corruption of a Chicago, but it does have a history of shady political dealings. The Post-Gazette did a great series on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s network of patronage, which grew out of Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerester’s tenure in the 1980s. The Post-Gazettedocumented $32 million in payments to network-related businesses by Western Pennsylvania government agencies from 2005 through 2009 and identified 31 local bond deals with which network financiers were involved since 2001.

3. Closed Societies

This is – or was – such a huge one in Pittsburgh. As Renn says:

In Cincinnati and St. Louis expect that the first question you’ll be asked is “Where did you go to high school?”

My high school graduating class had about 260 students (it was also 99% white). There were about 10 of us who did not stay in the immediate tri-state area (Western Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and eastern Ohio). And of the 10 of us who left, about a quarter ended up going back to the area. On one hand, this has created a very comforting, deep network of relationships between “yinzers.” On the other, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be (at least ten years ago) to move to Pittsburgh with no social connections.

4. Two-Tier Environment and Resulting Paralysis


Despite the plethora of high end companies, educated workers, and top quality universities, the Midwest economy was traditionally based on moderately skilled labor in agriculture and industry. This forged a work force that places too low value on education and which can even be suspicious of people with too much of it. Today’s agriculture and manufacturing concerns, at least the ones with jobs that pay more than subsistence wages, require much higher levels of skills and education than in the past.

Pittsburgh has done very well in combating this problem. While many Burghers still like to rally around the idea of the Arn City-drinking steelworker and the romantic perception of the city as a smoky, dirty hellhole (you can now buy a $28 t-shirt with James Parton’s infamous 1868 quote), education has always been a major part of the city’s fabric with Pitt, CMU, Duquesne, and others.

That said, Western Pennsylvania is still dotted with small towns – McKeesport, Braddock, and others – that feel miles away from the Golden Triangle and could very conceivably see the problems that Renn is talking about in terms of the new economy.

Now, Pittsburgh is in the midst of a miracle resurgence. How will these issues affect its rise and its perception as a Rust Belt darling? Well, a city can be economically successful and modern while still battling with these structural issues. My hope is that as the city continues to rebuild in the post-manufacturing era, it can begin to break down these barriers. The city has a fantastic mayor-elect in Bill Peduto, a good government guy and wonky urbanist. People with no current ties to the city are moving there as the city’s economy expands, and hopefully the city’s darkest environs will benefit from its continued growth. There’s a lot of good stuff on the horizon.

The Setup

I have a rather strange, stalkerish obsession with reading about the tools that people use to get work done. Lifehacker’s How I Work series and The Setup enable this obsession by letting me geek out about what computers and gadgets and knickknacks people (mostly in tech) are using to do stuff.

Someday, the fine people at Lifehacker or The Setup will care about my favorite apps, but for now, I’m here’s my version of The Setup.

1. Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Bethany Lang, and I’m an Implementation & Training Consultant at Z2 Systems, makers of the NeonCRM. Before this, I was a fundraiser for Christopher House and Chicago Children’s Museum. I’m also working on a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

2. What hardware are you using?

My iPhone 5 is my best friend. I have a Toshiba Satellite P850 and a Dell ST2220L monitor at work. This is the first job where I’ve used a second monitor, and I’m not sure how I survived without one. When I redid my home office setup recently, I made sure to get a very similar Dell monitor. I recently switched from a 2008 Macbook to a Macbook Air, which is amazing. I debated between the Air and a Macbook Pro because I didn’t think I needed a portable machine, but I was wrong. I love taking my Air with me everywhere. I also have an iPad (the one before the Air), which I use mostly for the Twitter and Kindle apps.

I still feel the need to write on paper, especially when making to-do lists. I came across Whitelines notebooks at Blick one day and I’ve been a believer ever since, but in a pinch, a good Rhodia notebook will also do. After years of searching for the perfect pen, I think I’ve come close with the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner.

I’m always upgrading the things that I carry with me on a daily basis. I recently got a Zojirushi Stainless Vacuum Bottle for my coffee and tea and it has changed my life; my tea stays warm literally all day. I have three different Timbuk2 bags (a Eula, a Swig, and a Classic Messenger) that I swap out based up on how much stuff I have with me on any given day.

3. And what software?

Evernote and Dropbox have saved my life more times than I can count. I keep notes about all of my clients in Evernote, and my office uses Evernote Business to share notes. I’ve managed to get a ton of space on Dropbox through referrals, and I use it to keep all of my photos, school assignments, and data for consulting. I use Gmail for my personal email and business email, and I’ve been trying to find a decent client for it for my PC.

Most of my day-to-day work is done in Excel (no, I’m not linking that). I’ve been trying to learn more tricks and tools with it to help improve my ability to easily manipulate and organize data. I recently learned about VLOOKUP, and it is wonderful.

For web browsing, I’m a huge Chrome fan. The extensions that I can’t live without are TweetDeck and LastPass, which helps me use room in my brain that was formerly used for memorizing wacky passwords for more important things.

On my iPhone, my #1 most-used app is Pocket. I use it to store all of the articles I find on Twitter and elsewhere, and I love the sharing features. The problem is that it’s apt to get out of control, because I save every article that I find remotely interesting. I use Twitterific, Spotify, and Transit Stop daily. I use Sleep Cycle every night because I love the gentle alarm, but it’s also nice to see how I’ve been sleeping.

I do a lot of my work on my Mac in cloud-based apps like Evernote, but I really like iAWriter for note-taking in class. I absolutely loathe the bulleting and formatting in Evernote, but if they fix that someday, I’ll probably take all of my notes there.

I’ve tried to move my reading from tons of RSS feeds to picking up links from Twitter. I miss some things here and there, but by and large, I like this method better. I use Feedly for RSS, but I miss Google Reader every day.

4. What would be your dream setup?

For the first time in my adult life, I now have a home office, and it’s pretty damn close to my dream setup. The one major thing I miss is a chair for heavy reading. I had an awesome one at my old place that I didn’t have room for in the current apartment. I miss sinking into it with a cup of tea and a big book.

Why I left fundraising

I often hear and read that people just “fall into” fundraising and they don’t choose to be a fundraiser. That wasn’t the case for me. I chose fundraising as my career in my junior year of college. As a Theatre Management major, I was required to do a sequence of four courses, each focused on a different area of nonprofit management: fundraising, marketing, accounting, etc. The fundraising class was my absolute favorite. Our final assignment was to write a grant proposal on behalf of a small Chicago theatre. (I actually just went and pulled it out of my virtual archives and it’s not terrible!) When my professor told me that if I was a fundraiser, I would never be without a job, I was sold.

So I became a fundraiser at the tender age of 20. In college, I did four internships and tried desperately to do as much prospect research, grant writing, and event planning as I could. My goal was to be a director of development someday. My natural inclination was to work in corporate, foundation, and government relations because they tended to be research and writing-heavy and I’m a quiet solo worker at heart, but I forced myself to learn more about individual giving and annual fund and working directly with donors and board members (who petrified me, by the way).

By 26, I had worked in fundraising at three different nonprofits, worked with several others, and was the Associate Director of Development at a well-regarded nonprofit. But the organization wasn’t a good fit for me, so I began applying to other fundraising jobs. I found that with every application and every interview, I was just more and more tired. And it wasn’t because of the rigmarole of applying for jobs. It was because I didn’t want to be a fundraiser anymore.

As a fundraiser, I was always under a deadline, or two or twenty. Even as I worked as hard as possible, coming in before the sun came up and leaving long after it had set, it wasn’t enough. I had to deal with every possible type of personality and had to try to make everyone happy – the CEO who slashed my beautifully written proposal to ribbons, the program staff person who wanted me to sneak in a line item for her pet project. I did a lot of everything. I was a grant writer, an administrative assistant, a database administrator, a holiday party coordinator. I was making less money than all of my friends and was always told that there would be money for raises “next year.” And I never stopped working. I once snuck away from my boyfriend at a party at a museum to take pictures of their donor wall.

In 2009, CNN named “fundraiser” one of the most stressful, low-paying jobs. There a great many reasons that fundraising is insanely stressful, and I’ve named more than a few here. It’s terribly unfortunate, because most fundraisers (including myself for a long time) love what they do. Fundraisers’ work is critical to so many people, and when things are good, it is the most challenging and fulfilling job there is. But as Brock Warner noted in his blog post today, fundraisers are so incredibly undervalued, not just monetarily, but in every possible way. And this is going to continue to run people like me out of the job.