Alumni Spotlight: Deana Frank, Community Partnership School
Deana Frank is the Director of Advancement at the Community Partnership School, which provides low-income elementary school students in Philadelphia with high-quality and affordable education. Before this, she served as the Director of Development at Mural Arts Philadelphia. She has spent a significant portion of her career serving youth through holistic educational and leadership-based support programs.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership (CPNL): What drew you to work in the nonprofit sector?
Deana Frank: I didn’t think of it as a sector when I first got involved. I thought I wanted to study Communications in college, but I took a social science class and got very interested in identity and the human experience. This triggered what became a professional interest in youth development. I went to an independent school for middle and high school, but I lived in an urban, working-class neighborhood. As I was graduating from high school, I was thinking a lot about how people end up on different paths in life–what determines where you end up and what opportunities you have. So, after taking the social science class and learning that you can study the human experience in all its confusing facets, I majored in sociology and did some internships in youth development. The natural next step became looking for a job in youth development.
Frank: The nonprofit sector is great because you get to do work that’s concentrated on a mission. Hopefully you’re helping make the world a better place, and you feel passionate about that. Doing direct service work is powerful, but you also realize how limited you are in your impact because you’re working within a system that’s probably messed up in some way. You become drawn to ask how can I zoom out and address the bigger picture to create more change. I wanted to take on more of a leadership role. In my current position, I’m the Director of Advancement at Community Partnership School, a private school that caters to low-income kids. I’m fundraising to keep the school afloat but hopefully creating opportunities for others, opportunities like the ones I benefited from when I was in school. It feels like a reflection of opportunities that I got when I was younger.
Deana Frank: I have only been here for a year and a half, and I came during the pandemic so nothing has been normal. The school was founded 16 years ago, admittedly, by rich white people from the suburbs that wanted to help black kids in inner-city Philadelphia to access better quality education. Those same people that founded the school would tell you today that they recognize that there was“white saviorism” going on, and that they weren’t viewing the community from an asset-based perspective. They have all grown so much since then, and it’s inspiring. We exist today because of the generosity of folks from outside the community, but the curriculum at the school is centered on social justice. The teachers are heavily focused on identity affirmation for our students,we do a lot of race, equity, diversity, and inclusion work, and we have white accountability groups for the board and staff. It’s a really big part of the culture here, way more than any place I’ve worked before this.
Deana Frank: I honestly hope that’s yet to come! We have some big things on our horizon, including a playground renovation that we’re hoping to raise the money for in the next couple of months. That would be exciting. Other than that, keeping the school healthy, and not just healthy but growing during the pandemic has been big. We also have in Pennsylvania, which does not exist in Maryland or DC, a tax credit program where people can donate their state tax liability to educational institutions and get a credit back. It’s an incredible opportunity for schools here. We launched an expansion of our tax credit program in the fall and got more folks to join on, so I would say I was proud of that. Even though we fell short of our goal, I’m hoping that it’s building the foundation for us to continue to grow, a transformational opportunity for the school.
Deana Frank: It was such a great introduction to nonprofit leadership issues. When I did the program, I had just become the director of the Elijah Cummings Youth Program and I was a staff of one running the program (within a very large umbrella organization). We had somebody doing finance for the larger organization and I had coworkers in my office space, but I was the only one working on my program full time. I was responsible for a lot of aspects, managing the budget, recruiting participants, creating the curriculum, working with the fundraising board–it was all over the place. The Certificate Program gave me exposure to all the things that you might need access to when leading a nonprofit organization. I found it tremendously helpful, the instructors were phenomenal, and it was nice to be in a room with such a large group, all of us doing different types of work. It was the perfect combination with deep dives, those are long days that you’re spending in the classroom, while not being a commitment of a year or two.
Deana Frank: I eventually went on to get a Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership from Penn, but I don’t know that I got more from that whole master’s program than I got from the Certificate. I got the credential on my resume, but the content and ability to network are just as valuable and, obviously, at a fraction of the cost of a master’s program. The Certificate is a great program to give you a broad range of knowledge and exposure to the nonprofit sector. I was usually tired going into the sessions because they’re on Fridays and Saturdays, and I had a toddler at the time, but I always left energized! I came away with more topics I wanted to explore. The program was really enriching professionally and personally.