Non-Profits and International Affairs

Farha Tahir


Farha TahirFarha Tahir graduated from UW-Madison in 2009 with a B.A. in History and Political Science and a certificate in African Studies, then completed a Masters in Public Policy and Administration at the LaFollette Institute in 2011. She is a Program Officer at National Endowment for Democracy and an adjunct fellow for the Human Rights Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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First Job after College

I was a Research Intern at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Commission on Smart Power.

My Work Life

At first glance, my job looks like any other office job. I sit at a desk, go through emails, and spend much more of my day in meetings than I probably should. And, in some ways, my job can be fairly “normal.” But the fun part of my job isn’t what I do, but what I get to do. I work for an organization that advises governments all over the world on how to be more democratic and better respond to citizens’ needs. The real fun rarely happens at my desk, but when I go abroad: training government officials and political parties, talking to youth leaders, and meeting with citizen groups. It’s in those settings where I get to roll up my sleeves and support them in creating the governments they want.

Skills I learned as a History Major

I knew I wanted to be a history major when I stepped onto campus over a decade ago. I’ve always been fascinated by what’s happened in the past and what we learn, and fail to learn, from it. In addition to shaping the regional focus of my college education, my history major prepared me for the foreign policy career I began after college. It provided a framework for how I approach each new country I work in. It contextualized the people and governments I work with. It taught me how to think critically and strategically. And, on a more practical, operational note, reading 500 pages a week for every class and writing thirty-page papers multiple times each semester is exactly the training I needed for briefing my bosses and preparing for my travels. Whether preparing for an election, advising political parties, or facilitating greater women’s participation in politics, my history major comes in handy almost every day.

To step into another country with sensitivity and credibility, one must understand its history. It’s about more than just knowing what has happened in that country’s past, but understanding how it got them to today: what shaped the political, ethnic, and social dynamics that govern their lives, their collective goals, and their conceptions of government. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “we are made by history.” And I see it every time I study and work in a new country: age-old grievances and cultural forces shape how people think and act to this very day. Knowing about and appreciating those forces helps me work more effectively.

Advice for Students

There’s one thing that I didn’t have the opportunity to do in college that I encourage everyone to consider, regardless of what career they see for themselves: get out there. You can study history all you want, but until you see history’s implications in a context outside your own, it’s hard to have that “aha” moment.

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The more you know about the past, the better you are prepared for the future.” I cannot think of a sentiment more fitting for history majors embarking on new careers. On both personal and professional levels, look back to look forward. Reflect on what you’ve learned, what you’ve gained, and what you’ve accomplished. Learn from moments of weakness and great accomplishment. And understand that your history is shaped by our history, and your future shapes our future.

Samantha Rosenbloom


Samantha RosenbloomSamantha Rosenbloom graduated from UW-Madison in 2016 with a B.S. in History and Political Science and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. She is the Assistant Director, Corporate & Engagement at United Way of Dane County, a nonprofit organization that fights for the education, financial stability, and health of everyone in Dane County.

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My junior and senior years at UW-Madison


I feel like I had a really interesting trajectory as a History major. I came into school not really knowing I wanted to be a History major – I started as a Poli Sci major and I did end up double-majoring in Poli Sci and History. And I thought, “I really want to go into politics. I want to change the world; I’m going to do that through working on campaigns, I’m going to do that through grassroots organizing,” and probably by my junior year in college I was a little bit burnt out from campaigns. It’s a lot of — it’s a rat race, and you’re just trying to get to the end. I realized it wasn’t a sustainable job for me. Knowing that I wanted to make a difference in my community, I thought that non-profits were really the next best step.

First Job after College


I went to the public service career fair my junior year and met some folks at Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and they brought me in for an internship in their fundraising department. From there, I – a position opened up with BBBS, an entry-level fundraising position, so I applied for that and got it, and so I started my career at BBBS really focusing on fundraising. I did the big fundraising events, which accounted for about half of the budget of BBBS as well as doing some of the day-to-day depositing checks, doing data entry, really anything that needs to go into fundraising.  Even doing marketing, social media, a lot of different things. I wore many hats. From there, I decided I was really interested in bringing people together, really specifically, bringing corporations together to achieve community impacts, just because our corporate partners — Madison is such a philanthropic community, I wanted to get more involved in the corporate side of things. So when I saw a position at United Way – and United Way has so many corporate partners – I saw that as a real opportunity to get more involved in that aspect of non-profit work.

My Work Life


I’m relatively new to United Way; I started there a year ago. I was hired on as a coordinator in corporate and community engagement. We’ve had some staff reshuffling and really re-thinking about how we’re doing our work, and I would say that over the last couple of years we’ve seen a real increase in corporate participation and corporate interest in volunteering. Not just as a part of their corporate social responsibility, but as a real employee engagement strategy.  Around the ballpark of something like 80% of millenials are willing to take a lower-paying job for working for a corporation that they believe is doing some real good in the community, which is pretty significant. Corporations are seeing this shift in their culture and their employees and trying to respond to that. So right now I’m in a really interesting spot of trying to figure out how do we cater to these corporate partners that are looking for this employee engagement experience, but how we do that in a way that’s filling a real need in the community? Don’t want to do volunteering for the sake of volunteering – it feels good, but if it’s not helpful, what’s really the point of it? So right now I’m in a real space of innovation in my job of figuring out, “How do I implement a program that can deliver to corporations? How do I funnel different requests?” Because sometimes corporations say, “Well, I have 100 people; where can I volunteer in two weeks?” And that’s a lot of people, and a lot of times agencies can’t handle that. So how do we address that issue? That’s really exciting. In terms of on the horizon for me, I definitely see myself staying at United Way for a while, just because there’s so much new and exciting stuff happening, and I’m really in a unique position to kind of create a program, which I’ve not really been able to do before, so that’s really exciting for me. But I am interested in getting more involved in the corporate side of things – learning more about…more in-depth into a corporate…certain companies’ corporate social responsibility and how that works.  How they allocate their funding, if they have a foundation, how do they further their corporate strategy through their philanthropic work? So that’s something, a next step I’m really interested in, but I’m obviously not taking any steps right now!

Career Path

My career has been relatively linear since leaving UW-Madison. I started my career at BBBS in August of 2015. Through my work at BBBS, I realized my passion for working with and developing community partnerships. Nonprofits would not be able to do the work they do without strong partnerships with corporations. That relationship development and stewardship inspired me to pursue a role with United Way. In January of 2018, I joined United Way of Dane County as their Corporate & Community Engagement Coordinator. Then, I was promoted to Assistant Director of Corporate & Community Engagement. My role focuses more on working directly with corporate partners.

Skills I learned as a History Major


There are a ton of super valuable skills I learned as a history major. One is the ability to think critically about an issue or topic to resolve immediate needs/issues and interpret information through multiple lenses. There are a thousand ways to look at something or solve a problem, and my job often requires finding the best and most efficient way to tackle issues. This is especially important in the nonprofit sector, as nonprofits generally have limited resources be that money or staff time. The other, which I would argue is the most important, and real value add of studying history, is the ability to understand and empathize with people who have different experiences and cultures than myself. Studying history allows you to step into the shoes of someone different than you, a lifetime or thousands of miles away. Cultural competency is extremely important in the work done at United Way, as conveners of stakeholders across the community. This skill isn’t just limited to the nonprofit sector or United Way! This is key for any industry or career.

Thinking about Grad School

I intended to get a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. I was admitted into the Accelerated Program at the LaFollette School and was set to begin in Fall 2015. At that point, I was unclear about my career path and ultimately decided to pull out of the program to work full time at BBBS. However, I am currently studying for the GMAT and plan to apply for MBA programs in 2020.

Pay in Non-Profit Sector


Pay is a really big concern in going into non-profit work; just by default you will not be making as much as your peers in corporate, in industry. And I would say that I think I went into my career being a little bit naïve about, I guess, how much it takes to live in a city and still be able to pay your bills and your rent. Those are all important things to be able to pay. But I think that comes from a place of, I didn’t really know my worth as someone who works in the non-profit field, and as a recent grad, I had never tried to negotiate my own salary, or didn’t really have anyone to bounce off, “all right, they offered me this much, I don’t know anybody else who works in the non-profit sector. Is that even fair compensation for the industry?” I think when I started out I was pretty naïve in that. But in terms of after getting more experience and also working at several different non-profits, it is enough to pay your bills. Sometimes you have to be a little savvy; I’m definitely – I’ve always been a saver more than a spender, and that’s a really good mentality to have if you work at a non-profit. But I would say definitely I’m able to live in Madison, and Madison is for the most part a pretty inexpensive city to live in. My salary in New York would not go far, but in Madison it’s appropriate and enough to live on.

Advice for Students

Get involved! There are tons of internships or volunteer opportunities. Also, get fundraising experience, even if you’re not necessarily interested in fundraising as a career. You’ll be a competitive candidate and valuable employee for any nonprofit. If you’re looking for volunteer or internship opportunities with a nonprofit visit www.VolunteerYourTime.org. It’s a great resource for volunteering anywhere in Dane County!