[How I Work] Fueling investment in a unique Native community

Published on: Sep 20, 2017

At the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), they’re committed to unifying and investing in one of the biggest urban American Indian populations in the country, the American Indian Cultural Corridor in south Minneapolis. With projects covering arts and culture, land and housing, health and wellness, and more, each member of the five-person staff takes on an enormous role. Operations & Projects Manager Cole St. Arnold, a staffer at NACDI since August 2015, calls the work tough but exciting: “As a community-driven and community-leading organization, my coworkers and I are all here for the same reason. We want to be part of the whole process.”


My role, the short version: If I’m doing my job, everyone else in the organization can do what they do.

My role, the long version: I wear a lot of hats, like most people at smaller nonprofits. I make sure that we’re financially sound, work out agreements with our grantors, get our bills paid, and make sure we’re staying within the budgets we’ve laid out. We’re having our audit today, so that’s what I’m busy with at the moment.

How I got here: I like to tell people that I work in the family business. We’ve always been in public service – government, nonprofit, law enforcement – in order to help the Native American population wherever we live. Back in Arizona, I earned my master’s in public administration and nonprofit management while working for Maricopa County as a budget analyst. For a few years, I had been hearing about what this organization does and the American Indian Cultural Corridor in south Minneapolis – a mile stretch of Franklin Avenue with one of the highest Native populations in an urban setting. Knowing we were moving to the Twin Cities area, where my wife would be teaching at the University of Minnesota, I was lucky enough to find this position open.

What the job requires: A comprehensive, 30,000-foot view of how nonprofits work, including how to be financially responsible to grantors, stakeholders, the community, board members, and employees. Understanding budgeting, general accounting, and project management. And soft skills like conflict resolution, meeting facilitation, and public speaking.

Most challenging part of my job: Meeting the needs and interests of the community. We’re a neighborhood development organization, so we’re responsible both for answering the community and representing it.


What keeps me up at night: Going through the “What If” scenarios whenever there’s a big community event. Thinking through them can lead to the snowball effect in your brain. One thing that helped was when, a few years ago, a coworker told me to get comfortable knowing something will inevitably go wrong – it’s not an if, but a when.

What puts me on top of the world: Doing something that pushes us to the next level as a community. It’s a function of asking, What are we doing right and how can we build on that together? It’s not a typical service-delivery model: It’s pretty common for nonprofits to understand that collaboration can be effective, but more often than not we’re caught up competing for resources. Standing for collaboration along the corridor, we can be the piece of the puzzle that brings everyone else together, and accomplish so much more than anyone alone.

What surprised me about this job: Learning that community development can’t happen from behind a desk. Everyone here, from myself to our bookkeeper to our community organizer, is involved in going out into the community and taking part.

What you wish someone had told you about working for good: It’s hard. Going to school for nonprofit administration, you have an understanding of what it’s supposed to be. Then you get into it, and it isn’t anything like you would expect. It’s like the quote from Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a game plan until you get punched in the mouth.”

The Native American Community Development Institute is an alliance of the major American Indian nonprofits and businesses in the Twin Cities area, committed to community-building work based in 21st century strategies that encourage job growth, asset development, and sustainability. Learn more about them on their website, or find them on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.