Sonja Fitz is the Director of Development & Marketing for Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), the organization where she has worked for her entire nonprofit career. BOSS was established in 1971 in Alameda County and strives to end mass homelessness, mass incarceration, and community violence.
In the mid-1990s, Sonja was studying English Lit at UC Berkeley, unsure of her career direction, and started as a part-time administrative assistant at BOSS, before they had any development staff. Mailings and proposals were a collective effort of the E.D., program staff, even the bookkeeper. “When the Executive Director gave me development work she saw I was good at it,” she says, “So when we received a grant to hire their first development director, she put me in the role. I love the organization’s mission so much that I never left.”
In her years working in development the biggest changes Sonja has seen are the digital transformation (she remembers typing and re-typing entire proposals when changes were made), and the growth in donor-directed giving, which she doesn’t see as entirely positive. “I feel it lays too much at the whim of the giver versus collective community planning,” she explains.
Unfortunately, she hasn’t experienced enough change in the funding of anti-poverty, and social, economic, and racial justice work. “We still see piecemeal funding patching up symptoms instead of addressing underlying systemic change,” she says, “However, I am encouraged by changes of late, with the twin crises of racial injustice by the police and COVID-19 laying bare some of the broader system changes that are needed.”
Because BOSS addresses emergency needs and income, housing, and resource gaps, the pandemic did not change the level of urgency, just the modes of operation. “The people we serve (homeless, disabled, low income, reentry and justice-involved) have been at the back of the line, disadvantaged, discriminated against, and excluded for decades. COVID 19 put the life-threatening impact of inequity on display for policymakers.”
Sonja finds adaptability to be a key skill needed in development. “Where I work the only constant is change – funder and community priorities evolve, programs come and go as funding runs out or new programs come online, vendors and tools come and go, rules and regulations change, and crises pop then fade… Adapt or Die.”
Outside of work, Sonja enjoys spending time with friends and family, cooking and eating, and watching “entirely too much” TV. She is a fan of reading biographies and sci-fi and has written two unpublished books (a Young Adult novel and children’s book). She has participated in the Sharkfest Swim (from Alcatraz to San Francisco) and is the go-to helper for her aging parents.
She has been a member of DER for about five years and appreciates the useful information she has gotten through the lunchtime workshops.