Direct Service & Special Projects

What makes the FAO Fellowship experience so distinct is the balance of direct service and strategic project work.


The direct service component of your Fellowship will give you hands-on experience delivering critically needed programs and services to the community. You’ll work to address inequalities that start early in life and your service will be an integral part of achieving your host organization’s mission.

You might provide homework help and afterschool programming to students, introduce a middle-schooler who has never been to a museum to an art collection that forever changes their life, or help an overwhelmed high school student navigate the world of financial aid and become the first in their family to attend college. 

Your interactions with the people you’re seeking to help will deepen your understanding of the effects of social inequality and give you the satisfaction of being part of the solution. The direct experience of positively affecting another person’s opportunities is critical to your growth as a future social impact leader because it allows you to understand the real day-to-day challenges within a community. When the student you have been advising receives a college scholarship, when you see a young person choose to vote in a local election, when a child reads to you instead of you reading to them, you’ll have an immediate sense of the value and impact of your work.

It is the kind of experience that will make you a more thoughtful and more effective leader.

A Fellow poses with a student for an Instagram photo at a Philly farmer's market

Direct service is balanced by special project work. As a Fellow, you will also take on strategic projects that will give you a different perspective on the work of the organization. We work closely with each host to create a role for each Fellow on projects that advance the host’s mission and ensure that the Fellow has the opportunity to apply their creativity, planning and leadership skills. 

Special projects produce lasting results for your host organization and for the communities they serve. Building an alumni engagement program, creating and implementing a social media campaign, revising curriculum, conducting background research for an advocacy effort or policy initiative—these efforts can lead to increased organizational impact and real social change.

More importantly, they help you learn to think about tackling social challenges from multiple directions with a variety of tools and approaches. Special projects promote strategic thinking about your organization’s mission and give you insight into what it takes for a nonprofit to be successful in achieving its goals.

A student works with a Fellow on a college application seated at a table.

Fellowship Assignments

In addition to your direct service and special project work, Fellows spend about 10 percent of their time on Fellowship professional development, cohort gatherings, and their Fellowship role. Each Fellow spends about two hours per week on Fellowship work in the area of social media, recruitment or professional development.

These experiences will help you leave a lasting mark on this program, collaborate closely with other Fellows, and acquire skills that will be valuable in your future educational and professional pursuits.

"Not only do I have a direct impact on youth and their perception of healthy living, but I also work on programmatic initiatives to promote access to healthy foods. This approach allows me to have a full circle view of what it takes to make a program work."
FAO Fellow Deshaun Parris interviewing a colleague
Deshaun Parris
Youth Leadership Dept. | FAO Schwarz Fellow at The Food Trust in Philadelphia | 2015

Fellows at Work

You and Me and Data

“They’re always surprised when I say this,” the panelist says. It’s the Head of User Research at a certain company. He’s poised confidently in his

Read More »