I am responsible for working with the board of directors on forming and executing plans for the strategic direction of a comprehensive early childhood education program, founded in 1995, that serves at-risk, low-income children. I have two direct reports—a fund-raising director and a program director—and the remaining 15 employees report to the program director.
When I arrive at work each day, there is one certainty—each day is completely different! On a daily basis, my responsibilities include communicating and presenting to funding sources; managing the human resource needs, payroll, budget, and taxes of the organization; and working on long-term strategic projects for the school.
The most exciting project right now is our plan to open a new school by next year to help address the 100+ students on our waitlist. The organization strives to close the gap of disparity that exists among children of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. We will use online GED prep courses and SAT courses to offer to as many as possible students the chance to get a college education.
Professionally, I enjoy the variety of my responsibilities and general management environment. A smaller organization can offer more opportunity for real responsibility very fast. Having worked for both large and small companies in the past, I really prefer working in a smaller organization, where I have the opportunity to make more of an impact.
Personally, I love coming to work each day, knowing that I am part of an organization that is making a difference every day in the lives of 57 families and 17 employees. (Overall, the organization’s mission is to give the 57 children that we serve, and their families, the opportunity to grow socially, emotionally, physically, intellectually, and spiritually.) This is why I am here.
While working for a nonprofit can be extremely rewarding, you must be prepared for a lower salary and potentially higher stress. In nonprofits in general, there are many daily fires to put out and few resources, and the need is almost greater than the resources available. There is a tendency to get distracted from the fun, strategic work and get buried in the minutiae.
I decided that I wasn’t feeling passionate about my work life the way I was about my volunteer activities. (I have always loved tutoring in analytical topics, and I did Junior Achievement as a volunteer.) At the time of my “career switch,” I was working in commercial and investment banking for Chase.
I had the opportunity to move to California, where my husband was getting his MBA, and I decided to work for a start-up education company there. I really enjoyed being closer to the educational process and working in an entrepreneurial environment. I began to realize how combining a passion for a cause with business and leadership skills could have a tremendous impact on the nonprofit world.
I had considered getting a master’s in education but did not consider it as versatile as an MBA degree. When my husband was offered a job in Houston, I saw a lot of opportunity at Rice to do independent studies related to education and nonprofits and entrepreneurship within their MBA curriculum.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career You have to have passion for the cause, because that’s the intangible reward that compensates for less income. For me, I believe education is critical for success in life, and helping at-risk children by equipping them with tools to be successful in life is a reward beyond any other I could have daily.
That passion is what will help you drive the very necessary business side of your nonprofit—being a leader and securing funding all stem from a belief that’s so strong, it’s compelling to others.
You have to have the ability to stay focused and not get caught just putting out the fires. There will always be too little time help and money in a nonprofit; you have to work around that to move the organization overall to a higher, better-managed level.