Business is all about problem solving. Whether its refining a marketing plan or adjusting balance sheets, business professionals are always trying to find ways to improve and drive a business forward.
Sometimes working in business is more than trying to gain profit or grow a company. Sometimes, those working in a business are about something else powerful—changing lives.
The nonprofit sector is a place where business happens, but the impact is often quite different than that of a commercial venture.
Stacy Averill Kessel, B.B.A.’08, director of marketing and communications at Gleaners Community Food Bank, and Chris Rettich, B.B.A.’14, community development manager at the American Cancer Society, are sharing their experiences working as business professionals in the nonprofit industry.
What is the mission of your organization and what is your role there?
Kessel: Gleaners’ mission is to feed hungry people and nourish our communities. We do this through collaboration with community partners, agencies and donors to provide households in southeast Michigan access to sufficient, nutritious food. As director of marketing and communications, my role at Gleaners is to manage our annual fundraising campaigns and overall communications strategies. This includes our website and direct mail, email, social media and traditional media programs a well as brand guidance and content creation for all departments and stakeholders of Gleaners.
Rettich: The American Cancer Society’s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer. In my role as community manager, I work with a portfolio of four Relay for Life events in the region. Relay for Life events are volunteer-driven, so my job as a staff member is to support volunteer planning committees, handle contracting and logistics, promote events and represent the American Cancer Society in the communities I serve.
How did your academic experience at the Haworth College of Business help you in your career?
Kessel: I think what helped me the most was learning to multitask like a pro. To manage everything that happens in college—full-time classes, jobs, internships and a social life—you have to learn how to focus, prioritize, keep your motivation and drive, and have fun so you don’t get too stressed. Most nonprofits don’t have enough staff bandwidth to get everything done that they’d like, so every single staff member has multiple roles with multiple projects going at once.
Rettich: Group projects at the Haworth College of Business prepared me for the cross-department collaboration. My classes prepared me for my current role where I develop marketing plans for my events, analyze key metrics and develop strategic plans. Also, my job today focuses heavily on relationship building. I have found that what I learned in my sales classes has helped me in forming critical relationships with the communities I serve.
What is the most interesting experience that you have had in your career thus far?
Kessel: I’m not sure there is just one that stands out the most! In the nine years that I’ve been in the business world, I’ve had so many experiences that have helped me find like-minded individuals who have helped push me to my full potential and make work ridiculously fun and exciting.
Rettich: Every day is a new experience in my current role but the most interesting experience in my career thus far was the first Relay for Life Event that I staffed, just a month after starting in my position. During an outdoor event, the weather shifted from sun to rain to sleet to snow. The covering on our stage ripped. A girl walking the track injured herself. It felt like everything that could go wrong did go wrong, but once our cancer survivor ceremony began, I knew that none of the issues mattered. Our survivors felt honored, and I had brought the mission of the American Cancer Society to the community.
What are some of the positives about working at a nonprofit?
Kessel: The best thing about my job is that I go into work every day knowing that I’m truly making a difference in our community. Not onlydo we help feed struggling families, kids and seniors, all of whom could easily be friends, neighbors or co-workers, but I’m also empowered to help make decisions that continue to grow the reach and impact of our programs.
Rettich: It is extremely rewarding to wake up every morning knowing that I have a job where I am truly making a difference. Cancer does not discriminate and needs to be cured, so I am very proud to be working on the front lines of fighting this disease.
What are the challenges?
Kessel: Economic constraints, small staff numbers and even simple human error in everyday work can mean that fewer people are benefiting from our services. The positives of working in nonprofits far outweigh the challenges, but the challenges do weigh on you if you are truly passionate about the mission.
Rettich: Working for a nonprofit can be challenging. Most of our funding comes from donations, so there is increasing pressure to attract new donors and increase participation in our fundraising events. My portfolio of events is also volunteer-driven, which requires me to rely heavily on commitments from our volunteers. Those people often have full-time jobs and other responsibilities in addition to that volunteer role.
What advice would you give to business students looking for jobs in terms of broadening their ideas of what a career in business looks like?
Kessel: I would tell business students to broaden their search to include fields that might not fit what they think is the ideal career path for a major. I graduated with an advertising and promotion major and have yet to work at an ad agency—by choice. Find something that you’re truly passionate about. Pair that with something you’re professionally good at and pursue that avenue. You may not end up in a job that is typical for your major, but you’ll enjoy what you’re doing, be good at it and have a door opened to many opportunities.
Rettich: I would advise business students to consider that pretty much every job is a part of business. The skills students learn in business classes are heavily applicable to any role, so search for a job that interests you and will allow you to grow, even if it is not what some may consider a traditional business career. Ultimately, find a career that funnels your passions.
What would you tell students who are considering working for a nonprofit?
Kessel:For a student interested in working for a nonprofit, I would suggest looking for an organization that has the resources to help solve an issue you genuinely care about. You will be a better asset to the team in numerous ways if you truly believe in the mission. In a nonprofit, money isn’t usually the motivating driver—long hours, hard work and tight budgets are tolerated and embraced by the staff who believe that those challenges are worth facing and that amazing things are always possible with the right effort.
Rettich: Follow your heart. Work for an organization that has a cause you believe in. Be sure to do your homework on the organization to learn about advancement opportunities and the benefits of working at that organization to ensure it’s the right place for you.