Recap: Working in the Non-Profit Sector, Part One

On March 30, Volunteer Services and Career Services hosted the Working in the Non-Profit Sector event – five panelists came to speak to students about how they ended up with their current profession, life lessons they learned along the way, and addressed the many questions students had about the nature of the non-profit sector. If you couldn’t attend, here are the stories the panelists shared with us.

Trina Isakson, founder of Change Through _____

After obtaining two Bachelor’s degrees in biology and education, Trina taught high school science before she decided to switch over into event planning. Because of her volunteer experience in high school and university, she had the skills for the position and managed galas, special events and writing competitions. She knew her passion was in community building, so she returned to school and completed a master’s degree in community economic development. She became the first program coordinator of the current SFU Volunteer Services department and worked with various faculties to create community projects and improve inter-connectivity at SFU.

She founded Change Through ____ in February 2011, a monthly meetup that brings together people interested in civic engagement. Each month has a different theme. The next event will be Change Through Food Systems on May 3.

Regrets
On the whole, all decisions Trina made were right for her at that time, and helped her grow in different ways. However, she regrets not being more assertive when an employer asked her what they could do for her. Looking back, she realizes she should have asked for professional mentorship, skill development courses or a pay raise.

Words of Advice

Your future career is not defined by your education.

When applying for a job, be it volunteer or paid, it’s critical to communicate your passion first and foremost.

Treat your volunteer commitments seriously – don’t flake out on your shifts, come late, or slack off. It’s stressful to manage non-committed volunteers, and not being paid doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it your all. This may be your first position in a sector you’re passionate about, and the networking opportunities are invaluable. Word spreads fast, so make sure you leave a good impression.

Andrea Banner, Burnaby Branch Manager for St. John Ambulance

Prior to St. John, Andrea worked at a bank and Alberta Transportation. By chance, she saw a job posting for St. John, an organization that offers first aid courses, and decided to apply just to try something different. She believed in what St. John does and went on to work there for over ten years. She’s managed different branches and assists with fundraising, administration and volunteer coordination.  She loves that St. John brings her into contact with so many different people and appreciates being able to offer them tools they will use their entire lives to help others. “If you’re considering trying out a new career, jump in with both feet – you have nothing to lose and all to gain.”

Strongly Recommends:
Investing time and money into leadership training courses, such as the ones she completed at the Banff Centre. Though it meant saving up money and leaving her job to participate, she considers it one of the best decision she’s ever made.

Regrets
Andrea wishes she finished her Master’s degree – “Don’t leave loose ends. If you start something, make sure to finish it – you may regret it when it’s too late.”

Liz Charyna, Manager, Partnerships & Supported Employment at Bridging Opportunities with Business

After completing a diploma in recreational leadership, Liz worked at BC Parks and Recreation. She then took a role providing recreational programs for the disabled and coordinated galas and special events. After an opportunity came up to work at their employment center, she provided informational interviews to clients.  Her next position was with CNIB, the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. She worked with both employer and client to design or scout a suitable position, as well as offering clients tools needed to transition into their new roles.  She currently works for Building Opportunities with Business, a program that helps corporations provide employment opportunities for marginalized members in the community – their work revitalizes communities. Liz is deeply passionate about her role, as her work makes a real difference in peoples’ lives. She loves to see corporations exercising corporate and social responsibility, as well.

Anecdote
“I worked briefly as an extra. It’s amazing how hard people have to work to produce a bad film.”

Words of Advice

If you feel unappreciated in an organization, get out. Don’t squander your talents and energies – there are places that need and appreciate the skills you have.

Effie Garcia, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Program Coordinator
Effie works at a non-profit called S.U.C.C.E.S.S., which provides a variety of services for immigrants and non-immigrants. Effie now works in the employment and settlement division, but she entered into this position with experience that helped her understand employers’ needs from many perspectives. She began her career in an employment division of a recruitment firm, where she gained a strong understanding of what employers sought from job applicants and employees.  After running her own event management company, she made contacts in a variety of sector – her also spent time public relations, thus gaining a solid understanding of the nature of branding and public image. She also had exposure to different cultures by growing up in the Phillipines and working in Philadelphia – this improves the quality of her communication with immigrants, community members and employers. Effie came into contact with S.U.C.C.E.S.S. when she needed career advice herself – she left a good impression and a position had opened up. Happenstance is an amazing thing!

Words of Advice

When you work for an organization, come with an attitude of “what can I do for you”, rather than vice versa. You will be amazed at how strong of an impression this will leave on your employer.

Though not always true, in many cases people in the corporate world are looking to make money for their company and themselves. In the non-profit sector, the work is driven more by passion than it is self-interest.

Goals
Effie plans to continue her education by taking more psychology courses so as to better understand her clients and employers.

Stuart Sutton-Jones, Country Manager for Lattitude Volunteering

After studying for an English degree in England, Stuart travelled to Ghana to study folk tales for his master’s degree. While there, the university he studied at participated in a massive demonstration against the military. Communication channels went down and Stuart began a correspondence with the BBC through letters to update them on developments. After the event was over, the BBC offered him the position of producer and African correspondent, though he had no related experience. After living in Zimbabwe for a few years, he left because it was a dangerous place for him and his wife to raise their children. After moving to Vancouver, he was offered to work for Lattitude through its founder, an old friend of his. He has effectively raised its public profile and increased participation. Currently the country manager for Canada, he will soon manage all programs for North America.

Words of Advice
Don’t underestimate the power of friendships when it comes to networking – since you will share interests and may work in similar sectors, they just may help you find your dream job.

If you plan to work for international organizations such as the BBC or UNICEF, it’s unlikely you’ll get hired if you have no international experience or haven’t worked outside of your city. Moving away from homes gives professionals a more informed perspective on people and the world. Living in one place prevents people from reaching a higher level of maturity and cultural intelligence. Get out of your comfort zone! Now’s the time.

You can read Part 2: Addressing the Myths here.

Read our preliminary panelist biographies here, here and here.

By Sonya Reznitsky