BUSINESS

Pursuing a Career in the Non-Profit Sector-Turning a Passion for a Cause into a Job

5/30/2006

We all want to change the world, but most of us are content doing it armchair-quarterback style with one hand on a cold one and the other one flicking the channel changer.



We all want to change the world, but most of us are content doing it armchair-quarterback style with one hand on a cold one and the other one flicking the channel changer.

Sharon Wood bikes from her Riverdale home to the downtown office of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation almost every day. The ride usually takes 20 minutes. She owns a car, but she worries about the impact it has on the environment and besides, the exercise keeps her sharp. As director of the Ontario chapter of the breast cancer foundation, Wood is charged with supporting the advancement of diagnosis and treatment, outreach, and education related to the disease. The goal: a future without breast cancer.

Non-profit organizations are trusted with the mission of ministering to some of society's most pressing needs - improving our health and welfare, striving to better the human condition, and fostering education and the arts.

It is a weighty responsibility. Whereas corporations seek to improve their earnings from quarter to quarter in order to satisfy shareholders, non-profits, while striving to improve their earnings as well, are accountable not only to supporters of their cause but to the public good.

Wood has been lending her time and toil to a wide array of causes since she was a child, from the Canadian Institute for the Blind, to the Trillium Foundation, to DAWN (disabled women's network) to Out of the Cold. Growing up on the West Island of Montreal, her parents instilled in her the importance of getting involved and being passionate about improving the state of the world. She's made that her life for the past 30 years.

"If someone's house burns down, you help them out, that's just being part of a community," says Wood.

When she was 9, upon learning in school about highways and building projects that were encroaching on prime farmland in southern Ontario, Wood complained to the federal minister of agriculture. "I wrote a letter saying 'What are you going to do to ensure that farmland isn't lost for future generations?' He wrote back and sent me pamphlets about the fruit orchards and vineyards, and the Niagara Falls tourist region. I was really mad."

At 12, when Wood was made aware of a carrot crop that could not be machine-harvested and would go to waste, she mobilized a group of youths to pick them by hand and distribute the carrots to Montreal soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

The work of non-profit foundations and organizations entails two basic functions: raising money and giving it away. Managing each side of the equation presents its own unique challenges.

Roughly 65 per cent of the money raised by the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation comes from small donations by people putting on community events such as the popular Run for the Cure and the Dragon Boat Challenge. Sadly, memorial donations are another important source of revenue.

Finding new sources of revenue is critical to the success of a non-profit organization. "When you are a special events-driven organization, a lot of time is spent managing those events so you have to increase the support to other strategies and train people to be able to think differently about fundraising," says Wood.

One way of broadening the funding base is through corporate sponsorship. Corporations are interested in forging relationships with non-profits if they are presented with a win-win proposition. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation collaborated with BMG and Sony Music Canada to release Girls Night Out, an album featuring prominent artists such as Nelly Furtado and Alicia Keys. Partial proceeds from CD sales went to the breast cancer foundation.

On the giving side, contributors often want to know where the money is going and what impact it has.

"What we do to allay fears is to be very clear," says Wood. "I think one of our greatest values is being transparent. We have brochures called 'Where your money goes' so people can see what we've raised and what has happened with the money."

With the distribution of funds under intense scrutiny by benefactors, other supporters and the media, non-profits must be very careful in the selection process.

"We have volunteers involved in peer review, so you have scientists from radiation oncology, to surgeons - you name it - who have done research, who are involved as partners with us as volunteers in reviewing applications so we get the best standard of decision-making." Recipients are monitored to ensure funds are used appropriately.

Although the monetary rewards of jobs in non-profit organizations are modest, the work itself is very rewarding.

"I thrive on this job because of the sense that I am making a difference," says Wood. "For me it's knowing that there is a vision and a mission, and I'm helping make it happen."

To gain an understanding of jobs within the non-profit sector, Wood suggests getting involved in community causes as well as visiting (http://www.charityvillage.com).

This article first ran in the Toronto Star

Copyright Mike Dojc, 2006

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Pursuing a Career in the Non-Profit Sector-Turning a Passion for a Cause into a Job

We all want to change the world, but most of us are content doing it armchair-quarterback style with one hand on a cold one and the other one flicking the channel changer.


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