We found a first-person narrative about what it’s like to move to a career working in the non-profit sector at an organization that was created to benefit charter schools, a form of public schools education. Here is Maria Sazon’s account of why she joined the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools as its senior director of facilities initiatives. Here’s a slice of what she writes about the somewhat jarring difference between the corporate for-profit world and the non-profit career focused on the most important social cause in America: educating kids.
There were a few things about working in a nonprofit that I didn’t expect. The environment is more laid-back; for example, meetings are less structured. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard as corporate employees do.
One reason for the more relaxed atmosphere could be that we’re small, with fewer than 25 employees. I also think that because we’re mission-driven as opposed to profit-driven, we don’t feel pressured in the way corporate employees do. In the corporate world, it’s all about staying within the budget, or increasing sales, or making a profit.
In my previous job, one way my company was judged was by how its funds performed against the competition and benchmarks. In my current job, our performance is measured by how successful we are in achieving the goals we set.
Our funders, mostly large foundations, expect results. Do we deliver what we say we will? If we say we’re going to improve charter school legislation in certain states over the next two years, are we accomplishing that? Our goal is to help underserved children get a high-quality education — that’s our objective, but it’s also the reward.
Before, I was evaluating charter schools as investment instruments. Now that I’m on the other side of the table, I realize the enormous financial and political challenges these schools have. From my perspective as an investment analyst, most charter schools weren’t good candidates for borrowing large sums. They don’t have a lot of students, or a track record, or significant financial resources. I didn’t think they were creditworthy.
Now, I can use my knowledge of finance and capital markets to help them get financing. If I can help charter schools grow, more children can attend. Some charter schools have long waiting lists because they don’t have the facilities to accommodate these students.
The alliance may be small, but it’s easier to get things done than it would be in a corporation. For example, if I have a benefits question, I can always call the head of human resources. In many corporations, employees have to access the H.R. Web site or search the electronic employee handbook for an answer. If they want to talk to a staff member, they may have to search for the right person. Perhaps it’s the same in larger nonprofits, too, but I’m enjoying the personal aspect.
Excerpt credit: The New York Times, where this article was originally published.