Volunteer Careers

Where passion and skills come together, nonprofit careers may be found

When you ask little kids what they want to be when they grow up, you get lots of answers like “a doctor” or “a teacher,” maybe “a fireman” or “a policeman.” When you think about it, most of the kids’ answers have something in common: They’re all jobs that help other people.

It’s not till we’re “grown up” that we start thinking about jobs based on salaries and benefits, good hours and stability. And certainly all of those things are important. But in an ideal world, even as practical adults, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get paid to help other people?

Many UT alumni are doing just that by pursuing “volunteer careers”—jobs with nonprofit entities that are working, in various ways, to improve our community, both local and global.

Girl Power

Booth Kammann came into nonprofit work after 10 years at a commercial real estate management and brokerage firm, and she brings that perspective with her.

“I am new to being a staff member of a nonprofit,” she said, “and I believe my approach to this work is reflective of changes in the sector as a whole. ‘Not-for-profit’ is a tax designation. This designation does not mean that we are not a business or that we do not want to generate a profit.

“What it does mean is that we are mission-focused and that we want to pour as many resources as we can back into our work with girls.”

Kammann, who graduated from UT Knoxville in 1994 with a B.A. in sociology and political science and who graduated from the UT College of Law in 1997, is the CEO of the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians, which serves 46 counties in East Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and northwest Georgia.

Kammann said her experiences at UT shaped her for this role. Campus opportunities like sorority and student government involvement provided leadership experience, and her coursework helped her discover talents and interests.

“It is critical to find a niche that fits who you are and what you are passionate about doing or learning,” Kammann said. “Once you find that in the university community, the relationships and experiences you have with fellow students, professors, and other leaders shape your future in ways you cannot even imagine at the time.”

For Kammann, past experiences at UT, through her professional career, and through volunteer activities have prepared her for her role with the Girl Scouts. And her passion for the work—for “seeing girls experience new things, develop self-confidence, bond with other girls, begin to imagine that they too can make a difference”—truly makes it a good fit.

“So much of the work and change that we can produce in the world has a single prerequisite: someone who is passionate about the work, who believes he or she can make a difference, and who takes action,” Kammann said. “If we add to that passion and belief the fundamental skills that will accelerate that individual’s ability to be effective, then we will all benefit.

“The challenges we face locally and globally are overwhelming. But we guarantee failure if we do not try.”

Heal the World

“I must admit that while at UT, I never saw myself working for a nonprofit,” said Jenny Stripling, a 1987 graduate who majored in public relations.

Stripling had interned at public relations agencies and was drawn to the fast pace and variety. But upon graduation, she accepted an entry-level PR job with the Greater Knoxville Beautification Board—her first nonprofit experience—and learned that fast pace and variety are also hallmarks of the nonprofit world.

“We were an office of three who worked with Knox County governmental agencies to enforce litter control, plan special events, and educate the community on the harmful effects of litter and dumping,” Stripling recalled. “I found great reward in knowing that I was helping make a difference in my community.”

That idea of making a difference, the fact that “lives are changed and the world actually is a better place as a result” of nonprofit organizations’ efforts, motivates Stripling, who has worked for the past 17 years for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Now associate vice president for Tennessee with ACS, Stripling notes major breakthroughs in cancer research that have occurred during her career: “Gleevec, used in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia, or Herceptin, used in the treatment of breast cancer, have come about in the last 15 years. More people today are living with cancer. There’s a documented downturn in cancer mortality! I’m proud to say I’ve played a role in making that happen.”

Stripling encourages people to think about what they can contribute to nonprofit organizations that mean something to them.

“Whether an individual is interested in sales or communications, management or administration, there is a place for them,” she said. “Nonprofits require strategic planning, project management, and the ability to manage multiple professional relationships in order to achieve mission success. Be passionate and find the reason why the organization’s mission matters to you.”

Getting Schooled

Most of us know: Tennessee schools are ranked consistently low in national reports on education.

Bonny Millard is doing something about it.

Millard, who holds a B.A. in political science (’83) and a B.S. in journalism (’85) from UT Knoxville, is executive director of the Blount Education Initiative, which strives to make education the top priority of the Blount County, Tenn., community.

Officially launched in 2008, after about two years of planning, the Blount Education Initiative (BEI) is a relatively new endeavor. BEI’s priorities are to develop a sustained public awareness campaign about issues critical to education, to support local schools in their efforts, and to serve as a bridge between the education and business communities.

There are challenges.

“Getting it up and going, particularly being such a new organization, is challenging,” Millard said. “People think you should be doing really big things, but you have to lay groundwork and that takes time.”

Despite her organization’s newness, Millard herself is not new to the nonprofit world, nor to education. She worked as journalist for several years, covering education for the newspaper in Maryville, Tenn., and covering criminal courts in Bristol, Tenn. That led to serving as a victim advocate in South Carolina, and then she transitioned into nonprofit public relations work and work with a mentoring program.

“Nonprofit work allows you to be involved, be part of the process, not an impartial observer, as opposed to working as a journalist,” Millard said. “I love being involved!”

Millard said continually learning new skills and honing existing ones has allowed her to excel in her current role. Under her leadership, BEI already has launched a successful public awareness campaign and hosted a gubernatorial community forum.

“I’m all about trying to keep abreast of new skills, new abilities,” she said. “I take courses, and I embrace lifelong learning. When you pick up new skills, you make yourself more marketable in terms of the jobs available out there.

“People tend to pigeonhole themselves—I haven’t done that. If you look at your skills, they can translate into the nonprofit sector.”

Preparing to Serve

Mary Braddock created her College Scholars major with an emphasis on nonprofit leadership. The 2009 graduate is now pursuing her master’s degree in public administration with a specialization in nonprofit administration.

“Ultimately, I would love to work in development—working with fundraising, grant writing, and special events,” she said. “However, lately interagency collaboration has caught my eye.”

Braddock is learning the ins and outs of the nonprofit world, and both the upsides and downsides.

“One of the greatest challenges of nonprofit work is the competitive nature and constraints of financial and in-kind resources,” Braddock said. “There can never be enough giving of time, money, and advice that goes on among nonprofit leaders. Having restricted funds or grants can be a challenging game.

“In addition, accountability has been a hot topic of late. Nonprofits’ activities are scrutinized because of their responsibilities to donors, other nonprofits, and the public.”

On the other hand, Braddock said the rewards of nonprofit work are substantial: “Nonprofit leaders—paid or unpaid—are rewarded with the accomplishment of a mission, and increasingly meaningful work. Certainly external indicators like the joy on a child’s face after receiving a Christmas gift or the look on a person’s face after receiving a warm meal can be rewarding, but the best reward is efficiently and effectively serving a community with all of one’s heart.”

Braddock said that throughout the nonprofit sector, a variety of employees and volunteers are needed, as the services nonprofits provide “run the gamut” and “often fill gaps where governments and corporations cannot reach.”

“Nonprofit organizations are intertwined into all of our lives in some facet,” Braddock said. “To me, that is fascinating! I chose to pursue this area of study because I wanted a job that I could pour myself into and realize that I had made a positive difference.

“Most nonprofit leaders see think of their work as a way of life instead of a job,” she continued.

Braddock seems to be on that life path herself.

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Bryan Butler April 15, 2010 - 1:35 pm

I am with Kidz Team, we are a local 501C-3 non-profit. We work with Children’s Hospital and help the families of kids with cancer. Can you please tell me how to get into contact with Leigh Powell?

admin April 15, 2010 - 2:01 pm


Thanks for your comment and your interest. If you’d like to contact us directly, please send us an email: torch@tennessee.edu.

Torchbearer Staff

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