“Today I helped a woman to leave an abusive relationship, coached a team member on a challenging task, hired a new employee, met with a newspaper reporter, and secured a new significant donor partner…all in a day’s work!”
Meet Kelly. Kelly is currently the Executive Director of a women’s centre in Chilliwack, BC. She is an Aboriginal woman who has managed to build a career that matches her values, interests, skills and personality traits. Kelly’s career path is diverse and, by understanding her journey, there are many things to be learned about the world of non-profits and the various career opportunities that they provide.
Kelly graduated from a community college with a business diploma. She was hired, after her practicum, as a Business Information Officer supporting entrepreneurs. Although she loved this position, a national financial institution recruited her at a job fair. There had been an emphasis on Aboriginal recruitment at the time and the financial institution that hired Kelly was impressed by her communication skills and passion for business. During her time at the bank, Kelly was able to develop her financial management skills, which would later serve her well in management positions. Her four years of banking experience also gave her insight into the type of work she was most attracted to: helping people.
Kelly wanted to pursue this passion for helping people more fully. She left banking and went back to school to pursue a Diploma in Counselling. After Kelly graduated, she got a job that fulfilled her career ambition to help people. She worked as a Family Counsellor with Metis children.
Kelly maintained positive relationships with many professionals in the community so that when a position became available at a local non-profit women’s centre, one of her network contacts forwarded her the posting. The centre’s mission was in line with her desires and values—she wanted to serve diverse individuals in an environment that valued social justice. Kelly applied and was hired for a Life Skills Instructor position. She helped women and families who had been affected by abuse, trauma and neglect.
She worked with these women to help them develop life skills in the areas of communication and conflict resolution. In this role Kelly developed strong presentation skills and became comfortable communicating with a diverse population. These would become valuable skills later on in her career. Although Kelly was very successful in her role as a Life Skills Instructor, after 5 years she felt that she needed further growth and she left the organization to gain more experience.
Career ladders, such as the one in Kelly’s case, may not necessarily occur within one organization. Some people have career ladders that span across multiple employers because timely movement within one organization is not always possible. It was a combination of Kelly’s experience and her well-developed skills that then led to her next role as a Program Director.
She was hired primarily because of her background and her presentation, communication, and critical thinking skills. This position offered Kelly the opportunity to develop additional skills in leadership, proposal/grant writing and contract negotiation. In keeping with Kelly’s desire to help people, her new role also gave her access to helping many individuals and families.
While a Program Director, Kelly stayed in touch with many of her former colleagues at the women’s centre, and they reached out to her six years later when the Executive Director position arose. She applied for the position because it fit better with her family needs and also because the work environment appealed to her. Kelly’s career ladder demonstrates that, in any career path, relationships matter; the ones you build in your early career may help you in the future.
The skills and experience Kelly gained as a Program Director were a great help when applying for the new position. A life-long learner, she had continued to take courses to develop new skills. Her degree in communications set her apart from the other candidates during the selection process. This and her background led to the offer of the role as Executive Director in the women’s centre.
In her current role as Executive Director, Kelly is able to combine her passions, skills and experience to provide services that empower women of all generations, cultures and backgrounds. She has a sense of fulfilling her life’s purpose through service to women in her community. Kelly enjoys her work environment as she collaborates with a team of like-minded people who care about social justice. She is able to lead from a place of co-operation and consensus-based decision-making with her team and her board of directors, while also making a tangible difference in peoples’ lives.
Kelly sees herself doing this type of valuable work for many years. When she makes her next career move, she believes that it will likely be moving to a larger non-profit as she wants to continue to positively impact social policy. Kelly says that, even though work in the non-profit sector can be demanding, it is some of the most rewarding work that can be done.