Arts Fundraiser Champions MBAs for Non-Profit Professionals
Christina Selk believes MBAs are a great asset for people heading for leadership positions within the non-profit sector
This week BusinessBecause speaks to Christina Selk, currently on the MBA at France’s EMLYON, about how her MBA fits in with the non-profit world.
Why did you choose EMLYON? Did you consider US schools?
I already have international work experience, and schooled in the US, so I thought “I've done this. I want to do something new for myself.”
I was very much reassured I had made the right decision. Students from a US MBA visited us at EMLYON. They were a diverse group, but it was apparent how much more diverse the students are at European schools.
What's been the highlight of your course so far?
The team experience. This is especially the case for me because in my last job at a non-profit was I was the only person in my role, mostly working alone without a great deal of support. I really enjoy working in a team, drawing on others' experiences and skills.
It's taught me a lot about myself: how I work best, what sort of people I work best with, how to interact with people of different backgrounds and personality types.
Non-profit students seem to be quite rare on MBA courses, so are MBAs useful to them?
Fundraisers will find an MBA very useful. Seeing an organization as a whole is so important for fundraisers. You bring a lot more to the table if you can understand how a non-profit approaches finance, HR and marketing.
At EMLYON we're starting a class on strategic change management, and many non-profits are set in their ways, so I’m going to be taking careful notes!
We’re also about to do a talent management course, which I’m hoping get a lot out of. I worked in an art museum, full of creative individuals. But how do you harness that to the benefit of an organization?
More and more directors of non-profits now have for-profit experience. You've got to have the business background, and have a sound idea of how to run an organization and realize its mission - which is the same as in the corporate sector.
So will your MBA be valued by non-profits?
I think I'll have an edge when I finish, especially in Europe, where fundraisers get fewer major individual donors. We depend on corporate donors. Saying “I understand your world and share your MBA background” makes a huge a difference. You're not a liberal arts museum person; you're a business person in their eyes.
How did you get into fundraising work?
I took a liberal arts degree, and straight out of college my first job was raising scholarship funds at an 8,000-student university.
I had benefited from fundraising efforts myself. I was able to attend high school on a scholarship so I understood what scholarship fundraising was for.
It was a job of great importance because people were so reliant on us securing funding. If you want to make a difference and feel inspired by missions and values, and want to find a career to give you a message and live those values, then this is a great place.
I transitioned into an art museum, where there were two of us, myself and the director, responsible for fundraising. So I went from a piece of it to all of it!
About a year and a half ago there were a lot of NY Times and Wall Street Journal articles about European one-year MBAs that offer a multicultural experience and finish a year sooner than US programs.
I had already been to France and wanted to go again. I fell in love with EMLYON, partly because of its focus on entrepreneurship. When you work for non-profits you have to be innovative. You don't have a huge budget and you have to make do using your own creativity.
Is there a for-profit equivalent to work in fundraising?
It's a synthesis of so many things. Essentially, it's sales. You're trying to sell your organization as a whole or a specific program. You have to convince individuals, corporations, governments and foundations to give you money, often for very little in return.
You need to craft an opportunity for strategic involvement in your activities that'll “make scene” for them, particularly in the case of financial institutions who do expect a benefit from their involvement.
There's also a lot of relationship-building and marketing. You've got to write very well to represent your organization and yourself. You need to plan events, be well-organized and be great at research and able to glean what would appeal to potential donors.
Has the global recession had a big impact?
Oh my goodness! Everyone was hit. Individuals, corporations, governments were all suddenly tightening their budgets. Foundations rely on endowments, distributing earnings from investments that were failing in the recession, and so many were simply unable to give. Many non-profits rely on their own endowments too, so we lost money there also. It's had a huge impact on the non-profit community.
After so long studying for-profit business questions, are you still looking to stay in Fundraising?
Now we're nearing the home stretch you start thinking about your life: where you've had success, brought value, felt fulfilled and comfortable. I realized I value working in organizations that support and promote the things I believe in - art, culture, education, design, architecture and things that do good for the community.
I don't see myself straying from this ever. I would use the opportunity to work “on the other side” to help direct the use of funds towards the right places. But even though I stumbled into this career, it's just right for what I want to do in life.
There's only one other guy with an NGO background on my MBA course at EMLYON. One other classmate I know is considering working for NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations), having worked on a leadership project with a world health foundation.
Are you worried about getting a smaller salary than the average MBA?
We all have to make a living, but it's a trade-off. I know people who make fabulous money in other professions but I’d rather work on something I'm passionate about. It helps me get up in the morning. I like knowing that I'm doing something for the greater good.
At the same time, if a Porsche and country home make you happy then go for it! The world needs all sorts of people.
Personally I view the MBA program as an investment in my future. I'm not concerned about the payback period so much as what it'll allow me to do eventually in my career.
It's not common for NGOs to sponsor MBAs, but it does happen. They see the value. You want to have someone steering your ship who knows what they're doing. Finding the person with the correct balance of skills and experience is tough, so an MBA is a great way of equipping a leader with the knowledge he or she needs.
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