Alissa Davis, AM’12, participated in volunteer work all her life but never knew do-gooding could become a career until her time in MAPH, when she started working with an organization called Jumpstart for Young Children. Now, she’s director of business development at Denver-based Bridges to Prosperity, which builds footbridges in isolated communities, connecting them to markets, schools, and health care. “There isn’t a typical day, but that’s what’s most exciting,” she says.

John Glier, AM’74, is chief executive officer of Grenzebach Glier and Associates (GG+A), a global consulting firm that provides strategic direction and philanthropic counsel to many leading universities, academic health care institutions, and cultural and human service organizations. While working on his PhD in comparative literature, he was hired as the administrative director of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. He joined GG+A in 1981.

Jennifer Harris, AM’02, always knew she would work either in academia or in service of organizations designed to do good. After a stint at the Chicago Humanities Festival and several years of teaching, she took a job with the University of California, San Diego’s health sciences advancement team. In 2011 she founded JH Collective, a consultancy that provides nonprofit leaders and boards a holistic approach to fundraising, communications, and strategy.

How has your humanities training helped your career?

AD: My philosophy degree is the thing on my résumé that has made me the most valuable in NGO work. I think it’s because that training gives me an ability to logically reason and see different paths to a given destination. I’m also our in-house writer. The ability to form a narrative with words is critical and largely undervalued by folks pursuing roles in this arena.

JG: What you learn most in the humanities is how to read, how to make thoughtful, balanced judgments, and how to edit not only what you write but what you think. That gives you what you need to be successful in this business: the skill of listening to other human beings, the ability to be thoughtful about different perspectives and points of view, and a sense of empathy. Empathy makes a difference in the nonprofit world, when what you’re working for, and on behalf of, is a mission.

JH: Sharpening my ability to distill massive and often complex ideas in MAPH particularly positioned me to work in academia, especially fundraising. Fundraising leaders are stewards of big visions, connectors and conduits of social change. This requires deep curiosity, communication skills, and rigor—three things I fundamentally honed at U of C.

What qualities help people succeed in nonprofit work?

JH: I often say fundraising success is contingent on mindset and methods. When nonprofit leaders embody their call to purpose, there is no limit to what they can achieve. Today, I see a tremendous opportunity to reimagine the “nonprofit tool kit,” especially in light of recent trends in turnover and burnout.

AD: I think you have to have an innate inability to sit with social injustice. This is hard work, and you aren’t going to be paid lots of money to do it, so you have to be driven by something. You have to be driven by moral rage when you see people or places that you love hurt.

Many entry-level nonprofit jobs involve fundraising, which makes some job seekers anxious or uncomfortable. What guidance would you give them?

JH: When I work with nonprofit leaders and boards, I discover that the barriers to financial sustainability are tied to individual and collective belief systems. Many of us carry limited beliefs around money (“there’s not enough,” for example). Pair this with the long-held belief that fundraising is icky or a form of begging, and people often get stuck in their own story. I work with organizations to destabilize those stories.

JG: You’re probably aware of surveys about what people fear most in life, or what causes the most pain. And right up there with the death of a loved one is asking somebody for money. It’s viewed as this awful thing. But when you put it in the right terms, it’s really inviting somebody to invest in something that matters to them and aligns with their values and what they want to accomplish in life. Talking about it that way takes a lot of fear out of it. It’s me saying, “Let me help facilitate you giving to something that matters to you.”

What’s the best part about working in the nonprofit sector?

JG: The beauty of the sector is there are so many interesting facets to it. Our firm is advising at least three environmental initiatives; we’ve done work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, as well as local Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs in cities across America. What is fascinating about our business is the extraordinary range of opportunity we have to make a difference in different places.

JH: The best part of this work is the people: the visionaries, the passionate and purpose-driven individuals, and the communities we work together to serve. It’s a true privilege to share space with them, to guide them, and to carry their aspirations into reality.

AD: The direct connection to impact. I think that’s why most people wind up in nonprofit work. I get to go home knowing that what I did helps to impact the world for the better in some way. A lot of people don’t get to say that in their day-to-day jobs.

Photo Creds: 
Photography by Collin Hughes