The Career Path of a Nonprofit Generalist

By    Oct 22, 2015

About a year ago, I was accepted into the Chief Executive Program at National Arts Strategies. This particular cohort is focused on leaders using cultural organizations to change/alter/improve community. Unlike the prior cohorts, this third cohort is heavily populated with founders – creatives that saw an unmet need in their communities and started a new organization to address the gaps. They are artists and activists following their passions.

I was three months into my new position as CEO of a mid-size arts/youth development organization when we convened as a group for the first time. It was thrilling to be around these passionate change-makers, but also jarring as my background is so very different. Unlike these passionate creatives that are driven by their specific vision, I consider myself a generalist. Rather than a passion for a particular art form and how it can affect a community, I am passionate about nonprofits, how they run, how they change lives, and how they can better integrate into communities to drive change.

My generalist background includes work for a government arts agency, two theater companies, a community health department, a business school, and a youth development/social service agency. I’ve worked in programs, fundraising, events, education, communications, community relations, and general management. Each of these different organizations or departments was a chance to try something new, to build a new skill. I love to solve problems. I am good at fixing things. I am always up for a challenge.

In looking at the next generation of nonprofit leaders, I am excited by a group of people who can take on any vision, any challenge, any mission and make it excellent. Our sector needs those that are passionate about making a difference, no matter what it is. These are the generalists. Whether it is arts, social service, the environment – fundraising, programs, marketing – we can apply our diverse experience and take it to the next level. Our communities need us.