As individuals with Masters of Public Administration degrees seek out opportunities in the workforce, many will bypass the non-profit sector. However, working for a genuine non-profit organization can offer both professional and personal rewards. Many recipients of an MPA degree will find that their skills are aligned with those of an executive director of a non-profit.
The inner workings of a non-profit are foreign to most people. To help shed some light on a career in the non-profit sectors, Matthew Hoidal, the executive director at Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine, offered some insight. Camp Sunshine has the distinction of being one of the only programs in the nation whose mission is to address the influence of a life threatening illness on every member of the immediate family—the ailing child, the parents and the siblings.
Established in 1984 by Larry and Ana Gould, the camp began with only 4 programs. The couple owned and operated Point Sebago Resort and decided to use their land during the non-peak seasons to host the camp. In 2001 they developed nearby land and are now offering 27 programs.
Matthew is the first to admit that he never planned to work in the non-profit sector. He was pursuing his law degree and had actually contemplated becoming a personal injury lawyer. “That may sound funny because those guys usually get a bad rap, but I knew that many of those injured had legitimate claims, and I wanted to help them.” During law school, Matthew was looking for a cause to raise money for and a friend told him about Camp Sunshine. In the years to come, Matt became involved with Camp Sunshine, first as as a volunteer, and was ultimately offered the position of Executive Director.
At the top of most Non-Profit organizations is the Board of Directors. The Board typically develops policies to keep the NPO running smoothly. Matthew’s role as the Executive Director of the camp is to work with the Board to set these policies and then execute them along with all members of the organization. For example, Matthew was tasked with implementing a safety policy for staff, volunteers and families. He developed the guidelines for the policy and made sure that everyone understood and followed through. Other policies he helped develop include medical and privacy issues, as well as public relations. As the Executive Director of the non-profit organization, he also has fiduciary issues to consider. “Fundraising is a major component of any non-profit organization. It is important that we raise money responsibly and in turn spend it responsibly. I always have to keep the best interests of the organization in mind.”
“From a personal aspect, it is definitely rewarding to truly help people and make a difference in a child’s life. Camp Sunshine was founded with the goal to help the families of children with life threatening diseases and I can say that that goal is alive and well today.” Matthew went on to explain that his role as Executive Director not only rewards him personally but professionally as well. “From a professional standpoint, I love to see how Non Profits work through consensus building. Camp Sunshine has a multitude of different talents and skillsets on the board and on staff, all with various ideas and input. The most successful NPO’s are able to leverage and maximize the input of all of its resources.” Matthew states that working with people of various backgrounds has given him the ability to learn on a daily basis, making him a better-rounded professional.
Camp Sunshine currently manages a group of over 2500 volunteers that bring an intense passion for the organization’s cause as well as an incredible amount of selflessness. Matthew and his team look for the same qualities when hiring new members of their staff. “We love to have people with passion for their jobs and compassion for the families we help.” He warns, however, that candidates must be efficient communicators and goal oriented. “In a sense, we are a business. We look at the bottom line and want to operate efficiently”. An individual with a Masters of Public Administration degree is usually a good fit, as their education focuses on leadership, strategic planning and financial management.
“Although it was never my goal to work for a non-profit, I have found that this sector can be tremendously fulfilling on both a personal and professional level. It has been extremely rewarding at times and extremely challenging at others. My advice to MPA students who want to work for a non-profit is to always keep yourself open and be willing to wear various hats.”