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  • David Gillanders

Working to Make the World a Better Place

A nonprofit management certificate can open the door to a rewarding new career.

Ten years ago, David Gillanders was working in the entertainment industry, running a public relations firm that handled music acts. The former magazine writer enjoyed his career and was quite successful, but he had loftier goals. Someday he planned to give back to the Orange County community where he grew up.

Reaching out and contributing to society had always appealed to David, and he felt that when the time was right, he’d find an opportunity to devote his life to serving others. One day he just knew the time had come. He left his job and started working at a local nonprofit.

“Giving back is something that was always in the back of my mind,” said Gillanders, instructor and advisory committee member for DCE’s new Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program. “I grew up in Anaheim and I’ve lived in the local area my entire life. I really wanted to give back to my community and find a way to transfer my business skills to the nonprofit world.”

From corporate to nonprofit

Gillanders has since worked with a total of six different nonprofits, serving members of the community who are at greatest risk. One organization was dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence, providing professional assistance, protective services, and finding safe living spaces for the victims.

Then, a little over a year ago, a recruiter came to him with an offer to join Pathways of Hope, an organization dedicated to advocating for the homeless, finding long-term housing solutions while working to keep disadvantaged families from becoming homeless. As executive director, he’s had the great opportunity to use his business acumen to support the local homeless population. It’s an endeavor that has paid huge dividends and created a wealth of success stories.

“We’ve been able to help thousands of people overall,” Gillanders said. “In 2017 alone, we were able to get nearly 200 people into permanent housing. And we kept many others from becoming homeless.”

He offers a compelling example: “There was a young woman who had a serious substance abuse problem, like so many homeless people. But now, after going through the Pathways of Hope program, she’s been sober for about a year and was able to transition to permanent housing. Stories like that are what we live for.”

Pathways of Hope leverages a number of resources such as fundraising events, direct donations, and partnerships with organizations such as Via Esperanza and New Vista, two immediate-response shelters for homeless families.

The idea is to help the homeless transition to temporary housing, then ultimately a permanent place to live, offering financial assistance for move-in costs.

“Pathways of Hope is dedicated to helping the disadvantaged, but the homeless problem is really a societal problem that affects us all,” Gillanders said. “Women living on the streets are especially vulnerable and at-risk for assault. Something has to be done. Ending homelessness would provide massive benefits to entire communities.”

Nonprofits span a wide range of causes and missions, offering myriad career opportunities for committed individuals. The American Red Cross, Sierra Club, Disabled American Veterans, World Wildlife Fund, Alzheimer’s Association and Feeding America are just a handful of large nonprofits that need well-trained, knowledgeable staff.

The rewards of nonprofit work are circular, in a sense. Not only does it improve lives and communities, it provides meaning and purpose to the folks who make a living helping others. And it’s an increasingly attractive career option for a wide range of individuals.

In Gillanders’ case, he chose to mentor a new generation seeking the same path. So he joined DCE as an instructor to share his real-world experience and business expertise, teaching fundamental elements necessary to navigate the current nonprofit terrain.

A career with meaning

Launching a nonprofit career takes more than good intentions alone. Nonprofit management in the 21st century has its own set of unique challenges that require professionals skilled in organization, management and relationship-building.

The online Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program aims to help fill that need, preparing participants for leading management positions through experienced, expert instructors like David and advanced curriculum based on a business approach that is essential for success in today’s nonprofit world.

Students learn how to implement effective strategic financial management, identify organization goals, analyze the viability of new fundraising initiatives and much more.

“Having a thorough understanding of how internal and external factors can affect the day-to-day operations is necessary to navigate around the complexities of managing a nonprofit,” said Angela Jeantet, director of education and business programs. “This online specialized studies program is ideal for individuals new to or early on in a nonprofit management role as well as those who are considering a career change, and even experienced industry professionals who would like to obtain further coursework credentials.”

Interest in nonprofit work is running high in today’s politically polarized climate, drawing a wide range of dedicated newcomers, from career-changers like Gillanders to first-time students choosing to start their journey working to make a difference in the world.

It seems to be an especially popular option for millennials who, more so than past generations, seek meaningful and substantive careers over corporate profits.

“There’s some truth to that,” Gillanders said. “The millennial generation is looking for something a little more meaningful than just making a lot of money. My students are usually a mix: young people who want to make a difference and older career-changers who feel the need to find a new direction.”

With a variety of difficulties facing the world today, the mission is more urgent than ever.

“Given the current climate, there are so many problems in society that require a lot of attention that they aren’t receiving,” Gillanders said. “There’s so much tension and disagreement in our society, and so many people are looking for solutions. Working for a nonprofit is one way to make a meaningful and tangible contribution.”

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