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Caring as a Career

The field of nonprofit management can be rewarding as well as challenging. Just ask Brateil Aghasi.

When coronavirus began its merciless assault, the most vulnerable among us were impacted first and hardest. So were those who work so hard to serve them. For the good people at the nonprofit WISEPlace, it posed an especially daunting set of challenges in an already embattled sector.

Dedicated to assisting homeless women in Orange County, WISEPlace has been providing transitional housing, mental health services, addiction recovery and a host of other services for more than 90 years, helping thousands of women get back on their feet.

But the COVID-19 pandemic was something altogether new and terrible to deal with, requiring immediate action in an uncertain environment, said Brateil Aghasi, CEO of WISEPlace and advisory committee member for DCE’s Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program.

“COVID-19 has brought challenges to an already challenged industry,” she said. “Homelessness doesn’t stop for a pandemic, and either does WISEPlace. At first, I had to quickly set new policies in place to keep my team, the women we serve, and our OC community safe. That’s obviously very challenging when our shelter has communal living spaces, communal showers and an overwhelmingly older population with compromised health.”

Thanks to her experience and leadership, Aghasi and her staff responded quickly with creative solutions and community partnerships. WISEPlace brought in temporary dividers and spread out much of its at-risk population, relocating many to private motels and other types of temporary shelter.

“Most nonprofit shelters have had to reduce occupancy by at least 25% due to physical distancing. For example, you go from two people in a room to one person in a room. It’s a balancing act because our services are needed now more than ever, yet we need more shelter and housing space to keep everyone safe.”

Immediate health and safety practices such as mandatory mask wearing and increased sanitation protocols were implemented, and aggressive scheduling allowed for limited staff contact and proper space to safely distance. Everything changed overnight to protect the staff, volunteers and the women served by WISEPlace.

“It was our duty to help keep OC healthy,” Aghasi said. “The first two months of COVID-19, I worked seven days a week and I don’t think I slept more than four or five hours a night. My team was incredible and really rose to the occasion. And, of course, none of it would have been possible without the community’s support with online fundraisers and donations. It was and continues to be a team effort, and the community support makes it all possible.”

It’s these essential partnerships, guided by skilled leadership, that continue providing much-needed services to our most vulnerable populations — and it wouldn’t be possible without those dedicated individuals seeking a career in nonprofit management.

“It’s great to be surrounded by and network with others who have a passion for driving positive change in our community. Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with and learn from.” Brateil Aghasi

Protecting the community

Once Aghasi and her team addressed their most urgent needs, they focused on mental health services. Partnerships were created with tele-health providers so prescriptions and counseling were safely accessible. Weekly socialization activities such as art, poetry and music classes were made available via Zoom.

“Our alumni are being affected too, and we started to provide COVID relief to those who lost their jobs, were furloughed and so forth, so they could keep their housing and not fall back into homelessness,” Aghasi said.

It wasn’t the first time Aghasi, and WISEPlace, faced challenges. When she started at WISEPlace nearly two years ago it was struggling and going through some significant changes. During her interview process it was clear that they needed Aghasi’s fundraising prowess as well as her expertise in leading and creating programs.

She had already served in top positions as VP and COO at a handful of organizations dedicated to supporting vulnerable populations through employment, healthcare, and youth-mentoring programs. WISEPlace needed her to provide similar support and direction.

“My job was to unite the entire team — the staff, volunteers and community supporters — behind a new vision of growth and adaptation, and lead us into a stable future,” she said. “The heart of what we do is provide a community of hope and housing where participants are supported with vital wrap-around services on their journey from homelessness to personal stability.”

A career in public service

Managing in the nonprofit space can lead to a rewarding career full of opportunities for professionals skilled in organization and relationship-building. The fully online Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies program can help open the door by providing expert instruction in essential fundraising strategies, along with the skills needed in marketing, communications, and strategic planning.

The program is intended for career changers as well as nonprofit staff members and volunteer coordinators who want to advance their skills. Continued growth is critical to a successful career in nonprofit management, Aghasi said, and prospects are bright for well-trained pros. Consider that demand is expected to grow by over 15% through 2029 — and experienced individuals can earn up to $97,000 a year.

“Many people in the Nonprofit Management program are there to challenge themselves and become the best leaders they can be,” Aghasi said. “It’s great to be surrounded by and network with others who have a passion for driving positive change in our community. Those are the types of people you want to surround yourself with and learn from.”

Nonprofits in the 21st century are facing new challenges that must be addressed to continue serving their communities and providing resources that wouldn’t otherwise be available. WISEPlace alone has managed to offer hope and assistance to more than 8,100 homeless women over the years.

“One in every four homeless adults in the U.S. is an unaccompanied woman, but WISEPlace is where they can get the help and support to rebuild their lives,” Aghasi said. “Advancing your nonprofit career is an investment in yourself that you will never regret. Jump in and embrace the opportunity!”

Learn more at Nonprofit Management Specialized Studies Program