Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work in the nonprofit sector, inspiring meaningful change every day? Erica Land has devoted her entire career to doing just that. Her journey started locally at Lindenwood University where she double majored in American Humanities and Business. She chose the American Humanities program because it would allow her to put her passion of connecting people and her passion for helping others to meaningful use. While in college, she started working for the YMCA part time for the childcare program. After college, she started working full time there and was promoted to Senior Director. Working at the YMCA right out of college bolstered her business skills tremendously. As a young recruit, she was asked to go door to door on a fundraising campaign. Though daunting at first, she realized that asking people to support an organization that she was passionate about, believed in, and would donate to herself resonated with people and wasn’t as difficult as she had made it out to be. This mindset helped her become more authentic and successful during this campaign and for all of her future fundraising projects. While working at YMCA, Land earned a master’s degree from Lindenwood University in Business Administration and Humanities. She said it was actually easier to earn a master’s degree while working full time because what she was learning in school was immediately relevant to her job. Additionally, real-world experiences from working at a nonprofit helped her understand what she was studying, while providing good references for the essays she had to write. She worked at the YMCA for 9 years before moving to her next position.
Currently, Erica Land is the Director of the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in St. Charles which serves juniors and seniors from all 15 high schools in St. Charles County. This program helps prepare them for success in whatever careers they pursue through connecting students to internships and classes focused on crucial business skills.
Going from a Senior Director at YMCA to the Director of CAPS wasn’t easy, and required stepping into unchartered territory. Land worked in fundraising at her first 3 jobs and knew how to do it well. However, the role of Director at CAPS was originally meant for an educator. Land’s competition for the role was teachers and principals with masters or even doctorates in teaching, so she was almost positive she wouldn’t get the job. Since she thought she had nothing to lose, she felt comfortable being herself in the interview and going for it. An invaluable part of her preparation for her interview was to reach out to a current business partner of the CAPS program, a principal at one of the schools, and a student in the program to get a feel for what they liked about it and where they would like to see changes. She took this information and ran with it in the interview and was able to show what an asset she could be to CAPS. Talking to these 3 people provided insights that helped her in the interview, and in knowing that she could be happy working there. Erica Land stresses the importance of getting to know a company in the nonprofit sector before taking a job. The average time an employee spends at one nonprofit is only 18 months because of the high burnout factor. While working at a nonprofit can be very rewarding, employees are typically paid less and have to put in more hours. Land suggests talking to a current employee to learn what the culture is like and how employees are treated. If you don’t know anyone that works there, you can search the company’s name on LinkedIn and find several employees to chat with. Usually, these people will give you honest feedback that can help you decide if the company is a good fit. Land also suggests volunteering at a nonprofit for a few months to get a feel for the company. She stresses the importance of doing your research and finding a good fit, because leaving a job after just 18 months reflects poorly on a resume, even if there is good cause. Her advice is to take time to make sure you will enjoy working at the company in order to prevent setting yourself back in the future.
In her 2 years at St. Charles County CAPS, Land has developed several disciplines that help her to excel in her role. Regardless of how busy she is, Land commits herself to visiting classes in the CAPS program at least once or twice every week. Showing up and being present demonstrates to the teachers and students that she supports them and is there for them in an active way. Putting blocks in her calendar to make sure she has time for priorities and projects is another reason for her success. Her schedule often gets shifted around a lot and her days are incredibly busy, so she’s learned to prioritize holding blocks of focused work time. She also blocks out times in her schedule when she knows there is a particular student who is going through a hard time and might need her. Another habit that has helped Land in her career is listening to her gut. She has trusted her instincts when making big decisions, and this has served her well by allowing her to grow and not let self-doubt talk her out of making any risky decisions.
If in your search to discover your career path you find that servicing the greater community is key to your feeling of success, Erica Land demonstrates many important habits and decision-making tools that can help you thrive on your journey. If there is one thing you take away from Land’s story, let it be that trusting yourself and taking a leap of faith is crucial for growth and will help you create your best life.