Every job in the non-profit sector is different - making the non-profit world a bit difficult to navigate at times. We're here to help guide you through the non-profit world, one job at a time. Ever wonder what's it like managing fundraisers in more than 500 schools?
Erin Zaranec, Campaign Manager - Pennies for Patients, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Northern Ohio
Assemblies, penny wars, dunk tanks, shaving teacher's heads and making whip-cream pies that will end up smeared on a principal's face... my job is really fun, really unpredictable and oftentimes mistaken for being not a 'real job'.
I am a Campaign Manager at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Northern Ohio. I manage the Pennies for Patients campaign - you may have even done it yourself while in school! The campaign has been around for more than 20 years and has been dubbed various things - when I was in school it was referred to as 'Pasta for Pennies' for 'Pasta for Patients'.
I manage and implement a fundraiser that takes place in more than 550 schools across 31 counties of Northern Ohio throughout the school year. Each year, we raise about half a million dollars in Northern Ohio... most of which is raised through change collection in schools. So, yes, I manage a campaign that is built off of pennies, nickels and dimes.
My 'day-to-day' varies so much, it's nearly impossible to sum up. I can be in multiple schools in one day, meeting with teachers, principals, school nurses, student groups, PTAs and more. I'm really, really fortunate that I landed a gig that keeps me out of the office and out and about... I rarely have a week where I sit behind my desk for 40 hours.
These days are oftentimes the most fun. I get to have amazing conversations with people who volunteer their time to make this program great. I have had the chance to meet survivors, who we dub Honored Heroes, and craft a program around their cancer story. I've also met, unfortunately, people who have lost a loved one along the way and coordinate the Pennies program in their honor. And I've met plenty of adorable kids who bring in handfuls of change simply because they want to help a kid who is just like them... they just happened to get sick along the way.
These are oftentimes also the days where people joke that my job is 'too fun to be real' or 'must be pretty easy' because I'm 'just working with kids'. This is probably one of the largest misconceptions I get as a non-profit pro that works hands-on with kids. My job is really fun. I oftentimes end up hanging out with kids who make my stomach hurt from laughing so hard and who are eager to run a fundraiser in their school. However... my job isn't what I would call easy.
The cool thing about Pennies is that across all 550+ schools in my territory, the program can look totally different in each one. Schools get to customize their fundraiser in any way they see fit - we have schools run the program for one day, one week, months at a time, or only host fundraisers during athletic events or pre-planned functions. It's my job to stay up-to-date with school fundraising trends and bring those trends to each school, giving them the power to control their Pennies program.
I also have days where I'm meeting with sponsors and partners, crafting a strategic plan for a school district, helping manage online fundraising efforts, training my wonderful team, meeting patients and their families, doing all-staff hospital visits, and days where I'm working on the administrative side of the keeping the campaign afloat.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
I've been on the job for just over a year now and have learned some great lessons along the way.
The best jobs are the ones you don't know exist. Prior to this position, I didn't know a job like mine existed. The non-profit sector is such a "big little community" - after a while, you start to realize the overlap in certain positions - yet everyone has a different structure, different needs and responsibilities and a different mission. It's important to give yourself time to truly explore that community in your area to find a job that peaks your interest and motivates you to work towards your organization's mission.
Kids are so underestimated as donors. Prior to this year, my program had no financial sponsors. We were relying solely on kids age 5 to 18 to raise nearly half a million dollars - which is pretty amazing. The more amazing part is... they continuously do it! I have learned that kids are the most selfless, motivated and determined donor group there could be. They give simply because they want to. I've had high school students donate their whole paycheck from an after-school job and third graders create their own promotional video to increase their donations. It's incredible what kids can do.
- Mission moments not only drive money... but personal motivation. When I took the job at LLS, I was initially intrigued by the opportunities the organization gave me to interact with the mission. Our patients and their families oftentimes become an extended family of our own - we have patients who stop by the office pretty regularly just to chat and give us updates on their lives. I have made it my personal mission to honor these stories in a fun and creative way. I never, ever, ever use the sympathy card when showcasing one of our Honored Heroes. The kids I work with don't want pity - they want to celebrate being a survivor and I am honored every single day that I get to celebrate that with them and spread that story to schools around my home state.
Erin is the Outreach Chair for YNPN Cleveland. If you are interested in writing for the YNPN Cleveland blog or this blog series, contact her at ErinMZaranec@gmail.com.