It takes a special person to work in the non-profit world. That person must be creative, resilient, tenacious, big-hearted, and, above all, resourceful. Even in the best of times, non-profits have to consistently scrap, beg, barter and cajole funding to serve its clients and pay its staff, and that level of stress can lead to high levels of burnout and turnover. But for those who’ve stuck it out and learned to navigate this prickly, precarious world, the payoff is a wealth of hard-earned knowledge and wisdom–wisdom that we at VolunteerMark have tapped into with our new blog series “Non-Profit Leader Spotlight.”
Each month, we’ll bring you industry veterans and innovators–folks who’ve learned a trick or two along the way and are happy to share their insights.
This month’s leader spotlight is Aimee Tilley, a nonprofit marketing and communications guru with 19 years of experience under her belt. As the current Director of Special Events for Liberty Hospital Foundation, Aimee has done it all, from writing grants and securing last-minute funding to driving a semi-truck in downtown Kansas City traffic. Her latest success was managing a 1/2 marathon through the streets of Liberty, MO that not only met but also exceeded their funding goals.
What initially drew you to work in the nonprofit sector?
It was pretty simple—I just wanted to help others. My very first job was with Starlight Theatre (a local KC non-profit theatre), and after a short 12 months, I knew I wanted to be more hands-on in the programming/service side of non-profit work. I was fortunate to land a job with the Girl Scouts, where I worked for nine years, creating programs for girls, writing curriculum, managing grants and planning events. Currently, I work for the Liberty Hospital Foundation as their Special Events Director. I love working with the Foundation – we are a small (three employees) but mighty team.
What was the most significant difference you noticed when left the nonprofit sector for the business community?
This will probably sound strange to some, but I think one of the most difficult things for me was wrestling with resources and budgets. When you work at a non-profit, you pinch every penny, you search out any opportunity/group/resource that can assist you in your project for free or for very little cost – even if that means you are up until 2 am assembling invitations/mailers or driving a box-truck across town. (True story, my 5-foot self really did that!) In my for-profit experience, while being a good steward of your resources is important – you actually have a budget to spend and staff to assist with big projects. Having a team and funds was a welcome change, but difficult to get used to.
What are the key lessons/strategies you kept and applied when you went to work for Liberty Hospital Foundation?
I think the biggest thing that has stuck with me over my career is you absolutely have to know your audience. Whether you are working with a potential donor or with an existing client, it’s important to know how they like to communicate, receive data, make decisions, etc. If you speak their “language,” you’re able to build trust and an understanding relationship – it can make your job so much easier!
What advice would you give to people who transition from the business to the nonprofit world?
Be prepared to get hands-on and creative to get the job done. For example, I recently reached out to a Christmas lighting company to help with one of the Foundation’s outdoor summer events. Our event is not a holiday-related fundraiser, but I know this company has more equipment, expertise and know-how to get the lighting we so desperately need to light the evening, helping our guests linger longer and bid more.
What’s the biggest adjustment(s) you had to make from managing employees to managing a volunteer team?
Always have a plan B. When you are working in a for-profit setting, if an employee fails to complete their task/job – you have some recourse. When you are working with volunteers – not so much. I have learned if you are clear with your expectations, communicate the plan before during and after the project, volunteers are much more likely to not only show up, but do an amazing job.
Aimee Tilley is currently the Director of Special Events for Liberty Hospital Foundation and has over 19 years of fundraising and nonprofit experience. She’s a graduate of University of Central Missouri, but her heart will always be for Alabama—Roll Tide!