Ian Yaffe graduated from Bowdoin in 2009 with a degree in Latin American studies. He launched his career as an assistant harbormaster and firefighter in Chilmark, Mass., and then worked as a grill cook and ski instructor at Aspen Skiing Co., before landing his current job: executive director for the nonprofit, Mano en Mano, in Downeast Maine.
Before founding an arts venue in Stonington, Maine, Linda Nelson ’83, was a production assistant at a daily newspaper in New Hampshire, a dessert chef, a production manager and later CIO at The Village Voice, and CEO of a company called I.M.A.G.E, Inc.
Both of these Bowdoin graduates exemplify the often windy and circuiotous career trajectory of nonprofit professionals. They, like many who are committed to social justice work, be it on behalf of the arts, animals, environment or humanitarian causes, often travel windy and unpredictable paths.
This theme — of taking risks, of being open to new possibilities, of following your heart — was emphasized again and again at Bowdoin’s recent nonprofit symposium, “Passion in Action, the Power of the Nonprofit Sector.” The event was made possible through generous funding from the Preston Public Interest Career Fund.
The annual event, organized by Assistant Director of Career Planning Meg Springer, brings together Bowdoin alumni, faculty, staff and students for an intense afternoon of discussion on topics related to nonprofit careers.
Throughout the afternoon, participants shared their life stories, frequently divulging personal experiences and reflections. Brian Marcaurelle ’01, program director for Maine Island Trail Association, said he enjoyed hearing from other alumni about how they got to where they are today and what continues to drive them. He said he was also impressed by the diversity of students: “They have interests in women’s issues, hunger issues, poverty issues, environmental issues.”
Juliet Eyraud ’16 said she liked that the conversations at the symposium frequently touched on the “emotional” side of nonprofit work. She added, too, that the keynote speaker’s talk at the symposium had in particular “hit home.” “You have to be able to satisfy yourself in what you are trying to do,” she said, even if that means resisting pressure to follow what parents and others might consider more dependable, lucrative work.
Nicola Wells, the former director of the Maine League of Young Voters and current director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, gave the keynote address. As one of the first people in her family to attend a prestigious college (Swarthmore ’05), she spoke about the difficulty she had faced breaking free of her parents’ expectations. She recalled her father telling her, “Please don’t work in the nonprofit sector and please don’t encourage your sister to.”
Although she applied and was accepted to law school, Wells ended up pursuing work more meaningful for her. “I’ll be worth more to the world if I take a risk,” she said. One of her first jobs was at the Center for Community Change, in Washington D.C., where she helped organize action campaigns for low-income communities. “That was the start of a series of risks I’ve taken in my career.”
Springer reminded the audience that “there’s no instruction manual, no formula, no specific set of skills to work in the nonprofit sector. You stumble sometimes, you sometimes let your family down, you don’t always enjoy it, but in the end, your head and heart are aligned.”
Photos by Brian Jacobel ’14