Perspectives: The Non-Profit Sector by Mary Dell Hayes

Perspectives: The Non-Profit Sector by Mary Dell Hayes

My first nonprofit job? I hated my career in financial services and started volunteering as an advocate for survivors at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. I loved my volunteer work. Within six months of dedicated volunteering, I had the opportunity to become the Volunteer Services Coordinator.

My second job? WOOO, can we say burnout? After four years at Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, I was crispy as burnt toast. I had been volunteering for special events with Pawmetto Lifeline and had the opportunity to work in development there.

Then what? I did a brief stint at a nonprofit job where there was a serious culture and attitude clash. Then, I had the opportunity to come back to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands in development. In the spring/summer of 2016, I was promoted to Executive Director, finished the PMBA program at UofSC, and had a baby.

Here is what I learned:

  1. Your professional network defines your professional career. Don’t be fake. Build lasting relationships with people you like and respect. Have at least one relationship with someone you don’t really like or agree with, but who you ethically respect enough to take their feedback. No one does well in an echo chamber.
  2. Volunteer. Volunteering isn’t just good for your resume or CV. It’s an extension of your record. It’s an outward and visible sign of your values. It can lead to your next job.
  3. Money isn’t everything! Look at more than a salary band when taking a job. Do you have flexible hours, like really, and not just a policy that no one actually uses? Can you bring your baby to work with you? Do you get family leave? Do people actually take a vacation or do they just check their email at the beach? Will the company invest in your professional development? Will you like and value the opinion of the people you have to work alongside every day?
  4. Nothing is permanent or perfect. No workplace or agency is always going to be the same or will achieve the level of perfection we seek. How long can you live with how it is now? How long will it take to change things and are the resources available? This applies whether it is developing a new program, launching a new curriculum, or looking at how the agency is managed. Along those lines, what is your next move? Always have a Plan B in case where you are now doesn’t work!
  5. Read. Learn. Read blogs on the nonprofit sector. Watch Ted Talks. Read books and articles from thought leaders. Challenge yourself to continually fine tune your philosophy on the nonprofit sector and program service delivery. If you are new to the nonprofit sector, welcome! There is a lot to learn and much benefit to be derived. Take a look.

Mary Dell Hayes is the Executive Director of Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM). Mary Dell received a Bachelor of Arts in Government and International Relations with a minor in Public Relations in 2006 and a Master of Business Administration degree from the Moore School of Business in 2016 from the University of South Carolina. Learn more about STSM at

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at


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