Three Reasons to Consider a Nonprofit Internship

Dear RC students,
I understand that you are interested in consulting and I-banking for summer internship. However, I recommend that you should consider the job at a nursing home.

‘Nursing home’ is not an accurate description. United Methodist Services for the Aging (UMSA), a nonprofit organization I worked for last summer, is managing a senior-citizen’s community called ‘Asbury Heights’ that includes an assisted living facility, an independent living facility, nursing-care units and Alzheimer-care units. UMSA generates annual revenue of $17 million, and accommodates about 400 senior citizens in Pittsburgh. My summer internship turned out to be life-changing experience. There are three reasons why I highly recommend similar experience for you.

Reason 1: Apply your skills and make a difference
At UMSA, you are supposed to protect the daily lives of 400 residents through applying all the business knowledge. It was an integration of all of our RC courses.

If you are interested in finance, you can contribute by saving UMSA from overleverage (Currently, their interest coverage ratio is about 1.2) If you are interested in marketing, you can contribute by re-building marketing strategy as well as fundraising strategy. (Currently, they are raising donations of only $1 million per year) If you liked FRC, you can contribute by implementing the balanced scorecard. Other subjects, such as cost accounting and operational management would also be critical for improving the service efficiency.

I myself did three things during the two-month internship. First, I designed and implemented a balanced scorecard for Alzheimer-care facility, working together with the facility administrator. Second, I examined various options for restructuring its balance sheet, and created long-term financial plan for UMSA to get rid of overleverage, working together with the CFO and controller. Third, working closely with the CEO, I initiated the brainstorming for cross-sector collaboration – a strategic alliance with for-profit companies for long-term financial stability.

If I had to choose one accomplishment of which I am really proud, I would chose the experience of ‘implementation’. I not only ‘planned’ but also ‘implemented’ the balanced scorecard. Although the CEO strongly believed in the value of the balanced scorecard, there existed strong skepticism in the middle management layer. I spent a tremendous amount of time to persuade and involve key people in the management, collecting data, and advising managers so that they can continue to do it. It was the first change-management experience in my career.

Reason 2: Great opportunity to learn from management leadership
If you have the view that nonprofit organizations are managed by religious people with no management skill, you are completely wrong.

John Zanardelli, CEO of UMSA, was a great ‘teacher’ as well as ‘learner’.

He is an alumnus of HBS executive education program, and currently teaching healthcare management at University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon Univ. as a part-time lecturer. I was struck by his passion to learn from business school student like me – He asked me hundreds of questions. He also answered hundreds of questions I asked him. Although I had no experience in healthcare sector, his coaching and mentoring helped me fulfill the tasks.

The leadership of the management was amazing. When I attended monthly ‘Roundtable Meeting’ where any employees who has complaints can join and directly talk with top management, One day, the CEO told me that the core strength of UMSA management was ‘the sense of caring’. They were ‘caring’ indeed! They were extremely keen to understand the feeling of each employee as well as resident, and accustomed to solve any problems they face quickly. Here is a living case study of real leadership – a great leader designated to support the frontline.

Reason 3: You will meet with great people
Conversations with residents in Asbury Heights were unforgettable. I truly enjoyed breakfast and dinner with residents every day. One of the residents, who was 95 years old, told me about his first experience of having a car. “I got a second-hand Model-T. It was a very good car.” “The depression in 1930 was terrible ….” It was a privilege to learn such an economic history from those who experienced it directly.

One of the residents, Mr. Carl Weaver, was Marine Corp veteran who fought against Japanese at Iojima battle in 1945 – the fiercest battle that killed 22,000 Japanese and 7,000 Americans. He wrote me a long and wonderful letter that explained the history of the war. He concluded in the letter as follows:

“You probably are wondering why I am presenting you with this past history. The answer: hate and the healing of war wounds. Our hate for the Japanese was overwhelming after they attacked Pearl Harbor. The irony of this whole letter is that the hate is gone. I believe peace, understanding and good will now prevail between our countries. After fifty-seven years, I have met a Japanese gentleman right here in my home at Asbury Heights, who I really like and who I admire for his ambition to become a manager and leader.”

This letter was rewarding enough for me. Even without salary, I would be willing to do this summer job for this wonderful letter. I was looking forward to meeting with Mr. Weaver again, but he passed away last October. His letter, his picture, and some gift he gave to me became my lifetime treasure.

RC students, I know that you are interested in popular summer jobs such as consulting and I-banks. However, if you want to have unique experience, please think about UMSA. Mission-driven, hardworking people at UMSA may change your perspective on management. At least, they will give you a unique and rewarding experience that you can never forget in your life.