January 15, 2016

Stephanie Seale: Filling the Gaps

Stephanie Seale, senior manager/program developer at San Francisco-based Inveneo, knew from the time she graduated from college that she wanted to work in the nonprofit field. With an eye towards marrying that aspiration with her interests in technology and international work, she set about gaining experience in those interests and building skills that would help her progress in her nonprofit career.

Stephanie Seale, senior manager/program developer at San Francisco, CA-based Inveneo, knew from the time she graduated from Williams College that she wanted to work in the nonprofit field and hoped to marry that aspiration with her interests in technology and international work.

The path she took after graduation didn’t directly lead to work within a nonprofit, but it did help her gain experience in those interests she wished to leverage. Upon graduation, Seale went to work for New York-based PC Magazine as a writer, where she covered topics surrounding the then-nascent Internet. This experience, she said, gave her a strong foundation in technology and the issues surrounding it. But after a year with the magazine, she decided to gain some international work experience by joining the Peace Corps, where she served for two years in Bulgaria.

When Seale returned to the US, she took stock of her experiences and skills. Her goal was to find a senior leadership role with a US-based nonprofit with an international connection. She wanted to keep expanding her knowledge of technology and also learn more about managing volunteers, marketing, and fundraising. Serendipitously, a college friend contacted her about joining Geekcorps, a start-up non-governmental organization (NGO) that was nearly an exact match for the type of role Seale was seeking.

“It was almost tailor-made for me,” Seale said. “They were a start-up nonprofit where everyone did a little bit of something; everyone wore six hats.” As a result, Seale was able to gain experience in marketing, fundraising, program management, volunteer management, recruitment, and collaboration with other agencies.

After three years, Seale felt she had a solid foundation in most aspects of nonprofit management except budgeting and finance. “This was a gap for me as it’s a gap for many nonprofit managers, and I didn’t want to be that person who just throws up her hands and lets someone else handle all the finance duties,” she said. “I wanted to be able to fill whatever hat was necessary in whatever nonprofit I landed in.”

To build her finance skills, Seale went back to school and earned a master’s in developmental economics from the Fletcher School. She then began researching finance jobs in the nonprofit sector. While she did not intend to work in finance for the rest of her career, she noted, she felt strongly that working in the field would ultimately make her a more well-rounded nonprofit executive.

Seale considered the field of microfinance, even completing an internship with a large microfinance organization in South America. “It was useful in learning what I didn’t want to do,” she said. Eventually, she decided to focus on the funding sector and began consulting, first with the Open Society Institute and then with the Ford Foundation. Her goals were threefold:

  • To understand the issues that funders face;
  • To learn how foundations make their funding decisions; and
  • To help dispel the general air of mystery that existed in the nonprofit sector about how funders operate.

“It was an amazing, edifying experience,” Seale said. “That experience opened a whole new world to me.” She enjoyed working on the funding side, but Seale said she ultimately wanted to have a more direct connection to the people who are helped by the nonprofit sector.

In 2011, Seale moved to the Bay Area and deliberately targeted Inveneo, a nonprofit committed to delivering technology tools (such as computers, telephones, and Internet access) to people and organizations in underserved communities in the developing world. Not only did the organization combine Seale’s interests of technology and international work, but it also fit her personal philosophy that nonprofits can do even more good if they operate like a business with a social mission. Seale began volunteering at Inveneo one day a week, helping with a monitoring and evaluation project. Eventually, she was hired as Invenio’s senior manager, program development.

“I’ve felt like every step along the way has contributed to where I am now and it all makes sense,” Seale said. “I’ve tried to make sure I’m a generalist with a unique perspective.”

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