Building a Nonprofit Career, with Amy Chu

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Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode:

Building a Nonprofit Career, with Amy Chu

Airdate: June 10, 2019

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, find the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.

One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.

That’s why once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a job they love.

Our guest today is Amy Chu. She’s the data and information administrator at the Sisters of the Road cafe.

After building a career in technology in San Francisco’s Bay Area, Amy Chu moved to Portland.

She used that change to reflect on her career goals. And Amy asked herself if she wanted to stay in tech or switch to nonprofit work.

In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Amy says she found her dream job by building a professional network here in Portland.  And she made those contacts through online research and informational interviews with people doing the work that she wanted to do.

Amy, welcome to the show.

Amy Chu:

Thanks for having me, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

It’s a pleasure. Now, you’re the data and information administrator at Sisters of the Road. It’s a nonprofit here in Portland dedicated to ending poverty and homelessness.

Amy, why do you love your job?

Amy Chu:

I love my job because I feel like I’m making an impact in the community that I want to live in every single day. Sisters provides a basic resource, nourishing meals and drinks, to members of the community in Old Town Chinatown in Portland.

Every day, I listen to our members of the community tell us that they get new jobs, that they found housing, or they reconnected with a family member and it makes me feel like I’m doing some actual good work.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s a wonderful organization. I came to Portland in ‘91, Amy, and Sisters of the Road was going strong then and it has a long history in the community, doesn’t it?

Amy Chu:

It really does. We’re coming towards our 40th anniversary, so there’s a lot of planning going on with that and a lot of work. And as the data and information administrator, I get to be the expert on our donor database and make sure all of the donations are entered accurately, and make sure everyone gets their acknowledgment letters, and make sure their ports get pulled, and all of the data is clean.

Mac Prichard:

Now, it’s a change for you; not only were you new to Portland when you came here, but you broke into nonprofit work for the first time. What makes this such a good fit for you after your career in technology?

Amy Chu:

The tech world had many perks. You may or may not know, travel, free catering, many financial incentives, however, there was something missing and that was actual fulfillment that I was going to be doing something more humanitarian, that was actually benefiting the community as a whole.

In Portland, we have so many nonprofit organizations, I couldn’t help but take a look around and thanks to Mac’s List, I got to poke around and see a lot of different non profit jobs posted and see whether or not my marketing background and skill set would be a good fit for any of them.

Mac Prichard:

You didn’t stop at looking at job boards; you actually stepped away from the computer, didn’t you, Amy? And you went out and talked to people when you were doing your search. Tell us more about that.

Amy Chu:

When I was still working in tech, I was part of the Portland Women in Tech networking group, which is actually a community-driven nonprofit and I made a lot of friends there. Many of whom also worked in the nonprofit sector, so I was able to network with them and ask them which nonprofits could I make a real impact in, and so, Sister of the Road came up several times, actually, which was really surprising and they have a great reputation in Portland and I was also able to diversify my job searching techniques with reaching out to recruitment agencies here in Portland. As well as look around on the job boards and read your book, “How to Land a Job in Portland.”

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so, you looked at job boards, you were part of a professional group, PDX Women in Tech, but sometimes I think, would you agree, Amy, people hear tech and they think it’s all private sector, but was that your experience? Did you find that there were a lot of…it sounded like you met a fair number of nonprofit people and PDX Women in Tech.

Amy Chu:

Here in Portland, there are a lot of people who work part-time in several areas. Whether it’s force, profit sector, or a nonprofit sector, and I found quite a few people who had very unconventional ways of working. I, myself, was very curious about the nonprofit sector, reached out to a few leaders, nonprofit leaders on LinkedIn, and actually requested some informational interviews and was able to build a support system, a support network on LinkedIn as well as the friends I made in Portland. That was very helpful.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to listeners who say to themselves, “Yes, I know I need to connect with or reach out to people on my LinkedIn network and ask for informational interviews, but I either don’t know how to get started or I sent off emails and people don’t write me back.” What was your experience there, Amy?

Amy Chu:

Leverage your support network to cheerlead you through the tough times.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Amy Chu:

There are going to be tough times. There are going to be busts, interviews that go bust, there are going to be people who don’t call you back. Just keep going, keep pushing, and diversify your job search tactics.

If you just go through recruitment agencies, you’re not going to be able to leverage all the amazing job boards out there, like PDX Pipeline or Mac’s List or LinkedIn Jobs. Portlanders are very friendly; ask your fellow Portlander if they have any…if they know of any open job postings in your field of choice.

Reach out on LinkedIn. There are so many nonprofit leaders and professionals on LinkedIn who are willing to support. Well, that’s what I found anyway, and provide you with good information about the roles that you’re interested in applying to.

Mac Prichard:

How did the people in your network support you? Did you have, maybe, a job search buddy? And how did you support others who might have been going through a search, too, Amy?

Amy Chu:

I would say I received a lot of support. Which I was fortunate to have received, from my former colleagues who were surprised that I was moving sectors, and from my friends here in Portland who wanted me to join the social justice and make some serious social change, too. So I would say there are a lot of passionate people in nonprofit and, you know, you can reach out to me and I’ll cheerlead you.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know we’ll have an article on the website, with a link to your LinkedIn page.

Amy Chu:

Oh, good.

Mac Prichard:

I hope people will follow up.

Now, how did you find your job at Sisters of the Road? Tell us the story.

Amy Chu:

A couple of people I knew, one from Portland Women in Technology and others from other mutual friends had recommended that Sisters of the Road had a great reputation, one of the oldest, well known, nonprofits in Portland, and maybe I should check whether or not they had a job open. Fortunately, they did, and so I applied and I had no idea I was going to get called back and so I actually got a callback and was asked to send in a writing sample and then, subsequently, go in for a working interview.

I’ve never done a working interview in my life.

Mac Prichard:

Tell our listeners what that experience was like, what a working interview is.

Amy Chu:

I got to work in the cafe as a volunteer barter worker and basically get thrown in the mix and that was a great time, actually. I had a great time and that’s probably why they thought I was a good fit.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, and I’ve been to Sisters of the Road, for the benefit of people who aren’t in Portland and haven’t visited. Tell us about the cafe and the services it offers and the people it serves.

Amy Chu:

Sisters of the Road cafe provides nourishing meals in a safe space for the houseless community in Old Town Chinatown, Portland…or all of Portland actually. It also offers the opportunity to work barter shifts in the cafe in exchange for meals, so a lot of our community members work barter shifts for an hour or two and then they’ll receive these green barter cards which they can exchange for healthy, nourishing meals in the future. A lot of them collect these green barter cards and they can also exchange them for fresh change cards when summertime comes around. And those fresh change cards can be exchanged at the farmers market where they can further purchase more nourishing foods.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, you mentioned hearing about the job through your network at Sisters of the Road cafe; when you reflect back on your job search, Amy, what was the one thing that made the biggest difference?

Amy Chu:

Building my support network and making sure I got those informational interviews from nonprofit leaders helped the most, because they know the kind of work that’s going to be done and if I want to work in nonprofit and become a leader someday, then I knew I was going to have to get some real, accurate advice and helpful advice for the type of work I wanted to do and so they still follow up with me on LinkedIn, as well.

Mac Prichard:

These are the people you met during your job search and other people in the nonprofit community?

Amy Chu:

Right, these are nonprofit leaders I’ve connected with on LinkedIn in the Bay area and in Portland. They’ll check up on me, too. To see how I’m doing.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, that’s terrific because I’ve certainly found, and it sounds like you have too, that when you build a network during a job search, you end up in touch with those people for a long time in that field and it sounds like that’s been your experience.

Amy Chu:

Yes, yes, I think there’s a strong nonprofit presence on LinkedIn and I think that if a professional wants to go in the nonprofit sector or move into the nonprofit sector, then LinkedIn is the way to go and it’s been a great resource in tech and now in nonprofit as well.

Mac Prichard:

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome, making that transition from tech to the nonprofit world? What barriers did you encounter in switching sectors, Amy?

Amy Chu:

I would say, well, friendly advice to any other job searcher, don’t rely on any one tactic. Make sure there’s a mix of all kinds of tactics. Go out, speak with people at networking events, reach out to people on LinkedIn, reach out to recruitment agencies, scour your job boards, walk the streets, maybe, make sure you have your resume in hand, just in case, you never know.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, well, terrific, and finally, Amy, what’s your number one job hunting tip?

Amy Chu:

I would say what was most successful in this particular job hunt was creating that support system and reaching out to people in the nonprofit sector who had roles that I wanted to be in, in the future. Knowing what you want and then asking those in the same sector how they got there.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, terrific.

Amy, thanks so much for coming to the studio today and sharing your story.

Amy Chu:

Thanks for having me, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well, it’s been a pleasure.

You can learn more about Amy Chu’s job search by visiting macslist.org/stories.

And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.

Every Friday we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader, like Amy, who has found a dream job.  Go to macslist.org/stories.

In the meantime, thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.

Switching job sectors can be challenging for any job seeker. But it’s not impossible to make the switch, especially if you have a strong network of support around you. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Amy Chu and I discuss how she went from a career in technology to a more fulfilling one in the nonprofit world. Amy also shares how she used networking and professional organizations within the nonprofit field to build up a significant support network that still supports her today. Learn more about Amy’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.


What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?

I am the Data and Information Administrator for Sisters of the Road, a nonprofit Cafe in the Old Town neighborhood working to create systemic change that will end poverty and homelessness forever by providing accessible, nourishing meals in a safe, dignified space.

How long did it take you to find this job?

It took me about three months of active job searching to find my current job. I made it clear while I was job hunting that I was looking for meaningful work, and many people I knew in Portland suggested I apply at Sisters of the Road. Fortunately for me, they had an open position which I applied for and was invited in for an interview.

How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?

I found the job on the Sisters of the Road employment web page through word-of-mouth recommendations. I was also using Mac’s List, PDX Pipeline, LinkedIn Jobs, and recruitment agencies. Scheduling informational interviews with nonprofit professionals I found on LinkedIn helped me build a support network and learn more about the nonprofit sector.

What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?

Deciding whether moving into the nonprofit sector would be the right transition for me after working in the technology sector was tough. Job hunting in Portland is also very different from job hunting in the Bay Area. The technology sector is smaller, and the creative and nonprofit sectors are more prevalent.

I overcame this challenge by reading Mac Prichard’s book “Land Your Dream Job in Portland (and Beyond)” while cultivating a support network. The book identified job boards I had never heard of, local nonprofit networking groups, and much more. I also landed more phone and in-person interviews once I started tailoring my cover letter and resume to each position that caught my interest.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?

Figure out what you are looking for in your next job and request informational interviews with individuals who have similar jobs.

Why do you love your job?

My job requires me to be the database expert, responsible for the input, tracking, and reporting of data related to revenue, as well as generating tax and gift acknowledgements. This is befitting because I enjoy working with software, analyzing data, and making sure the data is accurate. I also enjoy providing database training and support to our volunteers and staff because I like helping others learn new things.

Last but not least, I believe that working towards building authentic relationships and alleviating the hunger of isolation in an atmosphere of nonviolence and gentle personalism that nurtures the whole individual, while seeking systemic solutions that reach the roots of homelessness and poverty to end them forever is a worthy mission.

Food insecurity is a huge problem, particularly for folks experiencing extreme poverty and/or homelessness. Sisters has been working alongside Portland’s unhoused community to increase access to nourishing food in a dignified and community-oriented space since 1979.

In addition to the Cafe and our Food Justice programming, our Systemic Change Team works to organize to address the threatening inequities our customer community faces daily. Sisters is a founding member of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (W.R.A.P), and we continue to organize in support of the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to decriminalize homelessness.