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Nonprofit Careers in Demand – Program Manager


Name: Pamela Banks-Johnson
Job Title: Program Specialist, Assistant Director
Where: Piscataway, NJ
Years of Experience: 15+
Education: Keller Graduate School of Management, MPA – Concentration in Nonprofit Management
Salary: See PayScale's Research Center for median Nonprofit Salaries, including the Salary for a Nonprofit Program Manager.

Nonprofit Careers in Demand - Program Manager

Working in a nonprofit organization is not only a job, but a labor of love. In this inspiring Salary Story with program manager Pamela Banks-Johnson, you will learn all about the workings of a nonprofit organization as well as program manager duties, the challenges of nonprofit management, and what to expect from nonprofit salaries. Pamela is the definition of a quality program specialist. If you’re interested in the nuances of a nonprofit career or looking for a sample job description for a nonprofit program manager, then keep reading. You will find Pamela’s insights informative and invaluable.

Program Manager Job Description

As a program specialist I was responsible for program planning and development of five core programs dealing with asthma and lung health. One was “Camp Superkids,”a week-long residential camp for children ages seven to 13 who have been diagnosed with asthma. The duties included fundraising, grant writing, and recruitment of campers. Marketing duties included advertising and media coverage, creating recruitment brochures, and other needed documents. Then there were logistical duties (securing campsites, transportation, etc.), preparing and maintaining a program budget, and working with camp committee to develop appropriate programs. Since it was a medical based program I recruited medical volunteers (doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists), collected medical documentation, secured medical supplies, etc. I also purchased various items for the camp and campers through the use of bids, and finally, administered and interpreted surveys of campers and their parent/guardian.

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Open Airways for Schools/Open Airways for the Community — a six-week program also for children ages nine to 11, diagnosed with asthma. The program was administered in a variety of settings, including schools, faith-based institutions, community centers, and health clinics. This educational program was taught by facilitators, with or without a medical background. I was responsible for facilitator recruitment, training, and technical support, media coverage, preparing and maintaining a budget, analyzing program results, ensuring the facilitators received their stipends, and any necessary follow up.

Breathe Well, Live Well – an educational asthma program for adults with asthma. Duties were similar to those of Open Airways, except all facilitators were required to have expertise in the area of asthma.

Asthma Olympics – a one day track and field type event for children with asthma ages five to 12. I was responsible for securing a site, volunteer recruitment, program planning and execution, securing funding and supplies, advertising and media coverage, and recruiting children to participate.

Better Breathers Clubs – an ongoing support group for adults diagnosed with COPD and other lung health issues. I increased the number of support groups in the state of New Jersey by 50 percent. I was responsible for providing technical support, written materials, recruitment and training of new facilitators, and visiting each of the clubs at least annually. I instituted quarterly support sessions for the facilitators and was in the midst of developing the organization’s first COPD Sharing Session.

I was also a member of several county and statewide asthma and lung cancer coalitions. I was responsible for representing the organization and reporting on developments of the organization. I have experience advocating on the state and federal levels, discussing the needs of asthma and lung health patients. Furthermore, I was responsible for representing the organization at health fairs and community gatherings and was often called upon by Horizon Blue Cross to provide trainings to school nurses across the state.

What were your steps toward working in nonprofit management?

I have always been interested in helping those in need. I recognized that many individuals were unable to navigate the social services network, making them unable to secure the help they most desperately needed. I obtained my degree in criminal justice, with a goal of becoming an attorney. Unfortunately, life forced me into another direction. I began my professional career as a social worker for a child protective service agency where I was responsible for providing services to families and children victimized by abuse, neglect, and other problems that caused family dysfunction and stress. Eventually I became a supervisor in the organization. I left the field after 9/11; after working in various homeless shelters, I obtained my Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in nonprofit management.

What do you like most about your nonprofit career?

I love being able to help! At Camp Superkids I got to work with a volunteer committee that was active and excited to work at the camp for free. With the help of the committee, I was able to recruit over 80 children to attend camp located in a rural area of New Jersey. Many of the campers were from urban areas and had never experienced wildlife up close or swam in a lake (half of the children were from New York City). Under normal circumstances at home some of the children were not allowed to run and play like their peers for fear of having an asthma episode. At camp, the children were able to run, jump, swim, sit in front of a campfire, and see wildlife like frogs, fish, deer, and an occasional bear in the woods! They met new friends and went on a ridge walk or a hike up a steep mountain. Because of the possibility of an asthma episode, respiratory therapists, nurses, and physicians were at the camp at all times. The nurses and therapists also accompanied the children on the ridge walk to assist if needed. I am happy to report that the only medical issues at camp that week were banged up knees, a bruised toe (from jumping off the bunk bed), insect bites, and an occasional stomach ache. None of the children experienced an asthma episode while in camp. Letting the children experience camp was one of the highlights of my job.

What are some of the challenges in nonprofit management?

The biggest challenge for any nonprofit organization is funding. Although the need for asthma and lung health education and programs is desperate, the funding is small. Nonprofits rely on the generous contributions of corporations, governmental agencies, foundations, and individuals. Because of the downturn of the economy, funding streams have dried up. This leaves organizations unable to provide programming or salaries for their employees, which, compared to for-profit companies, is very small. One of my individual challenges was getting programs into the schools. School nurses knew the benefit of having an asthma education program for their students, but time constraints caused by the emphasis of improving standardized tests scores made it almost impossible to institute a program such as Open Airways for Schools. Neither the nurses nor the organization was able, in many cases, to convince the school officials that the benefits outweighed the disadvantages, i.e. loss of school days, increased visits to the nurse, and disruption of the classroom when a child had an asthma episode. Another challenge is time. There are so many in need of services and so little hours in the day to provide them. Time management is a must! The ability to prioritize is a must! The use of empathy and not sympathy is a must!

Do you have any advice for those interested in nonprofit careers?

I would advise anyone interested in working in nonprofit to realize that the salary is small, the work is demanding, but the rewards are great. You must have a heart for nonprofit work. I would advise that you seek wisely the type of nonprofit you wish to work for, as they are all different. I have had the opportunity to work in fields where it would have been beneficial for me to have a Master of Social Work degree. I have worked in fields where it would have been beneficial for me to have a degree in public policy or public health. However, if you sincerely desire to help, you can overcome these obstacles. You need to have thick skin, because often you will be rejected or unappreciated or feel abused. Know that your work is not in vain, even if you don’t see immediate results; often you will not. What is rewarding is having someone you have assisted see you in a store or call you on the phone, out of the blue, and tell you how much you helped them years ago. You may not even remember who they are or what you did. I don’t know of any advice I could have had when I began because this field really started me, not the other way around. It was not my chosen field, but it turned out to be the field I truly love!

Can you recall any interesting moments from your nonprofit career?

I had the opportunity to advocate on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. That was both interesting and amazing. Walking the aisles of Congress, meeting with senators and members of the House, talking to them about asthma, and the need for generic inhalers and more funding for programs was interesting and rewarding. I met with both New Jersey senators and several members of the House, all of which had a family member or close friend with asthma. I met Congressman Patrick Kennedy (who has asthma) and informed him of the change in the formulation of inhalers. His face lit up as he learned why he suspected there was a difference in his own inhaler.

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