New Voices: Paulette Pierre

When I put out the call for writers for New Voices, I was immediately intrigued by Paulette's description of her career path. I am someone who has known since I was eight that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector and have been moving at a sometimes breakneck spead to reach my goals in the sector ever since then. Paulette's description of taking a leap of faith and moving to the sector in mid-career quite honestly terrified me a little bit and so I knew I needed to hear more. Below is what I hope s the first of many posts by Paulette:

“Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and build your wings on the way down”- Kobi Yamada

When Trista extended an open invitation for her readers to submit reflections on philanthropy from their own perspective, I hesitated—for about a New York minute. What a wonderful opportunity to engage with those in the field and on the ground! While not a veteran program officer or even a policy expert, I do offer the unique perspective of being a mid-career changer, a woman of color and a newbie to the grant making field.

Here’s a question for all the for-profit folks out there: Have you ever felt the longing to do something of real substance with your life? Something that would bring about true social change? A force stronger than yourself driving you inexorably toward a life of fulfillment? I did and I have never looked back. Two years ago I embarked on a journey into philanthropy that has been both exhilarating and frustrating. I left my job on the trading floor of a commodities exchange after two decades. The environment was toxic to say the least. I knew I wanted something more out of my life and if I had to devote another 20-plus years to the work force, it would be doing something I was passionate about. So I increased my volunteering and this led to a return to school to learn more about philanthropy. It was while I was pursuing my graduate certificate in Non-Profit Management and Philanthropy that I got my current internship (who ever said internships are only for 20-somethings?). Yes, it was a huge risk to take giving up a comfortable salary to exist on a stipend. But I believed it was a greater risk to my long-term happiness NOT to take the chance.

I am now on my third grant cycle with a local foundation and words can’t express how much I love this job! I am fortunate to be surrounded by such a strong supportive staff that guide and mentor me each and every day. It’s been great in that from day one, I hit the ground running (no fetching coffee and filing here). I had my own docket of proposals, I do my own site visits and write-ups and present before our board of directors. But the most gratifying part of my day is the interaction with my grantees. I want to learn and understand their needs and how we can work together for the common good.

I will be chronicling the good and the bad (and there have been many of each). For what it’s worth I will also offer a few tips—resources and guides which have made my transition a little easier. I hope you will enjoy the ride as much as I have.

Paulette Pierre

Program Officer Intern at the Field Foundation of Illinois and currently pursuing her MA in Interdisciplinary Studies (with a concentration in Public Service and Sociology).