Some time ago, I had the pleasure of meeting U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Eden Murrie as she was getting ready to step away from her military career. She was contemplating her options and trying to assess how best to apply her talents and experience in a new career. Today, Murrie is Director of Government Transformation and Agency Partnerships at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. I asked for her thoughts on military transition into the nonprofit sector.
VSB: What did you find most appealing about a post-military career in the nonprofit sector?
Murrie: The most appealing aspect of the nonprofit sector is the chance to further a career of service in support of missions that are bigger than any one individual or than the bottom line focus of the for-profit sector. I am involved with several nonprofit organizations and the dedication, professionalism and passion of my new comrades is incredible.
VSB: How did you determine the nonprofit sector would be a good fit for you?
Murrie: First, I did a number of informational interviews with people working for nonprofits or serving on boards of non-profits. These conversations gave me great insight into the challenges and opportunities facing nonprofits and perspective on what is typically expected of employees and board members.
I decided to take classes and received a certificate in fundraising management from the Lilly School of Philanthropy, Indiana University. This allowed me to build connections with many nonprofit professionals who served in a variety of positions in a wide range of organizations. I not only learned a great deal from the professors but also from my classmates’ real life experiences in the sector.
We have to do more as a community, and as mission-driven leaders, to introduce ourselves to the nonprofit sector as creative thinkers who are able to innovate and find solutions to difficult problems using limited resources.
VSB: What do you see as the skills that transitioning military leaders have to offer that are most valued within the nonprofit sector?
Murrie: Former military leaders have direct leadership experience and bring talent and integrity that could be applied in a nonprofit organization as potential board members, chief executive officers or chief operating officers. These individuals have built experience and skills that can greatly strengthen a nonprofit organization’s operations and capacity. More specifically, former military leaders:
- Have confronted resource challenges, personnel shortages, changing technology and shifting public policy priorities. To overcome these challenges, senior military leaders are adept strategic thinkers and change agents. They know how to operate in difficult economic times, helping their organizations to do more with less. These leaders know how to build a case to obtain resources to carry out the mission.
- Are adept at building and sustaining relationships with internal and external stakeholders. They have extensive experience developing and communicating strategies and priorities to stakeholders and working with diverse teams to bring plans to fruition; they are skilled communicators and can relate well to a wide range of audiences including the Congress, the international community, industry and other non-governmental organizations.
- Understand the importance of achieving the mission through collaborative decision-making and shared effort. They have had to integrate different perspectives and approaches to achieve their mission effectively and efficiently. This involved collaborating, listening to diversity of opinion and recommendations, and then rolling up the shirtsleeves to lead the team to help get the job done.
- Are able to remain calm under pressure and to think rapidly to find solutions to difficult problems using the limited resources at hand. They are trained to adapt to new job requirements, teams and cultures and are quick studies, rapidly learning their new organization’s unique challenges and opportunities.
Throughout our careers, we have applied our talents to make the best case for additional resources; we are ready to apply that experience to support a nonprofit organization’s fundraising efforts and mission.
VSB: What have you learned from your nonprofit board service?
Murrie: Education about the responsibilities of being a board member and about all facets of the organization is critical. An uninterested or uneducated board can, unfortunately, let a good organization go down some very bad paths.
Just like for-profit entities, nonprofits organizations need guidance and oversight from their Boards of Directors. A nonprofit’s fiscal and governance policies are very important, since these organizations are stewards of the donations they receive and must use those contributions for the purposes for which they are intended; contributors want to ensure their donations are used most effectively.
The board is critical is ensuring the brand and reputation of their respective nonprofit remains above reproach.
Additionally, board diversity in terms of race, gender, background, job experience, age etc is very important as differing perspectives on issues can lead to better solutions.
VSB: Any surprises on your journey to date?
Murrie: I had more difficulty in entering the non-profit space than I anticipated. While my military service and experience was respected and appreciated, several nonprofit institutions had some difficulty envisioning how these would be a good fit within a nonprofit’s culture or setting.
We have to do more as a community, and as mission-driven leaders, to introduce ourselves to the nonprofit sector as creative thinkers who are able to innovate and find solutions to difficult problems using limited resources. Yes, veterans know how to take orders, but they are also quite talented at coming up with unique solutions to tackle the challenges at hand.
Throughout our careers, we have applied our talents to make the best case for additional resources; we are ready to apply that experience to support a nonprofit organization’s fundraising efforts and mission. We are quick learners, know how to build relationships and have the capacity to learn additional fundraising basics in relatively short order – we just need the opportunity to demonstrate these talents on the job.