Not everyone in finance spends a day digging their hands into the earth with a team of volunteer gardeners or hosing down shelter dogs at a local animal rescue, but for Chad Wolbrink, operations manager at San Francisco-based non-profit HandsOn Bay Area, it's all part of the job. Unlike the stereotype of the bean counter as corporate cog, it turns out you can combine a love for numbers and organizational skills with a passion for green and socially responsible causes.
At HandsOn Bay Area, Wolbrink counts budgeting, ensuring bills are paid on time, invoicing corporate partners, processing payroll and working with auditors among his daily responsibilities. But the diminutive org, which aims to connect volunteers with volunteer opportunities around the Bay Area and also supervise volunteer days for large corporations, sometimes requires him to step outside his finance box. "One of the reasons why I love my job is I actually get to be a project leader," he says. "I actually go out and lead volunteer projects, making sure the volunteers have all the tools they need to make the day successful."
Wolbrink has always combined his commitment to causes with what he affectionately refers to as an OCD-like attention to organization. After graduating from Augusta College in South Dakota in 1998 with majors in French and English, he spent two years working in volunteer services and wound up working as an office manager at a small non-profit in Chicago. "I loved it so much that I decided to keep learning and going with it," he says of a career that eventually led him to the role of CFO at New York-based non-profit DoSomething.org before relocating to the Bay Area in 2010.
His life hardly resembles that of the traditional finance guy. For starters, his office is located on the ever-gentrifying fringes of SOMA, a neighborhood full of startups and non-profits that is night and day different from the neighboring Financial District. Wolbrink also works in jeans and a t-shirt. "I've never put on a tie at this job yet," he says. "It's pretty awesome."
Unlike many corporate jobs, working for a non-profit does sometimes means he's working alone and organizing some pretty messy finances. Wolbrink turns that to his advantage. "One of the things that I love to do is go in and help non-profits get organized and take it to another level," he says. "It can be tough, but as those things get put into place the organization can grow and prosper a little bit more. I love seeing that change happen."
He admits the pay isn't the same as in the for-profit world, but says he gets by fine and has an added advantage: "Because I work at a place that I love, I'm not spending tons of money to find things that I love after work."
As to whether job seekers should consider the leap from a corporate work environment to a more socially responsible one, Wolbrink says: do it. "If someone has the personality that fits than I would say go for it," he shares. "There are options in the non-profit world for anyone who works in finance and accounting. It's just a matter of whether you're willing to take the cut in pay in order to get the benefits of something you love doing."
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