Moving from private sector to charity work

Charitable organizations make a huge impact on the region that not everyone might be aware of, and hold within them significant opportunities for leadership, growth, and effective change. To learn more about what the Salvation Army is doing, and how one former private sector businessman turned to charity work, we spoke to Brad Freedman, Management Services Director for the Salvation Army.

ABERMAN: Talk to me: what does the Salvation Army do?

FREEDMAN: I know a lot of people know us from the red kettles that they see outside their local supermarket during Christmas time, but actually, the Salvation Army is quite a bit more. It was founded in 1865 by William Booth, in the United Kingdom, and has been in this area for over 100 years. So literally since the late 19th century, but beyond just red kettles. You know, we’re also a social service agency, and a faith based organization, so from the social service side, especially in the District of Columbia, we have a number of programs that a lot of folks are probably not familiar with. So what are the things that we have? Actually, Harbor Light center, which is on Route 50, at the corner of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue.

And basically what they do is, they provide rehabilitation for people dealing with substance abuse. We also have a transitional housing facility here in the district, on the place that we call Turning Point for young women that have children. It gives them an opportunity to develop some life skills, budgeting and whatnot, so that they can grow up, have their children grow up in a more positive environment than, say, what they’ve had. We also run a number of emergency assistance programs where people can get help with their rent. People can get financial help with their utilities, or they’re having trouble paying their water bill, their power bill, or their heating bill. So just beyond that, this is also again, a faith based organization, so there is, effectively, a religious element or church attached to that entity.

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ABERMAN: It’s interesting to me how we, as a community, don’t really see some of these organizations like yours, and Volunteers of America, and some other ones, that basically are almost a dark fiber that, without which, our local communities would cease to be able to function. I know you come from the private sector. Before, when you were in the private sector, were you aware of how deep the connections were with an organization like Salvation Army?

FREEDMAN: No, actually. And that’s part of the funny thing.. When I first transitioned from more commercial, traditional investment banking, investment management background, my personal interest was finding role-first organizations. So, I was looking to do something that had a little bit more purpose, for me, if you will, because one day I had this midlife crisis. I really examined what was important to me, and thought, you know what? You know, I’ve been fortunate enough in my personal life that I was looking to maybe give something back, or be engaged in something that had a little bit more meaning or purpose. Something that really would motivate me to get out of bed in the morning.

And so the logical place to start for me was something with a role that complemented what my skills were. And so, what I do over at the Salvation Army in the district is, I’m in charge of the finance and accounting operation, the I.T. operation, the human resources operation, as well as the property and facilities in the local area. So that’s actually quite an expansive range of things to be responsible for. So, when I found a role that fit at an organization that I was familiar with, one of the things that I learned very quickly was, again, that this organization was much more than just red kettles at Christmas time. And so, I was actually surprised, and pleasantly surprised by the number of things. Again, non-secular things as well, that they were involved with

ABERMAN: We can kid and say it’s a mid-life crisis, but I do think that after you get to a point of professional accomplishment, why you’re doing something just becomes more relevant for people. It happens at different times in our lives. I assume that now you’re in a job where the why is more important, there must be frustrations that a commercial person converting would have to be aware of? What are some of the hints you’d give those of us that want to change careers? What would you say they should most be aware of?

FREEDMAN: Well for those of your listeners that come from a more traditional corporate background, the pace is different, that’s the first thing. So the urgency sometimes is different. We have people that actually provide social services, and what I do is really, we’ll call it support services, all those functions I mentioned. So sometimes what you see is that, versus the world that I’m used to and I believe that you’re used to as well, there’s a lot of urgency to get things done. And so the pace is quite different than say what it is here.

The co-workers, quite frankly, I love my new co-workers. I’ve been in this role for about two months. And you know, the one thing I’ve been pleasantly surprised about is not only how generous my co-workers are with their time, but how much they truly believe in the mission of what the Salvation Army is. And you can see it, and you can hear it. And until you actually watch it, it’s really quite a phenomenon. I’ve never seen workers that are as emotionally invested in their workplace and their employer as the folks that I work with. And you know again, if the goal is to get up in the morning and do something that you believe makes people’s lives better, to be emotionally invested, to help make you feel like at least you’re contributing in some way, to bettering people’s lives. It’s very palpable, when you walk around the hallways of our office at least

ABERMAN: It sounds tremendous. If I’m interested in making this career choice, how do you find a job like this? Is there a headhunter, or are they advertised? How do you do this?

FREEDMAN: The way that I found this particular organization was from my business school alumni operation. They know that I live in this area, that I have a certain discipline or background, and just so it sends me occasionally jobs or opportunities that are fitting of someone of your background. When I saw it, the light bulb went off, and I thought it might actually be something that I was interested in. And I looked at a couple of other similar situations, nothing that I thought was as good of a fit either from a role perspective, and that was the harder one for me, because I’ve been involved in each of those disciplines I’ve described in a managerial context previously, but not necessarily the breadth of what we’re talking about with what I do on a day to day basis here. So, both the role, and then also finding an opportunity that effectively matches, I guess

ABERMAN: Bottom line, Brad, is that what I see in you is a really positive template for a lot of us who are trying to figure out how to make a difference. Brad Freedman from The Salvation Army, thanks for joining us today.

FREEDMAN: You’re welcome.

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