Wharton EMBA Student Finds “Perfect Fit” at Nonprofit, DonorsChoose.org

When César Bocanegra was four months into his first year of Wharton’s EMBA program, he knew he needed to make a big change. He not only wanted to leave his job at a large private company, which would mean giving up a partial EMBA sponsorship, but he also wanted to take on a job search in the middle of the program in order to find a more fulfilling position at a nonprofit.

"I had always been very involved with community events and volunteering in the field of education, spending much of my weekends and week nights tutoring kids and going to nonprofit events," he says. However, between his job at AT&T and school, he didn’t have enough time left over for those activities. So after much brainstorming, he decided to stick with the EMBA program but leave his job to find a new position at a nonprofit. "Even if I had to take a pay cut, lose the sponsorship and relocate to New York City, it would be worth it if it filled that void," he says.

Through LinkedIn.com,  Bocanegra found his new position as executive vice president of operations for DonorsChoose.org. The job turned out to not only be a good fit for him, but now  — 18 months later — he describes it as the "perfect fit."

DonorsChoose.org is a Web site that connects classrooms in need with
individuals who want to help. It is dedicated to addressing the
scarcity and inequitable distribution of learning materials and
experiences in public schools. The organization helps interested donors
fund projects ranging from providing pencils ($100) and dictionaries
for at-home use ($259) to a geological field trip ($2,000). Fans of
Steven Colbert may recognize the organization, as it has been featured
on the Colbert Report several times, most notably during the episode filmed on the Penn campus during the Pennsylvania primary last spring.

When Bocanegra made the decision to change jobs, he also made a commitment to finish the EMBA program. “I realized even in those first few months just how valuable the program was. It was definitely worthwhile based on the friends I was making, the relationships I was building, the level of coursework, the professors, and all of the business fundamentals I was learning in that first year. They were applicable to anything I would be doing in life whether it was in the for-profit or nonprofit worlds,” he says.

In the past 18 months that he has been with DonorsChoose.org, he says that he already has implemented so much of what he learned in the EMBA program. His job entails everything from vendor relations to teacher customer service to screening every single project t received on the Web site to the compilation of thank you packages. "Learning  how to deal with different management styles, conduct performance reviews, deal with different conflicts – I am handling all of that a lot differently and with better results than if I had not been part of Wharton’s EMBA program."

Bocanegra says that he highly recommends an EMBA for others in the nonprofit world. "There is a big concern over the economy, possible recession, and the fact that charitable contributions are the lowest since even the Great Depression. It is imperative for nonprofits to become self-sustainable and have a business model. You can’t do that without fundamental business principles. Wharton’s EMBA program taught me very applicable skills and tools that I use every day."

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