By Tara Davies
“When I retire, I want to be able to look back and say that I spent my career helping others,” says Jerry Ray, who has been teaching Financial Management for Non-Profit Organizations at UC San Diego Extension for a little over a year.
After spending essentially his whole career in management within the non-profit sector, he will safely be able to say that is true. Ray says his entry into the field of non-profits was haphazard, “but the heart of why I stayed in the non-profit sector is very simple: it helps people.” Despite his own success, he advises his students to be more deliberate in their career choices.
“The way I got into and advanced in non-profit organizations was accidental. My advice is not to do it that way,” says Ray. “You need to know ‘what is your passion?’ My passion is helping people. I want to work for grass roots and passionate organizations. The second thing you need to know is ‘what am I good at?’”
Ray suggests making educated career decisions based on research and planning. He advises his students to look into the organizations they might want to work for and network with people in those circles, if possible. He recommends students talk to people in such organizations about what they do, for advice on entering the field but also to gain a better understanding of the position’s requirements and compatibility.
Ray graduated from San Diego State University (SDSU) with a Bachelor’s in Accounting. “When I started into my career, I found I liked management better,” says Ray. “I moved into senior management and for 28 years and I have been at the top level of control for various organizations’ finances and administration.”
Ray’s first non profit job was within a ministry. From there he went on to work for larger non-profits more focused on humanitarian assistance and international development. Then, he started working part time at the San Diego Hall of Champions while he went back to SDSU for his MBA.
“I went back to school about 20 years after [I initially graduated] for an MBA degree,” says Ray. “I didn’t go the CPA route so, it was obvious that additional education was important, in order to advance my career.” He says this degree was vital because it helped refresh his knowledge of information in the field.
Ray explains that the industry of non-profits has changed, in that non-profits are under just as much public scrutiny and government regulation as any other type of business, and people in the non-profit sector need to be just as careful in their management.
“A non-profit is a business just like anyone else. But rather than shareholders, they are responsible to the public because it’s public money,” says Ray. “And public accountability has gone up over the years.”
This is why he says he incorporates information on risk management and public disclosure into his curriculum. But even before Ray joined UC San Diego Extension, he taught his craft to those interested in learning.
“I spent all those years working in senior management and I wanted to spread around my experience a little bit,” says Ray. Now, he does consulting work for the San Diego Foundation and other clients, which has given him the availability to begin teaching in a class room.
For those like Ray, interested in the non-profit sector, he recommends using guidestar.org to research organizations of potential interest. But before that, he tells his students to know their passion and their skills to find a job that they will enjoy.