Below is the transcript of our podcast, "Sector Switcher: Arlene Siegel Cogen Applies Financial Planning Skills in the Nonprofit Sector." Huge thanks to new media intern Sarah Royal for work in creating the transcript. Listen to the show here.
Welcome to the Idealist podcast. I'm Amy Potthast and this is the Nonprofit Career Month podcast. October is Nonprofit Career Month, a month of activities to promote the diversity of career opportunities in our nation's nonprofit sector. Driven by the collective contributions of the nonprofit community, the campaign dispels common myths about nonprofit work, provides you with entry points to the sector, and allows current and aspiring nonprofit professionals to share expertise. Nonprofit Career Month is powered by Idealist.org and funded by the Kellogg Action Lab. Learn more at nonprofitcareermonth.org.
Today's guest is Arlene Siegel Cogen, a Charitable Gift Planner with the Oregon Community Foundation (OCF) in Portland, OR. At OCF, Arlene's main focus is individuals, families, professional advisors, and businesses who'd like to establish current or testamentary charitable funds or deferred gifts. Arlene entered her nonprofit career after 20 years of working in the corporate sector. As a Certified Financial Planner, Arlene worked for companies such as West Coast Trust and Allen Trust, Citibank, U.S. Trust, and First Union, before entering her nonprofit career. She calls her current job with the Oregon Community Foundation her "dream job."
Amy: Hi Arlene, welcome to the show. I thought I would ask you to introduce yourself and your organization, the Oregon Community Foundation.
Arlene: My name is Arlene Siegel Cogen and I'm with the Oregon Community Foundation, and my position is a Charitable Gift Planner. The Oregon Community Foundation is a public nonprofit that was founded over 35 years ago, and is currently about the sixth largest community foundation in the country.
Amy: What are your day-to-day tasks and responsibilities? What skill sets do you regularly call on?
Arlene: As a Charitable Gift Planner, I am responsible for helping create current funds, which is really working with individuals, families, and businesses to align their values with their charitable giving. In addition, I also work with our professional advisory groups – our attorneys, accountants, financial planners – to provide them with continuing education classes geared around charitable giving, and make sure they're well aware of all of the planning opportunities and charitable opportunities for their clients.
As a community foundation, we have many different types of funds that can reach people's values with their charitable giving. Our most popular fund is a Donor Advice fund, where it's kind of that mini-private foundation, where a donor can have all the fun of philanthropy but without the headache of drafting a private foundation – doing all the due diligence, worrying about the money management. All that back-office administrative stuff umbrellas under the Community Foundation. Additionally, we have designated funds where a donor will just say, "You know, I want it to go to A, B, and C organization."
We have funds called Field of Interest funds, which are a little bit more open – it could be reflective of, "I want to support a specific county," or specific environmental issues or specific health issues. We also have our Community Benefits Area, which is really our unrestricted funds that allows, with our research, the board to decide where the need is in the state. Also, a big part of our program is scholarship funds and gaining access to higher education for people.
The skill sets that I call on most often is basically background of coming from the trust and investment world. I'm a Certified Financial Planner, and when you're working with individuals to create funds, and you're working with their advisors, you really need to be able to pull the pieces together of, "Does this make sense? Is it a tax advantage, or what's the most tax-advantage way for this person to align their values with the charitable giving?" That, and people skills – being able to pick up the phone and talk to just about anyone, from a CEO to – if anyone's ever read Tom Stanley's book, "The Millionaire Next Door" – the car salesman who's walking around in cowboy boots and chewing tobacco, whatever that picture is. You really have to be able to relate to people.
Those are the major skills I use. And one of the beauties I love about a community foundation is our mission is to improve life in Oregon and promote effective philanthropy. On the one hand, you can have a donor who's interested in land-owner rights, and on the other hand you can have all the environmental people concerned about preserving the environment. We can meet those people at their level, wherever they want.
Amy: Do you remember how you first got involved with the work of nonprofit organizations?
Arlene: If you really go back and look at how I became involved in nonprofit work or volunteer work, it was really at the kitchen table with my parents, delivering Meals On Wheels and helping people like that. Throughout my whole life, whether it be in high school or college or after I graduated, I always did a lot of volunteer work. But my background is corporate America – I spent over 20 years in the trust and investment realm, administering trust, doing business development – really corporate-focused. It wasn't until I moved from the East Coast out to Portland on the West Coast when I decided that trust and the big banks just wasn't a good fit for me. I ended up going to see a career counselor. It was a really fascinating process. I'd like to say half of it was the therapy of getting over all the old stories in your head.
One that comes to mind for me was my mother, when I was a child, had to quit her job and help support her family and she became a secretary, and I realized that "secretary" translated to "banker" for me, hence, I was in banking for 20 years because I did it well, and it was a solid paycheck. That was a big hurdle to get over when I went through this career counseling, because the question came up, banking = secretary, so how can I get a job in a nonprofit and get paid a decent salary, and would they even take someone of my skills into a nonprofit? It really didn't register in my head that that could be possible. But through that work with [the career counselor] and a fair amount of networking, I was able to realize what value I would add in the nonprofit world with my background.
Amy: And by "networking," do you mean informational interviewing with people who already worked in the nonprofit sector?
Arlene: Yes, professionally I had the opportunity to join some groups – for example, the Northwest Planned Giving Round Table – to keep my financial planning license up-to-date, as well as that was an interest of the bank I worked for. So I attended those meetings both for a learning experience as well as a networking experience, and that allowed me to meet professionals within the nonprofit world to help me kind of determine, "If I am going to be in nonprofits, what does that look like? Is that, you know, an executive director? Is it administering programs? Is it development? Is it a large nonprofit? Is it a small nonprofit?" So I basically spent five years in that process of networking before I found the perfect match for me.
The gentleman who I replaced at the Oregon Community Foundation and I had gone out to coffee six, seven, eight months before, and he basically was networking, trying to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. We sat down and he was like, "Well, what's it like being a trust officer and in business development for a big bank?" I went through my things and then turned the tables and said, "Well, tell me about your job." The more he was describing this job, I was like, "This is my dream job," and then at a conference for Northwest Planned Giving Round Table, he actually came up to the booth which my bank had sponsored and said, "Arlene, I've just left OCF. Apply for my job, you're perfect." So, you know, it's laying those seeds, letting people know you're interested – it made me get my dream job.
Amy: One of our taglines for Nonprofit Career Month is, "Nonprofit work is work that matters." Another is that nonprofit work is work that pays, or that takes skill. I was just wondering what would be your tagline for nonprofit careers, or do any of those taglines resonate particularly?
Arlene: Work that pays resonates in many ways. One, if you heard what I said earlier, I didn't think you could get paid well at a nonprofit – you can. And what I found interesting, coming from corporate America with, you know, sales and commissions, I was making a very nice salary. Moving into nonprofit, I am getting paid a great salary – it's not as much as corporate America, but I'm also working less hours. In corporate America, a "40-hour week" is a 60-hour week. In nonprofit, that 35-hour-week is really a 45-hour week. So in general, you know, I feel I'm getting well-compensated, I have a lot more flexibility, and it's a win-win situation.
Amy: Have you found that the culture of the nonprofit you currently work for, or nonprofits in general, differs greatly from the corporate culture that you came in from?
Arlene: Corporate America is pretty cutthroat. You know, it wasn't, "What are you working on?" but "What did you bring in today, this week, this month, this year?", and no concern for really taking care of the clients as their situation would deem appropriate – or at least as I would have seen appropriate. You know, I find in the nonprofit world there is such a collaborative process of being able to walk into someone's office and say, "Can you help me with this?" and them actually helping you instead of saying, "Yes" and then having it turn around to say, "Well, you never asked me for help," or "I thought you were handling that." So it's a really wonderful collaborative work experience in nonprofit and corporate America is just very cutthroat. There's barely any sharing of resources, people are extremely territorial over their region, territory, whatever it is – it's very much, "Fend for yourself and meet your goals, or goodbye."
Amy: Thank you so much Arlene.
Learn more about the Oregon Community Foundation of Portland, OR at oregoncf.org. Find information about Nonprofit Career Month at nonprofitcareermonth.org. Special thanks today to Carly Brown. This show was produced with the help of Sarah Royal and Douglas Coulter. I'm Amy Potthast. Thanks for listening. To find more good things to do, go to Idealist.org. If you have enjoyed our podcasts, please show your support by going to iTunes and leaving a review and a rating of this episode or others you've liked. You can also send us feedback to email@example.com.