Oct. 28, 2020
NACA Director of Finance & Operations
In January 2007, when I started work at NACA, I knew I was bringing my years of experience, knowledge, background and expertise to the job of Director of Finance and Administration/Operations. Not-for-profit accounting, finance, human resources, and other areas of business administration are transferrable skills that can apply to virtually any not-for-profit business. What I didn't know was anything about the field to which I would be applying those skills. I had a lot to learn and what I found was a part of higher education that was not only interesting, but eye-opening and inspiring.
In my path as a non-traditional college student, campus activities and the role it plays in higher education were never on my radar. Likewise, when my son was in college, he was not involved in campus activities, so again, it was not something that came to my attention. In my almost 14 years at NACA, what I have learned about campus activities and the professionals who make it an important part of their life's work has brought an appreciation for the work they do in an all-too-often challenging environment.
One of the things I learned early on was there are faculty and administrative campus professionals who don't fully know or appreciate all the learning and skills that accrue to the students who are involved in campus activities. It has somehow escaped their notice that practical learning takes place, such as social, leadership, networking and business skills that can't be cultivated sitting at a desk in a classroom or at home on a laptop logged into a virtual classroom. Why would such an important method of learning have to be explained and justified to other educators? Over my years at NACA, I have continued to be perplexed by this phenomenon. But the professionals who work in campus activities, continue undaunted, taking pride in helping to mold student leaders who will one day become leaders of society.
Another thing I learned is campus activities professionals must have incredible stamina. Theirs is not a Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. Maintaining the energy to guide and motivate college students through activities that span the clock and calendar is both mentally and physically taxing. You must believe in what you do to stay energized and excited about your job. These professionals accept and embrace that flexibility and adaptability is part of what they signed up for.
Having a business rather than programmatic role at the NACA office means I don't have the pleasure of working directly with a lot of our members and volunteers. But even at a degree of separation, it is still obvious that they believe in what they do on their campuses and in what this association does to help them be better at it. The sense of community that exists within NACA is gratifying and an example of what can be accomplished when we work together toward a common goal. No group nurtures that sense of community more than NACA's many volunteers.
In my early days at NACA, I was surprised at the level of engagement of the volunteers. I marvel at the time they commit, outside of their "day jobs," to plan and execute programs for their association's members. It is a testament to their belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, that what we can do individually can be done even better together. NACA's volunteers work tirelessly, some for many years, on behalf of the association because they believe in what the organization can and does do for the field of campus activities.
During my years here, I have had the privilege and honor to work with many members of the board of directors who have passed through the board room at NACA. Without exception, every person that has sat at that table rolled up their sleeves and worked tirelessly to problem solve and to create strategy and goals to lead this organization into the future. One of the recent outcomes of their work was creation of new mission and vision statements.
Mission: NACA empowers members to amplify the campus experience through inclusive learning, meaningful connections, and engaging entertainment that transforms college communities.
Vision: To create college communities where everyone belongs.
These may seem aspirational but are achievable in the culture created by those who lead and participate in the association's work.
As I reflect on the past fourteen years, I feel very fortunate to have become a part of the staff of this organization. In my 30-plus years as a not-for-profit professional, I can say without hesitation that, more than any other time in my career, I feel a strong sense of purpose coming to my job every day, even in the "back office" role of finance and operations. What I didn't know fourteen years ago was that I would not only learn about an area of higher education I was unfamiliar with, but also develop an affection and admiration for those who are dedicated to it. Our members and volunteers, including the members of the board of directors continue to amaze and inspire me every day.
Brenda Baker is the director of finance and operations at the National Association for Campus Activities. Baker has dedicated her 40-year career to managing associations' financial resources and services.
Related Professional Competency: Professional Development