Making an impact

Rewards plentiful in nonprofit world

Mark Coffee, photography by Ellie Bogue

What causes a well-established career man to leave a cushy job with one of the region’s most respected companies to take a job in the nonprofit world? In Mark Coffee’s case, it was an opportunity to give back to the community that had raised him.

“I was the poster boy (for) opportunity” at Do it Best Corp., Coffee reflected. “I was at Do it Best for 15 years. I loved the job. I loved the people.”

But he felt a calling to do “more” with his career. “I was very selective about who I wanted to work for. I am very deeply rooted in Fort Wayne. Moving (away) was not an option. I wanted a company with the ethics and stature and reputation Do it Best has.”

Enter the United Way of Allen County. The agency, which hosts an annual fund drive that raises around $5 million to help 34 local nonprofit groups, was looking for a new director of resource development .

“It wasn’t where my mindset was,” he said when he heard about the opening last fall. He interviewed and was hired and began work in January. In May, he learned that the man who hired him, CEO Todd Stephenson, would be retiring this coming September.

The position “gave me the opportunity to be a little bit more of a contributor and have an impact on the community,” Coffee said.

“The more I learned, … the more I (saw) the overall appeal of helping make an impact on this community and make it better. That really appealed to me,” he added.

Translating his skills from the for-profit world to the not-for-profit realm wasn’t difficult, he said. “Do it Best is a very good company (at which) to learn how to be an effective manager,” Coffee said. “It’s very team focused (at the United Way) and we’re going to work hard celebrating the successes.”

One similarity Coffee noticed is that “everybody has a reason why they go to work each day. Here (at the United Way), the first thing people talk about is their dedication to the mission.”

That mission involves seven community goals: “children enter kindergarten ready to learn; children read at grade level by the end of third grade; youth succeed in school; youth successfully transition from school to adulthood; families live productive and economically stable lives; seniors and people with disabilities maintain independence; and individuals and families have food, shelter and access to health care,” according to the agency’s website.

“My job is to make sure we do raise the most money we can for our partners,” Coffee said. “Lack of success is not an option.”

First appeared in the July 2014 issue of Fort Wayne Monthly.

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