Sharpe Group is thrilled to welcome some new faces, Melissa Phillips and Julie Schuldner, to Sharpe’s consulting team. Together, Melissa and Julie have decades of experience working in nonprofit fundraising. Sharpe Insights recently sat down with them. Melissa Phillips is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has raised more than $200 million for various nonprofits throughout her career. She has held numerous roles in the planned giving community. She has worked with health care, education, social work and advocacy organizations and brings a wealth of knowledge in major gift fundraising, marketing and branding, capital campaign strategies and direct mail campaigns.
Insights: What attracted you to Sharpe Group?
Melissa Phillips: Sharpe Group has long-standing proof of performance with clients. I once worked with a donor who made a gift to an organization specifically in order to work with Sharpe, and the client and donor were very happy. The members of Sharpe have the professionalism, ethics, vision and the necessary tools to be the leaders in nonprofit consulting, and I wanted to be a part of that team.
Insights: What encouraged you to pursue a master’s degree in social work? And how will this benefit your new role at Sharpe?
Phillips: My education in social work pointed me toward a path I realized I had already been on. I grew up in a small town in West Virginia, and my father taught me the importance of helping your neighbors and ensuring the needs of people in your community’s were met. Early in my career, I worked with a program with many participants who had a high recidivism rate. I realized I needed to understand the why behind what makes people do what they do. My master’s in social work has helped me more than anything to understand why a donor gives to a certain organization, why certain touchpoints matter more than others and how to meet people where they are in their process.
Insights: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from working with nonprofits?
Phillips: No matter how far-reaching your goals or mission seem, if you are willing to put in the work, to keep going even after you’ve been set back, you can achieve anything. I’ve seen it happen. Anything is possible.
Julie Schuldner is passionate about serving the nonprofit community. She has volunteered, taught and engaged in community outreach for nonprofits throughout her career. Before moving to North Carolina and joining Sharpe, she served as executive director of the Fellowship Foundation, vice president of development and communications for Alzheimer’s New Jersey and as executive director of Family Promise of Sussex County. Julie recently earned her CFRE (Certified Fundraising Executive) certification.
Insights: Why do you think you were called to a career in helping nonprofits achieve their mission and vision?
Julie Schuldner: The nonprofit world chose me. As a preteen, I volunteered at my local rabies clinic. Looking back, perhaps that was a strange way to begin, but it led me to pursue volunteer work during high school and later while I was raising my children. Afterward, I accepted a position as executive director of a local nonprofit I’d been involved with for over 20 years. Based on my interests, passions and experience, working with nonprofits came naturally.
Insights: The path to a nonprofit career seemed inevitable for you. What have you learned along the way that will benefit you and your clients here at Sharpe?
Schuldner: Throughout the years, I’ve worked in various capacities at many nonprofits. I was a community relations coordinator and volunteer, then moved on to national nonprofits. I’ve worked in every capacity, from executive director to board member and everything in between. This diversity of experience, of serving nonprofits of various sizes and missions, benefits and informs how I relate to clients and donors.
Insights: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your career?
Schuldner: Flexibility. Soft skills such as critical thinking, listening and an ability to adapt and step up. In the nonprofit world, every day is different. Even as director of an organization, you might find yourself making huge, impactful decisions in the morning and mopping the floor at night. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the job gets done and to make the strongest impact on the people you serve.
Insights: What is your favorite new Southern expression?
Schuldner: There are so many good ones. “I appreciate you” is great. We should say that to each other more often these days. I also love “all y’all.” It has a nice ring to it, and it’s all inclusive. It doesn’t leave anybody out. ■
Grant Miller is an editor, working with clients to create custom printed and digital communications. He has authored Sharpe Group blogs and is a contributor to Sharpe Insights.