Finding fulfillment in the nonprofit world

Jeff Mendola.

After nearly 20 years in sales and marketing, Jeff Mendola ’87 now calls himself a “fundraiser for life.”

Mendola is director of mission advancement for New Directions Youth and Family Services, a Western New York nonprofit organization that offers a wide range of programs to help at-risk youth and families in crisis.

He says the transition from for-profit sales to nonprofit fundraising was a natural one and, for him, incredibly fulfilling.

“Here’s the difference,” he says. “When I was national sales director for an industrial abrasives company, if my daughter was asked ‘What does your dad do?’ she would say, ‘He goes on trips.’ Now she says, ‘He helps kids.’ That’s golden.

“Marketing is marketing. If you’re in sales or if you’re seeking support for a nonprofit, you’re still producing a brand image, identifying prospects, working with them to identify their needs and then closing the sale,” Mendola says. “Before, my clients went home with a grinding wheel. Now, they go home with a feeling of, ‘I helped a child; I helped a family.’”

Prior to New Directions, Mendola served as director of development and external affairs at Mercy Flight Western New York, a nonprofit provider of emergency air-medical helicopter services. He was the brains behind the highly successful “Mercy Flight Was Here” campaign, in which 2,000 signs were posted where the helicopters had landed throughout the region.

In his four years at Mercy Flight, he oversaw a 45% increase in annual fund donations and 2,000% increase in website traffic due to his focus on building a social media presence. His successful efforts were recognized by FundRaising Success magazine as one of four Rising Star award recipients.

Since his “conversion” to fundraising more than five years ago, Mendola is now actively “spreading the gospel” to new or displaced job-seekers.

He also serves on the board of the Western New York chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and is co-chair of its professional development committee. Two years ago, he presented a session at AFP International Conference in Chicago on how to successfully use for-profit sales and marketing techniques in the nonprofit arena.

In January, he participated as a School of Management representative in a UB Career Conversations event, and was the sole representative for the nonprofit sector. “I was encouraged by the number of students who asked me about a career where they could make a difference in the world, undeterred by the prospects of earning a smaller paycheck,” he says.

Mendola also has spoken to groups of unemployed professionals about the merits of the nonprofit sector when looking for new employment. “There are many opportunities, not just in fundraising,” he says. “Nonprofits need HR people and IT people, too, for example.

“There is great joy in helping others while making a living, and I think there are quite a few other people out there who would love doing this as well—they just don't know it yet.”

Written by Cathy Wilde