Most people feel a bit intimidated about their first day on the job, but Elissa Sangster’s first day was a bit more than that–it was utterly overwhelming. Elissa was hired as the Executive Director of Forte, and would helm a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping women in business.
She found herself questioning whether she was up for the financial challenges tied to the job. ”Forte had $180,000 in the bank, and that had to run the organization and pay my salary,” said Forte’s Executive Director of her first year with the organization.
At this point in her career, Elissa was prepared for most high level challenges, having worked for a major oil and gas firm, a major retailer, and a major university, but she will tell you first hand that it was not easy handling someone else’s money.
“The days of, ‘Oh I have this idea, will you give me a million dollars to fund it?’ are gone,” said Elissa. ”I had to set up a bank account and set up checks. I was entrusted with money from companies and had to be very careful with what I was doing.”
It is now several years later, and she has strong support from her donors who believe in Forte’s mission: helping women across the country succeed in business. Elissa has managed to avoid the common pitfalls that bring not-for-profits to a halt.
On How She Found Her Career Path
Like so many of us, Elissa wasn’t really sure where her career path would lead when she graduated. ”Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I want to be the head of the Forte Foundation,’” said Elissa. But she got her first hint when a mentor at her college began expressing a passion for graduate education. ”I think that planted a seed in me. I took the GMAT before graduating from college.”
Still, when she landed the Forte job, it was definitely a culture shock. ”I had gone from a staff of 25 to 30 people, where I had to talk all day, to having to make an entire organization happen. It was a lot more hands on,” said Elissa.
She rolled up her sleeves and got to work. She had to grow the company. And she did it with the help of the contacts she made along the way. ”I’ve been able to maintain and build my network with graduate professionals,” said Elissa, whose job entails giving women the tools they need to gain an MBA.
“It is amazing. I didn’t have a child until quite a bit later, probably at the very last blink of light that it was possible,” said Elissa. She has been thrilled with the career path she’s had, and satisfied with marrying later in life and waiting to have her daughter. ”I’m excited, I am in a spot right now that I can enjoy it, ” says the new mother about starting a family.
Like most mothers, she realizes it’s not easy to raise a baby and work a full-time job. But this is a woman who is fearless. We know she will succeed in that role too.
Elissa chuckles as she reveals her secret to successfully managing both motherhood and a demanding career: “I never used to start my day with cup of coffee. Now I do every morning.”