CEO and NYU Professor Aria Finger discusses the business of nonprofits.
Written by Tristan Harris
Stern students are increasingly looking for ways to leverage their business backgrounds in positions that allow them to have a meaningful and rewarding career. The launch of the new “Sustainable Business” co-concentration falls in line with a movement within the Stern community that serves to emphasize business as a force for good in society. Working in the not-for-profit sector is one of the many ways that Stern students can leverage their degrees to affect social change.
To explore why Stern students may want to consider working in the not-for-profit sector, The Gould Standard reached out to NYU Professor Aria Finger. Professor Finger is the CEO of DoSomething.org, one of the US’s largest youth movement organizations with over 5.4 million members. Apart from her full-time job as a CEO, Finger teaches a course entitled “The Business of Nonprofit Management.” Her course encourages students to view not-for-profit organizations as organizations that are operated much like for-profit businesses, while also educating students on the unique challenges that not-for-profits face.
After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in economics, Finger started her career in the not-for-profit sector because she “wanted to do good in the world.” She saw starting with DoSomething, then a small organization with only five people, as one of the many ways to do good in the world. She emphasized that the opportunity to work at a small organization granted her an “outsize influence,” exposing her to diverse and high level experiences at a young age. In response to whether she would recommend staying at the same organization for an extended period, like she has at DoSomething for the past eleven years, her guidance is to make sure that you are at an organization where “you are always learning.” She stayed at DoSomething because she saw it as a way to “have a big impact on the world,” while also allowing her to continue growing professionally, for example, such as having the opportunity to launch DoSomething’s consulting spin-off TMI (“Too Much Information”).
Finger considers herself extremely lucky to have landed at DoSomething and encourages students to not take a negative view of the sector just because of one bad experience. Her advice to students wanting to break into the not-for-profit world is to “keep an open mind for everything.” She recommends that “people who want to change the world should keep an open mind about the for-profit world” and that Wall Street should not be seen as the only avenue since “not everyone needs the same thing.” She does encourage students to consider the fact that “your coworkers and the people you spend a lot of time with shape who you are” and that “no matter what career you decide to do, be careful of being in a bubble.”
For students considering starting a not-for-profit themselves, Finger warns “starting something should be the last thing you do after looking exhaustively at all the other options.” She does not undermine the fact that starting an organization is an admirable endeavour; however, she urges students to consider the administrative costs that come from starting a new organization, so “make sure you are adding something unique to the space.” Sharing some personal insight, she admits that “even after eleven years in the sector, I have so much more to learn” and encourages to “be humble in the work that you do.”
For students seeking internships in the not-for-profit sector, Finger recommends students apply to the DoSomething paid semester or summer internship program – “we love Stern students”. Information can be found on DoSomething.org. For students looking to learn more about the not-for-profit world, consider taking Finger’s course which can be applied to the new Sustainable Business Concentration, the Social Entrepreneurship Stern/Wagner minor, and the Public Policy and Management Stern/Wagner minor.
Q: Any general advice for Stern Students?
A: “Don’t Stress! Take it from me, stress doesn’t help anything.”
Q: Should NYU students give to charity?
A: “There are so many people in the world and the US who are working just as hard as you, but don’t have the same opportunities. Prioritizing giving even when you don’t have a lot is so important.”
Q: What are some of your favorite not-for-profits?
A: “I am very passionate about criminal justice reform. There is a lot in the criminal justice space that I follow and respect – everyone from the Innocence Project, Defy Ventures, the Correctional Association, to what Glenn Martin is doing with the formerly incarcerated to help them to become leaders with the next generation. We can not be a just society if we have twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners.”