Making Her Own Way

Jennifer Yeager (BSAC ’08) has an incredible story. Now the chief financial officer for the Pinchot Institute for Conservation, she left high school early and didn’t know where she’d end up. She soon realized that education was her pathway to something better and found the nonprofit world … and stayed.

The Pinchot Institute works to strengthen forest conservation. What is your role?

I started off as an executive administrative assistant and worked my way up. Now I handle all financial management for the institute and a budget of about $5 million. We’re a small nonprofit, so I also manage projects and administrative staff, stay on top of the regulatory environment, and work with our fundraising and communications staff and the institute’s president.

What keeps you motivated?

My coworkers. Their passion is contagious. And the programs we execute are often community-based. That means a lot to me. I don’t have a conservation background but I have chosen to stay at the institute because I believe so firmly in what we’re doing. And the fact that we are nonpartisan is inspiring—we reach everybody.

What is the biggest challenge for your nonprofit?

In the current economy, we are finding that foundations, corporations and individuals are not giving as much as they usually do. I have seen, in the last five or so years, several well-known nonprofits shut their doors due to cuts in funding. Also, access to funding is more challenging. We used to be able to submit a grant proposal to any foundation; now we have to be invited to submit. Unless you have a big, well-established name, you just don’t register. We have to work harder to communicate our mission.

What is the best part about working for a nonprofit?

It’s non-departmentalized. Let’s say you’re young, and you’re an administrative assistant. In a small nonprofit, you are going to have exposure to finance, event planning, communications, even fundraising. It’s a great environment to work in if you really want to broaden your skill set.

How has your personal story affected your educational and career choices?

I came out of the foster care system and was on my own at 16. In my 20s, I was a parent and found myself in a bad marriage, with no career. At that point, education represented freedom and independence to me. If I had that, I could take care of myself and my son.

How did you move ahead?

Starting my path to higher education was very challenging. I was fortunate to have a lot of very strong female mentors that really encouraged me. Now, I’ve found myself in the position of mentor to young women. Nonprofit work really does provide a good personal life and career balance.