by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center
November 20, 2019
Going into the nonprofit sector never entered John Scola’s mind as he was growing up. The first nonprofit job he accepted was just supposed to hold him over until he could get what he thought was a “real” job.
But since accepting that job with March of Dimes, Scola has worked in the nonprofit field his entire adult life. He has found immense satisfaction and joy through his work and even helps strengthen the sector as a faculty associate with the Nonprofit Management Institute at the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation.
Scola is now the chief development officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, but like all leaders, he had a more humble start.
In 1983, he answered an ad for what he thought was a banking position in Dallas, Texas, but it turned out to be a nonprofit organization looking for fresh, skilled personnel to help out with fundraising for the March of Dimes.
“I took the job and thought I would do that work until I got a real job,” Scola said.
But Scola stayed around. He said a big reason for this was the fact that he got to work and interact with volunteers.
“Many of them were highly compensated in their regular work, but they weren't particularly happy,” Scola said. “I sort of learned from their example that it was better to be in a place where I was happy and maybe making a decent living than to be in a place that was making tons of money but being somehow unsatisfied.”
The longer he stayed in the nonprofit sector, the more Scola realized there was the ability to foster a career. While at March of Dimes, he was chosen to be a part of the Director’s Internship Program, which relocated Scola to Phoenix and had him serve an internship with an experienced professional to learn executive-level work.
Scola has since worked for various nonprofits throughout the greater Phoenix area and a few others in Utah and California, working as a director of annual giving, major gifts officer and director for different nonprofits.
For a time Scola was a nonprofit consultant where he helped to reinvigorate various organizations or to set up new programs, before he took a job as chief development officer with Phoenix Rescue Mission. In 2017 he joined the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix.
Scola also has a passion for mentoring and teaching, and he is able to express this by teaching multiple classes with the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation. He has taught numerous classes about engaging volunteers, high impact leadership, optimizing fund development, board governance, resource development and more.
His real-world experience and expertise from working with so many nonprofits complements the classes he teaches. Scola said he loves helping younger nonprofit leaders and organizations overcome challenges, such as how fundraising professionals have an unusually high turnover rate.
Rachel Eroh, a former student of Scola’s, said she was surprised to see that Scola’s fundraising class became her favorite.
Eroh said the way he spoke made people want to listen, and the most compelling part was that he was passionate about what he does. She said the experience opened her eyes to nonprofit work.
Tiffany Thornhill, another former student of Scola’s, said his mentorship has already benefited her in her current job, for which she is grateful.
“If he ever needs anything from me, I’ll be there,” Thornhill said.
Scola said there was very limited professional education for nonprofits when Scola entered the field, but that has greatly changed since then. Now there is a wealth of knowledge that can benefit anyone entering the field.
“There's also a great body of knowledge that they can benefit from by taking courses, workshops, and learning environments like the Lodestar Center,” Scola said. “My participation in that regard, as a faculty associate, is one way I can contribute to the professionalism of the profession.”
With more than 30 years in the nonprofit sector, Scola found that “real” career after all – and continues to make a real impact.