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Phoenix Forward magazine

MBA student fights domestic violence

Crystal Neufeld

Crystal Neufeld isn’t your typical MBA student. What sets her apart is how she’s using what she’s learning in her University of Phoenix degree program: to run a domestic abuse shelter.

She enrolled in the MBA program last August — when she became executive director of the nonprofit Bootheel Regional Anti-Violence Experiment (BRAVE) in Malden, Missouri — to learn the business skills she’d need to overhaul the organization’s funding structure and help it grow.

In her job, Neufeld is responsible for human resources, fundraising, operations, grant writing, budgeting and board relations. Wearing so many hats is common among nonprofit managers when limited funding often translates into limited staff.

“My MBA education will help me model the organization to qualify for corporate funding,” she says. “I can use my knowledge to operate a nonprofit like a business.”

Neufeld, who has a degree in political science, had never thought about working for a nonprofit organization (NPO) until a chance meeting in 2008 with an attorney who served on the board of a domestic abuse shelter. The encounter eventually led Neufeld to become that shelter’s part-time grant writer in 2009.

In that role, she gained insight into funding processes and nonprofit structure, and discovered she enjoyed it. She soon saw a chance to make a bigger impact: Board members were running the shelter because it lacked a director. Neufeld wrote a grant to fund the position and then applied for it. She became director in 2010 and stayed for two years.

I can use my knowledge to operate a nonprofit like a business.

That laid the groundwork for her move to BRAVE. After a brief closure due to lack of funding, BRAVE had struggled to become self-sustaining. It hired Neufeld as executive director last August to facilitate that process.

Neufeld knew state and federal funding generally only supports programs, such as victim assistance and housing, but not basic operational costs — utilities, payroll and equipment. She determined that corporate-based funding was needed to earn enough profit to help BRAVE survive and continue serving men, women and children escaping domestic violence.

There’s a misconception that NPOs don’t like or need to make a profit, according to Neufeld. “Nonprofit leaders are learning it’s OK to have a profit and a bank account with cash if a funder decides to stop funding you,” she says.

Profits cover overhead costs and provide a safety net to continue programs if government funding falls through. She says money from investors, donors, corporations and foundations is generally unrestricted and therefore bankable.

Neufeld’s main goal in earning her MBA with a human resource management concentration, she says, is to become a better boss. “I want to empower people who are trying to empower others,” she says. “Without my employees, the business is nothing. They need to be happy and vested in the program.”

Neufeld herself is vested in the long-term success of BRAVE, too. She says she plans to “watch this organization grow from its infancy to its teen years to adulthood.”

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