Melissa Arias of The Epicurean Charitable Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization
Allow the work to change you: Be prepared to have your heart strings tugged on, your days fulfilled, and to have a job changing people’s lives. There are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made but hopefully the work you do inspires you to make clear, informed decisions that benefit the people you serve.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Arias, Executive Director of the Epicurean Charitable Foundation. She is passionate about providing a platform for deserving young students to achieve their dreams through hard work and determination.
In her role, Mrs. Arias oversees all fundraising, scholarship activities and day-to-day operations for the organization while working collaboratively with the executive committee, board of directors and the students.
Mrs. Arias joined ECF after seven years with the American Cancer Society, most recently serving as the Director of Development and Distinguished Events. During her tenure, she was responsible for developing a scholarship program for students with childhood cancer, leading the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and managing and executing the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament and Gala.
A graduate of Towson University in Towson, Md., she was the founder of Young Professionals Against Cancer, received a Certificate of Commendation from US Senator Harry Reid and was inducted into the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Nevada’s Hall of Fame in 2008. Ms. Arias was the recognized as Vegas Inc.’s esteemed Women to Watch 2016.
Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?
I joined Epicurean Charitable Foundation in September of 2013, where I am the executive director. I have always been passionate about providing a platform for deserving young students to achieve their dreams through hard work and determination. I always say that fundraising isn’t all we do, but everything we do depends on it. I spend much of my year planning and raising funds at our annual gala, M.E.N.U.S., which stands for Mentoring & Educating Nevada’s Upcoming Students.
I am originally from New York and a graduate of Towson University. Prior to my role at Epicurean Charitable Foundation (ECF), I spent seven years with the American Cancer Society, most recently serving as the Director of Development and Distinguished Events. During my tenure, I was responsible for managing and executing the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament and Gala. I started at the American Cancer Society to manage patient programs but I quickly realized my passion was in fundraising, special events, and board development.
Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non nonprofit?
ECF started as just a social organization. A bunch of VP’s and company leaders would get together once a month to socialize. They quickly realized that there were a lot of key leaders in the room and they could be doing great things in the community. They all had one thing in common- they were once given a chance by someone and that got them to where they are today. They decided to pay it forward to the next generation of hospitality leaders and started a foundation that provided scholarships to students so they could mentor and help the next generation of talented leaders.
Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?
I believe that education is the key to changing the world. ECF’s Future Leaders of Hospitality Program, supports financially underprivileged students in their pursuit of a career in the hospitality field. This unique program provides a pipeline of leaders for the local hospitality industry in our community. Through the Future Leaders of Hospitality Program, we provide students with financial assistance as they pursue a higher education and more importantly, we offer them mentoring from experienced leaders. Our mentoring component pairs students in the program with professionals from our board of directors, enabling the students to receive one-on-one mentoring from some of the top professionals in the city.
Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?
Many of our alumni have gone to take on successful leadership roles in our community.
In 2003, a high school student, who was a teen mom and struggled to get by, came to our scholarship interview with the Board of Directors. She was awarded the scholarship and accepted into the ECF mentoring program.
Fast forward to today, she is now General Manager of a well-known hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Just a few years ago, her career and relationship with ECF came full circle and she joined ECF’s Board of Directors. Now, this industry leader is a mentor to other young talent.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
- Mentoring is so important. Mentor someone in your field.
- Support local students. Now more than ever, every dollar counts
- Explain strategies your mentees can use to build strong money management skills such as:
- Credit scores
- What’s an HMO/PPO and understanding health insurance
- Buying a first car or home
- Bank accounts, and investing in the future
- The importance of business etiquette and conducting business introductions and follow-ups
- Understanding the social media footprint & brand
- Dressing for success.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
To me, leadership is simply being the person at the helm of the ship- motivating others towards achieving a common goal. At ECF, I lead our Board of Directors and our students in many ways. Our ultimate goal is to prepare the next generation of leaders in Las Vegas. As the leader of our Board, it’s my role to clearly and effectively communicate our goals as well as listen objectively and learn from them in return. We all have something to contribute, and by working as a team, we all bring a unique skillset to best advance our mission.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.
- Compare and contrast: See if there are other non-profits doing the same or similar thing. There are so many out there duplicating efforts. Team up before reinventing the wheel, Find community partners. We are working towards the same goal- giving back for a better community.
- Roll up your sleeves: Running a non profit is a lot of work. Be prepared to wear many hats and do the heavy lifting.
- Get creative with fundraising: Fundraising is HARD. Don’t expect donors to just sign up because you have a great mission. You need those who are impacted by your cause. You need an established donor base to even start. Don’t rely on the hope of grants or an angel investor.
- Establish board leadership: Find a board that is as passionate and dedicated as you. I work with the best board in the world. It never feels like work. We have a great time together.
- Allow the work to change you: Be prepared to have your heart strings tugged on, your days fulfilled, and to have a job changing people’s lives. There are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made but hopefully the work you do inspires you to make clear, informed decisions that benefit the people you serve.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
We would love to talk to anyone who believes in providing opportunities for students to go to college. Whether that’s a huge celebrity like Oprah or Reese Witherspoon, or from a Food Network Star like Guy Fieri or Ree Drummond, anyone can help by donating not only financially but their time, effort and voice.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?
We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. I’ve dedicated my life to public service, giving to my family, and to my community. It’s important we give more than we take.
How can our readers follow you online?
Epicurean Charitable Foundation social media:
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.
Melissa Arias of The Epicurean Charitable Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.