Shelley Callahan: Author & Director of Development, Children Incorporated

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Shelley Callahan, Director of Development at Children Incorporated, has traveled extensively across the U.S. and around the world reporting on the burden of poverty and working to support communities in need. She is truly an inspiring individual who lives out her passion day in and day out. From digging wells in Colombia, managing medical teams in Haiti, and reporting on the slums in Kenya and Ethiopia, Callahan has helped thousands of impoverished children around the world. She started her career in the non-profit sector in 2006, when she co-founded Books on Wheels which provided free books to children living in low-income neighborhoods. After graduating with a Masters of Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008, her desire for helping children grew steadily when she followed her interests on a global scale joining Children Incorporated, an organization that works with nearly 300 projects in 23 countries, including the United States. Children Incorporated partners with already-established schools, orphanages, homes, and childcare centers to address the specific needs of the children they serve to ensure that every child enrolled in our program is provided with clothing, food, hygiene items, school supplies, and other educational tools. Callahan’s central point of the mission she shares with Children Incorporated is the life of charity isn’t at all about realizing the potential of her own goodness, but simply a way to facilitate and magnify the generosity of others. She is also author of the book, “The House of Life,” and has written for numerous publications online and in print publications about her work within the non-profit sector.

How did you get into the industry?

I started at my position with Children Incorporated around four years ago after working with a small non-profit organization for about eight years where I learned a lot about supporting underprivileged communities. After receiving my master’s degree in Social Work, I did some volunteer work abroad in underdeveloped countries such as Haiti and Nepal, and I then knew that I wanted to take my knowledge of the non-profit sector and work with an international NGO (non-governmental organization). I love that Children Incorporated supports children living in poverty in both the United States and in 22 countries around the world.

Any emerging industry trends?

I love how the non-profit sector is embracing the use of technology in their fundraising, marketing, and communications. Just like many other businesses, we in the non-profit world also have to compete for money – but for our industry, it’s donations instead of profits. If we follow current trends and developments in technology in a smart and strategic way, we can increase our brand awareness, increase our number of donors, and in the end, help more children than ever, which is always our main goal at Children Incorporated.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

As I said before, non-profits compete for funds just like any profitable company, which is a huge challenge. How do we as an international child assistance organization make ourselves unique so that the children we support are receiving the funds they so desperately need? It is a difficult task, because there are so many great organizations like ours doing good work around the world, and rising above those that are much larger than us means we have to be very creative in order to stand out.  

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

Children Incorporated started in 1964 when our founder wrote letters to her friends and family describing the poverty she had seen in Guatemala, and asking for help so the children she met on her travels could attend school. Our method hasn’t changed much over the last 50+ years – we continue to believe in the power of telling our story to influence others to get involved – but instead of letter writing, we send out emails, engage in social media, and write stories for our blog series, On the Road.  I believe that in the future, our organization will continue to grow as new supporters get involved in our work.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

In the short term, I will be traveling to Guatemala with our CEO, Ron Carter, to highlight the amazing work we are doing there - we not only provide children with basic needs so they can succeed in school but also providing skills training programs for parents so they have the opportunity to increase their income and better support their families. For the long term, we are looking to find sponsors for the nearly 2000 children we currently have on our waitlist that could use the help for a caring individual so they can also go to school and have a chance at a brighter future.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

I have been behind our On the Road blog series since 2015, which has been very successful in bring attention to our organization. I am fortunate that I get to visit the projects where we work around the world and then meet with our sponsored children and have the chance to tell their stories so that individual donors can not only understand the impact they are having on these kids who are living in extreme poverty. I love that I have been able to encourage others to make a difference in the lives of children who desperately need help.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

For me, it is knowing when to stop working. I love my job, so sometimes I work too many hours in a row and it’s not good for anyone no matter how driven you are. Everyone needs to work at a healthy pace, and take breaks!

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

An ideal donor is one that is really engaged with the child they are helping. We always talk about how sponsorship is more than just providing $30 a month to a child – it's about encouraging a child to do well in school and let them know that someone cares about them and their well-being. Often, children in poverty are also facing neglect, so knowing that a person, even a stranger, is concerned for them is very impactful.  

How do you motivate others?

I try to motivate others by letting them know that anyone – and really anyone – can have a give back to the world in a positive way. You do not have to have a lot of money or be able to travel or take time off of work to really change someone else’s life for the better. At Children Incorporated, we offer many ways to help kids – from our Mosquito Net Fund to our Feeding Programs – that require as little as $10 and only take a few minutes to make a donation. It really is that simple.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Work hard to stand out. Some of my volunteer work outside of my paying jobs made all the difference when I was going for a new job or a promotion when it comes to competing with other applicants – and volunteering can offer some life-changing experiences for you as well.