Excellence in Action
Stacey Capoot ’09
Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza • September 26, 2017
Describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
My first three jobs were actually at UCLA! As an undergraduate student, I worked part time at the Alumni Association in membership services and was hired full time when I graduated. My next position was as the Assistant Director of Student Giving at the UCLA Fund, teaching current students the importance of university philanthropy, overseeing the Student Giving Committee and putting together events like Thank UCLA Day. After that, I moved over to the College of Letters and Sciences and joined the Social Sciences development team (development is just another word for fundraising).
After six years at UCLA (10 total including my time as a student), I decided it was time to expand my horizons. That’s when I started working at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles as a major gifts officer, where I have now been for over two years. PPLA has 18 health centers across LA County, and we’re one of the largest Planned Parenthood affiliates in the country in terms of patient visits. Each regional affiliate of Planned Parenthood does its own fundraising to help deliver high-quality, compassionate and affordable reproductive health care in their local community. In my current role, I get to work one-on-one with donors who can make significant philanthropic investments that help protect and expand health care and education here in Los Angeles.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
As a Women’s Studies major, I remember looking around the classroom one day, and I was surrounded by people who had really big and progressive ideas. I thought “I wonder if these people know how to get funding for their big ideas?” I realized that there was a whole career path where I could raise money to empower people providing services, making change and pursuing justice. I chose an unconventional major and it really paid off. Women’s Studies really helped me think about the complexities of the human experience, and I think that made me especially skilled at building relationships and encouraging people’s passions, which is so important in philanthropy.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
I can’t say enough about how meaningful my major was to me. I would really encourage students and families to rethink the undergraduate major as job training and just study something that excites them. Networking, part-time jobs, and getting involved in extracurricular activities is what really builds your resume. Especially if you’re in the social sciences or the humanities, your major is what teaches you to read, research, write and think critically about the world in new and more complicated ways.
But my major actually did give me some hard skills that I still use at my job. I took a summer seminar where I had to interview an activist. We were trained on interview tactics like how to ask open-ended questions to get people to think about their experiences and reveal more about what drives them. I remember going to the home of this incredible women who had been an immigration-rights lawyer. We had this great conversation that made her think about what really drove her to do her work and made her think about her own personal journey in new ways. It was so exciting! I also took a video production class where I worked with a group to produce a short documentary, and we interviewed other students on campus. Those classes taught me to listen and identify what motivates people, which is the first step toward helping them accomplish their philanthropic goals. Another class that stands out is a class on the intersection of science and gender. Now that I work in reproductive health care, it helps me to have a deeper understanding of the relationship between medicine, technology, and women’s rights. It makes me feel more informed and more of an expert when I’m talking to donors.
I also found it really valuable to have a job on campus throughout my college career. I would encourage students to find a job in an office if they can. It will give you a shorter learning curve when it comes time to work full time in a professional environment. You learn how an office works and how to interact with colleagues and constituents at a higher level.
I was also in a band when I was in college with people that I had met in my dorm. We performed on and off-campus for almost six years and recorded several records. That band is not together anymore, but I have continued to be part of other bands and create music for fun. Being at UCLA and having that free and creative environment to learn, to work together with other people, and to pursue my passions—that is incredibly valuable. Students shouldn’t just be in the books all the time. While your grades are important, it’s important to have a well-rounded experience, and UCLA really offered that for me.
Finally, my UCLA education didn’t stop when I graduated. I took UCLA Extension courses in fundraising at night once I started working. Alumni Association members receive a discount!
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
When I graduated from high school, my first summer job was through a Bruin in my neighborhood. Before I ever applied for my current job, I reached out to the Bruin who was there on staff, who I had met once before, to get her advice. Now, I try to be that person who makes the introductions. A lot of students and alumni think that the person that you go to for connections or a job is the most senior employee. Everyone always wants to talk to the CEO, but often it’s the assistant director or the associate who is actually hiring an assistant, has the time to make introductions, or can give you the most current advice about your industry.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
My greatest career challenge has been learning to “manage up.” I was once in a situation where I thought I had a really difficult boss because she just didn’t get me. But actually, when you’re starting your career, you need to prioritize what is best for your boss, not necessarily for yourself. I had to learn how to tailor my work and communication style to make life easier for the person I directly reported to. Once I accepted and mastered that, we had a fabulous relationship—she became one of my close friends and mentors.
When you come out of UCLA, it’s easy to feel like you can do anything, that you’re the smartest person in the room, and that people should just listen to your ideas. However, it’s important to be humble and realize that you still have a lot to learn. You should be paying attention to what your boss needs. More often than not, they want you to succeed, but they can’t do that if you’re not helping them succeed.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in the nonprofit industry?
If you can, try to start your career at a larger and more sophisticated organization or institution. It may sound exciting to become a front-line fundraiser when you’re 23 years old at a small shop, or to start your own social enterprise. However, it’s valuable to be introduced to the systems and processing that really make an organization successful. Work ethic, creativity, and smarts cannot replace experience. You should understand how a donor database works before you actually go out and ask for donations or run a campaign. You should staff the check-in table at an event before you plan a gala. As I look back, I see now that the things I did at the beginning of my career that I didn’t particularly enjoy, taught me a lot. When you finally have the opportunity to do something really innovative and be a leader, you’ll actually have the experience to back it up.
If your first job that you get is at a smaller nonprofit, don’t be discouraged if your next position is a lateral move to a bigger organization. There’s a big difference between being a development assistant in an office of three that raises a million dollars a year and a development assistant at a major university in a multi-billion dollar campaign. In the nonprofit world, titles can be vague and arbitrary, so focus more on what kind of work and what kind of people you’re going to get exposure to with each career move.
I would also say to not be afraid to negotiate your salary just because it’s a nonprofit. You can go online and read a lot of tips on how to do this in ways that are realistic, diplomatic, and specific to the non-profit industry. I would encourage really any student, no matter what industry they go into, to always advocate for themselves in that first salary negotiation. It will set the course for your life-long earning potential and financial security.
How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?
One of the most important things that any alumnus can do is to donate to the university, any amount that is comfortable for them. It doesn’t have to be a big check—just a gift of any size to an area of campus that matters to them. If we all do this every year, we really build momentum as a group, and we’re teaching the next generation of Bruins that philanthropy is part of what it means to give back to the school that gives us so much. I just made a gift to the Gender Studies department (formerly Women’s Studies), and the Alumni Scholarship Fund. A lot of us don’t have the time to be involved very much as a volunteer, but most people can give 20 dollars, 100 dollars, 10 dollars a month and build a better future for the Bruins who come after us.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I would say the thing that makes me most proud to be a Bruin is that we’re always ranked highly in terms of our diversity and relative affordability. We have a high percentage of first-generation college students and transfer students compared to similar universities. That gives me a lot of pride because I think that the promise of a public higher education like the one that you get at UCLA is that it is both world-class and accessible. I think that the differences that we have in the UCLA community are what make us really vibrant and strong.
This is a really unique moment in history where people seem especially energized to make a difference in the world. The issue that is closest to my heart, of course, is reproductive health and rights. I have the opportunity every day to work with the most amazing supporters who want to provide PPLA with the resources we need to continue offering health care to anyone who needs it, no matter what. I also spend a lot of time with our medical providers, like our clinicians and medical assistants, and I know how hard they work, and how compassionate they are. I love being part of an organization that is a reproductive health care leader not just in Los Angeles, but for the rest of the country. I feel like I have found my dream job, and I am so grateful.
So for me, what’s next is just another day at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. In the future, I’m not sure exactly where I’d like to be. There are other issues I care deeply about, and I’m always open to new experiences. In the future, I would love the opportunity to supervise or manage other fundraisers, to help people grow their careers the way my mentors and supervisors have helped me. This is an incredibly rewarding career, and I’d love to help advance the profession!
Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.