This interview with Senior Manager Luis Vergara is part of our ongoing series featuring members of the La Piana team.
When and why did you decide to dedicate your career to the nonprofit sector?
My mother worked in the nonprofit sector and encouraged me to become active in it at a young age. I worked while I was in school, teaching in after-school programs, running tutoring services, and providing sports programs. When I was younger, I benefitted from programs like the ones I then found myself working in, so I knew from firsthand experience the impact these programs have on youth, especially those who may not otherwise get the opportunity or have access to after-school activities.
After I finished school, I worked in gang prevention and youth development, and later joined Youth Radio. My work with Youth Radio really cemented my ideas around nonprofits, and it combined two things that I am passionate about: working with youth and music.
How have your previous positions, both in and out of the nonprofit sector, shaped your approach to consulting?
When you come from within the sector, you have a greater understanding of how nonprofits work—who the key players are, the variety of funding structures that exist, and the complex relationships between staff and boards. Anyone can learn this, but living this has provided a really strong foundation for my current work. Because of this experience, I do not go into organizations with a prescribed approach; I understand that each organization is unique.
In addition to my nonprofit work, I spent time doing market research and branding in the private sector. I learned a lot from that work, but more than anything I learned how important it is to listen to clients, and that if you want to succeed, you have to deliver results not just reports.
Are there particular types of projects or clients that you like to work on?
I particularly enjoy working with organizations that recognize that they are stuck in a certain way of doing things but do not know how to get unstuck. I like to help them think differently, to be innovative.
I also enjoy working with smaller organizations that are on the cusp of really making it. Because they are smaller, it is often easier to see the impact of the work we do. It can be truly transformative.
Regardless of what the primary goal of a project is, I also always think of our work with nonprofits through an organizational development lens. How does what we are doing today effect the whole organization?
What advice would you give someone considering a career in the nonprofit sector?
Regardless of whether you want to do program work or become an administrator, the only way to survive in the nonprofit sector and be happy is to work in a service area you are passionate about. If your ambition is simply to run a nonprofit, you will not be happy.
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?
When I think of my past, there have been many people I have looked up to. You might think this is odd, but one person living right now who I admire is Anthony Bourdain. I’ve read his book, and I appreciate his style and approach. I am not a writer, but I find that writers can really tell a story. He would make good lunch conversation!