Our final Nonprofit Week blog series post comes from Peter Skopec (2012, BA, Political Science, International Studies, French). Peter serves as the State Director at The Public Interest Network. Read on to learn about his current role and career path.
Describe your role with The Public Interest Network. What drew you to the organization and how long have you worked in your role?
I’m the Wisconsin state director with The Public Interest Network. That means that in my day-to-day operations, I direct the non-profit group WISPIRG (or Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group). I’m in charge of developing and running WISPIRG’s grassroots issue campaigns, and lead several state coalitions of non-profit groups working on budget policy, campaign finance reform and consumer financial protection; I also do grant- and donor-fundraising to support our efforts, and lobby decision-makers at the state capitol in Madison and in Washington, D.C.
I got started with The Public Interest Network after graduating from Northwestern in 2012. I appreciated the non-partisan, common-sense nature of TPIN’s work, and liked the very strategic and deliberate approach TPIN takes to tackling some of the biggest issues of our time: building a case for reform through targeted research, then getting the public involved at the grassroots by elevating the voices of hundreds of thousands of people, and finally taking the solutions these people support to decision-makers at all levels of government.
What is your work and education background?
I studied Political Science, International Studies and French at Northwestern, and I was in the Brady Scholars Program, where I got my start in community organizing. While I was in college, I had several internships with non-profit organizations and in government in France and Austria (where I grew up). I also spent a year working in the Austrian Red Cross after high school.
Describe a typical workday.
One of the things I love about my job is that there is no typical workday. One day, I’ll be holding a press conference to release a research report on the transportation budget or participating in a panel discussion about Wall Street reform, the next I’ll be speaking to a church basement full of volunteers or knocking on doors to turn out voters to the polls. This is anything but a desk job!
What does an entry level role look like and entail?
We’re hiring graduating seniors to be campaign organizers in the Public Interest Network’s Impact program (Deadline: April 5). As a campaign organizer, you’ll learn how to plan and run a grassroots campaign to solve some of the most pressing issues of our time, from global warming to special interest influence in politics. We’ll teach you how to develop and execute a campaign plan, recruit and work with volunteers, fundraise, communicate your message through the media, and lobby decision-makers at every level of government. Impact will prepare you to be a leader in the social change movement, whether you stay with TPIN, join a different non-profit group or go into government.
What’s the best thing about working at The Public Interest Network?
We take on some of the most powerful special interests out there, and challenge them on the most pressing issues of the day — so “progress” doesn’t happen overnight. I like being part of an organization of genuinely passionate people that has a 40-year history of making a difference, by building a powerful, sustained movement for social change.
What professional advice do you have for job-seeking graduating students interested in this field? For students who are early in their college careers?
This work has taught me that real change doesn’t happen by sitting behind an office desk and writing research papers, no matter how good your ideas — it takes people willing to put in the time and leg work to implement them. That often means doing unglamorous things like making thousands of phone calls with volunteers, gathering petitions on street corners and on doorsteps, or spending dozens of hours slowly building a coalition for reform in your community. And it means many, many setbacks. So first and foremost, I encourage you to not shy away from the challenge. It will take many more young, talented and passionate people to make the world a better place. And if you’re just starting out in college, get involved early in whatever cause you feel strongly about — and get your friends and your friends’ friends involved, too!
What does your work space look like?
I spend most of my time out of the office and in the community, working with volunteers and coalition partners, meeting with legislators or working with the media – my “workplace” is working/organizing in the field!
What gadget, office tool or program can’t you live without?
My smart phone! It’s my mobile office when I’m out organizing in the field.
What’s the best career or life advice you’ve received?
Work hard, always do your best — and challenge yourself! Just because something is hard or pushes you beyond (even far beyond) your comfort zone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. I’ve often found the toughest, most difficult work experiences to be the most rewarding in the long run (even if they weren’t always fun at the time).
Are you interested in learning about nonprofit organizations that are similar to Peter’s work at The Public Interest Network? Be sure to explore the following organizations.