Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Boyce manages career path in nonprofit sector

Claire Boyce


After graduating in 2014, Claire Boyce joined the University of Wisconsin Foundation as an associate director of development.

After six years in the private sector, Claire Boyce knew she wanted to hone her management and analytical skills.

And she wanted to come home to make an impact in Madison.

The second-year public affairs student had been away for three years, in New Rochelle, outside New York City, working with Cross‐Cultural Solutions, a nonprofit organization that coordinates international volunteer opportunities.

“I wanted to accelerate my career and increase my responsibility at work,” Boyce says. “I knew a master’s degree could help me gain the skills to accomplish that — and coming back home to settle in Madison was appealing.”

Boyce also is using graduate school to transition from international to domestic public affairs by pursuing a Master of Public Affairs degree. “I realized my professional strengths are more applicable and I can make a significant difference in my community,” she says. “I am focusing on gaining strong foundational skills, especially in management.”

Despite her management emphasis, Boyce enjoyed the challenge of the core courses in statistics and economics. “I was surprised how much I gained from those courses, whole new ways of looking at an issue,” she says.

She also has valued the benefit of having two years to explore different aspects of management and analysis. “Especially for professionals like myself who have been out of school for more than five years, going back to school can be a difficult decision,” Boyce says, “but I really encourage people to go back full time because you have time and space to evaluate what you want to get out of your career.”

As Boyce enters her second year of study, she continues to push herself. “I have been strategic in my plan for my two years of graduate school,” she says. “I know that I will pick up a book and broaden my knowledge about food policy or public health, but learning about program evaluation or organizational development outside of a classroom is harder, so those are the courses I am taking.”

She appreciates that the La Follette School curriculum encourages students to take courses in other parts of the university, including the Law School and the Department of Urban and Regional Planning. “I can take human resources at the Business School,” Boyce says. “That’s a very nice opportunity. As an older student, I know what I want to get out of my degree because I have seen the gaps in my skill set and I am filling those in from different areas of the university.”

Boyce graduated with a degree in international studies from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2006. She worked for the Madison software company Epic for three years as an Application Manager. “I knew all along I wanted a career in nonprofit organizations,” Boyce says. “Epic was a great opportunity to broaden my scope and to get the project management skills to be a savvy professional. After I started to gain those skills, I began looking for opportunities in the nonprofit sector.”

Boyce had a link with Cross—Cultural Solutions, having volunteered in Costa Rica through the organization for eight weeks working at a day center for older adults in 2007. As an employee, she started with Cross-Cultural Solutions as a program advisor recruiting volunteers then was promoted to corporate relations specialist.

“Corporate employee engagement programs are emerging as a core business strategy and one component can be employee opportunities to volunteer abroad,” Boyce says. “I developed a big project with Eli Lilly and Company and managed our partnership that sent 200 of their employees overseas each year. I enjoyed creating and managing a program of that magnitude and seeing the impact on their company.”

Boyce reached out to other corporations and produced a video to share with companies and demonstrate the value of encouraging employees to volunteer abroad.

During her first year at La Follette, Boyce had a project assistantship with the Department of Engineering Professional Development as a marketing assistant. “I learned new skills in strategic marketing and competitor analyses,” Boyce says.

For the summer, Boyce was a special projects assistant with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin through AmericaCorps VISTA, working on the food bank’s summer food service program to monitor the use of capacity-building grants given to school districts, churches and community centers to expand their ability to feed children.

“The grants allowed the sponsors to purchase equipment to help them take food to locations where kids already are – parks, for example,” Boyce says. “They also could use the funds to implement a prize program or to subsidize meals for caregivers which incentivizes families to participate in the meal programs. I am evaluated best practices and challenges to assess the future of the grant program.” After finishing her work at Second Harvest, Boyce maintained her connection with the program. “I am learning so much in La Follette’s Program Evaluation course this year, and sharing those ideas back with the staff at the food bank so they can continue to improve their grant evaluation work.”

In her second year, Boyce has a project assistantship as a Community-University Exchange Fellow for South Madison, jointly with the Morgridge Center for Public Service and the Vice-Chancellor’s Office for Community Relations. “I serve as the liaison between the South Madison community and UW faculty and students — facilitating connections and the sharing of strengths. There are so many opportunities for both communities to learn from and be engaged with one another.” Boyce also is working with the United Way of Dane County in their Community Impact department. “I am writing a funding proposal for an employability program. It feels like this work brings together all the things I’ve learned in the past year. I can see the result of all the skills I’ve gained.

Boyce’s favorite course in her second year is a community-based learning course jointly offered by the La Follette School and several other departments that will span both semesters. “We have the opportunity to serve on the board of a nonprofit organization,” she says. “As a board member for Girls on the Run of Dane County I get to experience nonprofit governance and decision-making from a whole new perspective.”

Ultimately, Boyce wants to become executive director of a nonprofit organization. However, career track in mind, Boyce’s next step after completing her MPA in 2014, is to pursue work with a Madison nonprofit in development or external relations. “Those are the areas where I have excelled and I really enjoy working,” she says. “The interdisciplinary skills I am gaining at La Follette will help me advance my career by giving me credibility and helping me make that step up to a management level.”