Activating a Legion of People

Bertina Ceccarelli
Job Title
Executive Vice President, Global Resources, Wildlife Conservation Society
Bronx, NY, USA


When a company I was working for relocated to Omaha, I knew I wanted to stay in New York. I'd always imagined I'd do something in the nonprofit sector, but figured it would be at some point much later in my career. Then it just occurred to me: Well, why not now? That insight led to nine rewarding years as senior vice president at United Way of New York City.

Careers & Connections

My next turning point came when I realized that I wanted to develop my international skills and experience and somehow reconcile that desire to take my career in a new direction with the need to stay based in Brooklyn with my family. I've always loved hiking, the outdoors, and wildlife, but hadn't considered an environmental focus for my career until I had a chance to pause and reflect during a retreat in Maine with an old HBS friend. Then, amazingly enough, a recruiter called me about a job at the Wildlife Conservation Society. It was such an unexpected synergy of circumstances. I really fell in love with the organization, the people (who are primarily scientists), and the scope of the opportunity. In my current role, which is new for the organization, I oversee traditional fundraising activities, corporate outreach, and an emerging area, conservation finance, which includes growing sustainable revenue streams through mechanisms such as carbon offsets.


Much of my work at the United Way focused on developing corporate partnerships-finding the intersection between a corporate philanthropy objective and the work a nonprofit can carry out locally, nationally, and internationally. I worked on translating social service programs into an investment product such that a sophisticated funder can look at it and see what the ROI will be-how what they contribute will result in a quantitative impact. It's a mindset that is pretty applicable to a lot of nonprofit organizations these days, and WCS is no exception.

Volunteer engagement is another area where I hope to make a difference. How do you activate a legion of people who want to volunteer in a way that is meaningful and productive without compromising an organization's own efficiencies? I'm hoping to bring some of my United Way lessons to WCS to figure out how we might engage a broader set of committed individuals in some our work, both here in New York City and more broadly, on the global front.