A conversation with Raymond Offenheiser Jr.

Summer 2010

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Raymond Offenheiser Jr. didn’t set off to choose a nonprofit career. What attracted him, though, was the opportunity to work with mission-based organizations that had strong value statements that aligned with his personal values and volunteer activities.
Offenheiser (ND ’71) is the president of Oxfam America, the international relief and development agency that helps communities rebuild after a disaster. He spoke at the University of Notre Dame March 30 as part of the eighth annual "Making a Living Making a Difference" program, which aims to inform students and others from the community about employment opportunities in the public and nonprofit sectors.

The nonprofit industry has seen a number of operational shifts in the past 20 years or so. Offenheiser described one trend relating to an increasing concern on the part of environmental and human rights organizations about the role of private companies in creating opportunities for economic growth.

In some cases, Offenheiser said, this concern has led to an examination of whether the operations of these companies and the capital they bring to a community actually do more harm than good. In turn, this analysis precipitated an international discussion about operational standards for corporate social responsibility across a variety of industries. It also has created a new level of engagement between not-for-profits and multinational corporations around appropriate business practices, which has intensified in the past decade as many companies are finding their future markets within developing countries.

"They’re investing heavily in these environments, and they’re very sensitive about the integrity of their brands, the acceptability of their brands, and the viability of their investments if they happen to be making large capital investments," said Offenheiser. "And they’re looking to not-for-profits to dialogue with them about the social principles."

Along with the increasing cooperation between corporations and nonprofits, he has also witnessed more people following his career path – choosing to work in the nonprofit industry because of a desire to work for a values-based organization. For business students today interested in the nonprofit industry, he advised acquiring core skill sets in management, organizational development, strategy and marketing.

"Increasingly, as our organizations are in ever-more challenging fundraising environments and business environments, and particularly as we’re managing growth … we need these kinds of skill sets in our organization," he said. "And oftentimes, our young professionals who come to our organizations with a strong commitment to the core mission maybe don’t have necessarily the kinds of core management skills that we need to complement those programmatic skills."