Interview Series: Jennifer Schmidt, Director of Donor Relations

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Are you all ready for this super fun interview with another one of our new board members? Jennifer came to us back in May of this year and has already led a successful fundraiser with Kendra Scott and has been working tirelessly on our newest campaign, ‘Train Like a Warrior’ coming this January! We are going to learn all about Jennifer’s passion for fundraising, dancing and dogs in this month’s blog feature. Take a read to learn more about the face behind the fundraising…

How did you get involved with ONA?

I first learned about ONA when I met Susan through the Miss America Organization and both of us were serving as local titleholders. Then, in 2018, when my sister was serving in the United States Army overseas, I saw firsthand ONA’s mission at work. My sister received a personalized care package just in time for her birthday and Thanksgiving, which reminded her during such a difficult time that, although she couldn’t celebrate with family and friends, she was not alone. After losing my job with the American Diabetes Association (#ThanksCOVID), I was catching up with Susan who jokingly asked if I wanted to join the ONA Board. Although she was somewhat joking, I saw it as an opportunity to continue to learn and build my resume while helping an organization that I absolutely adore grow their impact and donor relations program. I told Susan ‘yes’ and now I serve as the Director of Donor Relations for Operation Not Alone!

What has been your favorite part of working with ONA?

I’ve loved seeing the big impact ONA has — especially as such a small nonprofit! It’s funny, whenever I talk about ONA, people assume that we are a large organization because we send care packages all over the country and world. I take pride in telling them that we are just a small but mighty team of 5!

How have you helped the organization grow? How has it helped you grow?

I really can’t take credit for any of ONA’s growth. Most of the team has been here either as long as I have or a lot longer (hi Susan and MeKenzie). But ONA has absolutely helped me grow. It has given me a sense of purpose during what has been a really difficult time. For that, I am so thankful!

How excited are you for our ‘Train Like a Warrior’ campaign?

I am SO excited for ‘Train Like a Warrior’ (or TLAW for short)! The campaign combines three of my favorite things: health, fitness, and fundraising! I believe it was initially Susan’s idea. For a while she has been wanting to do a large fundraiser. In the past, ONA has really only done small, third party fundraisers. She was talking about doing a third party fundraiser with CycleBar (who will be hosting one of our TLAW fitness fundraisers) and it grew from there. I shared with Susan my experience fundraising with fitness studios; that while they are so fun they don’t often fundraise THAT much. Our solution? 31 straight days of fitness class fundraisers and sharing other health resources! TLAW combines fundraising, fitness, health resources, and ONA’s birthday. I CAN’T WAIT!

Please tell us all about Murray and your passion for fostering/ rescues.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic the Miss Wisconsin competition was postponed, most events were canceled,  many places closed, and I eventually became unemployed. I found a bit of extra time on my hands and I wanted to do something good with it! I became a dog foster for Rescue Gang, a rescue shelter in Milwaukee! I provided a temporary home to 4 dogs and played a role in helping them find their furever families. 

Murray’s mom, Lorna, was rescued, fostered, and adopted through Rescue Gang. Shortly after her adoption, Lorna’s furever family realized she was pregnant! She temporarily went back to a Rescue Gang foster family to birth her two puppies. Murray and his brother, Elliot, were born on May 16th. Their foster mom shared the exciting news with the volunteer Facebook group. IMMEDIATELY, I fell in love with Murray! At the time, I was fostering my first dog, Chewy. I didn’t think I was ready for a pup of my own so I didn’t even think about applying to adopt him, and it wasn’t long until Murray was claimed by another family…⠀

About 2 months later, I had fostered 1 dog and 3 puppies. I was confident in my abilities to be a great doggy parent. As a 7 week old pup, almost ready to leave his mom and brother, Murray’s foster mom posted in the Facebook group that the family who was going to adopt him backed out. I quickly filled out an application only to find out he had two approved families ahead of me. I figured there wasn’t even a chance that two more families would pass on such a cutie. For some reason that I can’t explain other than fate, they did, and on July 9th, I brought Murray home! I can’t help but think it was meant to be. He was meant to be my Murray! P.S. you can follow Murray on Instagram @Meant2BeMurray!

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And I mean is he not the cutest?!

Besides rescuing dogs, what else do you enjoy doing?

I love moving! I’m a dancer and have been dancing since I was 3 years old. Now that I’m 24, I don’t dance that much other than when competing for a pageant. My body is old for a dancer and it honestly can’t take much more! However, I have fallen in love with other ways to move my body including working out and yoga. I also love traveling. My boyfriend is a professional pickleball player and teacher and I am very lucky to be able to travel with him to camps, clinics, and tournaments all over the country (pre and post COVID). Lastly, I love volunteering with nonprofits. My parents raised me to be a service minded individual and have now found myself heavily involved in one or two… or 5. 😉 

What is your favorite book/ books?

Honestly, I don’t really like to read books! When I was younger, I used to get horrible headaches when I read. Turns out I just needed reading glasses, but I never really found it all that enjoyable. I read a daily newsletter and listen to a ton of podcasts! The Skinny Confidential Him and Her Podcast, Pantsuit Politics, the Grit Behind the Glitz, Food for Thought, and The Make an Impact Podcast are just a few of the ones I listen to religiously! 

What is your dream job?/What do you want to be when you grow up?

I wanted to be a country music singer when I grew up. LOL YIKES. But my dream job… ooof. That’s a tough one. I hope to continue working for a nonprofit health organization. I love health, but I have a passion for health equity, something I’m worried we’re far from achieving. I would love to work with communities to implement programs and policies that strive to achieve health for all. I think we often give large organizations, like our state and federal government, that responsibility but I think real change is made in our communities. That’s my dream job. To be the person who works everyday to achieve real change and really improve the lives and health of others.

Best piece of advice you’ve been given?

‘Never give up. Things always work out the way they’re supposed to.’

I know it’s advice we’ve all heard before, from many different people.  I’ve never been the girl to get things right on the first try. I applied to UW-Madison 3 times before I was accepted, I competed for 4 years before winning my hometown title (Miss Racine) and I will be making my 3rd attempt at Miss Wisconsin. I’ve also applied to 100,000,000,000 jobs I’m waiting/hoping to hear back from. But I will never give up and I believe things always work out the way they’re supposed to. This advice has gotten me through the toughest times and helped me achieve my greatest accomplishments. 

Allison Foster

Director of Communications

Jennifer Schmidt

Director of Donor Relations

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