Marti Spencer went from corporate to nonprofit with her leadership of the Ronald McDonald House
Marti Spencer left the corporate world for the nonprofit sector with an 18-year stint as full-time mom in between. Since 2012, she’s been the new executive director of Greenville’s Ronald McDonald House, but she’s been involved with the nonprofit for a lot longer than that. The house gives families a place to stay while their children are undergoing treatment in local hospitals. Spencer sat down with the Upstate Business Journal to talk about its mission and her journey before arriving in the top seat.
How did you become involved in the Ronald McDonald House?
I started as a volunteer about 10 years ago working on events and fundraising. When I lived in Miami, I worked in marketing and public relations and thought I could use some of my skills to help out the Ronald McDonald House. I stayed at home with my children and liked reinventing myself after that time. I built my resume around the work I did as a mom. After two years, in 2006, I was asked to come on board as their program manager. I went on to be chief development officer. I had to really think about taking on executive director because I really enjoyed my work as chief development officer, but I thought I knew what the house needed and I would give it all I had.
Who has been your inspiration?
There are several strong women in my family who were pioneers in their fields. My grandmother was with civil defense and the Red Cross in Miami. She got her masters’ degree in the ’30s, which was uncommon for a woman. And my maternal grandmother was the first radio announcer in Colombia, South America, at a time in the ’30s and ’40s when women weren’t on the radio. I also have an aunt who was a nun at a convent and orphanage in the Mariana Islands during World War II. She managed to help some other nuns and children be rescued by American soldiers. My mother also studied male-dominated drafting architecture, coming to the University of Miami from Colombia, and didn’t know how to speak English. They all gave back – my heroes happen to be in my own family.
What are you passionate about?
I enjoy the challenge of working for a nonprofit and how they would tell me, “You’ve got $10,000 (for an event), make it look like $50,000.” I love the mission and have a dear friend who stayed here. She would have been bankrupt without the Ronald McDonald House. There isn’t one specific illness that we’re dealing with here and I like that. I love the fact that we can provide lodging for families and they can be close to their children. My whole goal in life is to help people. I get a great deal of satisfaction out of making people happy.
What are some of your favorite parts of the job?
The supporting the families, the giving back to the community and sharing the story we have here at the house. There are sad stories, but there are great stories. Children are incredibly resilient and they give their parents a strength that we would do well to adopt –they don’t sweat the small stuff.
What’s a challenge in your role as executive director?
You’re always on; we are open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. Luckily my husband has a similar job and there’s an understanding about the time it takes us to do our jobs. Another challenge is educating people that we are not supported by the McDonald’s corporation, but by the local McDonald’s owner-operators and by the community.
What is the best advice you’ve received?
“Follow your gut,” which is a combination of my heart and my head. If you try to live with just one or the other, I don’t think you get as far in life. I’ve been using that method since high school and it’s never steered me wrong. Also, if you fail, pick yourself up and realize it’s all part of the whole experience. It doesn’t mean you’re not right for what you’re doing, you may just have to reorganize yourself.
You and your staff deal with families in crisis and facing life-and-death issues. How do you cope?
I can’t afford to be negative in what I do. When you hear the stories, you count your blessings that it isn’t you. But because it isn’t you, you need to help those families out. You need to lift them up and give them what you can. It also gives you more empathy towards everyone you meet.