In the four years since she founded the educational organization Science Tots, former Washington resident Erica Peterson has learned a lot about leading that type of endeavor.
“There’s a huge misconception that as a nonprofit, it’s all charity-based, that you say, ‘I need this,’ and all of a sudden it appears on pallets at your door,” she said. “But in order to be a sustainable nonprofit, it is a business. It’s just a different type of business.”
To help share her insight, Peterson is serving as event producer for a New York City gathering that basically is for founders of nonprofits, presented by founders of nonprofits.
The inaugural Find Your Pajamas Nonprofit Business Intensive and Pitch Contest, scheduled for Sept. 14, features a series of guest speakers – Peterson is among them – and workshop sessions addressing effective strategies for the likes of raising funds, engaging volunteers and storytelling to creating social impact.
The name relates to the event’s host, Genevieve Piturro, and the nonprofit she founded: For nearly two decades, Pajama Program has delivered nighttime clothing and books to children who otherwise wouldn’t have them.
Prior to Peterson starting her nonprofit, she served in a volunteer capacity as Pajama Program chapter president for Western Pennsylvania.
“My job with them was to collect pajamas from local drives,” she recalled. “It was my job to go pick up the pajamas and then go distribute them to all of their partners across this half of the state.”
During her travels, she had the idea of providing an extra educational component to youngsters in need. The result was Science Tots, which provides tools for early learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
“I definitely was inspired by Pajama Program,” Peterson said. “It was really impactful to see that you can grow something into a national program, where people volunteer, where people are calling and saying, ‘Hey, can I help you?’”
This year, she contacted Piturro about being a guest speaker at an event Peterson was organizing. Their conversation helped inspire Piturro to organize the Find Your Pajamas event, and she asked Peterson to serve as its producer.
“It took me probably about 30 minutes to come up with: Here’s the agenda. Here are the workshops. Here are the potential speakers we can invite,” she said.
She also thought to include the pitch contest for founders of nonprofits.
“This part of the event is a great experience for them to vocalize and put together their materials so that they, themselves, are clear on the hows and whys,” Peterson explained. “We’re using it as a really good educational tool.”
One of the judges for the contest is Bethel Park native Megs Yunn, founder of Beverly’s Birthdays, which has a mission similar to that of Pajama Program: providing parties for children whose circumstances precluded such celebrations.
“I had suggested Megs because of her great success with Beverly’s Birthdays,” Peterson said. “She’s been able to touch on all the different pieces of the event that day: building an effective board, building a solid volunteer network and building a following.”
A New York City native and West Virginia University graduate who now lives in Robinson Township, Allegheny County, Peterson also is founder of Moms Can & Co., an online career accelerator for mothers and others who want to switch careers and work exclusively remotely. One component is sharing information about the growing number of opportunities in that regard.
“These aren’t freelance gigs,” Peterson explained. “These are full-time jobs with benefits.”