March 2019 Alumni Spotlight
March Alumni Spotlight with Chris Percopo, MPA ‘13
Director of Grants Management and Special Program Operations at Helmsley Charitable Trust, Chris Percopo tells us about his first foray into the nonprofit world, his experience in the Marxe MPA program, and more in this month’s alumni spotlight.
Can you remember what first drove you to seek a career in the nonprofit sector? How did fundraising become your primary focus?
My interest in the nonprofit sector stems from the fact that I started volunteering when I was very young. When I was in 7th grade my mom, brother, and I worked with an organization (which I continued to volunteer with for more than 15 years) that would drive into New York City once a month to give food and clothes to the homeless living under the bridges in NYC. It was not a sophisticated social intervention, but it exposed me to social inequality. From then on, I volunteered through high school (where I also served as a state officer for an international community service organization) and then in college (where I served as a coordinator for a volunteer placement at my university. I could not help but think this passion of mine for community service could be a career. Luckily I found my undergraduate major of Human Services and Non-Profit Management (which had a strong service learning component) and was able to get training in how to pursue a career in the public sector.While, initially, I did do fundraising in my career, since joining Helmsley 9.5 years ago I have switched to the grantmaking side. Specifically, I oversee a team of 9 that manages Helmsley’s grantmaking process, compliance, due diligence, and monitoring as well as payment and grant budget monitoring.
You joined a private foundation during its startup phase. How has that informed how you approach your Director role at Helmsley Charitable Trust?
I knew when I joined Helmsley that being an early employee at what was going to be a top 20 foundation (by asset size) was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. I really enjoyed the early days. They were busy, but there was not a day that went by that we were not creating and really taking action. Without the hierarchy, we could really dive in and get things done. Now that we have grown, I have a unique perspective on how processes, systems, and programs developed. This history is immensely helpful and can help avoid repeating mistakes. Also, I have a great team and I really value and support them as I remember when it was just me.
Tell us about your experience in the Marxe MPA program.
When I was contemplating grad school, I was torn. Should I do an MBA, MPA, or JD? Would part-time, full-time, or accelerated be best? Should I repeat my private university experience or go to a public university?I am very happy with my decision to go to Baruch for my MPA part-time. I felt the Marxe program was not only well structured, but focused on practical experience, not just theory.There was a real focus from the professors on making sure we were ready to apply knowledge in real life, not just the theory.The professors were also very supportive. It was also positive as I was able to see how some of what I was learning applied to my job at Helmsley.