Adam Eisendrath received his BA in French from UW-Madison in 2001. Since then, he’s returned to his native San Francisco and spent the past decade working in the world of nonprofits. We recently caught up with this former French House resident who’s now a busy stay at home parent. Surprisingly, the two jobs have a lot in common. Bonne lecture!
When did you attend UW-Madison and what things stand out most from your time on campus?
I attended UW-Madison from 1997-2001 and studied abroad in Paris for a semester in my Junior year. I have a lot of great memories from my time at Madison. Coming from San Francisco, it was the first time I experienced snow on a daily basis, and I have many fond memories walking over (or around) Bascom Hill to Van Hise enjoying the seasons. While Madison was initially overwhelming, particularly coming from a small high school, it quickly became a familiar place to me. I found the professors and TAs to be quite excellent, and I’m actually still in touch with a few of them today!
You’ve said that living at the French House was a major part of your college experience. What made that particular experience so meaningful?
I wasn’t expecting the French House to have such a positive influence on my college experience, but the opportunities Andrew and the French House provided opened my eyes to the world, and at the same time gave me a small community to be a part of, which was crucial to surviving college life. In some ways, it was like an odd family, but with people of all ages and backgrounds bonded by a passion for language and culture.
My first French House memory was actually getting the letter about who my roommate would be: a guy from Morocco. They put the only Jewish guy that year with the only Muslim guy. I had no idea how it would work. When we met in person, we got along immediately. We spent the night out on the deck off the living room drinking and talking overlooking the lake.
Meeting people from around the world, and living with them, seeing them in the bathroom brushing their teeth or in their pajamas at breakfast in the morning, created a sense of intimacy that I don’t know I would have found in the dorms and certainly not living on my own as I did Senior year. To me, the French House came to be a warm and friendly international community in the middle of Madison. We ate together, studied together, socialized together, etc. The range of ages was also great. I lived with graduate students from all departments, medical researches, and undergraduates. Having someone to look over your French papers didn’t hurt either!
What does a typical day look like in the life of a self-employed nonprofit consultant?
For the past three years I’ve actually been a stay at home parent. My days now consist of swim classes, Gymboree, playgrounds, cooking tasty things, and trying to catch a few minutes of sleep here and there! Before that, I spent 13 years in the nonprofit sector working for both small and large organizations, and doing consulting work helping nonprofits with their membership and fundraising efforts. My last position was working as a Development Director at an addiction recovery facility for low-income women. It was very rewarding and I actually got to see women come in off the streets, with literally nothing but the clothes on their back, and move into stable housing with a stable source of income. Seeing transitions like that in a matter of a year was truly astounding. I am slowly making my way back into the nonprofit world, and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!
What do you enjoy most about your job?
My job now is 100% dedicated to my children but in many ways my job in the nonprofit sector and my job as a stay at home parent have a lot in common. I want to make the world a better place and give people opportunities for a better life. It’s the same for my children, I want to give them the tools to make good decisions and open as many doors for them as I can. There will be bumps along the way, but (as cliché as it sounds) those bumps create opportunities to do better the next time.
What’s one thing students interested in a career in the nonprofit sector should be thinking about?
The nonprofit world is something you must have a passion for. It is a heart-driven sector where the compensation doesn’t always come with a dollar sign attached. When looking for a career in the nonprofit sector, keeping an open mind is important because many of the skills transfer from one type of organization to the next. For example, learning how to fundraise for a museum will give you the experience you need to fundraise for an affordable housing organization, or a synagogue, or even an arts-advocacy program. Looking at the bigger picture both in terms of the impact you make on the community, and the earning potential, is also very important. Working for a small organization that only has the capacity to serve a small demographic can be challenging, but knowing what influence your organization has on their lives, and the lives of their immediate community, can really be a fulfilling experience.
What role has French language and culture played in your professional career?
French was actually the reason I got into the nonprofit sector. I can say with 100% certainty that if I hadn’t spoken French I would not have gotten my first job, which was working as the Executive Assistant at the Exploratorium, a large science education museum in San Francisco. The Executive Director was French and needed a bilingual assistant. He had many connections abroad and needed correspondence written in both English and French. I had the opportunity to see how a large and successful nonprofit works from the top down and learned about HR, Development, Finance, and the actual nuts and bolts of the day to day operations of a museum. I started the job not caring much about informal science education, but when I left after three years, I saw its importance. It also gave me the opportunity to see the long term impact of a nonprofit on all demographics, people aged 9 to 99. One board member used to work on the museum floor when he was in high school, helping visitors navigate the exhibits and explaining the science behind them. When he became a board member, he was a Vice President at Intel. That experience helping people learn had stayed with him for over 30 years.
You currently live in the San Francisco Bay area. What’s the latest talk of the town there?
Decidedly the opposite of nonprofit world, and only a short 10 min drive from my house to their headquarters, people are talking about the latest drama at Uber. Admittedly, it is a nice change from the constant barrage of political news, which seems to be ever present, but with so many people using Uber it is hard for people to ignore.