Alumni Spotlight: Brian Alvarado, Hiring Our Heroes
Brian Alvarado is the Senior Director of Hiring Our Heroes, an initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation which works to connect the military community with civilian companies to create economic opportunity and a strong and diversified workforce. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with Brian about his work, his personal connection to the mission of the nonprofit, and his experience in the Center’s Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate Program.
CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with so many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?
Alvarado: I made the transition from working in corporate America to nonprofit just three years ago. I am the spouse of a U.S. Navy Veteran. My spouse served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years before retiring in 2019. When you’re a part of the military community, there are a vast number of ways that you can get involved, volunteer, and work to help support the military community. Through some of that volunteering work, I realized that there was a huge disparity between the unemployment rate of military spouses and our civilian counterparts. It was a growing issue impacting the people that I was surrounding myself with to the point where I was tapping into my own network and trying to connect with young military individuals to create opportunities. The reason why there is this disparity is because military families have to move every 18 months to 3 years. Service members get orders and constantly move from state to state or even overseas. It’s really hard to keep up a career when you’re moving so often. Things look a little bit different now because the world is opening up to remote work.
Through my work, I was introduced to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their foundation’s initiative called Hiring Our Heroes. They have an entire program built to support this community and to try and break down those barriers to solid employment opportunities. I got involved with it as a volunteer for many years running the military spouse professional network which seeks to provide peer-to-peer networking, professional development, and employer engagement for the military spouse community. Right around the time my spouse was getting ready to retire from the military, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce asked if I would like to come to DC and be on our staff to help lead this work into the future. I think a lot of people who work in nonprofits start out as either a member of the community that they are serving or have been involved somehow in the problem that needs to be solved. That’s what creates a lot of the passion for people who work in nonprofit, and that was certainly my case. It’s my community that we are serving. It’s my story that we’re telling and trying to overcome barriers. The unemployment rate pre-pandemic was 4 times the civilian rate. We were sitting around at a 22% unemployment rate for military spouses, and 70% underemployment. Military spouses may have degrees and experience in all kinds of fields but get stuck with the only job that was available in a particular location. That underemployment is also something we’re trying to tackle.
CPNL: Congratulations on your recent promotion to Senior Director of Hiring Our Heroes under the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation! What do you hope to accomplish in this new position to serve the nonprofit sector and the audience of your organization?
Alvarado: This is a very special promotion for me because I am breaking some glass ceilings of my own. I am the first male military spouse to ever sit in this seat. There have been four other people who sat in this seat and they’ve all been women. The military spouse community is 92% female, but there are 8% of us that are male. For me, to lead this team and this work is the absolute honor of my life. To be a trusted leader of a team of dedicated professionals who work every day to build opportunity for our community is something I will never forget and I will always walk into the office with my head held high knowing that I have to do a fantastic job.
What I would like to see us do is move the needle. I want us to continue to build innovative solutions and partnerships with the Department of Defense, Department of Labor, and the Small Business Administration to actually bring down that unemployment number. A lot of what I want to do is bring innovative technology into what we’re working on. We have been relying heavily on social media to keep in contact with spouses because we move all the time. If we want to be a constant source of opportunity for this community, we have to stay engaged with them and find the easiest way to do that. I want to bring some infrastructure and technology to the work that we’re doing by building an app for networking and employer engagement, something where they can easily update their resumes and have them immediately in front of employers even before they move somewhere new. If I get orders and I know that I am moving in four months, I can already update my resume, make sure it’s exactly what it needs to be, highlight my skill set, and it’s immediately in front of all of the employers who want to hire military spouses. It gives them that soft landing space prior to moving somewhere else. It will lower the gap in unemployment, and it’s also going to lower the gap in the economic instability within the military family. The major goal of mine is to move that needle and do it with technology and innovation.
CPNL: In your current position, you work to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find employment opportunities. In what ways has your personal experience impacted the way you address the nuances and intricacies of better aiding the military community?
Alvarado: My story is not necessarily the same story as every other military spouse. A lot of military spouses get married young. They marry their high school sweetheart, and the service member goes to boot camp and all of a sudden they go from the middle of nowhere to a metropolitan city for the first time. Their spouse deploys overseas and they’re all alone. They’re living in a brand new city and they don’t have a job or friends. That is the major story of the military spouse. I came in as a military spouse a little bit later in life and had networks because I worked my whole life. I want to open up that network and share it with the younger generation of military spouses. There is a certain responsibility when we become members of the military community to give back. I intend to do this work to absolutely understand the gravity of being a part of this community where all of us have one singular thing in common, and that is that our spouses are volunteering to serve in the U.S. military. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, our safety, and our protection, and that singular thing that we have in common actually unites us stronger than anything else. It makes us all want to give in whatever capacity we can give, and this is my way of giving. I have built networks across business, nonprofit, and government relations over the years and I believe it’s my responsibility to open up that network and start putting spouses to work
CPNL: What is one significant challenge you have faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?
Alvarado: Money. We can change the world if there was enough money. That is a challenge for every nonprofit. The nonprofit mantra of America is that we do the most with the least. We are the ones who will work the 50-60 hour weeks and not even blink because we want to do the most. Especially now more than ever, the pandemic crushed so many nonprofit hopes and dreams. Luckily, it didn’t ours, but we’re still seeing pullback from a lot of corporate responsibility dollars. People are having to put money into the supply chain to try to get America back to where it was functioning pre-pandemic and hopefully be in a better place. Certainly the biggest challenge is continuing the fundraising aspect of this work, and a lot of what that looks like is continuing to build relationships, not for today but for tomorrow and next year and the following year. Right now, we need to understand that if you need to put your money somewhere else right now, we’re gonna keep you in the loop and part of our council. We’re going to be sending spouses to you for employment because everyone is looking to fill pipelines of the workforce now. The most responsible thing we can do through this dip in fundraising is to maintain those relationships and let our corporate partners and our fundraising donors know that it’s a two way street: we’re here to help them, just like they have been there to help us.
CPNL: How has the Certificate Program helped you in your career?
Alvarado: This was the singular most beneficial professional development I have ever been through in my life. I am a firm believer in constant learning and constant professional development. One of the best things was the content. I learned so much outside of my own work about how a nonprofit successfully runs. I am a program director where I run a program as a part of the larger enterprise. I do not deal with all of the enterprise-wide type of finances and operations, I very much get siloed in one area. So to learn how the larger impact of the work is spread across teams and to learn more about accounting and communications in nonprofits was really enlightening for me. What it did for me professionally was that it allowed me the opportunity to understand my counterparts in the work that we do. I find myself being much more patient with our operations teams and our communications teams because I know more now about what they do. This had an immediate impact on my work and how I interact with my peers in this business. The Certificate Program also gave me a network of nonprofit leaders around the globe which allowed me to continue to learn from them. I met so many inspiring people from different cultures and backgrounds that really opened up my eyes to how our work can benefit more than just our own community right now, and how my story and plans for the future can be inspiring to other people. Just having that exposure to these people completely opened up my mind to the nonprofit sector and the work that it does around the globe.
CPNL: What advice would you give to professionals who are considering participating in the Certificate Program?
Alvarado: Do it. Make the investment in yourself. Sometimes when we get busy in our careers getting promoted or running an organization, we have to give ourselves permission to take pause and develop and grow professionally for ourselves so that we can subsequently develop and grow our programs and organizations. Giving ourselves that permission is going to enlighten us to new ideas that will help us grow our programs and serve our constituency. You will be exposed to so many different ideas and concepts around nonprofit management. You will walk away a different person and you will walk away educated no matter how many years you’ve been in a nonprofit. The program changes every year and every cohort with whatever is current. Give yourself permission to do it and you won’t regret it.