What's Good? 5 questions for Shelley Callahan

The Development Director for the international nonprofit Children Incorporated shares her journey through the philanthropic field.

This is the second in an ongoing series of conversations with thought leaders in the philanthropy field. Meet Shelley Callahan, the Development Director of Children Incorporated, an international organization based in Virginia.


Shelley Callahan always knew she wanted to help people. While earning her Masters in Social Work, she began a nonprofit called Books on Wheels, a grassroots organization that promoted literacy among inner-city youth. Later, volunteer work in Haiti opened her eyes (and heart) to international work and global outreach. Today, she is the Director of Development for Children Incorporated, an international charitable organization that works in 23 countries helping children living in poverty.

1. What experiences shaped you or prepared you for your current role?

It was a conscious decision to look for a job where I could work within a local community and close to where I lived, but could also work internationally.

I started as a social worker, went to admin, and then clinical. I had a willingness to learn a lot about what it is to work for a nonprofit and how it functions.

My main role is to communicate with potential donors and supporters about the work that we’re doing. I get to do some pretty amazing things; I’ve gotten to travel for work to Bolivia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Kenya, Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and places in the U.S. like eastern Kentucky.

Shelley with children Children Incorporated currently supports over 300 international programs and projects. (Photo: Children Incorporated)

2. What does your job involve, both day-to-day duties and long term?

While visiting with coordinators that run our programs in these locations, I hear their stories, get compelling video and photos, bring all that back, and turn it into stories for our blog and print materials.

We use these tools to spread the word about what we are doing and our impact. My goal is to first and foremost get involved and see how donors can help. I highlight our sponsorship program, individual needs, and how you can change a life by sending a child to school.

I also get to show off our special projects like building homes, providing people with clean water sources, training programs, building health clinics, and building dormitories. I never run out of something to talk about or show off.

3. What advice do you have for young people who would like to have a career in philanthropy and giving?

I hope it’s good advice! I just tried to learn everything I could — which sounds impossible, there’s just so many things you could do. Do an internship, volunteer, do anything — just get an understanding of how nonprofits work.

My experience with nonprofits, small and large, they tend to be run by a dedicated group of people. Everyone wears a million hats. Learn to grow and adapt with an organization. Especially when doing relief work, adjust to things happening in the world. Get experience and know the client base.

Take opportunities to get your feet wet. It's okay if you can't volunteer abroad; there’s so much to do here in the U.S. that’s just as valuable.

4. What inspires you?

Visiting our U.S. projects are the ones that impacted me the most. A lot of that is because going into this job, and having done international aid work, I’ve seen what poverty looks like in underdeveloped countries and the implications of that.

But I found myself really, really surprised by the poverty in the U.S. and especially in eastern Kentucky. Such a small amount of support can have a huge impact on children lacking in so many basic needs. It’s really stunning and shocking and disheartening at the same time — it’s also something we can easily help out with.

children smiling To date, over 300,000 children have been provided opportunities for growth and education from Children Incorporated. (Photo: Children Incorporated)

5. How do you practice self-care?

I remind myself on a daily basis that this is why I'm here and whom it’s for. My job is different in that I do actually meet with kids that I support or do.

Any way that you can remind yourself that there’s value in what you’re doing, it’s appreciated. It’s making such a big difference for people that otherwise would not have a voice.

I remind myself that I’m fortunate to do this work. I wouldn’t be happy any other way. I've never not worked in the nonprofit sector. Even when you’re doing data entry, you’re benefiting society.

Children Incorporated logo

We are an international nonprofit organization that helps provide support to children primarily through child sponsorship, by partnering with nearly 300 projects in 23 countries around the world. We believe that all children deserve access to basic needs and an education, so that they may be healthy and have the opportunity to become contributing members of their communities.

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