Children Now Insider: Meet our Team – A Conversation with Kristi Schutjer-Mance

Meet our Team

A Conversation with Kristi Schutjer-Mance, Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel

Children Now® Insider: Stories, News, And Insights On Children’s Advocacy

For more information on our blog, contact Adrienne Bell at abell@childrennow.org

October 4, 2019

On knowing that social justice would be part of her career from a young age

Growing up, my parents openly and regularly discussed issues related to inequity with me and my siblings, and social justice was a big part of my childhood. My dad was a minister in a progressive church, and my mom was a school teacher. And in our small city in Ohio, I grew up with an expectation that people work together to address big social problems – whether through churches, schools, civic organizations or government.

Moving to Berkeley for college only deepened my desire to engage in meaningful work, where activism almost seemed a part of the curriculum and the anti-apartheid movement had made real progress.

I worked my way through college (and graduate school, and law school, for that matter), and while I often had more than one job, I always made sure I was working with kids, and found myself very attached to the issue of children and democracy. In my twenties, I also spent time in Washington D.C., where internships with the Senate Judiciary Committee and Department of Education opened my eyes to the possibility of career rooted in policy and advocacy. And law school helped sharpen my focus on equity and gain hands-on experience drafting legislation, and representing and advocating for kids.

 

On how Children Now has changed in the last 12 years

When I first joined Children Now in 2007 – it’s hard to believe it was so long ago! – I led the finance, operations and HR teams, as I do today. However, since we were a much smaller organization at the time, I also found myself supporting other teams, including development and communications, as needed, and leading our research department.

As we’ve grown to a staff of nearly 40 people, managing nearly as many projects, all of our roles and responsibilities have become more clearly defined (though some of us still wear multiple hats). The core functions that I was hired on to oversee are also much more demanding now, especially as they relate to finance, which is complex even with a skilled team and great systems, and HR.

Lately, that means I find myself spending a lot of time in meetings – as it’s important that I’m aware of long-term strategy and goals, but also the activities around our policy work, and how quickly things can and do change, in order to better manage staffing and budget needs for our projects.

There’s been a lot of change during my time at Children Now – both for me personally, as I became a mom to two daughters, and for the organization, as we have matured – but one thing has remained a constant: our outstanding staff.

 

On the ‘behind-the-scenes’ foundational work her team does every day

The work that we do at Children Now is deeply important, and there’s a strong sense of urgency across the organization to do right by kids in California.

However, it’s hard to see everything that’s needed to run a successful non-profit organization, which includes being efficient, staying lean and working within our means, while ensuring that teams have what they need to do their jobs well.

This is where our Operations, Finance and HR teams shine. While they are not as visible as some of the other staff, the work they do is crucial to keep everything running smoothly. They’re a team of exceptional problem-solvers, inspired by the mission of Children Now, who tackle everything from tricky lease negotiations and timely financial reporting to upgrading technology systems and fostering a culture where everyone feels valued and heard.

I feel lucky to work with such an incredible group of people.

 

On missing direct service

I really do miss direct service work; I’ve spent so much of my life working with and serving people. And I’m looking forward to volunteering again once my daughters (ages 5 and 11) are a bit older.

Before I joined Children Now, I worked for the Institute for Civic Leadership, a research and educational program that supported young women and girls to work for social justice, and my role incorporated research, writing and program management. Professionally, I loved that balance, and while I’m not engaged in traditional direct service work now, I am able to support our staff and get such a sense of fulfillment from that. Helping them tap into their potential, supporting them to do what they do well, and seeing that they’re able to achieve for kids is truly rewarding!

I also think it’s important to be a part of a bigger change, or movement, which is what we’re doing at Children Now – transforming children’s advocacy to improve the lives of all nine million kids in the state.

 

On children’s advocacy and optimism

I value the work that we do at Children Now, and how seriously we are about children’s advocacy, but I also recognize that there is a lot of work to be done – California kids are not doing as well as they should be, especially when compared to kids in other states, and we are all responsible for addressing that.

But I’m optimistic. I have always believed in people working together for change and am hopeful that as a state, led by a Governor who wants to prioritize children’s issues, we can improve outcomes for kids.

 

On life outside work

Right now, most of my time outside of work is spent with my kids, which means we’re juggling a lot of soccer games and gymnastics practices. As a family, we have a strong community of friends in the Bay Area, many of whom I’ve known since my time as an undergrad at Berkeley.

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