Interview with Edie Perkins, Executive Director of the Kelly Brush Foundation

Posted November 21, 2023

Development Guild’s Managing Editor Karin Shedd spoke with Edie Perkins, Executive Director of the Kelly Brush Foundation (KBF). She explains why she pursued a job at KBF after a career in educational publishing, the lessons she learned switching from for-profit to nonprofit, and why every person living with a spinal cord injury should have the opportunity to live an active, outdoorsy lifestyle. Watch the video or read the transcript below for interview highlights.

Perkins: There are 300,000 people in the US living with spinal cord injuries. Every year, there are about 18,000 new spinal cord injuries. So the mission of the Kelly Brush Foundation is to inspire and empower people with spinal cord injuries to lead active and engaged lives.

Shedd: So why don’t you tell me about your role? What do you do at Kelly Brush and how did you find your way there?

Perkins: I’m the Executive Director at the Kelly Brush Foundation, and my story is kind of interesting. I spent most of my career in corporate. I worked in educational publishing, so I was always really proud of of the work that I was involved in, but it was definitely the corporate world.

I was always passionate about sports. I was a competitive runner and cyclist, so I always sort of fantasized about switching careers and doing something more sports related but didn’t know how to make the leap.

And then six years ago, I was on a bike ride and I was hit by a car and became paralyzed from the chest down. So something like that happens, you start to think about, like, what’s most important? What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

So at that point, I decided that I wanted to switch careers and do something that brought my business background, my passion for sports, and my new existence as a person with a disability together into one. You know, it was hard to find a job right away. You know, I started volunteering with some different organizations.

But then an ex-boss of mine saw the job for the role at Kelly Brush as the executive director and sent it to me and my jaw dropped. I was like, that’s it! That’s what I want to do. And I was lucky enough to get the job.

What was that like? I mean, switching careers in any capacity, but then also switching careers from profit to nonprofit and the focus is very, very different. So what was that like adapting to this new role as executive director of a nonprofit?

I’m somebody who’s always liked challenges, so that helps. It was so aligned with what I wanted to do. So I was really excited about the opportunity, and I was also excited about the learning opportunity of learning in the world of nonprofits.

It felt comfortable because of the size, but I knew I was in for a challenge with learning nonprofit management. So I bought a bunch of books and read about it and was just excited about the challenge. But I’ll admit it was a big learning curve in terms of just all that I needed to manage.

As a fellow what I like to call “career meanderer,” what advice would you give for other career meanderers who are at points of transition in their lives?

Have an open attitude. Being comfortable with taking risks and learning from mistakes is huge. I am somebody who always encourages my team to try new things and it’s okay if it’s a flop, but let’s learn from that and improve on it the next round.

The other is building a base of supporters. There’s such an amazing board at the KBF and the board members have been incredibly supportive and helpful with different areas in which I needed some mentorship.

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