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Jennifer Merschdorf

Jennifer Merschdorf

We are thrilled to feature Jennifer Merschdorf, CEO of Young Survival Coalition. With over 15 years of experience in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, Jennifer brings a new voice to philanthropy. She excels at creating and implementing strategic growth plans, promoting an atmosphere of teamwork and ensuring proper organizational  financial management.

Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.

My name is Jennifer Merschdorf and I am the CEO of the largest nonprofit in the world that focuses ONLY on young women affected by breast cancer. The organization is named Young Survival Coalition (YSC) and it was formed in 1998. I am their third CEO.

YSC focuses on education, empowerment, and advocacy for young women (40 and under) that have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

I started my career in marketing and sales in the Bay Area (where I was raised) and stumbled into the environmental movement early on in my career. After completing my MBA I felt it was important to bring a for-profit business attitude to the nonprofit sector – and I have been in a nonprofit ever since.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 when I was 36 years old and at that time decided to shift my career from the environmental sector to the health sector. In my position as the CEO of YSC, I am fortunate to serve as the spokesperson for all young woman who have been diagnosed with breast cancer – it is an honor that I cherish and take very seriously. 

What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?

The largest challenge I have faced in my career is at my current position as CEO of YSC. When I began this job 4 years ago I walked into a national organization that had not invested in innovation, new programming or infrastructure in years. It was coasting on the tails of successes from years past and had nothing planned for the future.

Additionally the chapter-style field structure was no longer working and therefore an entire new network and structure had to be created and implemented while building strategic plans for the future for growth and increase reach.

I am happy to report that we were incredibly successful and in a few short years have increased our reach by 3 times – touching communities we had never been able to before.

What was your biggest career breakthrough moment?

Oh this is easy… it was in grad school. After working 10 years in marketing I rediscovered accounting and finance while getting my MBA in my late 20’s…. I was in love!

I took it so far I quit my marketing job and went to work for 1 year at Grant Thornton as a first year accounting associate to completely immerse myself in the numbers. My career dramatically shifted after that, and I began work in finance and operations for many years following that time. Budgeting is still my favorite work!

Finish this sentence, "I knew I had "made it" when…"

….I was in a position to influence & lead innovative marketing, finance, programs and operations decisions … all in one day! Which is what I have been training for my entire career!

If you could go back and talk to your younger self (before your career really began), what professional advice would you give her?

Keep doing what you are doing and never forget that when something makes you nervous – go at it full force… and If you don’t know the answer – research it until you know it so well you can teach it to others.

I think I would also say that it is OK to take your work so seriously at a young age… it pays off later!

Share your two cents about money. What lessons have you learned about money along the way?

Professionally I reforecast every quarter – I do the entire process every three months to ensure that I can see where we REALLY are and where the people who run the programs think we will be. I find that this practice creates an opportunity to make shifts if need be during the programmatic year.

What is your secret to success?

Do NOT micromanage.

Build trust with smart people and let them do their jobs.

Understand your lane and excel at what you are responsible for.

Treat people with the same respect that you expect from others.

And laugh – A LOT!!!

Why are you a member of Ellevate?

I am a young CEO at 40 years old and I am interested in meeting other women who are leaders in NYC. I am interested in meeting other woman in positions of leadership that I can learn from and share my experiences with.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.