Last month Michelle Knapik joined the team at LightHouse as the organization’s Chief Financial Officer. She comes with an enormous depth of experience in nonprofit management. She kindly took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her love of finance and her interesting route that led her to the LightHouse.
How was it that you came to work in finance?
“I come from a less than prosperous background and when I found out about the finance and accounting world, I knew I would always be able to put a roof over my head and food on the table. My Grandfather was also an accountant and when I was eight, I became fascinated by the language he used and how he was manually handwriting the numbers and adding them up in his head, I thought that was pretty cool and that I happened to be good at it was a bonus. Finance wasn’t my first career choice as it happens though. I took part in a work-study program in high school and became an engineering assistant. I would have gone into engineering had my high school counsellor given permission for me to take Algebra 2 trigonometry which was a prerequisite to get into an engineering program. She said that because I was a girl, I wasn’t smart enough to take that class, so engineering wasn’t an option. This was while I was living in the south and at a time when girls weren’t encouraged to study STEM, or accounting, there weren’t many girls in my class.”
What is it about numbers and money and processes that you enjoy?
“Numbers are just another language, and once you learn that language, they tell a fascinating story about how programs and businesses operate and where the needs truly are. The processes have fun with the engineering part of my brain that wants to make things work and hopefully work better.”
You have worked in nonprofits for much of your career, why is that?
“I knew early on that what I needed to do as part of my life’s mission was to work in ways that supported and provided for a greater number of people than just me that wasn’t just about me. I needed what I did to make a bigger difference in the community and society overall, and I have done some amazing things and worked with some incredible people. I was lucky enough to work with Drs. Howard and Georgeanna Jones who presided over the first IVF baby in the United States. I also worked with Dr. Bill Langston – a cutting edge researcher into Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s and dementia scholar Dr. Gary Steinke.
I’ve worked in social services, with Meals on Wheels and for many mental health nonprofits. I was part of the team that got the first healthcare funding for pregnant women who were also HIV positive. I was also part of the team that piloted a program to keep isolated older adults from returning to emergency rooms once they were released from hospital. When I saw LightHouse was looking for a Chief Financial Officer and I investigated the services the organization provides, I thought they looked interesting, and I felt I could learn something new from this role. It’s only been just over a month and I am so happy to be here, working with such a dedicated team and I’ve already learned so much.”
For somebody considering working in a financial role, what qualities would help them be successful?
“I believe there’s a huge customer service component to what we do. Finance is pretty much the bones of an organization and if they’re not strong, then nobody else can really do their job easily and effectively. So having that customer-focused awareness of the larger impact of what we do and attention to detail is key.”
What do you like to do to switch off and relax?
“During COVID I took up knitting which I find pretty relaxing. I am an endurance athlete, so I swim, I race-walk, and I cycle, and I compete and raise funds for cancer support and research. I also love art and love to paint.”
Some of Michelle’s art is evident in the photo accompanying this article. The design on the bag she is holding is a Michelle Knapik original. We have no doubt Michelle will use her considerable talents to leave her mark on the LightHouse.