Just ask Olivia Thomas.
Corporate finance executive, single mother, legislative insider, and life-long volunteer, Olivia Thomas has played a variety of impactful roles. Now serving as the executive director of Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC) in Florida’s Sarasota and DeSoto Counties, Thomas attributes her ability to toggle among multiple identities to a single skill set she acquired courtesy of the Junior League of Sarasota where she has volunteered for more than 17 years, ultimately serving as president from 2006 to 2007: civic leadership development and training.
“It was actually The Junior League that inspired me to make a career change,” says Thomas, who left a series of senior finance positions over the course of two decades in the insurance sector—including being named chief accounting officer at one of the area’s largest insurers¬–to pursue a career in the nonprofit world. “I found that I enjoyed my work as JLS President so much that I wanted to pursue community service full-time.”
In her role as SPARRC’s Executive Director, Thomas has applied her “for-profit” mentality to the nonprofit sector, while measurably demonstrating the versatility and transferability of skills such as negotiation, networking, collaboration, and consensus-building that she picked up in The Junior League, and in particular as an early and active member of the Junior Leagues of Florida State Public Affairs Committee where she met with local and state decision-makers and interacted with both lobbyists and legislators.
It is this combination of competencies, she says, that equipped her, a survivor of domestic violence who made it through a difficult divorce while raising two daughters, both of them JLS members, to re-brand and re-position SPARCC, Florida’s state-certified agency serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in two counties, to potential donors and clients, re-tooling the agency’s approach to client service from one that was reactive to proactive. Along the way, she reduced budgets while improving the efficiency and quality of service delivery for clients.
“As a survivor of domestic violence, I can put a different face on the cause in my community,” says Thomas, who served on several community agency boards before accepting her position at SPARRC. I especially enjoy my work as an advocate for the social change needed to end all forms of violence.”
Thomas’s career trajectory attests to the intrinsic value of in-depth volunteer experience, not only to the individual and the community of residents they serve, but also to corporate employers and colleagues, the business community as a whole, and nonprofit agencies.
“It took some consideration to take such a drastic pay cut [to pursue my nonprofit career], but I have found that I really don’t miss the money,” she says. “I’m a firm believer that things always work out like they are supposed to happen.”