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Ayala Donchin, MSW '92, Consultant for Nonprofits

Ayala Donchin, MSW '92

Ayala Donchin was interested in the intersection of social work and business from the moment she entered the MSW program in 1991. She took several classes in the Business School and observed that social work and business students discussed the same issues, but from different perspectives. She learned that “finding ways to honor and respect differences is an important tool in whatever career path you choose.”

After graduation, Donchin saw a documentary about a New York City teacher who had taken a group of inner-city high school students to live and work on a kibbutz in Israel. She wrote a proposal to the board of Youthworks, the nonprofit organization that sponsored the program, and was hired as their first director of development. Donchin quickly was promoted to executive director. She expanded the program to include a mentoring program that matched the students with young Black and Latino professionals from the worlds of finance, sports, and entertainment.

Leaving Youthworks to become the first executive director of the mentoring program First Choice Group, Inc., Donchin helped expand their programs to include five other nonprofit organizations and an in-depth mentor training program. In 1998 Donchin received a full scholarship to Columbia University’s Institute of Nonprofit Management. After completing the program, she started her own consulting company, Standards, Inc., in New York City. After a year and a half, she discovered that working for herself was isolating, and she returned to the nonprofit sector as the executive director of the $3.5 million organization “Chess in the Schools.”

The business world came knocking at her door soon afterwards. The New York Knicks basketball team was creating a Community Relations Department in 1999 and recruited Donchin to get it off the ground. Donchin developed a talent for creating a program that matched athletes with community groups and nonprofit foundations.

But the desire to be her own boss returned, and in 2002 she restarted Standards, Inc. The motto is “The Business of Doing Good,” and the client list includes celebrities and professional athletes, as well as companies like Nike, Boost Mobile, and Merrill Lynch. Donchin succeeds by understanding the unique needs and culture of celebrities, the goals of corporations and nonprofits, and the ways that their partnerships can be of mutual benefit.

Donchin credits the culture of the School of Social Work for supporting her entrepreneurial spirit, and she praises her professors (particularly Larry Gant) for challenging students, setting high expectations, encouraging creative thinking, and teaching problem-solving skills.

—Robin Adelson Little works at the U-M Exhibit Museum of Natural History. She is also a freelance writer and past editor of Ongoing

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