Ryan Pitts (STH’09): Business Development Manager at America’s Charities
Prior to joining America’s Charities, Ryan served the American Red Cross National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In this capacity he worked within the business lines of Disaster Services, Services to Armed Forces, Blood Services, Community Preparedness and International Response. Specifically, he was responsible for creating the protocol, process and guidelines for volunteer engagement throughout the organization’s business lines. Furthermore, he conducted countless staff training during his tenure and represented National Headquarters several times in Europe, Korea and Japan.
Ryan earned his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Studies from the University of Dayton. Post bachelor’s degree he continued his education and received his Master’s degree in Theological Studies from Boston University in 2009. While in Boston, Ryan served in several capacities of the nonprofit sector including an Education Institute for the underprivileged population, a National Hospice Volunteer Program and an International Youth Exchange organization. Ryan moved from Boston to Washington, D.C. in 2011.
A member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., Ryan has a heart for ensuring achievement in every field of human endeavor. In his spare time, Ryan focuses on giving back to the community as well as hosting community events to alleviate issues of social justice. Last, faith is never too far from Ryan’s extracurricular activities, as he serves a local DMV church as well.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment since graduating from STH?
My favorite accomplishment since departing STH has been creating consistent grassroots social justice programming in the greater D.C. region.
I arrived in D.C. in 2012. Soon after, Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman in Florida. Through his death, we witnessed a resurgence of national attention regarding the murders of unarmed black people by law enforcement. Living in the nation’s capital wasn’t conducive to sitting idly while being forced to watch what felt like a continuous loop, the murder of another one of us with almost a simultaneous exoneration of the murderer.
The School of Theology’s mission speaks to “seeking peace with justice in a diverse and interconnected world” and I’ve done my best to champion that, time and again, at such a crucial period in our American narrative.
What advice would you give a current STH student?
If you’re in your first year, just get through it! Whatever emotions you’re experiencing at this point, don’t fret; whatever you’re feeling is completely normal and just like faith, you simply have to trust the process.
Professor Katheryn Pfisterer Darr imparted this wisdom in another way as she stood in the aisle of Marsh Chapel on the first day of my STH Journey. She said bluntly, “We’re going to take your nice and neat theology and blow it up. You can pick up what’s left of it on your way out.” At the moment it was downright jarring, but closer to graduation I began to embrace the growing pains of unpacking my personal theology and learned that adding interpretations were shaping a new sacred theology I’d be able to pick up on the way out.
Why did you choose to work for non-profits like the American Red Cross and America’s Charities?
My response is simple: humanitarian service is one of the oldest professions and no matter your faith values or belief system, serving the least of these is an intrinsic skill-set my theological education affords me.
Through my career, I have always sought employers with a distinct mission for alleviating human suffering and optimizing social impact. While at Red Cross, my position afforded me an opportunity to improve, implement and participate in direct client services. However, my role at America’s Charities allows me to advocate on behalf of hundreds of organizations that do critical philanthropic work. At the end of the day, the work that I do must always trace back to human service.
How do you see your church work in relation to your profession?
When I think of Jesus Christ the man, I find a passionate activist who advocated on behalf of the marginalized. Fellow alumnus, Howard Thurman, brilliantly articulated this narrative in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited.
For me the real church work starts after the benediction of the Sunday church service. Monday through Friday, 40 plus hours a week, we are outside the church walls and charged with the responsibility of going into the world to spread “good news” to everyone.
The work I do in my weekly 9-5 is in direct harmony with the intended result of any church work: action and advocacy on behalf of the marginalized. Christ calls us to a love of self and others that defeats the fear and hatred that decays the world around us.
What skills or experiences would benefit someone who wanted to work in the business side of non-profits?
Never lose track of the pulse of your heart, but always lead with your head. Good intentions don’t impact the world, but focused strategy, implementation and execution do.
What I have found to be beneficial the nonprofit sector is managing emotions to ensure the greatest impact. Having the ability to empathize with those you serve is critical. However, rationale, innovative tactics and tangible resources are the true determining factors in meeting needs.
Any great leader must skillfully weave their head, heart and feet in all matters of business. For the head is what they know, the heart is what they feel and with their feet is what they will do.
Can you give us an example of a mistake you have learned from during your career?
Early in my career (and with the persistent cheerleading of student loan debt), I occasionally prioritized income over outcome. When I graduated in 2009, the job market was less than accommodating, and therefore I job searched from a premise of a living wage. Unfortunately, this mentality led me to a couple of roles that paid the bills but left my soul in debt.
No matter how adequate my paychecks were, if I wasn’t fulfilling my calling to serve or was failing to be challenged professionally, the dissatisfaction eventually trumped financial comfort.
What was the most important experience you’ve had that has helped you in your career?
Being a humble servant has opened doors that were exceedingly and abundantly above all I could ask or think.
With any responsibility I’ve been tasked with in my career, I’ve always challenged myself to do it with excellence. When a former supervisor volunteered me for a local conference as a means to learn more about a service branch of our organization, I made sure to capitalize on any opportunity to serve: from grabbing extra chairs, being a scribe for presenters and even taking out trash.