Stephanie Cheng: In The Shoes of A Successful Nonprofit Leader

Stephanie Cheng knew from a young age, that she would never become a doctor. She was not a fan of getting her blood drawn and was never comfortable walking through the halls of a hospital. However, she loves helping people and was sucked into the world of nonprofit work after watching an episode of Oprah in Africa, in addition to her exposure of the immense poverty on TV.

Stephanie is no stranger to the nonprofit world. In high school, she was heavily focused on community service and social justice. Stephanie was the President of KEY Club where she received a Bronze Community Service Award from the former U.S. President, George W. Bush for her successful volunteer work, coupled with her outstanding leadership role in the community.

During her undergraduate years at Stony Brook University, Stephanie majored in Business Management, with the thought that she would end up working in the world of finance or become an entrepreneur – but things didn’t work out that way. However, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelors of Science in Business Management – where she was very much involved with Marketing for a while.

She definitely did put her degree to good use. She is a Partnerships Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce, where she specializes in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to many resources such as promoting social corporate responsibility as well as establishing partnership agreements.

Left – Stephanie Cheng (Board Member of Charles B. Wang Community Health Center) / At a Press Conference

Currently, Stephanie sits on the Board of Directors – of the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center for almost 6 years, which provides free and affordable healthcare for the underserved community. In her role as a Board Member, some of her many tasks include approving the annual budget, establishing policies and making business decisions to ensure the delivery of a positive impact in the community.

Stephanie Cheng speaking at Press Conference

Recently, she was appointed to a national expert advisory board for the National Association of Community Health Centers and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO) under a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Stephanie Cheng speaking at City Hall In Your Borough
To the left of Stephanie – Peter Koo (NYC Council Member of District 20)
To the right of Stephanie – NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio

If you are interested in learning about joining nonprofit work, joining a nonprofit board, Pro Bono Consulting or volunteering, feel free reach out and connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn!

In her free time, she enjoys traveling and has been to over 42 countries. In addition, she enjoys building websites and she dabbles in acting.


• You currently have been serving as a Board Member at Charles B. Wang Community Health Center since 2014. How has this professionally shaped your career and leadership?

Being a board member of a federally qualified health center gave me a high level overview of the strategic direction of the organization, but also being a patient allows me to see first hand the great work that our doctors and healthcare practitioners are doing.

Collaborating with people from different backgrounds gives me a sense of responsibility and drive. You are always representing the health center. 


• What sparked your interest in connecting businesses, nonprofits, local city and state governments to establish partnership agreements?

I think I was always concerned with how I can maximize impact. Growing up in NYC, I wanted to make a change after seeing people who are homeless or students going hungry at school while trying to learn. I remember when we were recruiting, I signed up a number of people who were homeless. I love working and meeting people so I can’t think of a better way to extend my reach other than giving people an opportunity to work. I think we all want to make some type of impact at work or in our personal lives.


• How has your role as a Partnerships Specialist at U.S. Census Bureau helped the NYC community and Manhattan region in the past year?

We’re building NYC for the next 10 years. The Census determines how billions and billions of dollars are distributed across the country. This is money for the street lights in front of your favorite restaurant, public schools, universal pre-k, school lunch programs, and even how much funding hospitals get. Being a native New Yorker, I’m proud to help my community and make sure that everyone is counted.


• I am aware that during your free time, you enjoy building websites and incorporate some coding. That is an amazing skill set to have on the side! What is your purpose of this and what do you hope to achieve out of doing this?

I have a travel blog, www.backpacktraveling.com and I have a new website up, www.zombiconvalley.com for a book I’m writing called Zombicon Valley – when zombies take over Silicon Valley. I just submitted a screenplay for this to a screenwriting contest. 

I created these websites using HTML/CSS and some Javascript that I copied from GitHub ’cause I rather do things myself especially when I could host it for free using Netlify. The cost for a website is $10 a year for the domain name and I get to learn a new skill, which seems like a good deal to me.


• You participated in a Hall Council at Stony Brook University. Could you tell me more about how this led you to your passion today? How did this help you thrive in your career?

I became a Resident Assistant because I needed a place to live. I literally camped out on my friend’s dorm in a sleeping bag for a semester because the dorms were full and I didn’t apply in time. 

When you’re an RA, you get free housing at the university. And there were a number of notable people that were RAs including Hillary Clinton and celebrities like Adam Sandler, so I thought that could only be a plus on my resume.

As an RA, I worked with a diverse group of students in helping them navigate their school year. There were many issues that came up including the occasional roommate problem, but also issues surrounding mental health. I was a confidante, mentor and friend to people who might/did not have any friends. 

This role taught me another layer of empathy. I remembered having to write up a student because there was a strong smell from his dorm. He was a hoarder and had collected so much garbage and plastic bags that you could not see his floor. We dealt with all types of people and I saw that most of us are going through something.


• You have a very diverse work background. You were very focused on Public Relations and Marketing. How did you make your transition into the non-profit and public sector? Is there anything unique about getting into this sector?

I thought I would go into finance but when I studied abroad in Beijing at Tsinghua University, my plan went out the window. During my winter break, I was in the Gobi Desert where I met a fellow New Yorker who gave me an internship working for a greentech conference for a month. Then, he introduced me to a music producer where I basically hung out with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin because they were working on a nonprofit project. When I got back to NY, I thought to myself “Do I really want to work in the corporate world or do I want to make a difference?”

I don’t know if there is anything unique about getting into the nonprofit sector but being kind and having empathy would be at the top. You never know who would get you your next job, so you want to talk to as many people as you can.


• How would you recommend someone who is interested in the same career pursue a similar path?  

Anyone can go into the nonprofit or government sector. It’s probably easier to get into than in the corporate world, however the salary would not be comparable. So make sure you take care of yourself first. I was lucky that I didn’t have any student debt when I graduated. That allow me to pursue anything I want, ’cause I didn’t owe anyone anything.


• What would you have told your younger self that would have added more value into your career today?

Fail fast, learn fast. Watch everything at 1.75 times speed. Speak less, listen more.