Taking Non-Profit Know-How to the for-Profit World: In Conversation with Kini Schoop

Our friend Kini Schoop has packed a lot of communications careers into the past two decades—moving froa large global agency to A-list nonprofits to private sector start-ups. She’s gained significant knowledge along the way and was kind enough to share some of it with the Minerva team.  


Now the director of PR at the animal health company Covetrus, Kini told us about what it’s like to move across sectors, how she counters racial bias, and what she enjoys about living in Maine (even though she’ll never be a Mainer).   


You’ve had a fascinating career so far. Can you tell us about it? 

Thank you. I think I may be the one most fascinated by my career trajectory. While I can tell you about my trajectory in a CV-like timeline, I think it is important to tell you a story from my childhood that I very rarely share.  

At an early age I knew I wanted to help people and I knew I loved “the news.” In the early 80s, my family moved to a neighborhood in San Diego with more retirees than children. Let me preface by stating that I was an odd child in that I befriended older people with ease and struggled to make friends my own age. Among my older friends were two men. Same-sex marriage was not legal then, and frankly, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that they were a couple. All I knew was that they were cool and always made time for me.  

This was during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and one of the men fell ill from HIV. It became clear that he would die. When their landlord found out, he tried to force them to leave by shaming them in the neighborhood and removing the door from their home. It was awful and it was a powerful lesson to me that while people can be cruel and ignorant, we all have the ability within us to show love and compassion. 

I wanted to help my neighbors, and the only thing I could think to do was to ask my mother to help them. She did what she could; she cooked for them and looked in on them. She was a good neighbor. I think it was in those days that my career aspirations were sealed, I simply did not know that yet.  

Fast forward many years, I had just graduated from CAL (UC Berkeley) with a degree in Mass Communications and a summer gig as a radio producer in Washington, D.C. lined up. I quickly learned that while I like news radio, the radio grind was not for me. So, at the advice of a mentor, I applied for a trainee program in public relations and landed at a firm in NYC. I got lucky and had good mentors and excellent supervisors. I also got to work on accounts that had an underlying mission focus.  

Following my time at the firm, I went on to work at large nonprofits that have household name brand cachet: the ACLU, U.S. Fund for UNICEF (UNICEF USA), and The Nature Conservancy. I have worked the trifecta of causes: civil rights, humanitarian assistance, and the environment.  


What are you doing now? 

I eventually switched to the for-profit sector and today I am the public relations director for Covetrus, one of the largest animal-health technology and services companies in the world. Our company is relatively new. We merged with another company in the same space, rebranded and launched on Nasdaq in February 2019. I collaborate with several teams and business units to coordinate global corporate communications.  


You shifted from the nonprofit to the private sector. That’s a big transition. What advice would you give to someone considering a similar move? 

Don’t be discouraged. It can be done. You will need to be prepared to counter preconceived notions that people have about the nonprofit sector. I was surprised to learn that many people in the private sector actually think that non-profit workers are not concerned about profit and therefore don’t understand how to negotiate partnerships, close deals, or be responsible for a budget. Nor do they believe that non-profit workers have a sense of competition.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. With the possible exception of funeral undertakers, no one is more aggressive or competitive during the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster than development officers looking to land a major gift, or possibly PR officers vying to get their cause and spokespeople on the airwaves and in print.  


How are the communications challenges different in the for-profit and nonprofit world? 

In the nonprofit world, most organizations are courting both high-wealth donors and people to provide smaller donations to sustain an organization over time. You have to communicate to these two donor audiences in vastly different ways while remaining true to your brand. In the private sector, your target audiences are not necessarily so broad. Yet, there is a wider diversity of communications needed so there is more coordination required throughout a company.  

You need to be much more measured at a publicly traded company and you deal with the legal team a whole lot more. There is more oversight of what gets communicated as there are more internal stakeholders. I like this because it allows for more collaboration, which provides communicators more opportunities to explain our work, be more visible, and show value. Once I allow my colleagues a peek behind the curtain, they are much more supportive of my work.  


What do you wish for-profit and nonprofit communicators could know and appreciate about each other? 

Diversity of experience is a blessing. Because of my background, I have had to wear many hats and serve different functions. I lead a press briefing and celebrity-laden red carpet event or respond to a complex crisis. You can drop me in another country with a journalist and tell me to come back with an awesome story to energize stakeholders and I can do all of that.  

Likewise, for-profit communicators have had the benefit of experience from the luxury of time and resources. They understand the necessity of shifting and evolving products and messages until they resonate with customers. They are not as afraid of failing which means they take risks.  


What’s the most rewarding/exciting project you’ve worked on? 

I had so many enriching and wonderful opportunities throughout my career. From working on anti-racial profiling campaigns at the ACLU to working with celebrities and thought leaders to further humanitarian causes. I have worked with some top journalistic talent, which always pushes you to refine your skills and bring your A-game. 

One of the last projects I worked on while at UNICEF USA was to help secure a partnership with a major news network. I accompanied one of their reporters to Malawi, and he saw firsthand that children attending school there lacked many resources. These kids sat on the floor throughout class—no carpeting, no desks. 

He took action by placing an order of desks from a local manufacturer and then had a producer reach out to my office. We ended up working out a partnership in which the reporter encouraged his viewers to help fund the build and delivery of desks by donating to a special fund managed by UNICEF. It was incredibly successful in raising money and creating a pipeline of new donors.    


Has being a woman of color influenced your career as a communicator? If so, how? 

Working in communications means you are always concerned about perception. Foremost, you are managing the perception of a client, a CEO, a supervisor; hopefully you have their trust.  

I learned early on that I need to be more aware of how I am perceived than my non-Black colleagues and I need to be prepared to counter negative perceptions stemming from bias. Not only am I hyper-vigilant about perception, I also understand that placing all your energy into countering perception can cause paralysis—this occurs for individuals as well as brands. You have to keep moving forward and be ready to change the platform when you hit an impasse.  

Over the years, I benefited greatly from mentors who understood the challenges that are unique to Black women. These mentors helped me by planting seeds of wisdom and direction. I also have a special network of friends of color that I can go to for workplace and career advice. We have learned from each other’s experience. These mentors and networks are invaluable. 


Your parents were activists. How did they influence you? 

I think the spirit of doing what is right and speaking up was definitely instilled in me early on. And my desire to help and advocate for those that are unable to do so for themselves is rooted in my upbringing.  

I recall my father being concerned about a sexual harassment issue in his workplace. There was a male supervisor harassing women in the office and these women were not in a position to fight back without the risk of retaliation. My father took it upon himself to find a way to blow that whistle. I suspect it affected his relationships at work, but he was not one to stand by and do nothing.  

My parents’ influence also caused me to get into some trouble in academic settings, especially when I challenged instructors over the history they taught (or didn’t teach) or their application of rules rooted in sexism and racism. But my parents always had my back.   


You moved from New York City to Portland, Maine a few years ago. How is your career different now? 

I spent 16 years in NYC and I was itching to leave at year seven. I am amazed I lasted as long as I did! I am so thankful to be in a locale that is close to larger cities but allows me a more reasonable cost of living and greater quality of life.  

That said, I work in a much smaller market now. I do not have the vast career opportunities that a place like NYC offers a communications professional. Luckily, I like my job and my company. We are a young company and so I imagine that as we grow, there will be more opportunities for learning and taking on new responsibilities.  


What do people do for fun in Maine? What’s unique about Mainers? 

While I live in Maine, I am not a “Mainer”—at least no “Mainer” that I have met would say I am or ever could become a “Mainer.” You may recall a scene from the movie Cider House Rules, when Michael Caine’s character is asked by one of his young charges, “What is a foreigner?” He answers, “Anyone not from Maine.” It was not until I moved to Maine that I truly understood why this line is so funny.  

Mainers can be an insular bunch. I have been told that to be a Mainer you not only have to be born here, but you must have at least two generations of ancestors that were born here. Just in the way that NYers at a cocktail party are eager to learn what part of the city you reside in and the square footage of your apartment, people in Maine can be obsessive in identifying whether or not you are from “around these parts.” But these attitudes are changing. My husband’s mother co-authored a book 12 years ago entitled New Mainers which profiles immigrants who settled in Maine. Maine had more deaths than births this past year, so there is an impetus to widen the definition of Mainer.  

There is a lot to love about the state. Maine is a foodie heaven and I am not just talking about the restaurant scene in our most populous city, Portland. There are some truly unique and delicious culinary finds in this state. It is also breathtakingly beautiful here. Every season brings picture-worthy moments. 


About The Author

Minerva Strategies

Minerva Strategies

The Minerva team has decades of experience working with nonprofits, foundations, and values-driven companies. Minerva also partners with experts—trusted designers, web developers, global communications professionals, and others—who share our excitement for creating positive social change. Through these partnerships, we can build a team that is tailored to your needs. Learn more about who we are or what we do.