Time is Your Greatest Commodity: Interview with a Nonprofit Professional

Stasia Lopez's picture

Dave Coplan is the Executive Director of the Human Services Center and Director of the Mon Valley Providers Council. The Human Services Center was honored as the recipient of the 2004 Wishart Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management awarded by The Forbes Funds of The Pittsburgh Foundation. In 2012, Dave was the inaugural recipient of the statewide CAAP Sargent Shriver Community Service Award. In 2010, the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work honored Dave as its Outstanding Field Instructor, an honor of great meaning to him for his role as a mentor to those entering the field. In 2009, the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs honored Dave as one of its inaugural 4 Under 40 recipients, and in 2007, Dave was recognized as one of Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40 by PUMP and Pittsburgh Magazine.

Dave Coplan - Time is Your Greatest Commodity: Interview with an Nonprofit Professional

Prior to his promotion to Executive Director, he held the position of MVPC Director and was the Associate Director of the Center for 11 years. He started with the agency as an intern in 1990 and has worked in many facets of community organizing such as with the Pantry Network of Eastern Suburbs, coordinating an Affordable Housing Bank Project, working with the member agencies of the Mon Valley Providers Council to fill gaps in services, and on a variety of special initiatives.

In 2006, Dave launched a new nonprofit – Advancing Academics. In his part-time role as Director, Dave assists low-income, high-achieving youth to gain entry and financial assistance for college. The initiative currently boasts an 87/5% college graduation rate.

He has worked for the United Way and United Jewish Federation and has performed consulting for The Forbes Funds, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Braddock and McKeesport, Auberle, McKeesport Hospital Foundation, Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, and many others. 

Currently, Dave is on the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, the Family Support Policy Board, the Board of the Pantry Network of Eastern Suburbs, and serves nationally on a committee for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. Previously, he served on the founding Advisory Team for the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership (past Chair of the Public Policy Committee) for its first seven years. In 1997, Dave was selected as one of five international fellows by the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy in Indianapolis for which he published a manuscript on endowments for small nonprofits and under contract gave speaking engagements across the country for 18 months to other development professionals. Since 1997 and currently, he has taught courses at the University of Pittsburgh on nonprofit management, fundraising, human resources, public policy, and advocacy and lobbying for the School of Social Work, and in the undergraduate program in public administration (for the Graduate School of Public Administration and International Affairs [GSPIA]).

A native of both Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Dave graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a Masters Degree in Social Work for Community Organizing, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration, along with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management, as well as his Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work. He has also received Executive Training at Harvard Business School. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI I), Leadership Pittsburgh (LP XIII), and the Human Services Executive Academy. 

Dave prioritizes family in his busy life, spending as much time as possible with his wife and three sons. 

How did you choose your major in college? How did you choose the college[s] you chose? Did you have a mentor or person who helped guide you through that process?

I always knew I wanted to help people and make a difference. The School of Social Work at Pitt was and is a top 15 school in the country. I met my mentors through my internship and then in the sector.

Did you always want to work in nonprofit/NGO work? 

I started as an intern at my current agency in 1990 and have never left. I am surrounded by a great board, staff, volunteers, and current interns who improve peoples' lives daily.

Where did you attend college, what did you major in? How did you gain experiences to prepare you for the work you currently do now?

I have three degrees from Pitt - BASW - 1991 and two masters degrees, MSW - 1993 and MPA - 1993. The dual degree prepared me to lead an agency, but my early internships and building a true network was instrumental.

Dave Coplan - Time is Your Greatest Commodity: Interview with an Nonprofit Professional

What are some of the challenges about your job? How do you tackle those challenges?

Time is our greatest commodity. We can go out and earn or raise more money, but we cannot manufacture time. Balancing multiple demands and adhering to a work/life balance are challenges that require excellent time management skills.

What is the interview process like for this organization? Any tips for interns or people seeking a job with the organization?

We currently have 5 paid internships, seven part time openings that are ideal for students, and we have a track-record of hiring full-time staff from within those pools (we grow our own talent, some would say). That means an interview for any of our positions - even the entry-level can be very important. We are not just looking for skilled people, the "fit" to our culture and how the candidate will work with our team is essential. We encourage candidates to be themselves so they too find the right fit.

What do you currently do to achieve work/life balance? Any advice for students, graduates, and entry-level professionals that you could provide?

I am widely known in the field for prioritizing my own family and time with them. I utilize a flexible schedule and shifted my day to start between 6 and 7 am so I could be home late day to spend time with my family. I schedule as many meetings as possible for the morning. On nights I have work activities, I get up with my family and have breakfast with them and get a later start. I minimize the number of scheduled meetings in a day to 3/4 max knowing there are always follow-up tasks to each.

What are the benefits/perks of your job?

My agency benchmarks salary at or above the 75th percentile and we have a best in marketplace benefits package to ensure we attract and retain talent.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I choose not to have a social media presence, but am individually responsive to people and have an extensive network in the nonprofit sector. I welcome informational meetings with students interested in the nonprofit social services field - dcoplan[at]hscc-mvpc.org.

Additionally, I teach four courses adjunct at Pitt - two masters classes in social work and two undergrad for public service, all in nonprofit management.


Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.


All photos courtesy and copyright Dave Coplan