Photo by Matthew Haugen
Believe in Me, a Spokane-based foundation, works to transform underprivileged children’s lives by providing grants to nonprofits serving youth across the Inland Northwest.
“We’re about instilling that spark of hope in kids, which they may not have received in their family,” says Julie Wukelic, the foundation’s CEO. “Most of us, if we have amounted to anything, have had that person who said, ‘You’re really good at this. You need to invest more of yourself in it.’”
Wukelic (’08 Fin., ’10 MBA) received a similar spark of hope after her marriage ended. She was working as a Shopko pharmacy technician when her boss—a Cougar alumnus—spotted Wukelic’s knack for business management.
“He sat me down and said, ‘Have you ever thought about going to WSU?’” Wukelic recalls.
“He didn’t see me counting pills and billing insurance all day. He said, ‘I really think you’re meant for something more.’”
No one had encouraged Wukelic to attend college before. She and her three children moved to Pullman, where she juggled school, parenting, and work. After graduating in finance from the Carson College of Business, she immediately started her MBA studies.
“I felt like I was starting out late, and I needed to catch up with my peers to make myself competitive in the marketplace,” she says. “This was 2008, during a very challenging recession.”
After earning her MBA, Wukelic managed clinical trials at Rockwood Clinic in Spokane and later worked for a marketing consultant. She was recruited to serve on Believe in Me’s board of directors.
“I found myself daydreaming about leveraging my knowledge and skills to help benefit the community, specifically kids who have been mistreated, abused, or were homeless,” Wukelic says.
In 2020, Wukelic was hired as Believe in Me’s chief executive officer.
Using financial skills to benefit nonprofits
As Believe in Me’s CEO, Wukelic draws on her background in finance, accounting, and marketing to carry out the foundation’s mission and make sure it retains a healthy asset base.
“In the nonprofit sector, people are mostly trained in social work,” Wukelic says. “Having a mindset for the bottom line is important, because even as a nonprofit, you need to be sustainable.”
She also draws on her knowledge of contracts from a business law class. “It helps to be able to negotiate a contract with terms and conditions that benefit the organization, or know when you need an attorney to step in,” she says.
Volunteering to give back
During her time as an MBA student, Wukelic participated in two WSU Business Plan competitions. She’s now a judge in the high school division, which Believe in Me also supports as a sponsor.
Helping high school students learn about business startups aligns with the foundation’s mission. And by volunteering, Wukelic gets a chance to express her gratitude by giving back.
“There’s an intrinsic value around volunteering your time with WSU,” she says. “Setting aside time to volunteer reenergizes your soul and gives you purpose.”
We’re about instilling that spark of hope in kids, which they may not have received in their family.
– Julie Wukelic