Talent Market’s Placement Profiles feature interviews with individuals we have helped place in the free-market movement. Our Placement Profiles provide insight about how our successful candidates found their way to the free-market nonprofit world, what their jobs are like, and how they got interested in liberty in the first place.
Our June placement profile features Garrett Ballengee, who Talent Market placed in 2014 as the Executive Director at Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy. Garrett intended to pursue a finance career but through Koch programs learned that he really loved policy. When an opportunity opened up to lead the non-profit in his home state, he jumped at the opportunity and has been there for over six years. If you are interested in rising to the leadership of a non-profit, launching a policy career, or monetizing dog petting, this is the interview for you!
Garrett: I know it is cliché but it was a combination of the study of the American Founding, Ayn Rand, and Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” series, originally on PBS (the irony, huh?), and now on YouTube. Every Friday, for at least a year, I would watch Dr. Friedman go to work – I called it “Friedman Fridays.” Friedman led me to Sowell, who led me to Dr. Walter Williams, Friedrich Hayek and so on. It was very much a yellow brick road with an awakening, and passion, at its conclusion.
Talent Market: Give us the nutshell version of your career trajectory and tell us why you decided to work in the free-market nonprofit world?
Garrett: After graduate school, I reached out to a former undergraduate professor, Dr. Matt Ryan, (now an economics professor at Duquesne University). Professor Ryan introduced me to the world of economics, and the question of how societies allocate scarce resources was quite intriguing to me.
He also introduced me to the Charles Koch Institute’s educational programs, which presented a whole new career opportunity: public policy. Prior to that, as a finance major, I was interested in banking, investments, and the financial sector, but that started to change when I finished the Koch Internship Program and moved on to the Koch Associate Program. I slowly realized that public policy, specifically the non-profit, free-market public policy space, was where I wanted—and needed—to dedicate my time.
After a few years working for the Charles Koch Institute as a senior policy analyst, I came across – on Talent Market – a new job opening for a new organization located in my home state of West Virginia: Executive Director for the Cardinal Institute for WV Policy, a position I have had the honor of holding for over five years.
Talent Market: What is your job like day-to-day?
Garrett: It’s extremely varied, and that is part of the reason why I love it. It’s rare that a week goes by without touching at least some part of the following: public policy, administrative, development, writing, human resources, planning, strategic thinking, mentoring, or coalition-building.
Talent Market: What is the most challenging part of your job?
Garrett: Development in a small, rural state like West Virginia certainly has been challenging, though we’ve been blessed with some fantastic supporters over the years. Beyond development, which is typically challenging for most small non-profits, the biggest challenge is continually innovating our approach to ensure we reach an ever-growing audience with the ideas of freedom.
Talent Market: What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Garrett: The best thing about working at a state-based nonprofit is being able to directly connect our efforts with real-word impacts, especially on issues like education policy and occupational licensing. I love interacting with parents and families, for example, who wish to send their children to a charter school. This would not have been possible were it not for the Cardinal Institute and its coalitional allies’ efforts.
Talent Market: What has surprised you the most about your job and about working in the free-market non profit world?
Garrett: The generosity of our supporters. It really doesn’t matter whether support is $5 or $5,000, I am always humbled by the willingness of individuals to give and support a cause like the Cardinal Institute. My favorite activity is writing donors – big and small – a handwritten “thank you” letter.
Talent Market: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in doing what you do?
Garrett: Seek out challenges, test yourself, and be willing to jump into something about which you know comparatively little and learn. If you feel yourself becoming content, then it’s time to try something new. Stay curious. Don’t waste your gifts. Be humble. Introspection is both friend and foe. Cherish the struggle.
Talent Market: If you weren’t working to advance liberty, what would you be doing?
Garrett: Monetizing dog-petting.
Talent Market: Tell us something interesting about you that your friends in the free-market nonprofit sector don’t know.
Garrett: I used to be much funnier.
Talent Market: What is your favorite liberty oriented quote?
Garrett: It’s not my favorite, per se, but it’s one I feel is underappreciated:
“But to manipulate men, to propel them toward goals which you—the social reformers—see, but they may not, is to deny their human essence, to treat them as objects without wills of their own, and therefore to degrade them.” – Isaiah Berlin