A Day in the Life of…Christine Sanders, director & chief operating officer, Cayman Islands Cancer Society

The Journal continues its popular series looking at the lives and careers of individuals within the community.

What made you choose your career?

I have had three jobs in my professional career and they have all been completely different. The first one was in the hospitality industry, which is the field I studied at college. The second was as manager of a fitness centre and there I learnt to multi-task as I had to do everything from teach fitness and swimming classes as well as all of the day-to-day work associated with running a small business.

Currently I am chief executive officer of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society with additional responsibility for the Society’s public education programme. It requires unique management skills associated with running a not-for-profit organisation and reporting to a board of directors.

With the exception of my first job straight out of college, I have been presented with employment opportunities within organisations and I have accepted and risen to the challenge and developed the job and career as it progresses. I actually think my career has chosen me, rather than my choosing it.

I have been at the Cancer Society for almost seven years. I had just returned to the island following a year away studying, when I was approached and asked if I would be interested in working at the Society. I was hired as the office manager in January 2003. Along the way, I developed an interest in the public education and started doing that as well.


What kind of training or qualifications do you need for the job?

For the day-to-day operation of the Society, a general degree in business or management is essential. Like all small businesses you need to be able to multi-task and do everything from strategic planning to PR, marketing and accounting. For the person doing the health promotion aspect of the job, a degree in health promotion or education would be an asset. Presentation skills are also essential as well as good communication skills, especially oral communication, and the ability to communicate and interact effectively with people from different backgrounds. Ability to manage time and prioritise projects is also essential. Event or project management experience is an asset.


Guide us through your typical day.

There is no typical day – every day is different and presents a different set of challenges. I usually get to work by 7.30am but it can start before that if I am doing a media appearance and while I try and finish by 5pm, I am often working at home, doing presentations or representing the Society at a function until 9pm or later.

My day can consist of any combination of the following, giving a cancer awareness presentation somewhere, a television or radio appearance to promote a specific cause, meeting with a cancer patient or family member to offer financial assistance with a medical expense, writing a press release or other article for the media, routine administration work such as accounting or writing thank you letters, meeting with potential sponsors / donors, organising fundraising events and more!

Because of the nature of the work it is a 24-hour a day job and the chief executive is widely recognised in the community.


Who do you interact with on a daily basis?

In addition to our two team members who work in the office alongside me and our two volunteer counsellors, I interact with a number of persons on a daily basis. I report to a board of directors and many of these have a specific area of oversight so I am usually in contact with at least one member of the Board each day. As a non-profit, we rely on volunteers to help drive our programs and activities so I am also liaising with them. Of course there are also the individuals to whom we provide assistance, potential sponsors, representatives from other organisations and of course the public at large when we are doing presentations.


What are your areas of responsibility?

I have responsibility for all of the day-to-day running of the Society but I also head up special projects and advocacy issues such as the push for a cancer registry on the island and tobacco legislation. The one specific area of responsibility that I continue to retain is that of cancer awareness and prevention which entails preparing suitable material and making presentations. Fundraising and public relations to ensure the work of the Society is constantly emphasised are significant parts of the job.


Where do you go from here?

Within the Cancer Society there is a never-ending list of projects on the back burner that we would like to turn into reality. Becoming a consultant appeals as many other charity organisations have the same problems. There is much to be done. The ability to learn quickly on the job is one of the greatest assets.


What kind of salary can a chief executive expect to receive?

Salaries in the not-for-profit sector have traditionally been lower than in the corporate sector but they are gradually catching-up. Boards of directors, who determine salaries have to exercise good governance, as organisations such as the Cancer Society, are funded in general by three sources of income – donations, fundraising and grants – and no board wants to be seen as spending all of their funds on operating expenses. The going rate for heads of not-for-profits in the Cayman Islands starts at CI$50,000 annually and upwards.


What personality traits make a good non-profit CEO?

Extroversion is a definite requirement and the ability to interact with persons from all walks of life and to display empathy with an individual and their situation. I work in a dynamic environment and openness is essential especially to new ideas and new ways of doing things. Agreeableness, attention to detail and honesty are also important as it is a small-office and also because of the reliance on volunteers. Above all efficiency is important.


Do you gain job satisfaction from your work?

There are moments when the job can become disheartening such as when a client we have been helping loses their battle with cancer. However, in general I do have a sense of satisfaction because I know that at some level the work that the Society does is making a difference in the lives of many persons living in the Cayman Islands. 


Christine at a recent Cayman Heart Fund event with Geoff Mathews