Bellarmine on Business Article

Karen Cassidy bedside with a Hildegard House resident

Bellarmine Means Business

Karen Cassidy '00 EMBA, Hildegard House

Spring 2020


Hildegard House is a non-profit that provides dignified end-of-life care, free of charge, to individuals who have no home or loved ones to care for them. “We fill a gap in care for those who need hospice care but can’t access it because they are homeless or because they don’t have family support or resources,” says founder and Executive Director Karen Cassidy. As executive director of a small nonprofit, her duties include operations, management, fundraising, public speaking, board development, grant writing, committee work, and serving as an on-call nurse (she’s a former palliative-care nurse practitioner). “I also do handyman jobs and yard maintenance when needed,” she says. “The role of an executive director is multi-faceted. Flexibility and humor are definitely beneficial!”

How did Bellarmine prepare you for what you are doing today?

My Executive MBA helped me realize what skills were needed to start and run a nonprofit organization.  A master’s degree in business allowed me to assess my current skills and what I needed to learn. It also gave me the insight that I did not need to be an expert in accounting, marketing and finance, but I did need competent and trustworthy people with these skills on my team. With a background and advanced degrees in nursing and education, adding a business degree gave me the confidence to start a nonprofit business that is value-based and mission-driven. 

What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing your profession?

Starting a nonprofit is like starting any business. It’s important to remember that. Passionate people want to do good things in the world, and that includes starting nonprofits. If you want to start a nonprofit, make sure that you are not duplicating any services that are currently being offered elsewhere in the community. Do your homework. The most important things are to have a solid business plan, a passionate Board of Directors and someone who supports you, like a coach or mentor. (In my case, it is a saint friend, Hildegard of Bingen.) Network with other nonprofit executive directors.  Join professional organizations, like the Center for Nonprofit Excellence. Have a clear mission statement and stick to it. Be able to explain your mission simply (“the elevator speech”). Express gratitude to everyone who supports the dream – your board, your staff, your donors and benefactors, your family and anyone who encourages you.  

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

While I am proud of my years on the teaching faculty at Bellarmine, as dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies and as a palliative-care nurse practitioner, I am most proud of Hildegard House and the community of caring volunteers and staff that provides compassionate care to our residents. At Hildegard House, volunteers called Compassionate Companions provide the care. We do not charge a fee. We have been providing care since July 2016 and have served over 80 individuals who needed hospice care. Can you imagine starting a business that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without a steady revenue source? We rely totally on donations, on volunteers who provide care, and on lots of others who provide meals and housekeeping and yard care. This is the blessing and miracle of Hildegard House!

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About Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.