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Career Profiles
Shelly Tolo
Graduated: 1990
Major: Communication
President, TOLO Events, LLC

Shelly at 2004 Heart BallChoosing a Major
When Shelly enrolled as a first-year student at Messiah College, she declared a major in communication, envisioning herself immersed in the exciting world of broadcast news.  While she clung to her dream, college life was gently refocusing her ambitions in a new direction: "Experiences I enjoyed at Messiah gave me insight into a career I would never have considered: fundraising," she reveals. With a new career goal, Shelly wavered between adding a minor either in political science or business administration. "I listened to my parents and minored in business administration. This was a great combination."

The Messiah Experience
Despite her loaded academic schedule, Shelly found time to devote to campus life. She became more involved with her school as the general manager of Messiah's radio station, and she also participated in the student government and volunteered in the Development Office. Her involvement with the office that coordinates the college's financial support pointed her towards her new vocational interest: "It was through the annual alumni phonathons that I learned about the importance of fundraising," she explains, "and that this could be a great career for women."

Career Center Experience
Shelly took advantage of the career counseling offered by the Career Center, taking a personality type test and using inventories to see where her skills meshed with her personality type for "potential career paths." The results of the inventories reinforced Shelly's interests. She was fairly certain of her future career path, stating simply, "I knew the direction I wanted to take."

Every day, Shelly draws on the communication and business administration concepts that she learned in class. "I use my communication and business skills on a daily basis," she says. "Fundraising is concise communication, both in speaking and writing, while event planning is expressing yourself creatively. . . Being able to speak clearly on a one-on-one basis as well as in front of large committees is very important -- and being able to quickly think on your feet is key."

At Messiah, Shelly also learned to be "grounded" in her faith in a spiritually-challenging world, which helps her maintain her morals in the workplace. "Working in a secular environment, it is extremely important to not get caught up in gossiping. My faith also helps me to guide my clients to select themes or ideas that are very tasteful."

What to Do Next
Shelly turned down an opportunity to pursue an unpaid internship with the Pittsburgh Penguins. "My first step after graduation was just to dive in and get the resumes out there. . . While I really wanted that internship, I wanted to get a job as soon as possible so that there wasn't a long gap in my resume after graduating."

Through her volunteer experience in the Development Office at Messiah, Shelly learned of an available position in the department after graduation. This was her initial boost into the career field she had been aiming for.

Party at the PointDynamic Process
Before pioneering her own company, Shelly honed her skills and gained familiarity with the industry in three positions: Assistant Director of Annual Giving at Messiah College, Assistant Director at the Washington Hospital Foundation, and Director of Development and Major Events at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

A Typical Day

Shelly is now the President of TOLO Events, LLC, her own company. Her day-to-day tasks are anything but uniform: "There is no typical day--and that's what I thrive on! My job entails working with multiple clients to plan events from A to Z. Because of my fundraising background, the majority of my clients are non-profits. I work with them through the entire process of the event from writing sponsorship proposals and meeting with potential donors, to selecting the venue, designing the décor, selecting the menu and entertainment, and managing the entire set-up and tear-down of the event." Bringing each piece of an event together to create a work of art, Shelly has been likened to an orchestra conductor directing individual instruments into a cohesive musical performance.

A "Why" Moment


• "Do as many internships as possible."
• "Volunteer!!! Whether for a college, or for a local non-profit, it will provide you with great experiences."
• "Your first job most likely won't be your last job. Even if you aren't finding exactly what you would like, think about the path that you might need to take to get there."

In a feat of multitasking, Shelly negotiates the many facets of event planning on a daily basis and masters what many people would consider an enormous task list. Never experiencing a dull moment in her schedule and appreciating that no two days are alike, she rests in the certainty that she chose the right career path. "I definitely thrive on deadlines, so this vocation is perfect for me," she states with assurance. Unlike many other careers, event planners work with a rigid deadline; they "must be ready to go and have everything accomplished because there are no extensions to the planning process."

Along with meeting the challenges of her deadlines, Shelly remembers a specific incident that also reminds her why she chose this particular career. "My most memorable moment was one Sunday in church," she begins. "Families were dedicating their children, and one mom and dad walked onto the stage without their child. On the video screen was an adorable photograph of their baby who was in Children's Hospital waiting for a transplant. The reason it had such an impact on me was that, one month earlier, I had secured a half million dollar gift for the hospital to finish off an endowed chair in pediatric transplantation. This money would fund research for years to come."

Shelly strives to serve God through her career by "working with smaller faith-based organizations at a reduced rate." She also offers professional advice free of charge. Overall, she believes her personal conduct in the business is of utmost significance: "I think, most importantly, I serve God by being a light: No swearing or gossiping, always being trustworthy and setting high ethical standards for myself and staff."

Dreams Still Dreaming
Shelly is in the process of prioritizing potential career goals: "I've always dreamt of having my own upscale retail shop. That's what I'm exploring now as I continue to produce events from coast to coast. . ." This evolution of her goals and dreams, from news broadcaster to fund raiser, from to event planner to retail owner, is her personal testimony that, no matter where you are in your career journey, "you can continue to refine your vocation."


Find out how other Messiah graduates became entrepreneurs:

Liz Demery, owner of comedy club

Katrina Hunsberger Didot, owner of restaurant and catering business

Deb Pierson, owner of computer consultation business

Paul Logan, owner of medical information technology consultation business


Profile by Brianna Davidson, August 2005


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