Sarah Coffman graduated from Wichita State in 2010 with an Integrated Marketing Communication degree. After college, she had every intention to work for an ad agency. But life took her on a different journey.
“I thought I would have a six-figure salary, a corner office and produce national commercials,” Sarah said. “That’s not what happened, but that was my intention.”
When deciding on a degree, Sarah used an aptitude test that directed her in the path of marketing and communication. After graduation, she began her career for local ad agency Armstrong Chamberlin. While there, she gained valuable experience and skills she now uses for the nonprofit she started in 2013.
Sarah is the executive director and founder of Wichita Animal Action League (WAAL). WAAL is a nonprofit with the mission to be there for animals in Wichita and surrounding areas that are neglected, abused and abandoned each year. The organization works to save animals in crisis. Big or small, they try and rescue them all.
Leaving the advertising world started with a need she saw on Facebook. It was the dead of winter and people were sharing a photo of an abandoned dog whose owners left him behind when they moved. The post was shared multiple times and commented on with “somebody needs to go do something.” Sarah realized that instead of sitting in the warmth, she would be that somebody.
Her and a stranger met up at the home of the abandoned dog and worked to rescue him. It was sleeting, and temperatures were dropping fast. If Sarah hadn’t shown up, the dog would have likely frozen to death. MJ was rescued, but more than that, he became the reason WAAL was founded.
“Everyone wants somebody to go do something about it, but no one wants to be the one to get up and go do it,” Sarah said.
Because of MJ’s rescue, it turned into a group of people wanting to do something to help animals in need. Sarah divided people into groups saying, “if you like Great Danes, you rescue the Great Danes or if you like cats, save the cats.”
Executive director, Wichita Animal Action League
In November, the organization turns 6 years old and has rescued over 700 animals in the past year.
But the past six years have not been easy. One of the hardest parts of WAAL is finding money to make a difference, especially when operated on a shoe-string budget. The nonprofit operates on one full-time employee and one part-time employee. Everyone puts on different hats to make things work. Between late nights and early mornings, WAAL runs off of volunteers and people who know people.
The challenging part of starting a nonprofit hasn’t come with time or money, but being taken seriously. For Sarah, she began WAAL at the age of 25 and has fought long and hard to be considered knowledgeable.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but I was willing to learn and give it a shot,” Sarah said. "Don't let not knowing intimidate you or stop you from pursuing your passion. I know my information backward and forwards. I have the confidence to speak to the issue regardless of who I am speaking to."
Sarah’s biggest advice to those wanting to start a business is to utilize your professors and stay involved on campus. WAAL has come so far by knowing people and knowing the right person who can help with specific tasks. Even years after graduating, the professors are willing to help, provide information and answer questions whenever needed.
“I didn’t expect to run a nonprofit in college, but everything I learned at WSU and in the ESC, has prepared me for this step in life.”