What are opportunities and challenges to attaining leadership roles in nonprofits? Recently, a panel of women in leadership shared their success and hurdles during an education session offered by the Association of Fundraising Professionals Minnesota Chapter (AFP).
On March 8, 2023—International Women’s Day—Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity hosted AFP’s panel discussion featuring women in executive nonprofit roles, including Twin Cities Habitat’s Chief Program Officer, Shereese Turner; Irma Márquez Trapero, Executive Director of LatinoLEAD; and LeeAnn Rasachak, CEO of WomenVenture. The discussion was moderated by Mala Thao, Associate Vice President of Major Gifts at Greater Twin Cities United Way.
To start the discussion, the women on the panel shared their different experiences and roles. LeeAnn trusted her instincts and left the corporate world to join a nonprofit, and Shereese’s life changed when she moved to get a fresh start for herself and her children. Irma was motivated to give those in her communities the opportunities she didn’t have. A common theme emerged as they told their stories, though: embrace the journey. “Your life shapes who you are and impacts tomorrow,” Mala said.
Much of the conversation focused on how to uplift women in the nonprofit and fundraising sectors. LeeAnn, who started working at a nonprofit in 2021, emphasized removing barriers for women; it’s one thing to invite people to the table, but listening to them is important, too. From pay equity and transparency to support around childcare, there are practical changes that can be made. This intentionality also extends to hiring and promotions, added Shereese. “It’s important for me to give others opportunities—it’s not a competition,” she said. “We make space. It’s not about others taking the same path as me, but it is about supporting other women on their own journeys.” Irma pointed to her own experience to show that she wouldn’t be where she is today without mentorship and guidance.
What advice do these professionals have for younger women pursuing leadership? “Go for it,” said Irma. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just do it.” LeeAnn reminded others to take up space, build resilience, and look for the people who want you to succeed. Shereese’s message to women who are just beginning their journeys, and also to her younger self, was to "be patient, and give yourself grace.” Together, these panelists offered inspiration and practical advice to attendees and the next generation of leaders.
Toward the end of the event, panelists shared the following opportunities for networking: Linking Leaders, Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities, African American Leadership Forum, Women Who Brunch, and local chambers of commerce. You can learn more about the Minnesota Chapter of AFP on their website.