Wednesday, April 5th marked the inaugural Women in Nonprofit Leadership Conference in Philadelphia. The event, co-sponsored by the Fels Institute of Government, was centered on the theme of the “PowerHER” of working together. Bringing together a diverse group of speakers and attendees, the conference sought to address relevant issues faced by both current and aspiring women leaders: empowerment, fundraising, capacity building, board development, hiring, collaboration, and diversity.
The day featured a lineup of truly inspiring women. The opening plenary, offered by Uneeka Jay (Founding Principal, Rewrite 365), encouraged the audience to choose to plug into the things in life that they found most fulfilling. A powerful closing plenary presented by Nancy Dunleavy (President, Founder, CEO & Chief Talent Scout, Dunleavy & Associates) discussed what it means to be a connector and to use your “ask muscle.”
The central event of the day was a panel discussion moderated by Fels faculty member and alumna Tine Hansen-Turton (President & CEO, Woods Resources, Inc. and Fels '95) that highlighted several prominent nonprofit leaders in Philadelphia: Alumna Talia Adell Stinson (Performance Management Analyst, City of Philadelphia and Fels '10), Melissa Weiler Gerber (President & CEO, AccessMatters), Donna Cooper (Executive Director, Public Citizens for Children + Youth and Fels '87), and Kerry Sautner (Vice President of Visitor Experience and Education, National Constitution Center). Focusing on the topics of inclusiveness, mentorship, and collaboration, much of the dialogue spoke to my own experiences as an aspiring woman leader in the nonprofit sphere.
To start off the discussion, Hansen-Turton asked each of the panelists “What is your personal story?”
“I’m a disruptor.”
“I define myself as a fighter.”
“I prefer to think of myself as an organizer.”
“I came out of the womb with a very strong sense of justice.”
The passion in each response caused me to reflect on my own personal story and what has lead me to work in this field. It affirmed my long held belief that nonprofit work is often more a calling than a career, deeply informed by our individual life experiences and very much a part of our personal identities.
The entire panel discussion was infused with the speaker’s commitment to creating a more just and equitable world by both empowering the next generation of women leaders and demanding their own voices be heard. “I actively try and get my best staff hired somewhere else,” said Cooper at one point, “Making sure they get promoted and grow is something I think about all the time.” A comment by Talia Stinson particularly resonated with me: “We deserve a seat at the table. And if there aren’t enough chairs, at this point I think we need to bring our own.”
I left the conference feeling more confident asking my network for help when needed. I also left with an expanded understanding of how I could better mentor and promote my fellow nonprofit women as I move forward in my own career. The day introduced me to a new community of talented, passionate, fearless women leaders and reaffirmed my own commitment to the work I do. I look forward to the Women in Nonprofit Leadership Conference becoming an annual event here in Philadelphia!