Leading the Way: Women Rising at Denver's Nonprofits

The dynamic new leaders at three of Colorado's top nonprofit organizations share a vision for a better community. They also recognize that collaboration is a prerequisite for success.
It may come as no surprise that some of the most influential pioneers of the world's first nonprofits had strong, compassionate females at the helm. Yet what is surprising is that even in this day and age, fewer women currently hold leadership positions at the nations nonprofits than men. According to a 2012 study by the University of Denver and The White House Project, women constitute only 21 percent of leadership roles among nonprofits with budgets in excess of $25 million, even though they make up 75 percent of the workforce.

Despite these less than encouraging statistics, Confluence Denver spoke to three local women at the top of their game, who have defied the odds and secured their coveted roles as leaders at some of Denver's most respected nonprofits. All three share the same objective: to leave the Colorado community a better place than they found it.

Christine Marquez-Hudson, The Denver FoundationChristine Marquez-Hudson is only the fifth CEO in the 90-year history of The Denver Foundation.

Newly appointed president and CEO of The Denver Foundation, Christine Marquez-Hudson is only the fifth chief executive in the 90-year-old foundation's history. The oldest and largest of Colorado's foundations, The Denver Foundation's mission is to inspire people and mobilize resources to improve our community.

At the foundation, Marquez-Hudson oversees the strategic vision and planning to fulfill its mission, which includes managing the foundation's human and financial resources. "I directly supervise our four vice presidents but have overall responsibility for the staff," she says. "I am also the primary liaison with the board of trustees. I represent the Foundation in the community, in the media and elsewhere."

Prior to joining the Foundation, Marquez-Hudson also held the top spot as CEO and executive director of Denver's Mi Casa Resource Center, which works to advance the economic success of Latino and working families in the Denver Metro area. She largely credits this experience for landing her the top spot at The Denver Foundation. "I think the reason the board chose me is that I truly understand the mission of the organization and the issue areas it is trying to address. As a younger person and a Latina, I also represent the future of Denver and can relate to a lot of the constituencies the Foundation works with."  

Marquez-Hudson also believes women are by nature well suited to leading nonprofits. "I think women tend to be more collaborative and less competitive than men. That's important in the nonprofit sector where we're trying to work together to solve very complex problems. It's not about winning or being the best, for a lot of women, it's about getting the job done right." She also points out that women have the ability to connect and empathize with a wide range of people, making them ideally suited to a leadership role. "Women are every bit as strategic, smart, good at money managing and great at making tough decisions as men."

Adrienne Mansanares is vice president and COO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association.Adrienne Mansanares, Colorado Nonprofit Association

In Dec. 2015, Adrienne Mansanares began her most senior position to date becoming vice president and COO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, which was established in 1986 to strengthen Colorado nonprofits, through education and information about new ideas, best practices and pressing public policies. "A lot of nonprofits don't know how or are afraid to advocate for themselves," says Mansanares, whose primary responsibility is to support the implementation of the strategic plan and manage multiple programs that strengthen the 15,000 active 501(c)3 nonprofits in Colorado.

Prior to landing her current position, Mansanares worked as director of operations at The Denver Foundation. There she managed a nationally recognized program increasing leadership of people of color in nonprofits, involving $1 million in grant making and community action strategies. "As a biracial Latina, I knew that I was one of the only people of color represented in the nonprofit sector and professionally I knew that in order to really have an impact we needed to have a leadership of people of color at all levels of nonprofits," she says.

Early on in her career, Mansanares never felt a sense of gender bias, but she says that shifted when she reached middle management. "When I became a director and wanted to jump to be a vice president, I wasn't as welcomed as I was as an administrator or a coordinator or a manager," she says.

When it comes to senior management teams, Mansanares does not believe there is a real example of a strong female leader who has been met as a strategic partner. In fact, she feels that in particular in the nonprofit sector, it is still seen as too ambitious for a woman to play a senior role. "But of course the great exception to that is my new job with the [Colorado Nonprofit Association], who have welcomed me with open arms in terms of being a strategic partner," she says.

Katie Kramer, Boettcher FoundationKatie Kramer speaks at an Access Denver event.

A fourth-generation Colorado native, Katie Kramer is the newly appointed president and executive director at the Boettcher Foundation, which provides full-ride scholarships to Colorado's high potential graduating high-school seniors, to attend a Colorado college or university.

A protégé in every sense of the word, Katie Kramer has truly come full circle with the Boettcher Foundation. Remarkably, Kramer was selected as a Boettcher Scholar in 1993 (attending the University of Colorado Boulder and later the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business) and has worked at the foundation in various roles since 1997. An invaluable experience that she feels makes her uniquely qualified to lead the Foundation. "I understand from a deeply personal perspective what being a recipient of the Foundation's financial support has meant to me and my family. Beyond the gift of the funding, I continue to feel the responsibility to pay Boettcher's investment forward," says Kramer.

Community service is second nature for Kramer. She grew up in a family that was always involved in some type of community service, either through her church, neighborhood or school. "I learned and felt the value of giving back as a kid and it continues to be part of how I am built. I feel very fortunate to have been able to bring my whole self to my career in finding a profession that so closely aligns with my talents, purpose and values," she says.

Kramer has never experienced a gender bias pertaining to nonprofit work. She will take over the position of  president from Tim Schultz, who she describes as her biggest mentor and friend. "I am so grateful to have benefited from his guidance over the years and I have learned so much from him."

Back when Kramer was interviewed for a fellowship position with the Boettcher Foundation when she was 22 years old, Schultz asked her why she wanted the job. She told him three reasons: She wanted to work in a place where she felt like she was making a difference in her community, where she was always learning and where her work would impact education. "Those same three reasons are still why I love my job and have stayed here as long as I have. I feel so grateful to carry on the Boettcher family's legacy as their youngest and first-ever female leader."

Disclosure: The Denver Foundation is an underwriter of Confluence Denver.

Read more articles by Katie Rapone.

Katie is a British, Denver-based freelance writer with a niche for Health and Wellness. Contact her here.
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