Up next in our Inspiring Women Series for 2022, we have Melissa Hopkins, Executive Vice President of Sector Advancement for Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA). Melissa is ultra-high energy, has a “get-it-done” work ethic, and consistently goes above and beyond both professionally and personally.
Tell us a little bit about the different roles you play.
In my role with Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA), the title is Executive Vice President of Sector Advancement, but what that really means is that I work with organizations and I build relationships. So, I oversee our membership, I oversee our marketing and communications, and our public policy initiatives and fundraising. So super fun! I also plan our annual conference each year. And this year, we’re focusing on the concept of failure and how success is failure in progress. And so, how do we take failure and turn it into innovation? … [Then] I am the board chair of Newark Day Nursery and Children’s Center …[T]hey are a nonprofit childcare center and they are a five-star center…serving children regardless of their income level. It’s an incredibly diverse center, offering a super high-quality early childhood experience for students in the Newark area… I also am the delegation advisor for the bear Glasgow YMCA, Youth in Government program … I work with students, both in middle school, in the fall, and High School in the spring, as they participate in a model legislative and judicial experience. Each student who’s in the legislative branch, writes their own bills, that they develop the concepts themselves, and they present it and it works its way through a legislative process. It’s really exciting for students, and I really love doing it. It’s really interesting to see what the next generation is thinking about and how they want to build the future.
“… success is failure in progress… so how do we take failure and turn it into innovation?”
Is there a common thread in the different organizations that you’re involved with?
Early childhood education has always been a passion of mine and prior to being with DANA, I was working in the education policy space and learned a ton about the services and opportunities: how much students from birth-to-aid benefit from very high-quality education, and how it sets up their success for the future. So, I just really was passionate about that work. And, I live in the Newark area and I feel very strongly about engaging in my community, very similar to “I want to know my neighbors, and I want to get back to the communities in which I live”. So that’s how I got started with the Newark Day Nursery opportunity. And then Youth in Government, when I was a staffer in the legislature… their program was taking place. So the day that I was working, I got to go watch and I thought this was incredible to see the things that these kids have come up with. And the very next day, I filled out the volunteer form on the YMCA website to come in and volunteer for the program.
What’s different about DANA versus a more traditional nonprofit?
How I like to think about DANA is that we are helping nonprofits do the work that they are wonderful at. We’re helping them to do it better and smarter. Our mission is to strengthen, enhance and advance the nonprofit sector, and we do that through consulting support and helping organizations build their capacity. You only have so many hours in the day, and your organization may only have so many skills on their team: how do we help you fill the gaps? And, how do we create a really strong governance structure so that organizations are sustainable, and they’re not living in this space of the equivalent of a paycheck to paycheck? It’s really about creating the environment to thrive… And we are a membership organization, but our membership rates are incredibly affordable. It’s built on a sliding scale so that no one is left in a place where they can’t have a DANA membership in order to access services.
What tips would you have for someone thinking about starting a nonprofit?
My first tip is… do your research and understand who else is in your market. Who are you competing with? For clients? For funding? Are you serving a need that exists? Or, are there other organizations that are serving the needs that potentially you could partner with? So, to me, the first step is to just understand the market.
“What I’m really proud of is my ability to balance being a mom and being present.”
Tell us about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be one of the most significant in your career.
I think that this is gonna sound kind of insane, but given the timing—the ability to be what I think is a really good mom while being able to move forward in my career. Part of that is I have an amazing partner, I couldn’t do it without him. He’s an incredible dad! But, I think that I want to do all the things and I want to do it really well. And so, I think that, for me, what I’m really proud of is my ability to balance being a mom and being present, because my eight-year-old, Sam, is just my favorite human. And, I just want to be everything he needs, but then also show him that I can be a really incredible executive at my job and help organizations, and advocate for the needs of nonprofits. So it’s important to me to be able to do both well, and I think I’ve balanced it pretty well.
“The days where I feel good about the impact I’m making outweigh the days when I feel like I can’t do it all.”
How do you make time for it all?
I get up at 4:30 in the morning, to go work out at 5 am, because that’s the time that I take for myself. And I need it. It’s like a mental health thing for me. And in order to be happy, that’s a piece of the puzzle for me. Then I would say that I am really careful about creating boundaries. So once I get home from work, that’s the time that I spend with my family, with my husband and my son, and I really try not to check email, and be on my phone. I’m really careful about being present… I would say also that I’m a really big fan of sleep, and I go to bed very early. But I think some days I don’t have time for it all, and you have to be okay with that … I’m certainly not perfect. And, there are days when I feel like I’m failing everybody. But the days where I feel good about the impact I’m making, outweigh the days when I feel like I can’t do it all. Tomorrow is always a new day. I’m a day older, and I’m a day wiser, so you just pick up the ball again the next day.
What’s in store for DANA’s next conference?
[This year] we’re doing 15 satellite locations throughout the state. So, we’re gonna simulcast all of our speakers, and we found this…amazing keynote speaker…Albert Manero. He has a nonprofit called Limitless Solutions… [and] he creates, using 3d printing technology, limbs for children who have potentially birth abnormalities. And he’s created a nonprofit [where] they had to fail to succeed. That’s the only way. You have to keep trying different models. And so, he’s going to talk about what that process looks like. Then we’re gonna have conversations around innovation, from cryptocurrency to how we ask philanthropic partners to fund laboratories of innovation and nonprofits. How do we create the future and how can we get folks to fund it? So I’m excited. Yeah, so the conference every year is essentially me putting all my nerd crushes in one room.
Nominated by Lynda Neef
“Melissa is ultra-high energy and has a get-it-done work ethic. She has never failed to fulfill a promise and has never hesitated to step in and help. She consistently goes above and beyond both professionally and personally and I consider it a true privilege to call her a friend. Melissa is awesome in more ways than I can count, but I am nominating her because she is the definition of awesome!”
Why Deidra Kindred is On this List
“I LOVED chatting with Melissa. DANA is an amazing organization and Melissa was happy to share insights and resources from the many organizations she helps out with. Plus I appreciated her down-to-earth insights about balancing parenting with an active volunteering roster.”
See More 2022 Inspiring Women
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