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The Ronald McDonald House Charities, Louisville Public Media and the Kentucky Humane Society all have something in common — they’re all nonprofit organizations. Their missions may vary, but they provide essential services that benefit our community. There are times when these organizations need help as well, so they turn to Louisville’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNPE) and to Sarah Stalker, the Director of Community Engagement and Membership. Sarah’s background is eclectic: she has a degree in fine arts, she’s worked in finance, and she and her husband ran a family business manufacturing wooden teething rings. She admits that her life path may not have been conventional, yet the variety of work helps in her current position by understanding how to connect with diverse subsets of the community to get projects accomplished. Sarah works with organizations, businesses and individuals, helping them succeed by being what some might consider a professional, high-level “concierge” — listening to what people want, and knowing where to get it. Meet Sarah Stalker, this week’s FACE of Louisville.  

Introducing today’s FACE of Louisville, Sarah Stalker!

How did the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNPE) begin?

CNPE came onto the Louisville scene in the end of 1999, and it was really community driven. At the time, we had 1,000 nonprofits in the greater Louisville community, and we had no hub for them to go to for professional development, leadership training, consulting or strategic planning that was needed.

What services does CNPE provide?

We do a lot of consulting work, getting in there and rolling up our sleeves. It’s dealing with board and governance issues, helping them to understand the roles and responsibilities so that those board members can really be effective. We offer professional development where we do classes throughout the year on several topics. We also do some longer professional development throughout the year that helps people who are up and coming in our sector who might be entering a leadership role. A lot of times, we have people who’ve crossed over from the private sector to this sector, which we call the “social profit” sector. It’s very different, so folks need help transitioning into how to function in this world.

“I like to be out in the community. I get my energy from other people,” says Sarah.

When did you start working for CNPE, and how did you advance to the position you hold today as Director of Community Engagement and Membership?

I didn’t even know that CNPE existed. I just happened to stumble across their website. I started with CNPE in 2014, and I came on as a membership coordinator. Then, my time here began to grow. The leadership began to acknowledge that my role really needed to be different, and bigger, than just membership. We made a decision that we wanted more of my work to be pushed externally into the community so that I had a greater awareness of what was happening and what kind of partnerships and collaborations were potentially coming down the pipeline. My previous CEO said there needed to be a shift and that I was destined for bigger things and that they needed me out there. He moved me into the director’s role for community engagement. I still manage the membership, but that’s a smaller component and focus.

What does your position entail?

My position is really about making sure that I’m aware of what’s happening in the community and how that might be affecting our sector, and what needs people have out there and seeing how we can play a role. A couple of years ago, we acknowledged the fact that there was a real need for board members for nonprofits. So we built an online tool, like Match.com, for the nonprofit sector. We built a website for people to connect with their nonprofit passion.

Describe your typical workday.

My day can look like a lot of things. I might be out at a community event or engaging in bigger community conferences. I do a lot of individual meetings with members and people in the community who really want to understand what CNPE is. I do a lot of meetings with folks to get people connected to what they need.

“CNPE makes sure people have the knowledge, resources and best practices to make them the best version of who they are,” says Sarah. “We want people to really understand what they’re walking into, and we want them to be equipped so they can be set up for success right out of the gate.”

“We live in these really small bubbles, and we don’t tend to have access to people. The more diverse your board of directors is, the higher performing your board will be,” says Sarah.

CNPE holds an annual conference. Tell us about that.

It is one day when we bring the community together, and it’s more than just nonprofits. We have government personnel, for-profit businesses and our foundation in attendance. It’s a day to learn. We bring in speakers to talk about different topics. Every year is different. It’s a full day of professional development. In the middle of the day, we recognize individuals and nonprofits that are doing excellent work. These are our Pyramid Awards.

What other ways are you involved in the community?

My husband and I are foster parents, and our home has been open for three years. It’s been one of the best things we could have ever done, and I would highly encourage people to do it. We refer to the kids as children in foster care, not foster kids. We put the person before the description.

What are your favorite Louisville eateries?

Simply Thai, Doc Crow’s and The Café, and if I’m meeting someone for coffee, I go to Heine Brothers.

RELATED: 13 New Louisville Restaurants — Your Hit List for Fall 2018

“It’s important to prioritize people over other things,” says Sarah, adding, “and be open to possibilities.”

What are your favorite Louisville activities?

You can see me around town at the Actors Theatre, and you can catch me at the Speed Museum. I love going to the big summer picnics with the Catholic churches. I also like to go to thrift stores and yard sales.

Do you have any hobbies or pastimes?

I find myself getting into crafts with my daughter. I’m open to things my children want to do, what excites them or engages them. We love to go to the parks and the free libraries. If I’m not working, I’m generally helping somebody or volunteering in the community.

What is your best piece of advice?

Be open to the possibilities of things — all things. I often hear people say, “I can never do that; how do you do that?” My answer is, “I’m willing to try.” I think you don’t grow as a person if you aren’t willing to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. I think that’s really important.

Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you cannot live without.

The arts, compassion and random acts of kindness.

Thank you so much for your dedication to our city, Sarah! And thank you to Gretchen Bell for these beautiful photos. 

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