Corporate Giving Network founder Joy Stephens Has Spent a Career Building Bridges Between the Nonprofit and For-Profit Worlds

Stephens says the life doesn’t always provide a ‘fair and level playing field,’ but she believes perseverance can be a great equalizer

Joy Stephens is a consultant focused on fundraising and training and trying to connect the nonprofit and for-profit worlds through fundraising, education, training and networking.

Stephens is the founder and chief executive officer of Bellevue-based o2Joy, which does business as the Corporate Giving Network ― a professional development and networking program focused on nonprofits. Her consulting business also assists with nonprofit formation; crafting fundraising strategies for nonprofits; developing corporate-giving and community-engagement initiatives for companies; sourcing corporate donors; and planning and executing special events.

Stephens past work includes serving as a corporate partnership officer for the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and as a fundraising consultant for the African Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest. Her past volunteer work includes founding the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Canadian Friends of South Africa charity; serving as secretary for the South African Chamber of Commerce in America; and founding and serving as executive director of the Sickle Cell Fund for Families in Need.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated? A leader must believe wholeheartedly in their organization, be proud of the work it does, believe in transparency and accountability and transfer these traits to [the relationships with] staff, customers and shareholders.

I don’t believe that any leadership trait is overrated, [including] these [qualities]: honesty and integrity, confidence, inspiring others, commitment and passion, good communicator, decision-making capabilities, accountability, delegation and empowerment, creativity and innovation, empathy, resilience, emotional intelligence, humility, transparency, vision and purpose.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader? For me it has been “playing well in the sandbox” and being heard. For example, at meetings I would bring up an idea. No one would really support the idea. Sometime later a man would bring up that same idea and, all of a sudden, it’s the best thing since sliced bread. I am not only female but am also a visible minority.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you? This is going back some 20 years now, but the best lesson I learned is to be aware that it is not a fair and level playing field and don’t be disappointed when things don’t go your way. Just keep plugging away.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders? You can’t do it all. If you want children, great, but be sure your partner is ready, willing and able to help out. You should not be the one that always stays home when junior is ill or when there is a snow day at school. If both of you are working on your careers, hire a live-in nanny or a babysitter that comes to your home. You are both making good money. Hire help!

Make sure you take time for you. Go on vacations with the family. Don’t live your life like a hamster on a wheel. You will burn yourself out and then you will want to leave the corporate world before your time. The best scenarios I’ve seen is where the grandparents step in to help.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts? Networking is huge, but the thing about it is that it is vital that you “give as well as you get.”. Don’t always be asking for something. Be sure that you help out those in your network. For example, if you know that someone in your network is looking for a job, keep your eyes and ears open and, if you hear about an opening that would be ideal for him or her, share it. 

Congratulate someone in your network if you see or hear about something cool that happened to them or the company they work for. Make it public praise. Put it in social media. People like it when they get recognized but most folks don’t like tooting their own horn. Be sure when things are not going well to lend a helping hand. Be sincere and make sure you know what’s important to folks. Not everyone has the same goals and objectives.

What would you do differently in your career? I would have played better in the sand box ― not be so vocal in meetings. For me it was partly cultural. Where I come from, folks say what’s on their mind.

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon? Usually working. I run my own company now, and we are getting ready to expand into another city, and we are in the midst of organizing our annual conference. If I need a break from work, I will be reading fiction. In the summer, I’ll be on the golf course. Some Saturdays, if I can pull myself away from working, I will be in Vancouver, [British Colombia], visiting my family and friends.

What would be the title of your autobiography? “The Hard Work Is Done.” When I worked in corporate America, all I did was work. I was very motivated to move up the corporate ladder. There was no such thing as work/life balance. I worked and that was it. The hard work paid off. I hung up my corporate briefcase before I turned 50. How did I do that? I was making good money and did not buy “toys” or live like I had to keep up with the Jones. I lived below my means and used the money to make investments in real estate. I paid off the mortgages and now have rental income and still own the asset.

Fortunately, I married a man who shared my vision and it worked out well for us. Now that I run my own company (I needed to keep working, retirement was highly overrated), I still work a lot, but not like I used to. For example, I will take off three weeks all at once and go on a great vacation to an international spot. You may find me on the golf course on a Tuesday (would never have done this when I was in corporate America) or knitting with a bunch of wild and crazy women on Friday morning. You get the point. I have a much better work/life balance now. I work on my terms and when I want to.

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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