How to Lean in to Challenges – in Conversation with Tavia Rhodes

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Sara and Tavia at ETS's Annual Luncheon
Sara and Tavia at ETS’s Annual Luncheon

Tavia Rhodes is the Director of Development with long-time Minerva client Evergreen Treatment Services, a network of medication-assisted treatment clinics in Washington that provide treatment for opioid addiction. Tavia has held a number of development positions, including running her own development consulting business for three years prior to joining the ETS team.

Sara Veltkamp of Minerva Strategies sat down with Tavia to discuss what “development” means to her and what has been both exciting and challenging about raising money to help ETS fight the opioid epidemic. She also confirmed that Minerva can get signed albums when her solo music career takes off.


Sara: Tavia, thanks so much for meeting with me. Tell us what your consulting practice was like. What type of clients did you work with?

Tavia: I worked with a range of local organizations from larger groups like my former employer the YMCA to small nonprofits that were just starting out; anything from the arts to human services. My sweet spot was helping these organizations set up a development shop and get the fundamentals in place so they could build a network of philanthropy around their organizations. And events! For a while my track record was to more than double dollars raised for new clients who needed a boost to their annual fundraiser.


My relationship with the executive director was always very important. I tended to work best with directors who would back me up and were totally on board with investing in development. If that was the case, I saw my role as brainstorming ideas, setting a plan, and then tag-teaming with the director to execute. As a coach, I often spent a lot of time convincing leaders that their work is valuable and that they can do what they’re setting out to do. I love that a huge part of my job is simply believing in people.


Why did you decide to make the switch to working in-house?

I can’t point to one thing as the reason, but I have a number of things that added up. The biggest reason was that the position at ETS was compelling. I wouldn’t have put my company on hold for just any opportunity.


Working with multiple clients in a consulting role is energizing because you get regularly exposed to different people, new ideas, and alternative processes. But I had a strong urge to dive deep into one issue – especially on an issue as pressing as the opioid epidemic.


I also found that while the freedom of consulting to set my own schedule, work when I’m most productive, and have a high level of flexibility was appealing, I didn’t have much time or creativity left at the end of the day to work on my music. Running a business includes a lot of other things – like new business development and admin tasks – that take up a ton of time and creative energy. I could set my own schedule, but my work-life balance was still a little out of whack.


Tavia music 2


What made the position at ETS so compelling?

If this position had been offered three years earlier, I never would have considered myself capable of filling the role and I wouldn’t have applied. But because of my consulting business, which a friend jokingly refers to as my master’s program in development, I felt up to the challenge. I would be able to use everything I’d learned to make a real difference in the middle of a crisis of epidemic proportions.


How did your friends respond to your switch to ETS?

A lot of my friends understood the need to raise funds for this work and the stigma, but they also thought that I was biting off a lot. But they weren’t surprised – almost everyone said something to the effect of, “of course you’re going to take on such a challenging issue. Such a Tavia thing to do.”


They aren’t wrong – both about how challenging the work is and my tendency to lean into challenges. I feel that leaning into a challenge rather than avoiding it has brought the most opportunities for growth in my life.


What do you think of the position thus far? Does it live up to its promise?

Absolutely. To be honest, in my first few weeks at ETS, I learned that there was a waitlist for services, and that hit me hard. People need treatment, but we’re not able to serve them because we don’t have enough funding to expand. I felt that gap viscerally and personally. I remember thinking to myself as I lay awake at night, “the longer it takes me to raise funds, the more people will die.”


That was tough and very different than raising money for non-life-threatening causes, like the arts. I’ve been able to manage this worry better now, and I’m happy to say that ETS no longer has a waitlist, but it still adds a lot of urgency to my work. The stakes are very high.


How have people responded to ETS’s appeals for support?

It hits home for people – almost everyone is connected to someone who is affected. The outpouring around this issue has been great and heartfelt. Most people I speak with are curious and want to know more.


I sometimes encounter people who don’t agree with ETS’s model of medication-assisted treatment, but rather than seeing that as a challenge or a barrier, I see it as an opportunity to hear other perspectives. On those occasions my posture is to listen, help them feel heard, and if they’d like to learn more about it, I’m happy to educate. I try to discern when it’s my job to change hearts and minds and when it’s not.


You’ve been working in this field for several years now. How do you define “development?”  

Development is often confused as simply fundraising. Fundraising is part of our work, for sure, but it’s not the only or even, in my opinion, the most important piece. I define development as creating a community of goodwill around an organization and connecting people who want to help with organizations that are making a difference. I see each nonprofit in the center of a set of concentric circles. The organization holds the people they serve – in ETS’ case, our patients – and the community’s role is to hold the organization and rally around them.


How do communications fit into development work?

They’re completely intertwined. We share a lot of the same goals – create awareness, educate people, make connections, and thought leadership – and depend on each other to be effective. In a nonprofit setting, it works best when the development and communications teams are part of the same department and see each other as allies. Without this, tension can exist between these two teams and they may have to compete for budgets which doesn’t help.


Ok, a few “rapid-fire” questions: What is your favorite blog on nonprofit work?

If you don’t follow NonprofitAF, you’re really missing out.


Any guilty pleasures?

It used to be the Bachelor/Bachelorette, but happily, I’ve aged out. Now I’d say it’s binge-watching romantic dramas on Netflix.


Do you have any rules that you try to live by? If so, what are they and when/how did they enter your life?

I’ve recently realized that when it comes to self-care, my #1 priority has to be sleep. For years I sacrificed sleep for my workouts, my job, my interests, but I’ve finally learned that if I don’t get adequate rest I’m basically shooting myself in the foot. I still struggle when it comes to my social life (and dating!), but at least I’ve made a personal commitment. It’s all about building the habit.


If you could have a message on a billboard that everyone would see, what would you want it to say?

The first thing that comes to mind: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It may sound clichéd, but most of the time things are clichéd because they’re true. To me, this quote means putting your values into action. Don’t just wish the world was better, incorporate those changes into your own life. Don’t be afraid to lead change in big and small ways. It’s scary to be first, but if it’s important to you, you can’t wait for someone else to do it.

About The Author

Sara Veltkamp

Sara Veltkamp

Vice President

Sara lives in Chicago, Illinois and is Minerva's vice president. She takes a lead role in all aspects of Minerva Strategies’ smart communication strategies and implementation. She loves a challenge and is obsessed with learning new things, from how to use new platforms and tools for storytelling to languages like Amharic, French, or Farsi to mastering a difficult yoga pose. She applies this energy and curiosity to all clients’ communication challenges. Learn more about Sara.