At the end Women’s History Month, we interviewed Kennari Consulting’s new President and CEO, Laura Kruisenga. Laura has been with Kennari for over 10 years, most recently as COO, and has worked with many nonprofit organizations in West Michigan since Sandi Frost Steensma founded the company.
Kennari Consulting: How would you describe your leadership style?
Laura: I adapt to each client and build relationships. I have high expectations, but I’m willing to help! I think it’s important to have fun too; we spend a lot of time at work so if it’s not fun then what are we doing?
KC: What made you want to pursue a career in fundraising consulting?
L: I didn’t start with consulting in mind, though I knew I wanted to go into fundraising when I was in college. I had a great interaction with a friend who was moving to Haiti (which was cool – but not for me!). He said “For every person who is doing something on the ground, it takes 20 people behind them organizing, supporting, and managing the office side. Maybe that’s a space you can make a difference.” That was a pivotal conversation in my 20s. I completed four different nonprofit internships in college. My family has also been involved in faith-based ministries and nonprofits. By my junior year, I figured out the fundraising piece was for me. I’m an opportunist in some ways, so I knew every nonprofit organization needed fundraising.
KC: What goals do you hope to achieve as President and CEO?
L: We always value our team and I want to make sure our team is growing, rewarded, and in a place where they feel good about their work and the company; that’s a priority and has to continue. We also try to be more intentional with identifying the nonprofits who are creating change. How can we help them do that? We also want to grow our team and add a new lens; we don’t have a person of color on our staff, and we want to change that. It adds a lens and a perspective we just don’t have right now. We have diversity in other ways, and we have seen the value of that, so we know that it’s valuable for us.
KC: What advice would you give to those in the nonprofit workforce?
L: It is hard work – and we recognize that. Continuing to advocate for better compensation and better benefits is important; overhead should not be a bad word. The nonprofit sector is behind in that, so it’s important to encourage people to not only advocate for themselves, but not feel bad about it. It’s okay that you’re getting paid to do a job that is very valuable. For the younger workforce, some of it is making sure you understand the scope and purpose of the position before you advocate. Younger professionals tend to have a harder time advocating for themselves because they don’t know their value to the organization from the get-go.
KC: What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?
L: Well, I’m not a risk taker so my list is pretty short. Certainly purchasing the company was a big one – and committing to the ownership of Kennari was significant to me.
KC: What do you do for fun?
L: I like what I do as a job, so on some level I don’t need as many outlets. My family and I are pretty active. I exercise regularly; I play tennis and pickleball. We have a pool at home, so I like to sit in the sun and swim. My daughters and I play basketball together in the spring and summer time.
KC: What do you think sets Kennari apart from other consulting firms in West Michigan regarding Fundraising Consulting?
L: One thing is that all of our consulting staff has worked in a nonprofit. I think that makes us really unique and effective because we can better understand some of the challenges (especially from a relationship-building perspective) because we have been there. We also have a team approach, and that’s not a norm in the consulting world. We have a variety of experts, and we can change the team that works with each client over time, which is valuable.
From Kennari’s beginning, Laura has been a force of leadership on Kennari team and in Fundraising Consulting. Kennari Consulting continues to reflect on the impact of the women on our team, who we serve, and our partners in the community.