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Bidding Farewell to Joanie Shields, Senior Vice President and Fellowship Program Officer

By Coya Pair

In June 2024, Joanie Shields, Senior Vice President and Fellowship Program Officer, will depart from El Pomar Foundation after four years of service. During her tenure at the Foundation, Joanie has directed the Fellowship program and provided strategic leadership to Foundation programs including Fellowship Recruiting, Alumni Relations, the Internship, Penrose Organizational and Professional Leadership Experience (PeOPLE), and the Northwest Regional Council.

Under Joanie’s leadership, this role has evolved from being primarily focused on the Fellowship and its Alumni network, to a broader scope that supports professional development and leadership initiatives across the Foundation. This shift was due to the experiences and skills Joanie brought to the Foundation after a 20-year long career at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), where she facilitated customized leadership development solutions and coached individuals and teams. It also has created a natural opportunity for strategic alignment of these Foundation programs to enhance effectiveness and efficiency.

“At CCL, I was lucky enough to work with leaders at all levels, in all industry sectors,” she said. “It really gave me an understanding of the challenges of leadership from multiple perspectives.”

While Joanie had worked with many nonprofits and foundations while at CCL, moving into a role that primarily supports the philanthropic and funder space was a learning curve for her.

“I had this really strong, diverse foundation of skillsets and experiences, but it was about narrowing it to philanthropy and young professionals,” she said.

When Joanie arrived at the Foundation, the Fellowship was at an inflection point. A landscape analysis had just been completed by the Fellowship Alumni-owned consulting group, Disruption Advisors (then called Whiteriver Strategies), which represented findings from Trustees, Staff, Alumni, and Community Leaders to provide a strategic roadmap that resulted in implementing important changes to the Fellowship program. Because of this, it was a perfect time for a shift in leadership. Joanie brought an outside perspective to help build what had been successful, and jettison what had not. Joanie’s biggest accomplishments include enhancing professional development opportunities for staff and Fellows, as well as overhauling the Fellowship and Internship recruitment process.

Additionally, Joanie brought a level of transparency, collaboration, equanimity, and vulnerability to the Fellowship. During the summer of 2023, she told the Fellows that while the work they do is challenging, it is important they connect with one another and have fun. That Fellowship class then listed “have a blast” as their top priority throughout their 2nd year. It was clear that the smiles and laughter in Penrose House multiplied from that moment forward.

“I really tried to encourage people to step into vulnerability however they felt comfortable, because I think it accelerates your sense of belonging and how you feel about the people you work with,” she said. “It’s not necessarily about opening up and bearing our soul, but about speaking our truth and listening to others.”

This way of leading has helped Joanie develop strong connections with people at the Foundation, which she said is a generative space where people truly care about each other. She said that while she will miss El Pomar, her work, and its people, she plans to stay in touch with Fellows and support them even after her departure.

Working with Fellows has been one of the highlights of Joanie’s role at the Foundation. Not only have they “kept her relevant,” but it has also allowed her to reflect on her time as a young professional, and what she would have told her 20-something self.

“So many leaders never really have the formative experience of being mentored, coached, or learning in a safe environment or within a peer group,” she said. “I think their professional journey is very different because of that. What I learned is they were thirsty to belong to a group of people who have similar challenges and experiences.”

Joanie added that the Fellowship is important to those who participate, as well as the Foundation and state of Colorado as a whole.

“We’re growing people who care about communities and care about issues, and I think that’s a multiplier effect,” she said. “It’s an amazing opportunity that I hope continues for a long time.”

Foundation staff and Fellows alike commend Joanie for the time and care she poured into all the programs and people she touched over the last four years.

“Joanie has made a tremendous impact on the leadership development of Fellows, staff, and community leaders around the state of Colorado,” Matt Carpenter, El Pomar COO and Fellowship Class of 1999, said. “While I wish she would be with us for many more years, I know Joanie’s impact over the past four years is going to last for a lifetime for all she has served.”

After her departure, Joanie will continue to reside in Colorado Springs and enjoy a slow summer away from schedules and agendas, where she can partake in many of the outdoor activities Colorado has to offer. Come fall 2024, Joanie will return to consulting and reactivate her coaching and facilitation practice.

Thank you, Joanie, for all the wisdom you shared during your time at El Pomar. You will be missed!

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