Passionate for your Mission and Vision: A successful nonprofit starts with a clear mission and vision that serves as the guiding force behind its activities. Define your organization’s purpose, goals, and the impact you aim to make. This clarity will help attract passionate individuals who align with your mission and are enthusiastic about contributing to your cause.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Katie Callahan Neginskiy.

Katie is from the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, but is currently based in Los Angeles. She founded and directs the nonprofit, International Women’s Resource Center, which provides educational and community building programming to refugees and immigrants. She has spent the last 15 years working in education and refugee resettlement.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

The first thing that comes to mind is the dichotomy between being raised in a very small town in the American South, with little diversity, and then meeting my husband, who is a Jewish refugee from the former Soviet Union, and moving to an urban area. I joke that I have no work/life balance, as both my professional and personal life revolve around linguistic differences and cross cultural communication.

Being married to a refugee has had a profound impact on motivation and perspective when starting a nonprofit agency that serves refugees and immigrants. I have a personal connection to and empathy for the experiences, challenges, and aspirations of refugees. I have seen the unique needs, cultural nuances, and complexities faced by refugees and immigrant communities. This firsthand exposure enables a deeper understanding of the challenges, such as language barriers, cultural adjustments, trauma, or legal hurdles, which can inform the development of targeted programs and services. This insight can ensure that the nonprofit agency is better equipped to address the specific needs and support the successful integration of refugee and immigrant women. Additionally, being married to a refugee has significantly strengthened my commitment and motivation to serve refugee and immigrant women and fuels a drive to create positive change and ensure equal opportunities. This personal connection often shapes the organization’s mission, programs, and advocacy initiatives, ensuring they are responsive, culturally sensitive, and impactful.

My exposure to so many international populations has also helped me learn more about myself and reflect on my own upbringing. As someone from a small Appalachian town who has recently moved to Los Angeles, I believe it is crucial for me to hold on to my roots despite the dramatic change in environment. My roots in Appalachia have shaped my identity and have played a significant role in defining who I am as a person. The values, traditions, and sense of community that I grew up with are the foundation of my character. They have instilled in me a strong work ethic, humility, and a deep appreciation for nature. These values are the essence of who I am, and holding on to them will help me stay grounded and true to myself. Furthermore, holding on to my roots is a way of honoring the rich cultural heritage of Appalachia. Appalachia has a vibrant history, filled with traditions, music, cuisine, and stories that are unique to the region. By preserving and sharing these cultural aspects, I can contribute to a broader understanding and appreciation of the diversity that exists in the United States. It allows me to educate others about the beauty and resilience of my Appalachian community and challenge any stereotypes or misconceptions that may exist.

I also want my children to understand the background of both their parents. We each bring our own set of traditions, customs, and values, forming the foundation of their cultural identity. Embracing and celebrating these diverse backgrounds allows them to honor my roots, appreciate the richness of their heritage, and develop a profound connection to their ancestry. Equally important is recognizing the third culture, the unique blend that emerges from Los Angeles, where they are being raised. It is a vibrant fusion of different backgrounds, languages, and perspectives that contribute to the fabric of our city. Understanding and engaging with this third culture provides them with a broader worldview, empathy, and a genuine appreciation for diversity. It nurtures their ability to connect with others, bridging gaps and building bridges of understanding and acceptance.

The second life experience that comes to mind is being diagnosed with breast cancer during the pandemic. The experience of chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries absolutely contributed to my drive in founding this nonprofit organization. Going through a challenging experience like breast cancer can deepen empathy and understanding for others facing difficult circumstances. It can create a strong desire to support and uplift individuals who are also going through challenging situations, such as refugee and immigrant women. Also, overcoming a serious health issue can bring a newfound sense of purpose and a desire to make a meaningful impact. The experience of facing and overcoming adversity can ignite a commitment to contribute positively to the lives of others. Going through a difficult health journey can highlight the importance of community and the support networks available. It can foster a desire to create a supportive community for others who may feel isolated or disconnected. Starting a nonprofit agency can become a means to build connections and provide a safe space where refugee and immigrant women can find support, empowerment, and a sense of belonging. While each individual’s experience will differ, breast cancer or any significant personal challenge can serve as a catalyst that can contribute to a deeper understanding, empathy, and a strong drive to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others facing their own trials and hardships.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

As a successful leader, I believe that three character traits have been most instrumental to my success: enthusiasm, curiosity, and organization.

Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is a powerful driving force that fuels motivation, inspires others, and fosters a positive work environment. Being passionate and enthusiastic about my work has allowed me to tackle challenges with energy and perseverance. It has helped me maintain a sense of optimism and rally my team, even during difficult times. Enthusiasm also instills a sense of purpose and dedication in others, encouraging them to strive for excellence and contribute their best efforts.

Curiosity: Curiosity is the foundation of continuous learning and growth. A curious mindset allows me to approach situations with an open mind, eager to explore new possibilities and seek innovative solutions. It drives me to ask questions, challenge assumptions, and stay abreast of industry trends and developments. Curiosity not only expands my own knowledge and understanding but also encourages a culture of learning within my team. It fosters creativity, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace change, which are crucial for success in today’s rapidly evolving world.

Organization: Organization is essential for effective leadership and optimal productivity. Being organized helps me prioritize tasks, set clear goals, and manage resources efficiently. It enables me to plan and execute strategies effectively, ensuring that objectives are met on time and within budget. Organization also extends to creating structured systems and processes, fostering transparency and accountability within the team. By maintaining an organized approach, I can minimize distractions, make informed decisions, and lead by example.

These three character traits — enthusiasm, curiosity, and organization — have played a pivotal role in shaping my leadership journey. They have not only influenced my personal growth but have also had a positive impact on the individuals I lead and the overall success of the teams and organizations I have been a part of. By cultivating these traits, leaders can inspire their teams, drive innovation, and create an environment conducive to growth, collaboration, and achievement.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

Wow! It is hard to narrow it down, as I feel this process has been nothing but a series of daily discoveries! There are three that strike me as the most interesting, surprising, and important:

The Power of Storytelling: Nonprofit leaders often discover the transformative power of storytelling and advocacy in creating awareness, mobilizing support, and driving change. Sharing the stories and experiences of those impacted by their organization’s work can evoke empathy, understanding, and a call to action. Leaders find that storytelling and effective advocacy can spark conversations, challenge misconceptions, and inspire individuals to join their cause. This discovery highlights the importance of communication strategies that amplify the voices of those served by the organization and engage stakeholders, donors, and the wider community in their mission. As a nonprofit founder, I have really needed to focus on strong storytelling techniques, in order to best convey the message of our organization in a way that is more impactful than data.

The Power of Collaboration: One of the most interesting discoveries leaders of nonprofit organizations make is the immense power of collaboration. Building partnerships and alliances with other organizations, community members, businesses, and government entities can lead to innovative solutions, increased resources, and amplified impact. Through collaboration, nonprofit leaders often find that they can achieve more together than they could alone, creating a stronger and more sustainable impact in their communities.

The Resilience and Strength of the Community: Nonprofit leaders often discover the remarkable resilience and strength within the communities they serve. While facing various challenges and adversities, leaders witness the incredible determination, resourcefulness, and potential for growth among community members. This discovery reinforces the importance of community-led initiatives and the need to involve and empower the community in decision-making processes. Nonprofit leaders may also find that the community itself becomes a valuable source of knowledge, inspiration, and support, leading to more effective and sustainable programs.

While these discoveries may vary depending on the nature and focus of the nonprofit organization, they illustrate some of the fascinating insights and realizations that leaders often encounter throughout their leadership journey.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Educating adult female refugees who are new to the United States can make a significant social impact in several ways:

Empowerment and Independence: Education provides women with knowledge, skills, and confidence, empowering them to take control of their lives and make informed decisions. By equipping refugee and immigrant women with language proficiency and employability skills, they become even better equipped to navigate the new society, access employment opportunities, and contribute to their families’ well-being. Education helps break the cycle of dependency and fosters independence, enabling women to lead even more fulfilling and self-sufficient lives.

Building Bridges: Education plays a vital role in building communities for refugee and immigrant women. This promotes social cohesion, reduces isolation, and builds bridges between different cultures. Refugee and immigrant women become active participants in community life, forging connections and fostering understanding among diverse groups.

Economic Stability and Poverty Alleviation: Education equips refugee and immigrant women with the skills needed to access better employment opportunities. By gaining proficiency in the local language, acquiring job-specific training, and developing entrepreneurial skills, refugee and immigrant women increase their chances of securing stable employment or starting their own businesses. This economic stability not only benefits the individuals and their families but also contributes to the overall economic development of their communities.

Health and Well-being: Education provides vital information on health and hygiene practices, reproductive health, nutrition, and disease prevention. By educating refugee and immigrant women, we help them to make informed decisions regarding their health and the well-being of their families. This knowledge helps mitigate health risks, promote healthier lifestyles, and enhance overall community well-being.

Role Modeling and Community Leadership: Refugee and immigrant women can serve as role models for younger generations within their communities. When women are given the opportunity to learn and succeed, they inspire others and challenge traditional gender norms and stereotypes. These educated women can become advocates for change, leading community initiatives, and promoting gender equality, social justice, and women’s rights.

By investing in the education of refugee and immigrant women, we not only enhance their individual lives but also contribute to the broader social fabric. It enables these women to become active participants in society, promotes integration and understanding, and helps build a more inclusive and equitable community. The impact of educating refugee and immigrant women extends far beyond the individual, creating a ripple effect that uplifts families, communities, and society as a whole.

What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?

I could talk about my students at IWRC all day — and I do! I have overcome with joy and enthusiasm for this work every day, and here are a few reasons why:

Empowerment and Transformation: Education has the power to transform lives and empower individuals. When refugee and immigrant women are given access to education, they gain valuable skills, knowledge, and opportunities that can positively impact their lives and the lives of their families. Witnessing the transformation and empowerment that education brings to these women can ignite a deep sense of passion and fulfillment in those who support and advocate for their education.

Breaking the Cycle: Education has the potential to break the cycle of disadvantage and poverty. By providing education to refugee and immigrant women, we offer them a chance to gain economic independence, improve their living conditions, and create a better future for themselves and their families. This prospect of breaking the cycle of disadvantage and promoting upward mobility is a powerful motivator for those passionate about this cause.

Promoting Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Educating refugee and immigrant women aligns with the principles of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Many refugee women face gender-based discrimination and unequal access to education. By advocating for and providing educational opportunities, we contribute to the broader movement for gender equality, enabling women to participate actively in society, pursue their aspirations, and have a voice in decision-making processes.

Creating Social Impact and Building Stronger Communities: Educating refugee and immigrant women has a ripple effect that extends beyond the individual. These women become agents of change within their communities, using their education and skills to contribute to society. They can become role models for their children and inspire other community members. By investing in their education, we create stronger, more resilient communities that benefit from the diverse perspectives, talents, and contributions of these women.

Promoting Social Justice and Human Rights: Education is a fundamental human right, and every individual, regardless of their background or circumstances, deserves access to quality education. Advocating for the education of adult refugee women aligns with the principles of social justice, human rights, and equal opportunities. This passion stems from my belief that education should be accessible to all, and by supporting this cause, we work towards a more inclusive and equitable society.

The combination of personal fulfillment, social impact, empowerment, and the belief in equal opportunities makes this cause particularly compelling for me.

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

In March 2022, we began a program of English language learning for Ukrainian women who were displaced from Ukraine, but were still traveling within Europe. They were all unsure of their next move but they were interested in English classes because a) it can be a useful lingua franca throughout Europe, b) they were considering applying to come to the US or Canada, and/or c) they wanted to feel productive during a time of uncertainty. Each participant was matched with an individual tutor who they met online, but they also met with me for a group English class each week. Over the months, my students continued to move around — some returning to Ukraine, some changing countries in Europe multiple times, some moving to the US or Canada as contemplated — but what was always constant was that they knew no matter where they were, they would be able to see their individual tutors and they would be able to see me and their classmates each week. Some days we did not cover any English grammar or vocabulary, but they were able to talk about what they were experiencing and feeling about the geopolitical issues. Other days they were interested in a distraction from current events and I would present the silliest English language learning games and goofiest American culture topics. The tutoring and the classes served their purpose of teaching English, in fact one student was able to find a job in her chosen field immediately after arriving in Canada thanks to intensive preparation with her tutor, but they also served another, perhaps more important purpose. They provided emotional support and community during a time of intense trauma. They provided a safe space where individuals could find solace, understanding, and a sense of belonging. They provided shared experiences and compassionate connections. These services provided validation, comfort, and the strength to heal and navigate challenges together.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

There are several ways that individuals can help support refugees. Here are three key ways you can make a difference:

1. Donate to and volunteer with refugee organizations: Many organizations work tirelessly to support refugees and provide them with essential resources and services. Donating money or volunteering your time can make a significant impact. Research local and international refugee organizations to find out how you can contribute. You can assist with activities such as language tutoring, job training, healthcare assistance, or simply providing emotional support to refugees.

2. Advocate for refugee rights: Raise awareness about the challenges faced by refugees and advocate for their rights. Educate yourself about refugee issues, and share that knowledge with others. Speak out against discrimination and misconceptions surrounding refugees, and promote empathy and understanding. Engage with your local community, attend or organize events, and contact your elected representatives to express your support for refugee rights and policies that are fair and humane.

3. Education and Awareness: Increase your own knowledge and understanding of the challenges faced by refugee women in the United States. Educate yourself about the root causes of displacement, the barriers they encounter in accessing education and employment, and the unique needs and experiences they have. By raising awareness and sharing this knowledge with others, you can help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding refugees, contributing to a more informed and empathetic society.

It would be challenging for individuals in the US to address the root causes that lead to displacement and forced migration but individuals can absolutely play an active role in creating a more inclusive, supportive, and empowering environment for refugees and immigrants to thrive.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”

Based on my experience, here are the five key elements you need to create a successful and effective nonprofit that leaves a lasting legacy, including the crucial factor of enthusiasm:

Passionate for your Mission and Vision: A successful nonprofit starts with a clear mission and vision that serves as the guiding force behind its activities. Define your organization’s purpose, goals, and the impact you aim to make. This clarity will help attract passionate individuals who align with your mission and are enthusiastic about contributing to your cause.

Enthusiastic and Dedicated Team: Enthusiasm is a fundamental ingredient for a successful nonprofit. Surround yourself with a team of individuals who are passionate about the cause and are committed to making a difference. Their enthusiasm will inspire others, foster a positive organizational culture, and drive collective efforts towards achieving your mission.

Planning, Planning and Planning: Develop a strategic plan that outlines your nonprofit’s objectives, strategies, and measurable goals. Establish a roadmap for success, identify key milestones, and regularly evaluate your progress. Effective execution of your plans, coupled with enthusiasm and dedication, will help your organization stay on track and create a lasting impact.

Strong Community Engagement: Engage with your community and build meaningful relationships with stakeholders, including volunteers, donors, partner organizations, and the population you serve. Effective community engagement involves listening to their needs, involving them in decision-making processes, and creating opportunities for collaboration. Enthusiasm and passion for your cause will attract and inspire others to join your efforts.

Sustainable Funding and Resource Management: Establish a sustainable funding strategy to support your nonprofit’s operations and long-term growth. Diversify your funding sources, including individual donations, grants, corporate partnerships, and fundraising events. Effective resource management, including budgeting and financial transparency, ensures the responsible allocation of funds and builds trust with stakeholders.

To create a successful nonprofit that leaves a lasting legacy, you need a clear mission and vision, an enthusiastic and dedicated team, strategic planning and execution, strong community engagement, and sustainable funding and resource management. Infuse enthusiasm throughout your organization, as it will be the driving force that ignites passion, attracts support, and propels your nonprofit’s mission forward.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

The pandemic has undoubtedly reshaped my definition of success in various ways. Before the pandemic, success was often associated with external achievements, career advancements, and material possessions. However, the unprecedented challenges brought by the pandemic have shifted my perspective and highlighted the importance of different aspects of life. Here are a few ways the pandemic has influenced my definition of success:

Health and Well-being: The pandemic has underscored the significance of good health and well-being as the foundation of a fulfilling life. Success now includes prioritizing physical and mental well-being, practicing self-care, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. It has taught me that true success is being able to lead a balanced and healthy life, taking care of oneself and supporting the well-being of others.

Adaptability and Resilience: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Success now includes the ability to navigate through challenging situations, embrace change, and find innovative solutions. It has shown that being able to adapt and bounce back from setbacks is a valuable measure of success.

Connection and Relationships: The pandemic has emphasized the significance of human connection and relationships. Success now includes fostering meaningful connections, nurturing relationships with loved ones, and contributing to the well-being of the community. It has taught me that true success lies in the quality of relationships and the ability to support and uplift others during difficult times.

Personal Growth and Learning: The pandemic has provided an opportunity for personal growth and learning. Success now includes continuously seeking knowledge, developing new skills, and adapting to evolving circumstances. It has shown that embracing a growth mindset and being open to learning and self-improvement are crucial for success in a rapidly changing world.

Gratitude and Perspective: The pandemic has reminded me of the importance of gratitude and perspective. Success now includes appreciating the little things in life, finding joy in simple pleasures, and cultivating a positive mindset. It has taught me to be grateful for what I have, focus on the present moment, and find happiness and contentment amidst challenging circumstances.

The pandemic has expanded my definition of success beyond external achievements and material gains. It has shifted the focus towards health, adaptability, resilience, connections, personal growth, gratitude, and well-being. Ultimately, success is now seen as a holistic and multifaceted concept that encompasses various aspects of life, emphasizing the importance of our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as our relationships and contributions to the world.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

Experiencing setbacks is an inevitable part of life, and finding inspiration to bounce back and move forward can be challenging. However, here are some strategies that can help you get inspired after facing a setback:

Acknowledge and Accept: Start by acknowledging and accepting the setback. It’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment, frustration, or any other emotions that arise. Recognize that setbacks are a natural part of growth and that they offer opportunities for learning and improvement.

Reflect and Learn: Take time to reflect on the setback and analyze what went wrong. Identify the factors that contributed to the setback and consider what you could have done differently. This reflection allows you to gain valuable insights and learn from the experience, which can serve as a catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Seek Support: Reach out to your support system, whether it’s friends, family, mentors, or colleagues. Sharing your setback with others can provide you with a fresh perspective, emotional support, and encouragement. They can offer advice, share their own experiences of overcoming setbacks, and remind you of your strengths and capabilities.

Set Realistic Goals: Set realistic and achievable goals to help you regain momentum. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps. This allows you to make progress gradually and build confidence along the way. Celebrate small victories, as they can provide the motivation needed to continue moving forward.

Find Inspiration from Others: Look for stories of individuals who have overcome setbacks and achieved success. Read books, watch motivational videos, or listen to podcasts that highlight stories of resilience and triumph. Hearing about the journeys of others can inspire and motivate you to persevere despite setbacks.

Cultivate a Positive Mindset: Shift your focus towards a positive mindset. Instead of dwelling on the setback, reframe it as a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. Practice self-affirmation, visualization, and gratitude to cultivate a positive outlook. Surround yourself with positive influences and engage in activities that bring you joy and uplift your spirits.

Take Action: Take proactive steps to move forward. Break the cycle of inertia by taking action, even if it’s small. Progress and forward movement create a sense of momentum and renewed inspiration. Each step you take, no matter how small, contributes to your overall progress and helps you regain confidence and motivation.

Remember, setbacks are temporary and do not define your ultimate success. Embrace setbacks as opportunities for growth, draw inspiration from within and from others, and approach challenges with resilience and determination. With the right mindset and strategies, setbacks can become stepping stones towards even greater achievements.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Natalie Portman! She has been a vocal advocate for women’s rights and empowerment.

Time’s Up Movement: Natalie Portman has been an active supporter of the Time’s Up movement, which aims to combat sexual harassment and gender inequality in the entertainment industry and beyond. She has used her platform to speak out against gender-based discrimination and advocate for safer, more inclusive work environments for women.

Gender Equality in Film: As an actress and filmmaker, Portman has been an advocate for gender equality in the film industry. In 2018, during the 75th Golden Globe Awards, she presented the Best Director category by highlighting the lack of female nominees and saying, “Here are the all-male nominees.” Her statement sparked conversations about the need for greater representation and opportunities for women in the film industry.

Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights: Portman has been an advocate for women’s health and reproductive rights. She has spoken openly about the importance of access to healthcare, including reproductive healthcare and family planning services. Portman has also supported organizations that work towards ensuring women have access to quality healthcare and the right to make choices about their own bodies.

Supporting Female Filmmakers: Portman has actively supported and promoted female filmmakers. In 2018, she launched the Time’s Up “4% Challenge,” urging industry leaders to commit to working with women directors. Through this initiative, she aimed to increase the representation and opportunities for women behind the camera and challenge the gender imbalance in the film industry.

Women’s Education and Empowerment: Portman has been involved in initiatives that promote women’s education and empowerment globally. She has worked with organizations like FINCA, which provides microfinance services to women in developing countries, and the WE Movement, which empowers women and girls through education and social programs.

Philanthropic Efforts: Portman has also been actively involved in philanthropic endeavors that support women’s causes. She has supported organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, which combats discrimination and promotes equality, and the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), which provides financial services to empower low-income women.

Through her activism, public statements, and philanthropy, Natalie Portman has demonstrated a commitment to supporting women’s rights, gender equality, and empowerment. Her efforts have helped raise awareness, challenge the status quo, and advocate for positive change in various spheres of society.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

Dear readers — please follow us on social media @internationalwomenscenter and subscribe to our newsletter on our website We also hope you will consider volunteering with us! We have many volunteering opportunities, both in-person and virtual, for groups or individuals. Additionally, you can check out all the fabulous English language learning resources we are constantly creating at or on social media @curiosityliteracy.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.