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Speaker Biographies

Keynote Speakers

Kate Barr is president and CEO of Propel Nonprofits, whose mission is to fuel the impact and effectiveness of nonprofits with guidance, expertise and capital. She oversees strategic and business planning, development and external relations. She led the merger of Nonprofits Assistance Fund and MAP for Nonprofits in 2017 to create a premier resource for nonprofits. She is a national leader, speaker and writer on nonprofit strategy and finance. Before joining the organization in 2000, Kate was a bank executive and an arts administrator. She has served on numerous nonprofit boards, currently for Borealis Philanthropy, and the Jerome and Camargo Foundations.

Aisha Benson is president and chief executive officer of Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), a nonprofit lender, consultant, and advocate who has worked for more than 40 years to strengthen nonprofits and improve the way money flows to social good. Prior to NFF, Aisha was COO for TruFund Financial Services, a CDFI serving historically disadvantaged small businesses. Aisha holds leadership positions on several key industry boards and is a social sector advisor to the Economic Opportunity Coalition. She holds a B.A. in psychology, Cum Laude from Columbia University, a certificate in social impact management and leadership from the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, a certificate through a Citi/OFN Sponsored Leadership Training Program for CDFI Executives at Wharton University and is an ordained minister of the Gospel.

Renay Dossman is president and CEO of Neighborhood Development Center. Renay and her husband are the founders of Affirmation House, a nonprofit for homeless men that provides housing and services to eliminate homelessness. In in 2021, Renay was named a Person to Know by Twin Cities Business Magazine and was a Women in Business awardee for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. She serves on the Destination Northside Committee and works on the real estate/development group for GroundBreak Coalition. She participates in the Anti-Racism and Economic Justice Trust and is a member of the African American Alliance of CDFI CEOs. Renay serves as a board member for Finnovation Lab and Build from Within Alliance. She is also a mentor for the Career Mentor Program at the Hamline University School of Business.

Theresa McCormick is the executive director of The Good Acre. Since joining the organization in 2022, Theresa is proud to have led the team through its largest season in the organization's history and is excited as The Good Acre continues to scale from a startup nonprofit to a durable, lasting organization, serving more farmers and unlocking economic opportunity for farmers and food producers that transforms the food system. Prior to joining The Good Acre, Theresa spent nearly a decade working at Second Harvest Heartland. The COVID-19 pandemic only further underscored her belief: real food security is when everyone in our community can thrive.

Corey Smith is the chief financial officer at KOOTASCA Community Action, an anti-poverty agency and nonprofit human service organization in northern Minnesota (serving Itasca and Koochiching Counties). Corey is an experienced nonprofit accounting and financial professional, as well as a licensed certified public accountant and nationally certified ROMA (Results Oriented Management and Accountability) implementer. Corey is also deeply interested in the risk management and leadership fields and is passionate about advancing the rural Minnesota business environment.

Breakout Session Speakers

Gaye Adams Massey is the chief executive officer of YWCA St. Paul. Prior to her role with YWCA St. Paul, Gaye served as a senior deputy general counsel for UnitedHealth Group, and general counsel of its Ovations division. Previously, she served as vice president & general counsel for QualChoice Health Plan, was a senior counsel at Aetna Inc., and practiced with the law firm of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C. Gaye is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, serves on the board of Medica, and is a trustee of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She is a member of the Ramsey County Workforce Innovation Board, the President’s advisory council of Saint Paul College, and the Partnership Council of St. Paul Promise Neighborhood.

In his role at Abdo, Steve Anseth leads the firm’s nonprofit segment. Prior to going into public accounting, Steve spent nearly 15 years working for a large nonprofit organization, giving him the experience that helps him understand his clients’ organizations from the inside out. He has an in-depth understanding of how—and why—nonprofits operate. Steve is passionate about helping nonprofits succeed by improving their operations and internal controls. Steve joined Abdo in 2013 and has more than 25 years of experience working in and for nonprofit organizations. Steve enjoys public speaking, and regularly presents at events for the Minnesota CPA Society, Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, National Business Institute, and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

Before joining MN Film & TV as executive director, Melodie Bahan served as V.P. of communications for Artspace where she developed an integrated communications plan to advance Artspace’s brand identity and increase the visibility of its projects and priorities. She also served as leader of community engagement activities throughout the U.S., developing relationships with artists, funders, government officials, and community stakeholders. Previously, she served as director of communications for the Guthrie Theater, supervising press relations for all aspects of the Theater, including the work on the stage as well as construction and opening of the Jean Nouvel-designed Guthrie. Prior to that, Melodie lived in New York, where she served as president of the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women and worked in city government and on political campaigns.

Darrell Beauford is an accounting & finance consultant with Propel Nonprofits. Darrell brings significant accounting experience to his work directly with clients at Propel. He was mostly recently with the Neighborhood Development Center in Minneapolis.

Dawne Brown White is the executive director of COMPAS, an organization dedicated to delivering creative experiences that unleash the potential in all of us. Coming up on her 10th anniversary, she thought she had mastered the art and science of leadership, then the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd changed our organizations and industry forever. A native of Canada, Dawne started her career in corporate before becoming a program manager and fundraising professional for organizations like University of Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, and Girl Scouts. She seeks to use her superpower daily and is dedicated to closing the racial wealth gap by doing whatever she can, whenever she can; knowing small steps will add up to big outcomes. She resolutely believes that everyone can take steps to advance equity.

An accountant who started her career with KPMG in San Francisco, Mary Cleary moved into accounting roles with nonprofits and recognized a broader opportunity to support mission-driven organizations. In 2002, she launched Studio501 (previously Cleary Consulting Group), an accounting and fiscal management services firm for nonprofits. Her Minneapolis agency serves more than 100 nonprofit organizations across a variety of fields including arts, social services, public policy, education, health, and environment. Clients say she’s more than a consultant; she serves as a financial partner, understanding each organization’s mission and how to use their limited resources to make the biggest community impact.

Sarah Clyne is the executive director for EquaSpace, a start-up nonprofit center that will house 30-40 small to mid-size organizations in downtown St. Paul. Prior to EquaSpace, she served as the executive director of Northside Funders Group, a funder collaborative that makes strategic investments in North Minneapolis, as well as the executive director for the Domestic Abuse Project, where she helped establish an innovative and transformational birth-to-3 therapy program and engaged in projects with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis to end gender-based violence. In addition, Sarah served as executive director of Joyce Preschool, which was awarded the Nonprofit Excellence Award in 2013. Sarah serves as chair of Propel Nonprofits and Pollen Midwest and is on the boards of Gender Justice and Serve Minnesota.

Melinda Conness, co-founder of Nonprofit Mavens, believes in the collective power of people to do good in the world. A keen communicator with a laser-sharp strategic mind, Melinda loves connecting people, solving big problems, and distilling them into an afternoon checklist. She has over 30 years’ experience in the nonprofit section, applying those skills to finance, operations, human resources, board governance, policy development, and more. Knowledgeable and empathetic to the realities of fulfilling many roles in one organization, she approaches problems specifically and holistically. Melinda graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon with a major in psychology, and a minor in gender studies. She also has a mini-MBA in nonprofit management from St. Thomas University.

Christine DiMenna is a signing director at CLA.  Christine has spent her entire career focused on nonprofits.  She worked in assurance for the first 20 years of her career, providing audit and tax services to nonprofit organizations.  She recently transitioned to CLA’s Specialty Tax Business Incentives Consulting group and runs the daily operations of the national Employee Retention Credit team.

Shanaya Dungey
is a strategic thought leader known for being a results-driven, transformational, truth-teller. Since 2020 she has led the organizational health and effectiveness of finance, operations, and HR functions at the African American Leadership Forum where she currently serves as chief operating officer and served as co-interim CEO in 2022 during a 6-month transition in leadership. For more than 15 years she has partnered across sectors including nonprofit, government, corporations, and the arts community to implement systems of change that include programmatic development, building organizational cultures, strategic efficiency, and operational excellence. Her work has been awarded competitive opportunities including being selected to represent the Twin Cities region as part of the Minnesota Young American Leaders Program in 2023.

Mary Ann Ehlshlager, owner of Ehlshlager Consulting, provides strategy and finance consulting services to nonprofits. Before founding Ehlshlager Consulting, Mary Ann worked within Propel Nonprofits in Minneapolis and 501 Commons in Seattle to design and innovate programs which help sustain nonprofits’ mission impact. Mary Ann has served in executive roles in nonprofit theatres across the country, as managing director of Seattle Children’s Theatre, Delaware Theatre Company, and The Pearl in New York. Prior to that, she worked as theatre manager of Broadway’s Studio 54 and as project manager of the Guthrie Theater’s “21st Century Dream Factory” on the banks of the Mississippi River. She holds an M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts and a B.A. from the University of Virginia.

Deb Ervin holds an M.A. in arts and cultural management from Saint Mary’s University, and a B.A. from the University of Minnesota where she majored in theater. Deb is the operations manager for zAmya Theater Project, a nonprofit that uses the combination of lived experience and artistic expression to build community and advocacy for housing justice. She’s had the pleasure of working with many of the cultural gems in the Twin Cities, including serving as interim development director for The Cedar Cultural Center, as events manager for the Midtown Global Market, as associate director for In the Heart of the Beast Puppetry and Mask Theatre, and more. Deb also has two decades of experience as a stage manager for live music, theater, and dance.

Theresa Gardella serves as vice president of programs and strategy for Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities. Theresa also currently serves as vice chair of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits board of directors. She served as a commissioner for the City of Roseville, was an inaugural member of GEO’s Change Leaders in Philanthropy and a member of the 2012 Shannon Leadership program. Prior to joining Nexus in 2008, Theresa worked with domestic and international nonprofits, coalitions and government entities, helping to strengthen their capacity to implement systems change. She holds a master of arts degree in international relations from American University in Washington, D.C., and a bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Connecticut.

Megan Genest Tarnow is the nonprofit industry lead at High Rock Accounting following their acquisition of her firm, The Mobius Group, in 2021. Megan is a certified nonprofit accounting professional, an advanced certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor, a member of the elite Intuit Trainer Writer Network, and a Top 100 ProAdvisor in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Her passion as a well-respected community leader led to the launch of her Facebook group - QuickBooks for Nonprofits - in 2018; it now has over 7,300 members comprised of accounting and nonprofit professionals. Megan is fiercely committed to rock-solid, actionable financials for nonprofits, and finds that the same tools can empower small business.

Molly Gezella-Baranczyk currently serves as executive director of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association. Her 24 years of experience in the animal welfare space have focused on continuously improving animal welfare through education and advocacy for the professionals in the field. Molly earned her undergraduate degree in animal biology at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay, and earned her master of public affairs degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, with a concentration in nonprofit management and leadership.

Bethany Gladhill is an arts and nonprofit management consultant with a wide range of experience. After almost two decades working with theaters in the Twin Cities (Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the Jungle, Nautilus Music-Theater, among others), she founded Gladhill Rhone LLC 12 years ago and has not looked back since. Her clients range from theaters to labor unions, human service organizations to think tanks, film to preschools. She’s been described as a “swiss army knife” of nonprofit management, with skills ranging from financials to strategic planning, with some evaluation, fundraising, HR, and operations thrown in. She usually she serves as an “embedded consultant” that works within an organization to affect change.

Alex Hengel is a principal in the nonprofit group of CLA serving clients firmwide. Alex has worked in many areas of assurance and tax, as well as fraud investigations and consulting engagements. Alex specializes in the religious organizations industry segment of CLA's nonprofit practice.  The past two years, Alex has focused on helping churches and other religious organizations navigate Employee Retention Credit eligibility – particularly under shut-downs - and supporting them in claiming credits.

Whitney Herrington brings almost 15 years of human resources consulting and management to her work in centering people in nonprofit and philanthropic missions. Whitney helps build and drive sustainable capacity for organizations by developing, strengthening, and delivering sound and practical HR solutions and practices that are values-based, equity-focused, and human-centered. Prior to her independent consulting work, she served as the E..V.P. & chief operating officer at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and director of people & technology at the Southern Poverty Law Center. She earned a B.B.A. in finance from Western Michigan University and an MBA from Georgia State University.

Allysen Hoberg is the program director at PRISM oversees the Marketplace Food Shelf, Case Management services, Housing Programs, Children’s Programming, as well as advocacy work in the community regarding food insecurity and affordable housing. Allysen spent 20 years working with unhoused and precariously housed families and individuals, beginning at the Sustainable Resources Center doing lead paint remediation in low-income homes, Salvation Army Harbor Light Center as the director of the special needs and women’s shelter, and then on to St. Stephen’s Human Services as a shelter advocate. She later became the shelter director and oversaw the operation of two homeless shelters for men. Allysen served on the Richfield Planning Commission from 2016-2019, and was the chair of the Commission in 2019. 

Veena Iyer is the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, which provides direct legal representation and advocacy in immigration matters for low-income clients of all nationalities in the State of Minnesota. Clients are assisted in the following areas: family petitioning, asylum, deportation and removal defense, issues of arrest and bonds, applying for U.S. Citizenship, special cases under the Violence Against Women Act, U-Visas, and other immigration matters.

Samantha Jacobson is the chief financial officer at Breaking Free, a nonprofit organization seeking to end homelessness for women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation. In her role, she oversees all aspects of the organization’s finances, including the development and management of budgets, preparation of financial statements and reporting to Breaking Free’s board and the public. In her role she also facilitates grant and contract compliance and human resources for Breaking Free. Samantha has nearly 10 years of finance and administrative experience with nonprofit organizations in east-central and the metropolitan areas of Minnesota working with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Samantha holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in human resources management from Metro State.

Curtis Klotz, certified public accountant, is co-founder and chief learning officer at Diverge Finance Cooperative. As a presenter, Curt shares business model strategies for nonprofits and a commitment to equity in financial leadership that have emerged from nearly 40 years of direct work in nonprofit organizations. Prior to founding Diverge, Curt held roles as director of nonprofit innovation at CLA, V.P. of finance & C.F.O. at Propel Nonprofits, and director of finance and administration at Indian Law Resource Center. He was a founding board member and past chairperson of the Montana Nonprofit Association. Curt has contributed articles to Nonprofit Quarterly, various CPA journals, and was the principal author of CLA’s Innovation in Nonprofit Finance blog.

Liz Kuoppala’s commitment to upward mobility and wholeness is deeply rooted in her own personal odyssey out of poverty and trauma. For more than twenty years, she has led organizations and advocacy to be more inclusive and effective in creating opportunity for people. Liz currently works as executive director at MAHUBE-OTWA Community Action Partnership in Detroit Lakes. She serves on national, state, and local committees focused on service integration, leadership, and multi-generational strategies to end poverty and homelessness. She holds degrees in chemistry and political leadership. Liz lives and works in rural Minnesota.

Michelle Ness has been the executive director of PRISM, located in Golden Valley, since 2013. She is a licensed social worker and enthusiastically brings a commitment to high quality nonprofit leadership and service delivery that is empowering and dignified. Michelle has worked in the fields of hunger, domestic violence, housing, case management, evaluation, youth, refugee resettlement, adult education, and more. Michelle is a member of the State of Minnesota Human Services Performance Council, immediate past president of the Golden Valley Rotary Club, secretary of her homeowners association board, co-captain of her neighborhood safety watch, and provides licensure supervision for social workers.

Sara Nevison is an accountant with Propel Nonprofits. Sara began her career managing nonprofit programs committed to advancing justice through education and workforce development. Her career path soon lead her to accounting where she saw the powerful impact that nonprofit finance and capital can have on programming, client services, and ultimately justice.

Ellie O’Brien is the vice president & chief financial officer at Propel Nonprofits. She has over 20 years’ experience in accounting and finance in a variety of business and nonprofit settings. Before joining Propel in 2022, she was the director of finance at a domestic violence shelter for six years where she managed multiple county, state, and federal governments grants. At Propel, she uses her experience and financial tools to support a variety of organizations and their missions.

An avowed finance and operations geek, Luciano Patiño is co-founder and co-CEO at Diverge Finance. He started his career working at NorthstarMLS, helping realtors make the best possible use of the tech tools at their disposal. Since then, he has worked with several nonprofits, all with different business models, on their technology and financial infrastructure. As a consultant, Luciano leads workshops on cultural competency, using the Intercultural Development Inventory and other tools. He is the recipient of the Moxie Award for Community Leadership from PFund Foundation and is a former Humphrey Policy fellow.

Jacob Petrie holds a bachelors of business administration degree with an accounting major and economics minor from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Jacob is a certified public accountant and has held various roles at social service organizations and public accounting firms, which have included professional experiences such as auditing, outsourced accounting, and financial management and reporting for nonprofit and for-profit entities. At PRISM, he has oversight of all things financially and operationally related. Jacob enjoys the variety of his workload at PRISM which can range from facilities tasks like snow removal to the preparing and presenting financial statements. Jacob is excited to share more about the culture of collaboration at PRISM, especially as it relates to grants management.         

James A. Rice has over 40 years’ experience in the development of leadership teams and boards in public and private health and social welfare organization in 35 countries. He has been president of The Governance Institute; project director of a $200 million USAID project building boards in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; and serves on the faculty of the business school of Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Jim serves on several boards: Minnesota International NGOs; The Notre Dame School of Law’s Religious Liberty Initiative; Behavior at Work Collaborative; IntraHealth in DC; Children’s Heart Link, and Crescent Cove. As chairman of his family’s Akadimi Foundation, he has produced a free mobile app for board best practices from the named Wisdom to Govern.

Shétu Rose is co-founder and co-CEO at Diverge Finance Cooperative with 18+ years of financial management experience. Over the years she has led administrative and strategic management teams for local and international organizations in the nonprofit sector. Prior to Diverge, Shétu was V.P. of finance and operations at Center for Economic Inclusion and director of finance at AchieveMpls. She has a wealth of international experience in the humanitarian sector, having worked in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. She is a passionate advocate for equity and human rights and is committed to bringing about sustainable economic change for families and communities. She serves on the board of The Cedar Cultural Center and One Village Partners.

Nonoko Sato was appointed as Minnesota Council of Nonprofits’ second executive director in 2021, following MCN’s founder Jon Pratt. Prior to this role, she served as MCN’s associate director since 2018. In partnership with MCN’s board, staff, and key stakeholders, Nonoko charts MCN’s strategic response to organizational and sector challenges. She currently serves on the boards of Coalition of Asian American Leaders and Theater Mu, and as a member of Equity Diversity Impact Assessment committee of Minneapolis Public Schools. Prior to joining MCN, Nonoko served for nine years as executive director of SMART, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that champions education equity by supporting students in overcoming systemic barriers on their journey to a college degree. Originally from Tokyo and Chicago, Nonoko graduated from Carleton College.

Sara Tomee has a history of working in both public and private sectors, with significant understanding of accounting principles for many different types of industries. She graduated with honors from Minnesota School of Business. Sara chose an accounting major because her mother was a math and accounting teacher, which sparked her interest in pursuing a career in accounting. She is passionate about being able to translate numbers to help people understand their financial condition. Sara has always loved helping others and being a part of a mission driven organization that really fits her goals and values.

Sonia Torres is a seasoned HR practitioner who has worked with a wide variety of for- and nonprofit organizations. A certified compensation professional, Sonia brings to her work a deep expertise in compensation data, management, analysis, and design across broad-based, executive, and variable/incentive compensation. Most recently, she served as compensation manager for Asahi Kasei and prior to that, compensation consultant to a variety of clients at Culpepper and Associates, Hay Group (now Korn Ferry), and Buck Consultants. She also served in a board capacity as the vice president, programs for the Atlanta Area Compensation Association. She earned her B.B.A. from Georgia State University.

Kelsey Vatsaas is the managing principal of the national nonprofit industry at CLA. Over her career, Kelsey has been a nonprofit auditor, strategic consultant, assessment provider, and consulting C.F.O.  In her current role, Kelsey works to bring the firm’s national resources, teams, and experiences to over 10,000 nonprofits for whom CLA provides a variety of services.  During the start of the pandemic, Kelsey became a leader in the firm’s efforts to understand, educate, and consult with clients on all types of economic relief including Paycheck Protection Program loans and Employee Retention Tax Credits.  Kelsey has personally helped over 150 nonprofits evaluate eligibility and claim credits.

Joe Wallis helps nonprofits solve complex accounting issues so that they can stay focused on their missions. Joe is a certified public accountant at Abdo and works exclusively with nonprofit organizations. Whether providing fractional C.F.O. services, outsourced accounting, internal control consulting, or performing single audits, he is dedicated to serving nonprofits. Joe found his passion for nonprofits while serving people with disabilities for many years. Now, as a member of a public accounting firm, Joe believes that his experiences serving people with disabilities brings a unique perspective to the firm and his clients. Joe is an active member of the Minnesota Society of Certified Public Accountants and is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Alisha Weis serves as the advancement director at PRISM. She has over seven years of experience in program development, management, and fundraising. She received her M.S.W. from Augsburg University and previously worked at a youth homeless shelter in Minneapolis, where she oversaw the intern and volunteer program, as well as the 24/7 crisis call and text line.

Sara Wessling (she/her) is Propel Nonprofits training director. Over the past two decades, she’s worked with nonprofit organizations across the state of Minnesota delivering training, technical assistance, and consulting support in areas ranging from volunteer engagement to financial leadership. Supporting the work of nonprofit organizations and their leaders is her passion. In her career Sara has worked in roles developing programs at a national childcare association, a state support organization for Habitat for Humanity, and an association of leaders of volunteers. Sara has a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Hamline University.

Chalonne Wilson has a love for solving complex challenges and puzzles. Using skills she gained from her lived experience as a Black woman combined with those from her background in community engagement, leadership development, systems-change, human resources, and finance, Chalonne works hard in her role to center people and culture while building organizational systems in the midst of heavy change and growth. Prior to her current role, Chalonne worked across sectors as a consultant for nonprofits, political coalitions, and other agencies and as a program manager for new and emerging community-centered programs. In 2017, she turned her focus to the internal functions of organizations; and stepped into her current role as the V.P. of operations in culture. As an undergraduate, Chalonne studied Spanish and anthropology at the University of Minnesota.

Steve Zimmerman is the principal of Spectrum Nonprofit Services, a nonprofit management consulting firm specializing in adaptive strategies that integrate impact, finance, and people. Steve is the co-author of two books published by Jossey-Bass, the award-winning The Sustainability Mindset and Nonprofit Sustainability. He also was a contributor on strategic planning for Nonprofit Management 101 published in 2019.  Steve’s writing has appeared in Harvard Business Review, The Nonprofit Quarterly, and various BoardSource publications. Steve’s broad nonprofit experience includes serving as a chief financial officer, development director and associate director at organizations where he performed turnarounds resulting in increased financial sustainability and programmatic reach. He is a member of the LEAP Ambassador Community, a certified public accountant and earned a B.A. from Claremont McKenna College and an MBA from Yale University.

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