Julie Abel has spent 18 years working at national and local nonprofits — and now has settled as executive director of Family Life Services, a 70-year-old nonprofit focused on creating opportunities for single mothers and their children.
Now 38, Abel has been in Colorado Springs for 16 years, and has studied at Liberty University and Colorado Christian University.
She says the toughest part of her job is fundraising in a city with a number of important, nationally recognized nonprofits. But, she says, that’s changing as more nonprofits see the value of collaboration.
“I think you will see more nonprofits, especially faith-based agencies, open to business partnerships like never before,” she says. “In the past, many have been perceived as being insolated, based on our limited services and resources. By networking more with the business community, I think we will be more creative in helping the most vulnerable in our city.”
What made you decide to pursue a career with Family Life Services?
For most of my adult career, I found myself working with large, nationally focused nonprofits — mainly with organizations that served families. I had a great deal of experience with these companies in working to help local communities develop effective marketing and nonprofit best practices.
What began to happen personally, was I started to have a desire to begin to work more on a local level. I’m embarrassed to say I lived here a good 10 years before I even really had any idea what the local needs were in the community.
I started off getting my feet wet by serving at Family Life Services on the board of directors. In 2009, when the organization was searching for a new executive director, the board asked me if I would consider the position. The timing was perfect. Family Life Services was everything that I felt I could throw my gifts and talents into whole-heartedly. I was 100 percent behind the mission, because I had seen firsthand how single mothers and their children’s lives were changed. I was all in.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Getting the word out and fundraising for a nonprofit in this community is challenging. There are so many fantastic organizations and ministries to support. We have a unique blend here in the Springs of national and local charities. It makes for so many options for folks to get behind. We are a very small organization in a large pond, so at times I have found it difficult to get recognition we need.
How do you overcome those challenges?
Family Life Services has been blessed to have a longstanding history in our city. Once people realize who we are, and where we are located, there is a personal connection. I find connecting with people through inviting them to come on site and volunteer first at our facility allows them to become invested and build ownership into our mission — which is to provide families with opportunities for spiritual and emotional healing through counseling, mentoring and training in a secure environment.
Last year when we merged with Women of Courage, another longstanding nonprofit to single mothers in the community, our personal connection with families and volunteers tripled.
Almost everyone has a family member, friend or someone they work with who has struggled through difficult family situations. Our volunteers are able to tap into that felt need and really connect. Usually this translates into beginning to offer financial support. It is all about building relationships, and that is what we do best.
Have any mentors helped your career success?
I have two women who specifically come to mind. Nancy Parker Brummett, a board member for us for nine years, is a local writer and an all-around first class lady. She believed in me during those early days when I stepped into the position for FLS. It meant the world to me to know she had my back.
Debbie Rusch was one of the early board members for the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Colorado, and is currently the board chair for Mercy’s Gate. Deb is a senior strategist for Compassion International. Over the years I gleaned many leadership lessons from her. I find myself modeling a great deal of her management style and approach.
The common theme for both of these mentors was they taught me it is OK to be comfortable in my skin and to make mistakes. Success does not happen overnight, so they both stressed the importance of character in adversity and making good decisions.
How will nonprofit services like FLS change in the coming years?
I believe you are going to see more of us working together and collaborating. We have to. The community wants to see us networking and providing cross-functional programs and services. This will attract a new generation of supporters and open up more opportunities to allow folks to engage in our work.
How do you relax when not working?
I love writing. I am currently taking a stab at my first novel. It is a fun outlet for me creatively. I also help my husband with our branding and social media consulting for other nonprofits. But my absolute favorite way to relax is four-wheeling Colorado trails in our family’s Jeep Rubicon. You can’t beat Colorado blue sky, pines and a difficult trail in a Jeep.