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Vela Strategy

Katrina Pierson
Vela Strategy

Class of 2012

When she was selected for the award, Katrina Pierson was a partner and principal with HBH Consultants and board chair for the Central Minnesota Sustainability Project.

What are you doing now?

Partner and principal of Vela Strategy in downtown St. Cloud. Vela Strategy is a consulting firm that connects people to purpose. We do this through research and leadership support focused on fundraising, storytelling and community engagement.

How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?

The 5 Under 40 award was great affirmation that I was growing in the right ways, and that concern for community is a noble path for business leaders. With the recognition came greater visibility for my business and a chance to meet some pretty impressive pioneers that I'm proud to be in community with.

Other big changes since you received the award?

Receiving the award also connected me with our community's journalists in a meaningful way. I genuinely appreciated the chance to get to know some of the Times staff.

What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?

Investing in the people that make up the fabric of our community — especially those that bring unique products, services, perspectives and ideas. These are often newcomers, whether from lands far or lands close, that broaden our horizons and challenge us to think bigger about what's possible.

2012 Interview

Originally ran: January 6, 2013

You might figure Katrina Pierson is one of the youngest people honored in the history of the 5 Under 40 awards when you learn she commutes from her home in Sauk Rapids to her office in downtown St. Cloud every day — by bicycle.

It wasn't that long ago when she was working toward a creative writing degree at St. Cloud State University. Almost immediately she became a consultant to not-for-profit organizations and joined HBH Consultants.

She searches for new ways to approach fundraising, strategic planning and communications for various organizations. Because she is part of Generation Y, she is passionate about reaching younger demographics, which can be a challenge. A 2004 Aitkin High School graduate, Pierson uses social media, videos, infographics, creative branding and storytelling to get her message across. She has worked with more than 50 organizations and wants to reinvent the toolbox for Central Minnesota nonprofits so they can take risks that may help them attain the resources they need.

What influential factor led to your current career?

"Going back to my childhood, I was always into creative writing. I wrote short stories all the time and my sister recently stumbled upon one about two people and it was around Christmas. Their goal was to make money. They made wreaths for the holidays. They realized once they became rich that they didn't need all that money so they gave it away. I think I've always had a drive to attain resources. I was the kid with the lemonade stand by the side of the road. ... I was making $20,000 a year as a high schooler, waiting tables. Then ... both of my parents were volunteers, leaders in a small community, so I've always had an interest in nonprofits ... I had an internship with the MS Society of Minnesota. I did writing and communications for their website for about six months. Then I went from there to the foundation at the hospital in Aitkin and did some grant-writing. I had some success and the word got out and, before I knew it, I had some evening gigs so I was moonlighting and then working for more and more people. I found there's an interest and a need for grant writers. Working on fundraising and communications for nonprofits takes creativity and logic. Those are two traits not everyone has, to use both sides of the brain. I don't think strategy and creativity have to be different from one another. They can work together."

What is the best part of your work day?

"My days are never the same, so I'd have to illustrate with a work week. One of our clients is Phyllis Wheatley Community Center in Minneapolis. We're doing some grant-writing for them and about 98 percent of the kids in their program are African-American, so it's very diverse. I might meet with them one day and discuss strategy, figuring how much they think is possible to raise through foundation grants. Then I might go and work with the Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge. I'm helping them develop a plan to grow their membership. I'll help train their board members on how to ask for gifts, how to host fundraising receptions at your house, that sort of thing. Those are just two examples of what I do. I love new opportunities and challenges. So any time one of my clients calls and says, 'We have this new program, how can we find funding for it?' That's what I love. But I like my writing time, where I can be in my office with my Pandora music station and being creative or doing research, too."

What is your most important extra-curricular activity and why?

"The Central Minnesota Sustainability Project is special for me because we're at a point in time where people are realizing how important it is to be buying local, to be investing in our communities and utilizing the skills, resources and wisdom we have here. We connect people who don't have access to land with land and help them get everything they need for their soil — their seed, their water and ongoing support — to make them successful at gardening. That's something that's needed in this community. We also connect people with larger plots and markets, so they can go beyond gardening for pleasure and turn it into a business ... Many of them are women who are refugees from war-torn countries. And there's such an amazing wisdom in some of these wonderful, incredible women who we're helping and this can be our way as a community to learn from them. They've enriched my life in ways I don't think I'd get anywhere else."

How do you continue to learn new skills that will keep you on the cutting edge of your business?

"I follow a lot of blogs. That's my number one way to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on. ... I also have several applications on my iPhone that I use. ... Mainly, I do a lot of reading and I attend conferences when I can. Technology has always been a big part of my life. ... The thing I find difficult is when I'm working with clients who aren't as adaptable to technology and how to use it. There's a learning curve, and I need to be patient with them. To me, it comes natural. I take my picture, I put a cute filter on it, I write a nice little note and put it on my Facebook page. I shoot video and edit it on my phone. I upload it onto our website. That's a part of my life and ... hopefully, I can help other people and bring them along."

How do you see the greater St. Cloud area in 20 years, and what would be your role in it?

"My ideal for the area would be that we're focusing on our local resources. So I would like to see further development of the Mississippi River. I'd love to see the light rail here ... and for us to look like a small city that is well planned out. I think the region is going to continue to grow and prosper and that's part of the reason I'm here. The social sector that I work with will play a big role in that. ... I think those types of organizations are going to grow as our population grows. I see my role as being supportive to those organizations and providing them with the resources they need to reach their goals. I hope to be a voice for nonprofits and I could see myself getting involved in local government at some point."

Age: 26.

Family: Husband, John; they have a 5-year-old son and a 9-month-old daughter.

Education: St. Cloud State University.

FYI: She joins former 5 Under 40 winner Ryan Weber (of in 2007, now W3i) as the youngest honorees — both 26. She has launched an e-newsletter to spark new ideas among clients and is teaming up with the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits to present a workshop on "storytelling for good" on Jan. 30 in St. Cloud. She serves as the board chair for the Central Minnesota Sustainability Project, which connects people with land to others to help put healthful, sustainably grown food into the hands of those who otherwise wouldn't have it. She is the youngest board member at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence and Social Innovation, and also helped found the African Women's Alliance in 2007 to empower immigrants and their children in Central Minnesota.

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Sponsored by:

Falcon National Bank

Central Minnesota Clinic

Initiative Foundation
of Little Falls