Mission-Driven Connections: Networking in the Nonprofit Sector

Hosted By

Alana Muller

CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee

Podcast Guest

Angela Phillips

Executive Director
Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas

Episode Summary

Angela Phillips, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas, connects with other Habitat for Humanity affiliates from across the country to advocate for accessibility in the housing market. By building relationships with like-minded people, she gains opportunities and fuels growth for her organization.

“When people support nonprofits, there's a reason. Whether they resonate with the mission, it speaks to them, or there's some kind of existing relationship or connection.”



Alana Muller 0:09
Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.

Alana Muller 0:41
Friends, welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. Today, I'm so pleased to have Angela Phillips in the studio, a visionary leader with nonprofit and government sector experience. Angela was appointed as the executive director for Habitat for Humanity in 2022. Having served the organization since 2018, Angela's career has focused on identifying needs and resolving them. I'm so happy to have her with us today. Angela Phillips, welcome to Enterprise.ing podcast.

Angela Phillips 1:07
Thank you for having me.

Alana Muller 1:09
Well, it's a delight. Angela, Habitat is such a well-known organization, well-respected as an NGO. And in fact, I'm guessing that many of our listeners have actually volunteered for Habitat for Humanity at one point or another, myself included. So, with that said, tell us about today's Habitat for Humanity and your impetus for leading the organization in Las Vegas.

Angela Phillips 1:30
Yeah, so… thank you for the opportunity to be here and to speak about our work in the community. So, Habitat for Humanity, like you said, is a very well-known brand. And we invest in affordable housing in our communities for homeownership opportunities. And as we know, the affordable housing crisis and the cost of construction in different economic markets has made it more challenging for homeownership to even be a possibility for so many people.

Angela Phillips 1:57
And then also with the COVID pandemic, we saw so many people impacted in terms of their jobs, employment, people that had stable employment and income were affected. So, as a result, we've had to pivot and also start focusing on financial education, and even getting our communities, not only ready for homeownership, if that's what they're looking for, but just financially equipped to deal with emergencies and other things like that. So, you'll see different Habitats across the country have kind of pivoted a little bit in terms of what we offer to our communities in addition to affordable housing for homeownership.

Alana Muller 2:33
That's fascinating. So, from a volunteer perspective, do you find people are volunteering both for, I would say the construction or the remodeling aspect of Habitat for Humanity, or are you also seeing people volunteer to conduct that education to do some of that financial literacy training that's necessary?

Angela Phillips 2:51
Well, right now, here in Las Vegas, most of our volunteers are through the construction side. We do new home builds for new construction. And then we also do home repairs for existing single family homes in our community. So, the bulk of our volunteers do come through the construction side. Our financial education program is smaller here right now, again, making sure that there's a community need — not trying to scale too quickly. But we're seeing really great results from that financial education. And I'm hopeful that in the future, we might be able to expand that to also include in volunteer opportunities with different financial institutions or people that want to give back in that way.

Alana Muller 3:29
Well, and you also talked about that you're specifically focused on homeownership. Has Habitat also always been focused on that ownership aspect? Are there other ways for people to find housing or utilized housing that is either owned or maintained by Habitat?

Angela Phillips 3:47
Most Habitats across the country are solely focused on homeownership, that's kind of our mission. And of course, with many organizations, particularly nonprofits, you want to stay within your skill set. And as we know, there's so many multi-family rental developers across the country. Even here in Las Vegas, there's so many nonprofits and private developers that will do multifamily rental development. So our niche really is the homeownership opportunity side, because as I said earlier, homeownership is becoming out of reach for even people that aren't low- to moderate- income.

Angela Phillips 4:23
And so you know, homeownership is one of the key ways to build generational wealth and be able to provide more opportunities to people. So, most Habitats here, we tend to stay within that scope, but what we're building can shift, depending on the different communities that we're building. And so here, we're building single-family homes, but they're actually attached by a single wall. How can we get more units on a piece of land is most important. In other communities they're building tiny homes, they're building condo complexes, so sky's the limit in terms of what we can do for homeownership, and here in Las Vegas, we're currently evaluating what our future projects will look like.

Alana Muller 5:03
Well, I appreciate the way that you, and really every community, takes a creative approach to finding the right types of housing for the land that's available. So it makes a lot of sense. And I think that not only does that give people hope, and access to affordable housing, but I think what it does is it positions them for success, as you're describing, when you think about sort of the financial aspect of maintaining that house. So, thank you for that. I want to shift gears just a little bit and talk about you as a leader. I know that your leadership style carefully balances intention with compassion. Talk about that, and how you manage the potential challenges that those two sides of the same coin can sometimes pose.

Angela Phillips 5:44
I try to be very intentional in everything I do, whether it's leadership, or my personal relationships, or things like that. I think balancing business and what's right, and what's best for the community and the people that we serve. For me as a leader, as a nonprofit, that's what I lead with. I have a passion for helping people and doing the right thing.

Angela Phillips 6:05
And sometimes that can be a little bit of a challenge when I'm faced with a decision or an opportunity where I think, "Am I hurting people by taking, maybe pivoting and doing something outside we would normally do?" You know, what is the end game, and really trying to think through that versus just looking at the opportunity in front of us because I have a lot of responsibility, leading a nonprofit organization, but then one with a brand like Habitat.

Angela Phillips 6:32
And I recognize that with that comes great responsibility. So, because we are doing homeownership, I have to think about, okay, most of our homeowners are homeowners for 30 years. So today, what we're talking about right now might make a lot of sense, but how will it age with them in their home? The decisions we make today? And so for me, if I am not putting the people first and the people we're intending to help, then you know, for me, it wouldn't be something I would move forward with. And I, you know, anyone that's met with me in government or advocacy knows that the people come first. Even if it does sound good, you know, some of the opportunities, I have been known to turn those down.

Alana Muller 7:16
Good. Wow, the way that you're taking kind of that long-term view with the humanity component, very firmly baked in, I think is so critical. So, I appreciate what you're doing. You talked even about the role, your intentionality related to relationships. And, you know, obviously, relationships are clearly important, not just for nonprofit work, but for all work. But thinking about it from a nonprofit perspective, especially as it relates to donor and volunteer engagement and management, how do you involve yourself in the community and actively manage your network, so that you feel both professionally and personally fulfilled?

Angela Phillips 7:52
You know, the interesting thing about this is, when I took this role as executive director, you know, I had never done fundraising before. I was more focused on program development, finance, and HR and all those fun things. But taking this role, I knew that I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone, I needed to be the face of this organization. And that means connecting with people, whether it's volunteers, potential donors, events, right? And so for me being in that position is uncomfortable inside.

Angela Phillips 8:22
But, I also have seen the great benefits to this organization by putting myself out there and doing the things I'm afraid of. And it actually has become one of my favorite parts of the job. To be able to sit with people, and not only tell them about Habitat, but to learn about them. And one of the things that I feel is most valuable in terms of connecting with people you want to have relationships with, whether it's personal or business, is making sure it's mutually beneficial.

Angela Phillips 8:52
When I meet with funders, so often they're used to being asked, you know, them telling us what they want us to do, right? And what they're trying to accomplish, they're here, or we're asking them for money, “Will you sponsor my project? Will you do these things?” What's most important to me at every meeting, is I ask, “What is important to you as a business? And as my contact? Is it marketing? Is it volunteer opportunities? Is it just, are you passionate about our mission, and that's what's driving you?”

Angela Phillips 9:21
And because for me, I want everything to be mutual, whether it's an employee I'm hiring, a volunteer, you know, it's not a one-sided relationship. And so I try to be very intentional in keeping that at the forefront of my mind. When people support nonprofits, there's a reason. Whether they resonate with the mission, it speaks to them, or there's some kind of existing relationship or connection. And how can I foster that, but in a genuine way, that doesn't feel transactional. So that's what I try to always lead with. And just always remember, in the end, we're all humans.

Alana Muller 9:58
Well, the fact that you are able to kind of bridge that personal and professional divide, I think is so... just really valuable. And I do think that endears you to other people. I mean, they understand that there's potentially some transactional thing that needs to take place. However, you're leading with the personal side first and saying, "I care about you. And I need to understand from your perspective what's important." And you're demonstrating that to them. So, I'm sure that you've seen positive results with donors and volunteers as a result.

Angela Phillips 10:30
I definitely have. And what I've also learned too, is just ask the questions, or if someone is hesitant, tell me why. Right? It's not always just a “no,” or, you know, again, in nonprofit… We have the most nonprofits per capita in any state across the country. So, we have more competition in the nonprofit world. And there's funders that will say to me, "You're just not part of our pillars." And I'll say, "That's great. You know, that's okay. I want you to at least know what I do. And maybe in the future, if anything changes, just keep us in your mind." Or, again, even if it's not on the monetary side, encourage your staff to volunteer with us. Because once you... people come out and feel our mission and see what we're doing when you get to build the homes alongside the homeowners, it really does change things, and really shows you what the impact is.

Alana Muller 11:20
Have you seen change? Or have you seen people make a different decision? Even if they told you no for their company? Have you seen them come out personally to participate in either as a donor or as a volunteer?

Angela Phillips 11:31
Yes, for sure. And again, it goes back to sometimes our mission might not be within alignment of the company's pillars, but that doesn't mean the person I'm sitting across isn't passionate about this in some way. And think about too, like, again, the volunteer experience at Habitat, where else do you get to go to build a home? I mean, I remember the first time I did it, I did drywall taping and all of these things. And I'm like, this is so cool, that you actually are putting a piece of their home together, that will be here for generations.

Alana Muller 12:03
And it's ironic that we're having this conversation today because I met with a buddy of mine this morning for coffee. And he was telling me about when he was in college, that one of his projects was he joined a tour, like a bicycling tour, and they literally went coast to coast, city to city. And so they would bicycle their way to the next city and several of the cities, they would participate in Habitat projects, and how fun that was to kind of see it from different points of view all across the country. And I just thought that was really special. And you know, he didn't get anything financially beneficial from this. But the emotional impact that had on him has lasted him for decades. And so I thought that that was really special.

Angela Phillips 12:46
I hear stories like that all the time. I love when I meet people. Because again, Habitat is well-known, right? So many people will be like, “I'm familiar with Habitat.” And my first question is, “Tell me what that looked like, what city was it in? What did you do?” And then I always ask “What was memorable about it? What made it significant in your life that you remember it?” And there is always, there's countless stories of why it touched somebody. And that's really cool, working at an organization that has that kind of impact on people.

Alana Muller 13:15
So, is there something that you're working on professionally right now that you're especially proud of? And who are some of the key players and parts of the project that you're working on?

Angela Phillips 13:25
So, we have a couple of things happening here at Habitat. So, we are building 20 homes in Henderson. And so, I'm working on trying to put together the financing for that. Currently, we usually only use private dollars for that. So company sponsorships… and so I'm trying to, again, think about, how can we scale and think differently than the way we have before? So, exploring different financing options there. And then I just had the privilege last week of attending Habitat on the Hill. And that is where 400 Habitat affiliates from across the country go to Washington, D.C. and we spend the day on the Capitol Hill. And we all meet with our different elected officials.

Angela Phillips 14:05
So, I was very lucky to meet with our senators and congresspeople to talk about housing policy and change. So, advocating for more funds to support affordable housing, but also talking about different policies and bills that could change the dynamic of housing. It's always so shocking to me when I, you know, meet with other Habitats across the country and the amount of racial discrimination that's happening in cities related to where people can live in 2024. So, it just is mind blowing to me.

Angela Phillips 14:38
And so, when I get to do advocacy work and just again, learning about how everything is working, and what solutions we can come up with, to try and really address it. That's always super exciting to me. I know that sounds dorky, but, you know, I really care about making a difference no matter how small it is. And so, being able to come together with Habitats across the country, to learn what they're doing in their community and bring it back and just see that. I think one of the really cool unique things about Nevada is our elected officials at the state and Congress level are very invested in housing and making it better. So, my meetings with their staff and them are always so wonderful, because they're oftentimes leading the charge in Congress to suggest different housing policy and changes. So, that's really cool to me, compared to some of the other stories I hear in other states, unfortunately.

Alana Muller 15:37
Yeah, you know, when you talk about going to Capitol Hill and lobbying on behalf of housing and you know, addressing the needs of those who are, who are houseless, I was going to ask you, are you seeing that as being well-received? And does the heft of being with your colleagues from across the country, sort of not only help to amplify your voice, but does it help to, sort of embolden you to go on to ask for what's necessary, and how was that received by our various congresspeople?

Angela Phillips 16:06
It all goes back to relationships, what we kind of started on. This is my third Habitat on the Hill this year. And the first year I went in, you know, not really knowing the staff much, not knowing a lot about how it all works. But I love now that I can walk in there and I have relationships with our elected officials that are outside of Habitat on the Hill. I've used that opportunity and leverage and brought it back to the state, into Las Vegas. So, I actually have their local staffers come out to our construction site and attend our home dedications, and their offices call me and ask my opinion or insights on different housing policy.

Angela Phillips 16:46
And I gotta say, that would have never happened if I didn't continually, you know, attend that event, but also build those relationships outside of that, and figuring out how we connect. So, you know, I love going alongside my other Habitat affiliate friends, because it is cool to sit with them and say, "Okay, so tell me how it's structured in your state, and what policies do you guys have?" We were talking recently about a regulation we have to comply with here in Nevada. And I learned it's not the same in every state, and I'm like, "Okay, maybe I can change that here, you know?" Just kind of find the right opportunity. So, again, it goes back to relationships, it goes back to, you know, building your network, and not staying in your silo, and partnering with others. And, you know, I'm a learner. So, I want to learn from everyone around me that I feel is way smarter than me.

Alana Muller 17:38
I admire you for the way that you are doing that. I just think it's so important and smart. So, well done. Kind of along the same lines we're kind of leveraging this conversation, you know, we all face challenges in business. And I want to understand from you, what does that look like in the nonprofit sector? And what are some ways that you and your team have worked to overcome the obstacles that you face?

Angela Phillips 18:00
I think for many nonprofits, the biggest challenge is funding. Whether it's unrestricted funding that will help support our general operations, our staff, our buildings, just our general business infrastructure, is a challenge in nonprofit, because oftentimes, when you get funding, it's specifically for your cause. So, they'll want it to go only to home construction, or if you're a food bank, only to food, but the reality is, to even carry out that mission, you have to be able to pay staff, you have to have accounting, you have to have HR, you gotta have benefits, all of those things that attract people.

Angela Phillips 18:35
And I think oftentimes, in the for-profit sector, it's just obvious that those things are just normal, and they gotta be paid for, but in nonprofit, it's like, "No, you can't do that." And I... but you want me to provide high-quality services, serve our community, oftentimes serving people that government agencies can't, and aren't equipped to do. We also have to have specialized training in humans, right? Because, you know, let's think about all of us, like, imagine if we had someone saying, "You really need to change your life and do something different." Even for the normal person doesn't want to hear that. So to be able to encourage people that maybe are struggling to change different patterns of behavior and things like that, it's a skill set.

Angela Phillips 19:17
And so I think oftentimes, you know, we are charged with solving the biggest problems that a lot of our communities face, but with the least amount of resources and money, so that is definitely a challenge. And then for me, as well, like I mentioned, we're trying to figure out how to scale home building, building our homes, you know, a single-family home that we're building right now costs me $265,000 to build, and that's a single story, 800-square-foot home.

Angela Phillips 19:47
Before the pandemic, I could build a 1,300-square-foot home that was two stories for $210,000. And so, you know, how do we, knowing that our economy is changing, particularly here in Las Vegas, you know, we love F1, we love NFL, we love all these things, but it also does change the nature of our economy. So, things get to be more expensive. And so I need to make sure that I have the funds to not only support our mission, but also to support the people that carry out the mission. And so, you know, that's one of the biggest challenges I face here and lose sleep over. But every day, whether I face a challenge, I'm like, "Alright, we got to just figure it out and keep chugging." And, I gotta say, I've had more wins than losses. So, that's all I can focus on.

Alana Muller 20:37
I love that. So, thinking about your own career, who's someone in your life who has had a meaningful impact on your own journey? What's the best piece of professional advice that you've received?

Angela Phillips 20:48
I think about my career, man… if you would have told me 15 years ago that I would be leading a nonprofit organization, I would have told you you were crazy. Because, you know, I never thought I could be in management. I never thought I was smart enough. I never thought I had the experience that others that I looked up to did, but I actually had a mentor, a previous CEO that I worked for at another nonprofit. And when I first met him, I was just an admin assistant at that nonprofit. And he saw something in me. And he really encouraged me at times that I didn't think I could do it.

Angela Phillips 21:26
If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have went back to school and got my master's degree. If it wasn't for him, I would have never taken a supervisory role. But what was so great about that relationship is he was very good at giving me advice. But also, there were times where he didn't even give me advice. He just kind of listened, and would look at me and say, "Angela, you know what you're supposed to do, you know the right thing. So tell me what you think it is.” And it was always so scary when he would turn it back on me because I respected him. And I didn't want to give them the wrong answer. I didn't want him to be like, "Oh, maybe she didn't know,” right? But every time he's like, "Angela, just trust your instincts, you know what you're doing, you are always so well prepared,” and all of those things.

Angela Phillips 22:12
And so if it wasn't for him… and then I have really great friends that I've worked with in the nonprofit sector, that we have been friends for almost 20 years, and along our career journeys. And anytime I have moments of doubt or fear, or whatever, they're always so wonderful at putting me back into reality. And just saying, you know, just do what you know. And that's all you can do. And I think as a leader, you're oftentimes scared to make mistakes or make the wrong decision, but even the best leaders do. And so I think it's all a learning experience. And as I've said, multiple times, we're all human. It doesn't matter what my title is, compared to others, we're all the same, we all have the same fears and insecurities. And for me, I just have learned to embrace them, to admit them, and just, you know, take the help or the advice that I need in the time that I needed and move forward.

Alana Muller 23:08
What I most appreciate about what you said is I think about the number of times I've had conversations, even guests on the show who have talked about, you know, similar experiences where they say, you know, I started at a very junior position as an administrative assistant, or, as you know, a specialist in IT or something where they started at a very junior level. And there was some leader, an inspirational leader, or in some cases, a teacher or professor who just saw something in that person. And that was all it took to really kind of launch that person into the next thing.

Alana Muller 23:42
I wish for everyone to have somebody who is an inspirational leader like that, a teacher, a manager, even a mentor from afar, who really just sort of takes that person under their wing and says, "I know you can do this." So, I really liked your story. Thank you for sharing that. There's one question that I ask all of my guests as we close out our programs, and I want to ask you the same question. And that is, if you could meet somebody for a cup of coffee, it could be anybody, living not living fictional or nonfictional, who would it be and why?

Angela Phillips 24:13
Well, my immediate response, because you know, I'm a 90s kid at heart, would be Justin Timberlake, because I love him.

Alana Muller 24:21
Oh, nice.

Angela Phillips 24:22
Justin Timberlake. So, I would just love to meet him, just to say that I did. I don't know that I would actually want to talk to him, though, because, you know, that seems scary and intimidating. But that would be like my favorite singer. But in reality, one person I would love to meet is MacKenzie Scott. So, she has spent the last couple of years giving very generous donations to nonprofits across the country. And it started off to be something that flew under the radar. She didn't want any recognition, she would just drop these donations to different nonprofits and we were lucky a couple years ago to actually get one of those donations. And so, what was really also crazy to me in that is, like I said, she didn't want public recognition. She didn't have any expectations. She said, as a nonprofit, ”Here are unrestricted funds, use them however you need.”

Angela Phillips 25:14
And so one of the things that I would love to understand is, what made her do that? What motivates her to do that? And, you know, what is it that we can take away from this experience to encourage others to do the same? Because again, you know, she came into this wealth, and she's using a very large portion of it to give back to communities in education, food, housing, and not expecting a lot in return, just do the work that you are charged to do. And so I would love to learn about that mindset, where it came from, the thought process.

Angela Phillips 25:52
Again, I'm a learner, I want to understand, because I'm sure there's so many others across the world that have that same mindset. And sometimes maybe it is we just don't ask the right questions or figure out what that synergy would be. But I think it would be really cool, because you never see her in interviews, or publicly speaking about any of it. And so, I want to know what's going on in that mind.

Alana Muller 26:15
Fabulous choice. You know, I really like how she basically places her confidence in organizations doing important work and allows them to carry out their mission without having to spend time, administrative dollars to justify our support from a metrics perspective, such as that confidence is really, very cool. So, I love your answer. Very good. Well, it's been a privilege to have you on. Angela Phillips, where can our listeners go to learn more about you and about Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas?

Angela Phillips 26:48
You can find all of the information on Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas at LasVegasHabitat.org and or follow us on all our socials, Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn. It's at Habitat Las Vegas, and then I'm on LinkedIn just under Angela Phillips.

Alana Muller 27:05
Fabulous. Thanks so much for being on Enterprise.ing podcast.

Angela Phillips 27:08
Thank you.

Alana Muller 27:11
Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website, enterprisebank.com/podcast, to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing: powering business leaders, one conversation at a time.

Alana Muller 27:35
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