Sonja Thorpe Bohannon on Networking For a Cause
CEO & Founder
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Cancer Foundation for New Mexico
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon, Development Director for the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico, shares how she naturally forms close-knit connections due to the mission-oriented nature of her work. From local volunteers to corporate sponsorships, the New Mexico community bands together to support the foundation.
“The people that really light up (and want to support) our cause is what really builds our network.”
Alana Muller 00:09
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've found success and 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 00:39
Hello, and welcome back to Enterprise.ing podcast. So great to have you with us today. I'm so thrilled to welcome today Sonja Thorpe Bohannon. A nonprofit professional for over 20 years, Sonja has experience creating fundraising, public relations and marketing programs for nonprofits and community service organizations. She's the Development Director for the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico. Sonja, welcome to Enterprise.ing.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 01:03
Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here today.
Alana Muller 01:06
Great to have you. I want you to start by telling our listeners a little bit about the work that you do at the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico and your work there.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 01:14
Thank you. Yes, the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico. We are in our 20th year of being a nonprofit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. We actually are not a very large organization - the name "foundation" makes us sound really big. But, we are an enterprising, good word to use here. But, a really hard working team of eight people that support 30,000 patients that are all cancer patients in northern New Mexico.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 01:39
20 years ago, oncologists were noticing in Santa Fe that there were a lot of cancer diagnosis in rural parts of northern New Mexico and those patients were not coming for treatment. And they were not coming for treatment because they didn't have the assistance for the medical expense. They were not coming for treatment because they couldn't afford the non-medical expenses to get here. And that looks like things like transportation, the gas to come 150 miles round trip for treatment, or the ability to stay in Santa Fe for a few days with treatment that might take a few days at a time, or even been able to afford food, having to give up their work for, you know, days or weeks or what have you, to cover utility expenses and things like that. People would not be able to make it to treatment, because their lives are just that simple in rural areas. So our work is to help all of those patients have equal access to the medical system by supporting them with those non-medical expenses.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 02:39
So, it's very meaningful work that we do. Santa Fe is especially critical for that type of work because we are the cancer treatment center for all of Northern New Mexico. You can imagine that's a large area. Every year, 10,000 patients are newly diagnosed with cancer. So as we can all imagine, that the need for this kind of support is always there and unfortunately, growing, so our work is very meaningful.
Alana Muller 03:06
That, I mean, unbelievable. And what's so fascinating to me is I have to admit, I think of myself as well-read and understand at least you know, at a high level, what's going on in healthcare today. But to your point, we never do think about these non-medical considerations. So the fact that you were able to get the research, diagnose it, literally, and figure out what it was that was keeping people from seeking that treatment is truly remarkable.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 03:36
Yeah, it is. So every day, you can imagine our work is very, very meaningful. So. I actually didn't say -- I said, we are a group of eight hard working people on our team. But we do have a very great group of volunteers that also are in the chemo treatment room and helping there on a regular basis. So I don't mean to count them out, because they're a huge part of our work as well.
Alana Muller 03:59
Well, I mean, clearly you've built, you've built a community. And you know, I was going to ask you and so this is actually a good time to do this. I find that you know, I understand that you're on the money side of this and you're, you're looking at the fundraising elements, and then of course, the distribution of those funds to get it into the hands of the people who need it. But the work you do is literally saving lives. It's literally - so I understand it's the non-medical portion, but it helps to get people who need it to where they need to be in order to access that treatment. So it seems from my point of view, like a pretty good lead in and when it comes to building relationships. From that perspective, how do you build and actively manage your network?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 04:36
Yeah, you're exactly right, Alana. There's always a lead in when you talk about cancer. That, I don't know, I mean who do you know, that doesn't have some connection to cancer? I'm sure...
Alana Muller 04:45
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 04:46
...your circle of friends or family or what have you. And I find that what brings us all here to do this work is a really close cancer story as well. I moved back to Santa Fe where I was born and raised because my late sister was ill with colon cancer, and that was a catalyst that brought me back here. And the catalyst that brought me to work here. So cancer can be powerful in so, so many ways. So, the conversation obviously opens up right away, when it comes to working with that network. When, when you can explain the work well, which is obviously meaningful, people are often really interested in how they can support our work. So, it builds a network that is incredible. And because it's so local, as well, the connections there are really strong. So whether it's companies in town that want to support our work, or individuals, volunteers, we do see a lot of people that start to support us and then come in and get more and more involved with our work.
Alana Muller 05:44
Yeah, that's remarkable. And I think that's, it's really beautiful. And, you know, so there's, of course, the business end of it. But that, that personal story piece, I think there's no replacement for that. And you're absolutely -- I'm so sorry to hear about your sister. And yet here, it's brought you to this place. So, in a way it's an opportunity to honor her. And I just think that's lovely. I really do. And it does open the conversation with other people.
Alana Muller 06:08
One of the things that strikes me to kind of maybe step away from the foundation specifically, but to talk about from an industry perspective, I think that there's some times at least in my life, there has been almost a misperception of the role of the nonprofit space. You know, to me, I always think of it as a tax designation, because it is a business, it is an industry. But what can you tell our listeners about the differences between for profit and nonprofit professional experiences in terms of the nature of the work, how you navigate getting access to resources, how to communicate your message and engaging your target customer?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 06:45
Sure. So, the work is different in that we obviously have a profound mission. And all nonprofits in one way or another do have that as their goal and what they lead with when they're meeting with people. And so when we have that as a lead in and that sort of work, it's different, because we are obviously fundraising for a cause. So we're not looking at a bottom line for profit, we're looking at trying to find the best way to meet all of our patients, or in some cases, there are nonprofits that are trying to solve an issue. And their goal is, you know, over time, maybe there won't even be a need for a nonprofit anymore. So that's a very different way to motivate people and to engage them with your work.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 06:46
So when it comes to building a network, I find that I like to do it organically and make those connections by finding the interpersonal connections first. So it's not about going into a room and passing my card around and trying to network on LinkedIn. Obviously, that is important. But I find that finding the connections and people that really light up with a cause is what really builds your network, especially, you know, obviously nonprofits. So it's that networking and finding that common thread and people to our mission that makes our work succeed, I believe that's different from a for profit business.
Alana Muller 08:06
Yeah, I get it. Hopefully all organizations have a mission statement, but you're right, almost like the depth of the mission, the import that you're actually trying to put yourself out of business, if you can. How great would that be, right?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 08:18
Yeah, I used to work with the March of Dimes. And the March of Dimes was originally started for polio. And they did. Well, they're still around, they didn't put themselves out of business. But they were such a strong organization and so successful that they moved to a different mission. So they still...
Alana Muller 08:34
Right, exactly! Yeah. That's a great example, actually, a great example. So I get that. Well, so, so to that end, what are some ways that you are able to make connections mutually beneficial? So, how do you give back and show that mutual appreciation when you're interacting with people?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 08:51
So I think it's giving back I think a lot of people that work in nonprofits, that's the nature of who we are, which is why you go into nonprofit work. So we all have a tendency to work very, very hard, will give the shirt off our back to help a cause. And so, or will, you know, raise money in every which way we can, which is another way of giving the shirt off our back to to help the cause that we're working for. But stepping back, I like connecting people. And I'm always fascinated by that. And I think one of the key pieces for me is that I'm someone who likes to be interested in people. And I find that when you're interested in them, and I kind of say that in a funny way just to emphasize the point. When you're really interested in someone you want to hear their story, you want to learn more about them, and people appreciate that. But then you get to know more about who they are, what they stand for, what they're interested in. And for me, I lead that way with people before I even think about the Cancer Foundation. And in some cases, it might be that I know this person has another mission or a cause that they're more committed to and then you find other people that have interesting themes to their interests as well. And then connecting those together is always very meaningful to me. So I find I do that, before I even come to the Cancer Foundation, I do that with friends that I meet, I do that with other causes that I support in Santa Fe, just by having been raised here. And I think then, then you build from there, and then the network starts to grow. And so the interested is what really makes things work because you understand what someone is really interested in doing. And then you know how to connect that into your cause or into someone else who's going to help them be more excited about whatever they're involved with.
Alana Muller 10:42
Fabulous. I mean, that's so great. And you know, and especially, let's distinguish it from "interesting," you know, so many people would prefer to just talk about themselves. And when you show that genuine interest in somebody to be interested in them, you're saying, "You're important to me, I want to get to know you. What can I do for you?" before you're asking "What have you done for me lately?" So I think that's a really cool, really cool thing. And perhaps this is too close to the same question, but I'll ask it anyway. Is what advice would you give to someone else who wants to grow or cultivate their professional network? Is there, is there something different that you would encourage them to do? Let's just say they buy into this concept, where would you tell them to begin?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 11:26
Well, I would start by telling them to be true to themselves. So I started to work for the Cancer Foundation because cancer and the mission behind helping people in Santa Fe and northern New Mexico resonates with me deeply. I obviously have a connection to cancer that's through my family, but I'm from Santa Fe, New Mexico, my family's been here for generations. I feel for the people in all these wonderful parts of our state that live these very beautiful, but very simple lives, not being able to come to have treatment. That resonates so deeply with me. So, that's being true to myself. There are other nonprofits in Santa Fe, there's so many and I could be working, maybe not necessarily assuming, but I could be interested in opera, and I love the opera, I have fun going to the opera. But, that doesn't resonate with me as deeply as the Cancer Foundation does. And it does for someone else even more. So I would say to start by being really true to yourself. And if you aren't feeling that, that zing in the morning, and that you can't wait to get in there, to get at it again, then maybe it's not the right spot. So, I always feel that starting there is what's most important.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 12:34
And then I think really developing relationships and contacts organically. And that is you know, we have some of the pharmaceutical reps that come through here. And yeah, they're pharmaceutical reps and I understand their potential, they have to support our organization. And obviously, they are connected to cancer as well. But, I like to get to know them in a very organic way first, like, where are they from? How long have they been in Santa Fe, you know, why did they start to work in the cancer industry and, and then that connection helps me understand, you know, how to connect with them later on. And it really informs you on, you know, someone that you write a letter to, or is this someone you're going to, you know, just send a quick email to. There's so many different subtleties of how you can reach out to a person when you really get to know them as a person first.
Alana Muller 13:20
Well, and of course, knowing your audience is a, it's a really key thing. So what great advice, I like that I like that. Talk about an interaction that you've had with somebody who was very, it was very meaningful for you and maybe resulted in a breakthrough or, or somebody who served as a mentor to you.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 13:35
That's always fun to sort of think about. I, for many years, was a stay-at-home mom and so that on-ramping always seemed a bit intimidating to go back into the working world. So, I admire and I try to be the same -- I admire women who really reach out to stay-at-home moms that are trying to on ramp again, because it's totally doable, but obviously you can see how that would be intimidating. I lived in California for a time and I had this, I was doing a lot of volunteer work. But wanting to on-ramp into the nonprofit world. I knew that that's what I wanted to do. And for a small foundation that I was a member of we were trying to figure out how to do a fundraising event. Out of that idea, I had again, using my organic connections with friends, I'd seen a book that had been published about our community, and it dovetailed into a kid's event because it was a kid's book. And I'm not exactly saying it very well, but I saw a way to connect our need to do an event to create a huge community event that would be a fundraiser that also helped promote the book. And it was a matter of being at the right, right place at the right time to make all of that come together and resonate, but it was one phone call to say "Hey, I have this idea," and I called the author and said "You know, your book and our fundraising concept - if we put it together we could launch this fair in our town green that could be win-win."
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 15:01
And so fast forward, now they are in their 15th year, they do this event, it's the largest fundraising event in that community now, and they do the event, I think when people hear it's been going for 15 years, they can't believe it's only 15 years, because it's such a natural event that you think it's been happening forever. And I don't mean to give myself credit for that, I give the team credit for that for all understanding the opportunity together. And out of that spring, a woman who became a very solid mentor for me. And so even today, I call her to catch up. And you know, it's always good to keep up with your mentors. And so she was the one that encouraged me to go for it then and then helped me put my resume together and move on into my first job. And then you know, now that she says, I'm a development director, she's like, "See, it worked." So, she's the person Her name is Petey, Stein and Petey, I wouldn't be here without her. So at the right point in time, we just resonated and took off and did something great for the community. And I think it helped me get to see the path and move forward that way.
Alana Muller 16:05
That's really neat - great story. That's a great story. So, if you could meet with anybody, if it could be one, one person, I don't, I don't care if it's fictional or nonfictional, if they're living or no longer living. Who would you want to meet for a cup of coffee and why?
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 16:21
It's so interesting. I'm not really someone that follows stars very often. But I have to say that I think I would well, I'd not think, I would love to meet Bonnie Raitt. I've just always loved her music. And I've actually had a couple of times where I have seen her in passing, because she used to live in a community where I was at one point, but I think her music and her, her, her, if she's still performing, I have no idea how old she is. But she's such a go getter. She's not a world leader or anything like that. But I just think it'd be really fun to to be with her and hear her story. But I have to say that as much as she's sort of my celebrity that I'd want to meet, when I close my eyes and think of someone who would I would really enjoy having dinner with, maybe not being the only person at the dinner table, but Desmond Tutu, as well.
Alana Muller 17:09
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 17:10
I have spent time in South Africa and for his life and what he went through and his glow and vibrancy in spite of all the horrors that he faced. I think he would be pretty amazing to me, obviously, we're not going to now. So that's my, that would probably be my first choice. And then Bonnie Raitt.
Alana Muller 17:32
Very cool. Those are two great answers. I really, really liked that. So, so what's currently on your nightstand?
Alana Muller 17:38
So I have Jim Kwik's book "Limitless." I'm making my way through that. I have also "High Tide in Tucson," which is a Barbara Kingsolver book...
Alana Muller 17:49
Alana Muller 17:50
...way, way back when I was having a rough time in my family, by a colleague, and she said, "You need to keep this on your bedside. And whenever you have a rough time, just read the first chapter." And I can't even tell you why it's so uplifting, but it is, and so I always keep it there as her gift from 15 years ago. I like, it has to stay on the bedside table. And then I now live in the house that I was raised in. So we have books that go way, way, way back. I'm squatting at my mother's home as she downsized to a retirement home. And I'm reading also a book on Navajo Indian rugs.
Alana Muller 18:27
Oh okay, cool. This is a good eclectic mix, I like it!
It's, it's an old book. So the reading is really dry. So I don't get very far. But...
Alana Muller 18:38
Then maybe it's a good sleep aide, if nothing else.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 18:41
Yes, exactly. Good photographs.
Alana Muller 18:46
Well, this has been such a fun conversation. I admire you so much. Thank you for the work that you do. Because as I said before, you're, you are literally saving lives and in a way that so many people don't really think about. So, I'm grateful to you and to your colleagues, really for, for digging in and recognizing the needs. So, thank you. And thank you for being part of Enterprise.ing. I would love for you to tell our listeners more about where they can go to learn about you and the Cancer Foundation for New Mexico.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 19:18
Thank you. The Cancer Foundation for New Mexico, we have a website. So, that would be the place to go. I feel those are more -- you have so much more detail on a website than you do in a brochure, so you can find us at C C F N M, for Cancer Foundation for New Mexico, dot O R G. I'm listed in there as well as part of the administrative team. And then you can find me on LinkedIn as well under Sonja Bohannon and I'm happy to connect with anybody. It would be a pleasure.
Alana Muller 19:47
I appreciate that. Sonja Thorpe Bohannon, thank you for being part of Enterprise.ing. It's so great talking with you.
Sonja Thorpe Bohannon 19:52
And, thank you.
Alana Muller 19:55
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Alana Muller 20:20
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