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Mitchell Award Honoree: Shelia Bravo

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After leading a career in marketing and advertising that saw her traveling across the country for major corporate brands, Sheila Bravo was looking to slow down.

She began consulting and moved with her family to Lewes, where she began working with small businesses and serving on nonprofit boards. Then Bravo would become executive director of the Rehoboth Beach Art League, where she more fully began to understand the challenges of running a nonprofit organization, ranging from fundraising to operations to facility management.

Her experience at the art league led her to apply to lead the Delaware Association for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA), a support organization for the state’s nonprofits, starting as executive director in 2015.

“I really felt called to this role,” she said. “An executive director is a lonely job and I feel like we’re a place that they can go when they’ve got a question or need access to resources.”

That role was especially important during the COVID pandemic, as nonprofits couldn’t hold many annual fundraising events and access to clients became more difficult. DANA stepped in to help nonprofits file grant and loan applications with the government while also hosting programming to keep workers connected and energized.

Nonprofits were at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement and have continued today to push for change, while also serving as a lifeline to many underrepresented communities. Bravo calls them “community innovators,” or organizations formed by the community because government and business may not be doing something necessary.

DANA is also at the forefront of the discussion on diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, in part through its commissioning of the Trustees of Color report last year that quantified demographics of state nonprofit leadership and how to continue diversifying. It provided DEI&J assessment tools and consultant help to members after publishing the report too.

“Sometimes it’s the very policies that you have that might unintentionally create barriers, but our nonprofits are eager to learn,” she explained “I hope when we field this study in another couple of years, we’ll continue to see some movement.”

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