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Recognizing 100 CEOs & C-level Executives

Melinda Higgs

President & CEO

Colorado Nonprofit Development Center

Location: Denver, CO

Founded: 1999

Industry: Nonprofit

In college Melinda Higgs was part of a group of students who founded the student volunteer center at Regis University, and it spurred an interest in a career in nonprofits.

Higgs followed that up by becoming a stateside Peace Corps volunteer at a mentoring program, where she realized her skills were best suited for administration and operations, she said.

After graduate school, Higgs worked for Partners Inc., an association of mentoring programs for youth in Colorado. Within a year, she was promoted to executive director and charged with turning around the organization. In addition to managing an accreditation program, Partners Inc. provided back-office support to affiliates and partnered with communities to develop new mentoring programs. After four years, Partners Inc. was thriving.

“The experience cemented in me a belief in the power and impact of a shared back office and early organizational support for emerging charitable organizations,” Higgs said. “That is why I jumped at the opportunity to become the CNDC’s first CEO.”

The Colorado Nonprofit Development Center was launched in 1999 with a business plan and a small pot of startup funds. Higgs worked with the board and stakeholders to create policies, procedures and systems and to educate the Colorado nonprofit sector on fiscal sponsorship. Despite some initial skepticism from community leaders and their funders, demand quickly increased.

CNDC is the largest fiscal sponsor in Colorado, allowing a new or emerging nonprofit to operate under an existing tax-exempt organization’s tax and corporate structure. The fiscal sponsor provides back-office services and organizational development support.

Today, CNDC serves nearly 100 charitable organizations a year that work on issues such as civil rights, health equity, youth development, education, housing and community development.

Along the way, Higgs has built her leadership skills through various training and experience. She attended the Rockwood Leadership Program, the El Pomar Nonprofit Executive Leadership Program via the Center for Creative Leadership, and Stanford University’s Design Thinking Bootcamp.

“Over my career, my biggest personal risk was taking on the challenge of launching CNDC,” Higgs said. “I left a job I enjoyed and was stable to launch a new organization. There was not a guarantee of success, especially since it hinged on convincing social entrepreneurs of the power of fiscal sponsorship to accelerate their impact and persuade public and private funders to remove barriers to the practice of fiscal sponsorship. Fortunately, the founding board and I had a clear vision of the potential of fiscal sponsorship to unleash the potential of community leaders that was compelling to those we supported and funders.”

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I began climbing 14ers in my mid-40s and have now climbed 35 of Colorado’s 14ers.


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