When envisioning a nonprofit, the front-line, nitty-gritty action typically springs to mind. But while leadership, motivating and networking may be part of that image, there’s essential work taking place behind the scenes. That’s where Richmond native Michelle Nelson makes her mark.
After earning her degree in accounting from James Madison University and her accountant’s certification, Nelson began a career in accounting and finance. As an auditor, she became familiar with the financial workings of nonprofits.
“I just really enjoyed it, so I stuck with it,” she says. In 2009, she began working for the Community Foundation.
The foundation works with donors in managing grants to other organizations, especially in the areas of education, arts and culture, health and wellness and economic prosperity. In other words, it helps to connect people with assets to share with worthy organizations.
It’s a complex process, but Nelson and her team manage the funds like they’re fielding tennis balls from a launcher on overdrive. At the end of last year, the foundation had $683 million.
“I oversee the investment of those assets and the accounting and reporting of the financial aspects of the organization,” Nelson says. The foundation also has six supporting organizations and three regional affiliates for which she oversees the finances.
“It’s great to know I can go in to work and make a difference in the community … to benefit my family and all families in Richmond,” she says.
Nelson also flexes her financial muscles volunteering on the board of the Midlothian Family YMCA, as annual campaign chairwoman for 2016 and 2017, and as treasurer of Caritas, where she’s been on the board since 2009.
Nelson regularly serves several Richmond tennis leagues as well.
“Michelle is solutions-oriented,” says Vanessa Diamond of HandsOn Greater Richmond. “She listens to the program and operational needs and then offers ideas and options that I wouldn’t have thought about and helps build the finance and budget structure in a way that works — for financial management and for programming.”
“And she is hilarious,” Diamond adds, putting a little topspin on Nelson’s contributions. “Who doesn’t love a finance expert with a sense of humor?”