Intentional change can make for a transformational impact in Native American communities

Change is inevitable, but intentional change can be transformative for non-profits. Altering an organization’s brand, strategic direction, and internal structures are not decisions that should be made lightly. Done correctly, data driven, with purpose, and alignment, these types of decisions can elevate a nonprofit to the next level, providing the ability to impact those we serve at a much greater level.

As a Native woman, I am no stranger to overcoming challenges, overcoming barriers, and navigating changing environments. I have always been inspired to create change to positively impact our Tribal communities across this country. I believe leaning into the skills we have attained through our environments while utilizing our education is key to personal and professional success. As I lean into my skills with a drive to contribute what my education has taught me, I continue to fulfill my purpose.

With our students in mind, we opted to make changes. We rebranded, redefined our strategic direction, and restructured our organization. After 50 years of serving students in higher education, we are proud of the work we have done. We have provided over $350 million dollars in direct scholarships to over 22,000 students from over 500 Tribes in all 50 states. We have watched the success of individuals we funded, Secretary Deb Haaland, Dr. Cynthia Lamar, and Dr. Henrietta Mann, move the needle forward for us as Native people in this country. We have contributed to over 1,700 law degrees and over 2,200 Ph.D. degrees. Again, these are all things that make us immensely proud. Yet, to address the enormous funding gap of 82% of our scholars who are not funded, it was imperative we act and scale up our organization. If we wanted to address the inequities in access to higher education for Native scholars, we needed to look inward, challenge ourselves, and make bold changes for more significant impact.

While our work at Native Forward is nowhere close to being complete, the changes we have made have created transformational outcomes for us and, ultimately, our students. We have tripled our revenue in six years, doubled the scholarship opportunities, and gained a broader network of supporters. Also, we have increased the graduation rates of undergraduate students to 69% and graduate students to 95%, compared to the national average of 41% for Native students. As we continue our mission to provide financial support to every Native student in this country wanting to pursue higher education, I can say I am passionate about making positive changes in the social sector, building on the success of those who came before and rising to new levels.