This blog post is part of our series introducing the La Piana team. This week we spoke with Melissa Mendes Campos, Senior Research Consultant. Melissa joined the firm in 2006 and is based in Santa Cruz, California.
When and why did you decide to dedicate your career to the nonprofit sector?
I’m one of those folks for whom it was a happy accident to have found myself working in the social sector. My first “real” job ended up being at a small nonprofit, and after a few years there, a coworker suggested I go for a position at the local community foundation. I was really fortunate to join that team because it gave me a great view into the broader nonprofit and foundation world — as well as organizational development issues of all kinds. I sort of hit the social sector “trifecta” when I was later offered the opportunity to work as a consultant because now I have all these different perspectives…or lenses through which to understand the work.
Is there a teacher or mentor that had a significant impact on you?
I’m really indebted to so many mentor-figures and teachers in my life. Not all of them may realize how influential they’ve been because we’re no longer in close contact, but I’m kind of like a baby bird, where I’ll imprint on an individual and they’ll just really leave their mark with me. A college professor, a dance teacher, a martial arts instructor…I’ve got a whole group of folks that have really shaped my thinking, values, and decisions. When I was at the community foundation, I worked most closely with Christina Cuevas, the Program Director there. She really let me into the process and was both exacting and generous, so I came away with a strong sense of accountability for high-quality work, but also a deep sense of enjoyment for being part of this sector.
Wait, so you’re a dancer and a martial artist?
Ah, “was” would be more accurate. Bellydance and kung fu are two of my past lives. I’m far less interesting now! But both have left me with great experiences and lessons that I carry with me.
So what are your favorite types of consulting projects?
I’m kind of an odd duck, for a consultant. I’m usually not at the front of the room leading a process (like you’d normally think of a “consultant”), but I work at the edges. I do a lot of the information gathering, written analysis, and documentation for projects. And that’s really my sweet spot and where I’m most happy. Because I get to partner not only with the client, but with my colleagues on the consulting team, and it’s playing that connecting role where I feel I bring the most value. I think some of what I do with writing and reporting is a kind of translating between the client experience and their desired future state. And when they tell me that translation has hit the mark and helped them be successful in some way, that’s a great feeling.
What would you say is the biggest trend impacting the social sector today?
That’s a tough one. Every day, there’s a new “hot topic” we’re all supposed to be paying attention to, right? It’s so easy to get caught up in the echo chamber of what experts, influencers, and lead organizations (many of them super-smart!) are saying, but it’s fundamentally important for us to bend over backwards to understand what’s important to the communities we serve. Those most affected by the issues nonprofits and foundations are working on are often the voices that are most drowned out in all the buzz. But without those voices, what are we really doing anyway? I know there are folks doing great work around community engagement and collaboration, and I’m really glad that’s happening because I think it’s key.
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?
Do they have to be alive and do they have to be human? Because I think it would be amazing to sit down to lunch with Kermit the Frog, Jim Henson, and Jane Henson (Jim’s wife). It may sound silly, but bear with me. The Muppets and Sesame Street have shaped generations, and I’d love to hear them talk about the intersection of creativity, play, hard work, and…just their commitment to advancing real heartfelt values (in kids and adults) with a sense of humor. And I didn’t realize until I heard she passed away last year that Jane was so involved from the beginning in Henson’s vision, so instead of just talking with a “great man and his creation,” I think it would be awesome to get her perspective on the evolution of that body of work…that phenomenon, really.