Getting to Know the La Piana Team: An Interview with Mya Varno

This blog post is part of our continuing series featuring the La Piana team. This week, we spoke with Mya Varno, who joined the firm as Associate Consultant in June 2019.

What are three words you would use to describe your new role with La Piana Consulting? 

Doer and listener are some that come to mind, but the best one would be dance. In this role, you are constantly trying to step between clients, activities, and industries. At La Piana, like in dance, you always have to anticipate what’s coming next. There’s a lot of adaptability, hard work, and fun that goes into each step and it’s all a little different.

What attracts you to working with nonprofits, foundations, and/or the consultants who serve them?

Growing up, my first job was with a nonprofit that addressed children’s hunger. I liked doing something day in and day out where you have an impact on other people. It was great to be on the program side of things and after college I loved working in communications and development to share about what nonprofits were trying to achieve. I’m energized by their fire for their mission, which in general, they’re all striving to make some part of life better. Now consulting with nonprofits, I still get to work with people who have that passion. They are doing really important work and, when you see how much they are invested, it’s easy to jump in with them and want to learn the best way to accomplish their missions.

What skills or lessons from your past experience do you expect to draw from the most in your new role? 

Some of the bigger traits that made me a good fit for this role have¬ a lot to do with my personality and the experiences I’ve been drawn to. I always feel best when there is a plan in place so when there are a lot of unknowns, it feels natural for me to support our clients with anticipating the details and making contingency plans to makes sure everything gets done and everyone is on the same page. My appreciation for genuine relationships drew me into strategic communications and using that perspective helps me to plan through what it takes to authentically motivate people to action during times of change, like culture creation after a merger or adjusting organizational strategies.

What are your favorite types of challenges/projects/opportunities?

My favorite opportunities occur in projects where you are able to work with a group of people and see the moment where they are able to look at a problem differently, with a new lens. I also enjoy when you have a group that starts with a sticky challenge and then considers different perspectives and priorities that help them to focus on the mission and the passion everyone shares to move forward toward a solution. So the projects that are often my favorite are ones that center on the people dynamic of our clients’ goals. (Mya Varno pictured at right with husband Dan Varno in Nashville, TN)

Your work as a communications project manager for a public affairs firm, leading multi-faceted client teams in executing digital advocacy campaigns is impressive. What are your thoughts on marketing and communications embedded in your current role, or as a whole in the nonprofit sector?

I am biased about communications because I think it is central to every sector, but nonprofits are unique because they are so interdependent on their community. At La Piana, we emphasize that strategy needs to be unified top-down, and communications is a big part of how you share what your strategy with others. All of your staff need to be on board, so you need to be sure to be clear and authentic in a way that inspires your team to provide the best services your community needs. You are also constantly having to persuade people to be a part of your mission – in fundraising, board recruitment, events, etc. No matter what, it has to be a priority to share a clear vision of what your organization wants to achieve, why your work is important, and empower folks to be a part of your mission.

My current role plays into how I am able to support our clients because we work with busy people who have busy lives and are doing important work. It is imperative to be clear on where we’re headed and how we plan to get there. From program staff to C-suite and the outside community, one of the most important things I can do is foster a collaborative environment for the client to strive toward progress.

What do you most enjoy doing when you’re not working? 

On a small scale, I like pretending I’m a local when I get to travel. I tag along with my husband when he travels for work to places like Austin, TX and Miami, FL. I definitely have a long list of places that I would still like to experience. I’d love to visit more international regions and little cities, which is where you can find the local treasures.

Harrisburg has a big food scene, so I also enjoy eating at new food spots and trying different things. I play in a rec volleyball league and I am super competitive so anything where I can get to move is great!

What is your favorite place/sight/sound in the world?

This is a tricky one! My favorite place right now is an outdoor, riverside yoga class in Harrisburg. On one of the busiest streets, right by the river, there is a park where they hold classes and you can see Downtown and the water rushing under the bridges. I love the crazy buzz of the city with the peace of the river. It’s really this indescribable feeling to hear the cacophony of all the sounds happening at once – cars, river, families out for a bike ride, and the yoga instructor. It’s a mix of chaos and peace, city and nature, it’s just really nice to have a little bit of everything in one moment.

Is there a book or film that has left a particular impression with you lately, and why? 

Black Klansmen has had a huge impression on me because they take something serious and kind of make it overly dramatic. They took this unlikely story that actually happened, and you get to come out on the other side with the impact. You are left with some of that discomfort and it’s a good reminder of the work that continues to need to be done.

If you could have lunch with anyone famous, who would it be and why? 

Like many people, I would love to have lunch with Dr. Martin Luther King. I feel like there are SO many things that are interesting about his work, but I’m truly impressed by how he inspired people to believe in expanding civil rights when the policy was unpopular and benefited people that others weren’t prioritizing. He was a person of faith who decided he was going to make it relevant to the lives of others in a real way. King organized a system across the nation to change a problem in society. He energized people with a clear mission, activated people to support it, and got boots on the ground to get it done. I’d hope it was a four-course lunch, because I’d have a ton of questions to ask.

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