My First Months as Propel’s CEO: Advocating for Nonprofits & Access to Capital

Henry Jiménez

Friends and colleagues, I have been loving connecting with you as the CEO of Propel Nonprofits. As a leader, I always want to be transparent, and as an organization, I want Propel to be, too.  Since starting in February, I have gotten to connect with staff, board members, nonprofit clients, philanthropic leaders, and fellow leaders & colleagues in the CDFI industry. I wanted to share a little bit about what I’ve been hearing and seeing in my conversations and travels, and introduce a little bit of the work I am doing to advocate for nonprofits in our state and region. In everything I do, I am always thinking about how we can ensure nonprofits have access to capital.  

Here’s what I have been up to: 

Getting to know the Propel Team 

As I mentioned in my first blog, my top priority was to get to know the team at Propel in my first weeks here. This team is amazing – they are connected and thoughtful and have welcomed me in, taught me new things, and made sure I felt like a true “Propeller.”  I was fortunate to join in some client engagements with the team including board retreats, trainings, and loan committee meetings.  

What is really astounding is how much knowledge the team has of nonprofits. Like me, many of them have made a career out of working in our sector. Their relationships with clients and colleagues are deep and meaningful.  

We also have had opportunities to learn together about our community. Recently, we took the time to learn about the indigenous land we inhabit, including doing a Bdote: Learning from Place Walk hosted by the Minnesota Humanities Center

Propel Staff and Board during the Bdote: Learning from Place Walk hosted by the Minnesota Humanities Center. Our teachers, Ramona Kitto Stately, Marlena Myles, and Blue Hummingbird Woman (Tara Perron) were generous with their knowledge.

Meeting Propel’s Board Members 

Propel’s board members, like the staff, are so committed to this work. I started my board member visits with members in Greater Minnesota. In meeting them, I also got to meet many clients around the state, and know I have many more to meet. I have a commitment to showing up in Greater Minnesota and I want people to know that when I visit, it isn’t my only visit. I’ll be back.

This spring, I visited Propel board member Tamara Lowney, President & CEO for Itasca Economic Development Corporation in Grand Rapids. What struck me was how much she does for Itasca County. She supports bringing together government entities and nonprofit leaders to solve systemic and emergent issues in the area. I am grateful she took the time to meet with me, and to introduce me to the incredible teams at Itasca Life Options, and MacRostie Art Center. 

I also got to visit Propel board member Gema Alvarado-Guerrero, Workforce Wellness Facilitator at Hormel in Austin, MN. She has a broad vision for her region and welcomed me by highlighting ways Propel could work with nonprofits in the region by joining them in their ongoing work.  

Gema introduced me to Jayne Gibson, Executive Director of Austin Aspires, a nonprofit in Austin, MN that brings a collaborative and community-based approach to bringing together community resources and families to challenge all learners to seek excellence.  An important part of Jayne’s work is serving folks who have been part of the community for generations, and ensuring newcomers to the community have access to the resources they need. Navigating these sometimes-conflicting needs is a challenge and an opportunity. I see an opportunity to support a nonprofit who is helping shape the new story of how a community could work together. 

Finally, I’ve gotta shout out Propel board chair, Scott Marquardt, President of the Southwest Initiative Foundation. Scott is plugged into so many communities in Southwestern Minnesota, more than I could’ve ever imagined. He has identified, like so many nonprofit leaders, the need for capital and capacity building in his region.  

Tamara, Gema, and Scott are champions of their regions, as are all our board members for the communities they represent. It is a privilege to learn from them. They wear multiple hats, dedicate countless hours of their time, and show up with great passion for the communities they represent. As leaders in their organizations and communities, they have local and regional leadership positions, and I admire how they advocate for their communities around the state. 

Meeting Nonprofits and Propel Clients  

Nonprofit leaders and workers are some of the hardest working people I know. Everyone is having to do more than what their original position description says. They are fully committed to their missions and serving their clients.  

I was honored to be profiled by Alyxandra Sego in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal recently. She asked me, “What are some things that have surprised you in your new role?” And I want to share that answer here, because I think it needs to be said often: 

“What has surprised me is that the resources nonprofits need, I would say, are at an all-time high — not just because times are bad or good, [but] because there’s so much more that is being asked of the nonprofit sector and leadership. There’s a significant change in leadership that needs to be invested in, as well. Long-term CEOs, executive directors — leadership is transitioning. Let’s not wait to have [the next group of leaders] prove themselves. Let’s invest in them now.”  

[You can read the full profile by clicking here:] 

When we talk about Propel being a champion of nonprofits, that includes nonprofit leaders. They need a champion for them; they need support in helping them to carve out time for themselves for their own personal and professional development. They need to be able to be able to take time off and feel like it is ok. And they need to be invested in today.  

Connecting with Philanthropic & Government Leaders 

I am not shy about asking for money – as funders have asked me what I need in my role, I can answer that question easily. We need resources so we can support nonprofits. You’ll hear me say this a lot: I see access to capital in three buckets: grants, contracts, and loans. Propel is a Community Financial Development Institution (CDFI) and I want to increase these three buckets for nonprofits not only from philanthropy, but from the private and government sectors as well. 

I am also excited about the new initiatives available — especially the Green House Gas Reduction Fund work. Earlier this spring, Ellie O’Brien, Propel’s CFO, and I got to attend the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders Climate Finance Bootcamp at Urban Institute in Washington D.C. in conjunction with the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund’s (GGRF) Clean Communities Investment Accelerator.  

The event focused on green project financing and underwriting tools and discussed the financial benefits of the GGRF for communities of color. National banks, Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs), CDFIs, and nonprofit leaders convened to explore net-zero building development, community solar project lending, and financial strategies for low-income and disadvantaged communities.  

Advocating for Nonprofits & Representing the Midwest 

I am honored to serve on both local and national boards, and represent Propel, nonprofits, and CDFIs. The last few months have been full of opportunities to connect with people around the state and country to talk about how we can ensure nonprofits and the communities they serve have access to the capital and resources they need to do their work.  

In May, I attended the Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) board meeting in Washington, D.C. My fellow board members and I visited Capitol Hill where we met with Senator Murray from Washington, Senator Schumer’s Staff, with Biden-Harris Administration officials from the Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, Office of Public Engagement, and U.S. Department of the Treasury to discuss to bring continued attention essential work of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), and their support of $350 million toward the CDFI fund. You can read more about the visit by clicking here

At the forefront of my mind as an OFN board member from Minnesota, are the experiences of Midwest CDFIs, small CDFIs, and BIPOC-led and serving CDFIs. My role is to help ensure resources are getting to those who need them most. Getting to advocate for my region and the great work we do here is why I love my job, and why I enjoy serving on the OFN board. 

It was also great to be with my colleagues on the OFN board and to support the team with the preparations to deploy Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund investments to our membership across the country. They are working on final details with the EPA and look forward to sharing more later this year. 

The OFN Board of Directors at the White House. Photo courtesy of OFN.

More to Come

As always, I look forward to meeting with more nonprofit leaders, attending your events, and hearing from you about ways Propel can better show up for you.  I am especially looking forward to seeing many of you at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Greater Minnesota Summit in Walker in September, the OFN conference in October, and at the joint MCN/MCF annual conference in October. 

Staff Author

Henry Jiménez

Henry is the President & CEO of Propel Nonprofits. He is an advocate for nonprofits and individuals and works to build community and generational wealth across Minnesota. He serves on several local and national boards, such as COPAL, OFN, and NALCAB. He is also a 2023 Bush Fellow with a strong track record of impact. He lives in Richfield with his family.

Read Bio

Staff Author

Henry Jiménez

Henry is the President & CEO of Propel Nonprofits. He is an advocate for nonprofits and individuals and works to build community and generational wealth across Minnesota. He serves on several local and national boards, such as COPAL, OFN, and NALCAB. He is also a 2023 Bush Fellow with a strong track record of impact. He lives in Richfield with his family.

Read Bio