On January 10, 2023, Veena Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) testified in support of Driver’s Licenses for All at the Minnesota Legislature. She joined immigrants and other members of Freedom to Drive MN Coalition – a statewide coalition that is working toward restoring access to Minnesota Driver’s Licenses and MN state IDs for undocumented immigrants.
Iyer, who has been the Executive Director at ILCM for 4 years, has used her time to grow the capacity of the organization to be agile and adaptable when moments like this one arise.
Honoring the work that’s been done
For over 25 years, ILCM has worked across the state of Minnesota to provide quality, free immigration legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. ILCM also works to educate Minnesota communities and professionals about immigration matters, and advocates for state and federal policies which respect the universal human rights of immigrants. The organization is a major resource to many, and when Iyer took over as executive director in 2019, she knew she had to act boldly to show up for clients and other nonprofits doing critical advocacy work.
“When I started at ILCM, I joined an informal group of other executive directors who were also taking over for long time founders, many of whom were white and had been at their organizations for years,” Iyer said. “I was looking to balance what had done in the past, with what else we could be doing, and it was refreshing to hear others were in the same boat.”
Something Iyer and her fellow nonprofit leaders knew was that to be successful as leaders and organizations, they were going to need to do things differently than they’d been done before.
Financial leadership & planning for adaptability
Iyer and her staff went through a strategic planning process in 2022 where they asked themselves an important question: How could they make sure they had the resources they needed right now, AND grow the work they do?
At the time, the organization was looking at the future of their work in regard to immigration. Who would be in power? What kind of changes would they need to be prepared for as they continued to serve people who benefit from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? How could they prepare for deportation defense? What would their role be in serving Afghan refugees?
“Whatever came our way, we wanted to be able to gear up really quick to do those things,” Iyer said.
Iyer, a lawyer, advocate, and organizational leader, credits her time spent in Propel’s Financial Leadership Cohort as one of the things that prepared her to lead her organization through this time.
“The training was one of the best I have taken as an ED because I walked away with the tools to do my job better right away,” Iyer said.
Recovery capital and capacity
In 2021, Propel launched its Recovery Capital loan product, that provides flexible-use, long term capital funds to nonprofits. The loan proceeds could be used, for example, to bolster infrastructure and increase stability in organizations as they recovered from the pandemic, and the civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
For some this meant business model updates, strategic infrastructure improvements or creating reserve funds. For others it means investing in new staff or other tools, to support an organization’s development capacity.
“We were in a time of great flux – and still are – when we decided to apply for a Recovery Capital Loan,” Iyer said. “We wanted to be able to create an environment where we could do our complex and often difficult work well and support our staff doing it.”
Iyer worked with Propel’s lending team to apply for a Recovery Capital Loan – a product that offers favorable terms, is partially forgivable, and was a way for the organization to invest strategically in their growth.
“We needed money to sustain our work and grow; it became clear we needed to invest in our fund development function, and do it responsibly,” Iyer said. “This loan allowed us to do that.”
ILCM hired a Development Director with the goal of diversifying funding sources, increasing revenue, and developing relationships with key stakeholders.
After nine months in the role, their Development Director has already brought on great systems and expertise to the team offering them the capacity to increase their impact.
Growth for ILCM means showing up for coalitions like Freedom to Drive MN and being able to handle complicated cases for the clients across the state.
“I think any executive director operates with a certain amount of fear and concern, but these investments have made those feel balanced for me,” Iyer said.
There are many ways to support ILCM:
- Donate: the organization is grateful to individuals and institutions; their generosity makes it possible for the staff and volunteers to support the community
- Volunteer: ILCM has opportunities for lawyers and paralegals, especially student internships and interns and volunteers in other areas
- Subscribe: ILCM sends out communications that keep you updated on our work, as well as current immigration issues in Minnesota and the U.S. and how you can take action
- Be a champion for immigrant voices in your community: “Listen to the immigration stories you hear and connect those stories to what needs to be fixed; we need individuals pushing their elected officials to transform the immigration system,” Iyer said.