Anne Wallestad (ΦBK, Drake University) serves as president and CEO of BoardSource, a globally recognized nonprofit focused on strengthening nonprofit leadership at the highest level—the board of directors. An award-winning veteran of nonprofit leadership, she has held leadership roles with a number of national and local organizations including more than seven years of leadership in the movement for LGBT civil rights at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign.
As a child, what profession did you envision for yourself when you grew up?
I moved through a lot of different ideas – teacher and marriage counselor are the two that were the most sustained, and of course, I'm doing neither! But I was always interested in people and ideas, which shows up in the work that I do today.
What was the most transformative course from your undergraduate education?
I had a senior seminar in sociology that was transformative. It introduced me to a lot of new concepts and thinking around identity, including the introduction of whiteness. As someone who grew up without a race-based analysis of how my whiteness shaped my worldview, it was a turning point in how I saw myself and the world.
You're currently the President and Chief Executive Officer of BoardSource. What is the organization's mission, and what does your role as CEO entail?
BoardSource is a nonprofit organization focused on strengthening nonprofit leadership at the highest level – the board of directors. We are a source of research and resources related to nonprofit board leadership, which includes helping to draw attention to how nonprofit boards need to change to enable their organizations to better serve their social good purposes. I've been a part of BoardSource's leadership team for more than a decade and our CEO since 2013. In my role, I have the tremendous opportunity to work with a talented team of committed professionals, and – together – we serve as a trusted partner to nonprofit organizations and their leaders, and a leading voice for change in the nonprofit sector.
What do you enjoy most about your work? Has there been a project or initiative you've helped implement that you're especially proud of?
I am a big believer in the power of people and organizations to create positive change. In my work at BoardSource, I love that I get to help organizations and their leaders push the boundaries on what is possible. The nonprofit sector includes more than 1.5 million individual organizations and an estimated 20 million nonprofit board members working for positive change – and it's exciting and humbling to be a part of what those organizations and leaders are doing for the world. I am especially motivated in the role that we play in helping boards create change within their organizations to advance racial equity, including addressing the urgent need to diversify board leadership.
Do you think Phi Beta Kappa and a well-rounded, liberal arts and sciences education are important in today's society?
I do. I think the challenges and opportunities that we face as a society require citizens and leaders who think holistically about the state of our world and what it will take to ensure a brighter future for us all. Our success will rise and fall on the leadership capacities and competencies cultivated in a well-rounded, liberal arts and sciences education – the ability to see things from multiple perspectives, hold competing priorities and navigate through them, and see oneself as a part of a larger whole. I am grateful that my liberal arts education created the space for me to cultivate critical thinking skills and see the importance of that now more than ever.
What advice do you have for young Phi Beta Kappa members, especially those interested in working in the nonprofit sector?
Two things come to mind. First, invest your energy in a career that feels like time well spent, however you define that. If you do, the hard work and dedication of effort will be a gift to yourself and the organization for which you are working. Second, take the time to learn and soak up the developmental gifts of each step in your journey. If you're too focused on "what's next," you miss the opportunities of where you are – including those that you could have never planned or anticipated.
What book are you reading right now? Are you listening to any podcasts or watching any shows? Anything you'd recommend?
I just finished reading Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson. I loved it so much that I've started reading her previous book, The Warmth of Other Suns. I highly recommend both. I'm not a big podcast person, but I've certainly been watching more than my share of TV during the pandemic. Recent (to me) faves include The Queen's Gambit, Dead to Me, and Killing Eve.