Words by Julian Andrews & Photos by J Olson
Kelly Matter greets the attendees of YNPN’s April Breakfast of Champions event with a smile and a firm handshake. She’s professional, but not at the expense of warmth and openness.
As the President and CEO of AVIVO, Kelly sits at the helm of one of Minnesota’s largest nonprofits, providing integrated chemical and mental health services, career education and employment services to thousands of people across the state. She has a busy morning, of course, and has been up since before dawn preparing for the day. However, she’s happy to step away for an hour and a half to share the room with around 20 young nonprofit professionals.
“I love to share AVIVO,” she said. Kelly’s first instinct is to talk about her work rather than herself, but once things got going it quickly became clear that the two are inexorably intertwined. Kelly’s vision and sense of purpose help drive AVIVO, and it in turn drives her.
A Career of Impact
Kelly’s career — one that has seen her work for several of the biggest nonprofits in the Midwest — has been focused on one guiding principle — impact.
After graduating in 1989 with a degree in vocational education from the University of Wisconsin–Stout, Kelly went on to work for Goodwill-Easter Seals for 20 years. She loved the mission, loved the impact, and loved the stability of the organization. When it was time to move on, Kelly went to work for Common Bond Communities before finding her way to AVIVO.
For Kelly, it’s important that impact be measurable. How to best measure the impact of an organization is a topic that is ripe for debate, but what is not up for debate is that AVIVO has managed to do a lot of good for a lot of people. Kelly and AVIVO measure success in many different ways and those numbers tell an impressive story.
Last year, AVIVO helped over 5,000 people go to work at living wage jobs and they serve about 20,000 people each year spread out over 25 locations in 17 counties. Overall, they’ve helped 56,000 people into employment and boast an 80-percent retention rate at the six-month mark for people they help find jobs.
Kelly is proud of that work: “We know we have an impact in reducing disparities when we achieve those types of numbers.”
Wellness & Life
Kelly’s visionary but realistic approach is reflected the very title of the organization she shepherds. After many years of providing services under different iterations of the name RESOURCE, the organization rebranded in 2017 under Kelly’s leadership. The name “AVIVO” has a philosophical connection to the nonprofit’s mission but adds a pragmatic twist.
“‘Vivo,’ in Latin and Greek, means to be alive, to live well, to live life fully. We added the ‘A’ to get to the top of search engines, to make it work for us,” Kelly explained.
Providing services that address every part of a person’s wellbeing is integral to AVIVO’s mission. That may sound like a lofty goal, but Kelly’s team sees it as the most effective way of lifting people out of homelessness and helping them build stable lives for themselves.
“First we integrated chemical and mental health and now we’re integrating career education and employment services. We start our basic career education courses in our treatment program,” Kelly said.
That integration is key. It’s impossible to address just one aspect of someone’s complicated and individual situation and expect success. In bringing everything together, AVIVO both raises the ceiling of the impact it can hope to make and increases its odds of achieving its goals.
Working It Out
Kelly hopes that her success in the nonprofit field will help others realize that building a career around change and impact is a feasible goal.
“There are careers in not for profit, and there are good careers in not for profit, and not just the CEO role,” she said. “I have had all kinds of career opportunities and I know you can and will too…You can make an amazing career and you can have impact.”
It can be tempting for nonprofit professionals to be drawn to work in other fields where resources are more plentiful. However, it always comes back to that word, impact. In Kelly’s experience, there are few career fields where a person can have as much direct impact as they can in nonprofits. She’s a success story in that field, and she’s adamant that all the hard work pays off.