Kristi Pearson’s entire career has been defined by connection. Though her path to her current role as the executive director of Friends of the Hennepin County Library (FHCL) was not a traditional one by any means, the thread that ties it all together is Pearson’s focus on building real relationships and finding ways to bring people together around things they care about.
On a surprisingly crisp morning in September, Kristi has a new group with which to form connections—a collection of young nonprofit professionals all gathered in a high-ceilinged conference room in the beautiful downtown Hennepin County Library. Kristi is animated and excited, it’s clear she loves the energy of the gathering.
Small Town Beginnings
Kristi grew up in a small town in Indiana as the youngest (along with her twin sister) in a large family.
They didn’t have much money, but they did have a good public school and a good library.
These things afforded Kristi the opportunity to pursue her curiosities, and with the addition of a combination of scholarships and waitressing jobs, to go to college.
“I look back and think, ‘What were the advantages that I had?’” Kristi says. “It was the public schools, it was the public libraries, it was where the people who were curious, who were learners, who wanted to learn more, do more, or figure out their voice could find some of those resources.”
After earning a degree in marketing from Indiana University, Kristi went to work for British Petroleum in Cleveland, Ohio. For someone who had never lived in a city before, it was a perfect first job out of college. Not only did she get excited about the world of marketing, but she worked with people who helped her navigate city life for the first time, going out of their way to make her transition easier. That pay it forward attitude has stuck with Kristi to this day.
The Corporate Climb Changes Direction
Kristi was enjoying life in the for-profit sector. After moving to Chicago to work in sales for Eastman-Kodak she moved to Siemens—a massive German company where she worked in Information and Communication Networks. There was something about sales that fit with Kristi—she saw it helping build connections and figuring out how products fit into peoples’ lives.
“It’s almost like matchmaking and it’s fun in that way.
That’s how I felt sales was, really listening and understanding what the core motivations are for that person
and then figuring out how you get to that common ground,” she says.
That experience would come in handy later on when Kristi moved into development roles, where she did similar matchmaking work but in a different context. At Siemens, though, Kristi thought she had found her passion. She was moving up, she was being invested in, and she was given opportunities to travel. But things changed when she and her husband had children—it simply didn’t make sense for both Kristi and her husband to be traveling and working so much when they had young children. After talking it over with her husband, Kristi, who had always wanted to be a mom, decided to put her career on hold.
An Identity Crisis & a New Direction
The transition to being a full-time mother wasn’t easy for Kristi. She had focused on her work for so long that taking a step back represented a bit of a loss of identity. That’s something she now regrets.
“I realized that for so long I identified as a person with this career. When I would go to a party, or meet somebody in the park, they’d be like, ‘What do you do?’ and I’d have to say I wish I felt more comfortable at that time saying, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mom,’” she says.
As she grew more comfortable in her role as a stay-at-home mom, Kristi found that she was once again taking advantage of the same public spaces that, as a child, had given her the opportunity to get ahead.
“I realized the sense of community that comes from these public spaces,” she says.
While she was a stay at home mom, Kristi remained extremely active volunteering at her children’s school and raising funds to support full-day kindergarten classrooms. When it came time to return to work, she ended up taking a job with AchiveMpls as their director of development and Kristi’s journey as a leader in the nonprofit world began. After serving for four years on the FHCL board, Kristi jumped at the chance to take the executive director job there.
Kristi has always put connections and people at the center of her work and she has seen that effort pay off.
“I hope that each and every one of your organizations . . . feels like their most valuable resource in the nonprofit is their people,” she says. “Because that’s what it is.”