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Liz Cotter Schlax


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Liz Cotter Schlax, then a manager of strategic planning and business development with John Deere Credit, wasn’t looking for a job change. She just wanted to be a volunteer.

Shannon Cofield, president of United Way of Central Iowa, had a staffing hole left by the departure of a 19-year veteran, but was just hoping to add another volunteer.

The two set up a meeting to discuss volunteer opportunities, both parties blissfully unaware of the potential perfect match – at least until Cofield took a gander at Cotter Schlax’s resume.

“When I opened her resume the night before, I was like, oh my gosh, this is the one,” Cofield said.

A couple of weeks after their first meeting, Cofield invited Cotter Schlax for coffee and told her about the opening for the position of senior vice president of resource development.

“When Shannon offered this to me, I really didn’t have to think twice about it, because it fits so many pieces of where my heart and my passion really are,” Cotter Schlax said.

Cotter Schlax, who is married and has two young girls, accepted the offer, and in January took on the responsibilities for all fund-raising activities in Central Iowa, managing her 12-member team, guiding the organization toward its goal to raise $21.5 million in 2009, and of course participating in various community efforts. According to Cofield, she has already been flexing her influence.

“She was exactly what I was looking for. Exactly,” Cofield said.

If Cofield was looking for a woman who graduated from Harvard University, got an M.B.A. from Columbia, had multiple experiences with nonprofits and also an understanding of the corporate world, well then, yes, good find.

While studying at Harvard at the age of 19, Cotter Schlax took a year off to join the “Up With People” performing troupe, which allowed her to follow her passion for musical theater and travel the world singing and dancing. One passion led to another.

“The little sneaky thing about that program is that a lot of kids like me joined it to sing and dance around the world, but in the process we did community service projects,” she said. “I really got bitten by the service bug during that experience.”

With a resume as impressive as Cotter Schlax’s, she could have gone anywhere – but she has chosen nonprofits.

“She is a woman of incredibly strong principles and genuinely cares about making a difference,” Cofield said. “And if that is generally the core of who you are, no reasonable amount of money is going to pull you away.”

As Cotter Schlax’s good friend Gary used to say in a deep voice, “Ms. Cotter, advocate for the people.”

“I think I just have a passion for advocacy, for raising my voice for people who can’t,” Cotter Schlax said. “Raising our voice and not being afraid to raise our voice is the kind of influence that all of us can have.”

Cotter Schlax and United Way have big goals. Along with creating a long-term revenue diversification plan, she helped form 10-year goals that include mobilizing communities so 475 more high school students graduate on time, elevating 40,000 lower-income working families to become financially stable, and inspiring more than 60,000 individuals to improve their health.

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