As founder of Kennari Consulting, Sandi Frost Steensma believes in raising expectations and building connections to create more successful fundraising in a changing landscape. She has served her community as a Board Chair for the Kent County Commissioners and in her downtime she enjoys the hiking trails of northern Michigan and travelling abroad. We welcome Sandi Frost Steensma to Powerful Women: Let’s Talk
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Powerful Women, Let’s Talk
Produced by women, about women, “Powerful Women, Let’s Talk” is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world, transforming who we are and how we live. “Powerful Women, Let’s Talk” is made possible in part by Family Fare, keeping it real.
Shelley Irwin: As founder of Kennari Consulting, Sandi Frost Steensma believes in raising expectations and building connections to create more successful fundraising in a changing landscape. Sandi has more than 30 years of experience in fund development, forming Kennari Consulting in 2007. She served her community as former board chair for the Kent County Commissioners. In her downtime, she enjoys the hiking trails of Northern Michigan and international travel. We’ll ask about the Caminos. Welcome to “Powerful Women, Let’s Talk” Sandi Steensma.
Sandi Frost Steensma: Hi Shelley, it’s great to see you, thanks so much for having me today.
Irwin: So, is the plan to hike the tallest mountain in the world?
Frost Steensma: No, and I’ve actually looked into what it would take to get to base camp and decided that was even too high. So, no, I will not be climbing the highest mountain.
Irwin: Congratulations on your success and, yes, we will get more into hiking and the Camino. Let’s have you take us back to how you found yourself in the consultant world, basically a bit of your career journey.
Frost Steensma: Sure. I actually started out in sales. I was in sales for 14 years before I actually moved from sales to the Arthritis Foundation. And the idea really was that I could transfer my sales skills to fundraising and I was really committed and, I think, moved to take those sales skills and use them for good. Not that sales aren’t for good, but I thought fundraising would be an area where I could really make an impact. And then went from there to Hospice of Michigan and while I was there, I was doing quite a bit of training for a local organization and I really started to feel called to teach about fundraising. I don’t know how else to explain it but I was doing some trainings and I was finding that that’s where my passion lied. And then from there I went to another local firm before starting my firm in 2007.
Irwin: Kennari Consulting – what’s the word “kennari” mean?
Frost Steensma: Well, I get asked all the time if my name is Sandi Kennari and it isn’t. It’s Sandi Frost Steensma. But Kennari was a very deliberately chosen word. We worked with a local marketing firm to identify words that describe us, and my team said they liked to teach and our clients said they thought we were good teachers. And so, working with Reagan Marketing, they went out and found a word that was not in our public domain. So Kennari actually means “teacher” in Icelandic.
Irwin: Nice. How important is your business, in others, in life, is the connection – of course better said, the relationship – does that work in what you do?
Frost Steensma: Yeah, I think the relationships are really multi-layered. Because not only do we have the relationship with Line Development staff, but we also have the relationship with the Executive Director, the Board of Directors of the different organizations we serve with, and then with the donors. So, there really is a lot of interconnectivity between organizations, between all of those dynamics and so it’s critical, really, that we build good relationships with every layer of an organization and sometimes the program staff, and sometimes program participants too.
Irwin: What’s your secret to building a good relationship?
Frost Steensma: I think the secret to building a good relationship is really understanding what an organization or a program is trying to accomplish and finding a way that it’s personal. So, I think a lot of people that know me know, one of the organizations we worked for a long time with, for example, is Girls Choral Academy. Well, what they know about me is that choir is the place where I found my solace as a child and they also know that I like to sing, even though I’m not that competent probably.
Irwin: We could make time.
Frost Steensma: Oh, let’s not do that. Better idea not to do that. But they know that I have a genuine passion for what they’re doing. The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre, which is a long-term client, also knows I have a genuine passion for theater. And so I think it’s really helpful for the clients that we work with to know what our, any of our team’s, connections are to what they do.
Irwin: You obviously have a genuine leadership interest. Your award-winning leadership roles present and past, both for your work and your community. What’s your secret to success for getting others to follow?
Frost Steensma: I think part of it is having a vision for where you’re going. And being able to take input along the way so you’re not striking out on your own but figuring out what is the strategic best direction by getting input, and then getting others on board to help to really see where that vision is going and getting them to go with you. I think that’s the trick, is getting people to go along with you on your journey.
Irwin: And how does a young Sandi Frost Steensma want to begin her journey? Where do I start?
Frost Steensma: That’s a really interesting question as it relates to leadership. I started out with a local volunteer organization, the Grand Rapids Jaycees, and sort of worked my way – really not trying – but worked my way to the top of that organization and was first woman president in 1990. And, from there, it wasn’t a very big leap to community. I talked to our local township supervisor, got on the planning commission, eventually ran for township board and then eventually ran for the county commission. And now I’m a trustee at Lake Superior State University. In each one of those arenas, it was figuring out what the organization did, finding my passion for it and continuing to find mentors along the way that would help usher me to my next level. That part of mentorship is really important, both being a mentor once you become a leader but also finding those mentors along the way that really encourage you.
Irwin: I’m assuming, not knowing, you’ve been the only woman in the room. What’s that like? And how can women follow your trail?
Frost Steensma: Yeah, I’ve often found myself as the only woman in the room. And what I find is, is it is better for me anyway as a leader, to listen and understand the dynamics before acting. So, I always try to figure out what the lay of the land is and to figure out what I’m dealing with, before my D on the disk kicks in, because it will kick in. But by the time it kicks in, I have a pretty good handle on what I’m facing and how to manage it. So, I’m not really a bull in a china shop, I’m really probably much more strategic about how I move forward.
Irwin: Now fun facts. Let’s talk about hiking, including in Spain. When did you take your first trail walk?
Frost Steensma: I can honestly tell you that my first walk on a trail was probably on Mackinac Island. I really wasn’t seeking becoming a hiker, but a lot of people don’t know the state park has something like 100 miles of trails on Mackinac Island, there way in the back of the island. And what I found was, while I’m a runner and a walker also, what I found about hiking is it used a lot more of your leg muscles, it was beautiful, and it was quiet, and I became quite a fan. And what I discovered not too long after that was there’s lots of wonderful trails, like the North Country Trail right across the bridge.
Irwin: But yet, maybe before hiking, there was and continues to be a running life a bit later in life? Share here.
Frost Steensma: Yeah, I was actually thinking about how I started. My first run was in 2006, right after I got elected – won the primary – for county commission. And I was so jazzed. I was out for my regular walk and I saw this hill out in Cascade and I ran up the hill. And when I finished it, I figured out, that’s the runner’s high. That’s why people do this. Because I was just all elated. However, I was really sore the next day and decided maybe running uphill wasn’t the way to start. And so, after that I actually founded a running program and actually started following a running program, and eventually did my first 5K in 2007.
Irwin: But may I ask your decade of life?
Frost Steensma: So, in my fifties I did 31 half marathons. I don’t honestly know how many 5Ks and 10Ks I’ve done, because there was a time where I was doing them every weekend. So, I don’t really know how many of those I did. I did count my half marathons and it was 31.
Irwin: So, those medals aren’t all in a box and out prominently displayed. There is a degree in music, speaking of being able to sing, play?
Frost Steensma: I started out at the University of Colorado in Music, but I actually ended up getting my degree in Psychology with an emphasis in Behavioral Genetics. And my master’s is in Management from Aquinas.
Irwin: Yes. What is the secret to, I guess, life balance?
Frost Steensma: I think the secret to life balance is, again, really understanding what you’re passionate about. And what I’ve found between hiking and running, and walking and friendship is I’m passionate about all of those things. And of course, I’m passionate, I love my husband – he lives on Mackinac Island and is with Murdick’s Fudge. And so, I’ve managed to figure out how to have all of it, you know, I don’t know how that’s happened. It has been a really nice life. I met him in 2011, and it has really been a nice balance of friends and outdoor activity and work and life and love. I feel very, very blessed.
Irwin: I want to end our fun fact conversation with international travel. What is it about hiking the Camino?
Frost Steensma: So, the Camino was a bit of a spiritual journey. Everybody described it that way before we went, and I did find it to be that way. There’s something about being out in the middle of a eucalyptus forest and listening to Cuckoo birds. That really strikes you in the moment as being something very unique. And being out in nature and having time to contemplate and all that kind of thing. The Camino itself, you have to do 100 kilometers in order to get your Compostela, which basically is your certification that you did the pilgrimage. And that was a really, pretty big accomplishment. Because we did 70 miles in a matter of six days. And that was the most – the first two days were 15 miles each – by far the most I’d ever done in two days. It definitely felt like something that was big. It felt big when we were doing it, felt big when it was done.
Irwin: How do you best suggest we move into this 2021, Sandi?
Frost Steensma: Well, I think everybody can say that 2020 wasn’t the year they envisioned in January 2020. And it has been a year of trial and error, and heartache and joy and just about everything you can feel in a year, I think we’ve experienced in 2020. I think everybody has pretty much gotten through it and for those of us that have not lost loved ones to COVID, we’re more resilient as we go into 2021. I feel like we’ve been able to innovate. I think that has been really important. I think some of the innovations that we’ve seen virtually and online, I think they’ll continue. For our clients, we’ve seen them expand audience in a way I never could have imagined. And for my team at Kennari, I feel like we’ve expanded our skills in a way that I never could have predicted. So, going into 2021, I’m very optimistic that all the lessons that we’ve learned in 2020 we’ll be able to apply in 2021. And as we all get more healthy, and as we’re able to over the course of the year be together more, I’m really looking forward to a joyous end to 2021.
Irwin: Share a special motto that moves you.
Frost Steensma: If you do the right thing, the right thing happens. And there’s probably no more guiding principle, especially when I’ve been in leadership roles that I’ve followed, but also with my business, it’s sometimes really challenging to do the right thing, but when you do the right thing, the right thing happens.
Irwin: Want to run a marathon?
Frost Steensma: I don’t want to run a marathon. I do have an interest in running another half marathon. It’s been a few years.
Irwin: Thank you for this time on “Powerful Women, Let’s Talk,” Founder of Kennari Consulting Sandi Frost Steensma.
Frost Steensma: Thanks so much for having me today, Shelley, I really enjoyed our time together.
Irwin: That does it. I’m Shelley Irwin. Thank you for listening to this edition of “Powerful Women, Let’s Talk.”
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