From First Responder to Nonprofit Executive

SVPSA Partner Leslie Palmer knows the nonprofit world from every possible angle. In a career spanning more than 30 years, she’s volunteered in just about every position on various boards and served in virtually every role as a nonprofit staff member.  

“I’ve been CEO, program and operations person, chief development officer and emptied the trash if you needed it,” she said. “In the nonprofit sector you just do what needs to be done.”

That depth of experience fuels her passion today for helping nonprofits and their boards be the best they can be.

She started the M. Leslie Palmer Consulting Group in 2019 to help nonprofit organizations and small for-profit businesses become more successful.

Palmer’s long track record of working with nonprofit organizations began in her native Rhode Island. After working in various for-profit positions, she decided to pursue a career as a firefighter. In that role, she saw the challenges facing disadvantaged communities.

“I saw the needs up close and personal, and I experienced interactions with nonprofits in such a significant way that it really had an impact on me,” Palmer said.

She began serving on nonprofit boards in her community. When she and her husband, a San Antonio native, moved here, she knew she wanted to make a career in the nonprofit sector.

After years on staff at organizations including the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Antonio, the American Red Cross (at both local and national levels), and as executive director of City Year and the World Affairs Council of San Antonio, she decided she could better serve the nonprofit community by helping boards, leaders and organizations achieve their goals.

Her passion for helping nonprofits grow aligns perfectly with SVP’s mission. She became a partner two years ago, and has since become a board member and joined several committees, including fellowship, recruitment and retention, and governance.

“I really believe in what SVP does,” she said. “It’s an investment in the overall health of organizations by helping leaders to be stronger, wiser, more cognizant of their role and the board’s role, and to get deeper into finance.”

 She particularly enjoys being a part of SVP’s Fellowship program, a 7-month program to strengthen and expand the skills of executive-level nonprofit leaders.

“It is such a complement to my professional work. I love being part of the fellowship and helping people who recognize they need more help,” she said.

Palmer sees the fellowship’s benefits as a triad. First, there’s the curriculum-driven info. In the monthly training sessions during the fellowship, “you can see lightbulbs going off,” she said.

Secondly, fellowship participants are forging their own community through the program.

“They’re in an ecosystem where they now have comrades, they have people they can reach out to and say ‘do you ever have this problem and what do you do’?”

The third factor is accessing expert help within the SVP network.

“We as partners give away our time for those in our fellowship programs,” Palmer said. “They now have this pool of resources that is professional, dedicated, and investing their own money in this concept. So we’re all in as partners.”

Both professionally and in volunteering, helping nonprofits is a labor of love for Palmer.  

“SVP is just such a great organization, with amazing people. I gain as much as I give. I learn so much from the other partners, but I also learn so much from the fellows, both past and present,” she said. “They are incredibly talented, smart, dedicated individuals and I just love being able to spend time with people that really are making such a big difference in our community.”