PMA Team Member Spotlight: Penny Hawkins

July 2021

Penny Hawkins
Senior Consultant 

Penny Hawkins brings nearly twenty years of professional experience from both the corporate and nonprofit sectors to her work as a Senior Consultant at PMA over the last four years.  She sat down with colleague Charmain Lewis to talk about her professional journey, what she's learned, and the advice she now offers others considering the path to nonprofit leadership.  

Penny began her career in Private Equity with BlackHawk Capital Management where she focused on communications, investor relations, marketing, and operations. After completing the Foundation For The Carolinas Impact Fund for Emerging Philanthropists in 2008, she combined her skill for investor relations with a desire to support growth in Charlotte's vital philanthropic community. Prior to joining PMA, Penny held leadership development positions at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, KinderMourn, and the Council for Children's Rights. In her most recent role with Novant Health, she served as the Development Program Manager of the Children's and Women's Service Lines. Her focus was on cultivation of major gifts, strategic growth for the service line, and creation of an advisory council to pediatrics. 

As a consultant with PMA, Penny's experience offers her a unique perspective to quickly adapt to new initiatives within an organization and provide high-level thinking that paves the way for strategic growth, process improvement, and organizational development. Penny has a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a focus on Public Relations from UNC Chapel Hill. In addition, she has obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) designation. Penny is also very involved with the Charlotte Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), where she serves as the Past President. 

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It has been very rewarding to work with a variety of organizations at PMA. When you think of philanthropy, you often think of the big names of local families and corporations. They are wonderful, but when you're part of a team like we have at PMA, you can see just how broad and diverse the nonprofit community is, how talented the leaders are that manage them, and how dedicated the donors are that support them.  There's so much good out there and so much desire to engage in positive change. When I think about all of the nonprofits that support school-aged children the after-school programs, the in-school therapy and other programs like that - I think about all of the people fueling those efforts and it reminds me that there are more people in the world who want to do good than don't. I've also had to remind myself that those who haven't engaged in philanthropy may not have found the right opportunity yet. I think most people inherently want to be a part of solutions; they want to be a part of things that are going to make our communities better.

What led you into the nonprofit world?

After graduating from college, I thought I was going to study abroad. I didn't get that opportunity and ended up working at a friend's company to gain work experience as well as doing some volunteer work with a colleague. I went on to work at a private equity fund where I was responsible for their marketing and investor relations, but continued to volunteer with a couple of nonprofits. After the market crashed in 2008, I decided to use my experience with investors to engage donors and reached out to a group that my older sister was involved in, the Council for Children's Rights.

The Council was looking for an event planner, and I knew the development director and the executive director were amazing.  I was fortunate to join a really strong team as I began my professional experience in the nonprofit sector. I obtained a lot of great experience from a leadership standpoint, and it was during this time that I met Patton. He happened to be working on a project with CFCR and was interviewing everyone on the team. One of the comments he made was that you should always have your own personal board of directors. I took that to heart, and he became someone who I would always call when I was in transition or considering a new opportunity.  While at the Council, I took on every development role possible; If there was anything someone didn't want to do, I did it. If someone was transitioning out of a grant-writing role, I asked if I could help and just took over. I wore every hat that I could.

After having my first child, I took on the role of Development Director at KinderMourn. Knowing they were a smaller organization and offered a family-focused work-life balance, I ended up becoming their Director of Development and had an amazing experience. It was during this time I joined the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and became heavily involved with the organization and the professional network it provides.

What advice would you give aspiring nonprofit leaders? 

Speaking of AFP, I would encourage anyone seeking opportunities in the nonprofit sector to strategically network. It's often hard to build your career within a single nonprofit because the opportunities may be limited.  Once you've accomplished different initiatives within a single nonprofit, it's often hard to advance when you're part of an organization that only has five or six people like many small nonprofits. A network that you can find inside of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, PMA's Mastermind Program, IPL's Leadership Gift School or any sort of professional development is helpful. We spend so much time communicating with donors and prospects, but it's just as important to do that within our own professional network as well.

How do you manage work and family life? 

Having daughters, it's been great for them to see both my husband and I balance work and family life.  What's been really nice about a career in the nonprofit sector is finding organizations that have allowed me to be a mom as well as grow professionally. I have an easier time working for child-serving organizations who value a family focus on their teams, because that's what their missions are all about. As a consultant, I can work 70 hours in a week if the project requires it, but can also spend another week focusing entirely on my family if I need to do that. I think for so long it has been an all-or-nothing mentality for many women in the work force. You were either a mom or worked full-time. I'm optimistic that a silver lining from the pandemic will be many organizations offering a flexible professional environment that will in fact allow them to attract and retain more talented professionals with families. 

What's your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?

I love to work out. I found a program that's outdoors and has been so much fun and a wonderful outlet during the pandemic. It's called Camp Gladiator, and most days, my husband and I find the time to work out together. It's like cross-fit training and similar to F-3. We're also very new to gaming and bought a Nintendo Switch. We enjoy playing the dance games together.

What three words would you use to describe PMA? 

Personalized, relationship-building and solution-oriented.

What would you be doing if you weren't working at PMA?

I would have loved to become a chef. If the hours weren't that long, it would have been amazing!

​​​​​​About PMA Nonprofit Leadership 

As a firm, PMA Nonprofit Leadership is constantly developing content and programs to help you in three distinct ways.  The first way is to help you be a thought leader in the nonprofit sector by producing weekly content through our podcast Your Path to Nonprofit Leadership. The second way is through individual coaching, training and our unique Mastermind Nonprofit Leadership program. The third way is to help your nonprofit organization through support of its strategic planning, board & staff development, and fundraising. Through our exclusive partnership with the Institute for Philanthropic Leadership, we also  guide aspiring nonprofit leaders thought the virtual New Development Professionals cohort training program, as well as the annual Leadership Gift School, now entering its 10th cohort season.  Let us know how we can help you! Join our community by signing up for our free resources here, and schedule a call if you'd like to learn more about ways we can help you on your journey to nonprofit leadership. ​​​​​​