By Sarah Elisabeth Sawyer (Choctaw Nation), Artist in Business Leadership Fellow 2015
After several years of working with Sweetgrass Consulting to collect data, First Peoples Fund was ready to further integrate our work via a new in-house position, a Story Tracker/Data Analyst.
“The role is to sort through the extensive data we have collected and compiled since 2004 and begin to weave the story across programs that strengthen the quantitative data,” Marsha Whiting (Chippewa Cree, Sicangu Lakota), Vice President of Operations and Programs, explained. “It is time to get to the heart of our work through storytelling.”
Becky Monnens, previously a program officer at The McKnight Foundation, returned to her home state of South Dakota a few years ago and worked with the Black Hills Area Community Foundation before recently filling the Story Tracker/Data Analyst role at First Peoples Fund. Becky brings an understanding of the value of data and stories to nonprofits, foundations and the field.
“First Peoples Fund takes a holistic approach of paying attention to the heart and the head,” Becky said. “I think our massive database is the head. The challenge is how to capture the heart. It’s there when you start reading trip reports, talking to program staff, leadership, and board members. There’s a lot of the heart there.”
Becky grew up on a ranch near Isabel, South Dakota. She did her undergrad studies at South Dakota State University where she majored in Political Science with a minor in Spanish.
From there, she moved overseas and worked at the Unidad Académica Campesina-Carmen Pampa in Bolivia for three years. The college has several partnerships with U.S. universities, including South Dakota State University. Becky’s work there consisted mostly of grant writing and development, and as a liaison with the partnerships the college had. They roped her into teaching a few English language classes as well.
When she returned to the U.S., Becky did her graduate studies at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota. She earned her masters in Organizational Leadership.
Becky continued working in international development at small nonprofits in the Twin Cities, and she spent eight years at The McKnight Foundation working in their international program. Most of her work was in sustainable agriculture in a number of South American and African countries.
To be closer to family, Becky decided to make the move back to South Dakota with her husband and son. They settled in Rapid City close to her parents, sister and a collection of aunts, uncles, and cousins. She enjoys working with her hands — woodworking, welding, knitting, and gardening. “I like being connected to the earth,” she said.
In Rapid City, Becky started working with the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, and became acquainted with local non-profits.
Becky’s initial experience with First Peoples Fund was attending the Jennifer Easton Community Spirit Awards (CSA) in the fall of 2016. Through her previous work, Becky knows an organization is more successful when they recognize how people are connected to the place in which they live, and the culture and relationships around that place. She witnessed this at the CSA celebration that honored culture bearers.
“Everything I’ve seen so far goes back to that center,” Becky said. “It’s always where the data is drawing you back to — the culture bearers and being grounded in people and space.”
First Peoples Fund believes a holistic approach creates stronger results and impact. In every level of programs, this balance between head and heart must be present.
Becky firmly agrees. “Studies show that any development program that’s not connected to cultural values is less successful, so you must have that balance and be able to tell the story using that balance,” she said.
From the start, Becky was immersed in the rich culture at First Peoples Fund. “I could describe my first week as taking a deep breath and going underwater all day long and coming up at the end of the day and starting to breathe again,” she laughed. “It’s complete immersion, in learning how First Peoples Fund describes themselves, and in that super rich institutional knowledge that all the staff has. And also an understanding of why things are done certain ways. It was a lot of listening and observing.”
First Peoples Fund President Lori Pourier (Oglala Lakota) appreciates having Becky in her new position to learn the process of collecting data for our fellowship programs and how we measure business growth while placing equal value on our core values of integrity, generosity, respect, and wisdom.
“There is the heart-based data and then the more head type — the business side,” Lori said. “Becky is a huge asset. She understands the work we’re doing because she comes out of philanthropy and supporting grassroots communities. And although it was with mainstream communities, it’s all related and connected. Mitakuye Oyasin.”
“The main things that brought me to First Peoples Fund,” Becky said, “was recognizing all they’re doing, and then the opportunity to develop and continue using my skills to help an organization do great work.”