Nonprofit executive Christy Oliver Reeves has been a passionate advocate for community improvement for more than two decades. The New Orleans native and longtime Baton Rouge resident has extensive experience building and sustaining organizations, with a successful record that spans strategic planning, program development, fundraising and advocacy.
These days Reeves focuses on empowering young women as the CEO of I AM THAT GIRL, a global movement inspiring girls to be, love and express who they are through education, content and community.
Her winding leadership journey is a story of navigating unexpected challenges with creativity and dedication to have a positive impact on the world. “I’ve learned that sometimes moments of desperation turn into the greatest opportunities for innovation,” she says.
Reeves struggled to find a job while wrapping up her undergraduate degree in theatre at LSU. Fortunately, she worked at the LSU library during her entire undergrad career, and when she graduated, the library created a full-time position for her and helped her pursue a master’s degree in library science. It was a first step that would set her off on a career journey through several library systems, including the State Library of Louisiana.
“I was an accidental librarian — I never planned to do that,” she says. “From the day I started working at the libraries as a college students to the day I left, it was 15 years.”
Throughout her library experience, Reeves tended to hold non-traditional positions, often taking creative approaches inspired by her theatre background. She helped run a bookmobile and summer reading programs and created small library theatre shows. She was a founding member of the annual Louisiana Book Festival in downtown Baton Rouge and started a recording studio for the blind in Louisiana. She also did consulting work through the state library for public libraries across the state, helping to secure federal resources to help digitize vital records before Hurricane Katrina.
“I learned a lot about programming, community engagement and having access to people and information,” she says of her time as a librarian.
Reeves exited the library world for the nonprofit sector to serve as the CEO of the Girl Scouts Audubon Council at a time when the organization was going through a major transformation. A few years later, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana lured her away as its Director of Community Relations and as the Executive Director of its foundation. She stayed there nearly a decade, growing the nonprofit organization into one of the strongest Blue Cross foundations in the country.
“We moved from tiny little grants to these major 3-year multi-million dollar initiatives across the state,” she says. “It was a very fun, very exciting experience. I could be creative, I could be strategic and I loved the health care side of it. I got to play in the national space. Being part of the larger conversation with the Blue Crosses across the country really whet my appetite for wanting to do more national work.”
Reeves moved on from that position because she was offered to grow the southern U.S. footprint of Single Stop USA, a national organization that helps connect people with resources aimed at combating poverty. “That’s the librarian in me that just loves connecting people to resources,” Reeves says.
She quickly discovered the organization faced far more challenges than she anticipated heading into the position. Reeves was soon promoted to CEO and spent the next three years living in New York City and helping turn around the organization financially and structurally. “My job was to help set it up for success and allow someone to come in with fresh eyes and run it without all the baggage of yesteryear,” she says.
Reeves says the experience rebuilding a national organization was challenging but helped her learn that “I’m not really afraid of anything. Nonprofits are challenging place to be,” she says. “Every nonprofit struggles in terms of creating sustainability and having a sound business model. There’s so much turmoil happening, but I learned that I was quite good at it.”
As she explored the next step in her career, Reeves says she knew that whatever she did next would likely involve the empowerment of women. That’s why last year she jumped at the chance to take over as CEO for I AM THAT GIRL when a recruiter came calling in 2017.
Founded in 2002 by Alexis Jones while she was an undergraduate at USC, I AM THAT GIRL officially became a nonprofit in 2008 and has since grown to nearly 300 local chapters and more than 1 million followers online. The organization is helping girls to transform self-doubt in to self-love by providing a safe space to connect and have honest conversations about things that matter. The organization is giving girls the tools they need to lead today with confidence and compassion through its peer-led local chapter program and research-backed curriculum.
The organization is based in Los Angeles, where it was founded. While Reeves spends plenty of time between New York, LA and Chicago, she runs the nonprofit out of Baton Rouge, another possible challenge that she has turned into an asset. “Our board is very international, very well-connected and they’re also remote,” she says. “So even if I was in one of their geographic regions it wouldn’t necessarily make me any more effective in the role. In some ways it kind of makes us think more globally all the time.”
Reeves says pressure around finances and staffing have led her to shift the organization from one run by a professional staff to one run by more of the girls the organization is serving. The organization has implemented a staffing structure designed to have more of an impact on the professional and leadership development of the young employees, who are often experiencing their first job. “It’s for girls, by girls at every level,” she says.
Reeves says the challenges and rewards of leadership in the nonprofit space are both substantial. “A lot of people just don’t understand what a challenge it is to be in this space,” she says. “But it’s really fun. You can be creative and scrappy and meet a lot of good people. You know you’re doing something for the betterment of society, which is why we do this.”
Success Labs is a leadership development and management consulting firm in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. For more than 25 years, our expert team of consultants has worked with hundreds of companies to explore their business potential and improve their company and cultural performance.Contact us to get proactive about your people strategy.