HomeArticleBlog  →  Nonprofit Leadership Spotlight: Sherri Farris,  YWCA Evanston North Shore 

Nonprofit Leadership Spotlight: Sherri Farris,  YWCA Evanston North Shore 

By Common Impact | September 11, 2023

In a world where equality and empowerment are paramount, some individuals rise above and beyond to create a lasting impact. Enter Sherri Farris, a driven professional with over two decades of experience in child and family well-being.

Throughout her career spanning the public and non-profit sectors, Sherri has emerged as a beacon of innovation and leadership, adept at spearheading transformative initiatives. Currently holding the position of Impact and Data Strategy Director at YWCA, Sherri embodies the unwavering commitment to equity and the urgent imperative of transforming systems for the betterment of communities, families, and children.

Since 1858, YWCA has been at the forefront of combating racism and empowering women. The organization has supported women’s rights, played a pivotal role in championing suffrage, organizing the first interracial conference in the South during the early 20th century, and advocating for civil rights and affirmative action. With an impressive membership of over 25 million individuals across 106 countries, including 2.6 million members and participants in 300 local associations solely within the United States, YWCA stands as an influential global force driving positive change.

Every year, hundreds of volunteers from our community give their time, energy, and skills to support our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women…skills-based volunteering brought us expertise that enabled us to think strategically about our technology needs as we grow.

You are a driven professional with over 20 years of experience in child and family well-being in both public and nonprofit sectors. What drives you to do this work?  

I have always had the fiery heart of a radical activist and the analytical mind of a researcher. My work reflects different combinations of those two things. The activist in me believes that every human being should be able to thrive and that we have enough resources for that to be possible. Our economic systems, history of racism and colonialism, and current public policies prohibit that from happening. The analyst in me sees patterns in data, research, and the potential of new policy approaches. My path has included work that attempts to address the symptoms of our current system. I am lucky to be in an organization – YWCA Evanston/North Shore – and a network of organizations – YWCA USA – whose explicit goal is to end racism and empower women. 

YWCA Evanston North Shore believes that all women have the right to be safe and choose the direction of their lives. YWCA proactively transforms individual lives through direct service and education and changes institutions through training and advocacy. How has skills-based volunteering empowered your organization to overcome any challenges and further its mission? 

Every year, hundreds of volunteers from our community give their time, energy, and skills to support our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, from handing out water at the Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate to helping in our retail shops to working with survivors in our residential shelter. We know the value of eager hands when we have practical needs! However, skills-based volunteering brought us expertise that enabled us to think strategically about our technology needs as we have grown and to create roadmaps to enhance our technology infrastructure’s safety, performance, and efficiency. At this point in our evolution and growth as an organization, the soundness of our operational infrastructure is critical to our ability to drive our mission forward. 

You recently participated in a Common Impact skills-based volunteering project with The Allstate Foundation. Tell us about the challenge you were collaborating on and the outcome.  

We were seeking advice and strategy to enable us to optimize the Salesforce platform as an organization-wide database. Our goal is an integrated system that allows us to measure impact better, monitor fidelity to program models, and maintain operational integrity. We currently use the platform for case management for our Domestic Violence Services, to track outcomes for Economic Advancement participants, and to manage contracts for our Equity Institute. The team that worked with us developed recommendations to build an early-stage roadmap for expanding our use of the platform to include other functional areas, such as development, marketing, and volunteer engagement. They asked many good questions and transformed the information into a laid-out strategic approach. The level of knowledge and skills they brought to the project far exceeded our expectations. 

What would you tell nonprofit leadership new to skills-based volunteering? Why should they give it a try? 

I would tell them there are many benefits of engaging in skills-based volunteering, and they might be surprised at the value of the experience and the quality of the deliverable. Why not try it? 

What’s one leadership lesson you have for current or aspiring nonprofit changemakers? 

Sherialyn Byrdsong said something recently that has stuck with me, especially as someone whose role includes measuring impact. She said that it is hard to measure the impact that you are having, and all you can do is show up and do your best at what you are called to do. It is helpful to have roadmaps towards clear goals and markers along the way so we move in the direction we want, but we can overemphasize measuring impact in the short term. Keep showing up and doing your best at what you are supposed to do. 

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