Desiree Adaway: Fearless is not reckless.

By Emma Alvarez Gibson


Desiree Adaway specializes in change. As a coach, consultant, speaker, organization builder and storyteller, she works with organizations and individuals to create lasting solutions. She’s also incredibly warm, down-to-earth, and funny. (Pretty nigh on perfection? Yes.)

What do you do?

I help organizations overcome challenges every day by partnering with talented leaders to successfully navigate through integrations, reorganizations, and various stages of organizational evolution. I also work with individuals who want to donate to worthy organizations, but not sure where to start or the best way to leverage their donations so more can get done sooner. I am also a mom, frustrated chef and artist.

Who do you work with?

Small, mid-size and large nonprofits that want to work differently in all phases of the Organizational Life Cycle. Organizations that struggle for resources, exposure and individual volunteers. Or ones that have inconsistent program results, decreasing donations and shrinking funding base. I also coach nonprofit professionals are career choices and avoiding burn out.  My ideal client is an organization that wants to do more good—blow their mission up—create a bigger vision. They are fearless but not reckless.

What do you hope to change?

How we the privileged see the poor and marginalized. I work with organizations to bring the talents, resources, skills and knowledge of a community together to increase their collective power, raise funds and build brand equity.  When used correctly this collective power is used to transform lives, not just the lives of   a few but the lives of many. At the heart of my work are inclusion, ownership, relationship building and leadership development. I want personal transformation to occur as a natural part of the community transformation.  I want us to value service and those who serve like we value wealth. I want to heal the world. I know that may sound crazy but it’s true. I want all the work that I do to ultimately help heal the world.  I am a connector. I help connect people, ideas, and organizations. I am a builder of community and the foundation of my building is based on the rock of social justice. In the words of someone way smarter than me: My work is loving the world. [Mary Oliver]

What is the biggest obstacle you see?

People are overwhelmed by all they see around them…natural disasters, homelessness, poverty. So we either become numb or paralyzed and fearful or feel guilty. We do not think that we can make a difference.  Small steps make a difference…building community takes time – complex and complicated social issues may not be solved in our life time, but have faith that they will be resolved.  I want to scream from the rooftops that harnessing and leveraging the power of everyday people can change communities. I am on a mission to inspire people to act.

How have you arrived at this point?

That’s a long story. Have you ever had a best friend that was really smart? Not just a little smart. Not just, “I know what A2 + B2 = C2 (Pythagorean Theorem) is” smart, but “I am always right and you should take my advice” smart?

Yeah, you see where I’m going.

I have one of those BFFs. Her name is Pam Slim. She is a seasoned coach and writer who helps frustrated employees in corporate jobs break out and start their own business. Her blog, Escape from Cubicle Nation, is one of the top career and marketing blogs on the web. She told me (only as gently and kindly as a friend of over 25 years can) that I was so ‘web 1.0.’

I was not on Facebook or Twitter, and I didn’t have a blog. She knows me better than I know myself sometimes. See, I love building community and have devoted my life to it, connecting people, nurturing and mentoring them. I love to design programs that raise awareness, funds, and engage hearts and minds. I love to laugh and learn and travel. Being the smart woman she is, she may have hinted a time or two that social networking and blogging would be right up my alley.


She was right when she told me to start watching “Law and Order” in the 80′s, and she was right when she told me I was “web 1.0” and to get myself on the Internet. So, I got the hint and did my research. I would like to publicly say she was right. I LOVE it. All of it! I love Twitter and Facebook… I love all of it. When I started blogging I also started figuring out what I wanted for the second phase of my life (I am 45 with two young adult children). I began to look at what my core values were: what did I value, and not simply want, or feel that I “should” have; not a fantasy or a wish. What did I value and need most? When I clearly defined them, then it was obvious that working for me was the next step.

I believe that success for nonprofits is not possible without taking risks and innovating. When we “go for broke” and learn to fail graciously, we open up opportunities for shared learning. We create a culture that encourages creativity and calculated risk taking. We energize each other. Courageous nonprofits are seeing opportunities. Looking at relationships that they have fostered for years and turning them into alliances, seeking out new donor’s, volunteers and programs. Courageous organizations are partnering with corporations in new and exciting ways. Working together on corporate and civic engagement beyond check writing. Creating new ways. New possibilities. Fearless is not reckless…I need to tattoo that to my forehead!  Sometime we forget that. I want us to allow more failure and experimentation.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?

Life is a collaborative process and strong minds do find each other. .  There are many learnings and much richness to gain—beyond money—by partnering with great people.   Strategic partnerships multiply your efforts and expand your profits and platform. Partnership done right will also increase your impact and influence. In my 20-plus years in this sector I have supported and brokered many profitable partnerships. These partnerships both corporate and private brought in millions of dollars and increased awareness for the organizations I served. Much good was done. Partnering is one the greatest things you can do for your organization—ever. It’s one of the best things we can do as humans—build a collaborative society.


For more Desiree, visit She is available for strategy sessions, organizational assessments and keynote speeches on a variety of topics. Currently, she offers  two courses: Partnerships Done Right and, for those in the middle of burnout, a Group Coaching Class.



Emma’s unofficial motto has long been “PUBLICATION OR BUST!” Jack Move is her fifth from-scratch magazine. A writer and creative gun-for-hire, she’s had a hand in all types of media, at every step in the process. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. Follow her on Twitter (@ealvarezgibson) and find out more at

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