Spokane Journal of Business

Rising Star Heather Hamlin: Contagious energy leads to opportunity

Nonprofit exec seizes chances to carve pathways

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Heather Hamlin says being executive director of the Women Helping Women Fund has been somewhat of a “full-circle moment” for her.

“Growing up in a small town, my family utilized some of the same services that I now get to fund as a grant maker,” Hamlin says.

Hamlin, age 36, grew up in Elk, Washington, about 20 miles north of the Spokane city limits.

“I started really young in 4-H, and one of the first things that I got involved with was public speaking,” she says. “It gave me a well-rounded upbringing. Constantly being outside of your comfort zone, whether that’s public speaking at the age of 10 or hauling a 1,300-pound steer around a show ring, it gives you life lessons that you carry forward.”

Hamlin was employed in a few different roles in the years after graduating from Riverside High School, in Chattaroy. For a while, she worked for the International Society of Optical Engineering. She worked in finance at KXLY Broadcast Group for a couple of years before joining the National Association of Credit Management’s team in Spokane.

Hamlin found a mentor in Jennifer Walsh, CEO at NACM Commercial Services.

“She identified that, in order to pick up something, something else had to be sunset,” Hamlin says. “I watched how she balanced that, and she did it with such grace and humor.”

Walsh says that when Hamlin arrived at NACM, her passion and enthusiasm made her an outstanding employee.

“Her energy is contagious,” Walsh says. “She always had and has a positive view on any project she’s working on.”

Walsh says it was clear that Hamlin was on an upward trajectory.

“While I appreciated having her there, I could see that she could do a lot more,” Walsh says.

Hamlin says she took some lessons from Walsh with her when she was hired by Greater Spokane Incorporated in 2015 as small business programs and services manager.

“Very quickly, I learned how to pivot,” Hamlin says. “When others may have been falling asleep in a meeting, I was on the edge of my chair, taking notes, constantly retaining who’s doing what.”

When the executive director role at Women Helping Women Fund came open, several people encouraged Hamlin to apply. She became director in October 2018.

Since then, Hamlin has shifted Women Helping Women Fund to a collective-giving community model, which she says enables donor members to have more power in the nonprofit organization.

Changing that business model was incredibly difficult … and exciting,” Hamlin says.

She says it’s in her nature to see a challenge and dive into finding a solution.

“I think it’s fun to carve that path,” she says.

Hamlin says a mentor gave her a piece of advice that she’s carried with her since: Now that you have a seat at the table, spread out.

“Early in my career, people would sometimes imply there was no seat at the table, no extra room,” Hamlin says. “My response was always, ‘I have a folding chair in my car,’ and I’d get up to the table and find a seat. I think that’s what I mean when I say I want Spokane to be inclusive, because good ideas and leadership come from everywhere. I want to be doing really cool projects with people who are just as excited to be at the table as I am.”

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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