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Forging a Future in Philanthropy

Tags: Emerging Leaders Development

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Forging a Future in Philanthropy

By Claire Girardeau


Zuleika Johnson, the Vice President of Opportunity and Outreach at El Pomar, came to the Foundation with an extensive community network and a wide breadth of experience in the nonprofit industry. The variety of hats she has worn throughout the sector has prepared her to build upon the work of Theo Gregory in the Emerging Leaders Development (ELD) program, support the initiatives of the Foundation and grow as a leader in Colorado Springs and beyond.

Born in the Bronx, New York, Johnson was initially attracted to philanthropy because she witnessed first-hand how important the work was in her neighborhood and others. After graduating from Connecticut College with degrees in Economics and Gender and Women’s Studies, she found her first opportunity in this space working as a Case Manager with Acacia Network to support families experiencing homelessness in transitioning to permanent housing. To pivot from providing direct service to roles she would describe as behind the scenes, Johnson pursued a master’s in public service and nonprofit management at the City College of New York. Her next few positions allowed her to focus on raising funds and keeping the doors open at various nonprofits. She dove into fundraising at Girls Educational & Mentoring Services in the city before moving to Colorado Springs for new opportunities in the field. Johnson made her mark at The Place, CPCD…Giving Children a Head Start and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs before finding her home at El Pomar Foundation.

On this career path, Johnson pursued additional opportunities to connect with her community through nonprofit board service, engagement in the Leadership Development  Program at the Center for Creative Leadership, and participation in El Pomar’s Emerging Leaders Development program as both a participant and Co-Chair of the Hispanic Advisory Council. As Co-Chair, Johnson recruited new community members and spread awareness of the program by sharing her own story of professional development. This role opened a lot of doors as she met other local leaders and built a strong support system. Johnson’s passion for the program and interest in the Foundation led to her acceptance of the VP role at El Pomar. Now she heads the ELD program and supports numerous other Foundation projects such as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and Regional Partnerships as part of the Pikes Peak Council.

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Johnson describes the work of the ELD program as empowering participants and acting as an important resource and convener for community members of color and the nonprofit community. For direct participants, ELD partners with leadership programs to strengthen attendees’ skills and prepare them to serve on boards and commissions. For nonprofits, the program offers a direct connection to talented leaders who can help these entities diversify their boards and gain access to different perspectives. Johnson hopes to increase outreach over the next few years so communities of color can learn about the program’s four advisory councils and scholarship opportunities for community leadership development programs. She is enthusiastic about bringing her relationship- and bridge-building talents from her direct service and fundraising experience to this new role. Everyone wins when the community bridges the gap between growing organizations and ready leaders.

When asked what she is hopeful about, Johnson said she is “looking forward to seeing how the ELD program can continue to empower communities of color and how ELD’s work can lend a hand in the Foundation’s DEI initiatives.” From case-manager to fundraiser, Johnson is eager to embrace the challenge of convener and Foundation program leader to leave a lasting impact on Colorado Springs. El Pomar Foundation is excited to have her as part of the family.