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Meet Ostara: 10 Questions with Ella Mahler

This article was written by Ariel Glassman. She is no longer with Ostara, but we want to preserve this piece so that you can learn from her and from the wonderful work she did while part of the Ostara team.

Meet Ostara is a series getting to know the talent behind our results continue this month with Ella Mahler – descendant of the late Romantic composer Gustav Mahler, an artist in her own right, and a skilled writer, researcher and strategist on our grants team. Photo by Miles Fortune. 

Meet Ostara: Ella Mahler

1. What’s the biggest challenge you see for the nonprofit sector?

Misperceptions of what it means to fundraise. Myths, stereotypes, and lack of knowledge about fundraising get in the way of both fundraisers and their donors. With a misplaced, misguided, or undervalued culture of philanthropy, an organization faces any number of consequential challenges – aka staff turnover, unrealistic goals, debt, poor leadership, struggling relationships, the list goes on.

2. What do you think is most promising about our sector?

Nonprofits are full of dreamers, doers, leaders, and changemakers. People who imagine a better world, and then work and work HARD to make that happen. I think these visionaries bring essential inspiration and hope to us all.

3. If you were an animal, what would you be?

Either an owl or an elephant.  They are social, generous, and loyal animals. They typically represent good luck, wisdom, determination, stability, change, and are known to never back down from a challenge or obstacle. These are qualities that I seek and embrace in my life, and want to offer to others.

4. What else are you out in the world doing?

I’m a dance artist. I perform for contemporary dance companies and artists around the region as well as present my own work. It is through the creative process and performance that I explore curiosities and the ways in which art and performance impact how we see and experience each other and ourselves in the world.

5. What would you do if you had a million dollars?

I would donate a bunch of money to arts organizations and youth arts education programs, spend some long and undefined time in snowy mountains and tropical waters, get another degree or two in maybe Anthropology and Art History, and go on a worldwide food tour with Anthony Bourdain.

6. What is something you wish you knew in the beginning of your career?

That there is no single plan. We’ve heard this before, but I think we need to hear it a few times through milestones in life. You make one plan, so you can change it and make a new plan along the way. I had a very specific idea of what kind of work I wanted to do when it came to fundraising, but as I delved in, I discovered all kinds possibilities and challenges I could have never planned for – but I am certainly glad for them.  The willingness to be nimble and responsive is incredibly important.

7. What does a typical day for you look like?

I usually have a list of about 17 things to do in a day, but it is often some combination of coffee, yoga or the gym, grant calendars, proposals, client meetings, more coffee, dance class, rehearsal, a dance or theatre show, and lots of water and good food – all accompanied by my iTunes or KEXP.

8. What’s your favorite travel spot?

Whistler, British Columbia. Dreamy in the winter, hot and gorgeous in the summer.

9. What advice would you give to someone starting out in fundraising or nonprofit management?

Be a leader/fundraiser of a cause that you really love. Your passion inspires passion in others. Your honesty for the work will help you do it better, faster, and more creatively. If you don’t really care about what you do, it will show, make it more challenging, and let’s face it, it will make your long nonprofit days even longer.

10. Who in Seattle do you admire for their leadership in our sector?

Seattle is unique in its robust community of nonprofits – all of which do such important and interesting work. Two leaders in particular that I admire are Holly Arsenault of TeenTix and Rosa Vissers of Yoga Behind Bars. Each of these women are such generous and smart leaders, making invaluable change, and are all the while fantastic artists in their own right.   


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