“As a leader of a nonprofit, I strongly encourage folks to select one or more local organizations whose mission they love, whose leadership they know and trust, and to give to operations or unrestricted funds,” says Shanna Cox, President and CEO of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Cox oversees daily operations, events, and strategies for the Chamber, and believes in the power of giving to women and girls.
Cox leads with a “learn what people want and deliver it” mentality at the Chamber, and has a reputation for being honest, approachable, and ready to dive in to solve problems. When it comes to helping women business owners in her community, she references listening and mentoring as important keys to build women up in the process of helping them succeed in business.
“For us, this work often happens as we support women in business or women starting businesses,” says Cox. “We spend quite a bit of time simply listening to women business owners, validating the challenges of running or starting a business, and the added layers of doing so as women in this pandemic.”
From there, says Cox, she and others at the Chamber work to connect women entrepreneurs with mentors in the community, other women who are a little further along in their path of running a successful business, and who can lend a helping hand or a listening ear.
The Listening Ear as Business Support
“My favorite story is about Patrice (not her real name), a female business owner who is expanding her business, and reached out early in the year to simply express both her desire to grow and her underlying fear and lack of confidence in being able to do so.”
Cox said that by listening to Patrice’s concerns, matching her with peer businesswomen mentors, and “providing physical professional space to support her growth,” Patrice was able to add new clients and grow her business. “We just caught up with her at an event last night, and felt buoyed by her report that she is doing better than ever both personally and professionally.”
Cox knows it hasn’t been easy for women and families. In a recent editorial co-authored with Robyn Merrell in the Sun Journal, Cox discusses the intersectional challenges that families of color particularly face in Maine. She wrote: “Poverty disproportionately affects people of color; while approximately 13.5% of white children in Maine live in poverty, over 34.8% of children from Maine’s tribes live in poverty, and over 45.6% of children from Maine’s Black or African American families live in poverty.”
Recognizing and lifting up all members of the community is the ongoing “root cause challenge” that Cox cites as her biggest uphill battle. She feels the deep weight of fatigue iin communities, and sees how people are also “yearning for connectedness as a time when meaningful, face-to-face connections are both challenging and often not recommended.”
The antidote: Cox says the Chamber tackles these challenges by “finding ways to create physical space, engage technology, and minimize the time needed to build community.”
On How Women Donors Can Help
“Women can be strategic about where and how they place their donated funds,” says Cox. “I encourage women to be realistic about their giving goals (how much, how often), and set a plan to give.”
Cox also encourages all donors to give in ways that “are the most likely to impact the community they live in, and the other women they might know or be in the community with.”
Cox notes that an unrestricted donation signals trust in leadership and often results in matching funds from other donors. “This can lead to sustainability for the organization and a circulating dollar that ripples impact for the local community.”