Your Constellation of Support

Christa Otteson
Partner and Principal
Katrina Pierson
Partner and Principal
Dianne McCarthy
Senior Advisor
Tony Wagner
Senior Advisor
Rhonda Otteson
Research & Data Specialist
Sara Fromm
Communications Specialist
Amy Nord
Project Coordinator
The Grenwoods
Design Team
  • Christa Otteson

    Partner and Principal

    [ Before Vela ] Christa has been supporting nonprofits for more than 17 years, most recently in roles with Wilder Research and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. She is a skilled and experienced researcher, facilitator and trainer, and has worked with a variety of nonprofits throughout Minnesota as an independent consultant. Her academic work has focused on issues related to diversity, immigration, and community development in rural contexts, and her contributions in the field include influential studies of immigration, families affected by incarceration, and asset-based child welfare interventions.

    Christa holds a Master’s degree in American Studies from the University of Minnesota with a methodological focus on qualitative research methods, and a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Western Washington University. Christa is a founding board member of the New London Arts Alliance and is currently participating in New London’s RiverSpace redevelopment project through ArtPlace America.

    [ Loves ] Collaborating, capturing stories, drawing people out, connecting ideas, asking questions, finding a better way.

    [ Wants To ] Foster inclusive and empowering environments so everyone can bring their very best to bear on the task of making the world a just and beautiful place for everyone, everyone, everyone. Also: travel the world with her girls, Clara and Mhina, and her better half, Josh.

  • Katrina Pierson

    Partner and Principal

    [ Before Vela ] Katrina has been supporting nonprofits for the past decade with five of those as an associate and partner at HBH Consultants. She has served as a board chair, communications specialist and development director for organizations in healthcare, the arts, social justice and the environment. She is a skilled fundraiser, leadership coach, and creative communications strategist and focuses her practice on helping leaders articulate their story to activate support for their cause.

    Katrina has presented a number of trainings and workshops throughout Minnesota, including Storytelling for Nonprofits, Grant Writing Essentials, Branding Your Social Enterprise, and Grassroots Fundraising Strategies. In 2013, she was recognized for innovation, influence, and involvement in the community by Times Media in St. Cloud as a recipient of their 2012 “5 Under 40” award.

    Katrina is a Certified Fund Raising Executive, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Mass Communications from St. Cloud State University and is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She is also currently a Hubert Project fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

    [ Loves ] Listening, weaving story strands into rich organizational tapestries, activating board members to realize their potential and inspiring people to share of their gifts to make our world a better place.

    [ Wants To ] Create new models for organizational development, empower leaders to serve from a place of authenticity, and connect organizations to resources that power their mission forward. Also: Become an avid sailor and explore the waters of the world with her son Jack, daughter Norah and husband John.

  • Dianne McCarthy

    Senior Advisor

    [ Before Vela ] Dianne has been serving nonprofits for 40 years – as a development executive starting with The Nature Conservancy in 1974 and then the University of Minnesota, University of St. Thomas, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. For the past 18 years, she has served nonprofits as founding partner & principal of HBH Consultants. She is retiring from HBH in January 2015. She has been a senior executive, fund development specialist, facilitator, mentor and marketing strategist and has successfully planned, led or coached many, many successful capital campaigns. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from the University of Kansas, and an M.B.A. and Ed.D. from the University of St. Thomas.

    Dianne is a long time member of the Minnesota Planned Giving Council and has served on its Communications Committee. She is a member of the Board of Advisors of the School of Social Work at the University of St. Thomas and St. Catherine’s University. She has served as a member of the University of St. Thomas Alumni Association Board, the Advisory Council of the Meadowbrook Collaborative and has been Chair of the Board of Advisors of the St. Louis Park Community Foundation and President of St. Louis Park Sunrise Rotary, where she was recognized as a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow.

    [ Loves ] Helping nonprofits to bring their best creative ideas forward to make the world a better place.

    [ Wants To ] Pay it forward by sharing her expertise with the next generation of nonprofit leaders. Also: Spend more time with her husband, Mike, improve her golf game and paint more.

  • Tony Wagner

    Senior Advisor

    [ Before Vela ] In 2011, Tony retired as President and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities (PUC), a nonprofit community-based agency operating five community centers in Minneapolis core neighborhoods, an annual budget of $15 million, and a staff of 200. As President and CEO, Tony also provided leadership to 20 other nonprofit organizations and charter schools affiliated with Pillsbury United Communities.

    Tony is the principal at the Wagner Group, a nonprofit leadership consulting firm. In addition to leading PUC for 35 years, Tony has been a frequent lecturer, presenter, and consultant to such diverse organizations as Augsburg College’s Graduate Program in Social Work, the Initiative Foundation, and St. Thomas University’s Executive Director Institute.

    In 1989, Tony was elected the first chairman of the Forum for Non‑Profit Leadership consisting of the CEOs of the 40 largest nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities Metro area. He has also served as President of United Neighborhood Centers of America, the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centers, the MACC Alliance, the MACC Commonwealth, St. Olaf Retirement Communities, St. Olaf Foundation, and the Minneapolis Area United Way Council of Agency Executives.

    Tony grew up in North Minneapolis and, as a child, was a client of Pillsbury United Communities. He attended the University of Minnesota where he received his BA and MSW Degrees. His education was interrupted by military service, during which he served in the Republic of Viet Nam as a 1st Lieutenant. Tony was an assistant professor at Augsburg College for four years and is a graduate of the Humphrey Institute’s Reflective Leadership Program and St. Thomas University’s Institute for Renewing Community Leadership.

    Tony is an acknowledged leader and expert in management, board development, and nonprofit community issues. In 2011 he was recognized with the “Transformational Leadership Award” by the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the Center for Integrative Leadership at the University of Minnesota. In 1987, he received the “Excellence in Not‑for‑Profit Management” award by the United Way of Minneapolis and St. Paul and the Wilder Foundation and, in 1994, the “Outstanding Service” award by United Neighborhood Centers of America.

    Tony has presented papers and speeches throughout the U.S. and at international conferences in Stockholm, Toronto, Berlin, Vienna, Helsinki, and Jerusalem. In addition, he has written several articles and essays on leadership, organizational development, and the condition of the not‑for‑profit system.

    Tony and his wife of 46 years have two married daughters and five grandchildren.

    [ Loves ] Working with Executive Directors and other leaders who are committed to nonprofit work to help them achieve balance in their lives and have a stronger impact on their organization and work.

    [ Wants To ] Continue to learn and explore; share his experience with nonprofit organizations through consulting and writing; and travel to places connected to his work with international nonprofit, community-based organizations.

  • Rhonda Otteson

    Research & Data Specialist

    [ Before Vela ] Rhonda honed her skills in data management, financial procedures, and donor development in a variety of roles within the social sector over the past 15 years. While serving as Director of The Link, she worked closely with a four-county advisory board to expand organizational capacity, launch new programming, and broaden a donor base. During her career in community action, she helped to procure several million dollars from state, federal, and foundation grants and oversaw annual program budgets of more than $400,000.

    Rhonda is a dedicated advocate and leader on social and economic issues facing low-income people in Minnesota and is a bona fide data geek and policy nerd. She brings grant writing expertise, a passion for evaluation, and a commitment to community service.

    Rhonda holds a Master’s in Advocacy and Political Leadership (MAPL) from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with concentrations in nonprofits and the public sector and a BS in Interdepartmental Sociology from St. Cloud State University. She lives in Willmar, Minnesota, with her two wonderful girls, Chloe and Kylie.

    [ Loves ] Numbers, spreadsheets, and data tables. Reveling in policy intricacies with her crew. Also: Cheering for her daughters as they race down the track or take a bow on stage.

    [ Wants To ] Demystify the numbers game for nonprofit leaders, eradicate homelessness, and utilize a holistic engagement model to foster more meaningful collaboration between board, staff, and volunteers. Also: Renovate her tiny kitchen and find a way to eat soup out of her handmade yarn bowls.

  • Sara Fromm

    Communications Specialist

    [ Before Vela ] Sara has spent the last sixteen years growing her communications skills within a variety of professional environments, including grant writing and editing at St. Lawrence University in Upstate New York and facilitating connections to resources at Arc Midstate in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Most recently Sara has worked as a writer and researcher with HBH Consultants and with Wellspring Services as a Support Planner and advocate.

    Sara is a thoughtful, engaged listener and facilitator who is enthusiastic about supporting individuals and organizations. She has an eye for what is missing and employs a courageous and compassionate approach to helping her clients identify their missions and get to where they want to be. She is a member of the Association for Women in Communications and is part of the Center for Creative Leadership. She recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Community Psychology with an emphasis in group process and facilitation.

    Sara lives with her family in St. Cloud in a house overlooking the river where the sunsets are particularly fantastic.

    [ Loves ] Photography, dry humor, podcasts, and storytelling. Exploring concepts through contemplative writing and active listening; acting as a sounding board and mirror for those grappling with issues.

    [ Wants To ] Be willing to unassumingly meet others where they stand, in whatever their state, ready to offer a safe space for vulnerability. Also: Take that one great road trip out west with her family.

  • Amy Nord

    Project Coordinator

    [ Before Vela ] Amy’s experience with nonprofits began with her first two positions out of college: the first with The State Historical Society of Missouri and then as the Assistant Director of the Downtown Columbia Association, where she learned the value of collaboration between people who share a common vision. Amy holds a BA in English and joined HBH Consultants in 2013 as an assistant to founder and principal Bob Bunger. Now as Vela’s project coordinator, she keeps the Vela team on track and provides support to both the internal team and clients in a multitude of ways. Amy is also a DiSC® certified trainer and enjoys working with staffs and boards to foster self-awareness, team building, and alignment using this powerful tool.

    [ Loves ] Editing with her red pen, bringing order from chaos, providing the harmonies to leaders’ melodies, and learning and sharing about the links between personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. Also, music and dogs make her heart sing.

    [ Wants To ] Support her Vela colleagues and clients in a variety of capacities, from client and administrative services to interviewing, research, writing, and editing. Amy also hopes to, in collaboration with the Vela team, grow a DiSC-based leadership coaching and team building service for Vela clients.

  • The Grenwoods

    Design Team

    [ Before Vela ] The Grenwoods are a husband and wife design team who recently moved from Duluth, MN to Bellingham, WA. They each hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of Minnesota Duluth. After graduating, they spent two years working for WestmorelandFlint, the top marketing and communications firm in Duluth, MN and have been successfully on their own since their departure. As artists, they have an incredible ability to see the beauty that surrounds us, and translate it into fresh, purposeful and functional designs. They are extremely responsive, intuitive, and patient and invite their clients to play an active role in the creative process.

    [ Loves ] Finding art in the most unexpected places. Also: Exploring, being outside, having their own adventures and reading about adventures others have had before them.

    Gathering fresh food from the bountiful Pacific Northwest and preparing nourishing meals together in their dream home in the woods.

    Living a full, intentional, but simple life.

    [ Wants To ] Show how technology can connect people rather than isolate them while bringing beauty and functionality to the evolving online community.

“Go where there is no path and leave a trail.”Ralph Waldo Emerson