Donna Nelson first arrived in Colorado Springs in 1994 — but not by choice. She was stationed at Fort Carson and, like so many before her, thought that Colorado Springs would be a great place to settle down and start a post-military career. Leaving the Army in 1996, she took an entry-level job with Security Service Federal Credit Union. She moved steadily up, and by 2010 had become a senior manager.
“The next step would have been VP,” said Nelson, “and they were about to acquire 11 credit union branches in Utah. I would probably have had to move to Utah, but I really wanted to stay in Colorado Springs.”
An opportunity to stay came from an unexpected source, when recently elected Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach offered Nelson a job as an economic vitality specialist with the city. She worked with Bach for four years, and has continued in the mayor’s office with John Suthers. Her current title is Spirit of the Springs Program Manager — a position that has been highly visible and impactful.
“After Mayor Suthers was elected, he met with each of [Mayor Bach’s appointees],” Nelson recalled. “We discussed what I did, and what I thought we ought to do and he just said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ He doesn’t know the word ‘micromanage’ — he trusts you to do the job until you don’t! So it can be a lot of pressure.”
Nelson is responsible for multiple civic outreach and community programs and runs the Mayor’s Cup annual charity golf tournament, which has raised and donated $420,000 for local scholarships since 2012. She has also been an effective change agent.
“Donna has worked to build a culture of service with city employees,” said nominator Tamara Moore. “Through her efforts, the Mayor and Chief of Staff now encourage their executive teams to serve on nonprofit boards. She’s also created a mentoring program for city staff and a citywide internship program.”
As an African American woman in a workplace historically composed of white males, Nelson feels a special responsibility.
“I don’t think of myself as a trailblazer,” she said, “because there are so many women who came before me. But I try to do my best for those who will come after me and those who came with me.”
Nelson currently serves as board chair of the Colorado Springs Conservatory, and has served as board chair of the Urban League, the United Way Women’s Leadership Council and the Chamber Rising Professionals.
“I appreciate her authenticity,” said nominator Rodney Gullatte Jr. “She inspires me with the way she is able to guide the conversations that change the landscape of Olympic City USA. She is influencing things most people can’t even see.”
One of those heretofore-invisible things may be EDI – equity, diversity and inclusion.
“We didn’t have an EDI program in the city that people felt was impactful,” said Nelson. “But now with the support of the mayor, Jeff Greene and Mike Sullivan, we’ve hired someone from outside the city — and the group is very serious and hardcore.”